Posted: April 25, 2017 in Uncategorized

Epiphany 6A, 2011/2017 Matthew 6: 26, 28-29 (Evolution Sunday)


Today in the progressive religious world, is Creation Sunday and some name it Evolution Sunday and it is perhaps appropriate to celebrate the Baptism of Sangita on this day as well. She is after all a very precious creation of human love of the ongoing creation of the human species. I hope to pull together some notes on creation, evolution and God today in what I think is a progressive theology that places what we do today as a celebration of hope that is born in the life of Sangita and her family.
First of all I need to but some ground rules in place. The first is that I am not talking about Nature and God but rather the Nature of God. Some years back now L Charles Birch, former Challis Professor of Biology at the University of Sydney, wrote a book about Nature and God and in it he wrote that “The concept of God’s operations in the universe as a series of fitful interventions from a supernatural sphere overlaying the natural is quite unacceptable to science” (Birch 1965:7). Then he wrote that “On the other hand, the traditional thinking of science, sometimes called mechanism, is quite irreconcilable with any reasoned Christian position” (Birch 1965:7).

Here we have the science/faith debate that still goes on today. Creationism verses Evolution in the USA is a prime example of this debate at times polarized. In fact the issue is more complex than that as there are at least three major views on this relationship between science and faith. The first is the ‘conflict’ view – that science and religion are inherently, and perpetually, in opposition. The literalist interpretation of the Bible gets caught up in this debate. 6 days, 4,000 years or 4.5 Bullion and 14 billion. The second is the ‘contrast’ view – that science and religion are different because they ask different questions. The selective smorgasbord use of the bible gets caught up in this debate; how long is a day or a year anyway. The third is the ‘integration’ view – that science and religion can be integrated into a self-consistent worldview, and this I admit is my personal view. Unfortunately, what emanates from many non-progressive pulpits is more likely to represent the ‘conflict’ view than the ‘integration’ view, and thus the debate about the authenticity of global warming and climate change are bandied around in opposing camps.

The reality is that ‘G-o-d’ God, is a symbol or word known and used by nearly everyone who speaks the English language. Mostly assuming they are all talking about the same thing, but it is also a word which has many uses and meanings attached to it. The Macquarie Dictionary defines the word as: “the one Supreme Being, the creator and ruler of the universe” (Macquarie Dictionary 1981:763). In a Christian Science interpretation it is “the Supreme Being, understood as Life, Truth, Love, Mind, Soul, Spirit, Principle. This way of speaking theologically even if the Christian Science tries to deconstruct the anthropomorphic boundary it is still caught in what is called ‘classical theism’. This ‘God’ is supernatural, interventionist, and nearly always couched in male anthropological (or human-like) language and images. And for many this is still the way they think when they hear the word ‘God’.

For Progressives this way of thinking is no longer viable. Rex Hunt an Australian theologian suggests that many have come to think of God as the creative process or ‘creativity’, rather than a being who creates, and this means the use of non-personal metaphors rather than personal ones when talking about G-o-D God. It also means that the ground of those metaphor have changed also. Everything is moving, evolving, experiencing the creation as it changes and develops, including we humans.

Charles Darwin in his 1859 publication, On the Origin of Species, wrote that the world/universe was: (i) unfinished and continuing; (ii) involved chance events and struggle, and (iii) natural selection took the place of “design according to a preordained [divine] blueprint” (Birch 1965:29). Peters and Kaufman put this another way in 2004 when they said that the world/universe is cosmic evolution, biological evolution, cultural/symbolic evolution (Peters 2002, Kaufman 2004). Kaufman in developing this further put is that “In the beginning was creativity and the creativity was with God, and the creativity was God.  All things came into being through the mystery of creativity; apart from creativity nothing would have come into being. (Kaufman 2004:ix).

What I have just proposed can be said to be a different mentally constructed universe. Both in science and in religion/theology. In science, the most widely accepted modern estimate of the earth’s age is approximately 4.5 billion years.  While the universe – that whole “complex, interrelated and interacting… matter-energy in space-time… of which humans are an integral part…” (Gillette 2006:1), is approximately 14 billion years old.

And “if we put our fourteen-billion-year universe on a clock of one hour, humanity appears in only the last few seconds” (Peters 2002:127). So, ‘modern’ science is saying and has been saying, again and again: the universe must be regarded as a whole; it is of intrinsic value, and each part, galaxy, organism, individual atom, participates in that intrinsic value as each part or web, participates in this wonderful web of life. Each part, rather than one species or organism separating itself out as more important than the rest.

As one overseas colleague has said: “This science is public and cumulative and open to anyone who wishes to pick up a book and read” (JShuck).

One of these books is by Lloyd Geering, called From the Big Bang to God. Our Awe-inspiring Journey of Evolution. From this book I have taken a focus of what we have been participating in today in the Baptism of little Sangita.

