Wednesday, March 21, 2007

God and Nature

I've been reflecting a lot lately on how our understanding of the natural world as Christians affects how we see many things, including issues such as global climate change. I recently ran across the text of a talk given in Australia in 2005, Our Intimate Links with the Universe and Nature: The View from Cosmology and Astrobiology by Fr. Bill Stoeger SJ of the Vatican Observatory. I would like to post some substantial chunks of section 6: "Key Features of the Universe – Connections with Christ and with Us" with some surrounding comments and own reflections on this.

The bulk of Fr. Stoeger's talk reviewed the history of Creation, from the big bang, through the evolution of the physical universe, to chemical and biological evolution on Earth. Starting with a discussion of the close links between science, ethics, faith and praxis, he then tells the long story of creation, pointing out not only the deep interconnectedness of all created things, but also the characteristics of nature and the cosmos that reflect God's own priorities for his creation.

In reflecting on the connections between God, his creation and us, Fr. Stoeger starts off by looking at just how God meant nature to operate:

First, and perhaps foremost, theological reflection on the details and intricacies of cosmic and biological evolution drives us to a much more profound appreciation for what Howard Van Till refers to as the functional and formational integrity of creation, and for God’s reverent, pervasive but subtle relationship with God’s creatures and with the universe itself. God has gifted Nature and the universe with inner dynamisms and capacities which enable it not only to function with relative autonomy but also to develop and give birth to new or more complex entities and organisms as time passes, and as the universe cools and expands. There is evidently no need for God to step in and effect key transitions directly. Nature itself has been given the capabilities of doing that! This, of course, does not mean that God is uninvolved, or distant from what happens. God is present and active through all the regularities, processes and relationships which function. God is their source and origin and holds them in existence, continuing to create through them. God did not create the universe with deficiencies, or with impairments, which would necessitate God’s special direct intervention in the creative process.
This is pretty straightforward theologically -- see paragraphs 299-302 of the Catechism.

Three thoughts:
  • God's creation is good and ordered -- it constantly reflects His purpose and providence.

  • Change and evolution are built into design -- we have to understand evolution to understand the dynamism of that design.

  • Science is not only useful, but knowledge that can be good in itself, helping us better know nature, ourselves, and God.
In the next paragraph, Fr. Stoeger invites us to a deeper examination of evolution as a sign of God's immanence in nature.

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