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2. Evolution and Continuous Creation

Christian theologians have developed a diversity of responses to Darwin and his scientific descendants beginning in the late nineteenth century and continuing on into the present. Many have seen evolution and Christianity either as locked in an irreconcilable conflict or as totally irrelevant to each other. I will focus, however, on a variety of options for their constructive interaction ranging from theologies of nature which appropriate selected evolutionary themes to those which are thoroughly reconstructed in light of evolution.For a review of positions taken in the nineteenth century, see Claude Welch, Protestant Thought in the Nineteenth Century, 315 pp (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 2:Ch. 6. and Ian G. Barbour,...

Most scholars start with the assumption that God is both the transcendent Creator ex nihilo of the universe per se, including its existence and its fundamental laws, and the immanent, continuous Creator (creatio continua) who is acting everywhere in, with, and through natural processes to bring about physical and biological complexity. What science describes in terms of neo-Darwinian evolutionary biology is what theology sees as God’s creative and providential action in the world. Evolution is thus the way God creates life, a broad position often called ‘theistic evolution.’

Arthur Peacocke has been a strong advocate of this crucial position.A. R. Peacocke, Creation and the World of Science: The Bampton Lectures, 1979 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), esp. Ch. III/II/a, p. 94-95, III/III, and VI/iv; Arthur R. Peacocke, Intimations of Reality:... Starting in the 1970s, Peacocke has developed a compelling response to Jacques Monod’s challenge that chance events in nature point to the fundamental irrationality and meaninglessness of the world. For Peacocke, chance events, from genetic variation and expression to changes in populations and the environment, do not mitigate against God’s creative purposes. Instead, God is the ground and source of both chance and law (or necessity). Together they serve as God’s means of continuously creating physical, chemical, and biological complexity, and thus a world characterized by continuity and emergence, temporality and open-endedness. Peacocke situates both the ex nihilo and the continuous creation tradition within a panentheistic doctrine of God, in which the world is within God even while God infinitely transcends the world. He articulates his theology of creation through a variety of models: God is a composer and improviser of unsurpassed ingenuity; like a mother, God births the world within herself though the world is other than God.Peacocke, Creation and the World of Science, 142, 209-11; Peacocke, Intimations of reality, 64. The December 1991 (26.4) issue of Zygon profiles the work of Arthur Peacocke. For additional helpful overviews...Following the direction Peacocke has taken, Philip Clayton has developed a richly nuanced version of panentheism throughout his writings, seeing it as the natural outgrowth of the theistic tradition as it is reconstructed in light of science. His panentheistic approach to divine action in nature agrees with Peacocke on seeing God at work in the emergence of new forms of life, though unlike Peacocke he finds quantum physics to be a fruitful avenue for exploring God’s immanent action in nature.Philip Clayton, God and Contemporary Science (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), esp. 220-27. Clayton further develops and defends his view of Christian panentheism in Philip Clayton,...

Barbour, too, adopts a panentheistic view of God and the world, though he develops it within a process perspective. God is a source of order and novelty, acting within the indeterminacies in each integrated physical and biological system as a top-down cause. Thus evolution is the product of law and chance within which God is continuously active, influencing events through persuasive love but not controlling them unilaterally. Following Hartshorne, he embeds the panentheistic mind-body analogy for God’s relation to the world within a social and ecological context, then adds to it an interpersonal perspective. God is “preeminent but not all-powerful,” the creative participant within the evolutionary community of beings. Through tenderness, patience and responsiveness, God nurtures the world towards unchanging goals without coercing it through a ubiquitous, detailed plan.Barbour, Religion in an age of science, 174-76, 260-62. For another interesting discussion of evolution from a process perspective, see David Palin in Andersen, evolution and creation. Charles Birch and John B. Cobb, Jr., argue that there is no clear-cut demarcation in nature between life and non-life although there are genuine levels of increasing complexity and an increasing capacity for conscious experience. God is immanent in the world as the “life-giving principle” and “the supreme and perfect exemplification of the ecological model of life.” Thus life is purposeful, not governed by sheer blind “ongoingness” but suffused with “the cosmic aim for value.”Charles and John B. Cobb Birch, Jr., The Liberation of Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), esp. 195-97. See Barbour’s critique in Barbour, Religion in an age of science, 29-30. See...Writing from a Roman Catholic and process perspective, John Haught suggests that the concept of God explains both the order and the novelty and creativity we see in evolution. As a divine gentle invitation, “‘God’s will’...is to maximize evolutionary novelty and diversity.”John F. Haught, Science & Religion: From Conflict to Conversion (New York: Paulist Press, 1995), 68-69; John F. Haught, "Evolution, Information and Cosmic Purpose," CTNS Bulletin 18.1(Winter...

