Still More Recurring Mistakes in the Adam/Evolution Discussion (3)

Still More Recurring Mistakes in the Adam/Evolution Discussion (3) November 17, 2011

Since Adam is necessary for the Christian faith, we know evolution can’t be true.

Evolution causes theological problems for Christianity. There is no question of that. We cannot simply graft evolution onto evangelical theology and claim that we have reconciled Christianity and evolution.

The theological and philosophical problems for the Christian faith that evolution brings to the table are hardly superficial. They require much thought and a multi-disciplinary effort to work through. For example:

  • Is death a natural part life or unnatural, a punishment of God for disobedience?
  • What does it mean to be human and made in God’s image?
  • What kind of God creates a process where the fittest survive?
  • How can God hold people responsible for their sin if there was no first trespass?

A literal, historical, Adam answers these and other questions. Without an Adam, we are left to find other answers. Nothing is gained by papering over this dilemma.

But, here is my point:

The fact that evolution causes theological problems does not mean evolution is wrong. It means we have theological problems.

Normally, we all know that we cannot judge if something is true on the basis of whether that truth is disruptive to us. We know it is wrong to assume one’s position and then evaluate data on the basis of that predetermined conclusion.

We are also normally very quick to point out this logical fallacy in others. If an atheist would defend his/her own belief system by saying, “I reject this datum because it does not fit my way of thinking,” we would be quick to pounce.

The truth of a historical Adam is not judged by how necessary such an Adam appears to be for theology. The proper response to evolution is to work through the theological challenges it presents (as many theologians and philosophers are doing), not dismiss the challenge itself.

Science is changing, therefore it’s all up for grabs.

Science is a self-critical entity, and so it should not surprise us to see developments, even paradigm shifts, in the near and distant future.

Is the universe expanding or oscillating? Are there multiple universes? How many dimensions are there? What about dark matter and dark energy? How many hominids constituted the gene pool from which all alive today have descended? And so forth.

But the fact that science is a changing discipline does not mean that all evolutionary theory is hanging on by a thread, ready to be dismissed at the next turn.

Also, the fact that science is self-correcting doesn’t mean that, if we hold on long enough, sooner or later, the changing nature of science will eventually disprove evolution and vindicate a literal view of Genesis.

Change, development, even paradigm shifts in scientific work, are sure to come. That is how science works.  But further discoveries will take us forward, not backward.

There are scientists who question evolution, and this establishes the credibility of the biblical view of human origins.

Individual, creative, innovative thinking often leads to true advances in the human intellectual drama. I would say that without these pioneering voices pushing the boundaries of knowledge, there would be no progress.

However, the presence of minority voices in and of itself does not constitute a counterargument to evolution.

Particularly in the age of the Internet, it is not hard at all to find someone with Ph.D. in a relevant field who lends a countervoice to mainstream thinking. This is true in the sciences, in biblical studies, and I’m sure any academic field.

There is always someone out there who thinks he or she has cracked the code, hidden to most others, and disproved the majority. And, in my experience, too often the promotion of minority voices is laced with a fair dose of conspiracy theory, where the claim is made that one’s view has been ostracized simply because it cuts against the grain.

Those without training in the relevant fields are particularly susceptible to following a minority voice if it conforms to their own thinking. But neither having a Ph.D. or some advanced degree, nor having research experience, nor even having written papers on minority positions, establishes the credibility of minority positions.

The truthfulness of minority claims must be tested over time by a body of peers, not simply accepted because those claims exist and affirm our own positions.


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  • Micah

    Dr. Enns,

    I think this was a very good article. I am glad doors are finally being opened to actually working through our theology in light of more information provided by God through scientific inquiry.

    Your list of paradigms that will need to be re-worked is very accurate. The death issue is of extreme importance. If biological death was a part of the “good creation” from the beginning then the Biblical definition of “the death” must be something along the lines of a “fellowship death.” (I think we see this clearly in the Adamic story and the history of Israel (Hosea 13:1.)

    If that is true, then we would necessarily have to re-examine what the Biblical definition of resurrection, salvation, eternal life, the heavens and earth (old and new) is. In short, if we are willing to re-examine the beginning shouldn’t we be willing to re-examine the end?

