Jesus and Paul were not Literalists when it comes to Genesis 2-3

It is interesting how some modern readers simply assume that ancient individuals and authors shared their supposed literalism, and their focus on facts and history and science, all of which are thoroughly modern concerns.

If we look at what Jesus is depicted as saying about Genesis 2 in the Synoptic Gospels, he points to the story about God making two people out of one, and then goes on to talk (as Genesis does) about two becoming one flesh. Not literally being, but becoming. And then, even though it is a story that is literally about the rejoining of what God has cleaved asunder, the conclusion drawn is the opposite, that what God has joined no human being should cleave asunder.

That is not literalism. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is an interpretation that appreciates the story's symbolism.

So too Paul illustrates his lack of interest in the literal details of Genesis 3. In that story, sin could be said to enter the world through two people. Yet Paul says in Romans 5 “by/through one man.” He is reading the Adam story a particular way, as a foil to the story of Christ.

Once again, that is not literalism. It is a reading for which the literal details of the story are of less importance than the symbolism that Paul wishes to draw out from it.

This is very clear when one reads the text in a manner informed by ancient conventions of writing, reading, and interpretation. The only reason it seems to some modern readers that Jesus and Paul were literalists is our tendency to assume that those we consider authorities say what we think they ought to say.

I strongly recommend taking a closer look. Jesus and Paul were literally not literalists.

 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=592003242 Jerome Herr

    “Yet Paul says in Romans 5 “by/through one man.” He is reading the Adam story a particular way, as a foil to the story of Christ.” > but wasn’t that also because Eve was a woman and what she did didn’t matter as much as what Adam did? It’s only after Adam ate that ‘their eyes were opened’. Although, of course, you’re right that Paul wants to portray Jesus as the Second Adam, and therefore has to selectively read the text (ignoring Eve and the fact that she acted before Adam (according to the myth)).

  • Claude

    Although, of course, you’re right that Paul wants to portray Jesus as the Second Adam, and therefore has to selectively read the text (ignoring Eve and the fact that she acted before Adam (according to the myth)).

    It seems to me that Jesus himself assumes the feminine symbolism by suffering, bleeding and dying to bring new life, but through divine transcendence it is life everlasting. What Paul describes as a stumbling block was that the Messiah was not a strong man who would crush the Roman occupiers underfoot. Jesus was an anti-strong man who paradoxically emerged victorious over death and the bestiality of men thereby initiating the divine kingdom for all who had faith in love to overcome destruction.

    It is an amazing story, and the insistence that there had to be a literal Adam for Jesus to bring salvation or for Paul’s doctrine to “work” is a crabbed one. I am not a believer, but there is some truth to all this. The territorial, predatory, violent animal prevails, and humans seem poised to self-destruct in nuclear armageddon or on a degraded planet become too hellish for survival. A pity for a clever monkey with such high aspirations.

  • Gary

    What happens when people take Jesus as a literalist…
    “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves. 54He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life: and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me, and I in him.” Jesus must have had sense of humor, ala SNL.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    For those who may be less familiar with texts, stories, and traditions of interpretation that I allude to in the post, hopefully this will be useful clarification.

    In Genesis 2, God takes a “part” from Adam to make Eve. One interpretation has it be a “rib,” while the Jewish tradition has Adam (= human being) split in two in order to separate the male Adam and female Eve. And then the two are joined in the story in a way that is said to be symbolic of people becoming “one flesh” in marriage. And so that is what I was referring to when I said that the story is, on a literal level, about the bringing together of what God separated.

    • arcseconds

      oops, didn’t read this :] so it is an old tradition, then.

  • Robert

    No it’s pretty clear they were literalists because they treated them as
    literally real people. I find it sort of silly to call the relationship
    of sin an indicator of it not being literally true. It’s not
    inconsistent. Sin entered through Eve, Death entered through Adam. And
    yes they literally do become one flesh. This is what happens when you
    have sex. You exchange bodily fluids between each other, and the result
    of this is a literal merger of two flesh. And in ancient times, that was
    viewed as your own lineage and physical representation of yourself in
    your place when you died.

    You’re sort of making run of the mill
    assumptions here, and claiming things without mention of other things
    that say you are wrong.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      The story is not literally about the exchange of bodily fluids. It is about one person being made into two people. It is symbolic of two people becoming one. the story itself says as much, as does Jesus’ interpretation.

      Or to put it another way, you’re making run of the mill assumptions, and claiming things without mentioning other things that indicate that you are wrong.

  • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana

    bravo

  • arcseconds

    You know, there’s a bit in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series that touches on the events in Genesis, and he gives Genesis 1:27 as narration:

    So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them

    And shows a hermaphroditic creature like the one in the cartoon. Of course, my immediate thought was ‘but that’s Plato!’ (the account of the original race of man in Symposium, which was split into male and female halves (or sometimes the other combination of sexes depending on what made up the original individual) as divine punishment — so we’re quite literally looking for our other halves).

    I think Adam’s original other half in this story was Lilith, but I understand Lilith is a long-standing attempt to harmonize Genesis 1 with Genesis 2.

