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Tuesday, 30 December 2008

A New Year, A Break, and some (Final?) Thoughts

As the old year draws to a close, I would like to wish all my readers a Happy New Year. I realize that, for many of you, this particular New Year could be particularly challenging, but my hope is that God will bless you despite these challenges, during these challenges, and possibly even via these challenges.

A Break and Possibly the End
I am also announcing that I’ll be taking an extended break from blogging – probably for at least three months. The last 4 months have been the busiest of my career (with no relief in sight), and it is difficult to justify any more time in front of the computer. I realize that these “breaks” have a nasty habit of becoming permanent, and frankly there is a good chance that will happen here as well.

When I started this blog I wanted to 1) share my perspective on the interaction of biological evolution and an evangelical expression of the Christian faith, and 2) to learn from others who shared an interest in this interaction. Looking back, I feel I’ve more-or-less accomplished those objectives – maybe more of the latter than the former; for that I am very thankful to many of you who have helped me on my journey. As to the first objective, well, most of that (l-o-o-o-ng) essay I wrote in 2006 and early 2007 has been published on this blog in some form, and the rest is better off in the electronic recycling bin (heck, not even I agree with some of what I wrote in that essay!).

More to Say, but Must it be Said?
I do have more to say (although, to be honest, maybe not a whole lot that is new). First, I acknowledge that I have not yet delved deeply into the discussion of randomness and its implications for God’s sovereignty. Ie. How can God bring about his purposes when some events are “outside of his direct control”? This is a good question, but probably one that is more salient for Christian historians than Christian biologists. For example, how exactly, given human free-will, could God ensure that the incarnation, life, and death of Christ worked out the way it did? Our choices seem to be a) total divine micro-management & illusionary human free-will (including the dark implications thereof) or b) a God who is able to accomplish all his purposes despite allowing active intelligent agents free reign in opposing these purposes.

In this choice, I’ll take the latter - yes, mostly on faith. But isn’t this what God’s people have been doing for millennia? If this answer causes so little cognitive dissonance for us, what is the big deal with randomness and biological evolution? There seems to be multiple fruitful approaches to the biological conundrum (David Bartholomew’s “God, Chance, and Purpose” has a good discussion on this) – it certainly seems to be a trivial exercise when compared to the historical puzzle.

Secondly, I did plan at one point to discuss the inadequacy of the uni-dimensional creationist-evolutionist spectrum – one used by even self-confessing Evolutionary Creationists (EC). This spectrum is misleading in that it makes the EC position look unstable at best. I firmly believe that nothing could be further from the truth and that a better model for understanding the various theological positions on creation is in order. I have done some thinking about this (eg. See the end of this comment on Marlowe’s ingroup-outgroup post) but have not taken it much farther. Maybe someone with some real academic credentials could take a run at this. Or maybe a more useful model has already been developed, and again, I’m just not looking in the right places.

But given my limited time and energy, I’m not sure writing a series on these items (and they would both be series) is worth the investment at this time. Although the science-faith discussion will always be of great interest and of some importance to me, I can’t say that it is a huge priority in my life right now; it is probably not even the most important aspect for my current faith journey. Since I can be almost obsessive at times (for those who know me well, please control the volume on those amens!) recognizing the law of diminishing returns in these matters is an important survival skill.

A Coherent Story
In conclusion (for a least a short time) I’d like to say that I believe the Christian story as revealed in God’s creation (through science, including the science of biological evolution) and his word (scripture) is a coherent story, a story that is satisfying both spiritually and intellectually. It is a story worth repeating, but more importantly, a story to live by.

Happy New Year!

Index for Series on Evolution and Original Sin

A series on Evolution and Original Sin was published here between October 16, 2008 and December 20, 2008. The discussion focused on George Murphy's paper Roads to Paradise and Perdition: Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin.

1. Evolution and Original Sin: Series Introduction
2. Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin: A brief survey by George Murphy
3. That Old Time Theology Revisited: Response by Terry Gray
4. Challenging and Reshaping Historical Approaches to Original Sin: Response by Denis Lamoureux
5. Further Reflections on Genesis 1-3 and Original Sin: Response by David Congdon
6&7. George Murphy replies to the responses: Part 1 and Part 2
8&9. Reader Q&A with George Murphy: Part1: The Historicity of Adam and Part 2: Pastoral Implications of Original Sin and Evolution
10. Evolution and Original Sin: Conclusion

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Evolution and Original Sin: Conclusion

This is the tenth and last installment in a guest-post series discussing George Murphy’s paper Roads to Paradise and Perdition: Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin. Profuse apologies for the delayed conclusion; the moderator (currently scurrying back onto the stage) was distracted by his day-job for the last 4 weeks.

This ends our series on George Murphy’s very important paper. I for one have found the discussion of great value as I work through the theological implications of evolution; as I’ve said in the past, the origin of sin is (was?) the most difficult challenge for me personally. I found the distinction between “Sin of Origin” and “Original Sin” as discussed in this series very helpful.

A big thanks to all three responders.

  • To David, who while acknowledging that his interaction with science was of deep personal rather than professional interest, showed no hesitation in accepting the challenge. I found his contribution very helpful.
  • To Denis, who brought his characteristically uncompromising style and message to this forum. We need more Evangelicals like this. (For more of the same, check out his recent interview with Canadian Christianity)
  • To Terry, who provided a compelling and succinct critique of George’s paper that, I suspect, resonated with many (most?) of this blog’s readers. Terry agreed to do this (indeed, was the first to volunteer) even though he understood the format of the series was not set up to allow him “equal time” to respond.
Finally, a huge thanks to George for taking the time and energy to discuss his paper in this forum, to allow others to critique it, to respond to reader’s questions, and for continuing the task of making theology relevant. As he indicated in the last post,
“If theology is to have any real value it must help to inform, support and encourage the work of the church in proclaiming the gospel, teaching, pastoral care and action in the world”.
An absolutely crucial point to remember; articulating the continuing coherence of the Christian gospel in a scientific age is important, but if there is no application, what is the point? Thanks George for working towards making the gospel both coherent and relevant.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Pastoral Implications of Original Sin and Evolution: Q&A with George Murphy (Part 2)

This is a guest post by George Murphy, and is the ninth installment in a guest-post series discussing his paper Roads to Paradise and Perdition: Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin. George is a physicist, theologian, and pastor, and has authored numerous articles and books including The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross.

The first 3 questions for George regarding the historicity of Adam were discussed in part 1 of the Q&A. Here is George's answer to question #4.

Reader Question #4

Theology shouldn't be an academic exercise only – it should have practical pastoral implications as well. In what ways do you think the view of original sin articulated in your paper can be helpful from a pastoral perspective?
Questioner 4 makes the point that “theology shouldn't be an academic exercise only.” I couldn’t agree more. If theology is to have any real value it must help to inform, support and encourage the work of the church in proclaiming the gospel, teaching, pastoral care and action in the world. Too much work in the science-theology dialogue has remained at the academic level, and needs to be made accessible to pastors, other church leaders, and congregations. The fault is not entirely that of academic theologians, for many clergy avoid these matters because of their unfamiliarity with science or the controversial character of the issues. But I digress.

How my suggested model of original sin and sin of origin – or indeed, of any model - will inform ministry will depend to some extent on the context in which ministry is being done. In a conservative evangelical congregation in which there is considerable hostility to the idea of human evolution such ministry will differ from that in the congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church in which I have worked as a pastor for twenty-five years. (This does not mean , that members of those “mainline” denominations all have “liberal” views about evolution, the Bible, and other matters.) But some general statements can be made.

To begin with, this model can help to alleviate the concerns that many thoughtful Christians have about evolution. Many are aware of the overwhelming scientific support for evolution but are unsure about how it can fit in with a Christian worldview beyond a vague idea that “that’s how God did it.” Here churches have generally failed in the educational task of helping to understand evolution theologically. It is not enough simply to say “a knowledgeable reading of the Bible does not require early Genesis to be understood as scientific or historical fact”;. there also needs to be some positive view, if only a tentative one, of how God actually has worked in the evolutionary process, and of how our scientific understanding of human history and human nature can be coherent with core Christian beliefs. I think that what I’ve suggested is one such model.

Understanding evolution in a Christian context is best dealt with in educational situations rather than in preaching. A relaxed classroom session, where questions and discussion are possible provides the best climate for enabling people to come to grips with controversial issues. Such education needs to be provided, in age appropriate ways, from children’s Sunday School classes through adult forums. Of course there are a number of practical issues that have to be dealt with in order to provide adequate teaching and leadership here.

