Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Now the Same Point From an Atheist

Living in denial may offer a comfortable way to avoid the ultimate dilemma.  However, eventually one must face the difficult truth that the faith which we confess simply does not square with true evolutionary theory.  You cannot have it both ways.  Even theistic evolution cannot solve the core issue:  Why does Jesus have to die if a literal fall never occurs?  As an atheist Austin Cline may best see the logical inconsistency with retaining a traditional Christian viewpoint and trying to hang on the evolutionary conviction.  In an article entitled "Does Evolution Contradict Christianity" he writes:


The central message of Christianity is that Jesus' death and resurrection pays for our sins — we deserve death and eternal punishment, but Jesus paid the price for us. To paraphrase Paul: without that, the Christian faith is in vain. Without these sins, there would be no need for Jesus to be punished and killed. The question then becomes: is this notion of sin tenable from a naturalistic perspective? We have to approach it from a naturalistic perspective because our central question involves evolution, and the process of evolution is supposed to describe the development of our species in a purely naturalistic manner. 

If the evolutionary account of human origins is true, then there was certainly no literal Fall from Grace — no Adam and Eve disobeying the Christian God and no Original Sin. But without Original Sin and expulsion from the Garden of Eden, then there is no reason to think that anything called "sin" (which is supposed to be disobedience to God) suddenly entered the world. If sin instead "evolved" into our ancestors through the natural development which God set into motion, why would God hold us accountable? A naturalistic development of sin should mean that insofar as we are "naturally" sinners, we simply are what our creator caused us to evolve into being. 

Mr. Cline goes on to point out the further inconsistency with trying to insist on metaphors for the sin event while still maintaining the need for a literal death and resurrection:


All of this is obviously true if the Bible is read literally as the fundamentalists do, but what if the Bible is read metaphorically or allegorically? The problem is that it's difficult to argue that a metaphorical Fall required a literal death and resurrection. One might argue for a metaphorical death and resurrection, but few if any Christians believe in that and doing so would mean rejecting some very important, orthodox facets of Christian theology. 

Some might argue that "sin" should be read as simply "transgressing moral codes" and "original sin" is really the "original self-awareness" of moral codes, but whose moral codes? If we are the creators of the moral codes, then what we have is the assertion that God needed Jesus to die because we have trouble following rules we create for ourselves. Not only doesn't that make much sense, but it doesn't look much like traditional Christianity anymore. 

Within the framework of evolution, sin does not appear to have any tangible, real existence. We are supposed to have sin, but did Neanderthals? Homo Habilis? Homo Erectus? Is is possible to logically argue that this "sin" was dependent upon some specific piece of genetic code which evolved into our species? There is evidence that other primates, like chimpanzees, not only have rudimentary rules within their groups but also an awareness of when they are and are not following them. Are chimps sinning? Did Jesus die for them, too? Should we be sending missionaries to them in zoos and jungles? 

Some might also argue that "sin" is still "disobedience to God," but only where it concerns those moral rules God has given us. This eliminates the Fall of Original Disobedience, but it still has problems. For one thing, these same people are unlikely to argue that the moral rules from God have reached us unadulterated by human interests — so the situation begins to look a lot like the previous. For another, it would be hard to argue that disobeying this limited set of rules would justify a literal death and resurrection. Again. 

None of this can be easily argued. Sin, our alleged disobedience to God, appears to be nothing except one more religious concept created by some human beings and imposed upon other human beings. That, however, would mean that Jesus died for nothing, and no devout Christian can really accept that. 

Why can an atheist see this so clearly and theologians like Dr. Becker cannot? Or could it be that Dr. Becker truly does realize the consequence of adopting evolution yet knows that a denial of the cardinal truths it engenders simply comes at too high of an ecclesiastical price?  Or could it be that facing the truth of this dilemma is too painful for Dr. Becker and he must work to reconcile that which cannot be reconciled simply for his own peace of mind?  I don't know.  What I do know is that the choice is clear, and blending the two will not work because in the end you will be forced to explain away what you know you must keep to maintain the integrity of the Christian faith.   Either you adopt naturalism or you maintain a true biblical viewpoint.  Those are the choices. 

1 comment:

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Donald,
Further to my last comment, and picking up on your point about theologians adopting the consequences of the naturalistic worldview that accompanies Evolution - Big Bang, billions of years, heat death, etc: "If it were shown that the universe is indeed headed for an all-enveloping death, then this might...falsify Christian faith and abolish Christian hope."
John Macquarrie (Principles of Christian Theology, 1977) Macquarrie's book was used as a textbook in just about every Anglican seminary in the English-speaking world.