Re: [asa] Theological Perspectives Without a Literal Adam

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Fri Aug 24 2007 - 17:05:22 EDT

First, please excuse me to George and Terry - I owe them both responses to their earlier posts to me, which I will address in the coming days. It happens that I have traveled several thousand kilometres in the past 10 days, from Montreal to New York, London, Helsinki and now have arrived back in St. Petersburg, so it has been impossible to write to this list.
  That said, now upon checking into this thread, several questions, problems and themes have been raised that I too have inquired about in the past and am now glad to see them more or less addressed. It seems to me that a considerable (even VAST) majority of persons on this list actually DO believe in a literal (read: real, actual, flesh and blood, or choose another physical-existence adjective for) Adam and Eve, as two living (lived) persons. Yet just as with believing in creation (incl. creativity) but not wishing to be labelled a ‘creationist’ some expressive gymnastics are being displayed. In an age of hermeneutic plurality, nobody seems to want to be labelled a ‘literalist.’ It is actually quite fun to watch!
  George wrote:
  “(2) Sin is a theological concept having to do fundamentally with a person's relationship with God. While sociology, psychology &c can tell us about anti-social behavior, mental pathologies &c that are associated with sin, they cannot talk about these things as sin. Scientific theories certainly cannot tell us that people either are or are not sinners.”
  Though it is true that most sociologists do not speak about sin (given that a higher percentage of sociologists are nonreligious compared with physicists and probably even biologists) it is not exactly correct to say that that they ‘cannot’ talk about deviance as sin. It is a normative thing. Certainly there are Christian sociologists and psychologists who may speak about sin and who posit the inherent sinfulness of (our) fallen humanity. This goes to highlight a major difference between George’s fields of expertise in comparison with mine. The logos of society, the rationale, the logic, the laws cannot be contained within a ‘merely scientific’ (and by inference, simply cannot discuss such things as ‘X’) type of thinking. Perhaps this is why I am clearly not as ‘certain’ as George, while at the same time I am certain that my uncertainty is more than merely scientific!
  There are aspects of sociology that are heavily influenced by non-scientific knowledge and those aspects should be respected by natural scientists instead of looking down upon them as somehow ‘lesser’ because they do not fit the presuppositions of what counts as ‘science.’ Max Weber dealt with this topic eloquently in his paper “Science as a Vocation” (1919). This is a hierarchy of knowledge thing. Here I get the feeling that the influence of (the field of) ‘philosophy of science’ on scientists themselves (ourselves) has had both a positive and negative effect, one negative being the over-focus on ‘demarcation’ between science and non-science or pseudo-science, which is plainly evident in discussions about intelligent design (or ID). One positive is protectionism of one’s scientific specialization. The felt need to ‘conceptualize’ (e.g. “Sin is a theological concept”) seems to be more a theoretical than a practical approach, whereas in the case of sin the notion of
 ‘perception’ may be more helpful than ‘conception.’

“Social & behavioral sciences can help us to understand sin when placed in a theological context but we can't get theological conclusions from science alone.” … “Science & theology together can help us make connections.” - George

Why not theology IN social and behavioral sciences rather than vice versa? By all means, please invite some Christian anthropologists and psychologists to this list to improve the balance!! Or is it just ‘natural’ science you folks are interested in? The discourse of ‘science and religion’ or ‘science and theology’ swirls around (cf. evolves unpredictably) partly because it leaves out human agents and privileges two areas of knowledge (i.e. science and theology) above others that are ‘equally’ (read: also) important. Moorad speaks about “the necessity of metaphysics” and I think this is what George’s approach often lacks (i.e. is hidden) – though both Moorad and Murphy have training in physics.

