What do we believe?

ANIMALS-RUNNING-IN-THE-WILD-BLACK-LECHWES

I am often asked by fellow Christians about my spiritual beliefs, and I am often asked by science-minded folks about my view of the evolutionary process, as though — as a Christian who accepts evolution — I must possess some strange, nontraditional opinion of one or the other or both. Here is my response. What do you think?

For a fuller explanation of my beliefs, see here.

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  • Could you expand on how original sin and evolution are compatible? As there was no Adam and Eve, no Fall, no forbidden fruit, there is no original sin (one of the most evil tenets in Christianity). Thus, no reason for Jesus to die, thus no rationale to Christianity? I hear this one a lot in atheist circles.

    • Hey Colin! Thanks for the question. I, too, encounter this a lot, and I appreciate the opportunity to address it again here. First of all, we have to define what one means by “original sin.” I, for one, do not believe original sin exists, if it is meant to convey the idea that people are born spiritually dead and damned in the eyes of God because of a single act of disobedience that none of us had anything to do with. That is, indeed, a monstrous doctrine, and I am far from the only Christian who rejects it, not only on rational and moral basis but also on the fact that it has no real biblical support.

      Now, if what one means by “original sin” is an inherent propensity toward sin, a “sin nature” as many theologians refer to it, then that is something I would be more inclined to get on board with. It conveys the idea that we are capable of inner temptations toward selfishness and sin — a fact I think is virtually undeniable — but that we are not actually “sinners” until we choose to sin. This idea is supported by the teachings of scripture, including James 1:13-15 and Romans 7. It also is the only way I can conceive that the doctrine of original sin can make theological sense of Jesus. Under the first conception of “original sin” that I presented, I see only two reasonable options: Either Jesus was not without sin, or he was not fully human, and either one of those seems to be disastrous for orthodox Christian theology.

      Anyway, all of that aside, the fact remains that original sin is not the basis of Christianity. It is not the basis of humanity’s need for salvation and it is not the basis of the theological need for Christ’s incarnation and sacrificial atonement.

      Simply put, the Bible never teaches or implies that Jesus had to come because of what supposedly transpired in a garden thousands of years ago. On the contrary, sin and death has spread to all people “because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). As Romans 3 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This is the basis of Christianity, and the basis of the theological idea that we all need redemption and atonement. In other words, the Bible says that we are separated from God not because of our supposed ancestors’ sin, but because of our own sin.

      Now, one may still choose to reject the truth of the Christian faith for any number of reasons. But the fact is that simply positing a figurative Adam in Genesis 2 and 3 does not undo the whole story.

      • Cheers for that. Spoiled only a little by begging the question in the last paragraph.

        For the record, I reject the Christian faith precisely because it isn’t true, and sin doesn’t exist, though the qualities of good and bad do, subjective though they may be.

  • Eddie B

    Hmm, previous attempt to post failed.

    Hang on a minute. While I basically go along with the refutation of the doctrine of original sin (as constructed post-NT by Augustine and others), where does sin originate in an evolutionary model? Whence did sin and death spread?
    Quoting only the last part of Romans 5:12 omits the phrases “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin” – a clear reference to the fall of Adam. Likewise 1 Cor 15:21-22.- by a man [Adam] came death…
    So, which came first – the chicken of sin or the egg of death?

    • Hey Eddie B, sorry about the commenting issues… Let me know if it happens again.

      In answer to your question, I think the main point is that — for the Christian — the universal existence of sin and death is a self-evident problem. One need only look at the world to confirm the truth of Romans 3:23, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This is the basis of our need for atonement and redemption in Christ, and positing a figurative Adam does not undo any of that.

      I like to use the analogy of a house fire. If you came home and found your house ablaze, you wouldn’t really care much about how the fire started (at least not until after the fire was put out). What matters is to simply deal with the fire. I think it’s the same with sin. Even if you don’t know the exact specifics of how sin entered the world, it’s undeniable that sin is here now, and we’ve been given the answer, in scripture, for how to deal with it (repenting and accepting the free gift of life in Christ Jesus).

