Tuesday, May 13, 2008

POST #16: Evolution, What about Adam?

As I resume my main post series, the next step is an open discussion of evolution. If you have followed this blog for long, you already know that the host accepts the vast array of evidentiary confirmations of biological evolution streaming in from such fields as biology, comparative anatomy, paleontology, medicine, and most significantly, DNA science. I am confident that any of my readers who have read even a smattering of the books I have recommended over the last 8 months (see the “Book Reviews” sidebar in the column at right) will agree that the science of evolution is now well-established.

When faced with the question of evolution, Bible-believing Christians are often troubled. The possibility that Adam might not have been historical, or special created, raises significant theological questions. When I have discussed evolution with my Christian friends, invariably the first question is “What about Adam?”

The assumption on the part of many YEC people is that a belief in Evolution leads inevitably to an atheistic and relativistic worldview. The simplistic cartoon at right typifies this assumption. It is simply not true. Thousands of Christians, including scientists and deep thinking theologians, are also evolutionists. Most, if not all, would profess that God created man, that we live in a world in which God sets the rules. Most, if not all, would disavow the juvenile implications in the cartoon that “Apes” are in our past (they are not) and they would reject relativistic morality.

A number of related questions typically follow “What about Adam?”; among them:
1) How can there be billions of years of living and dying organisms on our planet prior to Adam’s sin?
2) Does evolution relegate the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 and 3 to myth status?
3) What about the many New Testament references to Adam, and the theological groundwork for Christology which is laid in Paul’s understanding of the “The first Adam”?
4) It seems that Jesus regarded Adam as an historical person. Did he? Was he mistaken?

Such questions have been dealt with at length on various websites and in numerous books. Ultimately, they lead to issues of how we interpret the Bible, whether the Bible is inerrant, to be understood literally, etc. Because these issues could fill volumes, I will not attempt to deal with all of them in this post. Rather, I will simply present three possible “Adam scenarios”, any of which could be true. Maybe you could add other possibilities. To varying degrees, they remove many of the theological “problems” associated with evolution and Adam.

Scenario 1: “Adam” could be a type of mankind. Indeed, the Hebrew word means “man” or “mankind”, and is used in this generic sense hundreds of times in the Old Testament. The story of Adam and Even would, in this case, be an accurate, albeit fictional, representation of the story of our race. The Fall would have been a collective rebellion of the developing human race. The story of Adam and Eve would depict this Fall in the form of a parable, a common literary device in the Old and New Testaments.

Scenario 2: Adam and Eve could have been historical creatures, selected out of the thousands of developing humanoids. God might have taken these two non-spirit beings, and removed them to a garden, and breathed upon them spirit life. In this scenario, Adam and Eve would be representatives of an existing race; and their Fall would pass on to that race. After the Fall, God may have endued the rest of their species with spirits. The effects of the Fall would be passed on to the race. The Genesis account seems to suggest that outside the Garden there existed cities already filled with people (Genesis 4:14-17), a situation consistent with this picture. This scenario, with its literal Adam and Eve, would solve the riddle of Cain’s wife.

Scenario 3: It is possible that evolution progressed to a point where God chose to begin to relate to mankind in a personal way. It is possible that he took the genetic material, which had developed naturally, and specially created Adam and Eve out of the dust of the earth in a garden he had planted. This scenario preserves a very literal Genesis 2 and 3. While I do not personally favor this view, nor find it necessary, it certainly may have happened. Those who reject evolution because their hermeneutic insists upon a literal Adam and Eve story might well consider this possibility.

Of these three possibilities, I personally favor #1. However, I am open to all three. And I may be open to others which my readers may suggest. It is not important to me that a literal Adam and Eve be preserved. What is important to me is the view that Genesis 2 and 3 accurately tell the story of the Fall of man. In that sense, they are true. Whether myth, or parable, or literal history, the essential truths of the Fall of Man, and the resulting conditions (including spiritual death) are preserved for us accurately in the story.

What about Jesus? Did he accept a literal view of Adam and Eve (as, no doubt, most of his contemporary Jews did)? or did he “play along”, as I might do in retelling the story to my own children? Again, these questions are of little import to me. Believing, as I do, that Genesis 2 and 3 are full of significant truth, they will not lead us into error. Whether understood literally or allegorically, the message is unchanged. Man was given an opportunity to live in close fellowship with his Creator; he was offered a spiritual life of holiness and righteousness which could grow and prosper over time. Instead, man chose the path of rebellion, and forfeited the opportunity which God had offered. Sadly, this same choice is confirmed over and over by an entire race of human beings.