Evolution and ecology provide the primary context for Sallie McFague’s panentheistic and feminist doctrine of God.Specifically on panentheism, see Sallie McFague, Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), esp. 69-78; Sallie McFague, The Body of God: An Ecological...Her metaphorical theologySee particularly Sallie McFague, Metaphorical Theology: Models of God in Religious Language (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982); McFague, Models of God, esp. 31-40.draws specifically on the model of the world as God’s bodyOf her various writings, see McFague, The body of God for her most "highly focused" project on embodiment.and explores new models of ‘God as mother, lover and friend,’For the development of these models, see particularly Sallie McFague, "Models of God for an Ecological, Evolutionary Era: God as Mother of the Universe," in Physics, Philosophy, and Theology:...thus emphasizing mutuality, interdependence, caring, and responsiveness against traditional monarchical models. Her theology of creation emphasizes the importance of a procreational-emanationist perspective in addressing the tone of externality and domination in the ex nihilo - production tradition.McFague, The body of God, 151-57.Similarly she balances the anthropomorphic tendency of agential models of God’s relation to the world with organic embodiment models which draw on cosmology, evolutionary biology and ecological science.McFague, The body of God, esp. 136-41.The result is to highlight divine immanence and to support the intrinsic value of God’s creation, viewing nature as ‘the new poor’Sallie McFague, Super, Natural Christians: How We Should Love Nature (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1997), 6, 125. .

The metaphor of nature as mother has been developed in the context of evolution by other feminist theologians as well. Elizabeth Johnson claims that, rather than merely supplementing a purely transcendent image of God, the mother-creator metaphor as such invokes both divine transcendence and immanenceElizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (New York: Crossroad, 1993), 186. Anne Clifford proposes that we actually replace Darwin’s metaphor “natural selection” with that of nature as a mother giving birth. It brings together in dynamic tension the reproductive and evolutionary character of nature with the biblical doctrine of God as creator. Moreover, Clifford’s feminist metaphors support Darwin’s rejection both of God as designer and the immutability of species, and take up his concern for suffering in nature. Clifford also argues that, in transforming the meaning of species from fixed and discrete to fluid and possessing the capacity to evolve, Darwin’s real target was limited to Paley’s very particular...

Trinitarian theologians have also found rich resources in biological evolution and ecology. The inter-relationality and interconnection of all life of earth are much more suggestive of recent models of God as ‘divine-persons-in-relation’ than are the substantialist models of classical theism.For a helpful overview, see Ted Peters, God as Trinity: Relationality and Temporality in the Divine Life (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993). See also Ted Peters, God--the World's Future:... For Catherine Mowry LaCugna, “To-Be-is To-Be-in-relationship, and God’s being-in-relationship-to-us is what God is.”This is her rendition of ‘Rahner’s Rule’. See Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 248-50.Johnson offers a vivid series of images for the perichoresis of the divine persons, deployed in a panentheistic and feministic perspective.Johnson, She Who Is, esp. Chs. 10, 11.Karl Rahner appropriated Aquinas’ concept that creation is an ongoing relation between the creature and its Creator but he reformulated it in terms of the relation between a dynamic, immanent God and the evolving and self-organizing world described thoroughly by science. Evolution results from the intrinsic power of nature for self-transcendence, but this power issues ultimately from God as the power of being.Karl Rahner, "Christology Within an Evolutionary View of the World," trans. Karl-H. Kruger, in Theological Investigations 5 (New York: Crossroad, 1983(1966)), esp. 165. Rahner uses the term "active...Jürgen Moltmann specifically places evolution within a Trinitarian account of continuous creation in dialogue with the panentheism of Peacocke and Rahner’s concept of the world’s self-transcendence. Creation is “not yet finished,” the ‘crown of creation’ is God’s sabbath still to come.” For Moltmann, the history of creation involves God’s transcendence to and immanence in the world, and the immanent God is the creative Spirit, acting through God’s “uncreated and creative energies.”Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God, in The Gifford Lectures 1984-1985 (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 190-214, esp. 196-7, 206, 212.Denis Edwards believes that a relational account of God asTrinity provides the foundation for an evolutionary theology in which “creation is the free overflow of (the) divine fecundity.”Denis Edwards, Jesus the Wisdom of God: An Ecological Theology (Homebush, Australia: St Pauls, 1995), 116. See also Denis Edwards, The God of Evolution: A Trinitarian Theology (New York: Paulist Press,...In developing his approach, Edwards draws upon a rich variety of medieval sources including Richard of St. Victor and Bonaventure, as well as a diversity of contemporary writers in theology in science.

Evolutionary and molecular biology also provide a crucial context for further research on ‘non-interventionist divine action’ as suggested above (Part 2, A, 2, a, iii). Recall that quantum physics can be interpreted as pointing to ontological indeterminism: the world is genuinely open at the subatomic level. In such an approach, God can act with natural causes, and in any or all quantum events, to bring about the actual processes of nature without being reduced to a natural cause and without overriding natural causality. Since genetic mutations are a key to biological evolution, and since they involve quantum processes in which hydrogen bonds are made or broken, one can now picture God as acting within evolution at least at the genetic level. This approach is being explored by writers including Ellis, Murphy, Tracy and me. The results would be compatible with a variety of specific approaches, including process, feminist, and Trinitarian theologies.See George F. Ellis, "Ordinary and Extraordinary Divine Action: The Nexus of Interaction," in Chaos and Complexity: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. Robert J. Russell, Nancey C....

Finally, one should note that many conservative and evangelical theologians have offered creative interpretations of evolution, including A.A. Hodge, Henry Ward Beecher, Benjamin B. Warfield, A. H. Strong and more recently Alister McGrath and Howard J. van Till. Particularly notable is Bernard Ramm, who played a role in the Evangelical development of the science-theology dialogue comparable to that of Ian Barbour among the liberals. Regrettably, there will not be space to treat these positions here, though they will be considered in a future, more lengthy, essay.Bernard Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1955); see also Howard J. Van Till, "Basil, Augustine, and the Doctrine of Creation's Functional...

Contributed by: Dr. Robert Russell

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