Forget Genesis: Adam and Eve make NYTimes front page

From the Bible’s Genesis account of creation:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

That’s, of course, just a small section of the story, but it provides a nice flavor of it. Genesis will come into play — in a crucial way — later in this post.

But first, let’s consider this intriguing headline on the front page of today’s New York Times:

College Is Torn: Can Darwin and Eden Coexist?

And the top of the story:

DAYTON, Tenn. — William Jennings Bryan earned a permanent place in American history nearly nine decades ago in the Scopes trial, when he stood in a courtroom here and successfully prosecuted a teacher who broke the law by teaching evolution in a public school.

While not quite “the fantastic cross between a circus and a holy war,” as Time magazine put it, that captivated the nation in 1925, a similar debate is again playing out in Dayton, this time at an evangelical Christian college named for Bryan, which is being sued as part of a controversy over its own stance on the origin of humans.

The continuing debate at Bryan College and beyond is a reminder of how divisive the issues of the Scopes trial still are, even splitting an institution whose motto is “Christ Above All.” Playing out at a time when the teaching of evolution remains a cultural hot spot to a degree that might have stunned its proponents in Bryan’s era, the debate also reflects the problems many Christian colleges face as they try to balance religious beliefs with secular education.

Um, did I read that last part right? “The problems many Christian colleges face as they try to balance religious beliefs with secular education.”

Is that, in fact, what Christian colleges are doing? Are they providing “secular education” with a little religion sprinkled on top? Or is “balance religious beliefs with secular education” a nice turn of phrase gone factually awry?

Bryan College belongs to the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, an international association of 120 “intentionally Christ-centered colleges and universities.” How many of those institutions would suggest they are trying to “balance religious beliefs with secular education?”  My guess: zero.

On the other hand, how many would suggest they are working to “transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth,” as CCCU’s mission statement puts it? My guess: all.

The real tension seems to be: How do Christian colleges balance their strong biblical worldview with rigorous academic scholarship and freedom? And later in the piece, the Times does a little better job hitting at that question.

But after that long tangent, let’s get back to the center of the Bryan College dispute. This is important:

Since Bryan College’s founding in 1930, its statement of belief, which professors have to sign as part of their employment contracts, included a 41-word section summing up the institution’s conservative views on creation and evolution, including the statement: “The origin of man was by fiat of God.” But in February, college officials decided that professors had to agree to an additional clarification declaring that Adam and Eve “are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life-forms.”

It’s interesting that the Times neglects to include the full original statement (kudos to the Chattanooga Times Free Press for publishing it):

“(T)hat the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God; that he sinned and thereby incurred physical and spiritual death.”

Hmmmm. Is it me, or does the full statement provide needed context in understanding the clarification? Without the full statement, one might get the impression that the college suddenly added the Genesis account to the equation. That’s just not the case. It’s always been there.

In fact, the word “Genesis” doesn’t appear at all in the Times story. Strange. Certainly, that newspaper’s readers would be familiar with the Genesis account of creation, right? Eden makes the headline but not the story, so presumably the Times editors think so.

The Times quotes Bryan College’s president as saying the clarification “was intended to reaffirm, not alter, the institution’s traditional position.”

Alas, the essential wording omitted by the Times makes it much more difficult for readers to judge the veracity of that statement.

About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Matt

    I think the NYT was trying to say something along the lines of “balance religious beliefs with education on topics that are not inherently religious,” and clearly some shortening of that phrase is needed. I agree that the phrase “secular education” is not the best solution, but it’s not a trivial problem.

    • wlinden

      It is confusing, along with the NYT use of “secular Muslims” for people who can not be labeled “fundamentalist” or “extremist”. (Yes, I know about the stylebook, and I also know how much the Times cares about it.)

      • Julia B

        Are there also secular Methodists and secular Catholics?
        Here’s another in-house terminology that has been hijacked and given a different meaning. Traditionally, for centuries, “secular” to Catholics means “not-clergy” or even diocesan priests as opposed to those in religious orders. Now in the press it means what? Sometimes atheist; sometimes non-religious; sometimes a cultural veneer of a dead religious belief. Words’ meanings are changing faster than we can keep up in understanding. What happens to what was meant by the terms originally? What new definitions do their former users now have to invent? It’s why the dead language of Latin is still very useful – and also why translations out of the Vatican are so often bogus.

