Monday, 16 June 2014

David Burges critiques evolutionary creationism in The Testimony - 5

Burges' attempt to rebut the genomic evidence confirming the reality of common descent  highlights the ignorance of the subject that is all too common among Christadelphian evolution denialists. His rebuttal of 'theistic evolution' using his interpretation of the Bible is no better as it betrays more an attempt to force the Bible to fit a pre-determined conclusion rather than an objective attempt to understand what the writers in their context were trying to say. Furthermore, it ignores the fact that early Christadelphian views on this subject were hardly uniform, and changed more for political than for exegetical reasons.
Burges asserts - without any substantive evidence - that Christians cannot accept evolution:
We cannot be Christians - that is, followers of the Lord Jesus - without believing in the Creator God, the supreme Intelligence and Originator of all things: "he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Heb 11:6); and "By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things that are visible" (v3). [1]
This proves nothing other than Burges' narrow view of Divine agency - whereby God can effect his purpose using secondary causes - as well as his failure to differentiate between a theology of creation (which makes no comment about the technical details by which the diversity of life appeared) and a science of creation. Nowhere in those verses do we see any evidence of a science of creation.

Burges' response becomes weaker when he conflates methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism, damns evolutionary biology for 'excluding supernatural intervention' and finally takes refuse in his own personal sense of incredulity:
In contrast, the theory of evolution is the product of a world view which seeks a wholly naturalistic explanation for life that excludes supernatural intervention. It therefore defies logic that these two opposing explanations can be combined into a harmonious account of life on earth and of mankind's origins.
The facts refute Burges' special creationism. Common descent is a fact. Anatomically modern human beings predate the earliest possible date for Adam by close to 190,000 years. It is physically impossible for the entire human race to have descended from two people living 6,000 years ago. None of this is in doubt.

Burges' attempted dismissal of evolution for being a product of a 'naturalistic world view' once again confirms his ignorance of basic scientific epistemology. Science is the pursuit of natural explanations for natural phenomena. It makes no comment for or against the question of whether the supernatural exists because there is no way one can reliably measure and quantify the supernatural. Furthermore, if Burges is going to dismiss evolutionary biology for seeking to find natural explanations for the origin of biodiversity through time, he is obliged to dismiss every branch of science which like science looks purely for natural explanations for natural phenomena. At heart, Burges' view is thoroughly anti-scientific and fideistic, and offers no assistance to the honest doubter who unlike Burges accepts that the natural world does not have written into it one giant, superfluous lie.

Burges's claim that reconciling evolution and the Bible 'defied logic' at at odds with what the creation narrative is trying to tell us. I would agree that one cannot find evolution in Genesis 1. However, one cannot find OEC or YEC in the creation narratives for the simple reason that Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology, and not modern science. Both literalism and strong concordism are failed attempts at reconciling the natural world with a literal reading of the creation narratives. Over a quarter of a century ago, respected evangelical Christian geologist and scholar Davis Young, in a survey of Christian approaches towards reconciling geology and Genesis, concluded:
A review of 300 years of literalistic and concordistic harmonizations between the biblical text and the results of empirical geological study shows that there has been absolutely no consensus among evangelical Christians about interpretation of the details of the biblical accounts of creation and the flood or about texts such as Psalm 104, Proverbs 8, or other wisdom literature that bear on the creation, the flood, or the physical character of the earth. There has not been a Christian consensus about the identity of the great deep, about the firmament, about the waters above and below the firmament, about what happened on the fourth day of creation, about the sequencing of events and their matching with the geological evidence, or about the nature of the fountains of the great deep. Given this history of extreme variation of understanding of these various elements of the biblical text, it is unwise to insist that the teaching of the biblical text on any of these matters is "clear and plain" or that one's own interpretation is obviously what the biblical text has in mind.  (Emphasis mine) [2]
Given this complete failure in achieving a robust harmony of Genesis and geology that does not do violence to either, Burges' assertion that evolution and Genesis are opposed is based on a completely flawed way of reading the creation narratives, one which imposes a modern historiography on the narratives, and assumes that the ancient world, like the modern world, was interested in a mechanistic account of material origins. As I've shown elsewhere, this is simply not the case as the ancient world was more concerned with an explanation of functional origins (time, weather, agriculture). Coupled with this is the fierce polemic against ANE creation mythology. This approach completely decoupled Genesis 1 from any scientific question of material origins, meaning that any explanation of how God created is simply irrelevant to the question of interpreting Genesis 1. On this David Young is worth quoting in its outline of the way that interpretation of Genesis 1 in our community desperately needs to follow:
 I suggest that we will be on the right track if we stop treating Genesis 1 and the flood story as scientific and historical reports. We can forever avoid falling into the perpetual conflicts between Genesis and geology if we follow those evangelical scholars who stress that Genesis is divinely inspired ancient near eastern literature written within a specific historical context that entailed well-defined thought patterns, literary forms, symbols, and images. It makes sense that Genesis presents a theology of creation that is fully aware of and challenges the numerous polytheistic cosmogonic myths of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the other cultures surrounding Israel by exposing their idolatrous worship of the heavenly bodies, of the animals, and of the rivers by claiming that all of those things are creatures of the living God. The stars are not deities. God brought the stars into being. The rivers are not deities. God brought the waters into existence. The animals are not deities to be worshipped and feared, for God created the animals and controls them. Even the "chaos" is under the supreme hand of the living God. Thus Genesis 1 calmly asserts the bankruptcy of the pagan polytheism from which Israel was drawn and that constantly existed as a threat to Israel's continuing faithfulness to the true God of heaven and earth. (Emphasis mine) [3]
What is frustrating is that a pre-realised form of this approach was outlined around three quarters of a century earlier by CC Walker, second editor of The Christadelphian:
Moses’ testimony was given to Israel in what might be called the infancy of the world, when men did not know the extent of the earth, let alone that of the sun, moon, and stars. And, as we believe, it was given (by God through Moses), not so much to instruct Israel in cosmogony in detail, as to impress upon them the idea that The Most High God is the Possessor of Heaven and Earth (Gen. 14:22). (Emphasis mine) [4]
Following through with this insight would have certainly kept us away from the idiocy of YEC, and may well have resulted in a non-concordist reading of Genesis becoming normative in our community.

