A retrospective on my last decade’s work

I thought it would be worth spending a few posts looking back on what has turned out to be a fruitful “research programme” on scientific and biblical origins over the last ten years for me, to see what problems have been resolved, and which, if any, remain unanswered.

Of course, it’s true to say that no solutions one finds to these questions will satisfy everybody: people totally convinced of one explanation of Scripture will reject any others out of hand, whereas the skeptic convinced that the Bible is pious fiction will reject any signs of accommodation between science and Scripture on principle.

By way of introduction, let me recount how I first began this, even a year or so before The Hump of the Camel took its first tentative infant steps (what is the correct term for a baby dromedary?).

I took early retirement from medicine when the opportunity arose suddenly, intending to do some serious writing, after experience in both medical and Christian journalism. But I actually hadn’t thought out what to write about.

Nevertheless my first project was ready to go: a series of features for the magazine on whose editorial board I then served, forming a series called Unsystematic Theology. The idea was to take a series of the theological subjects that seemed most relevant to contemporary Christians, without attempting to be exhaustive. So I spent the first month or so of my post-career work on it, and sent the whole series off to my editor as a job lot.

As the months went by I began to wonder why the first part hadn’t appeared, whilst my regular columns on current affairs turned up as usual. After about a year, I asked about it and got an apologetic phone call from the editor. It turned out he’d been sitting on the series because of the first part, which logically enough was on the doctrine of creation. And the reason was that, in his view, the magazine had an unwritten policy in support of young earth creationism, and I had mentioned that some version of evolution did not necessarily clash with Genesis 1.

The absurd thing was that the whole piece was written to avoid the tired old debates of Creationism versus Evolutionism, and to view the biblical doctrine of creation as a rich and multi-faceted truth about God, with implications for every part of life.

Anyway, the editor, though he respected both me my work, wouldn’t change his mind, and I wouldn’t back down, and so the magazine and I parted company after fifteen years. But the episode got me wondering again about the link between the historical sciences and the Bible that had been part of my life since I was six (and discovered dinosaurs and evolution), particularly after I was converted at the age of 13 at the height of my ambition to study zoology.

Although I went through various stages of opinion over the years, “faith science conflict” was never a personal problem for me. I was both interested and well-grounded in the sciences dealing with the past, and (to be frank) the world didn’t make much sense without taking them seriously – one can only take “appearance of age” arguments so far before they become encumbrances rather than explanations.

On the other hand, in 1971 I had a vivid encounter with the Holy Spirit, which transformed my relationship to Scripture, convincing me that it is the living word of God (as it were, Christ himself on paper). Before, I’d believed the Bible because it was part of the faith I’d embraced – afterwards, and ever since, I believe it because it’s part of me. To quote something from one of Os Guinness’s books: “I knew the Bible was true, but I didn’t know it was that true!”

The net effect was to make me comfortable to live with the apparent tensions between science and the Bible. But I was aware that the stakes were far higher for others, whereas for me it was a matter of consolidating two undoubted truths. In particular, I kept remembering a visit from one of the members of the youth group I’d once led, who came round with a friend also struggling to accept biblical faith in the light of A-level science. I think, given what I knew then, I made a reasonable fist of pointing them to Jesus first, and seeking the answers in the light of his wisdom.

But my pique at having an entire series of articles rejected over the issue resolved me to try, if I could, to find some answers. I did, after all, have training both in the biological sciences and in theology, and an active interest in the matter going back for what is now sixty years. And that’s how I found myself interacting at BioLogos, agreeing to a couple of suggestions that I should start a blog, and to the urgings of others to write what have become two books, God’s Good Earth and The Generations of Heaven and Earth.

I see that my autobiographical self-indulgence has left me little space to address the actual issues here, so I will stop today by listing what seem to me the problems I brought with me as I looked for solutions consistent both with our knowledge of nature and theological orthodoxy. I’ll deal with them in subsequent posts – and meanwhile, if you can think of any common and important questions I missed, please mention them in the comments.

Common problems on origins:

  • 6 Day recent creation
  • Old earth with death, carnivores and natural evils – creation “groaning” for 13bn years?
  • Creation with no need for a Creator
  • The impossibility of Adam (and the existence of early humans and intelligent precursors)
  • Mankind as ruler of earth coming late to the party.
  • Worldwide flood
  • The natural evolution of mankind with consciousness, spirit and eternal life
  • The origin of spiritual evil (Satan before the Fall)
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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
This entry was posted in Creation, Hump Retrospective, Science, Theology, Theology of nature. Bookmark the permalink.

53 Responses to A retrospective on my last decade’s work

  1. Pingback: Jon Garvey: A Biblical Theology of People Outside the Garden

  2. Jeremy says:

    Hi Jon,

    You and I had a brief encounter on Joshua’s Peaceful Science forum a while back. The article on your latest book and some other stuff you talk about on your blog piqued my interest.

    I was excited when I first found Joshua’s forum. I wanted to discuss these ideas in depth with people with expertise in the relevant fields. Really dig in and explore. Up to that point I had met with such resistance to the idea of pre-Adam humans, or the very idea that Adam was an actual historical figure, that the conversation was never allowed to flourish. I thought that it would be different in the PS community since that particular hurdle wouldn’t be an issue, but was taken aback by how much resistance I found there as well.

    You mentioned Joshua’s intention for people of many persuasions to apply the paradigm as they see fit. I agree with this approach, yet this seems to be the wall I kept running into. Specifically in regards to Romans 5.

    You and I seem to be very much on the same page in a lot of aspects, so I feel you’ll likely see the issue I was attempting to address. This also butts up against one of the ‘Common problems of origins’ that you listed, specifically ‘the origin of spiritual evil’.

    According to Rom5, as you know, sin entered the world through Adam. A significant focus in Joshua’s concept was to make it clear that pre-Adam humans were not lesser or different in any way than those who came after. And I certainly understand the concern there.

    The idea I was floating is that what made Adam significant, and why the story began right there with him, was because he and Eve were the introduction of free will into the natural world. A world that had up to that point been completely in compliance with God’s will, including a fully populated planet of humans.

    So, basically, the capability of evil was introduced through the introduction of free will. The capability to behave contrary to God’s will. Something akin to behaving contrary to gravity.

    This, I think, is an important distinction between humans before Adam and those who came after. This is what makes Adam and the story of the bible significant, what makes Paul’s statements in Rom5 true, and what made God’s direct intertaction with humanity during this period necessary.

    And recognizing this, as I was attempting to illustrate, allows us to pinpoint these events in human history. A behavioral change that can be seen in the archaeological data starting right where/when Genesis is set and spreading all throughout the world from there. A change significant enough to completely transform how humans live and operate.

    Anyway, there are a number of things you said on your blog that get into the theological consistencies with this kind of scenario, and that’s exactly the kind of thing I was looking to explore when I originally found Joshua’s community.

    If any of this interests you I’d like to hear your thoughts.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Hi again Jeremy, and welcome to the Hump.

      The way I started working through a similar approach to that you describe was in Romans 2, where the internal law available to gentiles as well as Jews who have the law is described as “conscience.”

      That word in Paul has a slightly different connotation from its common use now, in that we tend to view it as a matter of feeling – only loosely related to any absolute standard – whereas to Paul he’s considering it as an indicator of actual guilt as well as consciousness of it. Obviously there must be some link between the consciousness and shame of behaviour under conscience, and the accountability of free will. No will, no conscience.

      On the other hand, it’s quite difficult to define “free will” as a hard endowment in an absolute sense. We know we have choices subjectively, and only doubt it from philosophical wranglings about the sovereignty of God or the determinism of matter. But imagining an intelligent being without such liberty is pretty hard.

      Even my old labrador has free will enough to choose to continue investigating an interesting smell or come to my call (and his response varies with his mood). Even more so do the higher apes show evidence of choice: you, however, are placing it specifically in the moral sphere, and indeed in relation to the moral will of God.

      That, I think, is actually quite hard to pin down in the archaeological or historical record, though as a matter of biblical deduction, if Adam’s sin led to the kind of degeneracy that Romans 1 describes, I’m open to looking for an escalation of detectable things like increased brutality. We at least find evidence for organised warfare and apparent deliberate mutilation as we get to the Neolithic, though the earliest example I could find is rather earlier at 15K BP. Alleged cases of deliberate homicide from the palaeolithic are harder to assess – an arrow in the spine might be aggression, or might be a hunting accident.

      But a bigger problem, to me, is that in order to express your free will as a negation of God’s will, you have to know God’s will – and that’s the definition the Bible places on sin, rather than the rather facile assumption made by many theistic evolutionists that it’s “selfishness” (often blamed irrationally on “selfish” evolution).

      So the existence of free will in Adam is assumed by his receiving a command, whether that freedom originated in him or not. But only the command itself – ie personal revelation – made disobedience possible.

      And so I’m inclined to place the significance of Adam not in the new endowment of free will (or in any other human attribute, come to that), but in the call into relationship with God, which gives the possibility (given our experience of will) for willing obedience and trust, or rebellion.

      That is what explains Joshua’s cryptic statements that those outside the garden “sinned”: I think he means they may well have acted in ways that are not in accordance with what God has now revealed as his law, but only because he had not revealed it. My own spin is that they acted from God-given nature without personal knowledge: Adam, however, was intended for higher things.

      • Jeremy says:

        I should clarify what I mean when I say free will. That was one of the points of contention on Joshua’s site.

        I like your dog analogy. I would call those instincts that all dogs have done since there have been dogs. All behaviors and choices are made in the interest of the original commands given to all living things; be fruitful, increase in number … He’s thriving and surviving and doing what is in his natural will. He behaves just as all life behaves.

        Free will is when we stop living in harmony with nature, and begin instead bending it to our will. Your dog behaves just exactly like everyone else’s dog. A dog is a dog. A lion is a lion. They live and behave as they always have.

        But humans took a dramatic left turn right here. In the middle of the desert of all places. Humans, just as intelligent and capable of anything as any of the others, lived all across the planet in a wide range of environments and conditions. Yet civilization sprang up in the middle of a desert.

        They started irrigating and farming. First in Sumer. A place, as you’ll find in the archaeological record, was a culture that was one of increasingly polarized social stratification and decreasing egalitarianism.

        Up until that point humanity all across the world had been egalitarian by all appearances. But starting right from the beginning, Sumer proved to be unlike any other human culture. Farming was already being practiced elsewhere, in largely populated organized communities. Yet none of the behavior changes that happened in Sumer happened there. And Sumer also has an impressive number of firsts when it comes to human inventions. Another thing that sets them apart from other farming communities.