  • Matt

    I think the NYT quoted the relevant portion of the Statement of Belief. What’s significant about the new language is not that gets into “the Genesis account” but that it narrows the range of acceptable interpretations of what it means to be created “by fiat of God.” It is intended to exclude views such as that the fiat of God consisted of imparting the Image of God to bodies that were descended from lower life forms through evolution. Advocates of such a view would appeal to “the Genesis account” as much as any others, so that’s really not the issue.

    My quibble with the NYT story is in the caption, where it says the pictured alumna objects to the statement that A&E were “historical persons created by God.” Unless the alumna specifically cited an objection to that part of the statement (which she is not quoted as doing), my experience is that the part of the statement insisting that A&E were created “in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life-forms” tends to meet objections before the other does.

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      Sorry, but I have to disagree. “Fiat of God” could mean any number of things. The Book of Genesis is highly specific.

      • Guest

        It seems pretty clear that the new language is expanding on “by fiat of God.” The other aspects of the language you suggest should have been included (Genesis, Image of God, sin incurring death for humans) would be readily agreed to by those who feel they can affirm the original statement but disagree with the new language.

        That you think the expansion is in line with what Scripture requires (i.e., you agree with Livesay) is not really the point.

        • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

          My journalistic point is that readers can’t fully evaluate the change without understanding the entirety of the original statement.

          • Matt

            Well, it would be great if reporters had enough space (and reader attention) to include all the relevant information about everything, but I think NYT did a fine job of quoting the part of the statement that was actually at issue.

          • tmatt

            The local story is actually shorter than the Times piece. They ELECTED to give the readers that crucial info. It was a choice.

      • Matt

        It seems pretty clear that the new language is expanding on “by fiat of God.” The other aspects of the original statement you suggest should have been included (Genesis, Image of God, sin incurring death for humans) would be readily agreed to by those who feel they can affirm the original statement but disagree with the new language. And more to the point, those other aspects of the original statement are not really addressed in the new language.

        That you think the expansion is in line with what Scripture requires (i.e., you agree with Livesay) is not really the point.

  • Kevin Spencer

    I see the ghost here as not only present, but created by the NYT article.

    Why is there an implied mutual exclusivity between faith and science in the story? Did the subjects in the article make this distinction, or the writer?

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      Excellent point, Kevin.

    • Matt

      Can you cite specific phrases in the article that imply such an exclusivity? I don’t see it.

      I see the article quoting both sides and not taking a position. There is a quote from one of the dissenting professors saying that the new language is “scientifically untenable” (which is clearly not meant to imply that faith in general is scientifically untenable) and a quote from Livesay that “we don’t want to view our faith through the eyes of culture” (as if science were simply a cultural endeavor, but that’s his view). What’s the problem?

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/filmchat Peter T Chattaway

    Technically, of course, there is not one Genesis account of creation, but two (one in 1-2:3, and the other in 2:4-25). Some translations of Genesis 2:4 even use the word “account” to separate the two accounts!

    • Howard

      Technically, of course, that is a division introduced rather lately into one continuous text. No one in the ancient world seemed to have a problem with the change in emphasis from the cosmos to human beings, probably because this is how many people still tell stories: first they set the stage, then they introduce the characters. Yes, the opinion you introduce is currently popular, but it is still just an opinion for all that; it is not an indisputable FACT.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/filmchat Peter T Chattaway

        Actually, it is an indisputable fact. There are two creation accounts in Genesis. One climaxes with the creation of humanity, the other begins with it. But there are two accounts, and they are clearly demarcated. Whether they reflect different sources or different theologies or whatever is a secondary issue. The point is, they are two different accounts, and they are both in Genesis.

        If you think there is only one continuous account, then you find yourself in the position of those who invented the Lilith myth to explain why God created male and female in Genesis 1 but then had to create a female all over again in Genesis 2.

        • Howard

          Nonsense. What you are failing to take into account is the fact that ANY written account necessarily “linearizes” events that are taking place in parallel. This is most obvious in stories that follow characters doing important things while out of contact with each other — take Lord of the Rings for a secular example. Tolkein HAD NO CHOICE but to tell the the downfall of Sauron as it looked to Sam and Frodo and then repeat the same downfall when describing it from the perspective of Pippin. Sauron only fell once in the story, but we cannot concentrate on two things at once, so first one part has to be explained, then the other.

