A Question About Evolution – Answers Anyone? (RJS)

Is Christianity like a warm cozy sweater, but one that requires only one dropped stitch to unravel?

Paula Kirby has suggested that it is, and that evolution is the stitch that unravels the sweater.  But more of that toward the end of the post.

I put up a piece last Thursday looking at a phone survey of senior pastors performed by Barna, commissioned by BioLogos: Creation, Evolution, and US Pastors. One of the questions posed in the survey asked about concerns raised by evolution. Four concerns were considered. Theistic evolution …

1. undermines the authority of scripture.

2. views portions of the Bible as non-literal, like Genesis.

3. raises doubts about a historical Adam and Eve

4. raises questions about how and when death and sin entered the world.

The senior pastors/priests were asked if they found these to be a major concern, a minor concern, not a concern, or if they were unsure.

Which of these raise major concerns for you?  Why?

The results are not terribly surprising. Most of those who hold to a Young Earth Creation find all of these to be a major concern. I find it a little surprising, however, that the percentages are slightly higher for the two questions that deal directly with scripture than for the questions about Adam and Eve and Sin and Death. Unlike those holding to YEC or PC, few of those who hold to theistic evolution (7%-13%), and only somewhat more who are uncertain how God created (20%-27%), find any of these to be a major concern.

To refresh your memory, should you need it, the definitions for the categories used in the plot are:

YEC: Young Earth Creation. Believe that God created life in its present form in six 24 hour days. Assert that the earth is less than 10000 years old. Absolutely certain of these perspectives.

Lean YEC: All others who believe that God created life in its present form in six 24 hour days, but who express qualified uncertainty or who doubt “young” age of the earth.

All PC: Progressive creation. Believe that God created life in its present form over a period of time, but not via evolution or who embrace an old earth view but express qualified uncertainty.

All TE: Theistic evolution. Believe God created life, used a natural process like evolution.  Express the belief that natural selection can explain the rise of new species. This also includes all others who embrace the idea that God used a natural process to bring about life in its present form, but who express some qualified certainty.

Uncertain: Believe that God created life, but admit they are not certain how.

Large Churches: More than 250 Adults in attendance at weekend services.

I find the results on the last two questions, concerning Adam and Eve and sin and death, mildly surprising. For me at least, these questions  – especially the questions of sin and death – are far more significant than a question about the authority of, or literal interpretation of, Scripture. Yet fewer than half of those who believe God created through evolution or are uncertain how God created find sin and death a concern. Only 31% in “All TE” and 46% in “Uncertain” suggested that it was either a major or a minor concern.

I don’t know quite what to make of it.  While I am convinced that God created through evolutionary means – I also think we need to wrestle with what this might mean more than has been done often.

And a question via e-mail. The survey does not really dig any deeper than the relatively simple questions concerning Adam and Eve, sin and death.  The questions, however, go deeper than sin and death alone. For many the question of sin and death is inextricably intertwined with the questions of atonement and redemption. I received an e-mail earlier this week that raised just this question.


I was reading an article online and I would love for you to answer this claim. I really found this claim interesting and it made sense. What would your response be?

“Evolution poses a further threat to Christianity, though, a threat that goes to the very heart of Christian teaching. Evolution means that the creation accounts in the first two chapters of Genesis are wrong. That’s not how humans came into being, nor the cattle, nor the creeping things, nor the beasts of the earth, nor the fowl of the air. Evolution could not have produced a single mother and father of all future humans, so there was no Adam and no Eve. No Adam and Eve: no fall. No fall: no need for redemption. No need for redemption: no need for a redeemer. No need for a redeemer: no need for the crucifixion or the resurrection, and no need to believe in that redeemer in order to gain eternal life. And not the slightest reason to believe in eternal life in the first place.”


A quick search on the web found at least one source for the quoted paragraph – at the Washington Post’s On Faith forum where Paula Kirby (a consultant to secular organizations) wrote a post Evolution Threatens Christianity. Kirby’s aim is to convince her readers that the case for Christianity is unraveling before their eyes. The bit about the warm cozy sweater is in the paragraph following the one quoted above.

I think Kirby’s argument is fundamentally wrong.  There is no more certain fact than the “fallenness” of humankind. We don’t need a single mother, a single father, or a snake to convince us of this. It runs through human experience worldwide. Given a fallen creation (however it got there), we need redemption and a redeemer. … That is, we need redemption and a redeemer if there is anything beyond the purely natural world. Within naturalism, sin and human “evil” (if we can call it that) simply is, as a natural product of evolutionary processes and survival of the fittest. It is naturalism, not evolution, that poses the threat to Christianity.  And, of course, it is naturalism, not evolution that leads one to the conclusion that there is “not the slightest reason to believe in eternal life in the first place.

That “evolution destroys the loving creator on which the whole of Christianity depends” is ridiculous. The method of creation doesn’t destroy the idea of a loving creator. And the instant creation of Genesis 1 and 2 doesn’t do away with the problem of evil or the fact that the snake was in the garden before the fall.

On the issues of redemption, redeemer, crucifixion and resurrection, Scot’s post yesterday, They Killed Him, but God Raised Him,  points to a deeper understanding of the events of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Atonement, and atonement for sins certainly.  But the overly streamlined story of creation, fall, redemption, and eternal life doesn’t do justice to the whole sweep of scripture, including the New Testament story of Jesus or the early church. It does, however, provide fuel and an opening for those like Kirby who seek simple ways to cast doubt on the Christian story.

This isn’t a complete answer to the question however, and many who read may disagree with me (some quite profoundly).

How would you answer Kirby and the concerns of the e-mail writer?

Or do you think that Kirby’s right – no Adam, no Eve, no need for a redeemer, the whole thing falls a part?

 If you wish you may contact me directly at rjs4mail[at]att.net

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  • Robert Dunbar

    I think you expressed my thoughts perfectly, RJS, when you said that there is no more certain fact than the fallenness of mankind. My idea of our fallenness is shaped far more by the concept of Jesus as the incarnate Word of God, revealing the righteousness of God (especially in the Sermon on the Mount– credit G.E. Ladd there) than by the first two chapters of Genesis. If I take those teachings seriously, there’s no way I can tell myself I’m a good person in light of how often I miss the mark Jesus set.

