Thursday, 13 June 2013

A Better Way To Talk About God (And therefore evolution)

Recently I've become very fond of a stream of thought called 'Negative theology'. This way of thinking about God that starts by saying what God is not rather than what He is.

A great example of this can be found in a 7th century Christian John of Damascus in his work the 'Exposition of the Orthodox Faith':

"But even this [the argument that God is the prime mover] gives us no true idea of His essence, to say that He is unbegotten, and without beginning, changeless and imperishable, and possessed of such other qualities as we are wont to ascribe to God and His environments. For these do not indicate what He is, but what He is not. But when we would explain what the essence of anything is, we must not speak only negatively. In the case of God, however, it is impossible to explain what He is in His essence, and it befits us the rather to hold discourse about His absolute separation from all things. For He does not belong to the class of existing things: not that He has no existence, but that He is above all existing things, nay even above existence itself"

Thinking about God in this way can preserve His fundamentally mysterious nature and allow us to think about his transcendence in a more living way.

Negative theology can't do everything we want it to, of course not. John the Damascene notes this, instead he uses this 'negative way' as a springboard from which to move forward.

This system of thought can also help us to avoid certain arguments that we can have about God, what He is like and what He does.

Could this help us think about evolution then?

Well thank you for asking! In a way it can. Christians have always believed that God is creator. But there is a tendency amongst some to go on from here and beginning arguing that:

  • If God is creator then everything should be created all at once! 
  • If God is creator then the universe should be completely perfect! 
  • If God is creator He would leave markers behind so that we'd know He's there! 

Now all of these propositions could be true but are any of them necessarily true. If we try and take a negative route maybe we could state that:

  • God is not like the creation 
  • God does not daily create different life forms
  • God is not visibly active in creation 
From some of these negative points we could go on to say that in creation we shouldn't expect God to create like us. We shouldn't expect this God who is completely transcendent from us to create in a way that we would actually expect.

Now taking this view of a transcendent, completely other and undefinable being why shouldn't we expect to find something absolutely extraordinary? Why shouldn't we expect something that goes against what we would be able to imagine?

God is God and we are not. Another negative I know but it's yet another negative that can help us think through the issues surrounding evolution and creation.

Here's a nice discussion on this topic for those who want to meditate on it further:

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