Creation and Chaos
In my last two post I presented the notion that the universe does not look like the work of an all-good and all-powerful designer. I agree with this assessment. Here I want to express an idea of God as seen in the light of evolution.
The notion of God as a designer who controls every event in creation rules out the notion of evolution by natural selection; conversely the acceptance of evolution by natural selection rules out the possibility of belief in God the designer.
Religious thinkers who welcome the findings of evolution understand God differently from the theists and the atheists who think of God as a Designer. Theologian John Haught, for example, contends that the discoveries of Darwin open up the possibility of a richer notion of God than had ever been know before. Religious understanding, specifically the understanding of Christianity, does not portray God as an all-controlling designer, but as one who empties Himself to allow the world to be itself. As Haught sees it:
God’s creative love constitutes the world as something ontologically distinct from God, and not as a simple extension of divine being. Consequently, the indeterminate natural occurrences that recent physics has uncovered at the most elementary levels of physical reality, the random events that biology finds at the level of life’s evolution, and the freedom that emerges with human existence are all features proper to any world that is permitted and even encouraged to be distinct from the creative love that underlies it.
(I am aware that some scientists including Sean Carroll, author of The Big Picture, and the late Stephen Hawking, probably the best known physicist of our time, believe that the probability laws of quantum mechanics are as deterministic as the older mechanistic view, and they reject the notion of random events and freedom. I will try to deal with these issues later, but for here I will go along with those scientists who accept randomness and freedom.)
In Christian belief and experience, God reveals Himself in the form of a poor man, of no political or economic consequence, who suffered death by execution on a cross. The trust in an incomprehensible God, in spite of unbearable sorrow also runs deep in the history of religious Jews from their early days of exile up through the Holocaust.
This notion, of course, has no appeal to those who do not accept it, but it shows that God as experienced in Christianity and Judaism bears no resemblance to the powerful but prissy god whom anti-evolutionists affirm, and atheists reject. God as experienced by religion is quite compatible with evolution by natural selection.
As expressed by the renowned Jesuit paleontologist, Teilhard de Chardin (1881 – 1955) “Even to a mere biologist, the evolution of life resembles nothing so much as a way of the cross.”
The key issue, as John Haught argues, is not whether the universe is the work of an Intelligent Designer, but whether the universe has purpose. The two questions are different although both sides often run them together as, “The world is either the product of Intelligent Design or it is pointless.”
Advocates of Intelligent Design, invoke the complexity and beauty of design while atheists claim that the design is sporadic and explainable by randomness over vast periods. Haught’s rejection of design is similar to the argument of the atheists in that he contends that evolution does not look like the work of a designer.
But Haught, rather than looking back for an original design, looks ahead to an evolving purpose. He further argues that the religions that sprang from Abraham consist primarily in hope for the future.
The question of purposefulness in the universe cannot be answered by science. Scientists can and do express opinions on the issues of purpose, but in doing so they base their judgments on whatever factors cause a person to accept or reject faith in a purposeful universe. Haught compares the fatalism of some scientists to that of the Greek tragedies.
Fate for the scientists as for the tragedians moves on with remorseless indifference to human aspirations and comes to a bad conclusion. Shakespeare’s Mac Beth expressed this powerfully on hearing of his wife’ death:
Life’s but a brief shadow; a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Of course, the scientists who think of the universe as pointless may or may not feel their own life as tragic; they might be quite content with their “hour upon the stage.”(Sean Carroll seems to fit this description.) But regardless of how scientists view life, their view is not part of their science.
As Haught argues, science is not equipped to find the value of things. Such questions are metaphysical, and although metaphysics must be consistent with science, a metaphysics of promise is not less scientific than a metaphysics of despair.