Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Does God Suffer With You? Or Will He Skip this Post?

... Everything that is true, whether in being or in knowing, in scripture or in nature, proceeds from one source and one root of truth.... Therefore, Moses, Christ, and the Philosopher [e.g., Plato] teach the same thing, differing only in the way they teach, namely as worthy of belief, as probable and likely, and as truth. --Meister Eckhart

We had a couple of thoughtful dissenters yesterday with regard to the cosmic evolutionary view envisioned by Teilhard de Chardin, which is perfectly understandable. Few theological issues are of more consequence, and I make no claims to be a theologian, much less a Christian one. I'm just a... a guy with a weird hobby.

One reader wrote that,

"The trouble with Teilhard is that he was thinking and writing when it looked like the 'science' of Darwinian evolution stood on unassailable ground. I believe we're within a couple of decades of that theory finally being recognized for the red herring that it truly is. To the extent that theologians bought into the 'truth' of Darwinistic science, and attempted to mix theology and evolution, it is to that extent that they've tainted their theological thinking with a fairly spurious principle."

Respectfully, I don't see it that way at all. First, you will notice that I do not refer to a "Darwinian cosmos" but to an evolutionary one. For some reason, evolution and natural selection have become synonymous, but they are not. Natural selection is merely a theory that attempts to account for the fact of biological evolution. In my view it is woefully inadequate to account for the whole of it (let alone cosmic evolution), but that doesn't mean that biological evolution has not occurred or that natural selection doesn't play some role in it, which I believe it clearly does.

One reason I believe in cosmic evolution is that in its absence, nothing makes any sense at all. It is a central pillar to everything else we know to be true of the cosmos, something like the foundation of a house. If you remove it, the whole house collapses. Everything from antibiotics to the computer you're staring at is ultimately rooted in an evolutionary cosmos. For example, the same physical forces that are harnessed to operate a computer inform us that the cosmos is approximately 13.7 billion years old, give or take. If the cosmos isn't expanding, then your computer shouldn't work. These physical forces are all tied together in a beautifully harmonious way.

The point is, if one is going to propose an alternate theory of any kind, the new theory must be able to account for the phenomena without "unexplaining" what the old theory explained. For example, there are many conspiracy theories that attempt to explain "who really killed JFK." But each and every one of them unexplains what the Warren Commission report explained so well -- that JFK was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald alone.

It is the same with evolution. You can believe in the "conspiracy theory" that the cosmos is fixed and final, but in order to consistently believe that, you have to throw out 99% of what we know about reality. And would God really create a cosmos that is so fundamentally deceptive that we cannot comprehend it with our reason? Why? What kind of God is that?

The commenter continues, "I do, however, like the emphasis that the Unknown Friend, who also wrote at a time when Darwinism seemed unassailable, placed on the idea that evolution is what we see in a fallen world. He does not, however see God Himself as something evolving to self-realization, as far as I can remember."

First, nowhere did I suggest that "God himself" evolves. Nevertheless, the first thing one must understand about God is that he is both transcendent and immanent; he is both present in all "things" and transcendent of them. Or as Eckhart wrote, "The more He is in things, the more He is out of things; the more in, the more out, the more out, the more in.... God's going out is his going in." And if God is present in all things, then he is ipso facto present in time, because things can only exist in time. Perhaps a less deceptive way to put it is that "nothing is not God." Therefore, to the extent that something is evolving, then God is evolving along with it. However, being that "all is God," it's ultimately just God playing hide and seek with himself -- it is transcendence playing at immanence.

After all, how else are we to even begin to understand the principle of the Word becoming flesh? What can this possibly mean if not the transcendent God becoming immanent in living, breathing humanity? Does anything change within God as a result of this drama? Or is God completely remote from his own activity?

Again, the only way around this paradox is to posit two aspects or "faces" of God. God is genuinely here in the creation, suffering and struggling with the rest of us. Indeed, a Christian must believe that God relinquished -- so to speak -- an aspect of his Godhood in order to do this -- to fully give himself over to his own creation. Christ's passion makes no sense at all if it did not involve a complete self-abandonment to the world. And yet, his transcendence ultimately makes him "victorious" over it. In the words of Eckhart -- which are always easy to misunderstand --

In Christ there was so great a union of the Word and flesh that he communicated his own properties to it, so that God may be said to suffer and a man is the creator of heaven.

The commenter suggests that "this is not to say that evolution did not happen as an unfolding plan of the Creator, who stands in his essential being absolutely outside His creation, and is not Himself subject to evolution or becoming (that is, in His divinity, although Jesus Christ was subject to growth in wisdom and maturity in His humanity)."

