Re: [asa] Re: Reading Genesis theologically NOT historically

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Sat Oct 03 2009 - 20:36:12 EDT

Gregory -

Let me pick up on your last comments about Orthodoxy. The eastern church has a different perspective on the original state of humanity that's in some ways more conducive to thinking about evolution. Humanity was created in an immature state & intended to grow (Irenaeus), &c. & the idea of original _guilt_ associuated with the fall is generally rejected. But it seems to me that they'll still have trouble coming to grips with human evolution theologically because what is generally emphasized is death & corruption as a consequence of sin, & of course that runs into problems of "death before the fall" well-known among Evangelical anti-evolutionists (as Ted Davis has emphasized. It is possible to refer that to "spiritual death" &/or "remaining forever in the corruption of death" (as Athanasius read the twofold death that the Septuagint has in Gen.2:17.) In your experience with Orthodox Christians interested in things like evolution, how do they deal with this?

BTW, on your other post, it isn't just the Vatican that blesses animals. Lots of other western Christians, especially Anglicans & some Lutherans, do as well - often on the Feast of St. FRancis, which happens to be tomorrow. (At St. Paul's we did it in the middle of August so it could be part of our outdoor Sunday service.) One of the problematic things about at least traditional RC blessings was that they tended to emphasize the usefulness of animals for humans. (There's a blessing for silkworms in the old Rituale Romanum.) I think that misses the important point that God cares for all creatures, not just those that are helpful for humans. That's why when conducting such a service I try to remind people that even though wolves & grizzly bears aren't usually brought to church, it's a blessing for all animals, & not just a blessing of pets or farm animals. Seems to me that that would resonate with the Orthodox emphasis on the activity of the Spirit in creation.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Gregory Arago
  To: Murray Hogg ; ASA
  Sent: Saturday, October 03, 2009 3:41 AM
  Subject: [asa] Re: Reading Genesis theologically NOT historically

  Hi Murray,


  You write: “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.”


  Yes, I agree.


  “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.” – Murray


  Yes, no problem here either.


  “[C]onservative evangelicals have been so obsessed by the historical issue, they have utterly disregarded the theological message” – Murray


  Maybe yes. I don’t know. Not a conservative evangelical myself and couldn’t be a proselytising evangelical in good faith where I live because of Orthodox Christianity, a powerful and (in recent times) rapidly growing force (though evangelicals have made inroads to the Spirit of the people here too). Nevertheless, the theological message of course should be given its rightful place, along with the aspects of Genesis that simply *are* historical.


  There is thus no disagreement with reading Genesis theologically. Rather, what I was promoting was *reading history historically*. But you’ve avoided the question of history in your analysis (just like I avoided Genesis in my previous message), Murray, which is the opposite extreme to the conservative evangelicals about which you speak. The question that a neo-Enlightenment thinker, i.e. many of whom exist today in ‘the west,’ would of course ask you is: what is the first moment in Genesis that you consider ‘historical’? For me (as a post-neo-Enlightenment thinker, but what can we be called now?), this is obviously not as important a question as the theological messages that are conveyed in the text.


  What I was writing about, however, was not a commentary on Genesis, but rather about history, the way things actually happened, which is sometimes (but not always) on a different plane or dimension than the theological issues which you so rightfully and eloquently and passionately raise.


  What I was saying can be summarized in two positions, using a logico-historical approach: 1) the first ‘hominid’ Homo is ADAM, a real historical figure, flesh and blood (+) because simply and irrefutably (in terms of *both* conceptual and empirical classification) “there must have been a first”. That first human *is* Adam (which means 'man'), by definition (and it might even be Dick Fischer’s Adam!). Those who disagree with this are baffling to me and seem to be intentionally illogical.

  One cannot make an attempt at classification without positing a “first example,” or "new pattern," though, we might not be able to pinpoint or identify precisely when or where (and certainly there is no ‘fossil of ADAM’ to prove a point by modern science) that ‘first human’ existed. If you don’t want to classify (e.g. nose from not-yet nose), that’s fine. But then you bid farewell to the so-called ‘progress’ of modern science, which is indeed based now on a classification system or systems. We (as human persons) are classified as homo sapiens sapiens (kingdom animalia or symbolica), and there simply *must have been a first* of us or else we couldn’t be human either (cf. Buckminster Fuller’s quote about not being a noun, but a verb, an evolutionary process – this is the ‘total evolutionistic’ opposition to what I am stating as a logico-historical fact, informed by my ‘knowledge’ in the electronic-information age of mass science, rationalistic though it may be; forgive me for that, since in the previous message I was speaking of MYSTERY, as was Denis Lamoureux).


  The issue at hand is that if you’ve got no Homo/Adam, then you’ve got no sin either unless you are saying (other) animals also sin/sinned. Is that what you’re suggesting? If not, then there doesn’t seem to be any problem in agreeing with the bare minimum point that I am making. The theological message of the Genesis text stands on its own and is not compromised in any way by accepting point 1.


  You write: “One should be able to get over the HISTORICAL question of "when did it happen".”


  The point of 1 is a simple admission that ‘it did happen in time’ (and space) and there is inevitably an historical (and spatial) dimension. Your point, however, is a valid one too in that the main message of the Genesis text is *not* an historical one. So what we have here is simply a ‘fact’ of history (i.e. there must have been a first human, which we call Adam), which we cannot exactly measure (i.e. when or where or what exactly happened), but which is significant for each human person today, yesterday and tomorrow. Am I properly understanding your message, Murray and are we on the same page?


