Elizabeth A. Johnson - Ask the Beasts_ Darwin and the God of Love-Bloomsbury Academic (2014).pdf - ASK THE BEASTS DARWIN AND THE GOD OF LOVE ASK THE

Elizabeth A. Johnson - Ask the Beasts_ Darwin and the God of Love-Bloomsbury Academic (2014).pdf

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Unformatted text preview: ASK THE BEASTS: DARWIN AND THE GOD OF LOVE ASK THE BEASTS: Darwin and the God of Love Elizabeth A . Johnson A Continuum book Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 50 Bedford Square London WC1B 3DP Bloomsbury is a registered trade mark of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc Bloomsbury Publishing, London, New Delhi, New York and Sydney First published in Great Britain 2014 Copyright © Elizabeth A. Johnson, 2014 The moral right of the author has been asserted. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the Publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. Every reasonable effort has been made to trace copyright holders of material reproduced in this book, but if any have been inadvertently overlooked the Publishers would be glad to hear from them. A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN: 978 1 4729 0375 4 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Typeset by Fakenham Prepress Solutions, Fakenham, Norfolk NR21 8NN I dedicate this book to my religious order, the Sisters of St. Joseph, Brentwood, New York; to the wider Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph; and to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious; faithful women on the journey, it is an honor to walk in your company CONTENTS Acknowledgmentsx Prefacexiii 1. Beasts and Entangled Bank: A Dialogue Creation In and Out of Focus Models of Engagement The Weight of a Theory A Wager: Good Dialogue Partners 1 1 7 12 14 2. “When We Look …” The Author and His Amazing Book Core Insight Science: Special Acts of Creation A Religious Odyssey The Beholder 19 19 27 29 35 40 3. “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” Starting with Farm and Garden Two Key Elements: Variation and Struggle The Theory: Natural Selection The Tree of Life A Crowd of Difficulties Throughout Time Across Space Mutual Affinities “There is Grandeur in this View of Life” 45 45 49 55 59 65 73 82 93 95 vii viii  C ontents 4. Evolution of the Theory The Center Holds Misuse of the Theory Scientific Advances A Cosmic Lens An Ecological Lens 100 100 102 105 111 117 5. The Dwelling Place of God 122 “We Are Fecund and Exuberantly Alive” 122 Obstacles125 Life and Love: a Trinitarian Framework 128 Poetic Biblical Images 134 The Wisdom of Philosophy: Participation 143 God’s Dwelling Place 150 6. Free, Empowered Creation Paradigm of the Lover The Wisdom of Philosophy: Ultimate and Proximate Causes Interplay of Law and Chance Unscripted Adventure Emergence: On Behalf of Matter and the Body Beasts and Entangled Bank 154 154 160 169 173 174 177 7. All Creation Groaning “We Suffer and Die” Framing the Issue Deep Incarnation The Christic Paradigm The Cross and the Tree of Life Deep Resurrection 181 181 186 192 199 201 207 8. Bearer of Great Promise 211 Bookends211 “We Are Created” 214 “We Are Finite and Will End” 219 Cosmic Redemption 222 Muir’s Bear 228 C ontents   ix 9. Enter the Humans 236 An Evolving Singularity 236 Eaarth (sic)241 Extinction: Never Again 248 The Promise of Nature 253 Conversion to the Earth 255 10. The Community of Creation “We Are All Creatures” The Dominion Paradigm The Community of Creation Paradigm “Where Were You … ?” Creation’s Praise and Lament The Ecological Vocation Onwards, for the Love of God 260 260 262 267 269 273 281 284 Notes287 Select Bibliography 306 Index317 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS T his book had its genesis in a Fordham University faculty seminar which spent the 150th anniversary year of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) slowly reading and discussing this classic text. Insights from my colleagues in biology, history, economics, literature, philosophy, and political science were riveting; the conversation prompted me to keep a running list of theological questions which became the core of the present book. My first thanks, therefore, go to the members of this seminar; to Michael Latham, Dean of Fordham College, who provided the funding for our books and suppers; and to Angela O’Donnell, Associate Director of the Curran Center for American Catholic Studies, who supplemented these funds and superbly organized our sessions. I so appreciate being a member of this vibrant university community. Most of the preliminary work was done during a faculty research leave granted in the regular rotation, for which I am thankful. Beyond that, I owe an uncommon debt of gratitude to Stephen Freedman, Provost of Fordham University and himself a biologist. When certain public events took away the sabbatical time and energy intended for writing this book, he not only inquired about the state of my research but, saying that one of his main responsibilities was to protect and promote the work of the faculty, took practical