Project Augustine

Chapter 4.4 – “Developing a Theology of Evolutionary Creation”







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?




Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13




In the novel Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein, the author is a World War II veteran who earned a double PhD on the GI bill who outlines his version of a perfect society.  Only veterans are allowed to vote, not as a reward, but due to constant military training and service that beats the lesson into every serviceman’s head that the needs of the group outweigh individual needs.



Self-transcendence as defined by Southgate is that cooperation leads to new selves or ultimate being or purpose.  A form of symbiosis occurs where the total is greater than the sum of its parts.  These new combinations multiply the goodness such as the invention of the ice cream cone due to running out of ice cream containers, but luckily there was a waffle stand nearby, or Reese’s getting your chocolate in my peanut butter.



God appreciates new ways of thinking than traditional thinking.  I’m reminded by this from a recent podcast interview by Pete Holmes, a former evangelical Christian stand-up of Rob Bell, who is promoting his new book What is the Bible?  They discuss how watered down “turn the other cheek” is from the original subversive, explosively mind-blowingly and radically non-passive that statement was.  People could only think of two ways to respond.  It strikes back at which is an agreement of the attacker’s narrative that we are enemies, or a perpetuation of the injustice by allowing continued striking with no reprisals.  Jesus’ response was a rejection of both and instead offered a third way.  The actual quote is: “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Mathew 5:39) The fact that your right cheek was slapped meant a left hand was used to strike.  The right hand was used for eating and the left for cleaning yourself when you had to do your business, so the left had was considered unclean.  The society at that  time was very hierarchical, so you punched with the right hand and slapped with the left.  In other words, you punched an equal and slapped a lesser, such as a slave.  It is difficult to hit a left cheek with a left hand, and striking with the right hand would elevate the slave to an equal.


God wanted us to work together to create new displays of love such as with art, culture and music. He encouraged this by creating us with a need for another other than Himself.  Genesis 2:18 states: The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”  The second greatest commandment is like the first, “To love your neighbor as yourself.”  As we and our society become more and more complex, we are drawing to the conclusion that we can do better and greater things with each other than by ourselves.






How fitting to be pondering the role of the Holy Spirit on the eve of Pentecost!  I started to work on this yesterday but decided to sleep on it.


So far, many of us seem to be drawn to the concept of transcendence. I will share my musings are this topic.


I have been thinking about how Southgate’s theology relates to biblical doctrines.  In particular, I have been wondering about the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification, where does the doctrine of sanctification fit into Southgate’s theology of evolution?


Do creatures (sentient beings) have to be sufficiently evolved (‘mature’) to be able to consciously interact with the Holy Spirit and to be receptive or resistant to His work?  The nature of this interaction remains a mystery. Being endowed with free will appears to be a pre-requisite for creatures to be able to exert the power to consent to (even collaborate with)  or  to resist  the work of the Holy Spirit and “the divine invitation to transcend” our ‘selves’? Creatures who are endowed with free can agree to or resist the Spirit’s work of transformation. Is this ‘faculty’ to respond to the Holy Spirit, not to only be acted upon by Him, that separates human and non-human creation?


Is it through the process of sanctification that creatures are perfected into what God intended them to be (logos), for creatures to reach the state of ‘fulfillment’ Southgate defines and beyond? Is the fruit of the Spirit (“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… Galatians 5:22) signs of this transcendence?


Does the impetus to explore new behaviors and possibilities part of the Spirit’s work of sanctification, “enabling creatures to be and become”?  Or is merely a primal impetus for survival, behavior changes that lead to better outcomes and are therefore adopted and reinforced over time?  We go through these mini-evolutionary adaptations regularly in the hope of reaching a state of ‘fulfillment’ in our lifetime. Few of us are ‘satisfied’ when we have achieved “access to the appropriate energy sources and reproductive opportunities”. Most of us hunger for “something more”. What drives this desire for “more” and transcendence? Ego? A God-shaped hole built into our beings?






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” (61). Do you agree or disagree with this characterization? How does this help or not help you view the process of evolution?


This is probably the most thoughtful description of life I have encountered. I can only see it fully developed in human beings, but the relegation of this understanding to the rest of creation makes for an interesting exploration of God’s creation. In goes right along with process theology, with its focus on process and possibility rather than static existence, even intent.


