Evolution and the Fall

(system) #1
There is no getting away from some speculation as we try to harmonize natural history and theological history. That’s what Augustine was doing too. But his circumstances were different than ours.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/evolution-and-the-fall

(James Stump) #2

This is a tricky (and touchy) subject. I’m happy to work through some of its implications with you.

(Patrick ) #3

You talk about “coming of age” regarding sin both for an individual and a society in the past.

What is to be considered sin in 2016?

(George Brooks) #4

I interpret this text as clearly a support for such speculations as God using Cosmic radiation to alter genetic codes.

I think this kind of speculation is on pretty firm foundation from a science viewpoint. It’s not like I’m proposing
that God used his fingers …


(Patrick ) #5

Sounds plausible. :grinning: God picked specific atoms to decay in center of neutron stars billions of years ago and aims the resulting cosmic rays at a planet millions of light years away with evolving life on it in order to hit and cause a specific base pair to change, causing a selected mutation to be accumulated in certain species’ genome.

(James Stump) #6

Fair question. I’m not willing to speak for all Christians on this about specifics, but generally I’d say sin is the failure to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, or the failure to love our neighbor as ourselves. Some will want to point to specific Bible verses and their prohibitions, but it is obviously more complicated than that. We accept some (say, the 10 commandments) and not others (eating pork). And there are some things today that we would see as sinful that were acceptable in biblical times (e.g., slavery).

(David W Opderbeck) #7

The question of “the law” I think is an often overlooked and important part of this discussion. It does not appear that any of our evolutionary forebears had any capacity for or concept of positive law. In the second creation narrative in Genesis 2, God reveals a law to Adam in the “garden.” I think God’s revelation of the law to some specific individual or group of individuals marks a “beginning” of humanity. It is neither a “literal” nor a “non-literal” understanding of “Adam,” but it is consistent with the pattern of God’s self-revelation and calling of particular people and people groups throughout salvation history – Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and then the incarnate Christ, the “true” Adam. This is an argument I develop at length in my doctoral dissertation and in a forthcoming book.

(sy_garte) #8

I agree that that is a reasonable speculation. As is some kind of tweaking quantum based decay. We may never know for sure how God acts, and Im not sure it matters. We cannot understand how God works (which is why Patrick’s sarcasm doesnt really fit), and it might be foolish to try to figure God out. I think its sufficient to be able to say that there are ways that He could intervene within His own established laws. And then its a matter of faith to decide that He in fact does so.

(Patrick ) #9

there is no sarcasm in my explanation of quantum physics, cosmic rays, nor genetic mutations.

(sy_garte) #10

Sorry, my mistake


I really appreciate your series exploring the issue of Adam & Eve, plus your & BioLogos’ honesty about the problems with how to handle that story and your opening the door to responses to what you wrote. I also appreciate BioLogos’ repeatedly expressed desire to keep communication going about the subject.

It is clear that a “plain reading” of the ancient Genesis 1-11 text, biased by our time and culture, has obvious problems and the text cannot be taken as anywhere near 100% literal or historical. However, I am concerned that we may be ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ with scenarios that many truth-seeking evangelicals will think are just too much of a stretch - especially in the light of Paul’s statements in Romans 5. I think there is room for other scenarios with a mix of a figurative and literal Adam & Eve story, which is still compatible with science. John Stott briefly suggested one over 15 years ago (it appears that he was the first to use the term “homo divinus,” although differently than Denis Alexander’s use of that term). In the meantime, science has coalesced to a place where a very interesting version of it can be fleshed out as follows:

There were of course “archaic homo sapiens” followed by “anatomically modern homo sapiens” which, although physically similar to us, still acted out of instinct, not any awareness of good or evil.

Sometime between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago (opt. 40 kya to 200 kya), possibly near or after the “population bottleneck” leaving only 500 to 15,000 of homo s. sapiens in limited areas of East Africa (optionally also Levant), God completed the creation He began billions of years earlier, by deeply interacting with a couple of them. While the story could have lots of figurative and spiritual elements, including the beginning of souls, sin, and spiritual death, it also could have had a lot of the literal elements that Genesis portrays.

