Mini Book Review – Creator God, Evolving World

Crysdale, Cynthia S. W, and Neil Ormerod. Creator God, Evolving World (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013).

I didn’t really know what to expect from this book, which I picked off a bookshelf on spec about a year ago because it was of interest to me, and because I’m tight, more importantly, it was on the discount shelf. As so often the good stuff, that people ought to read but don’t, is. And I noticed that one of the authors, Neil Ormerod, is an Aussie, and teaches at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney, while Crysdale is based at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, USA. The perspective of the book is Catholic, with an appreciation for the deep tradition of Christian thought back through influential figures such as Thomas Aquinas, as well as what looks to me, as one not scientifically trained, like a solid feel for the sciences (e.g. biology, physics) as well as the philosophy of science.
Crysdale & Ormerod - Creator God
As the title suggests, biological evolution is taken for granted in this book, and for some evangelical readers that may be a deal-breaker. I personally see Neo-Darwinism as another knowledge paradigm, like so many composed by humans over the years to make sense of their world. One day it will give way to a replacement paradigm, though many of its composing elements will be carried over into whatever follows. So a further century or two of history will give its verdict on which parts of the Neo-Darwinian synthesis deserve to be retained and which ones are no longer persuasive. This means I find myself pretty relaxed about paradigms generally, and I find some evolutionary belief elements more persuasive than others. So it was not something that stopped me reading.

What I liked about the book was the depth of thinking it displayed in the philosophy of science, or you could say, theology of science. The authors are influenced by C20th Catholic thinker Bernard Lonergan, and after reading the book, I feel more inclined to explore Lonergan’s thought, too. Another clear influence to go with Lonergan in modern times and Aquinas in medieval ones is Augustine, and the authors’ most interesting contribution builds on Augustine’s thought.
If you have ever read Augustine’s Confessions, and of all his writings, this is probably the one you should read first, you might remember Augustine’s meditations on the relationship of God to time. Evidently the critics of the day were lambasting Christian belief in creation by asking what God had been occupied with for all those aeons of eternity past prior to the apparently impromptu decision to create a world, as if to alleviate His boredom. Augustine makes the very wise philosophical reply that we ought to think of time as part of creation. If God creates time with the world and as part of the world, the question of what God was doing before creation with all that spare previous eternity becomes null. There was no before as such.
This entails believing that God transcends time as readily as He transcends universal space. Just as He cannot be found in a certain location in our physical universe, He is not embedded in any of our ‘nows’; He is above time. I think this is the right way to think, and solves some theological dilemmas, but let me tell you why Crysdale and Ormerod hold to this.
They are concerned about the trend in science and religion circles to treat God as if He is travelling through time as humans do, immersed in a ‘present’, looking back at a ‘past’, anticipating and planning for a ‘future’, but not in fact knowing it infallibly, but rather having to adapt and adjust to it as it comes. The future in this scheme is fundamentally unknowable, since it isn’t out there somewhere, pre-programmed. The present comes into being, as it were, right out of the blue. So even God can’t know precisely what’s about to happen.
In what I think is a brilliant, though somewhat obvious move, our authors point out that in the context of relativity theory, there is no single, fixed ‘present’ that is a universal reference point for all observers. Time may dilate dependent on the influence of gravity or differential rates of travel in comparison with the speed of light. It can in fact tick over faster for one observer than another. So whose ‘now’ is to be the authoritative ‘now’ that is occupied by God? No, it is a mistake to pin God to a certain point of time. God is outside of the flow in which we are immersed and must, as it were, ride downstream to where the current is taking us.
Here’s the surprising place to which this leads. I often struggle with the seeming distance and/or silence of God. The two seem closely related. But the authors point out that ironically, it is in admitting that God is not embedded in our time and space that makes it possible to understand how God can be near to us. If God were somewhere in space, it would require a spacecraft odyssey to go and find God, or we would be limited to awaiting His next visit from some impossible distance. (If this is wrong, and theologically I think it is, we must think carefully how we are going to explain the continued embodiment of the risen Christ!) If God were somewhere in time, we might well feel that that time was 2,000 years ago when Christ walked the earth, and that the subsequent millennia have been marked more by His absence, and a lot of churchy business, than by His presence.
But if God transcends time, then every moment of history is equally real and equally present to God. The moment of our birth, and the moment of our death. The birth of civilization on some Mesopotamian waterway, and the birth of the first Mars colony. And, for that matter, the birth of Jesus, his crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Every moment equally and eternally present to God, and God in turn able to be equally present in our every personal moment.
“While God’s response to us is itself eternal and unchanging, it unfolds for us in the fullness of time.” (p. 128)
My appreciation to the authors for reminding me of this. They say a lot of other things besides, and the reader might wish for a more robust doctrine of sin, or a fuller Christology to go with their thinking about the being of God. But this book crept up on me and made me think, and unlike most books I read, left me encouraged in spirit. You may find it interesting too!
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