The good news, of course, is that God is filled with grace. He is a redeemer. And he values mankind too much to let us wander off indefinitely. Through his Son, Jesus, he makes a way for us to return to the favored status he always had in mind for us. And the pathway into that favored status can begin with every choice we make!

Please comment ...


Stephen D said...

I always like to see this topic addressed because it is the question that demands the most immediate and decisive answer when dealing with evangelicals.

I think it's possible to differentiate the original meaning of the Fall story from how it was used by Paul.

The narrative as codified by the editor(s) of Genesis was originally an etiological explanation of how sin got into the world from the original "ideal time" that was universally presupposed by ANE mythology. But it was not recounted in order to give the Israelites a history lesson; this is another way of saying that it retained its place as mythology, and didn't become special revelation of an historical event. Instead it was to serve as a moral tale and instruct the Israelites concerning fallible humanity's place in the world God created; most importantly, the editors were trying to confirm that man was estranged from God, that it was man's fault, but that God Himself offered covering and redemption for that estrangement. In this, we have a completely true myth, and it's obvious why God wanted it in the Bible.

Now, by the time of the first century AD and the emphasis that now-ubiquitous Hellenism placed on historicity (as evidenced by the rise of historiography as a science), the mythology in Genesis was apparently unrecognizable as anything but history, so it's quite likely that everyone in Palestine viewed the events of Genesis 1-11 as historical events. Of course, this is no problem, given that the Fall narrative retains its original meaning even in the guise of historical record,and also the fact that Jesus told even obviously non-historical stories to convey meaning. This is because humans are inherently capable of extracting meaning from apparently meaningless events and stories.

It's impossible to say for sure if Paul knew the original purpose of Genesis as mythology; likely he didn't, unless there was some divine revelation, and since we affirm that the cosmological misunderstandings of the Israelites show up in Scripture, we shouldn't be surprised to find misjudgments on literary genre. But as I stated on my blog, "...Paul draws the parallel between the first Adam and the last Adam, Jesus, because he saw symmetry between the two. Notice, though, that the validity of Christ's work for all is not stated to be dependent on sin coming through one man, as is often construed. Paul's intention was to relate this brand new theological doctrine to something they were familiar to them: if they could understand sin coming into the world through one man, they should be able to accept that one man could bring life to all. The symmetry he saw between the two was no less valid for one of the characters being non-historical...The analogy to Adam adds the credibility of typology to Paul's contention that Jesus' redemptive work was for all...In short, it doesn't matter whether Paul believed an historical figure named Adam literally fell and passed death down to all his descendants in some genetic or federal fashion through resultant "original sin". Christ's work was not dependent on the sin of one man alone: every man's sin necessitates Christ's work. In contemporary rabbinical fashion, Paul deftly creates a typological comparison in inverse position: one was a death-giving person, and one a life-giving person." In Adam, all sin, for we are all Adam.

"How can there be billions of years of living and dying organisms on our planet prior to Adam’s sin?"

This one's simple, and a slam dunk as far as I'm concerned: the death of Adam was not physical, but spiritual. "On the day you eat of it, you will surely die" cannot refer to physical death, or else we have God not following through on his threat - the work of Christ remedied Adam's problem (i.e. separation from God) that is necessary for all those "in Adam"; as such, it stands complete for those who are "in Christ".

This, for me, is by far the most satisfying explanation. I haven't seen any better models to date. What do you guys think?

VanceH said...

I prefer a variation of your scenario 2—that humans were in a pre-conscious state until something happened (e.g. invention of that last word necessary for a being to consider itself as an individual) to trigger consciousness. Once triggered, consciousness (or alternately the knowledge of good and evil) could spread in a viral fashion throughout the population. If it had something to do with language it would not be surprising if a woman started it all...

Psiloiordinary said...

Hey Cliff et al,

I was not brought up to believe in a faith. So I have a very different perspective.

I would draw attention to the cartoon pointing out that moral relativism is the danger of evolution, and whilst skipping lightly over the daffodils of confusion between the is/ought divide that this ignores, I would point out that you appear to be using your relative personal opinions on which bits of this old book to interpret in which way.

My position is that it is better to be honest about this "relativism" and actively discuss and openly debate morality and through democracy and the rule of man made laws to strive for better justice and morals.