    But I’ve always wondered whether Gaiman was drawing on a tradition here, or whether the Genesis/Symposium mash-up was his own idea.

    Anyone know?

    (also, following Gaiman’s portrayal, that would allow one to read Jesus more literally here :) )

    • arcseconds

      OK, so James says it’s a Jewish tradition below. But I still want to know what, if any, connection there is with Plato.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

        It is hard to say, since the Greeks and Mesopotamians shared ideas at times lost in the mists of history. And so it is unlikely to be a direct borrowing (although there were Jewish apologists who claimed that Plato borrowed from Moses!) but the symbolism of being two halves of a whole has, I think, arisen more than once in the history of human interactions, and so it may well be that they could be independent formulations of the same idea.

  • JB

    Its amazing how many Atheists insist on being Literalisits.

  • Kaz

    “It is interesting how some modern readers simply assume that ancient individuals and authors shared their supposed literalism, and their focus on facts and history and science, all of which are thoroughly modern concerns.”

    What’s even more interesting is that you’ve somehow managed to convince yourself that if an account contains symbolism or idiomatic language then the things it discusses are unhistorical. When I put on a few pounds, my father called me an elephant, and so I must not be an historical person!

    You assume that Matthew didn’t believe that Adam was a literal person because (i) Eve sinned too and so it isn’t true that sin entered the world through “one man”, and (ii) their union was described idiomatically as their becoming “one flesh”? Firstly, there’s a logical disconnect here in that A (=the proposition that sin didn’t literally enter in the world via “one man”) doesn’t naturally imply B (=Adam therefore wasn’t considered a historical person). Secondly, in reference to #i, it overlooks the idea of headship that was an integral part of that culture. Eve sinned, but the one who was responsible for sin entering into the world was Adam. For a guy who
    constantly asserts that others are interpreting texts according to their own time and presuppositions, that one really went past you. Neither Matthew nor Paul ever met Gloria Steinem.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      As I said, I will be addressing the two separate issues you are running together in a separate post this morning. You are blurring two matters. One is whether these people were literalists. They clearly were not. They are quite happy to ignore and change details from their source material in order to make a point. The other is whether they assumed certain things that we may not be able to, about the historicity of Adam, or the shape of the Earth, or about the function of the heart. They did, but I have yet to meet someone who thinks that one must adopt all the assumptions of these ancient authors in order to be a Christian. And to emphasize what they assumed is to turn what happened to be their historical and cultural context into an axiom of faith, and thus distort and pervert the Christian message.

      Once again I find myself wondering whether you are simply not reading what I write, or are engaging in deliberate distortion, or are so steeped in a perverse modern distortion of the Bible and the Christian faith that you cannot see how your assumptions are imposing certain conclusions from the outset. But whichever is the case, it is frustrating.

      • Kaz

        The one who is blurring matters is you, James, and it’s remarkable that you can’t see that. I made no comment about anyone being a literalist. All I did was ask you whether you thought Matthew believed that Adam was a historical person, and you took that simple question and exaggerated it into an issue, inferring that in simply asking the question I was asserting that Matthew and/or Paul had a certain “way” of reading Scripture that matched my own and which you take to be invalid. You even felt the need to throw in a cheap shot about how I supposedly can’t grasp the point at Matthew 19 because of the “way” I read the Bible. What made you feel that such an insult was justified? Because I asked a simple question and merely pointed out that your counter argument didn’t prove that Matthew didn’t understand Adam to be historical! Yet now you seem to admit that he probably did believe that Adam existed. And YOU find ME frustrating? Good grief!

        It seems you are simply incapable of resisting the impulse of placing
        those with whom you disagree in the worst possible light. Virtually
        every response you give ends in some negative “observation” you’ve made about your opponent’s presuppositions, or ignorance, or deceitfulness, or whatever. Anyone who disagrees with you simply must be exhibiting any number of the many failings you’ve attributed to me and others. Have you ever heard of megalomania?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          You made the comments on a post about whether certain individuals were literalists. If you wish to call my assumption that the conversation here would, at least initially, be related to the topic of my post “megalomania” then you are free to do so, but it does not seem an apt description at all.

          • Kaz

            No James, I first made the comments related to your literalist vis non-literalist issue here:

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2013/03/creation-evolution-and-embryology.html

            YOU took a simple question about whether Matthew believed that Adam was a historical person and turned it into a literalist vs non-literalist debate, made several “observations” about my assumed shortcomings that were perceived within the context of the debate that you superimposed as the context for the question, and then submitted the current post as a continuation of that dialogue.

            There’s really no winning with you. I ask questions that are broader in nature in a simple attempt to penetrate the mystery of what your positive case for Christianity consists of, what it’s based on, and why you feel confident that it’s founded on something real, and I get nothing but resistance, redirects, assertions that my assumptions are faulty, assertions that I don’t grasp this or that, blah, blah, blah. So, I decide to set aside the impossible task of determining whether you have a positive case for Christianity that you even have an interest in making, and ask more narrow questions that you can answer with a yes or no, followed by whatever elaborations and qualifications you’d like to add, and once again I get nothing but baloney.

