Why the Church Needs Multiple Theories of Original Sin (Part 2) | The BioLogos Forum


(system) #1

When I write about difficult topics, I prefer to be wordy. For the sake of accuracy, I like to add lots of qualifiers and caveats to nearly every sentence I write. In my earlier essay, “Why the Church Needs Multiple Theories of Original Sin,” I had to be brief. So I’m grateful when scholars like James K.A. Smith respond to my work and add many of those important qualifiers and caveats – often better than I would have written myself. I agree with most of what he wrote.

Because scripture gives us multiple metaphors for sin, the church has embraced multiple pictures for what sin is and damage caused by sin. Because scripture gives us multiple images for Christ’s saving work, the church has developed multiple theories of atonement. But as Smith correctly notes, this is not the situation with the question, “How and when did sin enter the world?” It is our scientific study of God’s creation which is prompting us today to consider multiple competing answers to that question. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s a different thing. Nevertheless, although science is prompting us to consider multiple theories, these theories take time to evaluate carefully precisely because scripture gives us so many metaphors for sin and the damage caused by sin.

Sin is multifaceted. St. Augustine’s version of the doctrine of original sin touches many different facets. Augustine assumed a fairly literal-historical reading of Genesis 2-3 in which all humans were descended from a single pair of individuals. This allowed him to develop a version of the doctrine of original sin in which many different facets of sin all focus in a very particular time, and a particular place, when the historically first sins were committed. In Augustine’s version, all of our first ancestors were endowed with creaturely abilities (conscience, reason, empathy, etc.) to understand God’s moral law, and all were given a special revelation of a particular command to obey, and all were given divine gifts which enabled sinless obedience, all at about the same time. The entire population of our first ancestors disobeyed God at about the same time. Their relationship with God was damaged, and their supernatural gifts were lost, and their moral character was damaged, and they began to hide from God and shift blame, all at about the same time. For the entire population alive at that time, their relationship with each other was damaged, and their relationship to the rest of creation was damaged, and their natures were changed so that they were no longer able to not sin, and their natures were changed so that their inclination to sin would be passed on to all other human beings, and their status was changed so that the guilt of sin would be passed on to all other human beings, all at about the same time.

Science is now showing us that the human ancestral population probably was never smaller than a few thousand individuals who were spread over a large geographical area. This makes it much more difficult, perhaps impossible, to focus all of those facets of sin into a single time and place as Augustine did. In my earlier essay, I briefly described three general types of scenarios which are now being proposed for the entrance of sin into the world: Adam and Eve as recent representatives, as ancient representative-ancestors, and as literary figures telling a symbolic compressed history of many of our ancestors over a long period of time. Each of these scenarios addresses all of those facets of sin, but addresses them in different ways. For example, each scenario offers somewhat different answers to questions like, “How intellectually and socially advanced were the first humans who sinned?” and “How did the effects of sin spread from the first sinners to the rest of humanity?”

So one reason why the church today needs multiple theories of how sin entered the world is so that we can work carefully through their implications. For each theory, we must consider how the answers they suggest mesh with what scripture teaches about the many facets of sin. 1

I suspect Smith agrees with this. Near the end of his blog he wrote, “While we might have multiple accounts of ‘how human nature was damaged by sin and how sin is passed from generation to generation,’ those are still distinct from the question regarding the origin of sin. There may be room for multiple scenarios about how sin originates in time, but given that the goodness of God is at stake, there is not room for multiple theories about whether sin originates in time.”

Smith’s final point, “… there is not room for multiple theories about whether sin originates in time,” is another important caveat on my earlier blog. It’s worth exploring in greater depth. There is one sense in which “sin originating in time” is trivial. In any theory of human origins which includes human sin, there is a time in creation prior to human sin (because there is a time in creation prior to human existence), and there is a subsequent time after which all humans are sinners and no one is capable of not sinning. There is nothing profound there. So what really is at stake in saying that “sin originates in time”? Well, some scholars have proposed theories about original sin which could be summarized by saying, “God’s use of evolutionary processes to create humanity simply means that God created a sinful humanity in need of salvation. Human individuals might choose to commit or not commit particular sins, but human choice had nothing to do with humanity’s sinful condition. That was simply God’s doing.” Like Smith, I have serious theological reservations about theories of that sort. What is at stake, in theories like that, is the goodness of God.