    I think this is a good place to start, although I believe Brian hasn’t gone far enough in really examining the ramifications of his view’s on Genesis.

    Do you think the wider church that understands what you are saying is willing to do the same thing on the other end of the Bible?


  • JenG

    Aside from your own upcoming book, what book(s) or author(s) would you recommend on this subject? Who are the major theologians and philosophers doing work in this area of reconciling sin/death, evolution and scripture?


    • peteenns

      Hi JenG. I don’t go far in in my book solving these difficult problems. My concern is more hermeneutical and driving home the need to address these issues. Two good resources I would point you to are the Center for Theology and Natural Sciences (google it), which has a very theologically diverse range of people involved. There is also a very good volume edited by Keith Miller, Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, which has some very good essays.

      • JenG

        Thanks Pete! I found one of the essays available online (re. Evolution and Original Sin). The “Historical Ideal View” looks interesting – is that your view?

  • Dan

    In regards to the problems raised, I am curious if historically, most people in the Judeo-Christian worldview have even thought of the issue of predation (obviously not in terms of evolution, since it wasn’t known until the 1800s) as a theological problem like how it is often presented in terms of evolution.

    The reason I ask: When people bring this up, I can’t help but think of God’s response in Job where the questions are answered simply by appealing to God’s power and righteousness. There are some very real references to the bleak realities of biology in there (Job 38:39, 39:3 come to mind).. and it’s not mentioned as a problem to be solved, but rather as a reflection of the awesome nature of God’s creation. I bring this up because this issue has never really bothered me, but I do recognize that pastorally, the tack I take here might require care for some.

  • Theophile

    The biggest hurdle to evolution is survival of the fittest, how long does a fish with lungs survive in or out of water? How about a fish with legs instead of fins? The basic problem with “evolving” to the “next stage” is, those in transition are not “fit” and would be killed off, by their unfitness.
    Why try to prove evolution? Because with evolution, there is no moral law, no sin, no having to answer to any higher authority than ourselves, because with the idea of evolution comes the belief that we are still perfecting what WE created in and of ourselves, which is about self pride and ego. We say what is right or wrong, which is funny because that is the exact delusion the Bible describes the tree of knowledge of good and evil puts on those who take of it’s fruit.
    Well since they have been teaching the evolution delusion in schools for 30 or more years, the under 50 crowd feels comfortable with the lie, and since we all agree it must be true!
    To discover how little You really know about Christianity in history, and the founding of the USA, read Foxes book of Martyrs:

    • Dan

      Regardless of your agreement or disagreement with his views, questioning the competence of a legitimately prominent scholar on the basic knowledge of his own field is nonsensical.

    • peteenns

      Theophile, I don’t think evolutionary science can be reduced to a conspiracy to advance autonomy and do away with morality. That doesn’t account for the nearly universals acceptance of the theory, including Christians.

    • The phrase “survival of the fittest” hasn’t really applied to the theory of evolution for at least the last thirty years. In both your analogies, you assume that entire organs are forming at once, which hasn’t been a part of the theory of evolution since before Darwin. This also appears to be an appeal to irreducible complexity, which is a sort of urban legend, like that thing about bees not being aerodynamically viable. The thing I find amusing is that both analogies you provided are so obviously nonsensical. In the first case, there are fish today that have structures similar to lungs (anableps among others) and they survive just fine in and out of the water. Similarly, you have the entire class Amphibia, many of which function like fish with legs. Clearly neither feature is a deficit to survival.

      Science was not created as an escape from religion. Generations of scientists have pursued knowledge to better the lives of all mankind. They didn’t do it to feel better about eating shrimp or working on a Sunday.

    • Theophile: I sought substance in your response but found none. That do9esn’t mean that there is no substance to your argument, but only that you didn’t include any. Christianity is divided on the Evolution-Creation continuum, and some that accept evolution believe that it was the chosen method by God to bring about the Creation of mankind.

      While I do not expect to live long enough to see the m,atter settled, I have lived sufficiently long to learn that there appears to be some substance on either side of the divide. It is the substance of these relative or dissonant positions that should form the substance of argument for or against any and all positions.

      I still fail to see how believing one thing or the other affects human salvation and have nothing in the Bible on which to found any such determination.