When we think about the responsibilities of bringing a child into this world as we know it we are taking a huge leap in faith. We have symbolized this leap of faith by using water and words in a specific ritual to try to make sacred or to fix in our understanding her role in this vast cosmic reality as we know it. Our leap of faith is rooted in the hope that we are doing the right thing; that all that we know and hear about the future of our planet and our civilization is not the only way of looking at things.

In Lloyd’s book he talks about the future of the human race remaining an open question. We just don’t know what the future will bring and the arguments about climate change or no climate change, global warming or no global warming all indicate this reality.

On the one hand we must take full account of the perilous crises already facing us; like black clouds on the horizon, they indicate an imminent period of storms that could lead to catastrophic outcomes. Food shortages on a global scale, land covered with rising waters, an increase in uninhabitable land. In this scenario it seems unlikely that humans worldwide will be able to muster the willpower and the unity of action to avoid these things altogether.

“On the other hand, and here is the faith story; we can draw hope from the Great Story of how we came to be here at all. It is a truly awe—inspiring universe that has brought us forth and, at least on this planet, has come to consciousness in us, displaying the human inventiveness, creativity and entrepreneurial skills that have helped to make us the creatures we are. And this potential this hope-filled journey may lead us to as—yet—unimaginable heights.

“If our children and their children and their children survive and evolve to reach an even more exalted state of being than ours, they will have arrived at what our forbears long aimed for when in their traditions (Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim or Christian) they hoped, respectively, to enter Nirvana, the Promised Land, the unity of all nations, or the Kingdom of God.”

Gordon Kaufman, presents God as a non-personal ‘serendipitous creativity’ “manifest throughout the cosmos instead of as a kind of cosmic person.  We humans are deeply embedded in, and basically sustained by, this creative activity in and through the web of life on planet Earth (Kaufman 2004:58).

A growing number of people around the world, religious and scientifically minded, and conscious of this ‘web within a web of life’, are recognising that our modern life-style is: harming other creatures, diminishing the functioning of ecosystems, and altering global climate patterns. Our evolutionary nature and our creativity are dramatically argued to be assaulting the earth!  Indeed it is said that we are killing our very life support system in a manner unprecedented in human history.  And yet, most of us go about our daily lives more or less blissfully indifferent to the devastation” (Hill 2008:10).

But watch out for the emotional fear mongering and remember that progressive religious thought calls each and every one of us to ‘dance with’, to live in harmony with, our world recognizing that in the dance we can damage things, not only ourselves but also the environment we live in. The very fact that progressive religious/Christian thought names that creativity which indwells and sustains all life forms be it galaxy, organism or individual atom… ‘G-o-d’ or ‘the sacred’ or ‘serendipitous creativity’ is an invitation to create the future and by its very nature this responsibility and privilege says that we should take seriously what we do to the planet and all its ecosystems. If we are evolving and the planet is evolving there is great hope for the future and if it we are an integrated part of this evolution then we create the change we experience.

Karl Peters, retired professor of philosophy and religion, when asked: ‘How old are we?’ said: “[p]henomenally, a few decades; culturally, a few centuries or millennia; biologically, millions of years; cosmically, about 15 billion years” (Peters 1992:412).

And when asked ‘How long will we continue?’ he added: “[p]henomenally, a few more decades or less; culturally, maybe a few more centuries; biologically, millions of years or, if we do not destroy ourselves first, perhaps until our sun dies five (5) billion years from now; cosmically, until the universe ends, which may be never…” (Peters 1992:412).

Peters answers are a kind of cosmic recipe for the functioning of all things. And reminds us that nature is in us as much as we are nature. In our context today we might say that Sangita is a web of reality, woven out of the threads of culture, biology, and cosmos…  And as a web of reality she like each of us is a manifestation of a larger part of the universe as a whole…  She and we contain in us… after many cosmic, biological, and cultural transformations, the radiation that was present at the origin of the universe” (Peters 1992:412).

For me this suggests that the evolutionary epic is a religious world view. Science and faith as one and the same.

Notes: Birch, L. C. 1965.  Nature and God. London. SCM Press. Birch, L. C. 2008.  Science & Soul. Sydney. University of New South Wales Press. Gillett, P. R. 2006.  “Theology of, by, and for religious naturalism” in Journal of Liberal Religion 6, 1, 1-6. (An online journal). Hill, J. A. 2008.  Ethics in the Global Village. Moral insights for the post 9-11 USA. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press. Kaufman, G. D. 2004.  In the Beginning… Creativity. Minneapolis. Fortress Press. Macquarie Dictionary. 1981.  McMahons Point. Macquarie University. Peters, K. E. 2002.  Dancing with the Sacred. Evolution, Ecology, and God. Harrisburg. Trinity International. Peters, K. E. 1992.  “Interrelating nature, humanity, and the work of God: Some issues for future reflection” in Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 27, 4, 403-419. Zimmermn, M. 2010.  “The evolution-creation controversy. Why it matters”. Part 1, in The FourthR 23, 6, 11-15, 26.

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