I want to dabble in a topic outside my expertise, and I do so to generate a conversation. The topic is this: natural theology is the belief that nature is the “theater of the glory of God” and that means nature reflects God. Well, yes, and much there is that evokes our admiration, our wonder, and our praise. Our trip this summer to Northern Ireland gave us opportunity to skirt along the coast to see things we have never seen, and nothing quite like Giant’s Causeway. It was like standing atop ages long ago. Yes, much there is that evokes the sense that creation is the theater of God’s glory.
What does natural theology teach us about God if evolution is part of the process of creation? To me, this is a big question and I hope lots of folks weigh in on this.
But, yet, that same created order is filled with decay and death. It’s how it works. Which now pushes natural theology and the very belief that creation is the theater of God’s glory into new corners.
Alister McGrath, in his new book The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind, explores this theme. He says there are two options: we can deal with the discomforts of the real world and the aesthetic ugliness of what we observe in nature, or we can avoid the whole and pretend another story. He goes for the first and then suggests a standard proposal: God created all things good and God will restore all things to goodness. Thus, the old creation, fall, incarnation, redemption and consummation.
I was surprised he didn’t explore some kind of theistic evolutionary theory in his belief about how God created all things good. For me the question of goodness pushes itself onto the front burner, but for me the theory that God simply created all things good doesn’t deal adequately with the real world or the aesthetic ugliness that we find.
What happens to natural theology if evolution is true? What do you do with “red in tooth and claw”? Does death become more “natural”? How do you explain this? What do you think of my suggestion and what would your suggestions be?
Admissions must be made: I’m not a scientist, but let me take the stand that if God chose to create through an evolutionary process, then it’s not quite as simple as “God made all things good” and we sinned and that got things all fouled up. To be sure, I affirm creation and fall, but it’s the how of creation that science brings to the table and that natural theology will face more squarely.
What it brings to the table, and natural theology always deals with the empirical sciences, is that death was around long before God “stepped in” to make Adam and Eve and render us as Eikons of God.
If we take this view of an evolutionary development then we admit to the presence of death well before the sin of Adam and Eve. Thus, if we see death as part of the cycle of nature and if we then have to factor death into the cycle of natural theology, what do we get in our natural theology?
My suggestion is this: that death is a sacrament [sign, token] of mortality. That death is not simply an invasion into the natural world after the fall but is inherent to the natural world because the natural world is mortal and only God is immortal. God wrote death into the fabric of things because all created things are mortal.
Furthermore, the Eden story of Genesis 3 teaches that God placed a tree of (everlasting) life in the garden and then banned Adam and Eve from eating it in order to prevent them from living everlastingly in a cracked Eikon state. Adam and Eve were not, perhaps, in a golden state of immortality but in a probationary state of learning to live in an everlasting way (but they’d have to choose that tree to get it) or in a deathly way (and they chose that way). But perhaps behind that choice was mortality and that the death they chose was a spiritual death coupled with physical death (morality).
So, let me post this as a suggestion for those of you who consider natural theology: natural theology in this framework teaches us that death is inherent to the created order and that death, so I’m suggesting, is a sacrament of the mortality of the created order. What takes on immortality then are those who choose the Tree of Life.
What other elements of natural theology could be developed if evolution is how God chose to create? I can think of elements like potentiality in development, etc..