Evolutionary Creationism and Atonement Theology, Part 1: Why We Need A Historical Fall | The BioLogos Forum

Yeah,I see that as a whole different issue. Even assuming that Genesis is part of the scripture that was inspired by God, there are different theories on how it could have happened, all of which require some level of supernatural involvement. Certainly the literal 24 hour days can not be scientific history (and as John Walton says, the people in those days would not have taken it as such). That would then imply that it all may have been allegory. However, New Testament reference seem to allude to Adam as historical. And the concepts are very important to the Christianity and the need for a ‘savior.’ John Walton (The Lost World of Genesis One) says that it was a functional/spiritual truth, not necessarily a physical/natural/scientific truth. I can conceive of it having a mix of allegorical, spiritual, and some physical/natural truth which was part of what God inspired in one way or another to a latter individual or a series of individuals.

Good points. I appreciate your bringing in secular scientific authors for scientific relevance to the foundations for the idea. I can see why you talk about “Brain into Mind” and appearance of a conscience. That would be a scientific view of what we could call the appearance of God’s conveyance of a soul. I look forward to reading “Masters of The Planet.”

I like Walton’s take a lot. I like the idea that the point of the story is primarily to present an archetype, but that Adam and Eve could be real historical people in the ancestry of Israel. But then it is a story from much more recent human history than the emergence of humans on earth.

I think maybe we go wrong in thinking that our species appeared when “homo sapiens” appeared (now call archaic homo sapiens). Perhaps even anatomically modern homo s. sapiens are really not what we would consider human, despite the resemblance. I think that ‘true humans’ (like us) didn’t appear until much later.

@DougK @Christie
Have either of you read the debate between Francis Collins and Richard Dawkins in the Time Magazine (2006)? Francis presented a good case as a ‘Born Again Christian’, but actually Richard brought more scientific ‘guns to bear’, and I fear that most agnostic scientists who read the article thought he ‘won’. I just wish that Francis had Tattersall’s information in hand at that time.

This may sound odd, but I feel a sort of ‘kinship’ with Dawkins. I believe we were both “smart-ass” kids in elementary school, and went on to earn Ph.D.s in science. What along life’s journey led him to become a world renowned ‘evangelical atheist’, making a fortune with the book, “The God Delusion”, while, with a bit of struggle, I managed to keep a viable Christian Faith? So I indulge in: What Ifs. What if Dawkins (like me) had read Teilhard extensively which would have laid the foundation for what he later describes as ‘memes’ in the final chapter of “The Selfish Gene”, and ascribes to them the foundation of Human Culture. He probably read Alfred Wallace’s work where he (Wallace) disagreed with Darwin’s (“Descent of Man”) view that human cognition was a natural product of gradual evolution, and he definitely read and agreed with Jared Diamond’s view that humanity appeared as a Great Leap Forward, but what if he had read, with an open mind, Tattersall and Morris who both back up GLF with solid archeological evidence? Would Dawkins then have written a book where he states that he hopes all those who begin it with religious faith put it down as atheists? I doubt it. The target of my presentation is today’s youth who may be following Dawkin’s path. This is a slightly different target than BioLogos’ target of kids raised in an evangelical Christian Faith that may find it threatened by scientific studies.
Al Leo


I have read the Collins/Dawkins debate and was impressed how unflappably Collins went ‘toe to toe’ against Dawkins. Similarly, I was impressed with Lennox in the Dawkins/Lennox debates. But most of all, I thought that Amir Aczel in “Why Science Does Not Disprove God” very effectively rebutted Dawkins (who seems more motivated by hostility to religion - especially Christian - than any scientific evidence against the idea of a god/creator). Even though Aczel is not a Christian, he actually made some strong arguments for a God. (See http://time.com/77676/why-science-does-not-disprove-god for a summary of his book in a Time magazine article.) Pertinent to what we are talking about here, one of the things Aczel notes is, “…Neither does it explain one of the greatest mysteries of science: how did consciousness arise in living things? Where do symbolic thinking and self-awareness come from?”

I have just read the modern homo sapiens chapters from Tattersall’s book “Masters of the Planet” and found it fascinating and instructive. It does show that while early anatomically modern homo sapiens likely had the intellectual capacity for ‘behaviorally modern homo sapiens,’ evidences of those modern behaviors appearing didn’t start appearing until much later - at least 80,000 years ago (after a small ice age but before the Mount Toba eruption). Problematically, this contradicts other scientific views that ‘behaviorally modern behavior’ appeared 40,000 years ago. I’m a little confused by this, unless it was a relatively slow period after it first appeared, follow by a rapid build up at about 40,000 years ago. The earlier dates would make more sense with the current idea that the first successful “out of Africa” migration occurred about 70,000 years ago.