  • Dan

    The issue is the cause of sin, death and suffering. TE destroys the causal relationship between sin and death, making Paul’s statements about that relationship false. It does not matter that Paul was speaking from a particular cultural context or that he may have been stating an honest belief. The statement “through one man sin entered the world and death through sin” is factually false, hence the reason the New Testament gives for the existence of death, evil and suffering is falsified, if TE is true.

    In fact, it implicates God as the ultimate cause of death and suffering and puts “sin” in a category that is not necessarily related to death and suffering. Death is a process of creation and thus death has to be seen as part of the “and God saw that it was very good”. Suffering in the sense of “tooth and claw” also must be seen as good. Disease, as part of the natural order has to be seen as “normal” and not an intrusion. Sin can still be classified as “rebellion” against God’s law, but it has no causal relationship to death.

    The result is the statement ” O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.” loses its meaning. There is no cause and effect. But this has all been said before. Been dabbing in this controversy for over 30 years and nothing ever really changes. We just keep rehashing the same ground and adding a few new “evidences” on either side.

    I do not think the age of the universe is much of an issue. But I cannot reconcile the Biblical statements about Adam, sin and death with “creation by a long process of unguided random mutation and natural selection”. They just don’t reconcile.

  • My POV: The Bible is not science. Science is not faith. Why must we mingle the two? Perhaps another way of saying this is “Science is the ‘how,’ and Faith is the ‘why.'” Honestly, I find the conversation rather surprising. Barna’s bias has become more pronounced of late and it troubles me. I don’t find the tradition to unravel if one has a TE position. If one finds the tradition to unravel over the question of the validity of science, then perhaps that’s a good thing. Perhaps that particular strain of the Christian faith needs to diminish, not because it is morally or ethically problematic, but because it has had its time. Other Christian streams have come and gone over the centuries. I assume the TE will as well. There is no singularly correct reading of scripture. There never has been. I know many in this forum will find this notion unacceptable. I accept that. This is just one man’s pre-caffeine opinion. Thank you for the challenging post.

  • Rick

    I don’t disagree with much of what you said here, but could we possibly be needing to update our definition of “death”?

  • candeux

    I think you overstate the extent to which Genesis establishes that Adam’s sin is the cause of all death and suffering. The curse (Gen 3:17-19) does not go nearly that far, at least not explicitly. On the other hand, medical science (independent of either evolution *or* Genesis) has identified many proximal causes of death and suffering, some relating to our own sin, some relating to the sins of others, and some having nothing to do with sin. Moreover, salvation does not typically protect us from all of the effects of sin, death, and suffering on this earth.

    Personally, I think evolution explains sin, death, and suffering much better than Genesis. What’s really important here, as RJS noted, is that we have a hope for a better future through Christ. That should be good enough, regardless of how sin, death, and suffering came to be.

    –Joe Canner

  • wolfeevolution

    Pete Enns’ book The Evolution of Adam is essentially an extended argument for the approach you take in the paragraph starting, “I think Kirby’s argument is fundamentally wrong.” I agree. In your shoes, I might encourage the e-mailer to consider giving Enns’ book a read. S/he is not likely to agree with all of Enns’ conclusions or methodology, but that’s not really the point; Enns will probably open the door to at least some new and helpful ways to think about this thorny problem.

  • Phil Miller

    The thing about the type of question posed in the email is that it’s based on a way of reading Scripture that seems to be backwards to me. The writer is starting with Genesis trying to explain the need for Christ. It seems to me that is the opposite direction we need to read. We need read everything through the lens of Christ. Christ is what we are certain of. He is the center, and everything emanates from Him. In the view described in the email, a person’s view of Genesis becomes the center. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s almost like saying that a wine glass is more important than the wine it was meant to hold.

    Reading through the New Testament, you don’t see the authors trying to build a case from the OT forward. They do the opposite. They start with Christ. This is who Christ was, and this is what He did… Then they describe how the OT was foreshadowing and pointing to this.

  • Not sure what is going on with Disqus but my last comment seems to be stuck in cyberspace… 🙁

  • scotmcknight

    Mike, I don’t see it in the “Pending” tab.

  • Scot, thanks for looking. When I logged in with my Twitter account Disqus prompted me to create an account with them. I did so, but after posting my comment it just vanished.

    It also appears that Disqus has not “merged” my previous activity as it only shows the comment above.

  • (take 2) its never as good as the 1st 🙂

    The issues that TE brings is primarily the origins of sin, disease, and death. Something that the story line of Scripture explains very well.

    While we all can agree that the sinfulness of each of us and really all mankind is enough to show us the need for a Redeemer, the question becomes why does the story line of Scripture emphasize an event that causes a break between the original ideal creation and what we see today? Even NT Wright makes a “Fall” event a major part of his 5 act hermeneutic. And why does God choose to reveal His message through the prophets & His Son in such a way that the main thread of history seems to all trace back to a creation story that is to be taken as historic and actual. Here I am not talking necessarily about the recording of the event in Gen 1-3 itself but how that is used by Moses (in establishing the Sabbath/7 day work week/rest), Jesus in affirming His teaching on marriage/divorce, and Paul in the origins of sin and death.

    Why didn’t God reveal through His prophets – what many think He has revealed in nature? That He created through a evolutionary process. This would not require a 21st century scientific “how” but rather a 2nd century BC description?

    If disease and death are part of the creative process then one has
    to wonder why the meta-narrative of Scripture speaks not only of the
    need for the restoration of people to God, but a restoration of the
    creation itself .

    To what is creation going to be restored? To what was creation subjected to and why?

    So while TE does not make the whole thing fall apart, it certainly disrupts the story and invites more questions than answers.

  • Ben Nasmith

    That was very helpful. As a Christian I’d put myself in the “uncertain” category. I’ve come to realize over time that evolution does not undermine the authority of scripture and that the literal interpretation is demonstrably false in many parts of the bible–literalism is not a hermeneutic virtue. My main concerns are Adam and Eve and the inference that without them we have no sin and death.

