There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.
|Ichneumonidae vs. Caterpillar|
There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars...But as David Hart puts it, from an earlier metaphysical vantage point, the parasitic wasp would have posed much less of a problem.
In the ancient or mediaeval worlds, the idea of the evolution of species would not necessarily have posed a very great intellectual challenge for the educated classes, at least not on religious grounds.... It would not have been drastically difficult for philosophers or theologians to come to see evolution as the natural unfolding of the rational principles of creation into forms primordially enfolded within the indwelling rational order of things. In the wake of the triumph of the mechanical philosophy, however, when nature's "rationality" had come to be understood only as a matter of mechanical design engineered form without, the Darwinian proposal of natural selection suggested the possibility that nature might instead be the product of wholly indeterminate - wholly mindless - forces... It seemed a dangerous idea only because of the metaphysical epoch in which it was first proposed.
|Corpus Christi College, Oxford|
In her extraordinary (and freely available) Gifford lectures, Sacrifice Regained: Evolution, Cooperation and God, Sarah Coakley discusses some such cases by exploiting recent debates about evolution and altruism to recover the notion of sacrifice on scientific and theological grounds. (Two years working in Harvard's biology lab with Martin Nowak might cause one to grant her the right to speak on the matter.) As she puts it three lectures in:
What if Jesus’s ethics of seemingly self-destructive sacrificial ‘excess’, instead of being seen as irreducibly hostile to preparatory forms of evolutionary ‘cooperation’ and ‘altruism’, might itself be a fulfillment and completion of them – and, in the light of the resurrection a means of a completely new form of ‘cultural evolution’ – a form sustained in the ‘excessive’, uncalculating mode of a new type of cooperative community? Is it possible, then, that this ecstatic ethics of excess could, after all, be theoretized evolutionarily in novel, ‘cultural’, yet eschatological mode - not as a meaningless ‘spandrel’ as Jackson sees it, but as a horizon of evolutionary hope beyond the constraints of its normal, much more limited, evolutionary concerns?Coakley sounds much like Darwin's witty wife Emma (so vividly performed by Rebecca Spence) might have had she enjoyed the benefit of her husband's scientific education. There is, after all, nothing "faith shattering" about the food chain when faith is founded upon one who enters it - at the bottom - in order to be (Eucharistically) consumed.