The spiritual principle of all life

16-09-2020 (original article in Dutch)

In the following articles I discuss, as a former teacher of Physical Anthropology and Geology, and as a Catholic believer, the current theories about creation and evolution, from a new vision. In fact, this topic belongs to the theme “Faith and Science”, but since it is so extensive and complex, it is treated separately here. Its scientific basis is very extensive and quite a lot of research results (dates, species names, etc.) are anything but uniform, or generally accepted. Moreover, the interpretations of these results lead to weighty questions of a metaphysical and religious nature. It is mainly on those clashing interpretations and their influence on our view of the world, man and God that we want to focus here.

Assessment of the main theories

Materialism (or the “ARM” we talk about elsewhere) has even turned this scientific domain into its main spearhead, aimed at the heart of the faith of God. Whether we like to face it, or not, the paleoanthropological research results raise questions that strongly influence both our view of ourselves and our origins. “Darwinism” is for the moment the most widely used model of interpretation, while “Creationism” lives mainly on the American continent. Last but not  least,  the theory of “Intelligent Design” emerged. On these pages a new integral view is presented, under the name “Creative Evolution”. It wants to demonstrate and avoid the reasoning errors within these theories. It also opens the way for alternative conclusions, in which faith and reason are both realistic and balanced.  

Then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being “(Gen. 2:7). Is God represented here as a mythical potter who animates a lifeless lump of clay with air from his lungs? Of course not. The purpose of this folk Bible story is not to describe God’s method of creating the first human beings. Its author (Moses?) did not pretend to know “how” that happened exactly but taught his people (the descendants of Abraham) “why” and “what for” man was created. The breath of life of God here symbolizes the energy and talents with which the first human pair was equipped. They received from God something special that made them superior to all other living beings: a higher consciousness that enabled them to discover their Creator, to know His will and to communicate with Him. He also gave them the freedom to maintain the originally good relationship, or to attempt to promote themselves to pseudo-gods, as the “serpent” (here symbol for falsehood and perilous evil) will instill in them.  

The first Genesis story, which precedes the above, is profoundly different in nature. Here, too, the symbolic character prevails, but it clearly also has something of a story with an unmistakable content of “geological realism”. The latter is very special, as it distinguishes itself from all other known creation stories. One could even consider it as a free poetic evocation of our current knowledge of geological and biological evolution. The sequence is of course not quite right and the time data not at all. There is also no theological reason why the eternal God had to rush to finish this gigantic work of creation in six days and why He, who is omnipotent, needed a seventh day to rest. God is thus “humanized” in this first Genesis story (as in many other Bible passages). It exhibits the mixing of realistic and mythical elements, which is characteristic of a part of the Holy Scripture. As events move closer to  the time of the Bible authors,  the stories take on a  more realistic  character – a perfectly normal phenomenon, which reaches  its  peak in the  New Testament.  

For the Lord, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. ” (2 Peter 3:8,  referring to Psalm 90:2). It is evident that this is not about the result of a mathematical calculation, but about a reflection that expresses the limitedness of our time-bound comprehension. Why did purist-minded Bible expositors nevertheless feel obliged to reduce the age of all that exists to about six thousand years? (*) An unsustainable ridiculous number, if one compares it with the 13.8 billion years that current science calculated, based on the measurement of the cosmic background radiation of the universe (coming from the “Big Bang”). On the one hand, an overly literal approach to the Bible stories mainly results in infantile-sounding conclusions. On the other hand, the predominantly mythological or symbolic interpretations with which modernist theologians come up with, usually come across as artificial.

Of the first mentioned tendency, the most famous outgrowth is “creationism”. If, for example, one knows how minimal most layers are that disappear annually due to the erosive effect of wind or water, then one can make an estimate of the enormous duration for the formation by erosion of the current slopes and ravines. For example, for a possibly noticeable slight deepening of a rocky riverbed, one will have to wait about a thousand years. Just that simple statement relegates the creationist proposals for a short period of existence of creation to the wastebasket. Creationism seeks to refute this with the erosive effect of the Flood. According to the Bible, it lasted only forty days, after which the earth remained covered for 150 days. So, the erosive effect of the water flowing out would therefore have formed most of the current world relief in this very short time? To where all that water flowed in a world that was completely covered with it, is also not clear…

This does not mean that we here deny the existence of the Biblical Flood, but that as modern Christians we best situate this world catastrophe in a realistic geological framework (**). More generally, we must learn to understand the Bible as it is written and  intended. He contains the history of the relationship between God and men, up to the beginning of our era. It was written down by people who did not have our current scientific knowledge and resources, each of them with their own style and priorities. It includes poetic chapters (e.g., the psalms), partly mythical (Genesis), legislative (Deuteronomy), symbolic (e.g.  using numbers such as 40 and 7),  narrative,  etc…  If we as Christians want to remain relevant in a world that is almost explosively flooded with new scientific realizations, we must learn to situate the historical aspects of the Bible stories correctly, without ignoring the spiritual realities and messages, or to reinterpret them to our heart’s content. To this end, we must distance ourselves both from materialist and modernist approaches, as well as from unsustainable fundamentalist or overly literal interpretations.

