OHPT: Thoughts on Divine Action and Evolution (Chapter 11)

WHEREIN a philosophical theologian (inadvertently?!) makes a case for Christian environmentalism. Better believe I “hearted” those passages.

With last week’s chapter on Moral Perfection, we finished the section on “Divine Attributes” and plowed forward into “God and Creation.” Dr. Robin Collins leads off with a discussion of Divine Action and Evolution. Collins is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and chair of the philosophy department at Messiah College. I just want to point out that he TRIPLE majored in Mathematics, Physics, and Philosophy at WSU (Go Cougs!) and his dissertation at Notre Dame was overseen by none other than Alvin Plantinga. So. That’s pretty good for Collins. His main research interests are the intersection of religion and science. (He also really, really loves the fine-tuning argument.)

Collins divides the issue of God and evolution into two main areas of exploration: (1). understanding the ways God might have influenced or guided the evolutionary process; and (2). trying to gain insight into God’s ultimate purpose(s) in creating a universe and life by evolution and all the characteristics of the evolutionary process. Collins focuses his chapter and argument on (2).

Right off the bat, I was skeptical. How do we figure out someone’s purpose in doing anything? Is it outcomes? But those are subject to outside influences and many outcomes or consequences are unforeseen — working backwards from outcomes is only helpful if the agent tell us that is what she was aiming for. Can we tell purpose from mechanics of the action? Sometimes, but not always. Maybe I use the KonMari method for folding my clothes because I have too many clothes and it enables me to fit the most clothes in the drawer. Maybe I do it because it’s easiest. Maybe I do it because it allows me to see in a glance what clothes I have in that drawer. Maybe I do it because I enjoy the folding method and it brings me a sense of zen and joy. There are many reasons for using a mechanism, so it’s hard to determine purpose without, again, the agent clarifying.

Of course, for Christians, they point to the Bible for what they claim is the Divine Agent revealing her aim. So we are thrust back to questions about the authority of scripture and tradition. No need to retread trodden ground.

There are three major theories of what it is that evolution reveals to us about God’s purpose in creating: the Autonomy of Creation Explanation, Divine Hiddenness Explanation, and the Chaos to Order Proposal. Collins adds his own: the Interconnection Theory. (He doesn’t call it that, but I feel it should have its own name. BE BOLD, COLLINS.) He claims that one reason God used “chance-driven evolution” is to enhance and deepen the connections between living creatures in creation. He outlines three connections in particular: emergent, ancestral, and redemptive. I found the redemptive connection to be the most interesting, because it leads so clearly to an environmental ethics that I think could be a beautiful part of a strong, loving, gracious Christian worldview.

Collins’ redemptive connection is the connection between humans and the rest of creation “if, through God’s grace, human beings help ‘redeem’ the world by helping make God present in creation in such a way that creation more fully participates in the life of God” (249). This help could be seen in humans being part of how God intends to halt the decay of the universe (though I’m having trouble figuring out how humans can help halting such decay since humans have no control over the expansion of the universe…) and through helping the universe gain a soul of some sort (252).

Yep, Collins floated panpsychism. But didn’t name it as such. I. LOVE. IT.

His claim about the universe gaining a soul is that it would lead to a “richer and more valuable universe”, and that it fits with scriptures talking about creation sharing in the redemption and grace of humans. I find the scripture part interesting, because of the whole “purpose-finding” purpose (ha) of this chapter. What if the purpose of St. Paul (or God, I guess) in choosing those terms was to make an analogy using anthropomorphic language? And if so, do we want to anthropomorphize nature? I’m not necessarily saying we shouldn’t, just that if we are we need to be clear that we’re doing that — clear to ourselves and clear to others.

What I found most valuable in this argument was not so much the legitimacy of it (I find the idea of “redeeming” nature rather weak) but the fleshing out of what interconnection means. I think Collins hits on a lot of what psychology and biology have discovered over the years. As Collins says, just like we are shaped as people through our body and our relation to our body, we are shaped as people (aka, souls-to-be-redeemed) through the physical stuff of nature and our relation to nature. I can’t help but think of Hegel here (I’M SORRY). Nature is part of us, and just like we need to take care of ourselves as holy beloved of God (so Christians say), so do we need to take care of nature. Collins argument for God-ordained interconnection puts us in a role of responsibility towards nature, instead of a benefactor of nature. As such, we need to see nature not just as part of ourselves, but as part of others. As part of the situation that gives rise to their good, their evil, their suffering, their flourishing, their very selves.

Interconnectedness also just makes our relationship to nature so much richer than the acquisitive, destructive, exploitative relationship capitalism prescribes. (One that the Christians of the US INEXPLICABLY raise as holier doctrine than, you know, all that socialism of Jesus.) I want to live in a world that breathes with me, not one that is just there for me to use and abuse. Interconnectedness puts God’s command for humans to stewards the earth in much deeper and more poignant, and I find it to be a very compelling way of looking at the triadic relationship between God, humans, and nature.

A friend and her pup on our recent socially-distant hike through an Oahu watershed. The well-being of humans depends on the well-being of nature which requires our sacrifice and stewardship. If there is a holy calling, taking care of nature is certainly one.

Collins finishes with a theodicy I did not like all that much (his connection-building theodicy, or CBT), as it gives in to the quantifying of overall goods to excuse individual evils. I thought Garcia did a wonderful job of examining the failures of that argument, so I won’t belabor them here. Overall, I found the argument Collins puts forth, that evolution enables the kind of interconnectedness that God intends for his creatures, to be interesting if not satisfying, but mainly to have compelling consequences for Christians as seen through the skeptical eyes of an avowed environmentalist such as myself.

Best quote:

… interconnections pave the way for a deeper intercommunion with creation, an intercommunion in which creation in some sense becomes part of what we are, and ultimately through us is taken into divine life.

Collins 254

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