Once More, With Feeling: Adam, Evolution and Evangelicals

If evolution is right about how humans came to be, then the biblical story of Adam and Eve isn’t. If you believe, as evangelicals do, that God himself is responsible for what’s in the Bible, you have a problem on your hands. Once you open the door to the possibility that God’s version of human origins isn’t what actually happened — well, the dominoes start unraveling down the slippery slope. The next step is uncertainty, chaos and despair about one’s personal faith.

The rest of the article can be found here on the Huffington Post.

  • http://eisdoxan.wordpress.com Jason

    I trust the HuffPo on matters of faith as it relates to science as much as I do Steven Anderson on matters of the textual accuracy of non-KJV bibles.

    • Eric

      Touché.

    • http://disorietedtheology.wordpress.com Paul A.

      That’s probably because you are incorrectly equating an impersonal entity with the people whose work appears there. HuffPo doesn’t have an editorial board, and therefore does not have a position on matters of faith, as far as I know. There are individual writers, however, whose work HuffPo runs.

      As it turns out, I trust Peter Enns on the relationship of faith and science; the fact that he’s written something for the Huffington Post is irrelevant to my view of the quality of that work.

  • http://meaninginhistory.blogspot.com/ mark wauck

    “The next step is uncertainty, chaos and despair about one’s personal faith.”

    When the next step should be: given the reasonableness of belief in the claims of Jesus, have I gotten something wrong in my understanding of just what “scripture” is and what relation it bears to Jesus? After all, Jesus wasn’t and isn’t a book, and the disciples didn’t believe after reading a book–they believed when they experienced the risen Jesus.

    The real problem “has to do with what evangelicals expect from the Bible.”

    Yup. But, in fairness, it’s not just evangelicals.

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  • Dan

    I agree that these conversations need to be taking place in evangelical homes/churches across America, not in the ivory towers of biblical scholarship where it’s no news flash. Coverage such as this in popular publications is the way to go.

  • James Elliott

    Well, the article has hopefully caught the attention of thoughtful evangelicals–possibly at the expense of too much hype. Like this statement: “…evangelicals will see for themselves that dragging the Adam and Eve story into the evolution discussion is as misguided as using the stories of Israel’s monarchy to rank the Republican presidential nominees.” Aren’t the two stories related, at least in their giving account of human purpose of one sort or another? Isn’t the Genesis account a touchstone of responsible biblical interpretation in the face of popular claims from the scientist community? Isn’t that why you wrote your book?

    • peteenns

      “Isn’t the Genesis account a touchstone of responsible biblical interpretation in the face of popular claims from the scientist community? Isn’t that why you wrote your book?”

      I’m pretty sure I didn’t write that, Jim. And keep your focus on the issue of the book. it is simply this: Neither the Adam of Genesis or of Paul tell us historically how the human drama began.

      • James Elliott

        I think a significant change of genre occurs with the “generations” of Terah and the call of Abraham out of Ur–a verifiable historical site. Pre-history becomes history at that point–”salvation” history, of course. Jewish preoccupation with numbers and geneologies give Genesis 4-11 a quasi-historical feel but again, it is a special kind of history. In fact, we can say this of many historical passages in Scripture–they have issues that make the modern historian squirm. Special history indeed.

  • Susan N.

    “Reading the biblical story against its ancient backdrop is hardly a news flash, and most evangelical biblical scholars easily concede the point. But for some reason this piece of information has not filtered down to where it is needed most: into the mainstream evangelical consciousness.”

    Thanks for writing ‘The Evolution of Adam’ in a manner that is accessible to one who is “downstream” of the biblical scholar group. It is a great help to me.

    • peteenns

      That’s great to hear, Susan. I was a little worried at one point. The book actually got more complicated than I intended (all those endnotes), but this topic can’t be addressed on completely “popular” level. It is a historical issue that has to be addressed in a historical way–and that means endnotes.

