Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Sacred Heart for Dummies

I was re-reading the other day a book by Prof Stuart Kauffman * and I  was reminded of something Prof. Steven Weinberg said which  I think perfectly expresses the very opposite of what Teilhard is  really saying about evolution.  Flip Weinberg's  argument around and you have a statement of  what Teilhard is saying about the Sacred Heart for dummies.  

Prof. Weinberg argues that : (1)  ' The explanatory arrows always point downwardwards'.   That is to say,  the universe can all be explained by reductionist thinking: everything in the universe (including us human beings)  can be explained by analysing the parts which make up the universe.  And  (2) :  ' The more we comprehend the universe, the more pointless it seems'.  Which means that the evolution of the universe simply has no purpose or direction: it is utterly pointless. And religion  is therefore a (dangerous) waste of time.

Teilhard's whole message was that we, as Christians,  had to embrace evolution as driven and powered by God : the arrows point upwards, to understanding the wonderful complexity of life seen in the whole which emerges from the parts and  which is infinitely more complex than just the sum of its parts.  And because of this, the MORE we comprehend about the universe, the MORE direction and purpose and design we find.  But, of course,  the design is evolutionary in nature: our God is ( as Teilhard expresses it on his  Sacred Heart card -SEE HERE -) a God of  evolution.  Evolution is therefore holy and creation is thereby made sacred.  The complex web of existence that has evolved over billions of years is  the work of a divine power and energy. We find God in what science is telling us about the marvellous complexity of matter and human consciousness.  We see God's handiwork in the evolution of that complexity.   As Blessed John Henry Newman figured out a long time ago, evolution is  simply not a problem for those with a belief in God**:  it just makes God's design MORE wonderful ( yes, and even more intelligent!!) than our ancestors could have possibly imagined.

Instead of standing on the sidelines, therefore,  Christians and  all those who share a belief in the God of Abraham must move more into the centre ground of the debate. ***  Evolution  does not open up a great gap between faith and reason and between science and religion:  it is the great bridge between them.   This dialogue between science and religion is what Teilhard passionately believed HAD to happen if Christianity - and religion generally- was to remain relevant to the modern world.  Yes, we acknowledge the FACT of evolution, but we must proclaim - like him - that we see in this fact a process with purpose and direction. So our reply to Weinberg  and company is to join with Teilhard in arguing that: the universe has does have a point, and it is not pointless.   Look, it  is there at the very centre of the icon: the Omega point of  divine love.  That is the whole point of evolution!   So, we should say, as we read our New Scientist or our Scientific  American  - that, contra what the Weinbergs of the world stridently  proclaim, the more we comprehend the universe the more do we find the purpose and end of it all: God, the Creator,  whose presence shines through all creation if we but open our hearts to see Him at the heart of all things.   That is pretty much the Sacred Heart for dummies - and fundamentalist reductionists of the both scientific and religious varieties.


* Prof. Stuart A. Kaufman's 'must read': Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science and Religion, Basic Books, 2010. A topic for another post, perhaps.
**In a letter in 1868 , for example, Newman noted that:  'As to the Divine Design, is it not an instance of incomprehensibly and infinitely marvellous Wisdom and Design to have given certain laws to matter millions of ages ago, which have surely and precisely worked out, in the long course of those ages, those effects which He from the first proposed. Mr. Darwin's theory need not then to be atheistical, be it true or not; it may simply be suggesting a larger idea of Divine Prescience and Skill. Perhaps your friend has got a surer clue to guide him than I have, who have never studied the question, and I do not [see] that 'the accidental evolution of organic beings' is inconsistent with divine design—It is accidental to us, not to God.'

Letter to J. Walker, 22nd May 1868:  The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1973. Full letter HERE.

** *And, of course,  not just Jews, Christians and Muslims but all people of faith.

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