Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Sin



(Conversations with Bob! It Adds Life! Here's Bob!)



First, I finally found the picture of me with really long hair and a beard. Here it is!




Sin. I had to get around to it sooner or later. And after talking about the image of God I figured now was a good time. I think the two need to be talked about and heard together. C. S. Lewis says something about humans that I think describes the relationship between being created in the image of God and sin perfectly: "'You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,' said Aslan.' And that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor in earth.'"[1] (Prince Caspian)

We have had this conversation time and again in the responses to John and my blogs. Are humans totally evil? They cannot be totally evil because they are created in the image of God. Are humans good? They cannot be totally good because they sin. All humans are created in the image of God. All humans sin. You could say that the image of God is twisted and marred in humans by sin.

There are probably many more aspects to sin than two but I will highlight two: individual sin and inherited sin.

In response to my last blog societyvs pointed out that in some societies the idea of the individual is difficult to understand. The members of those societies see themselves primarily as members of the group. We in America see ourselves primarily as individuals. I think one could make a case that the Bible sees humans first as part of the whole of humanity and then part of a nation or tribe and lastly as individuals. I think both of these views as necessary.

Curiously in the early 1800’s Christians in America had this very debate. Traditional Calvinists argued for original sin, that sin was inherited from the original humans. Members of a school of thought from Yale, (named after Samuel Hopkins) argued that sin was rather “an accumulation of actions rather than primarily a state of being issuing in evil deeds.”[2] (Actually these were the thoughts of Jonathan Edwards Jr. and Timothy Dwight.)

Now clearly science throws a wrench into all theological statements about sin. If we believe that humans evolved from other species, (I hate saying lesser species), then when or how did sin come into the world through the actions of some humans? Even more important, it seems that life on earth evolved in such a way that species were and are always in competition. Forget animals and insects, species of trees compete for space in the forest! So is intraspecies competition, (human against human), sinful while interspecies competition not? Or as John keeps telling us, and rightly so, because humans have the power is it sinful for humans to use other species as resources for our own gain?

Some try and explain the problem with Process Theology. God is in the process of moving creation towards perfection and God is not all powerful so God kind of nudges creation toward perfection. I find Process Theology an unpalatable answer. Part of my reaction is emotional. I want a God I can depend upon, not a God who may or may not bring in perfection. And, as we have discussed before, I see the Bible as an Authority, properly interpreted.

So that brings us to the beginning of Genesis. The second creation story tells us about a man named Man and a woman named Woman, (whose name the Man later changed to Eve, mother of all living). I do not take this story literally. I would use the word “legend” to describe it. Hebrews looked at the world and saw good and evil, particularly evil done by humans. They wrote a story to explain how evil came into the world. I don’t think the story is a literal description of how God created the world in general and humans in particular, although some of it is poetically beautiful, like the creation of Woman as both the same and different from Man. Neither do I think the description of how humans brought evil into the world is literally true. But I do think there is a deeper truth in the story. Human sin is primarily the attempt by humans to take the place of God, to set their own law in the place of God’s Law. The story tells of the attempt by humans to become autonomous, that is to become a law unto themselves. This attempt not only breaks the relationship between God and humans, it also breaks the relationship between humans. We see one consequence of sin in the attempt of the man to rule over the woman, in effect to say that women are less than men. But we also see as we go on in the story that humans move from simple disobedience to God, to blaming the other to murder! Human sin grows geometrically.

I think there is another truth in this story, one that will be roundly disputed: that humans brought sin into the world and somehow we communicate this disease we call sin from generation to generation, almost as if it is a genetic disease. Thus sin is something we all inherit.

So much for the collective or the community. Sin is also individual. I sin. I get lazy and don’t do what I promised my wife I would do until she finally goes out and does it herself. I get frustrated with members of my congregation, (as if I am perfect and they are not!). I watch the leaves turn color and marvel at the beauty but don’t stop to thank God for the wonders of creation and the regularity that God has placed in creation. And the list goes on. Like the Man in Genesis 3, I want to blame someone else for my sin, (my parents, my wife, anyone but me!), but I am responsible for what I do and for what I fail to do. And I see others sin too. In fact it is much easier for me to see the sins of others than it is to see my own sin!

Which brings us to another aspect of sin. I may get drunk and have an accident and kill someone. That is my sin. But there is also collective or corporate sin. We fail to elect governmental officials who seek to bring true justice. We elect presidents who send American troops into Iraq or some other land failing to understand the complexity of the situation and bringing death and destruction to people who only want to be left alone. Corporations cut the tops of mountains off to get at the coal underneath and so destroy God’s good creation. And many of us profit, sometimes unknowingly, from this corporate sin. We sin as individuals and we sin as groups.

I believe in original sin and individual sin.

Grace and Peace

Bob


[1] Prince Caspian, C. S. Lewis, (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1951), pp. 211-212.

[2] (New England Theology), BELIEVE Religious Information Source web-site. 2007. A Christ Walk Church Public Service. 10/7/07 http://mb-soft.com/believe/txc/newengla.htm


23 comments:

  1. Pastor Bob,

    **Human sin is primarily the attempt by humans to take the place of God, to set their own law in the place of God’s Law.**

    What's your definition of God's law?

    The interesting thing that evolution does to the Genesis creation story is the concept of perfection. From everything we've seen scientifically, can we say that man ever "fell" from a sinless/perfect state? Was there ever a time that death wasn't a factor in this universe (I have no idea how one would scientifically answer this, because without death, how would one see evidence, such as fossils? Fossils are a result of death). In this way, I can understand why Process Theology works the way it does: the concept of a prior sinless state seems to go against any scientific evidence (hence the idea of faith ;)

    **Hebrews looked at the world and saw good and evil, particularly evil done by humans. They wrote a story to explain how evil came into the world. **

    I think it would also be because the Hebrews recognized that evil was "wrong." On some level, they saw that it violated some state, or was something that should not be. They might've also recognized that while they know the "right" thing to do, there is also times when another drive clashes with that right concept, which would demonstrate that the sin-drive was an unnatural drive. And so they tried to explain where the unnatural drive came from.

    **And many of us profit, sometimes unknowingly, from this corporate sin. We sin as individuals and we sin as groups**

    Do you think Protestant Christianity is set up to really deal with sin on a group level? Much of the focus seems to be individualist: Jesus died for your personal sins, having a personal relationship with Jesus, Jesus wasn't considered with politics (which is group-oriented) but only with the individual heart.