It is precisely this theological concern – for the goodness of God – that motivates some Christians to favor competing theories about how and when sin entered the world. Some Christians favor symbolic scenarios in part because they worry that in representative scenarios, it seems like the sins of some individuals would affect the spiritual status of others who were not their descendants. Other Christians favor representative scenarios in part because they worry that in symbolic scenarios, humanity’s sinfulness seems too inevitable. In both cases, they are asking the right question. “How is this theory of how sin entered the world in harmony with, or in dissonance with, what scripture teaches about the goodness of God?” The theological stakes are important and the questions are challenging. That is why the church, for now, needs to be examining multiple theories. As I said in my previous essay, this work can be productive and beneficial for the church. Ultimately, it should increase our understanding and appreciation for the immensity of God’s rescue in Jesus Christ.

Notes

1. For a lengthier comparison of these different scenarios, you can listen a lecture, read a blog by Denis Alexander, or read the book Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? By Denis Alexander (Oxford: Monarch Books, 2014).


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blog/why-the-church-needs-multiple-theories-of-original-sin-part-2

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #3

Loren,

Wait one minute. If our discussion is based on the understanding that humanity was created through evolution, then the question must first be: Was humanity created through Logos based evolution as John wrote in the Gospel, or by conflict based evolution as Darwin and modern science says?

If we go with modern science then humanity was created as the result of conflict or sin, so our understanding of original sin is made simple. Natural humans were created sinful. Many Christian evolutionists take this position, even though you and I believe that it is theologically incorrect.

Thus if we are to go with the Biblical view that humanity was created with the rest of the universe as good, we need to have a reasonable theory of how God the Father created through the Son (Logos) using evolution to make humans in God’s own Image. Then we can discuss the process and impact of Original Sin.


(John T Mullen) #5

It can be theologically correct if we may add that God knows what each of us, as individuals, would have done in every possible set of circumstances, including ideal circumstances (like the circumstances described in Genesis 2 and 3). Knowing this, God is free to bring us into existence without having to carry out an actual test in ideal circumstances, and watching us all fail it. So God’s justice can be preserved this way, and we sinners are still without excuse. This does require us to read the declaration that the creation is good as having the end in view from the beginning. That is theologically acceptable to me, though it is yet another controversial topic. But I think we are going to have to do something like that if we are to make sense of an evolutionary creation that has a lot of “bad things” in it from the beginning.

This is, as Loren points out, just one of many ways of thinking about original sin in an evolutionary framework. But it works, and Christians who are having trouble with evolution are quite likely to agree that God has this sort of knowledge. [And please note that this view does not preclude an historical fall, it just doesn’t require one.]


(David Hume (nom de plume)) #6

As a scientist and sceptic, I find it hard to judge the arguments here. Perhaps someone can help me.

Prof Smith says that there must be a point in time at which “sin” originated. Prof Haarsma asserts that this is a trivial claim that Smith is making. But that depends on what Smith means by “sin.” I don’t think the discussion makes much sense until one or both of the professors explains what is meant by “sin.” One need not be a “theologian” to know that a major thrust of Western Christianity involves the insistence that human “sin” exerted immense destructive force in the world. How one can picture this without committing oneself to a rather specific historical assertion – one that seems readily verifiable/falsifiable – is far from clear to me.

Cynically speaking: if Smith seeks to commit his religion and his god to a historical narrative of immense natural impact, I would support him, simply because it would put that religion and that god into just the kind of “conflict” that we all know they can’t win. But actually: I root for Biologos because I don’t want to watch Christianity lose that war. I think Christian beliefs are largely rubbish, but I’m fond enough of church buildings and ancient wisdom to wish for Christian religion to live long and prosper.


