Monday, April 20, 2009

The Politics of Jesus

Have you ever had a nagging suspicion that the story of Jesus you may have grown up hearing was not quite the story that was originally meant? If so, read on, because what follows may confirm your suspicions. It may also surprise you in a number of ways. Over the last several months I've been looking at a view of early Christian origins that turns a good bit of what I thought I knew on its head.

I'm not talking about any of the spate of flaky popular revisionist books that have been published over the last few decades saying Jesus was a Marxist, or Jesus was a new age guru, or Jesus was whatever one's hobby horse happens to be. I'm talking about a particular scholarly point of view that is rooted in very, very serious historical research. To be sure, it's not the only view out there. But I find it compelling. If true, it has enormous implications, for politics and all areas of life.

As best I understand it, the story these scholars tell goes like this....

Jesus lived in a time of super-charged political tension. Many people today are concerned to prevent some kind of Juggernaut from taking over. Globalism, Communism, the New World Order, what have you, depending on your point of view. But in Jesus' day the Juggernaut was already in charge. The Roman Empire ruled with an iron fist. In Palestine, some responded to this by sucking up to the Romans, like the Herodians and the hated extortionist tax collectors--the complicit bottom-feeders. Others were fierce nationalists who plotted and patiently awaited the day when they would throw off the evil Romans, with God on their side. An earlier movement, the Maccabees, had successfully thrown off the Greeks, and so people were expecting the long-awaited "Messiah"--that is, the anointed national deliverer whom God would send--to do that again. (Does any of this ring a bell in modern times?) The masses generally sided with the nationalists, and there was a whole class of religious leaders of these sympathies that the masses looked up to, referred to in the bilbical gospels as the Pharisees (even if not all Pharisees were like those Jesus contended with). They were like the 1st Century equivalent of the Muslim mullahs today who advocate sharia law, decry America as the Great Satan and so forth. Then there were the Sadducees of the aristocratic priestly class, who had made a kind of delicate peace with the Romans, and were officially in charge of the Temple. The common people distrusted them, and questioned their legitimacy, but it was a dangerous thing to cross them.

There were a number of supposed "Messiahs," both before and after Jesus, who sought to rally the people around them and take on Rome. Each of these movements were crushed by the Romans.

But Jesus came along, and did something radically different. He took a handful of the fierce nationalists, along with a guy who had been one of the despised extortionist tax collectors, and brought them together into the very same group, as his closest disciples. In essence, he took the 1st Century equivalent of Democrats and Republicans, Islamicists and Zionists, somehow inspired them to all come together, and taught them a completely different notion of God's program. He taught them that Caesar was king in only a very limited, earthly, transitory sense. He also made the outlandish claim that he himself was the true King and that his kingdom of love would never end. And he told the nationalists that they were all so wrapped up in their ideological program, and congratulating themselves for being such righteous and pious patriots, that they were overlooking the things that really counted, like reaching out in practical compassion to the marginalized of society, and being a community of God marked by forgiveness and justice and mercy and love. Further, he predicted that before the people who were then living had died out, the Romans would come and put down the Jewish rebellion permanently, and destroy the Temple, the most treasured symbol of the nationalist movement. Further, he went into that very Temple, where the people in charge had a neat little financial scam operation that took advantage of poor religious pilgrims, carefully made a whip, and drove out all the crooks and their wares.

Now this managed to upset all the powerful elements of the time. The Romans were made to feel queasy about the rumors floating around about this "king." The Pharisees were infuriated at his telling the masses that their nationalist ideology was a recipe for disaster. And the aristocrats didn't take kindly to his affront to the Temple establishment. Essentially, Jesus was telling the people that the Roman agenda, the religious nationalist agenda, and the more secular-like "civil religion" of the aristocrats were all empty and corrupt and not the way of God at all. Loving God and loving one's neighbor were what really mattered. Now we have to understand that Jesus' message was NOT one that people easily understood; in fact, his own disciples repeatedly missed the point, as they later shared in the recollections that have been passed down to us. It was way easier for people to get wrapped up in one of the competing ideologies of the different classes that were competing against one another. Nevertheless, though few if any understood him yet, Jesus was winning the sympathies of the people, not least by performing miraculous healings of the blind, deaf, lame, leprous, etc. on a massive scale over a period of about three years. He even raised Lazarus, one of his friends, from the dead. At least the people were convinced, and so great masses were hailing him as the anointed king who was to come. All this bothered the Romans, the nationalist "mullah" types, the aristocrats, every power of the age. All these groups of powerful people despised one another, but there was one thing they all came to agree on: Jesus had to go.

It is at this point that Jesus made some amazing choices. After one point, he had so much popular support, he could have rallied the people around him and fulfilled every other Messiah's dream, to lead a violent revolt against the unclean foreign occupiers. Indeed, his action of clearing out the Temple likely signaled to the people that this is what he intended to do, because the celebrated Maccabean nationalists of a previous era had likewise liberated the Temple when they threw off the Greek occupation. Cleansing the temple and throwing out the foreign occupier went hand in hand in the people's expectation of what the Messiah, the anointed deliverer, was going to do. This is the sort of thing the people had in mind when they had seen the celebrated miracle worker entering Jerusalem on a donkey, and they laid a trail of palm branches in his path, welcoming the king who was coming to take power. And Jesus had the perfect opportunity at that moment. People from all over the country were in Jerusalem to celebrate the annual Passover feast, had just seen him cleanse the Temple, and were awaiting the next step....

But he didn't. And this choice, it is argued, changed the course of history.

He refused to seize that moment, and so the masses, eager for a national deliverer, quickly abandoned him. What a fool! He claimed to be "king" yet didn't take the opportunity that was presented to him to establish his throne! He claimed to be the anointed one that God would send to deliver his people from oppression, but refused to take up arms against the oppressors! He aroused the suspicion and anger of every powerful group in the land, but blew his best chance of beating them to the top! Instead, he said, "...the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45) No doubt the masses who abandoned him considered him irrelevant at best, and faithless at worst, for failing to put their expected program in motion.

But if he had taken the option of leading a national rebellion, only calling down legions of angels would have prevented the Romans from massacreing him and all of the masses that would have followed him into the battle. Now he had already shown people the divine power to miraculously heal diseases. Could he not use that same power to successfully throw off the Romans, like many a hero of old? But he did not go that route. There was another kind of divine power he wanted to show to the world. He allowed himself to be arrested, and said nary a word during the illegal trial the local "good ole boys" of the Sanhedrin gave him. He died the inglorious death of a common criminal, on a Roman cross. While hanging on the cross he cried out to God for the forgiveness of the people who put him there. He maintained the way of love and forgiveness and peace to the end. And he died.

His movement came to a crashing halt. The masses, of course, had no interest in a dead national deliverer. One MORE messiah had bitten the dust. Would God's people EVER be freed? His death proved to all that he was not the one God had promised. His closest disciples, who had traveled with him for three years, were in despair, utterly disillusioned. Some who had been fishermen before were already heading back to their old business.