If human evolution is dealt with well in educational settings in a congregation, people will be better prepared to hear the preaching of law and gospel. Here of course the fundamental message is that all are sinners and that Christ is the all-sufficient savior from the guilt and power of sin. What I have said about original sin (i.e., that sin had an origin in human history) and sin of origin (i.e., that all people begin their lives as sinners) helps this message to be proclaimed with the necessary clarity.

An historical origin of sin, distinguished from the origin of humanity itself, means that God is not the creator of sin, and sin is not God’s intention for humanity. We are, even as sinners, God’s creatures. But sin of origin means that we are not able to avoid sin, or deal with the problem of sin, by ourselves. We cannot even contribute to repairing our relationship with God because everything we do is tinged to a greater or lesser degree by sin. All Pelagian or semi-Pelagian notions that we can contribute to our own salvation are closed off. With this understanding the preacher can express, in words appropriate to his or her listeners, what Luther said in his great Reformation hymn.
With might of ours can naught be don,
Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the Valiant One,
Whom God himself elected.
(The Lutheran Hymnal, hymn # 262, verse 2)

Monday, 24 November 2008

The Historicity of Adam: Q&A with George Murphy (Part 1)

This is a guest post by George Murphy, and is the eighth installment in a guest-post series discussing his paper Roads to Paradise and Perdition: Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin. George is a physicist, theologian, and pastor, and has authored numerous articles and books including The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross.

This is the first of two Q&A posts. The first three questions deal with various aspects of the historicity of Adam.

Reader Questions #1-3

1. I wonder if there could be some additional commentary about the seeming parallelism in Romans 5 - just as one man's sin led to the condemnation of many, in the same way one man's obedience led to the justification of many (paraphrasing from memory). Christ was an individual person and the first member of the Race of Heaven, so don't we have to think of Adam as an individual person and the first member of the Race from Earth? That doesn't mean he had no prehuman ancestors.

2. Apparently, the first part of the Hebrew text uses the word adam in a non-personal way (i.e. adam means "the man"). The personal syntax only occurs at some distance into the narrative. I have heard it argued that this does not necessitate a belief in a literal man called "Adam" in the early part of the narrative. What is your opinion of this idea?

3. Hi George, thanks for a great article. You say Jews at the time of Christ took Adam and Eve literally and that Paul's statements about Adam should be read in that context. But is that really the situation historically? Certainly there were those who took Adam literally, but we also have first century Jews from as diverse background as Philo of Alexandria and the Jerusalem priest Josephus who understood Adam and Eve allegorically. Paul actually tells us as he compares Adam and Christ in Romans 5 that he sees Adam as a figure of Christ (verse 14). Could Rabbinically trained Paul have been talking figuratively, an allegorical illustration of Christ and the cross, rather than a history lesson about Adam?
Thank you for your questions. I’m going to bundle my answers to the first three which, in different ways, deal with the historicity of Adam. I’ll mention that I’ve dealt with this issue in more detail in my paper “Chiasmic Cosmology and Atonement,” (published in the December 2008 PSCF) than in the article discussed in this series.

a) Historicity of Adam: OT View
As Questioners 2 and 3 suggest, we should not be dogmatic in saying the biblical writers of both testaments believed that there was an historical individual named “Adam.” The Hebrew ’adham is a generic noun for “human being” and the point in Genesis where it becomes a proper name is debated. (See Note 20) In addition, the fact that none of the Old Testament’s recitations of salvation history begin with Adam, but start at the earliest with Abraham, suggests that Adam was not seen as an historical individual in the same way as were Abraham, Jacob or Moses (Note 22).

On the other hand, Genesis 3 is a story about “the man” and “the woman,” and while (as Lamoureux and I agree) the idea of humanity beginning with a single couple may be seen as divine accommodation to cultural understandings, there is no indication that the ancient Israelites did not see this story as indeed an account of what happened to a real man and a real women. Furthermore, the genealogy of Genesis 5 (which most critical scholars link with the first creation account, 1:1-2:4a rather than 2:4b-4:26) begins with Adam. That is clearly intended to be a personal name, in the same way as the succeeding Seth, Enosh, etc.

b) Historicity of Adam: Inter-testamental View
In the inter-testamental period we do have a recitation of salvation history that begins with Adam. Wisdom 10:1-2a begins a long commentary on divine Wisdom in history. In the RSV it reads,
“Wisdom protected the first-formed father of the world, when he was created; she delivered him from his transgression, and gave him strength to rule all things.”
The name “Adam” is not used but the text clearly refers to Genesis 2 -3.

In this same period, in part because of Hellenistic influence, allegorical interpretations of scripture also gathered some popularity among Jews. We ought to remember though that giving an allegorical interpretation of a text does not mean that the events portrayed in that text are necessarily non-historical.

c) Historicity of Adam: Paul’s View
We can’t absolutely rule out the possibility that Paul had an allegorical interpretation of Adam in mind: Our access to Paul’s thinking is, after all, only through what he wrote. He does use allegory in a few places: Mowry’s article “Allegory” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible lists I Cor.5:6-8; 9:8-10; 10:1-11 and Gal.4:21-31.

In the first, third and fourth of these passages it seems very unlikely that he rejected the historical sense of the Old Testament texts (unleavened bread for Passover, the Exodus and the story of Sarah and Hagar), and with the second, where he questions the historical sense, that very fact makes it clear that he is allegorizing. In Galatians he says explicitly that he’s doing that. We simply don’t have any such indication that he is allegorizing, let alone rejecting the historical sense, when he refers to Adam.

The Parallel between Christ and Adam
Does that conclusion, and the way in which Christ is paralleled with Adam in Romans 5, then mean that we should understand Adam as an historical individual if we take scripture seriously, as Questioner 1 suggests? I don’t think so.

To begin with, we should not overemphasize the importance of Adam for Paul’s argument in Romans. 1:18-3:20 is an extended argument to show that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23 RSV). 3:21-4:25 then sets out God’s answer to the problem of sin, Christ’s saving work made available through faith to all. There is no reference to Genesis 3 or Adam here. Clearly Paul can express the basic law-gospel message at some length with no reference to Adam.

This does not mean that Adam is of no importance for Paul. In Chapter 5 he sets up a parallel between the figure of Adam, most likely understood as historical (as above), and Christ in order to provide structure to the story of sin and salvation. But he does this to highlight the significance of Christ, not of Adam. As James Dunn puts it in his Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 38: Romans 1-8 (Word Books, 1988, p.290),
“[T]the effect of the comparison between the two epochal figures, Adam and Christ, is not so much to historicize the individual Adam as to bring out the more than individual significance of the historic Christ.”
I have argued that the fact that Paul accepted the historicity of Adam need not mean that Christians must hold that same view today. Whether or not that argument can be accepted depends on (among other things) whether the concept of the Holy Spirit’s accommodation to cultural beliefs in the inspiration of scripture is valid. I believe that it is, not simply because it provides a way of avoiding conflicts between scripture and modern scientific and historical knowledge but because it is part of a fundamentally incarnational way of understanding scripture and God’s activity in the world in general. As the divine Word chose to be limited to the human condition in Christ, so the Holy Spirit operates within the limits of human understandings of the world in bringing about the written witness to Christ. Peter Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation (Baker, 2005) is worth reading in this connection.

This ends Part 1 of the Q&A - Part 2 to be published in a few days. Comments are now open.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Evolution and Original Sin: George Murphy Replies (Part 2)

This is a guest post by George Murphy, and is the seventh installment in a guest-post series discussing his paper Roads to Paradise and Perdition: Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin. George is a physicist, theologian, and pastor, and has authored numerous articles and books including The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross.

In the first part of my response I dealt with the important idea of “sin of origin” as a statement that all people are sinners from the beginning of life. We then began a discussion that continues here of the important but secondary question of the historical origin of this human condition.

The Imputation of Adam’s Sin
Gray makes use of the idea of an imputation of Adam’s sin to explain how a fall of an historical Adam could have been responsible for all humanity’s sinful condition even for those who weren’t descended from him. This idea of the imputation of Adam’s sin to others is questionable. The oft-claimed theological parallel between it and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to sinners encounters a serious problem. God’s creative word does what it says, and in declaring sinners righteous it makes sinners righteous: Sanctification follows justification. (This is not the Roman Catholic concept of “infused” righteousness on account of which God then declares the sinner righteous.) If God imputes Adam’s sin to others then God makes people into sinners. To say that God is the immediate cause of the general sinful condition of humanity may be acceptable for some but it poses a serious challenge to the goodness of creation. Cf. Article 19 of the Augsburg Confession.

