This is a long one, but it’s worth posting over here, I think. The quote is taken from a nice piece written by Mike Aus on the Dawkins website: “Conversion on Mount Improbable: How evolution challenges Christian dogma.” Aus used to be a Protestant minister, but revealed himself as a nonbeliever in a televised talk with Richard Dawkins (watch the videos here). Here’s an excerpt from his essay; you should read the whole. I love the last paragraph below, so I’ve put it in bold type.
. . . I eventually came to see how evolution challenges the basic doctrines at the heart of Christianity. I also came to understand why Darwin sat on the manuscript of “On the Origin of Species” for twenty-five years before publishing it. He knew it was cultural dynamite.
Which core doctrines of Christianity does evolution challenge? Well, basically all of them. The doctrine of original sin is a prime example. If my rudimentary grasp of the science is accurate, then Darwin’s theory tells us that because new species only emerge extremely gradually, there really is no “first” prototype or model of any species at all—no “first” dog or “first” giraffe and certainly no “first” homo sapiens created instantaneously. The transition from predecessor hominid species was almost imperceptible. So, if there was no “first” human, there was clearly no original couple through whom the contagion of “sin” could be transmitted to the entire human race. The history of our species does not contain a “fall” into sin from a mythical, pristine sinless paradise that never existed. (I realize, of course, that none of this makes sense from the point of science; this is the world of theology. Please bear with me and enter into the willing suspension of disbelief for a bit.)
The role of Christ as the Second Adam who came to save and perfect our fallen species is at the heart of the New Testament’s argument for Christ’s salvific significance. St. Paul wrote, “Therefore, just as one man’s trespass led to the condemnation of all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to salvation and life for all.” (Romans 5:18) Over the centuries this typology of Christ as the Second Adam has been a central theme of Christian homiletics, hymnody and art. More liberal Christians might counter that, of course there was no Adam or Eve; when Paul described Christ as another Adam he was speaking metaphorically. But metaphorically of what? And Jesus died to become a metaphor? If so, how can a metaphor save humanity? Really, without a doctrine of original sin there is not much left for the Christian program. If there is no original ancestor who transmitted hereditary sin to the whole species, then there is no Fall, no need for redemption, and Jesus’ death as a sacrifice efficacious for the salvation of humanity is pointless. The whole raison d’etre for the Christian plan of salvation disappears. . .
When I was working as a pastor I would often gloss over the clash between the scientific world view and the perspective of religion. I would say that the insights of science were no threat to faith because science and religion are “different ways of knowing” and are not in conflict because they are trying to answer different questions. Science focuses on “how” the world came to be, and religion addresses the question of “why” we are here. I was dead wrong. There are not different ways of knowing. There is knowing and not knowing, and those are the only two options in this world. Religion, even “enlightened” liberal religion, is generally not interested in the facts on the ground. Religion is really not about “knowing” anything; it is about speculation not based on reality.