Thursday, November 13, 2008

George Murphy and Original Sin

George Murphy has written a provocative paper on the nature of evolution and original sin. This is the paper that is being discussed over at Steve Martin's page. I would like to add my own two cents. He starts thus:

This paper is offered as a constructive theological proposal that takes into account scientific realities. Only the most essential aspects of Scripture, the theological tradition, and scientific theories and observations can be included. I will assume that the general scientific picture of biological evolution is correct and that humanity came into being by God working through this process.

Alienating half your audience in the first paragraph. Not bad. Here he concedes the scientific evidence that the ICR and Discovery Institute beat their heads against continually. It is an evolutionary creation that drives his theology:

God created a universe able to develop in such a way that intelligent life would come into being so that God could become Incarnate.

He mentions the Cross as being the way that God reconciled himself to all things and that sin had entered the picture. In this view, he argues that Paul and the Gospel writers viewed Adam's sin as secondary to that of humankind as a whole. Here he introduces the concept of "sin of origin":

The crucial distinction here is between the idea of an “original sin” which took place at the beginning of human history and that of a “sin of origin” which affects all human beings from their beginnings and from which they cannot free themselves. The need for a savior is dependent upon the latter belief but not upon the former.

This viewpoint dispenses with the actual Adam and Eve, which has been a serious impediment for a truly evolutionary perspective. With the notion of a historical Adam, one must ask, at what point did this Adam live? What kind of human was this Adam? Was he a Neandertal, an advanced Homo erectus? What does this do to the ideas of early modern human origins that have moderns showing up in sub-Saharan Africa between 150 and 200 000 years ago? As Davis Young has pointed out, evidence that modern humans existed 100 000 years ago is irrespective of evolutionary scenarios. It still pushes a literal Adam way beyond any kind of literal interpretation of Genesis 1-2. This notion of a universal Adam creates the problem of how sin came into the world. As Murphy writes:

If Adam and Eve represent all humans, then they represent also the first humans. And if humanity has been sinful from the time that it came into being, without doing anything to become sinful, sin would be part of human nature itself. This would mean that in an important sense God was the creator of sin. To avoid this conclusion, we must use biblical texts about creation and sin for guidance in trying to understand how the first human sin might have had a role in bringing about a sinful condition as part of the evolutionary process.

Here the argument relies on interpretations of how Paul meant "sin" in various passages, positing that the Eastern Church, with its more developmental approach is more in line with what was meant by the original text. In this view, humans were able to "progress, with divine grace, toward full union with God." He then address human origins. Here, he argues that humans had evolved with selfish needs, wants and desires that conflicted with God's notions of right and wrong. Once humans became aware of God, these tendencies came into conflict with who he wanted them to be. The problem here is that it clearly casts what had come to be natural creation as evil and in need of correction. This suggests strongly that God is the author of evil, because the traits that have evolved over time he is surely responsible for in an ultimate sense. It is as if he then says, after 6 gigayears, "okay, now it is time to do things my way."

Interestingly, he notes, in his passage on biological death, the verse where God tells Adam that if he eats of the tree of life, "he will surely die." A literal reading of this passage would then suggest that humanity would have come to a screeching halt and there would be no one to read this. That ought to be a big clue to the literal crowd.

I have not provided a solution to the problem, just some ramblings. This is in no way a fully-fleshed out essay to the problem. I am still working on that. I am just not convinced Dr. Murphy has come up with a theologically sound, workable one.

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