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Science and the Bible: Theistic Evolution, Part 4

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September 25, 2012 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin
Science and the Bible: Theistic Evolution, Part 4

Today's entry was written by Ted Davis. You can read more about what we believe here.

Some implications and conclusions of Theistic Evolution—continued again

Last time I introduced the idea that a Christocentric theology of creation is one of the hallmarks of Theistic Evolution, and I focused on the idea of the “Crucified God.” But the scientist-theologians who write about TE also think about creation and theodicy in terms of divine “kenosis” and eschatology. So today we’ll conclude our “implications” section by returning to creational theology, and then turn to the ways TEs re-think Adam and Eve in light of human evolution.

Kenosis, theodicy and eschatology

John Polkinghorne and others, citing Philippians 2:7, like to speak about divine “kenosis”, God’s choice to “empty himself” in taking on human form; they apply this also to the act of creating the world in a great work of self-sacrificial love. Although Wikipedia gives much information about the roots of this doctrine in Orthodox and Catholic circles, my knowledge is minimal and I cannot confirm what I find there (though it might all be correct). According to a theologian I once consulted, kenosis in soteriology was discussed by Lutherans in the 17th century (if not perhaps even earlier, by others), but was only extended to theology of creation in recent decades. The most I can say with confidence is this: one of the most striking features of Protestant thought about nature, during and since the Scientific Revolution, is the degree to which it is not Christocentric in the sense we are now discussing. In much Protestant and Evangelical literature devoted to the topic of creation, one often looks in vain even for references to Jesus, let alone to Jesus as the suffering servant through whom the world was made. Only in the latter part of the 20th century do I find a clear emphasis on the idea that nature is the creation of the God who put aside power and was crucified. If this understanding is correct, then I would say that it’s high time, and let’s get on with it!

TEs (especially Polkinghorne) are also in the forefront of those Christian writers who are linking theodicy inextricably with eschatology. Yet another scientist-theologian, Robert Russell, offers this powerful eschatological vision in Cosmology From Alpha to Omega, drawing on all of the main ideas I’ve presented in this section:

In order to move us beyond mere kenosis to genuine eschatology, I believe that both kenotic theology and eschatology must be structured on a trinitarian doctrine of God. The reason here is simple: it is the trinitarian God who will act to bring about the redemption of all of nature since it is this God who is revealed as God in and through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. A kenotic theodicy (that God suffers voluntarily with the world) in and of itself is not redemptive. Eschatology is required, in which the Father who suffers the death of the Son acts anew at Easter to raise Jesus from the dead. In turn, the involuntary suffering of all of nature--each species and each individual creature--must be taken up into the voluntary suffering of Christ on the cross (theopassionism) and through it the voluntary suffering of the Father (patripassionism).(p. 266)

George MacDonald (source)

Because this series is primarily focused on the history of approaches to understanding Science and the Bible, I will not delve more deeply into these important theological issues, but only direct readers to resources such as these. Still, I close this section with a quotation from George MacDonald’s Unspoken Sermons, the same passage that C. S. Lewis used in abbreviated form as an epigram for The Problem of Pain:

“the Son of God, who, instead of accepting the sacrifice of one of his creatures to satisfy his justice or support his dignity, gave himself utterly unto them, and therein to the Father by doing his lovely will; who suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their suffering might be like his, and lead them up to his perfection...”

Adam, the fall, and sin

(5) TEs have to confront questions about human origins that are much easier for OECs or YECs to answer: Did Adam and Eve really exist as historical persons? Was the “fall” an actual historical event? If not, what is the origin of sin?

Michelangelo Buonarroti, “The Fall and Expulsion from the Garden of Eden,” Cappella Sistina, Vatican (1509-10)

My comments here are much briefer, but I don’t mean to imply that the questions are any less important than the one I’ve just dealt with. Polkinghorne does not hold a traditional view of the fall, but he likes Reinhold Niebuhr’s view “that original sin is the only empirically verifiable Christian doctrine!” (Belief in God in an Age of Science, p. 88) This reminds me of G. K. Chesterton, who famously remarked, “Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved” (Orthodoxy, chap. 2). In other words, anyone who doubts the idea that we are “fallen” creatures simply needs to look around—that is all the evidence of our strong bent to wickedness that you’ll ever need.

There are ways to finesse the fall and evolution in a quasi-concordistic manner, such as the “headship” model advocated by Denis Alexander. Others reject any appeal to Concordism, stressing the principle of divine accommodation. For example, Denis Lamoureux argues that in the revelatory process the Holy Spirit came down to the level of understanding of the ancient Hebrews and used their ancient conception of de novo creation, in which humans were created quickly and completely. Thus, in Genesis chapters 2 and 3, Adam and Eve are ancient vessels that deliver the inerrant spiritual truths that God created us and that we are sinners.

The views that have received the most attention among evangelicals, however, are probably those of biblical scholar Peter Enns, particularly his new book, The Evolution of Adam. Instead of trying to summarize them myself, I’ll link his discussion of “Mistakes in the Adam/Evolution Discussion”, since it parallels some of the content in the book. Also see his replies to some evangelical scholars who have been critical of the book.

One of the most original and thoughtful proposals I have seen comes from philosopher Robin Collins (for bibliographical information on this and the other works cited in the rest of this column, see below). Collins calls his model the “Historical/Ideal” view, because “the original state described in the Garden story represents an ideal state that was never realized,” showing “what an ideal relation with God would be like.” Adam and Eve represent every person who has ever lived, but they also represent “the first hominids, or group of hominids, who had the capacity for free choice and self-consciousness.” Just as the first hominids made sinful choices, so do we now, and original sin involves “the resulting bondage to sin and spiritual darkness that is inherited from our ancestors and generated by our own choices.” I can’t convey the subtlety and thoroughness of this account in a short space, so those who want to know more will have to read for themselves. Conveniently, Collins provides a link to a “near final version” of his paper on his web site. If someone wants to summarize his arguments in a few paragraphs below, it would be a real service to our “course.”