The world of science and technology is growing so fast that new scenarios never even dreamt of by the various authors and editors of the bible mean it can not be used as a reliable guide (even assuming you can find something which is not contradicted within the very same pages).

Contraception/AIDS and millions of preventable deaths in Africa anyone?

- - -

Sorry Cliff - done it again - digressions seem to be a vice of mine - feel free to shelve these points for a more suitable context if you prefer.

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BTW A more interesting question than the historical existence of Adam might be the historical existence of Jesus.

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Best regards,


Steve Martin said...

Hi Cliff,
Thanks. Good post. And the conclusion is bang-on.

Stephen D:
it is the question that demands the most immediate and decisive answer when dealing with evangelicals.
Can my immediate & decisive answer be: I don't know. :-)

Vance: If it had something to do with language it would not be surprising if a woman started it all.... Yikes .. most controversial statement on this site ever .. & that is saying something! :-)

Cliff Martin said...


To what degree, in your opinion, have the various faiths of the world (particularly the Judeo-Christian traditions) already played into this "democratic" process of establishing moral codes. Do you believe that our western culture could ever divorce itself from its faith-based roots, and truly set out on what you might consider an unencumbered process of defining right and wrong, good and bad? And if we were successful in doing so, what would be the basis of the morality we would collectively choose? You obviously have way more faith in human nature than I do. But my main point here is that human nature has already been greatly impacted by the teachings of Jesus. (And positively impacted, in my view.)

Do you imagine that we would be better off erasing the golden rule, and Jesus teachings on love for our neighbor? Is the unfettered human capable of anything more elegant and uplifting than the moral teachings of Jesus?

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

I guess my first comment is that it is difficult for either of us to answer that question from our different outlooks on life and in our different countries - almost at opposite ends of the scale of religiosity in the world.

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To start with I would claim that the good stuff in the bible which is recognised as good and the bad stuff which is ignored, not referred to and usually not followed as being bad is first of all judged by human beings using their innate evolved social morality anyway. That is why you don't stone your kids for answering you back.

(sorry have we had that debate about evolved morality yet? vampire bats and prisoners dilemma anyone?)

Secondly if we examine human history we can see that the dividing lines of this distinction have in fact been moved over the centuries. Moved by people using their innate evolved social morality. The biblical text on slavery hasn't changed - our attitude to it has.

I think that thinking carefully about something, being open to new evidence and the democratic process is better than Dogma - even though I just pointed out you have "dogma creep" anyway.

- - -

The correlation of religion versus secularism levels, when compared with crime, violence and other measures of civilisation and general morality paint a picture that the more religious the country the more criminal and violent it is.

- - -

I am not suggesting scrapping anything. The golden rule predates Jesus by a few millennia you will find.

I am saying that if we use our minds to decide what is good and bad rather than by arguing about the interpretation of a word in an old text , we are more likely to get a better answer.

- - -

I would say that human morality continues to develop. The goalposts keep on moving and progress can be seen. In my view from the UK this doesn't seem to have much to do with religion simply because religion doesn't seem to have much to do with anything here.

- - -

Is the unfettered human better than an old book?

You betya.

Who can tell me which bit of the Bible has Jesus saying he wants families to hate each other so they can love him more than each other? Can't put my finger on it. I think it was the big J but I am happy to be corrected.

Compare that with this bit of my daughters homework from last year.

My daughter beats Jesus easy peasy. ;-)

- - -

Having said all that, Dawkins essay "Atheists for Jesus" says some good stuff about Jesus saying some good stuff and I broadly agree with it.

But why do we have to put the text on a pedestal and say we can never get even better? We have better technology than then. We have better medicine than then? Why not better morals. The purpose I have chosen for my life (one of them anyway) is to try to leave it a better place than I found it. Always striving forwards and learning is a fantastic human trait. Why even try to make a case we can't beat an old book? Seems defeatist to me.

I highly recommend that essay as a quick read by the way - it may show you we have more in common than you think.

Anyway, going back to your point - the biblical text hasn't changed, but what is brushed under the carpet and ignored (referred to as applying to the times it was written and obviously not meant as guidance for the world of today) has changed.

I think that religion has helped in some ways and hindered in a lot more in the development of morality.

Mainly though it is irrationality, whether religious or atheist or secular that has hindered our moral development most of all.

What do you think?



Tom said...


I'm curious about the many books you cite. I have never found a decent answer to this question. Many people give the answer Steve Martin did, that they are thinking about it.