While scientists do not know when language first appeared, it seems that some foundational aspects of it had to be present for symbolic thinking to appear and for any homo s. sapiens to be really able to have a meaningful God interaction.

It would make sense that there would be symbolic thinking and some language for success in migrating, including the case of those in Africa crossing to Australia (which scientists say happened about 70,000 years ago). It also would make sense that this jump to behavioral modernity would appear first in one place (Africa) before migration, rather that appearing at multiple places around the world.

It’s also pretty clear that 'behaviorally modern homo sapiens," while they may have been better anatomically in some ways to adapt to climate change, they probably ultimately killed off all the other of the remaining homo genus. (Perhaps this was a serious confirmation that sin was actively present in those homo sapiens?)

Al, I am also reading your fascinating paper on “Choosing Science as a Career: Must It Jeopardize One’s Christian Faith?” You’ve obviously done a lot of thinking and collecting of material on this area. What do you think this 80,000+ years ago vs 40,000 years ago idea? How does this impact the idea of the idea of a God interaction?

By the way, since your paper addresses early creation history compared with Genesis 1, what do you think of this “creation time line” I found on the Internet http://rareuniverse.org/timeline.html ?

I am very much interested in both areas, as well as in communicating to searching adults. I have to think that there are many people who at one stage or another start wondering about if and where science fits in with faith, as well as scientific thinkers who wonder, especially in light of some of the things Aczel says in “Why Science Does Not Disprove God” and the arguments of Christian scientists on Biologos.org, whether Christian faith makes some sense.

HI Doug: Finally!! After years of looking for ‘kindred souls’ who would like to reconcile science with religion–starting from the ‘science side’–I am finding them through BioLogos.Thanks for alerting me to the Aczel site and to the ‘Creation Time Line’. The latter is so much more professional than the crude one I put in my presentation, and it makes a better case for Genesis 1 having been the result of true revelation, not just a product of unusually wise humans.

I admit that I am totally ‘on board’ with the idea that modern humans appeared as a Great Leap Forward–the way having been paved by Darwinian evolution but not by the ‘small steps with no direction’ that mutationally-induced selection requires. However, much needs to be explained before much confidence can be given it. What sort of biological mechanism could ‘program’ Brain so it becomes Mind? It had to be epigenetic, and there is some evidence that C-methylation operates differently in the brain. But that’s just one of many hints as to where to look. What about the timing? In Europe and the Mideast the GLF seemed to occur with the advent of the Cro-Magnon culture, as evidenced by art, grave goods, and a much more organized society. That appeared a bit later than when Homo sapiens & Neanderthals mixed genes a bit in the Levant about 50K B.P. But there were archaic Homo sapiens in Australia some 50K yrs. ago. Was the ‘programming’ transmitted via language over the thousands of miles separating Europe from the Far East? Or did the GLF, including the invention of language, occur there independently. I believe the foundations of grammar seem to be hard wired in Homo sapien’s brains, and so it is possible that modern humans sprung up in more than one place. Of course that seems to conflict with our Christian belief that God made a covenant with our first parents–not with many first parents. But we should at least be open to whatever evidence is uncovered in the future.

Thanks for the kind words about my Presentation on my web site. You are the first person to comment on it.
Al Leo

Doug and Al,
I have nothing to add to the discussion, but I have learned things reading it, :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: so thanks for having me eavesdrop. I spend way more time interacting with conservative Christians than I do with atheists and way more time thinking about theology than science, but it is always helpful to just try to absorb what smart people are saying and slightly enlarge one’s context for future understanding. (That’s why I still read Dennis Venema’s posts on genetics, even though I only ever comprehend about 10%. I figure one of these days I’ll wake up and realize some of it has sunk in.)

I would like to get caught up on this issue of Atonement and Evolution.

Could someone summarize what seems to be the “best explanation” for how to accommodate Atonement with evolutionary science?

There are lots of people who point out problems - - but it seems the problems are the same kind of problems that woule exist in the Biblical interpretation whether one favored Evolutionary science or not.

Who can summarize the Pro Evolution Atonement position in just a few sentences?

