June 03, 2011

Why Many Orthodox Christians Shun Evolution

Evolution of any kind is considered nearly anathema (Greek for "accursed") to traditional, evangelical Christians. Some Christian leaders have even questioned the spiritual state of those professed Christians who embrace evolution. Some perhaps would go so far as to say that belief in evolution is eternally damning. Damning? Really? What is it about evolution that is so distasteful to traditional Christians? What are the theological implications that make evolution a dreaded opponent of the gospel?

Naturalistic evolution—evolution that sidelines God and makes all life a product of random processes—does have severe theological implications when taken to its natural conclusions. These theological implications are what are dreaded by orthodox Christians. When you sideline God and propose that humans evolved from apes and allegorize the first chapters of Genesis, you invariably (intentionally or unintentionally) paint man as a more innocent product of his environment whose sin-nature was thrust upon him without his choosing. This picture flies quite clearly in the face of Romans 5 where Paul argues that human sinfulness and death were the consequence of Adam's choice to rebel against God. Death is argued to be the direct result of Adam’s sin. Theistic evolutionists have to perform mind-bending, hermeneutical gymnastics to reinterpret this Romans passage and others to fit their belief about sin and death. The theological ramifications of all this are that sin is no longer exceedingly sinful, man is no longer fully culpable, human death was unavoidable, and man is essentially an advanced animal. None of these square with the traditional, orthodox understanding of death and the human condition. (We must, however, pause and note that not all theistic evolutionists will draw these dangerous conclusions.)

When an informed Christian thinks of evolution, they typically think of all of these things immediately. Thus, the aversion to evolution is understandable, since basic theistic evolution can lead to these huge distortions of the biblical message. It is certainly important to defend the message of the gravity of mankind's sinfulness and his willful rebellion that resulted in death passing upon all men.

Even so, evolution does not logically need to lead to any of these theological distortions. If evolution were created and designed by God, and Adam and Eve were supernaturally given spirits, the ability to have a perfect relationship with God, and a Tree of Life to live forever, then all these distortions melt away. When Adam sinned, it did ruin him and all his future descendants. His sin did plunge him into a fallen state. He was more than a mere animal. He was created in God's image in that he had a spiritual nature. God is spirit, the Bible says. Adam's sin did result in death, since he was subsequently kept from the Tree of Life as judgment.

Man's lost and fallen condition does not need to be viewed any differently whether his physical body design was made instantly from the ground or whether it was made through a long process of designed evolution. Man's body is amoral. It is mankind's spiritual nature that is fallen and at enmity with God. Our physical bodies are slaves to our immaterial spirits and souls. Therefore, logically, the physical condition of mankind did not need to change at the fall of Adam and Eve, but only their spiritual condition. Orthodoxy does not disagree with this basic belief: it was not a physical change in Adam and Eve that resulted in the sinful nature of humanity. It is then not theologically damaging to say that Adam and Eve's physical attributes were no different before and after the Fall. All that is important theologically is to understand the spiritual change that happened with Adam and Eve when they first sinned. As for death, it clearly says in Genesis 3 that God ejected Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden to keep them from living forever (vv. 22-23)—i.e. so that they would die. Death wasn't because of a supernatural curse upon the physical bodies of Adam and Eve, then, but because they were no longer allowed to eat of the life-sustaining Tree of Life.

Also, when evolution is viewed as being designed, along with every kind of animal, God is again seen as Creator of the complexity and beauty we see in creation. His glory in nowise is dimensioned, since all things were intentionally, fully planned by Him. The initial life on earth was given the precise genetic code, designed by God, to result in the particular life forms that God wanted on earth. God's sovereignty, intelligence, wisdom, and perfect planning are all exulted in this view of evolution.

So, reasonably, I see no theological distastefulness or danger of a non-naturalistic form of evolution, where God is the Designer and where man's spirit wasn't the product of evolution. Unfortunately, even if this view is correct, I highly doubt it will catch on, since it appears too close to a humanistic, godless evolution for comfort. It appears very similar, but the differences are enormous when you believe that Adam's spirit was supernaturally created, because the ramifications are starkly different than when you view man's spirit as the product of evolution. Genesis should not be viewed as allegorical, and it does not need to be in this view of evolution.

Evolution could not work without a Creator, and "sin" would not be sin without a literal Adam falling from spiritual perfection. The Bible does not leave room for naturalistic evolution, I believe, but a created evolution is fully compatible with the Bible.

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