(GJDS) #7

I am somewhat bemused by these type of comments – for the simple fact that atheists begin with an obvious position, there is no God (and yet speak of gods when it suits), and then criticise a belief in God. Obviously if you believe there is no God, you would find belief in such a God a contradiction (and I suggest it is silly to argue against something you do not believe in). I agree that any institution or nation that has produced aesthetically pleasing objects would be appreciated by those who enjoy such objects – I am sure that many atheists have created aesthetically pleasing objects and other impressive things, and we all appreciate their endeavours.

The real puzzle that I discern in these discussions is the need displayed for a plasticity when considering the Christian Faith – it is obvious that many would prefer to keep a “Christian” posture (for reasons that escape me) and willingly, and gladly, modify, and perhaps even invent various theologically sounding views. Yet such inventions cut the ground from under them; this is not a war that anyone wins or loses - it is both illogical and absurd, to argue on any other grounds than belief in God and as a Christian, that Jesus Christ is our Saviour. Anti-theists and atheists have argued against the Faith for many centuries, and I am certain they will continue to declare that God is dead (for the nth time) – a God that does not exist for them, yet again dies? I suggest this is absurd on many levels.

On the question of sin, it is that which has cut us, or removed us, from communion with God – the theology of this has been expounded in great detail and depth for many centuries. Surely any critic and/or sceptic would start by becoming acquainted with these teachings and then offer informed comments, criticism and rebuttals that would display a reasonable understanding of the theology. Instead we have the absurd position that equates any understanding of sin and redemption with Darwinism, or some version of evolution. I cannot even imagine how people can make such a leap!


(GJDS) #8

@John_T_Mullen

Hi John T Mullen,

The question still revolves about the origin (or the source) of sin; from this we may discuss the attributes of human beings as described for Adam and Eve, and continue to understanding what may happen when free choice is exercised by any and every human being, contrary to God’s commandments. It is puzzling that discussions go in the direction of God’s attributes when discussing sin and evil deeds - the discussion instead should deal with the attributes of humans who cannot commune with God, and also the wrong choices we make even though we may have an awareness of God and His goodness.

In short, understanding the creation as material that undergoes changes and variations cannot get us to an understanding of our nature and capacity for good and evil. It is our freedom that is at stake, not if “God is free to …”, nor to “preserve God’s justice…”. These statements can only be relevant if we suspect God is unjust and other such non-sense - such statements bring us to question the grounds of our Faith; instead we should ask the question, “Is humanity prone to be unjust and commit evil acts, or do theists decide that God should be judged by human beings for human acts?”


(John T Mullen) #9

GJDS,

We can, and should, ask whatever questions occur to us and that we think are important. It would be nice if we could just decide not to think about questions that seem important, but we can only put them off for so long. They will inevitably return in full force. And some very natural and reasonable questions about original sin and evolution inevitably lead to questions about God’s knowledge and justice. They always have, and I’m not fully understanding the attempt to avoid them. How is it just to be brought into existence in a sinful condition that brings us pain and misery? Did God know this would happen? If He did, why didn’t he prevent it (and so this is a particularly acute instance of the problem of evil). The traditional answers to these questions have always had their own problems, but they are now being challenged in a new way by what we know of evolutionary biology. (There is also great promise in the notion that our evolutionary inheritance seems to contain something that matches original sin very closely.) You read my attempt at an answer in the prior post, but I’m not saying there is only one good answer, and you may have a good answer yourself. That would be great! But the questions have always been reasonable, and we will always have to ask them. We can also ask important questions about the origin and source of sin, but those questions will be intimately related to the questions about God’s knowledge and justice, and I’m not seeing why you want to cast off the latter because they might lead us to question the grounds of our faith. Others have already questioned those grounds for us (Dawkins, et al) and their challenges require a response, just as the problem of evil has always required a response. In fact, that’s why BioLogos exists. It is quite natural and reasonable to ask such questions.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #10

@Humeandroid

David,

I agree with you about the churches and ancient wisdom. While the churches are things, they represent Hope for people who live in a very troubled world. My denomination is historically African American who have endured unspeakable suffering of slavery and white oppression over the years, but have survived largely through the Hope of the church. Hope and ancient wisdom are important and it would be a crime if it were false rubbish as you say.

