Some Questions for Christians about Evolution

I’m curious as to how Christians reconcile various Christian doctrines with evolution. I’m not denying that evolution, in broad terms, is compatible with theism. My question has to do with its compatibility with particular Christian doctrines, such as Original Sin. Let’s assume that I’m a Christian who finds the evidence for neo-Darwinian evolution to be compelling (let’s bracket the whole ID debate). How can I reconcile this evidence with the theological assumptions that seem necessary to Christianity? These are genuine questions and I invite Christians to respond.

Here are some preliminary philosophical/theological problems to address:

1) The nature of humanity. The Bible suggests that humanity is special. Evolutions suggests that while we may have capacities other creatures lack, we are simply a highly evolved animal. There are a few ways around this problem. Some opt for a Platonic interpretation — physically we are animals, metaphysically we are souls. Does a metaphysical addendum make us human? Did something metaphysically change sometime in prehistory to make humans aware of the divine? In other words, were we ‘just’ animals until the addition of a soul? Personally, I have some problems with this view. I find Peter van Inwagen’s view more promising. He’s a physicalist with respect to human persons. He argues that its possible that at some point in prehistory humans entered into a relationship with God (what exactly this entails is left vague). This had various salutary effects on the human condition. However, this relationship was broken due to sin, and the various nasty bits of our animal ancestry reasserted themselves. I think C.S. Lewis took a similar tack in The Problem of Pain. These accounts are possible, but I’m not sure they are plausible. Again, I invite comments from Christians on this issue.

2) The problem of evil. Does evolution exacerbate the problem of evil to the point of making it insoluble? For example, evolution introduces the problem of animal suffering and death for billions of years and the problem of “heaven watching with folded arms” in the phrase of the late Christopher Hitchens. My intuition is that evolution does worsen the problem of evil, however some theists, like Alvin Plantinga, deny this. Is there a good Christian response to the problem of evil in light of evolution? It seems we can’t simply chalk it up to human sin. Some, like Plantinga, opt for demonic activity, but again, it doesn’t seem very plausible.

3) Original Sin and Atonement. The doctrine of the Fall and Original Sin seems difficult to shoehorn into an evolutionary narrative. Were Adam and Eve historical persons? Were they subject to biological death before the Fall? If so, what difference did the Fall make? If we deny that Adam and Eve were historical persons, what do we make of Paul’s analogy between Adam and Christ in Romans? Paul seems to assume that Adam existed. This is a crucial aspect of what’s sometimes called “federal headship theology.” As I understand it, this is the idea that Adam represented humanity corporately. Paul certainly implies this, and suggests that Christ did the same. So affirming Original Sin and Substitutionary Atonement seems to rely on the historicity of Adam. Is there a way around this? Could we understand the first human as the first to have an awareness of God, much like Abraham later on? Could we understand the Fall as occurring within a subset of humanity? Of course, in order for Atonement to work, we’d have to assume that all humans alive today are descended from this subset. These seem like dubious ad hoc assumptions, but I’m just speculating here. Any thoughts from readers?

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