How the science denialists misrepresent Evolutionary Creationists

Despite the fact that sites such as this have existed for over a year and have not been backwards in detailing how many evolutionary creationists read the creation narratives, distortions and misrepresentations of our position abound, implying or asserting that evolutionary creationists:
  • Deny the historicity of Adam and Eve
  • Deny that Gen 2-11 has a historical core
  • Read the early chapters of Genesis as an allegory
Either the evolution denialists have not adequately researched the position held by evolutionary creationists in our community, or they are deliberately misrepresenting the position of ECs for polemical reasons. Once again, many ECs:
  • Believe Gen 2-11 contains a strong historical core
  • Believe Adam and Eve were literal people, the first people with whom God entered into a covenant relationship, but do not believe they were the sole ancestors of the entire human race
Burges tells his readers that "wholesale reinterpretation of many parts of Scripture" would be needed by EC. Ignoring the fact that if evidence contradicts a cherished interpretation of the Bible, then the only intellectually honest approach is to change that interpretation rather than closing one's eyes and ears to the facts and hiding from reality, many of Burges's statements are based on his misrepresentation of what ECs believe:

Assertion: Adam must have had many predecessors and so was not the "first man" created, though Scripture says he was (1 Cor 15:47). Genesis 2 and 3 are not to be taken literally

Reality: Many ECs believe that Adam was specially created, and not merely a representative human taken from outside the garden and placed within it. They do not regard Adam as the first Homo sapiens to walk the planet (as confirmed by the scientific evidence) but note that a plain reading of Gen 4 confirms that as the only children born to Adam and Eve at that time were Cain and Abel, the existence of other human beings apart from Adam and Eve was assumed by the writer of Genesis, and not considered a fact needing explanation.

The appeal to 1 Cor 15:47 as some sort of 'clobber text' proves nothing other than Burges' ability to commit the exegetical mistake of basing a major theological principle on an isolated verse. It also fails to address the question of what Paul meant by the 'first man', as far as the theological point he was making requires. Reading from verse 45:
So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.  However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven.
Burges' attempt to make Adam the very first human to exist based in 1 Cor 15:47 betrays exegetical naiveté. If Adan was chronologically the first human being to live, based on Burges' reading of this verse, then Christ was the second human being to live. Going back a little further, if Adam was chronologically the first Adam, then Christ was the last Adam, which given the fact that the human race has been continuing for 2000 years also shows how naive Burges' reading of 1 Corinthians 15 is.

What Burges forgets is that Paul is referring to salvation history, which began with Adam's sin, and ended with Christ's victory. Adam and Christ therefore refer to two different exemplars of humanity. The existence of people prior to Adam is simply irrelevant to salvation history as they were 'like the beasts that perished.' Irrespective of whether Adam really was the first human being to exist or not, he was, according to the Bible, the first person to whom God revealed himself, and it is from Adam that salvation history began.

His claim that a non-literal reading of Gen 2-3 follow from an EC view is nonsense, and falls apart given that ECs accept the historicity of Adam and Eve.

Assertion: Eve was not literally created from a rib in Adam's side - she was a normal woman. Nor could she have been "the mother of all living" (Gen 3:20).

Reality: As Burges has misrepresented what ECs believe, this assertion can be largely dismissed. ECs accept the historicity of Eve. As for the claim that Gen 3:20 proves that she was the ancestor of all human life, Gen 4:20-21 shows the folly of using the literal wording of Gen 3:20 to defend monogenesis:
Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock.  His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.
Were Jabal and Jubal literally the ancestors of all tent-dwellers and musicians, respectively? Surely not. Once again, the verse proves too much.

