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Archive for December, 2012

Denis Alexander is a molecular biologist and director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge. He is the author of several books on the harmony of science and Christian faith. In Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?, he argues that the choice between creation or evolution is a false dichotomy. Throughout the book, the implied answer is no, we do not have to choose. Evolution is the only option for those who take scientific investigation seriously and for Christians who want to honor God in their study of His creation.

Alexander’s authority in the field of biology is put to good use, as three chapters of the book are devoted to explaining the theory and process of evolution. There are several pages of illustrations and figures as he talks about specific examples in the history of life. He is also fair to Young-Earth Creationists and Intelligent Design proponents by using a total of four chapters to bring up many of their major objections and defend the theory against them. Since the book targets Christians, there is no doubt that many of his readers will hold these views, so it is critical that he address them well. He answers each objection and shows that many of them are based on a misunderstanding of the evolutionary process. However, at the end of these chapters, his writing comes across a little bitter toward them, asking rhetorical questions and challenging the godliness of YECs’ stewardship over their resources.1 Although I sympathize with his feelings, I worry that this cynical tone might turn YECs and ID proponents away, rather than warm them up to theistic evolution.

In addition to these scientific considerations, Alexander spends nearly half the book carefully considering Scripture and theology. He has more to offer here than Francis Collins’ book, The Language of God, which left many theological questions open. Alexander seems to have a basic knowledge of the Hebrew language and a strong understanding of Christian theology. He spends two chapters on the biblical doctrine of creation, two on Adam and Eve, and one chapter each on the topics of death, the Fall, and evil. All of these are important considerations in the Christian doctrines of creation and sin, and Alexander approaches them from a theistic evolutionist’s perspective. He presents five models for interpreting the events of Genesis chapters 1-3. I won’t go into detail on these models except for his favored model C. It is the view that “God in his grace chose a couple of Neolithic farmers in the Near East, or maybe a community of farmers, to whom he chose to reveal himself in a special way, calling them into fellowship with himself – so that they might know him as a personal God.” 2 This view sees Adam and Eve as historical individuals, resulting from the process of evolution, whom God chooses to be the “federal head of the whole of humanity alive at that time.” 3 Up to this point, human beings would likely have developed language, culture, and perhaps even religion.4 But they would be morally neutral until they were in a relationship with God. I appreciate this view, because I have been convicted by other theologians, such as Timothy Keller, who affirm an historical Adam and Eve along with theistic evolution.5 This view, therefore, preserves the biblical idea of Adam as our covenantal representative, or “federal head,” as Alexander calls it.

Though he favors this view, he reminds us that it is just a working model. He considers it the best option available at the moment, but if something better came along, he “will readily discard C and adopt the new one.” 6 Because models such as these are fairly loose by nature, many questions are always hanging around. For example, one question that I have is how does C.S. Lewis’ idea of the moral law fit into model C? According to Lewis, we all have consciences which ring out in protest when we do something immoral, or when someone harms us. It helps us discern right from wrong, and by it, we know that we are guilty.7 This is the moral law that Francis Collins found appealing and which persuaded him to consider Christianity.8 Collins suggests that the moral law was given to us when we were given souls, perhaps when God breathed life into Adam in Genesis 2.9 Alexander, on the other hand, argues that this passage only refers to God bringing Adam to life, making him a “living being.” 10 He doesn’t talk about it explicitly, but Alexander conveys the impression that the moral law would have developed in us by means of evolution, which is evidenced by traces of ancient religion, like the carved animals and figurines made out of ivory or stone.11 In his model C, the only thing that changed when God chose Adam and Eve was that He began a relationship with them. This means that the moral law was already present, illuminating them to God’s moral will before they even knew Him.

Collins presents evidence that evolution does not account for our sense of morality.12 However, I want to take Alexander’s humility and not express certainty about it. Who knows what we may discover? I also think Alexander’s exegesis of Genesis 2 is better. Nonetheless, I am inclined to lean toward Collins’ position that our Moral Law entered into us only when God established a relationship with Adam and Eve. It makes sense that human beings would begin to feel convicted about sin only after God had established a relationship, not beforehand, when they were morally neutral. My question about Model C, then, is how this fits in with all of the other human beings on the earth. Did they receive the moral law at the same time as Adam and Eve? Or after the Fall? There is a lot to consider, all while maintaining established truths, like Adam and Eve being the covenantal representatives of the race, and so on. Some who read this book may be frustrated that there are not concrete answers, but such is the nature of the theological discussion right now. It would be wrong to say that we know for sure, and we should be suspicious of those who say they are.

In any case, Alexander’s book is a great contribution to the discussion, and I highly recommend it. I especially invite YECs and ID proponents who are interested in learning more about theistic evolution to read this work. Alexander is a faithful guide through a murky controversy, and his book sets the foundation for further reading and research.