            You start by asking what difference it makes whether Matthew thought Adam really existed. That’s quite a striking comment coming from someone who teaches NT interpretation! “Class, we were going to study the book of Matthew today to reach an understanding of what he believed, but really, what difference does it make? Let’s watch Star Wars instead.” Then you argued that Matthew understood the Adam account to be symbolic, which neither answers the question nor shows that he didn’t consider Adam to be a real person, so I pointed out that your observation wasn’t evidence against a historical Adam, to which you responded with a challenge that I provide evidence that Matthew and Paul considered Adam to be historical. Then, it turns out that you apparently do recognize that Matthew and Paul considered Adam to be a historical person! What a waste of time.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              It is unfortunate that you consider the attempt to determine what the Biblical authors meant, what they assumed, and how their writings are best interpreted and applied, to be a waste of time. A scholarly approach is about getting nuance as precise and as accurate as possible.

              • Kaz

                James, YOU are the one who asked “what difference does it make” in reference to Matthew’s beliefs, not me.

            • Claude

              Did you ever explain why Paul’s theology is contingent on a literary trope? I must have missed it.

              • Kaz

                Did you mean this question for me or for James? I’ve never argued that Paul’s salvation doctrine is contingent on a literary trope.

                • Claude

                  I’ll rephrase the question. Did you ever explain why Paul’s salvation doctrine was contingent on an historical Adam?

                  • Claude

                    I will have to conclude that you continue to ignore this simple question because you are too busy berating Dr. McGrath for being evasive.

                    • Kaz

                      There are only so many hours in a day, and we just lost one. I’m not sure what you mean by “continue to ignore this simple question”, because your first question didn’t apply to me, and I did take a moment to point that out, right? Are you really that impatient? (Hint: That’s a rhetorical question to which I suspect the answer is “no”, and so there’s probably another reason for the manner in which you’ve opted to frame your comment).

                      In any case, I guess it depends on what you think constitutes an explanation. I have recently pointed out how Paul believed that Adam was a historical person, and that the Adam/Christ theme or contrast, which was formulated according to that presupposition, is at the heart of his salvation doctrine. I would think that for anyone familiar with the writings of Paul, that would be sufficient as a pointer to the sorts of details that support such an understanding.

                      Through one man’s disobedience sin entered the world, with death as the consequence (=fallen man; fallen mankind “in Adam”); through one man’s obedience unto death and subsequent resurrection, sin and death are ultimately conquered, with the opportunity for renewed life as the consequence (risen man; risen mankind “in Christ”). The first son who was created in the image of God fell and “in him” all are fallen; the second son who was the image of God obediently accepted the consequences of Adam’s sin, embraced Adam’s death, and thereby “burst through the cul-de-sac of death” [*], so that “in him” all can be risen and reshaped according to the righteousness of God. Just as the first half of Paul’s equation would be nullified by the absence of Christ’s obedience, death, and resurrection, so the first half would be nullified by the absence of Adam’s disobedience resulting in death (i.e. nullified vis a vis _Paul’s equation_and therefore his soteriology).

                      When people note that Paul’s soteriology involved things like “two ways of being human”, they need to recognize that insofar as this sort of general description is true, it was true to Paul because it emerged from a foundation of events that he assumed really occurred. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Paul took every detail of the Adam story literally, but where he may have understood something as a symbol, he understood that such symbols stood for real events. He may or may not have thought that a serpent literally spoke to Eve, but he did think that Eve existed, was tempted, and gave in to the temptation. He may or may not have thought that original sin involved taking a bite out of a piece of fruit, but he did think that there was an act of disobedience committed, that Adam joined in the disobedience, and that this resulted in the spread of sin and death to all mankind.

                      I think that some may be misconstruing my point because they are conflating two separate questions: (1) What was Paul’s salvation doctrine, and (2) can Paul’s soteriology be reshaped and reinterpreted so that we can keep the bits that we like yet also embrace the presupposition of naturalism. My point is that once you embrace the presupposition of naturalism you have no choice but to reshape Paul’s soteriology, and in doing so you no longer have _Paul’s_ soteriology. From this it seems to me that the question that gets everyone’s emotions percolating naturally emerges: What is the newly shaped soteriology founded upon, and why do you have confidence that it is true?

                      These sorts of emotion-stirring questions aren’t new, and they certainly aren’t unique to me. Christianity Today, which ran an article back in June of 2011 called “The Search for the Historical Adam” that delved into these issues, asked:

                      “So, is the Adam and Eve question destined to become a groundbreaking
                      science-and-Scripture dispute, a 21st-century equivalent of the once
                      disturbing proof that the Earth orbits the sun? The potential is
                      certainly there: the emerging science could be seen to challenge not
                      only what Genesis records about the creation of humanity but the
                      species’s unique status as bearing the ‘image of God,’ Christian
                      doctrine on original sin and the Fall, the genealogy of Jesus in the
                      Gospel of Luke, and, perhaps most significantly, Paul’s teaching that
                      links the historical Adam with redemption through Christ (Rom. 5:12-19; 1
                      Cor. 15:20-23, 42-49; and his speech in Acts 17).” (Vol. 55, No. 6), p. 23

