This page is an archive from the previous version of The Row Boat, which is why it doesn't look and work the same as the current version. However, these archives are fully functional and integrated with the new system.
Why does this site permit advertising?
Powered by Little Logger
The Row Boat
"Had we but world enough, and time..." *
Evolutionary Christianity8/08/2006 21:25:18
In welcome constrast to the creationist activists, there are of course a fair number of Christians who are trying to develop a Christian theology and popular opinion willing to embrace evolutionary explanations for things, which the scientific community takes as axiomatic. They take different forms. On the evangelical side, there is Michael Dowd, a preacher and writer who travels around speaking to church congregations about the glory of God revealed in what we have discovered through evolutionary science. Among Catholics, tracing somewhat the Jesuit tradition of de Chardin, there is John Haught, a theologian at Georgetown who mines the consequences of Darwinism for a theory of God, and Fr. George Coyne (SJ) of the Vatican observatory, who has been a vocal reminder of Rome's otherwise lukewarm embrace of evolution. I once met Fr. Coyne at a conference in Washington and found him delightful.
On the whole these efforts have not been terribly satisfying, particularly on a large scale.
(In religion, the state of consensus is a powerful and important thing, and it needs to be listened to. It is the source of traditions and can define dogmas. This is the case because compelling religion is formed so often on inconsistencies, and therefore internal logic or the opinion of certain authorities is not necessarily relevant or authoritative to its study. My saying this, incidentally, stirs up trouble for the argument I am about to make!)
By my theological reading, these projects are mainly superficial entrances into evolution. A truly evolution-aware Christianity, one free of dogmatic inhibitions and ready to see the world as clearly as it can, might instead go far further, permitting evolution to penetrate its roots. Rather than using evolution to talk about theories of God (whose revelation exists and persists - theories notwithstanding), use it for what it most specifically speaks to: a theory of us.
I hate the word but I will use it in this restrictive sense: this feels like the only way to satisfactorily demythologize. And even worse: cure us of our paganism.
What I mean by this is a free willingness to talk about the evolutionary sources of religion itself. An attention to the insights (still limited and slowly, precariously developing) offered by evolutionary psychology and sociobiology. So far the only folks to capitalize on these are outright antireligionists like Daniel Dennett who, by virtue of their willingness to take these forces on, appear irrefutable in their call for the demise of religion (whatever that means). The idea, of course, is not to refute but to understand.
The religion that follows might be a whole lot different (or surprisingly similar). It might not even be recognizable as what we think of religion at all. But it will be at least a little more attentive.
I saw once in an evangelical bookstore this book about evolution and the problem of evil whose premise keeps coming up in my mind again and again. It is that what Darwin actually meant to do is not to disprove God but to rephrase an understanding of evil in us. The history here may be dubious, but its suggestion is intruiging - the ways in which scientific explanation serves parallel purposes to what religion traditionally offers. This is similar but not identical to the gist of Mary Midgley's Evolution as a Relgion.
(Virulent evolutionists beware: this guy's publisher ascribes him to "the ranks of Philip Johnson and Michael Behe"!)
A draft (with lots of typos, sorry) of my senior thesis at Brown, which is about the role of performance in the American evolution controversies, can be downloaded as a .pdf here.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -