11 recurring mistakes in the debate over the “historical Adam.”

11 recurring mistakes in the debate over the “historical Adam.” May 11, 2015

TEAI began getting seriously involved in the Christianity/evolution “controversy” in 2009, which led to my 2012 book The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins.

The debate over the historical Adam continues in an entirely predictable manner: the theological needs of the evangelical system lead to patterns of responses that are aimed at protecting that system rather than addressing the serious theological issues introduced by evolutionary science and modern biblical scholarship on Genesis.

Below are the 11 patterns (“recurring mistakes”) I see, though others could be added, I’m sure. They are in no particular order.

1. It’s all about the authority of the Bible.

I can understand why this claim might have rhetorical effect, but this issue is not about biblical authority. It’s about how the Bible is to be interpreted. It’s about hermeneutics.

It’s always about hermeneutics.

I know that in some circles “hermeneutics” is code for “let’s find a way to get out of the plain meaning of the text.” But even a so-called “plain” or “literal” reading of the Bible is a hermeneutic—an approach to interpretation.

Literalism is a hermeneutical decision (even if implicit) as much as any other approach, and so needs to be defended as much as any other. Literalism is not the default godly way to read the Bible that preserves biblical authority. It is not the “normal” way of reading the Bible that gets a free pass while all others must face the bar of judgment.

So, when someone says, “I don’t read Genesis 1-3 as historical events, and here are the reasons why,” that person is not “denying biblical authority.” That person may be wrong, but that would have to be judged on some basis other than the ultimate conversation-stopper, “You’re denying biblical authority.

The Bible is not just “there.” It has to be interpreted. The issue is which interpretations are more defensible than others. Hence, appealing to biblical authority does not tell us how to interpret the Bible. That requires a lot more work. It always has.

“Biblical authority” is a predisposition to the text. It is not a hermeneutic.

2. You’re giving science more authority than the Bible.

This, too, may have some rhetorical effect, but it misses the point.

To say that science gives us a more accurate understanding of human origins than the Bible is not putting science “over” the Bible—unless we assume that the Bible is prepared to give us scientific information.

There are numerous compelling reasons to think that Genesis is not prepared to provide such information—namely the fact that Genesis was written at least 2500 years ago by and for people, who, to state the obvious, were not thinking in modern scientific terms.

One might respond, “But Genesis was inspired by God, and so needs to be true.”

That assertion assumes that “truth” is essentially synonymous with historical accuracy and that a text inspired by God in antiquity would, by virtue of its being the word of God, need to give scientific rather than ancient accounts of origins.

These assumptions would need to be vigorously defended, not merely asserted as unimpeachable fact.

Lying behind this error in thinking is the unstated assumption that the Bible, as the word of God, must predetermine the conclusions that scientific investigations can arrive at on any subject matter the Bible addresses.

To make this assumption is to run roughshod not only over commonsense, but over the very notion of the contextual and historically conditioned nature of Scripture.

If Scripture were truly given priority over science in matters open to scientific inquiry, the church would have never gotten past Galileo’s discovery that the earth revolves around the sun.

3. But the church has never questioned the historicity of Adam.

This claim is largely true—though it obscures the symbolic value especially early interpreters found in the Garden story, but I digress.

On the whole, this statement is correct. It is also irrelevant.

Knowing what the history of the church has thought about Adam is not an argument for Adam’s historicity, as some seem to think, since the history of the church did not have evolution or any scientific discoveries to deal with until recently.

That’s the whole point of this debate—evolution and ancient texts that put the biblical story in its cultural context are new factors we have to address.

Appealing to periods in church history before these things were on the table as authoritative and determinative voices in the discussion simply makes no sense. What Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and the Puritans assumed about human origins is not relevant—and to say so is not a dismissal of the study of church history, historical theology, etc., but to put them in their place.

Calling upon church history does not solve the problem; it simply restates it. Appealing to church history does not end the discussion; it just reminds us why we need to have the discussion in the first place.