  “The point at issue is, in the last analysis, never purely a natural-scientific one.”
  – H. Dooyeweerd


August Comte, who coined the term ‘sociology’ as well as the term ‘altruism’ in his early years suggested a three stage approach whereby knowledge was (1) theological, (2) metaphysical, in less mature humanity, and then (3) positivistic or scientific in more mature humanity. Yet in his later years, Comte returned to religion as valuable in itself as he tried to construct a ‘religion of humanity.’ This would be like acknowledging that scientists/scholars are also feeling beings when they (we) are ‘doing science,’ that they (we) are not just pseudo-objective robots discovering laws of nature and making (provisional) proofs. So it is incorrect to say that theology has no place in sociology; which goes to show that social-humanitarian sciences-studies are more interdisciplinary ‘by character’ (or, as George would write, ‘by nature’) than are natural sciences and that therefore they are an important location for discourse about science and theology. This is why I have been
 playing a harp at ASA for several months about the inappropriateness of evolution in sociology, and remark on the debt Darwin owed to T. Malthus, A. Ferguson, A. Smith, et al. Do natural scientists even care about the immense influence of Herbert Spencer, the universal evolutionist, on American thought or do they rather direct their attention to Darwin, Darwin and more Darwin (not to mention Theodosius Dobzhansky)?
  Returning to the musical current, let me propose an unpopular notion to ASA’s minority TEs by saying that a great problem with an ‘evolving creation’ is that it is linguistically contradictory given that ‘to evolve’ assumes a process and ‘to create’ assumes an origin. Why don’t TEs distinguish more carefully between processes and origins when it comes to their notion of evolving creation? One can theorize evolution (across a WIDE range of academic fields) without ever addressing the question of the ‘origin’ of man, life, consciousness, mind, spirit, etc. This is the space for a theological perspective without a literal Adam, as the OP of this thread dictates. The ‘evolving creation’ approach is imo an appreciable attempt to bring together those two concepts (i.e. evolution and creation) and their associated (19th and 20th century) discourses into one (though quite properly, the ordering is not ‘creating evolution’ but rather ‘evolving creation’). However, it puts so much
 emphasis on biology and physical/physiological explanations that other approaches are blocked out of priority and disqualified by silence. As a sociologist I find this unfortunate and unacceptable. Here I think Phil’s questions to George are especially insightful.
  Phil asks:
  “Is mankind fallen in spirit? When and where did our spirits fall away from God? Is spiritual fallenness inherited as universal or do we each fall in spirit individually?”
  Wow – wouldn’t it be great (and also humbling) if sociologists, psychologists and anthropologists would include such questions in their tool kits, if not in their disciplinary apologetics?
  “A person can have genuine faith in the God revealed in Christ independently of what he/she thinks or doesn't think about evolution. But a theology of creation which contradicts what science tells us about the world at important points is badly defective & may undercut any attempts to communicate the Christian message.” - George
  Yes, contradiction should be avoided (both yours and mine). However, paradox and mystery abound, even to the scientifically trained mind and heart. I guess I just don’t see the need to partition the disciplines quite as neatly as does George (and please excuse to George if I am misinterpreting his position). I think a ‘theology of creation’ is wonderfully important for ALL areas of the academy, and that it should be promoted in ALL areas whenever possible. Of course, in a public educational institution, this is quite difficult given the diversity of religious and non-religious attendees to classrooms and lecture halls. However, a theology of creation (incl. creativity) that is quite obviously relevant to ALL persons as human beings can be promoted and made more accessible than it is currently shown, that is, as it is caught under the mess of discourse left by ‘evolution vs. creation’ of the past. The present and the future may ‘situate’ (a very post-modern verb-concept)
 both evolution and creation within the context of science, theology and philosophy, and invite and even embrace non-evolutionary perspectives where the Dawkinses and Harrises of the world fear to tread.
  Peaceful upon return to Russia,
  Gregory A.
  “All that is gold does not glitter,
  Not all those who wander are lost,
  The old that is strong does not wither,
  Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
  - The Riddle of Strider

George Murphy <> wrote: That's what I think is the appropriate procedure. Psychology, sociology &c
can help us to understand why people make the decisions they do, why they
trust other people, political movements &c. In a Christian context such
studies can elucidate the nature of true & flase faith, the penultimate
reasons why people act in sinful ways &c. The word "penultimate" is
important there. At the most basic level people kill, lie, commit adultery
&c because they do not "fear, love and trust in God above all things." But
of course in the vast majority of cases no one says "Since I don't trust in
the God of the Bible, I'm going to rob a bank." Science & theology together
can help us make connections.

Christians trained in the behavioral and social sciences would be able to
give a more detailed response.


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Received on Fri Aug 24 17:06:06 2007

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