Friday, November 20, 2015

The apologetic value of the fall and the tension with theistic evolution of man

I have long thought that there is an argument to be made for the Judeo-Christian teaching of the fall of man quite independent of more direct arguments (such as for the resurrection of Jesus) for Christianity as a whole.

Look at what we know of human beings--man, the "glory, jest, and riddle of the world." Man is (pace those who say bonobos can talk) the only creature on earth able to use natural language, the only creature able to use abstract reasoning. Not only does man have unique abilities, man also has a unique capacity both for good and evil. Some human beings give their entire lives to altruistic endeavors, while others give their entire lives to figuring out how to torment and harm others. The former way of living one's life seems to most of us like a call to our "higher selves," while the latter seems to us twisted, not the way it ought to be, a perversion of human nature.

Where did this being come from, so different from all the other animals? And how does it come about that we have this notion of what human beings should be doing and should be like, that some people seem to fulfill (or come close to fulfilling) this ideal, while in so many ways we also fall short of this ideal?

The traditional Judeo-Christian explanation of these facts is that man was originally made in the image of God. He was specially made and is truly different from all the animals. Moreover, man was made good. Man was made with a human nature that was originally turned or oriented toward God. But there was a catastrophe at a real, historical time, and man fell, and now every human being (with perhaps only one exception--Jesus Christ--or if you are a Catholic the two exceptions of Jesus and his mother Mary) is born with a sin nature. A sin nature, at a minimum, is an innate bent or inclination to sin.

This set of historical claims does quite a good job explaining the data I brought up to begin with. Why does man seem so different from animals? On the traditional Judeo-Christian view, because he is different, and is so intrinsically, and was made so. Why does man have a yearning towards good? Because he was made originally for God and still retains the natural light and the image of God. Why does man inevitably commit evil? Because man fell and now has a sin nature. Why is there such a strong feeling that "it shouldn't be that way"? Because it was not originally meant to be that way, and because man realizes, deep down, that he was not made for evil and destruction.

It is much more difficult to explain these facts if we assume the Judeo-Christian account to be false.

To some extent, then, I think it can be justly said that the "glory, jest, and riddle" argument confirms the Judeo-Christian story of the history of mankind.

But if one accepts full-scale theistic evolution for mankind, one undermines this apologetic point. What I mean by "full-scale" theistic evolution for mankind is that one accepts that, to all appearances, mankind evolved by natural processes from non-human animals, with at least the appearance of full physical evolution. At most, the "full-scale" theistic evolutionist may allow some kind of invisible, indetectable "ensoulment" to have occurred, but for the most part the full-scale TE accepts the Darwinian's emphasis upon continuity between man and animals. I discussed some of this here.

It is highly debatable that the full-scale TE can make any forceful use of the "glory, jest, and riddle" argument I have outlined. For one thing, the whole doctrine of the fall is lessened. As I discussed here, the TE view is that there was never a time when man as a race was immortal. Physical death was a part of not only animal but (given full biological continuity) human fate from the outset. Indeed the very notion of mankind is blurred on the full-scale TE view, giving serious problems to the meaning of the imago dei itself. John H. Walton believes that mankind always killed and committed other acts which we would call "sin" now but that they were not accounted as sin prior to God's "choosing" Adam, because previous hominids were not regarded as accountable.

Insofar as such a view has a place for any sort of "fall" at all, it cannot be a sharp cataclysm followed by a radical change in human nature. It therefore becomes extremely difficult for such a view to make explanatory use of the claim that man was "originally not intended to be this way," that man was made good by God from the outset, and that the evil that man now does is a result of a severe, negative change in what mankind innately is like.

Sometimes those attracted to TE will say that they accept it (not being experts in science, etc.) for apologetic reasons, in order to avoid or remove obstacles to reaching secularists who take the full Darwinian story as gospel.

But such accommodation, ironically, cuts off the TE from using important apologetic resources. The most obvious of these are the resources provided by the empirical, scientific evidence for the intelligent design of nature, since one who is trying to accept as much Darwinian biology as possible must also accept the idea that any activity of God in the realm of biological design is indectable. My argument here is that the attempt to accept TE for apologetic reasons also cuts one off from the apologetic argument from the nature of man (both good and evil) and from the shock and wrongness of evil.

