The Evolution of Adam (Pete Enns)

The Evolution of Adam (Pete Enns) November 8, 2011

This post is by Pete Enns, and it is taken from his blog at Patheos and re-posted here.

Last week I spoke to a gathering of pastors from the NY Metro presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of America on the problem of evolution and Adam. This topic is a particularly pressing problem for this denomination, since the Westminster Confession of Faith (their doctrinal standard written around 1650) presumes, understandably, that Adam was the first human, created specially by God without any preceding evolutionary process.

I thought I’d summarize what I said to these pastors. My aim was not to force upon anyone views they are not prepared to ingest, but simply to present the options, my own position, and why I arrived at it.

So, my first point was to lay out the options for thinking about Adam in view of evolution.

Evolution can either be accepted (in some form) or wholly rejected. If rejected, one has no problem with an historical Adam as first man, but then one has to find ways to neutralize the scientific data, which is attempted in various (but unconvincing) ways. (Google Al Mohler, Ken Ham, and Hugh Ross.)

No need to get into that here. This group of pastors was already (largely) aware that evolution cannot be dismissed, and so we proceded to other things.

If one accepts evolution, the first thing to note is that one has left the biblical worldview. I think this is an obvious point, but needs to be stated clearly. As soon as evolution is accepted, the invariably result is some clear movement away from what the Bible says about Adam.

Hence, if one wishes to bring Adam and evolution into conversation, one is left with the theological burden and responsibility of bringing them together somehow in a manner does justice to both. The second part of my talk was focused on how that conversation can proceed with integrity (see below).

Back to the flow chart.

So, once one accepts evolution, the question becomes “what do I do about Adam?” I see two choices: Adam is either historical (in some sense) or he is not.

If one wishes to retain a historical Adam, the two options I am aware of (if you know of others, please let us know) are:

(1) “Adam” was a hominid chosen by God somewhere along the line to be the “first man”;

(2) “Adam” was a group of hominids (a view that accounts best for the genomic data that the current human population stems from a few thousand ancestors, definitely not two ancestors).

In my opinion, these two options fail for the same two reasons:

(1) They are ad hoc, meaning that are invented for the sole purpose of finding some way to align the Bible and science. It is generally a good idea to avoid ad hoc explanations, and we rarely tolerate them when others make use of them.

(2) The “Adam” that results from these ad hoc maneuvers is not the Adam that the biblical authors were talking about (a chosen first pair or group of hominids). No biblical teaching is really protected by inventing “Adam” in this way.

This brings us to a non-historical Adam–meaning Adam in the Bible as parabolic, metaphorical, symbolic, or “supra-historical” (a term I learned from Richard Clifford, meaning a truth transcends history but told in historical terms, and therefore not meant to be taken literally).

I gave three options for a non-historical Adam (there are more). The red line joining them indicates that these options are not so much distinct as they are variations on the larger category “non-historical.”

One option is to understand Adam as a literary figure, which would relieve the pressure of thinking of Adam as the first human. A mythical understanding–which is the most common, I think, among scholars of the Bible and the ancient world–means that the story of Adam is a concrete expression of a deeper reality. (Some would argue that story is really the best form to communicate “deep reality,” but we’ll leave that to the side.)

A third option, which I throw in because I happen to think it has a lot of merit, is to see the story of Adam as a story of Israel and not as the story of the first human. I will explain that more in my next post.

Anyway, those are the options as I see it. Which option(s) is(are) best depends on one thing: accounting well for the relavant exegetical and historical factors.

That is the subject of the next post, but let me preview it here briefly. Any attempt to account for Adam in an evolutionary scheme will have to account for “data.” Scientists work this way, too. “Models” that account for most of the data well (not forced, ad hoc, or idiosyncratic) are models that need to be considered.

Bringing Adam and evolution into serious conversation is really a matter of building convincing models.

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  • Karel

    I don’t want to take a stand for or against evolution, but there is couple of questions that I will like to ask?
    1) If the world and everything in it, came to be through evolution, what do we do with the teaching about original sin and that every man is in a state of depravity? Did man then also “evolutionized” into this state? How did it come to be that every human being is lost because of sin (cf Romans 1:18-32).
    2) If evolution is true, how did the bomber beetle, the European Green Woodpecker and the Giraffe existed through the process? All three these creatures have bodily functions that they need to use for their day-to-day existence (survival being a better word) and which could have developed over a period of time.

  • John W Frye

    Dr. Enns,
    So in Pauline terms, would the view that has merit suggest that Israel then was the *first* “Adam” with Jesus being the *second* “Adam”? If so, this is an intriguing idea.

  • The first few paragraphs here assume that it is impossible to believe in evolution as well as the special creation of Adam and Eve, as (say) Tim Keller does. This should be included as a possibility, I think, if one is looking to map all the available options. (And I’m not sure why reconciling the Bible and science is such a bad idea, even if it’s given a Latin name. We’re all doing that in some way, aren’t we?)

  • Sorry: another option if seeing Adam as historical is (3) Adam was a hominid chosen by God to be the first image-bearing human, but God subsequently created many other humans (hence Cain’s wife, potential killers, etc).

  • Interesting. Well, I’ve seen trying to see the story in Genesis 2 and 3 with reference to the scientific data. But it might be more natural to see it in terms of the whole of the story of scripture itself.

    It is, by the way, the scientific data which has forced us to consider this option, it seems.

  • #3 Andrew That is the option which includes a historical Adam that I like. Although I usually add that A&E were the first human pair that God began to interact with as well as having the image. However, Pete dismisses that view just like he does for all versions of historical Adam. Pete’s view of inspiration allows him to deprecate Paul’s references to a real physical Adam in the NT, whereas I am very loath to disregard Paul on this issue.
    Dave W

  • rjs


    Tim Keller, from what he has said and written, falls on the historical Adam side of this chart after answering the evolution question “yes”. To say special creation though is loaded. I don’t think he means what most would mean by this term – but more along the lines of first chosen pair without getting into too much detail. Something like the proposal of John Stott in his Romans Commentary, who in turn built on Derek Kidner’s Genesis commentary.

  • So, it looks like your first hermeneutical move is to decided whether you believe in evolution. After that, all your other hermeneutical decisions must fit within that initial decision and be compatible with it. Having made such a decision before addressing any of the biblical texts, you are no longer free to consider any interpretation of the Bible that is not compatible with evolution. IOW, after that initial decision, the doctrine of evolution is in the driver’s seat of your hermeneutics, because that is the first decision you made. Evolution has become the primary consideration. That is the nature of the flow chart you have presented.

  • EricW

    FYI, Peter Enns has posted two subsequent entries on this subject at his blog. What Scot posted here is just the first in the series, and Enns’ discussion continues in the comments to the posts.

  • As intrigued as I am by this discussion and the prospects it holds, I fear that Jeff Doles (#8) has a very valid point. Forgive me if this criticism is misplaced, but according to the above, Mr. Enns seems concerned about accepting scientific data, but doesn’t appear too bothered about stepping “outside the biblical worldview.” This is troubling.

    It’s worth pointing that I am not necessarily a young earth creationist. My concern here is not about the science so much as the commitment to hermeneutics. Nonetheless, I am fascinated by where this discussion might take us.

  • rjs

    One important thing to note here is that by “Outside the biblical worldview” Pete means that it is a way of looking at the world that is not consistent with ancient Near East cosmology and origins stories. He does not mean “unbiblical” in the more common meaning of the term.

    I think the chart could probably use an “other?” on the non-historical side as well. I am not sure this exhausts the possibilities.

  • Scot McKnight

    Jeff, in one sense you are right, but I think that is not what Pete is doing. He’s revealing that the question to that answer – evolution or not? — splits the discussion.

    Pete Enns, after all, is an Old Testament scholar who has devoted his life to scriptural interpretation and everything in this map emerges out of that life.

    It is true, though, that answering Yes to the evolution question creates an entirely new spectrum of considerations. That is what Pete is doing, without dismissing careful Old Testament work.

    That fair?

  • Rick

    RJS and Scot-

    “That is what Pete is doing, without dismissing careful Old Testament work.”

    I agree with the others. He may be using evolution as a starting point, but he does not bring in any “careful Old Testament work” at this early stage. Then he goes on with the “biblical worldview” comment.

    I think the concern is that this may be an small indicator of his overall approach to Scripture.

  • EricW

    Part of it depends, I think, on how one regards Paul’s teachings and doctrines of Adam and the Fall and sin. I.e., is Paul’s teaching on the subject (assuming it’s clear and systematic) the required and only allowable way for a Christian to think of Adam and his actions and the consequences? If a person takes a different view of these things based on the Genesis account and perhaps other relevant literature (e.g., the Prophets, Psalms, and extra-canonical texts like Jubilees, Enoch, etc. – see some of the comments to Enns’ posts) and nuances the meaning and effect of Christ’s life, death and resurrection vis-a-vis Adam a bit differently than Paul sets forth, can they still be considered a Christian?

  • Fish

    I see no other alternative true to our reason than evolution.

    Original sin is a sticking point because it is clear we have evil built into our DNA, but I’ve always run aground on why a loving God would stick countless generations and numbers of people with it for the actions of two people. The Biblical explanation feels more like the attempts of mortal man to explain the presence of evil in our make-up than it does any real theology.

  • Scot #12, I think Enns’ chart is, in a way, upside down. It is asking whether one believes evolution is true or not, and then interpreting the Bible in light of the answer to that question. Should we not rather determine what the Bible means on its own terms, and in its own historical and cultural context, and only after that is done, determine whether it is compatible with the current view of scientists on evolution?

    I appreciate that Enns has done some OT work and work with the ANE and all. I’ve seen some of that work and I think he may be presenting as hard fact some things that are nothing more than speculations. And I think he may be letting his desire for compatibility between evolution and the Scriptures drive his interpretation of Scripture. Look how much of the interpretive tradition (as well as the historical theology of the Church) needs to be changed in order to accommodate his view. Elsewhere, it appears he rejects the apostle Paul’s view on Adam as incorrect.

    As a flow chart, this does not work for me. We should determine what the Scriptures mean in their own context (including historical and cultural) and then see how that lines up the current consensus of scientists. If they are compatible, then that’s fine; if not, then one can decide whether they are going to accept the testimony of Scripture of the current consensus of scientists. That way, we will not be looking for Protean solutions, trying to make the Scriptures fit into the bed of evolution.

    Perhaps Enns has done as I have suggested, but his flow chart reflects the opposite.

  • EricW

    @Jeff Doles 16.:

    If they are compatible, then that’s fine; if not, then one can decide whether they are going to accept the testimony of Scripture of (sic) the current consensus of scientists. That way, we will not be looking for Protean solutions, trying to make the Scriptures fit into the bed of evolution.

    Does this not assume that there is a clear and conclusive and final and unchangeable agreed-upon “testimony of Scripture” (versus the current and susceptible-to-change consensus of scientists)? As our understanding of ANE culture and other related things, including the development of the Scripture and the formation of the canon, grows and changes, so, I think, does our understanding of what is “the testimony of Scripture.” Enns and some of the comments to his posts on his blog seem to reflect this fact.

  • Cliff

    I’m curious if the premise of this flow-chart were applied to the resurrection. Surely the scientific evidence is clear (even more so than the evidence for evolution) that dead people do not come back to life. Would this lead to a parable/metaphor/supra-historical view of Jesus’ resurrection?

