Original Sin Returns 1 (RJS)

We had a good series of Friday posts on Alan Jacobs’ excellent book “Original Sin.” The essays in his book are outstanding and explore many facets of Original Sin in history and in contemporary thought. But Jacobs is an English Professor, not a theologian or a scientist. His book raised as many questions as it answered. Most importantly, how does a theologian deal with the doctrine – and how does it mesh with contemporary science? Henri Blocher’s book Original Sinprovides an excellent entrée into this subject. Today we begin to ask this question: how do developments in the origins of life and the beginning of humans relate to original sin? Before delving into Blocher’s book in the next post let me (RJS) lay forth a preamble on the science and human history.

I. Science, Scripture, and Tradition

Over the last several centuries, and especially the last century, we have witnessed an exponential growth in our understanding of God’s creation; from fossils to geology, from astronomy to astrophysics, from medicine to the human genome. The flood of data and interpretation overwhelms our ability to synthesize and digest. Information overload hits the church and the average Christian. When confusion runs rampant it is often easiest to retreat to the safety of 1500+ years of church tradition. After all we read scripture through tradition, correct? If it was good enough for Luther, or Calvin, or Augustine, or those who framed the Westminster Confession, it is good enough for us. God’s truth doesn’t change.

Or do we, should we, read scripture with tradition and in the light of God’s creation and revelation? God’s truth doesn’t change — but human culture and human understanding most certainly do change. We always come to God and wrestle with his action and his word in context of our understanding of the world. We don’t follow God effectively when we wear time-fixed blinders – rather, with blinders we miss most of the elegance and beauty of God’s creation and most of his mission in the world today. There is – there must be – an element of “that was then and this is now” in our approach.

Until the sixteenth or seventeenth century there was little reason to doubt the Genesis account of origins, little evidence to raise concern. Thus a literal historical interpretation was the traditional consensus opinion, although allegorical interpretation was often added to the mix on top of not instead of the historical meaning. There were variants. Augustine, for example, thought that creation was instantaneous with all matter and life created simultaneously, thus the days of creation were analogical, an accommodation by God to human perspective.

Today the landscape has changed completely. Evidence has gradually accumulated to revolutionize our understanding of God’s creation. Don’t fool yourself. There is no going back. The only way to hold to a literal historical interpretation of Genesis is to postulate that God created the earth with evidence deeply and intricately embedded to make it appear as though it was of great age, to make it appear as though there was a succession of geological ages, to make it appear as though evolution was true, and then gave us Genesis so that we would know the truth. A young earth view today reveres scripture, but the inescapable conclusion is that it sets God up as the great deceiver. Those who hold to young earth creationism do so on the basis of a doctrine of scripture, in the face of the evidence, not on the basis of or in the absence of evidence to the contrary.

The earth is not 6-10,000 years old. Rather the earth is some 4.6 billion years old. The geological processes and strata are inescapable. These include layers of fossil deposition. The theory of evolution explains the evidence for the progression of life in profound and predictive fashion. The genetic record – the genome – provides distinct evidence for the inter-relatedness of species and the evolution of one species from others. In fact, the genetic record provides just the sort of evidence one would expect from the theory of evolution, formulated well before any concrete knowledge of the structure and composition of the genetic material.
Of course it is possible for a Christian to affirm some form of intelligent design or progressive creationism with intellectual integrity, and many Christians in the sciences do. The nature of the scientific evidence is such that it cannot refute such a claim. But neither does the evidence require such an assumption.

II. So what about mankind?

The human race – homo sapiens sapiens – is some 200,000 years old give or take. Other hominoids existed before and alongside modern humans. The archaeological and paleontological evidence is pervasive and persuasive, but the genomic evidence is overwhelming and inescapable. The evidence for common descent – the human relation to mammals, apes, and chimpanzees – coming from the study of the genome is astounding. Evolutionary theories are being refined and strengthened – not questioned and overturned.