Notes

1. Denis Alexander, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? (UK: Monarch Books, 2008), 353.

2. Alexander, 236.

3. Alexander, 236.

4. Alexander, 231.

5. Timothy Keller, “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople,” Biologos Foundation, accessed December 18, 2012, http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/Keller_white_paper.pdf.

6. Alexander, 243.

7. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 1952), 7.

8. Francis Collins, The Language of God (New York: Free Press, 2006), 22.

9. Collins, 207.

10. Alexander, 195.

11. Alexander, 226.

12. Collins, 28-29.

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Christians claim that God is good. He made a good creation, and human beings are culpable for the evil in it. However, whether Christians or not, sometimes we wrestle with this. We blame God for the evil in the world. We wonder if it all really had to happen this way, if He could have stopped it. We call into question God’s goodness. Evil sometimes seems such a problem that it’s easier to slacken our theology than try to reconcile it. We’re tempted to sacrifice God’s omnipotence or His omnibenevolence. As time passes, and new generations enter the world, the problem persists. We ask more questions. In our society, it is often asked how the human origin from the process of biological evolution affects our understanding of the Fall. Is God’s goodness stained if certain evil desires were ingrained into our natures before human beings sinned? Does it stain the goodness of the original creation? In a homily on Genesis 1, Origen presents his theodicy, which sheds light on these questions for us.

Writing in a time when the church was still developing a proper interpretation of Scripture, Origen was a key player in reclaiming the Old Testament for the church. He made use of much allegory in order to show how every text applied directly to the church age. In his work, On First Principles, he suggested that all Scripture spoke to us in this spiritual sense, with no need for a move between exegesis and homiletics.1 In other words, the allegorical meaning always addresses the here-and-now, with no need to move from the then-and-there of the text.

We see Origen using his own interpretation method in his homily on Genesis 1. He writes to the church in Caesarea, probably between 238 and 244 AD, exhorting them to godly living.2 He sets about explaining how all aspects of the creation week represent the believer’s experience. For example, the phrase “the beginning” of verse one refers to Christ in which everything was created, not a temporal beginning of the universe.3 The spiritual heaven, mentioned in verse one, represents the heavenly mind of the believer, by which we perceive God and know His truth. The “firmament,” or corporeal heaven, of verse 6, represents the worldly mind of believers, by which we see things only in a temporal or physical way.4 Origen interprets the vegetation growing on the land as the fruit that we are to bear in our life with God, having been repurposed and named “earth,” refusing to remain “dry land.”5 When he gets to the creation of animals, he interprets them as thoughts or deeds of the Christian life, either godly or sinful. It is the Christian’s job to discern between them and give up to God those which are against Him. Birds, being animals of the heavens, are interpreted as godly thoughts. Creeping animals and sea creatures, particularly whales, are interpreted as evil thoughts, setting the mind on worldly things. Origen predicts that the congregation will challenge him on interpreting whales as evil when text says that “God saw that it was good.”6 Here is where he presents his theodicy.

Origen says that worldly thoughts, represented by the whales in the Genesis account, really are evil, but that God has good purposes for allowing them to be. They are intended for the good of His people. How? Origen answers eloquently, “How great the beauty and splendor is of light would not be discerned unless the darkness of night intervened.”7 Or “From the consideration of evil things the glory of good things is indicated more brilliantly.”8 In other words, evil stands in such stark contrast to the goodness of God that the latter is magnified and made more appealing to us. God wants creatures who freely choose to love Him, so He gives them an alternative choice, one that is so much worse in comparison with Him. It is as if He places a balance scale on the table before us and gestures toward the left pan, where flecks of dirt have no weight against the glowing brick of gold on the right end. The more we consider the worthlessness of the dirt, the more the significance of the gold stands out to us. God highlights His presence as the true blessing, tips the scales, and lets us see the difference. According to Origen, the presence of evil helps us to thirst for and seek God, and gives us the opportunity to prove our faithfulness to Him. All of creation, then, is good in His eyes.

Origen’s interpretation of Genesis 1 would be far-fetched using Reformed hermeneutics, but it does not invalidate his theodicy. His reading of the chapter ignores the original author, audience, and its historical context. He applies the phrase “and God saw that it was good” to the entire scope of history, both pre-Fall and post-Fall, while Reformed interpreters would argue that it refers only to the pre-Fall era. However, if we remove Origen’s theodicy from the context of Genesis 1 and examine it by itself, we find that it is biblically tenable. Perhaps we would use other texts to demonstrate it, such as Romans 8:28 or 9:22-23, but we can take his theodicy along with us as we proceed to think about human evolution during the pre-Fall era.

