Reconciling Evolution within Christian “Fall” Narratives
G. K. Chesterton once wrote, regarding the changing views regarding sin:
…Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved. Some followers of the Reverend R.J.Campbell, in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street. The strongest saints and the strongest sceptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.
I do not deny that human beings can have problems. But I suspect that I would run afoul in some sense of G. K. Chesterton’s “denying the cat.” The Christian narrative of the fall from grace and of original sin simply doesn’t resonate with me. I don’t see myself as hopelessly broken and in need of saving (although I can understand how some others might feel that way and I can see that there could be events in my life that changed my view on that [but i’m not going to try to purposefully wreck my life on the off-chance that I will then see the need for God]), and even further, I don’t see how a supposedly perfect creation could become so hopelessly broken (or even be empowered to break itself, as per the Christian narrative of the fall, in a way that could still be called “perfect”).
I recognize there could be a few reasons for this message not resonating with me. I have lived a fairly privileged life. My life really is going well and even when I have problems, they certainly seem within my own grasp to fix…
And even for problems that don’t seem within my grasp to fix, I don’t perceive that the Christian narrative of a fall has a lot of explanatory power for them. Maybe I’m spoiled by the Mormon narrative of the fall, where two major things differ from the traditional narrative: 1) God is arguably not as omnipotent as he is portrayed in traditional Christianity, and 2) the fall is not purely a mistake, but a planned necessity to accomplish the rest of God’s purposes.
Still, there is something that kinda sorta resonates with me and I wonder if any Christians have reconciled it to the Fall narrative?
In thinking about determinism vs. free will, I have to admit that determinism generally makes more sense to me. This is especially in terms of beliefs — I don’t perceive beliefs as being consciously, voluntarily chosen (and have had a lot of struggle trying to reconcile Mormonism, a tradition that absolutely is voluntarist in terms of beliefs, with atheism. [But, for whatever it’s worth, it’s not just Mormonism. I have wrangled with theists of all denominations trying to figure out what they are referring to when they talk about the choice to believe.])
I perceive more choice in actions than I do in beliefs, for sure, but I am aware enough that perception is not always reality. However, I think the perception differs enough in that I would feel more comfortable saying that I choose my actions than I would in saying I choose my beliefs.
As I have casually read thoughts from the Buddhist tradition, from phenomenology, philosophical explorations about qualia, etc., I have also resonated with this idea that there are things I call my own — things I identify with — that may be a little more complicated than I first imagined. What is “I”? When “I” am thinking, am I fully in control? I mean, “I” perceive that there are some thoughts I voluntarily think, but I am also aware of the “monkey mind,” the steady flow of thoughts that fill up my head whenever the external world is silent. When a song gets stuck in my head, who was it who triggered that? When I feel angry, did I choose that? Then who triggered that?
…To be fair, I don’t think I fully resonate with that message either. After all, even if I’m not choosing my thoughts, it’s tough to reject “I” as a locus of those thoughts — because certainly, I hear, think, feel, and experience *my* thoughts and not *anyone else’s*. (This is why thought experiments about philosophical zombies and qualia work — because regardless of if our “selves” are illusory, there is some sense in which whatever “I” am has privileged access to “my” thoughts/emotions/sensations and not anyone else’s. I really do have to take for granted that everyone else is experiencing the same deluge of thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc.,)
As I’ve thought about these things…I’ve thought again about determinism and free will. If things are strictly deterministic, then how can “I” step back of the flow of automatic thoughts and see those for what they are? Where does that meta-perception come from? Was that determined from the start? It doesn’t seem likely.
As a result, I’ve recently come to think that maybe…in some ways…I — every human, really — am incomplete. Well, maybe not incomplete, but on the precipice of something.
Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman–a rope over an abyss…What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end: what can be loved in man is that he is an overture and a going under…
I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert on Nietzsche, but that quotation came to mind. Man is a bridge and not an end.
What does this mean to me?
I feel that our issues as humans associate with our origins and provenance as animals undergoing a process of evolution. The “determinism” within us, the “monkey mind,” the part that is “asleep,” the part that lashes out…that is animal.
I feel that our potential as humans associate with our evolution of higher thinking abilities and consciousness. The free will within us, the ability to meditate and perceive outside of the monkey mind, to let those thoughts go by, the part that can become lucid even during a dream, the part that can let things go…that is something else. I can see how some would call that divine.
But sometimes, it’s flipped. Sometimes, our issues as humans associate with our higher thinking abilities and consciousness…these things keep us attached to things that aren’t important, can drive us to overthink and ruminate and stress.
And sometimes, our potential as humans associate with our origins and provenance as animals. When we can let go and just live in the flow, some problems just evaporate.
That makes sense to me. That resonates. And I can see how one could apply the Christian narrative of the fall along those lines. The fall becomes a story of humans becoming conscious — separating from the unconsciousness of the rest of the animal kingdom…but the fall also a story about how that consciousness and higher awareness is fitful.
But I wonder — with the disclaimer that I know I am not as well read as I maybe could or should be — if anyone else, if any other religious traditions have really applied these sorts of concepts and reflections on a fitfully evolved humanity on their religious narratives?