The general scenario (subject of course to future refinement) is this – we all descend from one woman (best estimate of age based on genetic evidence ca. 230,000 years ago) and one man (best estimate of age based on genetic evidence ca. 100,000 years ago). It is not necessary to conclude that these two individuals were contemporaries or mates, in fact most think that they were not. But whether they were contemporaries, mates, or existent at times spaced by a hundred millenia, these individuals were parts of larger populations with whom their descendents interbred. It’s a complicated problem. There is no scientific evidence for one unique couple from whom all others descend in simple pyramid fashion.

However, on the basis of science we are all one species with only minor variations. The best estimate based on scientific analysis alone is that we all descend from one population of about 1000 individuals living in East Africa ca. 100,000 years ago. Populations left East Africa ca. 100,000 years ago and migrated throughout Africa. Migration to Europe, Asia, Oceania occurred more like 40-60,000 years ago, migration to the America’s some 15-30,000 years ago. This migration scheme is corroborated by multiple threads of evidence, each of which could conceivably snap if taken alone, but which weave together to form an entirely self-consistent picture. There are even estimates published in scientific journals that because of intermarriage and migration all humans may have at least one common ancestor from the population of homo sapiens sapiens present on earth as recently as ca. 10,000 years ago.

Where does this leave us in terms of theology and the nature of man? On the testimony of science and scripture we are one species, one people. On the testimony of scripture we are one people created in the image of God. Science, of course, has nothing to say on the latter – it does not, cannot, refute the statement or even address the question. What does it mean to be created in the image of God? What makes us both like God and unlike the lower animals? These are interesting questions that have intrigued theologians and lay thinkers alike for millennia.

Thoughts?

  • Kyle

    Thanks RJS,
    Over the last few years the discussions on this site (as well as some others like the more reject Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution) have helped me come around on this topic. To be honest, I somewhat held to evolution since high school, but didn’t know how to “fit it in” with my faith. Now I do, and know that it’s in no way a hindrance to a very robust orthodox faith.
    With that said, I think you would be interested in reading a very large pdf (something like 100 pages) that was given out at the recent Washington Theological Consortium of Seminaries (HT: Stephen Cook). It’s a briefing of the current state of evolutionary studies (basic for you, but not for many of us in the ministry/missions/theology) alongside understanding what this can teach us about original sin. The book is by Daryl Domning, paleobiologist and professor of anatomy at Howard University and Rev. Dr. Joseph Wimner, professor of Sacred Scripture at Washington Theological Union. It’s primarily from a Catholic point of view, but has very good insights for those of us who more align with evangelicalism. Here’s the link:
    http://www.congregationalresources.org/EvolutionOriginalSin/PrintReady.pdf

  • Kyle

    LOL, by “reject EDoE” I meant “recent.”

  • Chris E

    Hi Scott – Do you believe it’s possible to read Blocher’s view of Original Sin away from his understanding of Genesis on which he has also done work? Or are his views of geneis summarised in Original Sin?

  • http://rhymeswithplague.blogspot.com Bob Brague

    Now that RJS has explained everything to us, I guess we can all close up shop and go home.
    A few centuries back, the Church would have wanted to burn her at the stake.
    Both sides seem to be ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. We are truly in the last days.

  • http://rhymeswithplague.blogspot.com Bob Brague

    And the conclusion that God is a deceiver is erroneous.

  • Matt

    I hope the topic of suffering and death before the advent of “sin” will be part of this conversation. There has been some interesting discussions in the blog world on this topic as of late. Thanks.

  • Glenn

    “There is no scientific evidence for one unique couple from whom all others descend in simple pyramid fashion.” This is a clear statement and one I have no reason to disagree with on a scientific basis. Recently I was talking with a Catholic friend on this topic. He said while Catholics may read the story of Adam and Eve as myth or allegory, from a theological perspective they viewed man as descending from two historical people. Is this true and are there theological statements by any church institution that agree with the scientific evidence against one unique couple?

  • RJS

    Matt,
    Blocher doesn’t deal with the topic of death before “sin” in this book – so it will only come up peripherally in this short series. However, it is my intent, as long as Scot welcomes my participation, to open conversation on the major theological issues involving science and faith from a variety of perspectives. The issue of death is certainly one we will get to eventually.

