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Christians admit that difficult questions arise when one attempts to reconcile Christianity and Evolution

Reconciling Christianity and Evolution

From Pete Enns:

‘Evolution is a serious challenge to how Christians have traditionally understood at least three central issues of the faith: the origin of humanity, of sin, and of death.’

“Evolution claims that the cause of sin and death, as Paul understood it, is not viable. That leaves open the questions of where sin and death come from. More than that, the very nature of what sin is and why people die is turned on its head. Some behaviors Christians have thought of as sinful are understood in an evolutionary scheme as means of ensuring survival—for example, the aggression and dominance associated with ‘survival of the fittest’ and sexual promiscuity to perpetuate oneʼs gene pool. Likewise, in an evolutionary scheme death is not the enemy to be defeated. It may be feared, it may be ritualized, it may be addressed in epic myths and sagas; but death is not the unnatural state introduced by a disobedient couple in a primordial garden. Actually, it is the means that promotes the continued evolution of life on this planet and even ensures workable population numbers. Death may hurt, but it is evolutionʼs ally. So, I repeat my point: evolution cannot simply be grafted onto evangelical Christian faith as an add-on, where we can congratulate ourselves on a job well done. This is going to take some work—and a willingness to take theological risk.”
Evangelicalism and Evolution are in Conflict and Thatʼs Fine

“If one accepts evolution, the first thing to note is that one has left the biblical worldview. I think this is an obvious point, but needs to be stated clearly. As soon as evolution is accepted, the invariably result is some clear movement away from what the Bible says about Adam.”

From William Van Doodewaard Writing In Books & Culture: A Christian Review

“Karl Giberson aptly notes that ‘many evangelicals … recognize that evolution essentially rules out the possibility that our species consisted of just two people a few thousand years ago. Nevertheless, because St. Paul builds his theology—and his Christology—on the sin of Adam, they are inclined to retain a historical Adam of some sort …. They envision new ‘Adams’ that are often quite different from the Adam in Genesis … to preserve the authority of Paul—who most likely believed in the exact Adam described in Genesis—people are inventing new Adams quite different from the guy in Genesis.’”

“There is a certain clear and compelling logic to the post-Adam/no Adam viewpoint of Karl Giberson, Peter Enns, and others participating in this roundtable. Where we grant that an ancient earth requires an alternate, ‘non-literal’ approach to time in Genesis 1 and 2, we are left with little (if any) exegetical ground to argue against wide-ranging evolutionary hypotheses. If we accept an adjusted hermeneutic and allow for mainstream evolutionary biology, there is no longer exegetical ground to maintain a historical Adam and Eve, created specially by God in a brief span of time, from the dust of the earth and Adamʼs rib, respectively. If we have actually adopted a new hermeneutic for Genesis 1-2 and maintain that Scripture teaches a unity of truth, then we ought to revisit and work towards reinterpreting New Testament passages on Adam…”

“For John Walton, Adam functioned as a failed Savior-figure. Death and suffering, which ostensibly had already included thistles, sweat, and pain in childbirth, continued for all as the ‘curse.’ One looks in vain in the Old and New Testament to find such an account: it seems to be a rather creative reconstruction. It also presents questions about Godʼs character. How could such a God be fair, good, and holy in putting such high expectations on an Adam who had been created in what historic Christianity would view as a significantly fallen condition? Where in the text do we find such an Adam—set apart by God from his contemporaries to function as a redeemer? And how could sin be justly imputed to those prior to and contemporary with Adam when they had no part in it by participation or ordinary generation? Why would Scripture be utterly silent on all of this? Where do these new revelations come from?”

“[Furthermore]… if there was no literal Adam or fall, then what is sin? Where did it come from? One can of course merely state a continued adherence to a doctrine of sin—but on what basis?… As Hans Madueme notes, the key prospects now become dualism or monism, both of which lead to an eternality of evil, no reason for confidence in Christ, and no hope of enduring salvation from sin. A third option would be that sin is merely a biological present reality which will fade through evolutionary advancement. But this is no Christian solution either, as Richard Phillips reveals: ‘evolution demands the abandonment of the grand biblical narrative of creation, fall, and redemption for a narrative of gradual improvement.’”