But on the third day something amazing happened that completely changed everything. Jesus appeared alive to his disciples, after he had been dead and buried. They didn't see a ghost. They saw and felt a physical body, a body with unusual powers, a body that seemed to belong to a new order of being, but a body that could eat and be touched nonetheless. Of course historians today debate whether this really happened.[1] The telling fact is that few historians deny that this is was what Peter and the other disciples themselves thought they were witnessing. Whatever it is that happened, it transformed the disciples' fear to boldness, and made them willing to live and die in defense of their testimony.

The resurrection confirmed to them that Jesus truly was the King, the anointed deliverer sent by God. It was this remarkable divine stamp of approval on Jesus that finally opened their eyes to understand the radically alien nature of Jesus' message, and his radical redefinition of what it means to be "king" and "deliverer." These same disciples were hiding in fear after Jesus' arrest and crucifixion. But after a series of what they claimed were resurrection appearances, they began to proclaim Jesus as the true King. The movement spread rapidly, far beyond Palestine, and came to include people from every ethnic group in the empire. And the point to highlight here is that they acted in ways just as puzzling to the society around them as Jesus had among his fellow Jews in Palestine. The apostles performed miraculous healings, which gave evidence that they were no ordinary movement. And they dared to mock Roman power by celebrating the cross. They took the very symbol of the terror by which Rome kept many nations subjugated and made it the symbol of their movement. To add insult to injury, these same early Christians refused to perform what others considered a perfunctory ritual of allegiance to Rome--to burn incense to Caesar and call him "Lord." Instead, they went around declaring "Jesus is Lord." In addition, they preached a "gospel" of Jesus as king. The word "gospel" was typically used to announce a king's military victory, the news of his rule that was going to bring peace and prosperity to all, or somesuch. So even the early Christians' use of the word "gospel" was a mockery of Roman power. We don't quite get all this today, but the political implications were not lost on the Romans. And so at various times they launched persecutions, putting Christians to death. Macabre crowds cheered in the arena as Christians were fed to hungry lions. And all they had to do to avoid this fate was recite what considered as harmless as Americans consider their "Pledge of Allegiance."

The puzzling thing is that, for all their mockery of Rome, they never took up arms against Rome in the name of their "king." Most of the new Christians were slaves, but they never even started a slave rebellion. Instead they preached an ethic of radical service, humility, forgiveness, and love. There were early Christians who went to municipal garbage heaps, rescued abandoned infants, and raised them as their own. In times of plague, Christians stayed behind in the city to care for the ill, often dying themselves. As Jesus had said, his kingdom was not of this world. And yet it was a kingdom of divine love that was very much IN this world. It truly was political, by radically undermining the validity of the pretentious claims of the political agendas of their time. And, in a sense, it really was about conquering the world, but without using the weapons of the world.

So what was the point of this movement, and its strange behavior? The message of all this, as best as I understand it, as best as I understand what these scholars are saying, was this: Our deliverer Jesus has defeated death. So we no longer live in fear. We will no longer be slaves to corruption. We will no longer consider any oppressive ideology to have true legitimacy. Nor will we put our hope in any "new boss" who claims to deliver us from the "old boss." We have power that transcends all that. And nothing, not even death, the threat of death, or any kind of earthly deprivation, will keep us from living lives of faithfulness, mercy, and love.

The early Christians believed Jesus really was the deliverer whom the prophets had foretold, in passages such as these:

"Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever." (Isaiah 9:7)

"Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth."
(Isaiah 42:1-4)

Even as this movement was spreading throughout the Greco-Roman world, back in Palestine the nationalist movement had grown and come to a head. In A.D. 70 the Romans crushed the rebellion, and destroyed the Temple, as Jesus had warned. Meanwhile, the apostles continued to proclaim Jesus as the true King of the world. Most of the apostles and other original eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus were put to death. Not one of them ever recanted their testimony, even though we have reports of many others, who did not have this singular experience of seeing the resurrected Jesus, who renounced their faith to avoid being put to death.

You can read this story in greater detail in such books as The Challenge of Jesus, by New Testament scholar and historian N.T. Wright, and The Politics of Jesus, by John Howard Yoder. For me, this is quite a different story than the one I grew up with. Certainly, it has very different emphases. Personally, I find the historical arguments of these scholars compelling, and this perspective makes sense of a lot of biblical passages that previously seemed enigmatic. Not that I'm sold on everything they say, but it's compelling food for thought.

So let me close with some questions that are on my mind. I'd love to hear what you think.

1. In what sense was the movement of Jesus genuinely "political"?

2. Is the politics of Jesus the same as today's Christian Right"?

3. Is it the same as today's Christian or secular Left?

4. What are the practical implications of all this for our lives?

5. What do I live for? What am I willing to die for?



[1] For the view that the origin of Christianity is just awfully hard to account for historically if the resurrection did not really occur, see The Resurrection of the Son of God, by N.T. Wright, or a condensed presentation of the same arguments in Wright's lecture/article "Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?" Wright goes head to head with John Dominic Crossan, another major New Testament scholar, in the book The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan And N.T. Wright in Dialogue, edited by Robert B. Stewart. Crossan, if I recall, admits that the main reason he doesn't believe it happened is because such things simply do not occur, and proposes alternatives. The exchange is good-natured, at times humorous, and in my opinion very worthwhile. Both agree that something extraordinary happened, and that it should motivate and inspire us to combat injustice in our world. I hope in a future post to explain why I believe the resurrection really did happen and why I think this question is absolutely crucial.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Finding company on the journey

As any reader of this blog knows, over the past year I have come to believe in evolution, and in a way that fits quite comfortably with belief in God and in the Bible as divine revelation. To my surprise and relief, a fog of questions that for years had seemed impenetrable has been clearing before the bright rays of the sun. And I can say that the end result is no watering down of vital faith, but a new unleashing of passion for the kingdom of God. I documented the main points of this journey in a post of Dec. 20, 2008 (re-posted to this blog earlier today).

By way of update, let me heartily recommend a book that I have read since then, and mentioned in another post today--Understanding Genesis, by Nahum M. Sarna. Sarna makes me feel like I've got my Bible back, finally, after it had been long held hostage to forced interpretations motivated by extraneous agenda arising out of Darwinian controversy of the last century and a half. This feeling of "getting my Bible back" is similar to what I felt years ago when the "biblical-theological" tradition of Westminster Theological Seminary and related Dutch Reformed currents liberated my understanding of the Bible from the extraneous agenda and assumptions that the dispensationalism in which I had been raised had imposed upon the text, and which had turned biblical faith into a private, other-worldly affair that had little direct impact on the suffering and injustice of our world. I believe that both these developments constitute advances toward reading the Bible on its own terms.