Now the issue here is the nature of sin and the nature of human morality. You are right in saying that we must first indicate what we mean by sin. Theologically sin is “intentionally doing wrong.” When we look at sin from this point of view we know that there was no sin before human beings came into existence, even though there was much pain and suffering, because physical and organic nature, except for humanity, cannot think and thus cannot intentionally do what is wrong.

The Bible says that there was a time when humans decided that God was trying to keep them under His control by giving them one rule to live by so they intentionally broke this rule to assert their independence from God. Furthermore they refused to accept responsibility for their action and thus remained under the domain of sin. Thus people chose to rebel against God and rationalized their rebellion and fell into sin.

The alternative seems to be that at no time did people did not choose to sin, but were born sinful. The comfortable thing about this is that without choice, there is not responsibility. The problem with that is without responsibility one cannot change.

I do not know what you think, Christians believe that people must take responsibility for their lives, including the evil in their lives, in order to be saved from the evil that they have done. Christians believe that humans cannot change by just wanting to change, because our wills have been corrupted by sin, so we must depend a Being beyond ourselves, Who designed and created us and Who showed us what living and loving is really about. Therefore we must commit ourselves unreservedly by faith to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Who accepts us as we are and gives us new life, love, and purpose to do right and be right in God’s Spirit.

Karl Marx had his “Adam and Eve” theory, which said that evil entered the world when humans began the division of labor, which brought strife and conflict into human society. In high school we read a book called Before Philosophy where the author said that conflict in human society began when people began to think critically and question authority. In other words “Adam and Eve” thinking is not limited to the Judeo-Christian point of view with good reason.

Sin not probably begin with the origin of homo sapiens as a physical species, but as a thinking species, which more than likely came later. Sin is intentional, so sin is based on thinking people. Homo sapiens can think as we think, but at first did not do so or only a few persons did so. People must learn to think, which the primary reason why we need a good education. When people generally began to think intentionally they invented sin and evil which were institutionalized into their mores and thinking.

If humans are evil by nature, it is very difficult to see how they can become good. Again this might be comforting to some, who think they can wash their hands of both being good and trying influence others to be good, but it does not bode well for those of us who see humanity moving toward chaos of sin as everyone “does his/her own thing” regardless of the consequences.


(GJDS) #11

Hi John T Mullen,

I cannot disagree with you on asking questions, nor am I trying to avoid the question of evil in the world. Your approach is one that values reason and on this we are on the same page. My point has more to do with what has been discussed for centuries, especially the attributes of God, how we as human beings can know things of God, and the notion that Christ died for those very sins that we as human beings commit – and the accompanying tenets of the Faith. So to try and make myself clear, I ask, are the questions you suggest aimed at these tenets of the Christian faith, or are you asking if we should examine a new theology that is based on evolution? Or is your approach to perhaps start with the Orthodox doctrines, and see where the addition of evolution may take us? For example, the origin of sin is indicated by Genesis through the story of a speaking snake, and subsequent Biblical and Church teachings show that Satan is the tempter, and human beings are susceptible to his power. Now for the sake of this discussion, are you suggesting an alternative teaching of the origin of sin? Or are you questioning the teachings first, and coming to some conclusion that may lead you to other outlooks that would include your understanding of evolution? I want to avoid a lengthy exchange as my aim is to obtain some clarity on at least the question of the origin of sin. Perhaps once we come to that point, we may continue to discuss what we think God may have known and if such knowledge makes God culpable for our actions.


(Jon Garvey) #12

Stop me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the sin described in Genesis 3 a matter purely of questioning God’s knowledge and justice? Adam and Eve, refusing the command to receive wisdom only from God, sought to take it for themselves after becoming deceived into disbelieving that God’s command was just and right.

Romans 1 describes the progression from that sidelining of God as God, through idolatry, to all the “evils” which are the end result of a lack of faith. Paul even describes them as the results of God’s reprobation.

Item #1 - I see no parallel whatsoever, in evolution, to sin as the usurpation of God’s Lordship. Biology then, if it should pretend to explain sin, is not explaining the same thing as Genesis is.

