Reading Genesis theologically NOT historically (was Re: [asa] (introducing... sin) "Evolutionary Creation" book comments)

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Fri Oct 02 2009 - 19:47:49 EDT

Hi folks,

Please bear with me as I try to, once again, steer us away from what is a deeply ingrained habit of reading Genesis historically...

I think that all this talk of sin being a "free choice" is really grounded in a rationalist, enlightenment anthropology which bears very little semblance to the realities of human nature or, might I add, the Biblical witness.
Here I have to say I find it curious that conservative evangelicals maintain such a strong attachment to an Augustinian view of the atonement whilst rejecting an Augustinian view of human nature - no wonder there's confusion about the issue of sin and atonement!

Personally, I think Luther was right when he emphasised that our choices arise not out of our free-will, but out of our enslaved will - i.e. out of our desire to please ourselves rather than to please God.

I don't see ANYTHING which is contrary to an evolutionary history for humans here: evolution is ENTIRELY about survival and reproduction, hence entirely about self-preservation, hence guaranteed to produce beings who are entirely self-concerned - goodness, even our natural sense of altruism is nothing more than "redirected selfishness".

Thus: "The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor 2:14)

What is needed is something to get us beyond such self-absorption.

In consequence of this, I don't see the need to posit some point in human evolutionary history when the capacity to make free moral choices arose (either by emergence or by divine gift) and which then was lost through an act of disobedience.

In this I'm simply going to push the line I've been taking: Genesis 1/2 isn't about history, it's about the right ordering of reality. Not about what WAS, but about what SHOULD BE (that's how pre-modern origins stories function).

As such, it might talk about an initial state of innocence from which humanity "fell" but this isn't to recount an historical detail. It's to make a claim about the true basis of human morality (i.e. that we ought to choose the tree of life, not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) and the consequence that arises in every person's experience when they fail to follow this principle.

The clue here, I will urge, is Paul's personal experience and the fact that it PRECISELY repeats the Genesis story, not as historical event, but as the personal experience of the individual. Indeed, the doctrine of original sin has ALREADY been "freed from the ancient science and reformulated" BY NONE LESS THAN PAUL HIMSELF!!!!! Except, conservative evangelicals have been so obsessed by the historical issue, they have utterly disregarded the theological message, have obsessed over Paul's use of the story "as if" historical (more on which below), and have thus totally overlooked the relevance of passages such as Romans 7;

I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. (Rom 7:9)

In the light of which, I simply can't credit the claim that Paul was naive enough to think that Genesis 1/2 was making a historical claim - he KNOWS that the "death" of sin is something other than physical death, he knows that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is symbolic of the law, and he knows that "where there is no law there is no transgression" (Rom 4:15). He KNOWS that sin has power only when one seeks to live according to the law AND that the fundamental issue is NOT whether I choose to obey God but that "in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find." (Rom 7:18) and that the ONLY answer to this problem is found in acceptance of the redemptive act of God in Christ with the subsequent gift of the Spirit (Rom 8:1-11) or, in the words of Jesus, "you must be born again" (John 3:7).

For those who want to argue that Paul, and Jesus, thought Genesis 1/2 was about history consider this: one of the realities of "myth" is that you can NEVER tell by listening to somebody narrating mythical stories whether that person thinks the story is "real" or not. We REPEATEDLY make reference to all sorts of "fictional" stories-the plays of Shakespeare, Aesop's fables, biblical parables, etc, etc-without OUR thinking these stories actually happened SO (and here's the critical point) why would we think Jesus and Paul talking "as if" Genesis is history proves anything about what THEY thought?

No, just because Paul and Jesus talk "as if" Gen 1/2 is historical proves nothing about whether they thought the story is historical. Talking "as if" historical is PRECISELY the way such stories are used-by tribal cultures, by Paul, by us, and, supremely, even by Jesus himself.

So, there you have it-either one takes SERIOUSLY the genre of Genesis, or one doesn't. And if one does, if one notes the details of the text (a talking snake? a flaming sword to guard the tree of life?) and the fact that Paul can "recapitulate" the story in his own experience rather than seeing is as ONLY something which happens "back in the day" THEN one should be able to get over the HISTORICAL question of "when did it happen".

And THEN one need not respond to a claim that "the story is symbolic" by simply reiterating the same hopelessly misguided question "Yes, but WHEN did sin enter the world?"

So, again, and again, and again, and again: Gen 1/2 isn't written according to the criteria of modern historiography and we really must, I think, make a concerted effort NOT to put historical questions to the text. Rather, we should head a remark that George Murphy made some time ago and start thinking THEOLOGICALLY about the fact that we are dealing with Christian Scripture-inspired by the Spirit, chosen by the Church, and interpreted theologically under the guidance of both.