        This is the evidence of free will. Humans beginning to deviate from the natural order as they had lived for tens of thousands of years to become non-egalitarian/ male-dominant civlization builders. First in Sumer, then after Babel, in Egypt, the Indus Valley, eventually Greeks and Romans. The families of Adam/Noah introducing free will everywhere they went.

        Also, a clarification. I don’t think free will is a genetically spread capability, or something that others are incapable of. Just like it’s illustrated in the garden story, all it really takes is a nudge. A suggestion. Start questioning. Why? Why not? Why not me? So, I think free will can take hold purely through influence and interaction.

        I should also clarify that not all done through free will is evil. It just makes evil possible.

  3. Jeremy says:

    Re: “express your free will as a negation of God’s will”

    Free will isn’t the negation of God’s will. It’s an individual will apart from God’s will. Independent. Sin is when you express your free will as a negation of God’s will/law that you’re aware of. Like it says, judgement is based on your understanding.

  4. Jeremy says:

    There are a couple of books that trace this behavior change I’m speaking of. In one of those, The Fall by Steve Taylor, he refers to it as the emergence of the modern human ego, which I think is a good way to describe it.

  5. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Yuh – like I say, pinning down the evils of civilisation to a direct fruit of free will (in a scientific kind of way) is difficult because we can’t say very easily that such choices were not being made before farming/civilisation, and it might just be that civilisation gave a wider range of choices.

    For example, it’s increasingly realised what technological inventiveness was involved in the various stone tool cultures even back to Neanderthals: knapping a decent flint tool requires as much clever choice as learning to forge bronze – but the hunter-gatherer doesn’t have the infrastructure to move on to the latter.

    Clearly, though, people as we know them have the ability to choose between following God-given nature and not doing so, and that’s uniquely human. I’d say that the danger of defining free ill as “the individual will apart from God’s will” is that it begins to make sin look definitionally inevitable, that is (like the evolutionary creationists tend to say) we had no option but to sin once God gave us liberty of will.

    However, Jesus’s liberty, even as the eternal Son before the Incarnation, was certainly no less than ours, yet he always chose to do his Father’s will: he used his free will to choose dependence. And of course traditional Christian doctrine is that we find true freedom in obedience: the will is only truly free when not in bondage to sin (a paradox).

    Augustine, who thought more about the nature of the will than nearly anyone, dealt with this freedom/bondage matter extensively, which is why both Luther and Calvin, his followers, wrote on the bondage of the will through sin and its liberation in Christ.

    So, Adam (however created) was intended for, and capable of, freely-willed obedience to rule the earth entirely in accordance with God’s plans: responsibility was God’s gift for the blessing of kingship. (I leave aside here the knotty matter of God’s knowing the end from the beginning, and anticipating Adam’s sin – my point is that disobedience was not a design fault owing to an inbuilt desire for autonomy: and hence when we lose our sin, we do not lose freedom, but gain it).

    • Jeremy says:

      Maybe we should set aside the specific characteristics of free will for now and just focus on identifying a shift in human behavior that reveals what’s described as accurate.

      We have an approximate location and even a rough timeline given the clues of the text. I don’t think this being the same time/place as the birth of civilization is a coincidence.

      Re: “we can’t say very easily that such choices were not being made before farming/civilisation, and it might just be that civilisation gave a wider range of choices.”

      I believe we can. Like I was describing yesterday. Sumer was not the first largely populated farming culture. There were cultures in northern Mesopotamia/Turkey with populations in the tens of thousands that existed for centuries that predate Sumer(5500 BC).

      – Catal Huyuk (7,500 to 5,700 BC)
      – Lepenski Vir settlement (dating back to 7,000 BC) which gave way to …
      – Vinča-Turdaș culture (5,000-4,500 BC)

      The conditions in Sumer were not unique. If anything it was more unlikely to happen there because it was in such an arid climate. In northern mesopotamia farming was much easier.

      But none of those previous cultures experienced the progressions of Sumer. All of the above cultures remained egalitarian and none exhibited any sort of class stratification. So this, to me, shows it wasn’t civilization that opened up the range of choices.

      That is a common argument, that farming made for higher density in population and increased interaction and sharing of ideas. That it was a natural progression from that to civilization.

      But I feel there’s ample evidence to show that the progression made in Sumer, Egypt, the Indus Valley, was not a natural progression. It’s evidence of a significant change in the people of these places. The result of the events of Genesis and the impact it had on humanity. It caused the shift that turned humanity into civilization builders.

      And yes, I think sin is inevitable with free will. Wielding a free will responsibly with no guidance takes a wisdom that we don’t have. We were handed the keys to the car, steering wheel in hand, but there’s no map and no road signs. That’s what I think this life is. Beings with their own free minds and individual identifies for all eternity is the ultimate goal. An entire lifetime of human existence to draw on is just the kind of knowledge base one would need to do so.

      Free will in essence makes us creators. This universe consists of things made by God and things made by us. It’s a huge responsibility.

      The element of free will in the story being told is, I think, an important one. To understand that from the moment Adam/Eve fell, there was an element present on Earth not in God’s control. Up until this point all the universe behaved according to His will.

      As the story of Abraham and Isaac illustrates, God can’t anticipate what we’ll do. It’s truly a will free of His. By design. Even with the benefit of seeing all past/present/future, if Abraham is never put in the position to make the decision, God cannot know what that decision would be. Just as God could not know without actually doing it what would become of creating free will. This is why I think God was so ‘hands on’ for that portion of human history and no other.

      It’s an important dynamic of the story that I feel is crucial to truly understanding what’s being described.

      • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

        Well, here’s where the rubber hits the road in terms of profound theological disagreement. I wouldn’t disagree that the fact that the early Genesis narratives show clear relationships with Sumerian literature, and that many cultural indicators put it in that setting, makes the rise of that culture suspiciously like the results of Adam’s sin.

        There’s still the caveat that the very reason we know about their social structures is that they invented writing: the other cultures we have to speculate on from archaeology, and that tends to turn up surprises that overturn what we like to think those cultures were like.

        But since that is speculative territory, it’s no big deal to me. Where I do take issue with you is here:

        And yes, I think sin is inevitable with free will. Wielding a free will responsibly with no guidance takes a wisdom that we don’t have. We were handed the keys to the car, steering wheel in hand, but there’s no map and no road signs. That’s what I think this life is. Beings with their own free minds and individual identifies for all eternity is the ultimate goal. An entire lifetime of human existence to draw on is just the kind of knowledge base one would need to do so.

        You’re concluding the moral/theological state of mankind from an assumption that Sumerian archaeology shows (a) the race was endowed with free will and (b) that it had no guidance as to how to use it. That is actually almost the exact opposite of what the Genesis narrative says, which is that the first of “us,” Adam and Eve, were taken into the direct presence of God to be educated by him, and that they had a very clear roadmap, with a command that was the key to how the relationship would develop.

        The Fall is the story of how we abandoned that program and put ourselves in the situation of having no roadmap, contrary to God’s stated will. Indeed, it was only as judgement that Adam was sent back out into the world, and (on the line we’ve been taking) that the evils of civilization emerged. But it never needed to be so.

        Yet God never abandoned guiding Adam’s descendants, even before the call of Abraham, but expressly so afterwards: the re-establishment of lost relationship – emphatically not the development of ultimate autonomy – is the whole business of the Bible thenceforward. And the “USP” of the gospel of Christ, from the prophets onwards, is that God writes his law in our hearts, so that we desire what he desires, and in the end the whole creation is united in and by Christ. There is no eschatological hope of eternal autonomy – unless you count the state of damnation – that was the whole problem that Jesus came to remedy.

        The element of free will in the story being told is, I think, an important one. To understand that from the moment Adam/Eve fell, there was an element present on Earth not in God’s control. Up until this point all the universe behaved according to His will.

        The fly in the ointment here is the other main character of the story – the serpent, clearly from other Scriptures embodying or representing Satan. I’ve argued at Peaceful Science and here that the Serpent’s own rebellion against God arose from jealously of mankind, rather than (as in some trad. theology) before creation. But either way, the angelic being too has the freedom to go against God’s purposes – it seems to me harder to make that a new endowment within history.

        Then again, the assumption that free will trumps God’s control is a dangerous one denied at numerous points of Scripture. Two of the most notable are, OT, where the malice of Joseph’s brothers was subsumed in the will of God to do good through Joseph (“You intended it for harm, but God intended it for blessing”; and, NT, where the apostles rejoice in prayer that the evil rulers who crucified Jesus did exactly what God had foreordained they would do. Such passages are explicit denials of the autonomy of free will.

        As the story of Abraham and Isaac illustrates, God can’t anticipate what we’ll do. It’s truly a will free of His. By design. Even with the benefit of seeing all past/present/future, if Abraham is never put in the position to make the decision, God cannot know what that decision would be. Just as God could not know without actually doing it what would become of creating free will. This is why I think God was so ‘hands on’ for that portion of human history and no other.

        This is the Open Theist position, which is a modern hyper-extrapolation of Arminianism. To say that God can see past, present, and future but not know Abraham’s decision is simply incoherent, which is why throughout theological history, until Socinus, I believe, the passage was never taken that way. As it happens, I did a rewrite of the Bible the first time I heard someone tell me that low view of God’s omniscience in the Abraham narrative. It’s on my website here, and it shows that the entire OT metanarrative becomes simply ludicrous if we accept your view.

        • Jeremy says:

          Yes, writing. Another indicator of free will. In Sumer, writing came about from a need to keep track of who owns what and who is owed what. Accounting. In ‘unfallen’ cultures, like the Aborigines for example, individual ownership of possessions is a completely alien concept. Everything belongs to the tribe. There’s no status of one over another. That’s where ‘fallen’ people are different. They’re not egalitarian. And egalitarian cultures have no need for writing.

          Writing is a clue. That’s something that never happened in those earlier farming communities, yet happened at least 3 separate times in a relatively small region and in a very short amount of time. Both in Egypt and the Indus Valley, they also invented writing, totally independent of one another. And they both came about roughly the same amount of time after Sumer that the flood/Babel happened after Adam’s creation. 1500+ years.

          Re: ‘But either way, the angelic being too has the freedom to go against God’s purposes – it seems to me harder to make that a new endowment within history.”

          I don’t think he does. Take the story of Job. Satan had to have God’s permission. I think the serpent in Genesis was doing his job. The garden scenario was setup just like a controlled experiment. One rule. What the serpent did was a necessary step in that scenario.

