Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Evolution of God

With Darwin’s birthday coming up, we again honor his groundbreaking work with our own celebration of Evolution Sunday. Surprisingly, the world is still divided on the question of whether the Genesis creation story is a literal account or a piece of cultural mythology.

One of my favorite comedians, Ricky Gervais, does a very funny satire on reading Genesis literally, and in particular the creation of light.

“God created the heaven and the earth in the dark. How good is that? I would have created a little bit of light, then taken a look and said, “Right, I need some planets.”

He went, “Zap. That’s everything. Let’s have a look. Brilliant! Then He made man out of dust…. just because he could.”

All I can say is thank goodness God created light before creating humans. Imagine the mess. We could have ended up looking like Mr and Mrs Potato Head. Ah, you’ve got to laugh or else you might cry. Especially when I tell you that a 2006 Gallup Poll found that 46% of Americans believe in some form of young earth creationism. 13% believe in straight evolution and 35% believe in evolution under God’s guidance.

Why is there so much fear of evolution? What is the threat? Maybe some people feel that their God is under threat if evolution is accepted. Some people seem to think that evolution is a slippery slope to atheism and lawlessness and general anarchy.

So my first question is, do you have to choose? Does it have to be a choice between God and evolution?

One day a group of scientists got together and decided that humanity had come a long way and no longer needed God. So they picked one scientist to go and tell God that they were done with Him. The scientist walked up to God and said, “God, we’ve decided that we no longer need you. We’re to the point that we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so why don’t you just go on and mind your own business?” God listened very patiently and kindly to the man. After the
scientist was done talking, God said, “Very well, how about this? Let’s say we have a man-making contest.” To which the scientist replied, “Okay, we can handle that!” “But,” God added, “we’re going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam.” The scientist said, “Sure, no problem” and bent down and grabbed himself a handful of dirt. God looked at him and said, “No, no, no. You go get your own dirt.”

So the case could be made that God created the raw materials, and that evolution took over from there. As Carl Sagan said in Cosmos, “To really make an apple pie from scratch, you must begin by inventing the universe.”

It’s possible to believe in both God and evolution, even if you believe that God is the creator. A God that created the universe (in the dark) could create the world any way he or she wanted, including by evolution. The more important question is “what’s at stake?” Why does it matter if God created the world or not, and if it happened by evolution or not?

This is good news for some- you can have your cake and eat it too. You can have a thoroughly scientific approach without giving up a God that is utterly real, completely impartial, totally reliable, all-inclusive, immensely intelligent, completely loving and maybe even personal. This God is not only consistent with evolution, but is integral to the evolutionary process itself. The best part of all is that with this view of God and evolution, you are a co-creator of the future which is open and unplanned. Life is an adventure and the bricolage of seamless entities that fills your life with meaning are what compels you to live with joy, gratitude and purpose. Your God can keep growing and evolving just as you keep growing and evolving through the maze that is life. The most amazing truth is that once you have replaced a young earth, and a literal, static creation with a vision of dynamic and open processes stretching across vast eons of time, then you will fall to your knees in awe of the immense evolutionary symphony that you are an intimate part of.

Process Theology

You may have heard the phrase, “Process Theology”. It’s an attempt to describe God’s role in evolutionary process. Maybe its best understood with a fun story about a casino.

This guy is working in his store when he hears a booming voice from above: “Saul, sell your business.” He ignores it. It goes on for days. “Saul, sell your business for $3 million.”
After weeks of this, he relents, and sells his store. The voice says “Saul, go to Las Vegas.” He asks why. “Saul, take the $3 million to Las Vegas.”
He obeys, and goes to a casino. The voice says, “Saul, go to the blackjack table and put it down all on one hand.” He hesitates but knows he must. He’s dealt an 18. The dealer has a six showing.
“Saul, take a card.” What? The dealer has –
“Take a card!” He tells the dealer to hit him. Saul gets an ace. Nineteen. He breathes easy.
“Saul, take another card.” What? “TAKE ANOTHER CARD!” He asks for another card.
It’s another ace. He has twenty. “Saul, take another card,” the voice commands.
“I have twenty!” Saul shouts. “TAKE ANOTHER CARD!!” booms the voice.
“Hit me,” Saul says. He gets another ace. Twenty one.
The booming voice says: “Well blow me down! That’s unbelievable!”