    Heather (I've changed the personal name on my blog)

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  2. Heather/onesmallstep

    Let me answer your last question and ponder on your earlier ones for a while.

    I think you use the word "protestant" in too narrow a fashion. Yes, protestants have tried to change individual lives. But some of our ancestors and some today try to change corporations and governments too. The really weird thing is that some groups of protestants accuse each other of "meddling" in politics.

    Part of the proud history of protestantism is the fight against slavery, both here and in England, by some, the fight for child labor laws, the fight for safe working conditions, the fight for real equality for African Americans, and protest against a variety of needless and foolish wars including the War of 1812, the Mexican American War, World War I, the Vietnam War, and the current war in Iraq. We aren't perfect but we do try to make changes both in our personal lives and in the communities, local, national, and the world.

    And frankly we of the Reformed tradition stand with our Methodist sisters and brothers as groups who believe that God can use denominations to make changes in the world.

    Look at what John is doing speaking out against the war and against evil collaboration between police and newspapers to publicly humiliate people! Believing this is God's world, albeit also a sinful world, we work to bring about change. That is a central part of the Reformed tradition.

    Read these words from A Brief Statement of Faith:
    In a broken and fearful world
    the Spirit gives us courage
    to pray without ceasing,
    to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior,
    to unmask idolatries in Church and culture,
    to hear the voices of peoples long silenced,
    and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.

    That is part of what we Presbyterians believe is our task as Christians. We don't always get it right but we try.

    I admit that evolution/original sin is problematic. I'll give you an answer on that tomorrow.

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  3. Pastor Bob,

    **I think you use the word "protestant" in too narrow a fashion. Yes, protestants have tried to change individual lives. But some of our ancestors and some today try to change corporations and governments too.**

    Hmm. The way I'm picturing focusing on the individuals, I wasn't trying to say that the corporations/governments were left alone. But it was more of focusing on changing the people within the corporations and such, so that the bad policies would change as a result. It was still targeting the individual people, only on a mass scale. It might be the difference between addressing people as a group with a common goal, as opposed to seeing a bunch of people loosly joined together, yet with different goals.

    I think what's driving this, on my end, is that we don't seem to live in a society that functions as "IT takes a village to raise a child." Rather, we're more of individuals pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, on their own accord, rather than taking "handouts." So I was wondering how much of the "no handouts" might function in Protestant Chrisianity (although, grace is a "handout," isn't it). But it just seems much of the focus in Western Christianity is the whole not earning one's way to heaven, and being dependent on God. And yet Western Society itself is very much an individualist "do it yourself" society.

    I'm not sure I'm putting this into words right.

    **I admit that evolution/original sin is problematic. I'll give you an answer on that tomorrow.**

    Well, how could we have this much fun if some of the questions weren't problematic? ;)

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  4. onesmallstep

    It seems to me that some of us try to change things in a variety of different ways. We give food to the hungry and shelter to the homeless. But we also lobby congress to change laws so that everyone gets health care. Pastors from a variety of denominations are working here in Philadelphia to try and figure out a way to cut down on the violence. One important way is to pass a state law so that one person can only buy one hand gun every 30 days. It may not sound like a big thing but right now you could go into a gun store and buy 30 hand guns with money from a criminal organization, get paid by them, and then go to another gun store the next day.

    But I also think community organization is important: providing affordable childcare, (here in Sharon Hill we have free childcare!) and tutoring for students with problems.

    Oh, and just so you know, my wife marched into the church office last summer and announced we were going to recycle all used paper and she would take it to the recycle center!

    We aren't perfect but we try. Change needs to happen at all levels, individual, community, nations and the world.

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  5. Oh, and PS telling someone to pull themselves up by their bootstraps is a terrible image. If a person tries to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, both feet at one time, that person falls over! I want to help people find ways out of poverty, into good jobs.

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  6. Some try and explain the problem with Process Theology. God is in the process of moving creation towards perfection and God is not all powerful so God kind of nudges creation toward perfection. I find Process Theology an unpalatable answer. Part of my reaction is emotional. I want a God I can depend upon, not a God who may or may not bring in perfection.

    Hey Bob, you might have guessed that I would respond to that comment.

    It seems to me that you want a God who acts by dint of force rather than loving persuasion. I prefer a God who acts by loving persuasion rather than by force. Different strokes for different folks.

    I would characterize the God of classical theism as a sort of Divine Magician in the Sky, a product of an ancient and outdated cosmology; while I would characterize the God of process theology as being more consistent with a modern science, with an evolutionary universe, and with a world that acts according to scientific laws. I see classical theism as representing wishful thinking for magical solutions. To me, process theology represents a more mature outlook on God's nature. It puts the old wishful thinking behind itself. And that is not always easy to do. It is hard to give up on believing in magical solutions.

    Additonally, one huge advantage of process theology over classical theism in my view is that it solves the problem of theodicy, which I believe that classical theism does not solve to any satisfaction whatsoever.

    If I had not discovered process theology two decades ago, I would still be an atheist. And that still essentially remains true today--I find the theology of classical theism to be so unpalatable and untenable that if it came down to believing in such a God or being an atheist, I would be an atheist. Fortunately for me, I don't have to make that choice. I am not necessarily wedded to process theology per se, but any alternative theology, if it were to make sense to me, would have to account for the kinds of things that process theology accounts for. In general, this is why I often speak in broader terms and describe my theology in terms of panentheism, of which process theology is one particular variety, rather than specifically process theology. But ultimately, it is process theology that I find the most interesting expression of panentheism.

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  7. In Jesus’ day and age the Jewish belief was that God would punish the nation for the sin of the individual; they also believed that an individual might be punished for the sins of the nation. The Jews believed in the God of Israel; the prophets saw in part the vision of God as the Father of the individual, and Jesus saw in the fullness the true nature of the love of the Universal Father for each and every individual son or daughter of God. Jesus elevated the concept of God that exquisite devotion seen in a father’s love for his children, even his erring children. It is founded upon a parent-child relationship, which forever precludes the primitive and pernicious belief that sin is inherited or that the innocent are punished in place of the guilty or that the individual is punished for the sins of the nation. True, in the family relationship any one individual son or daughter of God must often suffer the material consequences of family mistakes and group transgressions, but this has nothing to with some fictitious inherited sin often referred to as “original sin.”