  • RJS

    Bob,
    A few centuries back, the Church would have wanted to burn me at the stake for reading or translating the Bible into English, or for proposing that belief in the “real presence” in the Eucharist is adiaphora (neither mandated nor forbidden). The Church is not always right.

  • http://www.livingspirituality.org Greg Laughery

    Blocher’s book on OS, in my view, was somewhat disappointing in that it didn’t do enough with the scientific data coming strongly down the pipleline. I thought his Genesis work, In the Beginning, was more insightful.
    I’m glad this topic is receiving further discussion here and I’m looking forward to RJS’s assessments and posts.
    On image – perhaps it’s a statement that humans are not divine. In many ANE contexts, both nature and humans (kings) were understood to be divine. One of the trajectories of Genesis is to de-deify nature and humans. Neither nature nor humans are divine, but humans image God. That is, they represent corporeally the incorporeal God both in who they are and in what they do. Humans can be like God in a way that lower animals can’t in that they can be aware of God and of their call to represent God on the earth.
    Intriguing that humans still image God, not only post-fall, but post-flood.

  • Daryl

    RJS, I’d love to have the source for Augustine’s discussion of creation. I’m assuming it is in “On Genesis”?
    If scientific evidence points one way (evolution, say), and Genesis must be taken as literal history, why isn’t the conclusion that God is a deceiver correct? God has given us minds and the ability to discover things, yet has (apparently) made those things tell us information that isn’t true.

  • http://rhymeswithplague.blogspot.com Bob Brague

    RJS (#9),
    And your point is…???

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    RJS,
    As one who is primarily pastor and theologian I look forward to your essays on Blocher’s book. Thanks for your work.
    John

  • http://theupsidedownworld.wordpress.com Rebeccat

    I have sometimes wondered if the fall represented an evolutionary step where in humanity took on the abilities which both made them human and knowingly sinful. Then again, there is evidence for Neanderthal violence and the more we study, the more human we find them to be. Perhaps we were not the only fallen creatures made in the image of God but God just told us OUR story and not the whole story? Pure speculation, of course. I have also heard theories that the fall and the Cain and Able story represented a move away from hunter gatherer to agricultural lifestyles. Hunter-gatherer cultures were dependent on God’s providence through nature’s bounty for survival. Agricultural cultures were seeing to their own survival by planting crops and settling down. These cultures tended to come into a lot of conflict when they existed side by side.
    What I find remarkable is that although there are differing interpretations of creation and the fall, the basic insights into the human condition and our relationship with God found in the biblical stories continue to be so illuminating and challenging and relevant. The truths which are so much larger and more important than any historical account could be, speak to the veracity of the faith which has carried the stories forward, IMO.

  • http://michaeldefazio.wordpress.com Michael DeFazio

    RJS,
    I think I’m the only one who doesn’t know who you are. I do look forward to your series. I’ve been wanting to dig deeper into this debate for a while now, but have not known where to turn. In addition to Blocher’s book (I’m assuming), could you point to some other basic introductory resources to the view of evolutionary development you discuss here. I know it’s mainstream, but that doesn’t help someone like me (totally untrained in this field) know who to read, who to avoid, what is a waste of time, etc. So if you could point out a few resources, that would be much appreciated. Thanks!
    Bob, I think her point is that you don’t have a very good point. No offense (seriously), but I agree with her.

  • B. Stanley

    Rebeccat,
    Your first paragraph made an interesting point. I’ve never thought about that possibility before. I have to agree with your second paragraph though. Even if the biblical accounts aren’t accurate, they are defiantly “truthFULL” and very beneficial for understanding the human condition.

  • http://johnkw47.blogspot.com John Warren

    “Or do we, should we, read scripture with tradition and in the light of God’s creation and revelation?”
    Turn this around. Faith comes before knowledge. We need to read God’s creation and natural revelation in light of Scripture. Scripture is clear enough. Even the parts that aren’t clear.
    And we always need to transcend Tradition.

  • http://rhymeswithplague.blogspot.com Bob Brague

    RJS and Mike,
    Scot told me in an e-mail not to be cranky and that my frustration is obvious. I suppose if I’m frustrated it’s because I happen to believe in a God that can do anything, who often (but not always) does the unexpected, whose ways are much higher than our ways, and whose ways, some of them at least, are past finding out, and who is not confined by our limited understanding. But some things that our eyes have not seen and our ears have not heard, He reveals to us by His Spirit. I can believe in a young earth in spite of all the supposed physical evidence to the contrary because I believe God can do anything He desires, wherever and whenever He decides to.
    It frustrates me that so many here are determined to declare the Bible irrelevant or just plain wrong. Maybe it’s poetry; maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s literal truth; maybe it’s figurative language. That argument won’t be resolved in a blog thread. But start casting aspersions on your own faith’s holy writings and you’re well down the slippery slope to losing your faith completely in things like the incarnation, the miracles, the resurrection, the ascension. After all, they are all scientifically impossible. Either you believe or you don’t.
    I believe it because it is incredible. I accept it because it is impossible.
    When He returns, will He find faith on the earth?
    Maybe that’s my point.

  • http://michaeldefazio.wordpress.com Michael DeFazio

    Brother, I respect your faith but you are wrong in what you’re accusing us of doing. No one is saying the Bible is wrong, casting aspersions at it, or anything like that. We’re asking how to read the Bible faithfully and intelligently. You are more than free to believe in a 6-day creation, but that doesn’t mean your faith is larger than those who do not. Of course we believe God can do whatever he wants. The question is not what can God do, but what has God done.
    And to say that denying the literal interpretation of Genesis 1 is tantamount to or leaning towards denying such doctrines as Jesus’ bodily resurrection is false. There are all sorts of exegetical and historical reasons for doubting the literal interpretation of Genesis, to say nothing of science. (I’m not a scientist at all and to be honest I don’t know what I believe about how it all ‘actually happened’, but as an exegete I do not feel constrained to the literal interpretation; in fact, I feel pushed away from it, and I’ve come to this through the good ol’ historical grammatical method.) They are two very different animals in terms of this discussion.
    Of course it would be wrong to deny that God is the Creator of all things. But to question how God has accomplished such a massive feat is in not out of the bounds of Christian Orthodoxy. It does not mean we have faith.
    I respect your freedom to disagree, but please know that this is not a question of faith, but how our faith and our reading of Scripture works itself out in light of what we are learning about all sorts of things, including those properly called ‘scientific’.
    I pray you are blessed in your faith and ministry. Please don’t hear me as attacking you in any way.

  • http://michaeldefazio.wordpress.com Michael DeFazio

    Sorry for the typos. Of course I meant that asking questions about how God has accomplished creation does not mean we don’t have faith. The others are minor.

  • mariam

    Thanks RJS for bringing more resources to this discussion, and also Kyle #1. I haven’t finished that article yet :-) but so far it is providing an excellent lay summary of human evolution and the theological issues which appear to be disrupted by it.
    Bob #5, of course God is not a deceiver but ofttimes humans are mistaken. A lot of “theology” came out of Genesis which is not specifically stated but is assumed based on our interpretation of Genesis – eg that Genesis is a literal history rather than metaphor, fable or myth which reveals meta-truth in the way that Jesus’ parables revealed such truths without being historical. If a literal/historical reading is wrong, then our assumptions about what God is telling us may be wrong. The fact that people were burned at the stake for heresy is hardly proof that their position was wrong. It says a lot more about the wrong-headedness of the people holding the torches. Jesus was crucified for challenging the religious orthodoxy of his day. But God redeemed that evil act in the most profoundly beautiful way, just as I believe He will redeem the unjust suffering of all when He judges us, in his perfect wisdom and mercy.
    Theology seems to spin in tighter and tighter circles until it becomes completely irrelevent to God’s message, causing nothing but bitterness and schism. Sometimes I think God’s surprising revelations through nature, science, philosophy as well as the actions of his human agents are designed to break us out of those tight little circles in which we become trapped, just as the Jews in Jesus age had become trapped in theirs.
    #14The truths which are so much larger and more important than any historical account could be, speak to the veracity of the faith which has carried the stories forward, IMO. Exactly. For example, the idea that we all inherit through our ancestry the selfishness which causes us to behave in destructive ways does not depend on a literal reading of Genesis. Nor does the notion that, as the only one of God’s creatures who are sentient God has given us special privilege and responsibility for our actions and a special relationship with Him. We do not need to read the Bible literally to see that our relationship with God is one of him giving us the tools to rise above our inherited ancestral sin, us failing or refusing to use those tools, God allowing us to suffer the consequences of rebellion and failure for a time, and then pointing us to the tools He has already given us or giving us new tools. If evolution is correct then the Biblical narrative is not about the decay of God’s perfect creation because of a flaw in His creation, but about God still creating and perfecting.

