Evolution and the Christian God
An important book by John Haught of Georgetown University addresses this topic. I have read it, but have not modified this essay to take it into account. The book is God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution.
You said "These days, many Christian theologians claim that an evolutionary universe fits unforcedly into the Christian conception of God." I wonder if you can give me further information about this, coz this is a question that hang around in my mind for a long time and don't know who to ask.
I will address three aspects of the Christian conception of God, which allow an evolutionary universe to fit easily into Christian natural theology. Clicking on [note] will take you to asides and other parentheticals.
The Christian God is a God of Love.1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love. This appears difficult to reconcile with an evolutionary universe, in which waste [note], pain and death seem ubiquitous. Yet most 20th-Century natural theologians insist that the two ideas are fully reconcilable.
The clue is found in the platitude, "If you love something, set it free." God loves El's creation so much that El is willing to allow it to make itself, even if such freedom is painful and destructive [note]. This "world free to make itself" was recognized by Christian thinkers as a positive good as soon as On the Origin of Species appeared in print. Of course, not all theologians agreed; many still do not. But the reconciliation of evolution and creation is more than possible along these lines.
If this doesn't satisfy, consider two things about the Christian worldview. First, death is not considered final, and so, while death is a real grief and a trauma that cannot be minimized, it cannot be the last word for anyone dependent upon an eternal and loving God. The fact that evolution involves death is not an utterly evil thing, even for animals; animals, too, are expected to pass through death to find a share in the eschatological Kingdom of God (see, for example, Isaiah 11:6-9).
Second, suffering is seen (and not just in Christianity!) as redemptive. Many writers have described suffering as a discipline given to us by God to help us become better people (as CS Lewis pointed out, God is not "a kindly old grandfather in heaven, who doesn't care what they do as long as the young people are happy"). But the evolutionary understanding of God's work in the world goes deeper than that, in fact to the core of Christian theology, belief and practice, for
The Christian God is a God who suffers.Central to Christianity is the Cross of Christ, on which he suffered and died to redeem the world. If the Cross is central to reality (and this is the Christian claim), then we should expect to find hints of it in God's created universe, just as Johannes Kepler found hints of God in the heliocentric solar system (see The Discovery of Kepler's Laws by Job Kozhamthadam). [note]
Kepler found a central Sun, giving light to the entire system, a reflection of the God who sheds grace on all creation. In the same way, many 20th-Century theologians find the death and renewal that are positively required by an evolutionary universe to be a reflection of the God who died on the Cross for the redemption of the world, and rose again to renew and redeem creation. [note]
God, Christians claim, became Incarnate to in order to share in the suffering needed for the universe to make itself, and in order to redeem that universe. The Christian God who suffers is a humble God, willing to welcome anyone who wishes to know El. El is willing to suffer a prolonged and humiliating death that El's creatures may have the opportunity to know El better; El extends grace in abundance to anyone who asks, no matter what her/his faults; in short,
The Christian God is a shameless opportunist.God, as near as we can tell, values unforced love so much that El is willing to risk rejection rather than overwhelm people with the Divine Necessity of worship. The consequence is that God, in most Christian theologies, is willing to meet El's creatures at least halfway. God will reinforce any sincere steps, even baby steps, toward a relationship with El.
God doesn't care how anyone came to take those steps, or who that person is. The important thing, to God, seems to be that one of El's creatures is responding to El. An evolutionary world-picture extends this to take account of the fact that beings with the intelligence to recognize their Creator could appear anywhere, under rather different circumstances, and in fact may appear more than once.
What this says about the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation is unclear, but God seems reluctant to tell us more than we require for our own immediate needs. The Incarnation may be once-for-all-creatures (a position many favor), or it may be a provision only for humans; God isn't saying. Many are not comfortable with this, but I have a background in military intelligence and so the idea that I may not have a "need to know" comes easily to me.
Christianity and Evolution.Picture this: God created a fruitful universe (an anthropic universe) in order to have others with whom to share El's love. El is willing, like all true lovers, to allow the beloved to be itself, and so relinquishes control (though perhaps not guidance). Intelligence takes time to evolve, but what is that to the Eternal? And once intelligence appears, God gently guides it, through natural (and perhaps supernatural - theologians differ on this) revelation, to know El better so that El's creatures may return El's love.
Not only is an evolutionary universe fully compatible with the Christian God; one may ask whether we could not have predicted evolution on the basis of Christian theology! [note]
Copyright © 1999 by Daniel J. Berger. This work may be copied without limit if its use is to be for non-profit educational purposes. Such copies may be by any method, present or future. The author requests only that this statement accompany all such copies. All rights to publication for profit are retained by the author.