    Great point that sin and death are empirically certain today with or without Adam and Eve and the bible! I think the main problem with evolution is the problem of animal suffering-a problem of evil. But as you point out, we have problems of evil no matter how you interpret the bible so that isn’t decisive.


  • Phil Miller

    While we all can agree that the sinfulness of each of us and really all
    mankind is enough to show us the need for a Redeemer, the question
    becomes why does the story line of Scripture emphasize an event that
    causes a break between the original ideal creation and what we see

    I don’t believe Scripture ever really describes creation initially as “ideal”. It describes it as “good”. If Creation were ideal, as in a state of perfection, what would be God’s purpose in having Adam and Eve tend to the garden? Even before the fall event, we are told that there was work to be done.

    Many, if not most, of the questions you’re asking apply to Creation whether or not a person accepts evolution or not. Even a YEC adherent will struggle to answer why the serpent was in the garden in the first place. Doesn’t its presence mean that the garden was never really “ideal”?

  • AHH

    In addition to the book by Enns which deals with the Biblical part of the question (but not really the theological part), Daniel Kirk has addressed this question recently:

    I also like the medical analogy — the diagnosis (sin) and the cure (Jesus) are what is essential; the details of how we contracted the disease are secondary at best.

  • Think you latched onto “ideal”, which may not have been an ideal choice. Swap that for the words “very good”.

    And since most accept that we will be working in the “ideal” and restored creation then I am not sure that Adam/Eve working in the pre-fall/original creation would disqualify it as “non-ideal” or not very good.

  • Phil Miller

    My point is that the idea that evil existed prior to the fall event (whatever that event actually was) isn’t really anything new. I would think that most Christians would say that Satan existed prior to humanities entrance onto the stage. So I don’t agree that TE necessarily brings more questions than other views. Perhaps it just forces those questions more to the surface.

  • Adam

    How would you answer Kirby and the concerns of the e-mail writer? Or do you think that Kirby’s right – no Adam, no Eve, no need for a redeemer, the whole thing falls a part?

    I think the root of the problem is a fundamental misunderstanding of how other people interpret the world around them. Or as been said many times before, ancient societies did not think like we think. If an ancient (non-technical) society could see a pattern in the world, how do you think they would describe it?

    It’s interesting to me that the pattern of creation in Genesis follows a similar pattern found in evolution. First nothing, then light (a star), then land (a planet), then water, then creatures of the water, then birds, then larger mammals, and finally humans.

    It’s also interesting that the bible’s accounts can be tracked back 10,000 years and 10,000 years is about the time human civilization began. And here I think there’s a total mis-communication between evolutionists and biblical perspectives. Evolution is measuring humanity through genetic and biological means where I believe the biblical perspective is measuring humanity through relational means. In short, humans began when they became a civilization, not when their bodies happened.

    I can’t say this idea would really answer anyone’s concerns because it first requires a paradigm shift. However, I don’t see a conflict between evolution and the bible because I see them as having different conversations. My critique against evolution, and science in general, is that it easily dismisses relationship as a reason for being. In evolutionary terms, relationship is in service to propagation of the human race, but that is actually an interpretation, instead of fact, and could be the reverse. Propagation of the human race is in service to relationship.

  • D. Foster


    Both you and Scot have compared the current debate over Evolution with the debate over Helioentrism between Galileo and the Church. I didn’t think that was a fair comparison until I finished a collection of essays by Pierre Duhem called “Saving the Phenomena: an essay on the Idea of Physical Theory from Plato to Galileo,” which illuminate the various philosophies at work in astronomy over the ages.

    After putting that book down, I realized how incredibly similar these two situations really are. Not sure if you’re already familiar with Duhem, but he apparently made a big splash in the history of science back at the turn of the 20th century.


  • D. Foster

    I’m sorry, the book is called “To Save the Phenomena,” not “Saving the Phenomena.”


  • But – why/when did evil start – is not the question I am raising (although it is a good one).

    The questions that TE introduces IMO are:

    1) why does the story line of Scripture emphasize an event (ie. the Fall) that causes a break between the original “very good” creation and what we see today if it did not happen?

    2) why does God choose to reveal His message through the prophets & His Son in such a way that the main thread seems to all trace back to a creation story and event that seems to taken as historic and actual?

    3) if creation began with disease and death at the start then what does it mean to restore creation? When was creation altered, in what way was creation subjected to futility, and why? How does that affect how we think about the future state?

    I don’t think a non-TE approach has these questions. The questions a non-TE have to wrestle with are science’s interpretations of the observations and data that yield evolutionary conclusions.

  • Phil Miller

    Well, I think I would disagree with some of the underlying assumptions in your questions. For one, I don’t really see that the OT prophets are really longing to go back to Eden (at least not literally). What they are longing for is for God to deliver Israel out of exile and to be true to His promises.

    It seems to me that if we view Adam as proto-Israel rather than the first human, we end up with a different type of narrative. Adam was placed in the garden and given a job to do, failed miserably, and because of that was exiled from the Garden. This is in essence what Israel experienced to. They were chosen by God to be a blessing to all nations, but they failed miserably. Because of that failure, they were exiled, and they are waiting for redemption.

    Enter Jesus. Both Adam and Israel are kind of “types” for Christ. Except where both Adam and Israel failed, Jesus succeeded. So the way I see it, the historicity of Israel is in a way much more important than the historicity of Adam.

    As far as what a restored and renewed Creation will be like, that is something that is a bit mysterious. I would say it begins from a relational perspective. God’s children will be reconciled to Him, and because of that, we will be continually connected to the source of life. Because of that, we will all be able to perfectly fulfill our vocational calling of ruling over creation.

  • attytjj466

    I am probably somewhere between PC and TE. I accept the basic context of an old earth with progressive development of at some level but retain some doubts about evolution as currently expressed. I think there is still far more that we dont know than what we do know or think we know about origins, etc. By faith and not a little experience of living, I also accept the general theological framework of Genesis and the gospels. I dont see contradictions or unraveling at all. Specific Bibical interpretations may be challenged by current scientific understandings, but yes, specific interpretation of certain scripture do, historically come and go. As do some scientific understandings and theories of certain things. Time sifts much.