Does that make process theology crystal clear??!!!!!! According to process theology, God is involved in creation in a persuasive but not coercive way. God doesn’t know the future, but lures you towards ever more loving and conscious decisions. There is a big difference between persuasion and coercion. It’s a little like the difference between removing a tantrumming child from a store (that’s coercion) and persuading a friend to leave an abusive relationship. The first may be appropriate, but it’s an adult/child relationship. When adults relate to each other, or to God as children, it often ends up being co-dependent. Adult/ adult relationships involve free will and people thinking and deciding for themselves.

Process Theology says that life is a series of experiences, and each one builds upon the ones that came before it. The interrelationship of all factors in each experience creates the future. God is always becoming with each evolving experience. You are always becoming with each evolving experience. It’s not so much that there is a right and wrong in each moment. It’s a different kind of knowing. You feel your way forward, with the vision unfolding as you take each step. The end game is not clear, but it doesn’t need to be clear. It makes sense as you go. You are at one with the situation.

At your best moments, you feel like life’s dance partner. The ballroom floor is the spinning earth you share. You flow around the room like a Latin dance goddess. You are at one with the seamless movement. You can’t even tell if you are dancing or being danced, leading or being led. Either way it feels good and right. You move with grace and style and improvise when the situation demands it. Of course some of you have seen me dance, and know that it’s not always pretty or stylish.

Process Theology and Synchronicity

The type of flow I am speaking of sounds a little like synchronicity. You create your own luck. Meaning and direction fall into your lap when you are open and receptive. I heard a nice story, apparently a true story, about synchronicity.

Baptist preacher, Tony Campolo, tells of a time when he went to a small college to speak. Before the service, several of the faculty members took him inside a room and prayed over him before he went out to talk to the student body. Tony said,

“These men prayed long, and the longer they prayed the more they leaned on my head. They prayed on and on and on and leaned harder and harder. One of the faculty members prayed at length about a particular man named Charlie Stoltzfus. That kind of ticked me off, and I thought to myself, ‘If you’re going to lean on my head, the least you can do is pray for me.’ He prayed on and on for this guy who was about to abandon his wife and three children.”

Following the chapel service, Tony got in his car and headed home. As he was getting on the Pennsylvania turnpike he noticed a young man hitchhiking. He picked him up. Tony said, “I know you’re not supposed to, but I’m a Baptist preacher and whenever I can get someone trapped in a space where I can preach to him, I do it!” As they pulled back onto the highway, Tony introduced himself and asked the man what his name was. The man replied, “My name’s Charlie Stoltzfus…!”

Tony immediately turned the car around and headed back the other direction. Charlie said, “Where are you going!” “I’m taking you home,” Tony replied. “Home?” “Yes, home. Because you left your wife and three children.” When they got to the house Tony went inside and talked with the man and his wife. The couple worked through their problems and Charlie ended up becoming a pastor.

Not all situations turn out as neatly as this, but so often in life meaning falls in your lap. So the next question is, even if life has a way of organizing itself so that meaningful coincidences take place, do we need to include God in the equation?

A guy was driving to an important meeting and couldn’t find a parking place. Looking up toward heaven, he said “God, take pity on me. If you find me a parking place I will go to church every Sunday for the rest of my life and maybe even give up tequila.” Miraculously, a parking place appeared right in front of him. He looked up again and said, “Never mind. I found one myself.”

God and Evolution

All of the beauty and mystery of life can be fully experienced without any reference to God, and many people live happily without any need for God. If you are in that category, I’m neither trying to persuade nor coerce you to change your mind. And no, I don’t find you to be a lawless and anarchistic bunch. Some of the most moral people I know are atheists. I mix with a number of people who call themselves spiritual atheists. Being an atheist who appreciates the mysterious interconnectedness of life, and lives a life of love and compassion, is a perfectly reasonable position to hold.

However, at a time when belief in God is under a certain amount of intellectual attack, I want to outline some ways that it is just as reasonable to hold your belief in God alongside a belief in evolution. Maybe I will go a step further than that and talk about how belief in God can broaden and deepen the experience of life as it leaves open the possibility of a divine force underneath and within experience. Who am I, and what do I know, but here goes anyway!

1. Let go and let God

Surrender the life you have planned to step into the life that is waiting for you. There come certain moments in life when you let go and let God, maybe nervously opening yourself to the emerging and even surprising future. By leaving yourself open to an unknown future, you so often discover new and wondrous connections. Maybe it’s meaningful for you to use God as a name for the depth of knowing beyond rational pro and con lists. Maybe God gives a sense of the growing consciousness that not only knows what to do, but knows why certain actions are important and how they will serve the world.

