Last week I heard a professor from MIT say on television, “Three billion years ago, when we were reptiles….” The sentence struck me as very strange, stranger still because neither the host nor the audience batted an eye. Look at that sentence again, and then ponder John Collins’ remark that we must remember “how hard it is to get a human being” (Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, p. 126). You can have all the time in the world, but it’s still difficult to pull a Newt Gingrich out of a reptile. Okay, I concede the point.
My last post asked how someone who believes in macro-evolution, whether theistic or Darwin’s unguided system, can account for the problem of death, especially human death. Here are what I think are the two most promising solutions, though each comes with a very high price tag.
1. Physical death is natural, only spiritual death is a result of the Fall.
In his Romans commentary, N. T. Wright floats this theory: “One potentially helpful way of understanding the entry of death into the world through the first human sin is to see ‘death’ here as more than simply the natural decay and corruption of all the created order. The good creation was nevertheless transient: evening and morning, the decay and new life of autumn and spring, pointed on to a future, a purpose, which Genesis implies it was the job of the human race to bring about. All that lived in God’s original world would decay and perish, but ‘death’ in that sense carried no sting. The primal pair were, however, threatened with a different sort of thing altogether: a ‘death’ that would result from sin, and involve expulsion from the garden. This death is a darker force, opposed to creation itself, unmaking that which was good, always threatening to drag the world back to chaos. Thus, when humans turned away in sin from the creator as the one whose image they were called to bear, what might have been a natural sleep acquired a sense of shame and threat” (p. 526).
I think this solution, if carried through to its logical end, will destroy the Christian faith. If physical death is normal and only spiritual death is the enemy, then it seems likely that Jesus only spiritually rose from the dead. And if that is the case, as Paul told the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:17), then we are still in our sins.
The New Testament does not separate spiritual from physical death, so it did not read the Genesis narrative in this way. And what should pastors say to those who are dying—your physical demise is natural, the way things are supposed to be? Does anyone really believe this in their moment of death?
Also note Wright’s sleight of hand. He says that death in Genesis 2-3 may mean “more than” physical death, when really he means “less than.”
2. Death became unnatural when hominids became human.
This theory says there was a moment when homo sapiens received the imago Dei and became homo divinus, and from that point on this new, human species would not die (unless they disobeyed God and ate from the tree).
The strength of this view is that technically death is unnatural for humans, but it still took out a lot of innocent hominids, who had the same intellects and emotions and bodies as humans but had not yet been pronounced as such. The difference between them may very well be semantic—one was declared to represent God on this earth and the other had not.
The price of accepting this view is that you must believe that God is pleased with a lot of hominid death. Neal Plantinga’s words about animal death apply here: “Is carnivorousness a part of God’s original design? Judging by the fossil record and by the incisors of carnivores, it seems so. Judging by the scriptural prophecies of shalom and by our own hearts and minds, it seems not so….If you watch one of those National Geographic specials on television in which young lions chase down a deer, leap at its throat or claw their way onto its back, and then start sinking their incisors into the deer’s flesh, it all looks more painful than anything we imagine God to delight in” (Engaging God’s World, p. 65).
A variation of this view says that God intervened in the evolutionary process and directly created humans as fresh, de novo creations. I like this better than saying we evolved from hominids, but you still have the problem of God taking delight in hominid destruction. Is it probable that this scenario is what God considered to be very good?