It is not in general a good idea to pursue strategy at the expense of pursuing truth. Often enough, one succeeds at neither. The "strategic" acceptance of theistic evolution is a notable case in point.


Jake Freivald said...

This seems to overemphasize the physical too much.

If man is different from animals, it's not in his innate ability to (say) kill, react to stimuli, plan, and learn. All animals have capacities of those sorts to some extent. If we assume that animals don't have spirits, then these capacities stem from their physical being, from their bodies. We are different because our actions -- we -- aren't determined solely by our bodies.

(If animals have spirits, then perhaps their spirits are involved, too. I suggest that we at least limit our discussion for now to assuming that animals don't have spirits that provide them with the kind of free choice that we have.)

Our bodies and our spirits must work together in a way that no other animal does. Our spirits must be able to receive input from our bodies (or our bodies make no difference to our spirits) and provide input to it (or our spirits make no difference to our bodies). Unfallen Man is, in this way, an animal and yet intrinsically different from animals. If he kills, unlike a cat, he makes the choice to do so. His spirit has a yearning toward the good, and could control whatever urgings he has to do otherwise. He isn't made for evil, because his spirit knows what it should do and has control over the body, to bend it to his purely good will. Until he chose evil, and damaged his own spirit, and made his will other than purely good.

I don't think that these spiritual facts become more difficult to explain if you take away a special creation of the body.

Moreover, since his spirit must have some control over his body, it's possible that Man would have been able to stop the aging process, spiritually -- before he fell. It sounds weird, perhaps, but if faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains, why can't it heal aging?

So it seems possible that it was a cataclysm, a radical change in human nature, when Adam and Eve fell. Because the difference between us and the animals is our spirit, the damage we wrought on our spirits was cataclysmic.

Not being subject to the whims of our brains and sense organs makes us utterly different from all other animals. We are, in fact, different from all other animals in a way that God is also different from all other animals. It's sufficient to have a spirit and free will to be "in His image". It's also sufficient to be the "glory, jest, and riddle", since it's the ways in which Man is like (and unlike) God that lends him that status.

Lydia McGrew said...

Jake, I'll take more time later to respond to this, and several of my posts discuss these matters at more length. Maybe I'll give some longer, pertinent quotes.

But let me just say right here that full-blown TE is incompatible with the existence of Adam and Eve in anything like the traditional sense. It appeared from your passing reference to "when Adam and Eve fell" that you were not aware of this. For example, full-blown TE involves accepting the argument that mankind cannot be descended from two unique ancestors, usually argued for by way of claimed "minimal bottlenecks" supported by the alleged unquestionable results of population genetics.

Kirk Skeptic said...

The problem of death for the TE is even greater than you posit, because death is the engine driving evolution; no death, no evolution because no natural selection. IOW for the TE death is good, which flies in the face of Scripture.

Lydia McGrew said...

I suppose technically to the Darwinian death is just a thing that happens. Calling it good because it drives evolution is a further step. It is an interesting point, though, that on the TE view, the deaths of beings very much like ourselves, pre-human hominids, were a necessary means used to the end of bringing man into being. Whether after that _man's_ death was good or not, I suppose, turns on the question of a) whether you think man is evolving still and b) whether you think that is good.

But I think TE has far worse problems than this concerning the imago dei generally, as well as avoiding an extreme form of mind-body dualism. I actually consider myself a mind-body dualist, but to my mind it is bizarre to say that our body is so completely divorced from our soul and mind that an *absolutely type identical body* would nonetheless not be human and lack the imago dei if it didn't have an *utterly invisible* "soul" placed into it by God.

Indeed, I discuss this in one of the posts I link. Such an invisible ensoulment view is in pretty severe tension with virtually all contemporary pro-life arguments, as they all hinge crucially on holding that there is something intrinsically valuable about being a member of the biological species homo sapiens--which is to say something intrinsically valuable about the kind of embodied being that we are.