“Scripture reveals that Christ was the One by whom all things—including Adam—were created. It teaches us with consistent clarity that while Adam, as the first man, brought all humanity under sin and judgment, God had a plan of redemption ready. The literal reading of Genesis provides every ground to recognize that the redemption of fallen men and women will be marked, illustrated, pursued, and confirmed with supernatural activity in history—activity whose nature and timing can only be attributed to God. Passages like Isaiah 35:5-6, where the eyes of the blind are opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped, are a glorious prophecy of Godʼs saving re-creation. There is a promised Creator-Redeemer who comes: Christ, the second Adam. He turns water to wine, feeds thousands with loaves and a few fish, heals, restores, raises from the dead, stops wind and waves, and transforms sinners from spiritual death to life. He takes the wrath, the curse for the sin of his people… unto death. The supernatural glory of his resurrection and ascension seal and crown his work as Creator and Redeemer. The first Adam and the second Adam are inseparably connected: when we lose the first, we will lose the second. There is much more to say: I encourage readers to engage with my book The Quest for the Historical Adam (RHB, 2015), and Richard Gaffinʼs recent work, No Adam, No Gospel (P&R, 2015).”

From Jim Stump At BIOLOGOS:

“There is no getting away from some speculation as we try to harmonize natural history and theological history.”

“Perhaps God held Homo species 500,000 years ago responsible for some things; species 200,000 years ago for more; 30,000 years ago even more; and when the law was given to Moses, God held the people accountable in a new way. Perhaps that is an evolutionary reading of Romans 5:13, “sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged to anyoneʼs account where there is no law.” For people before Moses, we might still say the law was “written on their hearts”, but they became gradually and more fully aware of that over time.”

From Terry W. Wardʼs Letter Published In Christian Century, April 22, 2008 [with edits by Edward T. Babinski]

“It is a difficult task fitting evolutionary ideas into the Christian framework, beginning with Paulʼs exposition in Romans 5:12 that ‘Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned’… And what about Paulʼs thoughts on the direct connection of sin with one man and redemption with another in Romans 5:18, ‘Therefore just as one manʼs trespass led to condemnation for all, so one manʼs act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.’ Was the trespass that Paul mentions perpetrated by some particularly evil Homo habilus or an especially cunning Homo erectus? The common modern explanation is that Genesis 1-3 is to be interpreted metaphorically. If that is so, why does God require a bloody, horrific, non-metaphorical sacrifice of his Son? This is the difficult task of reconciling evolutionary thought and Christianity… One also has to wonder what it means to live in a ‘fallen’ world where no such fall has occurred [where death, predation, aggression, have always been, long before any species vaguely resembling an ‘Adam’ ever evolved]. So without an historically ‘good’ creation ‘in the beginning,’ and without an historical Adam and Eve or historical fall, the problem of natural evil becomes one of even more stark contrast. The answer to suffering parishoners that we ‘live in a fallen world’ makes less sense if every living thing was cursed with death–and over 90% of every ancient species was cursed with extinction–long before human beings even showed up in this less than Edenic cosmos.”

From Tim Widowfield, Strange Bedfellows — Evolution And Christianity

“Did a separate group of hominids reach a certain point at which their brains could handle a ‘soul?’ And where was the cutoff point? Can you imagine the heartbreak of knowing your mom and dad arenʼt endowed with the image of God? Try this on for size: ‘Grandma and grandpa arenʼt going to heaven — not because they sinned, but because they were animals.’”

From Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, Christianity And Evolution

“So long as people believed, as St. Paul himself did, in one week of creation and a past of 4,000 years – so long as people thought the stars were satellites of the earth and that animals were there to serve man – there was no difficulty in believing that a single man could have ruined everything, and that another man had saved everything.”

