Fall 2015 Advanced Seminar – Student Voices – 3

In the Fall 2015 Advanced Seminar for Religion and Science, we asked our students if they would share their thoughts on the various lectures of our series on Teleology.  This third post in the series is based on the October 5, 2015 lecture by Dr. Gayle Woloschak, Creation: Evolution, Contingency, and Intentionality.

Our featured writer for this post is Roberta Hayes from Chicago, Illinois.  Roberta is pursuing a Master of Theological Studies through McCormick Theological Seminary.  Roberta’s special focus in study is that of the theological imagination, that is, the intersection of theology and the theater arts, and how such spaces of encounter present transformative possibilities for the healing ministries.


Mutation, Chance and Soul:
Evolutionary Biology and Implications for Becoming Human 
Roberta Hayes

Dr. Gayle Woloschak, an esteemed Theologian of Orthodox Christian Spirituality and a distinguished Microbiologist whose work has stretched the globe and brought her to some of the world’s greatest laboratories, sees no contradiction in the worlds of science and religion.

At the start of her recent seminar at the Zygon Center for Religion and Science, Dr. Woloschak called to mind the “unfolding of logos” described by Orthodox Theologian David Bentley Hart:

“…God’s creative power can be seen in the rational coherence of nature as a perfect whole; … a cosmic harmony as resplendently evident in the simplicity of a raindrop as in the molecular labyrinths of a living cell.” [1]

Cosmic harmony for sure, but a harmony comprised of different systematic calls to life. Indeed, Dr. Woloschak would remind us that we in fact are very much children of chance, that “without chance, without randomness, we die…” as our very survival is dependent upon selection of antibodies, mutated genes. [2]

But for many people of faith, life built on chance leaves God in the dust. And miracles reflect God’s direct intervention in a world that so often causes pain. In the Abrahamic faith traditions, there is assurance in a loving source of life, a being personally involved in human kind, a God who brings meaningful existence out of chaos. For chance to reign, an indeterminate world dominates. God becomes part and parcel to the mess, as opposed to that force of life that directs all.

But chance is merely a cooperative dynamic according to Dr. Woloschak, one of many forces co-mingling and subject itself to interactions and dynamics constitutive of a greater whole:

“ ’Chance’ is not inexplicable or nonsensical—it depends on the prior situation from which several avenues open, each with its own probability. Perhaps one could even argue that chance has a firm theological foundation in the concept of divinely prescribed freedom that is so engrained in Orthodoxy.” [3]

Dr. Woloschak challenges, “Can all of human capacity be explained by evolution?”

It is illuminating to distinguish the potential of forces from different ends, such that evolutionary life, and its inherent design may constitute only part of the whole.

In my reading of science, I often make references to social systems and interactions in the world at large. I begin in the minute realm of biological matter and extrapolate out to new worlds where populations of gene expressions are analogized to the working of collective societies, where some cultural groups dominate others.

I need God to emanate and bubble up into my human affairs and I call upon science to help me in this endeavor.

Dr. Woloschak reminds us that human beings are endowed with attributes that are not strictly biological. Such attributes include wisdom, discernment, compassion, and spirituality. Acceptance of these attributes is important for development of the human person. Rejection and denial of these attributes can be harmful.

According to Dr. Woloschak, processes that constitute evolutionary biology and make up organic life do not, in fact, constitute the leap to intentionality and mind.

But this doesn’t mean that human beings are exempt from our participation in evolutionary biology either. Dr. Woloschak suggests that an embrace of the unity of life permits people to become more fully alive in our human vocation.

“Life on earth share the same elements (carbon, nitrogen, trace metals), the same processes (cell division, replication and repair of DNA, transcription of RNA, translation of proteins), even the same genetic code…. the diversity of creation helps humanity appreciate the need for all creatures, all of life, all niches and environments to support each other and our planet. With both of these concepts come a profound ecological consciousness and a view of humans as priests of creation.” [4]

How will I begin to make connections between the workings of this unity of life and my own activities? How can I be in relationship with creatures that give me life and in what ways am I open to giving of my life to the world around me?

Chance brings to mind disturbing and quixotic potentialities. Most terrifying is the notion that who I am and what I do in each moment is part of a cooperative process of co-becoming with fellow creatures. Each breath, every action conspires to bring a new future. And that is plain scary.

[1] David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, (Princeton, Yale University Press, 2013).

[2] Gayle E. Woloschak, The Zygon Center for Religion and Science Seminar, Monday, October 12, 2015

[3] Gayle E. Woloschak, “The Compatibility of the Principles of Biological Evolution with Eastern Orthodoxy,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 55:2 (2011): 217.

[4] Gayle E. Woloschak, “The Compatibility of the Principles of Biological Evolution with Eastern Orthodoxy”, St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 55:2 (2011): 213.

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