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NOTE: This question assumes that Scripture is inerrant. That it does not err on any point.

Scripture is explicit that death was brought into the world after the Fall of Man, the sin of Adam, which means Adam preceded death (death being a necessary component of the mechanism which makes evolution possible).

Question


Therefore, how do Christians who advocate or hold to the theory of evolution, which requires that death precede sin, reconcile this with Scripture, which argues the exact opposite? 1,2

Consider a few passages:

Romans 5:12-15

Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned. For until the law sin was in the world; but sin was not imputed, when the law was not. But death reigned from Adam unto Moses, even over them also who have not sinned after the similitude of the transgression of Adam, who is a figure of him who was to come. But not as the offence, so also the gift. For if by the offence of one, many died; much more the grace of God, and the gift, by the grace of one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.

one single man brought both death and life respectively ● death reigned from Adam onwards ● "by sin death [came]"

1 Corinthians 15:20-26

But now Christ is risen from the dead, the firstfruits of them that sleep: For by a man came death, and by a man the resurrection of the dead. And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. But every one in his own order: the firstfruits Christ, then they that are of Christ, who have believed in his coming. Afterwards the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God and the Father, when he shall have brought to nought all principality, and power, and virtue. For he must reign, until he hath put all his enemies under his feet. And the enemy death shall be destroyed last: For he hath put all things under his feet.

● death is an enemy of Jesus Christ: He did not create death as any mechanism of anything; cf. 2 Tim 1:10 ● again, one man Adam and one man Christ are compared: Adam is a literal man ● St. Paul's explicit (and infallible) teaching is blindingly clear: "by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men"

Genesis 2:17

But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat. For in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, dying thou shalt die.

● death is a punishment for original sin; cf. Acts 13:34-36

Catholic/Orthodox-specific Scripture


Wisdom 1:12-16

Seek not death in the misstepping of your life, neither procure ye destruction by the works of your hands. For God made not death, neither hath he pleasure in the destruction of the living. For he created all things that they might be: and he made the nations of the earth for health: and there is no poison of destruction in them, nor kingdom of hell upon the earth. For justice is perpetual and immortal. But the wicked with works and words have called it to them: and esteeming it a friend have fallen away, and have made a covenant with it: because they are worthy to be of the part thereof.

● God didn't create death: directly the opposite to what evolution necessitates ● sinning, men brought it to them, leaving their original justice/righteous state and immortality; cf. James 1:15

Wisdom 2:23-25 1

For God created man incorruptible, and to the image of his own likeness he made him. But by the envy of the devil, death came into the world: And they follow him that are of his side.

● God created man immortal (incorruptable); cf. Acts 13:34-36; Rom 2:7 by sin came death (at the prompt of the devil, in his envy)


A provincial Council said the following in condordance with what I have said:

"Our first parents were formed immediately by God. Therefore we declare that the opinion of those who do not fear to assert that this human being, man as regards to his body, emerged finally from the spontaneous continuous change of imperfect nature to the more perfect, is clearly opposed to Sacred Scripture and to the Faith."2


Thank you in advance.


1 See 2:12-22 for a striking prophecy of the conspiracy against, and passion of Christ

2 Council of Cologne (1860) (Tit. IV, c. 14)

  • This is a good question. I wonder if it should be spilt into a couple questions to address the passages separately? – bradimus Aug 13 '17 at 17:39
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    Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 are the crux of this question (Wisdom 1-2 merely corrobrating and being slightly more explicit/an Old Testament). The kernel is how the contradiction between St. Paul and evolution is to be reconciled by those who hold evolution to be true. Since these passages are unified in that death post-dates sin, and man, I think an answer can be just as general; or it could include a direct response to the relatively few passages individually. I'm interested in a treatment of at least these, so removing any of them would perhaps defeat the purpose of my question. – Sola Gratia Aug 13 '17 at 18:03
  • "It would help this question if you had a concise summary of your specific interest at the end." I'm honestly at a loss as to which point of the question what is being asked becomes obscured? Isn't that what the bolded "Question" was for at the beginning? xD – Sola Gratia Aug 16 '17 at 17:09
  • This is a massive question, you could probably write several books answering it. It is far from a bad question, I just fear that the paradigm this website works under is not going to give you the answers this question deserves. – Neil Meyer Aug 18 '17 at 18:16
  • death being a necessary component of the mechanism which makes evolution possible I am not sure that the logic holds up. You could also have evolution via breeding for a very long lived/immortal race. – KorvinStarmast Sep 13 '17 at 12:32
5