Sin: Yes, there was an Origin
On the other hand, Lamoureux’s reading is consistent with the oft-expressed view that the Adam and Eve of Genesis 3 are every man and every woman, and he wants to leave it at that. But while the story of Adam and Eve is our story, it is also more. In scripture it is a story of the first human beings and of how sin came into the world.

We need to consider the likelihood that in inspiring various parts of scripture the Holy Spirit accommodated the message to the state of understanding of the world that existed in the cultures of the time. (Again see my “Couldn’t God Get It Right?” .) But we should be careful not to attribute to accommodation what is actually part of the theological message – that we don’t throw out the baby with the bath (or manger!). It’s one thing to say that early Genesis is accommodated to the idea that humans first appeared a few thousand years ago perfectly formed in mind and body, and quite another to say that the idea of “firstness” itself is accommodation. The accommodated message might have been in the form of a story that began “Once upon a time there were a man and a woman ...,” with no reference to their origin, but that’s not the way Genesis reads.

Death and Guilt
It’s helpful for a scientist or theologian to acknowledge weaknesses in his or her theories, and I recognize that my discussion of sin and mortality has some problems. It was certainly the belief of some biblical writers, including Paul, that the physical death of humans is a consequence of sin. Lamoureux is right that we shouldn’t simply qualify death as “spiritual” in their writings. But there are qualifications and nuances that he ignores.

a) Sin and Physical Death
In the day that Adam and Eve eat of the tree, they don’t die physically. It is not even certain (as the western tradition has generally thought) that the writers of Genesis had original immortality in view. Some currents of Greek Christian thought seem to picture humanity as being created biologically mortal, although not subject to spiritual death if they remained sinless. (In addition to the passage from Athanasius, note these lines from the Prayer Book’s burial service [http://bcponline.org/ , pp.481-482 ] from an Orthodox source:

“Thou only art immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and unto earth shall we return. For so thou didst ordain when thou createdst me [N.B.], saying, ‘Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.’”)
We should also bear in mind the view of Barr to which I referred, that Genesis 2-3 is not a story of humanity losing immortality but of humanity losing the possibility of immortality.

But even if we grant that physical death is seen uniformly in scripture as a result of sin, is it only physical death that’s in view? Is death an evil, “the last enemy,” for biblical writers simply because it means that earthly life stops? Or is it because it threatens separation from God? (Cf. Psalm 6:5) Of course a biblical view of human death is multifaceted and there is considerable development from the earliest strata of the Old Testament through the New. But we can’t really separate the reality of physical death from its psychological and spiritual affects. In what I once called rather mouth-fillingly “hermeneutical retrocausality,” sin gives new meaning to dying that was a reality even before humanity came on the scene.

b) Original Guilt
Congdon notes that I don’t refer to the concept of “original guilt.” I should have done so and explained why I don’t use it. We could say that we were guilty of Adam’s (or the first humans’) sin if “in Adam’s fall, sinned we all,” but that rests upon Augustine’s Latin text of Romans 5:12, in quo omnes peccaverunt – “in whom all have sinned” (DRC). It’s generally agreed that this is not a very good rendering. (NRSV is “because all have sinned.”) (In addition, I’ve tried to avoid legal terminology – not because it’s wrong or unbiblical but because I’m trying to take another approach.)

To that extent the Orthodox are right. However, as people who begin our lives in a sinful state (cf. Tillich), alienated from God, we are spiritually dead, enemies of God, and unable to do anything to save ourselves. This is the case even before sinful acts have been committed – not because of our “natures” but because of the condition in which we find ourselves. Our social environment strongly encourages sinful behaviors, including those to which our genetic endowment may incline us. Where Augustine - and Luther and Calvin - were right and where the Orthodox tend to be weak is the seriousness of our original sinful condition.

Closing Remarks
A number of points deserve further comment. I’ll continue to reflect on them and, I hope, deal with them adequately at some point in the future. Thanks again to the three respondents for their helpful comments. I look forward to questions and comments from readers of this series.

As indicated in the series introduction, the next post will include George's answers to questions from readers. If you have a question for George, please send it to me via email.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Evolution and Original Sin: George Murphy Replies (Part 1)

This is a guest post by George Murphy, and is the sixth installment in a guest-post series discussing his paper Roads to Paradise and Perdition: Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin. George is a physicist, theologian, and pastor, and has authored numerous articles and books including The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross.

It’s more than a formality for me first to thank the three respondents. As Steve has noted, my article was part of a broader research program. Criticisms and suggestions are helpful in this ongoing work.

The Theological Task
The source of the theology in whose context science – and evolution in particular – is to be placed is scripture. I attempt to read scripture as a theologian of the church, with awareness of the Christian theological tradition. We try to understand scripture in its original cultural settings, but must also take seriously (though not uncritically) the ways in which our ancestors in the faith understood it. It seems to me that Lamoureux is too willing to depart from some aspects of this tradition for reasons that are inadequate, while Gray is too insistent on maintaining secondary aspects of the tradition. Congdon is closer to a “just right” position here.

Sin of Origin: Some Clarifications
Congdon and Lamoureux note my use of a concept of “sin of origin,” the latter with puzzlement. That phrase, in distinction from “original sin”, is not completely standard but I explained my usage in the article’s note 16. To quote Wiley more extensively, what I mean by “original sin” is “peccatum originale originans, ‘original sin as originating’ ... the historical event of Adam and Eve’s sin” while “sin of origin” is “peccatum originale originatum, ‘original sin as originated’ ... the condition of sin in humankind caused by the transmission of Adam and Eve’s sin to all.”

I don’t want to replace the concept of original sin with that of sin of origin, as Congdon suggests. The sinful condition of all people from the beginning of life is, however, the crucial teaching. It is the fact that we are all sinners that calls for atonement, and thus is the presupposition of the gospel. Concepts of “original sin as originating” provide explanations of why we begin life in that condition. Such explanations are needed but of secondary importance. That is why I think Gray is mistaken in insisting upon a traditional form of explanation.

Do I speak about sin of origin just “to maintain a ritual”, as Lamoureux asks? I assume he means baptism, and the answer is “No”. Augustine’s argument went in the opposite direction. His teaching on original sin was not a justification for infant baptism, but the reality that infants received baptism “for the forgiveness of sins” (Nicene Creed) meant that infants had some sin to be forgiven. Further discussion of baptism would take us too far afield. Suffice it to say that I hold with the catholic tradition that baptism is a means of grace and can be administered validly to infants.

Sin of Origin: An Emphasis on the Universality of Sin
The real question here is whether or not we take the universality of sin seriously. Are all people in a sinful condition from the beginning of their lives or do they just start to be sinners when they reach “the age of reason” or something like that? Scriptural texts that speak of the universality of sin make no such qualification.

We should distinguish between a doctrine of the universality of sin as something we “believe, teach and confess” and “theological opinions” about how that condition originated historically and eventuates in each person’s sin of origin. Differences about the latter need not be church dividing. Denial of universal human sinfulness is a much greater problem. It immediately suggests the possibility that unredeemed humans aren’t really dead spiritually but just wounded, that they can do something about their condition on their own – i.e., some type of semi-Pelagianism.

The Origin of Sin: An Important but not Central Question
I turn now to the question of the historical origin of sin. Lamoureux thinks that we don't need to address that question, and can be content to say, "Humans are sinful, and God judges us for our sins.” I do not agree.

It is true that for some important purposes we can ignore questions about how and why sin originated historically. In my article I emphasized that sin’s universality, not its origin, is the important doctrine, noting that “the basic law-gospel message is ... ‘You are a sinner and Christ is your savior.” But a theologian shouldn’t ignore such questions (though that was popular in twentieth century theologies influenced by existentialism). We have to deal with them if the Christian message as a whole is to be coherent. How does it make sense to say that we are good creatures of God and that we begin our lives as sinners? Is God the creator of sin? These questions are sharpened if our theology is to encompass what science has shown us about human origins.