  • http://theupsidedownworld.wordpress.com Rebeccat

    I need to second Michael’s point. I am probably a bit hostile about this issue because as a homeschooling mom, I run into it fairly often. However, the simple fact is that it is simply insulting and not accurate or helpful to insist that being faithful means accepting the creation stories are literal historical facts. I would go so far as to call it defamation of the amazing work that God is/has done in the lives of millions of faithful people who have no problem with evolution. Heck, isn’t it faith which is able to reconcile science with our faith in God rather than thinking we must either reject God or protect God from superficially conflicting ideas?
    I really and truly have no problem with people who believe in a literal understanding of one or (somehow) both of the creation stories. However, I have beyond had it with the smear that those of us who reject this idea are somehow less faithful or true to God. That I refuse to let stand unchallenged.
    In the end, we will all no doubt find out that some of the things we believe – even some of the things we believe as a matter of faith – aren’t quite how we thought they were. To refuse to believe this is hubris on a monumental scale – insisting that we are, in fact, “like God” in our knowing ie clinging to the original temptation/sin. So we’d all be well served by a heaping helping of humility and refrain from casting people out of the faithful category over what Paul termed “disputable matters”. I will extend that courtesy to creationist, but I would appreciate the same in return.

  • RJS

    Bob,
    I don’t have much time right now – I’ll try to come back to this later. But at this point in my life my perspective is a bit different. Here is the bottom line.
    I come from a background where faith was lived not just given lip-service. We attended a strong church where it was clear that many of the people were genuine strong committed Christians. As I went away to school and studied more and more science in particular it became clear that in fact the evidence against a literal interpretation of Genesis was absolutely overwhelming. This caused a significant crisis of faith. On the one hand I saw the reality of the Christian faith acted out in people I knew and respected; on the other I knew the science (very well).
    After several years and a fair amount of anguish over this I came to the conclusion that the problem was with my understanding of scripture and inspiration – not with the Christian faith. But – I know many, many people for whom the realization that a literal view of inspiration was indefensible, particularly with respect to the creation story and some of the rest of Genesis, led to a total break with faith. Now in one sense this is a slippery slope – deny Genesis, then Jonah, then the miracles, then Jesus, then… But this is an unfortunate trajectory because the premise behind it is wrong. Read Scot’s chapter on apostasy in Finding Faith Losing Faith.
    The evidence requires an understanding of inspiration sufficiently flexible accommodate the revelation of God in scripture, the revelation of God in nature – and we can throw in things like Scot’s reference to ANE myth in his post today for good measure. I have a high view of scripture, but… But the rock on which we stand is God. The Bible is a gift to illuminate the path, it is not the rock on which we stand. So we need to think hard about how we read scripture. Scot’s Blue Parakeet, especially the first three sections provides a good start at thinking about how we read scripture.
    If you think I’m wrong, I can live with that – but I hold these basic positions because my heart tells me that the triune creator God exists, sent his son for us and that God is a loving God calling us to love him and because I know the scientific facts.
    And – I don’t think God deceives us in scripture or nature. I do think that we can err in interpretation of scripture and nature; and the church can and has erred in for long periods in various ways (certainly Protestants must agree with this). We need to go with the evidence on all counts.