Problems with historicity

(6) Questions about the historicity of Adam & Eve are underscored by evolution, but they would still come up even if Darwin had never existed and no one had ever proposed that humans and other animals have common ancestors. The Bible places Adam & Eve in a Neolithic world, with cities and agriculture, whereas non-biological scientific evidence shows that humans existed for a very long time before cities or agriculture came into existence.

Read that again. It’s a crucial point. Far too many people believe—erroneously—that evolution is responsible for undermining the historicity of Adam, Eve, and the Garden of Eden. In fact, the relevant science here is almost entirely from anthropology, not biology, and it involves human antiquity, not common ancestry. Since the mid-nineteenth century, evidence has been building that creatures anatomically and behaviorally identical to us have been on this planet for a very long time, far longer than the biblical 6,000 years. We could leave Darwin and evolution entirely out of the picture, and we would still be having a conversation about the historicity of Genesis 2 and 3. The same issues pertain to any OEC scenario. Most proponents of ID can’t duck this, either, even though they get to say “officially” that ID isn’t about the Bible. Because most ID proponents are not YECs, they accept the general validity of the methods used to date rocks and fossils, and so (by implication) this is their problem, too, whether or not it’s acknowledged.

To illustrate my point historically, let me introduce readers to George Frederick Wright (read more here and here). Ronald Numbers, the leading historian of American religion and science, wrote a clear, detailed article about this (see the reference below) that I strongly recommend to anyone whose interest has been piqued. An influential Congregationalist clergyman and theologian, Wright was mentored by Harvard botanist Asa Gray, served briefly under Thomas C. Chamberlin on the U. S. Geological Survey, and even contributed articles on early humans and the ice age—his specialty—to scientific journals. During the 1870s, he worked closely with Gray to promote what is usually seen as a type of Theistic Evolution. By the early twentieth century, however, he appeared in some of his writings to have almost completely reversed his views on evolution. He even contributed an essay on “The Passing of Evolution” to the famous pamphlets, The Fundamentals, that later gave its name to that movement.

In other writings, however, Wright seemed to remain convinced of evolution, at one point saying that, “it is difficult to resist the conclusion that, so far as his physical organism is concerned, man is genetically connected with the highest order of the Mammalia.” Whatever he really thought about common ancestry—whether he was really a TE, an OEC, or an ID (one could make a good case for each)—the question of human antiquity dogged Wright for decades, as he sought ways to reconcile the genealogies in Genesis with accumulating evidence that humans have existed much longer than 6,000 years. Fortunately for Wright’s Christian faith, which probably hung in the balance, the famous Princeton theologian Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield, together with the conservative biblical scholar William Henry Green, managed to persuade Wright that the Genesis genealogies had plenty of wiggle room. Anyone wanting to see the crucial details should read Green’s paper on “Primeval Chronology” at this point. Note Warfield’s own conclusion (same URL): “There is no reason inherent in the nature of the Scriptural genealogies why a genealogy of ten recorded links, as each of those in Genesis v. and xi. is, may not represent an actual descent of a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand links.”

Can this really be true, without straining the whole idea of historicity? Davis Young’s skepticism seems appropriate here. How far back can we place Adam and Eve and still have contact with the biblical period? In my opinion, a clear and convincing picture of an historical Adam and Eve, reconciling the biblical picture with human antiquity, has not yet been produced, and I am doubtful that we will ever have one. Those who want more information about the possibilities and the difficulties are invited to consult the articles (cited below) by anthropologist James Hurd, evolutionary biologist David Wilcox, and anthropologist Dean Arnold. To the best of my knowledge, Hurd and Wilcox are TEs, while Arnold is an OEC. It’s up to you, my “students,” to consult these sources and place summaries and comments below. I’ve done enough already.

Looking Ahead

In about two weeks, I’ll conclude with a short history of Theistic Evolution. There’s plenty to think about in the interval. Please follow some of these links, borrow some of these books, and add your views to mine.


Dean Arnold, “How Do Scientific Views on Human Origins Relate to the Bible?” in Not Just Science, edited by Dorothy F. Chappell & E. David Cook (Zondervan, 2005), 129-40.

Robin Collins, “Evolution and Original Sin,” in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, edited by Keith B. Miller (Eerdmans, 2003), 469-501.

James P. Hurd, “Hominids in the Garden?” in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, 208-33.

Ronald L. Numbers, “George Frederick Wright: From Christian Darwinist to Fundamentalist,” Isis 79 (1988): 624–45.

David Wilcox, “Finding Adam: The Genetics of Human Origins,” in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, 234-53.

Ted Davis is Fellow of the History of Science for the BioLogos Foundation and Professor of the History of Science at Messiah College. At Messiah, Davis teaches courses on historical and contemporary aspects of Christianity and science and directs the Central Pennsylvania Forum for Religion and Science.

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Skl - #73291

October 2nd 2012

To Eddie,

Regarding my use of bold-face type, this is a common and acceptable practice in written communication. It enhances the effectiveness of the written communication, just as raising volume or otherwise emphasizing the pronunciation of a word clarifies verbal communication. Some use italics, some use “quotation” marks, some use bolds.  Sometimes I use some of each. I may choose to use bolds in stating a question to help ensure that my conversation partner doesn’t ignore that question for the sixth time. You choose to see my use of bolds as confrontational. Everyone will choose to see things as they want to see them.

I continue to find your views and discussion of Genesis 2-3, especially vis-à-vis Catholic teaching, to be without merit. Do you use similar theological and grammatical parsing for Genesis 1?


Lastly, you claimed in #73254 that you are not obsessed with personal identities (e.g. of Gregory, of Francis) here. You wrote that Gregory was the one obsessed (with your identity). So you wrote. A person’s name is not exactly synonymous with a personal identity, but it’s close. I’ll just note that since your claim above, and before your last post, you mentioned Francis 26 times. Then, in your last post (#73283), you said “I’ve already told you that I will not further discuss Francis here.” You followed that sentence with five (5) more mentions of Francis.