steps to provide needed time and support. The concrete, imaginative, generous way this academic leader found to assist my work is extraordinary, and I offer him a thousand warm thanks. My appreciation also goes to the chair of x A cknowledgments   xi my department, Terrence Tilley, who offered extra research assistance to help move the project along and to my supremely capable research assistants Kathryn Reinhard, Daniel Rober, Christine McCarthy, Brianne Jacobs, and Elizabeth Pyne, whose work on texts, library searches, and bibliography was invaluable. While this book was underway, invitations to lecture allowed its ideas to be tested in public settings. The Templeton Foundation symposium “Is God Incarnate in All That Is?” gathered an international community of scholars in Denmark for discourse and debate. My great thanks to Mary Ann Meyers who shepherded the program and Niels Gregersen who hosted and chaired, both in a most gracious way. Further exchanges with discerning audiences in settings of higher education in the U.S. and Canada kept the thesis growing. These institutions included Duquesne University, University of California San Diego, Dominican University, Wake Forest University, King’s University College, Molloy College, Fairfield University, and Boston College. Key arguments were honed in helpful conversation with Denis Edwards, himself writing on the same subject. My bright colleagues Mary Catherine Hilkert, Roger Haight, and Frank Oveis gave particular chapters a thoroughly critical reading. The whole manuscript was read and discussed by the Presidential Seminar on the Catholic Intellectual Tradition at Fairfield University, chaired by Paul Lakeland; their questions and robust feedback served to clarify some of the book’s main arguments. To all who entered into conversation which sharpened and deepened this book’s ideas, I am deeply grateful. Robin Baird-Smith, publisher at Bloomsbury/Continuum, has been kind enough to serve as my editor. It has been a delight. He is lovely person to work with and I salute him with sincerest thanks. Heartfelt appreciation goes to my family and friends who have given constant, unstinting support as this project took shape. My profound gratitude goes to the numerous readers near and far who by words and deeds have offered ongoing encouragement for my writing over these past years. This book is borne on the shoulders of their good will. I dedicate this book to nuns, otherwise known as women religious: to my own religious community, first of all, whose leaders years ago charged me to study theology and whose members have been an unfailing strength and a shelter in storms; also to the federated network of St. Joseph Sisters xii  A cknowledgments around the world; and to the LCWR, the national group of leaders of women’s religious orders in the U.S., who remain stalwart in showing grace under pressure. As I write I am nearing the 54th anniversary of my own entrance into religious life. The sweep of changes in church and world has been staggering. But the courageous fidelity and love shown by these women as individual Sisters, as communities, and as leaders freely committed to living the gospel in our day continues to be an unfailing beacon. Thank you. PREFACE I n an artful essay on the history of the universe, Holmes Rolston proposes that there have been not one but three Big Bangs. Big Bang is used here as a metaphor for a singular, explosive event with radical consequences for generating novelty.1 The first Big Bang was the primordial hot explosion that started the universe approximately 13.7 billion years ago. Generating an expanding magnitude of matter-energy, it initiated the process that has produced stars, galaxies, and everything else in the cosmos, a dynamic phenomenon that is still going on. Ten billion years later, using materials produced in the first Big Bang, the second one hatched life on Earth. Here began the evolutionary process that now covers our planet with beautiful, complex creatures interacting in life-sustaining ecosystems. More than three billion years later still, a third singular event shaped up on the shoulders of the first and second. This is the emergence of human beings, Homo sapiens, mammals with minds and wills who think symbolically and act with deliberate, free intent. There is no question but that many other living creatures experience emotion, enjoy sophisticated levels of knowing and communicating, and act with a certain purpose. In this regard humans belong on a spectrum with others in the community of life. The appearance of the human species is rightly considered a third moment of intense novelty, however, because of the qualitative prowess of the species as a whole. With extraordinary ability we (I write as one such mammal) have populated the globe with a restless inventiveness that creates, accumulates, and transmits ideas and technologies across generations. Evolution now proceeds by way of xiii xiv  P reface culture as well as biology. From matter to life to mind; from physical matter to biological life to linguistic consciousness; from