Assertion: God did not institute marriage as described in Genesis 2, since men and women with physical relationships were already in existence before Adam and Eve. This contradicts the teaching of Jesus (Mt. 19:3-6) and the Apostle Paul (Eph 5:22-33).

Reality: This is a weak objection to which Burges has already provided a response with his statement that "men and women with physical relationships were already in existence before Adam and Eve." Indeed they were. But is that the same thing as the institution of marriage as described in Genesis 2? Burges is conflating pair-bonding - with or without the presence of any cultural ritual associated with it - with marriage as defined in the Bible.

Assertion: If the common-descent argument is true, then almost certainly the serpent did not literally exist and Genesis 2 is purely figurative. (cf. 1 Tim 2:3,14).

Reality: This is a non-sequitur. Burges never provides any evidence to support his assertion that if common descent is true, then Genesis 3 was not literal. It is also yet another example of his  misrepresentation of what ECs believe.

ECs  accepts the fact that all life living today shares common ancestry. They also believe that several thousand years ago, God entered into a covenant relationship with two people, with Genesis 2-3 providing a more or less historical summary of those events. There is certainly no reason why the fact of common descent precludes the historicity of Gen 2-3. What it does do is rule out recent monogenism, the idea that every human being alive descends exclusively from two people living a few thousand years ago.

Assertion: The disobedience of Adam was not the origin of death (cf. Rom 5:12) because humans (or at least the hominid species which evolved into Homo sapiens) had already experienced death.

Reality: Burges has seriously erred in his exegesis of Rom 5:12 in that he confuses death with mortality. They are completely different terms and are represented by two different Greek words:
  • death =   thanatos
  • mortality =  thnētos
Our mortality has nothing to do with Adam's sin, and is simply a reflection of the fact we are made from the 'dust of the ground'. Death is the termination of life. The concepts are entirely different. and if confused result in theological error. As with evolution, the problem arises from a failure to properly define terms.

In Romans 5:21, Romans 6:16,21,23 and 1 Cor 15:21, Paul uses the term thanatos - death - instead of mortality:
Rom 5:12 Διὰ τοῦτο ὥσπερ διʼ ἑνὸς ἀνθρώπου ἡ ἁμαρτία εἰς τὸν κόσμον εἰσῆλθεν καὶ διὰ τῆς ἁμαρτίας ὁ θάνατος, καὶ οὕτως εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους ὁ θάνατος διῆλθεν, ἐφʼ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον 
Rom 5:21  ἵνα ὥσπερ ἐβασίλευσεν ἡ ἁμαρτία ἐν τῷ θανάτῳ, οὕτως καὶ ἡ χάρις βασιλεύσῃ διὰ δικαιοσύνης εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν. 
Rom 6:16  οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι ᾧ παριστάνετε ἑαυτοὺς δούλους εἰς ὑπακοήν, δοῦλοί ἐστε ᾧ ὑπακούετε, ἤτοι ἁμαρτίας εἰς θάνατον ἢ ὑπακοῆς εἰς δικαιοσύνην 
Rom 6:21  τίνα οὖν καρπὸν εἴχετε τότε; ἐφʼ οἷς νῦν ἐπαισχύνεσθε, τὸ γὰρ τέλος ἐκείνων θάνατος.  
Rom 6:23 τὰ γὰρ ὀψώνια τῆς ἁμαρτίας θάνατος, τὸ δὲ χάρισμα τοῦ θεοῦ ζωὴ αἰώνιος ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ τῷ κυρίῳ ἡμῶν. 
1 Cor 15:21  ἐπειδὴ γὰρ διʼ ἀνθρώπου θάνατος, καὶ διʼ ἀνθρώπου ἀνάστασις νεκρῶν
Reading θάνατος as mortality instead of death completely distorts the point Paul is making, particularly in Romans 6:
Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in mortality, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? 
Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is mortality.
For the wages of sin is mortality, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
As humans are already mortal, these readings are nonsensical. However, when  θάνατος is read as death, the meaning is plain: eternal death is the reward for sin. The parallelism in Rom 6:23 alone should make this clear:
  • wages of sin --> eternal death
  • gift of god --> eternal life
We are mortal because we are organic creatures. The fact we die has nothing to do with Adam's sin. However, if we sin, then we are at risk of eternal death as a punishment for sin.