Francis must have made quite an impression on you. (I’ve made a note to myself to find and read other posts of Francis when I have the time.)

Eddie - #73292

October 2nd 2012


You have every right to publically express your opinion of my views on Genesis, but that opinion is of little concern to me.  I have publications in academic books and journals on the subject, and I look to my academic peers for an evaluation of my “merit,” not to anonymous bloggers.  (Unless those anonymous bloggers, by their comments, show substantive philological, literary, and historical knowledge of the Biblical text.)  But to answer your question, my general approach to all of Genesis 1-11 is much like that of 95% of the Biblical scholars at the leading universities and leading institutions of higher theological education (including Catholic higher theological education) all over the world—which means that you wouldn’t like it (and your role model Francis wouldn’t, either).  However, I won’t be losing any sleep over the fact that two Catholics, plus a whole whack of Protestant literalist-inerrantists, don’t agree with the results of the best modern scholarship.  Modern scholarship will carry on with or without their approval.

I wish you the best for this Hallowe’en season.  And as you are enjoying your treats, I trust that you will faithfully observe All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.  Dominus tecum.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73293

October 2nd 2012


If you saw my website, there is no excuse for your not knowing that I am not a pastor.  My problem with you has been that you go off half cocked and you seem to get most things wrong.

My point if you still do not understand, is that people come on the BioLogos site to discuss ideas about God, nature, and philosophy.  I do not know why you came to the website except maybe you feel that you have great point of view that you want to sell. 

In other words I am not talking to Jews, or Hindus, or Muslims or you about these ideas unless they come to the website to discuss them. 

Now I am going to suggest once again that you calm down and think about why you are having problems in communicating your ideas.  (Now don’t get frustrated by Gregory.  You really should not pay serious attention to him.)  But read carefully what people are saying and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification.  Don’t be so defensive.  

God bless.      

Eddie - #73303

October 3rd 2012


Calm down?  I’ve been a model of calmness.  I’ve written about five posts now, politely asking you not to keep pressing your conversation upon me.  You are the one who is, in an agitated manner, trying to keep the conversation open, when I’m ready to quit with no hard feelings.

You said:

“If you saw my website, there is no excuse for your not knowing that I am not a pastor.”

Well, not exactly no excuse.  The website I had mind was this one:

It says:

“Upon graduation from Harvard Divinity, Rev. Sawtelle served as pastor of North Kingstown UM Church, the Wareham and Marion, MA UM Parish, and the Brayton and Quarry St. UM Parish in Fall River, MA.”

So you were a pastor, at least for a time, in the early 1960s.

The article says you left that position, but later it records:

“Soon he heard a renewed call to the ministry and was admitted to the New England Annual Conference in 1978.  He was ordained deacon in 1979 and itinerant elder in 1981.”

Most people would understand a call “to the ministry” as referring to local church ministry, unless otherwise stated.   And “deacon” in the Church of England is the first step en route to “priest” (“presbyter,” technically); I presumed it was the same in the Methodist system, since the Methodist system grew out of the old Church of England system.  So my presumption was that you were becoming a deacon en route to becoming a regular minister of a parish (if the term “parish” is used by Methodists).
You are now telling me that you aren’t a pastor now, and maybe you were never a pastor even after 1979, but that’s how I read the information.  If I made an error, I take the blame for hurried reading and for not understanding the Methodist system, but certainly you were a pastor for a time in the early 1960s, so I wasn’t entirely wrong.

The article also describes your education.  It appears to deliberately avoid mentioning your undergraduate major, which would be interesting to know.  It then mentions two years of post-graduate study of Russian language and culture—so that you could understand US-Soviet relations—followed by an M.Div. at Harvard Divinity School (about the vintage of Harvey Cox?) in the early 1960s.  It mentions no further theological degrees or programs after that.  It also appears, from your various later activities, and your mention of Martin Luther King— whom I would not call a theologian at all, but an activist pastor— that your main focus all along was social issues rather than systematic or philosophical theology.  All of this, along with our different denominational and cultural backgrounds, and different lengths of time spent in the formal study of religion (14 years against, apparently, 3), explains a great deal about the intellectual differences between us.  Our vocabularies and approach are vastly different because we have spent out lives working on vastly different questions.  
I’d be interested in hearing more about what elements of your formal education qualify you to write about theology and natural science.  Best wishes.
Skl - #73295

October 2nd 2012

To Eddie,

Regarding what you say are the 95% of Biblical scholars who go along with your general approach to all of Genesis 1-11, who would be your top one or two from Catholic higher theological education?


Regarding Happy Halloween, thanks. You too.

Of the two days, only All Saints Day, November 1, is a holy day of obligation. I’ll be fulfilling my observation of All Saints Day by participating in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

For those not familiar with what the Mass involves, a short summary is that after the Liturgy of the Word (which will include four different readings from Scripture and a homily), we will have the Liturgy of the Eucharist, in which we get to receive physically the very body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ himself.

I think the Eucharist may be the greatest miracle in the history of the world. And it happens every day of the year in Catholic churches around the world. I look forward to it, the day after Halloween or All Hallows Eve.

Noli timere.

Eddie - #73298

October 2nd 2012

“Regarding what you say are the 95% of Biblical scholars who go along with your general approach to all of Genesis 1-11, who would be your top one or two from Catholic higher theological education?”

Apparently, regarding at least Genesis 1, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict).  I haven’t read his book on Genesis, but some excerpts are here:


It looks as if he is in the general ballpark of modern Biblical scholarship regarding the literalness of Genesis 1; the excerpts don’t cover what he says of the Fall story well enough for me to tell regarding Genesis 2-3.