Item #2: A sinner is someone who justifies his own wisdom and actions against God’s. A Christian is someone who has come to justify God, his wisdom and actions against himself, through repentance (Luke 7.29 speaks to that directly). As such, I find it odd that so many Christians (who, unless they are purely “cultural Christians”, will be living in repentance before God) appear to be having second thoughts about the actions of God in the world, and seeking to recast their theology to be more in keeping with human views.

There may be a case for apologetics to win over those who, like Richard Dawkins, have never put their trust in God but only in their own wisdom. Though it is significant how little interest the inspired Scripture seems to have in theodicy, and as a former poster here rightly said, “classical theism needs theodicy like a fish needs a bicycle.”

But for the faith to be reformulated in order to assuage the grumblings of the faithful appears to be something of a contradiction. Not to mention a paradigmatic case of “Did God really say…?”


(Albert Leo) #13

Hi Roger
With the statement: "Sin (did) not probably begin with the origin of homo sapiens as a physical species, but as a thinking species, which more than likely came later" you put the spotlight squarely on the facts that must be acknowledged before there can be any real progress in the discussion of what is the nature of sin and when did it appear on this earth. The best archeological evidence (see works by Tattersall and Morris) heavily favors the “Great Leap Forward” made by our Homo sapien ancestors, who for 100,000 yrs. did NOT “think as we think”. They had the same lifestyle as their Neantherthal cousins and then suddenly displayed sophisticated artistry and stirrings of a religious belief in an afterlife. Somehow the brains of just a few (perhaps just a couple) were ‘programmed’ to operate as Mind, inventing a language that could pass on the ‘programming’ to their fellow Homo sapiens. This introduced the concept of 'conscience’ into the world–the ability to act against the urgings of the ‘selfish genes’ that played a part in humanity’s evolutionary development. Prior to the Great Leap Forward, acting on instinct could not be considered as Sin. The gift of Mind that made moral choices possible, introduced sin into this world.
The Great Leap Forward gave humanity the opportunity to become God’s Image Bearers. Our news media gives us daily proof of how far we need to go, even with the guidance of God’s Son, to attain that goal.
Al Leo


(John T Mullen) #14

Hi GJDS,

Ok, fair enough. These questions that I (and countless others) ask are aimed generally at defending the tenets of the Faith against charges that they are contradictory, or that they contradict what we know to be true from reason and experience. And what we know to be true from reason and experience has expanded recently as a result of evolutionary biology. So, the more specific aim is to preserve the tenets of the Faith from the charge that they contradict what we know about evolutionary biology. I am assuming that it would be a very bad thing if an essential tenet really did contradict something we now know about evolutionary biology. So there is a program of “negative apologetics” at work here. But we have to distinguish the essential tenets from the tenets we would be willing to revise in the light of new information. And even among the latter there will be degrees of willingness to revise, which will vary from church to church, and from individual to individual.

This will go best, I think, if I just take your questions one at a time.

“Are the questions you suggest aimed at these tenets of the Christian faith, or are you asking if we should examine a new theology that is based on evolution? Or is your approach to perhaps start with the Orthodox doctrines, and see where the addition of evolution may take us?” The latter. I am starting with the tenets that have been believed by Christians for centuries, but recently have been perceived (rightly or wrongly) to be threatened in some way by evolution. So evolution enters the picture only if some long-standing tenet is perceived to be threatened. I have no interest in developing a “new theology based on evolution” if that means that we should simply ignore Scripture and the teachings of the apostles.

“The origin of sin is indicated by Genesis through the story of a speaking snake, and subsequent Biblical and Church teachings show that Satan is the tempter, and human beings are susceptible to his power. Now for the sake of this discussion, are you suggesting an alternative teaching of the origin of sin? Or are you questioning the teachings first, and coming to some conclusion that may lead you to other outlooks that would include your understanding of evolution?” The former. I am suggesting an alternative teaching of the origin of sin because the story of the speaking snake (taken as a literal historical account of a moment in time when sin entered the world) has been threatened by evolutionary biology. I don’t think the status of Satan as a tempter, or of human susceptibility to his power, are threatened at all by evolutionary biology, and any alternative teaching of the origin of sin should not affect them (if it does, that’s a problem for the proposed alternative). I should add that, long before anyone had heard of evolutionary biology, there were Christians who did not take the story of the speaking snake as a literal historical account of a moment in time when sin entered the world. They came to that view on the grounds of biblical interpretation alone. So this is a very good candidate for being a tenet that is revise-able in the light of new information.

