Evolution and the Historical Fall—What Does Genesis 3 Tell Us about the Origin of Evil?

Last year I was appointed a BioLogos theology fellow, commissioned to write a series of six blog posts on Christian faith and evolution. My mandate was specifically to bring my own expertise in biblical studies (particularly the Old Testament) to bear on the question of evolution.

My own personal slant has been to explore questions at the intersection of faith and evolutionary science, both respecting the science and remaining steadfast as an orthodox, evangelical Christian (this, of course, challenges the truncated understanding of “evangelical” that the media often promulgates).

My fourth Biologos blog has just been published on the BioLogos website. It addresses the question of a historical Fall (the origin of sin) and how this might be compatible with the evolution of Homo sapiens. You can read it here.

This blog is based on the much longer chapter I wrote for the book Evolution and the Fall (Eerdmans, 2017), edited by James K. A. Smith and William Cavanaugh. You can see an interview with the editors about the book on the publisher’s blog site.

My previous BioLogos blogs addressed:

My final two BioLogos blogs will address:

  • The providence of God in a world of death and randomness (often thought by Christians to be consequences of the Fall).
  • How cosmic evolution might relate to the biblical promise of a new heaven and a new earth.

You can find all my BioLogos blogs in one place (including upcoming posts); just scroll to the bottom of the page.

BioLogos was founded by Francis Collins, the scientist in charge of the human genome project, which cracked the human genetic code; he is also an evangelical Christian. He founded BioLogos to encourage all people to see the hand of God in the evolutionary processes of nature.

The current BioLogos purpose statement reads:

“BioLogos invites the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation.”

Please join me as I explore these fascinating questions at the intersection of evolutionary science and Christian faith.

I welcome responses to my post on the BioLogos website.

You can also post responses to the blog about my post at the Jesus Creed website, hosted by Scot McKnight (the blog is by an excellent science and faith blogger who goes by RJS).

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My Ambiguous Relationship with Carl F. H. Henry (Heading to the Dabar Conference on Genesis and Science)

I’m about to head off to a four-day conference (June 8-11, 2016) that will address the topic of “Reading Genesis in an Age of Science.” This is the kick-off conference of a three-year “Creation Project,” sponsored by the Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, in Deerfield, IL.

The Dabar Conference

The conference is known as the Dabar Conference (this is the Hebrew term for “word,” pronounced davar). The name evokes Scripture as God’s Word and the biblical theme that God creates by the word (Genesis 1; Psalm 33:6-9; Psalm 119:89-91; John 1:1-3).

Although the Creation Project involves more than the annual Dabar Conference (it involves research fellowships and smaller meetings throughout the year), the Conference is meant to gather “evangelicals together from different disciplines, denominations, and institutions with the goal of orienting evangelical theologians to the relevant recent work in the natural sciences and promote scholarship in the field of the doctrine of creation.”

The Creation Project’s topics for the next two years are “Affirming the Doctrine of Creation in an Age of Science” (2017) and “Reclaiming Theological Anthropology in an Age of Science” (2018).

This Year’s Conference Topic

This year’s emphasis on “Reading Genesis in an Age of Science” is meant to address a number of questions, the core of which is the following:

“How are the opening chapters of Genesis and other origin texts throughout the Christian Scriptures related to the claims of modern scientific advance?”

Although it is not stated explicitly, evolution (of the cosmos and of humanity) is an important aspect of the science that will be addressed.

You can see the full 2016 Dabar Conference schedule here.

My Contribution to the Conference

The Dabar Conference is billed as a “working” conference, where position papers are presented, followed by respondents (of which I am one), and then open discussion.

I was invited to participate likely because of my work in Old Testament (especially Genesis) and also because of my connection to BioLogos.

I’ve been asked to bring my philosophical and biblical studies backgrounds to bear as a respondent to C. John (“Jack”) Collins’s paper, entitled “Reading Genesis 1-11 in Biblical and Social Context.” Although I’m mostly on board with his reading, I’ll be exploring some of the implications of Collins’s framing of matters, wondering out loud about how we might better articulate some of his points in light of important issues in contemporary science.

Charitable Disagreement among Christians

There is no guarantee that everyone at the conference will agree (in fact, we are likely to disagree), but we are coming together as Christian sisters and brothers to explore the questions in an atmosphere of critical and charitable inquiry.

I’m glad that the stated intent for the conference is to cultivate “clarity, humility, and mere orthodoxy, all of which are important for developing innovative future research projects and in providing public guidance to the church.”

Carl F. H. Henry vis-a-vis Middleton and Walsh

I’m particularly glad for this stated intent since, paradoxically, my own work on postmodernity and biblical faith back in the mid-nineties was summarily dismissed by none other than Carl F. H. Henry (after whom the Henry Center is named).

Carl Henry heard a paper that Brian Walsh and I delivered at the Wheaton Theology Conference back in 1994 (based on our book, Truth Is Stranger than It Used to Be, which was published by IVP the following year). He wrote a single-page scathing critique (in World magazine) of the conference and of our book, which he had not actually read. Instead, he based his critique on lines he quoted from a phone interview that IVP did with us about the book .

While there were undoubtedly legitimate differences of opinion between Henry’s point of view and our own position, the tragedy is that his critique (in the article) was based primarily on out-of-context quotations from the phone interview, which omitted important clarifications of what we meant.

For example, Henry quoted me as saying: “Even the truth of the gospel . . . is a human construction.” And he took this to mean that I denied the reality of revelation from God (something no-one who knows me would ever think).

Here it is important to note that something crucial was left out of the quote (signified by the ellipsis dots).