The Origin of Sin: Discussing Theological Options
What “theological opinion” should we hold about the origin of sin? Gray wants to maintain major elements of the traditional scenario, a “state of innocence” for an historical Adam and Eve. “State of innocence” suggests a weaker claim than does “state of integrity.” The latter term means that the first humans were not only free from sin but also from any bodily defect or vulnerability. (Calovius does use both terms.) In its strongest sense this includes physical immortality. Existence in such a state would not necessarily require a “golden age” but would mean that the physical properties of the human body and the world were different before the Fall. I find that implausible.

I have not, however, “adopt[ed] a materialistic view of human nature,” even implicitly. While I think that arguments for some type of non-reductive physicalism are strong, I also see problems with such a view. I remain agnostic about the possibility that at some point in evolutionary history God added something (rational soul etc.) to our ancestors in a way that can’t be accounted for by the sciences. I do insist, however, that our evolutionary history isn’t cancelled out by whatever special divine action may have taken place in making us human. That evolutionary history is the story of how God chose to create us, and any “superadded” feature God gave us does not remove the genetic and behavioral predispositions which evolution has produced.

Gray joins with some others in suggesting that something like a traditional view can be maintained by embedding the biblical Adam and Eve in a population of pre-Adamites. To a certain extent this strategy can succeed simply on the level of historical concordism. But the idea that the sin of such an historical Adam could be responsible for the sinful condition of people who had no biological relationship with that Adam encounters a serious problem. In the second part of this response (to be published later this week) I will discuss this problem. I will also highlight areas of my argument that may need further work or articulation.

Note: As indicated in the introduction post, comments will be closed for posts #2 to #7 for this series. Post #8 will include George's answers to reader questions. If you have a question for George that you would like included in this post, please send it to me via email.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Further Reflections on Genesis 1-3 and the Nature of Sin : Response by David Congdon

This is a guest post by David Congdon, and is the fifth installment in a guest-post series discussing George Murphy's paper Roads to Paradise and Perdition: Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin. David is a PhD student in systematic theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. For an introduction to David's writing, see his excellent blog series The Heresies of American Evangelicalism.

I would like to begin by thanking Steve Martin for inviting me to participate in this dialogue. I would also like to thank George Murphy for writing such a compelling and interesting article. I have to start by confessing up front that I basically agree with what Murphy says in his paper. What I would like to do is pursue some of the points raised by the essay in more detail and attempt to offer some further reflection on the nature of sin and the narrative of Genesis 3. My comments will proceed by briefly addressing the following questions: (1) what is original sin? and (2) how ought we to read Genesis 1-3?

1. What is original sin?

While it’s not stated as clearly as I would like, I think one could summarize Murphy’s thesis in the following way: instead of a doctrine of “original sin” with a corresponding doctrine of “original righteousness,” we should reconceive these concepts in light of the biblical witness by speaking of a “sin of origin” that affects each person from birth and a corresponding progression, by the grace of God, toward maturity, righteousness, and fellowship with God. Based on what we have learned from science, Murphy rightly rejects the idea of an original human pair that spawned the rest of the human race as well as a state of “original righteousness” in which death was not yet operative in nature. Instead of longing for some mythical past, Murphy argues that we should construct a teleological anthropology, in which the goal of humanity is not a recovery of a perfect Eden but the redemption of the new creation.

Original Guilt
Murphy’s insights are important, but some further theological development is necessary. First, we need to explore Augustine’s contribution a little further. Murphy discusses Augustine in the context of the debate with Pelagius. He says that Augustine argued “that all are sinners from the beginning of life,” whereas Pelagius turned Adam into a bad moral example. While certainly correct, this does not account for the true innovation in Augustine’s doctrine—viz. the idea of “original guilt.” It’s not just that all people “are born not only with a tendency to sin but actually as sinners”; rather, it’s that all people are born guilty of the original sin. That is, each person is born as if he or she actually committed the sin of Adam and Eve.

This doctrine of “original guilt” constitutes a central divide between Western and Eastern hamartiologies; the latter keeps “original corruption” but has no conception of “original guilt.” While I think the East is the better of the two on that point, both the East and the West remain far too mythical in their respective views on the transmission of this sinful corruption. On this point, the two sides essentially agree: the act of sexual intercourse is the agent by which the corruption of the parents is transferred to the child.

Reconceiving the Theological Priority of Sinful Being and Act
As modern Christians, we no longer hold to this notion of sexual transmission of corruption, at least not in the ancient form presupposed by Augustine and Maximus. Moreover, as a theologian shaped by the later Barth’s actualistic ontology, I have serious problems with the traditional priority of nature over act. Whereas the tradition says that we inherit a sin nature first before we commit any actual sin, I would argue instead that in our entrance into history with birth, we intrinsically act as individuals “curved in upon ourselves” because of our social environment. “By nature” we act in opposition to those around us. And in this “original” act of sin, we actualize our “sin nature.” Sin as act precedes sin as nature. We do not participate in Adam’s guilt, nor do we receive a corrupt essence from Adam by virtue of reproduction. On the contrary, we enter into a corrupt environment in which sin as incurvatus in se is inescapable. We are born into corrupt social relations that make it impossible for us to achieve perfection through the force of will.

Augustine and Pelagius were both right in their own ways: Augustine was correct to argue that we are slaves to sin who depend upon grace alone, but Pelagius was right to argue that sin is primarily an act before it is nature. Against Pelagius, though, I would say that such acts are inevitable by virtue of our historical situatedness. In a very real sense, therefore, history began with the fall, and history as we know it is the continuation of “fallen” acts.

An actualistic ontology means that being is determined by act. This goes for both sin and salvation. As sinners, we are what we do, viz. “sin.” As those saved by God’s grace, we are what Christ did, viz. reconciled us to God through his life of faithful obedience, his death in God-abandonment, and his resurrection to new life in the power of the Spirit. Theological anthropology is grounded not in substances or essences which precede human action. Rather, theological anthropology is defined by human acts: the individual act of sin that defines us as those “curved in upon ourselves,” and the Christological act of reconciliation that defines us as adopted children of God.

2. How should we read Genesis 1-3?

Barth argues in Church Dogmatics III/1 that the “history-like” Genesis story should be read in the genre of “saga” as a “third way” beyond the binary opposition of myth and history. Against myth, Genesis recounts a truly historical event: the event of creation. Against history, Genesis recounts an event which, as the editors of CD III/1 state in their preface, “cannot be historiographically expressed.” The event of creation is not unlike the event of the resurrection, in the sense that science cannot penetrate what is a divine occurrence, an event in the historical life of God that cannot be read off the face of creation itself.

Etiological Myth
While I have no disagreement with Barth regarding the theological interpretation of Genesis as saga, I do not have the same aversion to the word “myth.” As a result, I tend to speak of Genesis 1-3 (though not only these chapters) as an “etiological myth” (or “etiological saga,” if you prefer). “Etiology” refers to the study of origins or causes, and here I think the opening of Genesis was crafted by the Israelites over a lengthy period of time for the purpose of narrating the nature of created existence and the cause of human sin and suffering in the context of their covenantal relationship with Yahweh. The creation narrative serves the Israelite self-understanding as those brought into a covenantal relationship with God. What all this means on an exegetical level is the Genesis story has to be read as the history-like, mythological introduction to Exodus. The creation account provides the necessary prelude to the account of Israel’s deliverance and establishment as God’s chosen people.

In short, we need to read Gen. 1-3 with Exodus firmly in mind. The story of creation has to be read in relationship with the story of God’s de-construction of Egypt and re-construction of Israel. The story of Adam’s sin has to be read in relation to Israel’s confession of sin, their promise of covenant fidelity, and their continual failures as a people before God. The story of Eden and “original righteousness” should be read as the mythological acknowledgment of creation’s disruption through human sin and the need for a covenant with God. The covenant is thus the restoration of humanity’s relation with God. The myth of humanity’s fall in the Garden of Eden is the narratival introduction to the story of humanity’s redemption in the exodus from Egypt. Egypt is the literary foil to Eden, just as Pharaoh is the literary foil to Yahweh: Egypt is a place of enslavement and Pharaoh the one who enslaves; by contrast, Eden (and later Sinai) is a place of freedom, and Yahweh is the one who liberates.