galaxies to living species to human persons: though connected, these explosions form no simple, predictable unfolding but a fascinating, unexpected story. This book pours out attention on the second big bang. It asks a specific question about a sphere that is still making its way into religious consciousness: what is the theological meaning of the natural world of life? This world evolved in all its splendor without human help. It was the context in which the human species itself evolved, and daily provides irreplaceable nourishment for human bodies and spirits. In our day its future is in jeopardy due to human action and inaction, destructive behavior shot through with a disastrous failure of our vaunted intelligence and virtue. As a work of theology this book explores the Christian tradition, seeking to illuminate the religious meaning of the ecological world of species. It charts one way to see that far from being simply “nature” in a neutral sense, and far from being made only for human use, these living species have an intrinsic value in their own right. Once one understands that the evolving community of life on Earth is God’s beloved creation and its ruination an unspeakable sin, then deep affection shown in action on behalf of ecojustice becomes an indivisible part of one’s life. In this work I will not attempt to do justice to the vibrant contributions being made by scholars working out of religious traditions besides Christianity, nor to the advances being made in ecumenical and interreligious activity. Virtually all major religions, whether indigenous, formed in the classic axial period, or of more recent vintage, include the natural world within the scope of their vision of the Sacred. They teach a way of life that emphasizes virtues such as humility, gratitude, and compassion, and warn against vices such as pride and greed, all of which has clear implications for human behavior toward the natural world. One excellent resource for this knowledge took shape throughout the 1990s when the Forum on Religion and the Environment, led by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, sponsored ten conferences at Harvard University, one for each of ten traditions: Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, Daoism, Hinduism, Islam, Indigenous traditions, Jainism, Judaism, Shinto. The resulting books, named simply Buddhism and Ecology, Islam and Ecology, etc. are a goldmine of insights regarding the resources different religions bring to interpreting the P reface   xv natural world and promoting its flourishing.2 Instructed and heartened by this wisdom, my own effort here remains focused on the Christian tradition with its strong belief in a creating, saving God of blessing, inherited from the Jewish tradition and now shared also with the Islamic tradition. This book’s title, taken from the biblical book of Job, reveals my starting point and operative approach. “Ask the beasts and they will teach you” (12.7), says Job; speak to the birds of the air, the plants of the earth, and the fish of the sea and they will instruct you. On the face of it, this seems a simple thing to do: consult the creatures of the earth and listen to the religious wisdom they impart. Given theology’s longstanding preoccupation with the human drama, however—and we are a fascinating lot—the invitation to consult the plants and animals harbors the demand for a subtle change of method. It entails stepping outside the usual theological conversation with its presumption of human superiority in order to place a different “other” at the center of attention. The effort to approach other species with concentrated attention to their story in all its struggle and delight creates an important shift in perspective. The result changes not just what one may think about the creatures themselves, but sets up a challenging dynamic that reconfigures all of theological interpretation so that it honors their lives. All contextual, liberation, feminist, and post-colonial theologies proceed with the realization that while dominant theologies may include “the other” in some beneficial manner, the center of their intellectual and ethical interest remains the advantaged group, which does less than justice to those on the margins. The focus has to shift to those who have been silenced, so that their voices are heard and they are seen as of central importance in themselves. In a similar manner, the nascent field of ecological theology asks that we give careful consideration to the natural world in its own right as an irreplaceable element in the theological project. Ask the Beasts explores this subject by conducting a dialogue between Charles Darwin’s account of the origin of species and the Christian story of the ineffable God of mercy and love recounted in the Nicene creed. Given the enormous quantity of literature in both science and theology, it seemed wise to focus on one entry from each field. Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species gives full play to life’s natural character by charting its emergence through the interplay of law and chance over millions of years and thousands of miles. The Nicene creed witnesses to the gracious God who creates, xvi  P reface redeems, and vivifies these same evolving species, grounding hope for their ultimate future. One scientific account, one religious testimony: my wager is that the dialogue between both sources, one in the realm of reason, the other of faith, can engender a theology that supports an ecological ethic of love for Earth’s community of life. The plan of this book proceeds as follows. After an initial chapter describes this project in more detail, the early chapters (2–4) focus on the evolution of species. These present background on how Darwin’s extraordinary book On the Origin of Species came to be written; walk through its thesis in detail; and update its theory in the light of contemporary advances, lest we be dialoguing with an anachronism. A telling exchange with my colleague Terry Tilley pinpoints the importance of these chapters. He said, “You think everyone knows what evolution is, and you are bringing theological reflection to bear to connect it with faith.” My heartfelt response was no, I do not think everyone knows what evolution is. I myself did not realize its ramifications before reading Darwin. For theology to have traction, we need to get the story straight. There is a parallel here, I think, with an experience common among human beings. Other persons are normally a mystery to us. Getting to know someone’s story in some detail opens an avenue to greater understanding. It can move us toward appreciating, perhaps forgiving, and even loving them. In a similar manner, listening to the evolutionary story Darwin tells brings the magnificence, tragedy, and promise of the natural world into sharp relief in a way that renders it real and engaging. With the scientific partner at the table, the middle chapters (5–8) bring the Christian story into play as this is condensed in the Nicene creed. It is a hallmark of this testimony that it professes faith in no abstract, distant deity but in its own way unspools a narrative of the living God intensely engaged with the world. Starting with the one God’s creation of the world, it lingers over divine involvement with the world in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and culminates with the vivifying Spirit who gives life and prepares a resplendent future for the whole creation. Each aspect of the story places the natural world in a different framework, all embraced by the living God. In a back and forth dialogue with Darwin’s grand view of life, these chapters explore the relationship between the evolving world and one triune God. P reface   xvii In light of this dialogue about the beasts, birds, plants, and fish, the final chapters (9–10) turn to the human species in the grand panoply of evolution. In our day this entails facing the reality that for all our many abilities, Homo sapiens is ravaging the world of life. Although some still prefer to remain blind with denial, the fact is we have crossed a threshold into a new moment of human history dangerous to the well-being of the diversity of life on this planet. The novelty is captured by Aldo Leopold’s awful comment, “For one species to mourn the death of another is a new thing under the sun.”3 Today thoughtful humans do mourn the disappearance of thousands of species which will never be seen again. Ruination of the earth is a deeply moral issue, as statements by official leaders of religious bodies, increasingly plentiful, make clear. Their teaching that the human vocation is to praise the Creator and care for the natural world rather than destroy it is aimed at moving their members toward what some call stewardship, or what by any name is a stance of responsibility for life on Earth.4 Working in its own field, which may be characterized as the study of God and all things in the light of God, theology has a vital contribution to make. By uncovering the importance of plants and animals and their ecosystems in their own relationship to God, such study can invigorate ethical behavior that cares for them with a passion integral to faith’s passion for the living God. In the process, human beings find their own identity reimagined as vital members of the community of creation rather than as a species divorced from the rest, and step up to protect Earth’s creatures as neighbors whom they love. Ask the Beasts ends with this possibility as a hope, an obligation, and a prayer. While writing this book I was somewhat daunted to discover that Karl Rahner, whose turn to the subject in theological method has greatly influenced my own thought, once declared, “The whole of Christian theology should, in the right sense of the word, be ‘subjective.’ It cannot speak of objects that are situated beyond the spiritual, personal, free human reality. We cannot make a theological statement about a ladybug.”5 But that is precisely what this book aims to do. It reflects on the ladybug and all its kin in the world of species beyond the hu...
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