Sarna, a Jewish scholar who wrote in the 1970s, strongly confirms what I had long suspected (from at least the time I read I Believe in the Creator, by James Houston, who evidently also benefitted from the stream of biblical and ANE research to which Sarna contributed), namely, that Genesis is best understood as using a shared regional literary idiom (that is not literal history in any sense in which we moderns understand that) to deliver a pointed polemic against debased views of humanity and society and the gods held to by the Babylonian imperial ideology and other prevailing belief systems of the region, and to school the people of Israel in divine call to reverse the state of corruption that had come to dominate the world. Combined with a spate of readings of N.T. Wright on early Christian origins and the mission of Christ, all this makes for, not a weak and vitiated faith, but a vital, passionate, fighting vision of the meaning of our lives and the glorious end to which God is bringing us in Christ.

Also, shortly after reading Sarna, I stumbled onto an excellent resource, which I highly recommend for those who wish to discuss and reflect on these matters, together with others who have been seeking to make sense of things. It is the Jesus Creed blog of Scot McKnight. Anybody interested in these issues can visit the site and search for posts by "RJS," who is a working scientist who I think has read Sarna and, together with readers who contribute responses to his posts, is processing the work of authors like Kenton Sparks, John Walton, and a number of others who get to the heart of these matters. Finding others who have come to nearly identical conclusions in light of the same sorts of evidence reassures me that it is not some rare form of insanity that has not gripped me to make me believe that evolution and biblical faith actually go quite well together! Finding this blog was like finding "home."

Peter Enns and his website is another valuable resource. I think it was via Internet searches prompted by book reviews on Enns' site that I came across the Jesus Creed blog, which also links back to Enns. I came to know of Enns by virtue of the fact that I graduated from a sister seminary to Westminster Theological Seminary, the institution that fired him. I am not surprised at the firing, but I do think Enns' thinking is in many ways a natural development of conversation that had long been in the making in such WTS scholars as the late Ray Dillard and the late Harvie Conn. Nor am I surprised that the OT professor Tremper Longman, formerly of WTS, recommends reading Enns' book Incarnation and Inspiration. Perhaps if these scholars were still at WTS, Enns would not have been fired. Not at all to suggest that these scholars' views are the same as Enns', but they all make for productive dialog in the community of faith. As I read Enns and interaction with other scholars, something gnaws at me making me wonder if he has really got discussion off onto quite the right foot on a number of things. But I think he is to be commended for prodding more explicit discussion of the issues he addresses among evangelical biblical scholars.

All these developments in the intellectual realm of faith have paved the way for clearer, more urgent yearnings in the realm of practical application. Years ago my exposure to the "biblical theology" movement of biblical scholars like M.G. Kline, G. Vos, Edmund P. Clowney, and Graeme Goldsworthy led me to see that the whole Bible points us to Jesus Christ. (See Goldsworthy's According to Plan for the most accessible eye-opener along these lines that I have read.) A more recent but complementary sea change in my understanding--to which the whole evolutionary question contributed in odd and unexpected ways but which does not depend on any particular stance in evolutionary debates, and to which reading N.T. Wright contributed very substantially--has led me to see that everything about Jesus is aimed at motivating and empowering us to seek justice and mercy and harmony and universal well-being in this world. Of course I've always really known that, and the theology of WTS circles (esp., e.g., Harvie Conn) certainly pointed toward it and affirmed it, but the tendency of elements of my religious background to cast the Christian religion in terms of getting people onto a ship that will someday take us to a place that is out of and unrelated to this world obscured that knowledge and sent it off into a corner. Some forms of evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity seem like those pyramid schemes where everybody is busy signing everybody up to sell the product but precious little time is spent actually selling the product. The only "product" moved was a bit of personal cleaning up in private morals without paying attention to the wider and pervasive social implications of the Bible. The result is that compassionate practical ministry among the poor and excluded took a perpetual back seat to this recruitment game--which suits the interests of religious empire-builders rather than the priorities of the Hebrew prophets and Jesus and his friends. The great need I see is to put justice, mercy, and practical love back in the very center of our lives.

The question of doing that, practically speaking, is claiming the bulk of my prayers and energies these days. I'm still wanting for face-to-face company on that path--it's anything but the kind of path one can walk alone. Some new acquaintances and I hope budding friendships seem promising in that regard.

On the Evolutionary "Chisel," the Divinely Intended "Sculpture," and the Glorious Meaning and Destiny of our Lives in Christ

In this post I'd like to expand upon some matters that were at least implicitly touched upon in my post of Dec. 20, 2008 (re-posted to this blog earlier today), in regard to the matter of justifying normative ethics in the light of evolutionary orgins. This is an area that has not received much close attention in the popular theistic evolutionary works that I have come across so far, yet I think it lies at the heart of much that troubles many non-Christians about Christianity, even on a theistic evolutionary understanding of it, and that troubles many Christians about evolution.

The question is this: If we have been evolved by processes concerned with increasing the chances of survival and reproduction, does human life have anything like the significance that the Bible, and indeed our own hearts as we perceive them, tell us it has? Do our actions have ultimate moral significance? Do the feelings and concerns and aspirations we experience in our lives have "meaning" whose content is not defined by, and whose validity does not depend on, the nature of the evolutionary means that contributed to bringing these about?

I think that one of the most important things that needs to be said in addressing that question is to insist that we must refrain from reading "meaning" into behavior and evolutionary processes that apparently occurred in pre-humans based on conceptions of meaning that are derived from our existential experience in the present, and from assuming that the evolutionary means which brought about the circumstances of our present experience necessarily determine the "meaning" or "purpose," or lack thereof, of that present experience. The use of a chisel and the size and shape of the orginal block out of which a sculpture is made does not determine the "meaning" of the sculpture. Likewise, there is compelling evolutionary logic that seems to account for HOW such things as the temptation to adultery, the phenomenon of jealousy, and many other things arose in the first place, but which has no ultimate bearing on the moral significance we should ascribe to those behaviors today.

For example, in species of birds that until recently were considered more "monogamous" than they really are, scientists have observed females engaging in remarkably sly rendezvous with other males, even as males have developed mate-guarding instincts. Both tendencies appear to have co-evolved in a kind of arms race. Selection pressures have favored developments in females that make them adept at seeking covert inseminations by more sexually attractive and fit males (which helps ensure that her progeny will have heightened chances of surviving and reproducing), while still availing themselves of the resources provided by the cuckolded male. Selection pressures favor changes in the males that make them more adept at guarding their mates. Whether such understandings in exactly their current form will survive ongoing investigation I cannot say, but they certainly seem coherent and highly plausible, and I see no warrant for rejecting them on any biblical or theological grounds. But what does this say about the morality of human behavior?

