International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Dancing with the Sacred: Evolution, Ecology and God

by Karl Peters

Introductory Essay by Ann Pederson

Dancing with the Sacred, by Karl Peters, is both an academic introduction to naturalistic theism and an appeal to join Peters on his spiritual journey of finding love in a world of pain and suffering. Writing in the first person, Peters invites the reader to be a partner in the dance through his various sources: cultural evolution, evolutionary biology and ecology, world religions, and process thought. Peters is Professor Emeritus of Religion at Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida and has been the co-editor of Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science. Within the larger interdisciplinary field of religion and science, Peters writes as a religious pluralist and as someone who is open to but does not limit belief in theism to a personal god. For Peters, the divine is the sacred, creative energy of the universe which transforms the evolutionary world through love and novelty. His central question of the book is: “What might it mean to live with hope and to work toward the greater well-being of ourselves and the planet in the midst of suffering, loss, and perishing?” [viii]

Peters opens the door to the divine through his aesthetic metaphor of the divine dance. In a manner similar to Arthur Peacocke’s use of improvisation to describe the relationship between God and the world, Peters defines the connection between the sacred and the evolutionary processes of the world as a creative, choreographed dance of partners. Deeply concerned about the way humans are destroying their habitat, Peters develops a practical theology to address and interpret environmental and ecological problems. The natural sciences help humans to interpret and find meaning within their natural surroundings. Humans must develop habits which help them to tend and take care of their cosmological home – their habitus.

Part of what makes this book so important to the dialogue between religion and science is that Peters does not downplay the personal impact of his world view. He describes in poignant detail how his first wife went through a lengthy struggle with cancer and how he was transformed by her journey. The very stuff of the evolutionary processes that give life meaning and novelty also cause death and suffering. Peters helps the reader to understand both the scientific and spiritual dimensions of this. The question at hand is; how do the sciences help people live a spiritual life? Love transforms suffering and death into hope and new life.

Peters does not resort to some kind of pie-in-the-sky afterlife as a solution to the problem of suffering and evil. Instead, he speaks of the gift and task with which the sacred dance of life endows each human being. Humans are called to find their home in the world and to look beyond their phenomenal self (that which is known through the senses) and find their “big self”—the self, related to all of life, that loves all of life, finds value in the world, and risks taking steps with the creative source of life called the Sacred.