  • Why is it that when Mohler (not a scientist) makes comments about the historical Adam they are quickly dismissed, but when Enns (also not a scientist) makes comments about the “evolution of Adam” they are clearly given much more credit?

  • Richard

    @ 16


    Is part of the issue that Peter is creating a flow chart too far down the line? Would your concerns be resolved if before the question of “is evolution true?”, there were a question “Does the Biblical worldview reflect modern cosmology or ANE cosmology?”

    I’m not concerned about Enns hermeneutics, I just think he answers that question in such an implicit way that it might be helpful clarification to make it explicit.

  • T


    In many ways I agree with you, just on the basis of ‘prima scriptura’ if nothing else. That said, we need to be aware of some realities. First, part of making sense of scripture is always reconciling it with our observations; it’s just that this is often not difficult. If, as an extreme instance, scripture regularly talked about two suns in the sky, we would struggle to think about what that meant, not because the idea itself is difficult to understand, but because it does not square with what we observe. We would begin looking for rational explanations and consider several varieties very similar to what is being suggested here. Doing so would not be a failure to take scripture seriously, on the contrary, it would reflect a commitment to the idea that there is only one cosmos that both scripture and scientific study reveal, albeit with different methods and foci. There aren’t “two truths” but one, and we must search it out.

    But another reason that this chart is helpful as it stands is that it is reflective of the issues that most any western convert (and many of our children) will be faced with, and in a similar order. It is now inconceivable for any neutral scientist to arrive at a conclusion, for example, that the earth is only 10,000 years old, given the physical data. That, all by itself, before we get to the question of human origins, gets us to a similar set of questions. How are we going to counsel a new/young believer, or even a seeker, who is already convinced that the age of the earth is well past 10,000 years to wrestle with these issues? I don’t mind telling anyone to “keep reforming” about everything, but that should include both our reading of physical data and scripture. And for many, the data will be much clearer than scripture on these issues. Even if we disagree, we do well to try to walk a mile in their shoes.

  • EricW,

    No, it does not assume that there is a conclusive, final, unchangeable “testimony.” What I mean is that one has made a determination or conclusion about the meaning of an ancient text apart from what scientists might think about something in the 21st century. Factoring in ANE culture and context is fine in considering the meaning of a Scripture (although there seems to be a lot of speculation there, and we should not assume that the ancient Hebrews were exactly like their neighbors). But what scientists believe in the 21st century about the origins or development of life would not have contributed anything to how the ancient Hebrews would have understood the text. So, to give 21st century scientists a say in how to understand the ancient Hebrew texts, which is, in effect, what this flow chart does, seems to me to be a very poor hermeneutic. Whether the current consensus of scientists about evolution is right or wrong, it has nothing to tell us about how ancient Jews, or Jesus,or Paul or the early Church would have understood Genesis 1.

  • Richard @20,

    I think a more appropriate question to begin with is, “What cosmology, if any, does the Biblical worldview reflect?” In regard to ANE, we have to ask whether the cosmology of the Hebrews was the same as or similar to that of its neighbors, and if similar, how similar. The answer in regard to ANE appears to me to be largely speculative. But the first question about interpreting what Genesis 1 means should not be, “Is evolution true?”

    Enns’ chart is the wrong way round. It asks whether one believes in evolution, and then leads to how one can understand the Scriptures in such a way as to fit with that prior commitment. Rather, we should determine what the Scriptures mean, quite apart from 21st century scientists, and then see whether it is agrees with the modern take on evolution.

  • T

    Let me add this briefly. As others have mentioned here before, I think that what is ultimately at stake, which is understandably very disturbing for many folks, is our overall theory of truth, and specifically our theory for what “inspired” means, how scripture is/was written, and what it is designed by God to do and how.

    And, for that reason, this was horribly stated: “If one accepts evolution, the first thing to note is that one has left the biblical worldview. I think this is an obvious point, but needs to be stated clearly. As soon as evolution is accepted, the invariably result is some clear movement away from what the Bible says about Adam.”

    Either Pete has given up on the idea that anyone to the right of center will ever listen to him, or he is ignorant of what that statement will say to those folks. Regardless, he might as well questioned if Jesus rose from the dead. If he was a politician, that quote would never stop bearing fruit for his opponents. I agree with RJS in 11, but wow, that’s the worst soundbite I’ve seen someone hand their opponents in a long time.

  • RJS, my apologies – Keller, like Kidner, suggests Adam was a chosen hominid, but Eve was created from his side as per Gen 2:22-5, and that other hominids were subsequently given the divine image. In that sense, he’s doing more like the (3) I described, and as you say, does not need a separate category. Having said that, I think the formation of Eve (created from a hominid or from Adam) is an important distinction that Pete Enns does not include above, since it is so clearly the belief of the biblical authors that Eve was created from Adam.

  • Joe Canner

    T #24: You are right that the “biblical worldview” comment was poorly phrased. I think, however, that he means something different by that than what we are thinking. My guess is that by “biblical worldview”, he means a worldview that is informed *solely* by the Bible, i.e., a fundamentalist, literal interpretation of Genesis, most commonly represented by young-earth creationists. Any of the other prongs on his diagram, require bringing in some extra-Biblical evidence.

  • Robert A

    So interesting that evolution goes unchallenged in Enns’ work. Yet the basic epistemological construct from which it works is corrupt. Scientists attempt to say the “evidence” is overwhelming yet due to their lack of proper training in epistemological inquiry they fail to begin to investigate whether their “method” is an accurate gauge for being able to determine cosmological insights with any amount of certainty, or credulity. (besides I challenge that there even is a “scientific method”)

    As a result there is a discipline wide failure to appropriate a reasonable framework by which inquiry is evaluated, conclusions are challenged, and reciprocity is allowed. Even in Enns’ work he begins in with an assumption that contemporary science can tell us something about such distant evidences it encounters.

    It corrupts his own method and conclusions. Perhaps, perhaps this is the great error leading us away from an authentic evaluation with the text of Scripture.

  • T #21,

    If anyone is conforming his understanding of Scripture to a prior commitment to what scientsts say about evolution in the 21st century, then let him be open and honest about it. Let him acknowledge that he has adapted his understanding, not because good hermeneutical practice demands it but because his prior commitment to the modern consensus of scientists demands it. Let him acknowledge that that modern consensus (to which the ancients had no access) is in the driver’s seat on how he must read Genesis 1 and other pertinent Scriptures.

    A couple of years ago, when I first entered the discussion here on evolution and the Scriptures, I suggested just that: that science had gotten into the driver’s seat on how we should understand Genesis 1. My suggestion was pretty roundly rejected; and I think those who rejected it were in denial about it. But now, here is a flow chart where the very first thing to be determined is whether one believes in the modern theory of evolution, and then flows from that ways one can conform their understanding of Scripture to an affirmative answer to that initial question. So, if that is where one is going to begin, then let them freely acknowledge that they have approached the Scriptures with evolution as their prior commitment. Although I would not agree with them, at least I would respect their honesty.

  • Joe Canner

    Jeff, it sounds like you would propose separating interpretation of Scripture from interpretation of nature, but it’s hard for me to believe that this is what God intended and I doubt that scientific discoveries since the Bible was written have caught God by surprise. We cannot just read Genesis with our ears plugged so that we can’t hear what science is saying. We have to understand how they interact and overlap and also understand the limitations that each has regarding the other.

    As Scot and others have mentioned, Enns has likely included both Scripture and science in his overall flow chart, but has only chosen to concentrate here on the areas where there are outstanding concerns about the overlap.

  • phil_style

    Jeff “let them freely acknowledge that they have approached the Scriptures with evolution as their prior commitment. ”

    I think I must agree with you. I let science do all sorts of things to how I interpret the world an scripture. I know about gravity, statistical analysis, archaeology, the potential for AI, the elasticity of the human brain, how pregnancy works and all sort of other things that the ancients did not. All of this influences how I read the Bible. I don’t see why I should hive off biological evolution as being any different from the other sciences.

  • Joe Canner

    Robert A #27: I doubt that Enns is saying that we should accept every last bit of conjecture about evolution, including abiogenesis, the tree of life, and the mechanisms by which evolution occurred; science is not even unified on these details. At any rate, I don’t think this discussion was meant to be about evolution generally.

    What is at issue here is what science and Scripture say about Adam and Eve. On this matter, the evidence comes from DNA and is much less speculative than the fossil evidence to which you seem to be referring. If you have arguments with the DNA evidence that informs discussions regarding Adam and Eve, by all means present them, but throwing the entire field of science under the bus is not helping the discussion.

  • Joe #29,

    Yes, I propose separating the interpretation of Scripture from the interpretation of nature. Let the interpretation of each stand on its own. It they agree, then fine. If not, then perhaps one must decide which interpretation they find more compelling.

    But I think one thing we must keep in mind, which often gets ignored is that BOTH are interpretations. How one views nature is just as much a matter of interpretation as how one views Scriptures. They both involve philosophical presuppositions.

    I don’t think the first audience of Genesis was hindered in any way from understanding Genesis because they did not have access to the modern consensus of scientists concerning evolution. Nor was Jesus or Paul at a loss because they did not know what scientists would think in the 21st century. So, I don’t think we need the opinions of evolutionist scientists in order to understand the meaning and nature of Genesis 1. I think Genesis 1 is capable of being understood on its own terms, quite apart from the evolutionary scenario.

  • phil_style #30,

    In my hermeneutical training, I have learned that it is unwise to impose a modern Western viewpoint on an ancient oriental text; rather, we should seek to understand the text the way the original audience would have. My point is that we should let the Bible texts speak on their own terms, and then we can see whether it agrees with modern ideas about evolution. But if we reverse the process and try to conform the interpretation of an ancient text to a preconceived modern idea, we are not drawing out the meaning of the text, we are merely reading our own ideas into it.

  • JM

    I think it’s somewhat disingenuous to lump Hugh Ross, Ken Hamm/Al Mohler together. Usually Pete is more nuanced than this. Ross and Hamm/Mohler/YECs are light years apart.

  • Jeff’s point is well said and one that is not seriously given credit and addressed. This initial call does indeed lead one down a path – never to cross over to that rejected path – or does it. This seems to say, to me, that the difference between a more hard stance on evolution and the theistic evolution stance is an exceedingly thin line that is actually rather murky.

    By saying yes to that first question, the only choice is to do away with a historical Adam and Eve and force either the construction of the hominid story – though there is some question as to the evidence for such an event which is somewhat curious as this lack of evidence to support such a claim is one of the reasons for the rejecting of the more traditional claims isn’t it – or force formation of the metaphorical narrative – which means it is a rhetorical device and as humans go rhetorical constructions ebb and flow – aren’t we saying the traditional understanding of the Genesis accounts was the prevailing rhetorical construction? As well, the hominid story must rely on an active supernatural intervention by God at some point in history – again something that seems to have been rejected as contrary to the evidence combined with that critical lack of absence in support of God’s supernatural activity in regard to a historical Adam and Eve.

    So it does indeed seem to be a threshold question prior to moving into a reading of Scripture and coming to an understanding of what we are reading. It seems to me that if I hold to a position that there was no supernatural activity in the Genesis accounts, then to later posit some such activity will require me to also overcome the thinking and reasons why I rejected it earlier, no?

  • Joe Canner

    Jeff #32: So, I don’t think we need the opinions of evolutionist scientists in order to understand the meaning and nature of Genesis 1. I think Genesis 1 is capable of being understood on its own terms, quite apart from the evolutionary scenario.