Really? I do not believe this is the authentic Christian view. Rather, the Incarnation and Resurrection caused the cosmos to shift on its very axis, equivalent to a second creation within the heart of the old one. Everything changed, for as Eckhart maintained, thanks to Jesus, the second person of the Trinity is always taking on human nature -- the eternal Word of the Father "is now born in time, in human nature." Time was moving in one direction and took a sudden turn that could not have been accomplished in any other way. As a result, time continues to unfold toward the Omega Point that once dwelt among us. That is evolution -- which is to say, growth toward God, or perhaps "the recovery of divinity."

Another commenter writes that "I cannot imagine why the 'exploding God' hypothesis has become so widespread. I have yet to see any sensible argument in its favor. Direct observation inward seems to indicate that timelessness, or eternity, is a natural property of the inner representation of the Absolute. Why then would the cosmic Absolute be bound in time? It makes no sense, unless one is so steeped in hubris as to think mankind is the highest being, or a closet materialist thinking that this visible cosmos is all there is."

No one is suggesting that the "exploding cosmos" -- or big bang -- involves the explosion of God himself. That would represent a form of pantheism or perhaps emanationism. Eckhart preferred the image of an eternal "inner boiling" within God "boiling over" into temporal existence. In metaphysical terms, "the Godhead becomes 'God' in the flowering of creation" (McGinn).

In any event, the point is that the universe is demonstrably expanding, and we can extrapolate from this that it had a beginning in space and time. As it so happens, the name "big bang" was coined by detractors of the theory in order to ridicule it. Up to that time, it had been assumed that the cosmos was eternal, that it had always been here. Common sense would not allow for any other view. Scientists were initially very uncomfortable with the big bang idea, because it clearly suggested that the cosmos was not eternal but that it came into being at a specific point -- just as it says in Genesis.

The commenter writes: "No, God does not need our help to put Himself back together. We need God's help to put ourselves together."

But Meister Eckart might ask: what's the distinction? For as he wrote, God's ground and my ground is the same ground.

If God suffers with us, then he moves and evolves with us, for -- to again quote the paradoxical words of the Meister -- it does not seem to me that God understands because he exists, but rather that he exists because he understands.

"God's desire to suffer is an integral aspect of his eternal will for the Word to become man, and therefore, central to the meaning of creation itself.... Suffering... is not a way to God, but is actually identical with the goal -- if we understand it as our surrender to the God who totally surrenders himself to us -- 'In order to give himself totally, God assumed me totally.'" --Bernard McGinn


James said...

Meditations of the Tarot introduced the idea that not only are there higher worlds, but also these worlds have things in them like signposts or spiritual land marks. These signposts show you are on the right track. Every time I stumble upon one I'm amazed. I've been lost and in a funk these last couple of weeks. These last two posts helped move me to a different place, and I (saw,felt,knew,sensed) grokked (Thank you Heinlein for the word) a signpost. I'm still lost, but I feel I'm moving in the right direction. Thank Bob.
BTW, if I had to point out one problem with religion today is we can't seem to get the metaphysics right. Nobody, except for Raccoons, seems to want to do the necessary work.

Robin Starfish said...

a white robed choir
a child is born (the old one)
christmas in july

Anonymous said...

And would God really create a cosmos that is so fundamentally deceptive that we cannot comprehend it with our reason? Why?

Yet that is EXACTLY the theology of the Omphalos subset of Young Earth Creationism. First proposed by Gosse(?) in mid-Victorian times and still batted around today among YECs, Omphalos was the idea that God created the cosmos ex nihilo 6000 years ago including deliberately-false, freshly-created evidence for a 13.7-gigayear evolutionary backstory.

Stephen Jay Gould pointed out that the Omphalos idea is by definition unprovable because it is un-disprovable; any evidence against a YEC is explained as deliberate disinformation from God.

It also begs the question (since YEC has become the Central Core of the Faith for a *lot* of Christians) as to God's nature. A God who deliberately creates the cosmos with a false trail of evidence against the creation, with the accompanying injunction that if you ever believe said physical evidence, you go to Hell.

St Paul said "Faith is the substance of things hoped for", NOT "Faith is the denial of physical evidence/reality".

Magnus Itland said...

I doubt we disagree on this - it is really too central for that. There really is a current on the border between Christianity and New Age, which claims that God basically emptied the whole of His being into creation and was "unconscious" until the ascent of man, with the universe on autopilot. These people lay claim to Theilhard as well, but I know from your earlier writing that you are aware of distinction between God outside time and God inside time. I consider this essentially the same heresy as failing to distinguish between the Father and the Son.