I have thought about it and the issue comes down to more of a definition of sin and God's relationship to humans. If sin does not have to do with morality, then what is it? Really, what purpose does God serve and do we need him? This was the question facing Adam. He said "No." By doing so, he/we know spiritual death, but what does that mean? My dog has a spirit as much as I do if you interpret evolution as I have.

The role of Jesus to repair the void of the "No" decision is one part, but the role of humans to have attained unsurpassed rational thought and ignore it through faith....I dunno. The whole thing just screams "Don't use your brain". Is that spirituality?

Gordon J. Glover said...


I appreciate your comments. When I read the Gospel accounts of Jesus, one of the themes that stands out is his attitude toward institutional morality. It could be summed up as, "you've heard it said, but I tell you this..."

One could make the case that Christ was not advocating replacing one set of unyielding inflexible dogma with another set of unyielding inflexible dogma, but abolshing this approach once and for all.

Moreover, while many Christians are troubled by the apparent contradictions between Jesus and Moses (and Jesus and Jesus for that matter), I take comfort in them. I think the message here is plain and simple: stop trying to solve every moral problem by applying inflexible standards! Use your head! Things are more complicated than what can be solved by simple rules! Nothing is black and white! Think these things through! Don't rely on Ancient Near-Eastern moral code accommodated to the ancient Hebrews via God's chosen prophets to solve 1st century issues in a Greco-Roman social landscape.

Many have said that Christ did not come start a new religion or to continue an ancient one, but to abolish religion all together. the golden rule requires one to expend mental energy to apply it situationally. In that sense, Christianity provides a narrative context for dealing with the dangers of religion. Christ spent most of his earthly ministry speaking out against the religious conservatives of his day. What he have to say today? I think most Christians would be surprised.


Stephen Douglas said...

I'm surprised no one's made any comments about the explanation I listed.

Tom, you stated, "I have never found a decent answer to this question." How is mine inadequate? Is it because I don't define "sin"? I submit that the proto-sin was a combination of selfishness and a refusal to recognize the Creator Who, as the first creation account implies, revealed Himself to early humanity. In the face of this revelation of humanity's true place in the universe, utter selfishness, although originally necessarily selective in evolutionary terms, was no longer acceptable. God required of man "to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with [his] God" (Micah 6:8), as Adam does in the ideal picture of Eden. That we are genetically predisposed toward self-centeredness is no excuse before a God Who stands before us as an example of grace, mercy, and self-sacrifice. The relationship of God with man is switched "off" by default in every human born, and that is why we are in need of Christ's work to overcome our genetic predisposition. Christianity is merely a necessary phase of the evolution of our species.

Now, Calvinists will tell you that God simply switches "on" whom He wills, and Arminians like myself will say that we are responsible for turning to God for help switching it on. But in either case, we are not talking a radical revision of Christianity, but merely a new perspective on an age-old doctrine.


Cliff Martin said...


I, for one, favor your explanation. It is an expansion upon "Scenario 1" in my original post, which I also identify as the scenario I prefer. Quite obviously, you have given this question much more thought than most of us, and I appreciate the fullness of the resulting explanation.

Steve Martin earlier asked, perhaps rhetorically, "Can my immediate & decisive answer be: I don't know?" to which I think we would all respond in the affirmative. None of us know. But the point of the post was not to offer the definitive solution to the riddle, but to demonstrate a number of possible solutions both for believers who stumble over the Adam question, and for folks like Tom who see a blatant inconsistency in the Evolutionary Creationist view.

The point of my second and third scenarios was to allow room for those Bible believers who insist upon a literal Adam, and find evolution intolerable therefore. Though I do not favor these alternative views, I often suggest them to YEC friends who believe they must retain a literal Adam and Eve. And, after all, it may have happened in this way. We cannot be certain.

Psiloiordinary said...

Why is it a sin not to recognise god?

I suppose that answer turns on what you mean by "recognise". What do you mean?

Stephen Douglas said...

Cliff, you wrote, "But the point of the post was not to offer the definitive solution to the riddle, but to demonstrate a number of possible solutions both for believers who stumble over the Adam question, and for folks like Tom who see a blatant inconsistency in the Evolutionary Creationist view."

A worthy aim (I hope no one thinks I am under the impression that mine is the definitive version!). I am surprised that there are not more responses. "I don't know" is acceptable to a point, but "I'm not going to speculate" seems to be going too far in the other direction.