    Believe it or not, I agree with you on this. There is plenty enough information in Genesis and elsewhere in Scripture to understand the big pictures themes about God, creation, sin, etc. The problem comes when folks use Genesis to tell science that it is wrong about the age of the earth/universe, the movement of the planets/stars, and the origin of species (including man).

    So, yes, let’s keep them separate, provided each is not permitted to speak into areas about which is it not qualified to speak.

  • Joe Canner

    JM #34: You’re right, YECs don’t believe in light years; Ross does. 🙂

    Seriously, though, the distance between Ross and YECs may be large, but the distance between Ross and, say, Francis Collins, is also very large. It all depends on the perspective from where you’re standing.

  • MartinPhilson

    “If the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult … some odd group that is not really interacting with the world.” – Bruce Waltke (whose RTS career, after uttering these types of statements, spontaneously combusted).

    I’m with Bruce. We need to get our heads out of the sand and find ways to come to terms with REALITY. If that means reworking previously held beliefs and ideas, so be it.

    @ ALL – If you want to dialogue with Dr. Enns, Id’ suggest that you should put your comments directed at him on his blog rather than here – he is very good at responding. But before you ask any questions, you might save yourself some time by first actually carefully reading through his blog and his many excellent articles at And when his book, “The Evolution of Adam” comes out, maybe read it and then decide after that.

  • Jon G

    I agree with Joe (29) that you are seperating the two and placing God, as revealed in Scripture, above God, as revealed in Nature. Even doing so, you must see that God was revealed in Nature long before being revealed in Scripture (“In the beginning…”). Right?

    I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about why I believe the claims of the Bible. Prior to really digging in to it, I have to admit that I believed them because my family, the church, and the culture I was raised in gave them credence. So, while I claimed I believed what the Bible was saying, the truth is that I believed what those external parties were saying the Bible was saying. The realization of this led me to the horrific thought – what if “Biblical Authority” was just a smoke screen for popular religious opinion?

    I had to trace “T”ruth back to the source. For me that was God himself. In my thinking, the Universe makes sense because a deistic god explains it’s existence better than no-god does. Once I settled on that, I had to ask myself whether this deistic god would be personal or not. For me, this was obvious once I decided on two things; that metaphysical significance DID actually exist (ie; the moral law, love, etc.)and that the historical case for Jesus is so compelling to me. Because the resurrection of Jesus makes more sense of the data of the rise of the early church, I had to conlude that God is indeed personal enough to incarnate himself. Accepting that, Scripture seems to do a fine job of reporting on the life of Jesus and seems divinely accurate in it’s historical claims. But it isn’t anywhere close to clear enough to be the thing that I hang all other beliefs on. In other words, there is so much disagreement about what the Bible actually says on so many different topics, that I have to conclude that it was, indeed, inspired and yet muddied in the way it is communicated through humanity. If you accept that, then I don’t see why Enns’ thinking here is a problem.

    All this for me, of course, hangs on the notion that I can actually rely on my own cognition to process these truths and that God is revealed through rationality and logic. If that sounds odd, think about how you know anything…you do so because it seems rational to you. So whether or not you realize it, you are putting a hermaneutic in place before you come to the text.

  • phil_style

    Jeff Doles: I have learned that it is unwise to impose a modern Western viewpoint on an ancient oriental text

    And what about when that ancient viewpoint is clearly wrong? i.e. that heaven is located above the clouds, or that hell exists below the ground? We have to read these texts metaphorically, (or if your method is to be embraced, simply acknowledge that we think the writers were wrong about some stuff) because they contradict what we know of astronomy and geology…despite the fact that almost the entirety of Christianity (from 100AD to about 1500AD) interpreted them to be literal geographies until the development of modern science.

    I don’t accept the “ahh but you’ve mis-interpreted the texts” arguments here either. Not when the hermenuetical argument that is being made in the first place, is being made. The ancients clearly believed in a different astronomy and geology to us, and their writings and art reflect this – bible included.

  • T


    I appreciate the desire for clarity and honesty about these things. Further, I do hope that we can get more of that. That said, we really can’t help having experience shape even our reading of scripture. Again, I think the history of heliocentric theory is highly instructive. There are scriptures that describe the immovable nature of the earth and the “movement” of the sun (Chronicles 16:30, Psalm 104:5, Ecclesiastes 1:5, etc.). Today, we universally read those scriptures not as literal descriptions, but figuratively and/or from a different point of view. But it is important to realize how unthinkable it was to read those passages in the way we do now apart from letting scientific discoveries inform how we read such passages. There was simply no reason to read them differently than they always had been read (even reading in context, even with good historical work) other than the scientific observations. Indeed, the commitment to the pre-copernican reading was not merely based on the text, but was itself based on the perceived experience of common men: the earth didn’t move, and the sun did. Jeff, do you think we are wrong to believe that the earth moves, that it revolves around the sun? Do you think that Luther was right to condemn heliocentrism as anti-biblical? If not, then you, too, allow science to affect how you read scripture.

    My point is that, as others have said, it’s not as simple as saying, “I’m choosing scriptures over science” or vice-versa. Our experiences shape

  • T

    Sorry. Last line should read “Our experiences shape our reading of scripture, and that’s a good thing in many, many instances.”

  • Joe #35,

    If we are going to take Genesis on its own terms, then we also have to account for the “begats,” and the ages involved, which are presented to us as numbers. Those numbers are not presented to us as sort of code or allegorical device. Some have tried to insert vast quantities of generations into those genealogies, but that runs into a lot of problems with the texts.

    Adding the numbers of the text is not some unreasonable, nut job thing to do. I read an article years ago by Stephen Jay Gould, talking about how James Usher was very reasonable to do in coming up with his famous chronology. And indeed, the Church has understood Genesis 5 “begats” in that same kind of way, as one generation after another with numbers that could be added up to an account of a certain number of years. Taking Genesis on its own terms and those genealogies at face value (as opposed to allegorical or some such), one arrives at an age for creation much closer to 10 thousand than 4 million years. (I don’t intend to get into a discussion of this here because it quickly run too far afield of this post.)

    That is, I think, a reasonable reading of the text. The ages of the patriarchs were put there for some reason, to convey something meaningful. The simple method of adding them presents us without something meaningful, whether or not one agrees with what that meaning indicates. OTOH, I have not seen any alternative reading that takes the numbers seriously; oh, there is sometimes some vague speculations, but nothing that tells us why we are given those specific ages if they are not, in fact, intended to convey specific numbers of years.

    So what shall we tell science? Well, first, we cannot tell science anything, nor can science tell us anything. Science is not a person that can it speak or hear. We can only discuss with scientists. Scientists are people who can hear and speak and develop ideas and opinions; they are also people who, like everyone else, approaches things with presuppositions, philosophies and assumptions.

    So what shall we tell scientists? I doubt they care what I think about what those genealogies mean, but I they ask, I will tell them that, taking those passages on their own terms and at face value, it looks like the add up to a creation that is fairly recent. Scientists can do with my opinion whatever they wish, just as I do with theirs.

    In the end, we must each decide for ourselves what we find most persuasive. I appreciate that scientists have had training in their various disciplines and desire to do it well (and though most agree one way, I also see that there are a minority who see things differently). My own training has been in understanding and interpreting the Bible, and I, likewise, try to do that well. That is why I object to the flow chart above, because it seems to turn good hermeneutical practice on its head.

  • JJ

    I simply want to express my appreciation for continuing this dialogue. I am convinced that developments in this kind of harmonization between faith and science will do wonders for future generations of Christians.

  • phil_style #38,

    I you think that the ancient viewpoint is clearly wrong, then you are certainly free to say so. But to suddenly interpret it metaphorically on basis that a non-metaphorical reading does not agree with the concensus of scientists in the 21st century seems arbitrary to me. We should, rather, follow the indications in the literature itself. Is there something in the text that indicates it was intended to be understood metaphorically? Perhaps something in the text that would not make sense to the people of that time, or in the rest of the text, if taken literally? Do we find it in other similar texts where it is definitely intended metaphorically? Then those are some reasons why we might take a passage metaphorically. But to do so just because it disagrees with the 21st Century Congenial Society of Evolutionary Scientists is, from a hermeneutical standpoint, arbitrary ~ that is not a sufficient cause to do so.

    I think we should always seek to understand a text the way the original audience would have understood it. From there, one is free to agree or disagree with it.

  • T


    Let me add I appreciate your honesty here. I do think, for the approach you advocate, that there is a real inconsistency around the issue and history of heliocentrism. The biblical texts are clear. For the person who is only taking information from the biblical text, and not allowing scientific observation to be part of hermeneutics, there is no reason to believe that the earth revolves around the sun, and there are ample reaons to believe that the sun, rather, revolves around the earth. If I use the reasoning your argue for in comment 41, I will be forced to let scientists have their opinion and give them mine, namely, that the bible is clear that the earth does not move, but that the sun goes around the earth as the bible says.

    How do you justify heliocentrism based on your approach? I just don’t see it in the scriptures, only the opposite.

  • rjs

    Andrew (#25)

    Where do you get the information that Keller holds to Eve as specially created from Adam’s side or rib? It is possible that he does, but it is not consistent with my information on this.

  • T #41,

    No, we cannot avoid experience shaping our reading of Scripture ~ especially if the first question we ask when approaching the Bible is, “Do I believe in evolution?” and then look for how we can conform our understanding of Scripture to belief in evolution. See, that severely prejudices the process. We cannot rid ourselves of all bias, but we should not deliberately jump headlong into a biased position and then see how we can adapt our reading of Scripture to that bias.

    My point here has not been that we should choose Scripture over science ~ whether we should do that or not is a very different question. Rather, my point is and has been when we are trying to interpret the meaning the Scriptures, which are ancient eastern texts, we should begin with the Scriptures, not with extraneous opinions from the modern West. Let the interpretation of Scripture and the intepretation of nature each speak on their own. If they agree, then fine. If not, then perhaps one’s interpretation of Scripture has been wrong, or one’s interpretation of nature has been wrong (for they are both of them interpretations).

  • T


    Fair enough. But do you think that all people can do what you propose on all issues: “Let the interpretation of Scripture and the intepretation of nature each speak on their own. If they agree, then fine. If not, then perhaps one’s interpretation of Scripture has been wrong, or one’s interpretation of nature has been wrong (for they are both of them interpretations).” I don’t think it’s possible to separate them for many issues. For example, you and I read the texts about the earth not moving already “knowing” that it does move, so we don’t consider a literal interpretation as possible, and have a hard time even imagining it. I think that’s the reality for most westerners going forward on the age of the earth, so we better try to handle the age of the earth better than we did heliocentrism.

  • T, I recognize that there are indeed such things in Scripture as metaphors and figurative language and even phenomenological language. For example, when the Bible speaks of the raquia, the firmament, although the Hebrew word describes something like beaten brass, the Hebrews recognized that birds fly through it. So, although it might have appeared to them that the sky was like a polished and beaten brass, and so called it raquia, they understood that was not actually a hardened surface. Their us of raquia was phenomenological. Likewise, the language that speaks of the sun rising, I also take as phenomenological. Just as today, when we speak of a beautiful sunrise or sunset, we are not purporting that the sun goes around the earth.