  • http://meaninginhistory.blogspot.com/ mark wauck

    Interesting. All this tends to confirm the wisdom of the Church in discouraging the laity from just picking up the Bible, grokking the “clear meaning of the text,” and drawing their own conclusions. Not saying the clergy always did such a great job, either, but …

    • peteenns

      There is something to this “me and my Bible” mentality that tends to create problems. And to anticipate a question, no, I have no plans on becoming Roman Catholic :-)

      • http://meaninginhistory.blogspot.com/ mark wauck

        I hope you don’t think you were anticipating a question from me–it’s not my style to beat around the bush. If I had a question on my mind to which “I have no plans on becoming Roman Catholic” would be one of the logical responses, I’d come right out and ask the question. OTOH, I imagine it would take more than a simple declarative sentence and a smiley face to convince your critics. :-(

      • http://meaninginhistory.blogspot.com/ mark wauck

        I suppose I should have specified “just picking up my KJV and grokking the ‘clear meaning of the text.’”

  • James Elliott

    Neither the Adam of Genesis or of Paul tell us historically how the human drama began.
    I’m looking forward to reading the book when it comes out! Maybe a larger task then is to teach us how to recognize/handle history in general in Holy Writ. After all, I think we agree Christianity is a historic faith, the incarnation/resurrection historic events, etc.

    • peteenns

      Right. I think the main issue, as my friend Kent Sparks has said over the years, is proper genre recognition. Without that, our interpretations co haywire. Of course, the issue for some is what the genre of Gen 1-3 is. For ME the answer is obvious, but not for many others.

  • http://meaninginhistory.blogspot.com/ mark wauck

    There is something to this “me and my Bible” mentality that tends to create problems.

    What interests me is where the “mentality” comes from. Potentially wide ranging topic.

  • Christine

    What a great article. To give SOME hope that the tide is changing, I learned this by studying Genesis 1-11 intensively with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship Canada while in university. There are hundreds of students (at least in Southern Ontario) with a … dare I say “right”? … understanding of the origin story of Adam and Eve.

  • tomr

    Pete just got the book looks like a lot of info. packed into it. Not taking Gen. 1-11 as historical has ever been a problem for me but Paul is a different story I’am looking forward to that part. About the HuffPo article was ” the dominoes start unraveling down the slippery slope” some kind of joke. The mixed metaphor just struck me kind of funny but my wife says it was not meant as a joke

    • peteenns

      Yeah, just a little joke :-)

  • http://meaninginhistory.blogspot.com/ mark wauck

    My brother has been reading the book and likes it, but he’s puzzled: Why does Peter keep going on about evolution? What does that have to do with Christian faith?

    And he has a point. After all, it’s not as if a fundamentalist, literalist reading of the Bible has ever been default Christian way of reading scripture. The earliest Christians (not to mention, Second Temple Jews) were quite familiar with the concept that the Bible is not always to be taken as history. In fact, I would maintain that Jesus himself takes a distinctly deconstructive approach to that reading of scripture.

    The fact is, what this whole argument comes down to is that some people think, well, if you say that Genesis is history, that means we can’t be sure about anything in the Bible, like, was Jesus ever born, etc. But note something: this kind of fallacious attempt at a reductio ad absurdam argument is intended to rule out the use of reason in favor of “faith,” but the argument itself relies on reason. This argument then advances a misguided understanding of “faith,” implying that faith is simply a subjective conviction that has nothing to do with reason. That is not the Christian faith. Christian faith is reasoned belief and trust and is not “blind.”

    Anyway, today my brother sent me an article that makes similar points, such as:

    Once we understand how to read Scripture, the vexed subject of evolution should not present a problem.

    There’s no need at all to get into evolution to understand how to read Scripture. This whole issue of literalism was even gone over by the Greeks, re Homer and their myths. It’s nothing new, and isn’t even unique to Christianity.

