Tag Archives: Evolution

Why Monkeys Need “Salvation” – Part 7

This post is part of a series on Evolution, Original Sin, and the Atonement. To start at the beginning, click here.

Moving along regarding Original Sin!

Last time, we talked about the individual nature of Original Sin as the feeling of meaninglessness and loss of the (non-)thing that makes us whole and complete. Even further, this feeling of meaninglessness – if we don’t deal with it directly – drives us to pursue things that will fill the hole we feel. We are driven to pursue anything that will make us feel satisfied, like we have the answer. This includes ‘God’ – particularly the God-product so many churches sell.

This individual notion of sin manifests itself in a communal way.

Rene Girard

Rene Girard

Often, when we feel the sense of lack that I have described, we project unwarranted value onto an object that another person already has. In other words, we covet what the ‘other’ has because we believe the lie that the object they possess actually brings about real satisfaction in their lives (and will do the same in ours). René Girard calls this kind of desire ‘mimetic.’  Mimetic desire is inherently dangerous because, over and over again, it leads to rivalry and violence.

The problem, however, is that violence doesn’t just end with the individuals who are at conflict with each other. The violence that occurs from individual covetousness always leads to increasing levels of (often vengeful) violence. It doesn’t simply stop tit-for-tat (or “eye for an eye,” if you will). Let’s look at a common example (taken from Brian McDonald at Touchstone Magazine):

Picture two young children playing happily on their porch, a pile of toys beside them. The older child pulls a G.I. Joe from the pile and immediately, his younger brother cries out, “No, my toy!”, pushes him out of the way, and grabs it. The older child, who was not very interested in the toy when he picked it up, now conceives a passionate need for it and attempts to wrest it back. Soon a full fight ensues, with the toy forgotten and the two boys busy pummeling each other.

Read more: http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-10-040-i#ixzz2PFYIZJBa

The story above is familiar to us because it is natural to us. It is something we all do or have done. As we can see in the notion of individualistic sin, the desired object isn’t important. That object has no special power, no intrinsic worth. It is only our mimetic desire that causes us to want the object.

Further, as vengeful violence builds due to our desire for completeness and satisfaction, that violence does not stop with the individuals. Those individuals are part of families, tribes, and communities. Let’s say I try to take the object of desire that you possess, and you harm me physically for my actions. I’m not going to try and simply hurt you as badly as you hurt me – I’m going to try and hurt you more. Then, you not only want to cause damage to me, but to my family as well.My family, in turn, desires to inflict damage on the larger community your family might be a part of. This isn’t rocket science. This is something we understand because it is inherent to our very humanity.

So…

So our very existence is bound to the feeling of lack, of meaningless, incompleteness, a sense that we are missing the thing that gives us satisfaction. To compensate for this, we project value onto objects we believe will make us whole, not lacking anything. When that object is possessed by someone else (and it always is), our desire becomes violent. We do whatever we need to do to obtain the object of desire. This violence never stops by itself. Violence always breeds more violence, until the communities in which we are part of destroy themselves from the inside, from the infectious disease we all carry.

However, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, we see a move away from vengeance and violence and destructive desire. This is where our need for atonement comes from, and where we will turn next.

Advertisements

Why Monkeys Need “Salvation” – Part 6

Last time in the evolution series, we talked a little about ‘original sin’ and why it’s still important for us to maintain the concept of ‘sin,’ despite the outmoded doctrinal baggage attached to the language.

Before we set out to talk about individual sin, I’d like to say one thing. Although I’m focusing on the two major ways I understand sin to operate in this post and the next, I am by no means saying these are the only ways we can or should understand original sin. This is the best way I’ve learned to describe it for myself, at the moment. I may understand it differently later in life, and others may not agree with my conclusion. The fact is, I find these two understandings of sin most viable right now because they cohere with my own experiences. And despite those who would say it’s improper to allow my experiences to govern my understanding of God and reality, I’m going to argue that we have no choice but to do so. Say all you want that we need to ‘go back to the Bible.’ Regardless of whether we do that or not, our experiences always govern our understanding of reality, and there is no way around that.

the-idolatry-of-god-breaking-our-addiction-to-certainty-and-satisfactionCurrently, a lot of my understanding of ‘original sin’ stems from the writing of Peter Rollins, particularly in The Idolatry of God.