    What do you suppose is the phenomenological language in the Bible that speaks of the theory of evolution and the common descent of all creatures? There is a structure that runs throughout Genesis (including chapters 1-11 as well as 12-50) that seems to me to indicate that the book is cast as a whole, not as two very different kinds of literature. Genesis 12-50 does not strike me as phenomenological ~ why should I think that 1-11 are?

    Tell me, when you go to read an old book, say Chaucer or Shakespeare, do you first ask whether you believe in the theory of evolution before you try to understand what you are reading?

  • T #49,

    Seeing that the theory of evolution is a very controversial issue among Christians today, do you think we should do whatever we can to approached the Scriptures in the most unbiased way possible, so that we can understand the Scriptures in their own terms and in their own context? Or do you really suppose that it is much more better to approach those ancient texts by front-loading yourself with prior commitment to such a controversial theory and endeavor to do what you can to conform, to tame the Scriptures to your view, and ignore what the Scriptures might mean on their own terms and in their own context?

    Should Luther, and whoever else care to bring up, have made a prior commitment to heliocentrism before he approached the Scriptures?

    Should YECs, when they want reconsider Genesis fresh, go at it insisting on looking at it through their prior commitment, or would it not be better for them to set aside the bias as much as possible and see what the it means apart from the evolution debate?

    When a judge tries a case, should he ask himself before he enters the courtroom, “Do I think the defendant is guilty or innocent?” and then try the case according to that initial answer?

  • DRT

    Jeff, I think I hear your point, and sure it makes sense for us to look at what it meant to the first century hearer. That definitely sounds useful to me.

    But I also think it is useful to look at it in light of our much better understanding of the way things actually work. Why do you deny that? It seems obvious to do that.

    Don’t we need to do both and see where it leads us?

    In this case Peter is exploring where it leads once you concede evolution. There is nothing wrong with that per my statements above.

  • DRT

    Just to be clear, I am advovating a both/and approach. That seems to be the obvious winner.

  • T


    I hear you. I don’t think we should just buy into anything lightly, evolution or YEC or anything in between. We should try to be open minded to valid arguments, wherever their source. I’m not saying that the chart is a good format for everyone’s decision-making process. But I do think that many people have done years and maybe decades of work with and around the evidence for an old earth. For those people who later either come to faith in Christ or are just now thinking of reconciling their faith with the age of the earth data, it is unfair to simply call their existing knowledge on the age of the earth a “bias.” Not that we can’t all attempt to hold everything we know loosely, but I would expect a geologist to place a very high burden of proof on anyone who argues that the earth is just 10,000 years old. A conservative Christian non-scientist may have very little reason, very little evidence in mind, to even question a literal, purely historical reading of Genesis that supports a young earth theory. Whereas a geologist would have perhaps a ridiculous amount of evidence that make it as impossible as the idea of the sun orbiting the earth. For him or her, it would be natural to think that the problems with interpreting Genesis would have to be fewer and easier to overcome than the geological evidence for an old earth. Such a thought would not be “bias.” It would be a fair and appropriate thought given what they have.

    For my part, I am not committed right now to any particular theory of origins, other than God being behind it. Relevant to this discussion, I will say that inconsistencies b/n Gen. 1 and Gen. 2 were enough to make me question whether the Genesis account of origins was really intended by God to do provide a factual ordering of origiin events. The text itself is what provided the clearest evidence to me that my inherited interpretation of the text didn’t seem to match the text itself. I think it becomes difficult to treat the texts as conveying precise chronological historical information, when the narratives themselves create ambiguities on the precise chronological information in the first two chapters alone. So if we start with scripture, we are given, at best, an ambiguous picture of the order of events. Considering God’s amazing competence, this forces me to think that it is unlikely that giving us precise ordering of events was not God’s goal for this passage. Within that context, scientific data has more of a hearing with me.

  • Joe Canner

    It’s worth noting that before YECs came along, most Christians were quite happy to accept what science had to say about the age of the earth and the universe. They reconciled this with science with things like “Gap Theory” and “Day-Age Theory” (long before Hugh Ross, incidentally). Fundamentalists, in an attempt to stem the rising tide of secularism, naturalism, atheism, etc., threw out the baby with the bathwater by insisting that the Bible should be interpreted solely on its own terms, rather than side-by-side with science.

  • AHH

    Some of the comments (a ways back by now) seem to suggest that it is possible to interpret Scripture in a vacuum, without being informed by the world in which we and the Biblical writers live/lived. Of course this is a pipe dream.

    I agree that Enns’ flowchart is a little misleading in that it looks like one is choosing a path based only on scientific data before one looks at Scripture. I bet that isn’t what he means; he’s more sketching out logical options than giving something priority. Better is dialogue, where both Scripture and the natural world inform us simultaneously as we seek the truth. But such mutual dialogue is hard to draw in a flowchart.

    With that caveat (and rejecting his unfortunate use of “Biblical worldview” in a way likely to be misunderstood), it does seem as though Enns has done a good job of outlining the various options available for a Christian who is convinced by the overwhelming scientific evidence that humans are (physically!) connected to the rest of life via common ancestry.

    One could construct a similar chart for the options concerning an old Earth, or a heliocentric Solar System, or a round Earth, or any finding of science that is in tension with some readings of Scripture. When the evidence for something like that becomes overwhelming (as it did for these other examples long ago and has for human evolution in the last 50 years or so), Christians need a careful consideration of the options, rather than knee-jerk reactions or getting into situations where it seems the only options are to reject well-established science or reject faith.

  • DRT, once you decide where you want to go, you can find a lot of Scriptures you can use to take you there. Christians in the antebellum South found ways to support slavery from the Scriptures. I can imagine them coming up with a flow chart in which the first decision was whether they thought slavery was right, and then the rest of it proceeded to various ways they could read the Scriptures to allow for it. But that is not the way to read Scripture. We do not first decide what we want to believe and then look for Scriptures to support that ~ that is nothing more than a self-gratification.

  • T #54,

    The theory of evolution is not knowledge but an opinion. Scientists do not know that it happened this way, but they think it happened this way. They theorize it. I’m not downplaying theory, just recognizing that it is not the same thing as knowledge. So, when one approaches the Scriptures with the theory of evolution, one is approaching with that as a bias. It does not matter that they held that theory prior to coming to the Scriptures ~ just about all biases are like that; we don’t suddenly invent them when we come to a new situation.

    For a number of years, I was an OEC (Old Earth Creationist) and tried out a number of ways of reading the Scriptures so as to allow for that. I came to find all of those unpersuasive. In the process, I became a theistic evolutionist (TE) for about 5 years or so. I had a lot of ways to make the Scriptures read that way. Having solved the problem and tired of debating YECs about it, I set it on the back burner. When I came back to it, I found I was not longer persuaded by it. Rather, I found I was persuaded by YEC, a position I have held for about a dozen years or so now.

    However, I am willing to reconsider the OEC and TE points of view and have been reexamining the Scriptures concerning that. Not presently persuaded of either of those other views, though, my default position is YEC, which I am presently holding is a sort of suspension.

    Now, as I reconsider and reexamine the Scriptures, should I first decide which position I want to come out on and then try to harmonize the Scriptures to that? Because if I must commit to a position beforehand, I can tell you right now that that position would be YEC. So I am off Enns’ chart at the first question. Or would it not be better if I look at the Scriptures apart from, as much as possible, any of my former positions? Because, if my interest is not in finding out what the Scriptures mean on their own terms, I can pretty much harmonize anything to anything.

  • DRT

    Jeff, I think you are simply being irresponsible to refuse to consider the interpretation of scripture in light of the accepted perspective of origins and age of the earth. If you are leading others to do this I believe it is irresponsible. There have been clear and compelling arguments made by multiple people in this thread and you have seemingly decided to not think rationally (I suppose you would say that my presupposition for rational thought inherently biases me to accept science since you think it is rational to avoid it). I contend that, at this time, it is irrational to not acknowledge that it is valid to examine scripture in light of evolution.

    The effect of your insistance on this is that you are blocking other people from engaging in this activity (that is, discussing the scriptures in light of our best non-biblical evidence for reality) and I don’t think that is fair to everyone else.

  • DRT

    …just to be clear, my assertion in #59 does not require evolution to be correct, though I think it is in many cases. I am asserting it is valid to look at scripture in light of evolution given its standing.

  • Joe #55,

    The Gap Theory and the Day-Age Theory (I held first to one and then to the other back in my OEC days) came along when geologists adopted a new presupposition and began asserting long ages for the earth. Not everyone accepted. But that change in geology brought a radical change in how the Bible was interpreted. Before that, Christian theologians and students of the Word saw nothing in the Scriptures that indicated an old age for the earth. They were not responding to any textual necessity but were accomodating the new assumptions upon which geologists did their science. IOW, they were lettig science suddenly come in an drive their hermeneutics. So they strained around for a while, looking here and poking there until they found a couple of little hooks that could hang long ages one. But there are textual reasons why the Gap Theory does not work (which is finally why I gave it up), and the Day-Age Theory has a number of inconsistency issues with how paleontologists and evolutions portray origins (which is why I gave up the Day-Age theory). (I also tried Kline’s Framework theory but soon found that lacking as well.)

    I reject the idea that one is throwing out the baby with the bath water when one inteprets the Bible apart from the interpretations of a group of modern scientists. The opinions and interpretations of modern scientists, however well they represent the current state of their fields, never had anything to do with the Scriptures or what they meant to the ancient Hebrews and early Christians. They do not actually tell us anything about what the Scriptures mean; to introduce them into the flow chart of understanding the Bible, as Enns has done, results only in eisegesis ~ reading the opinions and interpretations of modern scientists into the ancient Hebrew Scriptures. Christianity can be harmonized to it, but only, as I have witnessed here at Jesus Creed for the past couple of years, by redefining or giving up historic Christian doctrines.

  • DRT accuses me of being both irresponsible and irrational because I am pretty much alone in my view at Jesus Creed (nothing really new about that) and I don’t fall down and agree with the general point of view here. I reject his accusations. Is there room for honest disagreement here, or must I fall in line with everyone else to be “responsible” and “rational.”

    DRT also thinks I am not being fair to everyone else, that I am “blocking other people from engaging in this activity.” My initial response was well in line with the topic of this thread, and I have endeavored to keep all my other repsonses in line with it. But because my initial posts have run afoul of the party line, there have been a number of people wanting to take issue with my view and directing their posts to me. My participation here today has largely been in response to those posts addressed to me. Should I have ignored them?

  • rjs


    You know I disagree with your position. I haven’t had time to engage in the conversation at all today because I’ve been in committee meetings all day (and every one can now feel sorry for me).

    But no – you should not have ignored the comments and you should put forth your strongest possible case. That is the only way we can ever move the discussion anywhere. (“Academic freedom”, even on a blog, has to allow open discussion (even though I misuse the term “academic freedom” here)).

  • rjs


    I think that day-age and gap theories are a direct response to scientific challenge. I don’t think either of these make much sense personally.

    But many, if not most, of the problems with Genesis 1-11 are not problems introduced by lack of concord with modern science – they are internal to the text and reflect a deep misunderstanding of the nature of scripture as the inspired word of God. Reading Genesis and other parts of scripture to be a completely self-consistent story in the fashion that many seem to want, which requires harmonizing divergent passages and reading deeply between the lines, makes no sense to me. When we have to do this it sets of red flags for me that we misunderstand the nature of scripture in the first place.