A few closing comments:

I do think it is very important to preserve the tenets that we are born into this world in a sinful condition, and that neither the actual sins that proceed from this condition nor the condition itself are any reason to excuse ourselves or to blame God for them. Those are very important, and I think my alternative preserves them adequately. And other alternatives also preserve them adequately. My alternative has one advantage: it allows us to view evolutionary biology as evidential support for the long-standing Christian tenet that there is something in our very natures that leads us to sin, i.e., that we have sin “built in” to us in some way. I think that is helpful. I hope this response was also helpful.


(GJDS) #15

Hi John T Mullen,

I think we have achieved some clarity; you say, “that we have sin “built in” to us in some way”. Yet the accepted tenet of orthodox Christianity (and I assume this is found in much of the Evangelical movement), is that Adam and Eve were created as perfect human beings who were placed in a perfect setting or habitat. As perfect human beings, I do not mean as equivalent to God, but created good by God as human beings, and placed in a good (without sin) garden. We may add or detract from this by claiming all sorts of things about pre-human creatures as proposed by evolutionists, but such things are not theological statements, nor do they provide scientifically verified data – this is not due to a conspiracy on anyone’s part, but the impossibility of testing such things as pre-humans thought this or that. Yet the basis for both biological motivated belief, and for another version of the fall, seems to be that the genetic make-up was hardwired into humanity to sin and chose evil over good. Here I suggest we are faced with more than a mere dilemma regarding biological based thinking and the Bible. The very nature of mankind is at stake. From this we can understand the theological implications regarding the nature of Christ and why even though he took on the nature of man, He was without sin. This removes the ground for much of what masquerades as theodicy nowadays.


(David Hume (nom de plume)) #16

The discussion here seems to be focused on a concept of “sin” that encompasses human transgression, evil, failure, etc. I am fairly confident that explaining this kind of “sin,” and placing it into history somehow, are tasks that Prof Haarsma would call “trivial.” And he would be right: using a framework like Roger’s or Albert’s or any of various other alternatives, one can simply claim that this kind of “sin” has its origins sometime after the dawn of human consciousness. One could speculate that God somehow expressed his “will” to humans (all of them, or some of them, it only matters in some frameworks) and that they then “fell” by disobeying, resulting in the fractured relationship that is commonly mentioned here and in most other conversations on this subject. If all you need to preserve is a story about the origin of “sin,” and that’s what you mean by “sin,” then the problem is easily solved.

More to the point, the solution to such a problem can come in the form of a story, albeit a speculative one, that can escape scrutiny by science. It’s a story that can’t be falsified, a story that doesn’t (or at least needn’t) contradict any fact of human history or evolution or genetics or anthropology.

But is that what is going on here? Are the professors engaging in this public discussion solely to ensure that some kind of human “turning away” is retained in Christian historical narratives? I doubt this, because I am familiar enough with Christian history and doctrine to know that the story called “The Fall” is usually about much more than humans becoming selfish prats. It’s about humans becoming selfish prats, and taking the rest of creation with them. This is what I was asking about in my earlier comment in the thread.

If the question is whether Christians can tell a story of “The Fall” that simply portrays a god who somehow speaks to some humans, tells them to do X, then watches as they do NOT X, resulting in their needing a “saviour,” then the answer is: yes, that’s easy. It’s trivial, to use Prof Haarsma’s term.

I doubt that is the “Fall” that the defenders of orthodoxy have in mind.


(Jon Garvey) #17

Humeandroid

That’s quite simple then. The Bible does not teach, and the Church for the first 1500 years of Christianity, did not believe that the Fall “took out the rest of creation,” except in the spiritual sense of making it no longer good in toto and in the practical sense of polluting it, abusing it, etc. They believed that it remained, in God’s terms. “good”, including the presence of animal death, carnivores and all the other wildness which they understood better than we do, since they experienced it more. That was one area where they differed radically from the pagans, who saw the world as a realm of largely inimical and unintelligible forces.