From Edward T. Babinski:

“I am familiar with the accommodationist attempt to equate the creation of Adam and Eve with the arising of human consciousness. In other words, aggression, predation, suffering, death and even extinction were around long before the first successful continuing species of upright large-brained primate — but that primate had slowly evolved to a point where it could recognize such things and how awful they are, including things like nakedness, how shameful. Thus guilt was born. But in such an accommodationist scenario one is stuck with the fact that God made aggressive impulses, predation, suffering, death and extinction, even felt they were necessary in order to squeeze out upright primates in the end. So it looks more like a rise over time than a ‘fall.’ Maybe God was the one slowly evolving a moral sense over time, and the one who should feel most guilty?”

From Edward T. Babinski [simplified versions of arguments found in the book, Evolving Out Of Eden: Christian Responses To Evolution]

Reconciling Christian theology of the Adam and Eve tale with modern science seems a bit of a task. For instance…

Hadnʼt animals been acting both aggressively and cooperatively toward one another for ages before upright primates ever existed? So why would God expect the first upright primate couple to act with far less aggression than all the rest of the animals on earth–and then damn all the children of the first couple to hell when they did? Death, fear, anxiety, quick hormonal fight or flight reactions, including aggressive impulses (as well as cooperative impulses) were all part of the early upright primate genome inherited from its primate cousins. So why damn the first couple to eternal hell? The very evolutionary process that God employed to create the genomes of upright primates ensured a host of problematic behavioral imperfections right from the start.

Put another way, men and women are ‘sinful’ because of what? Evidence suggests it is because of the very process God employed to bring about the human species. You wonʼt find many shrinking violets in your ancestry. We are here because we had ancestors who did what it took to reproduce and survive in a world that was filled with competing groups of primates, pain, fear, anxiety, starvation, sickness, death and extinction events, long before the “image of God” arrived. What we inherited from our biological ancestors seems to have been the very traits that allowed them to produce more of their kind, traits often involving selfishness, aggression, unbridled curiosity (as well as traits involving cooperation and forgiveness). Consider the “anger reaction,” aggressive outbursts that we all lapse into from time to time. Those are to be expected evolutionarily speaking, because our threat system has evolved so that it is activated rapidly, because defenses that come on too slowly may be too late. We have been prey more than predators, even for most of human evolutionary prehistory, and there isnʼt much time to react when the tiger is about to pounce, or a fellow primate is coming at us to keep us away from his food, or his mate, or even his harem in case of Pan chimpanzees (though Bonobos are certainly different in not having harems, and having sex freely with other chimps). Is having a rapid-response amygdala for threat response our “sinful” fault; or is it part of the way our brains evolved to function?

Christian apologists object that such a biological interpretation tends to reduce sin or evil merely to our acting on long evolved biological impulses, ignoring forms of evil made possible by our transcendence—evils such as idolatry of self, viewing other people as mere objects, and the like. But such traits could just as well be explained as being rooted in our survival instincts. As the anatomist and Christian Daryl Domning admits, our “sinful” human behaviors do appear to exist because they promote the survival and reproduction of those individuals that perform(ed) them. He adds that “there is virtually no known human behavior that we call ‘sin’ that is not also found among nonhuman animals. Even pride, proverbially the deadliest sin of all, is not absent.” Domningʼs “conclusion” is that animals are “doing things that would be sinful if done by morally reflective human beings.” Moreover… “Logical parsimony and the formal methods of inference used in modern studies of biological diversity affirm that these patterns of behavior are displayed in common by humans and other animals because they have been inherited from a common ancestor which also possessed them. In biologistsʼ jargon, these behaviors are homologous. Needless to say, this common ancestor long predated the first humans and cannot be identified with the biblical Adam.”

Or to quote Ed Friedlander, “We do not like to be reminded of the ways in which we resemble animals. We sinners like to think our motives are more holy than those of animals. And since we generally assume animals cannot have eternal life with God, thinking about animal deaths and about our own place in nature frightens us.”

Or to quote Sally Carrighar, “A preacher thundering from his pulpit about the uniqueness of human beings with their God-given souls would not like to realize that his very gestures, the hairs that rose on his neck, the deepened tones of his outraged voice, and the perspiration that probably ran down his skin under clerical vestments are all manifestations of anger in mammals. If he was sneering at Darwin a bit (one does not need a mirror to know that one sneers), did he remember uncomfortably that a sneer is derived from an animalʼs lifting its lip to remind an enemy of its fangs? Even while he was denying the principle of evolution, how could a vehement man doubt such intimate evidence?”