                      The article also quotes John Collins, who observed that if Adam and Eve didn’t exist, then this would “nullify so many things in the Bible it results in a different story.” (ibid, p. 23)

                      They also quote Tim Keller, who represents my own concerns:

                      “If Adam doesn’t exist, Paul’s whole
                      argument—that both sin and grace work ‘covenantally’—falls apart. You
                      can’t say that ‘Paul was a man of his time’ but we can accept his basic
                      teaching about Adam. If you don’t believe what he believes about Adam,
                      you are denying the core of Paul’s teaching.” (ibid, p. 23)

                      ~Kaz

                      *Christology in the Making, by James D.G. Dunn, p. 111

                    • Claude

                      Wow, I guess I can no longer complain that you’ve avoided the question. : )

                      Actually I asked you this question some time ago (though I no longer remember exactly when); certainly this latest chapter of your ongoing dispute with Dr. McGrath, in this case, whether Paul would have assimilated the science of evolution and what effect it might have had on his theology, began a few weeks ago.

                      At any rate, thank you for your response. I’m aware of Paul’s salvation doctrine (and have read the epistles) but was interested to hear your view of it. I appreciate you taking the time to do so.

                      Dr. McGrath addressed your fourth paragraph very satisfactorily in the Assumed of Accentuated post, although it’s clear you don’t see it that way. In regard to Paul you wrote above:

                      He may or may not have thought that a serpent literally spoke to Eve, but he did think that Eve existed, was tempted, and gave in to the temptation. He may or may not have thought that original sin involved taking a bite out of a piece of fruit, but he did think that there was an act of disobedience committed, that Adam joined in the disobedience, and that this resulted in the spread of sin and death to all mankind.

                      Well, you’re right. The rhetorical device of the two Adams does of course depend on the story of Adam’s disobedience that precipitated a fall into sin that resulted in death. The thing is, ultimately what difference does it make whether this conception of Adam as the original man was believed to be the literal truth by Paul?

                      These stories would have no resonance if they didn’t address the morally conflicted and destructive tendencies of human nature and the distressing fact that we die. Paul understood this “fallen” nature to have resulted from disobedience to God, but even if there were some other reason, like the human proclivity for violence and conquest, Paul’s savior is still viable. Whether Jesus himself was fatalistic about “the Father’s will” I won’t venture. But to achieve symmetry Paul had to insist on Jesus’s willing submission to crucifixion.

                      If I understand you, you resist the science of evolution because it doesn’t comport with the creation story of man as a fully-formed creature made in the image of God. I find this baffling not just because I’m an atheist but because Paul’s soteriology seems quite resilient enough to accommodate evolution (as even the Catholic Church officially acknowledges). It’s a truism that the human is an animal with a divine spark, that is, consciousness that aspires to the transcendent. Isn’t that the essential thing?

                      Thank you for the links; I will look into them to better understand where you’re coming from.

                    • Kaz

                      I’m sorry I missed the fact that you posed the question during another post; I can see why you felt I was avoiding it!

                      My problem with neo Darwinism isn’t just that accepting it would require reshaping the biblical accounts in ways that leave me wondering why I should have confidence that what’s left after this reconfiguration is true, but because I consider the theory to be absurd, or, to better express the extent of my bewilderment, I consider it to be among the most absurdly absurd absurdities I’ve ever heard promoted by otherwise rational beings.

                      From my perspective, Neo Darwinism is to rationality what Kryptonite is to Kryptonians, i.e. it leaves people so intellectually weakened that they can’t even tell how mind-numbingly nonsensical it is to believe that such a process could have brought about one form of life, much less a fully populated planet with ‘endless forms most beautiful’. To those who chastise me for offering an “argument from credulity” I merely respond that while I may have expressed an inability to believe, they’ve demonstrated a willingness to believe almost anything, so long as the right people are saying it. So, I followed in Phillip Johnson’s footsteps and started looking into the matter, and I found that so much of the evolutionary tale is but a collection of “just-so stories”, and that at the very heart of the issue is the notion that God should be ruled out as a cause for life as a governing precondition for doing science. Well, if you rule out God as a governing precondition then the only conclusion you can possibly reach is a natural one, and Neo Darwinism is the only game in town vis a vis a natural process that can supposedly account for the emergence of so many complex life forms.

                    • arcseconds

                      It must be so cool to think that you’re smarter than practically the entire scientific community.

                      It must be a little bit frightening, too, no? I mean, if we can’t tell the difference between mind-numbing nonsense and a good scientific case, then basically everything said by scientists would only be right due to chance.

                      How do you account for scientific successes? Scientists are just the luckiest bastards ever?

                    • Kaz

                      Smarter, no; not controlled by a commitment to exclude God from the emergence of life as a governing precondition, yes.

