Giving Thanks for Darwin on Evolution Weekend

For many Christians, evolution is a synonym for atheism.

The notion that life evolved slowly over millions of years through natural selection rather than spontaneously erupting from the hand of God has largely destabilized the traditional understanding of the natural order as presented in the creation myths of Genesis.

For a number of Christians, evolution kills any possibility of a magnificent Creator who formed the cosmos from the void,  the Artist who paints the horizons with wondrous sunsets, the Potter who molds the human clay, the Author who writes the story of life on Earth.

Without an author, humans can no longer be sure that the story’s end will be happy. Without a painter, humans cannot behold the beauty of God within the natural world. Without a potter, humans are little more than off-center lumps of clay twirling awkwardly on the wheel of life. Without a Creator, humans can no longer be made in his image.

I should know, because I used to be one of those Christians. For years, I thought of Darwin as an agent of devilish misinformation who stood against God’s ultimate, infallible truth when it came to creation. To me, evolution was one of the great spiritual battles of modern times, and I was a foot soldier on the side of God fighting against an onslaught of evolutionary godlessness.

For me at the time, a Christian who accepted the theory of evolution as a scientific truth wasn’t just as signal of a lack of faith or a capitulation to secular culture.

Instead, it signaled the end – the death – of the Creator God.

But such a death also signals liberation.

So in honor of Darwin’s birthday and Evolution Weekend, I am giving thanks as a Christian like others in the Clergy Letter Project for the courageous brilliance of the man who pioneered the theory of evolution and for the invigorating liberation he has offered people of faith. As an Episcopalian, I am proud and honored that Darwin is buried in Westminster Abbey in London, thinking, in fact, that it is quite appropriate that his body lies there.

Indeed, once the defensive naivety of biblical literalism fades, I suspect that the Christian faith will look back in gratitude on the in-breaking of evolution into human consciousness as one of the most significant and fruitful theological events from the modern, scientific age.

Instead of one autonomous Creator dictating by divine right an absolute morality to which all human knees must bow, evolution offers us the ability to not just share and experience the world but to become creators of it ourselves. And this offer extends beyond humanity to the entire natural world. Indeed, through evolution, the whole earthly realm becomes collaborators with each other, creating together the world in which we live.

Evolution shows us that species develop in response to the natural world, slowly and incrementally over time, and that one species’ evolution often impacts the evolution of other plants and animals within its ecosystem. Most, if not all, of this is random and selected naturally, but I can’t help but marvel at the evolutionary concert that plants, animals, reptiles, insects and humans have created up to this point.

Viewed theologically, this means that we are all creators, made in one another’s images, adapting to the adaptations of each other. As humans create on earth so to does the earth create on us. In our interconnected web of creating and being created, we come to be images of our planet and of all our co-creators on this terrestrial sphere. In this view, we can truly begin to see the deep wisdom of St. Francis of Assisi who called the moon, water, larks and crickets his sisters, the wind, fire, rabbits and wolves his brothers, and the whole Earth his mother.

Within evolution, everything and everyone has the potential be be a creator, as we live, breathe, interact, share and become Earth together. The wind, weather, environments, habits and our effects on them slowly change our planet, creating, over time, new heavens and new earths. All of us, from the microorganism to the elephant, become equals, subject to one another, in competition at times as much as collaboration.

The question, then, that evolution presents Christians is not whether Darwin’s theory killed the Creator God. Rather, evolution asks us, “What kind of creators will we be?”

Perhaps this is the theological implication of evolution that most terrifies some Christians, the notion that we are all active creators rather than the passive creations. Because within this theological turn, we are simply human beings with the ability to create, like everything else. The difference for humans however is that, by and large, we should be responsible for what we create.

And so much of what Christianity has created of late has been dangerously toxic.

In the end, though, it will not be to some distant being to which we will have to answer for these creations. It will be to each other, to Sister Cricket, Brother Wolf and Mother Earth.

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About David R. Henson

David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student.

  • http://morganguyton.wordpress.com/ Morgan Guyton

    “Viewed theologically, this means that we are all creators, made in one another’s images, adapting to the adaptations of each other.” Isn’t this a perfect description of the creation of commodities through exchange in the free market? The consequence of Darwinism is the loss of a doctrine of divine providence, without which I can feel free not to see my wealth as the gift of a Father to be shared with my brothers and sisters in need. I’m not proposing Genesis literalism, but I do want to affirm that whatever has happened, the Creator has been infinitely intimately involved. Without that affirmation, I’m not sure why the Koch brothers shouldn’t be playing the “survival of the fittest” game.

    • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

      But wealth isn’t a gift from God, IMO, so no one who has wealth should give it away because it is from God. Rather they should give it away because it is ethical behavior in relationship with other people. Most often, as in the Koch Bros case, wealth is a gift/sacrifice from the Earth (through exploitation and degradation) and our fellow humans (through oppression, poor wages). Wealth is often already taken from those in need and at the expense of the earth. What I’m getting at in this post is that by viewing ourselves as equals (relational) with each other and all creatures — not as things to exploit — then it makes the kind of thing your suggesting impossible.

      Why does Darwinisim necessitate the loss of the doctrine of God being active in the world? I’m not sure it is necessary to affirm that God has been intimately involved in the process of evolution if we understand that *we* have been involved in the process of evolution. Evolution is not something that is just acted out upon us but is something that we act upon ourselves.

      I think your comment assumes that the survival of the fittest is an individualistic game one needs to “win” and that if we only look out for ourselves and our interests a la the Koch Brothers then we have the best chance of survival. I think that takes an immediate view of the very long-term process of evolution. My point is, and this is the theological turn, if we combine the insights of evolution with our faith, then we begin to understand that the survival of the fittest is best understood in a relational way. Our planet, our species and our families survive if we all survive; Our planet, our species, our families have the best chance of surviving if we understand ourselves as dependent upon one another. Survival, in this context, is long-term.

      In this, I’m suggesting the exact opposite of commodities through exchange in the free market. Rather I’m suggesting the binding of our fates to our brothers and sisters — every plant and animal and person — on our planet. I’m suggesting relation not commodity.

      Does that help clear things up?

      • Confused

        If all morality is relative, or as you say, non-absolute, then do we need a savior? If not, then what is Jesus of Nazareth? What did his death and resurrection accomplish?

      • Jesse Dooley

        Perhaps our old idea of what the Christian tradition has taught about Jesus being our savior needs to change. Understand that when our theology changes this does not change God, only our understanding, only the words and concepts we use, those metaphors that we have often times set up as an idol. God bless.

      • Confused

        You’re right that tradition can and does change. But the actual words of Christ do not. Jesus himself says that his purpose is to redeem humanity from their sins. So denying sin or saying that sin is relative denies Christ and his purpose. Mark 10:45 & Luke 19:10 are reference points.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

        Again, I’m confused regarding your point about relativity of sin or denying Christ.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

        I will be honest. I am having a hard time understanding the connection between your comment and the post itself. I don’t believe I mentioned anything being relative or nonabsolute or the death and resurrection of Jesus. I’ve written a good bit about these in other blog posts, and I humbly point you to those posts to get a sense of my understanding of these very important theological points.

      • Confused

        In the post, you say “Instead of one autonomous Creator dictating by divine right an absolute morality to which all human knees must bow, evolution offers us the ability to not just share and experience the world but to become creators of it ourselves.” That reads as a denial of an absolute morality, does it not? Sounds to me like you’re making a case for humans to break the binds of absolute morality. If you’re making that case, you’re necessarily telling people that they can save themselves by changing their morals to match their behavior. Then what do we need a savior for? The connection is plain and obvious.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

        Are you making the argument that morality is an objective reality and that it has remained absolute and unchanged? Because Jesus himself shows how morality evolves and deepens in his teachings on many things, including violence and retribution. What is, as he puts it, the fulfillment of the law if not an evolution of morality? Jesus himself subverts and breaks the bonds of absolute morality, or at least, the perceptions of absolute morality of those around him; and that is all we can ever have is our own perception of what we believe absolute morality is. It is not an objective, observable reality.

        Morality, any social theorist can easily show, is a social construct that changes and depends upon the culture. The morality in the Bible is very much a cultural product. Does this mean it has no relevance or authority? Absolutely not. In fact, it is this historical, limited, and cultural (incarnational) reality and, its simultaneous transcendence of it, that makes it significant and provides the tension between historical (static) and cosmic reality (evolving and continual revelation at work in the world) that is so fruitful and present in our earliest statements of faith regarding the humanity and divinity of Jesus.

        But yes, I find moral absolutism, espoused by humans regardless of what it is based upon, to be dangerous, arrogant, and idolatrous.

      • Confused

        Do we need a savior? If so, from what? If not, then what’s the point?