In The Idolatry of God, Pete uses the work of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan to talk about the feeling of ‘separation’ and ‘lack’ that is inherent to the human experience. For Rollins, if we “consider Original Sin in its most literal definition, we can begin to appreciate how it refers to a primal separation… [It is] the feeling of gap that marks us all from the very beginning” (IoG, 19-20). In other words, every single one of us, at some point, feels a sense of lack, meaninglessness, and dissatisfaction. This is a normal part of the human experience.

Rollins explains that this is a commonly observed phenomenon that originates during what Lacan calls the ‘mirror phase’ in early childhood development – particularly between 6 and 18 months after birth. The ‘mirror phase’ is the stage of infancy where the child’s self-consciousness is birthed. Before this stage in development, there is no real sense of ‘I’ or ‘me’ in the child’s consciousness. S/he is totally unaware of a separation between him/herself and the surrounding environment. However, as soon as the child develops a sense of ‘I,’ there is also an immediate understanding of the existence of ‘not I.’ Rollins states, “The sense of selfhood is marked indelibly with the sense of separation” (13).

This sense of separation from something also leads us to the experience of the sense of a ‘loss’ of something. From the very birth of our self-consciousness, we constantly experience dissatisfaction because we feel as if we are ‘missing’ something – something that actually can bring us satisfaction and rid us of our feeling of meaninglessness.

It is this feeling of dissatisfaction, this feeling of loss, that leads all of us, throughout our lives, to look for ways to get rid of that feeling. We use things like money, power, sex, family, and so on to try and fill the gap we feel, yet we find that none of those things ever make us feel fully satisfied. Further, the Church often makes ‘God’ into another one of these products that can fill the gap, placing the divine on the same level as every other object that promises us some kind of certainty or satisfaction.

In short, Rollins says it this way: “We mistakenly feel that we have lost something central to our humanity (Original Sin) and then postulate some object we believe will restore what we have lost, something we believe will bring wholeness and fulfillment to our lives” (27-28). When we ascribe this value to anything (including ‘God’), we have created an Idol out of the object.

Thus, ‘original sin’ is not something that we need to be punished for because of some inherent level of disobedience to God’s will that we have the second we are born. Rather, on an individual level, it is the feeling of separation, anxiety, and lack that is universal to the human experience.

Next, I’ll focus on how this individual sin progresses to systemic/communal sin and – in the following posts – how the atonement addresses these problems.

Why Monkeys Need “Salvation” – Part 4

This is part four in a series on Evolution, Original Sin, and the AtonementTo start at the beginning, click here.


Wow, it’s been a while since I posted last. The break I took from blogging was both intentional and necessary. I began this series on accepting the reality of evolution and theorizing about its effects on the Christian faith, hoping that my writing would spark others to think more critically about their own beliefs, and also that my own thinking would be sharpened on the subject. While I did find that this happened a little bit, I also found that I was being attacked for rejecting some of my previous beliefs. In particular, one of my blog posts, the introduction to this series, was posted on Ken Ham’s (a well-known[?] creationist/speaker) by a family friend. Though I do not think the friend intended for the consequences of her actions, this led to a smattering of public, ignorant criticism by people who do not know me or my family, which could have negatively affected my current occupation, since I work at an Evangelical university that stands on a few of the “truths” I so readily attempt to deconstruct.

All that aside, I’m hoping to get back into a regular blogging schedule, hopefully 2-3 times per week. I will continue exploring these ideas with the help of some writings on the internets and the work of Peter Enns, and hope that I can clarify my own thoughts in my writing and push you, dear reader to do the same.

Last time, I wrote about the direct effect that accepting evolution has on some traditional Evangelical doctrines – particularly inerrancy. In other words, I think it is important to accept evolution as a defining reality of the physical universe, as observations from the last 150 years have proven to continually support evolution as a natural reality. As such (and because I do not think it to be an orthodox Christian belief), I think inerrancy is insufficiently supported and should be rejected by Evangelicals as a core doctrine. I’m not saying biblical authority should be rejected – only the notion that Scripture itself is “inerrant.”

To continue in the series, I think it is necessary to examine the effects of evolution on some of the doctrines Christians hold sacred. And I’d like to begin with the doctrine of Original Sin. 

Generally, the doctrine of Original Sin is defined across the board as humanity’s universal rejection of God’s will. Not only that, but humanity is born with a natural inclination to reject the kind of life God desires for humanity. This happened as a result of Adam’s initial rejection of God’s command in the creation story; Adam sinned as some kind of representative of humanity, thus we are all sinners.

This view is further supported by texts like Romans 5:12-21 (where we have the in/famous “through one man, sin entered the world” bit) and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, and 44-49. This is not to mention the fact that Paul probably believed in a literal Adam. He would have had no reason not to. So, if Evangelicals want to ignore the entire paradigm upon which modern biological science is built and attempt to retain an outmoded and unwarranted doctrine like inerrancy, it seems likely that Original Sin as “traditionally understood” can be maintained. If, however, Christians desire a robust theology that can (ahem) handle something like evolution, then we need to rethink Paul’s statements about Adam as the originator of sin.

Paul_the_apostle

Let me be clear here: what I AM saying is that I think we need to reject Paul’s acceptance of Adam as a historical figure and the cause and origin of sin, especially in light of evolution. I’m NOT saying that sin is not a reality, even a universal one. I follow Enns here, where he says we should not focus on the historicity of Adam from Paul’s perspective, but what Paul was trying to say in his letter to the Romans and the Corinthians. In particular, it seems that Paul’s focal point is always the Crucifixion and Resurrection as the solution to a particular problem. This problem, to Paul, is death. Enns says it this way: “Paul uses the theological vocabulary available to him, and so names the root cause of that universal dilemma [the existence of death] as Adam and his disobedience.”[1]

Further, it’s no secret that the Christian concept of Original Sin is not one that exists in Judaism. Perhaps one veiled reference may exist in Habukkuk 6:7, but most scholars (even Evangelical ones!) not that the “Adam” referred to by the author is meant to be the name of a place, not a person.

To conclude, I’d like to quote Enns one more time. Regardless of Paul’s (faulty, through no fault of his own) view of human origins, three very important elements remain in his theology, despite the acceptance of evolution:

1. The universal and self-evident problem of death

2. The universal and self-evident problem of sin

3. The historical event of the death and resurrection of Christ

To remain within the bounds of orthodoxy, I think one must accept the above three claims. Nonetheless, the question remains: in light of evolution, what is sin, how does it affect us, and why is the cross a solution to that problem?


[1] Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2012), 123.

Why Monkeys Need “Salvation” – Part 3

This is part 3 in a series on Evolution, Original Sin, and Atonement. To start at the beginning, click here.


In my last post, I spoke a little bit about the scientific evidence for evolution. I don’t consider myself a scientist in the slightest, but I figured a Biology 101 review would be helpful. I understand there may be many of you the reject the evidence for evolution, but you should be aware that the theory of evolution is virtually incontrovertible within the scientific community. It is the paradigm by which countless other disciplines operate, and (considering what I’ll be talking about today) it is totally compatible with a Christian worldview.

Evolution & Inerrancy

The major issue that many Evangelicals come up against when trying to reconcile evolution and the biblical text is the creation account found at the beginning of Genesis and the story of Adam (not to mention all of the doctrines affected by the reality of evolution). The problem here is that most Evangelicals feel that they must accept the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture, which forces them to read the Genesis creation account(s) non-critically, and in the same manner as a scientific textbook – this, in my opinion, is a colossal mistake.

Article 12 of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy reads as follows:

We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

In other words, the creators of the doctrine of inerrancy would say it is inappropriate for sound reason and historical and scientific evidence to trump a story written by ancient people regarding the origins of the earth and of humanity. Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, holding to inerrancy forces Evangelicals to reject a scientific theory that has been proven and tested by scientists for decades.

in-a-book

David Hayward – http://nakedpastor.com

This is not to mention the fact that the term “inerrancy” is found nowhere in the biblical text itself, nor is the idea that every word of the biblical text must be historically factual for it to retain its authority within Christianity. To say that the writings within the Bible are inerrant (and must be to maintain its authority in matters of faith and practice) imposes particularly modern ways of thinking onto a book of ancient writings. The Bible was never meant to conform to this kind of modern scrutiny. It can’t, and we shouldn’t expect it to.