    I find the current questions of death, sin, fallenness, curde, etc most interesting, not unlike s large complete puzzle. The missing pieces capture and stimulate my thinking and attention, and facinate my mind. I am thankful we dont know everything and have it all in a neat tidy box. The joy and excitement is in the search, the challenge, the discovery along the way.

  • Dan

    Not a question of science vs faith. Simple question of “what really happened” and “What does it mean”.

  • Dan

    Even if Genesis doesn’t make the link explicit, Paul does.

    And proximal causes centuries after the fall are not relevant to the question of whether the fall itself is causal in the introduction of death and suffering, nor is it relevant to how Paul framed the question.

  • Dan

    Augustine’s City of God, obviously written long before Darwin, says death is spiritual, physical and eternal. “The death,
    then, of the soul takes place when God forsakes it, as the death of the body when the soul forsakes it. Therefore the death of both— that is, of the whole man— occurs when the soul, forsaken by God, forsakes the body…And this death of the whole man is followed by that which, on the authority of the divine oracles, we call the second death. This the Saviour referred to when He said, Fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” City of God, Book 13 Chapter 2

    And Augustine connects all death to sin:

    “But a question not to be shirked arises: Whether in very truth death, which separates soul and body, is good to the good? For if it be, how has it come to pass that such a thing should be the punishment of sin? For the first men would not have suffered death had they not sinned. …Wherefore we must say that the first men were indeed so created, that if they had not sinned, they would not have experienced any kind of death; but that, having become sinners, they were so punished with death, that whatsoever sprang from their stock should also be punished with the same death.” City of God, Book 13 Chapter 3

    I do not see a way to reconcile Paul or Augustine to TE.

  • Phil Miller

    This is an instance where I do think the Eastern Orthodox view of original sin is helpful. Augustine essentially said that humanity inherited not only the consequences of Adam’s sin, but the guilt. In essence, is born genetically sinful. The Eastern Orthodox view (and more correct view, imo) is that we all inherited the consequence of sin, but not the quilt. We aren’t all guilty because of our ancestors, but we all live with the consequences of their sin. We’re guilty of our own sin.

    For an analogy, I like this. Imagine that a long time ago, a ship set sail. But rather than reach its destination, it became shipwrecked on an uncharted island because the ship’s navigator was mistaken. The ship was wrecked beyond repair, and the poeple on the ship had children while shipwrecked. Those children had children, etc… All the children are living with the consequence of the navigator’s mistake, but yet they aren’t guilty of it. They, in fact, had nothing really to do with it. But because he was their ancestor, they are living in a shipwrecked state. So in this sense, we can see how Adam’s sin affected the entire human race. It set us off course, and we have no way back on our own. So in that sense, whether Adam literally existed doesn’t matter so much. Our ancient ancestors set us down the path of sin, and we’re stuck there.

  • Kerlyn Rufino

    Gen 2:7
    Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

    Ecc 3:20
    All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.

    A biology professor of mine told our class that the Biblical narration of Adam and Eve was true. A man’s body after the decomposing process is 80% soil and 20% bones and hair.

  • RJS4DQ


    I don’t have great access during the day with the new commenting system, so I can’t engage much. But I think you are right here, Paul in Romans 5 is really the key text we must wrestle with on this particular issue.

  • Adam

    “Why didn’t God reveal through His prophets – what many think He has revealed in nature? That He created through a evolutionary process.”

    I have a response below to this. Why are the 7 days of creation showing a similar pattern to evolutionary complexity?

    “If disease and death are part of the creative process then one has
    to wonder why the meta-narrative of Scripture speaks not only of the
    need for the restoration of people to God, but a restoration of the
    creation itself. To what is creation going to be restored? To what was creation subjected to and why?”

    Where has it been declared that creation and humanity would live forever without the direct intervention of Jesus? There’s an assumption here that God was finished with everything at the end of Genesis 2 and I don’t think that’s true. All of creation is meant to point towards Jesus, not point towards Adam screwing it up.

  • The Slicer

    Hi RJS. I think you’re in the right territory with your response. Naturalism (to the exclusion of a Creator/Sustainer) is the enemy rather than evolution (or gravity, or in vivo/vitro fertilisation, or any element of cosmology that folk home in on). Evolutionary understanding does is indeed throw up a problem relating to grounding the origin of evil/sin at a particular ‘moment’ in history but I do not believe it’s insurmountable, as the problem exists because of an assumption that history (in a modern forensic sense) is what is recorded in early Genesis. If we understand early Genesis as Hebrew apologetics (no less Spirit-breathed), a narrative expressed in motifs and idioms of the day, countering alternative ‘pagan’ views of God and nature which used the same idioms, the problem goes away. St Paul did not have the blessing of understanding of the natural world to the extent that we have today and whether or not he viewed Gen 1-3 as history is neither here nor there, provided it serves the purpose of explanation that his referring to it was designed to serve. (We all accept that Jesus divested himself of some knowledge when incarnated – is it really hard to accept that Paul didn’t understand/need to understand biological and paleontological implications revealed by modern science?!). Just because we reach an understanding that the Fall was not a historical account of an ‘event,’ does not nullify its reality as a state which came to be, with effects and need for a fix and restoration/transformation/new Creation.

    Naturalist sceptics may claim this is convenient revisionism (as may YECs), but that’s really neither here nor there if it happens to be a more correct understanding. Furthermore, since the question was prompted by a naturalistic/secularist article, it should be pointed out that naturalists’/materialists’ explanations for the existence of evil are pretty unsatisfying both intellectually and emotionally. Essentially it gets called something else which denies and strips it of some of its nature. If we take the naturalistic argument to its, er, natural conclusion, it comes up well short: something is evil because of how we feel about it, often on the basis of it being harmful – evil does not exist as an entity in itself. I believe most folk, agnostic or theist (and perhaps some atheists, if they are prepared to admit it) see this as problematic.

