Evolution and Jesus' Humanity

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I received a very interesting question via email from Patrick Chan:

According to the theory of evolution, why couldn't future man be materially different from present day or modern man, such that he is no longer distinguishable from modern man (by "materially," I include genetic and biochemical differences which may or may not manifest themselves physically)?  As far as I can tell, it's possible according to evolution.

And perhaps as a result of such differences, why couldn't future man differ markedly from modern man in other ways?  Maybe future man will have a different psychological makeup and emotional life, for instance, and thus be subject to and experience different temptations, sufferings, etc. than what modern man experiences.

What I'm getting at is that it's possible Christ himself might not share with future man what he shares with modern man.  It's possible Christ would no longer be "one of us" in the sense that he would no longer be able to share in future man's "humanity," assuming future man can at least still be considered part of the mammalian species homo sapien.  (Of course, if future man is so different that he can no longer be classified as a homo sapien, then that raises other questions.)  This would undercut Scripture (e.g. Heb. 2:14-18; 4:15-16).

In other words, if it's possible for man to evolve into something different than he is today -- whether it's only a slight difference or whether it's as jarringly dissimilar as depicted in a movie like 2001: A Space Odyssey (in which man is a different species) -- then what would that make Christ in his incarnation as a man?  On the evolutionary tree of life, modern man, and therefore Christ himself since he came as a modern man, could very well be to future man what an ape-man might be to us.  Evolutionarily speaking, Christ in his incarnation would be a different being than future man.  I'll not mince words: as far as I can tell, it's possible that the evolutionary equivalent of an ape-man might have died for your sins.

My response (addressed to him, since I first wrote it in an email response to him):

That's an interesting argument, and I think the worry is legitimate. I'm not sure if it's necessarily a problem, however. For one thing, unless you hold to open theism, God knows the future and has a providential plan of salvation, so God could easily work things out to avoid any real problem from this sort of thing.

Another issue to keep in mind is that we don't want to say that Christ experienced every possible temptation in exactly the way every human being might. That would mean he'd have to be a woman tempted toward heterosexual lust for men as well as being gay and being tempted toward homosexual lust for men (never mind homosexual lust for women). As far as we know, he didn't experience temptation related to severe physical deformities. He had the use of his legs, since he walked, and he could see. So he never had the temptation to blame God for making him deformed in those particular ways.

The key with this issue is that he must have had the possibility of being tempted with enough kinds of temptation that he knew what it is like to experience those kinds of temptation, enough that with extra knowledge of how people are tempted he can use a perfected sort of imagination to put himself in our place.

But I think the real issue with his sacrifice for sin is that it deals with the sin of those who have moral responsibility, are fallen, and are offered the opportunity to repent. This excludes fallen angels, but it would include anyone who descends from human beings who might be thought to be something other than human. I don't think it's our humanity per se, as a biological species, that matters. It's our descent from Adam, our sin nature, and our being offered forgiveness. The first Adam and the second Adam are both relevant for any descendant of the first Adam, even if the biological features might change, as long as the moral properties are of the right sort.

So I do think a theistic evolutionist has the resources to deal with this problem. It is an interesting issue, though, so I appreciate your bringing it up. I hadn't thought about it at all.

8 Comments

Thats a novel argument...very interesting thanks

The much more interesting possibility is that when humans become extinct - as we will - what if the sentient life on earth is descended from pigs, or not present at all?? I also find your mixing of the scientific and the religious interesting. You seem to accept evolution but how does our "sin nature" fit in? At what point do primates qualify? (Great Apes have been documented to lie to their human trainers). What species will carry on our "sinfulness" or is that really just a word for conscious cognition?

I haven't said a thing about what I accept. I'm just explaining how contemporary evolutionary theory need not threaten anything in Christian theology. See this post for what I think is rational for a Christian to believe about evolution. It involves beliefs about what the best science teaches, beliefs about what the most likely reading of scripture is, and refraining from belief on some details of how those two conflict while believing that the most likely reading of scripture might be wrong, and the consensus of science might be wrong.