You can read about it in pretty well all the early theologians and Christian historians up to, and including (though only partly, sadly), Calvin.

The idea that creation itself fell because of sin developed slowly after the Reformation, for reasons I’ve documented elsewhere; and because most came to believe that it had happened that way, despite the lack of any biblical evidence, (notable exceptions being, for example, Charles Kingsley), it posed a problem when the study of deep time showed the creation to be of the same character as it is now, before man.

Therefore rather than return to the original Christian teaching that creation is still largely as God planned it, though not as he had intended it to become finally, they held on to the idea that it was fallen, blamed evolution rather than man or Satan, and then got entangled in endless theodical speculation and rewriting of doctrine to make God the Creator but not, in some convoluted way, the Creator of an autonomous evolution. So here we are today.

For anyone to call the historical origin of human sin “trivial” has missed, I think, the nature of Creation, and the importance of mankind in it. We do not have to hold God to account, but we do have to give account to him.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #18

@Jon_Garvey wrote:

The idea that creation itself fell because of sin developed slowly after the Reformation, for reasons I’ve documented elsewhere

Thank you for the information. This explains to me why so many conservative Christians fail to see that the Logos of John 1 contradicts the idea of “natural evil” that seems in large part have motivated Darwin. They are buying into the same bad theology that influenced him.

It reinforces the view that the problem of Darwinism is or should be a theological problem of how God works through change to shape God’s Creation. God uses the Logos and not struggle and conflict. The world is good and humans are created to be good, but somehow we have gotten off the right path. How and why is the theological question, which the Fall addresses and we must address also. Of course this issue is far from trivial.

We do not need to justify God, but it is important to correctly understand Who God is and how God works. Also we cannot properly understand who we are until we understand how we came into being.


(Jon Garvey) #19

Hi Roger

Of course, “conflict” in broad terms need not be excluded from nature, in the sense that clearly stags fight for mates, elephants fight with lions to avoid getting eaten, etc, as is evident to all. But as, for example, Augustine saw there are many ways to view this as part and parcel of God’s good and harmonious creation: he saw predation as the giving way of a lesser nature to a greater, but that’s just one example with a Hellenistic philosophical flavour.

What a Malthusian naturalist might see as over-production of offspring and a vicious struggle against others to survive could equally be seen as nature’s prodigality in producing provision for the predator, whilst maintaining the population of healthy herbivores, whilst preserving the plant ecology from over-grazing, whilst ensuring sufficient parasitism to limit the predators… and so on.

The Church Fathers and Mediaevals didn’t study ecology, but they had a sound philosophical view of nature as a household (oikonomos) maintaining the Good of all according to God’s wise providence.

I agree that theistic evolution must, if anything at all, be about God’s shaping of creation, whatever the mechanisms. That’s so in spades if one dares to call it “evolutionary creation”, for what produces anything other than God’s order is not “creation” at all (as John Walton’s work on the word demonstrates amply). To speak of an even partly autonomous creation as an agent of creation (especially if that “autonomous” bit gets to carry the can for “natural evil” or “the evolution of sin”) is like calling a hijack a scheduled passenger flight.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #20

Jon,

I agree with Augustine that predation is not evil. However predation, despite its use by Dawkins as a prime example is not an example of Darwinian Natural Selection. Natural Selection is about conflict with other members of the same species, not about conflict with other species. Predation is part of the chain of life, where living things provide food for other living things as part of God’s economy. Conflict over leadership is again not really Darwinian conflict for resources, and not universal.

We must accept the fact that Darwin rejected the idea that God created by evolution, because he thought that evolution was generated by the war of nature, not by the love of the Savior. We must demonstrate that he was wrong if we are to accept evolution as the work of God.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #21

@aleo

Thank you, Al, for your support and agreement and for fixing my grammar.

I think that we need to also note that Jesus made the point that just obedience is needed to overcome sin and salvation. Obedience without love of and faith in God does not result in salvation, as the Rich Young Ruler discovered.