          Re: Abraham/Isaac

          The whole story of the Israelites is God’s direct involvement to ensure the outcome He promised. It’s not like before in creation, He spoke and it became. Like the Gen1 humans. They were commanded to be fruitful and multiply and fill and subdue the Earth. This is exactly what homo sapiens did. Over the course of 1000s of generations. But with Adam, one command, broken, generation 1.

          Time, past/present/future, is all simultaneous to God. He doesn’t have to wait a span of time to see an outcome. As long as it’s in the picture He can see it. All that’s God’s creation, it behaves exactly according to His will. No surprises.

          Free will’s significance cannot be overstated. Without it, heaven is a bunch of drones. Beings who only behave according to God’s will. Free will is companionship.

          I really appreciate it, Jon. My theological knowledge is admittedly lacking. It’s difficult to have discussions with those who are experts without too quickly being dismissed a heretic.

          Yes, there are numerous examples of God working within the environment of human free will. Orchestrating outcomes among the chaos. It really underlines what an enormous undertaking this all was.

  6. Jeremy says:

    I should also note the decreasing egalitarianism and social stratification in the early phases of Sumer, the Ubaid culture, were determined primarily from grave goods.

  7. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Re: ‘But either way, the angelic being too has the freedom to go against God’s purposes – it seems to me harder to make that a new endowment within history.”

    I don’t think he does. Take the story of Job. Satan had to have God’s permission. I think the serpent in Genesis was doing his job. The garden scenario was setup just like a controlled experiment. One rule. What the serpent did was a necessary step in that scenario.

    That won’t run, I’m afraid – the story itself has God punish the serpent for what it has done. That does not preclude God’s oversight of events from the eternal perspective (remember that Christ is “the Lamb slain before the creation of the world”), but it does preclude Satan acting in concert with God’s purposes as a non-volitional agent. And if Satan sinned, angels too have free will and the theory teeters.

    But that is not the only evidence from Scripture: in 2 Peter it says God punished the angels “when they sinned,” and Jesus himself referred to the fire prepared for “the devil and his angels” as punishment. Daniel refers to a war in heaven, and both these last themes are expanded in Revelation 20. Etc, etc.

    The example of Job does not contradict that – one needs to understand it in terms of what you might call the “politics of the spiritual realm,” at least as described for our limitations in the Bible, which I discuss in my book The Generations of Heaven and Earth, but which make no sense apart from Satan as a volitional agent with his own agenda.

    I suggest, more generally, that you do some reading to escape from the modern mindset that “free will” is the opposite of “robotic.” Though it’s not that modern, being one of the errors into which Pelagius fell back in the day. In fact, as I’ve already said in this discussion, free will in biblical terms is the ability to participate in the freedom of God himself, which is always just, loving, and so on. It is in a limited, creaturely, sense to share in God’s higher nature, and so Paul is able to say “We have the mind of Christ.”

    Jesus is in that, as in all things, the absolute exemplar for our own humanity: read John’s gospel for how many instances there are like “Truly, truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing by Himself, unless He sees the Father doing it”; “I do nothing on my own, but speak just what the Father has taught me”; “I always do what pleases him.” And of course he prayed, “Thy will, not mine, be done,” in the garden. This, remember, is the Eternal Son, whose very willingness to take on humanity was to comply with the will of the Father (Hebrews 10: 5-7, quoting Psalm 40).

    God’s involvement in history is not merely the strategic manipulation of other wills (that too is one of Open Theism’s innovations) – it is inherent in his nature as God, for human will and freedom can only subsist within his own will. And that is why God not only acts so positively throughout the biblical narrative – he also claims the same initiatives in the non-biblical world, and even the daily operations of nature. “In him we live, and move, and have our being.” It’s so much richer than the chess-playing God seeking somehow to outwit wills like his – or, in some recent theologies, declining to do so because it would be interfering in their free will, which under that crude model of the will it is.

    The ability to rebel is real, but it is an aberration of the will (hence Luther’s “the Bondage of the Will,” and Jesus’s “Whoever commits sin is a slave to sin… So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” He says this in the very context of his stating his absolute obedience to the Father’s will. We have badly understood free will because we have underestimated God, just as Eve did in the garden when the serpent convinced her that God’s prohibition was an attempt to assert his interests over hers (Gen 3:5).

    My experience of 55 years as a believer: the more I find myself within God’s will, the more freedom I experience. And that is because the wonder of human free will was created to be enjoyed within the infinitude of God, not in contradistinction to it.

    • Jeremy says:

      Yes, exactly. Like the test of Abraham. Would his will outway God’s? I think about it like this. Eternity. Millions of individuals. Interacting.

      Like the road system. We are each free to go where ever we want. But to keep everyone from barreling into each other there are rules. And you have to be licensed. You have to agree to adhere to those rules and to submit to the authority of the roads. There has to be order, and order requires an authority.

      The body is made up of billions of individual components that all operate according to the DNA code of the body. Because everything complies with the code of the body, all parts act as a single unit. This is akin to the universe as a body and natural law as the DNA.

      Free will would be like if you could give each cell in your body the choice whether or not to conform to the code of the body. Those who do not conform and comply become a danger, a potentially destructive element, in the system of the body.

      The natural world behaves in predictable ways. Each element behaving exactly according to natural law. We humans are the one exception to that rule. We’re the only components of God’s creation who don’t behave exactly as God wills/natural law. For A/E to have eaten from that tree would be like them not adhering to gravity.

      I don’t think of the consequences of Adam/Eve/Serpent’s actions as punishment. God’s simply explaining the results of their actions. The change they introduced would result in these things. It’s like stepping off of a cliff. The result is you will fall no matter what. Whether you were stepping off of the cliff with permission or not.

      Like Eve’s consequence that she’d be subserviant. Male dominance is another characteristic that didn’t rise up in human behavior until Sumer. It’s not a punishment so much as it’s a result of their actions.

  8. Jeremy says:

    Also, I don’t know, the chess-playing God is pretty rich. I want to lay out a view I hold that better defines how I’m looking at this.

    God’s involvement right from the onset appears to be intended to breed Jesus from Adam’s line, working in an environment of free will not entirely in His control.

    God chooses Noah and his family because God favored him and wipes out the rest as He observes some negative characteristics that have evolved. The flood isolates Noah and his family, as a breeder would do.

    Later down the line a few generations, after testing his will, God promises to make Abraham’s descendants many. He’s choosing who to breed through based on desired characteristics, as a breeder would.

    Then, the Israelites. He sets them up in Egypt where they’re isolated and together. But then, when He hears their cries, He frees them and isolates them in the wilderness. And He gives them rules controlling what they’re eating and who they’re intermingling with. As a breeder would commonly do.

    This is the line that Jesus came from. The personification of the characteristics that God was initially testing for realized in a human. Ultimately correcting the course from the onset. The second Adam.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


      It always interest me when someone takes the Bible as a “given” authority (assuming, in this case, the historicity of its events), but then investigates its meaning as thy might do with inanimate nature.

      Nature, even if created by God, simply exists, and we make sense of its phenomena as best we can: that’s what science in the broadest sense is, and the conclusions are very different depending on what phenomena you choose as significant, and what metaphysics you apply to them. The physical world doesn’t tell us what it means.

      But the Bible, like all books, was written by people with a purpose in mind: they intended us to follow their thoughts to the conclusions they wished us to draw. And hence, contrary to your explanation, the consequences of sin (and specifically the sin in the garden) are described in terms of punishment, judgement, wrath and the like, and not merely as “natural consequences.”

      So the question I have to ask myself is whether Moses, or Isaiah, or Jesus, or Paul, or Peter, would have intended that we understand their narrative in terms of the necessity of free will, or the actions of a prize-stock breeder deity, or whether they had a different “metanarrative” in mind.

      As far as I can see, your core ideas are not without precedent – there’s seldom anything new under the sun. And so (as I discuss in God’s Good Earth) in Renaissance humanism Adam became re-cast from the archetypal traitor to be a hero of autonomy and initiative over an oppressive, even insecure, God – until the rediscovery of the Prometheus myth gave them a better fit to their anthropocentrism.

      Their pattern of thought bounced around down the ages through Deism, the Enlightenment and, arguably, into Postmodernism’s “post-truth” age. But it was always radically opposed by those who saw, in Jesus, the need for God to be at the centre, not us. In my view, it is their standpoint, not the others, who match the attitude of the biblical authors – and we are reading their stories, after all.

      The historical core of this is not Eden, but the cross and the empty tomb. I place my faith in Paul’s summary of the ultimate goal of these unique events, in 1 Corinthians 15:

      20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27 For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28 When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.

      “So that God may be all in all.”

  9. Jeremy says:

    Yes, I agree there’s a purpose in it. The way it begins with describing how this God spoke the universe into existence, then in the very first story, illustrates God creating something that then disobeys his command. This contrast seems deliberate.

    Then the whole story from there commonly involves human behavior as a theme. People who do and do not obey God.

    My approach is simply to re-assess in light of modern knowledge. I definitely don’t take the bible as a “given” authority. I have a deep distrust of human involvement, of which there’s a considerable amount, especially the later the books are written.

    This is why these early books are so important to me. These are the stories all the rest of it was based on. A lot of it seems was just as big a mystery to them as to us. Take the book of Enoch. It reads like fan fiction.

    But we today have more information to work with. More context to ground the stories being told and make them more clear.

    In a way, the consequences of sin are a punishment. They are the consequences of choices made and actions taken. That’s what this world is. Immediate feedback. Everything we do in this life effects others around us. That’s why it seems to me the perfect environment to create something like free will.

  10. Jeremy says:

    Yes, I agree God is at the center. But this God’s intention and all of His efforts seem to be focused on creating and forging humanity. For the God of this seemingly infinite universe to focus so much attention on a rather small band of humans on what seems to be an insignificant planet seems telling.

    But yes, from the fall on the primary focus was Jesus. A course correction to account for the fall that severed the link between humanity and God. A new priority to achieve the initial goal.

    It’s not about conflicting with God’s will but rather learning to operate according to God’s will through our own volition. He doesn’t force it on us. He made it our choice.

  11. Jeremy says:

    That’s another clue regarding God’s omniscience in the existence of free will. The flood. God’s “regret” for making humans on the earth. This to me is a clear indicator that the behavior He observed in His creation was not fore-seen.

  12. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    The Flood “regret” is another of the examples the Open Theists have picked up and focused on, like his “repentance” at having chosen King Saul and a few others. All these have always been known by orthodox theologians for ever, who have placed them in the wider context of God’s directly theological self-pronouncements about knowing the end from the beginning, making specific promises millennia in advance, directing the hearts of kings, raising up the Babylonians as his weapons, not repenting or changing his mind, etc, etc. They conclude that the only legitimate explanation is that it is impossible to speak of the transcendent God (still less talk with him) except using human metaphors.

