Friday, June 24, 2011

Evolution Versus The Fall - A Postscript

In the conclusion to my series "Did Adam and Eve Exist?", I included this observation:
We are, in Chesterton's magnificent language, "kings in exile". How can that be, under an evolutionary scenario? The very idea of "the Fall" implies a reverse kind of evolution -- the opposite of progress. We (our precursors) were at some point in a more evolved state, and then we fell to a worse one, due to our precursors' own grievous fault. That is the point of the story in Genesis chapters 2-3, and there is no reconciling of that point with a purely evolutionary theory -- according to which "progress" is in only one direction, i.e., forward, to ever more advanced states of existence.
In this post, I want to elaborate on that observation. For it seems to me that in weighing the central Christian and Judaic concept of Adam's Fall against the scheme promoted by evolutionary science, we see why they must inevitably clash.

In 1996, the philosopher and zoologist Michael Ruse wrote Monad to Man - the Concept of Progress in Evolutionary Biology. Covering the gamut of evolutionary philosophy from Aristotle to E.O. Wilson and Stephen Jay Gould, Ruse showed how an underlying notion of "Progress" (which he capitalizes) in evolution (i.e., from "monad to man") directed both its own progress and the scope of its investigations. While not taking a position on the creation vs. evolution debate, Ruse showed how strongly the concept of evolution as a progressive process, from the simple to the more complex, is bound up with the study of evolution itself.

As I showed in my series on Genesis, the concept of Adam's Fall is at the very heart of Christianity -- with that fall came what western theologians (after Augustine) call "original sin", and what the eastern orthodox fathers call man's "fallen nature." It is this fallen nature which is the cause of man's tendency to sin, and which eventually resulted in Christ's sacrifice on the cross to save us from our sins. That is the essence -- and the beauty -- of Christianity. Take it away, and you no longer have any need for Christ's sacrifice or for his subsequent resurrection, as the means for conquering sin and death.

But as pointed out in the quote above, this concept of The Fall is at odds with the notion of evolution as a form of Progress from one lower form to a higher. In commingling the genes of their offspring with those of Homo sapiens after being driven out of the Garden, Adam and Eve were forced to take a backward step in their evolution -- one that, from their standpoint, represented an incalculable loss from the state they had enjoyed in Eden. (The account in Genesis drives home this point, by speaking of the "curses" under which they will have to now live for the rest of their mortal lives, and their descendants after them.)

The reason evolutionary theory is so at odds with core Christianity, I believe, lies in this understanding of how evolution itself is contrary to the idea embodied in The Fall. For Adam and Eve to have "evolved" to their higher state, and then slipped back again in some way, does not fit the evolutionary paradigm. And it leads to all of the problems with the timing of their appearance as "representatives" of their species which I discussed in the second part of the series. It is nothing for God to make two individuals as fully formed adults with the skills of language and the use of tools; but it is a huge saltation for natural evolution to have produced two (or even a few more) such individuals out of our hominid ancestors.

Five years after completing From Monad to Man, Professor Ruse published Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? In this book, he made a laudable attempt to bridge the gaps in the ongoing differences between evolution and Christianity. But he made his bias clear at the outset, in the book's preface:
Let me be open. I think that evolution is a fact and that Darwinism rules triumphant. Natural selection is not simply an important mechanism. It is the only significant cause of permanent organic change.
And that bias permeates his subsequent investigation into the conflicts, particularly when it comes to considering monogenism, the idea that current humans are the descendants of a single set of original parents. Citing the work of evolutionary biologist and Dominican priest Francisco Ayala*, Ruse writes (pp. 75-76; bold emphasis added):
Francisco Ayala (1967), a distinguished evolutionary geneticist (and at the time of this writing, a Dominican priest), points out that an essential component of Christian theology, confirmed by Pius XII in his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), is that humans are descended from a unique pair (monogenism). That part of the Adam and Eve story cannot be interpreted symbolically. Moreover, there are strong theological pressures to go along with this conservative reading, otherwise one has removed a major support of the doctrine of original sin . . .

