Home > Uncategorized > RIP Theology, Part 2

RIP Theology, Part 2

Picking up on yesterday’s post about the demise of theology…

Within the past twenty years or so we have seen an explosion of new insights about the origins of homo sapiens.  Fields such as evolutionary psychology, cognitive neuroscience, behavioral genetics and paleoanthropology are challenging many long-held assumptions about human nature.   For the most part, however, theologians and preachers have been completely absent from the discussion.  Almost every week the NY Times’ science page reports important new findings from these fields of study.   Yet the preachers I watch on television and follow online never reference the knowledge revolution that is going on around them, despite the fact that there are implications for almost every core doctrine of Christian orthodoxy:  creation, the “fall,” redemption, free will—-just to name a few.

  • If Jesus died for the sins of humanity, was his atoning death efficacious also for all hominid species?  What about Neanderthals, homo erectus, or homo habilis?  Did they need saving too?  If not, why not?
  • If original sin is limited to homo sapiens, why is that so, and when did original sin take root?
  • At what point in the evolutionary process was  a “soul” inserted into the genus Homo?

It seems like these would be questions religious people might like to ponder, but the conversation has not been happening. Theologians and preachers routinely assert that God endowed us with “free will” so that we can “freely” respond to God’s love, but any discussion of free will that does not also address neurochemical and genetic issues is utterly pointless.

And why aren’t seminaries and other schools of religion offering mandatory courses on the neurology of belief?   Michael Shermer’s  The Believing Brain would be a good place to start.  It seems that people preparing for a career in the belief business might want to know at least a little something about the role neurotransmitters play in religious experience.

It’s not happening because those engaged in theology have largely decided to live in an intellectual isolation of their own choosing.

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  1. April 11, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    •At what point in the evolutionary process was a “soul” inserted into the genus Homo?
    It seems like these would be questions religious people might like to ponder, but the conversation has not been happening>>>

    I beg to differ, Rev. This one I happen to know. In a 1996 papal bull Pope John Paul II does address the question of evolution. He maintains that evolution is factual, but somewhere along the phylogenetic line God infused a soul into the evolving hominid. This moment is spectacularly depicted in the Sistine Chapel painting of God reaching out his arm with index finger touching the outstretching hand of Adam, such that the fingers nearly touch.

    • April 11, 2012 at 8:28 pm

      I stand corrected! Sure glad the pope cleared that one up for everybody. Was he able to specify exactly when the infusion happened?

  2. Justin Connelly
    April 12, 2012 at 12:07 am

    While the Pope was dragged, kicking and screaming, into an endorsement of evolution, his explanation here is neither accurate, nor explanative. If one was to ask the painter of the Sistine Chapel, for example, if any single portion of his work is designed to explain evolution, they would be met with a resounding no. Now the pope wishes to retrofit a scientific discovery, one that was deemed blasphemy for a time, to a painting done by an artist who was completely ignorant of the idea? This is the sort of game that would be insulting, if it weren’t so transparent. Scientific investigation unearths exciting new information, and the information is greeted by religion with scorn, and opposition. Once the evidence mounts, and the new information becomes undeniable, religion finds a way to take credit for the idea in the first place.

    Unfortunately for the pope, this wasn’t just a rationalization, but a bad one at that. The paganpreacher’s question still stands, as the pope does nothing to answer when in the evolutionary chain a “soul” was downloaded into our makeup. Neither does he explain why homo sapiens are demonstrably more worthy than homo habillis, homo ergastus, homo erectus, or any of our near identical ancestors. There is no mention of why these creatures were allowed to wander off into extinction, while we were ushered into god’s eternal plan. Finally, the pope makes no attempt at explaining why even our own species was left to toil and fret in darkness, ignorance, and misery, for at least 98.000 years, before god decided to send a savior.

    While it is refreshing to see religious leaders embrace the undeniable reality of evolution, their attempts at squaring their theology with this discovery have been unimpressive, to say the least.

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