RE: [asa] Infant Baptism and Original Sin

From: Jon Tandy <>
Date: Tue Mar 18 2008 - 10:46:12 EDT

Since evolution is a touchy word for you, I'll try to substitute development
Don't assume you know what I feel or believe about this. It is only
recently (and I will say unwillingly) that I have been led to consider the
strength of the evidences for biological "development" over time. It is
certainly not my preference, and I would love to see the evidence overturn
the standard scientific model in favor of a more traditional Biblical
creation view. But in intellectual honesty, I have to say at the very least
that if I or any other creationist (in the broadest sense) wants to
criticize biological development, we have a lot of explaining to do. Either
1) the evidence is all phony, or 2) the Creator chose to create ex nilhlio a
vast and diverse sequence of creatures that have all the appearance of a
branching phylogenic tree, or 3) some other explanation (as there are other
proposals which I don't need to rehash here).
So much for the natural sciences. I thought you were writing as a
sociologist about sociological things. I was trying to engage you on this
subject on your own terms, in admittedly a very faltering and imperfect
understanding of such disciplines. You say baptism (as opposed to the
concept or practice of baptism) doesn't evolve. You're right. My baptism,
an event almost 30 years ago, didn't evolve. It just happened based on my
free choice. Don't make the mistake of assuming I'm saying "everything
[except God] evolves". My dad's 1969 Ford Mustang didn't evolve. Rather,
it got fixed up, then it gradually degraded over time until he had an
accident and totalled it. It is a logical fallacy to point out things that
obviously don't evolve as an argument against evolution in general.
Are you saying that sociological phenomena don't evolve (er, excuse me,
"develop")? If so, what is the basis for saying this? The activity of
human free will? I already acknowledged that the nature of "development" in
sociology is very likely to be different from the nature of "development" in
biology. It seems that you are using definitions based on your particular
chosen criteria -- if it has to do with human choice, it is development. If
it is "naturalistic" (imposed on us by biology, without any intentionality
on our part), then it could _potentially_ be evolutionary. This seems to be
the distinction you are making, but correct me if I'm wrong.
I think I've answered your question. Baptism (as a discrete act of
someone's free will) doesn't evolve. How about my question? Are you saying
that baptism as a sociological phenomenon doesn't evolve over time? If so,
do you say this because individuals make rational choices to modify certain
religious practices over time? Does the action of human choice mean we
should label it "development" instead of "evolution"?
How about languages? The history of language development has all the
characteristics of a branching phylygenic tree. Spanish is more closely
related to Portugese (historically, structurally, geographically,
sociologically) than it is to German, but they both have roots in the
Indo-European family of languages. Would you say that language systems
don't evolve over time? If so, should we call it "development" because
humans have free will to add words or merge dialects? I would say that
looking at it as a complete unit, the branching tree of languages over time
has a similar appearance to the biological tree of life, in that (on the
whole) the system changes with response to environmental conditions (Innuit
have many words for snow), changing landscape (foreign invasions and
immigration brought languages into contact with each other), adaptation
(dialects just naturally change over time), etc. It doesn't appear that a
"higher intelligence" (in the form of a global language committee, or God
himself) is proactively acting over the whole process, intentionally causing
the development of all language systems to either develop into multiple
branching paths or toward a single end goal. Change in language happens as
an organic process from within the system. Regardless of the individual
choices at the ground level, the overall system of languge development could
well be described in terms of "natural" evolution as a characteristic of the
system, regardless of what other philosophical baggage might be carried by
that term. As opposed to intelligent design, which would imply an
intelligence that is intentionally directing the system toward some goal.
I think an instructive analogy to this could be seen in biology, at least in
part. An individual species could make a choice to migrate away from a cold
environment due to an encroaching ice age, which will put it in contact new
biological environments, potentially enhancing its ability to pass on genes
to further generations, and ultimately contributing to the ongoing
biological adaptation of the species. At least that's what the standard
biological model would tell us. The individual "choice" of a group of
migrating birds or horses (like the individual choices of individuals adding
words to a language) doesn't mean the overall process can't be described by
the term evolution. Or call it development, if you like. As I said in my
previous message, this in no way gives the atheist any ground for saying
that it's purely natural, or that God is uninvolved or nonexistent.
Anyway, I've tried at various times to understand and respond
sympathetically to your concern, which seems to be that the influence of
atheism in the social sciences needs to be checked by a stronger Christian
response. I think you are right to expect this in general, and from the ASA
in particular. Hopefully there are those in the ranks of the ASA who can
respond to this need. I do think it is a little biased to call natural
scientific methods "simple" and human-social methods "difficult". However,
I'll certainly acknowledge that is true in my case, as one who hasn't been
trained extensively in the social sciences.
I thought my response to you was a positive message. If you didn't see it
that way, I apologize. I tried to suggest some creative ways that various
models from the natural sciences could be applied to combat atheistic
evolutionary views in the social sciences. Maybe you can take those
suggestions and improve them to better suit the need that exists. I also
suggested that you might be able to come up with positive suggestions or
models which apply exclusively to the social sciences, or those which could
be shared in turn for the benefit of the Christian worldview in the natural
sciences. Why wait for the ASA to point to a scholar who can do this?
Maybe you can contribute to the task yourself.
Jon Tandy
ASA Member (just joined, as of this week)

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of Gregory Arago
Sent: Tuesday, March 18, 2008 6:47 AM
To: Gregory Arago; Jon Tandy;
Subject: Re: [asa] Infant Baptism and Original Sin

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
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.


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Received on Tue Mar 18 10:48:45 2008

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