In public high school, many moons ago, I remember learning about the theory of evolution, but I must have been too worried about the latest t-shirt fashion or CD selection to really ponder the ramifications of such a scientific discovery. If, after all, Darwin was right, wouldn’t that contradict the Genesis story of seven days? Or more importantly, does God play any role in history? The Catholic Church now supports the “widely accepted scientific account” involving the big bang theory that says the universe started around 15 billion years ago and has developed through the process of evolution.1 However, we strongly reject the jump that Richard Dawkins makes in The God Delusion where he argues that if evolution is true, then the universe is simply guided by the principle of survival of the fittest; he and many others believe that science now explains away the need for a creator or any kind of mythical guiding force.
By now, we are pretty familiar with this kind of scientific atheism, but what would a theology of evolution look like? A great book on this is John Haught’s God after Darwin where he re-examines these questions raised by evolution through the lense of scripture and church tradition. One (of many) interesting points he makes is on the nature of Christ’s guiding love. In the Gospels, was Jesus’ power in his ability to control and coerce the development of his story, or was his a self-giving and humble one? In the passion narratives, to name just one example, it looks like Jesus is almost entirely passive, but that is because his strength lies in paradox (the eternal is made incarnate... the word is made flesh). Most incredibly, however, might be that the all-powerful Lord culminates this earthly ‘reign’ in an embarrassing crucifixion and bloody mockery. Was this all a ‘God delusion’ too?
Even in our own lives with families, we can see how this type of self-emptying love and letting go can make sense, because for instance, we realize that parents (like God) ultimately can’t force their children to return affection. In the end, parenting will involve a growing and often painful detachment as their little ones progress in development. Haught argues, then, that evolution can be seen similarly, and that the slow progression of time can now be viewed anew as one more way of God’s painful letting go in hopes that we might freely find our way back.
Haught says much more, and I highly recommend the book, but you may be wondering what this has to do with the theme of care for creation... The thing about evolution, if it’s true, is that it would explicitly connect human beings to the world around us. If, in fact, we do come from simple organisms, that over billions of years became more and more complex, then our ‘care for creation’ ideal is no longer just a nice thought, but it becomes a kind of familial obligation. As my dad said over Christmas break, ‘there’s nothing quite like family. Friends are great. Definitely. But who’s there when you get sick? Who’s there to clean up the bed-pan and all the other gross stuff when you’re old?’ As family, to give or not give isn’t a choice, we simply must be there for one another. And so with creation, what if we really did view the earth as our distant relative? What if care for creation wasn’t an ‘option’ for us, but more like a duty to nurture our origins… and our future?
1. Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God, plenary sessions held in Rome 2000–2002, published July 2004, §63 (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20040723_communion-stewardship_en.html) International Theological Commission; Cardinal Ratzinger was the president of the commission at the time.