Re: BIBLE/ORIGINS: seeking feedback

From: George Murphy (
Date: Thu Feb 06 2003 - 20:32:13 EST

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    Robert Schneider wrote:
    > Don, Jim and Blake,
    > I am enjoying this discussion, one of the more thoughtful recently
    > on a topic that interests all of us. I'd like to comment briefly.
    > It seems to me that one consequence that an evolutionary paradigm
    > of the creation leads to is that positing any notion of divine action
    > in an evolving creation makes it difficult to separate theology from a
    > scientific understanding of the creation in a even more complex way
    > than when theology worked with earlier models (e.g.,
    > Newtonian/mechanistic). I don't mean that theology should be in the
    > business of telling science how to understand evolutionary processes
    > scientifically, but that theology is challenged to be less than
    > content with a simple notion that God works immanently within the
    > evolutionary process. Considering different ways that have been
    > proffered to account for God's immanent creativity, I believe that
    > theology has to find some balance, on the one hand, between the notion
    > that God is hands-on with every action in the universe, e.g., the
    > notion that God is working in quantum process, and that God is
    > involved in every mutation that leads to descent with modification;
    > and on the other hand, that God merely sustains the existence of
    > creation in every instance but does not intervene in any respect with
    > the processes God built into the creation at the instant of its
    > appearing.
    > Theologians like Arthur Peacocke and Denis Edwards speak of God
    > being "present" to every event (Edwards) or "randomness" (I also
    > prefer the term "haphazard") as God's very working in creation
    > (Peacocke). And Blake writes that God participates in a fully endowed
    > creation "through the creatures." I agree with all these
    > formulations, but the more I think about them, the less satisfying
    > they become.
    > But it may be that the goal I've just stated is unattainable and
    > that I will have to learn to live with my dissatisfaction, that
    > theology, and the faithful, will need to live with a great degree of
    > agnosticism about divine action, and accept that whatever divine
    > action is, is a mystery ultimately beyond our comprehension. Yet in
    > the dialogue with science, I believe that theology will be challanged
    > to be more than vague about its understanding of the relationship
    > between God and the world. How it answers such a challange may be as
    > important as how it articulates its insights about divine action.
    > I don't know if any of this makes any sense, but thanks for your
    > thoughts.

            Traditional doctrines of providence have distinguished between God's
    _preservation_ of creatures, _cooperation_ with them in doing whatever is done in the
    world, and _governance_ of creation toward the goals God desires. In older static
    pictures of the world it made sense to emphasize preservation, but the picture that we
    have today in all branches of science is _not_ static, and we should give priority to
    cooperation. In fact we can almost say that God preserves creation precisely by
    cooperating with creatures.
            The picture suggested by cooperation, that of a worker with a tool, is of
    course no more precise than many other metaphors. But I do not think it is appropriate
    to demand that theology provide some precise account of the "causal joint" between God
    and created agents similar to that between two physical entities. That would be to try
    to make theology into physics, which it ain't.
            It is hard to see how one can say that some things occur because God cooperates
    with creatures while others things "just happen" - & that includes events at the quantum
    level. OTOH, as long as it remains unclear at what level & how the "collapse of the
    wave packet" occurs, we shouldn't be dogmatics about how God is or is not involved with
    quantum events.
            All of the above could be said about mere philosophical theism, which is in fact
    what traditional doctrines of providence are part of. There is nothing distinctively
    Christian about them - nothing indicative of the fact that the God who acts is the God
    known in the cross and resurrection of Christ. One way in which the Christian character
    of divine action should be made clear is to emphasize its kenotic character - that God
    limits divine action to what can be accomplished through natural processes obeying the
    laws of physics.
            I may call attention to my article in the March 2001 PSCF, "Chiasmic Cosmology
    and Creation's Functional Integrity" for detail on this approach.

    George L. Murphy

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