I wanted to post this the other day as a response to the appearance of new homeschool textbooks on evolution that, while conveying modern evolutionary theory, also try to harmonize it with religion. (Many American children are homeschooled by religious parents who don’t want them exposed to godless science). My first post on this issue was here.
But those who claim that Christianity and evolution are compatible will have a hard time meeting the challenge of Mike Aus, a former pastor who stunned his Texas congregation by announcing, suddenly and publicly, that he was an atheist (see the video, from NBC’s Chris Hayes show, here). Aus was, as far as I know, one of the first public “successes” of Dan Dennett and Linda LaScola’s “Clergy Project,” a sort of electronic halfway house to help nonbelieving clerics leave their faith behind.
Aus, while never a creationist, has seen evangelical Christianity from the inside, and realizes that comporting evolution with that kind of faith is a losing proposition. That is why, by the way, accommodationist organizations like BioLogos and the Templeton Foundation are ultimately doomed to failure. Christian opponents of evolution aren’t dumb, and are in fact forcing those organizations to move more and more toward fundamentalist Christianity while the creationists themselves never waver in their views. That’s why, for example, BioLogos—and now Templeton—are tying themselves in knots trying to show how Adam and Eve, while not the literal progenitors of all modern humans, could nevertheless be seen as some kind of metaphor. BioLogos, in fact, refuses to take any stand on the historical existence of Adam and Eve.
It’s all very amusing to see how creationists manipulate the accommodationists—except for those at BioLogos who lost their jobs for taking a hard line on the nonexistence of Adam and Eve.
At any rate, Aus has a nice essay at the Richard Dawkins site on why accommodationism won’t work: “Conversion on Mount Improbable: How evolution challenges Christian dogma.” It’s a bit old (from last June), but not dated at all. And it shows the farce of textbooks that try to comport evolution with faith.
Here are the points of incompatibility as Aus sees them.
- Adam and Eve This is the big one, and all attempts to see it as a metaphor (since we know that the human population never bottlenecked at two individuals) are ludicrous on their face. If Adam and Eve didn’t exist, what sense does Jesus make. I quote from Aus:
“Which core doctrines of Christianity does evolution challenge? Well, basically all of them. The doctrine of original sin is a prime example. If my rudimentary grasp of the science is accurate, then Darwin’s theory tells us that because new species only emerge extremely gradually, there really is no “first” prototype or model of any species at all—no “first” dog or “first” giraffe and certainly no “first” homo sapiens created instantaneously. The transition from predecessor hominid species was almost imperceptible. So, if there was no “first” human, there was clearly no original couple through whom the contagion of “sin” could be transmitted to the entire human race. The history of our species does not contain a “fall” into sin from a mythical, pristine sinless paradise that never existed.”
. . . The role of Christ as the Second Adam who came to save and perfect our fallen species is at the heart of the New Testament’s argument for Christ’s salvific significance. St. Paul wrote, “Therefore, just as one man’s trespass led to the condemnation of all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to salvation and life for all.” (Romans 5:18) Over the centuries this typology of Christ as the Second Adam has been a central theme of Christian homiletics, hymnody and art. More liberal Christians might counter that, of course there was no Adam or Eve; when Paul described Christ as another Adam he was speaking metaphorically. But metaphorically of what? And Jesus died to become a metaphor? If so, how can a metaphor save humanity?”
I don’t see any way around this. BioLogos has had a gazillion posts trying to make metaphorical sense of Adam and Eve, but responses like the “federal headship model,” in which God simply designated two of the many early humans as “Official Original Sinners”, are simply laughable. And remember that the Catholic Church’s official policy is one of “monogenism”: all human literally descended from Adam and Eve. s Catholic Answers notes:
In this regard, Pope Pius XII stated: “When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parents of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now, it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the teaching authority of the Church proposed with regard to original sin which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam in which through generation is passed onto all and is in everyone as his own” (Humani Generis 37).
I wonder how Catholic scientists like Kenneth Miller reconcile this dogma with their acceptance of human evolution. Do they simply deny the teachings of their church? If so, they are heretics.