  • mariam

    It’s not pick on Bob day, but in response to your frustration:
    I don’t think anyone here is saying the Bible is wrong. Even I’m not saying that and I don’t believe in Biblical inerrancy. What people are saying is that maybe WE are wrong in the way we have been interpreting scripture. And interpreting includes not only the meaning of specific words but assumptions about the genre of the writing – is it literal history, is it parable, is it poetry?
    Nor are we saying the Bible is irrevelent. Indeed, I would say the opposite. We are defending it against irrelevancy by attempting to peel back human intepretation to get back to the message. You mention the danger of not accepting impossibility. There is also a danger to our faith in insisting on impossibility. There is nothing wrong with you holding to an idea of a young earth, if that belief, in the end, causes you to glorify God and exhibit fruits of the spirit. In fact, you serve as a reminder, that whatever God may choose to do, He is always capable of the impossible (I mean by that that a theology which includes impossibility is part of the richness in the Body of Christ – not that your beliefs leading to fruits of the Spirit are an impossibility (LOL). But that belief system, which works for you, may be a stumbling block to others. And by trying to remove that stumbling block, perhaps some of us are hoping, that Yes, when Jesus returns He WILL find faith on earth.
    I happen to believe in a God that can do anything, who often (but not always) does the unexpected, whose ways are much higher than our ways, and whose ways, some of them at least, are past finding out, and who is not confined by our limited understanding. On this, at least we are in firm agreement.
    Blessings, Bob.

  • Luke

    In regards to the post, I am unfamiliar with the evidence and have not studied evolution (nor do I really care to very much). I appreciate the perspective and will follow this series for sure though. I used to care about young earth creationism a whole bunch, but I could just care less now and read Genesis as a literary-theological polemic against other ANE creation stories. In any case, I would like to point out that persuading me will take much more than making remarks about how conclusive the evidence is and scholarly opinion is and, as opposed to showing me the evidence and scholarly opinion. Who’s to say the scientific methods are trustworthy? The dating criteria are reliable? It just really puzzles me because it just seems like we can’t really no for sure, but can only guess and assume. It is because of this that I will probably always refer to evolution (in the Darwinian sense) as complete theory and not fact, though this does not exclude it from being dead wrong. It just all seems too gray for me to be an either/or.
    On a side note, Bob, I am a bit troubled by your remarks in #4. Why would you even make this remark about the church burning people at the stake in regard to RJS? Let me tell you something, my friend, the church has done some embarrassing, very embarrassing, things in the past, and what you refer to is one of them. By saying this, you I hope you don’t legitimize their practices or say that’s what we should be doing now. Augustine (the ultimate father of reformed theology) started this nonsense of executing heretics, and it continued for a while through Calvin’s days (who was responsible, indirectly at least, for several executions). I must have missed the verses in the NT that speak of executing our enemies and those that disagree with us, because the only ones I see are to love them, pray for them, and do good to them.

  • RJS

    Whoops, I guess I can get too wordy, even without much time. Sorry.

  • http://rhymeswithplague.blogspot.com Bob Brague

    Luke (#25), of course I wasn’t advocating burning anyone at the stake. That is completely ludicrous. I was merely “getting in a little dig” at RJS, with whom I have had conversations here before. And I thought that my little crack in #12 (“And your point is…???) to her response in #9 showed that there was no argument from me that “the Church is not always right.” That wasn’t my point in #4. My point was supposed to be that *both sides* seem to be ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Paul Somebody said that a long time ago. I admit that I took the statement out of context; it applied originally to a different situation entirely.
    I do like your first paragraph, though. It does seem that current scholarly opinion, in whatever era, always wants to pass for absolute fact. I think many of the comments people have made in this thread toward me could be turned on their head and made right back at them.
    I would like to apologize to Rebeccat, whose hackles I seem to have raised.
    We are a long way in this thread from RJS’s question about how everything we now KNOW :) affects the doctrine of original sin. No six-day creation, no Garden of Eden, no Adam and Eve, no serpent…we seem to be left with no original sin. I hope that’s not what RJS wanted us to conclude.