          You can call this “two accounts of the fall of Sauron” if you like, but they are both by the same author and always intended to be part of the same work. If this is the sense in which you mean there are “two accounts”, then I can agree with you in substance, but not with your choice of words. (In fact, I don’t see any reason for you to stop at 2. Why not call Genesis 5 a 3rd account?)

          By calling them “two separate accounts”, you seem to imply the idea that these accounts were written at two different times (or more), by two or more different authors, with two different conceptions of God, shoehorned together by Jews in Babylon, and falsely attributed to a fictional character named “Moses”. If this latter is indeed what you mean, then it is scarcely a “secondary issue”, and saying, “It is SO a fact!” is only an argument in the 2nd-grade sense of the word: it’s just a shouting match, and no one’s mind will be changed.

          • http://patheos.com/blogs/filmchat Peter T Chattaway

            Well, since you mention it, Genesis 5 is a separate account. It says so right in verse 1. But it skips past the creation of mankind so quickly that it generally isn’t thought of as a “creation account”; it’s primarily an account of the generations between Adam and Noah.

            What you or I think about the secondary issues is neither here nor there (though I’m curious as to why you think Genesis refers to Moses when it does not, in fact, do this). The point is, there are two substantial creation accounts in Genesis. And Genesis tells us this.

          • Howard

            Unless you specify WHAT YOU MEAN by “two substantial creation accounts”, it is meaningless to say “Genesis tells us this” — especially since it does not. Since you are quibbling, please indicate the verse in which Genesis says, “That concludes the first account. The second account is as follows.” You might find that in the “translations” you referred to above, as you might find pictures in some others, but these are not part of the text itself.

            The Five Books of Moses have always been considered to constitute a single work, again like the three books by Tolkien constitute the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Five Books of Moses have traditionally been attributed to Moses by both Jews and Christians. Some people even call the collection the “Torah”.

          • http://patheos.com/blogs/filmchat Peter T Chattaway

            You evidently missed my original reference to Genesis 2:4. And you obviously overstate things when you say the Torah has “always” been thought to be a single particular thing. Setting aside the past few centuries of scholarly debate, there is the plain and simple fact that no one knows where and when the books of the Torah were written, so it is impossible to say what people thought about them when they were first produced. (If you’ve got a set of authenticated first editions somewhere, by all means, produce them.) It’s obvious what your opinion on this secondary subject is, but it is still just an opinion for all that; it is not an indisputable FACT.

          • accelerator

            This whole thread originated with your, “Technically, of course…” Which is baloney if presented as established fact. On the one hand you try to accuse, “If you have the original documents…,” while on the other seeming to think you do indeed possess the magisterial take on things. If you can’t see your critic’s smugness. well, sheesh. Simply because you disagree with what you perceive to be Fundamentalist scholarship does not mean you should then feel free to preen like an a**. I’d think after being on the receiving end of so many conservative lashes for liking “Noah,” you’d be a little more keen on toning down the sweeping judgements. Apparently not.

          • http://patheos.com/blogs/filmchat Peter T Chattaway

            The text is what it is, and it says what it says. You either see that or you don’t. No special scholarship required.

            And I certainly don’t recall receiving any “lashes” for liking Noah. There was that one theologian who made a snarky comment about my name instead of correcting his errors of fact when I pointed them out to him, but that just proved how utterly weak his case was.

  • http://the-small-r.com/ The Small r
  • Ray Ingles

    I have to wonder if the “It’s in our DNA” quote was included to highlight a certain irony.

  • Howard

    “Is that, in fact, what Christian colleges are doing? Are they providing ‘secular education’ with a little religion sprinkled on top?” With few exceptions, that seems to be the MOST they are doing. For example, about 5 years ago I interviewed for an opening at a Catholic liberal-arts college. In my meeting with the provost, I asked what she would tell parents makes her college a better place to send their children than a certain secular liberal-arts college in the same state. She answered that this is a hard question, but she would say it is how service is integrated into their curriculum. Then I asked how the college would be different if it had not been founded by a religious order. She really had no answer to that; the question seems never to have occurred to her before. The only remnant of the religious history of that college is the architecture.


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