Denis Alexander and original sin

Denis Alexander is one of the UK’s leading theistic evolutionists. As an accomplished molecular biologist and Director of the prestigious Faraday Institute,1 he holds a prominent and influential position within the evangelical Christian community, and his book Creation or evolution: do we have to choose?2reviewed here and here,3 has undoubtedly influenced many.

A few days before Christmas, he published an article in The Guardian4 in which he admitted that belief in evolution is incompatible with the doctrine of original sin. Since humanity evolved through the deaths of countless chimp/human intermediates, he claimed, it’s clear that death preceded human existence and sin. How, then, can it be said that evolution is compatible with the Bible? According to Dr Alexander, the answer is very straightforward—there is no doctrine of original sin in scripture. “Nowhere” he argued, “does the Bible teach that physical death originates with the sin of Adam, nor that sin is inherited from Adam.”

Dr Alexander’s view is that Adam’s sin led to spiritual death, rather than physical death. According to Alexander, “Nowhere in the Old Testament is there the slightest suggestion that the physical death of either animals or humans, after a reasonable span of years, is anything other than the normal pattern ordained by God for this earth.”5 How can he, as a professing evangelical Christian, make such a bizarre claim? Part of God’s judgement upon Adam’s sin was that he would ‘return to the ground’. ‘You are dust’, God said, ‘and to dust you will return’ (Gen. 3:19). This clearly refers to physical death.

Physical death is something horrible. It robs children of parents and wives of husbands; it leads to years of heart-rending, choking, soul-destroying grief; it is often preceded by untold suffering, and terrorises those who face it. How can anyone seriously believe that physical death was part of God’s original perfect creation? Physical death is the terrible consequence of the abomination of sin. Why did Jesus weep at the tomb of Lazarus? We are told that ‘he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled’ (John 11:34, 35). The Greek word translated ‘deeply moved’ is embrimaomai and indicates not only grief but rage.6  Jesus was enraged by sin and death, this dreadful business that had invaded His perfect world….

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