Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The deep mystery of existence.3. Evolution equals design

A common human weakness is to engage in utterly futile arguments. 

Looking at the fossil record gathered since the 18th century and accepting the widespread interpretation of this by biologists and zoologists, it certainly looks as though life in its present state has evolved. St Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), commonly acknowledged as the greatest Christian theologian and philosopher, proposed that ‘In the beginning were created only germs or causes of the forms of life which were afterwards to be developed in gradual course.’  (from Genesi ad Litteram, the Literal meaning of Genesis). This preceded Darwin by some 1400 years. 

 What many modern life science academics seem unable to admit, in the face of overwhelming evidence, is that this evolution, like that of the entire universe which preceded it, has been entirely purposeful, as though working towards some end point, and that modern physics and biology increasingly point to the whole universe being a kind of mind. 

Equally puzzling are the young earth creationists who seem afraid of evolution, despite its proposal from the 4th century.  Fundamentalist creationism became significant, though not dominant, around the time of the Reformation (c.1500AD) and stems, in my view, from a failure to look deeply at the meaning of Genesis within the Hebrew culture at the time of the God-inspired writing and redaction of the Pentateuch. See also The fittest survive: but how? 

 (We Christians differ in theology, eschatology and hermeneutics but share a belief in the bodily Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ and His saving by grace of all humankind from the consequences of sin here and in the state of eternal life, which starts now, in this life, and survives physical death.)

In our limited reality time obviously figures to the extent that the biological world is synchronised. It is becoming increasingly evident that events in the living world previously thought to be unconnected are in fact orchestrated and coordinated not only with each other but with the geological, oceanographic, atmospheric and astronomical arenas in which they occur. How else could the biosphere function over hundreds of millions of years as solar radiation grew by over 20%?  It is not too much of a conjecture to imagine the whole universe, including the history of civilisation, as being synchronised to some cosmic master clock. If this were the case there would indeed be a basis for assuming some relationship between celestial patterns of events and the events on earth. However, it is my strong belief that prediction of events in human affairs and the living world, other than under controlled experimental conditions, is not possible for mortal beings since this would remove free will and I take it as self evident that our Creator has endowed us with this.

Exploration and movement towards a goal seems to be a characteristic of humanity as a species. If we are made in God’s image (Genesis 1: 24) could this mean that in addition to being loving, truthful, just, merciful and creative, God is constantly seeking the fulfillment of a purpose? Yet if God merely set the whole process of physical and spiritual evolution in progress over the ages and left it to unfold how could He (I stick to the male pronoun for tidiness knowing that the essence of God is both male and female, something personal but beyond gender classification)  be interactively involved with it?  How could He respond to our free will decisions to submit to His will or reject it?

To get any kind of feel for this we have to try to imagine a God’s eye view.    In trying to imagine it we get a sense of a personal omnipotent entity beyond imagining.

To God, existing transcendentally beyond and within our parochial little universe (big only in space-time extent, but tiny compared to the fullness of God), human and cosmic history existed as a single tapestry or picture in His mind.  He chose a tapestry of perfection which could be woven through history by freely acting humans.  He knew how each person would freely act in every circumstance and chose an end time world which would be perfect yet compatible with these free decisions in the long term.

 From our perspective it seems as though time is passing, nature is evolving and human history is unfolding. God is seated outside of time, in eternity: all events - past, present and future from our perspective- appear on one cosmic tapestry or painting.  In some unfathomable way our free will decisions, made before God created our space-time-energy universe as a kind of cosmic stage on which humanity and individuals play their part,  interact with the process of creating the Holy tapestry as God works towards perfection, a new heaven and a new earth, an end point which the Creator has in mind. In this model scientists are actors on the stage diverting their attention from the drama of earthly life to investigate the construction and operation of the stage scenery and machinery.

Our pre-creation counterparts make free decisions on whether to submit to God’s will. When we  make a decision  it is a manifestation of a decision made outside our space-time-energy existence. When, in this transcendent, ephemeral  existence we voluntarily submit to God’s will the tapestry develops towards perfection smoothly and without evil consequences. When there is sin the tapestry is blemished and bad things happen (e.g. war, disease, social breakdown, these consequences affecting even the innocent while in their mortal state prior to eternal life). The heavenly existence which survives physical death is threatened or diminished in some way. Imagine God as painting a masterwork and having his arm jolted every time a sin occurs.

So the process of biological evolution is that of God weaving and refining the natural world (only a tiny part of a much richer and unimaginable reality), a process of ongoing design outside of space-time that we perceive as a flux of evolutionary events in our world of clocks, rulers and scientific instruments. Even some random events could be part of God's work, perhaps small chaotic patterns of dots within the 'painting', needed to make it complete and right in God's eye.

 Any attempt by me to understand God's scheme and purpose is doomed to failure but our Creator has designed us to make such attempts. (Also,  He has a sense of humour and is infinitely forgiving.) It just helps me make sense of the all surpassing mystery of reality and it could conceivably help others, even if it means spurring them towards some other notion. It is in this spirit, and the hope that it will do something to help end this destructive and supremely silly conflict between neo-Darwinists with faith in chance and young earth creationists forced to put God into a box by the reductionists who have come to dominate western thought,  that I present it. Christie elision (Christ have mercy).

See also
Our perception of reality, ancient and modern
 John,  cosmik.jo@gmail.com