    A good example is your “But yes, from the fall on the primary focus was Jesus.” If that were true, it would still involve God’s control of the world’s history for thousands of years after Adam to prepare the ground for this one individual “just at the right time” (as Scripture says). One aberrant “free choice” from a drunken chariot-driver while the infant Jesus was playing in the street, and the entire plan fails.

    But in fact, Jesus was not a reactive response to an unexpected fall. I have previously quoted Revelation’s “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” but Paul too writes:

    “He chose us in [our Lord Jesus Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (Eph 1:4).

    And :

    “By [the Son] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” (Col 1:16)


    “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus..” (2 Tim 1:9).

    And Jesus says:

    “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” (Matt 25:34).

    To agree that God is the centre is a big step. If he’s that capable of governing his world, you might also wish to consider if he would not also govern how he reveals himself in Scripture. But you still engage in a highly arbitrary process of taking some biblical stories (which many reject as bronze-age fiction) as true in detail, whilst sitting in judgement on the biblical writers far closer to the texts than we are.

    It’s simply not true to say we know much more through modern knowledge: we know different things, and some on which we are far more ignorant than any of the Bible writers include their sources, their relationship with God as inspirer, their culture, their language, their worldview. We don’t even want to understand them, because we’re so sure of the superiority of our own way of seeing the world.

    Remember that archeology depends on sifting through what little remains of the rubbish of dead people: they actually lived in their world. Most kings, and even many nations, together with most of their ideas, have been entirely lost to history. At best, our discoveries help us to begin to reconstruct what they knew and understand it more clearly: to pretend to understand their texts better than they did – and even more, to claim to know the plans of God better than they did – is, shall we say, a little self-confident.

    This from you is truth worthy of approbation: “It’s not about conflicting with God’s will but rather learning to operate according to God’s will through our own volition. He doesn’t force it on us. He made it our choice.”

    But the way you phrase it shows that you haven’t yet grasped that, to the Bible writers, the question of God’s needing to “force” the choices of wills he created and governs is pretty meaningless. That is one of the items of knowledge that modern popular conceptions of free will have completely lost, and need to work hard to recapture.

    • Jeremy says:

      Okay, take Babel….

      6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

      God’s decision to scatter them was based on his observation of what they were doing. He’s reacting/responding. Which, by the way, what he observed in these humans accurately describes what humans were doing in Sumer in that early phase.

      Now that doesn’t mean God had no idea. Like what he told A/E after the fall. He could explain to them what would happen. He could anticipate, predict, but not know. And, to be clear, this doesn’t in any way diminish God’s power or authority. I think it just underlines the significance of free will. What a gift it truly is.

      It is true there’s quite a lot the authors knew that we don’t, especially in regards to contemporary knowledge and cultural aspects. But there’s a lot we as readers know that other readers all throughout history did not know. Context not available to those who long ago determined what’s what in the bible and just stuck with that view. Like Adam being the first human, for example.

      We can place a lot of this in context historically. We can use knowledge gained to reconstruct the environment and political climate of the time these stories are set in. Flesh it out to better understand.

      But you’re right about my statement that Jesus was a reaction. Statements like “By [The Son] all things were created …” are stated often. My mind in this goes to the whole first/second Adam concept. Jesus did what A/E and every human since failed to do.

      What was accomplished through Jesus was always the intention. I think it just took some doing to get there. Because of free will, God could not just speak it into existence and it become all on it’s own what’s intended. Because of this volatile element at play it took more of a hand’s on approach.

  13. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    What was accomplished through Jesus was always the intention. I think it just took some doing to get there. Because of free will, God could not just speak it into existence and it become all on it’s own what’s intended.

    That God works his purposes slowly and mysteriously taking into account the evil acts of men and angels is not in dispute… at least, once we take the authority of the Bible seriously. And to accept as factual what is said of God’s words and actions over Babel requires such an acceptance.

    But is that to say any more than that God is a God of relationship, who deals with his creatures individually according to their natures? The Bible presents that as the case even with the natural world, in which God (contra the materialist naturalists) is completely hands on in his government.

    So, with the creation of rational man, with free will, he deals appropriately (but as Creator, not simply as a rival will). What interests me more is God’s aims and intentions in creating mankind that way, and in interacting with them in that way. That’s the overarching theme of my book, The Generations of Heaven and Earth.

    We don’t have a God who suddenly sees that humans now have free will and are causing problems, but a Triune God who, from before creation, desires to see it justly populated and ruled by rational beings in his image in harmony with him, and knows that will be achieved only through his Son, demonstrating God’s love through his suffering, and so bringing greater glory to him.

    What is wonderful about the “big picture” presented in the Bible is that it shows, like a classical folk tale, how an apparently insurmountable block to God’s plan is overcome by love and truth, so that not only is evil and injustice righted, but every part of the original plan comes to fruition in a way that brings him greater glory than if there had been no opposition.

    Another way to look at this is that opposition (and I agree free will is a prerequisite, but not a determinant, of that) is what creates story, or drama. Contrast Genesis 1:1-2:4 (which I take as an introductory prologue to Genesis, the Torah, the Tanach, and the Christian Bible all) with Gen 2-3. The creation is not (as many scholars have pointed out) a story at all: God speaks, and it becomes. The “story” proper only begins when Satan questions and Adam and Eve disobey, and the proper focus for our attention is then “How is Yahweh going to get out of this one?”

    The “Big Thing” then is that God decided to make creation a “story” at all, to put such drama at the heart of human existence. We all live by stories, it turns out, and that is congruent with the way God has formed things.

    So whilst free will is a sine qua non (and is simply presumed by the writer of Genesis, being part of universal human experience), it is not the point of the story. Or from another angle, we don’t understand God’s actions any better by tracking the evolution or creation of free will, but by asking the text what God’s intentions were for the world, and how he achieved them against angelic and human opposition.

    And that points us, increasingly, to Christ rather than ourselves.

  14. Jeremy says:

    Re: creation as a “story”
    Yes, exactly. The whole thing is a presentation, presented in a way that we’re good with. Wisdom cannot just be given. It has to be earned. Learned. Experienced. Creation with us isn’t just forming us from some dust and breathing life into us. There’s more to it than that. We have to be molded.

    And a capability like free will is a huge responsibility and requires wisdom. Without free will you don’t truly have a relationship. You can’t really have a relationship with yourself.

    Re: Understanding God’s actions by asking the text what God’s intentions were

    I agree. Doing that is what led me to believe God’s intentions were breeding. Observing favorable traits, breeding from that stock, isolating the herd, etc.

    But as far as tracking the evolution or creration of free will, the story being told here is the definition of epic. The events of these stories are said to have altered the world. So, we should be able to see that. And I think we can. And seeing it explains a lot about humanity and how we came to be where we are now.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Increased agreement here. But:

      I agree. Doing that is what led me to believe God’s intentions were breeding. Observing favorable traits, breeding from that stock, isolating the herd, etc.

      I really can’t see how you get selective breeding from a text that pre-dates the concept of breeding for inherited traits by many millennia. Breeding of this kind only really took off in the eighteenth century, and so it was as “cutting edge” science that Darwin used it to bolster his theory of natural selection.

      Before that, individual variations were assumed to be unstable, and “genealogy” (as a useful paper on the development of the concept of race states) was a term “rather associated with the vocabulary of nobility and breeding.”

      That the writer of Genesis had no concept of genetics even at this basic level of “selection for the desirable” is shown by the example of Jacob in Gen 30, who outwits Laban by selectively breeding the striped and spotted beasts Laban allows him: and he does so by placing spotted sticks before them as they copulate, not by breeding from the desired characters.

      It’s not clear from the text whether this reflects common ancient practice, or a supernatural dependence on God, but certainly even in mediaeval times it was believed that if a woman imagined she was in the arms of another man than her husband, her baby would resemble the other man: which is just one form in the belief in the inheritance of acquired characteristics that really only disappeared after Darwin, 1859.

      So if we conclude that even though no ancient author would have know it, God was actually practising nineteenth century “improvement of the breed,” what traits do you think he was selecting for, given that no complex behaviours have been shown to be genetically determined?

  15. Jeremy says:

    I look at the three examples; Noah, Abraham, and Jesus

    When Noah was selected, it says the Lord saw how wicked humans had become, but Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

    With Abraham, He tested to see if the desire of Abraham’s will would outweigh God’s will.

    And with Jesus we’ve got the first/only human to have no wickedness/sin and who’s will never conflicted with God’s.

  16. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Interesting list, which suggests to me you must be using “selective breeding” rather metaphorically than literally. God selects these three, it is true, but I question whether “good breeding stock” is at all relevant. In detail:

    NOAH: Noah finds favour with God, but we are not told why. It’s tempting to assume it is because he alone is righteous, given that in 6:5 God sees that “every inclination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil all the time.”

    But what’s this? The flood happens, and only Noah, his three sons, and their wives remain (in the terms of the story). God’s anger is assuaged, peace is restored, and God promises such destruction will not happen again… “even though every inclination of man’s heart is evil from childhood.” This must apply to Noah and his sons, so Noah, then, is still as corrupted as the rest of them – his favour with God must then be through divine grace, not human worthiness. He proves it by his subsequent shameful drunkenness, which nevertheless does not abrogate God’s promise.

    Hebrews 11 says that this grace worked through Noah’s faith. But faith is not a hereditary trait, or at least if it is my unbelieving family members all missed the gene, as of course did the majority of Noah’s descendants. As Joshua Swamidass points out, genetic inheritance is very unreliable and unpredictable.

    ABRAHAM: God’s promise to him comes at his first call, not after he has proven his worth. Indeed, in Romans 4 Paul stresses how he was accepted as righteous simply through his faith in the promise (Gen 15:6), before he “did” anything. Paul speaks of circumcision, in the Romans context, but his acceptance also precedes the episode with Isaac and the sacrifice.

    In fact, this faith is in the promise of the future “impossible” son and heir through whom all the blessings will come (whose qualities, at that point, do not even exist to be tried), and in the same chapter God converts the promise to a divine oath, and confirms it as a binding covenant in ch 17 – all before Isaac is even born, let alone offered in sacrifice.

    It seems to me that the Bible does not even interpret the sacrifice episode in terms of a test of will, but in terms of a test of faith. Heb 11 (again) expresses this as Abraham’s trust that God would be able to raise Isaac from the dead if necessary, and that is actually suggested in the Genesis text by Abraham’s assurance to his servants that they would both be back once the sacrifice had been completed.

