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The God of Evolution: A Trinitarian Theology
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2002
I picked up this book in the interest of seeing how Trinitarian thought could apply to the theory of evolution. Edwards' subtitle to this book is 'A Trinitarian Theology'. We shall see if this subtitle applies to the book. The book is rather short (144 pages) and should be considered more of a survey text rather than a full treatment on the intricacies of evolutionary thought. The theory of evolution is accepted and never called into question. A literal view of the 6 day creation is negated although Edwards does point to the significant doctrines that one can still take from the first two chapters of Genesis regardless of whether you take it literally or symbolically. Edwards is faced with a dilemma: He believes that evolution is true and also holds a belief in the Christian God. Historically these two beliefs have been difficult to combine. Edwards asks how God fits into evolution. Note that Edwards begins with evolution and attempts to merge his faith in the Christian God into it; he does not start with God and try to merge evolution into Him. This is a subtle but crucial difference as one involves changing theology (the choice Edwards makes) and the other changing science.
The first two chapters contain most of the references to the Trinity. The main premise is that since ontologically (in essence and being) God is relation, His creation should also be considered as being ontologically relationship oriented. This takes care of science's claim that all is interrelated including the evolutionary development of humans. Science is full of references to the relationships between cells to species etc. In short, reality is fundamentally relational. However to apply the relational structure between the Godhead and man is one thing; looking at the relationships developed by evolution/science is another story. Relationship, from an ontological standpoint is more than just being related to; there is a consciousness of communication. If Edwards' premise is accepted the road is paved to allow theology to change (or evolve) in order to meet the requirements of modern evolutionary thought.
Edwards then attempts to explain the more capricious sides of evolution (natural selection etc) and how a loving God could allow some animals to be victims and others to dominate. In order to do this Edwards adopts a process theology (derived from Whitehead) to explain that God limits himself in His actions and allows a certain freedom to His creatures. This takes the responsibility for evil away from God and (voila!) deals with some of evolution's cruelness. To process theology Edwards adds the increasing interest in random chance that is found in most studies of evolutionary thought today. Taken together (a limiting God and chance) evolution is not portrayed as evil. Obviously it is difficult to ascribe morality to chance.
The chapter that tries to deal with the problem of sin is the weakest in the book. It takes the line that sin is more a result of human finitude or limit than due to a separation between man and God. Of course there is no Fall in the evolutionary framework. Man's struggle with his environment and with each other is more a result of the evolutionary process than it is of a sinful nature. Edwards does not divorce God from being involved with His creation but is ambiguous about when this begins. Edwards must tackle the point where man becomes spiritual, the point that God and man first intercept. Is it near the beginning of the evolutionary cycle, further along at Neanderthal man or only when homo-sapiens distinctly evolve? When does sin appear? If sin is taken out of its historical Christian context you can be sure that grace will be as well. Grace for Edwards is something that is always in the background, not a description of God directly intervening in the lives of his creation. This, of course, limits the importance of the incarnation.
The final chapter discusses Christ in the evolutionary context by adopting a Wisdom Christology. This incorporates Sophia (the personification of wisdom) as the main force propelling evolution forwards in a positive manner that fulfills God's purposes. While a small argument could be made for this position it is a far different country than the Trinitarian basis that Edwards begins the book on.
In order to make this book seem more mainstream than its hodgepodge of modern theologies would appear, Edwards continually quotes or reflects on the thought of some mainline thinkers. Karl Rahner, the eminent Catholic theologian is the most quoted person in the book followed closely by German Protestant thinker Jurgen Moltmann. How far these two great theologians ascribe to Edward's thought I have yet to determine as I must read their actual texts outside of the evolutionary frame Edwards constructs around them.
The book is well written but takes the form of individual essays that are then tied together to make a whole. The last paragraph of each chapter refers to the first paragraph of the next. Each chapter begins with a restatement of the original thesis. There is nothing wrong with this per se since this is really a survey work.
The book is worth reading in order to be able to discuss the creationism/evolution debate in a different and perhaps more helpful light. It raises more questions than answers, or more correctly, it gives weak answers to good questions. It is not a synthesis of Trinitarian theology but it is a good summary of some ways of dealing with God in an evolutionary context.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2005
I understand where both of the two substantive reviewers are coming from on this book. Firstly, I recommend that anyone interested in the religious implications of evolution consider buying THE GOD OF EVOLUTION, not because it provides definitive answers (although Edwards seems to think he does), but because it's a pioneering attempt to address the religious implications of evolution.