    Have we not all read in the Bible where Ezekiel taught that religion must become a reality of our individual experiences? Is it not time we reason like adults and realize that no more shall we use proverbs which say, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge.” Did not Jeremiah say, “In those days they shall no more say, the fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge. Every man shall die for his own iniquity; every man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge. Behold, the days shall come when I will make a new covenant with my people, not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, but according to the new way. I will even write my law in their hearts. I will be their God, and they shall be my people. In that day they shall not say, one man to his neighbor, do you know the Lord? Nay! For they shall all know me personally, from the least to the greatest.” Are we not also told, “As I live,' says the Lord God, `behold all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son. Only the soul that sins shall die.” The prophets saw in part what Jesus saw in full, and Ezekiel foresaw the day when he spoke in behalf of God, saying, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” Is that not what the Jesus fulfilled in his bestowal of the Spirit of Truth, which will lead us into all truth?

    The doctrines if hereditary guilt and innate sin are erroneous teachings that portray a God of injustice whose own creation bears witness for any sensitive and deep thinking soul of how injustice it would be to hold an imperfect evolutionary creature guilty of inherent and hereditary sin for the very state of being that God created them in. It is like holding a child guilty of immorality before it has even developed a moral awareness and the ability to differentiate between right and wrong. One must first be a moral person before one can perform immoral acts.

    Human beings are evolutionary creatures, and this fact bears witness to the truth that mortal creatures were not created in a state of perfection and then experienced some fictitious fall from perfection, but rather, through the slow process of organic evolution life evolved until at some point through the evolutionary development of brain-mind capacity there evolved human mind capable of self-consciousness and consciousness of others on a level that eventually could be called moral awareness; the knowledge of the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. Indeed, we are animals, and the animal nature has a tendency toward evildoing (ignorance, imperfection, and selfish belligerent aggression, which are part of our animal nature and hereditary), but sin is not transmitted from parent to child. Sin is the act of conscious and deliberate rebellion against the Father’s will and the Son’s laws by an individual will creature.

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  8. Creation and Evolution. Sigh. Life would be much easier if I was a creationist. I do believe in a form of Intelligent Design. I believe God is intelligent and designed the universe. I’m making a theological statement, not a scientific statement. I do believe that periodic evolution, (Stephen Gould’s theory), is the best one out there for now. But I’m always open to new evidence.
    But evolution and original sin do seem to contradict each other, don’t they? If you look at the evidence that supports evolution it seems like life forms have been competing the heck out of each other over the millennia! And humans have been involved in the competition, beginning with the early proto humans. Ultimately it came around to humans killing humans. We have proof in the Iceman. He was in a fight and he died from the fight with another human’s arrow point left in him.
    So, as onesmallstep asked me, (or at least I think this is the implication), what was sin or to put it differently, what was God’s law and how was that law communicated to humans at some point so that humans would know that they disobeyed? I think the Genesis narrative of Genesis 2-4 point us in the right direction although I don’t take it literally. I believe that at some point God endowed humans with the image of God. I can’t say when or how that happened. I believe it did. As I said in my earlier post, that is part of how I start to do ethics. But I sure can’t prove it. If we take the command to the humans in Genesis 1 as part of what it means to image God, humans have a responsibility to care for creation as God’s appointed stewards. We have failed miserably at this task through most of our time as Homo sapiens. That is a form of sin. But although it wasn’t yet spoken I think the two great commandments of Jesus and the 10 commandments sum Gods spiritual and ethical Law up.
    Now as to the question of original sin and the inheritance of sin, I think that goes back to a point someone made when I talked about the image of God. Humans are communal beings. Our actions always affect the community. There also is communal sin. Ask any African American who drives through a middle class neighborhood and gets stopped by the police for DWB (driving while black) and you will discover communal sin.
    The claim that sin is inherited seems obvious to me. Try to find a human that doesn’t sin. Either we all learned it from our parents and our community or we inherited it in some kind of spiritual genetics. Now, before onesmallstep and mystical seeker get upset, let me say again, I think humans are created in the image of God and we are sinners. We are capable of great good and great evil. And sometimes when we intend to do good we do evil and vice versa. Look at the whole eugenics movement from the beginning of the 20th century to see good intentions go bad. On the other hand, look at the way Fleming discovered antibiotics.
    Anyway, that’s what I think. As for Process Theology, I think it doesn’t fit with the Biblical themes. I do see how one might think it fits better with evolution. When it comes to theology I take the Bible over science. That’s me.

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  10. There is a fundamental ethical problem with the philosophical claim that sin is inherited (so-called fictitious “spiritual genetics”). “Communal sin” is a primitive concept hardly characteristic of the idea and ideal of God as a loving Father of each individual child, even his erring children. By today’s basic charter of human rights group punishment for so-called “communal sin” is a crime against humanity. These concepts are rooted in ancient abstract theological doctrines that in the context of modern knowledge seem rather strange. We as humans recognize the injustice of trying an immature and ignorant child by the same standards as an adult in the administration of human justice; and have decided it is a crime against humanity to punish an entire group for so-called “communal sin,” yet according to these ancient Christian formulas rooted in the Augustinian theological world view we ascribe to God just such forms of injustice that we ourselves are loath to practice. Why? Because it is “Biblical”?

    I think it is more a problem of a myopic historical viewpoint, for the entire Augustinian theological system in which these concepts are rooted is itself of historical origin. Hick notes:

    Christian interpretations of all these major themes vary from one historical epoch to another, and in a given epoch from one region to another, and within a given region, from one group to another, and within a given group often from one individual to another. Amidst all these variations it is worth remembering that the Christian dialogue with other world faiths has so far been largely based within the western or Latin development of Christianity embodied in the Roman and Reformed churches. But in the rather different eastern or Greek development, embodied in the Orthodox churches, there are some interestingly different approaches. This is true, for example, of the understanding of salvation. Whereas in western Christianity salvation has generally been understood by means of a transactional model, according to which the death of Christ cancelled a debt or penalty of some kind, in eastern Christianity it has been predominantly understood by means of a transformational model, according to which men and women are gradually changed under the influence of divine grace on their path towards 'deification'--not that they literally become God but that they are transformed into what Irenaeus called the finite likeness of God.... (Hick 1993: 132, Disputed Questions)