Gregory Arago wrote:
> Don Nield wrote:
> "Adam and Eve play two representative roles. They represent us and they
> represent the first hominids who had the capacity for free choice and
> self-consciousness. With this capacity, they became aware of God’s
> requirements, but more often than not rejected them. The “Fall” refers
> to the sinful acts of these ancestors creating a form of spiritual and
> moral darkness along with an accompanying bondage to sin. Original sin
> refers to: (1) the sinful choices of these hominids, (2) the continuing
> sinful choices of the succeeding generations including ourselves, and
> (3) the resulting bondage to sin and spiritual darkness that is
> *inherited* from our ancestors and generated by our own choices. This
> *inheritance* acts at its own (“spiritual”) level and cannot be reduced
> to some sort of cultural or genetic *inheritance*, though it is deeply
> intertwined with these other levels."
> If you'll forgive me for jumping in after silence, I still don't see how
> 'Adam' and 'Eve' in 'representative roles' solves the problem of the
> 'origin' of sin any more when it is pushed back to calling them 'first
> hominids.' Something extra-natural must have convi(n)c(t)ed these
> particular 'first' hominids of their decision to 'Fall' and they must
> have somehow known what they did was sinful (i.e. the law written on
> their hearts). Whether or not there was a natural-physical garden from
> which they were expelled by the word of God for their act(s), is another
> story (and the volumes of artwork done on this are wonderful testaments
> to the Christian Tradition, which should not be treated as fairytales or
> as mere 'ancient science' or 'ancient history' - i.e. the primitive or
> backward and wrong argument). But the power of choice to sin (or not) is
> supreme, and it is God-given, selah.
> As the character Neo said in The Matrix: "The Problem is Choice!" And
> the act of choice itself breaks the continuity of the past and the
> future: the decision itself and the act, the confirmation, the
> condemnation, the confession, the repentance, the act of forgiveness,
> the...none of these things makes sense in a philosophy of flow and flux;
> 'evolution.' It is not that 'modern science has shown us' but rather
> than pre-modern, modern *and* post-modern or current philosophy
> convinces us of the power of the moment (G.K. Chesterton speaks about
> this, of the cross-roads so masterfully in his "Orthodoxy"). The problem
> again with the continuity, uniformitarian, anti-intervention,
> pro-hiddenness model is that it doesn't leave room for the very things
> that define/symbolise us most intimately as human beings, the
> supra-natural things that we are born with, though none of us can say
> exactly when they became part of our human constitution (womb to tomb),
> as part of a higher covenant, which happened ceremoniously before we
> were born.
> Perhaps this is why Denis said: "I can't "explain the details." That's
> the nature of a MYSTERY."
> It is like in Romans 7, where I do what I do not want to do. Isn't it a
> mystery still today? This could fit closely with Mike Gene's theory of
> nudging, if we are given many signs (i.e. nudged) that we are not
> supposed to do something, yet for some reason we ignore them or don't
> hear them or see them or feel them and still do it. The signs are only
> (reducible to being) 'naturalistic' if one 'despiritualises' the
> universe in which we live. And none of us here believes in a
> despiritualised universe, though our language sometimes betrays us
> without our knowing it. There doesn't seem any good reason to do that,
> except if one has made a commitment to natural-physical scientific
> methodology above theological or philosophical knowledge.
> Queue the Gregory repeat: e.g. Denis could instead speak about 'the
> character of MYSTERY' which contrasts with a naturalistic reading of
> reality. Though I know what he meant - 'the nature of' just means, 'how
> it is', all it would take is a mere massage of his language to influence
> the message. We do live in a universe with Personal knowledge (i.e. not
> Eistein's religion), and the Creator is not just something 'super' (but
> also awesome and majesticand full of Grace) and certainly is not just
> 'supernatural!' The Character of the MYSTERY is divine and providential
> (and the theologians can sing about this more wonderfully than most
> others, even if they are well taught in reading natural-physical
> scientific hymn sheets).
> I wonder then when Don's language starts to sound 'too naturalistic,'
> that is, if you'll allow for this possibility to happen (and not to be
> taken in accusative form to you, Don in Kiwi land! :). Denis, too, I
> must say I sometimes cringe at the sharpness of your language: "Adam was
> a scientific fact." Why does it have to be put this way? There was no
> 'science' in Augustine's day, at least in the way we understand
> this word now. Adam was considered 'historical' in Augustine's day
> and it is certainly still possible to accept as a responsible position
> and even as an historically supported position (e.g. Dick Fischer)
> within Orthodox Christendom today and to say that "Adam is an historical
> fact".
