- Paperback: 261 pages
- Publisher: Eerdmans (February 19, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0802873790
- ISBN-13: 978-0802873798
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #246,521 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Evolution and the Fall Paperback – February 19, 2017
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— Wheaton College
“I was stretched by this book and found myself sometimes arguing with it and at other times enthusiastically affirming it. We need to do more creative thinking about science, tradition, theology, and the Bible, and as the authors affirm, we have to do that as it has always been done when done well—as a community of God’s people seeking to be faithful interpreters. We will have to take risks, as the authors and editors of this volume do, even as we constrain ourselves to the fundamentals that must not be undervalued or dismissed. This book salted my thinking with new ideas and sailed into what, for me, were some uncharted waters. Such mind-stimulating and faith-affirming contributions should be welcomed for thorough sifting as we work together to address the issues that so desperately cry for our attention.”
About the Author
James K. A. Smith is professor of philosophy at Calvin College, where he also holds the Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology and Worldview. His previous books include How (Not) to Be Secular and You Are What You Love.
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The editors note in their introduction that the “scientific consensus points to the evolution of humans from primates. It indicates that humans emerged from nonhuman primates—as genetic, biological, and archeological evidences seems to suggest—in a group, not an original pair. The emergence of humans from primates seemingly leaves little room for an original historical state of innocence from which humanity suffered a “Fall.” What then are the implications for Christian theology’s traditional account of origins, including both the origin of humanity and the origin of sin?” (p. xv)
The editors suggest a rather conservative approach, focused on tradition, wherein “any modifications, revisions, and reformulations will (a) need to provide an account of how they are faithful extensions of the tradition and (b) have to concede that the discernment of what counts as faithful extension is determined by the community of practice, and not just the realm of “expertise.”” (p. xxv)
After Darrel R. Falk’s opening essay on the scientific story of human origins, only two of the remaining nine essays directly address the issue of how developments in biological evolution could affect Christian doctrine.
In his essay, James K.A. Smith takes a conservative approach, attempting to preserve a “fall” from “good” to “not good” without requiring belief in a first human couple.
On the other hand, Joel B. Green appears to be more willing to make modifications because of how little Scripture actually has to say on the subject. After examining Jewish texts on Adam from the Second Temple period and the writings of Paul and James on the character of sin, “Green finds that neither set of texts refers to a “Fall” as an event, and that neither suggests that humanity’s sinfulness is determined by Adam’s sin. Green suggests that a careful reading of Paul and James would be amenable to an account of the Fall that would be compatible with scientific evidence, that is, an account of the Fall as a gradual emergence of sin as a pervasive quality of human experience.” (p. xxvii)
Green concludes that the “qualified view of original sin to which scripture bears witness does not require belief in a first human couple, Adam and Eve, or in traditional notions of a historical “fall,” or in the traditional vies of sin’s genetic transmission.” (p. 116)
The book does a good job of discussing the problems with the traditional interpretations of Genesis and of the origin of sin. I would have liked it better if there had been more exploration of how best to proceed theologically given what we have learned about human evolution.
One of the most striking things about the book was the process. The contributors met together regularly over a three-year period for intellectual exchange, corporate worship, and spiritual formation. The result is a cohesive group of essays.
The book is organized into 4 sections: I. Mapping the Questions; II. Biblical Studies and Theological Implications; III. Beyond “Origins”: Cultural Implications; and IV. Reimagining the Conversation: Faithful Ways Forward.
In the first section, biologist (emeritus) Darrell Falk (Point Loma Nazarene University) begins with a survey of the relevant scientific evidence for evolution, in the fossil record, in the human genomic record, and in the archeological record. Theologian Celia Dean-Drummond (Notre Dame) picks up the thread with a sketch of the conflicting attitudes toward evolution within Catholicism, and evaluation thereof, as well as a discussion of niche construction theory, community evolution, and original sin.