The need for a new approach

The human brain has a tendency towards “intellectual energy saving”. People therefore often prefer to reduce or simplify very complex problems, by making abstraction of several aspects of them that do not fit into their frame of mind. The history of universe, earth, life, man, forms a difficult to oversee whole, full of surprising, dynamic and “explosive” twists and turns and still unresolved issues. So, it is not an easy task to distill correct conclusions from that. Both creationism and Darwinism, and (to a lesser extent) intelligent design, reduce this past by making it less “dynamic” and thus more “static”. Creationism goes the furthest in this: man is simply placed on earth finished by God, little or no different from his present descendants. Classical Darwinism opts for slow orderly species changes (Neo-Darwinism has already “evolved” into more openness towards dynamic events). The basic idea of intelligent design is also rather static: all life forms correspond to a “design”, a predetermined draft.

The approach we are proposing here is different because it does not try to avoid the complexity of the problem. On the one hand, it is based on the existence of a creative God, from which we can learn the most important qualities for us from the Bible. On the other hand, all valid scientific findings are considered without concessions. It is often believed that current Catholicism has largely resolved the apparent contradictions between these two sources of knowledge.  But we can better view the current situation as a kind of ‘ceasefire’, since so far, a well-fitting and widely acceptable synthesis of both is lacking. To this end, they must be systematically cleared of premature and erroneous conclusions, due to time-bound biases or entrenched opinions (a bit just as each of us must improve our opinions and behaviors and retrain ourselves).  

The true God of the Bible is not a bearded elder man, who wanted to lose as little time as possible with his creation and who regularly vents his wrath on his disobedient creatures. He’s also not just comparable to a potter or a watchmaker (as is common in intelligent design). One of his main characteristics is his creative power. Of all eternity He has foreseen man and loved him as the capstone of his immeasurably creative Spirit. In Him there is no change, yet He is the cause of all changes and therefore also of time (without changes there can be no time). This is a paradoxical fact for man, that one can only more or less assimilate within our time-bound logic through a proper religious attitude, thoughts about life and death, the relativity of time, etc.

God’s ultimate intention is that his human creatures should participate in his timeless divine joy, in the light of his infinite love. This implies several basic requirements. The people must be endowed with the necessary intelligence and a higher (spiritual) consciousness to be able to know God. They must also have a free will. In a static reality, as proposed in creationism, free will can hardly be expressed, because the Creator of a clear short-lived universe is difficult or impossible to ignore. In an evolutionary creation, seemingly independent and randomly advancing with unexpected leaps and side jumps, God allows himself to be sought and found. In this way, He gives His favorite creatures the chance to answer his offer of love in faithful freedom.  

To make all this possible, God has put something of his own intelligence and creative spirit into all living beings and constantly fed it, until it was expressed to the maximum in man. In this final step of evolution, man was elevated by God above his fellow creatures to “his (spiritual) image”(Gen.1:27). Anyone who observes living nature objectively will sooner or later come to the conclusion that all  organisms  (even  the  simplest ones) have  “creative intelligence“. This intangible property is probably the most essential of all life. We will explore this in more detail in the following chapters.

God’s creative and intervening role

Science that is widely accepted also suffers from wrong assumptions and axioms. They are the main  obstacle to  correct conclusions. The two basic principles of Darwinism, for example, are the kinship of species and the “natural selection” as the driving force of evolution. The present state of paleontological research, combined with the results of microbiology, inevitably leads to the assumption of a mutual relationship between all life forms. This implies a common origin. To creationists, this sounds like a blasphemy, but many contemporary Christians accept this without too many problems, because this does not exclude a Creator.  After all, this conclusion tells nothing about the way in which life came to be. It can be created directly, or simply be the result of still unknown laws of nature. The first scenario is the most obvious for me and it is completely in line with the first Bible story. But even in the second case, a divine Creator remains the most plausible cause of the natural laws assumed here. Nevertheless, this unproven second Darwinian premise is mainly used by the atheism/rationalism/materialism (ARM), as well as the neo-modernism with which, unfortunately, a part of our “Catholic” clerics was infected. More generally, one can ask oneself to what extent God intervenes directly in his creation. For materialism, of course, this question is meaningless. But it is very important to Christianity, especially because of the rise of modernism, which rejects divine interventions wholly or as much as possible. In my opinion, this last opinion can no longer be called “Christian”, and she is certainly not Catholic. After all, it implies a purely human Christ, unlike, among other things, the second article of the Catholic Credo, which explicitly states that Christ was not created: He entered creation by his birth from the Virgin Mary but belonged to it only physically (until his resurrection). A Christianity without actual divine interventions, is hollowing itself out and relegating itself to a humanitarian worldview. Of course, this is mainly a matter of faith. In any case, our position is clear: God is constantly at work in his creation, if not He would be an aloof God, with a purely ceremonial or theoretical function. At least the so-called Big Bang and the origin of life can easily be regarded as separate direct acts of creation, since there is no scientific explanation for them. Are there any arguments for posterior acts of creation? This will be discussed further in the following contributions.

(Read more on page 2)

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