    It was in Irenaeus (c. 130-c. 202), Bishop of Lyons and author, in response to Gnosticism, of the Church's first systematic theology, that there comes clearly to light the point of view that was to characterize the Greek as distinct from the Latin Fathers. Irenaeus distinguishes between the image (είκών) of God and the likeness (όμοίωσις) of God in man. The 'imagio', which resides in man's bodily form, apparently represents his nature as an intelligent creature capable of fellowship with his Maker, whilst the 'likeness' represents man's final perfecting by the Holy Spirit. For 'the man is rendered spiritual and perfect because of the outpouring of the Spirit, and this is he who was made in the image and likeness of God. But if the Spirit be wanting to the soul, he who is such is indeed of an animal nature, and being left carnal, shall be an imperfect being, possessing indeed the image [of God] in his formation, but not receiving the likeness through the Spirit.’ This distinction can, I think, not unfairly be presented in more contemporary terms by saying that man’s basic nature, in distinction from other animals, is that of a personal being endowed with moral freedom and responsibility. This is the divine είκών in him; he is made as person in the image of God. But man, the finite personal creature capable of personal relationship with his Maker, is as yet only potentially the perfected being whom God is seeking to produce. He is only at the beginning of a process of growth and development in God’s continuing providence, which is to culminate in the finite ‘likeness’ of God. Thus whilst the image of God is man’s nature as personal, the divine likeness will be a quality of personal existence which reflects finitely the life of the Creator Himself. (Hick 1977: 211-212, Evil and the God of Love)

    (....) There is thus to be found in Irenaeus the outline of an approach to the problem of evil which stands in important respects in contrast to the Augustinian type of theodicy. Instead of the doctrine that man was created finitely perfect and then incomprehensibly destroyed his own perfection and plunged into sin and misery, Irenaeus suggests that man was created as an imperfect, immature creature who was to undergo moral development and growth and finally be brought to the perfection intended for him by his Maker. Instead of the fall of Adam being presented, as in the Augustinian tradition, as an utterly malignant and catastrophic event, completely disrupting God's plan, Irenaeus pictures it as something that occurred in the childhood of the race, an understandable lapse due to weakness and immaturity rather than an adult crime full of malice and pregnant with perpetual guilt. And instead of the Augustinian view of life's trials as a divine punishment for Adam's sin, Irenaeus sees our world of mingled good and evil as a divinely appointed environment for man's development towards the perfection that represents the fulfillment of God's good purpose for him. (Hick 1977: 214-215)

    History shows us there is more than one "Biblical" interpretation.

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  11. If I may put on my heretic hat for a sec:

    First, as I mentioned a ways back, I like how Calvin posits that the human impulse to do good is Divine in origin. It's not that I necessarily think that humans are incapable of doing good, but that about three centuries before psychology was at all understood, Calvin recognized that humans are born with the capacity to do great good in the world as well as great harm. Calvin chose to call the former God in order to elevate it and also remind folks to be humble when helping others.

    My personal understanding of "original sin" (which departs somewhat from Calvinist orthodoxy) is that it is another name for that inherent capacity to do harm if not checked by the need to do good. Freud (to use a system of psychodynamics that most people are familiar with) expressed this as the tension between the Id and Superego, mediated by the Ego. An important thing to note is that Freud did not necessarily see the Id as inherently "sinful" (though it is base in nature) or the Superego as inherently "good". There's a dual nature at work.

    My other heretical comment is my rant about the Garden of Eden narrative that got me into a big fight in my high school Bible class.

    So God creates a man with no sense of right or wrong. He then drops him in a garden and tells them not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, because it is wrong and he will die. Woman gets formed, presumably not having heard the speech first hand, and gets cornered by a chatty serpent (which God presumably put there as well). Woman (who doesn't even get a name yet) is easily convinced, as she has no idea what the concept of "wrong" is. She eats the fruit and immediately discovered that God is lying, as she's still standing alive and well. Man takes a bite as well, not knowing that it is wrong because he doesn't understand the idea. He also fails to die. God jumps out from behind a bush and shouts, "gotcha!" And exiles them both to Iraq. But not until after Man immediately blames Woman. Punishment: Man has to get a job, Serpent has to crawl on his belly (what was it doing prior to this, hovering?), but Woman gets PMS, contractions and stretch marks. God comes across as a sophomoric bully in this story.

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  12. Okay, Flycandler, that is pretty much the funniest encapsulation of the Garden of Eden story I've ever read, including the bit about being exiled to Iraq.

    I always assumed, by the way, that the talking serpent had legs.

    It is sort of curious that we had a conscious, talking animal who could make persuasive logical arguments in conversations with humans. That meant not only that serpents apparently had legs and apparently also larynxes, but they also had brains that were capable of the sort of higher cognitive functions that we associate with human beings.

    And let's not get started with the whole business of incest between Adam and Eve's children.

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  13. I brought that up (and was met with silence) elsewhere to a conservative who was harping on the "marriage sanctioned by the Bible". He brought up the tired old Genesis "man leaves his parents and goes to his wife, and the two become one flesh, and therefore the Western nuclear family is the ideal 6,000 years before it actually exists". If the creation narrative is true, then either Cain or Seth had to sleep with their mother or some unnamed sisters in order to populate the earth. An omniscient God would know this, yet He forces them to violate His law in a particularly icky way rather than create a few extra people.

    As far as the serpent, I'm not as concerned. It's possible that Eve got a Babel Fish in her ear and could understand Serpentese. As far as its debating skills, it's a pretty low bar. Man and Woman both have been created as moral morons and would need little convincing to do anything.

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  14. Flycandler, I too enjoyed the ironic truth in your story. Mind if I quote you?