4. Both Paul and the writer of Genesis thought Adam was a real person, the first man. Denying the historicity of Adam means you think you know better than the biblical writers.

More rhetorical punch, but this assertion simply sidesteps a fundamental interpretive challenge all of us need to address on one level or another.

All biblical writers were limited by their culture and time in how they viewed the physical world around them. This is hardly a novel notion of inspiration, and premodern theologians from Augustine to Calvin were quite adamant about the point.

No responsible doctrine of inspiration can deny that the biblical authors were thoroughly encultured, ancient people, who spoke as ancient people. Inspiration does not cancel out their “historical particularity,” no matter how inconvenient.

Any notion of inspiration must embrace and engage the notion that God, by his Spirit, speaks within ancient categories.

We do indeed “know more” than the biblical writers about some things. That alone isn’t an alarming theological problem in prciniple. But that principle has become a problem because it now touches on an issue that some feel is of paramount theological importance—the historical Adam.

The stakes have been raised in ways no one expected, for now we understand that the ancient biblical authors’ understanding of human origins is also part of their ancient way of thinking.

Should the principle be abandoned when it becomes theologically uncomfortable?

As I see it, the whole discussion is over how our “knowing more” about human origins can be in conversation with the biblical theological metanarrative. This is the pressing theological challenge before us and it needs to be addressed deliberately and without rancor, not avoided or obscured.

Acknowledging that we know more than biblical writers about certain things is not to disrespect Scripture. We are merely recognizing that the good and wise God had far less difficulty condescending to ancient categories of thinking than some seem to be comfortable with.

5. Genesis as whole, including the Adam story, is a historical narrative and therefore demands to be taken as an historical account.

It is a common, but nevertheless erroneous, assumption that Genesis, as a “historical narrative,” narrates history.

Typically the argument is mounted on two related fronts:

(1) Genesis mentions by name people and places; we are told that people are doing things and going places. That sounds like a sequence of events, and therefore should be taken as “historical.”

(2) Genesis uses a particular Hebrew verbal form (waw consecutive plus imperfect) that is used throughout Old Testament narratives to present a string of events—so-and-so did this, then this, then went there and said this, then went there and did that.

As the argument goes, we are bound to conclude that a story that presents people doing things in a sequence is an indication that we are dealing with history.

That may be the case, but the sequencing of events in a story alone does not in and of itself imply historicity. Every story, whether real or imagined, has people doing things in sequences of events.

This does not mean that Genesis can’t be a historical narrative. It only means that the fact that Genesis presents people doing things in sequence is not the reason for drawing that conclusion.

The Lord of the Rings masterfully records in great and vivid detail people (and others) doing things in sequence. But is it still pure fiction. A Tale of Two Cities does the same, but that doesn’t make it a reliable guide to historical events.

The connection between Genesis and history is a complicated, multifaceted issue that many have pondered in great depth. The issue certainly cannot be settled simply by reading the text of Genesis and observing that people do things in time.

6. Evolution is a different “religion” (i.e., “naturalism” or “Darwinism”) and therefore hostile to Christianity.

Certainly for some evolution functions as a different “religion,” hostile to Christianity or any believe in a world beyond the material and random chance.

But that does not mean that all those who hold to evolution as the true explanation of human origins think of evolution as a religion. Nor does it mean that evolutionary theory requires one to adopt an atheistic “naturalistic” or “Darwinistic” worldview.

Christian evolutionists do not see their work in evolutionary science as spiritual adultery. Christian evolutionists take it as a matter of deep faith that evolution is God’s way of creating, the intricacies of which we cannot (ever) be fully comprehend.

In other words, “evolution=naturalistic atheism,” although rhetorically appealing, does not describe Christians who hold to evolution. Their convictions should be taken at face value, rather than suggesting that they have been duped or are compromising their faith Christians.

7. 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 of 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 by a first human couple?

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.

8. 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, and to point that out is hardly a penetrating insight: that is how science works. But further discoveries will take us forward, not backward.

9. 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 a Ph.D. in a relevant field who lends a countervoice to mainstream thinking. This is true in the sciences, in biblical studies, and in any academic field.