Philosopher James K.A Smith (Calvin College) next provides a theological foundation for the rest of the book, outlining “what is at stake” theologically. He concludes his chapter with a possible scenario that is faithful to both the Biblical record as well as the physical record: 1) God creates via evolution; 2) A morally immature (good, not perfect, else Adam & Eve would not have been able to sin) population of about 10,000 hominids emerged relatively simultaneously about 200,000 years ago; 3) God elects this population, of which Adam & Eve are representative; 4) An historic fall occurs not as a punctiliar event, but as a continuous process, though with a temporally discernible “before” and “after;” and 5) Salvation (regeneration-sanctification-consummation) restores and perfects creation. This chapter stands alone and is worth reading by itself, IMO. The point about election is not surprising coming from a Calvin College philosopher, but it is a fresh and thought-provoking possibility.
Having set the stage, the next three essays delve into the most pressing of the theological issues. Theologian J. Richard Middleton (Northeastern) considers how the evidence for evolution could illuminate existing interpretations of the Bible, as well as how theology could inform scientific understanding of the development of human moral consciousness. His theologizing is, in substance, both a rejection of concordism (science and theology ARE two very different THINGS), as well as NOMA (even separate, the two fields can overlap in some areas in mutual give-and-take).
Theologian Joel B. Green (Fuller Theological Seminary) evaluates what the NT has to say about original sin, and concludes that there is room for belief in a non-historical first couple, a non-historical fall, and non-traditional, non-genetic transmission of sin by virtue of what is not said in the NT.
Aaron Riches (Seminario Mayor San Cecilia) is a second Catholic voice, developing the theological necessity for viewing Adam & Eve as historical. His solution, in the face of what he accepts as strong evidence for evolutionary creation, is simply to leave it as another Divine mystery.
In the third section, a pivot away from origins to implications of broader scientific discoveries, ethicist Brent Waters (Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary) writes a chapter about the ethical implications of taking science too far, specifically in the field of transhumanism.
Theologian Norman Wirzba (Duke Divinity School), though generally supportive of science and its empirical evidence, sounds a cautionary note for the cultural entrenchment of survival of the fittest in a world of scarce resources as telos, or purpose. To the contrary, human fulfillment and meaning is to be found in union with God through Jesus Christ. Too often the survival of the fittest framework results in disrespect, exploitation, and destruction of other Imago Dei, especially the weak and less desirable. This is a point well-taken, especially in the current nationalistic political environment.
In the final section, William T. Cavanaugh (DePaul University) begins exploring ways forward with a survey of political aspects of the doctrine of the Fall, suggesting that not all reasons for the divide between science and faith are strictly scientific OR theological.
Finally, historian Peter Harrison (University of Queensland) concludes with an examination of Augustine’s approach to the relationship of faith and science. Harrison suggests several qualifications to accepted Augustinian principles for Christian engagement with science (used by Galileo and others), taking issue with the Priority of Demonstration and the Principle of Limitation. He concludes the book with some cautionary notes: 1) Following Augustine, knowing God is always more important than scientific knowledge; and 2) since scientific knowledge is constantly subject to challenge and revision, attempts to align specific science with Biblical doctrine risks the collapse of the doctrine with the collapse of the science. This is a warning not just to Evolutionary Creationists, but also to YEC.
Overall, this book is a significant contribution to current investigation into the compatibility of evolution and the Biblical accounts of creation. Without exception, the authors take the new evidence in support of evolution seriously enough to engage it theologically, and to support re-examination of previous Biblical interpretations of origins. Although by no means conclusive, the book clearly provides ways forward for further dialog between science and faith. The biggest takeaway for me was Smith’s discussion about the goodness, not perfection of God’s original creation. This answers questions about death and predation prior to the Fall.
I will say that I think the book is geared more towards other scholars and academicians rather than regular people. I’m no dummy (BS, CPA, MDIV), but I found the book challenging at many points. Perhaps this is due to the fact that my undergrad educational foundation is less liberal arts than probably should be required for entrance to seminary. LOL. At any rate, the effort was rewarding, no doubt, but it is not really an accessible book for the average individual, IMO. Highly recommended for other scholars, especially scientists who are Christians, struggling with what to do with the genomic evidence for evolution.