    Pete’s chart comes from a very specific context where he was asked to address a certain question – don’t read too much into it as a response to evolution. I rather doubt that Pete actually finds evolution the biggest challenge.

  • Whatever problems there may be in Genesis 1-11 do not require reading “deeply between the lines” to resolve. Nor do they require reading “deeply between the lines” for questions the text is not particularly concerned to answer. So I see no need for hyperextended harmonizations. Such explanations would raise red flags for me as well, which is why I don’t find Enns particularly persuasive ~ he seems to be trying too hard to make the theory of evolution fit to Scripture (or rather, Scripture fit to the theory of evolution) and too willing to give up bits of the historic Christian faith.

    But I agree that Enns does not find evolution to be the biggest challenge ~ he has clearly bought into it. But making it fit the book and getting people to wear the alterations ~ that’s the challenge. He knows that some folks are not ready to “ingest” it. But there’s a good reason for that: people are usually not willing to ingest something that has a lot of red flags around it.

    Enns may have a different context in mind for his flow chart, but I have gotten a lot of pushback here on my assertion that it is not a good hermeneutical method to approach the Scriptures by committing to a controversial position (such as the TOE) first and then adjusting one’s interpretation of Scripture to the initial decision.

  • DRT

    Jeff, you again seem to miss the point. I am arguing that it is valid for others to consider the bible in light of evolution. You can disagree with evolution, and that is fine, and you can disagree with the conclusions, and that is fine, but you are trying to argue that it is invalid to even think along these lines and your line of questioning is prohibiting others from thinking along these lines.

    rjs, I am very open to being corrected, but Jeff Doles is the one restricting the academic freedom.

  • DRT, I have restricted no ones “academic freedom” or any kind of freedom. I have no means to do so and seek no means to do so.

    My point is simply that it is not good hermeneutics to choose ones position first and then go to the Bible to find support for it ~ it does not result in good exegesis but rather in eisegesis. Just as it is improper for a judge to decide about the guilt or innocence of a defendant before he tries the case and then conduct the trial in such a way as to agree with his prior decision ~ it does not result in a fair verdict.

    You can bias yourself up as much as you want and make the Scriptures say whatever you want. I have not stopped you, nor will I. I will just not count such opinions as having any value.

  • Joe Canner

    Jeff #61: I don’t disagree with you about the day-age and gap theories, I was just showing that attempting to accommodate science is not a recent development. That doesn’t necessarily make it more credible; it’s just interesting to me.

    You keep referring to scientific findings as “opinions” and “interpretations”. If I were a professional scientist (like rjs, for example), I would find that incredibly dismissive and condescending. Yes, there is a wide variety of certainty associated with different scientific findings, but that doesn’t entitle us to dismiss them all with a wave of the hand. If anything, there is as much or more unanimity and certainty among scientists about findings in geology, astronomy, and certain aspects of biological evolution than there is among theologians about interpretations of Scripture.

  • DRT

    Jeff, What would have to be said for it to be permissible, despite truth, to explore here the academic possibility of a biblical analysis of the hypothesis that evolution is true?

    I concede you don’t think it is relevant.

  • DRT

    …and Jeff, let me be clear, I value other opinions and value yours. I just think your zest is getting in the way of conversation.

    I come here because there is a variety of opinion.

  • Craig Wright

    Why does anybody today believe that the earth revolves around the sun? It is not because of the Bible, but because of science.

  • Joe # 68,

    In things like the TOE and the age of the earth, things that cannot be directly observed, scientists are giving us interpretations of the facts. They give us interpretations of nature (you spoke about interpretations of nature in post #29). Theories, including the theory of evolution, are not facts but interpretations of facts, designed to account for the facts, and these interpretations are based upon presuppositions and philosophical assumptions made by people who are scientists but who are people nonetheless. They come to the table with certain opinions, presuppositions, even biases. That is not the same thing as Truth or even Knowledge, nor should it be treated as such. I am not suggesting that these opinions and interpretations should therefore be dismissed; I am just recognizing the nature of the enterprise. Science cannot guarantee us Truth; it gives us explanation which may be true or may also be false. Theories (such as TOE) are not statements of Truth; they are explanations. They are not even facts; they are explanations to account for observation of certain facts. A theory may be the best explanation going, but it is not Truth.

    So nature, and the facts of nature, are subject to interpretation just as Scripture and the facts of the texts are subject to interpretation. And interpretations are subject to falsification.

    A professional scientist should no more be offended to have their statements concerning nature described as “interpretations” and “opinions” than I should be offended to have my understanding of Scripture to be a matter of interpretation and opinion.

  • DRT #69, If one wants to find out whether the Bible teaches evolution, they should study Scripture to see whether it does, without first deciding that it does and then looking for evidence of it. Conclusions should come at the end of investigations, not at the beginning. Otherwise, one is begging the question, arguing in a circle. That may pass for sound logic in some quarters, but I don’t find it convincing.

    DRT #70, I have not stopped anyone else here from giving their opinion about anything. Indeed, everyone seems to feel free enought to tell me what they think about what I have said. And they have also been free to give their own responses quite apart from anything I have said. I like a variety of opinion, too. Mine is part of that variety. If people wish to interact with my opinion, they are free to do so and I will not hinder them. Should I not give my opinion here, DRT? And if people address me on my opinion, should I not respond? I’m not sure what you want me to do? You yourself keep addressing me ~ should I ignore you?

  • rjs


    The science that allows us to build and fly an airplane, develop an MRI, a SQUID, and a nuclear reactor is not separable from the science that allows us to say very concrete things about the age of the earth and even evolution. You can argue that evolution is based on indirect evidence and I will argue why I think it is completely persuasive – but the same is not true at all of the evidence for the age of the earth.

    You can assert that the bible tells us that the earth is young and therefore our conclusions are erroneous. Something in the nature of the entire universe changed dramatically with the fall. Fine – in this case science can say absolutely nothing. I think this is theologically very troublesome.

    But in the ordinary course of affairs science is not just interpretation and opinion. There are very pragmatic constraints on these so-called “interpretations and opinions.” Very unintuitive conclusions are often the result.

  • DRT

    Jeff#73 “….should I ignore you?” I actually appreciate that! The answer is you should keep posting and not ignore too. I can’t respond adequately tonight….

  • DRT

    Jeff, here is the ultimate. What I would like to do is engage in a conversation with you, where you contributed your talents, where you say something like “I know you all know that I don’t think evolution is correct, but given that we are assuming it is valid in this conversation then I feel that we have to view Adam as …..” That is what I hope to attain with you.

  • Chris


    rjs @74: I am not a scientist, but it does seem to me that the science that shows us how a 767 passenger jet can travel by air is different than the science that declares the universe is s many billions of years old. The plane flies, the estimate of the age of the earth continues to fluctuate. Saying that, however, I think scientists should continue to try to figure out what they can about the age of the universe–while the theologians should not–for there is nothing substantial in the Scriptures that gives solid grounds.

    But as a scientist, are you required to consider the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system? What if it wasn’t always uniform or closed? Is that a valid factor to consider as a scientist? Why couldn’t the fall have created a re-ordering of things? I am certainly not advocating a 10,000 year age–esp. for theologians.

    Just wondering. Cheers.

  • RJS #74,

    I did not say that your conclusions are erroneous. I don’t know if they are or not. I do know that I am not convinced of them. But what I have said is that they are intepretations and opinions based on presuppositions and philosophical assumptions. Not every scientists agrees with. Not every geologist agrees on the age of the earth or that it is ancient. Not everyone in the life sciences agrees on the theory of evolution. It is not like mathematics, where everybody agrees that 2+2=4. That is a mathematical fact. But the TOE and the age of the earth is a matter of interpretation and opinion.

    There is also a difference between things that can be observed and test and repeated, and things that cannot. Once cannot observe man being commonly descended with every other living thing, nor can one observe the universe being 16 billion years old ~ nobody has been around that long. Those things must be inferred by interpretation of the data and reasoning based on presuppositions and philosophical assumptions. They are not part of the “ordinary course of affairs” that can be repeated and observed; they are one-offs.

  • DRT #75-76. You be you and I’ll be me. I’ll post and not ignore those who address me, and you can do what you like with it all. I’ll contribute my talents by posting from my own point of view; there already seems to be enough who post from your point of view ~ at least one. I doubt that Scot or RJS want Jesus Creed to be nothing more than an echo chamber, all giving the same point of view. The gift I have to offer here, my unique contribution, is my own point of view. Take it or leave it, love it or hate it, push back or ignore it ~ I don’t much care which.

    The peace of the Lord be with you.

  • rjs


    The evidence for an old earth is essentially as strong as 2+2=4. It really isn’t “just interpretation and opinion”. Evolution is in a slightly different category. There is more “interpretation” there.

    You can find someone with some credential to disagree with anything. The important questions are Why? and What is the argument? and Does the argument make sense?

    James Tabor and the Jesus Dynasty – he has credential, but that doesn’t make him right. His peers (and others) don’t evaluate his credentials but his argument.

    Physics is on a lot firmer ground than this and the evidence for an old earth is all physics. The same physics that gives us the kinds of examples I used in the previous comment.

    That something like a SQUID works is not just mechanics or opinion and interpretation. It wasn’t developed because someone had an opinion that this was right. The physics and understanding that led to this is the same as the understanding that leads to our estimates for the age of the earth. Estimates yes – but not off by 4.6 billion years to make a 10000 year old earth. Error of percent size or less.

  • RJS, science always involves interpretation and opinion. The degree may very, but they are never absent. It also involves presuppositions and philosophical assumptions ~ which in themselves involve interpretation and opinion. We can scientists who disagree about geology and evolution and a number of other things, but show me mathematician who disagrees that 2+2=4. Neither the TOE nor theories on the ages of the earth or the universe are on the order of 2+2=4.

    Yes, when scientists disagree, there are important questions to ask: Why? What is the argument? Is the argument sound? Those are interpretive kinds of questions. One scientist will find on argument more compelling than another; another scientist will disagree. More interpretation, more opinion. I don’t doubt that there are some very good interpretations and opinions, but that goodness does not eradicate their nature as interpretations and opinions.

  • Steph

    I don’t think the current conversation is doing justice to the words Enns uses in his text. Let me reintroduce a few of them to the conversation.

    The main criticism so far seems to be that Enns is subjecting the biblical text to being interpreted through the lens of evolution and what we know about the world through the theory of evolution. The contention is that this is backwards and is a suspect approach. It’s bad hermeneutics to force the text to fit into evolutionary theory. One should let the Bible stand on its own terms.

    I think Enns would agree.

    Enns talks about “bringing Adam and evolution into serious conversation.” He’s placing the current state of our knowledge about origins *side by side* with the Bible’s statements about Adam, not trying to discard those statements or dilute their import. He speaks of “data” surrounding Adam: “Any attempt to account for Adam in an evolutionary scheme will have to account for ‘data.'” That is, we have to look at the data regarding the biblical Adam. There is no other one, and the primary source on him is the Bible. This is not an effort to discard the Bible or downplay its authority but to examine it closely and discard neither the Bible nor evolution.

    Yes, the world that produced the text of Genesis 1-3 is a world that knew not evolution. And yet Enns still is looking for truth in that text. He wants to “do justice to both” evolution and Adam, not marginalize Adam. And he outright rejects the historical Adam approach that would try to force-fit Adam into the evolutionary story, criticizing it as ad hoc. I don’t think he’s after a backwards hermeneutics.