    The definition of heretic is defined by the victor, the one who's teachings dominate over the centuries. But in truth, two traditions were equally valid at one time, and the actual reasons one became dominate and another obscure is part of history and historical fact. Few within the Christian tradition are aware of it, and some reject the Irenaeus tradition of philosophy and theodicy as heretical outright on fundamentalist claims and refuse to even look at the historical facts, saying, don't give me the facts, I've already made up my mind. (John Hick)

    Within the Augustinian tradition, which has dominated the thought of Western Christendom since the fifth century, the doctrine of a fearful and calamitous fall of man long ago in the 'dark backward and abysm of time', and of a subsequent participation by all men in the deadly entail of sin, is, as we have seen, deeply entrenched. According to this conception in its developed form, man was created finitely perfect, but in his freedom he rebelled against God and has existed ever since under the righteous wrath and just condemnation of his Maker. For the descendents of Adam and Eve stand in a corporate unity and continuity of life with the primal pair and have inherited both their guilt and a corrupted and sin-prone nature. We are accordingly born as sinners, and endowed with a nature that is bound to lead us daily into further sin; and it is only by God's free, and to us incomprehensible, grace that some (but not all) are eventually to be saved. (Hick 1977: 201)

    (....) The Augustinian picture is so familiar that it is commonly thought as the Christian view of man and his sinful plight. Nevertheless it is only a Christian view.... S. Paul's teaching as to the connexion of human sin and death with Adam's transgression is but one of the various possible interpretations of this narrative [Genesis iii], slowly and tenatively reached after some centuries of Jewish exegesis and reflection. S. Augustine's fuller and more definite doctrine is but a developed form of one of the possible interpretations of the statements of S. Paul, arrived at after the preperation of further centuries of Jewish speculation. (Hick 1977: 201-202)

    Jesus did not teach the doctrine of "original sin." This was Paul's doing:

    Paul's teaching is notoriously difficult to interpret; but nevertheless the following relatively general points represent a wide measure of agreement among Pauline commentators:

    1. Death (which is perhaps to be understood in a spiritual as well as a physical sense) is a consequence of sin (Romans v. 12; I Corinthians xv. 21).
    2. Mankind forms a corporate whole in relation to God, and mortality came upon this racial unity as a result of the sin of our first ancestor, Adam (Romans v. 18-19).
    3. This conjunction of sin and death has descended from Adam to all his children through a tendency to sin which is part of our inherited psycho-physical make-up (Romans v. 18-19).
    4. The inherited sinful tendency than produces actual sins, which are branded as such by the prohibitions of the law (Romans v. 20 and vii. 7-12).
    5. As sin and death came thus through one man, Adam, so they will be abolished through one man, Christ (I Corinthians xv. 22; Romans v. 15 and 17).
    6. As well as evil men there are evil spirits (Ephesians vi. 12); these excercise great power in the world -- massively in the realms of pagan life outside Judaism and Christianity (I Corinthians ii. 8 and x. 20; II Corinthians iv. 4), but also occasionally even within the Church itself (II Corinthians ii. 11 and xii. 7; I Corinthians vii. 5; I Thessalonians ii. 18).

    There is thus clearly present in St. Paul the root idea of what was later to be called 'original sin', namely the idea of a sinful bias or tendency which operates in all human beings, but which is nevertheless not created de novo by each individual for himself. Paul probably assumed that the mode of transmission of this taint was by physical inheritance.... Certainly by the time of Augustine the notion of the physical inheritance of sinfulness was predominant. (Hick 1977: 206-207)

    (....) Another important development during this same period of writings of the Latin Fathers was a growing sense of the heinousness of the fall. There is throughout the fourth century a heightening of the mythological perfection of Adam in the Garden of Eden, and a corresponding lengthening of the extent and deepening of the tragedy of his fall. (Hick 1977: 207)

    (....) An element that is absent in St. Paul but had become widely accepted in Latin theology by the time of Augustine, and was then securely built by him into the continuing tradition of the West, is the idea that Adam's descendants somehow share the guilt of Adam's sin. This is made intelligible either by the thought of the mystical unity of the human race or by the doctrine of the seminal presence of Adam's desdendants in his loins. On either basis the sin of the first man is the sin of all men, and all men are accordingly guilty and deserving of eternal death. (Hick 1977: 207)

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  15. It is ludicrous to keep attempting to present to modern men and women a first century mythological interpretation of why sin entered the world. We now know it to be a fact and truth contrary to Paul’s teachings that:

    1. Death is genetically programmed into the biological organism. We now know that there is a genetic pathway that foster cellular renewal and regeneration, and another genetic pathway that inhibits the genetic pathway that promotes active cellular renewal. A biological clock sets off the genetic pathway that inhibits the genetic pathway that fosters cellular renewal, thereby eventually leading to the process of cellular decay and breakdown overtaking the process of cellular renewal. Evolutionary Developmental Biology can now take a model organism, a small worm, and disable the genetic pathway that inhibits the genetic pathway that fosters cellular renewal, and the little work lived six times its normal lifetime in a youthful state. We also know that humans share these same genetic pathways with the one of the oldest model organisms whose genome dates back over 700 million years ago. Life and death were not introduced in some mythical garden of Eden but are biologically programmed into all living organisms. Death is a consequence of biology and has absolutely nothing to do with sin.

    2. Jesus clearly teaches us that each human being stands before God as an individual faith born son or daughter of God; this “corporate guilt” hogwash in the invention of Paul and has burdened and obscured the living teachings of Jesus for over 2000 years. Is it not time to grow up and stop thinking like children (in 1st century Jewish concept frames as interpreted through the mind of Paul) and to start thinking like mature adults in light of those truths of science, philosophy, and theological reflection that God has graced humankind with since the days of Paul? Adam and Eve’s “original sin” in the garden is pure myth, and so is the entire first Adam second Adam theological dogma of Paul.

    3. Sin is not inherited; animal origin instinct are, and they are geared toward self-preservation and ego-gratification. We may indeed be of animal origin, and subject to the animal urges and nature, but we are also as creatures with evolved mind capacity capable of moral reflection (conscious discernment between right and wrong) and recognition of spiritual values bestowed upon our mortal minds by the indwelling light which lights all men that come into the world; the spirit of God.

    4. Inherited sin is an absurd abstract concept; the only sin is actual sin when the creature knowingly choose to do that which it knows is evil (morally and ethically wrong); when a child does that which we as wise parents know is wrong, yet we know the child does not know better, we do not punish the child in anger but wisely discipline them and explain the difference between right and wrong. We recognize the difference between choosing wrong out of inexperience and ignorance and immaturity, and choosing it willingly and in the full light of knowledge between right and wrong. Perhaps it is time we redefine evil, sin, and iniquity along these lines: evil is the choosing of that which is immoral or wrong out of ignorance, immaturity, and missadaptation; sin is in the knowing choosing of evil (that which one knows is wrong); and iniquity is the measure of the degree which sin becomes a habitual choice of the whole personality.