  You write further: “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.”


  The issue is not your *need* to posit “some point in history,” from a theological point of view. It is rather the logical conclusion that there simply *must be* “some point in history” when it happened, or in other words, “it didn’t happen in a vacuum!” (One might add, “no matter what liberalist or neo-liberalist theology today says.”) What is needed is a philosophical objection to this claim, and not a theological one. I am not speaking now at all about an ancient text known as “Genesis,” but rather about logic and history. Bill Powers has addressed this in speaking about conceptual classes and empirical classes, which is quite helpful, imo.

  Let me add that the whole reason for the existence of this thread is due to a ‘doubter’ who claims that since there was *no historical moment* of Adam’s sin, therefore the entire edifice upon which Christianity is built, i.e. its historical (in addition to its ‘supposed,’ – i.e. ‘as you guys ascribe to it’ – theological) reality, simply breaks down. What I am proposing is an answer to that position, but in a different way than Murray (and others here).


  Notice please that the only answer possible to my claim, which is based upon the ‘reality of human uniqueness’ as represented by the historical *and* theological ‘fact’ that human beings were/are created ‘in the image of God,’ is to say, “no, there was no special moment.” That is, the objection is that it (and this is the hot question – is *it* simple moral culpability, ethics, a sense of justice, i.e. what is the *it* law that *is,* as we believe, written on our hearts before the ‘law’ was supposedly historically written on tablets, at another particular *moment* in history) supposedly *just happened gradually,* based upon an evolutionary paradigm that is *way overstretched,* that is, now into the pseudo-philosophical expression *it just emerged!*

  What I am saying denies credibility to such a position by calling it what it is: an impoverished *process philosophy* (or epistemology, as Denis has suggested is the problem) that discounts ‘origins,’ in this case, the ‘origin’ of human sin. Nobody on this list has ever made an attempt to speak here on this issue with me (though a few private conversations have been wonderful). Probably it is due to the Sensate (cf. Sorokin) nature/character of ‘theistic evolutionism’ and ‘evolutionary creationism’ as they are now represented in the ‘western’ mind.


  What is important to indicate, it seems, is that there are situations where there is a kind of ‘nexus’ between spiritual time and historical time, which is what I was referring to by raising the issue of vertical and horizontal. Perhaps this was missed in the rebuttal message?


  So, while I accept fully your theological message, Murray, what I reject outright is the philosophical position that conflates ‘origins’ with ‘processes.’ Why do I do this, one might ask? Because the power of human choice is lost in such a point of view, and this includes the ‘enslaved will’ and not just ‘free will.’


  Point 2 is that I agree with what you and George (plus ‘balanced trinity theology’ added to ‘theology of the cross’) and Bill and Denis, and others here about the following: “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,” i.e. that I have a ‘sin nature’ or ‘sin character’ because I am a human person. Here we may speak of the unity of humankind, a topic both ripe and rotten for HSS in the 21st century.


  When you made the following advice, Murray, I did pay attention:

  “The RIGHT question is NOT "how did sin enter the world" but, rather;
  1) What is "sin"? and 2) When did humans become morally culpable for it?”


  In other words, I did read Romans 7, as you suggested, discerning the theological message, in addition to the historical necessity. Let me point out, however, that you also indicate in your RIGHT question that ‘when’ is a legitimate feature that we can hope to understand. So I do hope you’ll understand where I’m coming from in both respecting your theological interpretation of Genesis and insights, while defending the historical dimension of said ‘events’ as something inescapably important for human self-understanding.


  I reject the generalisation that ‘moral culpability’ could exist within *only* a naturalistic or physicalistic interpretation of all kinds of history of the universe (i.e. like so many non-theists do these days, with their sociologistic moralizing). I’ve no doubt that everyone now participating in this thread except for one will accept and agree with that. What is needed, however, is something *more,* which is what I’ve tried to impress is possible to include, as a nexus, by highlighting the *moment* of human choice to sin, which happened *on that day,* in *real time.* Denying the history of that moment and that choice, contradicts the ‘fact of sin’ yesterday, today and tomorrow until Kingdom come. It is that fact that our ‘doubter’ is denying due to evolutionary and now emergentist leanings.




  p.s. let me just add that I don’t accept that we have a “natural sense of altruism,” as you put it, Murray. Rather, I part here with the man who coined the term ‘altruism’ (i.e. A. Comte – ‘love of others’) and also with the socio-biologists and evolutionary psychologists who have claimed the term as their own nowadays. No, 'altruism' (in a true Sorokinian or neo-Sorokinian meaning – and Sorokin is the ‘genius of altruism,’ if there ever was one) has a spiritual sense that transcends the ‘merely natural’ essence of humanity. There is something more to altruism than meets the eye, more than what ‘mere nature’ can convey.

  From: Murray Hogg <>
  To: ASA <>
  Sent: Saturday, October 3, 2009 3:47:49 AM
  Subject: Reading Genesis theologically NOT historically (was Re: [asa] (introducing... sin) "Evolutionary Creation" book comments)

  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.


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Received on Sat Oct 3 20:36:53 2009

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