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VII. Our Earthuman Moment: A Major Evolutionary Transition in Individuality

6. Contrasts of Religion and Science

Polkinghorne, John. The God of Hope and the End of the World. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002. An essay on the difficulty of squaring the Christian expectation of eventual salvation with the “cosmic futility” of an expiring physical universe indifferent to life. A resolve would require belief in a Divine Creator who assures its ultimate fulfillment, in spite of such mechanistic evidence to the contrary.

Polkinghorne, John. Theology in the Context of Science. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009. The redoubtable Cambridge University physics professor and Anglican priest seems to write a constantly lucid book each year, this one being his October 2008 John Albert Hall lectures at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. But this historical task is presently compromised by the conflation of two kinds of cosmoses – an old insenate material universe, indifferent to life and mind as it fades to black, or an organically self-arranging emergence whence people, ‘someone in gestation’ Teilhard would say, are co-creator selves whom are to freely organize it. Anyway, the quotes give some sense of such mixing of Ptolemy and Copernicus.

The evolutionary character of the universe is consonant with a theological understanding that God’s act of creation is a kenotic act of divine self-limitation, bring into being a world in which creatures are allowed ‘to make themselves.’ In a creation of this kind, death is the necessary cost of the development of new life, and physical process has to operate ‘at the edge of chaos,’ in regimes where chance and necessity, order and disorder, interlace. (xxii)

On this view, the eschatological destinies of human beings and of the whole universe lie together in the world of God’s new creation (cf. Romans 8:19-21). This new creation is not a second divine attempt at creation ex nihilo, an action which would seem to imply the ultimate irrelevance of the first creation, but rather it is a creation ex vetere, the transformation of the old into the new. (157)

Polkinghorne, John and Michael Welker, eds. The End of the World and the Ends of God. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2000. Scholars struggle to reconcile the apparent entropic expiration of space and time with the mysterious presence of sentient human life. Glimpses occur of a Divinely assisted “New Creation” if life and mind indeed is found to have cosmic import.

Pruett, Dave. Reason and Wonder: A Copernican Revolution in Science and Spirit. New York: Praeger, 2012. A former NASA scientist, Dave Pruett is an emeritus James Madison University professor of mathematics. His interest in this integral endeavor began a decade ago when he initiated an honors course “From Black Elk to Black Holes: Shaping a Myth for a New Millennium.” A big hit with students, it garnered a Science-Religion Course Award from the Templeton Foundation. As an astute, insightful edition of its kind, the text proceeds through three historic expansions of our understanding: explorations across cosmological reaches and the depths of space and time, life’s emergent evolution from hydrogen to humankind, and thirdly in our day, the rise of a psychic, noosphere envelope consciousness, with a numinous promise to “redefine the spiritual place of humans in the cosmic order.”

Richardson, W. Mark and Gordy Slack, eds. Faith in Science. London: Routledge, 2001. Interviews with scientists such as Arno Penzias, Bruno Guideroni, Anne Foerst, Brain Cantwell Smith, and Charles Townes on how their various disciplines might perceive signs of Divine action in an evolving nature.

Ruse, Michael. Can a Darwinian be a Christian? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. A yes answer can be given, but with a lot of juggling of two opposite worldviews of an intentional, numinous creation or a contingent evolution without guidance or direction.

Ruse, Michael. Darwin and Design. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003. Although an avowed materialist, Ruse applies philosophical and historical acumen to sort out the design argument in light of the theory of evolution by natural selection. The door is left ajar.

Ruse, Michael. The Evolution-Creation Struggle. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005. Philosopher Ruse recounts the checkered interaction between a seemingly vicarious Darwinian natural selection and traditional beliefs in a Divine origin and purpose. Within these domains a present tension stands between a bible-based world awaiting its end of days and an evolutionary creation whose ordained cosmic to human course brings a modicum of promise.

Russell, Robert, et al, eds. Chaos and Complexity: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action. Vatican City: Vatican Observatory Press, 1995. A theological rethinking gets underway in response to the incarnate dynamic creativity of nonlinear complex systems. The essay by Denis Edwards of especial interest in this regard.

Russell, Robert, et al, eds. Evolutionary and Molecular Biology. Vatican City: Vatican Observatory Press, 1998. Proceedings from an interdisciplinary conference to explore “scientific perspectives on Divine action” in a developmental universe. In articles by Charles Birch and Ian Barbour, the science of complexity and philosophy of process might expand Darwinian theory to include an inherent self-organization which God may then constantly facilitate.

Russell, Robert, et al, eds. Neuroscience and the Person. Vatican City: Vatican Observatory Press, 1999. A later volume which discusses how new understandings of human beings gained from the brain and psychological sciences might inform and intersect with religious doctrines.

Rutman, Joel Yehudah. Why Evolution Matters: A Jewish Approach. London: Valentine Mitchell, 2014. This thoughtful, well researched work by a pediatric neurologist, who practiced in central Texas for some years, and presently in Israel, reflects how much personal views influence what is perceived. In his studies, the author duly consulted scientists such as Eva Jablonka, Douglas Futuyma, Jack Cohen, Leon Kass, and more. If one does not accept the standard rejection by Richard Dawkins and cadre of any cosmic, evolutionary teleological source or direction, if actualities can be seen as they are, then a quite different scenario is possible. While it is allowed that vicarious probabilities do exist, life is intended to evolve from universe to us due to natural constraints, convergences on the same end, and an intrinsic self-organization. The traditional option of an unknowable reality is set aside, in this new light it is averred that our human purpose is tzaddikim, the achievement of a “righteous humanity.”

Why Evolution Matters examines the concept of evolution in relation to Judaism, showing that far from something to be avoided within the religion, evolutionary thought deepens an understanding of classic areas of Jewish concern, including free will, moral behavior, suffering, and death. The book presents a novel interpretation of biological evolution in which convergences, self-organization, constraints, and progress are seen as components of the divinely intended world. Why Evolution Matters confronts some major questions that are leveled at the Jewish religion: How can God have created the world when evolution says everything just happened? How can we believe in the truth of Genesis when it conflicts with the facts of evolution? How did we evolve and why does it matter? The book explains how Genesis and evolutionary cosmology and biology reinforce, rather than contradict, one another.

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