For someone who’s an atheist, Michael Ruse spends an extraordinary amount of time trying to tell Christians how they can reconcile the Bible, God, and Jesus with modern science. He’s now published a column at HuffPo (related to a similar and earlier column) that tries to explain how you can salvage the crucial Christian idea of original sin even if the story of Adam and Eve were completely fictitious. Ruse’s answer: original sin is immanent in evolution. (It’s a result of natural selection, which makes us both good and bad.) Ruse also recounts the story of John Schneider, a theologian at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who is in trouble because, following Ruse’s line, he sees original sin as independent of a literal Adam and Eve. (Schneider, however, attributes original sin to God’s particular tastes rather than natural selection).
Ruse, while defending the college’s right to enforce doctrinal orthodoxy, is sympathetic with Schneider: “So one can only welcome it when trained, serious, committed theologians try to reinterpret their beliefs in terms of (or compatible with) modern science.”
Over at EvolutionBlog, Jason Rosenhouse has written a nice anti-accommodationist post in which he dismantles both parts of Ruse’s argument. First, re the “saving” of original sin by imputing it to Darwinian natural selection:
This attempted reconciliation, in which our sinful natures are equated with the selfishness we inherit from our evolutionary history, is very common in the literature of reconciliation. It is essentially what is argued by Karl Giberson in Saving Darwin and by Daryl Domning in Original Selfishness. If they find this view adequate they are welcome to it, but we should not be surprised that so many Christians of a traditional temperament are not amused. They will say that this is not a reconciliation of original sin with evolution at all. Defenders of this view are simply discarding original sin and hitching their fortunes to science instead.
Second, Jason finds it amusing—and untenable—that theological doctrine can be considered infinitely malleable: a sort of taffy that can be stretched without limit, regardless of scientific fact, without losing its integrity. Jason puts Ruse’s comment in bold: “So one can only welcome it when trained, serious, committed theologians try to reinterpret their beliefs in terms of (or compatible with) modern science,” and comments:
That boldface comment is really the crux of the issue. As Ruse notes, modern science has shown that the traditional understanding of original sin is entirely false. Do we respond to that by saying good riddance to bad rubbish, or do we simply shrug it off and simply change the doctrines to fit the times?
For many religion is a rock on which they can always rely. It is a body of eternal truths they can return to even as the winds of popular culture buffet them into temptation and immorality. That these doctrines do not change is precisely the point. To such people it is not at all honorable to make religious teaching subservient to the demands of science.
Have a look at Jason’s piece.
Note: Ruse has been doing this specious reconciliation for some time. See my 2001 review of his book on this topic, Can a Darwinian be a Christian? (Ruse’s answer, of course, was “yes”.)