Man v. God

Karen Armstrong in the Wall Street Journal:

Richard Dawkins has been right all along, of course—at least in one important respect. Evolution has indeed dealt a blow to the idea of a benign creator, literally conceived. It tells us that there is no Intelligence controlling the cosmos, and that life itself is the result of a blind process of natural selection, in which innumerable species failed to survive.


The fossil record reveals a natural history of pain, death and racial extinction, so if there was a divine plan, it was cruel, callously prodigal and wasteful. Human beings were not the pinnacle of a purposeful creation; like everything else, they evolved by trial and error and God had no direct hand in their making. No wonder so many fundamentalist Christians find their faith shaken to the core.

But Darwin may have done religion—and God—a favor by revealing a flaw in modern Western faith. Despite our scientific and technological brilliance, our understanding of God is often remarkably undeveloped—even primitive. In the past, many of the most influential Jewish, Christian and Muslim thinkers understood that what we call “God” is merely a symbol that points beyond itself to an indescribable transcendence, whose existence cannot be proved but is only intuited by means of spiritual exercises and a compassionate lifestyle that enable us to cultivate new capacities of mind and heart.

Category : The Lead

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One Comment
  1. John Fontaine

    This is why I can’t stand Karen Armstrong. Her understanding of evolution and presentation of history is totally ignorant. Creatures didn’t go extinct. Creatures live and die according to rules of lifespan limited by their environment. If enough offspring of an organism fail or reach maturity due to environmental changes; then there are no more of that type of creature and the species ceases to be. The lives and death of individuals either by weather, plague or other suffering means has been known to western religion for some time. I have a hard time believing that the generations of church fathers and mothers born in the age before antibiotics, anesthesia and germ theory thought of creation as some kind of blissful paradise created by a beneficent creator. I have a hard time believing that fundamentalists are at all threatened by evolution from the perspective of it overturning some benign creator myth. People who hold up signs reading “God hates…” don’t have trouble with a God who callously floods the world just to get rid of a few immoral jerks who won’t worship him; a trial and error creator seems right up their alley.

    Nor do I think that the “trial and error” and racial genocide view of evolution is a proper characterization of billions of years of history. Is the snowflake a trial, because it can’t stand up to the sunlight of a warm day? What was the racial identity of the T-REX? Mortal things die. This isn’t a great surprise to anyone anymore and if your faith hasn’t dealt with that issue and how it relates to a loving God, well then you are more shallow than the Reed Sea at low tide during a mass evacuation of select descendents of Abraham during the reign of a certain pharaoh.

    Christians and other people of faith have always struggled with the questions of why we die and suffer; and how creation can be so hard if God is good and loving. Isn’t this the whole point of the Christ story, the reconciliation of creation through a new covenant based on love and sacrifice to one another, rather than to God living in heaven standing forever apart reigning down fiery judgment? God so loved the world…

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