Evolution & Adam

If we lose the idea that the Bible is inerrant, but still remain adamant about its authority for matters of faith and practice, this means that we still need to figure out what to do with the Genesis creation account(s) and particularly the story of Adam – if we are to accept evolution as true. Just as the discovery of a heliocentric galaxy shook the foundations of pre-modern Christianity, but is now widely accepted because of our misunderstanding of what the Bible meant in certain places, the same can be said for the discovery and acceptance of evolution and its relation to our understanding of God and Scripture.funny-Adam-Eve-white-evolution

In general, biblical scholars date the writing and compilation of much of the Hebrew Bible to the exilic and post-exilic periods. (VERY) Broadly speaking, after being kicked out of their land, Israel needed to find a way to maintain its identity as the people of Yahweh and their relationship to God. As such, the creation account in Genesis – and particularly Genesis 2 and 3 – reveals Adam as a type of “proto-Israel.” In other words, the story of Adam can be better understood as Israel attempting to understand itself and its actions through a mythological character (where myth is an ancient, pre-scientific way of understanding origins – see Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation).

The parallels between Israel’s history and the story of Adam are pretty stark. Enns shows a few of the parallels at BioLogos:

Israel’s history as a nation can be broken down as follows:

    • Israel is “created” by God at the exodus through a cosmic battle (gods are defeated and the Red Sea is “divided”);
    • The Israelites are given Canaan to inhabit, a lush land flowing with milk and honey;
    • They remain in the land as long as they obey the Mosaic law;
  • They persist in a pattern of disobedience and are exiled to Babylon.

Israel’s history parallels Adam’s drama in Genesis:

    • Adam is created in Genesis 2 after the taming of chaos in Genesis 1;
    • Adam is placed in a lush garden;
    • Law (not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) is given as a stipulation for remaining in the garden;
  • Adam and Eve disobey and are exiled.

An understanding of Adam as “proto-Israel” greatly helps in the attempt to maintain some sense of biblical authority while also allowing scholars and scientists to honestly observe and interpret data without being bound to some false interpretation of Genesis as a divinely inspired scientific textbook that trumps our ability to observe and interpret natural phenomena.

What we simply cannot do is try to retain “inerrancy” as a doctrine if we are going to accept evolution as a scientific reality. It is not a claim the Bible makes about itself, nor does it affect the authority of the Bible in the faith and lives of Christ-followers.

Losing a Spring (Thoughts on Evolution)

If you’re at all familiar with Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis, you’ll know that one of the metaphors he uses for our understanding and faith is a trampoline (as compared to a brick wall). He says that some people’s faith is formed like a brick wall, where each brick is a specific belief within one’s faith. However, he says the problem with this kind of faith is that, when a few bricks are lost, the wall comes crumbling down. This can be compared to a person who is a Christian and perhaps discovers that some doctrine within his or her faith is proven, beyond doubt, to be wrong. Let’s say, for example, that Mary wasn’t actually a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus, and that he was actually conceived the way everyone else was. For many people, this would cause the collapse of their faith in the Truth of Christianity.

Bell argues that we need a different way of looking at faith. The trampoline metaphor – though it does have its flaws – may provide something useful. He says that if our faith is viewed more like a trampoline, where each spring is a doctrine, this changes things. If you lose a spring on a trampoline, for example, you hardly lose anything at all. Not only that, but you can still keep jumping. If your faith works like this, you become less likely to be shaken in your faith if something like the above situation happens. I’m not saying (and neither is Bell) that the virgin birth isn’t real. Actually, I believe in it. I’m just saying that if it was somehow proven not to have happened, I wouldn’t give up on Christianity, because I believe in its Truth as a whole.

One of those “doctrines” I’ve been thinking about lately is the concept of creationism versus evolution. I understand that Genesis records God creating the heavens and the earth, all the animals, people, and so forth. However, it is striking that the creation account is extremely similar to other ancient cultures’ creation myths. While it is not a replica, it is certainly similar. This begs the question of whether or not we should see the Genesis creation account as a literal retelling of events or as a way of understanding Israel’s origins.

I am by no means an expert on this. However, I have been doing quite a bit of reading lately online. If you’re interested and have time, check out some of these blog posts by other writers. They have some interesting things to say:

Tad Delay

Kurt Willems

Peter Enns

It should be noted that most biblical scholars and theologians in academia have already gotten past this question. Evolution isn’t just a “theory,” as many of us were taught in Sunday school and youth group. It’s so widely accepted as to be considered fact. If Evangelicalism at large is unable to accept something like this, it will continue to lose its viability in the present world.

I also want you to know I’m not saying that I think evolution and whatever other things we know about the origin of the universe or world happened on its own. I believe in a creator God that does things we don’t understand. Evolution, for me, is completely compatible with a truly biblical Christianity.