The Garden Story: To conclude.
Before we leave the story of Adam and Eve in the garden near Eden, I wondered if you have formed any conclusions of your own? It’s there, right near the beginning of the Bible, and the story is told in every UK school and every church—so why? What do you think it means?
Whatever you believe, I think you have to accept that you have decided to believe it. Belief is a choice. At this stage, we cannot ‘prove’ anything. We cannot deny that fossils of prehistoric life have been discovered, and scientists have aged them, and they suggest that animals evolved gradually over millions of years. However, to believe this is a choice—we cannot prove it. God may have created the world, in seven days of twenty-four hours, with the fossils already nestling in the earth for humans to find.
My own belief is that this scenario seems unlikely, and it doesn’t fit with my idea of who God is. Creating a world full of fossils feels like lying. I could dispute the aging of those fossils, but my science isn’t advanced enough for that, and everything that I read suggests that actually, the evidence for evolution is strong. We can see it happening today: if an animal’s environment changes, the animal changes too, it evolves into a new variation. When those changes mean that it can no longer reproduce with the animal group it used to, it is categorised as a new species. It happens every day, all the time. It’s not about monkeys waking up one day as humans (which is an argument I have heard when expressing disbelief in evolution). Sometimes, if intelligent people are saying something which sounds daft, it’s probably because we haven’t understood it.
So, I choose to believe in the evolution of animals, though I am aware that I might be wrong. Having studied the science a little, I find it impossible to believe that this can have happened randomly, and I believe (another choice) that this is how God created the world. At some point, humans evolved to be different to other animals, to have a soul. Humans have a moral code, an understanding of things beyond their experience, a conscience. I think that this change from animal to human is what the garden of Eden story is seeking to explain. God put a spirit into humans, at some point during evolution, and it made them different.
As an aside, I have wondered if this explains the extremely weird story just prior to the story about the flood. It talks about why God is angry with the world and decides to destroy it with a flood. I wonder if those early humans (with a soul) were mating with the lesser evolved hominids (without souls) and this was against God’s will. If God at some point gave souls to humans, they may physically have still been similar to lesser creatures, and their human-animal hybrid off-spring would cause big problems if allowed to continue. Therefore they were all destroyed in a flood. But this is just me speculating. I expect someone will tell me this is impossible.
I think the story also shows that humans are not God, they have a propensity to disobey God, and this results in life being spoilt. I don’t, however, think there is enough support in the story for the idea of an inherited ‘original sin’ theology. I don’t think everything human or physical is bad (which is what Augustine and other theologians from the Middle Ages taught) and that humanity is basically rotten. But dismissing this theology raises other questions, which Augustine was trying to answer, and which, to be honest, are beyond me. People do sin, I’m just not convinced that a new-born baby is born sinful.
I’m not sure how much difference any of this makes to real life. Perhaps the only important thing is to understand that God made us (even if you’re not sure how) and this makes you valuable (even if you don’t feel it). It also shows that there is a God, and it’s not you (a hard lesson for teenaged boys to learn, that one!) Maybe one day, we’ll understand how it all fits together.
One thing I do know is that much of creation is extremely beautiful. Next week I’ll tell you about our trip to the island of Madeira, and all the exotic plants we saw and some of the unusual fruit we ate. Not sure any of it made us wiser though.
Enjoy your week. Take care.
Love, Anne x