Evolutionary Thinking — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Evolutionary Thinking


Evolutionary Thinking
Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The debate about evolution took center stage in the United States during the famous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial (The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes). With typical dualistic thinking, science was simplistically pitted against religion, and people took one side or the other, with little clarification of terms, meaning, or purpose.

The Scopes Monkey Trial might symbolize the beginning of the culture wars we still suffer today, with naïve presentations of two seeming opposite positions—neither well-defined, but simply providing banners and loyalty tests for both groups. In my parents’ generation, when many people often had fewer years of formal education, this false dilemma was commonly presented as, “Did we come from monkeys or did God create us?” Good Christians righteously shouted “God!” thinking God needed their support, and scientific-minded people who had a bone to pick with religion shouted “Monkeys!” What a waste of good minds and hearts!

In 1925, there was little knowledge of contemplation and few were teaching or exemplifying non-dual thinking in Western Christianity (though Native Americans, Buddhists, and other traditions were well acquainted with it). We missed out on what could have been decades of fruitful discussion and enlightenment. We had all been trained to argue and prove ourselves right—both believers and scientists—rather than to dialogue with and truly understand each other. For most of the last century, in many Christian circles, the very term evolution was a code word used to expose and condemn enemies and infidels. It was a false test-case.

A little calm, clear, and biblical thinking could have come up with a third response beyond the two false “alternatives.” What if God creates things that continue to create themselves? That seems like Divine Imagination to me! In such a paradigm, God “turns everything to good by working together with all things. . . . The ones God chose so long ago, which God intended to become true images of God’s Son” (Romans 8:28-29).

Contemplative practice allows us to be content and even happy without fully resolving a seeming problem. It allows us to tolerate ambiguity and mystery. How else can we ever know God? Contemplative practice allows something much better and more healing for all concerned. We can learn how to hold a creative tension as we patiently wait for more insight, compassion, scholarship, and a larger or different frame for the question. The contemplative person can observe and love with their mind, heart, and body at the same time. The reduction to purely rational knowing didn’t begin until the seventeenth century. Now science can observe neural activity, revealing that there is a “heart mind” and a “body mind.” [1]

Evolutionary thinking is actually contemplative thinking because it leaves the full field of the future in God’s hands and agrees to humbly hold the present with its current, tentative knowledge. Evolutionary thinking agrees to both knowing and not knowing, at the same time.

Evolutionary thinking sends us on a trajectory, where the ride is itself the destination, and the goal is never clearly in sight. To stay on the ride, to trust the trajectory, to know it is moving somewhere better is just another way to describe the biblical notion of faith. This is the best and truest way to think.

[1] See Doc Lew Childre and Howard Martin, with Donna Beech, The HeartMath Solution (HarperSanFrancisco: 1999).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Evolution Is Another Name for Growth,” “Evolutionary Thinking,” Oneing, vol. 4, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2016), 113-116.

If we are created in the image and likeness of God, then whatever good, true, or beautiful things we can say about humanity or creation we can also say of God—but they’re even more true! God is the beauty of creation and humanity multiplied to the infinite power. —Richard Rohr
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