One might be tempted, for example, to conclude from such observations that adultery in humans is a matter of no moral significance. Or that jealousy and mate-guarding tendencies are pointless in any ultimate sense, because these all evolved as part of a pointless game with no meaningful direction. But all of this would be a huge philosophical leap that is not at all warranted by the facts. The scientific observations in themselves cannot speak one way or the other concerning the current moral significance, or lack thereof, or of the "meaning," of human behaviors. What I think can be said, with which I think most evolutionary biologists could agree, is that the vast bulk of human genes and traits have been spreading and co-evolving in the human species for so long that a degree of equilibrium has been reached. This is not to say that there is not ongoing variation in these traits. Some are more tempted to adultery than others. Some are more jealous than others. And insofar as there are genetic factors contributing to that, there is indeed a measure of variation on that level. But this variation is not so great as to rule out universal or near universal statements about what makes current human beings happy and well, and concerning the range of behaviors of which most people are capable. Women want their progeny to be provided for. They want their husbands to value their fidelity because a complete abandonment of "mate guarding" would in fact make them very unhappy and unloved. And they do not want their husbands to take their loyalty so for granted that they slack off on the job of providing for the family.

Likewise, the spread and co-evolution of genes and traits and culture is such that no human being HAS to behave, as did Genghis Khan, killing and conquering and mating as many women as possible, because a) multiple strategies of sufficient "evolutionary advantage," generally speaking, are available to virtually every human being, and b) we are capable of consciously choosing behaviors even when they conform to the goal of human happiness over against the dictates of the maximization of genetic legacy. Genghis Khan, in other words, COULD have been a saint, given other influences and choices, because there is that degree of flexibility and range of possibility in humans. And if God guided the development of our ancestors into this current configuration (and science cannot really speak to that question) and purposes that we experience harmony and fellowship with one another, then there is a basis for morality to which the facts of the current configuration are more relevant than the evolutionary processes that led to it.

Or take another example of an evolutionary observation that might tempt us into unwarranted moral conclusions. Men on average are bigger and stronger than women. And there is little doubt that this is because males among our biological ancestors fought over mates. But this does not mean that it is OK for males today to fight and kill each other over mates. There is a tendency for all evolved features to take on different functions, or even a multiplicity of possible functions, once they are brought into being. And in the current configuration that evolution has produced in humans, the passions and muscles of men are susceptible of different applications and "meanings." We are now CAPABLE of opting for cooperative rather than competitive behaviors. We are capable of channeling our passions and strengths and abilities in ways that love God and others, just as we are capable of employing these in ways that may in many cases more closely resemble the behavior of our very distant ancestors who did not share the "meaning" complex in which we live. Nor does this fact of sexual dimorphism and its origins mean that the feelings a woman may have when she thinks of her husband have no meaning apart from the evolutionary processes that shaped these features as well as feelings. For example, if a woman feels that her husband, who is taller and stronger than she is, is her "knight in shining armor," we cannot debunk the "validity" of these feelings on account of evolutionary origins. A very complex series of interactions between genetics and culture and individual circumstances can lead to such feelings, and they take on a "life of meaning" of their own the validity of which is not at all affected by the fact that the fighting of distant male ancestors was part of the series of events that led to their development. Nor, of course, can we force-fit all women's feelings into a stereotype, though sometimes our cultures want to do that, because there is diversity within that which is shared by all humans.

It is this "life of meaning" that is the end of creation, the purpose with which we are concerned, at any rate; the long business of selection pressures which tend toward survival and reproduction belong to the mere mechanics and means of creation.

To take another example, scientist of cognition Justin Barrett, in his book Why Would Anyone Believe in God?, has much to say about how the tendency of most humans in most environments to "naturally" believe in a god or gods may have come about. But Barrett, a Christian, goes on to argue that if we deny the validity of belief in God based on the evolutionary nature of the processes that developed our capacity to believe in God, then on the same grounds we might as well also reject our perception of the passage of time, our belief in the existence of other minds, and other things we take for granted. None of this is really warranted if there really is a God who has guided the development of the universe with purpose. And, again, science, in itself, can only be silent on that question, while the resurrection and the testimony of the Spirit in our hearts speak very clearly and gloriously on the matter.

And what of the common human perception that death is "unnatural"? I would contend that, just as selection pressures concerned with survival and reproduction led to cognitive faculties that are now capable of being employed in perceiving the God who truly exists, similar processes may have produced an entirely valid perception that death is not our intended or ultimate destiny. Once again, the question hinges entirely on whether there is divine intent underlying the creation, a question science cannot answer, but which other evidence abundantly speaks to.

It is necessary, then, to distinguish between the chisel of evolutionary processes, and the sculpture of humans created in the image of God and having the capacity to live a rich life of fellowship with God and with one another. Somewhere in the development of our highly advanced brains and of our capacity for culture, there arose the capacity for choice (a highly debated topic, but I don't think science can ever conclusively rule against the existence of all meaningful choice, even if it encourages a healthy awareness, which I think the Bible also acknowledges, of the relative and limited nature of this capacity), for love, for fellowship with God, and for all sorts of things that have taken on a "life of meaning" of their own. Again, the meaning is determined by the purpose of God and not by the evolutionary processes and selection pressures that were used to bring about the current complex and glorious configuration.

It is also a mistake to read the "meaningful time" derived from the complex of meaning that belongs to our experience in this sliver of evolutionary time that we inhabit--this sliver which is in fact the end and purpose of creation, at least the end and purpose of creation with which we need be concerned--back into the long stretches of evolutionary time, and thus conclude that our lives are insignificant. That is a category mistake. Because in the context of our lives, we attribute significance to "long time" as having been the context in which wisdom has been shaped, hard but important lessons have been learned, relationships have been deepened, enmities have become entrenched, etc. And in the context of the roll of centuries, we attribute significance to the "long time" over which civilizations have developed, and cultural wisdom has been shared, and the leaven of the gospel has transformed the world and clarified the possibilities open to us, etc. These meanings of "long time" that derive from our life experience and from a shared cultural conversation over a number of centuries cannot justly be transferred and applied to the long stretches of evolutionary eons that preceded us. To do so is to make the same kind of error as to conclude that we are insignificant, that God cannot be interested in us or in the choices we make, because we occupy an infinitesimal part of the universe in terms of space. The sliver of space we inhabit is meaningful to us, and is made so by virtue of the fact that the very Creator of all things has honored us with the privilege of relating to him in that time and space.

When we correct the above kind of error, when we make the proper distinctions, and keep the "meaning" of time back in the realm of "human-scale" time where it belongs, we are in a better position to understand the resurrection and the life of the eternal kingdom to come. The continuity that bears with our present existence pertains to the purposed end result of meaning that God intended, even it is radically discontinuous, in ways we cannot imagine or comprehend, with the mechanics of how the world and our bodies as we know them came to be what they presently are. The future kingdom will indeed be "here" in "this world" from the point of view of our existential experience; the question of future "mechanics" is irrelevant. God and his purposes are what is ultimate in all of this. Perhaps our having providentially discovered the evolutionary mechanics of our origins will only serve to heighten the glory of it all when the resurrection of the saints and renewal of the world (that is, the world as we experience it) prove that the meaning which God declares indeed was the real point of it all.

