LeRon Shults on evolution and original sin

A lot of people believe that evolutionary theory is in deep conflict with the basic ideas of Christian theology – including US pastors. One of those conflicts is about the first humans, Adam and Eve. Many creationists point out that if you don’t accept that Adam and Eve have ever lived, you also have to give up the idea of the fall and thus of original sin. But if so, Christology also loses its force – for if the fall never happened, why then did God have to become human?

If one sticks to a literalist interpretation of the Genesis-text, there indeed is a problem. LeRon Shults, once a student of Princeton professor Wentzel van Huyssteen, now a professor in the philosophy of religion in Norway, writes in his Reforming Anthropology: After the Philosophical Turn to Relationality (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans 2003):

The idea of a first couple coming into existence in a state of perfection sometimes in the last ten thousand years simply cannot be reconciled with evolutionary science. The sciences of embryology and genetics deminstrate the continuity of human organisms with the rest of organic life as it has emerged and become more complex over millions and milions (not merely thousands) of years. Analysis of the mitochondrial deoxyribonucleic acid of contemporary homo sapiens indicates that human populations never consisted of fewer than several thousand individuals. Paleological evidence shows that death and suffering were in the world long before the emergence of human beings. (208)

Okay, doesn’t this indicate a problem? Again, on a literalist reading of the Bible, yes. However, Shults argues:

One can accept the illuminative force of evolutionary hypotheses without denying the heart of the doctrine of original sin, which is that each and every person is bound by relations to self, others, and God that inhibit the goodness of loving fellowship, and that only by divine grace may humans share in the righteousness of God. (209)

To this I fully agree. Leaving a literalist reading of the Bible behind doesn’t mean giving up on the basic ideas of Christianity. Indeed, in my view (and in Shults’), it opens up a perspective that allows one to incorporate insights of different (also scientific) disciplines. How that might work out in detail? – For that I urge you to check out LeRon Shults’ book (which, by the way, is about much, much more than merely original sin)…

1 thought on “LeRon Shults on evolution and original sin

  1. Even the literal reading of Genesis does NOT support the doctrine of ‘original sin’ because rather than losing moral capacity or freewill by eating the fruit, they gained it, as God says “Behold the man has become as one of Us knowing good and evil.” The standard Christian interpretation of the passage is simply Manichean eisogesis that Augustine brought with him when he sort of converted from Gnosticism to Catholicism. Why do you think the Jews have never bought into the ‘original sin’ idea? They believe every man has both a good inclination and evil inclination, not that we are born ‘totally depraved’ or any of that foolishness. The Christian view is simply a leftover of Gnosticism.

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