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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.


Lame and Blind said...

I am really looking forward to the series.

A bit off-topic, but in reading (and searching) this blog I have been struck by the total lack of discussion of John Haught's work as well as the earlier writings of Tielhard de Chardin. Murphy and Polkinghorne are great, but to my mind no modern theologian has done more to develop a systematic theology of evolution than Haught and of course Chardin was the great prophet on the connections between science and theology.

I know this is an "evangelical" dialogue and Haught and Chardin are Catholic, but does that mean we can't learn from them? Can we learn better from Lutherans than Catholics? It would be great to dialogue with these great minds as well.

Just a mild complaint from the peanut gallery. :)

Stephen Douglas said...

Looking forward to this.

Unfortunately, something that's not been brought out in the past but seems to be inextricably tied to the question of Original Sin is the definition of "sin" and what the redemption of Christ was intended to save us from. I hope to see your contributors' respective takes on that question.

As far as lame and blind's comments go, I must confess to being somewhat in agreement. I recognize that the point of this blog is more about showing how one can (should?) be a good, solid, devout, Protestant Christian as well as an evolutionist, but if doing so requires us to ignore what our Catholic and Orthodox brothers have long since talked about, our conversation will likely be, in the end, "lame and blind". I guess I'm just wanting to be sure that we, as self-proclaimed evangelicals, don't put the interesting things said by non-Protestants at the bottom of our list of material to check out just because we happen to be Protestants. I don't care who it is that believes the right stuff - I just want to hear it and have a chance to integrate it into what I know. Do you know what I mean?

Martin LaBar said...

I hope the experiment works. I'm ordering Murphy's books for a library that allows me to do this.


Stephen Douglas said...

I just checked for comments here and re-read my own comment. Let me clarify, delimit, and/or disavow my statement a little.

Basically all I was asking is, are we retreading ground that has been trod by our Catholic or Orthodox friends who have beat us to evolutionary creationism by a few decades? I'm asking because I'm not sure. The one who influenced my release of Genesis from the grasp of literalism by emphasizing its historical/cultural context was a Roman Catholic academic by the name of Lawrence Boadt. Has anyone asked him what his take on the Fall and Original Sin is? I would be interested in dialoguing with the ideas of Haught, Chardin, Boadt, etc. before expending too much effort trying to re-invent the wheel.

NOTE: this blog may well not be the place for it - it's Steve Martin's blog. But given Martin's reputation, organizational expertise, and editorial skills, I would hope it is. Maybe this is due its own separate series? "Theological Implications of Evolutionary Science through Orthodox Eyes." Thoughts, anyone?

Steve Martin said...

L&B, Stephen:

Excellent questions.

First, I should say that I am personally very interested in the interaction of Evangelical theology and the theology of other faith traditions. This includes of course overlapping traditions (eg. reformed, anabaptism, wesleyism), but also non-Evangelical Christian traditions that affirm the orthodox creeds (eg. Catholics, Eastern Orthodox), “non-orthodox” Christian traditions (eg. Modern liberal Protestantism) and even non-Christian traditions. As Stephen points out, there are times when these traditions can provide some helpful ideas, ideas that can be integrated into a distinctly Evangelical theology.

However, I must also say that although I tend to be critical of Evangelicalism, I do this as Noll says in “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” as a wounded lover; I still believe Evangelicalism has it right (or maybe more correctly used to have it right) at its core. (see for example my post What is an Evangelical? Am I one? Why do I choose to wear the label?). So, as someone who is a few rungs below “amateur” in the theologian ranks, I very much appreciate theologians in my own tradition who help me work through issues like Original Sin. And these theologians (like Murphy and Polkinghorne) do read and interact with the great theologians of other traditions, including Haught and de Chardin, but also Peacocke, Barbour, Whitehead, Tillich, Schleiermacher, and many others. I appreciate that they mediate between these great theologians and those of us in the Evangelical tradition. I’ve seen both Polkinghorne and Murphy defend these theologians when they have something good to say (and this doesn’t help either of them win any Evangelical popularity contests), but also astutely point out where these theologians have drawn conclusions that are not warranted (and are usually way outside of orthodoxy).

So, I doubt you’ll see any great discussion of de Chardin here in the future, possibly Haught but I’m somewhat uncomfortable with some of his ideas as well. This doesn’t mean I’ll completely avoid Catholic theologians (for example, I’m very interested In Daryl Domning’s ideas in Original Selfishness), but they will certainly not be center stage. And something like a series Stephen mentions (Theological Implications of Evolutionary Science through Orthodox Eyes) would be very interesting, but probably not appropriate here on this blog.

Stephen Douglas said...

Fair enough, as always. I certainly understand wanting to hear what like-minded people think about subjects one has no time to study for oneself. As long as inbreeding doesn't takes place, this is certainly perfectly acceptable: Lord knows we don't all have the time to explore every question, and it wouldn't be altogether human to not simply rest tentatively on the beliefs of our well-read friends when it comes to those.

Anyway, once again, let me express my anticipation (impatience may be more accurate) for this series to get underway.

Lame and Blind said...

Thanks. It is good to know where the blog stands on these things.

