Re: [asa] An atheist's view of the Christianity/evolution debate

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Wed Sep 02 2009 - 18:44:27 EDT

Some responses to this article from my own (largely Catholic/Orthodox)
perspective. Interspersed with quotes and my replies below.

"The question then becomes: is this notion of sin tenable from a
naturalistic perspective? We have to approach it from a naturalistic
perspective because our central question involves evolution, and the process
of evolution is supposed to describe the development of our species in a
purely naturalistic manner. "

That's incorrect - there are evolutionary perspectives that do not entail
naturalism. Theistic evolution / evolutionary creationism could never be
rightly called "naturalistic". Teilhard de Chardin's speculations, Tipler
and Barrow's Omega Point, etc - these involve evolution, but calling them
"naturalistic" would be equally mistaken. Saying that we need a purely
naturalistic account of sin to justify our views of sin is simply in error.
Insisting that we need the naturalistic perspective merely because evolution
is involved in the discussion is in error as well.

This seems to be the theme throughout Cline's article - if a person accepts
evolution, they therefore accept naturalism, and that means naturalistic
accounts of humanity, sin, and souls are required. But if you accept
evolution yet reject naturalism (and I think it's fair to say far and away
most TEs would do this), most of his questions don't get off the ground.

"If the evolutionary account of human origins is true, then there was
certainly no literal Fall from Grace — no Adam and Eve disobeying the
Christian God and no Original Sin."

Also incorrect. First, special creation is not always in conflict with
evolution - humanity could have biological precursors, and still be
specially created (owing to a particular guidance of evolution either at a
certain stage or naturally unfolding throughout time). At some point in that
biological lineage there would have been a moment where we reached a point
where God could interact with humanity in the terms He wished. Second, there
could be a fallen humanity even if the Genesis story is not a strict literal
truth - there could be allegory in play even with the affirmation of a
primeval event that resulted in a fall and humanity's state. And the idea of
Genesis containing allegory is one that was seriously considered far in
advance of any evolutionary challenges.

Note that the author isn't even trying to argue that humanity is in a state
of grace as is - he more or less acknowledges we are fallen for all
purposes. At most he's arguing that, as far as his view of evolution goes,
humanity was always in a fallen state. But the distinction there is
difficult to see, since even by the most literal YEC Christianity every
human (putting questions of Christ aside) has been fallen. Adam and Eve (or,
if they were representing more than themselves, that group) were in a state
of grace only briefly before falling themselves.

"The problem is that it's difficult to argue that a metaphorical Fall
required a literal death and resurrection."

He says it's difficult, but doesn't even bother to explain why. Because
metaphorical states always require metaphorical answers? But that doesn't

"Within the framework of evolution, sin does not appear to have any
tangible, real existence."

Tangible, real existence? As in, something you can place on a table and cut
in half? But no one affirms this even in the most literal Christianity.
These are immaterial states that may be reflected in nature, etc, so
claiming they have no tangible, real existence is like pointing out to a
platonist that math has no tangible, real existence. He'll agree, and
mention it's beside the point.

"Some might also argue that "sin" is still "disobedience to God," but only
where it concerns those moral rules God has given us. This eliminates the
Fall of Original Disobedience, but it still has problems. For one thing,
these same people are unlikely to argue that the moral rules from God have
reached us unadulterated by human interests — so the situation begins to
look a lot like the previous. For another, it would be hard to argue that
disobeying this limited set of rules would justify a literal death and
resurrection. Again. "

And again he claims "it's hard to justify a literal death and resurrection",
but he doesn't argue for it. He also discounts that A) God could have
ensured the necessary rules reached us either through communication or B)
Being "written on our hearts", as in what we intuitively know, or can known,
upon reflection. A has a lot of justification, since there's quite a lot of
agreement even across completely distinct religions about quite a lot of
these moral rules (which further helps justify B as well).

So far a major problem with this author seems to be that he insists that A)
If evolution is accepted, naturalism is accepted, and B) Therefore sin and
God must be justified in a naturalistic framework. But neither A nor B is

"Jesus was supposed to have 'saved' us by dying for our sins, but it is not
our physical bodies which have been saved — instead, it is our eternal
souls. If we don't have souls, then it is unlikely that Jesus' alleged
sacrifice had any real significance. "

First, just what comprises the "soul" is itself quite a debate. For
thomists, the soul is the form of the body - and physical resurrection is
necessary, because "I" am not a soul, and "I" am not a body, but (put very
roughly) a soul/body composite. Other faiths (Seventh Day Adventists, I
believe, along with others) deny the existence of some distinct immaterial
soul - when the body dies, they enter what amounts to a state of sleep until
they are resurrected, but can be brought back. More on this below.

