Friday, June 11, 2010

Evolution, the Universe, and Divine Influence

Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin, God, and the Drama of LifeThere are two groups of people who place great emphasis in design -- those who insist on Intelligent Design (and conservative creationists) and Evolutionary Materialists.  The latter group, led by Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, have basically equated a theological interpretation of the universe with a William Paley-like Design option, find it wanting and then reject any other possibility of divine influence or involvement in the universe.  John H. Haught is a Roman Catholic theologian with Process inclinations who offers a different perspective in his book Making Sense of Evolution.  I'm nearing the end of the book, just a few more pages, but before writing a full review I wanted to give notice to Haught's understanding of divine influence, one that he derives in large part from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the late Jesuit Geologist/Theologian. 

Haught notes that Teilhard has been both neglected and ignored both by theologians and by scientists, but that he believes is a mistake.  The problem, he suggests, with Teilhard is that while he distinguished in his own mind between his science and his theology, it wasn't always clearly demarcated in his writings. 

The point I'd like to bring out is the possibility of divine influence in the universe as Haught understands it.  He writes:

As long as the universe is thought of in a strictly materialist manner, it will appear impermeable to divine influence.  But the character of the universe is such that it has never been utterly mindless and spiritless at any time.  So at least in Christian terms, it is always open to the creative movement of the Holy Spirit.  (p. 145).  
What Teilhard does is suggest that the development of the "sphere of the mind" or noosphere is not only part of the evolutionary process, but that it has always been present, so that the universe/nature has never been completely mindless.  This fact allows room for the possibility of divine influence. 

Haught writes:

Divine action in the world may be hard to understand as long as nature is taken to be essentially mindless, but it turns out that the very idea of mindless (or spiritless) matter is a logical illusion, stemming from science's inability to "see" the interior side that comes out into the light of day most explicitly in the evolution of human consciousness and the noosphere.  It is the interior vein of "consciousness" running throughout cosmic history, and especially in the dramatic depths of life, that allows the Spirit of God to penetrate the natural world, luring it toward more intense modes of being.  This interior side of nature, a strain invisible to science, also allows for the incarnate and now-risen Christ to gather the entire universe, physically and not just metaphorically, into his eucharistic body.  (p. 145). 
Our problem in envisioning divine action is that we continue to have this idea of God the engineer building a machine.  This is the vision given birth by Newton and Paley, but evolutionary science has undermined Paley's vision.  But, that does not mean that there is not another layer, one that science can't see, that allows for God to bring the universe into God's future, one that is pregnant with promise and hope.

8 comments:

Wesley Menke said...

What an interesting article and book. Do you think God has one or several equally valuable possibilities in mind for every moment? If there is just one, or even a hierarchy of possibilities it would seem that creation has quite a limited autonomy. Does process thought allow for genuine novelty to be initiated by a human, for example, or is this possibility already foreseen by God? This is something that I have wondered about for some time.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Wes,

Haught believes that the future is open and thus we contribute to the ongoing outworking of this evolutionary process.

But, I believe that God in God's love and grace has a logical outcome, but God works with and adapts to our choices, always encouraging us to come in God's direction. I hope that helps.

Wesley Menke said...

Is it possible in this scenario for a person to imagine and act on a possibility that is good and life giving that is not already suggested or lured by God?

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Wes, that is a good question that I don't have an answer for. As I think through the book, Haught I think sees God encompassing all possible responses. But I could be wrong. You will enjoy reading the book!

Human Ape said...

"God's love and grace"

Your magic man's love and grace.

You're making wild guesses and of course you don't have a shred of evidence for anything you say.

Your religion business is useful for you because you don't have to get a real job, but unfortunately you have to live your life acting like an idiot, spreading lies about your death cult, and spreading lies about science. I couldn't do that, because unlike you, I have moral values.

John said...

Most Christians accept the theory of evolution as a given. Your morality and commitment to truth should take that into account before you dismiss Christians.

John

David Mc said...

The universe does appear to unfold mindlessly. That's what makes it so awesome. If there was a designer, that only proves it was a total gift. Human ape, as long as science advances, theology may advance. At their core, neither are/ should claim to know the absolute truth.

We all have nuggets of truth. Try to deny this truth- "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."

Proverbs 16:18

By the way, I'm a professional scientist. oops, ouch.

David Mc said...

The best nugget, I feel, is still..."love wins". I would urge anyone to seek it and know, at least in "real life".