An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Darwin, Creation and the Fall: chapter 2

2. Did Darwin dethrone humankind?  R. J.Berry

This is the longest chapter in the book and it deals with a number of important issues. Not least the issue of a historic Adam and the meaning of the image of God. Before examining these two important issues Berry looks at the varied reactions to Darwin's theory. He then goes on to look at the 'special nature of humankind in the face of evolutionary science' (p. 61). As Berry notes 'The Fall is the place above all where biology and theology conflict' (p. 72). In this chapter he attempts to reconcile the adam, the fall and evolution.

He suggests that it may be possible to distinguish between humanness emerging gradually and its instaneous 'instantation by God'. These are interesting ideas but he doesn't really develop them fully. He then looks at the question 'Did God make a single person (or pair) in his image or did his image appear in a group of individuals?'

James Dunn suggests that Adam is to be understood as 'collective humanity' but John Stott, James Barr and Leon Morris stand by a historical Adam. The choice of commentators that Berry cites is limited and I would have expected other commentators ideas to be added to the mix here. (However, to be fair to Berry this issue alone would require a full monograph or PhD!) It's not clear, from this chapter, where Berry stands. But he does suggest that resolution 'must be left to theological debate', which sounds like a hollow answer as he has bought science into it! It raises the question how are Bible and science related? This is an important question that Berry doesn't examine.

He does, however, suggest that science can bring two insights into the presumably theological debate. First, the imago if 'conferred on an individual, there is no reason why it should not spread by divine fiat to all other members of Homo sapians at the time.' (pp 65-66). Second, 'death' that entered was separation from God; and that physical death was part of creation from the beginning, as seen in plants eaten by animals.

Some, such as Teilhard de Chardin, Julian Huxley and C. H. Waddington see the Fall as an upward leap - Berry rightly sees this view as erroneous as it does damage to 'the biblical meta-narrative'. (p. 67) We are not improving morally.

What are the effects of Adam's disobedience? Is the next question under discussion. For Berry 'The Fall [here the scare quotes used previously - "The Fall" - are discarded] is not primarily about disease and disaster, nor about the dawn of self-awareness. Rather it is a way of describing the fracture in relationship between God and the human creature made in his image' (p. 70).

Again, there are some snide remarks about intelligent design (ID): 'at best it can be regarded as little more than Deism reborn' (p. 73). This is hardly a comment that will aid dialogue. In fact it probably says more about Berry than ID. 

A small point but the authors seem to persist in shortening the title of Darwin's 1859 book from On the Origin of Species to Origin of Species, though this may have been a copy-editor's rather than authors' error.

There are some nuggets in the footnotes (of which there over 100):

I was interested to read that Popper had retracted his comment about his view of Darwinism as a metaphysical research programme rather than a testable scientific theory - his retraction was apparently in New Scientist 87 (1980): 611 (p. 48, fn 40)

Berry thinks that Gosse's Omphalos idea is the only (albeit unfaithful to reality) alternative to evolution (p 42-3 fn 30).

Berry has made some good points in trying to reconcile biology with origins, however, I feel there is still much more work to do here.

Other writings by Berry on these issues include:

M Northcott and R J Berry (eds)  Theology After Darwin (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2009)
God and the Biologist (Apollos, Leicester, 1996).
God and Evolution: Creation, Evolution and the Bible (Regent College Publishing, 2001)
'This cursed earth. Is "the Fall" credible? Science and Christian Belief11 (1) (1999): 29-49; 165-167.
'The fall of history' Science and Christian Belief 12 (1) (2000): 53
'A cosmic fall?' Science and Christian Belief 19(1):78
'Nothing makes sense except in the light of evolution' Science and Christian Belief 18 (1)(2006): 23-29
'Eden and ecology: evolution and ecology' Science and Christian Belief 19 (1) (2007): 15-35

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