    When he discusses the historical view of Adam as a hominid or group of hominids, he clarifies what his approach to this conversation between Adam and evolution is. There is no room for ideas “that are invented for the sole purpose of finding some way to align the Bible and science.” In other words, evolution does not provide a new hermeneutics. The new hermeneutics is based on bringing both Adam (the biblical Adam because, again, there is no other) and evolution to the table. He wants to examine “the Adam that the biblical authors were talking about.” (He therefore rejects the new historical Adam produced by the ad hoc attempt to mesh the Biblical account with evolution.)

  • Val

    Sorry, not sure if I am repeating anything here, but from my readings some things seem unclear to some of the commenters. First, the reason Adam and Eve have to be reevaluated is because of a common misunderstanding among the general population that new species evolve by one breeding pair branching off to become a new species. Not so. Like all species, humans evolved as an isolated (or niche) population from their ancestoral hominids (I think Homo Erectus, but I may be wrong). Our current population shows that all humans did NOT descend from one single breeding pair of humans (bye-bye literal Adam and Eve). This is easily tested both in evolutionary models and human specific models. Not only did Humans not evolve from one breeding pair, the mammals aboard the Ark were never down to one breeding pair either (again, genetics).

    This is why accepting science requires a reworking of a literal Adam figure. Just a few lose ends to tie up. In science, unlike literature, a theory is accepted as knowledge because it stands up to repeated tests over time. Gravity is a theory – do you doubt it? Second. Eve was not created by God while Adam evolved. We do have a Mitochondrial Eve in our lineage, but she inherited her mitochondrial DNA from a pre-modern human (mito. DNA goes way back, and is not part of our DNA genome, but separate and only passed down by women), so she is definitely related to the apes. Check out the Biologs blog – where Peter Enns writes many articles – for further info and especially look at the article on Mitochondrial Eve and Y chromosome Adam to see why these are not one breeding pair at the dawn of humanity. Just common ancestors (we have a few of these, but we were never below thousands of humans in our history – 200,000 years, give or take). Finally, and this confuses everyone, we did just one generation become modern humans. We evolved. Think about your grandparents, can you see much difference between them and you? well, our ancestors didn’t either, yet slowly but surely humans evolved and improved in knowledge until they were modern humans (with our brain capacity, and physical features). It didn’t happen in one generation, it happened incrementally over thousands of years. *Think back 8,000 years ago. What was the world like? The only area practicing sustainable agriculture was Mesopotamia, everywhere else was at least semi-nomadic (relying on non-farmed food sources). So, if we go back 8,000 years, the only recognizable place to us would have been Iraq. Everywhere else people were living off the land, metal was only used for decoration, stone tools were the norm. Clothing was only used if necessary. Would we even recognize these people as modern humans? Well, now add hundreds of thousands of years. People changed dramatically. Tools improved, fire was invented, some people left sub-saharan Africa. Previous to this, humans were as advanced as their Neanderthal cousins in Eurasia or their Homo Erectus cousins on the Asian Steps, yet bit by bit over thousands of years, humans advanced and changed. They didn’t notice it, but they eventually became so superior in knowledge and intelligence they out-competed all the other non-Homo Sapien Sapien cousins. Neanderthal only died out 30,000 years ago.* So, we don’t really have a first human anything (couple, population). The way the Bible tells us, God breathed into Adam, whatever that means. That might be a better way to define our start. A first encounter with God rather than a first human pair.

  • rjs


    There is interpretation and there is interpretation. There is interpretation involved in writing and understanding the equation 2+2=4 or F=ma including a knowledge of the realm of the equation and the meaning of the symbols. You are using the word to introduce uncertainty and give a justification for doubting and possibly disregarding something as not to be trusted.

    The “interpretation” behind the evidence for the age of the earth is no more untrustworthy than the “interpretation” that allows us to build airplanes, televisions, and SQUIDS or MRI’s. The latter two rely on quantum mechanical properties of matter for their function. A completely nonintuitive reality.

    The answer to a scientific question is not which scientist(s) finds which explanation more compelling – but what works. It is entirely pragmatic in this sense. The physics behind an age of the earth estimate is not separable from the physics that makes a whole myriad of things “work.” It isn’t “history” in the way that, say, some of evolutionary theory or all of ANE studies are.

    Evolutionary biology as relevant here tries to trace a history of how we got to the present – but the age of the earth is what we have now, as the comparison of genomes is what we have now from which a specific track in history can be deduced. This is why I freely admit that we can’t tell if there was some complete change in the laws of physics or abrupt violation of the laws of physics. But I find such a conclusion theologically troubling for reasons I’ve described before.

    There is far more interpretation involved in the translation of an ANE text into English, any attempt to get into the mind of the original authors or the original readers or hearers. There is far more interpretation and opinion involved in determining when and for what purpose the text was written. The text of Genesis is the word of God, part of the scriptures that have been preserved for us, suitable for training and teaching, growing in wisdom and stature – but it was written thousands of years ago in a different culture and not for all of the purposes to which we put it.

    I am not going to have time today to continue this any further. So you can have the last word if you wish to respond.

  • rjs


    Thanks – I think you are right here about Enns. This will be worth discussing much more completely when his book comes out. (And we will certainly look at the book carefully.)

  • rjs


    Good points about the discussion of human evolution. This is part of the whole picture.

  • Steph #82

    “The new hermeneutics is based on bringing both Adam (the biblical Adam because, again, there is no other) and evolution to the table.”

    That is precisely the problem. It is not based on discovering the meaning of the text in its own terms, its own context, its own situation. It tries to bring something to the table that was not contemplated, nor even accessible, to the writers of Scripture. It seeks to interpret these ancient writings as if the theory of evolution were somehow at the table when they were written and the writers somehow took it it into account. But it was not at the table, nor did the writes leave an empty chair for it as if they knew it would someday come along. It did not enter into their thinking, or into their writing. So, if we to bring it to the table when interpreting the Scriptures, we have ceased discovering what the text means and have begun inserting what we would like it to mean. We are changing the meaning of the text to serve our purposes. And if we cannot make the text stretch to fit evolution, then we fault the writer. So, Enns, unable to make Paul come into line with what Enns wants to find, then Paul must have got it wrong. I believe Paul knows more about the biblical, which is Adam as the Bible tells us about him, than Enns does. This new hermeneutical move is not designed to bring the biblical Adam to the table, but Adam as Enns would like find him, regardless of what the Bible has to say about him.

  • RJS #84,

    “There is interpretation and there is interpretation.”

    Interpretation is interpretation is interpretation. It always retains the nature of interpretation and never becomes that which it interprets. Christians often mistake their interpretation of Scripture for Scripture itself, and will say “The Bible says …” when they have actually only given us their interpretation of what the Bible says.

    Interpretation is always based on presuppositions and philosophical assumptions, which things are themselves interpretations and opinions.

    You have given us your interpretation and opinion about all these things. And it is obvious you value scientific interpretations and opinions very highly. I do not say that they should not be valued. Some interpretations and opinions are better than others, some more trustworthy than others, and we should seek out the best ones. But at the end of the day, interpretations and opinions are still interpretations and opinions.

  • Tim


    I would focus on this part of your statement, “Some interpretations and opinions are better than others, some more trustworthy than others.”

    There are some means that we establish which interpretations are more “trustworthy” or supportable than others. For instance, predictive validity is kind of a big deal in science. And the more you have of it, the more supportable and “trustworthy” your conclusions are. I have yet to see anything even remotely so robust with respect to individual interpretation of scripture.

  • Tim #89, my point has not been that the interpretation of Scripture is exactly the same kind of thing as the interpretation of nature. My point is that the scientific method is, from the ground up, largely an interpretive matter. It begins with presuppositions and philosophical assumptions ~ the underlying philosophies of science. And it is evident in the theory of evolution, which is not itself a fact but rather an explanation, an interpretation designed to account for certain observed facts.

    This discussion of science as interpretation came up as a side issue in this thread when I noted that Joe Canner spoke of the interpretation of Scripture and also the interpretation of nature, in #29. I picked up on “interpretation of nature,” and took that to be a reference to, and a good description of, the natural sciences. The natural sciences give us an interpretation of nature. Then I was advised that speaking of science as interpretation might be offensive to professionals such as RJS. My purpose is not to offend, but I think we ought always be aware, and science professionals should freely admit without shame, that the scientific method is based on a philosophy with certain presuppositions and assumptions. The philosophy may vary in some of its philosophy from one scientist to the next, but there is always a philosophy underneath which guides the enterprise according to certain presuppositions and assumptions. Those philosophies, presuppositions and assumptions themselves involve interpretations and opinions on how the method ought to go. Science is not about the eternal verities, which are matters of religious faith. But when people of science want their discipline to be thought of less like interpretations and opinions and more along the lines of eternal verities, they are in danger of holding their science as a religion. From my point of view as a Christian, that would be idolatry. Now, I am not suggesting that anyone here has done that. But I will remind people that science is an interpretive process based on a fallible philosophy with presuppositions and assumptions and practiced by people who are themselves fallible and subject to bias.

  • EricW

    I don’t think the scientific method can be charged with or characterized as being “based on a philosophy with certain presuppositions and assumptions” that “involve interpretations and opinions on how the method ought to go” without also admitting that Scripture interpretation is “guilty” of the same.

  • Tim


    Science, as a human enterprise, of course involves interpretation. But what I think you’re missing is that validating predictions is a reality-check. Reality doesn’t care about our presuppositions. It offers us a brutal, cold, hard appraisal of whether or not our predicted outcome is realized. Take all the “naturalistic” presuppositions you want. The universe doesn’t care and will dispose of plenty a treasured hypothesis. My point is that there does not seem to be a similarly robust reality-checking mechanism for theology or scriptural interpretation. So what I think you’re doing is equivocating between “interpretative” enterprises of greatly differing strengths.

  • EricW

    And as Tim @ 92. comments, the scientific method has a self-correcting mechanism – reality and testing and retesting of hypotheses – that Scriptural hermeneutics may sometimes lack. One attempt to test one’s hermeneutic of Scripture – e.g., is one correctly interpreting and understanding the “Adam” passages – is bringing to bear on the passages what we know or have learned re: the things the Genesis passages discuss, whether it’s things we’ve learned about ANE culture and language or things we’ve learned about the flora and fauna and processes the early chapters of Genesis discuss. I don’t think it’s of deciding importance whether or not the Biblical authors knew the things about their world that we now know or have deduced or discovered in determining whether or not we can or should read those passages in light of the knowledge and understanding we now have.

  • EricW #91,

    Perhaps you have missed it here and elsewhere, but I freely admit that Scripture interpretation is indeed a matter of interpretation. As I have said here before at Jesus Creed: Just as there is no such thing as an uninterpreted fact, there is also no such thing as an uninterpreted Scripture. And out interpretations, whether of Scripture or of nature, always involved presuppositions and assumptions and a philosophy. So there is no shame, no “guilt” in recognizing that interpretation and presuppositions and assumptions and philosophies. And so there should be no offense that such are present in science as well as in our approach to Scripture. Everyone views the data, whether of Scripture or the data of nature, through a lens and plots it out on an interpretive grid. It cannot be helped; it is part of how we process information ~ or rather, how we plot data so that it becomes informative for us.