George Brooks
Tampa, FL

My hope would be that we could come up with a ‘theory’ that ties together science and faith (as much as possible) that is very understandable to lay persons, including conservative Christians. The exciting thing to me about what we are talking about is that it is could be a point which bridges the gap between advanced animal beings to beings with souls (and maybe even very analogous to the Genesis narrative). Something that maybe you and I would be able to discuss with some thinking conservative Christians without them immediately feeling very threatened. And that for young people who are learning science. enable them to see that there is a way of viewing things with an allowance for God.

At this article,

Loren Haarsma lists THREE scenarios:

"A variety of scenarios are being proposed by Christian scholars today for how we might understand the Adam and Eve of Genesis 2, and their disobedience in Genesis 3, in light of modern science. "

[1] Some scenarios propose Adam and Eve as two individuals living in Mesopotamia just a few thousand years ago, acting not as ancestors but as recent representatives of all humanity. As our representatives, their disobedience caused all of humanity to fall into sin.

[2] Other scenarios propose Adam and Eve as two individuals, or as literary representations of a small group of ancient representative-ancestors, selected out of a larger population, living in Africa over 100,000 years ago at the dawn of humanity; they were ancestors—but not the sole ancestors—of all humans today; they fell into disobedience against God over a relatively short period of time with a fairly distinct “before” and “after.”

[3] Other scenarios propose that Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Genesis 3 is a symbolic retelling of the story of every human who, over our long history, became aware of God’s claims on how they ought to live, and then disobeyed."

I can think of at least one more.

Has there been any gravitation to a particular scenario?

George Brooks
Tampa, FL

Doug, I just think with conservative Christians you almost always have to start with their view of Scripture and get away from literalism and make the case for a more culturally appropriate hermeneutic for approaching Genesis in the first place. Otherwise, it doesn’t really matter what you say about CroMagnon man’s soul. They have been conditioned to dismiss all references to anything other than modern humans as make-believe. When you have someone who already accepts mainstream science and archaeology as valid, you have a totally different starting point for the discussion.

With my kids, I use all secular science resources. Sometimes we have to talk about the anti-religion bias, but it doesn’t really come up that much. (My eight-year-old loves BBC nature documentaries. He has watched almost all of the ones available on Netflix. Cosmos brought up some interesting discussion points, but I think most of the more obnoxious stuff just went over his head. But we did have to beg him to please not tell any of our missionary community friends that he wants to be a cosmologist like Neil DeGrasse Tyson when he grows up.) I have not found that learning science from a secular perspective inhibits their ability to grasp spiritual concepts and incorporate them into their developing worldview or to respect the Bible as the Word of God. I think it is much harder for kids who grow up using militant young earth/literal Bible materials to let science in. But, we’ll see what happens when we hit the abstract thinking stage.

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I like 1), personally, but I think what you gravitate to depends on how committed you are to the traditional understanding of the Fall and what you see the atonement as accomplishing. (Hence, all the discussion around these topics.) If dealing with original sin is a huge part of your idea of the atonement, then option 3) is less attractive. People have different reasons for wanting or rejecting a historical Adam too.


What do you think of the idea of instead of a FALL, it is the EMERGENCE of humanity as moral beings… beings that require salvation?

The first hominid to cross the line into humanity, would still not be a moral agent until attaining a certain age.

The Allegory for atonement is still there … but instead of a FALL … it’s an EMERGENCE of morality as an issue…


Could be. It’s not my favorite, but that view has a few fans around here. You should check out @aleo Al’s posts on a couple of these more recent threads, I think that’s pretty close to what he thinks.

To not be a broken record and say the same things I always say about my preferred approach to Adam and Eve, you could look around about response #30 on the Adam and Eve and population genetics thread where we were talking about humanity and image bearing. Or the God’s relationship to early humans thread.

I personally think the Fall of the Bible was an actual historical failure of a real human in the ancestry of Abraham/Israel, but the main point of telling it is to give to us an archetype, by which we understand all of humanity’s brokenness and rebellion and need for a Savior, including our own. I don’t think it’s important that it be the first human, by whatever metric one measures “humanity.” I don’t think it’s important that it be the first instance ever of immoral behavior by a human. I think God may very well have related to other humans before Adam, and that God may have related to humans outside of Adam’s people group. Looking at archaeology and science, it appears humans were human and capable of moral behavior and spiritual awareness long before I think the biblical Adam came on the scene.

