This is part of a series of posts on the “Life Dialogue” within Christianity. Check out other posts in the series here.
Theistic Evolution’s (hereafter TE) primary problem for the Christian is, of course, theological in nature. Perhaps the greatest challenge to TE is the doctrine of original sin. Recently, I investigated what advocates of TE had to say about this doctrine.
Robin Collins argues in his essay “Evolution and Original Sin” that the doctrine of original sin should be redefined into what he calls the “historical ideal” (HI) view (469). Regrettably, I believe Collins fails to provide an adequate theological defense of his view. Further, I believe there is actually a stronger way for TEs to defend against the “problem” of original sin. Collins’ argument has several key features:
1) Adam and Eve were not historical figures, but rather representatives of early mankind, having evolved from hominids (470). Collins does allow that perhaps Adam represents the “stem father” of humanity–that is, representing the first group of early hominids which arose as the human race (486)
2) The Garden story “represents an ideal state that was never realized… Genesis 2 falls into the category of a ‘golden age’ story” (470)
3) Original sin refers to the “sinful choices” of early hominids, the “continuing sinful choices” of their ancestors, and “the resulting bondage to sin and spiritual darkness that is inherited from our ancestors and generated by our own choices” (471)
Collins continues by interpreting Scripture in this light. First it should be noted that Collins takes science as one of the means by which we can interpret Scripture, despite his own assertions that the Bible is not a science or philosophy book (compare 475 to 482ff). He begins by interpreting Romans 1:18-32, but he believes the more important verses are in Romans 5:15-19. Paul writes in Romans 5 that:
“For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”
These passages seem to suggest that Adam was indeed one man, just as Jesus is one man. Collins argues, utilizing Swinburne’s argumentation in Revelation, that a speaker’s message does not necessarily include the presuppositions as part of the intentional conveyance. One immediate problem with this (though Collins seems to view it as a bonus) is that Paul is seen as either not necessarily believing what he was saying–which seems unlikely–or he was profoundly mistaken in his presuppositions. The statement is to be distinguished from the presupposition. “The statement is whatever the speaker, by public criteria, is seeking to add to the existing beliefs of the hearers” (Swinburne, Revelation, 30). The problem is that I don’t think this argument applies here, for it seems that Paul is not just presupposing that there is one man, but also utilizing that presupposition as part of what he is seeking to add to his hearers’ existing belief. For Paul is saying that it is one man through whom all mankind fell, so, too, is it one man through whom all mankind is saved.
The argument that Paul and his hearers shared the presupposition of one man, and therefore this is not part of his intended message, misses the context of Paul’s message. For Paul makes this statement in his letter to the Romans, not to fellow Jews who shared his presuppositions! Therefore, it seems to me that although the “one man” part of the statement could be taken as a Pauline presupposition, it is also part of the message conveyed. He is intending to add to his hearer’s existing belief (borrowing from Swinburne’s phrasing) that one man fell for all and one man atoned for all. This message is almost vacuous on an account which inserts possibly thousands of hominids in for the first “one man” (something Collins has no hesitation doing, see page 481 “…understand Adam… as theologically representing both everyman and the very first members of the evolving group of hominids that had gained moral self-consciousness”). I see no reason to accept such an interpretation textually.
I’ll leave out Collins’ interpretation of Genesis 1-4 for now, as I believe summing it up in the above points is sufficient. Rather, I want to turn now to an evaluation of his argument. First, I note that it seems necessary to add to the above outline of Collins argument the following clause:
4) Scripture is not inerrant–it is inspired in the sense that God “enlighten[s]” humans to “grasp new truths about the nature of reality and God” (473)
I reject 4 as incompatible with sound formulation of doctrine. I’ll not specifically address his argument point-by-point as that would fill up too much space. The main problem with Collins’ account of original sin is that it trivializes certain Bible passages (notably Psalm 51:5) and misinterprets others. But I don’t want to get into the finer details of his account. I think that Collins’ account is actually extremely weak. Only those willing to accept point 4) above will be able to take such a view on original sin as possible. Is there a way for TEs to avoid this uncomfortable assumption? I think there is.
Original sin, on TE, can be almost what it is on other views. The key feature is to point out (as Hugh Ross, an Old Earth Creationist does) that it is only human death that is explicitly seen as the consequence of sin. Thus, God can be seen as letting evolution happen until beings capable of moral reasoning evolve, then specially creating souls within humans or setting souls up in such a way that they emerge from humans (the latter view seems less plausible, but I’ll ignore that for now). God chose two specific hominids, planted souls in them, and placed them in a garden. The rest of the Genesis story can be taken fairly literally, with some modifications here and there, and original sin loses no meaning. Thus, the TE needs to acknowledge special creation of 1) The universe/matter/etc. and 2) Human souls. This doesn’t seem like an implausible “out” for the theistic evolutionist.
Finally, I want to address a few minor points in Collins’ essay. The first is that he seems to think special creation is somehow a negative thing. When critiquing other views, for example, he asserts that if God brought Adam and Eve into the garden to speak with them, He’d have to teach them a language, “which would involve a major act of special creation” (493). This is counted as a negative against a sort of Old Earth Creationist account. But I’m then curious as to what Collins thinks of the creation of the universe! Surely this “special creation” is an even more major act than teaching some animals to speak a language! I don’t see any plausible way for a Christian to use the presence of divine action as an argument against other views. Second, Collins seems to reveal some tendencies of agreeing with Intelligent Design (p. 496ff, for example, he argues for “theistically guided evolution”–how does this differ from ID?).
Thus, I think Collins’ view of original sin on TE is actually a weaker argument than that which can be made. I think the theistic evolutionist can augment his/her view with some acts of “special creation” and thus maintain a view that allows for inerrancy of Scripture without having to twist it as much as Collins does. Perhaps, however, I’m merely reflecting my own tendencies rather than accurately representing TE. If this is the case, however, and TE simply cannot coincide with the doctrine of inerrancy, for example, then I find this a strong reason for rejecting TE, particularly in light of competing models like intelligent design or Hugh Ross’s RTB Model.
Collins, Robin. “Evolution and Original Sin.” Perspectives on an Evolving Creation. Edited Keith B. Miller. Wm. B. Eerdman’s. 2003.
Swinburne, Richard. Revelation. Oxford University Press. 2007. (A later edition than that cited by Collins, I’m utilizing my own text)
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