      Some questions will have to wait until we stand face to face with our maker. Until then, I am content to accept my position, but do not feel it necessary to start or prolong a war of words that diverts the attention of believers from the main business, which is to enlarge the kingdom of God and to help make men fit for it.

  • Micah

    Ecclesiastes 7:12-14
    12 For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money,
    and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.
    13 Consider the work of God:
    who can make straight what he has made crooked?
    14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.

    One of the problems that I see is that many in the fundamentalist/YEC world won’t allow God to define “good.” If I go hiking in Glacier National Park and come between a mother grizzly bear and her cubs and she protects them by mauling me she is doing a good thing, she is protecting her family. Every time I go hiking in Glacier, I pray that that doesn’t happen. I understand that “he is not a tame lion” to quote a very insightful author.

    The natural creation reflects God’s glory. One aspect of that glory is danger.

    • peteenns

      That could be, Micah, but I think what a literalist interpreter would say is that Genesis presents a time before which there was no death–death is part of the fall, not part of the “natural order.”

    • Dan

      That’s a much more succinct way of putting what I was saying earlier, Micah. Thank you.

      I guess I just don’t see this as much of a problem because I don’t feel the need to read the account completely literally. I know not everybody is at that point.

    • Huol

      Ummm…if you were trying to poach the cubs or something, then it might be “good.” Besides that, I think your definition of “good” needs some fixing. I wouldn’t prescribe the word good to what the bear does. More like… neutral…

  • Dr Enns

    You make some good points, but there is a commitment here to a level of uniformitarianism that doesn’t take the miraculous into account. Even if the scientific establishment is not conspiratorial, it can certainly be founded on incorrect assumptions. A body of peers can be wrong.

    The establishment seems unwilling to let go of a paradigm which is more and more obviously imposed upon the data. Gene duplication as a source of new information is a perfect example. Is it possible? Yes. Do we have one single example? No. But they have little else in the larder. The cupboard is bare.

    Rejecting a theory which is slowly shown to be errant is not a backwards move, it is a forwards move. It has been tested and found wanting. And the Christian who compromises is left with the vile assertion that biological death is good.

    Mike Bull

    • peteenns

      Mike, I think that the claims you make here would need to be worked out within the peer review procedures. It is an easy thing to find people who claim that evolution is on the way out, an empty cupboard, but those claims need to be debated.

    • Mike,
      There are a couple of problems with the idea of abandoning the theory of evolution. First and foremost is that there is no better theory to replace it. Science and scientists will abandon or amend any theory which is proven to be incorrect, but only if there is another useful option. It is totally possible that there is some mechanism at work which looks and acts just like evolution. At this point, however, there is no hypothesis which fits the data better than evolution. Rejecting a theory which works in the absence of another theory which works better is absolutely a backward move.

      The other problem is that the theory of evolution works. When considered in the light of evolution, the available data makes sense. When you say that the theory of evolution is imposed on the data, you’re almost right. That’s what a scientific theory is. It’s a unifying concept which, in a nutshell, explains existing observations and predicts future results. So a theory could be said to impose meaning on data. There’s nothing wrong with that.

      With regards to gene duplication as a mechanism, the concept is only about 40 years old. Remember, this is science. We don’t throw everything out if we don’t have all the answers immediately. Even if we had no idea how DNA worked, evolution would still be the only workable theory. Even so, I was able to find two examples, the Antarctic eelpout and the green peach aphid, in about 10 minutes of browsing.

      Lastly, you seem to be implying that evolution is somehow on the way out. This is absolutely not the case. What is happening, in the US at least, is that aggressive and vocal ignorance is on the rise. We’re seeing more and more people who really don’t understand evolution or science who are willing to say that evolution is not science.


  • > We cannot simply graft evolution onto evangelical theology and claim that we have reconciled Christianity and evolution.

    Geez, yes. Another person in the universe who recognizes this. Yay.

    • peteenns

      There are a lot of people who see this, Matthew.