    I have tackled this in more depth in a post on my own blog (which also touches on deficiencies of naturalistic views regarding ‘the self’ and consciousness). Your readers may find it helpful. (Please note that at the time of posting, I tended to write in the 3rd person in an attempt at self-parody – a practice which I’ve since ceased as it backfired with readers thinking it was pretentious!).

    The blog post is here:

  • The Slicer

    Well that biology professor was talking nonsense if that’s what he said.
    This line of argument is problematic on so many levels. Firstly, in terms of the scriptural text, were our hair and bones special acts of creation, and not from “soil” or “dust” like the rest of us? Secondly, the human body is in large part water – where’d it go?
    Finally the Ecc quotation actually conflicts with your reading of the Genesis text. A literalist reading of Genesis requires only one man to have been made from the dust – the first woman wasn’t, so technically she didn’t come from dust, and if your mum and dad told you that’s how you came to be you were misled… How to resolve the apparent conflict? Descriptive idioms of course. Literary tools to convey spiritual truth.

  • Westcoastlife

    Oh, godness, then don’t reconcile Augustine to TE. That guy was clueless about physical aspects of reproduction and linked Adam with all of humanity based on ancient biological notions. All of humanity was not in Adam’s loins when he sinned. But, to the ancients, sperm were like little mini-babies (seed) that just needed to be planted into some fertile woman. Inside Seth’s “seed” was an even tinier Enosh and inside the microscopic Enosh was an even tinsier Kenan and so on and so on. Right down to Augustine’s father having a tiny little Augustine seed inside him, who could trace all the way back to Adam. Wishful thinking.

    If you want to see that worked out in the Bible, check out Hebrews 7:10 “One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, 10 because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.” Yeah, not really. No sperm has a fully formed human in it, and we are not embedded in our ancestors until we are born. We don’t actually exist before conception.

    That view was the assumption Augustine falsely laboured under when he came up with that “gem” of Original Sin. To him, and others, the whole human race was inside Adam’s loins when he sinned, so that is how we were all tainted. The ancients were big on purity. By sinning, Adam became impure and therefore defiled all his offspring. That is also why Eve is completely off the hook for the fall of all of us.

    I would drop Augustine like a hot potato, as his views are comical today.

    Val (can’t change Disqus)

  • Westcoastlife

    So why, then, if humans were born eternal, was there a Tree of Life, whose fruit could make them live forever, in the garden. If they were already eternal, that tree would have been inconsequential to the story, as they would have had no need of it.


  • Westcoastlife

    Except that in Genesis Light and the Sun are separate entities, so plants pop up before the Sun is made. Too much ancient world “science” in Gen. 1 for me to take literally. The light in the sky wasn’t linked exclusively to the sun in the ancient world. It is a great allegory, but literal, no. Gen. 1 and Gen. 2 do not work in tandem. Adam was either created first (Gen 2) or last (Gen 1), it couldn’t have been both, so do you favour Gen. 1 over Gen. 2 or Gen. 2 over Gen. 1? As much as people attempt to reconcile the two creation stories, they are incompatible in their order. So, I don’t even need to go to science to see Genesis 1 and 2 are not literal creation accounts. Were Woman and Man made together in the image of God, or after He created Adam, did God rummage around in his creation tool kit to find a suitable companion for Adam?

  • Adam

    Huh. I never saw the “man created before grass or shrub” before. Interesting.

    I wasn’t trying to say Genesis is literal. Just trying to answer the question, why would someone write this down? I see Gen 1 as an ancient people telling themselves the pattern they see in the world and it’s interesting that the pattern is similar to what we see through a different lens.

    And the relational aspect is very important as well. Would this ancient society really care about all the time that happened before their society? Would they have a concept of millions of years of rock floating through space? I don’t think so. Therefore to them, The Beginning is when they (their society) began. But to us, The Beginning is more abstract and is when matter began.

    If you exist in a time before atomic clocks and measure time by day and night, how do you measure time before the sun? So, it seems very reasonable to me that an ancient people simply ignored most of history and merely said “and there was day and there was night”.

    All of this is to say, I don’t see conflict between Genesis and evolutionary perspectives. They are having different conversations but I can see in both perspectives that they are talking about the same reality.

  • Romans 5 says that sin came into the world through one man and death thru sin. Within that context Paul is talking about Adam and the events recorded in Gen 1-3. Paul accepts Adam and an event that triggered an alteration in the creation as historical.

    All creation does point to Jesus. It is through Him, in Him, and for Him that all that is created exists and is sustained. It is enough to demonstrate the power of God to all people. However our need for Jesus as Redeemer started when sin entered the world. And Scripture says that happened when Adam screwed up.

    That is the starting point to the story of the Scriptures. If this starting point has no basis in historical events, then it is fair to ask why did God allow the prophets to record it as they did? See the 3 questions below.

  • For one, I don’t really see that the OT prophets are really longing to go back to Eden (at least not literally). What they are longing for is for God to deliver Israel out of exile and to be true to His promises.

    While I agree, some OT passages do speak of peace and an order that many assume exists prior to the fall event. Paul was a prophet and talks of creation being subjected to futility.

    As for Adam = proto-Israel, I don’t see Paul as holding that view in Romans 5. Even Enns who promotes the Adam/Israel view says that Paul sees Adam and the Fall as historic events but is wrong.

  • wolfeevolution


    You write, “I believe the biblical perspective is measuring humanity through relational means. In short, humans began when they became a civilization, not when their bodies happened.”

    Given that all indications suggest migrations to the New World or Australia (for example) started well before 10,000 years ago, and some pockets of hunters and gatherers in these areas (e.g., smaller Amazonian groups, today’s Andaman Islanders) weren’t necessarily contacted by “civilizations” until recent centuries or decades, does this approach imply that some biologically modern humans are not “Biblically human”?

    Secondly, about the rough coincidence between the order of creation in Genesis 1 and evolution, you do understand it doesn’t really work even at a rough level, right? Birds descended from, rather than preceded, land-dwelling creatures in the scientific account.

