Friday, November 20, 2009

Editorial: But What About Evolution?

By asserting the cosmos as creation, Christians must assume that the language or book of God takes preeminence over the language or book of the world. The holiness of God implies the antiquated notion that creation itself is analogy, as must be all the adjectives that creation can produce to describe itself, including scientific and historical ones.

So it follows that to contemplate a lively and evolving creation is to consider (but not to determine) a living, dynamic and involving God. For creational theists, evolution, the unrolling of a book, must necessarily entail the involvement, the rolling up, of God into creation. Evolution implies incarnation, albeit incarnation more broadly understood than traditionally has been the case.

Evolution is open, predictable by the past but not dependent upon it. Evolution can ‘fail’ as species encounter the ends of their genetic lines without sufficiently mutating to match a dynamic world. Evolution is open to extinction, to accidental death. The most surprising metaphor in this new book of evolution, then, is the destabilization of both God and creation. The God implied by the analogy of evolution is a God open to debacle, to failure, to death and the suffocation of extinction and the abandonment of the laws of the originating order.

In other words, the God implied by the analogy of evolution must be radically open to the calamity of the cross.

All such events are fairly sudden, absolutely irreversible, and involve the broader environment in which the species becomes extinct. Once done, extinction, like crucifixion, is for all time. Extinction, like crucifixion, is the dross of a generative process, even as it signals that a horror has occurred. Extinction, like crucifixion, is jarringly abrupt – one can see it coming only in retrospect, the great eloi eloi lama sabachtani for which, by definition, no one can prepare. Extinction, like crucifixion, is environmental; it involves not simply the persecution of any one organism but also the tearing of all kinds of temple curtains in two.

This calamity, of course, is not the ‘purpose’ of the process but is in this universe a likely and perhaps even necessary corollary. The purpose of the process, at least the one self-described by the unrolling of the book of evolution itself, is to continue and perhaps to increase the life of the evolving. Through evolution, life as a whole becomes richer. Through crucifixion, God’s involution increases, and the life of all creation progresses toward its eschatological confirmation. After crucifixion life abounds and death, of course, has no sting. God, for the continuing world, increases. The mutations of evolution and involution continue.

That all of this did not have to happen, naturally, is the ‘miracle’ of evolution and creation alike. It has all been in essence only a probability, however great or small. But at the advent of an event, the probability of its occurrence becomes one, and, for the theist, God’s continuing involvement in evolution implies that the probability of life and life renewed always becomes certain.

Thus, one Christian wager might be that evolutionary creation is the venue of God’s constant apprehension.

An evolutionary creation, after all, requires more of the involvement of God than a deistic order governed solely by its own self-evident rules. Evolutionary creation is anything but self-evident, influenced by genetic history but exposed to the internal chances of mutation and the external accidents of dynamically hostile environments. But it is precisely by being so open that an evolutionary creation allows in its nature the involution of God.

Evolution, then, is not the denial of creation as such but rather the fulfilling of creation itself as the dynamic and expensive process of life’s grandeur increases toward the eschaton. If creation is evolutionary in its essence, then the culmination that is its divined purpose will not be the cessation of life but will be its exclamation and graduation into still more complex, rich, and dynamic forms.

The Christian, to reconcile the creational and evolutionary accounts of the genesis of life, must simply assume that the book of evolution was not published in 1859 by Darwin but rather, simply, on the very first day by God, and that its run will not stop until the last day that historical humanity can know. Because the traditional Christian doctrine of creation ex-nihilo implies that creation and all its subsequent order depends on God, evolution, for the Christian theist, becomes the affirmation of God’s providence in this the best of all possible worlds.

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