Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Evolutionary thought. . .

Part of the legacy of Darwinism is the unmistakable idea of evolutionary change.  While it is often seen almost exclusively in terms of scientific thought and human origins, it is a principle applied to thought, to morality, and to theology also.  The parallel of evolutionary theory in science and the origins of life have their parallel in the evolution of truth and dogma. What happened along the way was the gradual shift from truth that does not change to a truth that can and must change and evolve.  The new theologians extended this principle to our understanding of God, denying to the Biblical revelation and truth its universal and eternal character. The new moralists extended this principle to the domain of morality and ethics, denying the existence of an absolute and immutable natural law in favor of a situational morality and ethical truth tied to the moment and circumstance.

This revolutionary evolution shifted the locus of truth from the eternal to the moment, the source of morality to the subjective decision of the person, and the universality of dogma to the whim of personal judgment and preference.  Just as individual conscience became the sovereign norm of morality, so individual judgment became the sovereign norm of truth, and individual preference became the sovereign norm of belief.  Things change, they evolve, and nothing can stop it.

Today we have come to accept the premise that evolution is not merely about human origins but about every aspect of life.  In the Church we have come to see the Scriptures as an evolutionary book in which God does not present us with unchanging truth but a general blueprint in which love is at work changing and evolving us -- lifting us from the dead letter of the page.  Scripture no longer settles anything even when its clear words is without confusion.  Within much of modern Christianity, a higher plane exists hidden behind the Word itself and this is the Spirit, not bound to the Word alone, acting according to the principle of love to expand and even contradict the Word with a still more excellent way.

Dogma evolves in the minds of many.  If Scripture evolves then certainly the truth of Scripture must also change, grow, and turn.  Doctrine is no longer settled.  It is an open question.  When Scripture has spoken and when the Church has confessed it, that no longer means the answer is a given.  Both Scripture and creed can change in meaning if not in words and confession marks a moment in time but not a statement meant for more than the moment.  So we find that many confessional churches have relegated their confessions to the realm of historical documents rather than definitive documents of doctrine and truth.

Liturgy evolves in the minds of many.  The worship life of God's people is not a pattern or an order or even specific words but a matter of principles to be followed in which words may come to mean different things and the shape as well as the content transform. The Spirit must be allowed to do a new thing.

Morality evolves in the minds of many.  What was once settled and clearly marked as right or wrong must now be re-evaluated according to the individual's own circumstance, judgment, subjective feeling, and preference.  The same circumstance may provoke different responses all of which may be moral and good even though they contradict one another.  Right is a judgment only as wide and deep as the individual, the choices available to that person, and th decision rendered on the basis of the situation.  There is no natural law nor is they any moral law that transcends the moment -- only principles to guide the judgment of the person who must render a decision or make a choice.

The greatest impact of evolutionary theory has not been in terms of the isolated question of man's origin but on the whole nature of truth, judgment, dogma, and faith.  It is as if we set ourselves up to end in a place where Scripture no longer speaks with one voice and if it did its voice would not be pivotal upon the question of truth.  Or that the dogma drawn from that Word of God is true beyond the moment or beyond the person.  Or that moral truth is anything more than the judgment and choice rendered by the individual in the face of a set of circumstances.  When we began thinking of the evolutionary character of truth, morality, doctrine, and liturgy, we left ourselves little room for a future that is anything but a question mark.

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

Did we really leave ourselves with a question mark that is the future? I think we (they) even solved the future. Death has of course become a "natural" part of the process (of evolution). When we take away the Fall, and consequently he Redemption, there is only the empty moment which we must fill to distract ourselves ffrom our "natural" end.