Pigs are sentient anyway, as are any animals with sensory experience. If you mean that pigs would evolve to have a greater level of reason and moral responsibility, that's well beyond sentience. Mosquitoes are sentient, albeit at a very low level of awareness and experience.

If this were to happen, I think a case could be made that it would be a result of the fall, if the inheritance of the sin nature had to do with an effect on all of creation. I'd be extremely hesitant to think God would allow something like this, though, since the descent from Adam seems to be pretty important theologically from the treatment in Paul (and I think in Hebrews).

So I couldn't expect a species without human ancestors to develop this higher intelligence and then carry on humanity's sin nature. What I was talking about was rather the descendants of humans being no longer biologically human but still being morally responsible agents who reason who are therefore maintain original sin and thus the death penalty inherited from Adam and Eve.

I'd expect that the plainer sense of what scripture teaches should lead Christians to expect that the descendants of Adam and Eve will not die out until the end of this era, whatever might happen in terms of evolutionary development.

In reading this post it seems that the question being asked is whether one can expect man to evolve as a moral being, within the physical (materialist) ideas of evolution. As if man can somehow evolve into a better person, a person perfecting from the taint of what we Christians call sin.

I think the email letter implies that man could somehow evolve from the sin nature which you seem to answer by holding orthodox view on sin without dealing with this view. I could be completely misreading this.

Additionally the idea is submitted that Jesus Christ might have died a substitutionary ( I'm guessing all involved accept this portion of the doctrine) death for other unevolved moral beings in His own "obsolescent" form of existence.

Two things come to mind. One is how close the ideas sound to Nietzsche's Superman, 'übermenschlich'. The other is what deep trouble this will create in orthodox theology concerning Christ and His nature, let alone any need at all for a substitutionary death if a morally perfect race could evolve on its own. Why would God send His Son to die in that case?

In an evolution which impacts the moral being of man the argument "therefore maintain original sin and thus the death penalty inherited from Adam and Eve." becomes pretty meaningless, I think.

I think people come up with the type of thinking represented within the email due to confusion on what "human" actually means to begin with.

I think the email letter implies that man could somehow evolve from the sin nature which you seem to answer by holding orthodox view on sin without dealing with this view.

The argument is that evolution seems to allow for this possibility. My claim is that evolution might, if you ignore original sin. Evolution + original sin doesn't allow for it. Then I added that even if it were technically possible, God wouldn't allow it, because it wouldn't satisfy justice. So I think it does respond to the argument.

One is how close the ideas sound to Nietzsche's Superman, 'übermenschlich'.

I don't think they're close at all. Nietzsche wasn't dealing with biological evolution at all. The kind of perfection he had in mind was moral perfection, i.e. outgrowing Christianity and other sub-standard moral systems and moving on to valuing more important things.

The other is what deep trouble this will create in orthodox theology concerning Christ and His nature, let alone any need at all for a substitutionary death if a morally perfect race could evolve on its own. Why would God send His Son to die in that case?

That's why I said God wouldn't allow such a thing to happen, even if it's theoretically possible.

You are right- this is an interesting email/topic.
I see what you are saying, yet when you say "if it were technically possible, God wouldn't allow it" I feel that is a particularly weak answer because it depends on accepting certain premises from our theological doctrines. That is difficult to meld with materialism. It starts to feel like there are too many gaps. I agree with you theologically because I believe the way you do, but I wonder if the argument is strong enough to stand up on its own. I don't think so at this time- there just seems to be too much disconnection between the theology and the evolution theory.

"I don't think they're close at all. Nietzsche wasn't dealing with biological evolution at all. The kind of perfection he had in mind was moral perfection, i.e. outgrowing Christianity and other sub-standard moral systems and moving on to valuing more important things."

