The other day I went to a book-release lecture for Theology After Darwin, open-minded (as I always am these days, you know) and interested in hearing how orthodox Christians have been able to reconcile Christianity with an acceptance of Darwinian evolution, and to learn whether my six-day creationist background hasn't been a bit too dogmatic about things. The Christian Darwinist tent looked roomier and more spacious than the creationist, so I stuck my nose in to check it out, and boy did it smell rotten. At the end of the hour and a half, I had been firmly kicked back into good 'ol Biblical absolutism.
The two presentations, by two contributors to the book, were not so much appalling (though there were certainly appalling moments), as just flat-out boring. At the end, the question I really wanted to raise my hand and ask was "So why'd you write the book again? Did you actually have something interesting to say?" Their main point seemed to be "Theologians figured out how to accommodate Christianity to Darwinism way back in the late 1800s, so we should just listen to what they said." Ok...so how is this an important contribution to the contemporary debate? I hardly heard a new interesting piece of information the whole time (except for a few historical details about the evolution of evolution theory), which is pretty remarkable given that I have barely studied this issue. And the couple times I did hear something new, it was indeed quite appalling.
See, these two fellows did not merely buy into a very old earth, or a very old origin of animal life, but a very old origin of human life as well. They accepted the standard Darwinian account of human evolution (as in the whole ape thing), which raises much more enormous theological problems than merely asserting that God brought plant and animal life into being through the long process of evolution. What becomes of the image of God, the uniqueness of man, Adam, the Fall, if humans gradually came into being, at several places in the world, from apes? Ah, well these two fellows had some very interesting answers to that question.
As far as the image of God, easy, right? Once men had developed sufficiently (Neanderthal, perhaps?), then God decided they were ready to receive "the image of God"; so God entered into a special relationship with man, and superimposed the image of God on man by divine fiat. But what about Adam, what about the Fall? What about "Through one man sin entered into the world"? Well, one of our speakers (the widely renowned Professor of Systematic Theology at New College!!) just waved his hand at the problem and said, "I don't see any reason why a historical Atonement requires a historical Fall; the Fall simply describes an ongoing human condition." The other fellow (who was a scientist, not a theologian) put a little more effort into addressing the problem. His solution was to say that, although when "Adam" was alive, many thousands of men would already be living in various places in the world, so that Adam was in no sense the natural head of humanity, nevertheless, God could constitute him as a federal head and impute his sin to everybody else alive at that time and afterward. Oh, OK, that makes sense. I suppose God could do that after all--I mean, God is God. Thus hath nineteenth-century federal theology gone to seed.
All this got me to thinking just how scary are the potential consequences when theology flings itself headlong into the arms of nominalism, as it had to do in order to consummate its elopement with Darwin. If Creation in itself, even that greatest and most important of all God's works, Man, bears no imprint of God's purpose for it from the outset, has no true nature that properly belongs to it, and God can simply declare for it an arbitrary nature and purpose whenever he wants, then the potential forms of man, the potential uses for nature, can be as varied as the scientist or theologian's imagination. Could we not suggest that, since God saw fit to declare a new nature and moral sensibility for man in the time of Adam, so God has seen fit to declare for man a new nature, a new kind of image, a Nietzschean Superman, for us in the present day? As O'Donovan says "Once we separate God’s purposes in creation from the inherent goods of creaturely existence, there is little reason to hold on to the view that God meant anything at all by making the world."
Another reason why I am not only clinging anew to Biblical absolutism, but to philosophical realism; my youthful love affair with nominalism is fast becoming a distant memory.