(John T Mullen) #22

Hi Jon,

Well, I don’t know if this will “stop you” or not, but I will have to disagree with a lot of what you say here. The object though, is not to “stop” anything. It is simply to prompt Christians to think hard about what does or does not need to be revised in the light of evolutionary biology. I’m more accustomed to talking to people who tell me that I’m too conservative and that I’m not revising enough. You (and GJDS) tell me I’m revising too much. Ok, well I’ll have a go at a response, but please bear in mind that I’m used to “arguing” the other way. And if it should turn out that I’m wrong, so that less revision is needed than I now think is needed, then I can say I would be fine with that. In fact, I would even be fine with YEC if I thought it could be rationally maintained (which it can’t).

Regarding Item #1: I think there is a strong parallel where you see no parallel. Evolutionary biology presents us with a view of humanity that includes strong inherited behavioral tendencies toward self-exaltation at the expense of others. Natural selection can provide a satisfying explanation for this. The fact that we also seem to have inherited behavioral tendencies toward “altruistic” (i.e., co-operative, sacrificial-but-group-enhancing) behavior is very interesting, but beside the point. We all feel the pressure to advance our own causes even if others are harmed. In creatures with no moral or spiritual sense, this is unproblematic (though the suffering of sentient creatures is a different sort of problem), but we humans have (by God’s design, I take it) developed both a moral sense and a spiritual sense. [I’m leaving open the question of how that happens. By a “spriritual sense” I mean at least a vague awareness of God and that God desires moral behavior, but again a lot of important questions are being left open.] But once we have that moral and spiritual sense, we immediately sense that some of our strongest behavioral tendencies are immoral, and that God disapproves of them, and that acting on them anyway constitutes rebellion against God’s desires for us, and that when we do act on them anyway we sin (where “sin” is not just immorality, but also includes the notion of a break in an individual’s relationship with God.) We also notice that it is very hard (impossible, in some sense?) to refrain from acting on those sinful tendencies on all occasions, because that seems to require a constant attention to our personal freedom that is beyond our capacities. This is a very bad condition. It looks a lot like what Scripture says our condition is, and exhorts us to cast off by faith (not by works, but it is now very easy to see how impossible that is). It contains a “usurpation of God’s lordship,” a “sidelining of God as God,” a “refusal to receive wisdom only from God,” and a “questioning of God’s knowledge and justice.” In short, in contains the things you said it does not contain. The parallels are very strong. I think all Christians can acknowledge those very strong parallels, even if there are still many nuanced objections to be made.

Regarding Item #2: The definition of a sinner and a Christian that you give seem good to me. The need for repentance and faith that you (quite correctly) stress is not compromised by the alternative that I had suggested in my original post. I would regard it as a very bad consequence of my view if it somehow required a compromise of the need for repentance and faith (in Christ!). So bad that if you could convince me that it does require such a compromise, I would abandon it! But I really can’t see where it requires that, and I don’t think the other alternatives that Loren catalogued require that either. So whatever “recasting of theology” is going on here, it does not require those things. But did you mean to suggest that evolutionary biology requires no revisions at all to the view that sin entered the world at a particular time and place as the causal result of a single, particular act of disobedience? If so, then I think that you are not taking sufficient account of the consequences of evolutionary biology. When the “human views” contain rationally compelling evidence, then responses, and possibly revisions, are required of Christians. Sometimes “human views” can help us understand Scripture better, though I do see the opposite danger as well.

And it’s simply false that “classical theism needs theodicy like a fish needs a bicycle.” Christians cannot avoid the problem of evil, and any thoughtful response to it will include some explanation (however vague) for why God is just in spite of the great amount of visible evil in the world. And that’s a theodicy. I dare say you have one yourself. But we can leave it open what the best explanation is.

One more thing: “Did God really say…?” is supposed to be an exhortation to thoughtful and careful interpretation. But of course it can be used as a reflexive charge against anyone who is suggesting that God didn’t intend to teach what others are (rashly?) assuming He did intend to teach. And when it is used that way it is corrupted. So let’s not use it that way. The “grumblings of the faithful” require a response in this case, because evolutionary biology does in fact present challenges to some long-standing interpretations of Scripture. That’s why there is such a fuss about this.