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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.