One can always find 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 challenges the establishment.

Those without training in the relevant fields are particularly susceptible to following a minority voice if it confirms their own thinking. But simply having a Ph.D., having research experience, or even having written papers on minority positions, does not establishe 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.

10. Evidence for and against evolution is open to all and can be assessed by anyone.

Since evolutionary theory is the product of scientific investigation, it follows that those best suited to evaluate the scientific data and arguments are those trained in the relevant sciences—or better those who are practicing scientists and therefore are keeping up with developments.

The years of training and experience required of those who work in fields that touch on evolution rules out of bounds the views of those who lack such training.

This is certainly the case with those who have no scientific training whatsoever beyond basic high school and college courses. I certainly fall into that category, which is why I don’t feel I can enter into scientific discussions, let alone critique them.

Engaging scientific issues requires serious scientific training—which only a fraction of the earth’s population can claim to have.

My point is that most of us do not have a place at the table where the assessment of evidence is the topic of discussion. I include here philosophers of science, historians of science, and sociologists of science. These disciplines look at the human and historical conditions within which scientific work takes place, this giving us the big picture of what is happening behind the scenes intellectually and culturally.

Science is not a “neutral” endeavor, and these fields are invaluable of putting science into a broader intellectual context. I am all for it.

But I have often seen practitioners of these disciplines, without any high-level scientific training, overstep their boundaries by passing judgment on evolution on the basis of the big-picture context these disciplines provide.

Evolution cannot be judged from 30,000 feet. You still have to deal with the scientific data in detail.

I think I stand on very solid ground when I say that these various disciples need to be in conversation with each other, not one standing in judgment over the other.

Simply put, you have to know what you are talking about if you want to debunk evolution. If you want to take on the scientific consensus, you have to argue better science that stands the test of peer review, not better ideology.

11. Believing in evolution means giving up your evangelical identity.

Many arguments I have heard against evolution come down to this: my evangelical ecclesiastical group has never accepted it, and so, to remain in this group, I am bound to reject it too.

It is rarely stated quite this bluntly, but that’s the bottom line.

But, as is well known, in recent decades the term “evangelical” has become a moving target. Is evangelicalism a stable, unchanging movement, or is it flexible enough to be open to substantive change?

Or an even more fundamental consideration: should maintaining evangelical identity at all costs even be the primary concern?

These may be the most important questions for evangelicals to consider when entering into the discussion over the historical Adam.

(This list is an edited collection of a four-part series that I posted in 2011.)

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  • #11 – it’s not just the highest volume setting on an amplifier.

    #11 is possibly the font from which 1-10 doth flow. It functions like the Torah did/does for Jewish people. It’s a marker that serves as a boundary between Us and Them.

    If you take Genesis as a literal historiographical account, then I know you are one of Us. You are conservative theologically. You have a high view of biblical authority. You aren’t afraid to resist the culture if you think the Bible countermands it.

    If you don’t take Genesis that way, then you are either one of Them or on the path to becoming one of Them. You have taken your first step on the road to atheism, liberalism, and assimilation into “the world.” If you are still questioning, you might be salvageable. But if you have made up your mind, you have to be pushed out of the airlock so as not to infect the rest of the crew. It’s a tribal marker first and a commitment to the Bible second. It is Christianity vs. Modernism.

    The good news is that this has happened before in church history and never lasted. EVENTUALLY Christians accepted a round Earth and a heliocentric solar system. Well, there are still holdouts, but they are generally viewed as wingnuts even by the most conservative of Christians. It took a long time, but it did happen. I feel like the best thing I can do is demonstrate that I take the Bible very seriously and thoughtfully and respect it while confessing Jesus as Lord and pursuing his kingdom while still rejecting views that the evangelical community defines as essential to that very enterprise.

    It’s disappointing, because postmodernity has given us the chance to define ourselves in ways that are more honest, open, and authentic both to those on the “outside” and to ourselves. We have the opportunity to shed a lot of baggage that we’ve picked up over the centuries and rediscover our calling to be the kingdom of God and a blessing to the nations in all the myriad ways of love and powerful transformation and restoration that entails. But instead of embracing this process, so many of us are fighting tooth and nail to keep it from happening.