The diversity of opinion that exists on how Romans 5:12 reflects the difficulty in its exegesis. The United Bible Society Handbook on Romans observes:
This verse begins with a transitional formula (RSV “therefore”), which both commentators and translators find difficult to handle. The question is whether it relates back to verse 11 alone, or to 5:1–11, or to the entire section of 1:17–5.11. Most probably it is to be taken in relation to the passage immediately preceding, 5:1–11. [5]
The crux of this problem is the belief Rom 5v12 teaches human beings die because of Adam's sin, which of course is the motivation for universal human descent from Adam, in order for some genetic cause of death to be propagated to humanity. Once again, the UBS Handbook notes the problems inherent in this reading:
Paul indicates that Adam sinned, and as a result of his sin death came into the human race. However, it is important to realize that Paul does not make men guilty of Adam’s sin or indicate that all men die because of the sin of Adam. Paul says rather that death spread to the whole human race, because all men sinned. The verb rendered sinned in this passage is an aorist, and some few have tried to interpret this as meaning that when Adam sinned all of his physical descendants sinned along with him. It must be admitted that a meaning similar to this could be arrived at on the basis of verse 19, but that is not the meaning of the present passage. In this verse Paul is saying that death became a universal experience because all men sinned. (emphasis mine) [6]
The significance of this for the discussion cannot be overestimated. Far from Adam's sin being the cause of human death, it is the universality of human sin which causes death, and that negates the need for us to be physically descended from Adam in order to inherit any 'genetic' consequence of that sin. The universality of human sin needs no reminder, but as Paul notes, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

Paul did not work in a vacuum, but against a long tradition of Jewish exegesis (Second Temple Judaism), and by examining this background, it is possible to understand how Adam was seen in that period. James Dunn notes in his commentary on Romans:
Paul here shows himself familiar with and indeed to be a participant in what was evidently a very vigorous strand of contemporary Jewish thinking about Adam and the origin of evil and death in the world. [7]
One finds in Second Temple Judaism considerable debate about the connection between Adam and the origin of sin and death. The pseudepigraphical work 2 Baruch likely post-dates Paul, so cannot be argued as being directly influential, but is representative of such Jewish thought on the subject:
Adam is therefore not the cause, save only of his own soul, But each of us has been the Adam of his own soul. [8]
The argument that Adam's sin directly affected only himself, but acted as the paradigm for all human sin was hardly alien to Paul's intellectual world. This does not mean that Paul did not believe in a historical Adam, but rather that his theology was not contingent on universal Adamic descent.

The early church father Augustine of Hippo played a pivotal role in formulating the doctrine of Original Sin, one in which both his early life experiences and his later controversy with Pelagius were pivotal.

Although raised a Christian, Augustine left the Church early in his life and flirted with the Manichaean sect, a gnostic religion in which dualistic struggle between God and Satan and their respective worlds of light and dark featured strongly. Later, he was influenced by Neo-Platonism, which unlike the gnostic cults was not dualistic; evil was regarded as the absence of good, with sin being the cause of this absence of sin. Also playing a formative role was the marked unease he felt at his earlier life of sexual licentiousness. Fahlbusch and Bromiley in The Encyclopedia of Christianity note:
Augustine designates the loss of our freedom and capacity to do the good as original sin. This bondage to selfishness becomes the new state of human life. In a fateful and debatable move, Augustine connects self-love with sexual desire and then argues that original sin was passed from generation to generation by the natural process of procreation. [9]
His conflict with the Celtic monk Pelagius, who argued (or has had those arguments attributed to him) that human beings had the capacity and the will to do good. The power of Adam's sin over humanity was in setting a malign example to copy, rather than something which was passed from generation. Needless to say, Augustine (and other early fathers such as Jerome) fought this idea bitterly.

The fact that verses such as Rom 5v12 do not provide the support for the transmission of any consequences of Adam's sin, coupled with the recognition that Original Sin owes more to Augustine's novel theological musings than Paul have led many theologians to reconsider the doctrine. The Catholic theologian Jack Mahoney notes:
The formal teaching of the Council of Trent, then, is that Adam’s original sin is inherited by everyone through procreation and that its guilt is forgiven by the conferring of baptism, yet something of its results remains even in the baptized, experienced as concupiscence or sinful desires, fomenting or fueling sin in each of us. On this several comments can be offered, the first crucially relating to where it all starts, namely, to what Paul meant in Romans 5:12 when he used the Greek phrase eph’ hō relating to Adam’s action. Augustine and others, including the council fathers at Trent, relying on the Old Latin translation, took this to mean in Latin in quo, or “in whom,” with the clear implication that everyone had sinned in Adam. Most exegetes today understand this phrase as using the common Greek preposition epi to imply succession rather than inclusion, thus giving the meaning “since when” all have sinned rather than “in whom” all have sinned. We must conclude that if this is the original Pauline meaning, it removes from divine revelation any reference to Adam’s descendants being incorporated in solidarity “in him” (in quo), and as a result it dispenses with the conclusion that the whole of succeeding humanity has been condemned en masse as a sort of “condemned mass in Adam,” as Augustine and others explained. J. N. D. Kelly delivers his considered verdict in explaining how the Old Latin version of the New Testament (which had influence only in the West) gave “an exegesis of Rom 5, 12 which, though mistaken and based on a false reading, was to become the pivot of the doctrine of original sin.”

