For those who don’t know this, this post is written by our friend “RJS,” a professor in the sciences at a leading American university. She regularly posts here about issues intersecting science and faith.
Last week in A Fine Tuned Universe 3 I posted on Augustine and his view of creation. Augustine’s conviction that science and reason cannot conflict in any foundational way with the faith is expressed in his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis:
When they are able, from reliable evidence, to prove some fact of physical science, we shall show that it is not contrary to our Scripture. But when they produce from any of their books a theory contrary to Scripture, and therefore contrary to the catholic faith, either we shall have some ability to demonstrate that it is absolutely false, or at least we ourselves will hold it so without any shadow of a doubt. (Vol. 1 CH. 21:41)
But some things are outside the pale of orthodox Christian belief. None of us really deny this. One of the comments on the last post noted that Augustine’s view of the doctrine of original sin, causes the most significant conflict for many of us today. This came up again in an e-mail I received dealing with the doctrines of Adam, Eve, and Original Sin. The letter writer sent the following (and I quote excerpts with permission):
I went through considerable emotional turmoil when a Presbyterian pastor I respect responded to my statement that I am not sure that the human race descended from a single pair and that I believed descent from more than one pair is not necessarily in conflict with biblical teaching. This pastor declared that my views are “outside the pale” of Christianity, not just Reformed Christianity, but all Christianity (including Roman Catholic doctrine), and that if I were to attend his church, he would consider me like the Oneness Pentecostals who deny the Trinity. I am not a Christian, even if I am a nice guy. He qualified by saying that he cannot judge my state before God, but doctrinally I am not a Christian.
The letter writer went on to note that this “pastor is generally a model of charity and would not say what he said if he did not feel conscience-bound to do so.” This letter poses the question I would like to consider today.
Is any position other than monogenesis of the human race with Adam and Eve as unique historical individuals outside the pale of orthodox Christianity?
To begin to consider this question I will lay out a few perspectives on the question of Adam and Eve within the boundaries of orthodox Christianity.
What is the Roman Catholic Position? The RC Church is open to evolution as God’s method of creation, but the view of Adam and Eve may be a bit more constrained. Here is a web site with a fairly thorough answer on the RC view of Adam, Eve, and Evolution. The letter writer above got essentially the same answer when the question was posed to a well known Catholic theologian. The key statement is this:
“… For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parents of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. …” (Humani Generis 37).
I am not a Roman Catholic and don’t feel particularly bound by this position, but I do think that it is worthwhile thinking about the nature of Adam and Eve in the context of the thinking of the whole church. Perhaps a reader here will be able to expand on official RC positions and the range of acceptable views.
Within the Eastern Orthodox Church the doctrine of Original Sin doesn’t carry as much weight – the original sin is the first sin and has consequences for all, but it doesn’t lead to inherited guilt or ontological change. As a result the emphasis on Adam and Eve as unique individuals does not carry the same theological gravity. Nonetheless Adam and Eve are generally assumed to be unique individuals.
Official Protestant views on Adam and Eve are all over the map – not surprising given the rather fragmented nature of the church. Very conservative institutions are uniform in the rejection of evolution and the historicity of Adam and Eve as unique individuals. Other institutions take more nuanced positions. Examples abound, but I will confine myself to only two statements to illustrate. Wheaton is open to evolution but their statement of faith specifies:
WE BELIEVE that God directly created Adam and Eve, the historical parents of the entire human race; and that they were created in His own image, distinct from all other living creatures, and in a state of original righteousness.
Biola’s Doctrinal statement says simply that Man was created in the image of God, after His likeness, but the whole human race fell in the fall of the first Adam. I have no real problem here. But they found it necessary to add a clarification:
Therefore, creation models which seek to harmonize science and the Bible should maintain at least the following: … (c) God specially created Adam and Eve (Adam’s body from non-living material, and his spiritual nature immediately from God). Inadequate origin models hold that … (b) humans share a common physical ancestry with earlier life forms.
All of these positions, RC, EO, evangelical, affirm Adam and Eve as unique historical individuals even when evolution in general is acknowledged as reasonable and true. Clearly there is some truth to the Presbyterian pastor’s claim.
But now we get to CS Lewis The Problem of Pain in CH 5 The Fall of Man.
For long centuries, God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumbs could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all of the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated. The creature may have existed in this stage for ages before it became man: it may have even been clever enough to make things which a clever archaeologist would accept as proof of its humanity. But it was only an animal because all its physical and psychical processes where directed to purely material and natural ends. Then in fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say “I” and “me,” which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty, and goodness, and which was so far above time that is could perceive time flowing past. … We do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state. But sooner or later they fell. Someone or something whispered that they could become as gods. … They wanted some corner in the universe in which they could say to God, “This is our business, not yours.” But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were and must eternally be, mere adjectives. We have no idea what particular act, or series of acts, the self-contradictory, impossible wish found expression. For all I can see, it might have concerned the literal eating of a fruit, but the question is of no consequence.
This position, consistent with polygenesis and the evidence from paleontology and molecular biology, is along the lines of my thinking these days, although other positions are also reasonable. A similar suggestion with some interesting thoughts is advanced by one of our readers on his blog, evolutionary chisel divine sculptor and gradual fall.
Does Christian orthodoxy require monogenesis with Adam and Eve as unique historical individuals?
Do you think that the position suggested by CS Lewis is outside the pale of orthodox Christianity? If so, per the pastor above, was CS Lewis then “not a Christian?”
If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.