    A key to understanding this is to realise that “test” (Heb bachan), like its Greek equivalent, carries the nuance of refining as well as testing, as in the business of purifying metals. You can see this in texts like Job 23:10:

    “When he has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.”

    Or Prov 17:3:
    The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold,
    but the Lord tests the hearts.

    Or Jer 9:7
    “See, I will refine [=melt] them and test them,
    for what else can I do because of the sin of my people?”

    Or Zech 13:9:
    “This third I will bring into the fire;
    I will refine them like silver
    And test them like gold.”

    So nearly always in Scripture, “testing” carries the dual idea that it reveals the state of the heart, but ALSO purifies the heart by floating off the dross. And the revealing is often to the one tested, not to God: so Ps 139 has expounded at length how God already knows all there is to know about David, but it ends with a plea for God to test him an “know” him – to reveal and refine to David what is offensive and needs to change.

    If we consider the ongoing genealogy of Abraham, the covenant-line proceeds from Isaac through the younger twin Jacob, and in Rom 9 Paul points out that this is entirely by grace, for the twins had at that point done nothing, either good or bad, to merit the choice. Indeed, earlier in Romans Paul says that the true descendants of Abraham are not his genetic offspring, but those who share his faith, even if they are Gentiles.

    JESUS: Jesus not only had no genetic descendants, nor the usual human parentage, but was sinless because he was the incarnate Son of God, born of a virgin. “Before Abraham was, I AM.” In fact, one of the perennial theological questions down the centuries has been how Jesus was not corrupted by the sin of his mother, leading the Catholics to the conclusion of Mary’s sinlessness through an “Immaculate Conception” (Or “Immaculate Contraption” as one school-child put it!). Not a great solution, in my book.

  17. Jeremy says:

    I don’t personally subscribe to Mary birthing Jesus as a virgin. It never actually says that. And it seems to me what Jesus accomplished is made all the more significant if He too is human.

    The issue with Noah’s being drunk was what Canaan did. I’m not sure I can agree that being drunk confirms evil in Noah’s heart. That makes it sound more like God favored Noah at first, but that one night he got drunk and that changed things.

    I’m not entirely sure the breeding practices were genetically driven. I suspect it more had to do with realizing the holy spirit through Jesus. This is why it’s helpful to discuss this with you. You’re much more versed in this aspect of it than I am.

  18. Jeremy says:

    The trail I’m picking up on looks something like this. God breathes the ‘breath of life’ into Adam. Later, in Gen6 God says His spirit will not contend with humans forever. Then, for example in Ezra, when they’re taking issue with breeding outside of the tribes, they speak of the ‘holy seed’.

    Keeping this ‘spirit’ in a small/controlled sampling of humanity, and not letting it spread and dilute, as it will not contend forever … Then dot, dot, dot. That’s where it just kind of stops.

  19. Jeremy says:

    All of this I imagine plays a role in writing God’s laws on the hearts of men. Does any of that track in your view? The physical evidential trail just kind of dries up at this point. It starts getting way too speculative.

  20. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    I don’t personally subscribe to Mary birthing Jesus as a virgin.

    Well it does, actually – Matt 1:23, Luke 1:34. Denying the virgin bith lays you open to an astonishing number of historical heresies, the bottom line of which is that the Council of Chalcedon showed how Jesus is truly human, but also fully divine.

    That makes it sound more like God favored Noah at first, but that one night he got drunk and that changed things.

    Well, if we accept your premise that God doesn’t know human will until it acts, that’s entirely possible. But the fallacy is that God chose Noah on the basis of his righteousness at all: grace does not operate on the basis of works.

    Keeping this ‘spirit’ in a small/controlled sampling of humanity, and not letting it spread and dilute, as it will not contend forever … Then dot, dot, dot. That’s where it just kind of stops.

    The Holy Spirit acts in various ways through Scripture (as befits a Person of the Trinity). In Genesis you have to factor in that there is no absolute distinction between “breath” and “spirit”: it is the same Spirit who gives life to mankind, but also to every living thing – see Ps 104:30; Gen 7:22.

    What marks the chosen “line” of God is not primarily the Spirit in them, but the Covenant *with* them. Ezra’s “holy seed” is about the inheritance of the Covenant made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, ratified in a more limited way by the Covenant on Mount Sinai.

    To put the work of the Spirt in Israel briefly, the Spirit is said to be among them (Isa 63:11), working in the prophets, the kinds and anointed priests. Indeed, it is the specific promise of the New Covenant that he will put his Spirit in the hearts of all Israel (understand an expanded Israel here, in New Testament terms), eg Ezek 36:27; Joel 2:28-32, quoted in relation to the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost by Peter in Acts 2:17-21.

    So think in terms of grace, Covenant and gift, rather than in terms of human endowment, and you’re getting c;loser to the biblical viewpoint. It’s revealed, spiritual truth – and so the physical evidential trail was always going to bit a bit of a wild goose chase.

    • Jeremy says:

      Re: Spirit/Breath in Genesis

      I think there’s an important distinction between creation of life in Gen1 and the creation of Adam in Gen2. The universe/Earth/life all appears to have just formed all by itself because that’s what it was told to do. But with Adam, he was created apart from all of that. Made by the same elements, but formed specifically and breathed to life apart from the tree of life we all branch off of.

      And Gen6 appears to underline this distinction when it speaks of two different groups, the sons of God and the daughters of humans. Humans, who it describes as ‘mortal’ in comparison, only living 120 years. It is this intermingling that God is referring to when He says His ‘spirit will not contend with humans forever’. I think this is important.

      Re: Virgin birth

      First, I mistrust church councils. This is why I’m so much more comfortable in those early books. The later it gets, the more humans get involved, the more influence of human-based agendas gets mixed in. If I read the NT books in the order in which they were written, they tend to bend more magical the later they get. And when you include with that possible confusion in translation between ‘virgin’/’young’, it all gets a little iffy.

      And I don’t mean to speak out of line or be in any way disrespectful. I don’t see this as diminishing Jesus in any way. In my eyes it makes it all the more significant if he’s not half human/half God, but all human from the stock that God carefully molded over a hundred generations. It completes the story of the OT. As Jesus said, He fulfilled the law.

      • Jeremy says:

        Re: “if we accept your premise that God doesn’t know human will until it acts”

        To clarify, it’s not ‘until’. Time is irrelevant. It’s only whether or not it happens. In the case of Noah, if at anytime in his life he got drunk, God knows it. Sees it. But in the case of Abraham, if the test had never been done, then there’d never be an event throughout the course of Abraham’s history to look to to see what he would do. The test had to happen for the decision to happen to be known.

      • Jeremy says:

        Re: So think in terms of grace, Covenant and gift, rather than in terms of human endowment

        What makes it a Covenant, rather than a promise, is because there are requirements for the other party. A promise God carries out Himself. A covenant God carries out with cooperation.

        And all of this is in service of the same intended result. Human endowement is not something the authors would be speaking in terms in. It’s the observable result.

        • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

          Indeed a covenant is a two-way street. Note, though, the way that the key “new creation” covenants are “grace intiatives” on the part of God, which is why the theologians distinguish covenants of works and covenants of grace. As Augustine says, God gives what he demands.

          For example, that mysterious event in Gen 15 is a supernatural version of the ancient covenant ceremony in which the parties solemnize the agreement by passing between the pieces of a sacrifice. In this case, though, Abram is put into a deep (visionary) sleep, and God alone, in the form of a burning torch, passes between the pieces. No conditions are set in that chapter – and in ch17, when circumcision is introduced as a covenant sign, obedience follows the promises. So it’s not “If you do A, I will do B,” but “Because I will do B, you must do A.”

          The other prime example is the New Covenant in the future Christ introduced by all three major prophets at the very point of the failure of the Mosaic covenant (which was clearly one of works) in the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. In these texts it’s all about God putting a new heart and Spirit within them, which will cause them to choose his will and keep his law: Ezekiel even has the nuance of saying, in effect, that it’s not for the people’s sake he’s doing this, because they are demonstrably incompetent and rebellious, but for his own glory.

          It’s that power of the covenant to produce what it demands that makes Christianity a unique religion, and why (of course) it’s delivered specifically to sinners and outcasts.

          But the fact that human endowment (in terms of forgiveness, godliness, righteousness, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, eternal life and participating in the glory of God) are all observable results I won’t dispute:

          For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance – now that he has died as a ransom to set them frr from the sins committed under the first covenant.

          I add in passing that the complete consummation of these promises awaits the return of Christ, which is why the gift of the Spirit is referred to as a “deposit” or “guarantee” of what is to come. But that doesn’t alter the core truth.

  21. Jeremy says:

    Re: point of the failure of the Mosaic covenant

    Was it a failure? Or was its purpose realized (Jesus), making a new covenant necessary?

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Deep waters! There’s a need to distinguish the “deep counsels of God,” eg the salvation plan in Christ purposed before the creation of the world, and the genuinely evil effects of sin against the stated desires of God.

      So for Adam (freely) to disobey God is an evil disruption of the stated purposes of God for him, though it may have been anticipated and even serve to increase the ultimate good. Remember those warnings in 1 Corinthians, where people object that since God brings greater good out of evil, why not do evil that good may come – Paul shoots them down in flames.

      So we can, with hindsight, keep in mind that God always intended to work his purpose in and through Christ, though the Bible speaks of it as a secret hidden within the Godhead itself until the right time.

      Israel’s failure began at Mount Sinai, when they lacked faith, and feared and declined to meet God face to face and delegated Moses instead. So they ended up with a law-based covenant, which they were unable to keep – thus paradoxically stressing their separation from God instead of their calling. That explains the New Testament “critique” of the Old Covenant as unable to save, yet not because God’s law was deficient, but because human sin weakened it.

      That critique, though, suggests (as I think you suggest) that the very failures of Israel prepared the way for the gospel; firstly in the whole historical process that led to Jesus and his circumstances, and secondly in showing the need for a better covenant (Heb 8 7-12).

      Maybe one way to interrogate this is, “Why this story of the world, rather than some other, maybe less troubled one? In the end, God is the Creator, for good reasons, of the story he wishes to tell. We, however, are characters in the story, and need to act as such rather than second-guessing the author.

      • Jeremy says:

        The whole garden scenario is set up that way it seems. Adam/Eve are dropped into an environment where only one rule exists. This one tree is off limits. I don’t think the serpent turning up and encouraging them to question and plant doubt was a mistake. It, like with Abraham, was a test of will. Their individual will/wants pitted directly against God’s. Which would overrule the other?