Surely we can agree that it was the Father who raised Jesus from the dead, not the disciples. But that would essentially be the heresy of the cult of the Exploding God: God is dead and it is our task to put Him back together. I don't think so.

And, I like to believe, neither did Teilhard.

Matteo said...

Bob, thanks for the honor of being the seed of a post. I'm not sure that we fundamentally disagree. As a Catholic, my understanding is that the Incarnation does in fact, change everything, and that Jesus, as the New Adam, or the "firstborn of all creation" is, in fact, creating a new heavens and a new earth "from the ground up". C.S. Lewis mentioned this idea (in "Miracles", I believe), that of Jesus incarnating and participating in reality (all the way from the level of molecular biology in a fertilized egg) in such a way that he is effectively, like Hercules, or some Epic Hero, placing the whole fallen world on His shoulders and lifting it up, thereby redeeming it, and doing so by suffering.

I also have no problem with cosmic evolution or common descent. How else is Man to be the high priest of all creation (the "job" of the first Adam, later taken on by the second Adam), if the whole creation did not intimately participate in his being (from the Big Bang, through the production of the elements in stars, through the development and elaboration and advancement of the tree of life on earth)? How else could he serve as the representative of all that was created, and how else could Jesus redeem the whole thing by becoming man if by doing so this did not give him such intimate "contact" with creation in all its details, from the Big Bang forward?

My main point was to caution against the temptation of taking a "process theology" point of view in which God is somehow, in some essential way, discovering himself, or becoming himself, in his eternal aspect. Such is not orthodox theology (as expounded by the Catholic Church, which claims god-given infallibility in these matters, which I'm willing to accept, because giving to selected representatives such miraculous teaching infallibility is the kind of guy I think God is; please understand, I'm not asserting "I'm right, you're wrong, because I've got God on my side," but simply pointing out that if some kind of "process theology" is true, then the Catholic Church is wrong, as well as a couple millenia of orthodox teaching). Only having "read" Teilhard at second hand (in Meditations on the Tarot and in "New Age" literature), I don't know whether he, himself implies a "process theology", but I do know that he has admirers who do, and use his thinking as support. This could be a misinterpretation on their part. For the record, I don't really get "process theology" from Meditations on the Tarot, but my intuition is that if the Unknown Friend were to have lived 100 years later, evolution might not play such a big role in his thinking, which was conditioned in some respects by the mid twentieth-century philosophical milieu in which he lived.

In any case, theological musings on the meaning of evolution were much more resonant with me when I thought Darwinism stood on solid scientific ground (and that's when I first read Meditations). The arguments of the Intelligent Design guys over the last ten years have impressed me greatly, and the ensuing "counter-arguments" of the Darwin guys, well, not so much. Since their grand materialist view of evolution is a pretty weak explanation of the goings on of the material world, I'm more skittish than I used to be about filtering my theological thinking through an "evolutionary lens".

All that aside, I greatly enjoy your writing each day, although I haven't been a commenter.

Anonymous said...

My understanding has been that evolution and natural selection go "hand in hand" due to the fact that natural selection is the grand "mechanism" that drives all of biological evolution. Nonetheless, the Devil's in the details, as natural selection, once you examine how it is supposed to work, just simply fails to work in too many ways. I found the book "Darwin's Black Box" to be particularly illuminating in this regard as it brought to light certain things that evolutionary scientists simply choose to ignore, not unlike the Warren Commission, as they fly in the face of their preconceived assumptions.
If, therefore, natural selection fails to meet is grand claims, then the whole idea of "evolution" has to be dimantled, or ought to be, out evolutionary biologists prefer to hold to a theory that fails rather than finding one that unfails.

maineman said...

If I wasn't so technologically challenged, I would simply dump the link here for the Dick and Rick Hoyt video, "Can", which seems to deserve a visit or revisit, as your case may be, in light of today's post.

Here's the url below. I thought maybe someone might help me out and make it easy for others to see. It always took my breath away, and after reading Bob today, well . . .

maineman said...

How bout if I try this:


maineman said...


Anonymous said...

All god-ideas come from the ego, and god-ideas not only relect the ego itself, but, altogether,god-ideas, being mere ideas, reinforce and console the state of egoity, and, in fact, subordinate The Real Divine, to the ego and the ego's search and purpose. The purpose of god-ideas is to account for the presumed "objective world" and the presumed "separate self"---by presuming the "objective world" and the "separate self" as the FIRST, and even irreducibly existing,matters of philosophical importance. However in the process that is True Religion, the first matter of philosophical importance is the PRIOR transcending of the ILLUSIONS, or the non-ultimacy, of "objective world" and "separate self".

