Thursday, 4 December 2008

Evolution and the Fall (Creation or evolution - do we have to choose? Chapter 12)

We can do this the long way or the short way, and for once I think we'll choose the latter. This chapter (which really is a continuation of the previous, "Evolution and the Biblical understanding of death"), has really only one claim. That claim is explained from a variety of points of view and applied to different situations, and discussed in relationship to different Biblical texts; but it is a single claim. The claim is that the Fall was an event that no physical effect upon humanity or the world. It was a spiritual event, not a physical one. It made no difference to the phenomena of pain, sickness, suffering or death, all of which existed before and continued afterwards, both for mice and men.

Thus, if you only have time to read one chapter in order to see how a theistic evolutionary position works out when applied to particular issues, this is a good one. This is the chapter to read if you want to see how far from orthodox evangelical theology you have to depart in order to accommodate Darwinism within one's overall scheme.

DA achieves these conclusions mostly by continuing to interpret Genesis overall as a "theological and figurative" (by which he means, not essentially historical) narrative, and by interpreting other relevant Biblical passages through the false dichotomy of "spiritual death" versus "physical death". This is carried on even when dealing with passages such as 1 Corinthians 15, where the physical resurrection from physical death is stage front and centre - even then, it never seems to really dawn on DA to see that this dualistic separation is fundamentally un- and anti-biblical. The exegesis is also characterised by a liberal dose of the "this passage is difficult, therefore we don't know for certain what it means, therefore it can't be held to mean the thing I don't want it to mean" interpretative method, known in more polemical parlance as "blowing smoke" or "hand-waving". Does Romans 8 state that the created order itself is in bondage to decay because of man's sin? Ah, but this "passage has kept commentators and PhD theology students happily busy for centuries!", so "we cannot be too dogmatic about the interpretation". And so on and so forth. Same picture as we've seen throughout the book - what Darwinism speculates must be treated as proven scientific truth, whose accuracy is established by the certainty of the scientific method... what the Bible says is difficult and must not be treated with dogmatism, and if we can find a way of reading it that doesn't contradict the theory of evolution, we should allow that as a possible interpretation.

What then is the Fall? It's a purely spiritual event. Friendship with God was offered to a select family of Neolithic farmers in the east (whilst, remember, many other humans were living in other parts of the world, including the Australian Aborigines who aren't descended from Adam). They rejected it, rebelling against God, losing the life he offered. This makes the Fall basically a loss of something that humanity never had. It bumbled along for many tens of thousands of years (according to DA, as explained in the previous chapter) without knowing God... that knowledge was eventually offered to one particular couple, who rejected it - which, unless my logic circuits have been fried, basically means that "the Fall" means that nothing happened - things went on as they were before.

DA's treatment of pain is a massive departure from evangelical orthodoxy. Biology is a package deal; you can't have all the good things in there without the bad things, and it's pain and death that grease the skids of the evolutionary machine and make all our pleasures possible. If you think pain is an evil intruder, you've been reading Milton's "Paradise Lost", instead of the Bible. It's not possible to be a sentient being without pain. The implication of this is that God is not the master of creation who determined its modes of operation, but is a prisoner to its limited possibilities - apparently not even he could have designed a system where humans could experience pleasure without experiencing pain; this is simply logically impossible, like squaring the circle or making two and two come to five. DA then gets himself into something of a pickle when he concedes that the future kingdom of God will be without pain or suffering - because then it seems that God could in fact do such a thing, and that sentient beings can exist without pain... but DA either never realises, or simply decides to pretend not to notice, this glaring contradiction. (Or perhaps the future creation is utterly ethereal and immaterial - angels floating around with harps like those Daily Mail cartoons after all). DA concludes that the healing ministry of Jesus was not to do with him restoring a fallen creation, but simply pointing the way to a new one. This means that redemption is not, contrary to orthodox Christianity, creation restored and perfected; it is creation replaced. This is not evangelical theology. It is, though, what you get when you insist on the truth of Darwinism, and from that point of view I am glad for DA making clear what the extent of the theological pay-load is if you ever feel tempted to do that.

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