If Christians are to accept the worldview offered by contemporary
science, that the universe unfolded over the last fifteen
billion years from a primeval Big Bang, and that life evolved
on Earth over the last three and a half billion years by means
of genetic mutation and natural Selection, then they come
face to face with the question; How do these insights relate
to the Christian concept of God?
In his recent book "The God of Evolution"
Fr. Denis Edwards, Priest, theologian and prolific writer
of the Adelaide diocese, writes of a Self-limiting God. I
suppose we are all used to a God who has given us freewill,
because we cannot love unless we are free to either love or
not love. In this sense we are therefore used to a God who
cannot interfere with our free will. However Denis Edwards
goes on to say that God is committed not just to respect human
freedom but also to respect the integrity of the created universe
along with its laws and processes. All of this means that
God may not be free to overrule natural process. A God who
creates through physical process may well be committed to
the integrity of the process. If this is the case God is not
free or able to simply abolish all suffering. God, in creating,
accepts the limits of physical processes and of human freedom.
Such a God will be understood as a God who freely accepts
the limits of the process of emergence, a God who creates
through the losses and gains of evolutionary history. It suggests
a God engaged with creation, a God who respects the process,
and a God who suffers with and delights in the unfolding of
Random chance is an integral part of the evolutionary process.
It appears that a good deal of evolutionary change occurs
at the molecular level through random drift. And the genetic
mutations that are a source of novelty in natural selection
arise at random. Some of these mutations are beneficial, but
many are harmful. Without these random mutations, evolution
through natural selection could not occur, because there would
be no variation that could be passed onto another generation.
But although evolution is entirely dependent on random mutation,
evolution itself is not random. Evolution can be wonderfully
creative because there is process, natural selection, which
tends to preserve what is useful for adaptation to an environment
and to eliminate what is not useful.
It is mutation and natural selection working together that
produce something as beautiful as a blue wren, and something
as complex as the human brain. It is chance and lawfulness,
randomness and order, interlocked in collaboration, that have
brought forth the exuberant diversity of life on earth. It
is chance operating within the framework of natural laws that
accounts for the inherent creativity of nature. Random mutation
and natural selection enable an exploration of the potential
that is present in the laws and constraints of nature.
The Darwinian view of evolution springing from variation and
natural selection is not necessarily opposed to the idea of
a God as a purposeful creator. It is certainly opposed to
simplistic views of God creating through a series of divine
interventions. But it is not in conflict with a view of God
creating in and through natural processes, including chance
and natural laws. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) long ago clarified
that God's way of acting in the world is not opposed to the
whole network of cause and effect in nature. God's work is
achieved in and through creaturely cause and effect. It is
not in competition with it. Aquinas never knew Darwin's theory
of evolution, but he would have had no difficulty in understanding
it as the way God creates.
A number of eminent biologists insist that they find no evidence
of purpose at work in evolution. Supposing they are right
about the state of biological evidence, this does not rule
out a theological principle of purpose. It is quite possible
to think theologically of God as working purposefully in the
universe through processes such as random mutation and natural
selection, which when investigated empirically do not reveal
purpose at all.
However, it is relevant to note that sciences such as physics
and cosmology suggest that there is some direction in the
emergence of the known universe. These sciences tell us that
the universe unfolded over the last ten to twenty billion
years from the Big Bang. They describe the emergence of hydrogen
and helium in the early universe, the formation of galaxies,
the cooking of fundamental elements in the process of nucleosynthesis
in stars, the formation of more complex elements and the `seeding'
of the universe with these elements in supernova explosions,
the emergence of our solar system around a second or third
generation star, and the cooling of our own planet to a condition
in which life could emerge.
Cosmologists point out that remarkably small changes in the
fundamental characteristics of matter would have the result
that life and conscious human beings could never have existed.
The universe has to be remarkably `fine-tuned' to be the kind
of universe in which human beings could emerge. Alongside
all the forms of life that did not move towards increased
complexity, there is also a story of development, which runs
from the single-cell bacteria to the human mind and culture.
And this story is part of a larger story of the em emergence
of a universe which in fact is fine-tuned in such a way that
life and eventually human beings can emerge within it.
God creates a universe with initial conditions and physical
constants which are fine-tuned so that life and consciousness
might emerge. Long before life made its first appearance,
the universe was already set on a course in which life and
consciousness could evolve. The Creator is understood as influencing
the process not only through its laws and initial conditions,
but also through engagement with the process at every point
in the relationship. It is this continual creation which enables
the universe to exist and to unfold. It is this ongoing creative
activity of God that enables life to emerge and to evolve
through the process of natural selection.
God is now pictured as involved creatively in an open-ended
process that involves both randomness and lawfulness. It may
well be that this kind of process is the best way to create
a universe. It is certainly the way to create the kind of
universe we have an open-ended process and randomness are
intrinsic to the universe we inhabit. Godí s creative action
must be understood as universal in time and space, as a constantly
influencing factor, which does not interfere with the proper
powers of finite causes but cooperates with them. God is to
be seen as absolutely all-powerful, but rather as a relational
God who is self-limited by love and respect for finite creatures