Re: [asa] Infant Baptism and Original Sin

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Tue Mar 18 2008 - 07:46:33 EDT

My computer burned out and only now am I catching up on e-backlog. On the one hand, it is unfortunate to delay responding to Jon’s critique of my position that ‘baptism does not evolve (into being or having become)’, because it results in communicative discontinuity. On the other hand, it is obvious that changing Jon’s mind about evolution could take a very long time (or just a moment of revelation), especially since it is ‘theological evolution’ or ‘evolutionary creation’ (and not just biological evolution) that he is defending, so my slow response-time likely won’t make much difference.
  My answer to Jon is easy; the problem is much more difficult. Jon writes: “baptism did "evolve" (I should say, developed over time).”
  If you know you should say ‘developed’ instead of evolution, then please, do say it, and don’t bother using the language of ‘evolution.’ This is a key point (linguistics) and you seem to at least unconsciously accept it (while persisting to argue against it/yourself!). Why add to the mire of ideological confusion by perpetuating the myth that ‘everything [except the Lord] evolves?’ You confuse ‘evolution,’ ‘development’ and ‘change,’ using them almost synonymously in the message below, when they are, to anyone who has studied the various meanings carefully, NOT synonyms.
  Jon was speaking about ‘the concept of baptism’ while I am referring to baptism itself. Does someone ‘choose’ to be baptised or not? If they don’t choose it for themselves, is it chosen by someone for them (e.g. as an infant)? Does the Priest, Chaplain or Pastor who performs the sacrament of baptism have a choice, decision, purpose or wilful expression of their human agency in the act of baptism? If the answer is ‘No’ to these three questions, my argument is rejected.
  The notion of ‘choice’ is beyond the realm of (positivistic) natural scientific methodology, since it is human beings who ‘make/create/construct’ the very (reflexive) methods of science itself, accepted (POFE) by a scientific community. One simply needs to get outside-the-box of suggesting the (ascending) ‘application’ of simple (i.e. natural) scientific methods to ‘harder’ (i.e. much more complex and difficult) human-social topics in order to realize a powerful critique of Jon’s ‘baptism evolves’ position. If one doesn’t or can’t get outside, then he or she can’t or won’t recognize the important distinction.
  “a sociological Incarnational model, with Christ actively participating in human events and cultures.”
  Now, this is interesting and worthy of discussion; something that would take us far beyond, above, below, around and through a simple biological evolutionary explanation of origins and processes of human-social change (including the institution/sacrament of baptism). My challenge to ASA is to identify and point out any scholar they know who is doing what Jon generally hints at. Where are these brave sociologists and anthropologists in America today speaking about spiritual participation and intervention? Quantophrenia in that country seems to have run to extremes!
  Talking about simplicity, the hierarchy of human-social evolution is (easily shown as) cracked.
  P.S. speaking about ‘THE NATURE OF’ social concepts – what an unfortunate contortion of (the English) language! One that befits D. Suzuki. Quel dommage qu’il n’y a pas un autre chemin.
  Jon Tandy wrote:
  But Gregory, baptism did "evolve" (I should say, developed over time). The New Testament writers attributed baptism (in a figure) to Moses bringing the children out of Egypt (1Cor 10:2), but literally baptism was instituted in Israel at the foot of Mt. Sinai (Exod 19:10; the Living Talmud explains that this was the origin of an ordinance had later in Hebrew tradition, whereby people were washed in a ceremony like baptism as part of conversion to Judaism). Baptism was later used by the Essene community as the initiation into their sect, and in a very similar way by John the Baptist. Then in later Biblical tradition, it was baptism by immersion for those who had believed in Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38; 8:38), and as one of the conditions by which one was saved (Mark 16:16; 1Pet 3:21). That changed over time to include infant baptism, and consequently or subsequently (since immersion of a baby is not a good idea, or for those on their sick beds) it was expanded to include
 sprinkling and pouring. This further spiritualized the idea of being "buried with Christ" (Rom 6:4) from the earlier tradition of being in a sense "buried" under the water. Later in Protestant tradition the concept of baptism "descended with modification" in other varieties, including the ideas that George has mentioned, that baptism is now considered by some an optional ordinance for those "already saved", but not part of their actual salvation. I haven't even touched on baptism in other cultures, including ancient American rites.
  Whatever one believes about the truth of the above statements, it can't be said that the sociological phenomenon of "baptism" hasn't gone through something of an evolution, if one wanted to use that term. I understand your sensitivity to the pervasiveness of atheistic evolution in the social sciences, but I think your argument falters. Obviously the NATURE of social concepts "changing over time" (evolution, so to speak) is quite different from the NATURE of biological evolution or cosmic evolution, and this is a good point to emphasize, but you can't say it doesn't exist. And in neither case does the atheist have a logical claim that the presence of real or apparent evolution proves that there is no God, no basis for moral law, etc.
  So I think your arguments against atheistic materialism in sociology should be, sure cultural phenomena and ideas do change over time, evolve if you will. But this in no way precludes a transcendent God having instituted certain absolute moral laws at the beginning of time that were necessary for orderly human society to have developed in the first place (this could be the equivalent of the anthropic principle). Nor does it mean that He can't be constantly working "in and through all things" to cause human society to develop toward His ultimate will, through so-called "sociological secondary causes" (this would be the equivalent of divine providence as applied to the hard sciences). The presence of uncertainty in the development and progress of sociological forces doesn't mean that God is not in control, and in fact such uncertainty provides an opportunity for humans to exercise genuine "free will" (this is the equivalent of Kenneth Miller's "random vs. indeterminate"
 argument from quantum physics, as he applies it to biology). It does not preclude God from directly interacting with human society, such as the creation of the Christian church (in the same way that the hard sciences don't preclude turning water to wine or the resurrection of Christ). And certainly, the Incarnational model which views Christ's active participation in the physical creation as central to theology could be applied just as clearly to a sociological Incarnational model, with Christ actively participating in human events and cultures.
  You have written about the disconnect that you feel the so-called natural scientists on this list have toward the social sciences, and their apparent unconcern toward the influence of social evolution. But in the end, I think the same arguments that have been developed over the centuries for explaining the actions of God in the hard sciences and in creation are also applicable to the social sciences as well, something like I have described in the previous paragraph. I think you would be better served taking these arguments from the natural sciences and applying them creatively to your disciplines, rather than saying that the natural scientists "don't get it". Maybe they get it more than you realize. Perhaps you also have unique arguments from the social sciences that are favorable toward Christian theology that no one has thought of applying to the natural sciences, which you could share in return.
  Jon Tandy
Gregory Arago <> wrote:
    While reading about the character and nature of original sin, about 'semi-biological' inheritance and the acknowledgement of biological and social processes, a thought came to me re: yet another example of something that doesn't evolve. It makes no sense to say that 'baptism evolves (into being or having become).' This backs up the stress that George places on infant baptism as touching on 'essential matters.'
  It sounds a bit odd to my ears to hear 'abandonment of inherited sin' - why so abrupt (exclusive) as 'abandon'? I agree with Jon about there being a range of explanations for Adam and the origin of original sin. Though it may seem self-explanatory or even obvious to speak of things that don't evolve to natural scientists and theologians, the non-evolution of baptism and original sin presents another example of why/where it is necessary to question the universality of evolution. In human-social thought evolution is a faulty, misleading (yet nonetheless rampant) explanation. Biology plays a relatively small (though not insignificant) role.

