Christian Evolutionsists

I stumbled upon a blog the other day when the article titled “The Top 10 Signs that you Don’t Understand Evolution at All,” was posted in a secular discussion group. The article, peppered with helpful hyperlinks (the blogger’s preferred method of citation) and bolded statements, tackles nine of the most common misconceptions about evolution and one of the stranger side-effects (having to do with religious perceptions of Pokémon).* It’s a good read, and I recommend it to anyone who wishes to test their understanding of evolution, wants ammo with which to debunk myths about evolution, or simply wants to be entertained. What I appreciated most about the article, however, was that it introduced me to the blog God of Evolution, and a community of Christians who whole-heartedly embrace evolutionary theory, while doggedly defending their theistic faith in God.

The blog, subtitled ‘Theology with Attitude’ bills itself as “A website about Christianity, evolution, the harmony between them and other perfectly reasonable things.” These other things include inductive and deductive arguments about whether animal death (required for evolution) is a result of original sin or simply incidental, blog posts bemoaning the theological problems with young earth creationism (YEC), and essays on the overlapping history of Christianity and science. It’s a pleasant and entertaining space for an irreligious person, such as myself, who is simultaneously encouraged by the blog-writer’s commitment to scientific evidence (at least in matters of evolution), and somewhat perplexed by this commitment’s coexistence with a fairly orthodox Christianity. In a Statement of Faith the writers of God of Evolution boldly affirm seven Christian beliefs, including the Trinity, creation (presumably distinct from YEC), and the infallible authority of the Bible. In the religious climate of the United States, straddling the worlds of orthodox Christianity and modern evolutionary theory is a position with great social and philosophical tension. It requires “attitude” to hold firm in both camps, as members of the straddling community know.

Other Christians challenge how someone could be an evolutionist and a Christian. In the blog comments and on religious forums it’s often suggested that evolutionist Christians have “given in to the world.” There is a sense of betrayal—of the gospel, of the church, of the entire Christian community—which pervades the accusatory comments left by angry and bewildered, literalist Protestants (they’re usually Protestants). Meanwhile, the atheists, who are entirely on board with the evolution stuff, instead turn their attention to Christianity. They attack the evolutionist Christian for being inconsistent, willing to apply the scientific method to the natural world, but unwilling to allow it to unmoor his faith. They leave snarky comments like, “Funny how your critical reasoning only stretches so far.” The atheist feels the evolutionist Christian has stopped short, setting up camp at the border of Reason when they are so close

Credit: Rudy Zallinger, 1970

Personally, I am intrigued by the evolutionist Christian. As a Secular Humanist I have have a few questions about the nature of an EC’s faith, a few of which I hope will be answered by God of Evolution. In the meantime, I will post them here:

1. How do you reconcile your view of origins with the doctrine of original sin?

“Original sin” traditionally refers to mankind’s first sin, recorded in Genesis 3. There are several versions of the doctrine of original sin within Christendom, but the version I grew up with (as a Seventh-day Adventist) held that mankind was inherently sinful because Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, thus disobeying god and condemning all mankind to possess an imperfect nature, and consequently requiring the redemption of a Savior to avoid the final death, and complete and eternal separation from god.

If one is a literalist, the notions of a garden paradise, talking snakes, and mystical trees must be taken in their entirety. Even if one is not a literalist (I was taught by a progressive Adventist pastor that Genesis 1 and 2 are in fact Hebrew poetry.) the coherent positions are limited. One could hold that Genesis 3 is an allegory for the broken moral nature of man (surely evident in the way people hurt each other) and exists to highlight our need for the spiritual and moral redemption to be had through Jesus Christ. If one wishes to remain literal there is the uncommon position that the “original sin” was not committed until mankind had evolved more or less into its present form. (Adventists don’t believe in eternal souls, so the lack of demarcation between animals and humans is less problematic than for other Christians.) This is the sort of belief that is accompanied by maps of Eden, located approximately in Iraq, and expositions on the first men and women who rose from the African continent and were somehow removed from the moral experiment taking place to the northeast (though not removed from its consequences).

It is believed by many atheists that the theory of evolution crushes the notion of original sin entirely. After all, if mankind evolved through natural selection, then our moral imperfections may be as material, and practical, as our other selected features. Instead of ideal beings who have since fallen from grace, we are simply—and have always been—imperfect. We then do not need redemption and restoration to former glory, but simply to keep evolving into superior beings, a process which our knowledge of enables us to alter. (These notions don’t even touch upon the many sequential problems that arise when trying to place the Eden narrative within evolutionary history. Problems include the oldest hominids radiating from Africa instead of the Middle East.)

However this conundrum is approached I remain interested in the solution. Since the doctrine of original sin sets up the necessity for salvific sacrifice and thus the role of Jesus Christ, I assume at least a few of the most serious evolutionist Christians have purposely addressed the apparent rift between doctrine and theory. 

2. How can you uphold the infallibility of the Bible in the light of scientific textual criticism?

For me, this question boils down to the fact that textual criticism is a science, and that science seems to demolish the notion that scripture is anything more than a highly variant cultural text. How can one uphold evolution on scientific grounds, then void those grounds when addressing scripture? I suspect any answer involves a redefinition of “infallible,” and a conservative estimation of what the Bible is for. 