Darwinists won't care at all about this book; it was written for Christians seeking some understanding about evolution beyond the often infantile abuse heaped upon it by the Dawkinses of the world.

There are plenty of books that already address the religious implications of evolution, of course, beginning with THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES. But despite Darwin's clever and disingenuous comments in that book that he didn't see how a belief in natural selection conflicted in any way with traditional religious belief, Darwin had already lost his religious faith before he published ORIGIN, and he and the thinkers most closely associated with Darwinism (Huxley, Haeckel, Spencer, etc. etc.) were aggressive anti-Christians. This anti-religious, and specifically anti-Christian, tradition among Darwinists continues to this day with Dawkins, the late Gould, Dennett, Ruse, et. al.

So Edwards is taking on a big task in attempting to reconcile Darwinian evolution (the beginnings of life ex nihilo and natural selection as the principal operating cause of all biological complexity and diversity) with traditional Christianity. It seems clear that Edwards is a believing Christian, so this book is a sincere attempt to achieve this reconciliation.

The question to ask, really, is whether Edwards understands Darwinism better than the Darwinists. They all think that natural selection is a cruel mechanism that unleashes massacre and starvation on the vast majority of living beings but is for the greater good of the biosphere as a whole. The fact that Darwinists are almost exclusively atheists speaks to their view of the kind of God implied by Darwinism. Edwards thinks that Darwinism is consistent with a loving God. Yes, Edwards knows that there is some regretable pain associated with natural selection, but in one of his most superficial sections he tries to make light of all the suffering that the Darwinists, by and large, have the intellectual honesty (perhaps because they secretly relish it) to acknowledge.

Interestingly, Edwards is so committed to strong-form Darwinism that, while he mentions, he does not emphasise the much more ambiguous perspective of physics and cosmology, which seems to suggest some sort of eerie design in the universe, with all its precise constants and finely tuned balances of power, without any of which life could never have evolved. Edwards doesn't need this evidence because he is quite happy to accept Darwin's vision of a cruel, apparently purposeless world. Edwards sees his contribution to theology as his novel proposals to show how the Darwinian vision is perfectly consistent with a loving God who can be worshipped by Christians.

Does Edwards succeed? Not in the view of this reader. He advances some interesting ideas, esp. early in the book, with his reflections on the relational nature of God. But his understanding of evolution is shallow and enthusiastic. In fact, some of his proposals are inadvertently dangerous, as a more clever thinker than Edwards could easily turn them around and use them against Christianity. But Edwards (along with John Haught), is trying to get the ball rolling . . . that is, he is trying to get theologians and religious thinkers to engage seriously with Darwinism, and that is a necessary task.

