Chance, Necessity, Love: An Evolutionary Theology of Cancer

LeonardRev. Dr. Leonard M. Hummel
Professor of Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Care
Gettysburg Seminary
Gettysburg, PA 17325

GayleWoloschakGayle E. Woloschak,
Northwestern University School of Medicine, Chicago IL;
Zygon Center for Religion and Science,
Lutheran School of Theology Chicago, IL;

Leonard M. Hummel and Gayle E. Woloschak, “Chance, Necessity, Love: An Evolutionary Theology of Cancer, Zygon Vol. 51, No. 2 (June, 2016): 298-317


We complete our posting of articles related to cancer and evolution with one which we published in 2017.

Here is an abstract:

In his 1970s work, Chance and Necessity, Jacques Monod provided an explanatory framework for the biological evolution of species, that eventually became the basis for modern theories of the evolutionary development of cancers. That is, contemporary oncological research has demonstrated that cancer is an evolutionary disease that develops according to the same dynamics of chance (that is, random occurrences) and necessity (that is, law-like regularities) at work in all evolutionary phenomena. And just as various challenges are raised for religious thought by the operations of chance and necessity within biological evolution, so this particular theological question is raised by the findings of contemporary cancer science: Where is love, divine and human, within the evolutionary chance and necessity operative in all dimensions of cancer? In this article, we contribute to dialogue in science and religion by offering the following responses to this question: (1) the thought of Arthur Peacocke to claim that divine love may be understood to be at work in, with and under our very efforts to make theological meaning of the chance and necessity that inform the evolution of cancers; (2) Charles Sanders Peirce’s evolutionary philosophy to make this claim: the work of scientific communities of inquiry to understand and to find better ways to cope with the disease of cancer is itself the work of divine love amidst the chance and necessity of cancer.


And here is the conclusion:

In this article we have highlighted how cancer is a disease of evolutionary processes driven by the dynamics of chance and necessity throughout its development.  Accordingly, we have posed this question: where is love amidst these evolutionary developments.  We have directed the thought of Peacocke and Peirce to claim, respectively, that meaning may be made of these evolutionary forces in cancer and that love may be discerned in the human capacity to respond to these dynamics.  We further propose that it behooves the community of inquiry engaged in religion and science dialogue to find even more ways to discern the power of love—divine and human—at work given the evolutionary development of cancers.   Indeed, we suggest that very act of religious reflection on the place of love amidst the chance and necessity of cancers may, itself, be one of the ways in which love—divine and human—may be discerned in the world with cancers in them. (Emphasis added, 317).


We have emphasized the final two sentences in order to suggest to readers of this and our other posts that there is unfinished work to making meaning of the chance and necessity of cancer.


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