Thursday, 11 December 2008

Synopsis of the theology of "Creation or evolution - do we have to choose?"

In my last post, a commenter asked me to give some kind of descriptive overview of Dr. Alexander's theistic-evolutionary theology, how it deals with the various issues, etc. You're welcome! Here are what he says on the major points, in some kind of order, without comment:
  • The book of Genesis in particular and the Bible in general is a theological, not a scientific narrative. This means in practice that we are not to read it as a necessarily historical account or a chronological one in its description of the acts of Creation in Genesis 1-2. To read details of those chapters as if they were historical is to treat the Bible as a science text book.

  • The mechanisms of creation is not to be thought of as supernatural/miraculous. This is because the key vocabulary of miracles is not used in the Genesis account or otherwise when reference is made to creation. DA applies this specifically to the development of life and implicitly to the origin of life, but does not discuss the origin of space/time/matter. God's overall sovereignty over the (Darwinian) creative process is not in terms of engineering a pre-determined outcome, but in terms of a general directionality and overall purpose; though the facts imposed by God through the periodic table and other laws of his operation themselves likely are sufficient to guarantee the emergence of life as we know it now.

  • The universe is about 15 billion years old, and the earth about 4.6. Basically all dates are as claimed by the scientific consensus. Man has only been present in the universe for the last second of evolutionary time, if we think of time as a 24-hour day. There is no reason why in principle there cannot be alien. life, and if there is it will probably be very similar to life on earth.

  • Adam was most likely (though we musn't be excessively dogmatic) a historical individual. The chronologies (which otherwise are not mentioned - I would have liked to ask what DA makes of the large ages in Genesis 5, because these contradict the scientific consensus which DA elsewhere always accepts as true) indicate he would have lived about 6000-8000 years ago.

  • This means he would have been a Neolithic farmer, most likely somewhere east of Palestine.

  • Human physiology, language, culture, etc., were all well developed by this time. Adam would have had human parents. But they were not made "in the image of God"; Adam was the first "homo divinus". The image of God means that there was the possibility of friendship/relationship with God.

  • Moreover, Adam's human ancestors were themselves descended from ape-like hominids, which in turn were from other life forms, all the way back to the original single-cell organisms. There are no separate "kinds" - no boundaries which evolution has not crossed, but a single biological tree of life.

  • We are not to think of man as bipartite (body/soul); this is not what Genesis 2:7 is telling us; we should think of him as a whole.

  • Adam was only "theologically" speaking, not literally, made from the dust. Eve likewise was not actually made from Adam's rib, but was descended from her own parents in the ordinary way - to say otherwise is to read Genesis as if it were a science book. There was no talking snake. There were many other humans around at the time, which is proved by Cain's fear of someone else killing him. Not all humans in the world today are descended from the Biblical Adam and Eve; e.g. the Australian Aboriginals.

  • Physical death was God's intention from the beginning, treated as perfectly normal throughout the Old Testament, which never hints there is anything unnatural about it. Adam and his ancestors were all subject to death and the Fall had no impact here.

  • Likewise, pain, suffering, disease and so forth were all also original features of the creation, for men and animals of all kinds. They are endemic to carbon-based life - biology is a package deal and you can't be a sentient being without these things. Similarly, the Fall did not bring in any creation-wide principle of decay or corruption into the created order - it continued as it had ever been.

  • The Fall was a spiritual, not a physical event. It did not lead to any kind of decay or degradation in the physical world (such as pain, suffering or disease).

  • So, what was lost at the Fall was an offer of spiritual life as God revealed himself to Adam and Eve but they rejected him. Salvation is conceived of primarily in terms of friendship with God, as Christ offers us again the life that Adam and Eve rejected. The death which Adam and Eve brought in was a spiritual one, which means ignorance of God.

  • How we inherit Adam's sin and the connection between his sin and ours is never discussed.