    Evolution, gay marriage, blood moons, Islam, America, Israel… it’s all about keeping the construct intact.

    • Carolyn

      Indeed, it was a bit of a shock when I took a look at myself and realized I was becoming one of “them.”
      I wonder what is the avenue where most (devout evangelical/charismatic/fundamentalist) people come to a different way of thinking/believing? Study? Making friends outside your religious circle? Slow realization that your former ways just don’t work anymore?

      • Maybe it’s an “aha moment” or series of them.

        For me, some of it was exposure to friends outside my religion, not because they persuaded me they were correct, but because my conversations with them revealed how paper-thin the justifications were for various things. So many arguments and points only have credibility within an audience that already wants to believe them.

        Ideally, the church would actually do this for people. We would be honest with difficulties and challenges and talk about options. Our theological discussions would be more like laboratories and less like carving stone tablets. To hijack Martin Luther, we would produce heresy boldly and, as a Spirit-led community, sift through the sand and hold on to the gold. We would be comfortable being wrong, knowing it is a key part of the process of discovering truth. Everything would be up for discussion all the time. The rock solid things would stick around and everything else would be in tentative flux as we as a theological community continued to experiment, debate, and weigh, all within a context of love and unity confident that we served the same Lord.

        Also, we would ride unicorns and our houses would be made out of gumdrops.

        The sad reality is that most churches are like fortresses erected as bulwarks against the tide of error and unbelief. If you want your beliefs to be challenged and work through the issues involved in that, you have to go outside the community of faith nine times out of ten, and that is a sad commentary.

    • Daniel Fisher

      Phil, I see a significant difference b/w the Round Earth / heliocentric world and Darwinian evolution, in that the former two can be empirically observed by almost anyone. I have personally flown around the world, seen ships disappear over the horizon, and I have personally tracked the planets from my backyard. But I’ve never witnessed Darwinian evolution in a similar way.

      I think you’d see a similar movement to embrace evolution (with only the ‘wingnut’ holdouts still denying it) only if/when we could all observe a population of organisms in an experiment where you could see genuinely new and complex biological structures spontanouesly emerge. Say, even a new structured organelle evolve while watching thousands of generations of bacteria.

      But for whatever reason, these kinds of clear, unambiguous proofs are just not observed. Hence, there isn’t the clear “in-your-face” kind of evidence of the round-earth or heliocentric kind that would sway those people like myself, who still harbor doubts due to scientific, not just theological, reasons.

      • Or, say, if a species of bacteria that was killed by citric acid eventually became able to digest it as food?


        Yes, it is true you now have the luxury of visibly seeing a round Earth (assuming you believe all that is legit evidence). The point is that the church was wrong about the shape of the Earth which they held onto for exegetical reasons. What should have happened when Galileo went public with his findings is the Church should have gone, “Ok, cool. The Bible doesn’t teach any particular physical cosmology, so you might be on to something.” Instead, they insisted the passages about the Earth having corners and the sun standing still were scientific statements.

        I seriously doubt that, if Genesis had never been written, we’d be having this discussion. It is exactly because of the church’s bad exegesis that they felt they had to fight Galileo, and it is exactly the church’s bad exegesis that she feels she has to fight Darwin.

        • Daniel Fisher

          Don’t want to get too into the technical stuff, but said bacteria have evolved no new complex structures of the kind that would demonstrate Darwinian evolution… mutations that allow said organism to secrete a *different* (and environmentally beneficial) but not more *complex* enzyme are categorically not proof of the Darwinian evolution under discussion.

          More to the point, you may be right that Genesis has a lot to do with the discussion. But I’m not convinced it is all. There are too many people who are not Christians, who have no sympathy toward the Bible, who have serious doubts about the Darwinian mechanisms and its explanatory power for what we see in organisms.