The Scriptural teaching that sin was the cause of death for humans is wholly compatible with evolution, because the reason why humans were not going to die, get sick, be attacked by predators, etc. if they obeyed God was not a feature of the biological layer of human nature, but a special assistance that God would provide to them as long as they remained faithful. That special divine assistance, which worked as a "waiver" of the limitations inherent to the biological layer of human nature, is called "preternatural gifts", which are different from the "supernatural gifts" that make man "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4).

The most authoritative Roman Catholic magisterial reference on this subject is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Even when it does not use the terms supernatural/preternatural gifts, the first quoted point deals with the former and the second with the latter:

375 The Church, interpreting the symbolism of biblical language in an authentic way, in the light of the New Testament and Tradition, teaches that our first parents, Adam and Eve, were constituted in an original "state of holiness and justice". This grace of original holiness was "to share in. . .divine life".

376 By the radiance of this grace all dimensions of man's life were confirmed. As long as he remained in the divine intimacy, man would not have to suffer or die.252 The inner harmony of the human person, the harmony between man and woman, and finally the harmony between the first couple and all creation, comprised the state called "original justice".

252 Cf. ⇒ Gen 2:17; ⇒ 3:16, ⇒ 19.

The best online source for learning Roman Catholic doctrine (since Ludwig Ott's book is not online in English AFAIK) are the writings of Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. (who was a consultant for the Catechism), which usually go much deeper on most subjects. The page on this subject is:

http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/God/God_013.htm

of which I quote:

The three gifts of bodily immortality, integrity and infused knowledge are called preternatural because they are not strictly due to human nature but do not, of themselves, surpass the capacities and exigencies of created nature as such. In other words, they are not entitatively supernatural.

Bodily immortality is the converse of mortality, i.e., the possibility of separation of soul from body. Adam was therefore capable of not dying. Yet the gift was conditional, provided he did not sin; it was gratuitous, since Adam's nature by itself did not postulate this prerogative but came from the divine bounty;

  • That is a very interesting possible resolution of the issue. Can you cite any references that propound this view or is it just your own personal theory? – bruised reed Sep 13 '17 at 8:44
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    I edited the post to add two references, one authoritative but very concise, and the other more extensive. – Johannes Sep 13 '17 at 9:14
  • This is a good attempt at an answer, however, forgive me for not seeing the following dilemma resolved therein: "The Scriptural teaching that sin was the cause of death for humans is wholly compatible with evolution" yet there is no 'human' until much, much death and disease already existed. – Sola Gratia Sep 13 '17 at 13:04
  • @SolaGratia: You say it yourself: "the Scriptural teaching that sin was the cause of death for humans..." and then "there is no 'human' until much, much death and disease already existed". If there were no humans, then that death and disease could not be human, yet there is no mention of animal death and disease, who do suffer thus in spite of being incapable of sinning (by virtue of lacking reason). There is thus no contradiction. – Wtrmute Sep 13 '17 at 13:44
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    This then becomes an issue of the canonicity of the Book of Wisdom which says that God did not create death initially, and created all things to be. (Wis 1:12-16). It more than implies universal death, not only human. I'm not sure St. Paul, who takes heavily from Wisdom (and Sirach, e.g.25:24) implies anything different. I'll mark this as the answer anyhow, since it's clear there are deeper underlying questions: what is a human, what is death, and whose death is meant etc. I thought it was pretty straightforward.¯_(ツ)_/¯ – Sola Gratia Sep 13 '17 at 17:43
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There was no death amongst the Children of God (man), but this does not mean there was no death amongst the other creatures of the Earth.

