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Peter Enns and Karl Giberson have both offered a formidable set of reflections on the deep tensions that exist between evangelical theological commitments and philosophical entailments of evolution.  Giberson rightly recognizes that the tension concerns “how the overall Christian understanding of the world . . . fits with the reality disclosed by science.”  Enns is emphatic that the fit is not a good one, and that the “cognitive dissonance” is “considerable.”  So, before I respond, let me concede.  Yup, there’s a lot to work on.  It’s going to be really (REALLY!) hard.  But, I wholeheartedly agree with Enns and Roberts that the hard work is of incalculable long- term importance.  

That said, I suppose I want to try to explain why, at least for me, the cognitive dissonance induced by my growing knowledge of evolutionary science is perhaps not as “considerable” as Enns thinks I ought to feel.  And in so doing, I suppose I hope to help others see they need not experience the measure of cognitive dissonance that Enns’s remarks suggest.  

At least part of my inability to achieve significant cognitive dissonance in this arena stems from my professional training in analytic philosophy.  Among analytic philosophers, the threshold for genuine cognitive dissonance is quite high.  Quite simply, it’s logical contradiction.  Statements of the form “P and not-P” are sources of intellectual consternation for analytic philosophers.  But time spent among analytic philosophers will quickly result in the discovery that outright, unresolvable, logical contradictions are hard to come by.  This is because analytic philosophers have a penchant for linguistic precision, and precision can often make an apparent contradiction disappear.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that analytic philosophers are oblivious to apparent ideological tensions or puzzles.  Quite the opposite, in fact; they’re captivated by them!  So, for example, the philosopher Alvin Plantinga is quite famous for having looked at the set of statements: God is good; God is powerful; Evil exists, and said, “Hmmm . . . That sure looks troubling, but there’s no logical contradiction there.”  (Actually, he didn’t really say, “Hmmm . . .” but this was the gist of how he began his now famous “free will defense” in response to the logical problem of evil.)  The point here is that what analytic philosophers call “prima facie” conflicts (i.e., things that appear to be in conflict “at first glance”) are not always, in the end, in the kind of deep conflict in which they initially appear.  

So, in the present discussion, Enns would like me to believe that evolution makes “claims” about the “very nature of sin and why people die” that are at odds with Christian teaching about the same.  And perhaps as I’ve imaginatively reconstructed Plantinga’s encounter with the logical problem of evil, I’m inclined to say, “Hmmm . . . That sure looks troubling on the face of it.”  But, within a few swift strokes of analysis, I’m less perturbed.  Here’s why.

Strictly speaking, evolution doesn’t make any claims about the nature or origin of sin.  (More about death in a moment.)  Sin is and, throughout the history of Christianity, has been, a theological concept.  It is rebellion against God.  And the last time I checked, the latest scientific discussions of the mechanisms by which natural selection operate on random genetic mutations did not include any references to Divine displeasure.  Thus, it’s not yet clear to me how evolutionary theory should threaten my fundamental understanding of sin.

Of course, Enns elaborates with examples of “behaviors” that are (or might be) evolutionarily advantageous, but not the sort of thing that good Christians do.  But again, I fail to see (at least for now) how such facts about the effects of survival-conducive behavior on the gene pool bear on my understanding of what it means to violate God’s law.  Even if it’s the case that sexual promiscuity has evolutionarily beneficial effects on the gene pool (which, incidentally, I’m not now conceding), it doesn’t follow that it’s no longer sinful to sleep around.  

Similarly, when it comes to death, Enns would seem to have me believe that evolution requires some significant rethinking of Christian belief.  Admittedly, for those who believe that no living biological organism died prior to (or would have died at all apart from) Adam’s sin, evolution poses a challenge.  For it assumes that living things died prior to the existence of humans.  Worse still, evolution requires the death of living things as the very mechanism by which humans purportedly came into being.  

But contra Enns, I do not see how it follows from this that I should immediately be inclined to revise my understanding of the meaning of death that I take from Scripture.  Death may, in some sense, be an “ally” for evolution, as Enns says.  In an “evolutionary scheme” death may not be “the enemy to be defeated.”  But, it doesn’t follow from this alone that Christian teaching about the meaning and significance of death is false.  Even if evolution is true, it still may be the case that death is deeply “unnatural” (i.e., not fitted to our nature as creatures made for life with God).  

Again, my point here is not to deny the prima facie challenges that confront a synthesis of Christian theology and what we are warranted in believing from science.  I agree wholeheartedly with Enns that a “true intellectual synthesis” is difficult and demanding work.  If I disagree at all, it is with what I (perhaps mistakenly) perceive to be the haste with which genuine conflict is asserted.  This is not to assert that there’s “nothing to lose sleep over.”  But, perhaps it is to say that, at the moment, what there is to lose sleep over isn’t as much as it may seem at first.  

After all, whether one loses sleep is not a function of mere cognitive dissonance (except perhaps for professional academics).  Rather, human beings tend to lose sleep over matters of existential dissonance, over matters that are connected to their lived experience as human beings.  Achieving a synthesis between evangelical theology and evolution may be a matter of great import for professional theologians and Christian philosophers of biology.  And it may, as Enns suggests, be a matter of some significance for the future life and health of Christian doctrine.  (I’m inclined to think it is.)  But around our dinner table, our two young sons aren’t really troubled by the fact that they can’t reach fraternal agreement over the younger’s latest imaginative theory attempting to explain the presence of fossils purportedly belonging to the dinosaurs whose existence he (currently) denies.  (For the record, father and older brother here happily accept standard scientific accounts of the great lizards.  Wise mom just listens and smiles.)  

This is as it should be.  For as important as it may be, the achievement of said synthesis is, at present, far from the center of the experience of a Christian’s day-to-day life.  This by no means entails that the project itself is not worth pursuing.  But surely it means that it ought to be pursued with less urgency, greater patience, and more charity. 

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