  • The new creation to be brought in in future by Christ (which will lack pain and suffering) is not a restoration and glorification of an original state that was spoilt through sin, but is the beginning in of a new order of a thoroughly different kind. The resurrection from the dead is only dimly hinted at in the later parts of the Old Testament and those before had no expectation of it. Jesus' healing ministry does not point to him as the redeemer of something lost, but purely points in a future direction to the kingdom to come.
The thing to be appreciated is how the above all hangs together as a coherent whole. You can't really reject one part and keep another without introducing some contradiction in the system. There is a consistent and very sharp science/theology, physical/spiritual, old creation/new creation dichtomy running through it all, that makes sure that Darwinism is treated as true as an account of history, and the Bible is treated as true as an account of theological interpretation, and the two must generally be kept quite far apart.

I think I've made it clear enough throughout the review that by explaining DA's system, I'm seeking to expose how far from evangelical orthodoxy theistic evolution ends up being when you try to hold to it consistently.


Anonymous said...

I'm only being Anonymous because I am having difficulty with the online identity process. No matter. I would disagree with you on one point, and that is that in DA's scenario other H. sapiens were not made in the image of God. I believe he says that all humankind were made in God's image (p 192) but the transition from H. sapiens to H. divinus, for Adam & Eve at least, was when God revealed to them the significance of being made in God's image (p 236). My own synopsis follows in a separate comment.

Anonymous said...

My own synopsis:
Evolution gave rise to Homo sapiens around 200,000 years ago, with modern humans (undefined) about 50,000 BC. Adam lived around 4 - 6000 BC. At that time there were, spread across the world, 1 -10 million people who held various religious beliefs, but were not truly spiritually alive. God revealed himself to Adam, or maybe Adam’s community, in a special way so that they may know him personally. God gave Adam a command which he disobeyed. Adam was “the federal head of the whole of humanity alive at the time. This was the moment at which God decided to start his new spiritual family on earth, consisting of all those who put their trust in God by faith, expressed in obedience to his will” (p237). Though all people were made in God’s image, this was the start of Homo divinus, where through God’s revelation to Adam, he received understanding of what that image actually meant. Where Paul refers to families in Ephesians 3:14-15, “I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name”, this family started with Adam who was saved by grace. “Families have to start somewhere, and God chose to start his new family on earth with two very ordinary individuals, saved by grace like we are” (p238). The story of Noah and the Flood refers to members of H. divinus not H. sapiens, and just those animals necessary for the family’s survival, and Noah, like Adam, was the spiritual progenitor of “all those who since that time have experienced God’s saving grace” (p242). The author admits here that we have no idea of the eternal destiny of all those who lived before, or contemporary with, Adam, or those, for example, living in other countries at the time of Moses. There are three kinds of death: physical, spiritual-1 here and now, and spiritual-2 eternal. Physical death has been with us for as long as there have been living creatures; the NT takes physical death as known in the OT “and transforms it into something that has no place in the future kingdom of God, subverting the sting of death by the power of the resurrection”; spiritual death is alienation from God. Spiritual-1 death occurs during our physical life, this is what happened to Adam, and “can be put right by putting our faith in the atoning work of Christ upon the cross for our sin” (p253). Spiritual-2 death, the ‘second death’ as referred to in Revelation, is eternal and permanent separation from God.
The Fall (not a Scriptural word) of Adam is about how sin began, the disobedience to the “revealed will of God, bringing spiritual death in its wake, a broken relationship between humankind and God” (p255). The Garden of Eden is not a specific place, it simply “represents the abundant and fertile environment in which Adam and Eve enjoyed fulfilling their responsibilities to care for the earth” (p257). The ‘tree of life’ symbolises the life with God to be freely enjoyed. The ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ represents exercising and experiencing “their own moral judgement, separating it from God’s” (p260). Adam knew right from wrong, but chose to disobey. The consequences of spiritual death resulting from sin are shame, fear, blame, alienation in relationships, and “alienation from that which gives satisfaction and identity to men and women – work, childbirth” (p260). The expulsion from the Garden of Eden represents “their exclusion from God’s presence and close off any suggestion that Adam and Eve could recover their fellowship with God through their own efforts” (p261). “As a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, God curses not them, but the serpent (3:14) and, through Adam, the ground (3:17)” (p261). “The curses in Genesis 3 represent a complete disruption of human lives” (p262). When God said that he will “greatly increase your pains in childbearing”, he meant not physical pain but alienation from the “role that was so central to the idea of God’s blessing in the life of a woman in that cultural context” (p262). God’s curse upon the ground meant that farming would no longer be a man’s pure joy. Nothing physically changed in either the earth or the heavens as a consequence of the Fall. The rest of the OT is empty of specific narratives on the Fall, other than references to the ravages of sin.
“Paul establishes that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (3:23)”, Gentiles knowing right from wrong through their conscience, Jews through Mosaic law (p264). Paul is specific in that sin entered through one man, Adam, and spiritual-1 death through sin, and in this way spiritual-1 death came to all men because all sinned. Spiritual-1 death reigned from Adam to Moses, as well as later, even over those who did not sin by breaking a commandment, as Adam did. It is sin that brings spiritual death, not the law per se, because sin existed before the law was given. Spiritual life is obtained through Christ, through a spiritual re-birth. The first Adam brought sin and spiritual death, the second Adam (Christ) brought eternal life. When Christ comes again, physical death will also be defeated. “There is no doubt that in the New Testament physical death is an enemy to be destroyed, because it has no place in the fulfilled kingdom of God” (p267). “Physical death is intrinsic to the purposes of God for human life on this earth, and we cannot inherit the kingdom without going through its portal” (p267).The author has nothing further to say on the question of the origin of sin, or the Fall, but continues with discussions on the nature of evil and why suffering is an intrinsic part of God’s plan