                      Part of the problem is the tendency of Neo Darwinists like yourself to conflate two separate issues: (i) a healthy respect for science, which I do have, and (ii) the view that one must embrace every theory that the majority of scientists embraced, which I don’t even consider to be a particularly scientific approach. Science progresses by questioning and challenging itself, not by lulling itself into a complacent consensus, denying academic positions to those who have the courage to question some theory, and refusing to publish academic papers that approach a subject from a standpoint that they’ve chosen to consider taboo.

                    • arcseconds

                      Kaz,

                      You don’t have a healthy respect for scientists.

                      What you have just said:

                      I consider it to be among the most absurdly absurd absurdities I’ve ever heard promoted by otherwise rational beings.

                      It leaves people so intellectually weakened that they can’t even tell how
                      mind-numbingly nonsensical it is to believe that such a process could
                      have brought about one form of life…

                      This is not the same thing as respectful dissent, so your (ii) doesn’t even come into it.

                      You might be able to get away with saying that you respect scientists if you thought there was some subtle mistake being made, or maybe even a field that had had little exposure was riddled with conceptual flaws.

                      As it is, you’re maintaining that essentially the entire scientific community believes in ridiculousness because of indoctrination.

                      Concerning the single main theory in a major branch of science.

                      And we don’t even notice a little bit! We think the theory’s just fine.

                      For what you say to be true, virtually everyone who has an advanced degree in science (including Ian and myself) has wasted their money and their time, because all of us are easily duped, and none of us has any idea of what a good scientific theory looks like.

                      Now, maybe you continue to have respect for the community in other areas. But you probably shouldn’t, because according to you we’re all doofuses.

                    • Kaz

                      “As it is, you’re maintaining that essentially the entire scientific
                      community believes in ridiculousness because of indoctrination”

                      First, I think that you have an extremely naive view of “the entire scientific community”. For the vast majority of scientists, Neo Darwinism is simply irrelevant to their specialized fields of expertise. If they choose to add their voices to the consensus, it is typically not as individuals who have undergone an extensive appraisal of all aspects of the question, but it is primarily because they accept the precondition that the supernatural (=God’s role as a causal agent) should be ruled out as a governing precondition.

                      The scientists who are among the most qualified to speak on the matter are evolutionary biologists, yet the fact that they are “evolutionary” biologists suggests that they will not be unbiased in their interpretations of the available evidence. The theory of evolution is to the naturalist what the transcendental argument for God is to the theist, except that the naturalist doesn’t prove his case by the impossibility of the contrary, but by simply excluding the contrary as a matter of “principle”.

                      Secondly, I’ve quoted Lowenton before, but I think he bears repeating now:

                      “Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated.
                      Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” (See:http://www.drjbloom.com/Public%20files/Lewontin_Review.htm).

                    • Kaz

                      I had said:

                      “The theory of evolution is to the naturalist what the transcendental
                      argument for God is to the theist, except that the naturalist doesn’t
                      prove his case by the impossibility of the contrary, but by simply
                      excluding the contrary as a matter of ‘principle’.”

                      I decided to point out my own stupidity before anyone else has the opportunity to do so;-) The above quote contains a transposition, so please replace it with this:

                      “The presupposition of naturalism is to the Neo Darwinist what the transcendental argument for God is to the theist, except that the Darwinist doesn’t prove his case by the impossibility of the contrary, but by simply excluding the contrary as a matter of ‘principle’.”

                    • arcseconds

                      Kaz,

                      It’s true that the theory of evolution is irrelevant to the day-to-day workings of most chemists or physicists, say.

                      But you’re claiming that evolutionary biology is just obviously wrong, and you have to be mind-numbingly stupid on this issue not to realise this.

                      They shouldn’t need any expertise. Anyone can notice this.

                      So what exactly are you claiming about scientists outside biology?

                      I would like to think that if a major branch of science was fraught with a major, fundamental conceptual issue that just anyone can see through, then at least some scientists in other fields would notice this, they’d notify their peers, and there would be a mammoth debate within science about this. You’d expect to see campaigns to oust biology departments from science faculties, to cut any funding for evolutionary biology from funding bodies (so there’d be more for proper science), a huge debate roaring in science journals about this. Evolutionary biology would become the standard example in philosophy of science classes as a poor scientific theory. And that’s just for starters.

                      (in fact, if it’s just so obviously wrong, it’s difficult to see why it should get any traction in the first place, but that’s a different discussion.)

                      But that’s not what we see. The vast majority of scientists outside biology also think evolutionary biology is in fine shape.

                      So what do you think is going on here?

                      Are all scientists outside biology just completely incurious about things outside their own discipline?

                      Also, people majoring in chemistry of physics, they never take biology units? No-one does cross-disciplinary research with biologists?

                      Or maybe they do but they just don’t notice the stupefyingly obvious flaws?

                      Have they all been indoctrinated too?

                      Or maybe they just don’t care?

                      Whatever your story is here, it seriously undermines some aspect of what it is to be a good scientist, and this has to be true of nearly every scientist to explain why there hasn’t been a major outcry already.

