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The nexus between God and evolution

 

Question & Answer

 
Q: By John
 
For me, Bishop Spong’s words resonate with truth when he illustrates the nexus between God and evolution, in a way that I believe Pierre Teilhard de Chardin always did. My questions are “Are we going somewhere? Is there purpose driving evolution?” In other words, it would seem that a theology of God and evolution demands human responsibility to see that plan through to fruition. This changes the status quo somewhat, from patiently waiting to purposeful action.
 
A: By Rev. Jim Burklo
Amen, John!  to the Christian imperative to purposefully act for social and environmental justice and progress.  We can’t passively pray catastrophic climate change away: we must put our faith into action now.

As to your deep question of whether or not such faithful activism represents movement toward Teilhard de Chardin’s “omega point” of the cosmic evolution of consciousness – I wish I could offer a definitive answer.

Years ago I read the paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould’s Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History.   He described the evolutionary explosion of life forms in the Cambrian era, over 500 million years ago.  Many of its breathtakingly bizarre creatures disappeared from the fossil record after a series of mass extinctions at the end of the era.  Gould argued for the “punctuated equilibrium” theory of evolution: the process is not smooth, and its “progress” is anything but assured.  If we extrapolate his findings from the earth to the universe, we get a counterpoint to Teilhard’s glorious vision of a universe inexorably evolving toward higher life-forms with ever-more divine consciousness.

I’ve engaged in vigorous dialogue about your question with Michael Murphy over wine on a deck overlooking the Big Sur coast.  Murphy, co-founder of Esalen Institute, is a proponent of what he calls “evolutionary panentheism”.  He is a major figure in the genesis of the human potential movement, which literally embodies an optimistic anthropology.  As a Stanford student of Frederic Spiegelberg, the legendary professor of comparative religion, Murphy was introduced to the mystics of the world’s faiths.  He was much influenced by Teilhard de Chardin, as well.  It was hard not to be persuaded by Michael’s emphatic, enchanting expression of his cosmic vision.  I answered that I would very much prefer to agree with him, and believe in the inexorable progress of the universe, and humanity with it, toward higher and higher complexity and consciousness.  But the dead-ends in the fossil record suggest that this progress is not inevitable.  Humanity is doing a rotten job right now of securing its future in geologically meaningful time.  And if we don’t punctuate our own equilibrium, it’s easy to imagine that someday, something else – like an asteroid strike – will finish the job.

As sunset over the roiling Pacific faded into starlight, and the wine drained from the bottle, we concluded our conclave on the future of the universe.  My parting words were something to this effect:  “Maybe the best we can do is to strive ever onward in advancing humanity and the cosmos toward the omega point – whether or not we ever get there!”

~ Rev. Jim Burklo
 
About the Author
Rev. Jim Burklo is the Senior Associate Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life at the University of Southern California.  An ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ, he is the author of seven published books on progressive Christianity, his latest book is Tenderly Calling: An Invitation to the Way of Jesus (St Johann Press, 2021).  His weekly blog, “Musings”, has a global readership.  He serves on the board of ProgressiveChristiansUniting.org and is an honorary advisor and frequent content contributor for ProgressiveChristianity.org.

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