Saturday, June 4, 2011

Is Evolution Consistent with God's Love? (Part Two)

In my first post, I stated that I do not see a contradiction between the stories of creation in Genesis and evolution. However, I also said that the question of whether Christianity and evolution are compatible hinges on the question of love: if it is the Christian god which made the world through evolution, is that a loving god? Is a belief that the Christian god created the world through evolution compatible with the idea of God's love?

The world is fallen. I have been informed of this state of affairs often, especially while attending church the first 18 years of my life, and I have heard this claim repeated many times in the sermons I have read and heard since that time. It's perhaps one of the three central claims of Christianity, besides God's creation and the resurrection of Jesus - one of a holy trinity of selling points for the faith.

It's also true. Earth is a mess. People are selfish, and take little care of anyone other than themselves. In fact, people are even catastrophically bad at protecting their own interests, over the long-term. Humans beings are usually short-sighted and indifferent to others at best, and cruel and vindictive to others at worst.

I do believe that Earth is fallen, that there is rampant evil in the world, and that the Genesis narratives are fully compatible with God creating us through evolution. So why am I not a Christian?

The biggest reason I can't accept both Christianity and evolution is that I don't agree that the Christian idea of redemption makes sense in a world created through evolution. In a world of chaos and evil, the idea of a loving God as a redeeming and uplifting force in human life has great appeal. However, I find that this message of redemption in Christianity is often undercut by other parts of Christian belief. By itself, it is hard to resist the allure of redemption - but paradoxically, what seems to be an excessive focus on human brokenness ruins the message of redemption for me.

I can't believe that a loving god created people broken, and then would blame people for their own brokenness, when their mistakes are many times the result of an evolutionary process which people claim God started. A God who created humanity through evolution created broken people. Perhaps the Garden of Eden story is an allegory, even more so than most orthodox Christians are willing to admit. Perhaps all the story is saying is that when humans rely on their own knowledge, they are broken, and need another force - like God - to redeem them. I find it hard to disagree with this message. It's simple, and true, and profound.

On the other hand, a lot of Christians go a long way to tell me that every "sinful" act of humanity is a choice, a direct choice to rebel against God. It's not just that humans cannot rely on themselves and need another force for redemption, but that humans have actively chosen to betray God, who created them perfectly, and is perfect himself. This, I cannot believe. I believe that humanity is broken at some fundamental level, and that there is a need for redemption. I cannot go the extra step and believe that human brokenness is directly the fault of humanity - if there is also a God which created people through evolution, a process which in its indifference leads to errors and a steep learning curve.

If the Christian god created humanity through evolution, then humans have been created in a way that would make "mistakes" - how could our brokenness be a choice? If evolution and Christianity are both true, then it feels like God chose for us to be broken, and then judges us for our brokenness. What kind of redemption is that?

Evolution is generally an indifferent process, with no goal of design. People forget the brutality of natural selection, and the seemingly arbitrary ways the human body (as well as all other living things) have been arranged. Evolution is not a perfect process, so how could I expect humans to be perfect? Could a god who created humans through an imperfect process expect humans to be perfect?

Do people choose to be selfish, and choose to do evil? Yes, and it is hard for me to disagree that people could be judged for those choices. But a loving god should redeem humanity because we are lost - and god helped us lose our way. If there is a God, this God must have a higher purpose for creating humans through evolution. Perhaps this process of errors and mistakes serves a divine purpose. Perhaps God wants us to experience what it's like to be wrong, what it's like to learn and grow. Learning requires mistakes. Maybe God didn't want us to be perfect. Of course, that explanation also rejects most of orthodox Christianity, but I'm not sure how else to reconcile a god who judges human for their actions - actions which happened to be set in motion by evolution, a process people claim was authored by God.

I cannot settle for the standard Christian explanation of God's judgment, God's love, and accept evolution, too. Although I am not a Christian for other additional reasons, if I am going to accept Christianity and evolution as compatible, I must accept a different view of God's intentions. If God intentionally used a process to create humanity that would leave people vulnerable to their worst impulses, then the traditional idea of a perfect God creating perfect humans who actively rebel against God to create sin makes no sense.

If God used evolution, as imperfect as it is, and the Christian god exists, then God must have a higher purpose for our mistakes, rather than simply judging us as if we were supposed to have the right answers all along. Since I am not a Christian, I may not be the best person to discern what that higher purpose may be. However, I have a guess. Perhaps there is a God, who wants us to learn from our mistakes and develop a morality which comes from an awareness of our dependence on others. If humanity had to learn about morality through a broken process, perhaps God is letting us experience this brokenness for a reason. I'm still not convinced that both evolution and Christianity are true, but it's far more plausible to me than the explanations I'm used to hearing.

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