    Forgive me; I’m not aiming for reductio ad absurdum here, and not trying to nitpick or poke fun at all. I’m just trying to understand and explore your approach with you. Unless I’ve misunderstood (which is quite possible), I think I used to take some similar tacks myself and personally I’m not sure anymore that this type of harmonization does the best justice to the data of science and scripture. Just some thoughts. Cheers!

  • Adam

    How to dig through all the nuances?

    When Eve says that God says “you will surely die” does this mean physical death or spiritual death? I think most people assume physical death but I don’t think there is proof of that. If the physical death were the issue, why doesn’t the resurrection stop us from dying?

    What do we mean by death and are we right to assume that all death is evil? Look at 1 Corinthians 15:36 “How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.” And it continues in verse 45 the idea that the physical is not the spiritual. It goes even further to say that the physical will become the spiritual but only after dying.

    So it seems to me that the physical creation was never intended to exist for eternity without the Resurrection. I can see no indication that Adam and Eve were fine as they were for all eternity if only they had not Fallen.

  • Adam

    I think the key here is “rough coincidence”. I’m not trying to say it’s a perfect correlation and we’ll find the magic trail if we look hard enough. I’m trying to hi-lite that we in the modern age and those in the ancient age are looking at the same reality and trying to explain it to ourselves. I’m imagining an ancient people seeing a pattern in the complexity of lifeforms and saying there was an order to it. Then seeing that our more rigorously studied view of history has a similar (though not perfectly matched) pattern.

    I’m saying the Genesis account is more than fairy tale but less than accurate historical account. I see it as a less educated mind thinking about the order of the world.

  • Adam

    Maybe this is a simpler way to say it. I believe Genesis was written by humans and not dictated by God to humans. Therefore Genesis is a very real attempt of humans to explain the past. Because these humans did not have the tools and knowledge we do their attempts are not that accurate but there are still true things in them that we can make correlations too.

  • wolfeevolution

    Thanks for your response, Adam. I agree with that to a point, for sure. And while I don’t want to weary anyone (you included) with another long thread to read and respond to, I wanted to offer one more thought for what it’s worth: As I understand, sometimes the questions the ancients sought to answer when they “explained the past” were actually not the same questions we seek to answer, and to me this makes things more interesting.

    For instance, the sun and moon were worshiped in the ancient world, yet they don’t show up until the fourth day in the Biblical account, because the Biblical writers intended to point out their relative unimportance. For another example, the Biblical narrative in Genesis 1 didn’t require a spectacular clash of two deities like some other ancient near eastern creation myths did; mere divine fiat accomplished creation, and this fact constituted a major point of the story. Or, for another example, there is a parallelism in the Biblical narrative of setting up structures (1: day-night, 2: sky-water, 3: land-water) and then setting up rulers over them (4: sun-moon, 5: birds-fish, 6: beasts); this way of constructing our knowledge of the natural world strikes us moderns as foreign.

    When we ask, “So, what were the original authors, in their own terms and their own cultures, trying to address in writing this?” we see less harmony between the truths we see and the truths they saw, but we come to appreciate the author’s genius more. As I recently read Enns’ Evolution of Adam I was confronted by this in even more interesting ways for Genesis 2 and beyond.

    Anyway, I hope some of this was on-point. Sounds like we’re not too far off from one another in the end. Happy commenting.

  • Andrew Dowling

    I think Phil Miller is on the right track with his comments below. The Genesis story has Adam as a representation of Israel and Israel not holding up to its end of the bargain re: the covenental relationship, which fits the common understand that Genesis was composed during a time of Exile (although it speaks to origins, it’s not the oldest story in the OT).
    Evolution does poke holes in the classic Augustinian model of Christianity, and unfortunately the Reformed tradition of Protestantism is so reliant on Augustine’s ideas that many American Christians conceive that as Christianity 101 and don’t understand that many of its ideas would have been rather “off” to Christians of the initial centuries (let alone Jesus and the disciples). Much of those ideas, embraced by the Western church for centuries, concerning original sin and the literalness of the “fall” event are eroding and I say amen to that.

  • Dan

    TE’s regularly use Augustine’s “Literal Meaning of Genesis” to support their cause. What’s good for the goose… but the point is, what does the text say. Genesis doesn’t paint a picture that looks much like survival of the fittest. Paul interprets Genesis to say sin leads to death. Augustine interprets Genesis the same way. All I’m saying is the view the church held for most of 2000 years cannot be reconciled to TE without major revisionist readings of the text.

  • Dan

    Yes. And what is usually done is to say Paul just didn’t know any better as a first century guy, so we can just ignore or reinterpret him. But that does violence to his argument for the resurrection in 1 Cor 15, and to his narrative regarding the human condition in Romans 1. That is why YEC folk cannot follow where TE leads – both the fall and the authority of scripture are called into question.

  • Dan

    An EO view of how sin is passed down is not particularly relevant to how sin and death originated. If inherit the consequence of sin but not the guilt, still the question Paul raises has to be answered. Did sin cause death or nor. Paul says it did.

  • Westcoastlife

    Yes, interesting observation that their time started when they civilized (likely when they began writing, about 2,000 years after achieving hunting-free agricultural sustenance.

    I was just noting how Gen. 1 may line up (although I think it misses it) with how the world was created, without mentioning that Gen. 2 doesn’t. I find it curious how people see creation as described in Gen.1 until humans, then, suddenly, Gen. 2 becomes to text we need to see as literal.


  • NateW

    Thanks for this, Phil. Christ is the foundational cornerstone, from which all that is true extends. Before Abraham was, before the universe was, “I Am.”