  • RJS

    Bob,
    This is part 1 of what I think will be a 4 part series. I also hope that we will continue on to other books on similar issues.
    The conversation and thinking will continue.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    RJS — I enjoyed Blocher’s book when I read it a year or so ago. His idea that the punishment of Adam is essentially a judicial proclamation that runs to all humanity, rather than something like the Augustinian quasi-biological sin virus, is helpful. I was very disappointed, however, that Blocher completely failed to deal with the problem of monogenism — the population genetics issue you mention. Blocher explicity assumes that all existing humanity is descended from only a single breeding pair. I’m not sure how this affects his theology.
    Blocher is speaking at a conference on this in London on Nov. 1: http://www.cis.org.uk/conferences, sponsored by Christians in Science (a generally pro-evolution UK group), along with Darrell Falk, a Christian biologist who has written on evolutionary creation. I would love, love, love to hear from anyone who attends as to what Blocher says. It would be such a benefit to have a mind and reputation like Blocher’s grappling with all the data.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Bob (#27) — read John Stott’s Commentary on Romans, specifically his comments on chapter 5. He espouses there a popular view among some evolutionary creationists — that Adam was a probationary federal representative and that the imago dei as well as original sin spread to Adam’s contemporaries laterally. I’m not sure this works, but it is at least one example of how accepting the scientific data doesn’t necessarily lead to a rejection of original sin. Yet, I think the concern is quite valid.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Kyle — doesn’t the Catholic Church require acceptance of monogenism? The encyclical Humanum Generis says this, as does the Cathechism — but I can never get a clear sense of whether affirming monogenism is the sort of first-order thing that is required of all good Catholics.

  • Terry Tiessen

    I’ll be listening to your ongoing interaction with Blocher’s proposal with interest.
    My own commitment to monogenism has less to do with Genesis than it does with Acts 17:26 and with Paul’s first and second Adam typology in Rom 5 and 1 Cor 15. I found Blocher’s book very helpful myself and stand pretty much where he does on the issue of original sin so I’m looking forward to your own take on it, RJS, particularly since you come at it as a scientist, an area in which I have no expertise.
    As to evolution, I have been inclined to read Genesis 2:7 as indicating that the first image bearer God created was inanimate prior to God’s inbreathing. Through that act on God’s part, what had been inanimate became animate, it became nephesh chaya, which is precisely what the animals were. Consequently, however open I am to micro-evolution and though I can see how theistic evolution may have been operative in other areas of creation, it looks to me as though it was not God’s means of bringing into being the first image bearer, the one in whom the race acted (Rom 5:12ff).
    This is what is in my mind as I come to reading your thoughts in future posts. We’ll see if the process brings me to somewhere else. It will be interesting, in any event.

  • http://theupsidedownworld.wordpress.com Rebeccat

    Bob, thanks for the sorry. Like I said, I am a homeschool mom and in many settings I don’t feel like I can share anything about my faith because creationism is on many people’s checklist of things that “real”, faithful Christians believe. And that makes me sick.
    Now, maybe it’s the old lit major in me thinking mythologically (and I mean that in a very, very good way), but I’m afraid that I don’t see why no literal garden of eden, no literal Adam and Eve, no literal serpent means no original sin. It’s an explanation which doesn’t have to rely on history to be true any more than Romeo and juliet would have to be literally true in order for us to know that impetuous love and family grudges can be destructive. Of course, the Genesis story is much more timeless and profound than any Shakespearean play could ever be. Really, I do think that some of this is driven by a very unhealthy need to have everything defined and mapped out to the nth degree. If we can/do know everything and can explain everything, then we become like little gods ourselves. There must be room for some mystery and humbly acknowledging that we don’t know everything and not everything is ours to know. Which is not to say being opposed to exploration of ideas or learning, but as we search and learn, we need to be comfortable with messy spots and fuzzy spaces. I believe that God resides in those spaces. Besides, Paul says that we see now as through a darkened glass. If we insist either than what we see is crystal clear or that we must banish the inherently shadowy nature of our existence in this realm, then we are rejecting the reality of our lives.

