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Conflicts of Christian Darwinists

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Original Sin and Evolution: Conflicts of a Christian Darwinist

Allow me, if you will, to lay a little mental ground work crucial to the dissertation of this topic before I delve right in to the topic at hand...

As a teenager newly thrust upon the threshold of small college in Iowa, I had been working upon a way of resolving some serious conflicts between my Catholic upbringing and my zeal for science, particularly the biological sciences. Raised as an avowed creationist, the evidence I discovered in favor of Charles Darwin's theory was overwhelming, yet I still clung fervently to my religious upbringing as a humping lap dog clings madly to its master's leg. Many hours I had spent in thoughtful contemplation of the issues and apparent conflicts between the two disciplines: science and religion. I sought desperately for a means of resolving these contradictions without compromising either my faith or my reason. That is when I devised my own hypothesis that attempted to merge elements of the two.

Life, I reasoned, had evolved much as Darwin theorized in his work The Origin of Species (a seminal, profoundly detailed and convincing work if ever there was one). Even the primates were the result of millions of years of natural selection, many nearing the precipice of self-consciousness that defines the human species from the rest of the animal world. Guided by the hand of God, life as we know it - with plagues and famines, droughts and disease, extinctions and catastrophe - evolved through the principle laws of physics.  I imagined it reasonable to assume that God utilizes His own established laws of the universe to create all we see in the heavens and earth today.  I could not imagine, even as a creationist, God pulling out a wand or pixie dust and reciting a few "magic" words. 

All of this applied, however, until God came to the human species. Created in the likeness of the Creator, I theorized that God created humanity itself, a literal Adam and Eve set apart from all other animals by its divine creation. The pinnacle of God's creation, humankind represented for me in this hypothesis the ideal animal, able to contemplate its own existence and purpose: to worship and honor God first.

Nature, on the other hand, guided by God but allowed to develop at its own pace under the laws of nature, had risen and fallen repeatedly over the course of four billion years of evolution until we find what we see today as the height of nature's creativity: the greater apes. Lacking the "breath of life" personally bestowed by God upon humans, the apes seemed to me to be the best nature had to offer just short of humankind. Devoid of God's personal touch, they represent a Platonic "form" that attempts to mirror in the real, physical world the archetype from which God created man and woman: the ideal form (see and for more on Plato). Thus the reason for the similarities of genotype and phenotype between humans and the greater apes is because the latter, I reasoned, is the best nature has to offer as a result of millions of years of evolution while the former is the best God has to offer, formed perfectly in the image of Him.

I had done it: I prided myself! I had found a rational way of resolving the conflict between Christianity and Darwinism without compromising the fundamental tenants of either concept. More importantly, I had developed a framework whereby I could pursue formal studies in the natural sciences without having to choose between my religious beliefs and my scientific knowledge. Yet when I had presented my ideas to people, they were met with mixed results. My high school biology teacher like Bill Klein listened carefully as I discussed the elements of my hypothesis, but he didn't seem as impressed as I had hoped. I surmised that he found it curious why, if I could accept evolution for the rest of the planet, I did not accept the evolution of Homo sapiens. In addition, friends who were more religiously devout seemed equally unimpressed, not quite understanding why I could accept the creation of Adam and Eve but not the rest of the creation story. Beyond the confines of my own mind, my argument seemed unable to resolve the conflict for others on either side of the issue.

Over the course of the next few years, I came to terms with the elements of Darwinism and the inconsistency of an argument that posits both evolution and creationism with equal weight. It seemed inconsistent to me that both could be literally true, and recent exposure to Christian fundamentalism had ironically compelled me to question the tenants of literalism and its application to the bible. Why does the bible lead one to believe in a geocentric universe when clearly it is not ( Why does the bible say women are to remain silent in the church and not teach when clearly they are now allowed to do so ( Why does the bible give instruction for the treatment of slaves when today we consider slavery an inherent evil ( Why is polygamy and marriage to underage girls permitted in the bible when today we condemn such behavior as immoral (

With such blatant inconsistencies, how is one to know when the bible is the infallible Word of God and when it isn't? To my fundamentalist friends I ask, do you believe in the bible as the clear holy authority and divine text inspired of God? If so, then why do you not insist polygamy and slavery be legalized in God's name and that women stay in their place in the church? Either the bible is the divine word of God or it is not. Who can "pick and choose" which parts are divinely inspired and which parts are the opinion of man, not God?