        Yes, I think Adam/Eve’s actions were definitely anticipated. Probably part of the ultimate plan. A necessary beat in the overall story.

        And the same goes, I feel, with the failure of the first covenant. Another necessary beat in the story. It helps explain why everything was done the way it was and why it was all necessary.

        And it all, in my view, is in an effort to realize free will. To make it possible for beings with free will to coexist with God.

      • Jeremy says:

        Re: In the end, God is the Creator, for good reasons, of the story he wishes to tell. We, however, are characters in the story, and need to act as such rather than second-guessing the author.

        I think we’re more than characters. We’re co-writers. He gave us a pen. That’s where it gets tricky. And I don’t want to give the impression that I’m second-guessing the author or that I think in any way this diminishes God or his power.

        I think it’s exactly that. A story. A presentation, really. It illustrates all we need to know and understand. If you do this, this happens, this, this happens. God literally tried everything. This is not His failing. This is him illustrating. Showing us.

        We get to see first hand through human history playing out that not one of us has all the answers. Not one of us is worthy. We’ve all been given the chance. There’s really no argument how this needs to work and who’s in charge.

        • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

          I broadly agree with these conclusions: the main distinction I want to maintain about “necessity” is that for God to will something in his ultimate, hidden purposes is significantly different from his making it inevitable within creation. It’s the difference between created law and his sovereign choice.

          And so it is very different to say that it is in the nature of free wills to rebel (Jesus belies it), and that God foresaw, allowed for, and even in some sense purposed the fall of mankind, for a greater purpose. In just this way, the Resurrection had to happen for the world to be saved, but it was not in the nature of a human being to rise after three days.

          On the nuanced understanding of God as character in the book, or man as author, the best reply I can give is apiece I wrote 4 years ago here.

  22. Jeremy says:

    Re: “And so it is very different to say that it is in the nature of free wills to rebel”

    I don’t think it is. This is why the serpent’s role in the garden was significant. It required a push. Otherwise I venture to say it wouldn’t have happened.

    And it’s not to say that it’s in the nature of free will to rebel. It’s like taking a train off of its tracks. Its nature is to locomote. It’s the track that guides. Without a guide the train just pushes forward. Acts. With no guidance. Not rebelling. Just acting.

    It is not in our nature, at least not yet, to behave within the bounds of God’s will. That’s the goal. But it takes some doing.

    As for the piece you wrote, that’s really good. And goes right to the heart of many of the things I’ve been speaking about. Like guidance in the natural world. Yes, it’s all in God’s control, but it’s not something that requires His constant attention. He set the laws in place. And when matter/energy is introduced into the environment these laws create, nature happens.

    Like life. God imbued it with purpose, commanding it to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth/seas. And that’s what life does. Survives. Thrives. Multiplies. Adaptation is part of that. God didn’t have to design specific characteristics for each animal in each environment. He imbued life with the tools and it simply continues on according to God’s will.

    For Jesus to have been the intention since before creation, the fall was something that was inevitably going to happen.

  23. Levi Fetter says:

    I’m jumping in here very late to the party, but last year I was independently researching the same thing, through the intellectual pathways opened up to me by René Girard’s Fundamental Anthropology (mimetic theory, the scapegoat mechanism, Revelation by Christ of this “satanic” mechanism” etc.) and Aquinas’ variety of Aristotle’s theory of hylermorphism, Kierkegaard’s work on Original Sin, and some other works, including Kenneth Kemp’s paper on monogenesis and “theological man”. When I turned back to investigate the Bible, I started asking questions about Genesis and science, about the meaning of the Fall, etc., and came to some very parsimonious and profound conclusions that, to my astonishment, agree perfectly with yours and S. Joshua Swamidass’, that were completely unknown to me (originally merely an Australian lawyer and political philosophy teacher stuck in France!).

    I have been compiling a sprawling manuscript on the subject, but acknowledge taking many of the theological, metaphysical, epistemological tangents that tantalisingly open up once one attempts to answer the question, “what is man”. It is with great enthusiasm then that I’ve discovered yours and Joshua’s work, which has helped me enormously in buttressing my hypotheses with scientific support.

    Before I enter into conversation with you (or Jeremy, who here has asked some very important questions), I was wondering if you were familiar with any of my abovementioned influences, particularly Girard, in undertaking your own research?

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Hi Levi, and welcome to the Hump.

      I don’t know how much you’ve dug into Joshua’s/my “Genealogical Adam and Eve,” but you’ll be pleased to know it was actually conceived by a lawyer, David Opderbeck around 2010. He first made the link between the “genealogical ancestry” work of Rohde et al, and applied it to the biblical Adam.

      To answer your question, I haven’t read Girard, I’m afraid, was very influenced by hylemorphism (firstly via Ed Feser), have only touched on Kirkegard’s work through a BioLogos/Hump contact, and am familiar with Kemp’s model through BioLogos and Joshua’s site.

      Use of different sources shouldn’t surprise us, I guess, as the whole approach is an eclectic one spanning theology, anthropology, biology and everything else. That probably gives each of us who are interested a different part of the jigsaw, assuming of course that the basic approach is valid. If it is, you’d expect all those fields to fit together somehow.

      I probably ought to read Girard. Perhaps you could summarise what you’ve gained from him and make recommendations: glancing at his biography the very fact that he’s not in the same boat as Foucault and Derrida attracts me to him!

      • Levi Fetter says:

        Thanks for your quick response, Jon. I’m also a great admirer of Ed Feser’s work, which I came to via Alasdair Macntyre. Like both of these, I was a typical liberal atheist steeped in a background rationalist, positivist and utilitarian/Marxist culture, but the a nagging commitment to the truth led me to discover, as you described in the post, the shocking surprise of just *how true* the Bible really was.

        I was born into a secular Jewish family, and so had a familiarity with the Bible stories from a very different value system. It was the discovery of René Girard’s work, while I was lecturing in Paris in the year of his death, that my whole world was upended. Until then, I had been a defender of natural law for a few years, under the influence of the invaluable Schopenhauer, partly as a resistance to Nietzsche, whose works nevertheless had a profound impact on me; it was as yet inconceivable to me that the proper grounds of the natural law lay elsewhere, although I had some inkling that Schopenhauer had peremptorily cast out the question of “Being” as “speculative theology, which is not a subject for rational philosophical inquiry”.

        As my whole philosophy depended on a notion of the Good, I was trying to find grounds for understanding the problem of evil that were not merely allegorical or mythical, and which did not lead to a manicheism or to an essentialising of evil. But this was all very intellectual. Once I read Girard’s anthropological masterpiece “Violence and the Sacred,” then “the Scapegoat”, I had a radically knew approach to the problem, as a *human* problem, something to do with our violent origins, which become the origin of the symbolic as the basis for the intellectual faculties of language, and of reason itself. It wouldn’t do justice to Girard to give too summary a treatment of his oeuvre, but fortunately he himself offers three parsimonious hypotheses that together form his Mimetic Theory, namely, that

        1) man is motivated by uniquely strong metaphysical desire or mimetic desire, acquisitive desire mediated by a model or idol, and although the object may be sought, the true nature of desire is “to acquire the being of the Other,”; and
        2) that in the inevitable conflicts of acquisitive mimesis, escalations of rivalry go unchecked by natural moderators of rank (size, horns, hairy mane, testosterone, strength etc) leading early hominins to crises of undifferentiated chaos and tribal self-destruction which, at some point in archaic history came upon and began to practice a remedy: the victimary or scapegoat mechanism, the transferal of all-against-all to all-against-one. The accusation of guilt by all against one is in an important sense both arbitrary and fundamental, because his violent expulsion produces unanimity and cathartic peace, and can thus, according to Girard, be supposed as origin of the ambivalent gods of archaic religion, and of taboo, prohibition, ritual and myth; and
        3) finally, that the Scriptures are, amongst other things divine, the *revelation* of this mechanism at the foundation of the world as the “satanic” (“How can Satan cast out Satan?”), and that God, through the resurrecting of certain victims (the blood of Abel cries out; Isaac; Joseph; Job; Jonah etc.), is breaking into the closed symbolic space of the sacred to reveal both that man is the origin of these violent gods and, by rescuing man from sin, that the true God is merciful and loving, culminating in the story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. After Christ, the archaic sacrificial system is broken forever by Christian witness, expressed profoundly by the Greek word for Holy Spirit, “Paraclete” from parakleitos or “advocate for the defense.” We now know *we have scapegoats* and can no longer form unanimous accusations nor therefore generate myths. Girard thinks that it is because we no longer burn witches that can exercise reason and science, not the other way around, and practice victim-centred justice rather than Caïaphan ends-justifies-the-means scapegoat politics etc.

        Finally, in his last work, “Battling to the End”, Girard proposes an apocalyptic conclusion to our age and this world, in which Christianity’s message of love and positive reciprocity has destabilised, but has not conquered it sufficiently, because Satan, although seen “falling like lightning from heaven” by the revelatory effects of the Cricifixion and Resurrection, nonetheless remains prince and principle of man’s fallen world, being the archaic mechanism of accusation and expulsion which love has not overcome, yet from which no pagan order or peace can be founded as of old.

        Girard presents a naturalistic account of man’s violent entry into his symbolic and religious nature, but allows for sufficient ambiguity for the role and work of a transcendent God. His mimetic and sacrificial approach to interpretation takes on ancient myths, and Freud, and Nietzsche, and knocks them out of the park with extraordinary scholarship and humble, surgical prose.

        Reading the rest of René Girard’s work forced me to totally reconsider everything I had nitherto believed, and I subsequently withdraw from my legal career into deeper study, which has led me back to Aristotle/Aquinas, and to a firm faith that Jesus is truly the one the Jews were waiting for (no small avowal for a modern Jew to make!). Now, being a critical person, and as I had been understaking a work criticising my beloved Schopenahuer, I realised that Girard helped understand Schopnehauer’s brilliant errors, in such a way as to allow for a theory of Reason that collapses into the following dichotomy: The Logos of Heraclitus vs the Logos of John, or, in other words, the spiritual disposition or “wisdom of the heart” determines whether one will see the dialectic, or striving of opposites, as the essence in all things, or, conversely the unity and divine order behind apparently divided things.

        But in the same critical spirit, I saw that Girard’s anthropology was unsatisfactory on a few important questions, notably the doctrine of original sin, and ultimately, on the problem of evil, which one would be forgiven for recognising in Girard’s work as falling down for the Nietzschean claim against Schopenhauer and Christianity, that if man’s origin and essence is violent striving, why at all should he deny himself his nature, rather than affirm it?