As Ayala points out, the trouble is that [monogenism] goes completely against our thinking about the nature of the evolutionary process. Successful species like humans do not pass through single-pair bottlenecks . . . "There is no known mechanism by which the human species might have arisen by a single step in one or two individuals only, from whom the rest of mankind would have descended" (Ayala 1967, 15). More recently, "the genetic evidence indicates that human populations never consisted of fewer than several thousand individuals" (Ayala 1998, 36). . .
*Ayala, F. J. 1967. Man in evolution: a scientific statement and some theological and ethical implications. The Thomist 31(1): 1-20; and 1998. Human nature: one evolutionist's view. In Brown, W.S., N. Murphy, and H.N. Malony, eds., Whatever Happened to the Soul? Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature (31-48). Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Ruse then goes on to concede that a miracle (direct intervention by God) could be posited -- but even in conceiving of such a miracle, Ruse remains bound by our homocentric view that Homo sapiens is all there was for God to work with (ibid.; bold again added):
Of course, theologically you can insist that some pair did uniquely get immortal souls (miraculously), and there is an end to it. By fiat you can introduce all of the intelligence you like into these souls. All else is contingent irrelevance. There were members of Homo sapiens before this pair and around this pair, but these others were not humans in a theological sense: that is, beings with immortal souls. But this stipulation is not without its difficulties, tensions certainly. Darwinian biology suggests that intelligence (and, as we shall see, related freedom and moral awareness) would be possessed by the parent generation and the contemporary generation and those of the next generations not descended from the pair. So on what basis can we declare them not to have been made in God's image?
Here Ruse simply assumes that Adam and Eve had natural parents, and that they were singled out at some point by God to receive souls and superior intelligence -- and then somehow betrayed God's trust in them -- but how? By reverting to their previous level? Ruse thus makes the point I made at the outset above: evolutionary biology, by itself, is incompatible with The Fall. And later (p. 77), he admits as much (bold emphasis mine):
We seem to have reached an impasse. And perhaps this was only to be expected. "Reductionism" is the philosophy or methodology where the aim is to explain away everything in terms of molecules and the like and to deny reality to all higher-level entities like minds and souls and so forth. Darwinism, the apotheosis of materialistic theory, is bound to be thoroughly reductionistic. Virtually by definition, therefore, a religion making souls central is bound to clash with a theory like Darwinism . . .
This does not stop Ruse from going on to develop a "Darwinian concept of the soul," which of course evolved along with everything else, even possibly as a "God-backed process" (p. 82), whatever that might mean. The emphasis is still on Progress with a capital "P" (bold added):
So I do stress that we have tensions rather than absolute and ineradicable contradictions. But, having bought into Darwinism thus far, the inclination is to think that there has been a gradual upward development from organisms with less sophisticated principles of ordering and thinking. The miracles are not one-of-a-kind events, but part of everyday life.
There can be, of course, no such thing as an "everyday" miracle, unless we want to define the concept out of existence, and rob it of its extraordinary character. In the same way, by making The Fall an incomprehensible event, we rob Christianity of its moral purpose. If there was no Fall, there was no need for Jesus Christ. Period.

The scenario I posited in the previous post keeps the core concepts of Christianity at the core, by explaining how there could have been, indeed, an original Adam and Eve pair -- but God-created, not gradually evolved or "God-selected" from among the naturally evolved. The Fall consists precisely in the loss of that pair's moral innocence, and in their subsequently having to join their gifts and skills (and their immortal souls) to the genes and bodies of then-evolving Homo sapiens. By conferring souls on their descendants, they raised the human race from another species of animal to one made in God's own image, with the concomitant responsibility to be morally accountable before God.

Thus while it is possible to be both a Darwinian and a Christian, Christians cannot let the Darwinians simply take over, and reduce man with his soul to just a collection of complex molecules. If the phrase "made in God's image" is to have any meaning, it has to refer to an immortal soul, not an "evolved" one. For man to acquire such a gift required direct intervention by God -- a miracle -- through His original formation of Adam and Eve. There is no point in having an immortal soul without there being a God; there is no meaning in God's gift of His Son without our being capable of being saved; and there is no point in being saved if there is no immortal life. All of Christian salvation theology is so closely intertwined as to make the miraculous creation of the first pair with souls a certainty for believing Christians.

But note that evolution is a key part of God's scheme, as well. If there had been no humans around when Adam and Eve were first driven from the Garden, we would have to conclude that their children (whom we would also have to suppose included one or more daughters) could not have been able to have children, except through an act of incest (which is an abominable way to have to start a race of beings "made in God's image"). Thus, evolution and The Fall are just as intimately bound together as are Adam and Christ. They each need the other to be fully explicable as a whole.

[Note: This is the final post in a multipart series. The Introduction is at this link, Part I is at this link, Part II is at this link, Part III is at this link, and Part IV is at this link.]


  1. Scripture tells us that humans are also triune beings, created in three parts, spirit, soul and body in God's triune likeness (I Thessalonians 5:23). In Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard states his belief that the soul is also made up of three parts: mind, will and emotions.

    Willard says our job is to surrender all these to God, to cooperate and allow Him to bring all these parts of us into unity with His divine order, tuned to Him and ruled by the Holy Triune Being, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and His Triune Way of Love, Truth and Life (John 14:6) without wavering, hesitating, nothing held back.

    This is redemption - and it could be described as a kind of evolving process. Redemption is certainly a discipline, the re-training and re-orientation of the thoughts, words, reasoning, decision making and discernment, emotional impulses - all our capacities, responses and actions.

    As Dallas Willard says, it is lifelong journey, an endurance race, not a sprint. There are places where the road gets difficult and costly, where periodic sacrifices or divestitures of baggage may be required to continue and yet it is all worth it - because God Himself is our provision, medicine, healing balm, food and drink, light, map, path, defensive weapon, friend and companion, fuel, repairman, gyroscope and the one who tunes and reads it. He is the one who directs us to evolve and helps us to do it. He is our rest, joy and peace, the destination and the prize.

  2. This series, like all your posts, is the result of extensive careful research and thought, the love of truth and Jesus Christ. Thank you!

  3. Thank you, St. Nikao, for all your comments. I am grateful for your appreciation, but as you say -- to God be the glory!

  4. AND - your hypothesis also accounts for the genetic and (the most reliable) anthropological evidence.