- Original Sin. This add-on to scripture by early Church fathers is an ineluctable part of Catholicism and many Protestant churches. It has always struck me as vile and ridiculous to think that all babies are born sinners because of something inherited from a nonexistent Adam and Eve. Insofar as we “sin” (i.e., behave badly), Aus sees that as simply part of our evolved human nature (and I see it as cultural as well):
“Really, without a doctrine of original sin there is not much left for the Christian program. If there is no original ancestor who transmitted hereditary sin to the whole species, then there is no Fall, no need for redemption, and Jesus’ death as a sacrifice efficacious for the salvation of humanity is pointless. The whole raison d’etre for the Christian plan of salvation disappears. . . Actually, what Christianity traditionally describes as “sin” appears to be a theological attempt to explain the tension all humans feel between selfish and altruistic proclivities. St. Paul memorably wrote about his own sense of inner turmoil: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells in me.” (Romans 7:19-20) Science has now shown us that both selfish behavior and altruistic impulses are at least partially heritable traits.”
- The soul. Although with some effort I can find the concept of God coherent (unlike some of my readers), I can never make sense of the soul. What is it? In what sense does it survive our body? Does it re-enter our body when we go to heaven or hell? How is it transmitted into a zygote? When did it enter the hominin lineage? Aus sees this as another area of incompatibility:
“Christianity and many other religions claim that human beings have a soul, comprised of neither matter nor energy, which survives the body’s death. This belief is vividly expressed in the popular Roman Catholic prayer to Our Lady of Fatima: “Save us from the fires of hell and lead all souls to heaven.” Religionists will often say that the possession of a soul is what distinguishes humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. Never mind, for a moment, the fact that nobody has ever actually identified the location of the soul; just looking at the concept through Darwinian lenses raises numerous problematic questions for the doctrine. If all humans have souls, does that include all members of the genus homo? What about homo erectus, homo habilis and other hominid species that are no longer with us? Did they have souls that needed saving as well. In 1996 Pope John Paul II issued an encyclical affirming the reality of evolution. But he also insisted that evolution does not explain everything about humanity and at some point in the process of human development God had infused humans with a soul. The Pope, however, did not share when, exactly, the soul insertion event happened.”
Souls are an essential aspect of theistic evolution—the one area in which God must have inserted miracles into the evolutionary process. It is the soul that makes humans distinct from all other species—an official doctrine of Catholicism and a tenet of many Islamic “scientists”. Do we really think that Catholics are on “our side” with evolution if they insist that we differ in this respect from every other species? What is that but simply re-inserting teleology into evolution—a view that was expunged from the field after many years of argument and data? No, theistic evolutionists do not hold views compatible with science. They are not our allies.
I want to quote Aus’s last two paragraphs in full, because they are moving and full of win. One of his finest statements I’ve put in bold:
When I was working as a pastor I would often gloss over the clash between the scientific world view and the perspective of religion. I would say that the insights of science were no threat to faith because science and religion are “different ways of knowing” and are not in conflict because they are trying to answer different questions. Science focuses on “how” the world came to be, and religion addresses the question of “why” we are here. I was dead wrong. There are not different ways of knowing. There is knowing and not knowing, and those are the only two options in this world. Religion, even “enlightened” liberal religion, is generally not interested in the facts on the ground. Religion is really not about “knowing” anything; it is about speculation not based on reality.
It took me a long time but when I finally came to appreciate the explanatory power of Darwin’s theory, I could no longer claim that it was irrelevant to religion. Evolution impacts everything. I have traded Mount Calvary for Mount Improbable, and life is now a far more interesting journey. And I also now understand why so many evangelical Christians are hostile to evolution. They too, know that evolution impacts everything, and as more and more people come to see the beauty and power of Darwin’s insights, they know that humanity will inevitably leave religion behind.
Those Christians who see evolution as a problem also are wedded to doctrines like the unique human soul and the existence of Adam and Eve. For them, no reconciliation is possible.