Recently someone wrote me and said that since my last couple of books were full of talk of becoming and unfolding, he was beginning to sense a lurking presence of evolutionary theology. Apparently he thought this was a bad thing.
My interest in the natural sciences predated my interest in the human ones, although both interests have seamlessly intermingled since my undergraduate years at university. At age fourteen I won a provincial public speaking contest with a talk on evolution so it should not be any surprise to say that I have long been strongly influenced by evolutionary thought. However, it is not the details of evolution that are of primary interest to me. That I happily leave to biologists. My interest is in the meaning and significance of the fact that the universe and everything within it is constantly evolving. To fail to notice this unfolding tendency is simply to fail to be fully in touch with reality.
Theology has not only the right but also the responsibility to engage with the same data as science. But their perspectives are and should be quite different. Science seeks to explain facts while theology seeks – or should seek – to understand their meaning. Each does one thing well and the other very poorly.
My approach to understanding the theological and spiritual implications of evolution draws on the work of the Jesuit palaeontologist and cosmologist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He viewed evolution as a divine strategy for birthing and growing a world under the non-interfering, yet persuasive influence of the mystery many of us call God. He described evolution as the movement toward increasing wholeness. It is the process of the complexification of energy that results in a rise of consciousness – this eventually expressing itself in awareness. It is the growing of smaller wholes into larger wholes. It is a cosmic journey of becoming. And, from a monotheistic religious point of view, all of this happens under the dynamic impulse of God’s creative power and love – God being at the heart of the evolutionary process, empowering it from within.
If something like this is the fundamental nature of the universe, what then are the implications for spirituality? Evolution paints a picture of the universe that is deeply congruent with the picture presented by the mystics – that is, that reality is One. Humans are an expression of that unity manifest in awesome diversity. We are embodied and personalized expressions of an underlying current of the universe drawing all things toward increased wholeness and consciousness. The goal of this is something much larger than personal growth or fulfilment. The goal is that everything and everyone find its place within the wholeness in which it is already held – everything and everyone then participating in the divine promise of greater freedom and fullness of life.
In his book, Darwin, Divinity, and the Dance of the Cosmos, Bruce Sanguin describes evolutionary spirituality as “persons on the path of Christ, consciously evolving in community, one with the evolving cosmos, and one with the divine Heart and Mind, in loving service to our one Earth community.” This is a spirituality that is both personal and transpersonal. It is a spirituality that is grounded in materiality and the body but clearly oriented toward the transcendent horizon within which we exist. And because, in the words of Teilhard de Chardin, “humans are the arrow of evolution and the direction of its future,” it is a spirituality that will make a difference to not only our personal lives but also the unfolding of the universe and the Divine plan for its wholeness. In all these ways of understanding the term, I easily accept the description of my theology and spirituality as evolutionary. To me it’s the only way to bring science and religion into a harmonious relationship.