As a result of the encounter with God, Adam & Eve crossed the line from advanced animals to soul-based humans, possibly with more abstract thinking, language development, and an awareness of good and evil and free will, including to disobey God and sin. They then influenced the surrounding homo s. sapiens, where their new excitement, behaviors, language, and story about God, spread, leading the others to similarly ‘cross the line.’ This could have spread to all surviving lines of homo s. sapiens while all other hominids died out. Adam and Eve in this way, possibly could have become the spiritual father and mother of all modern humans. It seems reasonable that it might have even contributed to a growth spurt in abstract thinking, language, religious behavior, art, ability to work together better and maybe even to migrate more successfully. Thus it could have contributed to “behaviorally modern homo sapiens,” “the Great Leap Forward” into modern behavior, and the “Out of Africa” migration to the rest of the world. Interestingly, leading secular scientists like Ian Tattersall say that the speed of these changes (not counting spiritual aspects which scientists don’t recognize) was “almost unimaginable.”

This seems to address some of the problems with other scenarios. What do you think? Is there some defeater problem with this scenario?

(James Stump) #12

Thanks Doug. Good thoughts, and I appreciate the spirit in which they were offered.

I don’t think there’s anything impossible with the scenario you suggest. But it does move the Genesis account away from history to something more like a movie that is “inspired by a true story.” It seems to me that if you’re concerned to hold on to a historical Adam for theological reasons, then scenario I suggested stays closer to the text–maybe call mine “based on a true story”?

(Mazrocon) #13

I enjoyed reading this post.

Quick question though — how much different would we see the story of Adam and Eve if we stopped calling it “The Fall” and started calling it “The Exile”…? Hypothetically speaking, if you were to read Adam and Eve before Paul ever wrote anything down your natural inclination would be to read it as talking about an Exile. God kicks them out of the Garden and puts a Flaming Sword on the East of it to ensure they never eat of the Tree of Life, “Lest they partake of it and live forever.” The same Exile theme happens yet again in the story of Cain and Abel. God punishes Cain and is therefore “cursed from the earth” exiled from Eden entirely, and forced to live in the Land of Nod. The Jewish read the story as an “inclination towards evil” … and not “necessarily” a “fall”… does that make sense?

Another thing to think about is the different terminology Paul uses. He uses the term “those that have fallen asleep” to speak about those that have physically died. Jesus does the same thing. In Romans he uses the term death (Greek “Thanatos”) … are we talking about a different sort of death here?

One other observation. In Ezekiel 37, in the Valley of Bones vision, all of Israel that is taken captive by the Babylonians (hence exiled) are allegorically referred to as a “Valley of Bones”, whom God then “breathes life into them”, and then the bones raise up and grow sinews and muscles become alive again. In this vision the Babylonian Exile (a distance from God) is considered to be “death”.

If we use the concept of “Scripture interprets Scripture” would it be far fetched to say a similar think happens in to Adam and Eve? God breathes life into Adam (though he was, in the literal sense, already alive prior to this moment). God gives Adam a moral dilemma that distinguishes him from the animals “You can eat all these trees … but not that one.” In this sense, even before eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil he already “knows” a right and a wrong (conceptually). It’s like if your dad tells you at age 5 to not cross the street, or to not eat from the cookie jar — you already have it in your head that these things are “bad” because you Father told you it was bad, and you trust him.

Then when Adam and Eve partake of the fruit they instantly feel guilt and remorse. They know Good and Evil, in a much more concrete sense now — they know it by EXPERIENCE. Then when they are excommunicated from the Garden they have “died” because they have willingly distanced themselves from God (taking cues from Ezekiel 37). Notice also the similarities in the Cain and Abel story. Though the introduction is different (the offering up of sacrifices), parallels can be made. God gave a direct command to Adam and Eve, but gave a more cryptic command to Cain. In A&E’s “moral infancy”, the command was simple and straightforward. Whereas with Cain it was much deeper, because He told him to control his emotions. In Adam and Eve the evil is portrayed in the subtlety of the serpent. In Cain the evil is portrayed in a similar fashion as some form of beast — “sin croucheth at the door” — but it’s in his heart. After the deed is done God communicates with the guilty — Adam’s response was to blame his wife — Cain’s response was a blatant lie. Both punishments to both parties have agricultural associations. Adam has to farm and toil to get his food — where beforehand he had full access to fruit trees. Cain’s farming days are over — and so after his excommunication he builds a city. God gave Adam and Eve coats to cover up their shame — God gave Cain a mark as a protection against ensuing blood feuds.

