Banished from Eden: When Science Meets Theology

It’s always a pleasant surprise when you like doing the reading for class.

In this case, I enjoyed reading Banished From Eden by Raymund Schwager, SJ for my second theology. When I read the subtitle, “Original Sin and Evolutionary Theory in the Drama of Salvation”, the anthropology major part of me got a little too excited. I believe science and religion inform each other, not contradict each other, so anything that uses both to learn about humanity makes me really happy.

The book is an adventurous experiment to apply both Biblical text and evolutionary theory to understanding original sin and the existence of evil. It’s super ambitious and can’t address every dilemma, but several ideas that Schwager generates are really compelling and thought-provoking. Seriously, I had to put the book down a few times because my brain was imploding.

Rene Girard’s mimetic theory (in short, humans imitate each other really well) is an important part of the book. According to Schwager, it helps explain how sinful behavior spreads so voraciously; we imitate each other, trying to compete with each other. It also sheds light on how original sin happened because the serpent in the Bible imitated God, quoting what God ordered them to do and almost always avoiding direct lies. The serpent also encouraged Eve to imitate God by eating the fruit. (disclaimer: I don’t believe there was an actual “Adam and Eve”, but certainly the Genesis story hints at deeper truths about ourselves and why sin is a reality in our world; I do believe in original sin).

There’s also a weird facet of mimetic theory that involves scapegoating and killing as the foundations of human civilization. To prevent tensions from growing in a competitive, mimetic community, an “outsider” is assigned to be killed. Then after the murder/sacrifice, that person is remembered as an innocent victim so as not to repeat that action again, and peace in the community is temporarily restored. It sounds dark, but it’s eerily accurate (ex. witch trials, sacrifice, lynchings, anti-Semetic violence, Jesus’ Crucifixion-- which Schwager discusses later on in the book). In addition, Genesis cites Cain (the first murderer) as the founder of the first city, so it might be cluing into this human tendency of violence/murder as the root of civilization.

The book also discusses human ancestry/primal history, possible repercussions of genetic technology, free will, and the devil. If any of these topics interest you, pick up this book and peruse it a bit. Admittedly, the writing is a bit dense (and it helps to have a working knowledge of anthro/evolutionary theory), but you might just encounter ideas that will change the way you view the world.

 

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