Today’s post marks the conclusion of our Origins Book Club. We had a tremendous response and are pleased to have seen hundreds of groups and individuals participating across the nation and internationally. Because we are drawing this book club to a close and already preparing for the next, we are especially interested in hearing from those readers who joined us on the journey this time around. Please send us your thoughts about the book and about the experience in general through our online forum. For this post, the Book Club Forum will be handled differently from prior weeks. Once on the forum, you will see individual questions posted as separate threads. The questions are those listed with bullet points in today’s post. We have also included a thread to give general feedback about the book or book club.
We genuinely value your input! Let us know what you think so we can continue to improve the BioLogos Book Club moving forward. And consider joining us for our next book club beginning Feb. 6th which will focus on The Lost World of Genesis One by Old Testament scholar Dr. John Walton. Take some time to examine the first chapter of Scripture in preparation for a fresh and exciting look at the harmony between science and biblical faith.
In these final two chapters of Origins, the Haarsmas interact with the key theological issues which arise when dealing with the scientific evidence involving humans, including the image of God, the soul, the Fall, and Adam & Eve. How did God go about accomplishing his creation and how does this relate to our understanding of the image of God or the Fall? There are several ways of dealing with these issues and readers are encouraged to examine the implications of each and decide for themselves which case is the strongest.
Chapter 11 begins with a review of the scientific evidence used to inform our understanding of human origins. This includes fossil evidence, genetic similarity to animals, and genetic diversity in the human population. “Most theologians over the centuries have assumed that humans were specially created without common ancestry with animals,” they note. “Yet the past century has seen tremendous growth in scientific information questioning this assumption.” (p. 229)
- Were there aspects of the scientific evidence you found weaker or stronger? How did your understanding of these things change as you read the book?
The notion that humans share ancestry with animals can be difficult for some Christians to consider. It is bringing the claims of science a little too close to home.
- Do you feel your identity as a Christian is tied closely to your position on origins-related issues? Have you aligned yourself with different positions at different times in your life?
Christians agree that all humans need the redemption that only Christ can provide (Rom 3: 22-24) and this redemption can never be earned. But on the topic of “original sin,” the authors discuss several perspectives on what it means for this condition to be passed on to future generations. Historically, many Christians have believed that original sin is transmitted biologically to future generations. Others see original sin in the universal spiritual and social realities of all humans. (p. 242)
- Was the idea that human sinfulness could be passed on through social or spiritual processes new to you? How do you respond?
This chapter also discusses views on whether death was present before “the Fall.” The scientific evidence certainly points to death being a “natural part of animal existence from the beginning,” (thankfully, say those of us driving gasoline-burning cars or using natural gas in our homes.) For some recent thoughts on animal death, read the BioLogos posts discussing the new book Death Before the Fall by Ronald E. Osborn. But when it comes to the death of early humans and our understanding of Genesis 3 and 4, there are some challenging questions.
Were humans immortal from the beginning or did they just have the potential to be immortal? Given the presence of the “tree of life” in the Garden of Eden, it seems that immortality was just a potential (Gen 2:9). What was the purpose of the tree of life if Adam and Eve were already physically immortal? The presence of the tree seems to makes sense if Adam and Eve were in fact mortal and needed divine action to make them immortal. Scriptures discuss death as a consequence of sin, but is this death spiritual, physical, or possibly both?
Chapter 12 focuses solely on Adam and Eve. How long ago did they live? Did all people descend from them, or did other humans live before them? Are Adam and Eve merely symbolic of early humanity?
The authors summarize possible answers by describing Adam and Eve as:
- recent ancestors
- recent representatives
- a pair of ancient ancestors
- a group of ancient representatives
Each of these is discussed in terms of how they deal with the scientific and theological issues brought up earlier in Chapter 11 such as fossil and genetic evidence, and our understanding of the image of God and original sin. Some Christians want to assert that if Adam and Eve are understood to be something other than literal, recent, biological ancestors, we lose what salvation through Jesus is all about. But this is not the case. The Haarsmas carefully walk through the theological implications of each view, concluding none of these views require jettisoning a biblical soteriology. “Theologians in all five scenarios agree that God created humanity in his image. God revealed himself to them, began a relationship with them, and gave them moral and spiritual obligations. They chose to sin, and that sin was transmitted to the rest of humanity.” (p. 252)
- See p. 268-269 for a more detailed list of areas of agreement among these positions. Are you surprised by their number and breadth?
Origins has given us a lot to think about, namely that there are indeed several “Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and ID,” as the title states. Genuine believers have thought deeply and carefully about the various kinds of evidence and have come to differing conclusions. In other words, there really is more than one valid Christian position on these things.
I conclude our series on Origins by giving our authors the last word about our responsibility as the church.
Having the ‘right’ view on every issue is less important than that the church lives and works and worships in unity. Our brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with us about some things don’t disagree with us about everything. In fact, we do agree about the most important things:
God created and sustains the universe. The natural world gives testimony to God’s power, creativity, and faithfulness. All parts of this universe are God’s creation and under God’s control; none of them are divine powers in themselves. God created humans and gave them a special place as his imagebearers and caretakers of this world. Science and Christianity are not at war. In fact, scientifically studying God’s creation is one way in which we can joyfully explore creation and fulfill our mandate to be caretakers. We have all sinned, individually and corporately. We have turned away from God; we have hurt each other, ourselves, and this world. God is a God of grace and love. And God has given us the best possible news: our Creator is also our Redeemer. (p. 283-284)