  • RJS

    Bob,
    We got off on the wrong foot. Let me start over a bit.
    I have no agenda here – least of all an agenda to debunk or dismiss scripture. I think that Original Sin and the related questions are important questions, and questions for which I have no definitive answer. The next three posts are intended to be a conversation on a topic of interest, not essays by an expert. But there are some ground rules I operate under in thinking through the issues. First God is not a deceiver. Second go with the evidence. Third take Scripture seriously. Fourth take the scientific evidence seriously (and I know this last well enough that I cannot take liberties that many others are able to take). Fifth listen to the tradition of the church.
    This post is an attempt to put the science on the table – because this is an important part of the evidence.
    So let’s talk through the issues and see where we go.

  • Kyle

    dopderbeck,
    I wish I could help you out, but I’m not familiar enough with the Catholic church. The article did have plenty of references from Catholic theologians though.

  • Daryl

    Just to clarify, it is an assumption of mine as well that God is not a deceiver, though obviously sometimes God doesn’t give the whole picture.
    I’m looking forward to the series. Thanks, RJS, for the hard work.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Terry (#32) — that is indeed a traditional reading of those passages, but it is in clear contradiction with the record of natural history — both the fossils and our genes. How do you explain the millions of years of hominids before Adam — some of which extensively used tools, and probably had speech and music, and probably ritually burried their dead? How do you explain the diversity of the human genome, particularly the major histocompatibility complex, which strongly implies that our genes can’t be traced to a single pair?
    You can’t just punt here by claiming an extra-Biblical miracle, and you can’t plead ignorance.

  • http://rhymeswithplague.blogspot.com Bob Brague

    Re doperdeck (#37):
    “How do you explain the millions of years of hominids before Adam — some of which extensively used tools, and probably had speech and music, and probably ritually buried their dead?”
    Whirr, whirr, flash, ding, ding, ding…This sentence does not compute, either logically (hominids before Adam, to say nothing of millions of years) or hypothetically (probably had speech and music, etc.).
    Danger, Will Robinson, danger! :)

  • Luke

    Doperdeck (#37),
    That’s the thing that bothers me about this, you talk like there is all this evidence and how substantial it is, yet nothing has been proven to me. Why should I take your word at it? I can just as easily say a statement like “All scholars agree and the evidence concludes that grass first appeared as a result of a man shaving his beard. There was some type of chemical in it that caused the first grass blade to sprout up, and eventually it covered the earth. This is essential stuff that everybody agrees on.” But how does everybody else know that this is not true?
    Like I said earlier, I could care less about young earth creationism and a “literal” reading of Genesis. However, I do care about people talking like scientific evidence is 100% objective fact, no questions asked, and then they don’t back up any of their claims with anything noteworthy (and science textbooks aren’t noteworthy, they have some of the most comical stuff I’ve ever seen as far as their guess about origins).
    In any case, I do wonder what someone such as RJS thinks of the documentary “Expelled” with Ben Stein? I haven’t seen it yet, but I would love to hear their opinion. I hear a very telling part of the movie is when Stein asks where they thought life came from and some scientists answer stuff like “aliens” and the like. If you call that “objective scientific fact” where the evidence leads, then the first grass blade came from an ape shaving his beard.
    I’m not suggesting we throw science out the window, but I am suggesting that we not be so dogmatic about “scientific evidence and discoveries,” they have been dead wrong in the past (numerous times) and many theories today are probably dead wrong too.

  • RJS

    Luke,
    I have not seen Expelled.
    There is a lot of speculation and theorizing in any field. But there is also a core body of knowledge that is well established. No analogy is perfect – but consider Biblical studies for example. Scholars disagree on many issues – the age of the gospels, the age of the gospel of Thomas, the resurrection, and so forth. But when someone like Dan Brown puts forth a theory in the DaVinci Code or someone proposes that Jesus never existed and Christianity was invented in the fourth century to consolidate and strengthen political power in Rome, everyone cries foul – even though the scenario may be plausible to the average person on the street.
    In science there is a core of knowledge that is well established. We are not going to return to the Aristotelian idea that everything is composed of four elements – earth, water, air, fire. Nor are we going to return to flat earth geography. I tried to stick with the well established core in my summary above. The evidence will never support a young earth. The evidence could support a unique Adam and Eve. The evidence will never support an origin of humanity 6000 years ago, the date will be 100,000 – 200,000 years ago give or take.


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