For a more general overview of recent Catholic attitudes to various modes of Biblical interpretation, this full report by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, signed by Ratzinger in 1993, is enlightening:


Some of the passages under “fundamentalism” ought to be read by Francis and like-minded people.  Here is one example:

“Fundamentalism likewise tends to adopt very narrow points of view. It accepts the literal reality of an ancient, out-of-date cosmology simply because it is found expressed in the Bible; this blocks any dialogue with a broader way of seeing the relationship between culture and faith.” [emphasis added]

Here is another:

“Fundamentalism also places undue stress upon the inerrancy of certain details in the biblical texts, especially in what concerns historical events or supposedly scientific truth. It often historicizes material which from the start never claimed to be historical. It considers historical everything that is reported or recounted with verbs in the past tense, failing to take the necessary account of the possibility of symbolic or figurative meaning.”  [emphasis added]

This paragraph could have been taken straight out of one of my posts!  But I knew nothing about this document until tonight.  So I guess my already-established understanding of the Catholic sensibility regarding Biblical interpretation was not too far off!

In general, I can say that I’m unaware of any strong differences between Catholic and other Biblical scholars regarding the approach to the primeval narratives of Genesis 1-11.  There is an openness of Catholics to the possible use of non-historical elements in the stories.  That doesn’t mean that nothing in the stories is historical for Catholics, of course.  Nor does it mean that individual Catholic scholars don’t differ over the historical components of the various stories.  It means, rather, that Catholicism has not bound itself by the constraints of American fundamentalism regarding those chapters.

I am not contending that a literalist-historical interpretation of Genesis has been officially forbidden by the Roman Church.  I am merely pointing out that the general tendency of Roman Catholic scholarship is against mechanical literalism and in particular against the American fundamentalist way of reading the early part of Genesis.  In other words, the Catholics are in tune with those non-Catholic Biblical scholars who teach at non-backwoods, intellectually respectable institutions.  The rage of people like Francis against non-historical readings of parts of Genesis 1-3 is thus inexplicable, based on my experience of Catholic Biblical scholarship.  I can only infer that such people have very little exposure to the Catholic academic world.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73307

October 3rd 2012


Please stop defending yourself.  You reveal your insecurity and need to always be “right.”

I am surprised if I did not include my undergrad major, but I know I did not deliberately avoid stating it.  I prefer to let my ideas speak for themselves rather than depend on my degrees to validate them.  I think Jesus did the same. (John 8:12-18, Mt 11:2-6)  

Stick with what you know and stop speculating on other people’s motives and how they think.

Eddie - #73312

October 3rd 2012


You are quite right to say that a good argument does not require a degree to validate it.  However, people who are well-trained in a field generally produce good arguments in that field.  It was precisely because your arguments don’t stand on their own that I was moved to ask about your academic training; it was a diagnostic inquiry.  But I agree with you that in the end it doesn’t matter.  Since you have been unable to maintain, in the face of informed criticism, your thesis about “Western dualism,” your thesis fails, no matter what your degree was in.  Farewell.

beaglelady - #73309

October 3rd 2012

Gentlemen, gentlemen,  please! All this fighting and confusion could readily be avoided if only you would read my new book: The Perils of Ism-ism and the Spirituality of Morton’s Toe.  I might even post excerpts here on BioLogos  (if the money is good).

Believe me, it is da bomb. In it, I tackle just about every issue under the sun.  Actually, I haven’t even written it yet, but already I’m breaking out in goosebumps!  So please be patient, okay?

And remember, if you don’t read my book, you are a loser and I won’t like you, not even on Facebook!


Gregory - #73317

October 3rd 2012

As I inquired of Ted in #73195, I wonder if he’s read Kenneth Kemp’s recent article on the topic. My views are quite similar to Kemp’s and the Tradition he follows.

Much has been said in this thread that need not have been.

I’m content to wait for Ted to respond to my questions on monogenesis and polygenesis because this is a significant challenge to ‘theistic evolution,’ i.e. whether or not it/he even has an opinion or position about it. An answer of expression to not answer is better than no answer at all. Getting drawn in to Eddie’s (and now Roger’s!) negativity is not my idea of constructive or fruitful conversation, especially since the diversion started from my question to Ted and brought in ‘outside’ hearsay.

Tomorrow I will attend an international conference and present on HPS, including ideology, maps of knowledge/science, anthropic principle, MN, evolution, evolutionism and the new paradigm/school of Human Extension. As Ted might wish to consider in his response to mono- vs. polygenesis, what human beings qua human beings ‘extend’ from/to seems to be a significant question for science(,philosophy) and faith conversations.

Since BioLogos is openly and decidedly against ‘evolutionism’ (iow, anti-evolutionistic), the notion of purely material, natural or physical causes/effects for human beings who are (thought to be) created imago Dei is likely something that neither Ted nor BioLogos would/should be willing to entertain. Thus, enter what Kemp is articulating, as a new (non-ID, non-YEC) pathway of dialogue and discovery, even if his paper “Science, Theology, and Monogenesis” doesn’t even mention the term ‘theistic evolution,’ as clear or convoluted as it has become.

Ted Davis - #73323

October 3rd 2012


I went back to #73195 and left an answer this evening. The software platform can be annoying, and I’m sorry that you have to go back there to see my answer.

Skl - #73318

October 3rd 2012

To Eddie,

You wrote that you are “not contending that a literalist-historical interpretation of Genesis has been officially forbidden by the Roman Church.”

I think that’s good. Because to my knowledge the Catholic Church, indeed, has not forbidden a literalist-historical interpretation of Genesis. And anyone, including any Catholic, who believes and even argues in support of a literalist-historical interpretation of Genesis is not saying anything in contradiction to Catholic doctrine and teaching.

That includes your ex-dialogue partner, Francis.

Francis, if you’re still out there, I think Eddie has just declared you “not guilty”.