        I solved this problem, I believed, with some grace from God, who showed me that the “man” Girard was brilliantly revealing, was not “man” at all as we ought to understand ourselves, but the man-material into which the loving image of God was breathed, creating Adam, the first true man. This archaic and proto-pagan man may be the model, however, (or even the very *nachash*, a diviner who was, after all, capable of walking and talking, and capable of modeling behaviour for Adam) that Adam fell into imitating, in disobedience of his unique inner divine command. I came to this theory by drawing upon hylermorphic causality, where form in an important sense “precedes” its matter, and where, notably, the soul or form of man is an intellectual, rather than strictly physical type, and would therefore make man physicially indistinguishable from the men from whom Adam was made. This also has tremendous consequences for the broader theory of natural evolution.

        I won’t burden you with all the details as they’ve come to me, because the idea fructifies with an almost exponential fecundity of possibilities, and because I’m afraid I’ve failed to give them a fair description or good defense so far, in this format. Instead, I look forward to maintaining a dialogue with you, and to following more closely yours and Joshua’s works

  24. Levi Fetter says:

    Sorry, I should have specified that by the “same thing”, I was referring to a genealogical approach to Adam and Eve that is consistent with a scientific theory of monogenesis as well as evolution of the material world.

  25. Levi Fetter says:

    The books that I recommend of Girard’s are best done in order, as I recommend all of them, without exception:

    – I See Satan Fall Like Lightning – this later, excellent, short summary of his 3 major ideas (mimetic desire/scapegoat mechanism’unique revelation of Scriptures) is especially helpful for someone already Christian, and goes into depth on the subject of Satan and the Paraclete, and on the anthropologies of Freud and Nietzsche. There is an outstanding textual comparison between the woman caught in adultery and the exploits at Ephesus of a famous pagan soothsayer Appollonius of Tyana, by Philostratus.

    – The Scapegoat – this is the first comprehensive summary of the victimage mechanism, hidden by myth. There are some outstanding textual analyses, including a 14th century Plague poem, the King of Navarre, on scapegoating Jews. A brilliant little book.

    His MEATY BOOKS, in chronological order and also according to their role in the totality of the Mimetic Theory:

    – (1961) Deceit, Desire and the Novel (mensonge romantique et verité romanesque) – a literary study of the great novelists (Cervantes, Shakespeare, Stendhal, Dostoyevsky, Proust), revealing that what makes these novels and novelists great, is the same discovery: that the true engine of human activity is what Girard here called “metaphysical desire” in its various stages of development, variously acquisitive, coquettish, frustrated, rivalrous, perverted, bellicose, resentful, vengeful, murderous. Brilliant

    – (1972) Violence and the Sacred – His first work applying the mimetic insights to myth and anthropology. The book is somewhat modeled on James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, and as with that work, no mention was made comparing these insights to the Bible narratives, leading the reader to draw his own conclusions. In this instance, Girard completely overturns Frazer’s naive 19th century Victorian rationalism, revealing the scapegoat mechanism in all its terrifying power, at the centre of human culture.

    – (1978) Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World – Considered Girard’s masterpiece, it is a lengthy dialogue with a philosopher and psychoanalyst covering a tremendously broad range of topics, in order to bring to conclusion the Girardian mimetic insight, finally applied to the Bible and Christianity generally. One word of caution: Girard later revised his position affirming the “sacrificial” nature of Christianity whilst emphasising her utter uniqueness (read “Evolution and Conversion” as an accompaniment). However, in this masterpiece, he at that time believed that Christianity was antisacrificial, but had unwitingly retained pagan sacrificial remnants in certain aspects of its theology (the Epistle to the Hebrews) and practice (the Mass). He later regretted his vehemence on these positions, believing that he had been guilty of the very thing he supposed his theory was helping to reveal – scapegoating the text!

    His final work, “Battling to the End” deals with politics and war, chiefly through a better understanding of Hegel, and why Clausewitz was the superior thinker of the two: “War is a duel, and a duel is a battle to the extremes,” or in other words, to total destruction.

    Happy reading.

    As an interesting little historical quirk, it was Girard who personally organised the American conference at which all the famous French (pseudo-)intellectuals descended, excepting Foucault, and where Derrida gave his famous paper on Grammatology, setting up American University culture to be overtaken by a craze for postmodern Continental thinking that has hardly abated since, to everyone’s chagrin except those profiting from it. Then, as always, Girard was going in the opposite direction of these trendy currents, and he persisted in academic isolation, singularly and without fanfare, until the end of his life, nevertheless having achieved what Michel Serres claimed for his oeuvre, the status of “the Darwin of the Social Sciences”. Girard nevertheless had some intellectual admiration for Derrida and took what was valuable in his approach (particularly on Plato and the Pharmakon) and made sense of it. Today, there is an American anabaptist pastor who is brilliant on the conjunction between these otherwise superficial thinkers (Derrida, Lacan, Heidegger, Zizek) and Christian revelation, with the help of thinkers like Girard and Kierkegaard. His name is Dr Paul Axton and he has a podcast and website called Forging Ploughshares, with many excellent lectures and sermons on these matters, I avow.

    Some other brilliant writers with Girardian positions include: James Alison, Robert Hamerton-Kelly, Gil Bailie, Grant Kaplan, Charles K Bellinger, Stephen L Gardner, Paul Dumouchel and Jean-Pierre Dupuy, amongst others. There is an excellent, though frustratingly difficult-to-navigate online resource run by Paul Neuchterlein at http://www.girardianlectionary.com, which provides Biblical exegesis and Girardian sermons for the religious year. To access some of these authors writings there, you have to put “www.girardianlectionary.com/res” into Google, followed by one of their names, or a concept like “scapegoat” or “Satan” etc.

    Finally, I want to say that I eagerly look forward to reading your own books. Having read your interactions with Jeremy here, I’m astounded by your eloquence, magnanimity and scholarship, and am certain you will be a most eminent resource in deepening my understanding of the interactions between Scripture, nature and philosophy.

  26. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


    You’ve certainly had an astonishing, and courageous journey both spiritually and geographically. Respect. But of course, to have arrived in Christ is the most significant thing.

    I’m astounded by your eloquence, magnanimity and scholarship

    Hmm… I feel out of my depth already! I don’t think I’m going to be able to engage intelligently until I’ve at least introduced myself to Girard, and have found and ordered a second-hand copy of “I See Satan Fall Like Lightning,” which seems to be out of print and selling at silly prices new. It should arrive as I finish Roger Scruton on England, and it will be interesting to see if there are unexpected connections between the two. I find such unlikely mental associations can be highly productive.

    It’s completely unfair to comment on your summary of a series of books I’ve not read that helped you to your current (also briefly summarised) position. But rather than say nothing, let me home in on the postulate of the nachash as a human magician/tempter, and you can correct my misapprehensions.

    I’ve actually considered something like that in the past: the serpent as a human pagan sower of doubt (the text doesn’t even insist he’s in the garden) would account for the naturalness of his speaking. But I think the text (in its whole-Bible context) insists on there being a supernatural being standing, at least, behind the serpent. That’s why I’m drawn to the interpretation of Michael Heiser of the nachash as an angelic member of the heavenly council, who would both be a natural inhabitant of sacred space, and (as I explain in Generations of Heaven and Earth) perhaps motivated to initiate the phenomenon of sin by God’s appointment of upstart Adam.

    Still, the idea of Satan “possessing” a human speaker is still, to me, a possible scenario within the genre – even Peter, after all, is accused of speaking as Satan by Jesus on one occasion.

    What I’m less happy about is any origin of sin in the nature of man, whether that be within Adam in the garden, or “humans outside the garden.” It always raises the issue that sin then becomes based in God-created nature, and therefore a work of God, (although Genesis insists the completed creation is “very good”) rather than an anomalous denial of nature. Only the latter, as you seem to suggest above, gives rise to culpability.

    The BioLogos style of theistic evolution gets round this by making evolution itself a Demiurge blundering through randomness into a process of selfishness and violence that is somehow beyond God’s loving will, but that’s not a theological framework I find in Scripture. And anyway it doesn’t absolve God from ultimate responsibility: he didn’t have to play dice with the universe.

    That leads to the issue to which I reacted in your initial description of Girard’s first approach, in which he appears to equate sin with violence, and to assume violence as an unexplained, intrinsic, feature of human nature.

    In the first place, sin in Genesis is equated with disobedience to a divine command, and possibly inappropriate pride. In the second, violence is first seen as a fruit of these in the murder of Abel, and not as a source. It’s as if Girard has taken for granted the violence of primitive man (perhaps by considering modern tribal violence), whereas the evidence for ancient animosity between humans beings is pretty sparse and ambiguous.

    To return to a human nachash, then, the core issue is still that of how he came to be corrupted, and hence able to influence an innocent Adam in the garden.

  27. Levi Fetter says:

    Dear Jon,

    Take your time, Girard really is a discovery like no other. You may disagree vehemently with some of his assertions, but it is worth the effort nevertheless to move onwards, as there is something in it for everyone.

    For instance, I last night read your excellent self-published book “Seeing Through the Smoke,” a topic that is very near to me and my research and interests. I believe Girard’s general hypothesis, particularly the “interdividual psychology” of mimetic desire, his concept of the Skandalon, and the functioning of the “Satanic” as an archaic crowd phenomenon and force of social order, will give you an interesting new lens to understand the revolutionary social forces that are always taking up arms against itself, be it in great civil conflicts like the Wars of Religion and the great Revolutions, or in more subtlely subversive cultural movements, like feminism, humanism etc. Girard deals specifically with contemporary “victimhood culture” with a unique, Girardian approach that I think you will find a most ingenious application of the orthodox Christian understanding of the “powers of the air”. These discussions take place chiefly in his later works, “Evolution and Conversion,” and “Battling to the End.”