Interpreting the Text
Just as I remarked above how the doctrine of creation serves the doctrine of redemption, so too the text of creation serves the text of redemption. Genesis serves Exodus; creation serves the covenant. When we read Genesis, then, we have to interpret the text in a threefold context: (1) the theological context of the doctrines of creation, sin, and redemption (the first two serving the third); (2) the literary/textual context of the Torah as the history-like narrative of God’s covenant; and (3) the historical-cultural context of Israel as a people living in exile from the land promised to them by God. Finally, while these three contexts are indispensable, as a Christian interpreter of Genesis, we also have a fourth and determinative context: the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The creation account must be read with the prophetic and New Testament witness to the new creation, and the exodus story must be read together with the story of the cross as the final and definitive event of our liberation.

3. Conclusion

I have sought to reflect on the ideas and insights touched upon by George Murphy in his fascinating article. My disagreements are all rather minor. In a larger version of this essay, I discuss the issue of supralapsarianism. Further exploration of this topic could be pursued along many different lines, but two in particular stand out. The first is the account proffered by Daryl P. Domning and Monika K. Hellwig in their work on Original Selfishness: Original Sin and Evil in the Light of Evolution. While I have not yet read this work, it seems to me that their project has the possibility of being a very interesting theological proposal, one that retains continuity with the tradition while incorporating the scientific insights of evolutionary biology. I would like to see future discussion of this topic engage this particular study. The second is a theological reappropriation of Schleiermacher’s theology. Though he is often dismissed as a 19th century liberal who is no longer worth reading, such an attitude is greatly mistaken. Schleiermacher is a profound thinker of the highest quality, and his theology, particularly his doctrine of creation, offers substantial room for incorporating the insights of evolutionary science. It would be exciting to see what a post-Barthian appropriation of Schleiermacher and contemporary science might look like for a doctrine of creation.

This concludes my essay. I wish to thank Steve and George again for the invitation and the article, respectively. I look forward to reading the dialogue that follows.

Note: As indicated in the introduction post, comments will be closed for posts #2 to #6 for this series. Post #7 will include George's answers to reader questions. If you have a question for George that you would like included in this post, please send it to me via email.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Challenging and Reshaping Historical Approaches to Original Sin: Response by Denis Lamoureux

This is a guest post by Denis Lamoureux, and is the fourth installment in a guest-post series discussing George Murphy's paper Roads to Paradise and Perdition: Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin. Denis teaches at St. Joseph's College at the University of Alberta, and is the author of Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution.

It has been a pleasure to review George Murphy’s paper. I have a few disagreements, but overall I quite resonate with his views. In fact, I will be using his paper with graduate students at Regent College (Vancouver, BC) this semester.

George’s paper was published in an evangelical science-religion journal (Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith), and he is miles ahead of the curve for the evangelical community. A 2004 ABC TV study reveals 87% in the pews believe that Gen 1 (creation in six days) is “word-for-word” history. For biologists in evangelical schools (CCCU), 25% describe themselves as young earth creationists, 48% as progressive creationists, and 27% as theistic evolutionists (Science, 1 Jul 05, p. 51). For those who are evolutionists, most would “tack on” an Adam at the tail end of evolution (see Darrel Falk, Keith Miller, et al), and most would say that the condemnation of Adam to death in Gen 3 is “spiritual death.”

As much as I enjoyed George’s paper, I thought the categories could have been defined with a bit more clarity for those not familiar with the discussion. To do this, let’s look at a classic approach to understanding original sin. This comes from Pope Pius XII, “Humani Generis (1950)” in which he takes the problem of evolution and the traditional doctrine head on.

“There is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either:

[i] that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all or
[ii] that Adam represents a certain number of first parents.

Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion [polygenism] can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth [Bible] and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church [Tradition] propose with regard to original sin,

[1] which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and
[2] which through generation is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.”
Though there are many spins and nuances on original sin throughout Church history, it features two central ideas:

[1] the first sin by a real person, named Adam
[2] transmission of Adam’s sin to everyone.

Note the hermeneutical “loop hole” and possibility to reconsider the traditional idea: “Now it is in no way apparent how. . .”. In other words, if we can propose a hermeneutical approach to Gen 1-3, we can reformulate/reshape/modify/challenge the historic notion of original sin.

I basically agree with George, but I wish he had been more forceful. Gen 1-2 is an ancient origins account. Typical of these in the ancient world, origins is De Novo (quick and complete). The ancients saw a cow give birth to a cow, give birth to a cow, etc; and they logically extended this phenomenological experience to an original cow [termed “retrojection” It’s what we do in geology]. Similarly, a human gives birth to a human, who gives birth to a human, etc, Ergo, who is Adam? Ancient science. He never existed.

Therefore, if Adam never existed, then he never sinned. And if he never sinned, then his sin was never passed down to us from him. End of story.

So what’s happening? The Holy Spirit is accommodating. NOT LYING, BUT ACCOMMODATING. Therefore, don’t go to Gen 1-3 to find out how the world was created, or how human history began—it’s not there.

What we must do is separate (not conflate as most through history and today have done) the Holy Spirit inspired Message of Faith (inerrant & infallible) from the INCIDENTAL ancient origins science (the science-of-the-day). In the case of Gen 1-3, Adam is an ancient vessel that transports the spiritual Truths: humans are created in the Image of God, humans are sinful, and God judges us for our sins. Worrying about where Adam fits in the paleontological record makes about as much sense as trying to figure out where in the firmament NASA sends its spacecraft.

Of course, freeing yourself of concordism (or scientific concordism) is very counterintuitive. But with practice, you will get there.

What About Paul?
Paul definitely believed in the historicity of Adam. But that was the science-of-the-day. He also believed that the universe was made up of three tiers. Phil 2 states:
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
[1] in heaven and
[2] on earth and
[3] under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Note that the Greek for “under the earth” is actually katachthovios: underworld. kata: down; chthovios underworld, chthonic realm. Thus, the more accurate translation would be: the beings living in the underworld (see Matt 12:40 and Jesus’s visit there).

So, just as we separate ancient astronomy from the Message “Jesus is Lord of the universe,” we should separate Paul’s belief in Adam’s existence from the Message "humans are sinners".

I believe Christians err with what I called the conferment or bestow argument. It goes like this: "Paul believed in Adam, therefore Adam must exist".

But do Christians want to argue: "Paul believed in a 3-tier world, therefore the 3-tier world must exist"? I doubt anyone wants to go there.

Spiritual Death
This is my only complaint with George’s argument. He says on page 117 that Adam suffered spiritual death not physical death. Why the “reverse” concordism George? You were doing so well. Gen 1-3 has an ancient understanding of the origin of life; it is only consistent that it has an ancient understanding of the origin of death, too. And of course, there is no debate in the fossil record—death existed prior to humans by 100's of millions of years.

Death in Gen 3 is physical—“dust you are and to dust you shall return” is physical. It is also part of the Cosmic Fall (introductions of weeds, pain, legless snakes etc). And it is in Rom 8 with the “frustrated, groaning and decaying creation.” Note that George didn’t touch Rom 8 in his paper.

Like all origins accounts, Gen 3 is etiological. The ancients asked, "Where did death and suffering come from?” The ancients connected these harsh realities to evil/transgression - think of ancient medicine and its reference to demons; eg. epileptic kid in the NT).

Gen 3 is a recycled lost idyllic (golden) age motif used by the Holy Spirit to reveal He judges our sins. Hebrews were late in the ANE; motifs like de novo creation, lost idyllic age, great flood, and tribal formation were in place for a long time. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit they were freed of their pagan theology and given instead life changing Messages of Faith.

The Evolutionary Carcass
Yes, we do have one. But we also have come to a place in which we can decide whether or not we follow our evolutionary impulses. When Jesus said to pluck your eye out for lusting, it makes a lot of sense from the perspective of evolutionary psychology. We are evolved “beasts” who bear God’s Image and are accountable. And by God’s grace, we can transcend those impulses.

Sin of Origin
Finally, there is no need for George’s so-called “sin of origin” which I must confess confused me (and even irritated me). Why George? Not justification to maintain a ritual, I hope?

I trust this brief review has been helpful. For those who wish further details, I discuss these ideas more fully in my book Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution (2008).

Note: As indicated in the introduction post, comments will be closed for posts #2 to #6 for this series. Post #7 will include George's answers to reader questions. If you have a question for George that you would like included in this post, please send it to me via email.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

That Old Time Theology Revisited: Response by Terry Gray

This is a guest post by Terry Gray, and is the third installment in a guest-post series discussing George Murphy's paper Roads to Paradise and Perdition: Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin. Terry is the webmaster for the ASA and has written several helpful articles on the creation / evolution dialogue including Complexity--Yes! Irreducible--Maybe! Unexplainable--No! A Creationist Criticism of Irreducible Complexity.