For any reading this …

While not really discussing literalism in Biblical exegesis, Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2011 Easter Vigil homily, had some interesting words on creation and evolution:

“Now, one might ask: is it really important to speak also of creation during the Easter Vigil? Could we not begin with the events in which God calls man, forms a people for himself and creates his history with men upon the earth? The answer has to be: no. To omit the creation would be to misunderstand the very history of God with men, to diminish it, to lose sight of its true order of greatness. The sweep of history established by God reaches back to the origins, back to creation. Our profession of faith begins with the words: “We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth”. If we omit the beginning of the Credo, the whole history of salvation becomes too limited and too small…  

The creation account tells us, then, that the world is a product of creative Reason. Hence it tells us that, far from there being an absence of reason and freedom at the origin of all things, the source of everything is creative Reason, love, and freedom. Here we are faced with the ultimate alternative that is at stake in the dispute between faith and unbelief: are irrationality, lack of freedom and pure chance the origin of everything, or are reason, freedom and love at the origin of being? Does the primacy belong to unreason or to reason? This is what everything hinges upon in the final analysis. As believers we answer, with the creation account and with Saint John, that in the beginning is reason. In the beginning is freedom. Hence it is good to be a human person. It is not the case that in the expanding universe, at a late stage, in some tiny corner of the cosmos, there evolved randomly some species of living being capable of reasoning and of trying to find rationality within creation, or to bring rationality into it. If man were merely a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe, then his life would make no sense or might even be a chance of nature. But no, Reason is there at the beginning: creative, divine Reason.”


Eddie - #73320

October 3rd 2012


If all that Francis had ever said was:  “I grant that it is possible to interpret some things in Genesis 1-3 figuratively, and be a good, orthodox, Catholic, but I myself interpret it all as straight history,” I would have had no problem with his position.  But he gave the decided impression—and no, I will not invest the time to go back searching all his posts to prove it—that those who questioned the literalness of the “days” in Genesis 1 or those who questioned the literalness of the serpent or other details from Genesis 2-3 were sell-outs to the Enlightenment, materialism, liberalism, atheism, etc., who were desperately adjusting the way they read Genesis in order to make room for evolution, the Big Bang, etc.  My point to him all along was that the Roman Church had not pronounced decisively on the  historicity of all the details in Genesis 1-3, that it was perfectly compatible with good Catholic doctrine to believe that the days were not meant to be taken historically or that much of the language in the Garden story is figurative rather than historical, and that in fact the Catechism seemed to lean toward a partly figurative as opposed to wholly historical reading of the details of the Fall narrative.  But whenever I said anything to this effect, he lashed back hard.  And now I see that it is not merely the Catechism, but a wide body of opinion among Catholic Biblical scholars, that questions the propriety of exclusively historical understandings, and that these Catholic scholars clearly have in mind much more than Genesis 3 when they speak of places where the Bible is not best read as straight history.  Regardless of how an outsider might judge the detailed back-and-forth I had with Francis, I think it is fair to say that Francis did not give any evidence of having read the document signed by Cardinal Ratzinger, and I think he should read it now, as a way of broadening and enriching his understanding of current Catholic thinking about how the Bible can be read.

As for Benedict XVI, I’m a big fan of his.  I agree with his quoted words.  But of course, they do not pit “creation” against “evolution.”  They are compatible with a process of evolution (cosmic or organic), as long as that process is planned and/or guided by divine reason, and whose outcomes are not the result of mere chance.  This is where ID people tend to be clearer than TEs, in opposing reason to chance.  Very few TEs would make as strong and clear a statement as Benedict’s.  But if the TE people fall short of what I’d like to hear, by talking in a fuzzy way about the creative powers of randomness and chance and the open-ended freedom of nature, and by being ambiguous about which, if any, ends of evolution were predetermined, the creationists go to the other extreme, and declare that belief in evolution in any form, even guided, steered, planned, or front-loaded evolution, is anti-Biblical, anti-Christian, and of the Devil.  This springs from an unnecessary over-commitment to a crudely historical reading of Genesis 1-3.  As a scholar who has spent much time on Genesis and doesn’t accept that kind of crude historical reading, I’m pleased to find that the majority tendency of Roman Biblical scholars agrees with me.

What we need is an affirmation of reason, order, design, and providence against chance, randomness, contingency, etc.  I think that orthodox Catholics and orthodox Protestants can all agree on that.  As for specific theories—Big Bang, macroevolution, chemical origin of life—as long as these are entertained under the understanding that they are guided or planned, I’m content to let scientists discuss and argue about the evidence for them, and let the chips fall where they may.  I have nothing religious at stake if macroevolution is demonstrated to be absolutely true, and nothing religious at stake if it’s disproved tomorrow.  “Creation versus evolution” is the wrong way to frame the discussion.  “Reason versus chance” or “design versus chance” is a much better way of framing it.

Skl - #73324

October 3rd 2012

To Eddie,

You wrote “If all that Francis had ever said was: “I grant that it is possible to interpret some things in Genesis 1-3 figuratively, and be a good, orthodox, Catholic, but I myself interpret it all as straight history,” I would have had no problem with his position.”

Then why do you have a problem with Francis’ position?

I can’t believe Francis would ever have denied that some things in Genesis 3 are figurative. You and I both know the Catechism’s paragraph 390 says Genesis 3 uses figurative language. And if Francis is a real Catholic then he abides by what the Catechism says. I’d ask you to find an instance of his making such an outrageous claim, but you’ve already said you’re not going to search the Francis archives to back up your claims.

The fact remains that Francis, in contending for a literalist-historical interpretation of Genesis (with some “figurative in Genesis 3), said nothing in contradiction to Catholic doctrine and teaching.

So, I will boldly say Francis is “not guilty” as charged by you.

However, Francis may be getting an inordinate amount of attention.

For it is also a fact that after you said you weren’t obsessed with identities (first sentence of #73254), you’ve mentioned Francis’ name thirty-four (34) times, including three times in your last posting.

Poor Francis can’t even respond to your criticisms, because he was banned (perhaps due in part to your complaints to moderators).

