Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The good creation?

Interesting thread spooling out at Dr. Feser's blog under the Fr. Davies lecture (on the New Atheism) posted there.

The main topic has now become how to reconcile--or not?--the savage pre-history of the Earth, as described by evolutionary biology, with the claim that God created the world good. For if animal suffering, predation, and death precede the rise of humans, it seems the account in Genesis about evil occuring after the Fall of Adam, is either totally false or in need of serious qualifications. The following is the anonymous post which set the ball rolling along these lines:

Do theistic evolutionists such as Davies and many other Catholics believe that violent predation, parasitism, mass extinction, and other forms of animal suffering were part and parcel of God's "good" creation for billions upon billions of years, long before humans beings ever emerged on Earth to spoil creation via an exercise of their free will, as Genesis is typically taken to be saying? Fossils and other data obtained from archeology do seem to indicate this.

If so, I'm having a great deal of trouble believing that this world is the product of the infinite, inner dance of love of the triune God. On the one hand, we have this exquisite conception of God, yet, on the other hand, we have death, pain, and suffering occurring on vast, unimaginable scales. One view of the world is so overwhelmingly beautiful, the other is so overwhelmingly disgusting. My strong intuition is that these things - violent predation, extinction, parasitism, etc. - can have nothing whatsoever to do with the infinite goodness and love of God as described by Christian theology, but if so, here's the rub: How could such a God will anything but infinite goodness and love, since it is his essence? More specifically, since there would have been absolutely nothing hindering him from willing his essence infinitely at the outset of creation, why all the pain and death before the emergence of human beings? Or was there creaturely free will prior to humanity? Was there some sort of "angelic" fall which ultimately led to Lucifer and his ilk spoiling creation? In the end, I just don't know.

What I do know is that this is the only question that poses a challenge to my Christian faith, and that I'm surprised by the lack of thoughtful responses to this question.

Heady stuff and very much to the point.

The two main lines of response have been either that evolution is wrong or that animal suffering is not really "suffering" (or evil). I am inclined to the latter opinion, but I ultimately want to show how a deeper understanding of the dogma of Creation dissolves some of the tension. As I said in that thread:

As for natural evil and evolution, I think this thread needs a good dose of Fr. Keefe's eucharistic theology. According to Revelation, Creation is IN CHRIST and Christ is in the world IN THE EUCHARIST. The world of natural evolution is not "the real world," as some neutral canvas onto which the Incarnation was (much less eventually) spilled, but, in fact, the opposite is true: the Incarnation is the axis of creation and the Eucharist is the axis of redemption as a matter of spacetime reality. Cf. Scotus, St. Francis de Sales, and T. F. Torrance, et al. God willed to redeem the very world which seems unsightly to us in the very agency of His Son made manifest in the Eucharist in the eternal now. God did not will to undo or reverse the rough draft of evolved contingency as science describes it, but in fact to suspend that same order from the self-giving of His Son in the One Flesh at Calvary and at every Mass.

Even so, it must be asked: Is an African mantis "evil" for catching and consuming a field mouse? I should say not. To say it is "evil" or that the mouse's demise is "immoral," is grossly anthropomorphic. We might just as easily lament the death of a ripe gourd when it falls to the ground and ruptures. Animal suffering is a very slippery notion, and while I hardly wish to come off as a "clockwork Cartesian", I think the likes of Peter Singer's animal moralism is at the exact opposite extreme, and therefore just as untrue. A metaphorical hint of the good order, despite its mortal finitude, may be seen in the way certain Native Americans thanked the animals for their sacrifice of life to the nourishment of brother-man. Decomposition and change are integral to corporeality as we know it (and to art, for that matter), but I should say this hardly raises a moral objection to material finitude as such.

Not too surprisingly, this did not get a response from other readers (so far), so I added a few links to add fresh blood to the discussion:

"The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil"

"Darwinism, Animal Suffering and Theology"

Dr. William Lane Craig on Animal Suffering

"The carnivorous nature and suffering of animals"

"Creation, suffering and the problem of evil"

I then added:

