Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The Evolution of Adam

Can a Christian be a Darwinian?

Yes, I think so, but it all depends on how one interprets Christianity and how one interprets Darwinism.  If you think Christianity requires that one reads the Bible as literally true in everything it says, or if you think that Darwinian science denies the existence of God as the Creator of nature, then you must think that a Christian cannot be a Darwinian.

But I don't think that Christians have to read the Bible as literally true in all that it says.  In fact, no reasonable Christian can do this, because the Bible makes some claims that are contradictory, some claims that are clearly poetic imagery rather than literal assertions, and some claims that are clearly false if interpreted literally.

And I don't think that Darwinian science necessarily denies the existence of the Creator.  It is possible to be a theistic evolutionist.  Darwin left that open as a possibility by embracing the idea of dual causality--the idea that natural science studies the secondary causes that govern the natural universe, but not the primary causes that originate from the Creator.  So while Darwin rejected what he called "the theory of special creation"--the theory that the Creator had to miraculously intervene into nature to create every form of life--Darwin accepted the possibility that the Creator was the First Cause of the laws of nature through which every form of life evolved.

Catholic Christians generally and many Protestant Christians have had no difficulty in embracing theistic evolutionism.  But most fundamentalist or evangelical Protestants have rejected this position because they assume that the Bible must be read as literally true, and that Darwinian science must deny this literal truth of the Bible in its claims about the natural history of the universe and humanity.

I am pleased to see, however, that some evangelical Christians are beginning to accept theistic evolution.  One can see this, for example, in the debate over whether Christians must believe that Adam and Eve were real human beings--the first human beings created by God, who sinned in disobeying God, and who passed on their original sin as an inheritance of all human beings who are descended from them.  The various positions in this debate are well represented in a symposium on the "historical Adam" at the website of Books and Culture, a journal sponsored by Christianity Today, the leading evangelical magazine.

Hans Madueme and William Vandoodewaard speak for the Calvinist Reformed tradition in asserting that orthodox Christianity requires a belief in the literal historical reality of Adam and of original sin as the product of Adam's disobedience, which means that Christians cannot accept Darwinian evolution as a true account of human origins.

The other commentators argue the other side--that no reasonable Christian can believe in the historical reality of Adam.  There are two reasons for this.  First, a reading of the first few chapters of Genesis as compared with other ancient creation stories make it clear that these stories were mythic accounts of the origins of the universe and human beings that are not believable today.  So, for example, the Genesis story assumes a three-tiered vision of the universe with a solid firmament (containing the Sun, the Moon, and the stars) separating Heaven and the waters above from the waters below and the Earth below, and with an underworld under the surface of the Earth.  No reasonable person today believes this to be accurate.  And yet a Christian can affirm the truth of Christian theology without having to affirm the truth of this ancient view of the universe.

Second, evolutionary science shows that human beings evolved from primate ancestors over millions of years, and therefore the belief in the historical Adam as created in the Garden of Eden must be rejected.  The truths of modern natural science can be embraced by Christians as manifestations of God's general revelation through nature as distinguished from His special revelation through the Bible.  Galileo defended this "two books" approach--the book of God's Word and the book of God's works--to show that Christians could affirm the Copernican view of the solar system as superior to the geocentric view of the Bible.

Madueme does make a good point, however, that once we deny the historical truth of Adam, it's hard to see why we shouldn't deny the historical truth of everything else in the Bible, including the historical truth of Jesus and his resurrection.  "We're told that we can't affirm a historical Adam because it's scientifically unbelievable, but why then trust Paul on the resurrection when that, too, is scientifically unbelievable? Or, to flip the script, if we believe the resurrection, then a historical Adam is no biggie."

But surely Madueme would not say that if we believe the resurrection, then a geocentric universe is no biggie.

Other posts on these issues can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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