As Margaret Wheatley says, “Our plans are nothing compared to what the world so willingly gives us.” Let go and let God co-create a life beyond your wildest dreams.

2. The Whole is Greater than the Parts

You have heard phrases like “touch a star, disturb a star” and “heaven in a grain of sand”. What they are describing poetically may be true at a quantum level. The whole is greater than the parts, and at the same time each part contains the potential and imprint of the whole. A visual way to think of this is that each wave is part of the ocean, and inseparable from the ocean, but the ocean is greater than its combined waves.

This has profound implications for the way you live. You are more than a machine, and so much more than the sum of your parts. You are a whole and wondrous person. Each of your parts; your personality, your experience and skills, contains the imprint of the whole, and is loaded with healing potential. When you put it all together you are nothing less than God becoming more divine in each moment. You are whole, unbroken and unbreakable. God is a perfectly reasonable name for the whole and the potential for wholeness in each part. No matter how lonely it may feel at times, the wave is never separate from the ocean and you are never separate from the whole.

3. You are part of Something Enormous

To say that your life and choices are part of God becoming more divine fills your life with incredible significance. You are connected to a larger, deeper, richer whole that puts your present limited situation into a new perspective. Maybe God is a name for the sense of ’something beyond’, of ’something more’ that gives meaning and value to where you are now. That ’something more’ may be a cause that moves you to action or an ever increasing circle of compassion, it may be a sense of awe at truth or beauty or it may be a sense that your actions are part of the evolutionary process. The consciousness that grows from this sense of “something more” not only guides you to know what to do, but also to deeply appreciate why certain things are worth doing.

When Jesus said that those who follow him would do greater works than his, I sense that he understood a profound evolutionary truth. (John 14;12) The greater works would not necessarily be miracles in the sense of defying nature. They would be works of a deeper consciousness; a greater understanding of the interconnectedness of life and the responsibility of each to co-create the future. I believe that the recording of these words in John’s gospel was a sign that the early Johannine communities around Ephesus from whom the gospel arose, were developing a profound mystical belief in God as the source of life and inner consciousness that connects all. It’s no accident that these words about “greater works” are sandwiched by Jesus washing his disciples feet in chapter 13 and the metaphor of the vine and the branches in chapter 15. An awareness of God within manifests as love and service for all.

4. There’s Always More

When you feel like your life has come to dead halt, paralyzed by fear, God as process may help you to see that there’s always more.

Albert Einstein is said to have performed the following thought experiment when he was contemplating relativity. He asked himself a question: If you were literally riding on the edge of a light beam and you held a mirror in front of you, could you see yourself? And the answer is no. If nothing travels faster than light, light can’t get to the mirror to reflect your reflection, so you would see nothing.

That’s a great image for the emerging edge of evolution. There’s nothing in the future to see. We’re creating it as we go out there.

It can be scary to look in the mirror and not see anything, but it can also be empowering. You get to help create what you want to see in the future. As Emerson said, “You lie in the lap of immense intelligence.” God is a name for evolution from complexity to greater complexity. Your life purpose is to awaken to this evolving process of God becoming more divine.

Why do you need to include the name God in this process? Maybe just to remind you that you don’t have it all figured out, that life is mystery and that names and labels point us to the mystery of what lies beneath. Just don’t get hung up on the names and labels. Allow yourself to go where they are pointing you.

The Divine Lottery Called Life

Just in case this is all getting a little neat and orderly, let me remind you of the incredible miracle that is your life. Do you ever wonder in quiet moments how you came to be alive? I don’t mean how it happened, but why you and why now? Of all the improbable circumstances, one egg fertilized at just the right time, generation after generation along the line, it IS a miracle that you are here. Then add in the multiple risks and uncertainties of life, from disease to accident, generation after generation along the line, and it just becomes outrageous for you to be here. While your death is a mathematical certainty, the odds of you existing in the first place are ludicrously improbable.

So start living like the miracle that you are. Make the absolute most of each precious gift of a moment that is your miracle of a life, and make the miracle count for something profound. Live your life so that years later, when future generations are contemplating the miracle of their existence, your legacy lives on in ways known and unknown.

Give thanks for the miracle of evolution. Live the miracle of evolution. Namaste.

For Further Reflection -

Why do you think some people are so afraid of evolutionary theory?

Do you think it’s reasonable to believe in both God and evolution?

What do you find inspiring and empowering about evolutionary theory?