Defending the Way to Eden...


Yea, brother!

Sorry. Star Trek moment, there.

It’s amazing how, fully eighty years after the Scopes Monkey Trial, we’re still debating the issue of evolution, but religious fundamentalists are nothing if not tenacious.

Perpetuating the debate are members of the Kansas State Board of Education who are intent on requiring the schools of that state to teach “Intelligent Design” alongside Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

The statements bely the complexities of the debate, and both sides, unfortunately, seem intent on simplifying their opponents into straw people, all the better to skewer.

To hear some proponents of Intelligent Design, it is as if none of the proponents of evolution believe in God. Wikipedia summarizes Intelligent Design as follows:

Proponents of ID look for evidence of what they call signs of intelligence — physical properties of an object that necessitate design. Examples being considered include irreducible complexity, information mechanisms, and specified complexity. Many design theorists believe that living systems show one or more of these signs of intelligence, from which they infer that life is designed. This stands in opposition to naturalistic theories of evolution, which attempt to explain life exclusively through natural processes such as random mutations and natural selection.

So, basically, the accusation is that proponents of evolution are arguing that God’s fingerprints can’t be found in natural selection or the science behind the creation of the Universe. As though all scientists are atheists. But that’s not the case. Albert Einstein believed God was the creator of the Universe, even if he wondered whether God had any choice in the matter. I myself am a Christian, and I plant God at the instigator of the natural processes that brought us about. Just because I believe that evolution is the best scientific explanation we have so far of how we came to be, doesn’t mean that I don’t believe God was the hand that wielded the tool.

If “Intelligent Design” proponents were merely asking that God be placed atop the theory of evolution in providing a “why” explanation to go with science’s “how”, I don’t think the matter would be nearly as controversial, but others have pointed out that, for some, “Intelligent Design” is a code-word for “creationism”, and that this is an attempt to get the Book of Genesis taught as a literal document in our science classes.

A number of Christians believe the Bible, including Genesis, to be a literal, historical document. Most are decent people; I’ve met them. Even so, I think many of us who prefer the explanation of evolution, myself included, don’t fully understand what’s at stake here for the creationists. Yes, some outspoken creationists are seeking to impose their worldview on us for their view of our own good, but I only recently realized that we’ve encountering a particular axiom of faith that evolution shakes to the core, in ways evolutionists don’t realize. It was a revelation that hit me when I read this post on Rebecca Anderson’s blog:

Both Paula and James raised the question of why sin couldn’t have come into the world without a literal Adam and Eve and a literal fall in Eden — why it couldn’t be the result of evolved humanity exercising a God-given free will. Again, it seems a reasonable idea on the surface: but the moment you start to examine the details the whole thing breaks down. The ability to exercise free will is by no means evil in itself, to be sure, so God could give human beings free will without being the author of sin. But if we propose that sin has come into the world merely as the result of evolved humans choosing to do wrong on an individual basis, with no creatorial Head such as Adam represents in the Biblical narrative, we are left with the following very serious unanswered questions:

  1. Why do all human beings, starting at the very youngest age, do wrong things without any coaching whatsoever, but have to be taught and encouraged to do good? Why is selfishness our “default mode”, as it were, whereas good and unselfish behaviour requires conscious effort (effort that fails as often as not, or at least doesn’t go as far as we would like it to)?


  1. What about evil that is not the direct result of man exercising free will — natural disasters, disease, “nature red in tooth and claw”, etc.?

Bible literalists are wrestling with some very difficult questions, here, like: why do bad things happen to good people? A bunch of explanations arise. Some people find it easier to blame the victims. “Hurricane Katrina washed away a wicked city”. Fortunately most Christians, even the Bible literalists, don’t think like that. But if that’s not the reason, what is? Well, what if something broke the world? Something like the serpent of Genesis?

If there was no fall from Eden, then sin wasn’t introduced into creation by some force other than God. If we evolved into sin, then we have to believe that sin was something that always existed in creation — that God built into creation in the first place. And God wouldn’t create an imperfect creation… would he?

It’s much easier to let God off the hook for this broken world if we could blame the imperfections on someone else. Even ourselves.