For example, how can we accept the biblical portrayal of homosexuality as an abomination when clearly the bible has condoned and even codified other behaviors mentioned above which we no longer accept today? If it is possible that Man and not God wrote the portions about slavery, geocentrism, polygamy, women's behavior and the rest, then is it not possible Man also wrote the parts on ostracizing homosexuals? In the face of the continually mounting medical evidence that homosexuality is determined genetically rather than through "choice," how long will Christian fundamentalist female preachers lament the evil of homosexuality while ignoring what the bible says about her even speaking in a church, not to mention other inconsistencies?

Moreover, there are still other questions that I ask today: Why are groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses still predicting the date for the "end of the world" when the bible says no one will know the day or hour ( Why do fundamentalist religions claim the "rapture" (a Latin word not even contained in the original Greek manuscript) will arrive at any moment when the Temple of Jerusalem isn't even under consideration for reconstruction ( And why are some books - like Genesis and Exodus - considered literal facts to be accepted exactly as written while other books - like Daniel and Revelation - are not? Who has the moral authority to tell us what the interpretation should be?

Having witnessed innumerable contradictions in the Christian biblical text and tradition, I stand at an intellectual and spiritual crossroad, an impasse from which I have not yet moved significantly for fear that any choice I make may be the wrong one. Now a new thought has absorbed my time and attention, a potential conflict of faith and reason that may propel me indelibly down one road or the other: Original Sin.

From the beginning of my catechism, I was taught that the purpose for the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was to atone as a sacrifice for Adam's original sin into which we are all born. I accepted this as easily as one accepts chewing and swallowing as the means by which we nourish ourselves. It was a given. Yet in terms of Darwinism and the evolution of species through natural selection, at what point did original sin occur? Does it even apply?

Best estimates using the less volatile mitochondrial DNA mutation studies (as opposed to the more easily mutable Y chromosome) place the species Homo sapiens as most likely arising from Africa about 200,000 years ago. At what point, then, did the "first man" (if indeed there was one and not several as geneticists speculate) commit this first sin, necessitating the need for God to send Christ to redeem us? It apparently wasn't in Iraq (as the bible intimates) nor was the Tyrannosaurus Rex lying in the grass peacefully with the Triceratops (or lion with the lamb). Are we to believe that it was a snake that walked on all fours? Where is that one in the fossil record?

All told, there are simply too many inconsistencies in the biblical account of the creation and fall of man to compel belief that the purpose of Christ is to atone for original sin. In order to accept the original sin theory, one would almost by default have to accept a creationist viewpoint, since in terms of evolution, there are too many foggy details shrouding fundamentalist beliefs to accept anything but creation. In order to foster a belief in both evolution and Christ's atonement for original sin, one would by necessity have to create an intellectual construct whereby the creation story in Genesis becomes allegorical or didactic.  In this fashion, Christ's birth, death and resurrection is to atone for the concept of our sinful nature and not only because of the original Homo sapiens' sin.

Where did sin arise from, I wonder? Likely, the first family group from our species whose changes in genetic material made us distinct from our simian relatives could think differently than their predecessors. They could reason and - most importantly - introspect. They could look at themselves and the world around them and begin to ask the questions that other primates never could. Who am I? What is the purpose of my life? How did I get here? What happens to me when I am gone?

These would have been, I imagine, just some of the questions our ancestors would have asked themselves even as they struggled to keep safe, warm and fed. In 8000 generations of humans, only the last 80 generations have seen or heard about Christianity and only 160 generations or so have lived since God revealed Himself to Abraham, the father of Judaism ( How did the other 7840 generations live prior to knowing the God of the Jews and Christians? These are just some of the epistemological questions that obscure the line between faith and reason today.

Thus, as a Darwinist I have to question the factual representation of the bible even on the fundamental tenants of atonement for original sin. As a Christian, I have to question the role my faith plays in a culture rich in religious hypocrisy and an exponentially increasing secular knowledge. How this conflict will be resolved in my own mind is uncertain. Yet you may be certain that the quest for answers to my own questions won't stop until I die.

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