  • Phil Lewis

    One of the greatest problems with Evolutionary theory is a consistent assumption of conditions it purports to prove. There are too many logical fallacies in the theory for it to be useful. This isn’t to say there are not true things they observe but the logic of the theory itself contains too many fallacious assumptions. This is also not to say there are not logical fallacies in Biblical faith as well – circular reasoning being one of them; but this doesn’t mean its not true. If Evolutionary theory would stick to observation of empirical process Christians could accept it. It is the extrapolation of these observation into a general theory that is the problem, especially when we consider the conflicted source that is Charles Darwin. This is similar to string theory and particle and sub-atomic physicists trying to come up with a Grand Unitary Theory to explain Creation by excluding the Creator. The math is impressive, but when we ask simple questions like, “In all your expanding multiverses that are now open to every possible outcome to every possible action, is it possible you are only describing something that can never be confined to a theory – as in the mind of God?” or “In a multiverse construct is it possible that God and the heavenly host inhabits one of them?” The denial of this would seem to only betray a prejudice against God.

  • bondboy

    It’s insane that the many people who are so desperate to find flaws in science have beliefs that are based on absolutely nothing.

    Evolution is about as factual as any area of science, involving more than a century of cold hard facts that are accepted by 99.9% of people in the field. Yet people come here and nitpick at it because they think (illogically) that it somehow denigrates their faith.

    Even more unbelieveable, though, is that people who deny evolution because we can’t actually witness it in real time are admanant in their belief that the world just popped into existance by an invisible deity. They demand proof of science but have not a single shred of proof for a single thing they assert.

    This isn’t an argument for atheism, just pointing out that the double-standards and hypocracy is mind-boggling.

    • Huol

      Well the people you are criticizing don’t operate by the standards of science, so you can’t call them out as having double-standards.

  • “The fact that evolution causes theological problems does not mean evolution is wrong. It means we have theological problems.”

    No- it actually means that the theology is wrong. There are theological problems because theology doesn’t align with reality… it is Galileo all over again.

    • Bernie, I couldn’t agree with you more. If everything that caused theological problems was wrong, then nothing would be right! 🙂

  • Matt

    Pete, aren’t you just exchanging Mohler’s version of fundamentalism (“The earth is 6000 years old….so deal with it!”) with modern scientific fundamentalism (“Evolution is right….so deal with it!”)?

    • peteenns


      • eric kunkel

        I joked about process theology before, but my question is does Genesis, properly interpreted, teach an Ex nihilo construct “in the Big Inning?” (1:1)

        • Genesis does not propose or support creation ex nihilo. There is an assumption that it does, but properly it does not. It is another philosophical spanner in the works of the Christian machine for which there is no real point. Or, if there is a point I have missed it. What difference would it make, one way or another? Seriously.

    • David von Rudisill

      Claiming that a scientific theory is correct isn’t fundamentalism. One can be open-minded to new evidence and still understand that a theory like evolution has strong evidence to support it.

  • eric kunkel

    Bernie says that it is heliocentric universe all over again. No. Not really.

    Astronomical experiments can be repeated, the standard scientific method.

    Retro-science takes on the honorific mantle of test tube, or telescope: repeatable science. The problem is that paleontology and cosmology are LIKE the polio vaccine and Copernicus, but they are also like history or maybe even Heilsgeschichte.

    Again, I pose my question. Are we to be naturalists? Do we believe in ex nihilo creation?

    Or are we like Thomas Jeffereson and cut the miracles from our Bibles. Not saying these are the only poles possible. But is there a middle way in integrating retro-science and biblical studies?

    And Jefferson went to church on Sundays with a light Bible, which is an interesting way to live.


    • It seems to me that we could just keep our science and religion separate.

    • Micah


      I think you may be starting from a faulty assumption. What if Gen. 1 does not even speak of the material creation of the universe. (see John Walton)

      If this is the case, then your problem disappears.

      For example, I take a non-concordance view of Genesis one. I believe it is speaking of the “covenant order.” There are other places where the Bible imply that God made the universe (Job). My belief in miracles assumes that God created the material universe. Only the Creator has the power to override what he created. IMO, miracles are some of the best proof of the existence of God and they confirm that science can be done accurately. (We know a miracle when we see one.)

      So I think you are setting up a false dichotomy. Miracles are not in danger from someone working through the evidences and implications of their science.

      What has happened is that the fundamentalist have agreed with the atheist in that the Bible must be taken literally. They are two sides of the same coin… fortunately they aren’t the only coin.