As a consequence of this reflection, it follows that there is now no need for theology to find a method by which to explain how all Adam’s offspring inherit his original sin. Trent’s insistence that Adam’s original sin was transmitted among all subsequent human beings by propagation, or by generation, rather than simply by imitation (which Pelagius was considered to have maintained) was clearly due more to the theological polemic of Saint Augustine against Pelagius and his supporters than to Paul’s writing centuries earlier. The Council of Trent’s teaching on original sin (DS 1512) appealed to the sixth-century Second Council of Orange, which itself drew explicitly on Augustine’s views on original sin, including his quotation and his understanding of what he considered Paul’s in quo and what he considered its implications. (Emphasis mine) [10]
Original Sin therefore can arguably be said to owe more to Augustine, particularly his guilt at his early life of moral laxity, than Paul. As Mahoney notes:
Augustine’s insistence on original sin was, in fact, influenced by his implacable opposition to Pelagian claims for moral self-sufficiency, as well as by Augustine’s own humiliating struggle for chastity and his pessimistic theology of human sexuality. As I have commented elsewhere, it is not surprising that the troubled Augustine saw in human disruptive sexual experience “not only the terrible effects of original sin, but also the very channel through which that sin was transmitted from generation to generation.” [11]
Removing Augustine's influence from the debate, which still bears the impact of his use of the flawed Latin version of Romans is critical if we are going to understand what Paul really meant. Any reading of Romans 5:12 which asserts that Adam's nature was changed from an indeterminate state to mortality as a direct consequence of his sin, a change which was genetically passed on to the entire human race not only is flatly contradicted by the genomic evidence ruling out monogenesis, but is one which owes everything to Augustine and nothing to Paul.

Assertion: The whole historical narrative in Genesis 2-5 cannot be taken literally but is only an allegory with a deeper meaning. This creates an insurmountable problem as to which parts of the Bible narrative need to be specially interpreted and which may be taken literally.

Reality: Again, Burges' distortion of what ECs believe has created a problem which exists only in his mind. ECs as I have repeatedly pointed out regard Gen 2-11 as essentially historical. Yet again, we see the mindset of one who cannot imagine any alternative interpretation of Genesis other than a mindless literalism or allegory. The idea that Genesis could be a polemic against ANE cosmology, or that the days of Genesis could be a literary framework, or even recognising that a pre-scientific audience may not have even been worried about having an account of material origins appears to be foreign to evolution denialists in our community. 

That neatly segues into by far the bigger problem implicit in Burges assertion that a non-literal reading of Genesis creates 'insurmountable' problems in reading Gen 2-5. There is a problem only for those unfamiliar with basic hermeneutics.  One of the problems facing our community is that many people don't know how to properly study the Bible, recognise genre, and tailor one's exegesis accordingly.

Unless one can recognise genre, then any attempt at exegesis will founder. Grant Osborne notes:
the genre or type of literature in which a passage is found provides the “rules of the language game”... that is, the hermeneutical principles by which one understands it. Obviously, we do not interpret fiction the same way as we understand poetry. Nor will a person look for the same scheme in biblical wisdom as in the prophetic portions. Yet this also occasions great debate, for there is significant overlap. For instance, large portions of the prophetic books contain poetry and other portions contain apocalyptic. There is epistolary material in apocalyptic (such as Rev 2–3) and apocalyptic material in the Gospels (e.g., the Olivet Discourse, Mk 13 and parallels) and Epistles (such as 2 Thess 2).1 For this reason some doubt the validity of genre as an interpretive device, arguing that the intermixture of genres makes it impossible to identify genres with sufficient clarity to make them useful as hermeneutical tools. However, the very fact that we can identify apocalyptic or poetic portions within other genres demonstrates the viability of the approach. [12]
Burges' dilemma overlooks the fact that even those who read the creation narratives literally do not do so universally, otherwise they would insist that snakes literally eat dust. This is of course a trivial example, but at the same location in Genesis 3. there is a definite recognition that verse 15 is no longer talking about a literal snake. Given this, it is hard to take these objections by Burges seriously, as even science denialists in our community are able to recognise this change, and the implications this has for exegesis.