    5. Death came to us from the first single celled organism that lived and died. It is time we rethink the meaning of Jesus life and death in light of the fact that the entire Adam myth is not a historical fact. Perhaps Jesus life and teachings are more relevant than Paul’s fictitious first and second Adam story, and his death on the cross was a fuller revelation of his life and teachings in that he told us to love our enemies and then did just that when he said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

    6. The universe is a friendly place; it is the Father’s universe, we not fear “evil spirits.”

    It is time to reason like grown men and women in light of the truth of science, and humankinds evolutionary origin does have profound philosophical implications for the silly and childish theology represented in the teachings of Paul. In his day and age one can understand how they explained the origin of evil and sin, but today they will no longer remain persuasive modern educated men and women.

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  16. Rob, by all means do. I admit it is an embellishment on the late, great Douglas Adams in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. He adds : "It wouldn't have made any difference if they hadn't eaten it...Because if you're dealing with somebody who has the sort of mentality which likes leaving hats on the pavement with bricks under them you know perfectly well they won't give up. They'll get you in the end."

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  17. Moral guilt is a personal matter, he [Charles Chauncy (1705-87)] contended; the notion that God holds any individual morally responsible for sins committed by another person is an offense against morality and the goodness of God.

    -- Dorrien, Gary (2001) The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion, 1805-1900. p. 3.

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  18. Been busy but haven’t been ignoring you. Some responses. First, and I think the most important, is the balance between the individual and the community. When Paul wrote Jewish thought did lean more toward the community than the individual. We can still see such viewpoints for good and ill in various cultures around the world today.
    The central question I think I hear from Rob is: does Paul represent a divergent opinion from that of Jesus (and I would include the Old Testament) on the subject of original sin and communal punishment for sin or not? Certainly Jesus heals and forgives individuals. But there are, I think, tendencies in the Gospels toward thinking of humanity or at least Israel as a group as well as individuals. Of course there is the perennial question of what actually goes back to Jesus and what are the additions/interpretations of the gospel editors. In the gospels Jesus chooses 12 disciples, or at least an inner group of disciples probably suggesting a connection to the 12 tribes of Israel. There is the meaning of the life and death of Christ, probably most thoroughly examined in John, suggesting a life and death on behalf of at least the nation of Israel. John uses global terms to describe Jesus in the various speeches by Jesus, calling himself the bread of life, living water, and John’s direct connection between the death of Jesus and the sacrifice of the Passover lambs.
    Then there is communal punishment, (in the interpretation of the Deuteronomist and the Chronicler), of the nations of Israel and Judah for sins. It is difficult to believe that all those hurt by the wars with the various nations up to and including those with the Assyrians and the Babylonians were actively worshipping idols or oppressing the poor.
    I agree that there is more emphasis on individuals in the gospels than in Paul. But I wouldn’t say that the gospels and Paul disagree on this question. I would say the gospels lean one way and Paul the other.
    Flycandler: I think your speech about the Adam and Eve story is a scream! I’m surprised you didn’t get kicked out of class or sent to the principal! But let me remind all of you: I did say that I think the second creation narrative is a legend, a story used to explain how sin and death came into the world. I’m not taking the story in a literal way. The question is: what are we to do with legends? I think Jonah fits into the same category. What can we learn from Jonah? We should learn at least that there was a theological group opposing the narrow sectarianism of the Ezra/Nehemiah narratives. What should we learn from the creation narratives? Clearly the writer of the second creation narrative wants us to hear that God created a good world and that God is not responsible for evil coming into the world. The blame is placed squarely on humans. And while the man and the woman don’t come out as great moralists or even great thinkers, the story places the blame for sin on humans.
    The real problem as Rob has so eloquently pointed out is the opposing narrative of modern science. If the theory of evolution is a correct evaluation of the evidence, and I do believe, as I said, that periodic evolution is the best evaluation of the evidence that we have at this time, then what are we to say about sin and death? Clearly Paul’s statement that sin and death came into the world through one man is contradicted by the evidence pointing towards evolution. In fact there are problems all through the early chapters of Genesis.
    So what are we to do? Rob and I take two different paths. There may be a lot of other paths. I think Rob suggests that we should say Paul is just wrong. I’m not sure if he would say the same about the second creation story or not. I say instead that though the scientific evidence points to fallacies in the some of the scientific beliefs of the Roman period and earlier that I still seek to find meaning in the passages. I choose to say that at some point God endowed humans with the image of God - when I can’t say - and that humans chose to turn away from God, to try to replace God with themselves.
    And let me be very honest and admit something else: if you take away the doctrine of original sin the whole Biblical narrative of creation, fall, and redemption fall apart. How can one man/God die for the sins of the world if we cannot say that human sin is collective and not just individual?
    Mystical Seeker, I think we are going to have to agree to disagree about process theology. I agree theodicy is a problem if you believe in a God who is omnipotent. I think the best way to describe my disagreement with you is that I feel more comfortable with a God who is actually in charge. I wouldn’t use the word magic. I would use the word miracle. But I do appreciate our conversations.

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  19. I appreciate the opportunity to have this conversation Bob; you are a gracious soul. I think you have made some very important points, and there are no quick and easy answers. First, I would like to suggest that it will be informative to provide some historical context for this conversation. John Hick in his classic work on theodicy, “Evil and the God of Love,” (pdf)provides a summary of the scholarly work to-date on the evolution of the doctrines regarding the origin of evil and sin within the Judeo-Christian traditions. I have already noted above the difference between the Augustinian vs. the Irenaean traditions above. Irenaeus viewed the nature and origin of sin differently than the Augustine, and it is a fact that at one point in the Churches history there was a plurality of views. Perhaps it is time to reconsider an earlier view that may be far more in harmony with modern knowledge than the Augustinian view.

    Today is daddy-daughter day, so for now I will only post the links above to the historical analysis of the origin of the doctrine of evil and sin within the Judeo-Christian traditions, but will use Hick’s work as a basis for addressing Bob’s concerns in his post above later this evening.