By "recognize" I mean to acknowledge His position over us and work within His purpose for us; not just in the sense of, "Don't do this, do that or else" (a la rote religion) but also in the sense of, "What have you done to advance my purposes? Do you share my intentions for the world I gave you and depend on Me for the ability to carry them out?"

Tom said...

I do admire your opinions. In just the few paragraphs your wrote, it is obvious that you have given more thought to this than anyone I have encountered. (I've talked to many people, but have not found any books on the topic. If you have deeper sources, let me know.)

I was raised in an Arminian theology with the belief that we humans acquired a sinful nature from Adam. I think this is equivalent to how you say, "we are genetically predisposed toward self-centeredness". (Such a statement should come with a citation, please).

The belief in a literal Adam is easy enough to shake off when you accept that humans speciated as a population through descent with modification.

The issue for me, really, is the definition of sin. I understand sin to be the rejection of God. I can imagine all sorts of supernatural agents. What is it about being able to imagine a supernatural and then say, "Yeah, that's just superstition." that is so absolutely wrong?

Now, you may argue that what it was about us humans that made us so special is that we were the first species to have the faculties capable of recognizing God, or at least the workings of God. But wait. All we have access to are material effects. As Keith Miller describes on Steve Martin's Blog:
A supernatural agent is unconstrained by natural “laws” or the properties and capabilities of natural entities and forces -- it can act in any way, and accomplish any conceivable end. As a result, appeals to such agents can provide no insight into understanding the mechanisms by which a particular observed or historical event occurred.

Keith was writing this in the context of science and religion having very separate boundaries, but this statement, which I agree with, leaves no room for religion in the material world we are subjected to. Evolution can describe how complexity arises through selective pressures on reproduction. This includes the brain and humans' ability to imagine all sorts of things including gods. Unfortunately, we have no way of determining if these gods are real or imaginary, and if real, how, when, and why they operate as they do. We therefore have nothing to go on when you paraphrase God, "What have you done to advance my purposes? Do you share my intentions for the world I gave you and depend on Me for the ability to carry them out?"

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

Can you explain a little more.

Why is it wrong to have a different opinion than god about something?

Say the baby smashers by the rivers of babylon or the issue of slavery (sometimes) or homosexuality?

Why do you think God would create us as being capable of rational thought and then give you the impression that you should simply subjugate this to his will (or at least his version of his will you are interpreting in your own particular way from this particular translation)?

Any ideas?

What is gods will re stem cell research and "saviour siblings"?

How can you tell from a "not quite two thousand year old" text?



Stephen Douglas said...

Tom, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I would say that what you're grappling with is a strictly empirical epistemology. As beings situated in a material universe, our default is naturally to believe what our five senses tell us about the material cosmos, and as a result we tend to "lean...on our own understanding" of the world. In fact, it's my belief that the Bible's existence is itself an accommodation to our predilection for and confidence in our own empirical observation. But the theist believes that there is "more than meets the eye" with this universe, that our omniscient God can reveal Himself to us in ways that transcend our material existence.

Now, this divine communication may, in the end, be delivered to us via our material interface (isn't that what the Incarnation was about?). This is where the experiential nature of religion comes in, and why theistic evolutionists like myself who affirm naturalistic explanations for our cosmology cannot believe that doing so makes God a victim of Occam's razor: we experience a relationship with God that cannot be explained away by simply observing the mode of communication.

It's something like seeing an emissary with a letter purporting to be from King X. The existence of the emissary and the letter in no way proves the legitimacy of the emissary's mission, the authenticity of the king's signature on the letter, or even the existence of King X. But denying the existence of the king just because you see the emissary instead of the king is even shakier on logical grounds; just because one can observe the mode by which the king sent the letter does not itself call into question whether there is any such person as King X.

I'm not one who denies that there are chemical explanations for most or all of our religious experiences. But as with cosmology, I simply affirm that there is an objective meaning to authentic religious experiences, however well one might be able to explain their material causes.

Theo and Matt observe a configuration of wood, bricks, electrical wires, and vinyl, with sheets of scrap asphalt on top.