    On the origin of sin and the identity of the nachash, I agree with your misgivings. This actually makes up the most important aspect of my own hypothesis, pertaining as it does more to the origin and nature of evil than to the origin of man per se. However, without some cursory knowledge of Girard’s anthropology, I’m afraid any summary effort may leave you without much clarity, let alone understanding of my meaning on the matter. In any case, here goes –

    The important anthropological insight of Girard’s that I have taken in a different but necessary direction, is that it is not man qua Adam who develops “culture” (via the scapegoat mechanism), but his anthropoid predecessors (Adam’s “material” parents, and, importantly as you shall see, cousins and neighbours); these “people”, for reasons extremely important to my hypothesis about evil and Original Sin, extremely similar to Adam in form, function and faculties; it is these anthropoids that have religion, a developed sense of “the sacred”, of gods, symbolic language and, yes, even a type of proto-rationality (directed by the “Good and Bad” of the sacred), although they lack what, for the purposes of convenience, we may call Adam’s “rational soul,” which may be after all, according to me, a milseading misnomer, considering Adam’s distinct, divine gifts, but I’ll save discussion of this for another time. In any case, the co-existence of Adam as a “theological soul” with his non-theological, biological kin is obviously the consonance between my theory, yours, Kenneth Kemp’s and Joshua Swamidass’. I go further than others in postulating such sophistication in the antecedent anthropoid, for reasons that will become obvious in the discussion of the Fall, below.

    Now, this anthropoid culture is, as the word suggests, religious, having its origin in the violent victimage mechanism central to Girard’s “Fundamental Anthropology” that I adhere to and which I’ve briefly described in a prior comment, a mechanism that is first spontaneous and later ritualised, superadded with myth, taboo and prohibition, and which contains (in the sacred/ambivalent sense of the word) the violence that threatened the total destruction of tribe/species prior to its “miraculous” invention or discovery. This culture took thousands of years to contain violence and effectively develop its rituals, prohibitions and myths sufficient to engender a stable peace in a people highly susceptible, as Aristolte remarked, to mimetism that provokes rivalry. A hylermorphic evolutionary theory points to the “uniqueness” of this anthropoid visà-vis preceding varieties of ruder hominin (who nevertheless had tools and probably controlled fire), and it was this adaptation of the sacred – bringing with it symbolic language, proto -rationality – that was the necessary next step in preparing the intellectual material necessary for the coming of Adam, a spiritual, loving “new anthropoid”, homo caritas.

    A quick word on these anthropoids – I don’t know if you’re familiar with Julian Jaynes’ theory on the bicameral mind and the origin of archaic gods, but in support of my thesis that the anthropoids were not endowed with Adam’s divine gifts that we may summarise as free will and perfect grace, they nonetheless had a similar structure of mental activity that derived from the dictates of the sacred, which would have been internalised and, as his theory goes, sensed auditorily as divine command hallucinations, an infantile, robotic obedience to sacred order or fate that both Homer and Nietzsche remarked upon. This might also be the neurological origin of “synderesis”, which for Adam, with God’s gift, becomes “Conscience”. Remember, the origin of the sacred is a spontaneous lynching, out of which the “guilty” victim is divinised as bringing order out of chaos. This becomes the first sign and signifier of meaning. This or these lynchings is the archaic origin of ambivalent pagan gods, and what I will argue, of what leads to evil.

    Here’s the rub vis-à-vis evil: these anthropoids, being mere creation in the most developed sense, are nevertheless not evil, nor is their violent, homicidal sacrificial activity and god-worship evil – since they are not Adamites. However, it portends evil, because of the coming of Man, whose freedom and unique, truly divine command and protection in the Garden is susceptible to loss by falling into this sacrificial (yet animal, irrational) behaviour under very powerful mimetic suggestibility amongst his “brother” anthropoids, who would quite naturally be trying to induce “brother” Adam (by jealousy, or by sacred necessity) to practice the religion of their fathers, to enter their unity, to worship their gods – or else be himself sacrificed and eaten. I will argue that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, whose fruit notably is death, can be understood as having, besides an allegorical sense, an anthropological sense, being the source and place of the archaic sacred, this “Tree”, like the “Tree of Life” where hangs Christ, is probably a gallows pole or a type of Yggdrasil upon which Odin “sacrificed himself to himself”, that is, where an alternative source of meaning other than God’s command is to be found – in sharing the flesh of the ancient sacrifice and perpetuating the lie of its life-givingness that is at its roots.

    This seduction into the sacrifice may very well be the role played of the *nachash* as an actual diviner or soothsayer, rather than a serpent, or a divine being, in seducing the first pair, but I don’t need to push these speculations here. Suffice it to say that, up to this point, the allegorical and anthropological are not incompatible, and not unbiblical.
    You can probably also recognise a hint of the doctrine of recapitulation here, with Christ as the Second Adam making amends for the errors of the first. Recapitulation is a fascinating doctrine, and you see why under its enthusiasms, the Catholics pursued the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth. Here, Adam betrays God in a number of subtle ways; he disobeys an express divine command given uniquely to him and Eve; he gives in to the temptation to participate in an alternative source of meaning, but specifically a mimetic temptation, to follow the *nachash* as a model and idol, which leads to him eating the flesh of the forbidden archaic sacred, which is, I argue, akin to joining the satanic crowd (for the sacred is really nothing other than the murderous crowd, masked by myth) all this, rather than himself going to the gallows. Christ does not make this choice; he follows the Father. Man’s salvation is God’s work to rescue him from having falling into blindness about his true nature, by his original disobedience of his divine command.

    What I want to say about Evil, Satan, the serpent and these anthropoids is this: Firstly, Satan has quite a banal meaning in Biblical Hebrew: “the Accuser”. Therefore, the spirit of Satan, I argue, enters creation with the first “culture”, whose principle of order is the all-against-one accusation and redemptory lynching of the “malefactor” (later ritualised in sacrifice). So in a sense, Satan has entered the world, but not yet evil. Thus, I suspect that the fall of Satan from the divine council, which we refer to when talking about the *nachash” can be reconciled here, as an attempt to describe this anthropological period prior to the creation of Adam, where the Satanic has entered into nature, but sin has not, because Adam has not, but whose existence portends the fall of Man into sin and evil. Evil enters when Adam disobeys his intimate and unique relationship with the divine command, and joins instead the cult of archaic sacred, becoming a stranger to God and a slave to its false meaning, which for him and not the anthropoids (because lions too, tear each other apart), is literal and spiritual death.

    I believe this theory can be defended by a number of other biblical allusions, including but not limited to to Cain and Abel, who are interestingly already practicing pagan sacrifices to a divinity, and by the animal skins God “makes” (i.e. a new sacrifice of the type to come) for Adam and Eve upon their expulsion, God’s first work in the rescuing of his beloved, fallen children.

    I hope I haven’t made too much of a mess of this, I hope you can make sense of it, and don’t hesitate to seek clarification or to interrogate me on any assertions that you find to be false, absurd, misinterpretations or whatnot.


    Re: Scruton – Actually, near the end of Scruton’s life, he took up reading Girard and referred to his work in several later essays, roughly at the same time as genuine theistic Christian inclinations also entered his writings. I think had Scruton had lived a little longer, Girard may have brought another philosopher to Christ.

  28. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Scruton, I think, avowed himself as a Christian, but to what extent that remained “cultural” and subordinated to other things we’ll only know in the hereafter, I guess. There’s some autobiographical detail on his spiritual journey in the England book.

    Thanks for the explanation, which I think will make more sense to me when I’ve tackled some Girard. Watch this space.

    My biggest caveat on what you describe is how confident we can be in the anthropological origins story, given how little we can actually say about human psychology before there was literature.

    But in general terms the idea of non-Adamic “wrong-doing” that is not sin because they are not Adam is certainly compatible with the Genealogical Adam paradigm. Joshua, in particular, uses the vocabulary of “sin” of those “outside the garden” (theologically loosely, I think) in his book. Perhaps I tend to attribute more of the behaviour of modern man to actual degeneration of behaviour since the Fall, on equally thin anthropological evidence!

    But here I want to emphasize that the GA paradigm provides a framework for many specific theories. No doubt you’re familiar with Augustine’s statement to the effect that there are many different possible interpretations of such a rich passage as early Genesis, which are compatible with the rule of faith.

    Joshua pitched his book at scientists and Christian (and also, deliberately, at atheist) readers, in order to show the flexibility of the idea.

    My own “Generations” was an attempt to show how it might be applied in a specific and detailed way, in my case to an existing model of biblical theology, in order to ground the Bible narrative in the historical world. But it was deliberately a “first example”: I fully expect parts of it to be falsified, for there to be alternative models, and for some of those to move the ideas forward as some kind of consensus in the Church.

    I appreciate your appreciation of Seeing Through Smoke by the way. As I said to a couple of Cambridge contemporaries who read it, it’s not definitive either on the causes of the current malaise, nor the survival strategies. But one pointed me to Carl Trueman’s Rise and Triumph of tne Modern Self to fill out the first from a history of ideas perspective, and the other to Rod Dreher’s Live Not by Lies regarding the latter.

    Both have equipped me both to fight for a live weekly worship service despite lockdown, and to have something useful to say to the body having procured it.

    • Levi Fetter says:

      I look forward to fruitful discussions with you about the GA in the future – and especially the biblical aspects, of which you have a firmer grasp than I – as I develop my own hypothesis in the space.

      Regarding your book on the current malaise, some other writers that might interest you are:
      – Eric Voegelin, who believed modernity was a neo-gnostic attempt to “immanentize the eschaton”
      – Christopher Lasch, Philip Rieff, Allan Bloom (taking off from Spengler), who wrote about the infantilisation and coddling of students, the rise of the therapeutic and a concomitant narcissism and the dominant anti-Western and unpatriotic ideas of the new ruling elites.
      – Benedict Anderson, who wrote about the uses of propaganda.

      I didn’t mention that many of the writers you cited were those whose works I also had avidly read, or personages I had read much about (Bernays – fascinating character!) and occasionally even used the identical citations, particularly of Dalrymple/Daniels, who is brilliant. His essays mainly appear at Church Life journal, and are a rich resource of satire and wit, against the perverse orthodoxies of our day.

      Some excellent academic bloggers write at The Orthosphere, touching on these matters either by reference to events in academia, or as essays, or better yet, critical reviews of former and often forgotten writers whose voices are needed most, to understand our current crisis. A very brilliant mind over there is Tom Bertonneau (from SUNY Oswego), and he has some high quality essays on Girard, amongst others, so look him up.

      Don’t let them take away your pen, your church, your face, your dignity, your means to a living. But above all, don’t let them take away your pen!

      • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

        “Don’t let them take away your pen, your church, your face, your dignity, your means to a living. But above all, don’t let them take away your pen!”

        That’s eminently quotable!

        Thanks for the names. Rieff is one of the three principle sources of Trueman, the others being Charles Taylor and Alasdair MacIntyre (you may have mentioned both of these already).

  29. Levi Fetter says:

    I came across an interesting Jewish talmudic site that raised, from the talmudic perspective, the question of there being others outside the Garden, and prior to Adam. I give you the website, for your own reference, below. I hope you will find it of interest:


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