It is also a mistake, I would contend, to read the meaning of human pain and injustice into what we observe in other creatures, and then conclude that human pain and injustice are of no moral significance, or that there is therefore no such thing as moral significance. We may be disturbed when we observe certain behaviors of other creatures, such as the male of a primate species killing the small offspring of a female that was sired by a rival male, the evolutionary logic of which may be to prepare the female to be fertile to mate with him, and to ensure greater resources for his own rather than his rival male's offspring. But such creatures are acting within the limited range of possibilities open to their species, whose capacities and options are untold times more restricted than our own. Disturbing as these things may be, we do not ascribe moral significance to these behaviors or call them "evil." But the fact that seeing these things in other species tends to jar us is evidence of the very different behavior of which we are capable. Hence the Hebrew prophet speaks of a time when "the lion will lie down with the lamb," which in the context I think is best read as not speaking literally of animals, but of a day when ruthless empires like Assyria and Babylon will give way to a peaceful and cooperative human social order. We are capable of a cooperative approach that can bring happiness and prosperity to all. And not only are we capable of it, something deep within us tells us, however much we may at times try to deny it, that this is really what we are meant for, that this is the way of true peace and happiness. Because of this, the way we live becomes a genuinely moral issue.

Now let me briefly turn to a related question that a number of Christians have concerning Romans 5, which constitutes the greatest hindrance that many Christians to accepting our evolutionary origins. (I hope to address these concerns in light of a more detailed examination of the text in a separate post, or in a revised and expanded version of this post. What follows can be considered prolegomena to that discussion.) It has been contended that Adam must be literal and a single individual for what Paul says in Romans 5 to make sense. In a previous essay I mentioned the views of Henri Blocher, who believes a pre-human evolutionary history is possible, but who shares this belief that Adam, who acted as our covenant representative, plunging the human race into sin and ruin, must be literally one single individual, the first male of our species. Yet apparently the best current scientific thinking is that the human race is not descended from a single human pair. Is the Bible irreconcilably opposed to that conclusion? I don't think so. The important thing on which Paul's argument hinges is that we are in a predicament that we have inherited and that we perpetuate. And while Paul may have had no reason to imagine that Adam was anything other than a single individual, he is not concerned to address that issue--indeed, the issue would not have occurred to him. It is not the point he is making, and the point he IS making does not hinge on that.

In light of ancient Near Eastern parallels, I think there is strong reason to believe that Genesis is something other than what people today define as "literal history." A detailed and I think convincing account of this matter is found in Nahum M. Sarna, Understanding Genesis. Sarna makes a strong case that Genesis is using a shared literary idiom of the ancient Near East to deliver a pointed polemic against debased views of God and human beings and human societies that were held to by the Babylonian imperial ideology and other cultures of the region. Further, with Henri Blocher, I believe that the narratives of Genesis tell our story truly and effectively, albeit nonliterally, for the purpose of schooling the people of Israel in their divine call to reverse the corruption into which the world had fallen. The very name "Adam" means "humanity," so I think it is entirely possible that Adam and other figures in the early chapters of Genesis tell us the origins of the human predicament in a condensed and archetypical, rather than a literal manner.

How, then, might we conceive how this inherited predicament came about, if we do not take Genesis as literal history? I would submit that at some point in the development of our species, even though the "chisel" was made up of selection pressures driven by the logic of survival and reproduction, we developed as the "end" (divinely purposed) result the capacity to sense the reality of the God who had made us and all things, and to relate to him, and to sense our calling into cooperative and harmonious ways of living which, when lived out by enough of us, creates a bigger pie for all to share, and in which we find the truest sense of meaning to our existence. There was developed in us, in other words, the capacity to consciously choose the way of "win-win," in contrast to the way of "I win, you lose," which dominates in many other species who lack the capacity to choose any other way, and that fights over the slivers of a very small pie while making nobody truly happy. But at some point, deep in our pre-history, this genuine capacity to opt for "win-win" strategies was not acted upon; intead, people suppressed their innate sense that we are special creatures under God, meant to relate harmoniously and cooperatively with one another, and opted instead to seize immediate privilege and advantage at the expense of the long-term good of all. We do not necessarily have to conceive of this as having occurred in a decisive once-for-all fashion, much less in a one-time decision by a single person.

Indeed, the "genuine capacity" to choose the way of cooperation surely did not arrive in us suddenly, so it is conceivable that the actions of pre-humans, with pre-fully-developed versions of our capacities which may mark out both these pre-human species and us from all other living primates, may have contributed tributaries to the stream of our inherited corruption. Jesus affirmed the principle of varying degrees of culpability for human actions. (Luke 12:47-48 is so important to thinking about these issues of ethics and moral responsibility, let's review it in full: "That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.") Who is to say, then, that there cannot have been varying degrees or qualities of moral responsibility among pre-human species? God knows.

In any case it may be supposed that over a period of unknown length the net effect of the bulk of choices by our ancestors created a kind of watershed in human culture and history. Though the sense of God and our truest calling as human beings was still somewhere deep within us, the organization of societies and dominant expressions of human behavior came to reflect the contrary approach to living which emphasized immediate perceived advantage over against trust in God who calls us to work harmoniously with one another for the common good. And indeed the weight of precedents and the pressures of societies built upon corrupt principles militated fiercely against any given individual breaking out and living according to the call that was sensed deeper within. Is such a construction of affairs as I have outlined contrived? I don't believe it is. In fact, I think that even the most skeptical atheist knows deep down that somehow or another we have arrived at a point where we are capable of realizing a destiny that is contrary to the "way of the world" around us but that fulfills our deepest aspirations.

Certainly by the time Genesis was written this state of corruption had dominated human societies for longer than the collective human memory could know. The story of Adam and Eve tells the story of this watershed, and the fact that it is told in condensed, mythological idiom does not make the story any less true or effective for preparing a people that is called to reverse this state of affairs in the world. Nor does its non-literal form make it any less suited to prepare us for Christ, who delivers us from the obvious mess we have inherited.

To reverse the corrupt state of the world requires sacrifice. The first honest cop will be subject to the constant threats of death at the hands of those who are on the take. The first to refrain from littering will be going to trouble while seeing no visible difference in the landscape. The first to take steps toward just human cooperation does so at great immediate cost. It is like walking into a meatgrinder. But Christ walked into that meatgrinder for us, and before us, and came out the other end unscathed. United with him by faith in his resurrection, our hearts are thus freed from the false lures and threats of the prevailing corrupt system to reconnect with the fundamental truth of our existence that in varying degrees we have been suppressing, namely, that we are meant to live lives of love toward God and toward others. And so with truly joyful hearts, powerless in ourselves yet invincible in the Spirit (who, in ancient Near Eastern idiom, is hovering over the waters to bring order out of chaos), we follow Jesus, and share in his sufferings, that we may share in his glory. As the Hebrew prophet foretold, "he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth" (Isaiah 42:4).