Anonymous said...

My comments on my synopsis:
It is easy to see why many Christians would feel uncomfortable with Denis Alexander’s Model C scenario of theistic evolution, as it lends support for Richard Dawkins’ assertion that God is unnecessary. Putting aside the question of how and where the material, energy, and laws of our existence originated, Alexander’s acceptance that biological evolution can account for consciousness, free will, conscience, knowledge of right and wrong, and a spiritual awareness plays very much into Dawkins’ hands. Alexander was not explicit on this point, but it can be fairly deduced from his scenario. He allows that in Homo sapiens, evolution progressed to the stage necessary for fellowship with God, and it was only the special event of God’s transaction with Adam that gave rise to Homo divinus.
I was interested to read the author’s interpretation of Ephesians 3:14-15 referring to God’s family starting with Adam and Eve; the commentaries I have read considered the family starting with Christ, and that in this passage, Paul was referring to Christians. I also wondered at the author’s comment “two ordinary individuals saved by grace like we are”: firstly, what was Adam saved from, and secondly, I thought ‘saved by grace’ in the NT (thus referring to the present ‘we’) has a different connotation.
I was disappointed that Denis Alexander makes no attempt to even discuss the obvious question of how, where, and when the rest of humanity transitions from H. sapiens to H. divinus. There is the ‘godly line’, from Adam through his descendants to Noah and his descendants, but what about the rest. Australian aborigines were isolated (I believe) from the rest of the world until the late 18th century – were they, or are they still, H. sapiens? It might seem like a minor point to some, but to me it is central to the Christian theme running from Adam to Christ, and this TE scenario seems to exclude the majority of humanity that existed contemporary with Adam, and post Adam outside the godly line. If there is no reasonable position on how the rest of H. sapiens becomes H. divinus, the coherence of the theology suffers greatly.
The author posits that sin began with Adam being disobedient to a direct command from God, “… bringing spiritual death in its wake, a broken relationship between humankind and God”. Firstly, this says that sin did not exist pre-Adam and thus prior acts of moral disobedience did not constitute sin. The sin of Adam broke the relationship between humankind and God – what was that relationship prior to Adam, were other humans aware of it, and did other humans notice the change after the Fall? The latter point is important when we later consider the consequences of the Fall.
The author states that the ‘tree of life’ symbolises the life with God to be freely enjoyed, and the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ represents exercising and experiencing “their own moral judgement, separating it from God’s”. Adam knew right from wrong, but chose to disobey. Here we have the mixing of ‘moral judgement’ and disobedience of a specific command; if Adam’s disobedience was the beginning of sin, why isn’t exercising moral judgement, knowing right from wrong, as H. sapiens must have done, count as sin? Has the inappropriate exercising of moral judgement only become sin since Adam’s disobedience, or was it always sin, in which case the Fall was not the beginning of sin. There is much that goes unexplained here, and I cannot reconcile this with Romans 5:12 as previously stated. Maybe 5:13 holds the explanation, but as some commentators suggest, sin did exist prior to Adam but death entered only through Adam’s sin because prior to Adam, there was no law to break and thus people were not held accountable. But that doesn’t gel with Paul’s statement that people sin by ignoring their conscience, and the notion that everyone began to be accountable for their transgressions once Adam received the law, even though they themselves did not receive the law, is quite something to get one’s mind around.