> As a Christian one won't find all that many Jews or Muslims offering to
> debate against this position (but the camp-odds shift when it comes to
> 'liberal theologians,' meant un-politikly) . Whereas the 'symbolic
> language of Adam' sympathisers (whose voices are certainly being
> represented here in this discussion) have to deal with the issue of
> 'there must have been a FIRST,' present in Plato and Aristotle and
> consistent up to the moment in philosophy. Bill speaks indeed of
> conceptual and empirical classes: there is nothing heterodox in saying
> that 'the first hominid Homo' can and should be called 'Adam,' which
> means 'man.' In other words, the first human, the first man, simply *is*
> best called ADAM; historical, real, flesh and blood (+),
> decision-making, who in his (and her) power to choose, chose wrongly,
> against the law, who sinned, in real time, back then, not now. We are
> humans after Adam, we are of the Adamic 'class.' Some people here seem
> to be using the conceptual class against the empirical class. In Adam
> they/we are one. And then we all know what comes next.
> Re-interpreting Augustine's view of sin is one thing, claiming the first
> hominid(s)/Adam and Eve were 'symbolic' or 'representative' *rather than
> real* (i.e. actually saying they were un-real!) is something quite
> different. Modern science has little power against this 'greater
> reality' (which partly explains why there are still so many YECs
> especially in the USA) and in such an instance must admit it has gone
> beyond its respective domain to pronounce upon such a thing!
> Let me then repeat what I wrote here a year or so ago, with respect to
> the way we communicate the Creation story, our Story, of human beings,
> nature and God. It carries such a different tone, meaning, style, mode
> of expression, though certainly the Message was intended to be the same,
> when one reads T.S. Eliot in contrast to Arthur Peacocke, both of whom
> re-wrote Genesis, one in the language of poetry, the other in the
> language of science. I wonder if there needs to be more celebration of
> the MYSTERY that Denis speaks of by celebrating the wonder of Creation,
> and of the Fall, and of the Redemption? Peacocke's language sounds
> over-scientific (though I wouldn't call it 'scientistic,' especially now
> in recent days enjoying his "Evolution: A Disguised Friend of Faith?"
> and finding many nuggets therein), when it could have been more mythical
> and personal. I felt such a cold-neutral-dry reaction to reading his
> Genesis, in comparison to T.S. Eliot's, which provoked wonder and awe.
> Has anyone here felt (or reasoned) the same way?
> But then again, what we are all after here is the truth of natural
> history too, the events that actually happened, whether or not they can
> haae empirical explanations. Because something happened, after all! Yet
> we use different language from the Buddhist or the Hindu or
> the pre-Christian Native Indian to discuss it.
> "the doctrine of original sin needs to be freed from the ancient science
> and reformulated." - Denis Lamoureux
> "we can no more believe that this is the entail of a single disastrous
> natural act" - Niehbur (via Polkinghorne and Ted)
> It may be that 'ancient science' was wrong about 'original sin,' even
> to address it at all, being that it was not just a natural or historical
> topic, but also a spiritual one. Of course, science was much more
> spiritual or inspired in those days too. But the notion that a 'single
> disastrous natural event' can't be believed in anymore is misleading.
> First, the act under consideration was 'more than natural' (and you all
> know that I like such language very much), though it also involved the
> physical aspect of 'human nature.' Second, that is like saying that all
> single acts of choice today can't be believed because they demonstrate
> the same vertical truth that was demonstrated on 'the first sin.' All of
> the fuzzy (actually, let me just be more direct and call it flawed)
> logic coming from evolutionary philosophy (and which
> is sometimes intertwined with evolutionary theology) diminishes the
> power of choice that was demonstrated in that 'one moment' on that 'one
> day,' it dehumanises us from the completeness of the unique human
> package, it reduces the vertical to the horizontal.
> Logically, one may go back in hominid history to a 'pre-sin' day, but
> then the question begs to know whether the first sinner was the first
> human (Adam)/hominid, or whether there was a time gap when a human was a
> human but not under the law of sin. Now it is the TEs/ECs who are on the
> spot to resist their 'flow and flux' approach to posit a definitive,
> inescapable *moment* because that is what the 'introduction of sin'
> calls for, everyday. Can it be another way?
> Now if someone wants to hypothesize an evolutionary pathway for the
> 'origin of sin' they'll be doing something quite amazing. Maybe that is
> what someone out there has done or is about to offer, to take their
> shot? Somewhere, at some time folks, we do need an X to mark the spot!
> Gregory
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Received on Fri Oct 2 19:48:51 2009

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