The PostBarthian
28Jun/141

Karl Barth on No to Natural Theology and Yes to Evolution

Comparison of a human child skeleton to a chimpanzee Skeleton on display at the American Museum of Natural History

Comparison of a human child skeleton to a chimpanzee Skeleton on display at the American Museum of Natural History

The Moltmanniac is my favorite blog on the internet, and he had an excellent post on "I don't BELIEVE in evolution but think it is probably true" that was incredibly helpful, and recently, he shared a letter from Karl Barth to his niece on why we shouldn't allow Natural Theology (or Natural Revelation) get in the way of accepting evolution. Evolution is a way of understanding how the world works and teaches us nothing about God. When I profess, "I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible" (Nicene Creed), I am declaring a statement of faith (not an object of scientific verification). Science and dogmatics are separate domains and evolutionary science does not inhibit our statement of faith about God as Creator but only helps us understand the world, 'in which we live, and move and have our being.' (Acts 17:28)

The @Moltmanniac shared a helpful post titled: "Evolution and the Creation Story" that contained a letter by Karl Barth to his niece on the subject of evolution. Barth's niece was discouraged by her professor who presented a crisis of faith to anyone who would try to accept evolution and Christianity, and Barth sent her the following letter, that the Moltmanniac quoted from Bromiley's translation of Karl Barth's Letters: 1961-1968.

karlbarth_lettersKarl Barth #181,

To: Christine Barth (Barth's Grandniece), Zollikofen (near Bern)

Basel, 18 February 1965

Dear Christine,

You have had to wait a terribly long time for an answer to your letter of 13 Dec - not because of indifference, for I am sincerely interested in your welfare, and that of your mother and sisters, and am always pleased to have good news from Zollikofen.

Has no one explained to you in your seminar that one can as little compare the biblical creation story with a scientific theory like that of evolution as one can compare, shall we say, an organ and a vacuum-cleaner — that there can be as little question of harmony between them as of contradiction?

The creation story is a witness to the beginning or becoming of all reality distinct from God in the light of God’s later acts and words relating to his people Israel — naturally in the form of a saga or poem. The theory of evolution is an attempt to explain the same reality in its inner nexus — naturally in the form of a scientific hypothesis.

The creation story deals only with the becoming of all things, and therefore with the revelation of God, which is inaccessible to science as such. The theory of evolution deals with that which has become, as it appear to human observation and research and as it invites human interpretation. Thus one’s attitude to the creation story and the theory of evolution can take the form of an either/or only if one shuts oneself off completely either from faith in God’s revelation or from the mind (or opportunity) for scientific understanding.

So tell the teacher concerned that she should distinguish what is to be distinguished and not shut herself off completely from either side.

My answer comes so late because on the very day you wrote, 13 Dec., I had a stroke and had to spend several weeks in the hospital.

With sincere greetings which you may also pass on to your mother and sisters,

Yours,
Uncle Karl

Geoffrey Bromily (trans.), Karl Barth Letters: 1961-1968, #181 (p. 184)

 

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  1. I want to to thank you for thiis vety good read!! I certainly enjoyed every bit of it.
    I have got yyou book marked to check out neww stuff you post…


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