A Reduced Anthropocentrism
During the aeons before our emergence on Earth hundreds of millions (if not billions) of species have come and gone, the predecessors of the perhaps as many as 15 million species still extant – and rapidly being extinguised by human action. Theists, who believe that the ultimate ground of all existence is God as Creator, have to face new questions: is it permissible to regard these myriads of species other than Homo sapiens, most of them now extinct, as simply by-products in a process aimed at producing human beings? Or do they have value to God as Creator in and for themselves? The process is so fecund and rich and the variety and intricate beauty of coordinated structures and functions so great, that surely we now have to escape from our anthropocentric myopia and affirm that God as Creator takes what we can only call delight in the rich varietyand individuality of other organisms for their own sake. We have here the basis for an eco-theology that grounds the value of all living creatures in their distinctive value to God for their own sake and not just as stages en route to humanity and as resources for human exploration. ~ Arthur Peacocke, Paths from Science towards God
I would also add – why did it have to take so long (13.7 billion years), if all God wanted was to get to us?
Rethinking Death, the Fall and Redemption
A consequence of incorporating the evolutionary process into our theology is the acceptance of death as a ubiquitous phenomena long before the arrival of human beings and any apparent ‘Fall’ of mankind.
Believers that God creates through this process have to accept that the biological death of the individual is the means whereby God has been creating new species, including ourselves. Biological death was this creative means aeons before human beings appeared. Hence we can no longer take Paul’s ‘The wages of sin is death’ to mean that our biological death can be attributed to human sin, as has often been assumed in so-called ‘theories of the atonement’. If we wish to rescue Paul’s phrase, we will have to reinterpret it to refer to some kind of spiritual ‘death’ as being the consequence of ‘sin’. ~ Arthur Peacocke, Paths from Science towards God
Not only that, it also means that there was no past state of perfection, a ‘Garden of Eden’ of sorts where humans were free from evil.
All the evidence points to a creature slowly emerging into awareness, with an increasing capacity for consciousness and sensitivity and the possibility of moral responsibility and, I would affirm, of response to God. So there is no sense in which we can talk of a Fall from a past perfection. There was no golden age, no perfect past, no individuals – Adam or Eve – from whom all human beings have descended and declined and who were perfect in their relationships and behaviour. We appear to be rising beasts rather than fallen angels – rising from a amoral (and in that sense) innocent state to the capability of moral and immoral action. ~ Arthur Peacocke, Paths from Science towards God
Sin as alienation from God, humanity and nature is only too real and appears as the consequence of our very possession of that self-consciousness which always places ourselves at the egotistical centre of the universe of our consciousness which has evolved biologically. Sin is primarily a theological concept and only secondarily about ethical behaviour. It is about awareness of our falling short from what God would have us be and is part and parcel of our having evolved into self-consciousness, freedom, intellectual curiosity and the possession of values. ~ Arthur Peacocke, Paths from Science towards God
So the Fall can be interpreted a loss of innocence as a result of the emergence of consciousness, rather than as the loss of a previous state of moral perfection. And if this is the case, what does it do to the whole idea of redemption?
Should not, for example, the effect of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ now be regarded not as the restoration of a lost, past state of perfection, but rather as the potential transformation of humanity into a new, previously unattainable, one? ~ Arthur Peacocke, Paths from Science towards God
Pain, suffering and Death – a Risky and Costly Enterprise
The whole epic of evolution in its biological phase has seemed to many sensitive scientists, beginning with Darwin himself, to involve too much pain and suffering, culminating in death, for it to be the creative work of any Being who could be called benevolent. The costliness of the whole process cannot be gainsaid and raises acute questions for theists. ~ Arthur Peacocke, Paths from Science towards God
But pain is necessary for organisms like us humans to be aware of danger and disease. As Peacocke points out, ‘insulation from the surrounding world in the biological equivalent of three-inch nicked steel would be a sure recipe for preventing the development of consciousness’. For complex structures to self-organize in a finite time, predation in necessary – thus utilizing structures that already exist. Finally, it is obvious that death is necessary for evolution to take place – so that the old does not compete with the new.
The theist cannot avoid asking, ‘If the Creator intended the arrival in the cosmos of complex, reproducing structures that could think and be free – that, is self-consciousness, free persons – was there not some other, less costly and painful way of bringing this about? Was that the only possible way?’
Peacocke inserts a ‘footnote’ here – creation was for God a risky and costly enterprise. Not only that, but for it to be morally acceptable and coherent – he argues that God suffers with creation, bringing panentheism into the picture again. If creation suffers in the process of making itself, and if all creation is in God, then God suffers with it. The Christian connotations of a God who suffers with humanity through the incarnate Christ are evident in this view as well.
We are then seen not to be the playthings of God, but as sharing as co-creating creatures in the suffering of the creating God engaged in the self-offering, costly process of bringing forth the new. ~ Arthur Peacocke, Paths from Science towards God
Theistic evolutionists like myself like to claim that we have no problems reconciling our faith with evolutionary biology. The truth is that it is not always as easy as it seems, especially when we think deeper about all the issues. It is something that still requires a lot of theological reflection and scholarship.