Tuesday, April 15, 2008

More on Evolution as Cosmic Warfare

I spend the weekend hanging out with some of my openness friends attending a Science and Openness Theology Conference in southern California. We all presented essays we've been working on since last summer for a book on Science and Openness Theology. After each presentation other Conference participants offered critical feedback.

As I mentioned in my previous post, my essay was entitled Evolution As Cosmic Warfare. Given the incredible stature of Satan in the N.T., I argued, we have grounds for interpreting the massive carnage and waste found in evolution as largely, if not completely, the work of Satan, not God. (I refer to Satan as a shorthand way of referring to Satan, principalities and powers and demons, since I think all play a role in corrupting nature).

A lot of people loved my argument. Others not so much. A few seemed to loath it (especially those most heavily involved in the natural sciences). One line of criticism went something like this. If the evolution-as-cosmic-warfare thesis is right, then the animal kingdom today is the result of the activity of both God and Satan. So a tiger, for example, reflects both the glory of God as well as the malevolent character of Satan. But it's not clear that this "co-designer" model is coherent. Even if it is coherent, how are we to decide which characteristics should be attributed to God and which to Satan? On top of this, one person argued that for my thesis to be regarded as plausible, it was incumbent upon me to offer a compelling scientific account of how Satan corrupted natural processes to produce things like malevolent parasites and carnivorous predators.

I responded by saying I could see no difficulty in admitting dual spiritual influences in the evolutionary process. Consider the glowing bunny that scientists have created by splicing together the DNA of jellyfish and rabbits: It reflects the creative influence of both God and humans. Since we lack specific information about how God and Satan were involved in the evolutionary process , it may be impossible to trace specific characteristics back to their spiritual source -- assuming there is a spiritual source behind a specific characteristic or set of characteristics (often these may be merely the result of natural processes). If we didn't know that rabbits didn't originally glow, for example, we'd have no way of knowing that the glowing rabbit had been tampered with.

Still, I argued, all other things being equal, to the extent that something in nature reflects the character of "a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet 5:8) rather than that of the benevolent Creator, we ought to at least entertain the possibility that this is due to the corrupting influence of Satan.

Turning to the final criticism, it's true that I can't give a scientific account of how cosmic warfare produced malevolent parasites, predators and the like. But this is hardly a strike against my thesis since it applies equally to those theists who deny Satan's involvement in nature. For example, defenders of Intelligent Design who accept evolution hold that God's intelligence was involved in the unfolding of evolution, but they cannot give a scientific account of how he was so involved. This is the same boat I'm in, except that I simply add that we have no reason to assume God is the only spirit-agent affecting this process.

The bottom line is that no one can provide a scientific account of how supernatural agents affect the world for the simple reason that the methodology of natural sciences doesn't concern itself with supernatural agents. I rest my case!

Anyway, the entire conference was fun and informative. At the end of the conference I spent a fun afternoon with Ralph Winter and a team of mission-minded folks who work with him. We discussed and debated an assortment of topics, including the openness of the future, the nature of Genesis 1, the problem of evil and the theological foundation of missions. It was invigorating.

On my plane ride out to California I read Eckhart Tolle's new book A New Earth that has been heavily promoted by Oprah Winfrey and is causing an uproar among many Christians. I'm going to suspend our Old Testament and Violence discussion one more post to report on this book in a day or two.

til then,