  • Tim


    That is a good point, but the on a purely hermeneutical level, you don’t see the same ability to achieve broad consensus for many areas of scriptural interpretation. You are able to achieve well above 99% consensus on matters pertaining to well established facts and theories in science due to the empirical evidence (incl., most importantly, validated predictions). You see scientists change their views to accommodate the evidence (even if it takes a little while, they eventually get there). However, how does scriptural interpretation match up here? It’s not even close. Also, validating scripture itself lacks robust reality-checking mechanisms, even should you arrive at the most accurate meaning of the text.

  • EricW

    @ Tim 95.: My response #93. basically affirms what you just wrote re: the rigor and testability and correcting mechanism of the scientific method versus the more subjective method and lack of a norming authority when it comes to Scripture interpretation.

  • Time #92, No I have not missed that. Validating predictions can be a a reality-check. But even then, interpretations and presuppositions can be involved, for instance, in the way anomalies are dealt with. Do they falsify a theory because they do not behave as predicted, or are they tabled as unexplained, unexpected results? There may be justification for either handling, but that is a decision that needs to be made, and that decision will involve the presuppositions and assumptions of one’s particular philosophy of science. And, of course, because scientists remain human and fallible, bias may entere in. And even results must be interpreted ~ if they were not interpreted, we would not have any idea of their meaning or significance. And that is what interpretation does ~ it attributes certain meanings and significances to what one observes. That is just as true in science as in Bible study and any other discipline. Otherwise we would simply have a collection of data that does not inform.

  • Tim

    Jeff, there is a relative weight to interpretation here with respect to scientific predictive evidence. Yes there is some latitude. On an individual level, there is some room to rationalize the data. However, given the peer-review and collaborative (and challenging) methods of scientists, one persons rationalizations can be shattered by another competent scientists further investigations. This is why such high level of consensus exists (eventually) on well supported scientific fact & theory.

    So, the interpretative “weight” that may go in to the equation on evaluating mountains of scientific predictive evidence in support of a fact, law, or central tenet of a theory is orders of magnitude less than the interpretative “weight” behind, say, interpreting the meaning of Genesis 2-3.

  • Tim #98, Yes, the interpretive weight can vary. Have I not already indicated my agreement with that above? And yes, there are also difference between the interpretation of Scripture and the interpretation of nature ~ I think I also indicated that above. There are also some basic similarities; for example, the principle of parsimony and giving good account for all the observed data. Good hermeneutics, I believe, involves a bit of a science as well as an art. The interpretation of Scripture and the interpretation of nature are two different enterprises, no doubt. But still involved in both of them, at the beginning and at the end, as well as along the way, is interpretation based upon presuppositions and philosophical assumptions, practiced by fallible human beings who are subject, both individually and collectively, to biases. Without a basic philosophy, how would anyone know how to proceed in either endeavor? Without interpretation of results, how would anyone know what they mean or signify?

  • CJ Tan

    Anyone has any thoughts on John H. Walton’s approach to Genesis 1-2?

    It seems that his perspective is that the Genesis creation story does not necessarily address our modern concerns with the mechanics of material creation via evolution or alternatives.

    Rather it is about how God creates by giving functional worth/meaning to creation (i.e. functional creation rather than material creation) – all of this in the context of creating the cosmos as His dwelling place/temple. Walton links the 7-day creation story with similar ANE cosmoslogy surrounding a temple inauguration ceremony.

    The essense of the creation story is then about God creating a place for His dwelling and reign rather than to provide a scientific treatise of material creation.

  • scotmcknight

    CJ Tan, we’ve gone through that book at length on this blog.

  • Tim


    Again, I think you are using very broad strokes here on “interpretation” to equivocate between science and religion. You seem to pay lip service to the idea that interpretation can vary in weight depending on the endeavor, but that’s about as far as you go. I think what you’re doing is analogous to claiming that as puddles and oceans are both bodies of water, we should treat them similarly in our understanding of water. While puddles certainly do contain water, and with wind could even have some waves, at no point do we expect to see a hurricane come out of them. Same thing with science. You’ll never get the robust validation and consensus similar to what you have for, say, Heliocentrism, Atomic Theory, or Germ Theory as you will for Scriptural interpretive validity (and ultimate validity). It would be like a hurricane coming out of a puddle. It has never happened, and never will happen. Why? Because there is just too much room for people to engage in wishful and speculative thinking in religious contexts, whereas in science, while those same basic tendencies do remain the checks on those tendencies go a very loooooooong way in mitigating.

  • Tim #102,

    There can be great differences from situation to situation, between the interpretation of Scripture and the interpretation of nature, and also great differences among and within the sciences themselves. But none of what you have said removes the fact that science is based upon presuppositions and philosophical assumptions and that its results must always be interpreted in order to turn data into information. Such interpretations must always be made human beings who are not only fallible but also subject, collectively as well as individually, to biases. I know of know science philosophy that posits divine inspiration or an infallible magisterium (and I would not trust one that did). So we are stuck with fallible human beings. Science cannot bring us metaphysical truth or yield us eternal verities. It does no present us with that kind of certainty. You are more than welcome to accept all the conclusions you find convincing, and I will do the same. But ultimately, they are still interpretations and opinions based in presuppositions and philosophical assumptions and rendered by fallible human beings who are subject to bias. I think we’ve come around this same mountain a few times now and I’m not interested in continuing around it some more. If we disagree, we disagree.

    I have not said that any of it is wrong; I have merely pointed out the nature of it. However, I am simply not convinced of the theory of evolution or of an old creation. I am giving room in my thinking for the minority viewpoints of scientists who have brought some interesting things to light.

    But all that is a different matter from discovering what the Scriptures have to say about creation. My training, after all, has been in Bible, not the sciences. It is from that perspective, to get back on topic, that I found the flow chart in the opening post to be lacking and upside down. I can see that perhaps Enns did not mean it that way in his context, but there have also been many here who support the idea that I find upside down, that of deciding first and then looking to conform the interpretation of the evidence to that prior commitment. That kind of approach has no more place in the interpretation of Scripture than it does in the sciences.

  • Tim


    Validation of predictions is not based on or particularly vulnerable to presuppositions. For instance, we are looking for the Higgs Boson right now in the CERN Large Hadron Collider. We can bring all the presuppositions we like to the table, but ultimately the universe is going to confirm our prediction or disconfirm it. Presuppositions not withstanding. Philosophical assumptions notwithstanding. You are taking what is a starting point in science and then pretending that it is the whole thing. You completely miss the fact of how stunningly successful predictive validity has been in discarding erroneous scientific ideas and supporting more accurate ones.

  • Tim # 104,

    The starting point, the underlying philosophy of science is not merely incidental to it. It guides how a science proceeds along the way and how results are interpreted at the end. Take the conclusions of scientists as authoritative truth, if you want. That is not my concern. Perhaps they are all right. It is still interpretation …

    That’s my last time around that mountain; if you wish to continue, just go back and read my previous posts. Or go out, find a horse and whip it until you think it is dead.

    My area of concern here is with interpreting the Bible. I am not concerned about allowing the theory of evolution place in the Bible or in keeping it out. I am concerned that we see what the Bible says on its own terms and in its own context (including cultural and historical). We should not stretch the text, or our interpretation of it, in order to include or exclude the theory of evolution. Let us seek to read the Scripture without any prior commitment to do one or the other.

  • Tim


    Who ever said any starting point is incidental? I’m not debating that point. This is one of the reasons why we stress humility in science and a willingness to always re-evaluate the evidence, no matter how invested or sure we may otherwise be. What I do see, however, you doing is completely minimizing the value of predictive validity to serve as a (very powerful) check against the biases involved in this start point. The further along testing of a theory progresses, the more effective these checks.

    It seems to me that what you’ve found for yourself is the sledgehammer of presuppositional apologetic with which you feel enabled to whack aside expert consensus as if it was nothing but a mere trifling thing. I can appreciate your unwillingness to give up this apologetic tool as it allows you to comfortable retain those views most important to you. But if our scientists worked this way, we’d wouldn’t be corresponding on computers right now.

  • Tim #106,

    Your assessment of my position is inaccurate. But think what you wish. I’m done with that side discussion.

    Peace be with you.

  • Along with AHH (#56) I think the discussion is making a mountain out of a molehill when it comes to the flow chart. If you read Enns’ blog entry (, you’ll see that he is talking about logical possibilities and how to sort them out. He states that he was helping pastors think through the options by laying them out clearly. He also said most of the pastors already accepted evolution.

    As I see it, the flowchart does not imply that we decide on evolution in a vacuum, with no input from scripture. As Enns clearly states, It simply says that IF we accept evolution there are certain logical options about Adam, and if we do NOT accept evolution but accept the literal Genesis account, then there are other logical options.

    Through the flowchart and the discussion Enns is saying, in essence, “If you accept a literal Genesis and reject evolution [for whatever reasons], fine, here are the issues you will have to deal with (including rejecting the scientific evidence).” That seems to fit what Jeff Doles is doing and his approach fits exactly within this logical flowchart.

  • Mike #108,

    I am off the flow chart at the first question. But the problem of the flow chart, is that it seems to encourage those who accept the theory of evolution to then go to Scripture and see how they can change or adapt their interpretation to fit the theory of evolution. But taking that kind of approach is not how one goes about determining what a Scripture means; that is how one goes about making the Scripture mean what one wants it to mean. That is not exegesis, drawing out the meaning inherent in the text; that is eisegesis, inserting an alien meaning into the text. When I insert my own preferred meaning into the text, the text merely becomes a reflection of me and ceases to speak to me what the author intended.

  • DRT

    Jeff#109 says “When I insert my own preferred meaning into the text, the text “….and I finish the statement for him. The text with Jeff inserted has Jesus standing on the mount saying ‘blessed are those who are presuppositionless, for they will be without errant conclusions. Blessed are those without underlying philosophies, for they will be pure. Blessed are the YEC, for they withstood the evil of experimentation”

    All in jest Jeff.

  • I’ve been reading along with the comments here for what is on the main a very interesting hermeneutical back and forth.

    For what it’s worth, Jeff Doles, I will say that you have not understood the flow chart. I am not starting with evolution and forcing the Bible into that mold. Numerous people have pointed that out to you. In comment 108 to Mike you speak of the importance of drawing out an author’s intention. Well, this author is right here telling you that you are mistaken.

    Try looking at it in the way that others are encouraging you to see it: given the reality of evolution (which i accept), what do we do with the biblical story of Adam? This is a valid, I would say pressing question, and it is most certainly not eisegesis–at least no more than saying, “given the reality of heliocentricity, what do we do with the geocentricity assumed and spoken of in the Bible?”

    As for another issue that has been mentioned, by “leaving the biblical worldview” I certainly mean what rjs has perceived: by accepting evolution we have left the biblical view of human origins. And we have.

  • EricW

    Thanks, Pete, for joining the discussion and clearing up some misunderstandings, as well as taking the time to set forth your arguments on your blog.

  • Thank you for your “For what it’s worth,” Pete #111.

    As you might have noticed if you read all the comments here, I have a couple times acknowledged that, in the context in which you presented this flow chart, you probably did not intend to set the TOE as the starting point for interpreting the Scriptures. As a matter of presentation, though, I think that your flow chart might not be such a good idea because it makes it seem like, “Well, I wanted to make room for the TOE in the Bible, and here is how I did it.” I don’t think that was the way you actually went about it, but the chart gives that impression. Do you find that the chart helped you any with those pastors who were not prepared to “ingest” your views? I’m all for you coming to your own conclusions. I’m all for you showing your work, your exegesis, what you learned of the context, the culture, the history of the various texts, and etc., and then presenting your conclusions. Then everyone can decide for themselves whether or not they find your exegesis, your arguments, your conclusions to be compelling. But the rhetorical device of the flow, with its first question … well, I expect it gets in the way.