                      (as should be obvious by now — it’s you that has an extremely naive view of the scientific community if you think that it’s even possible for other scientists to have failed to notice this)

                      (I’m aware that it is possible to find the odd chemist or whomever who disagrees with the consensus, but that still leaves the 99.9% of scientists who somehow don’t know anything about evolution, fail to spot it’s obvious flaws, or know about them but don’t care to do anything about them. )

                    • Kaz

                      I think that Michael Behe’s situation is probably representative of many scientists, not in the sense that many accept his controversial position, but in the sense that before he adopted his current position, he believed that the theory really did answer the sorts of questions that it should have answered. He initially simply took the theory for granted, and it was when he began to discover the lacunae that he realized that there was a problem.

                    • arcseconds

                      Let’s put it this way.

                      Here are the phenomena:

                      A) Kaz has a strong intuition that natural selection just can’t account for the diversity of life, or life’s existence at all. He takes this to be just plain obvious.

                      B) The vast majority of scientists don’t think there’s a problem with evolution. This includes virtually all the relevant experts.

                      C) Science on the whole looks like it’s in good shape.

                      You have a theory to account for this:
                      1) your intuition is correct, and there’s a huge and obvious problem
                      2) the experts don’t notice this because they’re blinded by ideology
                      3) scientists in the other areas don’t notice either the problem or the ideology because they’re at work on other stuff.

                      This theory as it stands is untenable. Evolutionary biology doesn’t exist in some walled-off compound, visible to only evolutionary biologists and, for some reason, you and a few other clear-sighted critics. Evolutionary biologists are constantly rubbing shoulders professionally with closely related fields like the rest of biology, molecular biology, and biochemistry, and also geology. Those people rub shoulders frequently with chemists and physicists.

                      By ‘rubbing shoulders’ I mean very closely: they co-write papers with them, work in the same research teams as them, and that sort of thing. There are also a whole lot of slightly weaker ties, like working in the same building, sitting on faculty boards and funding panels, participating in the same professional bodies (e.g. the Royal Society), editing the same journals (like Nature and Science).

                      Moreover, we expect scientists to be generally interested in the world, don’t we? OK, so there are a lot of monomaniacs, and unfortunately these days the system encourages monomania, but it wasn’t always like this, and there’s still a lot of scientists with broad interests. They have access to the same books as you do, and will read general science journals like Nature and Science.

                      It’s just impossible for biology to have such an obvious flaw and no non-biologists to have noticed because they were all doing something else.

                      Let’s put some figures on this. How much exposure do you need to see this obvious flaw? You think it’s really obvious, so surely reading a biology textbook, talking to a biologist about the theory, reading a few journal articles talking about the theory — would those be sufficient?

                      How many non-biologists would have had at least that exposure? Surely not less than 10% Even if it’s 1%, that’s still hundreds of thousands of scientists who have realised that biology is utterly broken.

                      So where is the outcry?

                      Your theory needs modification.

                      3 in its current form is not sufficient to explain why there’s not a mammoth war currently taking place in science. You may need to start taking a much dimmer view of scientists outside biology. In fact, I think for it to explain the phenomena, (C) needs an emphasis on ‘seems’ — the good shape is illusory.

                      Perhaps they all actually have realised but are keeping quiet about it because they’re too polite or too mendacious? That’s an interesting thought, isn’t it? Biologists are all indoctrinated, and everyone else knows but won’t say anything!

                      Alternatively, you might want to look at 1. One way you can retain your belief that it is flawed yet still have some faith in scientists is to suppose it’s actually not all that obvious, it just seems so to you.

                    • Ian

                      Or put another way, what is more likely, the vast vast majority of those of all faiths and none with specialist knowledge of the science can’t see that it is obviously absurd to anyone with an ounce of honest enquiry; or that non-specialists with pre-declared ideological bias, and a couple of people with expertise who share the same ideology, are talking out their ass?

                      But nobody thinks they are the crackpot. Even if they have to paint the entire world into a conspiracy against them. So the idea that Kaz sees the whole of biological science as being full of bumbling ideologues, and uncritical followers, while his sober self-consideration leads him to believe he reached his conclusions dispassionately, is not surprising.

                      I come to largely the same conclusion when I look at the edifice of theology and religion, and reflect on the obvious absurdity of belief in God.

                    • Claude

                      Good morning,

                      Having followed these arguments across several threads, I’m aware that you consider evolution (or do you mean natural selection by “Neo Darwinism”?) the most absurdly absurd absurdity, but it does appear you are predisposed to think this because of your anxiety that “reshaping the biblical accounts in ways that leave me wondering why I should have confidence that what’s left after this reconfiguration is true.”

                      It’s not apparent to me that any “reshaping” is necessary. How could the Biblical authors articulate what you believe to be insights into the divine will without extrapolating from nature as they understood it? It would be nonsensical. It’s completely inappropriate for scientists to entertain supernatural explanations for natural phenomena; that is what theologians are for. I’m wondering why you wouldn’t be willing to extrapolate from observations about nature that in our time have been explained by science, just as the ancients did, rather than embracing a theory designed to accommodate a literary representation of the divine order written thousands of years ago.