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  20. “If the theory of evolution is a correct evaluation of the evidence ... what are we to say about sin and death? Clearly Paul’s statement that sin and death came into the world through one man is contradicted by the evidence pointing towards evolution…. [I]f you take away the doctrine of original sin the whole Biblical narrative of creation, fall, and redemption fall apart. How can one man/God die for the sins of the world if we cannot say that human sin is collective and not just individual?” (Pastor Bob)

    That life on this planet began in a primal ooze and (over the course of some three and a half billion years) has advanced to human complexity--these points seem solidly in place. (Huston Smith, Why Religion Matters. 2001)

    First, the central question for me is not whether Paul is right or wrong, but rather, in light of our best understanding of the truth, how are we to understand the biblical stories of creation in light of modern scientific knowledge. Paul was simply developing a philosophical/theological framework with the best information that he had in his historical day and age, as Hick’s analysis so concisely reveals. How silly that we should turn scripture into a fetish authority in all matters of knowledge; if one’s sacred book happens to speak of the earth as being flat, then, are we for long generations going to insist that otherwise sane men and women should refuse to accept positive evidence that the earth is round? I think the critical analysis shows that Paul’s theology does differ from Jesus’ teachings, and historical criticism clearly reveals the relative contextual nature of Paul’s interpretation of the origin of evil and sin in the world.

    Every culture and religion has its creation stories. Primitive man lacked science, and his knowledge could not penetrate to our true evolutionary origins; hence it was only natural such a primitive humans would unfailingly invent origins that they might have a means of logical thought within the framework of these creation stories. In a sense, to the extent that current evolutionary theory’s description of the actual biological mechanisms underlying change in form is correct and/or incorrect, that is our modern tentative “creation story” updated in light of scientific knowledge. The difference is that enlightened by science we are self-consciously aware of the tentative nature of scientific human knowledge and can thereby engage in a healthy self-corrective process (in science, this is called peer review) and update our theory when new facts and evidence is forthcoming. We must also apply this self-corrective philosophy to our philosophical/theological beliefs as well.

    Today, we have access to knowledge that was undreamed of in Paul’s day and age; Huston Smith is correct; it is in fact true that life began upon this planet in a primal ooze and over the course of millions of years evolved along one line of common decent creatures of human complexity. We now understand scientifically the evolution of the Central Nervous System (CNS) from the simplest singled celled organisms with no more than a diffuse neural net for a CNS, into the more complex development of a rudimentary ganglion (group of neural cells) functioning as a primitive brain, which in turn developed into the primitive CNS and brains of fish and reptiles, eventually evolving into the mammalian CNS and brain with far higher cognitive function, until their evolved the higher thought centers found in homo sapiens, that level of evolutionary CNS that gave birth to self-consciousness as we know it. We also now know that the same regulatory genetic pathways (“Master genes” and “Genetic Switches”) that are responsible for developing our complex human CNS are to our amazement largely the same anciently conserved genetic pathways in the simplest animal organism we have decoded the genome of today, dating back some ~700 million years. In other words, the regulatory genome for making eyes brains and fins/wings/hands existed largely in primitive animals that had no eyes brains and fins/wings/hands. The architecture was genetically speaking, already there potentially before it unfolded in time into what we now know today as the history of evolutionary life. Indeed, the transitions form the most primitive and diffuse levels of neural nets to that of insect mechanical-like mind, to the higher levels of animal mind, until the dawn of human self-consciousness, is a biological story of God’s creative act of creation; organic evolution is a fact; purposive evolution is a truth which makes consistent the otherwise contradictory phenomena of the ever-ascending achievements of evolution. Consider the white lily which rears its pure and snowy head high into the sunshine while its roots are grounded in the slime and muck of the darkened soil beneath. Likewise, mortal man, while he has his roots of origin and being in the animal soil of human nature, can by faith raise his spiritual nature up into the sunlight of heavenly truth and actually bear the noble fruits of the spirit.

    Modern man has become historically self-conscious of both religion and science; but his religious beliefs are confused and increasingly are becoming discredited by the unprecedented scientific developments of the last two centuries. Modern thinking men and women simply will not respond to the trumpet calls of the middle ages and a return to theological/philosophical formulas bound by first century cosmology; they want religion redefined, and this demand is eventually going to compel religion to re-evaluate itself and its philosophical and theological claims. If the Churches refuse to do this, then they will stand by and watch their pews empty while they default on their duty to redefine religious philosophy such that those who desire to believe can do so in the face of mounting secularism and competing materialistic worldviews.

    If God is Creator, as I believe God is, then God is Creator of finite imperfect evolutionary animal origin creatures endowed with self-consciousness and free will, and it is logically impossible to create an imperfect finite creature with free will that is not innately immature and incapable of making the perfect choice of God’s will from beginning to end. The only evolutionary world without error (the possibility of unwise judgment) would be a world without free intelligence; evolving man must be fallible if he is to be free. Free and inexperienced intelligence cannot possibly at first be uniformly wise. The possibility of mistaken judgment (evil) becomes sin only when the human will consciously endorses and knowingly embraces a deliberate immoral judgment. The moral will creatures of the evolutionary worlds are always bothered with the unthinking question as to why the all-wise Creator permits evil and sin. They fail to comprehend that both are inevitable if the creature is to be truly free. The free will of evolving man or exquisite angel is not a mere philosophic concept, a symbolic ideal. Man's ability to choose good or evil is a universe reality. This liberty to choose for oneself is an endowment of God.
    In light of the historical fact of organic evolution as the means by which God as Creator has chosen to create finite evolutionary will creatures, I think it is logically untenable to claim that God is not responsible for creating an evolutionary context in which evil is inevitable reality. If mortal creatures are created as ignorant evolutionary animals, who are innately driven by instinctual urges such as procreation, self-preservation, and natural aggression, to claim that the “blame is placed squarely on humans” these animal realities distorts in my view reality.
    The religious challenge of this age is to construct a new and appealing philosophy of living out of the enlarged and exquisitely integrated modern concepts of truth revealed in science, philosophy, and religious insight, and to coordinate these new philosophical meanings and spiritual values in a personal relationship with God, who is love. Jesus taught us God is Spirit and God is Truth, and he then revealed in his life a God who is love.

    From generation to generation, from age to age, with each advancing epoch in human knowledge the philosophic concept and the theological definitions and interpretations of how God works out his plans in the time-space universe must change. Religious consciousness and spiritual experience are universe realities, but no matter how valid (real) religious experience is, it must be willing to subject itself to the intelligent criticism and reasonable philosophical interpretation; it must not seek to be a thing apart in the totality of human experience. The spirit of religion is eternal, but the form of its expression must be restated every time the dictionary of human language is revised.

