Evolution's theology
  • tharrison November 2011
    To what extent is evolution accepted within Christian scientific circles, and what is the biblical basis for such beliefs?
  • tharrison November 2011
    And along the same vein, evolution would require death before the fall - how does that fit? And doesn't it take a lot of the power and purpose out of humankind to say we evolved from less sophisticated beings - which means when we were first created we weren't perfect; we gradually became more "perfect", only to start degenerating in perfection as a species after the fall with the introduction of sin? I have heard it theorised that God imparted "spiritual life" in to us at a specific point, so even if biologically we weren't perfect from the start, spiritually we were perfect from the point we recieved a spritual life and it was this spirtiual life that started to decline (rather than biological, which seems to be improving with time, ref. increasing intelligence etc.) - what are peoples opinion of this idea?
  • SimonSimon November 2011
    To answer your first question - I think Evolution is accepted by all serious Christian thinkers (but then I would say that!!).

    To answer your second question - for me the most important thing about mankind is our ability to relate to God (call it spirit if you like). This ability is very much linked to cognitive ability, something that has indeed evolved. The way I see it is sort of parallel to what happens as a child grows up (something that's close to my heart as I have a two year old and an "about to be born any minute" year old). When a child is born they really are incapable - my son didn't even know what "feeling hungry" was! However as a child grows their cognitive ability increases, and along with this gradual increase comes the ability to form more and more complex relationships. As a father I love my son through all his stages of cognitive development, no matter how - or whether - he is able to relate to me. I think something similar happened in human evolution. God loves all kinds of man (and indeed other animals) despite their level of cognitive ability. And now - finally! - after billions of years a creature has evolved that can recognise this love by God. This is the story of the Garden of Eden, and Adam & Eve - the first time a created being recognised and was able to walk with God in his garden of Earth - sadly we know what happened next!
  • GavinM November 2011
    To second Simon's first comment, I have yet to come across a 'working' scientist (or theologian) in academia from a relevant field who rejects evolution wholesale. Otherwise although there is some variation in exact interpretation of how evolution and the Bible fit together there is no controversy or rejection of evolution as the evidence for it is so strong. There is however rejection of it being used as a tool for the promotion of atheism.

    It also has to be said that the perceived Christian rejection of evolution (which is widespread in many of our churches) is primarily the thing that holds my non-Christian scientist friends back from finding out more about Christianity.

    Perhaps the simplest way of reconciling Christianity with evolution is to realise that the two Creation stories in Genesis Ch. 1-2 are telling truths of God's character, the role of humanity, the goodness of Creation and God's purposes for it in terms of the cosmology and understanding of the people of the ancient Near East - hence a description of the universe that is a flat Earth with water above a domed sky and water swirling beneath. We don't accept that vision of the universe today but we can still carry those eternal theological truths over into the cosmology of today (spherical Earth orbiting a star in space, part of a vast universe).

    Evolution only threatens Christianity when we hold on too tight not to the Bible but to our own interpretations and speculations of specific points within it, without given them their due context and historical understanding. Many times our interpretations on specifics have been shown to be in error (contrast the Hebrew cosmology already mentioned with the Earth-centred universe of the Middle Ages with our now Sun-centred one). Although our understanding of the detail is constantly under fresh interpretation the eternal truths of God's character and His purposes for Creation never change.

    Obviously this 'solution' is only a start and not completely satisfying, but I think we can spend too much time trying to untangle creation/evolution and get unproductively bogged down in details. Instead we need to reposition our wider understanding of Creation, Humanity and God's purposes for it and how God communicates and reveals that to us.
  • tharrison November 2011
    Thank you both - both very useful answers! What about finer detail of evolution requiring death before the fall? (And also Genesis 1:29 & 30 suggests both humans and animals were vegetarian before the fall, which doesn't seem to fit)
  • SimonSimon November 2011
    The fall was a spiritual fall and thus brought spiritual death. Physical death is something entirely different and must have happened before the fall for evolution to have worked.
  • Michael November 2011
    So-called death before the fall has nothing to do with evolution and was known long before Darwin was out of nappies.

    The vast age was qualitatively worked out in the 18th century for GEOLOGICAL reasons - i.e vast age, the fossil succession.

    Thus when Darin wrote the Origin in 1859 , death going back millions of years was common knowledge and was not a matter of concern for Christians at that time, except a few slave owners in the Southern States like DAbney.

    In fact this objection to evolution has only been used for 20 odd years courtesy of Ken Ham and mates
  • AnthonySmithAnthonySmith November 2011
    Simon - not sure. It seems that human death in the Scriptures is *both* spiritual and physical. To say that physical death has nothing to do with sin, which is what I think you are saying, drives a (Platonic) wedge between the physical and the spiritual, and makes the physical death of Christ on the cross to be of no - direct - spiritual significance.
  • SimonSimon November 2011
    Ah thought I might draw you out on this Anthony!