3. How far does your empiricism extend?

Everyone trusts—to a functional degree—the evidence of their senses and the results of experiment. The question is “how far”? I see two extremes when considering empiricism. One extreme does not trust the senses at all, resulting in a Matrix complex, solipsism, or possibly madness. The other extreme is materialism, or even a strict material experientialism—a position which holds that only that which is experienced by one’s own senses can be considered “real” and categorized as “knowledge.” Most people fit somewhere in-between, trusting their senses enough to function in the world, but accepting certain limits to the reliability of sensory input, and even experiment, thus leaving room for religious faith, belief in the paranormal, or simply the notion of the immaterial. This in-between, however, is often characterized by clusters of beliefs. The combination of Christianity and the acceptance of evolution is not rare, but it’s hardly common (and underrepresented in philosophical debates and popular media, which often portray all Christians as evolution deniers and all evolutionists as religious delinquents or atheists). When I encounter someone who embraces both Christianity and evolution, I am curious to know where their empiricism ends and their faith begins.

The compelling evidence of evolution (and disillusionment over the many lies I had been told about it) is one of the reasons I left the church; so I am fascinated by the people who were told the same lies, presented the same evidence, chose to except evolution, and yet remained.

____________________

*For those of you who read the article and think  #9 is a fictional problem, I attended an elementary and middle school at which Pokémon cards, lunchboxes, notebooks, folders, and pencils were banned because the game was believed to promote evolution.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Christian Evolutionsists

  1. Dear Erin,

    Thank you so much for visiting my site and for sharing it with your readers. Thank you, as well, for your kind and thoughtful remarks. I would be delighted to try and explain my position a little bit further — not to convince anyone to change their mind, but hopefully, so that we might come to some kind of understanding of one another.

    1. How do you reconcile your view of origins with the doctrine of original sin?

    Short answer: I don’t. Not really, anyway.

    I do believe people are inherently predisposed toward sin. We may have acquired these tendencies from evolution, we may pick them up from our cultures or social units, we may have even inherited them from our spiritual first ancestors (a hairier version of Adam and Eve, perhaps), or it may have been some kind of combination. At any rate, I see confirmation of this predisposition everywhere — probably most of all in myself — and I even see it reflected in the teachings of the Bible.

    But the bottom line is that this propensity (temptation, if you will) toward sin — wherever it may come from — is not sinful, in and of itself. After all, even Christ was “tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin.” It does not become sin until we willfully act on these temptations (James 1:13-15 also illustrates this quite clearly).

    In light of this, I could see the message of scripture as less a story of God calling his fallen creatures to do good things instead of bad things, and more a story of God asking his beloved creatures to serve a greater good rather than the more selfish, survival-based model to which we are inclined. And he asks us to do this not out of fear, but out of love — for him, and for others (Matthew 22:36-40). In this view, our inclinations toward sin do not have to be seen as the effect of a fall from perfection (the Bible, after all, never described the prelapsarian Adam and Eve as “perfect”; it only described all of creation as “very good,” which is a different thing entirely), but rather our inherent natures, which once did indeed serve a purpose in evolution, but now God has offered us the responsibility of serving purposes that extend beyond ourselves and our genes.

    As to the doctrine of original sin forming the basis of “the necessity for salvific sacrifice and thus the role of Jesus Christ,” I must admit that I disagree with your view, and apparently, the view of your former church. I don’t see in scripture the teaching that Christ’s sacrifice was necessary solely because of an act committed by Adam and Eve. Indeed, the New Testament seems to drive home the point that each one of us is responsible for our own personal sin — regardless of what our ancestors may or may not have done.

    As Romans 3:23-24 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” It would seem that one’s view of original sin, Adam and Eve, have no effect on the meaning of this verse. Indeed, it seems to teach that Christ had to die because of my sin, not because of the sin my supposed ancestors committed thousands of years ago.

    Sorry about the long response. I will try to be more brief.

    2. How can you uphold the infallibility of the Bible in the light of scientific textual criticism?

    An excellent question. And your suspicion of what my answer might be is quite correct. I’m not an interrantist, at least not in the strictest definition of the word. I believe that the authors of scripture were inspired by the Holy Spirit, but that his goal was to teach us the theological and spiritual truths we could not learn on our own — not the scientific and historical truths that we could (and have). So when I say “infallible,” I mean, “trustworthy on all matters about which the text was intended to teach.” At the same time, I recognize the Bible for what it clearly is, a collection of ancient history and other documents, written by human men who — inspired though they may have been — were still clearly limited by the knowledge and technology available to them.

    3. How far does your empiricism extend?

    Another excellent question. I’d say I’d fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum you propose. I accept the scientific evidence for evolution and many other things, and I have great respect for the scientific method. But like many scientists, including the late Stephen Jay Gould, I think the science is simply not able to aid us in the answering of spiritual questions. It is an extremely powerful process, but it is limited to the material world. And, God, if he exists, is Spirit, not matter. He acts within this world, but he is neither a product nor a part of it.

    So, how far does my empiricism extend? Let me say this: If we could devise an experiment that could irrefutably determine the existence of God, I can’t think that anyone would be a more staunch supporter of that experiment than me. I think the fact that it is impossible to think of an experiment that could accomplish this demonstrates my point above, that this is simply a question that lies outside the boundaries of empirical science.

  2. It seems to me, if one understands the Bible to be a metaphorical document of essentially sound moral worth it isn’t difficult to accept the truths of evolutionary science while at the same time embracing the notion of a numinous and ineffable Other. You may not call this Christianity and the Christian evolutionists probably don’t but, in imo it slides into that gray area between the black and white of Atheism/fundamental Christianity.

  3. Pingback: Christian Evolutionsists | ChristianBookBarn.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s