I'm a devout Christian who somewhat minored in Human Evolution and Physical Anthropology in University. The scriptures are for our spiritual well being only, and were never meant to serve as as a textbook for how the world was created; the physical means by which God organized the universe and all the life in it.

Theistic evolutionists such as myself accept that science does not disprove God or his works, and that the scriptures do not disprove scientific fact. Instead, a correlation must be found between the two. In this instance, it has to be true that there was no death before the fall, and that there were millions of years prior to the fall were there were innumerable species evolving and dying.

Adam was the first man. His mortal body was created for his eternal spirit to dwell in on Earth. Adam was not however, the first hominid on the planet. There is irrefutable evidence that other intelligent human-like creatures lived on earth long before the fall of man (Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis, paleolithic Homo sapiens, etc.). This gives us reason to believe that man did not evolve from other creatures on Earth, man was created and put here as described in the scriptures, but there were other creatures who existed here prior that were significantly similar to man. For what purpose, we can only speculate, perhaps the world needed to be properly prepared before the Children of God could dwell here, and pre-adamic hominids were the test creatures.

The best way to reconcile the scriptures with scientific fact with this matter is to accept that there was a creation event, where the children of God were placed on Earth in human bodies, and that they alone were without death until the first sin. The world was not created for the other creatures of the Earth, they were put here for our use. The world was created for man, and the scriptures only apply to man. Therefore, when the scriptures say:

21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.

22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22)

it means that by man came the death of men, not universal death of all living things.

  • @Abstractioniseverything. I was referring to Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis, paleolithic Homo sapiens and other hominids from the ancient past (pre-Adamic) who created tools, art, and demonstrated other advanced cognitive capabilities as is evidenced from hundreds of archeological finds. – ShemSeger Aug 16 '17 at 17:17
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    You fundamentally misunderstand my question in that you take it to assert that "universal death of all living things" is concerned here. A number of the other things you said also disturb me from a Christian standpoint, and from the scientific (as regards actual falsifiable, objective data: not largely subjective, presuppositional and virtually exclusively atheist or god-less interpretations thereof) but to respond to them wouldn't be appropriate for the comment section. You also seem to make a greater distinction between 'humanoids' and modern man than I think even evolution allows. – Sola Gratia Aug 16 '17 at 17:23
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    "perhaps the world needed to be properly prepared before the Children of God could dwell here, and pre-adamic hominids were the test creatures." also disturbed me, as if God who is all-knowing needed to err in order to discover the right kind of human. If the world was created for man, then what came before needed to be but created, not tested and experimented with for billions of years. – Sola Gratia Aug 16 '17 at 17:24
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    My issue with your answer doesn't imply a problem with my question, since my not accepting it as an answer lies in the fact that the two have not been reconciled to any kind of reasonable degree: you did not address sufficiently that Scripture says Adam brought death (something which on any grounds cannot be reasonably denied without changing the meaning of death) and evolution says death brought Adam. Thank you for the effort in any case. It escaped me to thank you before. – Sola Gratia Aug 16 '17 at 20:35
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    " the world evolved, and all the creatures in it, but Adam's body did not," that's the thing: that's not Theistic Evolution, (the only limiting factor on the scope of the question) because evolution necessarily entails man's body evolving before and after Adam. My question is not broad, it is how can the Bible say death post-dates Adam if evolution definitional relies on the fact that the opposite is the case? Can it be argued that the Bible doesn't say death post-dates Adam? If so, that's the stuff of the answers I'm looking for. – Sola Gratia Aug 16 '17 at 22:00
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The NT writers reasoned from the Genesis account as it is scripture. They did this because what God has revealed in scripture is 'profitable for teaching, reproof, and correction' (2 Timothy 3:16). However in both the NT and OT we also see reasoning about the nature of God from what is observed in nature; Romans 1:20, Psalms 8:3, Jeremiah 10:12-13 and so on.

Broadly speaking, then, the Biblical writers leaned on two sources of information about the universe. The first source is what God has directly revealed about the universe through prophecy. The second is from each individual's observations of the natural world, from which God's 'invisible attributes' can be 'clearly perceived' (Romans 1:20).

