Today I attended a series of lectures by Dr. Glen Klassen, a microbiologist, on the topic of Theistic Evolution. I found it highly interesting, not least because I’ve never actually heard someone defend the position before, much less argue for it. I was always under the impression that Theistic Evolution was a cop-out, the easy out for those who didn’t want to fight the good fight against Creationism, or better yet, Intelligent Design. Let it be known from the get-go that I know very little about these topics except what I’ve been told by people who probably know at least as little. I’m also well aware that I’ve changed camps on this issue just about every time I’ve heard someone actually articulate their position (and cut the other positions down). This lecture had something different though, something that appealed to the theologist in me (and the Bonhoeffer in me), so much so that I’ve decided to write my Ethical Reflection paper on the subject. This is my dry run, so here goes:
For the past 150 years or more, the debate has raged between scientists, theologians, politicians, schoolteachers, and preachers about the origin of species, and quite often specifically about The Origin of Species. Were human beings created ex nihilo, or did they evolve over millions of years? Is the earth 6,000 years old, or 4 billion? What does the Bible say, and what do scientists say, and is there any middle ground? Should one carry more weight than the other? What are the ethics involved in our stance on these issues? Is it ethical to limit school curriculum to one side of the issue or another? What effect do these views have on the way we live our lives? The questions raised by this issue are too numerous to address here, so instead I’ll attempt to single out one view that I am coming to believe is scientifically favoured and theologically and ethically superior and consistent as compared to the other views.
Intelligent Design is a rising star in this debate, earning new loyalty from the disenfranchised Creationists who are still stinging from the Scopes trial and the new crowd that’s too young to know what the Scopes trial was. Mainstream scientists, on the other hand, call ID the new Creationism, and maintain that it’s exactly the same thing trying to pretend that it’s not. I’m no scientist, so I won’t even try to comment on the scientific issues at hand, but I can tell that Intelligent Design (ID) and Creation Science (CS) have one thing in common: they make a pivotal assumption about God and the way He interacts with the world.
Intelligent Design has made a discipline out of finding evidence of God in nature, or as Dr. Klassen referred to it, “catching God in the act.” They recognize that much of the natural world is so complex and specific that its design is quite evident; they see the obvious design in nature as obvious evidence of a designer (which is a much simpler explanation than random mutations over billions of years that lead to increasingly complex creatures). So they continue to look for these “fingerprints” of God, or some other designer (who the designer is has little relevance to their discipline, as they seek only to show that things have been designed). Creationists, on the other hand, generally start with the assumption of a six-day creation by God ex nihilo (out of nothing), just as is stated straightforwardly in Genesis. As any other person with an obvious bias, they champion evidence that fits their bias and downplay evidence that challenges their bias (evolutionists do it too). They work to figure out the science of biblical events like creation and Noah’s flood. The thing that Creation Science and Intelligent Design have in common is that they both assume that God stands outside of creation, occasionally reaching into it to do something miraculous, something outside the rules of this world, whether that be performing miraculous healings or raining down sulfur and brimstone or creating the world.
This is a very common viewpoint, so it didn’t hit me right away what was wrong with it. I mean, of course God is outside of creation; he’s up in heaven, right? Jesus ascended into the sky! And when miracles happen, they obviously break the laws of physics or chemistry or biology. It makes perfect sense, except that that’s completely different from what the Bible teaches. Paul said “in him we live and move and have our being.” Christian theology maintains that God is still actively creating in this world, and that he actively sustains everything that exists. He’s here, and he’s busy. This raises the obvious question: if he wasn’t here, sustaining everything by his providence, then where is he and what’s he up to? What does God do, in a given day, if he’s not interacting with his creation? This might sound incredibly anthropocentric, but it is; everything we know about God and the universe is focused on how he relates to us, and from what he’s told us we get the idea that we’re very, very important to him. The ID and CS assumption that God is somewhere else and occasionally checks in to do something wild and “supernatural” is actually quite a lot like Deism, except Deists don’t even expect God to show up and do anything at all.
The effect of this view of God’s activity on our actions and understandings is surprisingly enormous. It means that God set up “nature”, and that nature pretty much takes care of itself except when we get ourselves into pretty big trouble – which means that God only shows up when we’re in trouble (if then), which is a very unhealthy relationship. Even if we think that God is somehow close to us in all of this, it’s a strange close-but-far-away relationship, in which God is far away but we have free long-distance and can call him anytime. It means that we feel like God is close to us when we’re in trouble and call on him, but that he’s not close to us when things are going well – which means we can feel free to take credit for the good things in our lives, or at best that we think God sends great care packages. It means that the miracle of the Incarnation focuses on the fact that God showed up at all, as if he wasn’t here and then, BAM! Jesus shows up to save the day, after letting the Romans and the Greeks and the Persians and the Babylonians and the Assyrians mess with Israel for five hundred years to teach them a lesson. It means that we, like the psalmist of Psalm 74, must beg God: “Remember how the enemy has mocked you, O LORD…do not forget the lives of your afflicted people forever.” We get defensive, and start defending our god, when the real God needs no defense.