      Now, just so you don’t think I’m ignoring the specific references you mention. I think most Christians who accept evolution would agree that there was some kind of “first sinner,” or at least, group of sinners. He may not have been named Adam, he may not have had a wife named Eve and he may not have lived 6,000 years ago, but there had to have been a first moral soul, offered the opportunity for relationship and communion with God, who instead spurned the gift and chose to go his own way and be his own “god.” It was through this man, or group of people, that sin entered the world.

      I interpret the references to “death” in both Genesis 2-3 and Romans 5 as spiritual death rather than physical, so my interpretation follows largely the same lines. I believe spiritual death occurs when one’s soul is severed from its source of spiritual life, God, through disobedience and sin. So the first instance of spiritual death would have coincided with the first act of sin.

      • Eddie B

        Sorry, I should have hit “reply” to post my previous comment here, rather than using the box at the top.

  • Eddie B

    Well thank you, Tyler for your quick response.

    It does appear a contortion to try to make Paul’s writings fit a different world-view. Paul was very specific about sin originating with the transgression of one man, and quite clear that that man was Adam. Try to remove that specificity and you could end up taking away from the efficacy of Jesus’ death for sin.

    If the references to “death” are merely spiritual, or separation from God, then that begs the question at which point in our evolutionary history man became a spiritual being, and/or a “living soul” capable of such separation and spiritual death. Maybe attainment and fall were contiguous – but that can at best be only speculation.

    While “on that day you shall surely die” clearly was not physically fulfilled immediately Adam and Eve ate the fruit, I struggle to find an interpretation that rules out physical death as a consequence of sin.

    If death is merely separation or spiritual, how do we then interpret the resurrection of Christ and the order of resurrection described in 1 Cor 15? Yes, I can accept a spiritual regeneration in part, but the chapter is talking about physical death and bodily resurrection. Now it is true that Paul’s letter was addressed to those schooled in Greek thinking, which separates the spiritual and the material, but would make little sense to the Hebrew mindset (from which Paul wrote) that recognised no such dichotomy.

    • Paul was very specific about sin originating with the transgression of one man, and quite clear that that man was Adam.

      Actually, he wasn’t that specific. He never mentions Eve, or the serpent, or the garden, or really any other details of Genesis 1-3, other than the name “Adam.” I believe it is not that much of a stretch to see Paul’s reference to Adam in a metaphorical or symbolic sense. Many theologians have held that, in at least some of these references, Paul is using “Adam” as a stand-in for the entire human race. We are all dead “in Adam,” as he writes in Romans — all a part of “Adam” in some sense. This is bolstered by the fact that Adam’s name in Hebrew does, in fact, mean “man.”

      If the references to “death” are merely spiritual, or separation from God, then that begs the question at which point in our evolutionary history man became a spiritual being, and/or a “living soul” capable of such separation and spiritual death. Maybe attainment and fall were contiguous – but that can at best be only speculation.

      Yes, it’s speculation, but do we really need to know the exact identity and biography of the first sinner? I don’t really see that as that important. What matters is that mankind is fallen, and we have all sinned. The exact details of how it happened don’t change the fact that it happened, and we have to deal with the consequences. The universal problems of sin and death are self-evident truths, and we’ve been given the solution: accepting the free gift of life in Christ.

      While “on that day you shall surely die” clearly was not physically fulfilled immediately Adam and Eve ate the fruit, I struggle to find an interpretation that rules out physical death as a consequence of sin.

      What about the fact that God planted a tree that grants immortality in the garden? If everything was already immortal, what was the point of that tree? Or the fact that God tells humans and animals to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”? If nothing could die, the earth would have been filled, and its resources completely exhausted, within a handful of generations. What about the fact that God did not need to explain what “death” was in his warning to Adam about the tree? Or, as you mention, the fact that Adam lived hundreds of years after “the day” he was supposed to die. Or the fact that Adam names his wife Eve — “mother of all life” — immediately after she had just supposedly helped curse the earth and everything in it with sin and death?