Charles Hodge, the nineteenth-century Old Princeton theologian once boasted that a new idea never originated in Princeton Seminary. Following Hodge, I will argue that there is no compelling reason to abandon traditional theological views and that there are perfectly satisfying solutions for resolving the so-called problems introduced by the findings of evolutionary biology. Murphy exemplifies many who seem to be so eagerly making peace with science by radically reconstructing traditional and well-founded interpretations of Scripture. The solutions that I will be offering are nothing new; other “traditionalists” have made similar suggestions. Admittedly, there are loose ends, tensions, unresolved matters, mysteries, etc. I readily acknowledge this and confess that on some of these questions we see more dimly than we might like—theologically, scientifically, and the two in juxtaposition. Some will accuse me of concordist tendencies. If concordism means a belief in the fundamental unity of truth, then I will wear the label proudly. “Anti-concordists” seek concord in their own way, usually at the expense of Scripture (or at least longstanding understandings of Scripture).

Three Concerns
I have three main concerns with Murphy’s proposal. First, he much too readily abandons the Augustinian/Lutheran/Reformed orthodoxy on the historicity of Adam and Eve (and Adam and Eve’s Fall). Second, and perhaps more seriously, he abandons the notion of a state of innocence, an original paradise, where human beings found themselves in right relationship with God. Third, and perhaps most seriously, but not nearly as explicitly, he adopts a materialistic view of human nature. This comes to expression in the apparent belief that human beings are essentially the product of their evolutionary development.

No Need to Abandon Dualism
It is unfashionable today to be an anthropological dualist—to believe that human beings are composed of a physical/biological body and a non-physical component, traditionally called the soul. But dualism has been the understanding of Scripture for nearly the entire history of the church—certainly that which is embodied in the creeds of the church for the first seventeen centuries. There have been critics, but these have been largely outside the mainstream of confessional orthodoxy. However, today, for largely scientific reasons based on psychology and neuroscience, human nature is explained, even by Christians, in terms of biology. Consciousness, the mind, and traditional attributes of the soul are seen to emerge from the complexity of the brain. Due in part to the diminishing influence of confessional traditions, the monist theological viewpoint has become more mainstream.

In many respects the run to monism mystifies me. A non-physical/biological component to human nature is no more detectable than God himself is in his sustenance, governance, and providence of all things—yet we believe that he is there and that the world would not exist without him being there. I simply cannot see how a neurophysiological explanation of human nature is an argument against dualism. A dualistic anthropology is rooted in Biblical teaching, particularly in the way the Bible gives clues about a disembodied existence in the intermediate state. Don’t get me wrong here. Anthropological dualism can still maintain that the embodied existence is the creational norm for human existence, that a resurrected body is the goal, that there are intimate connections between body and soul, that behavior is influenced by physical/biological factors, etc.

Homo Divinus and the Evolutionary Narrative
So, why is this important? If human beings “have” both a physical/biological body component and a soul, then it is unlikely that human origins can be completely accounted for with an evolutionary scenario (even a theistic one). The human body, the human biological organism, has evolutionary roots. It is hard to dispute that. John Stott, Derek Kidner, and others have argued that the human biological form evolved, but that at some point in history, God made humanity in the image of God and “gave” him a soul. Stott writes in Understanding the Bible (p. 63):

But my acceptance of Adam and Eve as historical is not incompatible with my belief that several forms of pre-Adamic ‘hominid’ may have existed for thousands of years previously. These hominids began to advance culturally. They made their cave drawings and buried their dead. It is conceivable that God created Adam out of one of them. You may call them homo erectus. I think you may even call some of them homo sapiens, for these are arbitrary scientific names. But Adam was the first homo divinus, if I may coin a phrase, the first man to whom may be given the Biblical designation ‘made in the image of God’. Precisely what the divine likeness was, which was stamped upon him, we do not know, for Scripture nowhere tells us. But Scripture seems to suggest that it includes rational, moral, social, and spiritual faculties which make man unlike all other creatures and like God the creator, and on account of which he was given ‘dominion’ over the lower creation.
Stott dates this event in the Neolithic period, around 10,000 years ago congruent with the cultural depictions in the early chapters of Genesis. Kidner in his Genesis commentary proposes that simultaneously all others in the human population would have received the “stamp”. Note also that the pre-homo divinus humans may have evidenced some marks of human behavior, the same way that we now recognize some aspects of human behavior in other animals. This does not necessarily diminish the force of the claim here. Interestingly, the period between 10,000 and 20,000 years marks the beginnings of agriculture and other uniquely human cultural activities. Secular writers, for example, Niles Eldredge in Dominion, even recognize this dramatic transition.

No Need to Abandon a State of Innocence
We can now transition into the second point. Murphy suggests that if we are to take our human evolutionary history seriously, then we have to give up the notion of a state of innocence. In my mind this strikes at one of the central planks of Biblical teaching. In the Reformed tradition (and others) we speak of Creation, Fall, Redemption. The original Creation was good and reflected God’s intentions, the Fall explains evil, and Redemption is God’s defeat of sin and death in Christ and his completion of his purposes in Christ. While most of the Biblical narrative is devoted to Redemption, the other two planks are critical to a proper understanding of the world. The suggestion that things start “bad” seems strangely out of place and has the practical implication of undermining a Biblical worldview. Creation, Fall, Redemption—historically understood—are too central to my understanding of scripture and the world.

I suggest that the scenario outlined above for the origin of homo divinus undoes the claim that a state of innocence could not have existed. State of innocence, paradise, etc. does not necessarily mean “golden age” as Murphy has suggested. Neither does it necessarily imply some kind of superpower Adam with fantastical physical and mental powers. In the covenant theology spelled out in the Westminster Confession of Faith, for example, the state of innocence, was a probation. Paradise was not the eschaton. Had Adam and Eve passed the test, they would have been exalted into eschatology glory, the glory that now is only attainable as the result of Christ’s redemptive work. Clearly, Adam and Eve were “able to sin”; as well the tempter was there. Such will not be the case in the eschaton. Eschaton transcends paradise—it’s not a return to paradise. Finally, the state of innocence or paradise does not necessarily imply anything about death before the Fall. Paradise had to do with God’s relationship with human beings and with human beings’ relationship to one another.

So, Adam was in a state of innocence. He communed with God, enjoyed fellowship unspoiled by sin--although without the eschatological perfection. There was a pre-Fall Adamic covenant: do not eat of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil or you will die. If you don’t keep this command, you will not enter into the eschatological fulfillment. In this covenant, Adam represented the human race. Such is what is taught by the traditional understanding of Romans 5. There is no reason that this covenantal role could not be played by Adam even if there were others who received the image of God when he did. He played the pivotal role. He was to the whole human race in his probation and Fall what Christ is to all who are in him. Whereas Adam failed, Christ did not. Whereas Adam brought death, Christ brought salvation. The Genesis account gives the impression that the state of innocence was short-lived (at least the part involving human beings). If it was short-lived, there may be scant historical, anthropological, or archeological evidence for paradise.

No Need to Abandon a Historical Adam
This finally leads us to the Fall and the notion of original sin. In the scenario described above, a historical Adam who represented the whole human race failed the test. As covenant head his failure had consequences for all he represented: his posterity and, perhaps, his contemporaries. The consequences are legal and moral. We are sinners because we are in Adam. This strikes the modern mind as unfair (although free grace salvation in Christ does not). We are also morally tainted. We enter this world children of wrath by nature. Hardly any proof of the doctrine of the universality of sin is needed. On this point I agree with Murphy. How this moral dimension is propagated is more speculative. A Traducianist view of the origin of the soul (souls are derived from the souls of parents) can readily explain this propagation. The Creationist view of the origin of the soul (that God specially creates each individual soul at conception, or between conception and birth) has more difficulty with the question because then God is creating spiritually dead souls. Perhaps the guilty verdict that comes as a result of our being in Adam is what produces spiritual death as we enter this world. The New England Primer captures the bottom line: “In Adam’s Fall, we sinned all”.

The upshot of the matter is that if you are an anthropological dualist and believe that the origin of human beings as homo divinus is not the result of an evolutionary process but the result of a special creative act, then it is not that difficult to maintain the traditional notion of a historical fall and the notion of original sin. Clearly, the view expressed here has abandoned the notion of common biological descent from Adam, but it has preserved the theologically more central notion of Adam’s covenant headship.