      • Confused

        So you look to social theorists and culture as a moral compass and not the Word of God? There’s no limit to the damage this can and has done. It is a bit ironic that in a post in which you say “evolution offers us the ability to not just share and experience the world but to become creators of it ourselves” that you say moral absolutists are idolatrous. Nothing is more idolatrous that placing oneself on the level with God. Jesus did not break the bonds of absolute morality, he broke the bounds of sin & works-righteousness. They’re not the same thing. He came not to banish the law, but uphold it. Stealing is stealing, regardless of what the thief uses the money for. Adultery is adultery, regardless of how poorly your spouse treats you. The list goes on. The 10 commandments are an objective, observable reality and the standard for morality. You have your theology 180 degrees backward. You’re shaping God to fit a worldview, instead of letting God set your worldview.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

        Yes and Jesus evolves the morality of the day. This is what rabbis did. Informed by tradition, they take what is ancient and interpret it for the present in light of new knowledge, social and cultural changes. Jesus’ teaching on adultery and divorce, for instance, shows dramatic change and dramatic evolution of the idea of morality as it relates to women to marriage and sexuality.

        It is not idolatrous to call humans creators (this is drawn from process theology’s notion of co-creators with God) since we are made in God’s image and bear that same divine image. I would suggest you explore the Orthodox idea of theosis

        It is idolatrous to imply humans can grasp absolute morality for all time.

  • Ephraim7

    The evolution theory is an irrational falsehood, embraced by atheists, that is a phony conclusion of the 600+ million year fossil record. There is no valid “supporting data” for evolution. In a court of law, or in a public forum, the same evidence that evolutionists would use to try to “prove” that false theory, I would utilize to reveal the truth of Genesis. In order to believe in evolution, you have to purposely ignore certain facts of reality. For example, when you see illustrations of primates being pictured as evolving into humans, it can be shown in a court of law that such a premise is impossible, because certain human and primate traits are different, and could not have ever been shared. The only “common ancestor” that humans and primates share is God Himself.

    Creationism can’t be taught in science class, ONLY BECAUSE there is no one in any school system that is qualified to teach Biblical Creation. The doctrines of current Creationism are both false (old earth), and foolish (young Earth). Both creationist views misrepresent the Genesis text, and should not be part of any curriculum. The point I’m making is that part of the subject matter in biology science class is the advent and extinction of past life forms on Earth, which Creationism does not address. But without offering an opposing view, schools are brainwashing students with the tenets of Atheism, which is both unconstitutional to be state sponsored, and evil.

    Current Creationism is ignorant of the Genesis text, and either teaches foolishness (young Earth), or false doctrines (non-literal reading of the text). Creationists foolishly try to prove “Creationism”, rather than seeking and teaching the truth of Genesis. How can an untruth, ever prove another lie, to be in error? You can’t do it. That is why Creationism fails. It essentially is also a lie, and should be discarded.

    The correct opposing view to evolution is the “Observations of Moses”. It properly conveys what God was showing Moses, and explains the text of Genesis chapter one.

    Herman Cummings
    Ephraim7@aol.com

    • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

      This is the oddest, perhaps delusional, response I’ve ever received. Please don’t use this discussion section to promote yourself. It is for having conversation.

      • Melanie

        David, I’m thinking the same thing. What on earth are you talking about, Herman? It doesn’t make sense on a rational or spiritual level. I’m confused.
        Melanie

      • kenneth

        What Brother Herman means is that he’s set up his shell and pea game called pseudoscience, and he’s selling “incontrovertible truth” which depends on you first swallowing his shaky premises for argument. He’s saying, basically, that because some aspects of morphology and the fossil record seem confusing and counter-intuitive to laymen, that therefore the whole theory of evolution cannot stand. It was all a false construct by atheists and shady scientists, he might argue. Only he has the proper cypher which will enable us to derive literal scientific truth from Scripture.

        His arguments rest on grotesque and deliberate misreading or ignorance of the vast bodies of evidence from a dozen disparate fields of science which all support the core theory of evolution. Work over centuries and generations of scientists who were very often trying to prove each other wrong and subjecting their findings to many levels of repeat verification. The work of ALL of these fields – genetics, chemistry, geology, physics, biology in its many forms – they ALL lend credence to the underlying concepts of evolution and a universe MUCH older than 6,000 years.

      • ELSEVAR

        I was going to post a reply to Herman, but you stole my thunder.

        Bravo, and well done.


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