Today’s guest post comes from Micah Carpenter, one of an excellent class of students from Bethel Seminary who recently studied the intersection between theology and science.
One of the most significant issues regarding the intersection of science and theology is the historicity of Adam and Eve. Science tells us that homo sapiens emerged as a distinct species some 100,000 years ago or more, with an initial group of perhaps 10,000. This would suggest the appropriateness of taking a non-historic view of the early chapters of Genesis. However, many Christians have theological difficulties with this, because the idea that God made a good creation which was then tarnished by the fall seems to be very important to the story of redemption which unfolds in rest of Scripture. The following is a proposal for a possible harmonization of the findings of science with a historical view of Adam and Eve.
- Hominids evolved as evolutionary theory describes. They arrived at a point when all biological and social capabilities were in place. However, because of theological ignorance, they were innocent before God, just as animals. They had no more genuine morality than animals do.
- At a point in time of God’s choosing, when the race was biologically and sociologically ready, God chose a couple, Adam and Eve, to receive his “breath of life”. In other words, God initiated a relational covenant with them that set them apart as people made in his image to have a special relationship with him, one another, and the world. This was not a biological change, but a relational/covenantal change. This introduced the possibility of obedience or disobedience, harmony or disharmony, love or self-centeredness.
- For the initial moment, the covenant was just between Adam and Eve. However, Adam and Eve were already in some form of community relationship with their group, who were not yet in covenant with God. They were meant to be ambassadors through whom the rest of humanity would come into a relationship with God. (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) This means that whatever pattern they started, whether one of obedience or disobedience, the human community of which they were pioneers would follow them.
- Original sin, then, is less about inheriting guilt than being out of fellowship with God. Starting with the original pair who disobeyed God, humanity has been living out the relational part of the enemies of God rather than being on his side. However, this is mitigated by God’s continuous grace whereby he pursues all people. The reality of God’s gracious initiative to all in one sense puts all of us back in the position of Adam and Eve, for whom a choice is real.
- Although death would of course have been present in nature for the previous billions of years rather than emerging as a consequence to the fall, it was the disobedience of humanity that caused the problem of spiritual death, which is separation from God. At the time that God initiated the relational covenant with Adam and Eve, God had produced his finished (but not final) creation through the evolutionary process. In other words, it had reached a high point predestined by God, although not the final peak. This needed to be accomplished through relationships with free creatures made in his image, in spite all of the strife and travail that would accompany their freedom. The fall, then introduced damage to the rest of creation, because without a right relationship with God, humanity could not have the relationship of nurturing vice-regency over nature which God had intended. Although death, disease, and disasters were part of the world at the time of Genesis, they would not have been matters of fear and sorrow if people had remained near to God, and in fact, they may have learned to subdue them to an extent by living through his power. So indeed, creation groans for the Children of God to be revealed, as Paul says in Romans.
I acknowledge that there is little real evidence, either scientific or biblical, for this particular scenario. However, I hope that it demonstrates at least the possibility of taking the scientific account seriously while remaining committed to a traditional understanding of the fall of humanity with its important theological implications.