Last week we took a look at the characteristics of Immutability, Divinity and Omnipotentiality ascribed to God by traditional Christianity, and showed how these characteristics are addressed in our approach to ‘The Secular Side of God’.
This week we will continue this thread, addressing the characteristics of Omniscience, Chance, Transcendence and Immanence.
This traditional teaching asserts that God is ‘all-knowing’. It presents another conundrum: If God knows everything in advance, how is it possible for humans to have free will? If he doesn’t know everything, and we do have free will, how can he be God?
Our secular point of view does not understand God as a ‘person’ but rather as the ‘agent of person-ness’ which effects the appearance of the ‘person’ as a result of an evolution which proceeds by way of increasingly complex entities over time. As we have seen earlier, rerunning the “tape of evolution”, as Stephen J. Gould has famously asserted, would not necessarily result in the human person as we know ourselves. But what Gould fails to recognize is that such a rerun of the ‘tape of evolution’ would still proceed along the same ‘axis of evolution’, with the same potential for increasing complexity. Continuing this billions of year thread, it would necessarily result in entities of such complexity as to become conscious of their consciousness.
Our secular point of view points to a future which is open to us as human persons as our personal and collective evolution continues along this same axis. As we saw with the clinical observations of Carl Rogers, cooperation with our legacy natures. the kernels of our persons, will always lead to our enrichment, our personal continuation of the ‘axis of evolution’.
Chance and Necessity
This brings up another perennial argument: that of the role of chance in evolution. As Einstein has famously said, “God does not play dice with the universe.’ Although this quote was aimed at the indeterminacy of the theory of Quantum Physics, it has been used to support the theory of determinism promoted by Creationists: God intended the specific creation of humans. Therefore, the question is asked, “If God intended humans, how can chance, with which we’re all intimately acquainted, play a part?”
Teilhard’s answer to this conundrum is that if evolution is to continue, it must continue along the 13 billion year thread of increasing complexity. Therefore such an observable phenomenon as increase in complexity will occur despite random events.
The Cretaceous–Tertiary (K–T) extinction some sixty-five million years ago is a prime example of the continuation of complexification despite chance events. The K-T extinction ended the long (one hundred fifty million year) primacy of reptilian animals. While there are several theories of the cause of the event, the most prominent asserts that the Earth suffered an impact by a very large asteroid, causing a giant cloud that ushered in a ‘global winter’ which the reptiles, being cold-blooded, could not survive.
Archeological evidence clearly shows that the evolution of the dinosaur had resulted in a gradual enlargement of the brain cavity: evidence of the ‘thread of evolution’ as it rose through the reptilian entities. With their extinction, and the resulting enlargement of available ecological niches, the prevalent theory suggests that with the extinction of the dinosaurs the way was cleared for a rebound of evolution of mammals. As we know, the rise of complexity (measured in increase of the brain cavity as previously seen in the dinosaurs) then re-continued in the mammals.
The asteroid collision was clearly a random, chance event, but not such as to derail the rise of complexity at the heart of cosmic evolution.
Transcendence and Immanence
One traditional Christian characterization of God is that he is both transcendent and immanent. This characteristic has spurred much thinking since evolving Christianity, with its dualistic branches, understood God as both ‘supernatural’ (“timeless, immutable, incorporeal”- Augustine) and as deeply intimate with the ‘human person’ (“God is love and those who abide in love abide in God and God in him”- John). How is it possible to be both?
Jonathan Sacks, addressing the branch of belief which understands God as ‘supernatural’, cites the Christian theology of ‘atonement’. He sees it as the theory that Jesus had to die to reconcile such a distant (supernatural) God to his immanent (natural) creation. As Richard Rohr puts it:
“The substitutionary atonement “theory” (and that’s all it is) seems to imply that the Eternal Christ’s epiphany in Jesus is a mere afterthought when the first plan did not work out.”
This development of Christian theology stands in opposition to John’s statement about the nature of God:
“God is Love and he who abides in God abides in God and God in him.”
John provides the basis for overcoming all the dichotomies that were to rise as Christian theology developed under the influence of Plato and Aristotle. He makes no complete distinction between the presence of God in the human and the presence of “God as he is in himself”.
Gregory Baum sees Blondel’s understanding of the complete immanence of God as:
“It is impossible to conceptualize God as a being, even as a supreme being, facing us. Since God has entered into the definition of man, it would be an error to think of God as a being apart from man and superior to him.”
So, putting both God and man into the context of evolution permits an integrated understanding of both characteristics. God, understood as the basis of the sum total of the manifold principles of universal evolution, is indeed transcendent, in that God himself is the underlying principle, but the play of these principles as experienced by us in our continued evolution is completely immanent.
The Next Post
Next week we will continue our process of reinterpretation by taking a look at the ‘Perennial Philosophy’, which sees the core approach to human existence as common to all religious thought.