Do I agree with it? Yes, it seems accurate in terms of what science and history have to say about creation. Where I get stuck, and the thing that may need reconciliation or may not (I’m unclear as to the degree of dissonance that may or may not exist) is my suspicion that God is much more in control than this description would imply. I am referring to a personal belief that God created with a pretty good idea of what would come of his creation, rather than a fully freewheeling self-exploration giving rise to a necessarily unpredictable world. Can my suspicion, which is more intuition than anything else, be reconciled with the idea of process theology as understood in these “points and peaks” description of life? I’m inclined to say yes. God’s creation is marvelously mathematical, in addition to everything else. I suspect that while all options available to each individual creature are on the table, some are more defined, therefore more likely to be undertaken, than the rest, and possibly so in strictly mathematical terms (statistics, etc.). It’s how I understand God to know the future (of course, referring to the future in terms of possibilities rather than certainty).







4.) In 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?




Self-transcendence is defined by Southgate as “possible exploration of new behaviors, going beyond what was previously the character of the species” (p 62). Specifically, this is “costly self-giving to the other, or identification with difference in community” (p 67), and also, “God both delights in creaturely selves and also longs for fuller realization of relationships of love and cooperation” (endnote 74).


And so it seems to me that Southgate defines self-transcendence in terms of self-giving, love, and cooperation.


In my view, “the devil is in the details.” To argue that creatures have the ability to exhibit self-trascendence depends on what definition you use.


If the definition of self-transcendence is primarily “cooperation,” then certainly, as Southgate says on page 66, the fossil record has shown the example of symbiosis of organisms to form eukaryotes.


But Southgate extends the definition when he uses “self-giving” and “love,” to more anthropomorphic terms in my view. In these cases, I think he’s overreaching. My understanding is that non-human (or non-primate at least) animals do not have enough brain power to have cognitive fluidity for free will, which is required for love or volitional self-sacrifice.


For warranting self-transcendence in the Spirit or the Trinity, Southgate writes that the Holy Spirit “longs for creatures to transcend themselves, to find new ways of relating” (65), namely “growing into the image of the Trinity of self-giving love” (p 71).


I feel uneasy with grounding self-transcendence in the Trinity. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I guess you could argue that all of creation would aspire to be more like its creator. But though I have no proof, my gut tells me that the author is more likely trying to fit an a priori love of the Trinity into this situation. (And the concept of the Trinity wasn’t even a solid thing until Nicaea.)


It’s the perichoretic or self-giving property of the Trinity that Southgate cites. He quotes von Balthasar: “Believers are prepared by the Spirit to make ‘an attempt at total self-renunciation, at dying to all self-will’ so that they will be able to bear divine fruit in love for one another through concrete deeds” (endnote 95).


This is the kind of stuff that is a trigger warning for me, being the person who feels having been deprived growing up and now being asked to give everything and leave nothing for himself. And so I have a hard time right now reckoning self-transcendence as better than selving.


As a quick tangent, I have thoughts of why a self-transcendence is acceptable to Westerners but not to me – and I think it’s geohistorical.


1)    The West (or at least America) emphasizes individualism, hence the longing of a Westerner like Southgate for self-giving as the opposite. On the other hand, my background emphasizes submission to the community, hence an already extant self-giving is less attractive to me.


2)    Some articles by Mako Nagasawa posit differences between white-American and Asian-American spirituality in terms of psychological make-up. Western Christians think that they’re wanting to give everything but they really don’t, whereas Asians are conditioned to think of themselves as already indebted to the other from the start.


“I suspect that ‘white American exceptionalism,’ the idea of national and often racial superiority, psychologically buoyed people.  Evangelicals may have said they believed in ‘total depravity’ and a profoundly negative view of human beings.  But, paradoxically, they also believed that white American Protestants made up the best nation in the world.”


“People from non-Western communitarian cultures tend to think of the group as good and themselves as bad, perhaps by internalizing criticism to conform… This makes Asian-Americans, more so than their White American counterparts, want to repay the debt because of their cultural familiarity with this motivational language.”








In Section 4.4, summarize the concept of the Spirit’s “lament” (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?


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?)



On Page 65, Southgate discusses four different living states of all living creatures on the planet subject to the whims of God.  The third state he mentions is the “Frustrated” state in which creatures are held back in some way, shape or form towards fulfillment due to physical, geographical, environmental, or mental factors that inhibit their steps towards one of fulfillment.   This state of frustration is what Southgate refers to as the Spirit’s song of lament to the Father.  Complete fulfillment or self-transcendence is limited within the nonhuman world.  However, as Southgate argues, all the frustrations of the various creatures are retained in the memory of the trinity.