To fully treat the perceived problems of reconciling this understanding of "Adam" and the origin of the human predicament with the text and mindset of the apostle Paul in Romans 5 will require further attention. In my opinion this matter is not nearly as difficult as we imagine, but to arrive at that conclusion requires backing up and retracing our interpretive steps in a detailed fashion. I believe we will find, as we have in the case of Genesis, that the biblical text is apt in making a point of profound significance, which we best understand as we understand the context of the original author and his readers. My thoughts on that are in draft text that I hope to finish and publish soon (that is to say, sometime within the next 10 years--a mere blip on the screen of worldview-shaping time :-).

Coming to Peace with Science

I am re-posting here thoughts I originally posted elsewhere on Dec. 20, 2008, concerning theistic evolution and the book Coming to Peace with Science, by Darrell R. Falk, a book that got a huge ball rolling in my thinking about faith and science and life.


Falk's book did three things for me.

1) It disabused me of the notion that the typical biologist's acceptance of evolution is based on either blindly following tradition in their field or a desire to escape God. On the contrary, biologists believe in evolution because the more deeply they engage in their pursuits, the more the explanatory power of evolution shines through and the more it appears inescapably the only credible explanation.

2) It removed for me the objections I previously had that evolution, in spite of its great explanatory power concerning the things we observe, is "impossible," e.g. at the level of species change or the development of something so complex as the human eye.

3) It showed that a more tranquil path is possible in dealing with matters of faith and science than my own turbulent experience has been. My faith was severely challenged when I left a Christian school and landed in a public school in 10th grade, and was hit by the double whammy of the biology class and the discovery that people weren't nearly as evil and prejudiced against truth as the Christian school had indoctrinated me to believe. Francis Schaeffer's work helped me recover a sense of the intellectual basis for Christianity, and yet I'm afraid there were aspects of his teaching which helped set me up for hard falls whenever I would come into contact again with evolutionary biology. His very insistence on a literal understanding of Genesis, as well as his casting of the whole history of Western intellectual discussion as a tendentious revolt against the authority of the Bible at the cost of despair, I think, led me to follow a kind of "script" when confrontation with evolution seemed to force me to make drastic choices. At times in my life it has appeared that I was completely given over to agnosticism and despair. At somewhat less severe times I could one day be basking in the warm presence of God, meditating on a sweet truth from Scripture, and the next day, while taking my kids to the zoo, feel all that dissipate and wonder whether any of it was really real. Falk's narrative of his own pilgrimage shows that another outcome is possible besides either being a head-stuck-in-sand fundamentalist or a spiritually and morally unhinged skeptic suffering suicidal despair. Thanks to Falk, I am no longer afraid of taking a trip to the zoo! If you ever read Falk, let me know whether you found it as convincing as I did.

Another book I found very helpful, and a good preliminary to deeper reading, was Evolution for Everyone, by David Sloan Wilson. In reading Wilson, one has to make allowance for the fact that this secular-minded writer is less adept at dealing with the religious side of these questions than he is at explaining biology. The irony is that to read his reflections and observations and heartfelt care for the created world is to witness an exuberant demonstration of what the Bible means when it says we are made in the image of God.

I think there are a number of factors that have conspired to prevent productive dialog about this issue in our society, especially among Christians. First, evolution really is counterintuitive initially, before one gets immersed in some fairly complex and detailed observations of the biological world. This opens the door for people to suspect that belief in evolution may be the result of people trying really, really hard to escape God. Second, the Enlightenment era set a genuine precedent of people who truly were about throwing off divine authority. So when Darwin came along, there were people who had long since been reveling in what they thought was a newfound freedom from God via Enlightenment philosophies, who found what they thought was scientific vindication in Darwin's theories. Christians reacted against this, rightly seeing the matter in terms of spiritual conflict, but mistakenly identifying the Darwinian biological conversation as the enemy. Many Christians retreated from intellectual engagement in general, and have even come to see faith as demanding that they close themselves off to honest exploration of these issues. Evolutionary writers, for their part, respond with curt dismissals and ridicule, failing to take adequate account of the counterintuitivity of evolution for people who have not pursued their own areas of specialized study. In all this folks on both sides of the biological knowledge divide have proven all too human slaves to the categories and patterns of reaction that have been set, not by the facts themselves, but by the unfortunate history and sequence of past intellectual and cultural conversation.

[It seems the effects of such all too human factors may be observed even in the biological conversation among convinced evolutionists. As we know, to leave a genetic legacy one must both stay alive and find a mate to successfully reproduce with. Evolution thus speaks about two kinds of "selection": selection for survival, and sexual selection. Yet for over a century after Darwin, the great bulk of attention was devoted to survival selection, even though Darwin himself made sexual selection his primary research interest, and was reviled on that account by his contemporaries. Geoffrey Miller, in his book The Mating Mind, argues that the relative neglect of sexual selection research until the revival of interest in Darwin's favorite topic exploded in very recent decades was due to an antipathy in the Victorian mindset against the notion that sexual selection is driven primarily by the woman's sexual choices in most species.]

We fear exploring evolution because we feel that something vital is at stake. But if our faith is built upon what really turns out to be very creaturely "props," don't be surprised if God in his providence allows those props to be knocked out from under you. Should you find yourself in that position (as I suspect most people will as they dig deeper into evolutionary biology), my advice would be: 1) don't panic; 2) explore freely and honestly, acknowledging that a fear of doing so cannot possibly be the fruit of faith that comes from God; and 3) trust that a sovereign God will catch you and establish you on more solid footing, even if some of your current understandings are changed.

There really aren't many options when confronted with the evidence for evolution: You can ignore it, in which case you will have little of any use to say to others who don't take this path. You can live with tension, maintaining apparently contradictory beliefs. Or you can seek to resolve the tension from the scientific and/or biblical ends. I am finding that the scientific end doesn't really budge, rumors to the contrary from the creation science and ID camps notwithstanding. Reading Falk and Wilson will show you why I've come to that conclusion. But I think there is a lot more room to move on the biblical end than either liberals or conservatives have acknowledged, and one can explore this without doing injustice to Scripture and without having to surrender a very high view of its divine origin and authority. (I'm afraid there are people on both sides who have a vested interest in maintaining the notion that this is not possible, such as the atheist Richard Dawkins who presumes to batter faith out of people with the cudgel of evolution, and certain Christians whose careers have built around calling an increasingly marginalized Christian community to hold the fort against the conspiratorial forces of godless evolutionary science.)

The two main issues that arise are the historical intent of biblical texts, and the theological question of the origin and nature of human sin and culpability. On the question of the historical intent of biblical narratives, I think the first thing that needs to be said about understanding biblical literature, especially the Old Testament, is that ANY pronouncements about genre and intent are to be entertained with a grain of salt, as coming from competent scholars who disagree with one another and who are all separated from the texts by a great deal of temporal and cultural distance. To stand against the solid consensus of the overwhelming majority of scientists concerning evolution just seems to me to be hanging an awful lot on one minority opinion (the literalist reading of Genesis) among scholars in a field where tentative conclusions are the norm and there is relatively little consensus.

