Friday, May 1, 2009

A gradual "fall"?

RJS, a working scientist whose posts at the Jesus Creed blog I've found very helpful, wrote in a post entitled Science and the Sacred:

...although I waver at times on the importance of the Fall as an historical event.

I'm leaning these days toward seeing "the fall" as a genuinely historical but gradual and not necessarily unidirectional development, an accumulation of choices and their results. Finding themselves conscious of God and of right and wrong and experiencing a more robust capacity than we enjoy today to choose the way of cooperation, and, indeed, having an innate sense that the way of cooperation and justice was God's intent, various among our distant ancestors suppressed their sense of God and chose the way of grasping at advantage at the expense of others. The accumulation of such choices--and the "microscopic" view of this, if it were accessible to us, might actually reveal trends and countertrends over many thousands of years--has resulted in a kind of watershed in cultural and genetic coevolution which makes it more difficult for us today to choose God's way, even though something deep down still tells us it is our truest intended destiny.

Fastforwarding countless millenia, the author of Genesis finds humanity trapped in this conflicted situation, inclined to evil, but knowing there is a better way. We observe the battle to reverse this state of affairs at full pitch as we read Genesis, the Ten Commandments, and the rest of the law and the prophets of the ancient Hebrews. The author/redactor of Genesis, perhaps an exile living under the oppressive shadow of Babylon and its imperial ideology, and bathed in stories such as that of Abraham who fled the corruption and idolatry of his homeland in Ur of the Chaldees and who shunned the allures of Sodom, of Moses who spurned the pleasures of Egypt, etc., was keenly aware that our conflicted condition had ORIGINS. And he (or she or they) need not have had any awareness of evolution to grasp and communicate these origins with genuine and relevant insight.

And who shall deliver us from this body of death? In the fullness of time Jesus the incarnate Son of God lived the way of love and faithfulness, even unto death. In the resurrection, Death--with its imperious dicate that we grasp at what we can at the expense of the honor of God and the well-being of others--was decisively defeated.

The view that Gen. 3 is recapituted in our lives is not at all incompatible with this view. I would just suggest that the choices of some among our ancestors may have been more scandalous, relatively speaking, than those of people who have inherited the results of post-"watershed" cultural and genetic coevolution.

And because this "watershed" is really quite a relative affair, there is no need in this view to posit scientific details that may someday be disproven. The science underlying this view is scarcely in dispute. Few would disagree that belief in God or gods is nigh universal in humans in most environments, as is a moral sense. What is disputed is the meaning of it all, the question of whether these perceptions, evolved by means of selective pressures having to do with survival and reproduction, have taken on a teleological "life of meaning" of their own, so as to enable us to perceive a REAL Creator and REAL moral law (cf. Justin Barrett, Why Would Anyone Believe in God?), the philosophical question of "choice," etc. And these are questions scientific observation simply CANNOT speak to, while the Scriptures and the testimony of our own hearts speak to them very clearly.

And I find this view satisfying on the biblical end, because it avoids positing a significance to Gen. 3 that is alien to the purview of the author, as Hugh Ross and others do in the case of the "days" of Gen. 1. Whether things happened as the view I am expressing states above, or whether they happened some other way, writing from the standpoint of a people called to reverse the state of corruption in the world, to stand against the great contrary tide of historical and cultural precedent, Genesis, employing a nonliteral mode of communication that nevertheless speaks truly to our situation, and in a way that neither assumes nor requires any particular view of science, could not have been written in any better way.

I explore this view further in an "evolving" post called On the Evolutionary "Chisel," the Divinely Intended "Sculpture," and the Glorious Meaning and Destiny of our Lives in Christ, which addresses a number of key issues concerning this thesis not addressed here. In that essay I think I have many of the needed concepts in place, though future revisions may state some of them better.