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  21. Rob

    You have made a clear statement of the Enlightenment position and the philosophical underpinnings of the scientific method. I have two concerns:

    1. You have made a clear statement of where evolutionary biology is today. You have not taken into account the very real probability that the current scientific theories will change with the discovery of new facts that impinge upon and change current theory. These changes will probably be micro changes but we always have to allow for the possibility of macro changes.

    2. You have also stated clearly the Enlightenment expectations of how religion will change given the discoveries of modern science. But it simply hasn't worked out that way. For an Evangelical I am rather a radical. A significant majority of Americans believe that evolutionary theory is false. People take in the benefits that science offers but do not change their religious beliefs.

    Curious, isn't it?

    I at least am willing to wrestle with the disparities. I recognize the problems. Nevertheless I hold to the traditions of the Western Church.

    Finally, I would point out that science in Roman culture was much further advanced than we think. There were models of steam engines that were never applied outside of the laboratory. Clearly there were highly evolved architectural models that used calculus. The lastest historical theory that I have read about what happened is not that the barbarians came in and wrecked everything but rather that the Aristotelian model of thinking was replaced by Neoplatonism. Unfortunately I don't remember where I read this.

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  22. Your willingness Bob to discuss the disparities between the findings of modern science and the Western Augustinian church doctrines is appreciated. It is my hunch that there are more pastors who are like you than you know, but it can be a difficult, time consuming, and challenging job to sort out the many complex issues surrounding this debate and discussion we are having.

    The majority of Christian denominations have made their peace with the fact of organic evolution a long time ago. Only the fundamentalists have refused to adjust their theology to the new facts and truth. The fact of evolution is not incompatible with a loving Creator God. The problem in my view is that some scientists (See Oracles of Science) have wedded their militant atheism (a philosophical belief) with their scientific beliefs and claim their philosophical beliefs are based on science. This is in reality a false philosophy called scientism. These militant atheists (Dawkins, Dennett, Wilson, Sagan, etc.) have made claims in the name of science that are no more supportable by science than is creationism. They are the heirs of a long tradition the history of which is told in a work by Jennifer Hecht called The End of Soul. This is a tradition of militant atheism that seeks to give birth not just to secularism but to a form of godless secularism that seeks to eradicate and/or explain away religion all together.

    During the Enlightenment period scientists revolted against the ecclesiastical totalitarianism of the Western Augustinian church, and they are thereby responsible for many of the beneficent gains of the scientific revolution. The great mistake in my view, was some of these more militantly atheistic scientists after having revolted against the almost total control of life by religious authority, and after attaining liberation from such ecclesiastical tyranny, they went on to institute a revolt against God himself, sometimes tacitly and sometimes openly. Today, we see this revolt against God in the scientism of the so-called Oracles of Science.

    There is a middle path between these two extremes (militant atheism and fundamentalist creationism) that needs to be articulated and presented, discussed, and debated within the church, I believe.

    Just one clarification, You said,

    "You have made a clear statement of where evolutionary biology is today. You have not taken into account the very real probability that the current scientific theories will change ..."

    If you read carefully above, you will see it stated:

    "In a sense, to the extent that current evolutionary theory’s description of the actual biological mechanisms underlying change in form is correct and/or incorrect, that is our modern tentative “creation story” updated in light of scientific knowledge. The difference is that enlightened by science we are self-consciously aware of the tentative nature of scientific human knowledge and can thereby engage in a healthy self-corrective process (in science, this is called peer review) and update our theory when new facts and evidence is forthcoming. We must also apply this self-corrective philosophy to our philosophical/theological beliefs as well."

    This statement makes clear that scientific theories change and that they do so because of new evidence, which then requires the theories to be adjusted to new facts. It is a self-corrective mechanism called peer review and ongoing research. Does that mean that the age of the earth (~4.5 billion) is going to change tomorrow? I don’t think so, as this date is based upon solid physics, and has about as much chance of changing as us all waking up tomorrow and discovering the earth has went from round to flat. The fact that organic evolution (common descent with modification) took place is not going to be changed if and when scientists uncover the evidence that the theoretical mechanism (the “theory” part in “evolutionary theory”) called “natural selection” is not the mechanism responsible for creative novelty in organic evolution, but only one of the mechanisms. This debate is ongoing within the scientific community today, but it is a debate about the “mechanisms” responsible for change in form not about the fact that organic evolution has occurred.

    I don’t know if the “majority” of Americans think evolution is false or not. Perhaps the majority of conservative Evangelical Americans do Bob, but then, that is not the majority of the American population. It seems in my experience most people who believe evolution is false make it based not upon evidence or an understanding of the difference between the facts of organic evolution (descent with modification) and the “theory” of the mechanism(s) of evolution. Rather, they make it based upon what they have been told by their pastors from the church pulpit. Yet, even within the Evangelical community there is a growing number who are starting to accept the reality of organic evolution, as your witness here shows.

    I don't see how, if organic evolution is a fact, that the implications in your statement below can be avoided:

    “If the theory of evolution is a correct evaluation of the evidence ... what are we to say about sin and death? Clearly Paul’s statement that sin and death came into the world through one man is contradicted by the evidence pointing towards evolution…. [I]f you take away the doctrine of original sin the whole Biblical narrative of creation, fall, and redemption fall apart. How can one man/God die for the sins of the world if we cannot say that human sin is collective and not just individual?” (Pastor Bob)

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  23. “[I]f you take away the doctrine of original sin the whole Biblical narrative of creation, fall, and redemption fall apart. How can one man/God die for the sins of the world if we cannot say that human sin is collective and not just individual?” (Pastor Bob)

    If one takes away the doctrine of “original sin” I don’t think the “whole Biblical narrative” of “creation … and redemption” falls apart. The problem with this view (and perhaps this is not what you meant Bob?) is that is assumes there is only one narrative, and I think that Hick as shown there has always been a plurality of narratives, and the “fall” narrative is not the only one, which was shown in the narrative of Irenaeus. It does undermine one specific narrative, that of the Augustinian tradition, which includes Paul’s atonement doctrine and the idea of “collective” punishment for some fictitious “original sin.”

    So, the question then becomes, if not the “original sin/fall/atonement” doctrine, how then do we understand the meaning of Jesus’ life and teachings, and his death on the cross? There is a long and fully body of literature within the history of liberal Christianity addressing this very issue, and I think there is a wealth of rich thought on this very question. I think this is just what the project of “progressive” Christianity is attempting to do.

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