In the present creation, “frustration” can be tangentially tied to Charles Darwin’s model of natural selection in which sentient beings fight and challenge each other to achieve some sort of fulfillment.  A great example of this is predation of one set of species such as bears or wolves against another set such as fish, elk, rabbits, etc.  In Southgate’s view, the path towards fulfillment or full flourishing ultimately involve some sort of pain and suffering inflicted towards other living organisms surrounding them.  Disease, starvation, competition, predation and death are indeed part of the biological evolutionary cycle in which all creatures are exposed to in their pursuit of “selve” realization.  Southgate argues that the frustration of all creatures are received by the Son of God through the brooding immanence of the Spirit who sings songs of lament to the Father.  This is his argument of evolutionary theodicy, which maybe satisfactory for some people and disappointing for others.  I myself lean towards Southgate’s view mainly because if we accept God’s sovereignty over all creation then he would also pour out love to those he has created.  One can certainly poke holes through Southgate’s argument, but for me I have not run across any other argument or hypothesis that better explains the harsh complexities of our living world.


Much of Southgate’s view on God’s suffering vis-à-vis creation is borrowed from Paul Fiddes’s book, The Creative Suffering of God.  In summary, the responsiveness and resistance of creation towards the Spirit of God is what drives creative evolution and it can help give rise to a proper form of theodicy.  If we are to speak of God suffering in creation then we would have to accept that there is a free will in creation and that suffering is something that befalls God, and is not simply preordained.  According to Paul in Romans 8:19-22, all creation is subjected to the futility by God in hopes that all living creatures may eventually achieve some sort of glorious liberty as children of God.  In Southgate’s words, “to realize this Goal God must encounter the contingency and struggle of creatures being creatures and not-being-God.”  In other words, the only way for all creation to reach its ultimate fulfillment, God must encounter and bear the worldly pains and sufferings in existence.


I think God is very capable of taking upon the sufferings of the world and it would not surprise me one bit that God is currently in the midst of all the sufferings that are observed on this planet.  The question is, how could he not be involved since he is the one responsible for all creation and the environment in which they reside in.  We should be the ones asking ourselves if there is a divine purpose in creation is the proper question we should be asking.  Outside the nonhuman world it would be very tough to draw any proper conclusion unless of course we can figure some way or form to be able to communicate with them.








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?




According to Southgate, non-human creatures or organisms are characterized by “limited signs of self-transcendence”; it seems as if they lack the capability of responding back to God’s self-giving love.  He observes that, “There is within the nonhuman world little sign of costly self-giving to the other, or identification with difference in community.”  In contrast, borrowing from Patricia Williams, living organisms are characterized by a “struggle for resources; reproductive behavior; association with, and positive behavior toward, genetic relatives; and reciprocal behavior.”  Furthermore, “all biological ‘selves’ pursue some or all of these behaviors selfishly and preferentially.”  In short, living organisms have the (strong) capability to achieve self-transcendence (oftentimes through their own self-will), while non-human creatures have a limited ability for self-transcendence.


It seems that according to Williams’ four observations of living organisms, non-human organisms are seemingly incapable of struggling for resources, reproducing, displaying altruistic behavior toward relatives, and harboring reciprocal desires.  So in this way, they offer a kind of “no” to God’s self-giving love.


In regards to the Holy Spirit, his work offers “possibilities of community… in giving rise to ecosystematic complexity, but ‘fails,’ in most of the nonhuman world, in creating any community characterized by authentic altruism, true self-giving love.”  He goes on that there may be “hints” of this behavior or possibilities of self-transcendence in non-human animals, but they are seemingly “stuck” there and not capable of developing any further.  But that begs the questions whether or not they could evolve to such levels of self-transcendence if favorable conditions were met.  One can argue that the Holy Spirit might have worked in the lives and behaviors of early hominids (or an early primate ancestor that wasn’t “human” yet) that would eventually become more and more humanlike and gradually develop or evolve to the level of self-transcendence as homo sapiens have.  Why can’t the Holy Spirit do that to another non-human species through evolutionary means to say, a chimpanzee, orangutan or a dolphin?  Perhaps it’s not that the Holy Spirit “fails” in this respect, but is severely hampered by competitive human pressures applied upon other animal species that suppresses and inhibits their abilities to achieve higher levels of self-transcendence?  We must be aware that (as far as we know), before the arrival of humans, there was no such thing as self-transcendence.


In relation to consciousness, only human beings, as far as we know, are capable of amplifying our potential for both good and evil actions.  With self-consciousness, we are aware of our own actions as well as how our actions can impact others for good or evil.  I believe, in a broadly general sense, that the more self-aware or conscious we are, the more potential we have for choosing good over evil actions.  We can learn and grow to become more loving, caring, selfless, empathetic, and altruistic toward others (including non-human creatures as well) and therefore become more Christ-like in the process.  Only fully conscious beings can be fully culpable for his or her actions.  Of course, those who may not be fully conscious (do to narcotics, mental disease, etc.) or mentally handicapped in some capacity may not be culpable or held in full responsibility for his or her actions in certain legal or moral cases that may have caused evil or harm upon another.





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