Adam, Sin, and Death … Oh My 1

Several weeks ago (here) I posted on the book by Karl Giberson and Francis Collins The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions and posed a few questions… specifically What arguments against evolution do you find convincing? Why? and What arguments would you like to see discussed on this blog (in future posts)? A number of comments asked questions and made requests for future posts.

The questions raised could be grouped into two general categories – theological questions and scientific questions. The theological questions centered primarily on sin, death, and what it means to be human.  These are not scientific arguments against evolution. In fact evidence for or against evolution is purely secondary in the discussion.

If death was a part of the evolutionary process from the very beginning, how do Xians reconcile the biblical account that death (at least as it relates to homo sapiens) is a result of the [choice] against God and not for Him.

I’ve heard responses that the consequence of the fall was a spiritual death and separation and nowhere in the creation narrative is there necessarily any promise of eternal physical human life. But that seems purely theoretical.

Any suggestions?

And a related question:

I’m open to an evolutionary theory of species origins, but a few theological issues arise for me: the fall of humankind (who actually set the stage for us to be born in sin?) and the subsequent “groaning” of creation (I was taught growing up that human sin affected this world causing earthquakes, etc.). So this would be my vote for an added discussion for the future.

The two who posted the comments above are asking serious questions with an openness for conversation to explore the possibilities. These are not new questions, but they are questions that must be dealt with seriously. If evolution is true (and I think the scientific evidence is quite clear on the matter) then some aspects of our theology, anthropology, and understanding of scripture may need to be rethought and approached from a slightly different angle. Some of the things we thought we knew and understood from scripture must be wrong.

When is it appropriate to let our observation of the nature of the world influence our understanding of theological ideas?

When is it dangerous?

One of the key issues here is the approach to theological questions. As Christians we are taught what to think about key questions and doctrines. We are taught this in sermons, in books, in lectures, and in classes … by experts and authorities we trust. But we are seldom taught why these positions are taken and almost never taught how to think through hard questions. The average Christian in the pew expects answers and timeless truths, not explanations, questions, and puzzles. To an outsider it appears that even seminary education emphasizes the right answers more than the right approach. As a scientist I must admit that most in the church seem to have little idea how to approach a new problem that challenges what they were taught, … other than holding tightly to “truth” and dismissing or fighting the challenge.

Don’t get me wrong – at times it is very important to hold on to what we believe. Statements and affirmations are important. The Apostle’s Creed, distilled from scripture, passed down from the beginning of the church provides a good example.

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN.

Even here though we need to know why as much as what. Why is this creed a central affirmation of the church? Life, both in the church and outside the church, isn’t answers and prescriptions, it is process and progress. Each generation wrestles afresh in a new context and surrounding. It often appears that what we are taught to think is incompatible with our increasing knowledge of creation, of scripture, of human history and being. In this case learning how to think as a Christian is as important and perhaps more important than learning precisely what to think as a Christian.

The questions raised by scientific evidence for the method of God’s creation provide an excellent case study to explore how to think as a Christian in the context of why we believe what we believe.  For example, here are two possible approaches to the question of the age of the earth and the presence of death in deep time.

  • The world is ca. 4.5 billion years old, animal death, earthquakes and tsunamis existed long before man. Therefore the death referred to in Genesis 3 and Romans 5 cannot be biological death and sin did not introduce natural disaster and disease to God’s creation. We must dig into scripture and wrestle with God’s revelation.

Or:

  • Genesis and Romans teach that death, disease, and disaster entered into creation through the sin of Adam. This is a foundational doctrine of Christianity. Therefore, the evidence not withstanding, an old earth, ancient disasters, and evolution must be illusory. We must wrestle with the science and search for evidence consistent with our understanding of scripture.

These approaches and variations on them represent those taken by many people in the conversation, both scientists and theologians. The are not exhaustive of all possibilities, nor are they intended to be. But I would like to use them to start a conversation. The first approach starts with science and seeks to conform theology and doctrine to the science. The second approach starts with a doctrine, and understanding of the faith, and holds tight to that understanding.

Which approach outlined above seems more appropriate? Why?

Is there some other approach you would suggest?

What is your starting point when asking questions and searching for answers?

What questions are fair game?

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

If you have comments please visit Adam, Sin, and Death … Oh My 1 at Jesus Creed.

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