If you don’t know what I mean, talk to a Creationist about evolution. I don’t mean to be a jerk, and I say this knowing full well that for the majority of my life, I was the most defensive creationist I knew. I criticized my high school biology teacher in class about it, and he didn’t bother to respond. Creationists, like ancient Israel, often think that everyone is against them, and that God isn’t here to defend his own honour – and well, if God isn’t here to defend himself, he isn’t here to defend us either. So much depends on God making a big splash, coming into creation from somewhere else in order to do anything, in order to prove that he’s there, that life becomes a search for that evidence of the thing that you swear exists, if you could only prove it in a way that people would believe you. What more could we expect in a world where our knowledge is founded on a claim that we are gods?
If you read my last post, you know that when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the knowledge of everything, they were claiming that they had that knowledge, and even that they were the source of that knowledge (all knowledge). They once knew all things only in relation to God; we now know all things only in relation to ourselves, which means we know God not at all, except the dim knowledge that we need him. So we search, thinking that he’s not here, and creating a false duality; that there is a here where God is not, and a there where God is, and we want him to come here. We’re perpetually waiting for God to “come back”, to “return”; we divide reality. While we’re waiting for Christ to return, we forget that Christ is God, and “in him we live and move and have our being”; he is the centre of reality, and all reality is reconciled to himself. The psalmist says “there’s nowhere I can go and you’re not already there.” The miracle of the Incarnation was not that God showed up, because he’s always been here; the miracle there was that he became one of us. The miracle of the parousia will not be that God “comes back”, but that he will come back in physical form to rule. The miracles of the New Testament were not telegrammed to Peter and Paul from the distant cosmos, or even from up in the clouds; they were an act of God the Holy Spirit within them. GOD IS HERE!
I highly, highly recommend reading Job 38-42, in which God describes what he does in a day. He talks about how he created the world, but mostly he talks about how that job’s still going on, and what he’s been up to since. “Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions…who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food? Do you know when the moutnain goats give birth? Do you watch when the do bears her fawn?…Do you give the horse his strength, or clothe his neck with a flowing mane?” You know God could go on (and he does), but I think the point is made. God is here, and he’s busy (as busy as God could really be, I guess). He’s busy with providing for all of his creation, sustaining its very existence. I can draw my next breath because he gives me the ability to do so; when he stops giving me that ability, I will die. I can use my muscles until they wear out, and they’ll get better – because he makes them to. I can use my mind and my body for great things, or for terrible things, and both are a miracle of the God who gave me such power (not to mention choice). God didn’t set up a self-reliant system and then walk away; if humanity has learned anything in our years of existence, it ought to be that we’re not very self-reliant! Everything continues to live and move and breath because God provides the life and motion and breath, without prejudice, to all of his creatures.
This means that there is no division in reality. There is no place where God is not. There is no false duality. We can count on a God who is very near to us – and we can know that he’s very near and paying attention to us because we’re still here. Dr. Klassen today made a very interesting point that has stuck with me: God is completely consistent. Everything we know about God tells us that he’s completely consistent. And if God is consistent, then it stands to reason that his creation is also consistent. We can trust that gravity will not disappear overnight, and that the sun will rise tomorrow, because nature is consistent. Science, he said, is taking note of these consistencies. Miracles may seem inconsistent, but knowing the God who performs them, we can trust that they are in fact consistent (jury’s still out for me on that one). Science is not opposed to God, because science is simply taking note of God’s consistency, the way he rolls (if you will).
Theistic Evolution was always presented as the weakest of the options in this great debate. I was always led to believe that they are the great wafflers, who are atheists in the lab and Christians in the Church. Dr. Klassen actually said today: “Theistic evolutionists are methodologically naturalistic; we do our work in the lab with a naturalist view of it” (or something of the like), and I pegged him…until he explained it with a fantastic analogy. “If everything in the world was red, red wouldn’t stand out.” To phrase it another way, God is so present in creation that he appears absent. ID and CS are looking for evidence of God in creation, but it’s like looking for red in red. To look for evidence of God in creation is to assume that he isn’t consistently evident in everything. Theistic Evolutionists are free to look at science and know that it belongs to God, not fearing that they must defend against it, or even claim it. It belongs to him.
What are the effects of this view of God on the way we live? Well, first of all we must begin to understand God’s omnipresence once again. Jesus didn’t just leave, for crying out loud; God is HERE! How does that affect your view of the world? It makes me realize just how important all of creation is to God; not just me, not just Christians, not even just human beings, but ALL of creation is his and the object of his love. Which means that I ought to take care of creation. The great thing is that I can believe that when I’m taking care of creation I’m not working against a God who’s out to destroy the world (eschatology is for another day though) nor am I a caretaker in the absence of the owner; rather, I can look after the planet alongside God, and with his empowerment. Relievingly, it also means that I can put this awful debate to rest, because I’m not concerned about sticking up for the very God who is so present that I can’t find where he’s not, and I’m not worried that someone else will find that he’s not here either. This means that I don’t need to worry about tieing my theology to a scientific position (or a political position either!). It means that the rain will fall on the just and the unjust alike, and I can count on that, and on the fact that God knows about it and knows my woes and feels my pain. It means that God loves the killer as much as the victim, and gives them both the power to direct their own actions for good or for evil; this one isn’t so comforting…unless you’re that killer.
I think I’ve gone on for too long, but I hope I got my point across. It has certainly helped me get my thoughts in order. I don’t know the science of the issue, and most scientists aren’t very good theologians no matter which camp they’re in, but it seems that ID and CS have made a poor assumption that ruins their view of God in the world. Like Gretta Vosper, they’re searching for God. Once again I’d like to assert with as much force as I can muster, GOD IS HERE, AND HE HAS FOUND US! Hallelujah!