T: Do you see that house?
M: What house? That's just wood, bricks, electrical wires, vinyl, and sheets of scrap asphalt.
T: Yeah. All arranged to make a house.
M: No, it just appears to be a house. It's just wood, bricks, electrical wires, vinyl, and sheets of scrap asphalt.
T: But it was made to be a house.
M: Actually, I can tell you exactly how it came to be that way. The contractor hired lots of folks to come in and arrange everything as you see it. It only looks like a house.
T: I understand that it didn't just appear miraculously. But they only built it that way so it could be lived in as a house.
M: Purely incidental. I just told you how the wood, bricks, electrical wires, vinyl, and sheets of scrap asphalt got to be in that exact configuration. You want me to show you the blueprints?
T: The materials aren't at issue. It's why they were arranged that way.
M: How do you know? That's not on the blueprints.
T I have experience living in such a building.
M: You'll never catch me trying to live there.

I'm not trying to ridicule the materialist position; I realize this is a reductio ad absurdum and no materialist is that stupid. But maybe you can see where I'm going with this.

Tom said...

Yes, I can see where you are going with this. With comments like "the theist believes that there is "more than meets the eye" with this universe." and Theo seeing that the materials were "made to be a house", you are going down the path of intelligent design.

Don't assume the materialist cannot find meaning and purpose. Exactly what that is, Grasshopper, is relative. However, I would bet that many of the things you ascribe to a God and the things you call upon Him to help direct your living are equivalent to the tugs in my heart and what I claim to "know" as ways to lead a life and make the world better.

Jimpithecus said...

Various members of the American Scientific Affiliation have been batting this one around for some time. The articles tend to be all over the map. Go to
and look through them. All except the last year are in pdf format. Cheers.

Jimpithecus said...

Conrad Hyers argues, in his book The Meaning of Creation, that the Genesis account is designed to separate the polytheistic accounts of creation in the other religions of the time from that of the monotheism of God's chosen people. He has couched this in terms of the exile and has bought the Documentary Hypothesis hook, line and sinker. In truth, I don't know what to think about that from one day to the next, but the book is a great read and should be on any Christians's bookshelf.

Stephen Douglas said...

With comments like "the theist believes that there is "more than meets the eye" with this universe." and Theo seeing that the materials were "made to be a house", you are going down the path of intelligent design.

No, Theo affirmed that the construction was not miraculous, but carried out in a normal process. The precise reasons for its being built were utterly irrelevant to the guy nailing the shingles on the roof. It's like the KJV: no one seems to claim, "We can't call it the King James Version! He didn't translate one sentence of the thing." But he did commission it and set into place the men who would do the translating, so that he didn't have to pick up a lexicon or even so much as a pen to translate anything. Because he commissioned ("authorized") it, King James is responsible for every word by His intent.

Don't assume the materialist cannot find meaning and purpose. Exactly what that is, Grasshopper, is relative.

Of course, and that's why I talked about objective meaning. You can find meaning all right, but you have to create it ex nihilo. I would be interested in knowing what meaning your universe holds to you personally.

However, I would bet that many of the things you ascribe to a God and the things you call upon Him to help direct your living are equivalent to the tugs in my heart and what I claim to "know" as ways to lead a life and make the world better.

I don't doubt it for a moment. I see the tugs in your heart as a testimony to the objective morality and meaning God has laced throughout the universe. I just don't believe humans are capable of carrying out God's designs on His world without acknowledging Him and letting Him make our paths straight. For instance, point me to humanitarian efforts, aid societies, etc. before the Christian era. Christianity played an instrumental role in the natural outgrowth of society's concern for the outcast, particularly among those who spitefully use them. To help measure this fact, try to name a country or group from a country 1) whose citizenry places a marked emphasis on humanitarian efforts and 2) whose people have no history with Christianity. You'll be hard-pressed.

To be sure, Christians don't hold a monopoly on social concern, and in fact have been far too distracted by peripheral concerns since the beginning of the twentieth century, mostly due to bad eschatology (but that's a different topic). But the emphasis in the modern world on caring for our neighbor, for acting on those "tugs at the heart" in a self-sacrificial way - it seems that's the gift of Christianity to the world. But even if unbelievers are capable of being humanitarian, loving their neighbor, etc., they are missing a part of the picture when they think they are doing this on their own and they are the ones who came up with the idea.

Tom said...

Stephen, Christianity certainly does not have the domain on morality, nor did the ethic of reciprocity originate with Christianity. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethic_of_reciprocity). Christian history has not shown itself to be so altruistic, either. I would argue, perhaps in a different thread, that the conversion of most people to Christianity through the ages has been through coercion and force over the simple presentation of God's grace.

Now, you say God has laced the universe with meaning and morality. How is that not intelligent design? In an evolutionary framework, altruism can be selected for and I suppose you can argue that God put meaning and morality into place through evolution. If that's the case, why do we need God?