Unfortunately, one of the problems inherent in a lay-based community with a strong autodidact tradition and a recent trend towards anti-intellectualism is the problems inherent in an indiscriminate use of Common Sense Realism in interpreting the Bible by people whose exegetical skills are at best margin. Osborne again:
In the last century, however, the application of Scottish Common Sense Realism to Scripture has led many to assume that everyone can understand the Bible for themselves, that the surface of the text is sufficient to produce meaning in and of itself. Therefore, the need for hermeneutical principles to bridge the cultural gap was ignored, and individualistic interpretations abounded. For some reason, no one seemed to notice that this led to multiple meanings, even to heresy at times. The principle of perspicuity was extended to the hermeneutical process as well, leading to misunderstanding in popular interpretation of Scripture and a very difficult situation today. Hermeneutics as a discipline demands a complex interpretive process in order to uncover the original clarity of Scripture. [13]
Osborne quickly anticipates the objection (raised at least once here) that this overly intellectualises Bible study.
...the average person is again justified in asking whether biblical understanding is increasingly being reserved for the academic elite. I would argue that it is not. First, there are many levels of understanding: devotional, basic Bible study, sermonic, term paper or dissertation. Each level has its own validity and its own process. Furthermore, those who wish to learn the hermeneutical principles that pertain to these various levels may do so. They are not restricted to any “elite” but are available to all who have the interest and energy to learn them. Basic hermeneutics can and should be taught at the level of the local church. [14]
That it is not being taught properly in our community is arguably the reason why exegesis is mired in a fundamentalist rut. Everyone can understand the Bible, provided basic hermeneutic skills are mastered. The belief that a surface reading of a dated English translation of the Bible bolstered by the use of a legacy tool such as Strong's Condordance is all one needs to interpret the creation narratives is one which contributes to such exegetical and scientific abominations such as special creationism. One would hope that a magazine dedicated to the study and defence of scripture would be able to inculcate such basic hermeneutic skills.

Assertion: Since sin and death did not enter the world as described in Genesis 23, it becomes unclear as to what we are redeemed or saved from in Christ

Reality: Much of this has already been dealt with previously, but again we have a problem stemming entirely from Burges' flawed understanding of the Pauline literature, predicated entirely on his mistake of conflating mortality with death. Mortality did not enter the world in Genesis 3. It has always been a part of the natural world. What entered the world was death as a punishment for sin. What Christ provides is a perfect way of life to emulate. It does not matter whether we are all exclusively descended from Adam, or have arisen via a 3800 million year long evolutionary process. We are still sinners, and the only hope of salvation we have is to follow the way of Christ.

Assertion: if common descent is true then death, pain and suffering were all endured by Adam's 'ancestors' and so were part of God's "very good" world right at the beginning

Reality: Although Burges has yet again distorted what ECs such as myself believe (as Adam was a special creation, he did not have any ancestors, though he was not the sole ancestor of the human race), his problem ignores the fact that as death as a punishment for sin was unknown prior to Adam's transgression, the death that all humans died was not a punishment from God, and simply what happened to all life.

Furthermore, Burges betrays his lack of familiarity with Christadelphian writing on the subject of death in the Garden of Eden. While Roberts and Thomas were hardly uniform in their treatment of the subject, both were fairly emphatic that death and decay were a natural part of creation:

John Thomas, the founding figure of the Christadelphian movement was somewhat inconsistent in his position on this subject, but in the article ‘The Bible Doctrine Concerning the Tempter Considered. No. II.’, he unambiguously states that both Adam and Eve would have eventually died in time:
‘Adam's nature was animal. Very good of its kind, as was the nature of all the other creatures. These did not sin, yet they returned to dust whence they came. So probably would Adam, if he had been left to the ordinary course of things as they were. But he would not have returned to dust if he had continued obedient.
He would doubtless have been “changed in the twinkling of an eye" on eating of the Tree of Life. But, being disobedient, his sin determined his fate, and that of the creatures. It doomed them all to death according to law, and "nature" unchanged was permitted to take its course.’ [15]
In his article 'Our Terrestrial System Before the Fall’ Thomas, in response to a correspondent who argued that death and corruption entered the entire world after Adam's sin forcefully rebutted this argument:
‘OUR friend says, that his notion is that all creation became corrupt at the fall, even to the elements. This is the general idea. Moses tells us very plainly, that when the terrestrial system was completed on the Sixth Day, that God reviewed all that He had made, and pronounced it "very good."
'But, in what sense was it very good ? In an animal and physical sense; for it was a natural and animal system, not a spiritual one. Such a system is essentially one of waste, and reproduction; and was organized with reference to what God knew would come to pass.’ [16]
Thomas argued that seasonal variation would have provided Adam and Eve with enough evidence of natural decay and death to impress on them the reality of death as a natural part of creation:
‘This is implied in the placing of the earth in such a position with respect to the sun, moon, and stars, that there should be a diversity of seasons, &.c. Thus, fall and winter, seasons of decay and death, were institutions existing before the Fall; and presented to Adam and Eve phenomena illustrative of the existence in the physical system of a principle of corruption, the extent of which, however, they might not have been fully apprized of.’ [17]
Thomas explicitly argued that far from being elements introduced into creation as a consequence of Adam's sin, death and decay were a fundamental part of creation from the beginning. Significantly, he did not exclude Adam and Eve from this:
‘Death and corruption, then, with reproduction, the characteristic of spring and summer, is the fundamental law of the physical system of the Six Days. Adam and Eve, and all the other animals born of the earth with themselves, would have died and gone to corruption, if there had been no transgression, provided that there had been no further interference with the physical system than Moses records in his history of the Six Day.’ [18]
Given this, his explanation of the Pauline statement that death entered the world through sin was a recognition that the consequence of Adam's sin was for the innate process of death and decay to be allowed to take its natural course:
‘True; the death principle was an essential property of their nature; but as they did not die till after their transgression, death did not enter in till after that event. But, the inquirer means, “If they would have died anyhow under the proviso, how can death be said to be the consequence of sin?"
Death is not the consequence of sin, sin being the original physical cause—but the physical consequence of a moral act. If thou doest thus and so, dying thou shalt die ; " but just reverse this saying, and let it read, “if thou doest thus and so, "dying thou shalt NOT die." Here are moral acts with diverse physical results.’ [19]
The genius of this explanation was in his recognition that death entered the world of Adam and Eve following their sin not by the introduction of decay and death, but by the denial of an opportunity for eternal life. Thomas again:
‘Now, if these two results are ordained upon two essentially dying creatures, because animal creatures, what is implied ? Why, that in the one case the dying process shall not be interrupted, and therefore death would follow: while in the other, the process should be interrupted, and therefore life should be established.
'In the former case, all that would be necessary would be to let things take their natural course; but in the latter, this would not do; and therefore it would be necessary to bring into play a transforming force which should change the very good animal nature into a very good spiritual , or incorruptible nature, which latter formed no part of the system of the Six Days.’ [20]
In fact, Thomas was explicit in asserting that the pre-fall nature of Adam was mortal, capable of corruption and decay: 
‘It is certain, therefore, that the animal nature they possessed was essentially a mortal nature, and required to be physically operated upon by the power transmissible through contact with the tree of lives to change it into a nature constitutionally capable of enduring forever; which the animal nature is not.’ [21]
As far as Thomas was concerned the consequences of the fall were moral, rather than physical, and he expressed himself unambiguously:
‘From these premises it will be seen, that we dissent from our correspondent's “notion" that all creation became corrupt (by which we understand him to mean, constitutionally impregnated with corruptibility) at the Fall. We believe that the change consequent upon that calamity was moral, not physical. The natural system was the same the day before the Fall as the day after.” [22]
Fourteen years later, Robert Roberts, founding editor of The Christadelphian, concurred with Thomas in denying that Adam's nature was physically changed after the fall. Like Thomas before him, he wrote to correct a correspondent who argued that Adam's nature was altered as a consequence of the fall:
‘Our friend imagines there was a change in the nature of Adam when he became disobedient. There is no evidence of this whatever, and the presumption and evidence are entirely the contrary way. There was a change in Adam’s relation to his maker, but not in the nature of his organization. What are the facts? He was formed from the dust a “living soul,” or natural body. His mental constitution gave him moral relation to God.’ [23]
As for the origin of sin, Roberts freely asserted that the same internal desires that if yielded to result in sin existed prior to the fall:
‘The impulses that lead to sin existed in Adam before disobedience, as much as they did afterwards; else disobedience would not have occurred. [24]
Roberts was emphatic: both mortality and an innate tendency to sin predated the fall - they were not introduced into Adam after the fall. Roberts later confirmed his position in response to another correspondent:
‘Adam, before transgression, though a living soul (or natural body—1 Cor. 15:44–5), was not necessarily destined to die, as obedience would have ended in life immortal. After transgression, his relation to destiny was changed. Death (by sentence,) was constituted the inevitable upshot of his career. He was, therefore, in a new condition as regarded the future, though not in a new condition as regarded the actual state of his nature. In actual nature, he was a corruptible groundling before sentence, and a corruptible groundling after sentence; but there was this difference: before sentence, ultimate immortality was possible; after sentence, death was a certainty. This change in the destiny lying before him, was the result of sin.’ [25]
Roberts never accepted evolution and as far as I can tell from his writing endorsed monogenism. However, his early emphatic declaration that Adam's fall did not result in any change in nature is a position which is not threatened by the evolutionary origin of the human race. The same cannot be said for the Reformed and Catholic (and later Christadelphian deviations from the original Roberts - Thomas position) which posit an inherited change in nature as a consequence of the Fall:
‘That is, his disobedience evoked from God a decree of ultimate dissolution. This was the sentence of death, which, though effecting no change as regarded his constitution at the moment it was pronounced, determined a great physical fact concerning his future experience, viz., that immortality, by change to spirit nature, was impossible, and decay and decease inevitable. The sentence of death, therefore, appertained to his physical nature, and was necessarily transmitted in his blood, to every being resulting from the propagation of his own species.’ [26]
In response to the Renunciationist controversy of the early 1870s which plagued the early Christadelphian community, Roberts unfortunately changed his mind in order to counter this view, and argued that Adam's nature had changed as a result of the Fall. Ironically, had he not changed his position, the Renunciationist position would have been more forcefully rebutted. It is interesting to read C.C. Walker, his successor, writing some years later about this theological U-turn in carefully guarded terms:
‘Brother Roberts became much more conservative on this matter in after years, and so does everyone who, like him, has a great respect for the Word of God.’ [27]
Those who argue that Adam's nature was changed post-fall appeal to the Hebrew phrase which in the AV is translated 'dying thou shalt die.' to argue that this refers to a gradual process of decay leading to eventual death. Hebraist and one-time Christadelphian J.W. Thirtle wrote in 1880: 
‘We will first consider the second clause, “dying thou shalt die.” Some consider these words to have found verification on the day Adam sinned, by his becoming a corruptible creature, and ultimately dying. This, however, is not so. We have the Hebrew word “to die” repeated in two moods: the infinitive (moth) and the indicative (tamuth); moth, to die—dying; tamuth—thou shalt die.
"As the words stand, certainty is implied, and nothing more; so the authorised version is not far wrong in rendering the words, “thou shalt surely die.” It is out of the question to suppose that a process of decay is implied in the words, for they were afterwards used to one of the descendants of Adam—Shimei (1 Kings 2:37, 42), and we have no record of Shimei having occupied a similar relation to life and death to that which Adam sustained before the fall. If it had been intended to express a continued or lasting process, the order of the Hebrew words would have been reversed.’ [28]
Of note is that Thirtle wrote this in 1880, after the Renunciationist controversy, showing that a belief that Adam's nature was changed was hardly normative in our community, even after Roberts' unfortunate theological about-face.