All of the usual talk of "evolutionary processes" is just an extension of this reinforcement and consolation of the presumed "separate self"--the inherently godless ego. It makes the ego seem to be very important, and indeed the very centre, in each ones case, of the attention/intention of "god's" presumed "purpose" in the universe.

cousin dupree said...

Frank? That you?

Stop pretending you're God. You're only fooling your disciples.

NoMo said...

A good friend of mine by the same name, with whom I seem to find myself constantly arguing, likes to pose the following:

Many people object to a creation that only has the “appearance” of age. They say that it would be deceptive on the part of the Creator, counter to scientific fact, a denial of cosmic evolution, etc. However, would these objections hold up if the Creator revealed to us what He had done and given a rough idea of when He did it? For example, if He created a full-grown tree, showed it to us, and then said, “Look what I just made”, would we believe Him or cut down the tree and count the rings to prove His delusion? Better yet, what if, right before our eyes, He brought someone back to life that we know to have died days ago. Undoubtedly, many first-hand witnesses, and perhaps even some who they tell, would conclude that He is The One, worthy of worship and faith. Others would likely write it off as some kind of trick, and still others might have even a different reaction (John 11:48).

My friend also likes to remind me that “there are more human beings alive today than have ever died”. He says this means something and I need to think about it.

I don’t know. Sometimes I think my friend is just plain nuts. But other times…

Magnus Itland said...

As for Darwinism, however, I am not sure it is quite as different from Newtonism as many Christians believe.

I mean, it may be a letdown to find out that the planets are not necessarily guided through the heavens each by their own named angel, making sure they correctly thread their complex path across the sky. Instead it seems that some simple, common law of nature causes the exact same effect with a minimum of fuss.

Why should it be different with evolution? As long as it causes the desired effect at the desired time, how is it really inferior to God sitting down with a heap of clay?

To me, the argument that "God does not exist unless he makes each species by hand" is equally outmoded as "God does not exist unless he guides each planet by hand". To think that the laws of nature can replace God is a pretty narrow view of who or what God is.

Simplicity is the elegance you would expect from an amazingly intelligent designer.

(Also, simple laws seems to be God's style. Certainly this is so in the spiritual realm.)

To sum up, I don't have a problem with biological evolution. I have a problem with saying that it replaces God. But that would be like saying that gravity replaces God.

Magnus Itland said...

your friend's thinking is sadly susceptible to the Church of Last Thursday syndrome.

The Bible, in contrast, projects a picture of God which is not consistent with that kind of behavior. I am not saying a god could not do it, just that it would be out of character for the God of the Bible.

joseph said...

You or someone else here once mentioned that notion that there are more people alive today than ever existed in the past. I researched it and found it to not be true, though it is certainly true that more people have been alive since the modern world than ever lived before it, which is rather fascinating.

Van said...

I rather like JulieC's observation the other day that in order to get life, the universe and everything in it, it takes a Cosmos.

The Cosmos is what it is, because it must needs be. Just because it doesn't fit our preferred timelines, lack of patience and pet theories, I don't think is, was or ever will be cause for the planner to tamper with the plan. If God did throw himself into his work, I'm betting he'll continue to work it out according to his own plan, Omphalos's, Darwinians & egoities notwithstanding. And just because we have a problem finding the common thread between subatomic particles and belly laughes, doesn't mean the universe needs a rewrite - we just need to get a bit farther past chapter 3 before trying to judge the plot.

Sheesh, 40+ hr's work into this week already... eating into my OC time... now if I could just figure out a way to turn that more people alive in moder times than in all time, into giving me more time, I bet I'd be having a much better time.

Nah... I'd probably get myself right back into the same predicament... that's the trouble with getting answers separated from their questions... what the heck good is 42?

Van said...

BTW - have really liked the last few days posts, little time for commenting, but have been reading greedily. Especially the Sonny Bono post, always knew that the Wisdom psalms would be good OC Material.

Ah well, back to it.

NoMo said...

Van said "...we have a problem finding the common thread between subatomic particles and belly laughs..."

Speak for yourself , must have missed Boy Shakira performing on America's Got Talent (I certainly wish I had - subatomic particles have burned it into my brain).

wv: pptok (something like that)

NoMo said...

Magnus - My friend is actually a member of "The Church of Last Thursday", and seems quite content there. As far as "the character of the God of the Bible", I think that might be a most enlightening subject for Mr. Petey and Senor Gagdad to expound upon.

wv: frnll (my friend...again)

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

God is quite a character.