Now as far as personal meaning for me, it's to enjoy myself, raise my kids so that they are happy, and try to make the world a better place for others, too. I know that's a generic response, but the meaning of life, really is to give life meaning, and it's subjective. The meaning of life for the Christian is to live according to Christ's principles and be able to do so forever. In this respect, I assume our altruistic inclinations are much the same here on earth. We don't need Christianity or someone to even tell us the Golden Rule -- it's built in. However, what do you imagine the meaning of life to be in this Heaven for which you strive? What is life without our bodies? What is this spirit we gained when we also attained the capability to sin?

Cliff Martin said...

If I may interject just one quick comment, because this keeps popping up ...

Tom asks, How is that not intelligent design? as if all enlightened Christians should be repulsed by the term. I absolutely believe that the universe is dripping with evidence of intelligent design! It's everywhere I look! I stand (together with you, Tom, and Stephen) in opposition to the Intelligent Design movement, which sees God in every unsolved mystery of the universe. I do believe in a God who spectacularly created all that we see in one explosive creative act. A "Gifted Creation", as some have called it, teeming with all the potentials, energies, and necessary chemistries, and governed by consistency and order, a creation which would ultimately generate and host life as we know it. Many Christians garrison their faith in a hope that no one will ever figure out how the first living cell came into existence (a living cell that is, on a microscopic scale, comparable in complexity with the entire universe on a macroscopic scale!) Not me! I am excited that we will continue to piece together the marvelous mystery of abiogenesis. It will be the greatest single testament to the creative genius of God yet discovered! However, my preference for natural explanations does not displace my confidence in a designer with magnificent intelligence.

Owen Gingerich (and others) have noted this difference between small case i.d. and capital I.D.

Stephen Douglas said...


...nor did the ethic of reciprocity originate with Christianity.

I'd like to call to your attention to two factors.
(1) Before Christ, the golden rule was stated almost exclusively in the negative (don't do bad to others), because it was used to rein in immoral, unethical, and unjust behavior - a worthy goal, of course. Christ's ethic was stated in the positive (do good to others, even your enemies; cf. Lk 6:27-36). In fact, the whole of His teaching is weighted preponderantly toward doing good.
(2) It was Christ's concern for others (not new with Him, remember the OT concern for widows and fatherless) that led Him to speak out in the negative against the religious leaders He deemed were fleecing their charge. Conversely, wherever* the positive form of the rule was stated before Christianity, it was obviously not instituted as an ethical principle, or if so it was not a movement that was able to last as Christianity has. This lends credence to my contention that Christ's teaching were God's way of advancing the human race. Regardless, the point stands that even if the positive golden rule was around as a personal ethic, it took a new religion to disseminate throughout society and culture.

Now, you say God has laced the universe with meaning and morality. How is that not intelligent design? In an evolutionary framework, altruism can be selected for and I suppose you can argue that God put meaning and morality into place through evolution. If that's the case, why do we need God??

You anticipated my response correctly, but then you ask why we need God. It is only because God established the world as we know it (albeit through natural, evolutionary processes) that we have morality and meaning today. What do we need Him for now? Well, you know enough about Christianity to anticipate that response. We are separate from Him, incapable of enacting His will without acknowledgment of and guidance from Him. It is only by having a proper view of the order of authority and our place in the universe as instruments of God that a society is able to sustain productivity and growth in moral fiber. That's why strictly egalitarian, anarchist, hippie-style communes do not work, even with the best of intentions, yet there are thousands of churches that produce results similar or superior to the objectives of those communes. The pattern of God's Kingdom is hierarchical, and putting ourselves and our peers on the top is handicapped. That is, pragmatically speaking, why we need God.

However, what do you imagine the meaning of life to be in this Heaven for which you strive? What is life without our bodies? What is this spirit we gained when we also attained the capability to sin?

The chief end of man, in life and in the afterlife, is to glorify God: this is the essence of what I have called "recognizing our place in the universe." Each individual's purpose is to achieve God's intentions for him; I can't imagine why this should change after death, since as long as there is God there is meaning and purpose.

*If ever: the positive statement of "Sextus the Pythagorean" was from a gnostic text spuriously attributed to him that also paraphrased Jesus' hyperbolic statement about cutting off offending body parts.

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Stephen,

I would be interested to learn more about your comment about the golden rule.

Can you point me to some source material for this claim?