Throughout this discussion, I will take no stance on the historicity of Adam and Eve, whether they were symbolical of an early human population or whether they were an historical couple. However, for the purposes of language, I will speak of them as a couple, evolved and separated from the rest of the human population, and put into the garden of Eden.

Before the Fall, human beings had not sinned. However, Satan had sinned and had been thrown down to Earth, where he began to tempt human beings. God also put the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden, which tempted Adam and Eve. The presence of Satan and the tree is explained by Origen’s theodicy. Through the means of their temptations, the threat of their consequences, and their stark contrasts with God, they reminded humanity of His goodness and gave Adam and Eve an opportunity to prove their faithfulness to Him. God allowed the presence of darkness in order to accentuate His light, His sufficiency to fulfill them, which was His alone. This helps us to affirm that God’s original creation was truly good, and that man is to blame for its corruption. However, evolution brings in a new perspective on the situation. There is perhaps more to consider.

In our society, we have great respect for rigorous scientific investigation, and we give much attention to the theory of biological evolution through natural selection.  The theory has substantial power to explain our origin and our nature. However, as we continue to learn about it, we find that the process has produced certain instincts, or desires, in us. And from a Christian perspective, certain desires of these are bordering on evil. For example, it is probable that, through history, human beings were polygamous.9 Such is our sex drive, that the desire for intercourse with more than one partner remains in us. As scientists continue to investigate, we may discover that evolution is the culprit for additional desires that we find in ourselves, such as same-sex attraction or impulses for murder.

Regardless of which desires, or how many, are questionable, what we need to ask is how can these seemingly evil desires be a part of God’s good creation? Why would God allow them? Does this change our understanding of the Fall? Did we have a propensity for sin earlier than we thought? Does it even go so far as to shift the culpability for the Fall from man to God? Clearly, addressing this issue is crucial for maintaining proper theology and communing reverently with God. First to realize is that the instinct or desire for these habits were not morally evil until acted upon after God established a relationship. Until that point, human beings were like any other animal: morally neutral and not accountable. God wants holiness from His people when He dwells among them, but not before. Secondly, these desires were God’s way of equipping His creatures for survival and reproduction as humanity became the creatures God wanted them to be. It is important to point out that, even though Adam and Eve would have these desires ingrained into their DNA, they would not have had a fallen nature yet. They were not captive to them. They were still freely able to love God and obey Him. Finally, God may have allowed the desires to play a role in tempting Adam and Eve. This is where Origen’s theodicy speaks directly to the problem. He says that experiencing darkness helps us to see the brilliance of light more appropriately. So Adam and Eve would better appreciate God’s presence and blessing when they could compare it to the temptation for evil that they found in themselves. These temptations would serve the same good purpose that the tree of knowledge of good and evil did: reminding them of the goodness of God and giving them the opportunity to obey Him. Of course, the Genesis account says nothing about evolution or the products of it. It is hard to say how much of a temptation they were. It could be that they weren’t an influence until after the Fall. As the account reads, the main sources of temptation in the garden were the tree and Satan.

So we can conclude that God indeed allowed habits to develop in certain animals by means of biological evolution through natural selection. These habits and desires were established in order to produce human beings, with whom He would have relationship. They were morally neutral until the time that God established a relationship with humanity. At that point, they became a source of temptation, likely used for the good purpose of testing and proving their faithfulness to God. This allows us to affirm the goodness of God and of His original creation. As Christians, we need not fear scientific discoveries. It is a privilege to explore and learn about the work of our Lord and Savior. We can rejoice with our biologist brothers and sisters as God reveals more of His creation, lifting up praise to the Maker of the universe, from Whom comes all of our knowledge and wisdom.

Notes

1. Origen, On First Principles: Book Four, in Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church, trans. & ed. Karlfried Froehlich (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 62

2. Introduction to Origen: Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, trans. Ronald E. Heine, vol. 71 of The Fathers of the Church, ed. Hermigild Dressler, Robert P. Russell, Thomas P. Halton, Robert Sider, Sister M. Josephine Brennan (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1982), 23.

3. Origen, “Homily I,” in Origen: Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, trans. Ronald E. Heine, vol. 71 of The Fathers of the Church, ed. Hermigild Dressler, Robert P. Russell, Thomas P. Halton, Robert Sider, Sister M. Josephine Brennan (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1982), 47.

4. Origen, “Homily I,” 49.

5. Origen, “Homily I,” 51.

6. Genesis 1:21, The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Good News Publishers, 2002).

7. Origen, “Homily I,” 59.

8. Origen, “Homily I,” 59.

9. Michael Price, Ph.D., “Are People ‘Naturally’ Polygamous?” in From Darwin to Eternity, Psychology Today, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/darwin-eternity/201108/are-people-naturally-polygamous-0 (accessed November 24, 2012).

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