      If death is merely separation or spiritual, how do we then interpret the resurrection of Christ and the order of resurrection described in 1 Cor 15?

      I don’t dispute that physical death is an enemy that will one day be destroyed by God, once and for all. The question is, does the Bible really teach that all physical death — human, animal and even the decay of inanimate objects — is due to a single act of disobedience thousands of years ago? I don’t see it.

  • I actually believe there’s actually quite a few individuals who’ve basically committed no wrongful act(those who died when they were toddlers for example). Even a few adults like people born on tribes who worked hard, didn’t lie, didn’t steal, and basically did good on to others. These people shouldn’t need a “sacrifice” for redemption as they’re good and dandy, no? Also the world seems very rational and mechanistic in its operation suggesting high intelligence if someone made it. Why would such a seemingly intelligent rational being require the sacrifice of itself, basically an ephemeral(the being is eternal) torture by a few barbarians in one corner of the world to be able to forgive others? I consider the lashes and torture to be the only real ‘sacrifice’ as death for one who can resurrect is no real sacrifice.

    In all honesty, I’m sure most any crime would likely be forgiven easily by whoever designed the universe without the requirement of some exotic sacrificial ritual(A five year old whose only sin was a white lie dying shortly after not committing any other wrongdoing… are we really to assume that requires a sacrificial ritual to be forgiven?). This leaves only the worse of the worst that I imagine such a being wouldn’t easily stomach forgiving. If we assume the existence of a soul even murder doesn’t truly eliminate another, so that would leave as worst crime or sin several forms of torture. Was the sacrifice merely then simply to be able to stomach forgiving the worse humanity has to offer? Are people going to have to accept these individuals in heaven(or resurrected here on earth)? I assume these individuals will receive vocal cord and facial reconstruction least their past catch up to them or if they’re in heaven identity concealment. They’ll also need some form of brain modification or surgery because I doubt someone who’s got a serious psychological dysfunction will be restrained for eternity even if they truly repented and were saved or maybe their souls are free from such dysfunction(I think that even if spiritually the memories and personality have to be maintained or what you get is some form of bizarre entity most wouldn’t accept as being the same as the living person).

    • Hey Emanon! I tend to lean away from the “penal substitution” view of atonement that you seem to be describing here. I see the sacrifice of Christ less as a “required payment” of some kind, and more as a “bridge,” reconnecting a perfect and holy God with sinful humanity, enabling us to reestablish the life-giving connection and relationship with God that we were originally created to have.

      • Still, even seeing it as a bridge. I would view the mere existence of god in human body as the bridge, not the actual torture death event. As far as I’m concerned a humanly form that ascended with no death should be just as effective as a form of bridge. Many people view the surrounding torture and particularly the painful death as central in some way to christianity. I just don’t think torture and a painful death are necessary either for forgiveness or to connect god with an imperfect humanity.

        • I tend to see separation from God more as an inherent consequence of sin, rather than a kind of after-the-fact punishment God can choose to mete out or not. As Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death” — spiritual death is what is earned from sin. My view of what Christ did is that he accepted the consequences of our sin in his stead, so that we don’t actually have to reap what we’ve sown.

          • I have trouble reconciling an omnipotent god with sin(wrongdoing) remaining fatal(Actually why should it even be fatal in the first place?). It seems to me that if you’re omnipotent you could deal with that in many ways such that a sacrifice would be more on the symbolic side.

          • It’s a good question. This is what I believe and how I make sense of it: We were created to be in relationship with God, just as a car is designed to run on gasoline. If we break that relationship, through our sin, then we will not “run” properly, any more than a car can run on water. Eventually, we break down.