This series is primarily a consideration of a book by David N. Livingstone, Adam’s Ancestors: Race, Religion, and the Politics of Human Origins, but the challenge of Adam extends much beyond this of course. The major conflict over Dr. Waltke’s video (Confronting the Data and A Mind for Truth?), as made apparent in his clarification, centers on Adam. This is not surprising on any level. Dr. Waltke’s clarification is consistent with much of evangelical scholarship and thinking and will help to focus conversation.
From the e-mail:
1. I had not seen the video before it was distributed. Having seen it now, I realize its deficiency and wish to put my comments in a fuller theological context.
2. Adam and Eve are historical figures from whom all humans are descended; they are uniquely created in the image of God and as such are not in continuum with animals.
3. Adam is the federal and historical head of the fallen human race just as Jesus Christ is the federal and historical head of the Church.
4. I am not a scientist, but I have familiarized myself with attempts to harmonize Genesis 1-3 with science, and I believe that creation by the process of evolution is a tenable Biblical position. I apologize for giving the impression that others who seek to harmonize the two differently are not credible. I honor all who contend for the Christian faith.
5. Evolution as a process must be clearly distinguished from evolutionism as a philosophy. The latter is incompatible with orthodox Christian theology.
6. Science is fallible and subject to revision. As a human and social enterprise, science will always be in flux. My first commitment is to the infallibility (as to its authority) and inerrancy (as to its Source) of Scripture.
7. God could have created the Garden of Eden with apparent age or miraculously, even as Christ instantly turned water into wine, but the statement that God “caused the trees to grow” argues against these notions.
8. I believe that the Triune God is Maker and Sustainer of heaven and earth and that biblical Adam is the historical head of the human race.
9. Theological comments made here are mostly a digest of my chapters on Genesis 1-3 in An Old Testament Theology (Zondervan, 2007)
Bruce Waltke, Professor of Old Testament
Link to Dr. Waltke’s book: An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach. (Added: See also the post on BioLogos On the Courage of Bruce Waltke for an important added comment.)
What do you think of these clarifications – especially with regard to Adam?
This is an interesting clarification, and contains only a few points I find unexpected.
It is not surprising that the first two substantive clarifications (#2,3) and #8 speak to Adam and Eve. This is clearly the most contentious piece of the whole picture. The video did not speak to Adam and I rather expected that Waltke would hold to some form of historicity for Adam and Eve and to Adam as the federal head of humanity. I am somewhat surprised that he adds “not in continuum with animals.“ I had rather thought he might hold a view in line with the one presented by John Stott in his commentary on Romans (The Message of Romans) that creation from dust may be a Biblical way of saying that God breathed his divine image into an already existing hominoid. But…
“The vital truth we cannot surrender is that, though our bodies are related to the primates, we ourselves in our fundamental identity are related to God.”(p. 164)
I struggle with this issue because the truth must do justice to the biblical narrative and must fit the data, including the biological and historical data. (BioLogos had an interesting post relating to some of the scientific data on Monday.) I don’t think we should be playing Twister, with mental contortions as we connect the dots. The answer must be relatively simple. But I also think that these issues indicate that we have misunderstood some aspects of scripture as inspired by God. We have not misunderstood scripture as inspired – we have misunderstood what it means for scripture to be inspired and authoritative.
With respect to #’s 4 through 7. Like Dr. Waltke I honor all who contend for the Christian faith. Opinions on science, faith, evolution and creation are nonessential to a devout Christian faith and to a life of Godly service.
But because, unlike Dr. Waltke, I am a scientist, I have a very different view of credibility. Some views are not credible and this needs to be made clear in our church and to our church leaders. The earth is not flat and it is not 6000-10000 years old. To claim either is not credible. Mature creation, while theoretically possible, is not credible. We are not talking about the creation of Adam with a belly button, or trees with rings. We are talking about the equivalent of creation with a limp caused by a broken bone, several scars, and a missing tooth. I don’t mean to imply that creation is not good – but that there is a history in the evidence that makes no sense in a mature creation narrative. With respect to the human species the biochemical and genetic evidence for the “dust of the earth” from which Adam was produced, however we view Adam, being an evolved animal is pervasive and persuasive.
There are credible narratives other than the one I consider most likely - some variants of intelligent design and progressive creation are credible, although I think they are wrong for a variety of reasons and will argue against them. But there are also narratives espoused by many within the church that are not credible on any level and do more harm than good.
Science is a human and social enterprise, fallible and subject to revision – but we will not find that there really are four elements and throw the periodic table in the garbage can. Aristotle was not right. We will not discover that carbon has a valence of 2 and oxygen has a low electronegativity, that DNA does not carry genetic information. We can place reasonable limits on both “fallible” and “revision.”
Biblical interpretation is also a human and social enterprise, fallible and subject to revision. The authority of scripture is the authority of God – and this is infallible; the source of scripture is God – and he is inerrant. Human interpretation and assumptions – well this is a different matter. The history of the church is the history of people honestly and sincerely trying to discern the message of God, with the help of the Spirit, in scripture and in the world. Of one thing I am sure – every last one of them, from Augustine to Aquinas to Calvin and down to the present, has gotten many things wrong. I am sure that I have many things wrong – I just don’t know where and what. But as with science, we can place reasonable limits on both “fallible” and “revision.” Jesus existed, of this there is no doubt. The gospels are reliable. The inherent gospel and message is clear for those who have ears to hear. There is a persistent core of orthodox belief and understanding.
Adam is not in the creeds.
Let me make this clear – any and every human endeavor is a social enterprise, fallible and subject to revision. As Christians we interpret everything – be it scripture or nature – through the power of the Spirit. Our problem, and the reason the church must wrestle with this, is not the atheist narrative of secular materialism. Our problem, as the majority of Christians in the sciences will admit, is that the data overwhelmingly fits the historical evolutionary narrative including common descent.
Where do I think we go from here? To paraphrase and adapt the concluding paragraph from a recent article by Scot, (I really like this turn of phrase) – we humble ourselves before God, bathe ourselves in the Spirit-drenched biblical Story, invoke God’s Spirit to give us the word of the Gospel for our day as we seek to be faithful to the Spirit-empowered witness of the New Testament. We wrestle with these issues in community, in dialog. We interact in a serious way, trusting God’s truth.
We do not bury our head in the sand or separate from the world and become a bizarre little cult.
Let me bring back the question from Monday:
What does it mean to have a mind for truth and a heart for God? And what does this mean when it comes to the science and faith issues? When does our understanding of scripture inform our approach to science? When does science inform our interpretation of scripture?
If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net