Evolution and sin

Ted Davis (TDavis@mcis.messiah.edu)
Mon, 30 Mar 1998 13:19:21 -0500

There has been some discussion of evolution and original sin as a major
problem for those who want both Christianity and evolution. Speaking both
as an historian of science and as a participant in this sort of discussion,
I strongly agree.

In my view there are at least two very serious problems to be dealt with in
any proposed reconciliation of Christianity and evolution. One is the
"fall," that is, the source of sin (moral evil) as well as of suffering
(including "natural evil"). I for one never found traditional theodicy very
helpful on linking these two -- why spiders should lay eggs in paralyzed
wasps as a result of Adam and Eve eating fruit never made sense to me -- but
I don't find most proposed evolutionary alternatives very satisfying either.
George Murphy may well be correct in suggesting that we all need better to
understand the theology of the cross, and that we start THERE rather than
with creation in understanding such matters.

The other is the related matter of the nature of salvation. I don't think I
will ever believe the sort of slop about God perfecting us through
evolutionary history that has been proposed quite often -- not that I can
recall by people on this bulletin board, however -- that was popular once in
liberal Protestant circles. So in my view we still need a solution to this
problem: if we've always been "fallen," then what does "salvation" consist
in? I imagine George and others have some interesting ideas here...

The biggest problem of all, however, will likely prove to be how to
communicate all this "specialist" knowledge to the general public, both
Christian and otherwise. Anyone familar with the history of religion and
science in modern America knows that this has presented huge problems over
the years. Knowledge generated by professional elites -- and in my view
this is entirely appropriate language to apply here -- simply does not
translate well with the general public, whose lack of appreciation for the
nuances and legitimate concerns voiced by participants in the professional
community is well known. This is why (in my view) scientific creationists
and other critics of evolution (whom I normally would not want to lump
together too easily) are going to be more successful than Christian
evolutionists, at least within the evangelical churches. I see no way of
getting past this, at least for the present. Just as with the reception of
Copernican ideas, the burden of proof is on those who want a new view, not
on adherents of traditional views. And proof, as we all know, is mighty
hard to obtain in matters involving science....

Ted Davis