    This critique assumes that Christ is more like a church steeple, the last piece that God added to his creation transforming it from an ugly pointless building into a sacred temple. It’s as if His being depends on the soundness of the rest of the structure for its glory. With Christ set as a crowning steeple, high overhead, the job of Christians becomes guarding every supporting brick, fearful that Christ will come tumbling down, if any are surrendered. Fear becomes our motivation, and and our own certainty in the soundness of every sacred brick our Idol. Brick guarding has the appearance of if service for Christ, but in reality is service of self. The structure seems to provide protection from fear and rest from the anxiety of uncertainty, and so we will sacrifice much to guard and repair it. But though we do so in the “name of Christ” brick-guarding actually exposes a deep-seated lack of faith. Is Christ really in danger of falling? Does his place of glory depend on every one of our doctrines being in their proper place? If so he is a weak Savior.

    If on the other hand Christ is the cornerstone, the first stone laid when constructing a building and the stone who’s right angles determine the placement of every other stone, then our job is not first to guard what has been built, but to continue to build, stacking our stones upon Him and upon those of others who have done likewise. Christ is in no danger of falling from glory, for His glorious strength is to be laden with every haphazard stone we lay on Him.

    What have we to fear? Are we held securely by Him or must we hold Him up securely? Is our faith in the structure we have built, or in the cornerstone that directs our building? If what we have built ends up collapsing in the end, not being true to the cornerstone, is all lost? Is Christ dethroned?

  • Thanks, Dan. As I said, I was pre-caffeine. Now that I re-read it, I know I came off as a crank. Mea culpa. I just don’t know that “what really happened” has ever been important to me beyond “People make a lot of spiritual/religious meaning with this story.”

  • Westcoastlife

    Not using a TE argument here, just the Bible. In Gen. 2:16 it says: 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’

    So, when Adam eats from the tree what happens?

    Gen.3 17 To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat from it,”
    ‘Cursed is the ground because of you;

    until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
    for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.’

    Notice he does not die when he eats from the tree, in fact he goes on to (if you take the whole thing literally) be the longest living human being ever. So, so much for the “when you eat it you will die” literalism in this story.

    If the author of Genesis is quoting God verbatim here, then God’s view of death is different from ours. Adam likely spiritually died when he ate that fruit, but the physical consequences don’t play out.

    So, over to Paul – let’s assume he is quoting the same God verbatim.

    “12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned –

    Here we have death entering humans through one man, but “death” here may well be a spiritual death (just like in Genesis) as a) 5:21so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    Well, do you or I have eternal life right now? No, we both have to die first, then we get eternal life. That part is skipped in Paul’s argument. Just as Jesus doesn’t magically make us all live forever right now, nor does Adam’s sin start the (before unheard of) physical death of all creatures on the planet.

    OK, now biologically speaking, where do you put Bacteria and Archaea? They are not plants or animals. Let’s suppose God made them right after he made the Waters (heck, that water isn’t even on earth, so now we can solve the how did life arise on earth with a “it didn’t, God stuck it in the sky”, sorry bunny trail) on the 2nd day (they are older than plants or animals). Now, Adam and Eve were made on the 6th day (or Eve was and Adam was made on the third day, just before the plants, depending on your favouring of Gen. 1 or Gen. 2 as the literal version). Let’s also suppose they had a few days (about 7?) with God in order to establish a habit of walking with God in the cool of the day.

    Here’s the problem, those Bacteria are reproductive machines. If there was no death, in 24 hours some of that bacteria would choke out all other life forms on earth. Some of that bacteria lives in our gut. If it didn’t die, it would kill us. If you say he made Bacteria on the 5th day, well, by the 6th there would be no plants, animals and humans would be dead by the next morning. Except that now God is somehow making everyone survive eternally in a completely overflowing planet. There would soon be no sea, as you could just walk across all the life forms piled up in it.

    See, now you need to say that God prevented reproduction (something the Bible clearly does NOT say as the trees had fruit on them – that is, they were fertilized via reproduction). So, life as we know it, is not possible without death. There was death long, long before humans showed up, and there will be death for as long as this world lasts in it’s present state. That is not, necessarily a bad thing, we need death of certain species to survive. Try and imagine the world right now if everyone one from the first humans (about 200,000 years ago) till now were all here, using up resources and fresh water and food? Not to mention all the species that boarder on human species (Neanderthals, Hobbits – the real ones in Indonesia circ. 18,000 years ago, Denisovians, along with Homo Erectus, Australiopithicus, etc., etc.). The world is already sounding a little crowded.

  • NateW

    On the issue of how the goodness of creation and the beginning of “death”…

    1. The garden of Eden is NOT ultimate paradise. It is a place of blissful ignorance. It is life as a child, innocent not because she is perfect, but because she hasn’t yet been told that she must be perfect or experienced the shame of her inability to do so.

    2. That creation is “good” means that it is perfectly made to do what it was designed to do. A car can be a good car even though it fails miserably at making coffee. A boxer can be “good” even though what he is good at is bashing people in the face. So, the question we have to ask is, what is it that creation is “good” for?

    3. Creation exists as a spontaneous outburst of God’s radically overflowing love nature. It is in his nature to create “others” that may enjoy eternally deepening knowing and love-relationship within The trinity.

    4. To create an “other” means that God must create “not God”. If God is eternal, “not god” is temporal. If god is omnipotent, “not god” is fallible. If God is Infinite, “not god” is finite. If God is Love, “not God” is hatred. Without “not God” there is no logical way for anything except God to exist.

    5. For “not God” to exist, God must be withdrawn from existence. God’s act of creation then would simultaneously His self-sacrificial death. This is precisely what we find testified to in the NT: John 1:3 – “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Christ, the Word (logos) is more than a cosmic creator-being: in all the fullness of his incarnation, life, and self-sacrificial death He is the divine manifestation of the eternally unchanging essence of God. The crucifixion isn’t just something that happened to Christ to fulfill gods purposes, it is the essential revelation of God’s eternal character. God Is Love. What is love? Love dies so that it might rise within the other.

    Think about an immense boulder of granite. A sculptor looks at it and envisions the masterpiece within it. Sculpting such a rock is simultaneously an act of creation and destruction. Perhaps you could say that its even creation BY destruction. What is the finished sculpture? Not a single molecule of stone in the finished work has been created. Every single one has always existed in its exact same position within the rock. The sculpture then is made of rock, but it’s beauty is only able to be seen and known because of the absence of rock surrounding it.

