Monday, March 4, 2013
Theistic Evolution: A Theological Narrative
What follows is offered up as a provisional theological narrative for a Christian account of theistic evolution:
1. Creatio ex nihilo (creation "from or, out of, nothing"). In contrast to pantheism (and even panentheism), creatio ex nihilo asserts that the cosmos, i.e. "the world of the universe that is," has its origin in God as its ground of being, not out of divine necessity but rather of divine will. Hence, as a fundamental assertion of theism, the cosmos cannot in any way be identified with the Divine or be said to possess an essentially divine nature. The Creator, the one whom we call "God," is wholly other, i.e. utterly transcendent from the cosmos.
2. Divine Kenosis. Creation is nonetheless an act of divine kenosis, or "self-emptying," wherein the Creator freely and gratuitously "makes room" for something other than the Divine-Self: the "gift of being." This "gift of being" (creatio ex nihilo) includes the "gift of becoming" (creatio continua), i.e. the unfolding of divine purpose in the cosmos as it evolves from essentially random fluctuations in the continuum of time and space, to the formation of the basic elements, the coalescence of matter, the formation of stars, galaxies, solar systems, planets, the emergence of organic chemical processes, self-replicating molecules, biological life, and finally consciousness itself with its attending consequence of "existential estrangement."
3. Cosmic Stochasis. The extent of divine "self-emptying" can be detected in the stochastic or non-deterministic (so-called "random") natural processes of the cosmos. Orthogenesis, or so-called "progressive evolution," i.e. the hypothesis that evolution follows a straight or unilateral course towards a determined end or goal, must be excluded on both scientific and theological grounds. Scientifically speaking, the process known as Natural Selection simply precludes the notion. Theologically, the "gift of becoming" must contain within itself a true, rather than apparent, freedom, i.e. the "freedom-to-become." In other words, the physical universe contains no necessary internal, directional or teleological ("end-driven") goals.
4. Teleonomic Contingency. The admission, both scientifically and theologically, that precludes the existence in creation of necessary teleological or "end-driven" goals does not preclude the existence of inherent teleonomic or "end-seeking" goals grounded in teleomatic processes, i.e. natural laws that the physical universe follows. These processes are inherent in the universe as created. Consequently, the universe does not unfold in a chaotic or "directionless" manner, but rather in accordance with the purpose and will of its Creator towards greater and greater complexity. Be that as it may, this inherent direction towards greater and greater complexity follows a permissive course rather than a determined one. Hence, the universe is free within the confines of its own natural laws to evolve in an infinite number of ways, but always in the direction of greater and greater complexity -- termed "self-transcendence" by K. Rahner.
5. Theosis. Neither does contingency in nature in any way preclude an overall divine teleology or purpose for the cosmos. Theologically, this purpose is called "theosis" -- the participation of the created order in the Divine life, divinization, union with God. From the very moment of existence, the Creator has been drawing and calling the cosmos into closer and closer proximity to the Divine-self. The cosmos in turn responds through continuous evolution, more and more organization, emerging properties that yield, self-transcendentally, even more wondrous properties. Consciousness and self-awareness just happen to be among the wondrous properties that have emerged in our small corner of "the world of the universe that is," and just happen to be unique (as far as we know) to our species. In humankind, the cosmos possesses the ability to look back on itself in wonder, mystery and awe. Implicit in such emergence is the realization of the imago Dei, the faculty of volition, and the actualized moral realm wherein natural contingency self-transcends into human "choice."
6. Existential Estrangement. Estrangement is the angst of the self-aware cosmos -- the human species -- in coming to terms, at least implicitly, with its inability to attain the goal and purpose for which it has been created -- union with the Divine (theosis). In traditional terms, this is called Original Sin. The struggles to adapt and survive, to survive and compete, to compete and overcome -- struggles common to all biological life -- are but the birth pangs of theosis. Yet these struggles lie at the root of human estrangement and are indirectly the cause of sin, wherein biological competition is superseded by social competition, which in turn is superseded by economic and political competition, and ultimately by spiritual competition. The divine self-giving Logos challenges estrangement, undermines it, and threatens to overthrow it; yet while still "other" and speaking from a distance, the Logos cannot conquer it apart from the annihilation of the cosmos itself. In moral beings estrangement is inevitable; yet it is also necessary in the realization that theosis cannot be attained apart from grace, as a divine gift, and thus is the necessary condition of a true receptivity.
7. Incarnation. Far from being a divine afterthought, incarnation is the ultimate goal of creation. Indeed, creation and incarnation are but two acts of the same divine drama. Together they constitute theosis -- the perfect, inseparable union of God and creation -- which is not possible without the initiative of divine visitation: "The Word made flesh." On evolutionary terms we may speak appropriately of incarnation as "ascendant Christology," but only in respect of the receptivity of the cosmos to unite with the divine Logos. The doctrine of creatio ex nihilo entirely precludes our ever speaking of incarnation in terms of a cosmos evolving into the divine in and of itself. As gift it must be received. Evolution, whether biological or spiritual, can only produce the conditions conducive to its reception.
Yet given the unfathomable gulf of being, divine grace from a distance can only hope to persuade through imperfect witness, hoping to woo a self-aware cosmos into receiving the divine "in the fullness of time." The biblical record is filled with stories of divine call and human receptivity. Even paganism has its myths of divine union with humankind. Yet each account fails by degrees to be that perfect moment of receptivity until the incarnation of Christ -- a holy mother's fiat -- the mythos of Annunciation -- the cosmos ready to receive the divine seed of its own theosis.