I probably wasn't clear. I know that Nietzsche promoted a moral superceding of modern man, but the context of arguing that Christ may have died for an obsolescent race starts to move along those lines. The whole idea of original sin passed on from Adam has a DNA type of connotation, and once you begin viewing man as becoming something different in evolution you raise the possibility of moving beyond that situation of the DNA, or the physical makeup of man which impacts his moral nature.

Nietzsche, although saying it was through the will, still was saying that man was becoming (or capable of) something different in nature. When others take the ideas of physical evolution and marry them to ideas of moral evolution, then you begin talking about a race of men. Supermen. this is close to what Nietzsche was presenting. I also don't know if he was influenced by evolution theory ideas or not- simply putting them in the moral context instead of only the physical.
====
In actuality, Christianity does have this idea of the new man as well. Only it is reversed and based upon a spiritual act of God which changes man through the vector of His Son's human life and sacrifice. We are called "new creatures" and Paul indicates that both our physical substance as well as our moral life "Christ in us" will result in a totally different form of mankind.

I simply think that there are problems thinking an inverse could ever be true: that the physical could ever evolve into a truly new form without the creative catalyst of God.

I think I know what bothers me about your argument. It is the question, "How do you know that God wouldn't allow such a thing to happen?"
You have to circle back to your premise from your theology, with additional premises that are rooted in spiritual things that can't be easily reasoned. It starts seeming complex enough that one wants to go find Occam's razor as soon as possible. It would all base on "if God sent His Son then that was the only choice that God desired to make" which causes one to question if evolution could have accomplished this the same way, just over a longer timeframe, why wouldn't God choose that? I think you have to deduce, in order to keep Christian theology cohesive, that there was no other way for man to become a new creation- that evolution in the sense we understand it as materialsm, won't work. Doesn't work.

Concluding then, that Jesus died for men as they were and would always be without the catalyst of His life, sacrifice, and spiritual application of the same to the nature of man.

And as soon as I say "spiritual application" it moves away from materialist ideas of evolution.

I don't see how that conflict ever gets resolved.

I feel that is a particularly weak answer because it depends on accepting certain premises from our theological doctrines. That is difficult to meld with materialism. It starts to feel like there are too many gaps. I agree with you theologically because I believe the way you do, but I wonder if the argument is strong enough to stand up on its own.

I'm perfectly entitled to those premises. This is an argument against holding to evolution as standardly accepted in contemporary science and holding to orthodox Christian theology. Since the issue is consistency, it's perfectly alright to make use of the doctrines that are part of orthodox Christian theology. This is for the same reasons that it's ok to appeal to God's nature in responding to the problem of evil but not ok to do so when arguing for the existence of God. It would not be ok to argue for Christianity against a skeptic by making these arguments, but that's not the issue here. It's a defense of the consistency of two views.

Nietzsche, although saying it was through the will, still was saying that man was becoming (or capable of) something different in nature. When others take the ideas of physical evolution and marry them to ideas of moral evolution, then you begin talking about a race of men. Supermen. this is close to what Nietzsche was presenting. I also don't know if he was influenced by evolution theory ideas or not- simply putting them in the moral context instead of only the physical.

Nietzsche does explicitly deny the biological interpretation of his views. Hitler did take him that way, and his sister published reworked versions of some of his unpublished works to be friendly to views that were moving in the direction of Nazism, but he himself says enough to rule it out in writings that were published before that point.

For the record, I wasn't assuming materialism in anything I said. That's a completely separate issue.

The question begins, "According to the theory of evolution", but man to have any possibility of future according to the Bible begins at "IF............ anyone is in Christ he is a NEW CREATION." Some nuts compare an apple to a orange long enough to imagine that the apple and the orange are the same even though the apple is still red and the orange is still orange. If the evolutionist even makes the claim of slightly being in Christ the apple might have become the same as the orange. Other than the apple is the production of an apple tree the apple tree cannot produce an orange.

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