Theistic Interpretations

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Written by Nash Popovic

Most mainstream religions have already accommodated evolutionary biology. For example, the Catholic Church says that evolution should not be seen as in conflict with Christian faith; most Catholic schools teach evolution in their science classes. Evolution is still viewed as an anathema, though, among some Christian fundamentalists, especially in the US.

However, Creationist and other literal interpretations of the scriptures are hard to reconcile with facts. The Old Testament account contains a number of incongruent and inconsistent statements. For instance, according to Genesis, fruit-bearing trees were created on the third day, while fish and other marine creatures were created two days later. Whatever ‘day’ is supposed to mean, the fossil record shows clearly that fish pre-dated trees by hundreds of millions of years. The existence of redundant organs and other imperfections (e.g. the position of optic nerves in the human eye) is another reason why the creation of species by an outside agency is extremely implausible. An omnipotent designer should do better. The offshoot of Creationism, Intelligent Design, is good in picking shortcomings of evolutionary theory, but it falls short in offering a plausible alternative.

There have been many theologians (notably from the Jesuit breed) who have not interpreted the Bible literally and have attempted to incorporate the theory of evolution within a religious framework. A prominent, relatively recent example is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who took evolution as a central tenet of his theology[1]. His essentially Hegelian vision (see p.69-70), but extended beyond historical time, is far removed though from conventional religious views. The other, more traditional position that can be traced back to St Augustine emphasises God’s transcendence, insisting that God only sets the starting parameters, after which nature follows the evolutionary path without additional interventions. Darwin himself held the view for a while that God created life through the laws of nature. This kind of theistic evolution stems from the doctrine that the creation is perfect, so further interference is not necessary (such a view was taken to an extreme by deists in the 18th century). This is, of course, a challenge to the Biblical account that assumes the active involvement of God (from the story of Abraham to Jesus). In order to overcome these difficulties, philosopher Whitehead proposes a bipolar nature of God, one transcendent and one ‘in the world’, but the tension between these two poles appears to create more problems than it solves. Without delving into detailed analyses of these perspectives, one conclusion is inevitable.

[1] In the East, a similar concept was espoused by Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo.

In order to incorporate the accepted facts in a meaningful way, the understanding of the creator and the creator’s involvement has to undergo an evolutionary process too.