Further, I think it is far from obvious that literal readings of biblical narratives are always the most in accord with the authors' original intent. In regard to the "days" of Genesis, the writings of the late Meredith Kline, Henri Blocher, and Rowland Ward long ago convinced me that the literal 24-7 view is not the most defensible interpretation on exegetical grounds. Kline, however, was a literalist concerning Genesis 2:4 and thereafter. He believed that details such as the instantaneous special creation of Adam from the dust of the earth, the fashioning of Eve from Adam's rib, a literal forbidden fruit, and temptation by Satan taking the form of a serpent, were all intended as literal history. I must say, I've read Kline, Longman, Dillard, Waltke, etc., and while they all admirably defend the point that highly stylized and even lately written texts can conceivably be historical in intent and result, they seem to assume that literal historical intent is the default position in reading biblical narratives, an assumption I think they fail to establish. The parallels with ancient Middle Eastern creation and flood stories demands some kind of accounting, and the answer that Kline, Longman, etc. give is that the non-biblical stories are pagan corruptions of a true history that was faithfully preserved in the biblical accounts. Again, I agree this is possible, but is it established? To my mind (and apparently to that of innumerable scholars) it seems at least equally likely that all these cultures used a shared mythological idiom to express (and debate) such matters as the meaning of life, the basis for a king's rule, and the basis for the social order (Genesis's contribution being that Yahweh alone is the rightful king, and so we had therefore better respect one another as his fellow subjects). Such a nonliteral understanding, if it accords with the original author's intent, in no way impinges on divine inspiration and authority--God is free to use any genre he pleases, and he generally uses those which are common currency in the cultural milieu of the audiences he is addressing. So what keeps conservative scholars, who are intimately acquainted with all the surviving ancient Near Eastern literature, from affirming the general consensus of their colleagues? From what I can gather, they insist that a nonhistorical interpretation cannot be squared with the divine inspiration of NT authors who seem, in those scholars' minds, to be referring to the events of Genesis as historical. To that I would respond that it is far from obvious that Jesus or Paul or any of the NT writers even care about the question of literal historical intent of the older narratives they have in mind. The most that I think can be established with certainty is that they believed the Old Testament speaks truly and reliably (whether literally or metaphorically) to the human predicament, and that the literally crucified, buried, and risen Christ is the solution to that very real predicament.

But even though I affirm the strong likelihood of nonhistorical intent in regard to SOME biblical narratives, I am not convinced of the view of the most extreme critics that practically EVERY narrative in the Bible, including those about the death and resurrection of Christ, are nonhistorical. Now I have to admit that all of these scholars, liberal and conservative, are way, way out of my league. I simply lack their expertise. Yet when I read stories in the Bible, I cannot avoid the fact that one alarmingly simple criterion seems to handle this whole question of historicity quite nicely--the criterion of whether the events being written about are contemporary with the human author, or not. That is to say, when a biblical author is writing about the distant and mysterious past, or the distant and mysterious future, metaphor or myth or something other than literal history is reasonably to be expected. When a biblical author is writing about events that have occurred in his own lifetime, it is reasonable to expect literal history. Applying this criterion to a variety of texts, the conclusions I draw are confirmed by the overall feel and particular characteristics of the texts themselves. For example, when I read John's post-resurrection narratives, with Jesus's threefold restoration of Peter, the count of 153 fish, and the clearing up of what Jesus really said about how long John might live, it has the feel of matter-of-fact stories based on eyewitness testimony, shared among a community of dearly loved friends who were very close to the original events. But when I read of a tree of life, whether in Genesis, Ezekiel, or Revelation, I get the sense that something very important and real is being discussed by means of metaphor.

To sum up this matter, there are those who, like Bultmann, deny ANY historical moorings to the Christian faith, and there are the conservative evangelical scholars like Waltke, Pratt, etc. who see virtually all biblical narratives as literal history. Finally, there are those like C.S. Lewis who discern varied genres with varying degrees of historical intent in the biblical narratives, and who see the incarnation, death, and resurrection as the historical linchpin of the Christian faith. Not that my amateur opinion counts for much, but just to report where I am personally, my gut sense very strongly inclines to the latter. And it must be insisted that all the reasons for this point of view--the ancient Near Eastern parallels, the evident differences of genre among various biblical texts--were no creation of Charles Darwin; it may just be that many have been moved to pay more attention to these realities in the wake of the Darwinian controversy.

Now let me share a few thoughts about the second major issue that exposure to the evidence for evolution raises for Christians: the origin of human sin and the validity of ascribing culpability to it. If we have come to be what we are by means of a process of physical evolution, how can we be blamed for moral failings? Indeed, what is the basis for believing in the reality of "right" and "wrong"? Now I have to say that atheistic evolutionists have a lot harder problem speaking of "ought" than theistic evolutionists. But one thing that kept me from finding theistic evolution a satisfying solution for many years was my difficulty in reconciling, e.g., how murder or adultery could be "wrong" given the abundant behavioral analogs in other species and our supposed ancestors.

For some time the best solution that I could come up with was to posit a fall with retroactive consequences. That is to say, I proposed that while Adam and Eve may have been biologically descended from nonhuman ancestors, the special environment in which they were placed and/or the strength of their relationship with God prevented whatever force inherited traits exerted upon Adam and Eve from being experienced by them as temptation to violate God's standards. When they chose to disobey, the whole history of death and pain and suffering became their past, as a fitting consequence of their sin. The fall, on this understanding, had retroactive consequences for all creation, just as the work of Christ had retroactive saving consequences for the saints who came before his advent. So now, ejected from the garden of Eden, and with their relationship with God severed, the tempting force of biologically inherited traits became operative, confirming them in the sad direction they had freely chosen. Some years ago I wrote up this thesis in a few pieces that I sent out to a handful of professors and cyber contacts who regularly discuss faith and science issues. Years later, I found that none other than William Dembski of ID fame is espousing the same view in his article at An Orthodox priest also seems to be arguing the same or a similar thesis in his article at

But despite such credentialed and venerable confirmation, I've come to reject my former hypothesis as nearly hopelessly convoluted. Even when I first wrote it up, I put it forth as a possible though admittedly awkward solution. Of course it would never have satisfied a literalist concerning Genesis 2 and 3. But it was intended to address the concerns of those who, like Henri Blocher, interpret Genesis 2 and 3 nonliterally but as nevertheless describing a real historical break with God on the part of the first human pair. (Blocher believes Paul's discussion of the sin of the first and last Adam in Romans 5 necessitates attributing a decisive historical fall from grace to the first male human, but he believes the narrative in Genesis 2 and 3 is not a strictly literal genre.)

