A couple days ago I wrote a post entitled “Christian Evolutionists,” inspired by this blog, in which I posed several questions about the theological beliefs of those who simultaneously embrace Christianity and modern evolutionary theory. The blog’s author Tyler Francke, responded thoughtfully and extensively in the comments shortly after. In order to further the discussion Francke has since agreed to have his comment reproduced here as a guest post:
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.