The author states that the consequences of spiritual death resulting from sin at the Fall are shame, fear, blame, alienation in relationships, and “alienation from that which gives satisfaction and identity to men and women – work, childbirth”. Were not these human experiences prior to Adam, or did they just get worse, and if so, to H. sapiens as well as H. divinus? Did H. sapiens living at the same time as Adam immediately begin to experience these consequences, or were they just consequences that those born after began to experience? The expulsion from the Garden of Eden represents “their exclusion from God’s presence and close off any suggestion that Adam and Eve could recover their fellowship with God through their own efforts”. It does seem inconsistent that the Garden of Eden, according to the author, represents humanity’s natural earthly environment at the beginning of the narrative, but their expulsion from the Garden represents their exclusion from God. I don’t see how, and the author does not explain, how the same words can be used to represent two highly contrasting ideas, from the practical and commonplace to the spiritual and highly significant. It does seem to me that the author is trying to fit the Garden of Eden into the evolution philosophy, while accommodating the theological position, but not succeeding particularly well.
In summary, the issues that I am grappling with are these:
1. That biological evolution accounts for consciousness, free will, knowledge of right and wrong, and a spiritual awareness; this being fundamental to the TE position.
2. The transition from H. sapiens to H. divinus gets more untidy the more scenarios I read, and Denis Alexander’s Model C clarifies it not at all (apart from Adam’s case).
3. The explanation of sin, and its origins, appears confused, and is difficult to reconcile with NT passages.
4. The Fall accounts for Adam’s alienation from God, and putting aside the related issues in (3), Adam’s ‘federal headship’ seems a convenient mechanism to lump the rest of humanity with the consequences, but the mechanism itself is poorly explained or justified. Maybe there are other theological texts that give a better account, but in this context, it does seem almost a circular argument; federal headship is derived from Adam being the first man, but when he is not the first man, the federal headship derived from a different interpretation is still assumed.
5. The consequences of the Fall are spiritual, alienation from God, and psychological, alienation from “that which gives satisfaction and identity”. The spiritual consequence is difficult to grasp, seemingly inconsistent with our concept of justice, Adam blew it and his contemporaries who were unaware of what was going on become complicit, as do Adam’s and his contemporaries’ descendants. The scenario works better when Adam was the first human, but is difficult in the TE position. Similarly, the nature of the psychological consequences, and how and when they were disseminated, is even harder to grasp. Disappointingly, the author neither gives an explanation nor even acknowledges these issues, begging the question as to whether he understands that for many minds, a change in the fundamental question of origins requires a change of explanation of many other issues.

David Anderson said...

Hello anonymous,

Thanks for all this, much appreciated. Just on the point you first mention... I don't read anything on page 192 as necessarily implying to all humankind in the sense of all H. sapiens... it could be interpreted either way I think. I think I'd need to go through the sections again to see which way he means it unless you can give me another pointer!