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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.