"What do you mean that we cannot explain the fall in terms other than it was originally explained?" For the same reason one cannot explain physics in terms other than physics itself. For instance, those pictures of the earth sitting on a cushion of empty space might be entertaining, but they do not convey the true meaning of General Relativity. Only the math of GR contains the truth about the math of GR.
If this were true, then you could only understand the fall if you possessed the same conceptual framework of the people who wrote and heard the story of the fall. Other generations would have a different conceptual framework and would understand the story, in a slightly different way - perhaps more in common with the understanding of their period, and so. It is the same with physics. You can't just open Aristotle and think that you understand what he is talking about simply because the words mean something in our language today. What Aristotle was talking about, or what Newton was talking about, or what Einstein was talking about, etc is based on their own conceptual frameworks that are often long since abandoned. Similarly, trying to understand the fall is not to understand the fall as it was written, but trying to understand the fall in our modern conceptual frameworks. Hence, these modern conceptual frameworks require us to ask questions that may not have been pertinent to those who wrote the original story (if there was even one original story to begin with).
Ah, but you are mistaken! If you think the traditional concept of a fall from grace makes no sense because the influenza virus is evil in the same sense as Osama Bin Laden is evil, then I have no argument with you, as long as you reject the concept altogether. But if you are to accept the concept as defined in Christianity, then you must also accept the Christian doctrine that only beings with free will are capable of sin. Christ did not come to the world to save the lion or the black widow, he came to the world to save the only creatures which, according to Christian doctrine, need to be saved.
The concept of original sin carries with it more than the introduction of sin, it also means the introduction of death.
Romans 5:12 "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned"
To a modern mind, this must be conceptualized within the context of our conceptual frameworks, otherwise our conceptions are contradictory and confusing. The goal of Christians has never been to be contradictory and confusing.
"Hence, we are left with no choice but to explain the fall in other terms if the fall is to have any meaning for our scientifically advanced age." Again, you are mistaken; there are other choices. You may reject Christianity altogether. You may become a Hindu. You may become an atheist. You may come up with your personal religion. There are as many choices as there ever has been. The only choice you don't have is to redefine traditional Christianity and expect to be taken seriously by traditional Christians.
That would be fine and good, but Christianity and religions and philosophy in general, have never held to this kind of concrete view. The evolution of religious thought is quite obvious and has been taking place since our earliest records. The first records of humans having religious experiences are nothing like Christianity. The pre-Christian writings in the Dead Sea scrolls are very similar to the early New Testament writings, and the later writers following the New Testament writings are a bridge to later writings. The Church itself evolved over time from a period of Jewish-Christianity to the time when the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox church became the primary doctriners of the Christian community. At each point the questions they asked and the issues that occupied their attention where the issues that were relevant to their day. In the same vein, the issues that occupy modern Christians are relevant to the topics that occupy our thoughts today. There simply isn't this one agreed upon conceptual thought process, and it is static over time. If that were so, then the emergence of religions and denominations would never take place.
A Christian might say that the appearance of meaninglessness is explained in Christian doctrine. The explanations might be mutually exclusive, or not, but as far as I can tell they are both consistent with their premises. Of course if you apply the premises of science to.
But, there is not one explanation of meaninglessness in Christian doctrine. There are myriads of explanations offered, and not all of them are coherent taken together. For example, the explanation of evil (a form of meaninglessness in certain situations) takes many different explanation forms in the scripture. This is one of the reasons why scripture isn't always a guide, rather we might have to look deeper and find reasons that are not forthcoming in scripture. This is nothing new, this is what was done by the community of Christian believeres who also asked these questions, and the answers were not all the same. Again, this is how denominations and religions form in these myriads of settings.
Christian doctrine, you get in as much trouble as if you apply the premises of Christianity to science. Scientific evaluation of scripture is just as bogus as scriptural evalution of science.
But, this has never stopped Christians or the Judeans and Israelites that preceded them from bringing their known science into their religion. Genesis 1, for example, is often seen as a later understanding of creation (5th century BC) from that pictured in Genesis 2 (9th century BC?). This is only the tip of the iceberg. In Newton's day a whole new understanding of God was obtained as a Lawgiver who allows the world to run its course in a natural sort of way, without interference from God. Again and again, these subtle changes impacted the conceptual frameworks of Christians, and thereby changed the way Christians saw other issues as they pertained to their day.
"all the study of scripture in the world is not going to make you a Christian." You might as well say that all the study of physics in the world is not going to make you a physicist. That was not my point.
