A Biblical vs. Evolutionary View of Sin and Salvation

Finally, Dr. Mohler interprets that I reject a biblical view of sin and salvation. But this is not accurate. I accept the biblical view as the best understanding of the human condition available at the time. Indeed, I celebrate the biblical sense—as myth!

Fortunately, we can now also appreciate human nature from a natural, factual standpoint. And in my experience, it is precisely an evolutionary view of our inherited proclivities, our unchosen nature, that young people find inspiring—indeed, salvific.

Ancient, unchanged scriptural stories and doctrinal declarations are inadequate guidance for meeting modern challenges. To restrict the real-world relevance of our religious traditions to what could be known and communicated millennia ago makes no more sense than to consult a first-century text on dental care when you need a root canal.

There were, after all, no such things as distilled alcohol, cocaine, addictive painkillers, television, or Internet porn back when Moses was leading his people or when Jesus was urging that compassion trumps scriptural law. If sin was tempting back then, it is even more tempting now. We live in an era of “supernormal stimuli.” As Dr. Deirdre Barrett explains in her 2010 book of that title,

The most dangerous aspect of modernity arises from our ability to refine things. This is the link to drug, alcohol, and tobacco addictions. Coca doesn’t give South American Indians health problems when they brew or chew it. No one’s ruined his life eating poppy seeds. When grapes and grains were fermented lightly and occasionally, they presented a health pleasure, not a hazard. Salt, fat, sugar, and starch are not harmful in their natural contexts. It’s our modern ability to concentrate things like cocaine, heroin, alcohol—and food components—that turns them into a menace that our bodies are hard-wired to crave.

 

Consider, too, that the consequences of routine interpersonal conflict were not inflated in biblical times by hair-trigger weapons stored in a pocket, under a car seat, or in a bedside table. These weapons can maim or kill, moreover, with no preliminary hand-to-hand combat.

The slide into sin dangerous to self and others is far more potent today than when Martin Luther was famously struggling with his own sinful nature nearly five centuries ago. Fortunately, scientific discoveries now help us understand the magnitude of this evolutionary “mismatch” of inherited instincts with conditions that can now so easily ruin our lives. An evidential view of human nature can also help replace guilt and resentment with forgiveness and gratitude.

Martin Luther

Imagining that our (and our loved ones’) temptations and struggles owe to our great, great, great…grandmother eating an apple isn’t particularly helpful or believable today. Moreover, such thinking perpetuates dysfunctional patterns—no matter how much we may pray for relief. But when guilt and condemnation are banished by gratitude and trust (thanks to an understanding of our evolved nature and growing in integrity), heaven is ours.

 Inherited proclivities then have little or no power over us and we can experience true freedom. Cleaning up the past becomes a joy rather than a penance. Shame and embarrassment vanish with the dawning of self-knowledge and the realization: “Of course, of course, of course!”

From a platform of self-acceptance—and also of gratitude that we owe our existence to ancestors who survived and reproduced thanks to the very same instincts we now find challenging—we can begin the constructive task of improving our ways of being, interacting, and living. An evolutionary understanding thus provides perspective and practices for achieving lasting victory over that which formerly caused us to stumble. Halleluiah!

Counselors and psychologists, too, are using these new understandings to develop ever more effective tools for taming deep-seated inclinations that would lead us astray. Together, this evolutionary understanding of why leading an exemplary life can be so difficult in today’s world and how we can best go about helping self and others stay the course are experienced by many individuals, especially the young, as saving good news. It is saving good news about the world that really matters: this world, not an imagined otherworld, which for young people is a lifetime away—if they take it seriously at all.

A traditional view of heaven is far from appealing to most Westerners under forty. I have never met a Christian of any age who can look me in the eye and honestly say that an eternity with no challenges or difficulties yet with conscious awareness of the everlasting torment of others, including some they knew and loved, would be heavenly. We all know that would be hell.

When God’s greatest promise is imagined as cosmic fire insurance with a balcony seat to witness the eternal torture of others, we should not be shocked to learn that young people deem such a “reward” repulsive—and judge that form of religion as bankrupt.

(Previous Part: Rethinking “the Authority of Scripture”)

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About the Author

Michael Dowd the author of "Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World" (Viking/Plume), which has been endorsed by 6 Nobel laureates and other science luminaries, including noted skeptics and atheists, and by religious leaders across the spectrum. He and his wife, Connie Barlow, an acclaimed science writer, have traveled North America non-stop since 2002, and have addressed more than a thousand religious and secular audiences. They show how the science-based epic of physical, biological, and cultural evolution (our common creation story) can be interpreted in ways that inspire people to cooperate across religious and political differences in service of a just and thriving future for all. They also show how an understanding of human nature given by evolutionary psychology and neurobiology can help each of us live with greater integrity and passion for life.