As far as the need for salvation for people capable of moral behavior before Adam, I don’t think the issues are really that different from when we talk about current people around the world who have never heard the gospel, or children who die young. Are they automatically condemned because of their ignorance or lack of opportunity? I think those are hard questions we don’t really have satisfying answers for, and I just rest in the hope that God’s loving justice and desire that all be saved will somehow give everyone with an immortal soul the chance to either recognize or reject Jesus’ lordship.

I really don’t think this is one of the issues facing Christians that merits dogmatism. People should pick the perspective that gives them the most peace, (theologically and scientifically) and the view that they think is most consistent with the character of a loving and good Creator. Then go out and do something Christ-like, because that is really the point.

It is worth reflecting on what Genesis 1 and 2 says, and perhaps what it does not say. Instead of atonement, Adam and Eve are removed from Eden. Instead of a universal aspect to atonement, Genesis shows that all descendents of Adam and Eve became increasingly sinful (from Cain and Abel, Gen 4) to the fear by Cain that as a fugitive others would slay him (Gen4:13) to Gen 4:26 (And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.) culminating in the time of Noah and the flood that wiped out the descendents of Adam and Eve (and those who cohabited with them and participated in sin against God).

The universal aspect of atonement and salvation was declared by Christ and His Apostles, and consequently the Church is the Universal (Catholic) Orthodox one that declares the Gospel. Prior to this, Israel was admonished to be separate and distinct from the other nations, not to mingle, or adopt their ways, and to be faithful to the covenant between Abraham and God. The teachings of Moses were given to atone for the sins of Israel and to show that God would continue to accept them as descendents of Abraham. These teachings were a shadow, or precursors, to the fulfilment of the Law by Christ.

Consequently, a theology that requires us to understand the historic Adam as central to atonement and salvation appears an odd outlook, and multiple theories seem outlandish. Paul speaks of the first Adam as a contrast to the last Adam, to show how the Law exercised its power over all, and why Christ would bring grace and in this way negate the power of the Law as God willed.

Attempts to somehow incorporate Darwinian evolutionary outlooks with the inferences that can be drawn from Genesis regarding other people interacting with the descendents of Adam and Eve may be interesting, but hardly relevant to the teaching of Moses, or to the Christian universal atonement and salvation. I too find various outlooks interesting, especially notions of meaning and words, and how this may be found in the capacity of human beings to synthesise meaningful symbols (as written language, or as hearing/uttering sounds). In view of the inability of nature to provide (by itself) a meaning to the word God, I am inclined to think that the first utterance of God by a human being (Adam) was the beginning of humanity and its understanding of the spiritual as we know ourselves. However this outlook (or other interesting speculation) is incidental and should not be used to modify what is clearly taught in the Bible and believed by the Church regarding Adam, salvation, and other tenets of the Faith.


Yes, it is exciting to me too. By the way, I posted a simplified version of the theory (what should we call it, maybe “Did homo sapiens experience a spiritual awakening?”) on the “How do theistic evolutionists view the Fall of man?” Forum, copying you and Christy.

I think it is important to try to determine, as far as possible (which can be somewhat problematic when scientists have not come to a consensus on the timing of certain things), when this ‘spiritual awakening’ most likely would have happened. Here are some questions/ideas:

  1. Do you believe that the appearance of spirituality and the behaviors that resulted has a biological explanation? While I think some things had to occur first (including some of the foundations of language), I also think that if something spiritual happened it very well might not show up in biology, just like there isn’t proof for God behind creation. On the other hand, it could be certain aspects of results of the spiritually initiated changes could then be supported by biological changes that ultimately pass on via DNA.
  2. Like you, the idea of the spiritual awakening (or ‘reprograming of the brain into a mind’ in your wording) happening before (possibly just before) the appearance of the Great Leap Forward in Eurasia 40,000 to 50,000 years ago was appealing. However, maybe we were wrong about that to account for its start in Africa. See the next point.
  3. I am finding that there is some strong evidence that that during the “Sangamonian” ice age (75,000 to 125,000 years ago), a lot of humankind died out, but a group of about 600 survived at Mossel Bay at the bottom of South Africa, where the weather was milder, plants were hardier, and there was access to seafood which helps brain growth. This area is also where Blombos, Pinnacle Point, and other sites showing technological advances are located. There is DNA evidence that all current modern humankind came from there. Some of the individuals spread into central Africa starting about 100,000 years ago, and there is evidence that much of ‘behaviorally modern’ behavior appeared consistently (likely in Mossel Bay) about 75,000 years ago. The consistency after that varied in the groups that travelled out of that area, until it reappeared more consistently in the Eurasian Great Leap Forward.
  4. There is isolated evidence of some symbolic thinking well before 75,000 years ago. However, it seems that a certain amount of symbolic thinking development would need to happen for homo s. sapiens to be able to relate to a connection with God and then effectively spread it to others. (It’s interesting that the Genesis account has Adam naming the animals. I read that naming is a key step in language development. So symbolically, is this a suggestion that the God encounter was involved in language development?)
  5. Did the “spiritual awakening” happen before or after the migration ‘out of Africa?’ I strongly lean to before, since it is hard to conceive of it being spread extensively to individuals on different continents. Multiple appearances provide many complications. Occam’s Razor principal would suggest the simpler theory.
  6. When did the ‘out of Africa’ migration happen? Wikipedia gives a range of 70,000 to 130,000 years ago. There is also talk of multiple migrations and the possibility that the first migration was not successful. It seems that early migrations may not have included homo s. sapiens and certainly not behaviorally modern homo sapiens.
  7. Am I missing something?