Hmm... I guess it depends on how you define a physicist. The point is that scripture is not the sole means of understanding a religion, if it were then all the religions would have the same understanding.
I am not adventurous enough to try and guess what the needs of Christ's time were. One blunders too easily by assuming to know too much. But I do know what my intellectual needs are, and I can tell you that Christianity does not even address them, let alone satisfy.
No, Christianity might not satisfy your intellectual needs, but it must service enough of your intellectual needs in order for you to remain a Christian. For example, if tomorrow a cave was discovered having texts from the first century (larger than Qumran) that placed serious doubts about Jesus' ministry, it would be a crushing blow to our intellectual needs. Some people would ignore those needs, but whenever needs are ignored the effects can be detrimental. Christianity must at least satisfy to a certain point your intellectual needs, otherwise you'd have to give up any kind of intellectual approach to the world (e.g., what many Creationists do with respect to biology and paleontology).
I do not know what it takes for a religion to be successful, but I very much doubt it has anything to do with intellectual needs. The day you see Pastor John Brook on national TV, then you can be sure I discovered how religion works (just kidding)
Kidding or not, but if you didn't provide some means to teach Christianity in a reasonable fashion, people would think you were off your rocker and wouldn't listen unless you used more emotional methods to gain their allegiance (which is often what cults will do to their members).
"Similarly, Christianity must evolve to continue to meeting the needs of each society, including our intellectual needs in a period of advanced science and philosophical understanding." That statement is in blatant contradiction with the facts. Except for little mismatches in translation, the four Christian gospels say the same thing today as they did when they were originally written. Our advanced science and philosophical understanding have had absolutely no impact on our understanding of Christian doctrine. Evolution theory sheds no light on the meaning of Genesis. Modern cosmology sheds no light on the meaning of the book of revelation. Modern medicine does not help explain how Christ performed miracle cures.
Modern conceptions do affect how we view the four gospels. When Jesus outright forbids divorce except in the case of adultery, for example, this is all fine and good until the 20th century when divorce has become acceptable for other reasons than just adultery. If I remember correctly, he even went further and said anyone who marries another is actually committing adultery on their former mate. Did Jesus' message change, or did the evolution into an industrial society change the way we see permanence in the family and thereby create other reasons for divorce, even among Christians? When Christians were told in Acts to give *everything* they had to the apostles (and the one who hid it and pretended that they gave everything but didn't, died on the spot), is this something that a modern Christian would read and feel compelled to keep? I'm sure if you are a pastor that you get members of your congregation who from time to time come across a passage like these and is confused, not knowing what a 'modern person' should do in those situations. The answer I think that is almost universally given is that things were different, etc. The argument for evolution of society is given as the key reason why a scripture is no longer in effect, or the interpretation is changed, etc, so that the scripture is still in conformance with our modern lifestyles. If our lifestyles come into conflict with the scriptures, at first it starts off with resistance by the Church (eg, divorce, re-marriage, etc), and by and by the Church changes the doctrine (much to the chagrin of some), and after a while the change is taken as normal and now the scripture in question must be interpreted in a 'new light'. This happens in areas of both science and philosophy, just that some Christians are more fundamentalist and stubborn, and can't see the hypocricy in their actions to refuse to change with the evolutionary changes in force. No matter, evolution moves forward, and the people who resist things like re-marriage are pushed aside to a new generation who no longer even asks those questions any longer.
But notice I didn't say what the true interpretation of Christianity is, I only said there must be one true interpretation or, better, that there no two contradictory interpretations can both be true.
It would be so nice if life were really like this. But, as Jesus' command that condemns re-marriage shows, we are not as humans made this way. When the concept of absolute truth meets our needs - and it mostly does because it carries a lot of meaning for us - then we are keen to put absolute truth out there as something to believe and hold with high value (again, this promotes meaning in our lives). BUT, when the absolutism fails us and restricts our lives in a way that society rejects (e.g., divorce and re-marriage), we are quick to scuttle absolute truths and marginalize and trivialize them so that they are no longer on the list of honored truths. It's easy to do as humans because we want meaning so badly that we often will do almost anything to maintain it.
The bottomline is that we must see religion, even the Christian religion, in the context of our evolutionary heritage, and yet at the same time bring meaning into our existence by believing that there is truth to our spiritual experiences (both concurrent and in the ancient past), and thereby try to forge a Christian relationship with God. It might be seen as a secularization of religion, but actually its nothing new than what has been happening in religion for eons. We just become more honest in what we are doing.