    All that aside, the real problem I have seen in the conversation here is that there are people who actually do advocate interpreting the Scriptures through the lens of the theory of evolution, as if that modern theory was accessible to the ancient Hebrew writers and their audience, and a part of how they understood the world. And THAT is what throws up red flags for me.

    Whether the theory of evolution is true or not, I think what we do with the biblical story of Adam is to look for how the Bible understands him, quite apart from the theory of evolution, which was not a consideration for the writer or his audience, and let the chips fall where they may. If it leaves room for the TOE, then it leaves room; and if it does not, then it does not. Then one will have to decide whether one believes or disbelieves what the Bible teaches about Adam, or live with the tension between the Bible and the TOE. But to view the Bible through the lens of TOE seems to me to taint the process. Look through pink lenses and, behold, everything looks pink. Want everything to have a blue cast? Put on blue glasses. Look at the Bible with TOE goggles, and its easier to find room for TOE in the Bible. But that sounds too much like deciding on one’s conclusion first and then trying to buck it up with something in the Bible. To make the TOE part of the interpretive process is to introduce something extraneous, something alien to the Bible into the mix.

    So, if you like to deal with hypotheticals, What if you considered the biblical story of Adam apart from whether or not you thought the theory of evolution was true ~ what do you think it would look like? Is that a possibility for you? And what would that flow chart look like?

  • Good one, DRT #110. Even though it is not accurate, it’s witty.

  • EricW

    All that aside, the real problem I have seen in the conversation here is that there are people who actually do advocate interpreting the Scriptures through the lens of the theory of evolution, as if that modern theory was accessible to the ancient Hebrew writers and their audience, and a part of how they understood the world. And THAT is what throws up red flags for me.

    Are they advocating that? Or are they advocating bringing evolutionary science and theory, and anything or everything else we know that might impact the understanding of the text, into the discussion of what the creation chapters of Genesis mean or might mean, and how they should be understood or how they could have been understood?

  • Val

    And Jeff @#113, you forgot… ‘look through “realism” glasses and the mythical will appear literal.’

  • Jeff, you say, “I am off the flow chart at the first question.” Fine, what’s wrong with that? That’s why the flow chart has that first choice point. If you don’t accept evolution, then there’s no reason to go any further into the alternatives presented.

    As far as I can tell, you still have not responded to the many people who have asked how you would handle geocentrism. We know everyone thought geocentrically until recently and there is no evidence that God inspired the writers of Scripture to write “scientifically” rather than following their common understanding. By your argument, don’t we have to analyze the meaning of Scripture without any reference to modern theories of astronomy? How can we come to it with the presupposition that scientists are right in this area? Obviously heliocentrism and evolution are not exactly comparable, but still, your method should be able to explain why you accept the one (if you do) and not the other.

  • EricW #115,

    Yes, that is what is being advocated. That is certainly what Enns seem to be suggesting when has ask what do we do with the biblical story of Adam, “given the reality of evolution.” It sounds like he wants me to look at the what that Bible has to say through the lens of evolution. But certainly others here have advocated looking at the Bible through evolution. What does T #41 mean when he advocates “letting scientific discoveries inform how we read such passages,” if not reading the Scripture through “scientific discoveries” ~ discoveries which we not accessible to the authors of the Bible? DRT speaks similarly at #52, and at #59 contends, “at this time, it is irrational to not acknowledge that it is valid to examine scripture in light of evolution.”

    But none of the modern discoveries in the natural sciences or the theory of evolution we available to the authors of Scriptures, the ancient Hebrews, the early Church up until modern times. They tell us nothing about how the authors would have though or those hearers and readers would have understood the Scriptures. So bringing in those modern discoveries would be introducing extraneous and alien things into the interpretive process. You might as well try to understand the meaning of Scripture by looking at it through the lens of the combustible engine, the microwave oven or the helicopter. None of those things would have had any meaning to the ancient Hebrews and early Christians. Neither would the TOE or modern discoveries in the natural sciences. They do not clarify the meaning of Scripture, they obscure it. To bring them into the interpretive process results only in introducing our own ideas into the texts.

    ANE studies are helpful to understanding Scripture as the ancients would have understood it. So are Second Temple Era studies, and the study of the ancient languages in the region. Those inform us of the times and the culture and how they might have understood the world. But modern theories like TOE and modern natural discoveries tell us nothing of that.

  • Val #116,

    You are very wide of the mark. I don’t put up with cheap shots for long. If you have a substantive comment, I would be happy to consider it. But comments such as you made above serve only to misrepresent.

  • EricW

    I don’t think one has to limit the study of the Scriptures to how the original audience would have understood it. The translators of the LXX didn’t understand Genesis as Abraham or Enoch would have. Did Philo or Augustine limit their understanding or possible meaning of the text to what Moses would have known? The NT authors sometimes introduce meanings to passages that were not the grammatical-historical ones.

    I may be jumping the tracks, though.

  • Mike Blyth #117, I have already answered the concerns of both questions elsewhere in the thread.

  • Jeff. Right–the meaning of the text, what mattered, did not require modern scientific knowledge. We can (to some extent) understand what would have been conveyed to the hearers, and modern science does not change that message. Right–we don’t need evolution to understand that God created the universe, that he is one and rational, holy, etc. I don’t think anyone is saying we need to understand evolution to make sense of all that. Your very point, combined with the evidence for an old earth etc., implies that what mattered was not the scientific explanation but something else.

  • Jeff, you say

    “Yes, that is what is being advocated. That is certainly what Enns seem to be suggesting when has ask what do we do with the biblical story of Adam, “given the reality of evolution.” It sounds like he wants me to look at the what that Bible has to say through the lens of evolution.”

    You continue along this path and so are missing entirely the point I am making. Evolution is not a “lense” for reading Genesis. Look at my other flow chart where I give the three contexts. Those are the lenses.

    Once again (and for the last time, for me), evolution prompts the question “what do we do with the biblical Adam,” which is analogous to heliocentrism prompting “what do we do with biblical geocentrism.”

  • Jeff #121, sorry, I don’t see where you answered about heliocentrism other than to ask whether Luther “should have made a prior commitment to heliocentrism before he approached the Scriptures” (#51). Could you point me to the right post or just briefly explain how you see the difference?

  • EricW, if you began reading the Scriptures through modern scientific discoveries or theories and introducing any new meaning that you fancied into the text, I think you soon would be jumping the tracks. You would no longer be hearing what the Bible has to say ~ it would be drowned out by what Eric has to say.

    The NT authors often did not interpret the OT according to grammatical-historical method. They found Jesus in the sweep of the Law and the Prophets and the Writings, because that is what Jesus taught. He is not just the fulfillment of a small passage here or a bit of text there ~ He is the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures as a whole. But where do we find the theory of evolution in the sweep of the Hebrew Scriptures? Or where did Jesus go throughout the Hebrew Scriptures teaching about the theory of evolution?

  • Jeff, why do you keep speaking as if people are trying to say that the Scripture speaks about evolution? No one is saying that.

    Also, why did you call Val’s remark a cheap shot? I think the point was simply that a presupposition of literalism is just as much a lens as the others you describe. Do you not agree?

  • Mike Blyth #124,

    If I speak of a beautiful sunrise or sunset, am I advocating geocentrism? Is my statement wrong? Am I being metaphorical or literal? From my perspective, the sun does rise and set. I don’t find anywhere the Bible teaching that the sun goes round the earth.

  • Val

    Thanks Mike Blyth (126) Jeff, you are saying that we are all reading the scripture through the lens of evolution, but applying biblical literalism didn’t begin till the age of Enlightenment, people didn’t believe Eden was on this earth, since God rendered it unfindable (ie. any description of the place was not only non-literal but intentionally obscure because it was no longer possible for people to find Paradise until post-death).

    And what on earth do you mean “I don’t put up with cheap shots for long?” It isn’t cheap (it is right on target) and if it wasn’t what the h@ll would you try to do about it? – are you threatening me? If you are, you’re pathetic.

  • EricW

    Now that Pete Enns has weighed in twice to correct and clarify any misunderstandings about what he meant, we know which arguments and statements here are valid and on topic and which are not.

  • Pete Enns #123,

    Your question to me was, “given the reality of evolution … what do we do with the biblical story of Adam?”

    That would be bearing the theory of evolution in mind as we think about the biblical story of Adam. Or what would the biblical story of Adam mean in light of, or in view of, the theory of evolution. Is that a fair restatement of your question?

    If so, it sounds to me like you desire me to look at what the Bible has to say about Adam viewing it through the “reality of evolution.” To think about the biblical story of adam in terms of the theory of evolution. Is that correct?

    Then to me, that sounds like you want me to look at the what Bible has to say about Adam and look at it through the theory of evolution. And when I look at at one thing through another, that suggests the analogy of a lens.

    Which is why I have answered as I have.

    Since I have already given you my answer to that question in #113, I will move on from there.

    Peace be with you.

  • Jeff #127, apparently many serious Bible scholars and theologians of the time did think that the Bible teaches geocentrism, and used similar arguments to yours about not letting science influence our interpretation of Scripture. Are you quite sure you would not have agreed with Luther on the matter?

    A current blogger,, still believes in geocentrism and I don’t know that his arguments are so trivially dismissed without taking a look about the question of how we consider Scripture in the light of experiential knowledge. He points out that many passages speak of the movement of the sun, including a passage in Ecclesiastes where its movement is paralleled by that of the wind and water, then says,

    “Are these Scripture verses ‘mere poetry’? Are they the silly myths of ancient, ‘primitive’ peoples? The Bible nowhere teaches the modern theory that the earth is in
    motion around the sun. Christian heliocentrists, like ‘christian’ evolutionists, must bring their atheistic assumptions with them when they come to God’s Word. A man stranded on an island with only a Bible could never dream up such things.”

    Isn’t this really similar to your argument, though of course an extreme version?

  • Val #128,

    What I mean is that people who come to me with cheap comments and gross misrepresentations of my position, such as your commetn at #116 will not get much discussion from me. I also will not discuss anthing with people who calle me names or direct profanity at me, as you have in #128. Also, I do not put with people ascribing motivations to me are making accusations against me, as some others here have done in this thread. I try not to do any of that to others and I expect others not to do that to me. I think I have done a pretty good job at that, as have most others here (for which I thank them).

    Peace be with you.

  • Mike Blyth #131,

    Many Bible scholars and theologians of what time? I’m not particularly concerned with Luther and other of that age perceived it. I am much more interested in how the ancient Hebrews understood it. Do the Scriptures say that the earth goes round the sun? I can’t think of anyplace they do. What we have, as far as I can tell, is the language of sunrise and sunset. When I speak of sunrises and sunsets, I am not thereby affirming or even suggesting that the sun goes round the earth; I am merely speaking from my local perspective. It is an accurate perspective for a person who lives on this planet. If I were observing from somewhere in outer space, I would have a different perspective and describe it differently.

    I have no problem with heliocentrism and do not find that it contradicts the Bible since the Bible does not teach geocentrism.