Brian had just commented about truth as both given from God (revelation) and our responsibility to formulate it in human language in order to communicate it.

Then comes the full sentence in which I followed up on Brian’s comment: “Yes, because even the truth of the gospel—which we constantly articulate in the church, in liturgy and proclamation and evangelism—is a human construction. I mean, the Four Spiritual Laws is a human construction in response to the truth of Jesus.”

I first read Carl Henry’s works when I was an undergraduate theology student in Jamaica and found that he was someone I could respect. So I was quite disappointed by this dismissive misreading.

Even though Carl Henry is no longer alive (he passed away in 2003), perhaps my participation in this conference (sponsored by the Henry Center) will serve to bring a certain reconciliation.

 

Appointment as a Theology Fellow for BioLogos

I’ve recently been appointed a Theological Fellow for BioLogos, along with two other theologians—Oliver Crisp (a Brit teaching at Fuller Theological Seminary) and Bethany Sollereder (a Canadian working at the University of Oxford). Given that I’m a Jamaican teaching at Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, NY, the international mix here is interesting.

BioLogos is an evangelical Christian organization founded by Dr. Francis Collins, the famed Director of the Human Genome Project. Their mission (taken from the BioLogos website) is to invite “the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation.”

Jim Stump of BioLogos

I was first approached about becoming a Theological Fellow by Jim Stump, a philosopher, who is currently the Senior Editor at BioLogos. I met Jim in the summer of 2014 at a conference sponsored by three sister organizations—the American Scientific Affiliation, the Canadian Scientific and Christian and Affiliation, and Christians in Science (UK). The conference was called “From Cosmos to Psyche: All Things Hold Together in Christ” and was held at McMaster University in Hamilton, ON.

Through my conversations with Jim, I discovered that he is from the Missionary Church, the same denomination I was a member of in Jamaica. In fact, he knew folks at Jamaica Theological Seminary, where I did my BTh degree, and he had even taught there (the Seminary is sponsored by the Missionary Church in Jamaica).

I met Jim again at three other conferences on science and faith (in Chicago, San Francisco, and Buffalo), during which Jim explained BioLogos’s need to have professional theologians engage the public on matters of science and faith. While many scientists affiliated with BioLogos had been writing articles on the BioLogos website on various issues, one of the criticisms, he explained, had been that very few were experts in theology or biblical studies.

So BioLogos decided to formally appoint some Theology Fellows, initially for 2016. You can read the BioLogos announcement here. Each of the Theology Fellows will write at least six blog articles for the BioLogos website over the course of the year.

My Proposed Blog Posts for BioLogos

I’m considering doing a series of posts on the overall theme of Evolution and Biblical Faith: Loving the Questions. The subtitle suggests that I may not have all the answers (in fact, I’m pretty sure that I don’t), but I want to explore what the important questions might be.

My projected articles will be on the following topics (this is just a projection; we’ll see how they actually turn out):

  • Methodology and approach – how should we think about relating the Bible and theology to contemporary science, including evolution?
  • Cosmic creation – how might we relate the Bible’s vision of the cosmos as a temple (creation as sacred space) to an expanding universe over deep time?
  • Human nature and the imago Dei – what does the Bible’s understanding of the human vocation to image God have to do with what we know of the evolution and cultural development of Homo sapiens (and other hominins)?
  • The Fall – how do we relate the story of the primal transgression in the garden to the origin of moral and religious consciousness and (un)ethical behavior in Homo sapiens?
  • Suffering, chaos, and “nature” – how does the Bible’s understanding of God’s providential activity in the natural world and human history relate to the suffering and death that seem rampant in both “nature” and history?
  • The incarnation – how does the Bible’s understanding of Christ as God-with-us, the Word made flesh, speak to the evolutionary history of the cosmos and of living species?
  • Eschatology – how should we think of the Bible’s vision of new creation, including resurrection and immortality, in relation to a finite universe characterized by entropy?

I realize that I’ve set myself a pretty big agenda. But go big or go home, right?

The Origins of BioLogos

The origins of BioLogos go back to the 2006 publication of Francis Collins’s book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, in which he argued for the compatibility of science and Christian faith, including on the question of evolution.

Collins supervised the decoding the human genome and wrote as an evangelical Christian, so a lot of people were interested to read the book. Based on its enormous popularity (it was on the New York Times bestseller list for sixteen weeks) and the flood of email questions Collins received from people in the scientific and religious communities, he started a website to address questions of science and faith. Collins then founded The BioLogos Foundation in 2007, with Karl Giberson (a physicist) as Executive Vice President and Darrel Falk (a geneticist) as Executive Director. BioLogos launched their own website in 2009.

I heard Karl Giberson lecture on “The Question of Origins” when he was the featured speaker at the 2011 Barnes Science and Christian Faith Symposium, sponsored by Northeastern Seminary and the Division of Mathematics and Science at Roberts Wesleyan College.

And I’ve had the privilege of working with Darrel Falk on a multi-year project called Re-Imagining the Intersection of Evolution and the Fall, sponsored by the Colossian Forum, where I’ve been one of ten scholars on an interdisciplinary team (led by Jamie Smith and Bill Kavanaugh). We presented our research at a conference in Chicago last year (2015), and a book of essays written by members of the team will be published by Eerdmans later this year (2016). My essay (presently at press) is called “Reading Genesis 3 in Light of Evolution: Beyond Concordism and Non-Overlapping Magisteria.”

I’ll keep my readers informed about the posts I write for the BioLogos website, with links so you can read them if you’re interested.

For anyone interested, I previously posted on why we don’t need to be threatened by evolution, in which I discussed a Christian basis for the scientific study of the world.