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Review: Christianity in Evolution

nr. 10, 2012

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

Jack Mahoney, “Chistianity in Evolution – an exploration”, Georgetown University Press, 2011

The new book “Christianity in Evolution” by emeritus professor Jack Mahoney SJ is a courageous attempt to go where evidence and honest considerations may lead even if controversy may result. New perspectives on issues like the meaning of death, sin and the sacrifice of Christ arise from this book, and even dogmata of the medieval council of Trent are rejected by this Jesuit professor of moral and social theology.

Taking the way God has chosen to construct the world seriously and believing that the study of created reality can tell us something important about God makes truth paramount in all respects. When natural evolution is clearly the method through which creation unfolds and realizes all its potentialities including the emergence of man, this is obviously a truth that ought to have implications for our theology. Natural evolution was discovered by Darwin 150 years ago and was of course unknown to the authors of the biblical texts, so not surprisingly this discovery wasn’t taken into consideration in the early Church, and as the author point out the Jewish, pre-Christian society had to find an explanation for death (original sin), which secondarily led to a particular understanding of the death and resurrection of Christ as a propitiary sacrifice successful in appeasing an angered Creator God. However, realising that the principles of variation and selection are hard-wired into creation from the start and therefore not a result of human sin, and that pain and death is integral to this God-given natural evolution changes the understanding of many things.

On the positive side it enhances the significance of the incarnation of Christ as a full member of the human species as a promise for the entire creation. All the suffering and evolvement that nature passed through before the incarnation, was instrumental in bringing about the emergence of man and of each specific individual, Jesus Christ included, and the resurrection of Christ therefore holds out an exciting promise for all of creation of a further transcendent step awaiting us all.
On the other hand many patients suffering from disease, witnesses to natural catastrophes or parents to traffic-killed children will perhaps feel an even stronger anger towards a God who not only would allow the sin of man to destroy a perfect creation, but who is actually the God who made such suffering the key method for his creation to unfold. Without the dynamics of physical nature and without pain and death biological nature would never have evolved and tested out all the potential of the biosphere which have led to the emergence of man. Perhaps more importantly, however, altruism (i.e. love) could never have been realized if pain, hunger, suffering and death did not exist and formed a real background for the altruistic choice of the first being who was conscious of the potential sacrifice of an altruistic choice – and the very real background for the loving altruism of all human beings. To the parents of a child with an in-born handicap or genetic disease it has to be explained that their child must be especially honored because it carries the heavy price for all of us to be intelligent and loving human beings.

The book encourages thinking about the significance of altruism between humans and its long developmental link with nature through our less sentient ancestors. The indications of primitive beginnings of altruism among primates could well be understood as evidence that God has made sure the altruism in the internal life of the Trinity would become a reality of biological life on this planet. However, without there being a potential price to pay for the individual facing an altruistic choice it wouldn’t be true altruism. It therefore becomes a good question what price God pays for his altruism to be true. A tentative answer would be the pain, suffering and death of Jesus Christ, who in a sense carries the same price as the handicapped child, and which is the sacrifice which the Trinitarian God pays for his altruism to be real and alive.

Dr John-Erik Stig Hansen

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