Note: As indicated in the introduction post, comments will be closed for posts #2 to #6 for this series. Post #7 will include George's answers to reader questions. If you have a question for George that you would like included in this post, please send it to me via email.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin: A Brief Survey by George Murphy

This is a guest post by George Murphy, and is the second installment in a guest-post series discussing his paper Roads to Paradise and Perdition: Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin. George is a physicist, theologian, and pastor, and has authored numerous articles and books including The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross.

In this brief survey of my article “Roads to Paradise and Perdition: Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin” I focus on some basic concepts related to original sin and the model I suggest for understanding the human condition. Space limitations preclude treatment of two questions that concern many Christians, the historicity of Adam and Eve and the relationship between sin and death. I refer those interested to the original article for fuller discussion, and to Couldn’t God Get It Right? for a discussion of the concept of God’s “accommodation” in scripture.

Sin: The Concept
It’s important at the outset to be clear about some concepts that are involved in a discussion of original sin. First there is sin itself – fundamentally, violation of the First Commandment, worshipping the creature rather than the creator (Romans 1:25). The common biblical terms for sin (Hebrew chata’ and Greek hamartanĊ) have the sense of missing a mark. The same idea can be seen in the Old Testament’s common word for “repent,” shubh, which means to turn back or return. God’s intended goal for creation is threatened if part of it moves away from that goal.

Ephesians 1:10 speaks of God’s “plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth.” Creation is for the sake of Christ. Sin means that something has gone wrong with that plan. Atonement – i.e., reconciliation - is needed because creation is alienated from God, an alienation revealed by human sin. In Romans 1 Paul emphasizes that the refusal to acknowledge the true God as creator is the basic human problem.

Sin threatens creation. Pride, the desire of the creature to usurp the place of the creator, was traditionally seen as the basic sin. Recently feminist theologians have emphasized that in their experience resistance to God’s will is often expressed in the opposite way, as failure to be what God intended them to be. We may be tempted to usurp God’s place, but may also be tempted to be not much of anything, refusing the call to represent God in ruling and serving the world. Our failure may be the deadly sin of pride but it can also be the deadly sin of sloth. And it may be falsehood, a willful denial of the truth about God and the world. In all these forms sin contradicts God’s will for creation.

Sin: A Universal Problem
The problem of sin is universal – all people are sinners. This universality of sin is the reason salvation is needed, salvation that is accomplished through Christ. Contrary to the claims of some opponents of evolution and critics of Christianity, an explanation of why all people are sinners is not a sine qua non for belief in Christ as savior. That “why” is an important question to be explored here but the basic law-gospel message does not require that it be answered.

Not only are all people sinners but they are that from the beginnings of their lives. That is the idea of “sin of origin.” Though the two are related, it is not the same as the concept of “original sin,” which has to do with the idea that the sinful human condition began with sin of the first humans at some point in history. That “original sin” (in the Christian tradition described in Genesis 3) contrasts with the “original righteousness” with which the first humans are supposed to have been created. They were in a “state of integrity” in which they could choose not to sin. The original sin and its effects (somehow communicated to all later generations) mean that no one can now avoid sinning.

Sin and Human Evolution
How are we to understand these ideas, and to what extent can we retain their traditional forms, if we believe that God has created humanity through an evolutionary process in which natural selection was a major factor? If that is the case then our prehuman ancestors were members of their species who were most successful in competition with others for survival needs. They were not “sinful” because they killed or deceived their fellows, were sexually promiscuous, and did other things that would be sinful for us. But when the first hominids who somehow were made aware of God and God’s will for them came into being, they would have had strong propensities for the same types of behavior. They would have been powerfully tempted to the basic sin, putting other things ahead of God. Studies of our closest primate relatives show that they do behave in ways that natural selection leads us to expect.

Thus what we know of evolution and primate behavior in particular makes it implausible that the first humans lived in a sinless state of integrity for any period of time. The traditional Christian concept most threatened by evolution is not original sin but original righteousness. How can we deal with this?

The Wrong Road
We focus on those first hominids (without deciding how large that group may have been, or where or when they lived) who had evolved to the point of self-awareness, rational thought and linguistic ability. They can in some way receive and faintly understand God's Word and have some awareness of God's will for them, though we don’t know how it may have come to them. They are at the beginning of a road along which God wants to lead them and their descendants to mature humanity and complete fellowship with God.

They could follow that road but it would not be easy because of inherited traits and learned behaviors that enabled their ancestors to survive and pass on their genes. Those traits predispose them toward selfish behavior and away from the kind of relationships that God intends for them. Sin is not “hardwired” into them but tendencies toward it are strong. They can refuse to trust God and disobey God's will for them.

That is what happened. History shows that from its beginnings humanity has not trusted the God of Israel and has been involved in continual conflict. That historical reality corresponds to the picture of humanity’s gradual departure from God in Genesis 1-11, though the biblical story need not be seen as an accurate historical narrative. The first humans took a wrong road that led away from the goal God intended. They and their descendants had soon lost their way.

This image of “taking the wrong road”, like that of “the fall,” is a metaphor for the human condition, not an historical narrative. It is not the condition of being on a journey that is sinful. The problem is not that we are on a metaphorical evolutionary road, but that we're on a wrong road. Failure to make this distinction may result in the work of Christ being seen only as one phase in the creative process rather than a correction of something that had gone wrong with it – a mistake that, for example, process theology often makes.

Both Nature and Nurture Predispose us to Sin
Humanity is a “symbiosis” of genes and culture. Both help to transmit to each person the essence of humanity, but both can also contribute to deviation from God’s intention for humanity. Our genetic makeup, conditioned by natural selection, predisposes us toward selfish behavior. The cultures in which we are conceived, born and live exacerbate those tendencies. We are born as members of a tribe lost in the woods.

To say that there is a genetic component of original sin does not mean that there is a “gene for sin.” Whether or not an action is sinful generally depends on the context in which it takes place as well as the action itself. Genes may give us tendencies for certain behaviors but do not force us to do those things.

To say that there is a cultural component of original sin means that sin is in part a result of our environment, an effect of “nurture” as well as “nature.” The effects of our environment can be far more pervasive than mere examples, as the analogy of fetal alcohol syndrome due to a uterine environment suggests. They are not things that we freely choose to accept or reject, but influences that we take in “with our mother’s milk.”

Solidarity in Sin
There is solidarity in sin, so that, in a classic Augustinian phrase, people make up a “corrupt mass.” More modern language speaks of “structures of sin” such as racism in human societies. A person born into a racist society is not predestined to be a racist, but it will be very “natural” to do so. Because of both genes and culture, we all start our lives on that wrong road, far from God, and are pointed in the wrong direction. Thus we are “missing the mark” from the start. Our sin of origin truly is sin. As Tillich put it, “Before sin is an act, it is a state.”

Neither strict Augustinians nor determined Pelagians will be satisfied with this model. Unregenerate people are not compelled to sin but all people are sinners and would need the saving grace made available in Christ even if they could theoretically avoid “actual sins.” This approach does preserve the essence of what the western church has insisted upon without theories about human history and the transmission of sin which are now seen to be untenable.

Note: As indicated in the introduction post, comments will be closed for posts #2 to #6 for this series. Post #7 will include George's answers to reader questions. If you have a question for George that you would like included in this post, please send it to me via email.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Evolution and Original Sin: Series Introduction

This is the first installment in a guest-post series discussing George Murphy’s paper Roads to Paradise and Perdition: Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin.

For many Christians, the rejection of evolution is simple logic. A) The Bible says God created Adam & Eve on the 6th day. Therefore evolution is false. QED. Or: B) Evolution contradicts many straight-forward theological truths (eg. Original Sin). Therefore evolution is false. QED.

For these Christians, the problem with evolution is not the scientific evidence itself; in fact, very few have even a basic appreciation for the evidence. The primary issue is the perceived difficulty in reconciling the scientific evidence with common methods of biblical interpretation (eg. statement A) and some traditional theological conclusions (eg. statement B). Although I completely agree with Peter Enns’ observation in his review of The Bible, Rocks, and Time that “deliberate conversation between biblical scholars and scientists” is sorely needed, I believe that the conversation between orthodox Christian theologians and scientists is even more urgently required. Evangelical biblical scholars (like Enns) have provided us with an abundance of resources to deal with fundamentally flawed scientific claims based on equally flawed biblical interpretation. However, good theological resources to address the integration of modern science and Christian theology are few and far between. So, while is not that difficult for thoughtful Christians to address claims like statement A, addressing theological conundrums like statement B are much more challenging.

