Friday, November 19, 2010

Schneider's Aesthetic Supralapsarianism

This week, I'm discussing a series of articles on human origins from the September issue of PSCF (see parts one, two, three, and four). Yesterday's post on Harlow's paper drew some comments. Several folks emailed thanks and encouragement, but one person was seriously dissatisfied with my treatment of Harlow. I can certainly see his point. Though I alluded to unsatisfactory (in my opinion) arguments in Harlow's paper, I only discussed the most obvious: where Cain got his wife. So let me clarify before we go on to today's paper: I found most (not all) of Harlow's arguments to be old, and more importantly, there are reasonable answers in conservative Bible commentaries and creationist literature to almost everything in his article. I didn't think it was worth my time to rehash these answers to his rehashed arguments, and I still don't.

Today's article is Schneider's Recent Genetic Science and Christian Theology on Human Origins: An "Aesthetic Supralapsarianism." I thought this article had a bit more meat to it than Harlow's, although I still profoundly disagree with Schneider's conclusions. What I liked about the article is how Schneider opened with a review of Protestant thought on the Fall that set up the issue in a fairly reasonable way. For example, he wrote,
Especially when reinforced by a doctrine of biblical inerrancy, distinctly Protestant hermeneutical principles of sola scriptura and biblical perspicuitas combine (under the nearly unconscious influence of Augustinian authority in the West) to make it seem obvious that our classical (western) reading and theology of Genesis 1–3 is as securely biblical as it can be, and the tendency to put the issue beyond dispute is very strong.
I found myself agreeing with the main point he's making here. Inerrancy, the authority of scripture (sola scriptura), and the essential comprehensibility of scripture (perspicuitas) are all very important ingredients to my understanding of how Genesis ought to be interpreted. What about Protestant attempts to reconcile a historical Fall with results of science?
One may take these efforts to be too labored, to the point of being tortured and strained, but at least they manage to respect the most certain evidence of science while maintaining the core teachings of Protestantism.
Thank you for that. There seems to be a (perhaps grudging) respect for the efforts of people like me.

Now to the disagreements. Both Harlow and Schneider characterize the historical Fall as a legacy of Augustinian philosophy, and if we go back to earlier theological traditions, we can find other ways of understanding the Fall that are also Christian but do not require a historical Adam and Eve. I'm grossly oversimplifying their arguments, but I think that I've accurately summarized the main point. In response, Collins points out
As a matter of fact, it is common for eastern writers (speaking Greek and Syriac) and pre-Augustinian western writers from the early church to accept Adam and Eve, and their first disobedience, both as historical and as having consequences for us their children.
Collins cites an example from Chrysostom and promises more in his fuller, book-length treatment of this topic. So while you could go back to some Church fathers for other understandings of the Fall and redemption, you could also cite Church fathers who uphold the traditional Protestant understanding as well. At the very least, it seems like an oversimplification to conclude, as Schneider does,
In the West, the Augustinian legacy of presumed biblical inerrancy led naturally to establishing a doctrine of the historical Fall on the basis of Genesis 2–3, as understood in the light of (mainly) Romans 5, and to teaching a doctrine of original sin.
Schneider uses a great deal of his article to discuss the book of Job and relate it to the question of theodicy. If we accept evolution, then God seems to be responsible for the very natural and moral evil that He seems to be trying to overcome through the death of Christ. Schneider approaches this by proposing that the situation is simply an inevitability of creation, recalling Leibniz's "best of all possible worlds." In a very real sense, Schneider sees this world as exactly the world God planned from the beginning, not as he calls it, a "Plan B." Again, though, I think this characterization of the traditional Protestant understanding of the Fall as a "Whoops! They sinned! Gotta go to Plan B to redeem creation" as almost trivializing that understanding. Like Schneider, I do think this is the best possible world for a world with sin, but I also agree with Collins that the deep human intuition that there's something not quite right about this place is very, very true. I definitely see God planning Schneider's "Plan B" from the beginning (the Lamb is slain from the foundation of the world, after all), but I don't see how accepting that requires the conclusion that sin is some natural and unavoidable part of this creation. God can create a sinless creation, and indeed He will recreate one in the future.

To his credit, Schneider also gives us a glimpse into the cost of accepting human evolution within Christian theology:
In this article, I explore avenues that I believe traditional Protestant Christians could take without violating the core of distinctly Protestant principles, such as commitment to the supreme authority of Scripture and the sovereignty of divine grace. However, taking these prescribed avenues will be hard for some to do, for they will have (in some instances) to abandon belief in the verbal inerrancy of Scripture, and (in all instances) they will seriously have to consider reformulations of confessional teaching on human origins, and particularly on the historical Fall. This, in turn, will demand rethinking a connected cluster of traditional Protestant teachings logically linked with other doctrines that constitute the confessional core of their institutional identities.
What might those other teachings be? Here's one:
These intuitions about grace have very important implications for Christian thinking on the matter of eternal damnation, which is very hard to integrate well into theology as integrated with evolutionary science
What else will have to be re-imagined?  According to Harlow, atonement through Christ's death on the cross.  That seems quite costly indeed. What's the cost if we merely choose to reject human evolution? Well, folks will laugh at you, that's for sure. In the end though, I would rather have Jesus Christ tell me that I took the Bible too seriously than not seriously enough.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.