I can’t help but think in these discussions the story of Cain and Abel is often left un-discussed. Yes, the primary focus is Adam and Eve in how it relates to Evolutionary Theory, but reading about Cain and Abel (which show signs of heavy parallelism) can help understand overall meaning and clarity to both stories. How it is the Hebrews were trying to communicate, theologically, and through literary structure. I also believe that Ezekiel 37 gives insight into a possibility of what is meant by “death” in the Adam and Eve story.

Just some thoughts…


(Dr. Ted Davis) #14

Jim mentions the great Catholic biblical scholar Luke Timothy Johnson (a severe critic of the Jesus Seminar); he also emphasizes the heart of the doctrine of creation–namely, that the universe exists at every moment only b/c the Creator continues to will its existence. Otherwise, as Robert Boyle once noted (borrowing from Augustine), “that if God should at any time withdraw his preserving
Influence, the World would presently Relapse, or Vanish into its first Nothing.”

Several years ago, Johnson spoke on “Creation” at Messiah College, as part of a major event he did with John Polkinghorne on “creation, resurrection, and eschatology.” It was a wonderful time. Johnson’s address on “Creation” is available here http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2007/PSCF3-07Johnson.pdf and I strongly recommend it to all. In the context of this thread, see the “ten short affirmations” that me makes at the end, particularly number 4: " The Christian confession of God as Cre-ator is therefore not a theory about how things came and come into existence, but is rather a perception that all things are always and at every moment coming into being.God’s self-disclosure in creation, therefore, is not like the traces of the watchmaker in his watch. God is revealed first of all not in the whatness of things—their essence—but in the isness of things—their very existence. That anything exists at all—that there should be rather than not be anything—is the primordial mystery that points us to God."

This is all heady stuff, but absolutely correct.

(Patrick ) #15

I am sorry but this make no sense at all.

(Dr. Ted Davis) #16

Patrick, if your theological background (or lack thereof; I realize you aren’t a believer) leaves you lost, I can sympathize. As I said, these are deep waters: theology (contrary to what is often said about it by Dawkins and some other New Atheists) is an extremely serious way of thinking about reality, not mumbo-jumbo about some fanciful world. But, most people just don’t encounter real theology very often, so when they do they don’t understand why it’s not mumbo-jumbo.

In this instance, let me point to Leibniz’ point that the biggest question is why something exists rather than nothing. Someone like Sean Carroll just has to punt–something exists b/c it just exists, since there’s no way science can give us a deeper answer. I say, that theology does provide what science doesn’t (and can’t) provide, in cases like this: (a) reason(s) why something rather than nothing exists. Perhaps that/those reason(s) are all wrong, or perhaps one or more happens to be right, but at least theology doesn’t pretend that no answers are possible, simply b/c science can’t give them.

(Patrick ) #17

Thanks. Are you saying that one needs to be a Christian for one to know why there is something rather than nothing?


This is a bit off-topic, but you don’t consider John Polkinghorne to be a heretic, do you?

(Dr. Ted Davis) #19

Certainly not, but one does have to go well beyond science to attempt a decent answer.

(Dr. Ted Davis) #20

I’m not sure that you are directing that question specifically at me, beaglelady, since you didn’t send it to my in box, but perhaps you are. Otherwise you must be directed it to BioLogos as a whole. Either, way, my answer is to refer you to the several columns I did, introducing readers to Polkinghorne and editing chapters from two of his books for an electronic audience: https://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/series/searching-for-motivated-belief

Personally I’m a big fan of John Polkinghorne–the person as well as the writer. IMO, he’s the best living writer about Christianity and science, although not necessarily the most important thinker on that important topic (I could name a few other candidates for that role, but none of them IMO write as eloquently as John writes while keeping the kind of depth and breadth he displays). My colleagues at BioLogos might have their own favorites, but we don’t consider John a “heretic,” not at all. In my view, he’s mostly classical in his thinking, getting all of the “big 3” (in terms of the intersection of science and Christian theology) exactly right: creation, resurrection, and eschatology.

Why did you ask this particular question? I know you’ve followed BL for a long time, longer than I’ve been writing for BL, so I’m actually surprised you asked this. Did you miss seeing my columns about John?