I think it is important to recognize this ‘spiritual awakening’ theory is just a theory, but it is one plausible way to bridge the gap between faith and science. There are other ways that rely more on allegory/symbolism, but they bring up a lot of questions about sin, the soul, the need for atonement, etc.



Very well articulated and insightful advice. I will keep it in mind. Can I ask what type of situation do you relate to other Christians?

I work for a pretty big Evangelical missions organization that focuses on Scripture translation projects in minority language communities, though we are secunded to a closely aligned but non-sectarian NGO for visa purposes, We are supposed to call ourselves “linguists” or “development workers” not “missionaries,” and we cannot be directly involved in evangelism, church planting, or other activities that are considered proselytizing. I try not to name the organizations on this forum out of respect for the fact that a pretty good percentage of their donor base would have a problem with everything BioLogos stands for, and I would hate for anyone to think worse of them because of something I said.

Our ex-pat friends in the country we where work in include denominational missionaries like IMB (SBC), Mennonites, Mission to the World (PCA), as well as missionaries with other inter-denominational missions groups. Where we live most of the time, the only other Americans are also with our organization, as it is very remote and in the middle of a drug war zone. We work as consultants on a translation project being carried out by an indigenous denomination that is EvFree/Baptist-ish. We also work more peripherally with Independent Fundamentalist Baptists and Pentecostals, who are very conservative, Roman Catholics, and a cult called Jesus Only. Our sending church is Converge/Baptist General Conference, and most of our support comes from that congregation, and that’s who we hang out with when we are back in the States.

Additionally, most of my English language social life consists of relating to other homeschooling women who use the same (Christian) curriculum on an online forum. (I’ve been forced to spend more time here, since that forum is pretty dead due to summer break :sunglasses:) Evolution/Creation comes up all the time, since I think many of these women avoid thinking about it until they are faced with the task of teaching their kids science, and then the militant young-earth perspective of almost all the available Christian homeschool resources kind of pushes people who are on the fence to do some research and consider the options.

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@DougK Good points for discussion:
(1) Yes, I believe that evolution, in spite of operating partly by ‘chance’, moved in the direction that led to ‘spiritual awakening’. The Broca area of the brain seems to provide the foundation for grammar, and the descent of the larynx the means of speaking a language. But the Great Leap Forward requires the operation of a faster means of behavior transmission than sexual passing of DNA; i.e. it must be epi- genetic. This fits the Teilhardian idea that the Noosphere is going to be more important in humanity’s future than the Biosphere.
(2)-(6) The time frame for the GLF needs much more archeological evidence to be solidified. The work at Blombos suggests that there may have been a ‘running start’ to the leap. (Although GLF is an oversimplification, it still may be a useful term for discussion.) And the species Homo may have made more than one ‘excursion’ Out of Africa, as noted by Tattersall in Ch. 7 ('Masters of the Planet"): ‘Out of Africa and Back’.

To me, the most important reason for wanting the clearest picture of human origins is to answer this question: "Did God create humans in a state of moral rectitude and for an idyllic life? Or did He see the potential of the species, Homo, to act freely and bring to Earth elements of love and compassion that evolution was unlikely to develop? So far the scientific evidence seems to point to the latter. If true, it would seem to require a somewhat different interpretation of ‘salvation’ and ‘atonement’ than presented by current Christian theology.
Al Leo