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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)


Ecir Nodnarb said...

What "overwhelming evidence" for human evolution? Human evolution is just the first serration on the tip of the leaf on the colossal "tree-of-life" (Not the one in Eden either, rather the fabled darwinian tree-of-life AKA molecules-to-man theory). This post assumes that Darwinian evolution even happened. The theory of darwinian evolution destroys the genesis account. The two stories cannot coexist as Truth. If you want to believe both, the genesis account MUST be regarded as a nice story with rich metaphysical meaning and little "truths" while darwinian evolution is The Truth (The Way and The Life, I might jokingly add). No man can serve two masters. He will either love the one and hate the other or vice versa (I forgot the order). So my point is, be sure that you KNOW that darwinian evolution happened before you relegate genesis to the metaphysical trash can.

So.... did macro-evolution (AKA Evolution) ever happen? Absolutely not! Do your research. There is evidence for everything, but the sum of evidence does not favor Evolution. Forget the debate concerning original sin and whether you're a slave to Adam and Eve's choices (ultimately it's a blame God game). I sinned yesterday and I know it. There I'm a sinner, and it isn't Adam's fault. Now for something more practical and less academic. Evolution doesn't care one thing about the theology of sin. Shall we review? The "theory" implicates that there is no sin because there is no God or gods. No ultimate accountability. No afterlife. No heaven. No hell. Give it up! You're not going to hijack the theory of Evolution and wrestle it to the ground and get it to form some truce with you that will allow you the freedom to think about God or god or gods, when you need a rest from it's cold, materialistic, mechanistic (don't even try to invoke quantum mechanics here), Godless mind. You are the pawn, and you will never be free once you bow your knee to the all-enveloping, all-explanatory, know-knowthingness of Darwinian Evolution and all her mutated children.

How do I know that the sum of evidence does not favor Evolution? It's simple. Look to the Evolutionists themselves. Darwin pondered how natural selection might preserve new traits and phenotypes. But that's all it does. It selects from what is already there. He had no idea how these differing traits or phenotypes came to be. He assumed that they were merely the collection of new traits over time, but this is cyclical reasoning. He even believed that changes in behavior could affect the phenotype which would transmit through the genotype on to the next generation. Modern genetics laid this ridiculous claim wide open but the philosophical fire had been lit. Here was a theory that could explain everything without God, so great effort was made to keep it alive with a heart transplant. This Frankenstein theory was re-awakened as Neo-Darwinism with it's new heart beating with the concept that genetic mutations are the engine of change. Mutations actually give natural selection something to select from, but deep down we all know that mutations degrade informational systems. Use any simple monkey-and-typewriter, copy-machine-and-copies, telephone-conversation-game analogies you like. Things don't self-assemble unless we exert our mental capacities. Neo-Darwinism is dying. Even non-beneficial mutations can accumulate and overwhelm the error-correction methods of living organisms. Francis Crick, saw what DNA would do to the theory of Evolution and he invented the pro-Evolutionary theory of panspermia to remove the question of origins to another place and another time. The theory of Evolution can not be supported with the fossil record as Darwin had sincerely hoped. We joke about "THE missing link". Darwinists rejoice when a new fossil appears as a candidate for human evolutionary change. Evolutionists rejoice when a new fossil is found that could link the dinosaurs to the birds or some major phyla to another. Ask yourself if this "fossil worship" is intellectually honest. If it is, then it should not exist. Our museums should be filled to excess capacity with fossils detailing the millions, if not billions, of missing "links". Sure we wouldn't have everything, but we would have enough. Then Evolution WOULD be TRUE. Until then, the only pseudo-scientific, religious nuts are the ones who make these evolutionary displays and teach this dogmatic evolutionary drivel to the next intellectual generation as fact, in order to keep the propaganda machine and their careers alive. Oh I forgot to mention punctuated equilibrium. It's the pro-Evolutionary theory that explains why we don't see the millions upon millions of missing "links". It's basically an admission of guilt wrapped in the gauze and bandages of pseudo-science, in an poor attempt to recover from the whole-body, third-degree burns that the theory of Evolution has sustained from the steady blaze of real science. The "theory" will survive, however. It's mind is to strong to give up. It can explain everything without God, and that's what people love, whether consciously or unconsciously. The theory of Evolution is now morphing trying to find inroads into theological thought processes. Considering that the "theory" of Evolution sprang from theological beginnings (eg. God would never create things with the imperfections we observe, thus evolution must be true, ie a backlash against the Victorian notion of an inviolate creation), the "theory" has come full circle.

If you can stand for such a spineless, flexible, changing, morphing theory that is rife with it's own massive internal contradictions and total lack of evidence, then be my guest. I prefer Truth.

Steve Martin said...

Ecir Nodnarb,

Wow … not sure it is just your name that you have backwards :-)

Anyways, I’m glad that we agree that we are all sinners & that it is not Adam’s fault. This, and the that fact that Christ offers us salvation through his death and resurrection is the heart of the gospel.

Now, I’m not going to comment too much on the rest of your, um - rant I think is the best word. Most of this stuff has been discussed many times here on this blog. Have you read any of these 10 books written by Evangelicals that see no conflict between their Christian faith and the scientific evidence for evolution?

Olavo said...

Greetings from Brazil! I am a pastor in Southern Brazil and I grew up believing in creationism but I have changed my mind. I am so glad to found your blog. It is a rich source of information for a person like me that wants to explore the theological implications of theistic evolution. God bless you, guys!

Steve Martin said...

Welcome Olavo and thanks.

Tom said...


You seem to have a lot of passion against evolution, and I am projecting that this fear is not so much against the theory itself, but that it truly is a threat to yours and others' Christian beliefs. You're right!

The purpose of this blog is to balance belief in evolution with Christianity because it raises a lot of issues -- issues that can pit people such that they accept one in lieu of the other.

At a glance, you seem to have a broad understanding of evolution -- knowing about Crick's panspermia idea and punctuated equilibrium, etc., but you obviously do not have a deep understanding of evolution. Check out TalkOrigins, especially the "Theory of Science" part and see if you can answer those questions or if others have scientifically debunked those statements.

It's nice to see you stopping by and commenting here and at undeception.com. Even though your comments sound like you have your head in the sand when it comes to talk of evolution, by coming here, I think you are pulling your head out. These forums are great places to vent your frustrations and concerns with evolution and reconciling them with Christianity. That's their purpose.

Ranger said...

I'm late to the discussion. I'm new to this site, but have been studying the intersection between theology and evolution for years.

There is nothing about being honest with science and the Bible that poses a threat to your Christian beliefs. There are new articles and books being written every month that show evolution and Christian orthodoxy have nothing to fear from each other. Thanks for sharing your viewpoint and I encourage you to continue to search the Scriptures (hopefully in Hebrew and Greek) and prayerfully consider the intersection of science and faith. I promise that the ride will be enjoyable and rewarding to your faith. It will by no means threaten it, but will instead broaden and strengthen it.