    The creative mind of the sculptor is God. We (and all of creation) are the sculpture, envisioned ahead of time by the artist before the carving ever began. Christ Himself is the great slab of rock that is cracked, chiseled, and broken away so that we might become alive. Suffering and death are the “not God”, the void, the vacuum that “exists” within the exact place that we would expect to find God.

    Some implications:
    1) Evil has no existence. It is the absence of God in the wake of his loving death. Without Experiencing god’s absence (ie without experiencing forsakenness) it would not be possible to know, love God or to know his love for us. A beam of light is known by the darkness it pierces. A flashlight beam is invisible at mid-day, but blinding at night.
    2) Every moment of suffering that we experience is simultaneously felt by Christ as it is his death from the beginning of time for us that leaves behind the void where suffering is experienced.
    2b) Every moment of suffering we cause another is simultaneously the active destruction of Christ, chipping Him away from the bodies of our brothers and sisters.
    3) Death did not enter the world with the fall, but with God’s first act of creation. each of us falls when we first experience “not God” (ie when we are deceived, hated, abused, oppressed, etc) and, feeling the distance between where we are and where we want so badly to be, are ashamed. As in Adam, we all seek to bridge the distance between ourselves and God by power and in so doing we open ourselves up to deeper alienation and death. The final revelation of Christ though is that death met for the love of an other is stingless.

  • Mark Farmer

    None of the four possible concerns about evolution bother me. An unrealistic view of the Bible (inerrancy) will create increasing cognitive dissonance. A theology built on that view of the Bible will also encounter increasing cognitive dissonance. Better to believe God’s witness in the creation (such as the fossil record, the age of the universe, etc.) and adjust our theology accordingly. It is time for Evangelicals to renounce denial and to take a stand for “all truth is God’s truth.” If cherished traditions fall, so be it. Better to love in reality than in denial.

  • Sin caused death in that it initiated the separation of mankind from God. I agree with what Val said above. Even in the garden, Adam and Eve had to partake of the Tree of Life in order to maintain life. Their sin caused them to be separated from that source, that they started experiencing death, or separation from God.

    Throughout 1 Corinthians, when Paul speaks of life and death, he speaks as to what their sources are. We can either live a life motivated or powered by the flesh or one powered by the Spirit. So in a sense, Paul is referring to spiritual life and death when he talks of sin leading to death, but ultimately, separated from the true source of life, we all die. That is why we need God to raise us.

    I don’t believe there was a switch that was flipped in nature when Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit. It wasn’t as if all of creation starting experiencing death at that moment. What happened is that humanity started being separated from God, and because of that we became unable to fulfill our role as stewards. So nature does experience the effects of the curse, too.

  • Dan

    Don’t have time – (day job) to interact much further. But I will point out that YEC distinguishes between animal life and other forms of life. For example, eating leaves off a tree does not entail “death”. The tree leaves on. But more to the point, the OT identifies “life” as being connected to both “breath” and “blood”. There was death involved in the coverings for Adam and Eve after they sinned. The apple did not “die” when Eve bit into it.

    But we are also told that nature did change with the fall. The ground is “cursed”. Paul speaks in Romans of “all creation groaning” and awaiting redemption. While it does not necessarily mean that single celled life forms did not cycle in and out of life prior to the fall, any more than the processing of food eaten in Adam’s bowels amounts to “death before the fall”, there is something incongruous with “O grave where is thy victory, O death where is thy sting” and millions of years of red in tooth and claw being “God’s method of creating”. The shedding of blood is the “death” creationists find difficult to allow prior to the fall.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Re: Adam, physical death, sin, Paul’s worldview etc.

    One of the clearest, briefest and most defensible presentations of an interpretative understanding that is consistent with modern biology, or with whatever modern biology prevails 200 years from now, has just gone up at Pete Enns’ site. Unlike many such discussions, the fog index in this presentation is very low. It is Part VI of the series by my good friend and former colleague Denis Lamoureux. I recommend that you view the entire six-part series and any subsequent parts, but Part VI is particularly pertinent to this discussion.


  • Westcoastlife

    OK, narrowing it down to only that which is “Nephesh” (Hebrew for ‘breath of life’ – basically all land animals) makes a bit more sense. No, I have never heard a YEC define it that way, but then, I only know a few YECers and we just generally skip the whole genesis literalism topic (too prickly to broach).

    Actually, I have found it very curious how many people are unaware that that curse on the ground is lifted right after the flood Gen. 8:20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

    The verse “O grave where is thy victory, O death where is thy sting” is directly preceded by: verses 50 – 54 50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed –52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’

    So, this death here is about our after-life (our eternal life, thanks to Christ) in new (non-evolved) bodies. Who knows if we will even have material bodies dependant on oxygen and food? Likely, in the next life our bodies will be in a spiritual state – able to gaze on God without falling ill (like Daniel did at the mere presence of an angel), not dependant on oxygen or food or water and not bound by gravity. Notice how every being coming or going from heaven isn’t the least hindered by gravity, or physical laws that govern our earthly state – the angels just disappear in front of many people. Elisha can open his servant’s eyes to the multitude of spiritual beings surrounding the city, but most of the time, we don’t have a clue.

    My point is, often, what is being talked about in the Bible has nothing to do with our scientific search for life in the here and now. This passage by Paul is about the great beyond. It neither confirms, nor denies if we arose from millions of years of flesh eating flesh, or, if God just started us from a single human pair. It does, however, confirm that in Christ, we will become immortal, just not in these bodies. Creation is awaiting God’s complete renewal of this planet – do you blame creation?

  • Graham Irvine

    Over the last few years I’ve begun to wonder just how different this discussion of ‘the fall’ and redemption might be if the Western Church had not so fully embraced Augustine’s idea of depravity and, particularly, ‘original sin’. What if, as our Orthodoxy friends posit, sin is not somthing hardwired into us via the act of Adam and Eve but is the result of their rebellion being continued into all our our relationships, both with God and with each other. How might this view of sin affect the discussion of ‘tooth and claw’ and the evolutionary procees in hunam development?