Authors Of Book On Evolution And Religion Discuss Implications
Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
“Can a transcendent God be a personal God?” Neil Ormerod asked to the crowd gathered in Fulton 305 on Monday evening. “We are close to God because He is the source of our being. Our conception of God is too small. Divine existence is not like our own. It is inexhaustibly mysterious.”
In the modern world, religious questions on the nature of God and the relationship between God and the physical universe are heavily debated by believers and non-believers alike. In their book Creator God, Evolving World, Ormerod and Cynthia Crysdale draw on Christian tradition in an attempt to answer some of the difficult questions regarding the nature of God and the relationship between God and science in a format accessible to any educated reader.
A professor at the School of Theology at the University of the South, Crysdale teaches Christian ethics and theology with a focus on science and Christian belief, drawing from the Catholic tradition of Boston College professor and scholar Bernard Lonergan, S.J. Also a Lonergan scholar, Ormerod serves as professor of theology at Australian Catholic University in Sidney, focusing on historical ecclesiology, the Trinity, and Christian anthropology.
“What we are trying to do is show that it is possible to engage in a discussion of science and religion, while maintaining a very traditional Christian understanding of God,” Ormerod said.
Comparing the Darwinian approach to science that stressed randomness and the classical approach to science that stressed regularity and the laws of nature, Crysdale rejected the notion that the two ideas are mutually exclusive. She stressed that there are things in the world governed by recurrence and regular schedules and things governed by probabilities.
“Interaction between regularity and probability over many years is essentially what evolution is all about,” Crysdale said. “Natural selection happens when within a population the organisms that have the right traits that match a particular environment in a given time and place are able to survive and reproduce.”
Turning to the theological side of the issue, Ormerod grappled with the question of reconciling divine providence and the existence of chance in the world. Using the example of smoking prevention, he described how a sequence of contingent events could lead to a certain outcome. He also referenced St. Thomas Aquinas to distinguish between two levels of contingency.
“At the existence level, only God is necessary and everything else is contingent,” Ormerod said. “By God causing everything to be, He can cause determinant outcomes through chance.”
Looking at the problem of possible outcomes, Crysdale explained teleology and its fall from use in the modern world. Describing it as “the notion that there is a sort of directionality embedded in the world’s unfolding,” she said that Darwin challenged this sort of thinking when he introduced the notion of chance. To solve the problem presented by Darwin, Crysdale introduced Lonergan’s philosophy that reconciled the two competing schools of thought.
“Lonergan talks about finality as the upwardly but indeterminately directed dynamism of the world process,” Crysdale said. “When you are trying to solve a puzzle, there is a certain direction to your work. When you reach that end, you know it. There is that push, but it is indeterminate … you don’t know the outcome until you get it.”
After Crysdale reconciled the possibility of having directionality to the world without a deterministic worldview, Ormerod addressed the problem of the coexistence of human freedom and God’s providence. He described this in terms of the problems of pain, suffering, and evil. In order to solve the problem, Ormerod discussed the finiteness of man’s existence and how that led to man’s suffering. To solve the problem of evil, he explained evil in terms of the lack of meaning and purpose.
“As a lack, it is not caused and, because it is not caused, God is not the cause,” Ormerod said.
Bringing the discussion back to answering questions of human life, Crysdale talked about the presumption of certain results following from specific actions and the patterns of cooperation present in every day life. While many human actions fall into patterns, she maintained that there are also actions that change probabilities.