I've been working my way through this book for the better part of a year, and finally wrapped it up a few weeks ago while sitting around the campfire at Kevin Lloyd's bachelor party. Similar to The Believing Primate, which I read a few years ago, this book is a high-level discussion of the philosophical, theological, and cultural implications of the debate around evolution and the historicity of a Biblical fall of man. It offered me some great food for thought over the past year, though I can't say that it radically reoriented my thinking in this area like I thought it might.
A dense book like this is super hard to summarize in less than 20 pages, and there is no way that is happening on this blog right now. My big takeaway is that the fall of man as it relates to human evolution is a very active area of thought in schools of theology and philosophy, but that no one has been able to fully harmonize the historically dominant Christian theology of the fall of man with modern evolutionary science. And I don't think anyone ever will. Fortunately, this is no cause for despair. The question of the what it means to be human does not lead to testable hypotheses, and thus will always be beyond the purview of empirical science. Everyone's ideas on this are strongly influenced by their own experiences, religion, and cultural context. Now, this doesn't mean that historical science can't help us sort out the details of the origins of our species, or that Christianity doesn't offer us a source of meaning for our lives, namely, that Jesus Christ is the embodied realization of life's possibility as a way to love. But human scientific, theological, and philosophical understanding, just like our biology, will continue to evolve, with no end in sight.
This dialectic can be anxiety-provoking, de-anchoring, and disorienting for the majority of people who aren't scholars or contemplatives. In fact, it is this discomfort with this uncertainty, ambiguity, and unknowing that has led to the rise of fundamentalist religion. Yet the amazing thing is that theoretical physicists have come to the same conclusion about the universe that mystics of all stripes have had all along-- that uncertainty and complementarity are fundamental aspects of our world. Key concepts you'll find at the link above are wave-particle complementarity, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (aka position and momentum complementarity), and quantum entanglement. Though this may seem off the topic of evolution and the fall, it has been the key that has opened the way forward toward true freedom in Christ over the past year. Rather than avoiding or, alternatively, trying to resolve the areas of ambiguity in life, I am learning to rest in those places and focus the truths that are useful for where I am in life right now, just as scientists may use quantum physics or classical Newtonian physics with equal validity depending on what kind of problem they are trying to solve.
Digging down into these high-level ideas, I would like to mention the most key concepts I gleaned from the book. In Chapter 8, Norman Wirzba gives an explanation of the practical effects of a Christian vs a Darwinian worldview in terms that I've recently learned in another book I'm reading The Mountain of Silence. Our theoria (way of seeing the world, our worldview or hermeneutic) must be informed by askesis (ascetic practices and personal discipline that aligns the life of the wisdom seeker with the truth of the world) for a proper ethos (our way of being in the world) to develop, which leads to theosis (divinization, which is the ultimate goal of Eastern Orthodox and, in a sense, all Christians and even all religions), reconciliation, flourishing, and alignment of the creaturely logos (the dynamic principle of order and coherence that enables a thing to be and become the unique thing that it is) with the divine Logos. As our theoria develops into one more like God’s, seeing his work of creation as an ongoing process that we are a part of in Christ rather than a one-time event (see John 1:3-4, Col 1:15-17, Heb 1:2, I Cor 8:6), we become more attuned to the needs of others and less focused on our own desires, and no longer see others as things that matter only as they can benefit us. This allows us to perform the essential Christian task of learning how to love properly. And this leads to less exploitation and more flourishing in the world. This is in contrast to a Darwinian theoria, which, though extremely useful, is rooted in a scarcity mindset (obtained from Thomas Malthus) where there is almost always fierce competition and where only the fittest survive. This worldview does not leave room for charity, flourishing, or abundance, but rather exploitation which has brought on genocide, imperialism, authoritarianism, and the environmental degradation that threatens the very life of the planet.
Wirzba goes on to detail Maximus the Confessor's (a 7th Century Eastern Orthodox monk) Christocentric worldview that should serve as a model for us. Just as Jesus became a creature, we do not have to shun creatureliness to fully express divine life and love. And the logical outcome of this radical view of the incarnation is that creation cannot ever be denigrated or despised, since it is the home of God. God creates the space and all the sources of nurture for creatures to come into his life and be strengthened to live the life they are uniquely prepared to enact. Rather than being in conflict with science, this view of creation radically enriches the materialist, mechanistic theoria of science. If you don't meditate on anything else today, reread the last couple paragraphs a few times and really let it sink in.
Now you can see why it took me almost a year to read this book. It's heavy!
As I wrote above, I can't do justice to this book. But ultimately, it has helped me understand the Genesis account of human origins as a powerful myth which, when connected with the incarnation of Jesus Christ, continues to have great relevance and meaning, especially in our secular age.
Just don't try to tell me humans didn't come from monkeys.