I am also uncomfortable with where Haught comes down on a few things (he flirts with deism a bit too closely for me), but no more so than I am with any other theologian. I am an evangelical who affirms Open Theism, and I like how the way Haught (following de Chardin) connects evolution with God's open nature.

I'll probably continue to comment on their work in my responses, just for balance. I do think, along with what Steve said, that many of the evangelicals who write on evolution retread old ground, or, worse, that they don't tread far enough even though Christians of other traditions have already been there and back again.

elbogz said...

In the movie Star Trek VI, Spock asks the rhetorical and deeply theological question; “Why does God need a starship?” As I stumbled through the last few writings, dictionary in hand, I began to wonder; why does an understanding of God, require a PhD thesis? God of the bible never made Himself complex. To understand God, one simply had to listen to a parable. If matters were more complex such as the Law, the relevance of Jesus, God revealed Himself, in a burning bush or a voice from heaven.

I’m sure somewhere, in man’s being, there is the need to ponder thoughts deeply philosophical, and deeply theological, but I can’t see why God would required that in order to understand concepts such as evolution, or science or religion. Did God really intend for us to ponder the meaning of a single word for centuries? So, I ask the question here, why does God need philosophical/theological starship?

Claire said...

Thank you! Great idea. It'll probably come too late for my lecture tomorrow about Genesis/evolution (in which I suspect this topic might be an issue in question time) but I'll refer interested Irishmen and women here. I read an essay in Keith Miller's "Perspectives on an evolving creation" about original sin, but didn't feel entirely comfortable with it. Anyone else read that one?

Looking forward to this very much. Mobile phone (cell phone as you guys say!) going off... now.

Lame and Blind said...


I think you should read the Bible more closely. In some ways, it can be read as a history of man's struggle to understand God. Yes, God wants to relate to us, but I don't see where the Bible suggests that this is an easy thing, no matter what one's level of intelligence is. Upon listening to some of Jesus' parables, even some of his closest disciples later asked him to please explain what the stories meant. The meaning wasn't always obvious. The very name "Israel" means "one who wrestles with God," the name God gave to Jacob after Jacob wrestled with God and couldn't beat him.

Along with the big bang and the idea of cosmic deep time, Darwin's theory of evolution is THE single biggest paradigm shift in the way we think about life and the universe that has taken place in the past couple of hundred years. It impacts the way we think about all sorts of things and makes its way into our cultures and histories. It cannot be ignored.

All we are doing here is what Jacob and Jesus' disciples did - wrestling with God in the light of the facts of evolution.

I agree you don't have to have a PhD or be a genius to think deeply about God or to have a relationship with him. But that doesn't mean we should ignore the pragmatic and intellectual challenges that get sent our way.

elbogz said...

lame and blind,

I think just the opposite, but we digress from the topic. The teachers of the time taught the rules and the laws and the complex system of the forgiveness of sins. But Jesus said in the parable of the prodigal son. (My paraphrase), look all you to do is just turn from your sins, and the Father’s heart will be so filled with compassion that he will run to you and greet you and hug you and kiss you and throw you a party.

Jesus told the parables to say, God is not complex. God loves you like a woman who lost a coin. God will look and look and look until He finds you. It was the teachers of the day that rejected this simplicity.

Lame and Blind said...


Sorry, I was not clear before. I think the problem is that you assume things which are simple are easy. That's not the case. Things which are simple are not always easy to grasp. Things which are difficult to grasp need not be complex.

Much of modern physics as well as evolution are, conceptually (and even sometimes mathematically) very, very simple. Yet they were not obvious and required a lot of work to get to.

To take your own example, sure, it is simple to get to God. He stands waiting with open arms. But is it easy? Is it easy to move beyond our pride and drop our desires to do things on our own? Of course not; it is a continual struggle.

Things are similar here. The ideas are very simple: Christianity and evolution fit together quite nicely (and elegantly, IMHO), but it takes effort to get there. we have to wrestle to get beyond our pre-conceived notions of what things like evolution, Creation, providence, and original sin mean to think about them afresh in the light of Biblical revelation and evolution.

Anonymous said...

Hello, my name is Renzo I'm writing from Italy, I arrived here by chance through another blog. After seeing the topic of this discussion I think you may be interested to read a book at the following address:
It is an account written years ago by a priest about a series of mystical experiences where God explained him the creation of man, the original sin and the fall of Adam. Beware I'm not making any claim that what don Guido Bortoluzzi experienced is the ultimate word about it or that we can put 100% trust in his mystical revelation (and I say this of all mystical revelations since they are often more symbolical than factual). Yet I think it makes a fascinating read and provides a an interesting explanation of this matter. My regards

Robert Byers said...

Can you send me somthing by email so I can access this blog from my email page. I can't seem to figure out otherwise.
Lord bless

Steve Martin said...

Hi Robert,
You can send me an email to steven.dale.martin@gmail.com and I will reply to your email with whatever information you need. Can you clarify what you are looking for? I'm not exactly sure what problem you are having with the website.

Paul Bruggink said...

Thank you so much for organizing and presenting this dialogue. This is an area that needs knowledgeable discussion, and the contributors are providing it. I will be looking forward to the upcoming answers to readers' questions.