Saturday, August 30, 2008

What about a "retroactive fall"?

I can bask in vain self-congratulation now that one as noteworthy (or notorious, depending on your point of view) as William Dembski has articulated the same understanding of humanity's fall into sin as I once conceived and tentatively put forth in a short paper some years ago, to wit, the idea of a first sin that had retroactive consequences on the creation. See (An Orthodox priest advocates essentially the same view, if I understand him correctly, at Thanks go to Kirk Jordan and his web page for the trail of links that led me to Dembski's article. 

Dembski's paper and mine both posited a special environment in which no temptation could be felt, thus allowing a free decision of the first humans to sin or not sin. Since God is beyond time and knows the future, it is possible that the world of death and cruelty that we live in could have flowed causally from the first humans' sin, even though its emergence preceded that event in time. Dembski argues that such a preemptive action of God is an appropriate response to human sin, in order to demonstrate sin's gravity so that we might come to our senses and seek salvation from it.

But is the idea of a retroactive fall really satisfying? To my limited mind, I find it plausible, and see no insuperable difficulties in establishing its consonance with biblical exegesis and science. (And it does NOT require acceptance of other ideas that Demski has advanced elsewhere concerning design and irreducible complexity; the solution works with theistic evolutionary understandings that do not require special interventions of divine creative energy other than that which underlies and sustains the entire process.) And, even though it's just one possible solution, the very existence of "one possible solution" has enormous implications. By disarming the common casual assumption that science has "ruled out" the Bible and its ability to speak healing truth into our modern context, people may perhaps consider the Bible and its claims with less negative bias. Still, I can't help but wonder if there may be simpler and more compelling solutions than this one that Dembski and others and I have proposed, and that is something I hope to explore in future posts, if God lets me live long enough and grants me sufficient clarity to articulate them. 

Dembski's article is in any case well worth reading, because in surveying options he considers inadequate and in articulating his own views, he puts the reader in touch with what the important questions really are concerning science and the Bible, whether or not one is happy with his answer. The real issue that needs attention is not the question of the "days" of the creation narrative in Genesis, which no more require a literal interpretation than the "throne" on which God "sits" in similar passages portraying the declaration and execution of the divine will upon the earth. A matter that needs more attention, and that not only has bearing on the Bible's reception in the world today, but also has sweeping watershed implications for the future of ethics and law and self-understanding and culture in the decades to come, is the question of accounting for moral culpability, and the need to be delivered from it, given an evolutionary understanding of our biological history.

One very wonderful thing that I take away from reading Dembski's article is the sweet REALIZATION that life in this world of sin and death and disease as we now experience it is not our ultimate destiny or purpose. I experience this realization as a wave of divine refreshment sweeping over me, as the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead works through even Scriptures that we do not fully understand.

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