    Here’s the link to the article Why Catholics Like Einstein. Don’t be fooled by the title. The author’s main point is that whether evolution is fact is a matter for scientific debate and needn’t concern Christians, necessarily, nor is evolution a threat to the Bible or our faith–properly understood. However, what the author goes on to do is to distinguish between evolution as a scientific theory and the ideology that uses that theory of evolution as cover to advance an atheistic agenda (hence the title). There is nothing in evolution as a theory that entails atheism, and this atheistic ideology itself involves many philosophical problems, such as a materialistic reductionism that is unscientific. Exposing the unscientific, ideologically motivated uses that the “theory of evolution” is put to is a legitimate

    So, if my brother was dissatisfied with all the talk about evolution in Peter’s book, what part did he like? Mostly the part re Paul. And he sent me this paragraph that he liked in particular:

    Adam, read as “the first human, ” supports Paul’s argument about the universal plight and remedy of humanity, but it is not a necessary component for that argument. In other words, attributing the cause of universal sin and death to a historical Adam is not necessary for the gospel of Jesus Christ to be a fully historical solution to that problem. To put it positively, as Paul says, we all need the Savior to deliver us from sin and death.

    I’ll be getting a copy soon myself, so I won’t have to continue quoting my brother.

    • peteenns

      “Once we understand how to read Scripture, the vexed subject of evolution should not present a problem.”

      That’s why my book is all about how to read Genesis and how to read Paul.

      • http://meaninginhistory.blogspot.com/ mark wauck

        Right. Those were the parts that my brother liked. He just thought that was good enough on its own; evolution, to him (and me), is really just a side show. He has a friend–a Catholic, mind you!–who’s huge into this Adam and Eve thing. Travels around giving lectures, etc. His whole thing is what, I think, they call “young creationism,” or something like that. My brother’s experience is that you don’t typically talk people out of this kind of thing–they’re in it for reasons that have very little to do with rational belief. They’ve embraced fundamentalism/literalism because it fulfills a need, not because they came to a reasoned conclusion about the nature of “biblical” books and how they should be read.

        There is, of course, a large group of people who aren’t like that, and for whom a nice, reasoned presentation on how to sensibly read the scriptures is very welcome. That kind of presentation is very reassuring to them, but it doesn’t reassure them that evolution’s not a threat to their faith–that was never really their problem. Instead, it reassures them that they don’t have to embrace fundamentalism to be good Christians, that the faith they have and live is acceptable.

        • http://meaninginhistory.blogspot.com/ mark wauck

          So it turns out that the issues I raised above –

          “you don’t typically talk people out of this kind of thing–they’re in it for reasons that have very little to do with rational belief. They’ve embraced fundamentalism/literalism because it fulfills a need, not because they came to a reasoned conclusion about the nature of “biblical” books and how they should be read.” yadda, yadda, yadda

          – have been discussed by a world class sociologist: The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture.

          And the book comes highly recommended:

          “Many books have been written either defending or detracting from an evangelical view of the Bible. Christian Smith, as a trained sociologist, offers a much-needed perspective: explaining evangelical biblicism as a sociological phenomenon. Smith demonstrates, respectfully but critically, that the type of biblicism that often characterizes evangelicalism cannot account for how scripture itself behaves. Biblicism is retained, however, because of its sociological value for ‘maintaining safe identity boundaries.’ Smith’s analysis of the problem of biblicism and his offer of a way forward are important contributions to the current developments surrounding evangelicalism and the Bible.”–Peter Enns, author, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament

          Interestingly (and I was aware of this before), the author is a huge proponent of what he calls “critical realism,” as is N. T. Wright–although I’ve been unable to determine to my satisfaction whether either of these scholars truly understand the origins of this term and the Kantian baggage that it carries.

  • http://meaninginhistory.blogspot.com/ mark wauck

    At my brother’s suggestion I read the last chapter first. I can see the reason for his suggestion. The intellectual problems that Peter faces are several, but most (if not all) of them stem from his starting point: Peter sees Christians as “people of the Book,” “those who value Scripture as God’s Word…” I think Peter needs to break away from this perspective and begin from an understanding of Christians as they originally were: people who accepted the claims of Jesus, especially based upon his resurrection. Then we need to approach the whole question as an educated Greek might have, by asking the question: when we talk about “revelation,” what do we mean? When we say that this collection of writings “reveals” something to us, what do we mean by “reveals” and what do we suppose is the substance of that revelation? As aids to that inquiry I recommend the work of Mircea Eliade regarding “archaic ontology” and, with specific reference to Israelite religion, the work of Mark Smith, especially as described in From Scriptures to Bible.


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