Is original sin compatible with evolution? Many today believe the answer is ‘No’. Engaging Aquinas’s revolutionary account of the doctrine, Daniel W. Houck argues that there is not necessarily a conflict between this Christian teaching and mainstream biology. He draws on neglected texts outside the Summa Theologiae to show that Aquinas focused on humanity’s loss of friendship with God – not the corruption of nature (or personal guilt). Aquinas’s account is theologically attractive in its own right. Houck proposes, moreover, a new Thomist view of original sin that is consonant with evolution. This account is developed in dialogue with biblical scholarship on Jewish hamartiology and salient modern thinkers (including Kant, Schleiermacher, Barth, and Schoonenberg), and it is systematically connected to debates over nature, grace, the desire for God, and justification. In addition, the book canvasses a number of neglected premodern approaches to original sin, including those of Anselm, Abelard, and Lombard.
Daniel Houck's intriguing reconsideration of Aquinas's neglected theory of sin is both timely and illuminating. Not only is he able to show the distinctiveness of Aquinas's position, but also its potential for a fresh alignment with contemporary evolutionary theory. Houck is a ready exegete, a clear-thinking philosopher, and an insightful theologian of considerable learning and breadth. This is an outstanding first book from an emerging theological talent.
Sarah Coakley, FBA - Norris-Hulse Professor Emerita, University of Cambridge
As befits an attempt to marry dogmatic theology and modern science, Daniel Houck brings 'something old, something new' to the task of thinking through the meaning of original sin in light of challenges from evolutionary biology. Both aforementioned somethings pertain to Thomas Aquinas, from whose centuries’ old texts Houck derives a new understanding of original sin, one that represents a distinct contribution to a doctrine that otherwise stands as a shocking 'offense to reason' (Pascal).
Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Aquinas, Original Sin, and the Challenge of Evolution stands out among the best works in recent constructive theology. Houck retrieves and carries forward earlier Thomistic debates about original sin, as part of staking out his own position on this crucial topic in light of contemporary scientific evidence. He also explores the development of the doctrine before Aquinas, as well as the more influential contemporary proposals. A profound and timely book.
Matthew Levering, James N. and Mary D. Perry Jr. Chair of Theology, Mundelein Seminary
Houck’s 'new Thomist' account of original sin as a fall into nature is compelling, offering as it does an account of our “fallen” predicament which treats Scripture and biology alike with full seriousness. And even readers who are not persuaded to adopt this account of sin will find much to appreciate in his subtle exegesis of Aquinas and his careful engagement with current debates in evolutionary biology.
Human Flourishing Program, Harvard University
It is a particular delight to come across a work of theology so well versed in science. Perhaps even more worthy of celebration, here is an author who recognizes that theological attention to science should be grounded in the detail of theological tradition. In addition to that, the publication of this book announces the arrival of a Thomist of stature, as rooted in the tradition of Aquinas as he is creative in putting it to work.
Starbridge Senior Lecturer in Theology and Natural Sciences, University of Cambridge
Houck’s treatise is not an easy read, because Aquinas’s treatment of human nature and the effects of sin are complex. But Houck’s ability to make fine distinctions, combined with his intimate familiarity with Aquinas’s writings, make this an elegant piece of analysis. Houck has provided theological anthropology with some significant resources to tackle perceived challenges from fossils and genes.
Professor Emeritus, Calvin University
[He] offers an enjoyable and stimulating text aimed at retrieving a medieval take on an ancient doctrine for a modern audience. He treats the biblical and earlier patristic roots of the doctrine with the utmost seriousness as expressing a universal need among all human beings, including infants, for the deifying grace of Jesus Christ. Drawing on Aquinas, Houck proposes a ‘new Thomist view’ of this need, which can negotiate the challenges of evolutionary theory. However, whether in Thomist terms this successfully equates to a doctrine of original sin is by no means so clear.
Director and Pinckaers Chair in Theological Anthropology and Ethics, Angelicum Thomistic Institute