But this still gave me pause. The implication is that those who cling to creationism and intelligent design is that if, somehow, it could be proven to these individuals that there was no literal Eden, nor a literal fall, then the foundations of their Christian belief would crumble, leaving them — I guess — shells of themselves. I’d never considered their motivations in this light. I never realized, until now, that there was a fear over the implications to their personal view of God if evolution were proven true.

The process of natural selection is extravagent and wasteful. Fully 99.9% of all the species which have ever appeared on this planet are now extinct. If someone were to make a moral judgement of the process, they might call it cruel. Atheists and agnostics don’t make moral judgements on evolution. Theists who believe in evolution are sort of stuck. If evolution were proven to be true, the image of a loving and righteous God is given a black eye.

It certainly explains the fervour some have in attacking Darwin. They are not here to attack Darwinism. They are not out to attack secularism, though I’m sure some see it as the enemy. They are here to defend the way to Eden. This is not a battle of science versus ignorance; it’s a battle for the Book of Genesis, and for their image of a loving God.

But I would argue, as a Christian, that one does not need to have fallen from Eden in order to be fallen. Our imperfections in relation to God are obvious. Imperfections in God’s creation does not make God imperfect. Would God create an imperfect creation? Why wouldn’t he? Who said God wanted perfection? Rather, he wants us to have free will, and free will demands an imperfect creation. For a creature to have an ability to choose good over evil, the possibility must always exist for that creature to choose evil, and I’m sure that God knows this.

Even in the story of Genesis, God could have restored what Adam and Eve broke with a flick of his hand. He could have prevented the fall of Eden by making Adam and Eve as mindless as the animals around them. He didn’t. He valued free will over the perfect, unblemished creation. And as the sacrifice of Jesus shows, God accepts the fact that the possibility exists for a creature to choose evil, and he loves us still. The likelihood that we will sin is tragic, but it is better than being predestined automatons.

Creationists tell a story of the human race as angels trapped in the bodies of animals. The tragedy of sin is that we used to be united with God, and now we aren’t, because we broke the world. But I would argue that without a fall, the tragedy of sin still exists. Under evolution, we are the first creatures of this planet to look up from our animal selves and wonder who we are and why we are here. We are animals, evolving into angels. And the tragedy of our sin is that we should know better, but we often ignore the better, more evolved elements of our nature.

The story that we’re angels trapped in the bodies of animals sounds similar to the story that we’re animals aspiring to be angels, but it is different enough to be a seismic shift in one’s worldview. In this respect, despite the fact that the scientific evidence tells us that the world is older than the Bible states, I can understand why some creationists feel that this is a direct and personal attack on an axiom of their faith. If evolution is true, they feel that their understanding of the nature of sin has to change. The world becomes a lot more chaotic, and God less loving and righteous. But I believe that Christianity is stronger than that. It can survive the blow that evolution inadvertently delivers. God can still be loving and righteous, even in the face of tsunamis. Life is a struggle. Much of the world has been left to chance. But we have the self awareness to try and make our own luck. We have knowledge of something better. We know what we can aspire to be.

On another blog, someone speculated that an American response to an Islamic terrorist attack utilizing multiple atomic bombs could be the nuking of Mecca. It’s important to note he wasn’t advocating such an approach, but discussing scenarios, and he suggested that Islam could not survive such an attack, since the religion required a pilgrimage to Mecca and nobody could do it without radiation suits. But others pointed out that the Jewish religion used to depend upon the Temple of the Mount, which was destroyed by the Romans. The destruction altered the Jewish religion in fundamental ways, but it remained. So too would Islam survive the destruction of Mecca.

Christianity does not cling so strongly to places or things, but some Christians are clinging to creationism and the story of Genesis as if it were our Mecca, or our Temple of the Mount. And it is true that these Christians would have to fundamentally alter their world view if we could prove to them that humanity didn’t fall from a literal Eden. But the fact remains that numerous Christians — the ones that don’t run televangelist shows — have already made the journey.

We believe in the love of God and the redemptive power of Christ’s sacrifice, even though we acknowledge that the power of Genesis is metaphorical. With God being perfect and we so not, we don’t need to have fallen from a literal Eden in order to be fallen. Nor do we need to look to a rapture or a Revelation in order to tell us whether or not we are saved.

Further Reading

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