What Can Evolutionary Biology Contribute to Theology, and vice versa?
Citation (APA): Deane-Drummond, C. (2016). What Can Evolutionary Biology Contribute to Theology, and vice versa? [Kindle Android version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
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What Can Evolutionary Biology Contribute to Theology, and vice versa? By Celia Deane-Drummond
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Can theologians consider what biologists say about the world important for their understanding of God?
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Theology concerns itself with the spiritual realm as well as the creaturely, material world. To forget that as creatures we are both spiritual and earthly beings is to open the door to what in the history of the Christian Church is known as the Manichaean heresy. This ancient set of beliefs took the world of matter to be intrinsically evil,
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Some recent theologians have started to experiment with ways of understanding the incarnation by speaking of “deep incarnation.” The idea is that the incarnation is not only “deep” into human history but also into evolutionary history.
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landmark essay from 2001, “The Cross of Christ in an Evolutionary World,” Niels Henrik Gregersen
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the Jesuit priest and scholar Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881– 1955) took evolutionary biology very seriously.
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His belief that Christ was the Omega point to which all of evolutionary history ultimately pointed was a theological belief.
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Catholic theologian and priest Karl Rahner (1904– 1984) also developed an approach to anthropology that took human evolution seriously
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Aquinas’s understanding of science was somewhat different from our own, in part because medieval scholars did not divide up the disciplines in the same way that we do today. Nonetheless, his basic idea of an “analogy of being”— or analogia entis— between God and God’s creatures remains fruitful. This idea reminds us that whatever we say about God— for instance about God’s Goodness, Justice, or Wisdom— we say only by analogy to what these words mean in the human context, because God is not simply another being, more perfect than all other beings;
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TOMMASO E L ANALOGIA
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Urs von Balthasar (1905– 1988), offers a useful and productive concept, that of “theo-drama.” The idea is that God acts in human history according to a pattern that bears some analogy with the great drama of Christ’s life, passion, and resurrection.
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Natural selection presupposes that there are certain traits or characteristics that are “selected for” in given, fixed environments. These new theories— often grouped together as the extended evolutionary synthesis (EES) or niche construction theory (NCT)— suggest that this picture of natural selection is one-sided. In reality, organisms seek out new environments and then change those environments, constructing their own “niches.” This process of niche construction actively transforms the kind of selection pressures that were previously assumed to be constant.
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I have suggested, for instance in my book Christ and Evolution (2009), that theo-drama be understood as analogous to biological accounts of niche construction.
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why on earth would evolutionary biologists be interested in theology?
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theology can challenge in productive ways some of the deep-seated assumptions of secular anthropology, suggesting new lines of empirical research.
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RUOLO DELLA TEOLOGIA
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To take just one example, consider symbolic thought, which has gained considerable traction of late as one of the distinctive marks of human identity in evolutionary anthropology. We are the symbolic species, as neuro-anthropologist Terrence Deacon has claimed.
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ES DEL PENSIERO SIMBOLICO
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the broader point is clear: theology and evolutionary science can challenge and influence each other in fruitful ways.
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the common supposition that evolutionary thought and theology are inevitably incompatible with each other is just as mistaken as a simple fusion of the two, as in evolutionary theism, where God simply works through evolutionary processes.
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I refer less to God as Creator and more to a Christology that engages with evolutionary questions and topics. I also outlined an understanding of salvation history through an expansive version of “theo-drama” that includes other creaturely beings.
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CRISTOLOGIA E TEODRAMA
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the relationship between a theological perspective and one parsed through the evolutionary sciences is best thought of in metaphysical terms as being analogous, rather than in literal correspondence.
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if Christ overcomes death, why is there so much death in evolutionary terms
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IL PROB DELLA MORTE
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Or, what if species other than humans also have capabilities for symbolic (or implied, religious) thought?
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PROB ALTRE RAZZE
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threaten the special place of humans
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our evolutionary knowledge does raise huge questions about theodicy, such as how to affirm the goodness of God in an evolved world that is full of suffering and pain.
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EVO E MALE
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A few have even suggested that some repeated practices of chimpanzees such as throwing rocks at large selected— sacred?— trees may be a form of religious ritual.
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SCIMMIE RELIGIOSE. LA RELIGIONE NN UMANA
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Actually, even Thomas Aquinas recognized that other species had what he termed a form of practical wisdom, but it was directed to specific goals of sense appetite rather than the more deliberative type that is characteristic of human beings.
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AQUINO E LE ALTRE SPECIE
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My question for you is, are there any indications that evolutionary scientists are actually interested in listening to what theologians have to say about empirical research on the origins of symbolic thought and wisdom, etc.?
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The evolution of wisdom project at Notre Dame arose out of this sort of discussion between a theologian (me) and a scientist (Agustin Fuentes):
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PROGETTO SAGGEZZA FUENTES
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Death itself— not only particular human deaths as consequences of human evil but presumably also all natural pain and suffering, especially of the innocent or weak— is taken to be life’s ultimate enemy that Christ overcomes (and that in the eschaton is said to be “no more”). How should we think theologically about the evolutionary process, in which death is evidently necessary for life, when theologically speaking Life ought to conquer Death (in whatever way one might interpret this)?
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DEEP INC E MORTE
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“The Word was Made Flesh.” Much of the debate among those who talk about deep incarnation is about what that phrase means.
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TEORA DELLA DEEP
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I have argued with other scholars such as Christopher Southgate and Elizabeth Johnson on this point precisely, since I think, like you, that if Christ is associated too tightly with the evolutionary story, this raises particular dangers for how to interpret present and future creation.
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Evolutionary anthropology, for example, presupposes that there is no direction to evolution,
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But there are scientists like Simon Conway Morris, for example, who are prepared to speak about evolution operating within restraints
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So it is a misconception to think that evolution is just about contingent mutations of the gene and nothing else.
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The theological question is “when did this group of hominins become self-conscious and aware of God?” That seems to be the mark of Adam
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