I suggest you can level your future attacks at me, since it appears I may share many of Francis’ positions. Let Francis R.I.P.

I think I agree with what Roger said to you in #73253:

“My advice for you is to take a time out, relax and regroup.”

Eddie - #73333

October 4th 2012

I never made any complaint to any moderator about Francis, or anyone else.  Whereas some people on the internet whine to moderators because they cannot endure a tiny bit of sarcasm, or even complain about totally imaginary personal slights, I don’t call in the authorities even when I read palpable and gross violations of good manners.  But Francis was so offensive to so many people, baiting columnists and commenters alike, that it was only a matter of time before he would be banned.  He had a chip on his shoulder the size of the Empire State Building.  I would wager that you’re the only person posting here who doesn’t agree with that characterization.

Francis denied my position by implication and repeatedly, by arguing against everything I said about non-historical readings.  If you repeatedly argue that not-X is false, then, even if you never explicitly say that X is true, you are rightly presumed to hold X.  That’s Logic 101.  So Francis implied that a very-close-to-Protestant-fundamentalist position on literalism and historicity was true, even if he never explicitly stated it.

Of course, it is possible that Francis was just so angry, and so contrarian, that in the heat of his rhetoric, and in his desire to say black whenever I said white, he overstated his position, out of a resentment at my opposition.  And it is also possible that he is just not a very clear writer.   So he might have believed what you are now saying that he believed.  But if so, he needs prose exposition lessons and/or anger management therapy.  The prose help he could get, if he would go off to university to study theology; the anger problems are not in my area of expertise.

I notice that, when I switched from talking about Francis, and addressed broader issues, discussing Catholic doctrines, praising Benedict, setting forth my position on creation and evolution, etc., you showed not the slightest interest in following up on my overtures—some of which agree with your own position—but returned to the topic of justifying Francis.  This shows that you aren’t really interested in having a discussion about the substance of creation and evolution and Biblical exegesis with me, but in rehabilitating the reputation of the banned poster.  Pretty odd behavior, for a guy who isn’t Francis, I’d say.  I also notice that you offered not a word of thanks for my pointing out to you a Catholic document which, it seems pretty obvious to me, you hadn’t read (and which could greatly broaden your rather narrow understanding of how to read the Bible, and of the place of the Bible within a Catholic view of Christianity).

No, I won’t be attacking you in the future.  If you are (despite your disclaimer) really Francis, to talk to you at all would be to aid and abet a violator of the rules here, and to encourage rude people to come back under other names; and if you aren’t Francis, you are enough like him, in both narrow dogmatic position and truculence of expression, that I see no value in conversing with you at all.  I’m writing you off, along with Roger and Gregory.  You can talk to whoever else is willing to listen.  You won’t get any further responses from me.  

Skl - #73325

October 3rd 2012

To Gregory:

Is this the Kenneth Kemp article you referred to?



Gregory - #73370

October 6th 2012

Yes, that’s the article I referred to.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73335

October 4th 2012


This is not an academic debate.  This a scholarly discussion.

You have no ability to say that a thesis failed, because there is no thesis, only a position with which you can agree or disagree.   

Also you are not the Judge or jury.

Eddie - #73344

October 4th 2012

Roger, your discussion, in my view, isn’t scholarly—doesn’t discuss scholarly sources, doesn’t show awareness of scholarly sources, and doesn’t use standard scholarly terminology, or misuses that terminology.  It also shows none of the intellectual give-and-take which is expected of the scholar, whereby points are conceded, language is modified, certain lines of argument and assertions are dropped, etc., in response to fair and responsible criticism that is offered by others.  You’re making the same arguments, in the same language, that you made here a year or more ago, as I can see from reading your older posts.  None of the constructive criticism you have received from a number of people, from long ago up to the present, has made the slightest dent in your contents or presentation.  Your critics might as well have said nothing at all, for all the good their discussion has done you.

I’m not the judge or jury of the absolute worth of anyone’s ideas, but I am the judge and jury of the best way to spend my own time.  And that gives me all the authority I need to stop responding to your posts (and to those of a couple of others here).  But I would never try to take away your right to express your views to any and all who are willing to listen and discuss them with you.  Best wishes.

Skl - #73345

October 4th 2012

To Eddie,

Regarding your “final” comment to me, # 73333:

I’ll now offer you a belated thank you, for pointing out to me a 50+ page document which is just one of the thousands of Catholic documents I have not yet read. Although I like reading - even lengthy books and articles, particularly about the Catholic faith - I will no doubt die an ingrate in the eyes of some. For I really don’t think I’ll come close to getting to everything provided by the vast Catholic deposit of faith before I breathe my last.

If you hadn’t previously read the PBXVI’s 2011 Easter Vigil homily I provided, you may thank me later. But then, in your last post you said you’ll never respond to me again. (Actually, you had said goodbye to me 11 days ago, on 9/23/12, #73030 of http://biologos.org/blog/biblical-and-scientific-shortcomings-of-flood-geology-part-1

Please believe me, it’s not a problem. No need to respond. It will be good for you to actually do what you say you’re going to do.

Lastly, you say you’ve written off Roger, Gregory and me. You’re shrinking your active audience at BioLogos. Hopefully, you will still have some to dialogue with here. It would be a shame if you didn’t have an opportunity to display frequently to others your great discernment and erudition.



Not to be too obsessive, but the “Francis count” for you is now up to 44.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73356

October 5th 2012


I am glad you are taking my advice and ending a fruitless discussion.  I just wish you had followed by other advice and stopping being so defensive and self justifying.

While it makes no sense to cry over missed opportunities, I would like to present my side of the dialogue with you for the record.

Eddie is right in saying that it was not a real discussion, but it was not for the want of trying from my side.  He claimed that he both did not understand what I was saying and that it was completely wrong. 

I asked for his understanding of dualism, which he failed to give me.  He never offered any constructive criticism, but just sweeping negative generalities.