Readers intrigued by the attempt, however, should also consider reading Simon Conway Morris's book LIFE'S SOLUTION, with its broader view of evolution, in order to first get some of the scientific facts.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Wow. Now this is the kind of evolutionary theory I'm talking about. For me, I've gone through the process of rejecting literalism and non-allegoricalism for the first 10 chapters of Genesis. I've gone through the acceptance of the scientific validity of evolution. I've worked through ideas on how I can accept Biblical Truth from Genesis, and also evolution. But I want to further clarify that in my mind, understand how both can be true. This book significantly helps in that regard.
I found Edwards' understanding of the Trinity immensely helpful. He writes that "'God' has no ontological content without communion. Nothing is conceivable as existing only by itself. There is no true being without communion." That is a conception I can relate to. From this premise, Edwards explores how a communal Trinitarian God would create, patterning life after Themself, as a internetworking of communities. And in my studies of biology, this is certainly what I see. I have long accepted Bonhoeffer's idea that God is Trinity, for God is perfect, and perfect in all things. He is therefore perfect in Love, and Love requires a lover and beloved. But lest we say that God needed us, He needed to be perfect in Love long before He created anything- which means He needed to have a beloved and lover within Himself, hence the Trinity. But then, how explain three, and not two? Edwards answers this, discussing how perfect Love requires a lover, a beloved, and then sharing the love with each other, as they love another. It is through evolutionary theory that we can better understand the Trinity; more than that, Trinitarian theology necessitates an evolutionary viewpoint.
From here Edwards looks at the way God limits Himself in creation, arguing from an Arminianist approach. Not being Arminianist myself, I found these particular arguments less helpful. But I did appreciate Edwards' discussion of how chance, natural selection, and imperfections are actually necessary in a perfect creation- for without random mutation, it would not be possible for an organism to perfectly adapt to new situations. Hence the seeming imperfection is actually part of a perfectly formed creation.
One of the greatest quandaries in accepting an evolutionary position as well as a Biblical worldview is the problem of original sin. Edwards does a wonderful job of illustrating how both philosophies blend. Our genetic code is morally neutral, but allows for the opportunity of far greater violence and destruction when it is combined with our cognitive abilities and moral awareness- something very similar to the eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Indeed, the argument could be made that the enigmatic aspects of that passage are greatly illuminated when understood within the developing awareness of our species.
In the last few chapters Edwards analyzes how we can understand the various facets of the Godhead through evolution. How the Spirit has been present throughout creation, as has the Son, and their presences inherent within all of creation. So therefore, we can look at any of our fellow creatures, and see that of God in them- not that they are God of course, but that God is present within them, as He is present everywhere. Indeed, the Spirit and Wisdom become the motivating forces of all evolution, in a continuous creation that takes place at one time as one event. (For is not God outside of time?) Edwards comes from a Roman Catholic perspective, and so he displays the standard Western focus (neither good nor bad) on the Persons of the Trinity rather than the Unity of the Godhead- I found it helpful to consider what he said of the different parts of the Trinity as simply representative of all of the Trinity.
Throughout the text, I appreciate that Edwards presents not only his view, but that of many other theologians and biologists, along with a coherent synthesis of his beliefs on the matters. This allows me to follow his thinking, and also integrate aspects of other beliefs that might fall outside of Edwards' own. I also liked his support for the understanding of God as not only male, but also female, relying strongly on scriptures for this support, such as showing the clear line of female Wisdom being the same as the male Jesus in the Bible and Patristic authors. Edwards writes in a clear manner, but tremendously deep, illuminating, and encouraging. I am grateful to God for finding this book, and having the chance to read Edwards, for I now feel that I have a much better grasp on the integration of evolution and Biblical theology.
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18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 1999
Denis Edwards possesses lucid insights and reveals a surprising consonance of Christian revelation with the theory of evolution.
`The God of Evolution: A Trinitarian Theology' illustrates that the natural world reveals immense wisdom and purpose - and the facts of the world reveal more of a 'Master Plan' than an accident. Edwards shows that in the Christian perspective, everything is seen as an embodiment of the divine - expressed in the nature of God as a 'Trinity'. Everything in the natural world existence is interconnected, and the underlying heart of the matter is the Absolute - The Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
An excellent book. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2008
A good friend of mine from when I was in seminary recommended this book to me to help prepare for a sermon that I'll be preaching on creation - and I found it to be very helpful.

I read it off the heels of finally reading "The Origin of Species" which I'd been putting off for ten years since I'd purchased it - and I'm glad that I read Origin first. Edward's book starts out with a brief explanation of what Darwin really said (note: "really said" vs. "what everyone thinks he said") and I found having the background of Darwin's ideas was helpful as I rather quickly worked through Edward's book (it only took about 4-5 hours to read - it's a quick, short book).

I think that I see Edward's book as a good way to get started in the study of the idea that perhaps, just perhaps, the ideas of biological evolution might not be as opposed to the biblical tradition as we might think it is. Having spent most of my life in grade school, through high school and well into college and finally seminary being convinced that there was NO WAY that evolution and God could actually go together, it was nice to get a solid glimpse into the fact that they CAN in fact go together - and very well at that.

The subtitle of the book, "A Trinitarian Theology" is fairly accurate. Some reviewers accuse him of only really talking about the Trinitarian relationality early on in the book, but I think that he addresses it throughout, though perhaps not as blatantly.

The basic view that Edwards is trying to espouse (and that he does a fairly good job of espousing) is that evolutionary thinking really is a very relational idea: one that goes well with the intensive relationality of the Trinitarian relationships between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that ultimately connects us to God by the Spirit through the Son to the Father. Enjoy!
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on August 28, 2008
I found this book to be thoroughly disappointing. Since the subtitle of the book was "A Trinitarian Theology," I was expecting him to talk in detail about the relationship between the Trinitarian God and evolution. He does do this, in a sense, but he never really provides much support for the "ties" he makes between them. The first section deals with the "God of Evolution as a God of Mutual Friendships." This sounds nice on the surface, but all he really does is say that some theologians think that the trinitarian God's most significant trait is relationality. He then notes that evolution involves relatioships between things, and that science in general is now realizing how inter-related everything is. Well, that's nice and all, but does it really say all that much? Would there really be a problem with a non-trinitarian God creating a universe in which things interact with each other? He seems to be using the inter-relatedness of material things as evidence for the Trinity, which seems to me to be quite a stretch.

The part I was most looking forward to was how he brought trinitarian theology to bear on the problem of natural evil. Unfortunately, he seems to forget about the Trinity for that whole section, as the Trinity is not even mentioned. Instead he retreats to the same tired explanation that most theistic evolutionists raise: God is in some way limited by creation, and really couldn't do much about it. This would be a fine explanation (as long as the reason God is limited is a self-imposed refusal to interfere with the free will He has given to His creation), except that Edwards, just like almost all other evolutionary theists, then moves right on to talking about how God is guiding the process of evolution. Just think about this for a second: we are first told that the reason natural evil exists is that God distances Himself from creation so that it can have free will (i.e. God does not push creation the way He wants it, but lets it go it's own way), then IN THE VERY SAME CHAPTER we are told that God is influincing evolution, and is at every moment guiding the process of evolution toward His goals. Either God is guiding creation or he is leaving it alone. You can't have both, or, if you can, you need to explain how this is possible.

His sections on how the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ relate to evolution are also rather poor. He essentially says that the Holy Spirit is the one active in guiding creation, and that Jesus Christ is the culmination of evolution in some vague way that isn't really explained. What is even more disappointing is that these chapters (especially the latter) consist almost entirely of the thoughts of other theologians. The Christology chapter literally consists almost entirely of either quotations or paraphrases from other authers. He looks at what Tielhard de Chardin, Karl Rahner, and Jurgen Moltmann think about Christ and evolution, says he thinks that what they said is nice (with a few quibbles about specifics), and then spends a few pages quoting Catholic theologians, church fathers, and scripture showing that Jesus is God's Wisdom (Sophia) which somehow is supossed to convince us that evolution somehow has something to do with God's Wisdom (Jesus) being able to transform creation. He tops the chapter off by throwing in a half-page about how this promotes ecology.

Is summary, this is a VERY unconnected book. He jumps from idea to idea, claiming to use the Trinity to tie them all together, but (at least to me) it didn't seem like there were many clear ties there. Most of the time the Trinity seemed to just be added in as an afterthought to make it look like things connected. I also found it rather odd that almost every person he referrenced was a Catholic theologian or a church father. I agree that those people have a lot to say, but it is ridiculous to almost entirely ignore the contributions made by non-Catholics to this subject. To be fair, he does mention John Haught (a Lutheran) and Arthur Peacocke (Church of England), but only VERY briefly, as oppossed to many, many pages spent examining the thought of Catholic theologians and church fathers.

If you're trying to understand how to bring together the Christian God and evolution, I'd look to something like Ted Peters and Martin Hewlett's From Creation to New Creation before looking here. This is not to say that he doesn't make some good points, but by and large this book isn't exceptional. He really fails to do much other than mix together the ideas of previous theologians, which is not necessarily a bad thing, except that he fails to answer most of the major questions surrounding the mixing evolution and theology, yet he seems to think he has provided definitive answers. I get the feeling that he hasn't communicated nearly as much to us as he thinks he has, or perhaps I just failed to understand what he was saying. The questions he addresses are very good questions, but his answers are not very helpful, and the quesions are answered better by other people in other books.

Overall grade: C-
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on February 17, 2013
thanks it got here on time and it's the book I wanted. I don't have anything else to say but they require 19 words.
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