    However, as Michael says, physical death going back millions of years is as close to a scientific certainty as you can get. If you really want to hold to a moment when God reached out to two evolved beings and imparted spirituality (the Adam & Eve event) then you have no choice but to separate physical & spiritual death. Mind you I don't think this is too problematic as we (as Christians) are quite used to at least a certain separation between the spiritual and the material even in our daily lives.

    As for Jesus' death on the cross, I really do not understand why people get so hung up about the whole "for one man sinned, one man died" thing. The important thing is that Jesus' death brought about spiritual atonement. The penal substitution theory is certainly popular, but it isn't the only theory and (IMHO) isn't even a very good theory!
  • AnthonySmithAnthonySmith November 2011
    I would say that the connection between Christ's physical death and spiritual atonement is as close to theological certainty as you can get. As you say, "The important thing is that Jesus' death brought about spiritual atonement", and I presume by "death" you at least include the (physical) death of Jesus. And what we see in Jesus' death is reflected in the clear and consistent connection throughout the Scriptures between the physical and the spiritual, from physical and spiritual life in the beginning, to spiritual and physical death after the Fall, and the hope of eternal life (both spiritual and physical) in the resurrection, when God sets this (physical) creation free from its current bondage.

    This for me strongly suggests that spiritual death and physical death cannot be completely separated from each other.
  • GavinM November 2011
    Just a quick comment here as my head is full of cold, I think we need to be careful to distinguish whether it was the physical death of Christ which provided salvation or if it was the act (His willingness, His supreme example, His obedience to the plans and purposes of the Father) coupled with who He was that 'provides' salvation.

    If it is the latter then there is no problem with physical death existing before the Fall (which the physical evidence and common sense about how the world works strongly support), but if it was the former then we have a problem because although it makes sense comfortably in one particular interpretation/understanding of Christology it conflicts strongly with non-theological sources of information and understanding. Given that there are other very valid ways of understanding Christology that don't require this discontinuity I don't particularly favour it.
  • AnthonySmithAnthonySmith November 2011
    Abraham demonstrated his willingness, his supreme example and his obedience to the plans and purposes of God without actually sacrificing Isaac. So are you saying the same could have been true of Jesus: that his work of salvation could have still been accomplished if he had demonstrated his willingness, etc., but if God had intervened before he actually died?

    Or was it, in fact, "necessary that the Christ should suffer these things"?
  • GavinM November 2011
    No, I'm not saying it is simply a matter of demonstrating willingness. If it was there would be countless examples throughout history (and not just Abraham or other Biblical figures) who willingly sacrificed life for others.

    The difference is with Christ it was who He was, God interceding for humanity. I think the problem arises when we concentrate on the physical act (of allowing himself to be killed) and not on the frankly staggering meaning of it all in the fact that it is the Creator of all, the God who humanity wronged through sin who steps in on behalf of His creation.

    Willing sacrifice is known amongst people but nobody is perfect or can make themselves perfect even through such an act. Christ being God is the only one who can provide full and complete meaning to that, so yes in that sense it required his physical death rather than just demonstrating an intention until a timely intervention. However, it is not His physical death itself that rescues us from sin but what it expresses of God's love and character and ultimately means in eternity.

    There is also the very simple fact that we still die even after Christ. If Christ's death 'undoes' the sin of humanity then why do we still physically die if it is sin that is the cause of human death? If the sin of Adam and/or Humanity leads only to spiritual (but not physical) death then physical death still (quite naturally) operates after Christ and it is the spiritual life (the ability to stand right in the sight of God through grace) that the sacrifice of Christ restores.
  • AnthonySmithAnthonySmith November 2011
    Hi Gavin,

    If it is the case that "it is not His physical death itself that rescues us from sin but what it expresses of God's love and character" then I could still conceive of other ways that God could have expressed himself without Jesus dying.

    We do still die after Christ, but Christ's death and resurrection mean that after our death in Christ there remains a future resurrection of our physical bodies. So that "last enemy", death (physical and spiritual), is indeed defeated through the death (physical and spiritual) of Christ. Christ has already won the victory at the cross, but we wait for his appearing before we share in all of the benefits of that victory.
  • Michael November 2011
    I don't think the bible is concerned with physical and spiritual death. What it is concerned about is that Jesus died on the cross for us in a most ghastly way.

    Discussion on this is a waste of pixels
  • Paul November 2011
    Surely a discussion on the meaning of the death of Christ is highly relevant for the Christian, not "a waste of pixels"? You're right to point out that Christ died on the cross "in a most ghastly way". But the question is: why? The answer the Bible seems to give is that Christ suffered and died because suffering and death was causally connected to the entrance of human sin.