Evolution and a "god of the gaps"

The news is finally out: fossils were discovered in northern Canada that show the transitional stage between a fish and a land animal, long posited by evolutionary biologists but as of yet not corroborated by the scientific evidence. Until now, that is. The fossils were extracted in 2004, but the news is just now reaching the public. The article formally announcing the find is coming out in Nature today.

What is even more interesting is how the scientific and religious communities will receive this news. In the San Francisco Chronicle article, professor Jenny Clack of Cambridge University said, "This is another gap closed that a deity no longer needs to fill."

This is a fascinating statement. On hand one, she is entirely right. This is indeed a gap that science no longer needs some god to fill. But on the other hand, is this deus ex machina actually the triune God of Christianity? Bonhoeffer says "No!" and I agree with him.

Clack probably doesn't know any better (but she might), and so the burden is on the church to communicate the reality of a God who is not a stop-gap for our intellectual holes that need filling but rather the God of revelation and redemption who is not "over us" or "beyond us" but rather "beyond in the midst of life," as Bonhoeffer writes. God is not the one who fills our lack of knowledge, but rather the one who exists in and with our knowledge, with and for us.

Here I quote Bonhoeffer at length from two letters of his:

“I had been saying that God is being increasingly pushed out of a world that has come of age, out of the spheres of our knowledge and life, and that since Kant he has been relegated to a realm beyond the world of experience. Theology has on the one hand resisted this development with apologetics, and has taken up arms—in vain—against Darwinism, etc. On the other hand, it has accommodated itself to the development by restricting God to the so-called ultimate questions as a deus ex machina; that means that he becomes the answer to life’s problems, and the solution of its needs and conflicts.”
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison 341)

“Religious people speak of God when human knowledge (perhaps simply because they are too lazy to think) has come to an end, or when human resources fail—in fact it is always the deus ex machina that they bring on to the scene, either for the apparent solution of insoluble problems, or as strength in human failure—always, that is to say, exploiting human weakness or human boundaries. Of necessity, that can go on only till people can by their own strength push these boundaries somewhat further out, so that God becomes superfluous as a deus ex machina. I’ve come to be doubtful of talking about any human boundaries (is even death, which people now hardly fear, and is sin, which they now hardly understand, still a genuine boundary today?). It always seems to me that we are trying anxiously in this way to reserve some space for God; I should like to speak of God not on the boundaries but at the centre, not in weaknesses but in strength; and therefore not in death and guilt but in man’s life and goodness. As to the boundaries, it seems to me better to be silent and leave the insoluble unsolved. Belief in the resurrection is not the ‘solution’ of the problem of death. [. . .] God is beyond in the midst of our life. The church stands, not at the boundaries where human powers give out, but in the middle of the village.” (Bonhoeffer 281-82)


brian said…
Nice post, and I agree completely. Thanks for the Bonhoeffer quotes, too.