Lydia McGrew said...

Jake, I'll expatiate just a little more on my comments above. I am guessing (but I'm filling in the blanks here, so please excuse me if I get it wrong) that you are working with a particular version of TE which is, in fact, now outdated in hard-core TE circles. We'll call them TE(old) and TE(new). TE(old) conceded all the ground that it could on biological human origins to Darwinism, hence ditching biological special creation in the face of the alleged "settled consensus of science," but held out for a) an utterly spiritual ensoulment and b) monogenism. TE(new) also ditches monogenism and hence anything resembling (except in the most remote sense of "resembling") the traditional story of the fall.

Now, here I have to admit feeling toward the TE(old) guys rather like one feels towards conservatives who thought the homosexual harpies would be happy with them if they endorsed civil unions: See, you might as well have held out at an earlier point.

At this point, if one is going to retain monogenism and something like the traditional, falling-off-a-moral-cliff-for-the-whole-race story of the fall, you're going to have to question the new "settled consensus of science" that monogenism is impossible. And if you're going to get into the science to that degree and stand up to the bullies who are calling you a knuckle-dragger on that score, you might as well start asking whether the evidence against special creation itself was so "overwhelming" as you were led to believe. (Hint: IMO it's pretty darned shaky, too.)

But most TEs developed in their TE(old) phase a determination to follow the "settled consensus of science" faithfully to the death and not to give their Christianity any kind of empirical content that could possibly clash with the declarations of secular origins scientists, so they switched swiftly to TE(new) when they were told they had to.

First they came for the special creationists, but I did nothing, because I was not a special creationist. Etc.


Lydia McGrew said...

TE(old) itself has, IMO, some pretty serious theological problems because of its strict separation between soul and body, with the latter being developed entirely by apparently natural processes. Basically what we have in that case is an Adam and Eve whose immediate ancestors, who were biologically type-identical to themselves (hence, they had completely human bodies and physiology) died, could have been killing one another, having sex with multiple partners, whatever, but it didn't matter, because Adam and Eve's mother and father were just animals, since they hadn't received the completely invisible spark of "ensoulment." Then God ensouled Adam and Eve, and all of a sudden human sex had all this vast significance, man was intended for woman and woman for man, monogamy was perfect for the nature of man (but remember, it didn't matter if Adam's mother slept around, even though she was completely physically human, because she was just an animal), homosexuality was unnatural (but if Adam's father did homosexual-type acts with other men because he felt like it, it didn't matter, because he was just an animal), and so forth. And death was suddenly this terrible, sad, bad thing to happen to Adam and Eve, but it hadn't mattered for their parents and siblings, because they (though physically type identical) were mere hominid animals without that invisible soul-spark.

This involves to my mind a grave undermining of the entire notion of the natural law inscribed in our _embodied_ nature.

I have also argued in this post that it epistemically and metaphysically undermines pro-life arguments concerning the intrinsic value of homo sapiens, as I mentioned briefly in the comment above.

There is more on all of this here:

Lydia McGrew said...

So, in short, suppose that you hold to TE(old) with a) man's entirely spiritual nature being created as good and God-oriented, b) death's being bad for man once he was spiritually ensouled, and c) a radical, sudden, fully historical fall when a real man and woman, the first and only parents of our race, sinned, followed by man's having a sin nature.

As to the main post, that gives you some purchase on being able to use the argument I sketched there, though it is a little dubious as far as the badness of sin and death given that these were natural to the immediate ancestors of Adam and Eve, whose bodies were identical to theirs prior to ensoulment. But it's better than TE(new) that abandons the traditional notion of the fall.

However, TE(old) still has other serious difficulties related to what it means for things to be of the nature of man, how man was meant to be, etc., as detailed in the above comments. This somewhat weakens the force of the argument from the fall, and it means that TE(old) just has theological, natural law, and anthropological problems anyway, having already abandoned a robust notion of normativity in human _embodied_ nature as specially made and intended by God.

Jesse said...

Here is an article that you might find interesting: