I just returned from Cornell University, where I gave a joint-presentation entitled “Origins, Self, and Soul” with Praveen Sethupathy, a Christian geneticist on the faculty of Cornell.
Our presentation, which addressed biblical and evolutionary perspectives on human origins and identity, was co-sponsored by Chesterton House, a Christian study center near the Cornell campus, and the Cornell Graduate Christian Fellowship.
The implicit question we addressed was whether it is possible to be a faithful Christian and accept an evolutionary account of human origins.
Whereas Praveen brought a scientist’s perspective, my portion of the presentation focused on what the Bible tells us about human commonality with animals and about what it means to be created in God’s image, which is usually taken as something unique to humans.
I wasn’t able to cover very much in the twenty minutes allotted to me.
However, those twenty minutes were part of longer presentation that I have given on the topic of the Bible and evolution, which covered a larger scope.
The last time I gave the full presentation was in May 2018, when I participated in a conference sponsored by the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation (CSCA), held at Trinity Western University, in Langley, BC.
I was one of six plenary presenters. The presenters all came from different disciplines and addressed aspects of the intersection of faith and the sciences.
Can We Believe the Bible and Accept Evolution?
As the biblical scholar of the lot, my talk focused on biblical themes. Given the nature of the conference (and my interest in the faith-science interface on matters of origins), I attempted to relate the biblical themes of human distinctiveness and the origin of evil to what the sciences are telling us about our evolutionary origins.
I began by highlighting a number of tensions that Christians have perceived between the Bible and an evolutionary account of human origins. Then I suggested that these tensions are not necessary, but have to do with the way in which we read the Bible.
So I engaged in some serious Bible study.
My talk was videotaped and astutely edited together with my PowerPoint slides. The entire talk (with slides) can be viewed here.
Part 1: Human Distinctiveness
In part 1 of the talk, I addressed how the Bible understands the commonality of humans with other animals (in a variety of creation texts from Genesis, Job, and the Psalms), which suggests that we shouldn’t have an aversion to the idea of common descent. Then I explored the Bible’s teaching about humanity as the image of God (found in Genesis 1:26–28 and related texts). I speculated how the human calling to image God might be related to what science is telling us about human origins.
Part 2: The Origin of Evil
In part 2 of the talk, I focused on the portrayal of the origin of evil in Genesis 2–3, probing the way in which this portrayal is true to human experience and represents a profound phenomenology of temptation and sin. Then I picked up on my earlier speculation about the image of God and evolutionary origins, and added a suggestion for how human evil could have entered the evolutionary process.
I thus did what many Christians claim it is impossible. I attempted to affirm both an evolutionary account of human origins and the biblical teaching on human distinctiveness and a historical fall.
Call me crazy. But I respect God’s revelation in Scripture and God’s revelation in creation, which can be studied by science. I can’t deny either.
In fact, I believe that God is revealed—and glorified—in the evolutionary complexity of the biological world.
Insightful Devotional: “Called to Indwell the Earth”
At the conference we had a wonderful devotional one morning given by Patrick Franklin, current vice-president of the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation, and newly appointed associate professor of theology at Tyndale Seminary, in Toronto.
You can watch Patrick Franklin’s talk here.
Recordings of Other Talks at the Conference
All the keynote talks and some of the breakout sessions were recorded. You can find links to them here.