Book Review: Origins: God, Evolution, and the Question of the Cosmos

One cannot make a distinction between the things explained by natural science and the things brought about by God.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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“The last chapter, titled “The Old and the New,” has a socio-cultural focus, emphasizing the need for societies to build upon tradition rather than abandon it. Tradition doesn’t exist because of a lack of cultural movement; it’s the result of cultural movement. As science brings new understanding to humanity, we cannot paint a picture of the new overthrowing the old. We must integrate new scientific discoveries with our religious tradition.”

This passage follows the thinking of Teilhard de Chardin who saw human socio-culture as the Noosphere of Ideas–an evolving sphere that followed many of the themes of the Biosphere which preceded it. Traditions are like bio-genes that pass on useful information to the next generation. But, as Tevye discovered in the Fiddler on the Roof, as the cultural environment changes, traditions must ‘mutate’ to accommodate new needs.

Without question, some of our current social problems have arisen because ‘noospheric mutations’ have changed the social conscience faster than it changed individual consciences. Thus, accepting homosexuality, for example in terms of marriage and child adoption, as a “new tradition” is a very contentious matter. But whether we like it or not, Noospheric evolution will have a greater impact on human lives in the future than Biospheric evolution.
Al Leo

You bring up a good point Albert. When we start to “integrate new scientific discoveries with our religious tradition”, we must do so carefully. If I understand you correctly, then it sounds like according to Teilhard de Chardin’s framework traditions are forced to “mutate”. This seems very troubling to me. The idea put forth in this book gives less of a picture of a “mutating” tradition, and more of an “accommodating” tradition. The expectation here is, of course, that all truth is God’s truth, and that our tradition is indeed a reflection of that truth. If both of those things are true, then we would expect to find that all new truths we come upon can be accommodated properly. The tricky part here is in making sure that those new truths are indeed true and the accommodations are indeed proper. That takes wisdom, understanding, and respect for tradition. Certainly this isn’t something that can be taken lightly; attempts to integrate science and theology in a contrived or disrespectful manner will inevitably harm both fields.

Hi Adam
I’m not sure that I see a significant difference in whether a tradition is “mutated” or made “accommodating”. In either case it results in a difference in the way tradition guides human actions. In Jesus’ time it was righteous, traditionally, to accept the fact that some humans would be slaves to other humans. That is no longer the case, and we hope that the change moves us closer toward ‘God’s Truth’. Jesus (apparently) answered positively to Pilate’s question: “Are you the King of the Jews?” But the title, King, has a different connotation nowadays than it did 2000 years ago. So, do we Christians know that much more of ‘God’s Truth’ even if we believe that the Son of God said it?

Having spent a lifetime in science, I am content in the pursuit of Truth, even though I never expect to capture it completely.
Al Leo

Sorry I wasn’t very clear when making my point, and the word “accommodated” was an unwise choice. When I think of “mutation” I’m thinking about how a worldview would change in light of the genetic analogy. You had one gene, then one of the letters changed, and you had something that is essentially different after the mutation (of course this may have no effect on physiology or behavior, but the sequence is no longer the same).

The word “accommodated” is probably too strong. What I mean is that a significant scientific discovery is something that Christians will see in light of their Christian worldview. We have to ask questions about how we look at creation in light of how we understand our creator. This doesn’t change the essence of the worldview, however when a person acquires knowledge, that knowledge will inform their worldview. If a skeptic acquires the knowledge that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead, it has an astronomical effect on their worldview and it changes the essence of their worldview. When a Christian learns about Quantum Mechanics it has some effect on their worldview which is significantly smaller than that, it doesn’t change the essence of their worldview, but that new knowledge will likely have a non-negligible effect.

Anyway, I hope that clarifies what I meant a bit.

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