Second, Jesus' sacrifice is not limited simply to the atonement - even among
very orthodox believers. Christ demonstrated power over death, the share God
has in our suffering, the frailties of human attempts to "save ourselves",
an example of how we are to live and what kind of existence we should hope
to have. Indeed, all those things may play a role in that atonement itself.

"But how can the existence of a soul be reconciled with evolution? I do not
believe in souls, but I can at least comprehend how they might have been
brought into existence along with a "special creation" of our species. Where
could souls come into play during the evolution of homo sapiens out of
earlier hominids and primates? Did Cro Magnons have souls? Neanderthals?
Homo Erectus? Why or why not? "

He's taking what sounds like a very cartesian view of souls. But the simple
answer here is: We not only don't know, but we don't have to know, any more
than we have to know whether or not Judas is in hell. Again, our species
could have biological precursors but have nevertheless been "specially
created" through evolution, or with evolution up to a particular point of
ensoulment, etc. For most thomists, the mark of being capable of salvation
is being part of a species with a rational soul - having the ability to
grasp immaterial concepts and operations, etc.

"Why, in fact, was there a process of evolution at all? Why all the time,
death, and suffering over millions of years of so many species now extinct?
Was it just to create us? The entire Neanderthal line apparently developed
and ended without direct impact upon our eventual development — and for
what? "

"Just to create us" can't be so. Even by strict biblical literalism it's
false. God regarded creation as "good" even before humanity made it on to
the scene - and when humanity did arrive on the scene, we were instructed to
be caretakers. We may have a special and particular relationship with God,
but the idea that God cares about humanity and nothing else is hard to
justify on biblical grounds.

Here's the problem with what Cline is saying: He's basically implying that
if anything ever dies, or if anything ever suffers, then there can be no
justification or purpose for it existing. Not only is animal suffering a
difficult question (Do fish suffer when caught on hooks? Scientists argue
both sides. Are animals conscious? I believe so, but some naturalist
philosophers - Dennett comes to mind - will insist that no, lacking
language, animals are not really conscious), but so too is "purpose". We can
reason and imagine countless plausible rationales for why a good God would
allow evolution - because their existence was good in their own right,
because God has a plan for all creation down to an individual blade of
grass, etc. But there's one problem with that. More below.

"One word of caution: saying "God works in mysterious ways" is an
essentially meaningless answer to all of this. All it serves to state is
that "I don't know either, but I still believe.""

Not true, and let me explain why. If I walk into a physics research lab,
chances are I'm going to have no idea what the various scientists are doing.
I may speculate, but unless they tell me, I'm not going to understand - and
even then, I am only going to understand to the extent they explain
themselves to me, and even that it's possible for me to misconstrue. I can
come up with various plausible explanations for what they're doing, of
course, just by some observation and reflection. And I can certainly, even
without their talking to me, reasonably infer that they have reasons for
what they're doing, even if I cannot personally discern them.

When it comes to God working in the world, through evolution, etc, we're in
a similar state. "God works in mysterious ways" rarely if ever means "I have
absolutely no idea and not even a possible answer for why God could do what
He did and does, but oh well." Theologians and philosophers from Aquinas to
Plantinga have all offered arguments and insights about these things, while
at the same time admitting that the very nature of the God they're striving
to understand - an infinite being, the ground of existence and goodness -
will never be completely understood. They can offer answers, even good
answers, but they are always going to be at least somewhat incomplete, if
not outright wrong, just due to the nature of the being discussed. If I say,
per my previous example, "Physicists work in mysterious ways", I'm not
saying I have zero insight in to what they're doing. I'm only recognizing my
limitations given the information I have.

On Wed, Sep 2, 2009 at 3:52 PM, Dave Wallace <>wrote:

> Dehler, Bernie wrote:
>> I seem to be going down the path that Howard Van Till is… it’s nice to
>> have someone in front leading the way…
>> Bernie
> Was wondering if you could explain a little about the path that you are
> going down? From your posts I have gathered that you are not happy with any
> of the historical formulations of Christianity but I'm not sure what you
> would affirm?
> Dave W
> To unsubscribe, send a message to with
> "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Wed Sep 2 18:45:22 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Wed Sep 02 2009 - 18:45:22 EDT