Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Evolution: The Disguised Friend of Faith?

I stumbled upon this and thought some of my theistic readers might be interested.

Arthur Peacocke is a priest in the Church of England and perhaps the most well-known theological advocate of theistic evolution. His views are summarized on his wikipedia page, but you can read his whole essay Evolution: The Disguised Friend of Faith? (pdf) online as well.

Although I obviously don't agree with his religious beliefs, I admire his advocacy of critical religious thinking.

An excerpt:

My conviction has long been that critical religious thinking is most vital and creative when it faces the challenge of new ideas and new cultural settings. This has been especially true of Christian theology. One has only to think of
  • the opening out of the Gospel from its Jewish setting into the
    wider Gentile world, as recounted and exemplified in the New Testament (the Acts of the Apostles and the various epistles, especially of St. Paul);

  • the Patristic period when the Greek fathers met and overcame the challenge of neo-Platonic philosophy;

  • and St. Thomas Aquinas reshaping theology when Aristotle’s comprehensive scientific and philosophical works came to Europe via Islam.

Today, the pervading of all our thinking and action by the sciences constitutes the sharpest challenge to the beliefs of traditional Christianity and of other religions. This has been a preoccupation of mine since my schooldays when my incipient and ill-informed faith encountered the evidence for evolution and initiated my own long trail of integrating evolution with a transformed articulation of Christian belief. The working out of these issues has been a leitmotif underlying not only my own personal quest but also expressed in my published books on the wider interactions of science and Christian theology.


The word “evolution” evokes a negative reaction in only some Christian quarters—but mercifully and certainly, globally, not in most. For, not very long after Darwin produced his evidence of a plausible mechanism (natural selection) for that transformation of species which the fossil record and his researches then indicated, leading Christian thinkers in his own country were welcoming his concept of the evolution of the living world and integrating it with their understanding both of divine creation and incarnation. It is the remark, quoted* after the title page, of one of these, Aubrey Moore, that is referred to in the title of this book—the question mark indicating that there is indeed a proper question needing honestly to be pursued with intellectual integrity.

The essays collected here in part 1 represent my thinking about the theological issues raised by the now completely and scientifically well-established evolution of living organisms in the natural world; and, in part 2, about how human beings should now begin to regard themselves and their own presence in the world in relation to the God creating in and through evolution. As a kind of reflection in the mirror of awareness of the created, natural processes of evolution, our thinking about God has itself “evolved” (in the sense of “unfolded”) concomitantly with the reconsideration of nature and humanity stimulated by this awareness, and the essays in part 3 are concerned with this reshaping of belief. An epilogue recalls an earlier, medieval figure in English theology, Robert Grosseteste, from whose wisdom concerning education about the relation of nature, humanity, and God we can still learn much.

This book, along with all my other writings, is based on the presupposition that what the sciences tell us is true about nature cannot, in the long run, falsify what is true about human relationships to God. Indeed, because the world is created by God, knowledge through science of the world must enhance and clarify and, if need be, correct our understanding of God and of God’s relation to the creation, including humanity.

*He's referring to the remark quoted on the title page of the essay:

Science had pushed the deist’s God farther and farther away, and at the moment when it seemed as if He would be thrust out altogether, Darwinism appeared, and, under the disguise of a foe, did the work of a friend. It has conferred upon philosophy and religion an inestimable benefit, by showing us that we must choose between two alternatives. Either God is everywhere present in nature, or He is nowhere. —Aubrey Moore, "The Christian Doctrine of God."


Esther said...

Are you expecting the American Taliban to have nuanced view of these questions?

Let's face it. They're morons. There are a whole lot of them. And they vote.

Esther said...

I should say that I didn't mean to imply that Arthur Peacocke or his ilk are morons. A large swatch of people of faith in this country and elsewhere are reasonable people with nuanced views.

Unfortunately, there has emerged this vocal minority of know nothings that reduce the debate to as infantile battle between God and Science.

It's depressing.

jewish philosopher said...

The originators and developers of the theory of evolution were all atheists and agnostics and probably 98% of atheists and agnostics today are evolutionists. It is an atheist creation myth, accepted by some religious people who are duped into believing it is science.

Jewish Atheist said...


Let's face it. They're morons. There are a whole lot of them. And they vote.

A lot of them just don't know. It's not like they're getting good science educations in school.

jewish philosopher:

The originators and developers of the theory of evolution were all atheists

It's true that Darwin and Wallace were either atheists or pretty close to it at the times they came up with their theories of evolution.

probably 98% of atheists and agnostics today are evolutionists

This is undoubtedly true as well, at least in America, but it supports evolution more than in casts doubt upon it. If evolution were merely some made-up explanation, why wouldn't atheists and agnostics be more divided on the issue? Why wouldn't some believe in some other non-supernatural "myth?" Is it a big consipracy? Other than the God issue, there's probably nothing else that 98% of atheists and agnostics agree on. In fact, pretty much the ONLY people who doubt evolution are Biblical literalists, whose beliefs preclude them from accepting it.

It is an atheist creation myth, accepted by some religious people who are duped into believing it is science.

Here's where you go wrong. What you call "some religious people who are duped" make up about half of America. The overwhelming majority of Americans who believe in evolution are religious. It's disingenuous to make it sound like evolution is primarily an atheistic theory.

To sum up, in America, the only people who don't believe in evolution believe in Biblical literalism. Neither atheists, agnostics, nor Christians/Jews who interpret the Bible along less literal lines, disbelieve in evolution. It seems to me that bias is indeed a factor, but only for people who insist on Biblical literalism.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Thanks for the reference, JA. My primary area of interest is elsewhere, so I hadn't heard of Arthur Peacocke. But perhaps I can find time to read the book — I'm sure it would be informative.

Sadie Lou said...

informative post, JA. Thank you.

r10b said...

Either God is everywhere present in nature, or He is nowhere.

Amen to that. Thanks for the reference JA.

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