  Jon Tandy <> wrote:
          Even more fundamentally, it touches on the very nature of original sin, and whether sin is something inherited semi-biologically, whether it's something acquired only after exposure to the truth by someone who is accountable for his actions, or possibly some combination of the two. Which leads to how a person comes to acquire original and actual sin; through biological or social processes or both. Which can certainly influence one's range of explanations for Adam and the origin of original sin.
  I just read the interesting discourse which touched on this question, between John A. McIntyre's "The Real Adam and Original Sin" and his critics in the PSCF, June 2006 ( I think McIntyre has some good points, as do his critics. Note that Perry Yoder's response has an incorrect link, it should be In particular on this subject, Yoder responds,
  "The abandonment of inherited sin, from my Mennonite tradition, causes little difficulty. In this tradition, children are held to be in a state of innocence until they come to the age of accountability. That is, children are innocent until they themselves become responsible for their own choices to do wrong. There is no “original sin” for which they need cleansing by baptism as infants. Sin may be inevitable, part of the human condition, but it is not logically necessary, imposed upon them, so to speak, through no fault of their own."
  Jon Tandy
  -----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of George Murphy
Sent: Friday, March 14, 2008 6:08 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] Why couldn't you write your d*mn book more clearly?

  I realize that this could take the discussion well out of the science-religion area but it's already going that way.
  Infant baptism is not an "obscure, internal doctrinal issue." What is at issue is not just a procedural question about the best time to administer baptism about about whether or not the baptism of an infant is valid. This touches upon essential matters such as whether or not a person is a member of the church.

  All new Yahoo! Mail -
  Get a sneak peak at messages with a handy reading pane.

Be smarter than spam. See how smart SpamGuard is at giving junk email the boot with the All-new Yahoo! Mail

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Tue Mar 18 07:47:43 2008

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Mar 18 2008 - 07:47:43 EDT