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Chapter 4.4 – “Developing a Theology of Evolutionary Creation”

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This week we will go over Section 4.4 of The Groaning of Creation.

This week, the questions have been asked by Christopher from our group.

Please write an essay on one of the questions below:

  1. In Section 4.4, Southgate characterizes individual biological creatures as “points and peaks within evolutionary fitness landscapes… Not as static aesthetic ideas but as peaks that shift over time as God draws the biosphere onward… A species ‘explores’ new possibilities within a fitness landscape” (p. 61). Do you agree or disagree with this characterization? How does this help or not help you view the process of evolution?
  2. In Section 4.4, what is the definition of selving as appropriated by Southgate from Gerard Manley Hopkins? Do you agree or disagree that there does exist for each individual creature such a “fulfilled state”? Or is there no such thing, ie the creature at that particular geohistory is the most it can be, with no discernible ideal pattern?
  3. In Section 4.4, summarize the concept of the Spirit’s “lament” (p. 65) that Southgate invokes. How does this fit with Southgate’s overall argument for theodicy and evolution? And do you agree or disagree with this portion of his argument?
  4. In Section 4.4, how does Southgate define self-transcendence? Do you agree or disagree that individual creatures have the intrinsic possibility to exhibit this self-transcendence? On what basis does Southgate ground self-transcendence in the Spirit and/or the Trinity? Do you agree or disagree with his warrant? Does this seem to you as a telos that is satisfying and providing explanatory power or not? And do you agree or disagree that self-transcendence is a markedly better state than that of selving?
  5. On page 66, what examples does Southgate provide of evolutionary self-transcendence? Would you agree or disagree with Southgate’s characterization of these as “various forms of altruism”? And do you think that this could be a valid mechanism to explain some evolutionary changes, in lieu of or in addition to random and blind natural selection?
  6. In Section 4.4, list the different ways God suffers vis-à-vis creation that Southgate enumerates. Do these ways of God suffering make sense you? And how do these make you feel (comforted, angered, etc?)
  7. In Section 4.4, how does Southgate differentiate between non-human and human living creatures? Do you agree with this distinction? What reason does Southgate provide via Patricia Williams in arguing non-human creation’s “no”? Do you agree or disagree that the work of the Holy Spirit “fails” in most of the non-human world with respect to self-transcendence? Or is this too much to ask of from them? And what are your thoughts on the effect of consciousness as amplification of human potential for both good and evil?
  8. What explanation does Southgate provide for justifying a creation “shot through with ambiguity” (p. 68)? And do you find Wolfhart Pannenberg’s words in endnote 74 satisfying or not? “Like pain and suffering, evil is possible because of the finitude of existence, and especially of living creatures that seek to maintain themselves autonomously and thus incline to aim at a radical independence.” Or could creation have been started off by God as altruistic/self-sacrificial/self-transcendent to begin with?


We will discuss these topics on Sunday.




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