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.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Darwin, Creation and the Fall: epilogue

DCF Epilogue

Epilogue: the sea of faith – Darwin didn’t drain it R. J. Berry and T. A. Noble

Taking a metaphor from Matthew Arnold's 'On Dover Beach' and popularised by Don Cupitt, Berry and Noble maintain that faith is still unscathed by Darwin's ideas. This book is an attempt to show that. Even tricky doctrines like the fall and Adam and Eve can be salvaged in the light of Darwin.  But I wonder at what cost?

The strength of this book is that within a narrow range we have diverse views. Some see the fall as a cosmic event, others as an an event without cosmic implications, but an event in time nonetheless. Adam has different roles, for Blocher he is an historic person, for others they 'cannot rule out the existence of a historic Adam'. For some Adam is the ancestor of us all for others he is a federal head. However, this range of views is a weakness of the book. There is sadly no discussion and critique of each other's views. There is no attempt ot come to a consensus.

Throughout the book the views of Patricia Williams and Christopher Southgate are briefly mentioned and critiqued. Their shadow is felt.  It would I would have liked to have seen a fuller engagement with their work. Next to Darwin and Augustine, their names occur most often in the index. And it is their work that has most recently outlined the evolutionary challenge to a traditional Christian theology of the fall.  Williams dismisses it and rewrites theology, whereas Southgate rejects a historical fall as being a 'spurious reading', a general condition rather than a chronological event.

The unexpressed presupposition is that Darwin was largely right and evolution is correct. However, they don't express which view of evolution they adhere to. There is no clear scientific consensus; we have a wide range of views from naturalistic evolutionism (which obviously they dissent from) to theistic evolution. However, which form of theistic evolution do they accept? Is it a form of structuralism, cladism, punctuated equilbrium, neo-Darwinism or what? How does God work through evolutionary chance(?) processes?  Though, to be fair, to address this would mean another book.

It doesn't really fully address the issue of pain and suffering prior to the fall. How are we to reconcile that with the God of the scriptures?  This remains an unanswered question.

Nevertheless, this book provides much food for thought. It will help all those who accept an evolutionary framework attempt to reconcile the fall with evolution.


Steve Martin said...

Hi Steve,
Appreciated the series but failed to find time to comment so far.

A couple of quick points:
On post# 6, you asked why Irenaeus's theology is being reconsidered now:

"Is it an apologetic response to Darwin? Or is it a fresh understanding of the scriptures? I suspect the former."

Why can't it be both? In fact, I suspect it is both.

re: the weakness of the book is that there is no attempt at consensus. Actually, I highly doubt you are going to find a consensus within the Evangelical EC (evolutionary creationist) community on this. So, if the book's authors reached any kind of consensus, I'd say THAT was a weakness because it would not reflect the diversity of views within evangelicalism. A theology of the Fall and original sin and the origin of sin is an area with which we still struggle. But it is a difficult theological conundrum & I think we should be patient. Hey, the early church took 300-500 years to reconcile / articulate the divinity & humanity of Christ; we've only been working at the Fall within an evolutionary scheme for about 150.

Steve Bishop said...

Thanks for your perceptive comments Steve.

I suspect you may be right on the first point. (I was being a bit too polemical.)

As regards the second, I realise that we may never reach an evangelical consensus on these issues, but it is a shame there was no interaction between authors in an attempt to try and reach one.



Owlb said...

I come from a different tradition on the Fall, the felix culpa tradition in its Reformed (post-Augustinian) version. There are no ontological problems necessary if one let's the first 3 chapters [taken together, they are really, the first chapter of the Bible], the 1st 3 of Genesis register as specifically narrative poetry, not history, not even naive history (before scientific historiography -- but let's leave that concept at the term "fact-checking" to embrace the apparent fact-checkers of sorts among some ancient historians. There were others who were sheer fancifiers.).

There were somen fact-checkers. Baruch Halperin shows events and periods in the Bible which were written-up by full-fledged ancient historians, The First Historians. But necessarily this approach commits the interpreter to undertake the task of determining the genre of a given writtle within the canon, before pronouncing it "history" --mwhen it may be more broadly "narrative". Narrative includes choices types of discourses, among history writing and narrative poetry writing.

Our problem in over-historicizing Genesis 1-3 occurs after Frei wrote his book against philosophizing (against the residue of Bultmann's existential split of the NT text, at Yale and the Bible scholarship guilds). Frei argued conversely for a return to a deep appreciation of the quality of good historical writing in the NT Gospels and Acts, for instance.

He was correct, I believe, but expansion of his thesis to cover Genesis 1-3 has had the result of rendering our Adam and Eve characters to be the more correct characters of evolutionary products among hominids (perhaps even homo sapiens) who came to religious depth-knowledge of God, thus becoming the first fully human, the first humans, humankind; heart-knowledge, which they then betrayed. This is how the evolutionary story and Gen 1-3 are synthesized by dear Dr Roy.

Along with my idea of the poetic narrative of Gen. 1-3 (which involves the exegetical disclosure of "the days" in the poesy of creation which is stitched "by Moses" to another "found" creation story, climaxed in the temptation and fall. Thus, as editorially composed, the Fall story comes to climax the double-fold chiastic combined creation story X2. That's what I see to be the crux of the problem of genre and provenance.

Read as a poem by some poet/s and editor to be combined by "Moses" into the first story of the Book of Moses (Jews)[suggested again by evangelical Sailhammer], the first story of the Book of Christ (Christians)[covenant history, Bartholemew]. -- I still come out with a poem about the riddle of sin and its origin, and the felicitous result of sin, is knowledge of evil, humanness, guilt, punishment. Suffering and promise of salvation. It becomes a poem of the taintedness of our best knowledge, even of God.

For now, I have solved for my working faith-life the problems of genre, provenance, composition (besides reformational sources, I cite as resources in this department along with reformational thawt: Phyllis Trible, UnionThS NYC; Claus Westermann, Heidelberg).

I haven't yet gotten to the Christ-searching of Gen 1-3 prescribed by Canon Criticism (Bernhard Anderson et al, altho yesterday I saw somewhere that evangelical Canon Critic Sailhammer is first of all to be fixated on The Book of Moses). And on top of all that, there's the Ancaster Approach which construes Gen 1-3 in terms of a beginsel of covenant history and, hence, covenant hermeneutic.