I now very tentatively favor what to my mind is a much simpler solution. Simply put, culpable moral failure represents the discrepancy between the ethical behavior of which we are capable, and the behavior which we actually do. The origins and nature of this culpable moral failure, of this break with God and man, may be shrouded in mystery, but they are adequately described in accommodated mythological language for our benefit. Christ is the answer, the basis for our pardon for real culpability, and the means by which we come into greater conformity with God's will for our lives.

On this understanding, somewhere in the evolution of humanity it became possible to act for the common good, and God has declared that such behavior befits a species that reflects his own character. For example, rather than kill the infant offspring of a rival sire, which the males in some primate species do because it gives his own progeny with the same female a greater share of maternal attention and resources, and thus increases the likelihood of leaving a genetic legacy through that lineage, it is possible and desirable and now mandatory for humans to organize themselves and cooperate to mutual advantage. The happiness of God's creatures assumes greater importance than the maximization of genetic legacy at any cost. The last 6 of the Ten Commandments each address this matter, and enjoin win-win rather than I-win-you-lose behaviors among all humans. But our failures in that area are due to a broken relationship with God, which the first 4 of the Ten Commandments address. When we put ourselves and our own interests above God and the stipulations of our creator for how we should relate to our fellow creatures, we tend to be blind servants of the principle of the maximization of genetic legacy at any cost. We raid neighboring tribes so that our progeny will flourish and multiply, rather than theirs. We kill, lie, commit adultery, etc., and all of these things have rationales and cross-species analogs in regard to "evolutionary strategy." The females of many species (including in many species of birds which until recently were thought to be monogamous) pretend to be "faithful," as it were, to the male that is providing resources, but seek covert insemination by stronger or more attractive males, so as to procure resources and ensure traits in their progeny that will best equip them to survive and successfully mate and reproduce. (Now none of this is "consciously" motivated, though the whole concept of "consciousness" is a very complex and debated topic among evolutionary biologists.) But men and women are called to the more cooperative relationships that are summed up in biblical ethics, which, if practiced consistently, would provide plenty enough resources for everybody, and which maximize human happiness rather than the pointless unconscious "goal" of leaving the largest possible genetic legacy.

An exhaustive accounting of the evolutionary means by which God created us, and the reasons for his choosing those means, may be forever inaccessible to us, even though the reality of those means has become accessible to scientific investigation. But the MEANING of our lives is made clear to us both by the innate sense of God that he has somehow instilled in us, and by the special revelation he has given concerning his Son that comprises the entire Bible. It is perhaps no surprise that God would refrain from including a complex and detailed discussion of our evolutionary origins, but would instead adopt the mythological idiom of the cultural milieu of the people through whom he chose to bring forth the Messiah, to communicate what we need to know about our predicament, and to prepare us to receive the revelation of the answer to that predicament in Christ. It is certainly God's prerrogative to choose the languages and cultural idioms though which to reveal himself, and, if evolution is true, it is hard to imagine a clearer or more effective communication to achieve the ends for which Genesis was intended than what we in fact read in Genesis.

It is God, rather than our biological history, that defines the purpose and meaning of our lives. And who is to say that our lives are not so meaningful that audiences of spiritual creatures, angels and demons, cannot be anxiously following the story? Certainly science cannot say this cannot be so. Science cannot make any comment whatsoever on the meaning or ultimate significance of anything. Nor can it be expected to be of much help in understanding spiritual beings whose actions are closely wrapped up in matters of human meaning. And who can say that miracles, that is, marked departures from the way things usually work, cannot occur? Certainly scientists cannot say such things cannot occur. But historical investigation coupled with literary sensitivity can discern credible eyewitness reports that such things have indeed occurred.

Some evolutionary thinkers, and some opponents of the theory of evolution, may object that universal moral standards cannot be validated given the VARIATION in human genes and circumstances. But practically all evolutionary biologists, to my knowledge, are agreed that a number of very signicant traits are universally shared among all individuals in our species, in spite of variation in the degree to which those traits are present and in spite of uncertainty as to the long-term future of those traits' incidence in our distant progeny. And it must be kept in mind that the Bible was written to people occupying only a minute fraction of history. I don't believe there is sufficient reason to doubt that all human beings over the past few thousand years are sufficiently like one another, in constitution, in cultural circumstances, etc. for certain ethical norms to be able to be universally applied. There is certainly a pattern to be discerned in the ethical norms of the Bible--they all favor win-win as opposed to I-win-you-lose strategies of life. As to exceptions, or variations in individual culpability due to varitions in genetic or cultural or other circumstances, the Bible itself gives sufficient scope to that, simply by informing us that it is God alone who knows our hearts and is able to judge, and that judgment will vary according to circumstances that an all-knowing God knows completely.

The Bible gives God's pronouncement concerning the meaning of our lifes for us right now. The last few thousand years may be only a sliver of time out of all the time that has occurred, but it is the sliver that matters to us, and it is a sliver that matters to our angelic observers and to God himself. Science is incapable of saying this cannot be so, and, again, I believe our innate awareness of God and the revelation of Scripture tell us clearly that it IS so. And if our lives have a meaning that God has declared to us, and that our biological history cannot really make much comment on, who is to say that we are not destined for a future physical reality that has some sort of inscrutable continuity with our present lives but which is also radically different and beyond our ability to conceive, a window to which has been given us in the resurrection of Christ? Science cannot say it cannot be so, yet Christ, as proclaimed by his apostles, and foretold by the prophets who prepared the way for him, has declared and demonstrated that it IS so.

Perhaps the tentative solutions I have arrived at satisfy you, or intrigue you, or leave you scratching your head, or disappoint you. (Sherry, I'm particularly interested in what you might have to say, given that you actually have a background in the scientific end of the subject matter.) I suspect that in any case these matters that have exercised us so greatly over the past century and a half will sooner or later become the subject of a settled consensus, and our agonized wrestlings will become a distant memory to future generations, just as we find it difficult to relate to the agonies of those who quarreled and groped for answers in the time of Copernicus.

In the meantime, I'm afraid our generation of Christians will be judged as among the lowest and most decadent in the history of the church, on account of our having broken faith with God and our fellow human beings in the intellectual as well as social realms. We have not faced up to the evidence that has been presented us, choosing instead to take refuge in an obstinate intellectual ghetto. How can we prove them wrong if we do not even read? David N. Stamos, in his book Evolution and the Big Questions: Sex, Race, Religion, and Other Matters writes: "Ask [anyone who thinks evolution is just a theory] what books by evolutionary biologists they have read.... Invariably the answers are lame." I think it's way past time that we rise to Stamos's challenge. All the while we have thought people believed evolution because they wanted to escape God's authority, we have just ignored the evidence presented in God's book of nature, showing that we are among the most close-minded and tendentious people currently inhabiting the planet. And we have turned a blind eye to the pressing needs of our fellow human beings in an age of pervasive injustice, economic dislocation, and environmental peril.