In light of this, Burges' objection can be safely dismissed.

Assertion: Since the Garden of Eden is simply allegorical, the return of the Lord Jesus bringing "the times of restoration of all things" (Acts 3:19-21) will not be restoration but a totally new way of doing things.

Reality: This is another distortion of what ECs believe. I certainly do not believe the Garrden of Eden was allegorical, and the ECs with whom I have discussed this issue in depth likewise do not regard it as an allegory. Again, Burges is either arguing from ignorance, or is deliberately misrepresenting what ECs believe for polemical reasons.


Burges' article combines demonstrated ignorance of evolutionary biology with misrepresentation of what its exponents say. It also leans heavily on antievolutionary arguments by the likes of Behe and Lennox (the latter heavily dependent on Behe and other ID writers) which have been thoroughly rebutted by the mainstream scientific community. For Burges to claim that the theory of evolution is "deeply flawed" confirms that he does not understand the subject. The fact that he is science editor of The Testimony does not instil confidence. However, it is his confusion in differentiating between death and mortality, as well as his flawed interpretation of Romans 5:12 and 1 Cor 15:4 which is of most concern.



1. Burges D "Is Theistic Evolution Compatible With Faith in God's Word?" The Testimony (2014) 84:143-147

2. Young DA "Scripture in the Hands of Geologists (Part 2)" Westminster Theological Journal (1987) 49:257-304. 

3. ibid, p 303

4. Walker C.C. “Is it wrong to believe that the earth is a sphere?” The Christadelphian (1913) 50:346-348

5. Newman, B. M., & Nida, E. A. 1973. A handbook on Paul’s letter to the Romans. UBS Handbook Series (102). United Bible Societies: New York

6. ibid, p 102

7. Dunn, J. D. G. 1998. Romans 1–8. Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 38A (272). Word, Incorporated: Dallas

8. 2 Baruch 54:19

9. Fahlbusch, E., & Bromiley, G. W. 2008. The Encyclopedia of Christianity. Vol. 5 (20). Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill: Grand Rapids, MI; Leiden, Netherlands

10. Mahoney, Jack. Christianity in Evolution: An Exploration. (2011: Georgetown University Press. p 55-56

11. ibid, p 56

12. Osborne, Grant R. The Hermeneutical Spiral: a Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Rev. and expanded, 2nd ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006. p 26

13. ibid p 27

14. ibid p 27

15. Thomas J. , ‘The Bible Doctrine Concerning the Tempter Considered. No. II.’, The Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come (1852) 2:181

16. Thomas J. ‘Our Terrestrial System Before the Fall’, The Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come (1855) 5:159

17. ibid., p. 159.

18. ibid., p. 159.

19. ibid., p. 159.

20. ibid., pp. 159-160.

21. ibid., p. 160.

22. ibid., p. 160.

23. Roberts R, ‘The Relation of Jesus to the Law of Sin and Death’, The Christadelphian (1869) 6:85

24. ibid, p 85

25. Roberts, ‘Apparent Contradictions Reconciled’, The Christadelphian (6.62.243), (1869) 6:243

26. ibid., p. 244.

27. Walker C.C., ‘Was the Nature of Adam Changed After He Sinned in Eden?’, The Christadelphian (1921) 58:258

28. Thirtle J.W. 'The Day of Adam's Transgression', The Christadelphian (1880) 17:26-27