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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.