IMHO I made every effort to have him present his case in a positive manner and gave him every opportunity to explain where he stood, but he consistently took a negative stance, which of course is his legal prerogative. 

However imho this is not the purpose of these pages which is to discuss and not to attack with negative criticism without taking a positive stand and responding to positive criticism.   

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73357

October 5th 2012

P.S.  You mentioned (James A.) Shapiro earlier in our discussion.  When I was able to track down his book I found that it could be an interesting resource, even though as far I as I could tell the book contains nothing that I did not know.  However every bit of light on the ecological nature of evolution is helpful.   

beaglelady - #73358

October 5th 2012

My book would be more helpful. I’ve completed the first chapter: “Einstein and the Oogieloves.”  The next chapter is on relational algegra, God’s favorite algebra. 

Gregory - #73372

October 6th 2012


Thanks for coming back to the topic of ‘monogenesis’ vs. ‘polygenesis’ & giving your answer (#73322). The semester has started for me as well & discretionary time is at a premium.

You wrote: “IMO, the story of Adam and Eve cannot be mapped onto modern scientific categories.”

That’s actually what Kenneth Kemp does in his paper. Another scholar that disputes your negative claim/opinion is Dennis Bonnette, who wrote a book called “Origin of the Human Species” and says: “belief in Adam and Eve as the human race’s first parents remains reasonable, despite many modern evolutionists’ scepticism.” Both Kemp and Bonnette are Catholic Christians and they are both philosophers. Edward Feser is another who holds the same position. Even if you have little time for reading in the next four months, Ted, I’d recommend you keep them on your radar for this topic, just as I have kept your colleague Robin Collins (formerly associated with DI) on mine.

Bonnette has been called a ‘theistic evolutionist,’ though I’m unaware if he accepts that label for himself & seriously doubt he accepts being called an ‘evolutionist.’ My question of wonder to Ted is if he considers himself an ‘evolutionist’ and if he does, if that might be the source of his barrier to ‘mapping Adam and Eve’ with ‘scientific categories’ as Kemp and Bonnette (and many others) have managed to do. In the first post in this TE series, Ted indicated the problem might be with ‘naturalism’. But that term – ‘naturalism’ – has not found its way into the body of this TE (section of the broader) series. Perhaps it will in the ‘orthodox’ vs. ‘non-orthodox’ / ‘heterodox’ TE section Ted still plans to publish, i.e. naturalistic evolution(ism) vs. theistic evolution(ism).

“If I use your definitions above, then polygenism is IMO more likely; at least that is what the scientific evidence is presently said to favor.” - Ted

Please check Kemp and Bonnette, since they offer an alternative position re: ‘science’ with which you seem not yet to be familiar.

That you are open to the possibility that F. Ayala might be wrong, or (my addition) might be exaggerating how much his pop-gen view of ‘human beings’ and/or ‘modern humans’ is relevant to science and faith or science, philosophy, religion dialogue is encouraging.

“I don’t think that polygenism vs monogenism, in a modern scientific sense, is what Genesis is getting at.” – Ted Davis

“While many liberal theologians see little need for Adam and Eve to be a single pair of first parents, authentic Catholics and many traditional Protestants understand that theological monogenism – which holds that all mankind is descended from a single pair of ancestors – must be maintained in order to confirm the reality of Original Sin, and the consequent need for the Redeemer.” – Bonnette http://drbonnette.com/Evolution_vs_Genesis.html

Sorry, Ted, but George Murphy is not convincing/persuading the Church otherwise.

If you seek to propose that ‘orthodox TE’ feels no need to take a stand or express an opinion on monogenism vs. polygenism, Ted, then I’m suspicious of what value you think ‘theistic evolution’ actually has or why you think people should adopt it.

I’d be curious to hear if Jon Garvey accepts Bonnette’s views in the link above, as Evangelicals and Catholics can sometimes work together in theological-anthropological cooperation.

It seems that some TE’s, especially contemporary (either modern or post-modern) ones, suffer from an inability and/or unwillingness to safely and sufficiently answer the question: “Adam, where are you?” (Gen 3: 9)



p.s. the HPS conference I mentioned above went well, much discussion and also agreement about ‘naturalism’ in the “Philosophy, Sociology, Humanities” section. It’s a shame that most natural scientists don’t know about or recognise the consensus against exaggeration of natural science (e.g. methods or theories) into non-naturalistic realms.

p.p.s. again, ‘Eddie’ from the planet Hyper-Critic is uninvited to respond to this message (or off-shoots from it that don’t address him directly). Thanks.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73380

October 6th 2012


Since I understand that Catholics believe that original sin is transmitted by copulation, it would appear that they would have a serious problem if humanity originated from more than one couple, who were also the source of original sin.      

Jon Garvey - #73395

October 8th 2012

Thanks for the heads-up, Gregory.

Catholic authors like Bonnette are useful, because instead of reinventing Christian doctrine they try seriously to work within it, whereas many “Evangelical” writers appear to have a lax grasp on it. That’s what comes of too many Popes, which seems to be the realisation of others, like Dunemeister, who are getting jaded by the chameleonic nature of so much contemporary Evangelicalism. At the same time, of course I as an Evangelical don’t feel bound, as Bonnette does, to elements of Catholic doctrine that aren’t necessarily implied by Scripture.

In Bonnette’s case he’s taking seriously the issue of the real difficulties in accommodating the human mind - in his terms, “rational soul” - within a materialist framework. The realisation that this is what constitutes true “humannesss” makes his “ensoulment event” back in the Upper Pleistocene (or wherever we find rational/spiritual faculties to have begun) completely plausible, and an explanation for what science alone cannot competently explain.

Interestingly this is not far from Reformed John Walton’s position - though he allows (but does not prefer) the possibility that this might have been a gradual process, the Genesis account describing it functionally as a discrete event. Walton suggests that Genesis 2-3 describes a different event, when two representatives of that “human race in God’s image” receive very specific revelation and endowments from Yahweh for the benefit of the rest. Bonnette seems not to distinguish them, but that other Catholic writer, Ed Feser, seems to leave at least space for such a distinction.