Many Protestant and Catholic theistic evolutionists believe that at some point a soul appeared in two (or more) of our animal ancestors. One of these, or perhaps their representative, was assigned the name “Adam.” These ensouled humans were spiritual orphans, apparently. Their parents would have looked and acted much like them, with only a handful of DNA mutations distinguishing them, biologically, but these first ensouled humans would have suckled at the breasts of a soulless mother, and picked up their first lessons on how to behave by observing and interacting with soulless parents and friends. Does such a view make much sense?

Having acquired a “soul” that, according to Christian theology, now needed to be “saved,” what kind of salvation was available to our ancient ancestors who first chipped stones, carved spears, built fires, and later drew pictures of animals on the walls of caves in France? They seemed pretty involved in simply staying alive and noticing animal life, perhaps practicing some sort of religion involving the recognition of animal spirits. Which reminds me that besides the cave paintings from long ago, the oldest known human-made religious structure was built about 12,000 years ago, and is decorated with graven images of animals which would be prohibited by Exodus 20:4 thousands of years later. Early human artists also left behind carved images of large breasted women. No doubt the folks who pursued the healthiest women that could also keep their man warm at night, not necessarily the most “sinless” women, gave birth to the most offspring, leading to our species with its genes and behaviors.

Another question, how might a scientifically savvy Christian bridge the chasm between natural and supernatural conception in the case of Jesus? Did the Holy Spirit employ a set of freshly constructed chromosomes that fused with Maryʼs? In that case, some divinely produced DNA would need to be produced that appeared to have come from a human father with a long evolutionary past of his own. Thatʼs because the divinely implanted paternal chromosomes have to line up right beside the naturally evolved maternal chromosomes in Maryʼs zygote. So letʼs say the Holy Spirit injected a ready-made Y chromosome into Mary (along with 22 others from falsified meiosis in a non-existent human father), complete with endogenous retroviruses, fossil genes, and other hallmarks of evolution that would be capable of lining up beside Maryʼs chromosomes to form a fully complementary set. So the Holy Spirit would have had to add a Y chromosome that was faked to look like it had been passed down, with occasional mutations, from an endless line of evolutionary descendants. And we know what “those” guys were like. Weʼve already gone over that.

From Edward T. Babinski:

A few related question is, What are “sins?” Where do sins exist apart from being past acts? As humans we experience memories of being hurt, but donʼt experience “sins” as distinct entities. Are “sins” the “bad” memories of God? Do such memories “soil” Godʼs mind? And he has to dispose of them? And He canʼt forget/forgive them without blood being shed? What exactly is the connection between shedding blood and Godʼs memories no longer being a bother to him or us? I donʼt get how these things connect. When I forgive someone I simply forgive them, no need to shed blood. Nor can God be harmed by mere humans, but he requires blood being shed before He can truly forgive anyone anything? Is the death of Godʼs son a form of forgetfulness, a means of dissolving such memories? How so, since killing Godʼs son has got to be among the numero uno of “sins” humans could commit?

Humans share so many traits with our ancestors what great need is there to introduce concepts like ‘sin’ or some ideal human couple or group who fell from some alleged state of moral neutrality during earlier stages of their evolution, and instead admit that humans have simply retained some of the same aggressive and cohesive/friendly instincts and desires as their ancestors, and as seen in non-human mammals with large complex nervous systems such as elephants, dolphins, and great apes (notably bonobos)? In other words, do we need Christian theology to explain matters that science has already tied to physiological and behavioral studies of primate evolution, ethology, cognitive science, etc.? And if God employed evolutionary means and methods over billions of years of birth and death, suffering and joy, evolution and extinction, doesnʼt that seem like God left things to sort themselves out over those eons? So why is it necessary to introduce such theological concepts as ‘sin’ and ‘fall?’

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