  • eric kunkel


    You can, if you are ascientific or irreligious. Otherwise they are going to collide. And what do you mean by these terms, Science and Religion? In Cosmology they talk about God particles. What about the softer sciences that do experiments and follow the scientific method, hypothesize, repeat, etc., like social science? How would you study Altruism?

    Can Neil Armstrong not read the Bible during first moonwalk?

    Should Darwin not have made that famous quote about consulting both the books of “God’s Word and Works?”

    Why even have a philosophy of Science, with your view? Or an epistemology?

    Let me go have some coffee.

    Eric Kunkel

  • eric kunkel

    You know Andrew, we need a Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion and the like. And we need genre like the Journal for the Religious Study of Science.

    As Perceiver we are fraught with biases and we need to self-correct our rose-colored glasses, unless we have a spouse or colleagues bold enough to shake us from our dogmatic slumbers …..

    By the way, we should all get our rose-colored glasses checked by the end of year, if you have health insurance and it goes January to December. It is getting late.

  • eric kunkel


    So I have an advanced degree from a Quaker university, a group with some pacificism in their history. I am actually driving past Livermore Labs and I hear on the radio about these new scientifically-developed hypersonic weapons that they can shoot from California to New York in a couple minutes. There was a successful test.

    Who would want to blast at Yankee Stadium from California and have all said in done during the 7th inning stretch? This and other unconscionable acts awaken my meandering theological faculties. “Brethren, these things ought not to be.” And what would Pete Enns think?

    Then I cogitate some more about religious arguments for self-defense, Just War Theory, etc. And its speed which is supposed to reach perhaps 15,200 mph.

    I might argue that I had ethical and maybe epistemic obligations NOT to keep religion and science apart here. Whimsically: Maybe I should Occupy Livermore Labs or Vandenberg Air Force Base. Or maybe not 😉

    (Since I don’t want to be on the no-fly list when they have a commercial flight with this mojo.) I fall back to my dogmatic slumbers. zzzzzzzzz


  • I would suspect that Neil Armstrong didn’t feed scripture into his guidance computer, and he probably didn’t consult the clergy for his re-entry vectors.

    If one is not comfortable with the idea that God is able to work through scientific processes in such a way as to be undetectable to science, then by all means feel free to resort to the God of the gaps. Just don’t lash out at science if you’re somehow unable to reconcile it with your religion, and remember first and foremost to be a good person.

    Where we run into trouble is when people get it into their heads that science trumps religion and vice versa. The two can see each other, in a manner of speaking, but they really don’t relate to each other, and there is almost no overlap.

    I don’t have health insurance, but back when times were better I had rose colored laser eye surgery. All the same, thanks for the heads up.

    Also, anyone who has watched even a few minutes of Jersey Shore can see the value of munitions capable of hitting New York within the space of a commercial break.


    • eric kunkel


      Seeing the Jersey Shore and seeing “Jersey Shore” are two very different matters. Peter, I think would concur, even if he has jet lag.

      From what I have read about the show it would require some kind of glasses, perhaps those used by the blind led by the blind, Andrew.

      Maybe that was Apollo Thirteen where God got them back, after the computers failed.

      Thanks be to God for Godself being in those gaps!

      I remain very thankful to science and modern medicine. But the we need to assign weights to the deliverances of science, there is always some standard error.

      At CERN a few weeks ago, it seemed they had neutrinos going faster than the speed of light. Maybe soon it will be agreed that the universe is 1.3 million years old, instead of 13 billion, or maybe 130 trillion. Certainly that is prehistoric, but what if the rate of isotope decay changes by orders of magnitude? Or has ALWAYS been changing as we pass thru space-time.

      Maybe 10,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, there was a very different age, as we passed thru some different dimension, a warp in the woof of space-time …. But we cannot repeat that any more than we can simulate the Big Bang.