To reiterate what I said about a "Keefian" reading of this dilemma, I would like to say again that "the good creation" is IN CHRIST and is to be judged by its pristine metaphysical origin in Him as the Creative Word, not on the basis of how much animal pain allegedly "preceded" Him. His immanence in the world suffuses all spacetime and is radically and wholly present in the Eucharist, which is itself the human mode of encountering creation, which is an eternally present act of the One God by the One Word in the One Flesh. The Triune Creator God is the same Triune God worshipped and received in the Eucharist. Christ was not "deployed" after a few million years to "rectify" the "horrors" God was "watching take place." Rather, the animal pain and entropy we are discussing is inscribed in the very Flesh of the Incarnate Word IN THE PRESENT IN EVERY EUCHARIST (which is of course one with Calvary AND with the descent of the Creative Spirit on a chaotic material world). His redemption informs the very world out of which, presumably, His earthly lineage/linemanets evolved, but at the same time, His divine power as the Logos grounds both the creation and redemption of that same world in one act of the One Flesh. That's awfully dense, I know, but, again, you can search my blog (Keefe, Keefian) for more details and, better yet, read Fr. Keefe's Covenantal Theology.

Another reader then asked two questions about specific problems in theistic evolution, to which I replied:

Without, alas, replying to your questions specifically or in any great detail, I want to present once more my Keefian-patristic "hermeutical" lens for all such questions. If we (all) don't get clear on our basic theological modus operandi, we're just talking past each other. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that…” heheh

The profoundest meaning of creation in Christian revelation is not that it is an autonomous canvas on which God creates the rest of the world (like an eternal chessboard with movable and interchangeable pieces), but that the Fall was a metaphysical dimension of the creation itself by the primal free defection of Adam, as the metaphysical prime analogate for all mankind (mankind which is, in turn, the microcosmal prime analogate of creation itself). Adam's nature was based on and active IN CHRIST and his sin was therefore against the Logos in the one creation wrought by that same Word. Original sin means that the same metaphysical, and therefore transtemporal, loss of beatitude is active in us in our very constitution, which is also rooted in Christ and thus also an (Adamic) deviation from Him. Hence, original sin is not so much a bill of goods we all sign when we are born, but more like a harmonic/holographic defect in our constitution which reverberates throughout our being and the rest of the world into/out-of which we are created.

The point is that the metaphysical order of Adam-in-Christ determines, in an omnitemporal, universal way, the whole scope of manifest activities in creation (i.e., the concrete horrors and woes we are discussing). You could loosely imagine the problem as being 'metaphysically retroactive', in the sense that Adam's corruption of creation, as its head, extended 'backward' from a metaphysical vantage/pivot point to corrupt all of creation in a secondarily temporal way. In the fundamentalist conception, Adam was created at time t1, fell at time t2, and then everything went to shit as we now know it (t2+n). But a theology cognizant of real archeology and basic biological exigencies (the like of which we are discussing), is enabled to see how the ugly pre-history of the world is a reflection of the immanent (not subsequent!) fallenness of creation in Adam-in-Christ. This does not mean that the Church waited for science to give it a sounder exegesis, but it does mean certain exegeses are much less viable insofar as theology seeks the harmony of all truth. Indeed, in a way, it took various sciences this long to catch up with the patristic, cosmic exegesis of creation, but that is a historical point. The philosophical-theological point of interest is that “the world as we know it”, in its temporal and biological lineaments, is but a function of the world as created in Christ and then corrupted by Adam in a timeless metaphysical ‘instant’. Had Adam not fallen ab origine (metaphysically, not temporally speaking), biological pre-history would indeed look like we seem to want it to look: idyllic and vegan. Since Adam’s fall reverberates in a (rectilinear) metaphysical way for all of creation, however, life history looks much more, well, fallen. This is not to collapse creation into redemption, but it is to find them both rooted in Christ and the primal “encounter” between mankind in Adam and Christ in Adam.

As you may know, I have written a fair share about Fr. Donald Keefe's Covenantal Theology over the years at FCA. If you'd like to read more, you can look at these search results for Keefe and Keefian in my archives here.


Crude said...

Do you recommend The Knucklehead's Guide to Covenantal Theology? It's free, and I came upon it while looking for this CT you've spoken so highly of.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Creepy much?

I was just googling Keefe+covenantal and glimpsed The Knucklehead's Guide, which got me into Keefe a few years ago. Go for it! (But first read Kallahan#s essay on Dennett and skyhooks. ) ((It also seems my blog is the top hit for that google entry.))

Also look here for the book itself.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Another intriguing thing about Keefe's work is that, although it's largely Scotistic in its soteriology, it's also akin to Radical Orthodoxy in its emphasis on the Eucharist. RO typically villifies Scotus for "flattening" ontology, but Keefe doesn't argue as much. Keefe, of course, is just a Catholic while the RO's are just very good Anglicans. ;)