I watched your video Creationism and Talking Cats with great interest. I consider myself to be a creationist and have some questions about the Scriptural implications of belief in evolution.
Romans 8:19-22 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 make it clear that death is the result of Adam’s sin and that his sin resulted in the fall of all creation. If evolution is to be believed, then that would mean that there would be death before Adam’s sin and that death (through natural selection) brought man into the world. How can you reconcile this view to the modern “scientific” view that human beings evolved from apes and that there was death throughout the whole process? Also, Jesus said that “from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female,” (Mark 10:6), so how does that fit with the modern scientific view that man has only been around for the last million or so years out of billions of years of history?
If there is no literal Adam and Eve, then that would mean that there was no Fall, and if there was no Fall, then there is no sin to be redeemed from, so there would be no need for a Saviour. If evolution is true and there is no sin, doesn’t that completely destroy the Christian religion?…
As I tried to say in the video, I am agnostic on the question of whether or not human beings evolved from apes. I do not have the kind of scientific background that would allow me to adequately evaluate the evidence and come to some sort of conclusion. I am inclined to believe there is some merit to evolution because so many scientists seem to be convinced of it, but I am not willing to make any ironclad assertions. My point in the video was not to make the case for evolution but merely to show how it is that we use Scripture to test our theories about the world. Evangelicals, particularly in America, have vested a lot of time and energy in proclaiming as absolute that Genesis proves there could be no evolution and that to say otherwise is to deny the validity of Scripture entirely. But in fact, Genesis says nothing at all about evolution, or about geology, or astronomy, or physics, because Genesis is not a modern scientific textbook and it is a mistake to treat it that way. The Fathers were not all in consensus about how to understand the seven days of creation. It would be a great act of hubris in our own day if we acted as if we knew better than they did.
Reading is Fundamental
Again, the issue here is how we read and understand Scripture. For Catholic Christians, Scripture is never read on its own, in isolation, but always through the lens of the teaching of the Church. In understanding how Scripture speaks to us, we follow the rule of Saint Vincent of Lerins, believing only that which has been taught everywhere, always, and by all. In practical terms, this means that we require belief in what is absolutely plain in Scripture (for instance, the fact that Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead), what is found in the ancient creeds which explain the Scripture, what the ecumenical councils of the Church agreed about the Scripture, and what the Fathers of the early Church were unanimous or nearly unanimous about in their interpretation of the Scripture. Creationism fails all of those tests, which does not mean that it is necessarily false or that a good Christian cannot hold it. It means simply that it cannot be required.
Figure it Out
The problem with the modern Evangelical hermeneutic is twofold. It assumes that there is only one level of meaning in any given scriptural text while ignoring the interpretive biases that we bring as individuals to the text. Take, for instance, the question that Michael poses about how Paul’s writing about death might affect how we should interpret Genesis. I am not sure quite how Romans 8 is being roped into this since it says nothing about Adam, but the appeal to 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 has become quite common. Let’s review for a moment what Paul says there:
For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
Paul is setting up a contrast here for rhetorical purposes, trying to show how death afflicts mankind and how Jesus is the answer to that affliction. Adam was the first man. Through his sin, all die. Jesus is the new Adam. Through Him, all live. From a creationist standpoint, the implications are clear. There was no death of any kind before Adam, so how could there be the millions of years of dying creatures that evolution postulates as necessary for Adam to have arisen from amongst the apes by natural selection?
Except, that is not what Paul has said. He has not addressed the question of whether or not there was death amongst the creatures who lived before Adam. What he has said is that death comes to all mankind and that it comes from Adam as a stand in for all mankind. Paul is speaking figuratively here, which is how the Fathers understood this passage. Consider, for instance, this from a homily by Saint John Chrysostom:
“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
What then? Tell me; did all die in Adam the death of sin ? How then was Noah righteous in his generation? And how Abraham? And how Job? And how all the rest? And what, I pray? Shall all be made alive in Christ? Where then are those who are led away into hell fire? Thus, if this be said of the body, the doctrine stands: but if of righteousness and sin, it does so no longer.
According to Chrysostom, Paul is talking about death but not about righteousness. There is no implication regarding sin, even though elsewhere Paul will link the two. Here, at least in Chrysostom’s view, Paul is arguing that the bodily death which all must go through, both the righteous and the wicked, is defeated by Christ in the resurrection. The death that exists in other creatures, outside of humanity, is not in Paul’s mind here at all.
Just because this is Chrysostom’s view does not make it so. But Chrysostom’s unpacking of this verse and those that follow shows the complexity of what Paul is doing, a complexity that is lost in a straight, literal reading that lacks the figural sense. In fact, according to Chrysostom, a non-figural reading makes a mockery of the text because it assumes not only that all die in Adam but that all are given the new life of the resurrection, even the wicked and unbelievers, something which Chrysostom thinks is absurd given what Paul has to say on this topic elsewhere. Nevertheless, this is precisely the kind of reading that creationists want to give to this verse, though few if any creationists follow out their own logic and argue for universalism.
Death Before Death
So how then, if evolution is true, could it be that death existed in the world prior to Adam? There are myriad explanations. One possibility would be that the death of non-human creatures prior to the evolution of humanity is not the result of Adam’s sin but of some other mechanism entirely. Another perhaps more plausible explanation is to point to the fall of Satan and the demons that precedes the founding of the world. This prior fall may have affected the creation in myriad ways that are unknowable to us, including introducing death to lesser creatures. Finally, it is possible to postulate that the fall of Adam could have introduced death into the whole of creation even before the events of the fall took place. We are bound by time now, but it is not clear that this was always God’s intention. God Himself exists outside of time and what He does affects all time. Jesus’ death on the cross for sinners is just as salvific for the long list of people who died before it happened as it is for all of us who have come along since. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, not just the whole world from now on.
Are any of those theories correct? I have no idea. There are places in Scripture that seem to support one or the other of them, but Scripture does not definitively reveal the answer, just as it does not definitively reveal whether or not we evolved from apes or how old the earth is. These are not the questions that the Bible was written to address, and when we try to force the Bible to say something about them, we end up undermining the true value of Scripture to speak to us about who God is and who we are in relation to Him.
When You Assume…
Creationism relies on underlying assumptions about the biblical text that cannot withstand scrutiny. Michael points out that in Mark 10 Jesus says, “From the beginning, God made them male and female.” Is Jesus saying something here about the timeline involved in creation? Not at all. He is saying, simply and plainly, that God created human beings to be male and female and that it has always been so. It does not follow, however, that “in the beginning” in this sentence indicates that God created human beings out of a puff of smoke, making no use of natural processes, fallen or otherwise.
Bottom line, when attempting to apply the teaching of Scripture to answering modern questions, it is best to approach the topic with caution, being as skeptical as we can of our own assumptions while trying as best we can to see the text through first century eyes rather than twenty-first century eyes. Catholic, historic Christianity is able to do this, which is why Catholics and Orthodox and Anglicans tend to be far less bothered about the “creation versus evolution” question than Evangelicals are. It is possible that creationism is essentially correct and the world was created in six twenty-four hour days, but if that is the truth it will not be because Scripture somehow settled the matter in an unequivocal manner that anyone reading without prejudice ought to be able to see. As an Anglican, I am quite happy to believe that Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation, but as Hooker and many of the other great divines pointed out, containing all things necessary for salvation is not the same as containing all things. Whether evolution is true or false, we have nothing as Christians to fear from it.
Image by Flickr user Amy Watts. Used under Creative Commons license.