      But that is for the experts. “An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field. ~Niels Bohr”


  • JFH

    You haven’t identified the doctrine of inerrancy explicitly in your discussion of paradigms; but it seems to me it may be the most important paradigm we will encounter in any Bible/evolution investigation. In fact evolution might be the subject to finally direct us towards the “correct” doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy; one that fits all of the data the best. As a consequence it will be the one that is the least ad hoc. We rarely (never) see Bible scholars frame their discussion this way, I assume because they do not want the doctrine of Bible Inerrancy to be the outcome of a study; they are insistent that it be the initial starting point; a constraint on the conclusions. You were “up front” in stating your position on Inerrancy in “Inspiration and Incarnation” and your conclusions all reflected that position.
    It’s interesting to compare the various positions on Inerrancy versus their corresponding positions on evolution. For example, the doctrine of absolute literal inerrancy leads Al Mohler and Ken Ham to the conclusion that all science dealing with an old earth and evolution must be rejected. And it is the correct observation! You cannot have both science and a literal inerrancy doctrine. But rather than showing the science is wrong, isn’t it simple telling us their inerrancy doctrine fails the test? Reasons to Believe takes the initial assumption of Inerrancy is also true, within the confines of their old earth rationale. But that interpretation runs into an unsurpassable hurdle at the creation of Adam and Eve. They have no other choice but to reject the common descent; hence their continued rejection. Their Inerrancy doctrine forces them to stop at that point. Again, within the constraints of their inerrancy doctrine, they are right! But in the same way that should have been a sign their definition of Biblical Inerrancy is wrong.
    When you show “myths” as one of the options for explaining Adam, are you thinking in terms of a myth that God has “accommodated”? Or are you thinking a myth that totally an invention of man and is completely outside of Gods input or agreement? There is a huge chasm between these two “myths”. One is under your former I&I definition of Inerrancy, the other falls under a category “partial inerrancy” or “no inerrancy”.

    • peteenns

      JFH, I am not sure fine-tuning inerrancy will really be a help in this issue, though I certainly see what you are saying.

  • Beth D

    ‘Science’ may be for PhD’s but empirics still count. In the case of Evolution, the emperor may indeed be buck naked. Evolution is supposed to be responsible for the incredible range of diversity we see among living things but there are virtually no transitional forms, either living or fossilized. Think about it — millions upon millions of fossils, trillions upon trillions of life forms on planet Earth and we don’t look around and see anything ‘in between’; no organisms in the fossil record with a half-formed or partially developed anything (eg. heart, digestive tract, wing, feather, arm, leg, flagella, eye,ear,nose, throat, you get the picture) How come everything, everywhere fits into nice little Phyla? It doesn’t make common sense at all; or do we abandon all common sense because the Evolutionary Biology PhD’s tell us the ‘gold thread is invisible’. The theory needs (much) more.

    • peteenns

      Beth, my point remains that, unless you are able to handle the evidence in its scientific details and then able to enter into scientific conversation with other scientists and convince them that you have something to say, it is best for people like us not to make pronouncements.

  • Beth D

    Dr. Enns, your point is illogical. Empirics *must* bear out, and always will (in real science), the more sophisticated academics of any scientific theory. Take Einstein — radically counter-consensus, highly complex theories but they have been mostly confirmed through years of experimental data and in modern times are utilized in GPS systems. We can all see and agree as to the ‘truth’ of his science though few of us have the education or intelligence to do the calculations or work the experiments. That’s the way this is supposed to work.

    What about global warming? Because there is a consensus (among the liberal PhD’s who support Obama and dominate academia) are we supposed to just bow down and open our national checkbook to turn everything ‘green’? How about that science might tell you your fetus is nothing but a blob of tissue? We must simply go along with the consensus and start killing our children? It seems you would turn us all into Stepford wives/children at the mercy of a Philosopher Priest Elite?

    Scientists, simply by virtue of their diplomas, are *not* allowed to pronounce truth for the of us peons to live by. It doesn’t work that way, nor should it.

    • peteenns

      Beth, evolutionary theory scientifically is on par with Einstein, not global warming. Also, there is no “conspiracy” in evolutionary theory. You might be helped by reading some of my other posts and the comments there.

  • shaun

    Im new to this blog, but not the discussion about Adam. I think much back and forth about science can be side-stepped by pointing out there would still be problems with Genesis even without evolution. If everyone in the world rejected evolutionary science the story of Adam and Eve still has mythical qualities and parallels to older ANE creation stories.

    I dont know were I am on these textual issues, but Im glad people are having the debate.