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Posts Tagged ‘Denis Alexander’

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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