So scripture tells us two things; God's attributes are 'clearly perceived' in nature, and scripture is profitable for 'teaching'. Therefore it must necessarily be the case that anything we observe in the natural world is going to tell us about the nature of reality (specifically God's 'attributes'), as is scripture.

What does this mean for Paul's teaching that sin preceded death? It means that from a scriptural standpoint Paul was correct, but from observing the natural world (in light of the evidence for evolution through natural selection), he was wrong. So scripture contradicts our observations of the natural world in this case.

Does this mean that scripture is false, unreliable, or a lie? No, because it is a source of truth independent to our observations of nature, that is being 'God breathed'.

Consider Numbers 12:8. It says that it is possible for God to speak in 'riddles' sometimes and 'clearly' other times. The 'riddles' are no less inspired than the 'clear' explanation. Another striking example is Matthew 13:14-16. Jesus says that parables are taught to those whose 'hearts have grown dull'. But he says to those who are physically witnessing and experiencing him 'blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.' So what I think Jesus is saying is the absolute truth is revealed to those who see and hear him, because he is completely tangible and personal. Everything must be interpreted in light of his presence.

To be as terse as possible; God has revealed himself through scripture and the natural world, so Paul's reasoning from scripture is completely valid. Evolution is another part of God's revelation. The fact that this truth about the natural world contradicts scripture is of no consequence to the truth of the faith. I say this because scripture tells us that anything God reveals about himself in the natural world must be true alongside scripture itself. Only in Jesus will we 'see and hear' clearly.

  • "What does this mean for Paul's teaching that sin preceded death? . . . from observing the natural world . . .he was wrong." My question assumes Scriptural inerrancy. Let me know if I should make that explicit (I believe it can be safely assumed in the word Christian). As it stands, this is not an attempt at reconciling the two truth claims made by Scripture and evolutionary theory, respectively, which are speaking about the same thing yet say the exact opposite on that point. Thank you for your answer anyhow. Much appreciated! – Sola Gratia Aug 21 '17 at 23:11
  • @SolaGratia, while this answer may not have been the one you were looking for, it was nevertheless a worthy attempt to answer your question. If you desire answers with a specific context, you should never assume that any or all of the world's 2.2 billion Christians will be capable of reading your mind and should state the context explicitly in your question. – JBH Aug 22 '17 at 15:02
  • I understand that, I updated the question. However, as far as I can see, there is no attempt to reconcile the contradicting truth claims, but instead an acceptance of a contradiction. Which is not my question. With all respect to the answerer. – Sola Gratia Aug 22 '17 at 16:46
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A Christians view on the account of creation can vary depending on how literal one interprets scripture, or groups of Christians for that matter.

An extremely literal view of creation is that God created the universe and everything in it in seven 24 hour days. That would be to deny the process of evolution outright.

The majority of Christians do not take the Bible that literally, not because they want to try and make Gods Word to fit in with scientific discovery, but because the Bible is clearly a work that uses symbolism and speaks metaphorically about things. Much like how Jesus used parables.

The author's of the Bible interpreted their inspiration with an understanding that humans had thousands of years ago. It wasn't written with an understanding and explanation that people would have in the 21st century.

Hence the reason that Christians in general can understand that God can, and obviously did use evolution processes when creating all things.

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    The point is that St. Paul's argument is still death post-dates man and sin (in fact that's the hinge upon which his teaching on original sin rests), regardless of how allegorical or literal you interpret Genesis. – Sola Gratia Sep 17 '17 at 13:49
  • Welcome to Christianity.SE, and thanks for taking the site tour. For more on what this site is all about, see: How we are different than other sites. Your answer does provide a general answer to the question, but the question itself asks more specifically about how theistic evolutionists view a particular set of scriptures on the subject of death. Since your answer doesn't address that, it may get deleted. Meanwhile, I hope you'll browse some of the other questions and answers on this site. – Lee Woofenden Sep 17 '17 at 17:03

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