Feser, writing of course from a very well-informed Thomist position in his 2-part “Modern Biology and Original Sin” describes the Eden event in terms of blessings added to Adam and Eve as federal representatives of the race (in a rather Calvinist sense). God adds to their rational nature, by grace, such non-natural things as original righteousness and complete mastery over the man’s rational soul (remember that to Feser as a hylemorphic dualist the soul is not a separate spiritual component of man, but his “organising principle”). God also grants them what Feser describes in terms of the traditional “beatific vision” (but backtracks from that) and conditional immortality - the tree of life, of course, which might well be taken as simply the “natural” result of dwelling with God in innocence. The fall is the loss of that grace, which of course impacts the whole race by default, not by generation (maybe that answers Roger’s last point - Catholic doctrine is not bound to Augustine’s theory of propagation).

Feser’s lack of consideration of the corruption of universal human nature could be (and has been) accused of Semi-pelagianism, and if this is factored in as per received doctrine across all the traditions, there is more work to do on how that might have occurred. But the unlikely (and maybe unconsidered) coalition between Bonnette, Feser, Walton and others shows that one can be true to science, Scripture and even religious tradition and still be comfortable with a historic A&E.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73407

October 8th 2012


You may be right since I am not an expert in this field.  However I was struck by this quote from Pope Pius XII from the encyclical Humanis Generis, sec. 37:

”...original sin, which proceeds from a sin, actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.”

That sounds pretty definite to me concerning the sexual spread of original sin and the origin of sin by Adam, although I would certainly question what happened to the role of Eve in the event. 



What relation

Skl - #73409

October 8th 2012

To Jon Garvey,

You wrote: “Catholic authors like Bonnette are useful, because instead of reinventing Christian doctrine they try seriously to work within it, whereas many “Evangelical” writers appear to have a lax grasp on it. That’s what comes of too many Popes”.

It sounded to me that you were saying many Popes reinvented Christian doctrine and did not work within it. If that’s what you meant, you apparently have many examples from which to choose. Would you please provide your best example of a Pope who reinvented Christian doctrine (i.e. devised something new which violated traditional Catholic understanding and theology)?

Jon Garvey - #73430

October 8th 2012

No Skl, you misunderstood. The problem I was referring to was when everyone considers himself his own Pope, regardless of what has gone before.

Roger, I guess we’ll have to let Ed Feser, who considers himself a faithful Catholic, argue it out with the Curia. But I would distinguish between original sin’s “propagation through generation” and “propagagation by copulation”. The former seems merely to suggest solidarity with Adam’s sin through inheritance, which is historically Protestant doctrine too. Thus, for example, the Methodist “Book of Discipline”, Article VII:

Original sin followeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually

The latter is closer to Augustine’s suggestion (actually not implausible if you follow his original reasoning in a 4th century context) that the act of copulation, having become separated from rational control and subject to concupiscence (lust) itself contaminates the progeny it engenders.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73541

October 10th 2012


I expect you know that the Methodist Articles of Religion came from the Anglican Articles, which I think came from the Catholic Articles, so there is much continuity with some discontinuity. 

John Wesley was a member of the Anglican Church, which split from the Roman Church.  We need a fuller understanding of sin and salvation. 

You know of course that Catholics believe that infants will go to hell if not baptised because of original sin.  Baptism is deemed the antidote to original sin.  Then too with have the issue of the Immaculate Conception of Mary which many think is the conception of Jesus, but is based on the idea that Mary must be without Original Sin to be the Mother of God. 

Akos Tarkanyi - #73415

October 8th 2012

It is a pity I cannot see any comment here about the article above.

Eddie - #73542

October 10th 2012

If that is a concern of yours, why don’t you make such a comment yourself?

Jon Garvey - #73825

October 21st 2012


GJDS - #78656

April 17th 2013

Reply to Ted #78646

Thanks for your link and comment Ted – I understand that the basis for the outlook discussed by Russell and others includes suffering by Christ for the entire Universe and all that is in it, and this is taken to be within the trinity. I can understand the sentiment encapsulated within such a view and it seems to ‘blunt’ the notion that God may, somehow, be unfair in punishing everyone because Adam and Eve made a mistake.

I see two areas for discussion in this. The first would revolve about considering the story of Adam and Eve as a mistake – one we may treat as, “Ooops, I should not have done that”, which may leave us wondering why God would get so serious about the affair. I think this trivialises the entire message – thus I tend to emphasis the intractable nature of ‘Law’ – by this I mean an act that contravenes Law (in toto) sets into action events and consequences that are permanent to human reality. This is generally discussed as the fall by classical theology; we may put a more scientific/philosophical side to it by considering Law in toto as the nature of all that humanity may understand. From this (briefly in this short discussion) we may conclude that the creation is what it is today, regarding ourselves and the dynamics of the world, including outcomes that cause suffering.

The second area is that of suffering as something that God had designed to specifically cause us and other animals, pain. I think we make a mistake when we view it as such, and I am partly in agreement with P regarding the impact of events on the earth as part of the natural order. However P does not include the possibilities that may be considered as alternatives (within a hypothetical scenario) if humanity has avoided the fall. By this, I mean we have the ability to avoid the consequences of nature’s activities – but we have, throughout history, not taken such a course of action.

These brief remarks show the need for redemption of humanity and when this is completed, the entire creation would be free from the consequences of acting against God’s will. I do not think that it is reasonable to argue that God must do something, because He has made the Universe to be what it is. Indeed, the magnificence of the Universe testifies to God in a grand manner, and is added ‘evidence’ to humanity that we need to repent and put sin behind us. Humanity needs justification and redemption – we do not need to justify God’s ways to humanity, but the reverse, we need to find justification before God. Christ provides this.

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