For Christians who do not reject theories of evolution, how can they begin to make sense of it in theological terms? Jack Mahoney, explores this question but he starts from a different point. How do those who study or accept evolution make sense of altruism? The ethical idea that seeks to put others first. For Mahoney, a Christian theology of altruism begins with God and the mutual self-giving of the Trinity towards each other. Jesus Christ, through the incarnation, exemplifies this altruism. Mahoney argues that Jesus a profound evolutionary advancement in the morality of humanity. It is extraordinarily profound because he confronted death, a universal human experience, and then overcame it. Mortality was an ordinary feature of human life but through Jesus Christ, we have the Evolution of this human experience.
Traditionally Christians believed that the point of the incarnation, where God became man, was to save human beings from their fallen nature. Mahoney sees in these accounts an attempt to explain death. The answer to the question ‘Why does death happen?’ is explained by the fallen nature of human beings. In Genesis, death was the penalty for eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God became man to atone for the sins of humanity, to be the perfect sacrifice.
Mahoney thinks that these theological ideas have come about because of mistakes. First, he thinks that people have misread the Bible, in particular in the passage in Paul’s letter to the Romans 5:12 where he states:
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.”
Mahoney argues that the phrase ‘because all have sinned’ is the translation of the Greek eph ho, which means ‘since when’. But in Latin this was translated as in quo meaning ‘in whom’. St Augustine concluded that all human beings were therefore born into the sin of Adam. The theology of Original Sin came into being through this translation.
Mahoney rejects the theology of Original Sin and the fallen nature of the human being at the point of birth. Without this theology, there is no need to remedy the situation. There is no need for atonement for Original Sin, without Original Sin.
This allows for death to be viewed as part of evolution. Jesus broke through death as an evolutionary step towards a new way of living according to universal altruism.
Mahoney’s idea has implications for many other Christian theologies, including the concept of the dignity of the human person, the idea that human beings have some kind of inherent worth. The theology of Original Sin and the Fall had led some to reject this notion, notably Calvin and Luther. How can human beings be of moral worth, if they are such sinful beings. If human beings are not born into the world with a nature corrupted by Original Sin, then the idea that they have an inherent worth makes more sense.
This illustrates why Mahoney thinks theology and science have something to say to one another:
“Because our common human experience is being faced with a major advance in our scientific understanding of human origins, intellectual integrity invites us to place that experience alongside our past and present religious beliefs, and in the process to hope to cast light on both.”
For a review of Mahoney’s thinking see:
And for a more detailed discussion see here: www.thinkingfaith.org/articles/BOOK_20111208_1.htm