Human Death in Theological Anthropology and Evolutionary Biology: Disambiguating (Im)mortality as Ecumenical Solution

Gijsbert van den Brink*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Human death is natural from the perspective of evolutionary biology but unnatural from the vantage point of classical Christian theology. The biblical notion that death entered the world as a result of sin seems hard to square with the view that (human) death has been an integral part of the natural order all along. I suggest an ecumenical solution to this conundrum by retrieving and elaborating the Augustinian modal distinction between strong and weak immortality. It is argued on exegetical and theological grounds that the human being can best be seen as being created in a state of posse mori et posse non mori, and that—when conceptual ambiguities in their writings are dissolved—this is what theologians as diverse as the prelates of the Council of Trent, John Calvin, Louis Berkhof, and Wolfhart Pannenberg had in mind. It is also argued that this solution is compatible with contemporary evolutionary science and can be accepted by creationists of various stripes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)869-888
Number of pages20
JournalZygon: Journal of Religion and Science
Issue number4
Early online date11 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I am indebted to Harry Cook, Alan Love, Hans Madueme, the participants of the 2021 Dabar Conference (Deerfield, IL), the members of the Herman Bavinck Center of Reformed and Evangelical Theology (HBC; Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam), and two anonymous reviewers of this journal for their highly valuable comments on earlier drafts of this article. This publication is part of the Creation Project of the Henry Center for Theological Understanding (HCTU), Deerfield IL, funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Zygon® published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Joint Publication Board of Zygon.


  • Augustine
  • Christianity
  • death
  • ecumenical theology
  • evolutionary biology
  • human nature
  • immortality
  • theological anthropology
  • theology and science


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