Just to liven things up here is an example of morality/altruism evidence hot off the press today from just down the road from me;


The evolution of such behaviour would appear to pre-date Mythraism and Christianity by several millennia and to bridge a rather large branching in the evolutionary tree of life.


Tom said...

Even if the ethic of reciprocity was stated in the negative, the reasons for its inception and implementation are the same -- because its the right thing to do.

Regardless, the point stands that even if the positive golden rule was around as a personal ethic, it took a new religion to disseminate throughout society and culture.

This is pure conjecture and impossible to prove.

Nature is full of altruistic examples in all sorts of animals including tiny-brained insects like Psi described. These insect colonies also build hierarchies of command. Are they only able to do so because they haven't sinned?

I'd hate to think that hierarchies are the pinnacle of humanity's achievements. Hierarchies are notoriously effective at swift change, good and bad. (I'd rather not go down that path and discuss whether Hitler was an atheist or Christian). What is apparent through history of kingdoms rising and falling, electrical power grids, and communication systems is that hierarchies are terribly efficient and vulnerable. A distributed system may actually facilitate a stronger moral fiber.

That said, I think your point was that we are under God and find our place by living out his principles. But again, I'll ask the same question that was before Adam: Why do we need God? What is there that God can supply that I cannot get through just normal means and common sense? And if you want to turn it around and say that it's not about what we can get from God but instead what we can give to God through service to Him, what is it that we are giving? What do you sacrifice that would not come to you naturally?

complete-joy said...

Why not better morals. The purpose I have chosen for my life (one of them anyway) is to try to leave it a better place than I found it. Always striving forwards and learning is a fantastic human trait. Why even try to make a case we can't beat an old book? Seems defeatist to me.


I agree. To me, the question of evolution is not a big issue to me, but I liked this comment. Although, I would say that even Jesus agreed with this. How come we always seem to skip this passage in John 14:13, 'I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.'

Somehow, Jesus commented that anyone in the future who believed in him would do greater things.

I suppose I'm starting a new strand of conversation...
but maybe this could go under the question of the existence of the historical figure of Jesus..

complete-joy said...

to clarify my previous statement:
This would mean that even Jesus is not necessarily the limit to moral standards- if someone else can do greater things, then perhaps there would need to be moral limits defined more clearly than Jesus already did to judge those 'greater' acts or perhaps the opposite extreme, worse 'evil' acts that have already been committed as well.

Psiloiordinary said...

I found a link to that Dawkins essay I mentioned earlier (on the Dawkins site - doh);

Worth a quick read;


Some Christian feedback would be interesting.



Cliff Martin said...

Yes! I think you may be onto an understanding of John 14:13, an understanding I have never heard or contemplated. It is certainly consistent with my thinking. Here is an interesting concept for you (you really should take more interest in evolution!): Some have theorized that the human genome has achieved a kind of equilibrium and that physical evolution may have already peaked out (see Richard Colling, Random Designer, or read my review). I have much too little expertise to evaluate the likelihood of that claim, but I do find it leads to some interesting thoughts. Such as the possibility that evolution progressed to the point of Adam, and then God took up with the process of spiritual growth for our race, or spiritual evolution, if you will. He breathed spirit into those early humans, and we have been evolving ever since. We're suppose to be progressing! ... right up until that future seminal moment Paul refers to as the manifestation of the sons of God. Does that make us better than Jesus? I hardly think so. But as we build upon his teachings, our moral sensibilities and standards can continue to reach for new heights as we build upon the teachings he left us! Hmm ...

I have located that Dawkins article, and I promise to read it and comment. From the portion I have read already, I think it is likely that my comments on this article will be kinder than my up-coming review of The God Delusion!

Psiloiordinary said...

I look forward to both.

Psiloiordinary said...

BTW evolution having a "direction" or making "progress" is far from a universal scientific view.

Lots more evidence to come in before we can call that one I think.

complete-joy said...


Just to clarify- It's not that I haven't thought about evolution, it's just that if evolution is true over creationist theory, it doesn't affect the relationship I have with God.

Psiloiordinary said...


complete-joy said...

Also, I've been wondering how Romans 8:22 'We know that the whole of creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.' fits into all of this? It is also another verse that has rarely been talked about.

Cliff Martin said...

Complete Joy,

Good observation! I refer to this Romans passage in my Main Post series. You can read my comments in Post #6, Entropy, the Implications. To get the full context, you may wish to read the two preceding posts on Entropy.

Cliff Martin said...

I did catch your tongue-in-cheek ... and had to smile!