I’ve been mulling over what to do with a project that has been languishing for far too long – a study on the myth that the natural world fell when mankind first sinned. A brief summary of a long story may help orientate things.
One of the things I’d taken for granted for decades before I started to look more seriously at “origins” was that the existence of animal death and natural evil poses some kind of difficulty for theology, and is perhaps the strongest card in the Young Earth Creationist suit. If “death came into the world through one man” then the idea of the biosphere being built on the dead bodies of billions of life-forms seemed to be a major fly in the ointment of any old earth scenario.
A good five years ago, though, I began to look for the actual Scriptural evidence that animal, as opposed to human, death, was ever considered an evil by the Bible writers, and found it to be distinctly lacking. Likewise, the common contention that when Adam fell, he “took out” the whole creation with him, leading to a radical change in the ways of nature, began to seem not just uncommon, but altogether unknown, in the Bible. The key passages used in its support were all actually about other matters.
Around that time, in 2011, in conversation with a Church historian, we began to swap citations from, initially, the Church Fathers (in whom we had a shared interest) and then later theologians before the Reformation. We were both surprised, I think, not only that there seemed a distinct absence in most cases of any suggestion that the natural world is “fallen” or corrupted by sin, but that the very opposite was everywhere assumed – that the Creation that God called “very good” on the sixth day is still “very good”.
I mentioned this a few times in discussions at Biologos, and the historian of science Ted Davis suggested I should write a book on it. I laughed at the idea (rightly, as it turned out), but he not long afterwards forwarded my name to someone who was working on an anthology of papers about “natural evil”, and I was persuaded to try and turn the stuff on Church History into a proper book chapter.
Over the ensuing years the book project foundered, to be replaced with a promised special edition of the ASA journal, but the resulting “anonymous peer review”, to my mind, misunderstood what my contribution was trying to achieve (my true peers, I suppose, would have been other retired physicians with an eclectic interest in science and theology), and when I was offered only half the original space and the editing out of all the discussion I considered interesting, I withdrew the piece.
Meanwhile, another academic had already asked to cite my paper – difficult when it is unpublished – but an offer of getting it published in another journal (theological rather than scientific this time) came to nothing. Accordingly I spent much of last year expanding it to book length to include a look at the biblical material, and some considerations from the world of nature itself, to cover the whole subject of the continuing goodness of creation. Eventually I sent it off to a (good) publisher, who rejected it on what are probably some very legitimate grounds (I’m quite used to being rejected by publishers!).
Frankly, I can’t be bothered, even I had the background and academic resources, to work any longer on its shortcomings (which were largely to do with some parts of it having been said before, and inadequate interaction with the existing academic literature), and I’d rather make it available to those who may be interested to investigate the issues for themselves.
This decision has been confirmed by the coincidental citation of the Church History section by Ted Davis in a new article on BioLogos, for which I thank him greatly. But citing evidence that nobody can evaluate for themselves seems rather futile, so I’ve decided finally to put the entire thing up in pdf format on my own site, and to link to each chapter in a series of pieces here. That way I have no doubt that those who are actually interested in such things will find their way there, regardless of the vagaries of “real” publishing.
Some parts may seem familiar to followers of thisblog, as parts of the book were based on blogs, and I’ve already used the book as source material for blogs. But it may be good to have it all together in one place, in the mould of those magazines which build up to form an encyclopaedia – only without the advantage of free giveaways.
Today then, I will link to the Introduction, which explains what I’ve been attempting in rather more detail. Watch this space for further episodes.