                    • Kaz

                      Hi Claude,

                      Your irenic post is most welcome in the midst of the hornet’s nest that I seem to have stirred. After reading the responses, the phrase “You’re welcome to your own opinion as long as you allow room for mine” appeared to my consciousness like an apparition;-)

                      While self delusion is an unfortunate aspect of the human experience, I can honestly say that, insofar as any man is able to know himself, I know that my negative response to evolution, esp. Neo Darwinianism, is not tied to my theology. Even if I were an atheist I would still think that the theory is simply absurd, or, more accurately, that it is so outlandishly absurd that it deserves to serve as the paradigm of absurdity. It is the original casting shadows on the wall in Plato’s cave.

                      As for your honest inability to see why “reshaping” Paul’s view would be necessary in light of the presupposition of naturalism, I’ll simply state that I’m not sure how to make the point any clearer than I believe I have. I’m not sure if the breakdown has to do with confusion about what “reshape” means in this context, or something else. It’s very clear to me that if you take the first half of Paul’s soteriology, flush it down the Darwinian toilet, and replace it with something else, then you have ipso facto reshaped Paul’s soteriology. Peter Enns recognized as much, and replaced Paul’s Adam with a three-pronged alternative:

                      “1. The universal and [supposedly] self-evident problem of death
                      2. The universal and [supposedly] self-evident problem of sin
                      3. The historical event of the death and [supposed] resurrection of Christ”

                      (The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins), p. 123

                      If that isn’t a “reshaping”, then what is?

                    • Kaz

                      Question for James: I had said:

                      “It’s very clear to me that if you take the first half of Paul’s
                      soteriology, flush it down the Darwinian toilet, and replace it with
                      something else, then you have ipso facto reshaped Paul’s soteriology.”

                      Do you think that the historical reality represented by the Darwinian toilet is more or less important to me than the symbol used to represent it?

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      My guess is that you have no interest whatsoever in a literal toilet of Darwin’s, and it is purely a metaphor for the corrosive effect you mistakenly think that this field of science has on theology.

                    • Claude

                      But the only thing missing is a willful Adam! You could even reconfigure him to represent the unruly chosen people.

                      Further, Paul was confident that the Judgment Day was “at hand.” He was wrong about that and Christians adapted. If Paul believed that Adam had existed as the original man, he was wrong about that too and Christians have adapted. The drama of sin and redemption is still intact.

                      But–since you so strongly object to the science, regardless, all this is neither here nor there.

                    • Kaz

                      “But the only thing missing is a willful Adam! You could even reconfigure him to represent the unruly chosen people.”

                      And how does “reconfigure” differ from “reshape”? ;-)

                      I think it’s more involved than that, though. Remove Adam, and the three-pronged replacement hangs there like a dangling participle.

                    • Claude

                      And how does “reconfigure” differ from “reshape”? ;-)

                      I handed that one to you on a platter!

                    • Kaz

                      You might enjoy this post by Peter Hitchens, brother of the late Christopher Hitchens:

                      http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2010/02/can-bears-turn-into-whales.html

                      I especially like the part about how Darwinism makes him laugh until tears are rolling down his cheeks. Classic.

                    • Claude

                      Well I thought the comments were funny. At least no one here has called you a “a stroppy beggar.” Yet.

                    • Kaz

                      BTW, he posted on the subject more recently here:

                      http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/evolution/

                      This comment hints at my own observation that the presupposition of naturalism is to the Neo Darwinist what Van Til’s TAG is to the theist:

                      “The theory of evolution by natural selection has altered substantially since it was first set out, stumbles over the fossil record, which provides some unwelcome evidence of large-scale sudden change, especially in the Cambrian Explosion, and has a general circularity problem (as do most all-explanatory theories), which has troubled at least one notable philosopher, Sir Karl Popper. Don’t tell me he ‘recanted’ (even that is in dispute, by the way). So did Galileo, and in both cases the recantation said more about those who desired and pressed for it than it did about those who made it. In both cases a rather ossified faith come up against an enquiring mind, and the enquiring mind was compelled to conform, by ossified faith.”

                    • Claude

                      Kaz, why should I take Peter HItchens on evolution any more seriously than Earl Doherty on historical Jesus. This seems to me the crux of the matter:

                      It is that I am quite prepared to accept that [evolution] may be true, though I should personally be sorry if it turned out to be so as, it its implication is plainly atheistical, and if its truth could be proved, then the truth of atheism could be proved. I believe that is its purpose, and that it is silly to pretend otherwise.

                      It is ridiculous to say “the truth of atheism could be proved” when there is obviously no way to prove or disprove the existence of God. I’m also surprised to learn that in your view God is so tenuous as to be threatened by a dangling participle. But–I’ve been working off assumptions about your conception of God that may be unwarranted.

                    • Claude

                      Even more absurd is Hitchens’s conspiracy theory that evolutionary science is motivated by a determination to debunk God once and for all. It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in Hitchens’s complaints about “gaps in the fossil record” and whatnot.

