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Theology of evolution

nr. 8, 2010
   

Christianity in Evolution
Catholic sexual abuse in Denmark
The Nature of Miracles
Theology of evolution
Investigation of sexual abuse

On the 200th anniversary of Darwin it is time to examine the inspiration his discovery of the basic principles of natural evolution may have on theology. Rather than presupposing a conflict between faith and reason, it might be rewarding to assume that the scientific study of nature may direct us to its creator. Combining our present understanding of how creation is unfolding through natural evolution with our faith in Jesus Christ as the incarnation of God brings new insights into the redemption of nature and the problem of evil.

The biological world is focused on realising potentialities. Gradually, the virtual space of potential biological diversity is filled out in time and matter through natural evolution which turns possibilities into reality.
As we understand natural evolution today, genetic variations within a species will arise over time as a result of random mutations or horizontal gene transfer. Natural selection will then weed out the nonviable variants and may provide other variants with reproductive advantages that will make these variants and their descendants prevail. Over millions of years this process has been the sole mechanism of an evolution that has resulted in an increasingly diverse and complex biosphere that includes man.
When nature became fully conscious in man the basic principles of natural evolution changed. The evolutionary mechanism from then on included human design and technology, and the potentialities to be realised were expanded to include the immaterial and metaphysical reality.

This great project of letting creation be all it can be has required a sequence of actors which have displayed gradually increasing complexity and consciousness. Looking back, every species is intimately linked with previous species in its line of descent and retains their biological memory in its genome. Our bodily functions and abilities are basically a collection of experiences obtained through trial and error over millions of years by a myriad of now mostly extinct species. These biological functions are preserved in the genes making up our genome. Even with the most distantly related species we share some degree of common genetic foundation, and despite the differences between me and a squirrel at least we participate equally in the great project of filling out the space of biological diversity.

The Homo sapiens Jesus Christ also retained in his genes the struggles, the sufferings and the victories of countless previous species and individuals that he as man was a result of. Christ is thus an integrated part of the evolution of nature.

God incarnated himself in Christ and made him a member of the human species with a recorded genealogy (Mat 1). As a man he is physically linked with all other living beings past or present and consequently so is God. To the extent that God is incarnated into solidarity with all living beings, the resurrected Christ promises redemption from death for all of life. Hope is thus offered to modern man, the extinct Neanderthal and even the non-human animal.

Natural evolution could not have produced man and thus Jesus Christ only using genetic variation. Selection is the second and equally important part of the evolutionary mechanism. Selection pressure is primarily formed by environmental conditions. Thus the physical, non-living world and the dynamics of it constitute the indispensible formative force that God has chosen to move evolution along. This then means that the incarnation makes Christ intimately linked with the entire created universe, the living as well as the non-living parts. Redemption will not only resurrect man but will also create “a new heaven and a new earth”.

Selection in the context of natural evolution means that the species or variants within a species with reproductive advantages will prevail over time. Thus selective pressure from the environment will confer survival advantages to those that best adapt to the environment - sometimes competitively - and most efficiently exploit the natural resources. Selection therefore means pain, disease, suffering and death. 

 

Accepting the Big Bang cosmology of creation being initially non-complex and having a single point of emergence, nature has had to develop quite a lot of diversity before life could emerge and evolve into humans such as us. However, without selection biological processes would quickly freeze up and become static. Life would probably not have progressed beyond the single cell stage as bacteria in the sea some 3.5 billion years ago if it had not been driven by variation and selection to explore further possibilities in the vast space of potential biological diversity.

Natural evolution makes sure that every biological possibility will be tested until sufficient consciousness and consequent technological power emerge to take control and direct evolution by different principles than natural selection. This makes natural evolution a fail-safe system to eventually produce man.

When consciousness with man developed sufficiently for empathic abilities to emerge, the amoral selective principles in nature could be recognized as morally significant suffering and for the first time in history a choice between good or evil could be made. Should one share food or allow the weaker neighbour to suffer starvation? As soon as man awoke to full consciousness he faced the challenge of transcending the natural evolution from which he himself had emerged and transforming it into an instrument of God, a tool of compassion and love. The evolutionary mechanism of selection may therefore in a sense be seen as a requirement for us to realise the existence and character of God. However, man may also choose otherwise. While pain and suffering are facts of nature and they are bad, they are not by themselves evil. Thus, evil comes into existence when man consciously chooses pain and suffering for others as an instrument of selfishness.  

Pain and suffering is not an effect of human (original) sin that damages an otherwise perfect creation. They are a consequence of the principle of natural selection that was an integral part of God’s design from the beginning and long before man evolved. Without it man would never have evolved neither as a biological entity nor as a God-seeking being.
Through his own subjection to torture and horrific death Christ demonstrated his acceptance of the conditions inherent to biological life. He did not miraculously switch off his pain receptors or turn on a surge of endorphins to protect himself from the pain and suffering inflicted on him. There are many aspects to the passion of Christ but one may also see it as an expression of solidarity not only with other victims of violence but also an expression of solidarity with the most basic of nature’s conditions: that we all necessarily must suffer for life to unfold its potentialities.
The predominant activity of Christ in Palestine during his last few years was – apart from teaching – the healing of pain and suffering. Together with his resurrection and victory over death this suggests to us that nature and natural evolution can be transcended and that there is indeed eternal life with a material existence and freedom from the burden of pain and suffering. By being the incarnation of God in a human being, Christ shows that perfection can be attained in our form and Christ thus fulfils the evolution of nature.

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