George Murphy’s Theology
George Murphy has been very helpful in addressing this challenge. Murphy is a physicist, theologian, and pastor. He has written numerous books, articles, and columns on the interface between science and theology. Personally, I’d put his The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross right up near the top with Polkinghorne’s Science and Christian Belief for resources that constructively examine the relationship between science and orthodox Christian theology. Where Polkinghorne conducts a wide-ranging discussion of modern science in the light of the Nicene Creed, Murphy conducts this same discussion within the context of the Theology of the Cross (as espoused by Luther among others). Murphy has described his theology as an in-progress research program, and he continues to expand that program. For example, in the upcoming December 2008 issue of PSCF, he will be publishing a paper on atonement. But it is an earlier paper that I’d like to discuss in some detail here on my blog , a paper that provides guidance on how to reconcile evolution with the theological truth mentioned earlier: Original Sin.

Personally Grappling with Evolution and Original Sin
Back in the spring of 2006 I spent a lot of energy investigating evolution and its implications for Christian theology. (I even took a one-week “vacation” from work to immerse myself fulltime tackling some of the tougher issues – ok, not everyone’s idea of a wise use of vacation time). Original Sin was one of those issues, and I was excited to see that the June 2006 edition of PSCF had several articles on the topic. I can’t say all of these articles resonated with me, but one in particular stuck out as very important: Murphy’s article entitled Roads to Paradise and Perdition: Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin. Here was what I was looking for: a theological framework that seemed capable of fruitful exploration while remaining grounded in the truth revealed in scripture and Jesus Christ. No, not all the tough questions were answered (if anything, I probably had more questions after reading the article) but at least it was a good start. I looked forward to further discussion of the article.

Unfortunately, that discussion never seemed to happen. It has been more than two years since Murphy's paper was first published, and I have yet to see a significant discussion of the paper. Maybe I am not looking in the right places.

So in the spirit of “Stop complaining and do something about it yourself”, I’ve decided to launch a discussion here on my blog. Since I have neither the theological training nor expertise to lead this effort, I’ve invited several guests who have both to participate in a guest-post series.

The Series
Over the next several weeks, I will be publish a series on evolution and Original Sin using Murphy’s article as a focal point. The series will begin with Murphy himself providing a short summary of his 2006 PSCF article. Three other guests will then respond to the article. Critique’s will be provided by Terry Gray from Colorado State University (and webmaster for the ASA), Denis Lamoureux from St. Joseph’s College at the University of Alberta (Author of Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution), and David Congdon (A PhD Theology student at Princeton Theological Seminary and publisher of the Fire and the Rose Blog). (A quick teaser: the response-order has been set as Terry, Denis, David to satisfy a quasi-Goldilocks reaction to Murphy’s views: a theology too-far, not-far-enough, and just-about-right).

Series Format
The following is the format for the series:

1. Introduction (this post)
2. Summary of the 2006 PSCF article (George Murphy)
3. Response #1 (Terry Gray)
4. Response #2 (Denis Lamoureux)
5. Response #3 (David Congdon)
6. George Murphy replies to the three responses
7. George Murphy answers readers’ questions
8. Conclusion

Note that I’m trying an experiment here. Think of this series as a debate/dialogue lecture in a comfortable university lecture hall. George, Terry, Denis, and David are on the stage and each will be given a turn to speak, in George’s case twice. During their lectures (posts), there will be no questions, remarks, or criticisms from the audience. As such blog comments will be disabled on posts #2 through #6. (And to show respect to our speakers, please turn off all electronic devices for the next few weeks).

Post #7 will be an opportunity for you the audience to ask questions. The post will consist of readers’ questions, and short answers from George. This isn’t a free-for-all. Questions must be submitted to the moderator (myself) for review before access to the audience microphone (questions published in post#7) is granted. This is not about censorship, but about quality discussion. I’m sure we have all been to lectures where a good discussion was ruined by an audience question that was longwinded, confusing, and off topic.

How to Participate in the Q&A
If you would like to pose a question to George to be answered in Post#7, please submit it to me via email. You can do this at any time up until 2 days after post#6 is published. Please keep questions relatively short – ideally 3 or 4 sentences maximum. Blog comments will be open on this post – consider it the after-lecture reception where informality (and sometimes heated discussion) is the norm.

Let’s Go
So the lobby lights are flashing, and it is almost time to begin. Finish that drink. If there is anything you would like to say, say it now. (Actually, you have a few minutes – these things never seem to start on time anyways).

Otherwise sit back and enjoy the series.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate: Conclusion

This is a guest-post by Marlowe C. Embree, and is the seventh and last installment in his series on “The social psychology of the origins debate”. Marlowe teaches psychology at the University of Wisconsin Colleges. At the end of this post, readers are invited to participate in Marlowe's research survey.

Like any good narrative psychologist, let me close this series with a parable, or at least the broad outlines of one. An engaged couple was separated geographically through no fault of their own; he ended up in Miami, while she landed in Anchorage. Undaunted, they made plans to rectify the problem. They agreed that on a certain date he would start driving north and west from Miami (within the limits of geography and available roads) and she would begin driving south and east from Anchorage. Each would drive the same number of hours each day, and their plan was to meet in the middle of the country, get married, buy a house, and raise a family.

One notes two things about this story. First, it is theoretically possible that the plan would work. Second, without more specific tactics and a good awareness of the intervening landscape, the odds of the couple actually meeting are astonishingly low.

The Historical Relationship Between Science and Religion
In my view, even at its best the historical relationship between science and religion is something like this. (The parable is based on the short story The Place of Telling I wrote in 1992). Once upon a time, these two ways of knowing were united (there was a unity of knowledge), but for complex reasons, the two went their separate ways, with unfortunate results. In today’s culture, some people believe that one or the other is unnecessary or even detrimental. Others attach such primacy to their preferred approach that (to continue with the analogy) they refuse to leave their state of origin (Florida or Alaska respectively).

A Hope for Unity once more
In contrast, I have the hope – and, indeed, the currently unsubstantiated faith commitment – that, when all is said and done and, in the words of W. B. Yeats, “all that story’s told”, the two can and will meet without contradiction, and the unity of knowledge will again be restored. As Eliyahu Rips puts it, “I think that finally, when we understand both well enough, religion and science will come together, and we will at last have a unified field theory.” We’re a long way from that as I write; the driver of the science vehicle is somewhere in Georgia, and the religious traveler has just crossed into Canada.

As the Amy Grant lyrics my wife and I chose for our wedding put it, “We’re caught in between the now and the not yet.” This creative tension between the way the world is now and the way the world one day will be is, I think, an inevitable part of the Christian experience. It colors everything, including how we think about both science and faith. But one day all things will be united in Christ. Although in context Paul was talking about a different kind of separation, it is perhaps not an inappropriate application to note that one of Christ’s ministries was that of uniting the hopelessly divided: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14).

While many people do affirm both science and religion in principle, the historical relationship between them has often been rife with conflict. This series has attempted to explore some of the psychologically based reasons for the ongoing conflict: the resistance we all have to changing our established ways of thinking; group polarization processes that make it difficult to regard perspectives of other, “opposing” social groups fairly; and cognitive style differences that may cause different persons to process and evaluate the same information in strikingly incommensurable ways. While these concepts are not a panacea that will resolve the cultural disputes once and for all – if I were able to do that, I would hope for a Nobel Prize or at least immediate tenure – they do represent a “tool kit” that may enable us to respond to those with whom we disagree with a greater degree of understanding, respect, and dignity. If we can’t always agree about conclusions, perhaps we can find ways to agree about process or about motives.

Reinhold Neibuhr once famously said, “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.” My hope is that this series has been a small contribution towards that end – looking forward to the day when “we shall know, even as we are known.”

Thanks again for the privilege of contributing to this series.

Take the Survey
I invite readers to participate in my online survey on attitudes about origins. The survey contains 85 questions, 55 having to do with issues related directly or indirectly to the origins debate, 30 involving normal personality diversity. I have, of course, some specific research hypotheses that I would be happy to share, along with preliminary research results as they emerge, with those who complete the survey and email me to inform me that they have done so. The survey is anonymous (I will not know whose responses are whose).