                    • Kaz

                      How familiar are you with the history of the theory, and the sorts of exclamations that it’s inspired by its protagonists and antagonists? I’m not promoting a conspiracy theory myself, but the fact that intelligent people have reached such a conclusion points to something that has been a part of the debate since the beginning. The conflict between the theist’s and the atheist’s/agnostic’s worldviews has been so intertwined with the theory that there’s little question that such worldviews influenced peoples’ reaction to it.

                    • Claude

                      I’m not promoting a conspiracy theory myself…

                      What, then, is the distinction between what you suggest is the intractable orthodoxy (on a point of theology quite outside the proper scope of science) of virtually the entire scientific community and Peter HItchens’s conspiracy theory?

                    • Kaz

                      My view of God threatened by a dangling participle? You got *that* from what I wrote? It is not the reliability of God that is called into question when the Bible is flushed down the Darwinian toilet.

                    • rmwilliamsjr

                      re:

                      My problem with neo Darwinism isn’t just that accepting it would require reshaping the biblical accounts in ways that leave me wondering why I should have confidence that what’s left after this reconfiguration is true, but because I consider the theory to be absurd, or, to better express the extent of my bewilderment, I consider it to be among the most absurdly absurd absurdities I’ve ever heard promoted by otherwise rational beings.

                      -=-=-=-

                      it would be very helpful for those of us who do not see evolutionary biology as clearly as you do, for you to pick an issue in the field and explain it’s absurdity to us.

                      for example, show why chimp 2p+2q=human 2 does not lead someone to conclude that we share a common ancestor with them.

                      or why the GLO pseudogene does not lead thinking in the same direction.

                      or why the HERV clades recapitulation of the great apes clades leads the same way.

                      or why syncytin as a viral gene co-oped to do a crucial function in placental development is not good evidence for ET.

                      i can not see the absurdity of this evidence and would greatly appreciate your help in understanding these things better.

                    • Kaz

                      Here are some links that address what we are discussing:

                      1. An online version of the The Christianity Today article I quoted from begins here:

                      http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/june/historicaladam.html

                      2. The article by Tim Keller that was quoted in the above referenced article can be found here:

                      http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2011/06/06/sinned-in-a-literal-adam-raised-in-a-literal-christ/

                      3. A book by Peter Enns that discusses evolution and the question of Adam’s historicity can ordered here:

                      http://www.amazon.com/Evolution-Adam-The-Doesnt-Origins/dp/158743315X/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1362944630&sr=8-3&keywords=Peter+enns

                      4. A review of Peter Enns book is available online here:

                      http://thegospelcoalition.org/book-reviews/review/the_evolution_of_adam/

                      5. A book by C. John Collins that address the issue can be ordered here:

                      http://www.amazon.com/Did-Adam-Eve-Really-Exist/dp/1433524252/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1362944787&sr=1-1&keywords=C+John+Collins

                      6. One of many reviews of Collin’s book is available online here:

                      http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&ved=0CFIQFjAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.bryancore.org%2Fjcts%2Findex.php%2Fjctsb%2Farticle%2Fdownload%2F14%2F49&ei=IOc8UYSjHZTK9QS9k4H4AQ&usg=AFQjCNHDt_R-I_G9OK5EizhXPRQ6pwfzlA&sig2=gvET0lmtmb1HU1QzMwaexA&bvm=bv.43287494,d.eWU

          • Kaz

            I guess I should point out that the reference to megalomania had nothing to do with the topic of this post. Just read the paragraph that precedes the reference and you’ll see chain of observation from which the rhetorical question emerged. As an ironic afterthought I should clarify that I wasn’t attempting to suggest that you “literally” suffer from megalomania. I was primarily pointing out that your habit of placing those with whom you disagree in the worst possible light makes it appear that you have a bit of a superiority complex (or an inferiority complex for which you are over compensating), and, most importantly, that this doesn’t encourage those who have different views from yours to interact with you.

        • Claude

          Have you ever heard of megalomania?

          You are way off base.

        • arcseconds

          Kaz, often you are putting questions to James that are basically along the same lines as “have you stopped beating your wife yet?”

          And when he tries to explain that he has never bet anyone, let alone his wife, let alone regularly, you say “Gooordon Bennett, James, it’s a simple yes/no question! Just answer it, don’t get into these finicky issues that I wasn’t asking about! You’re so zogging arrogant. so, which is it: yes, or no?”

          If a question comes loaded with presumptions, and any direct answer just buys into those presumptions, the only thing to do is to not answer the question directly but try and get at the presumptions.

          You may not feel as though this is what you are doing, but from the outside it really does look like you want to shoe-horn ancient figures into either being ‘literalists’ or ‘non-literalists’, and pin James down into admitting they’re literalists, and then you (I suppose) win.

          But what James wants to question is this very way of looking at ancient authors.

          He’s already answered your question: they probably did believe Adam existed in the same kind of way they believed any figure they had stories of existed, but this kind of way of believing in the existence of someone doesn’t map very cleanly onto our way of believing in the existence of someone, so saying “they believed in a historical Adam” is highly misleading.

          Is that better phrased as a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’? Either way distorts James’s position. ‘None of the above’ is the best answer, the one that does justice to his position, but that’s the answer that annoys you because you think it’s evasive.


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