          • swbarnes2

            How do you measure complexity? If I tell you that one version of an enzyme cleaves a molecule, and the other doesn’t, which is more complex? If I show you the two DNA sequences, can you calculate which is more complex? Is the evidence of homology between the type 3 secretory system and the bacterial flagella the reason you dismiss it as a complex evolutionary feature?

        • Brandyn

          I hate the be the pedant here, but the idea of the round world has been around since the pre-Socratics and has been widely believed since the Hellenistic period. The idea that medieval or pre-modern people believed in a flat earth is a myth. I guess people are conflating it with the overthrowing of the geocentric universe model, which did occur with Galileo.

          • peteenns

            Certainly pre-Scoratics found out the earth wasn’t flat, but wan’t that quickly forgotten throughout earl and medieval Xty?

          • Brandyn

            I don’t believe so. For example, there was no fear that Columbus would sail off the edge of the Earth — it was believed he was finding a different way to Asia. Wiki actually has an article on the myth of the flat Earth.


          • peteenns

            Fair enough. You may very well be right. I wonder what Joe and Sally medieval farmer would have thought–of course they didn’t write.l

          • AHH

            There’s a wonderful little book called Inventing the Flat Earth that debunks the myth that medieval authorities thought the Earth was flat and that Columbus corrected them:
            Much of the propagation of that myth traces back to a book by Washington Irving, the Legend of Sleepy Hollow guy.

            And the comment about Galileo is also oversimplified at best; historians say that the conflict was more about church power structures than about exegesis. See for example the nice edited volume Galileo Goes to Jail (and other myths about science and religion).

            With all that said, I agree with Phil’s point that it is primarily bad exegesis (and more generally a bad approach to Scripture that asks it questions it is not trying to answer) that is behind much Evangelical opposition to evolution.

          • bdlaacmm

            Augustine (5th Century) in his book City of God discusses the possibility of an unknown civilization inhabiting the southern hemisphere of a round Earth. Hildegard of Bingen (11th Century) painted a picture of two men walking in opposite directions and meeting each other after traversing half the Earth’s circumference. Dante (14th Century) in The Divine Comedy describes a round Earth in great detail, to include how the sun and stars would appear to a person standing in the southern hemisphere. There are many, many more such examples. So at the least, educated persons in Medieval times were well aware of the spherical nature of the Earth.

          • Chuck Bryant

            And yet the Bible mentions the Earth having corners.

          • Fair enough! Replace “flat earth” with “the earth being the center of the solar system” in my post.

        • Ian Carmichael

          It wasn’t so much the (Roman) Church’s bad exegesis that led it to fight Galileo but their allegiance to Aristotelian cosmology – and their wounds from the challenges of Protestantism over the previous century. Not to mention Galileo’s own pugnacity!

      • DKeane123

        As a geologist there are clear, unambiguous proofs contained within the sedimentary record. You always see a progression from simpler organisms to more complex when going from older to younger rocks. Additionally, you never ever see a human femur in with a trilobite. If a rock with that fossil combination was ever discovered, evolution would become highly suspect. Throw in modern genetics, bacterial resistance to antibiotics, and how humans have modified their food via human selection and there really is a ton of clear evidence.

        • Daniel Fisher

          Unless I’m very much mistaken, trilobites are believed to have lived exclusively in the ocean. If a rock with a human femur and a trilobite were ever discovered together, a LOT of other things would be highly suspect, no?

          • The belief that trilobites were exclusively marine is derived from the fact that all the fossils we’ve found occur with other marine animals. If trilobite fossils started to be consistently found with land animals, then the most probable conclusion is that trilobites were not exclusively marine animals.

          • Daniel Fisher

            Right, I know – I was trying (and probably failing miserably) to be a bit tongue-in-cheek…. I was trying to hint that, regardless of the evolution discussion, not finding trilobite and human fossils in the same rock is about as unsurprising as failing to find human and squid fossils in the same rock….

          • Chuck Bryant

            When in lived near the beach, I left human footprints in the marine environment. Granted my footprints were gone by the time I got home due to wave action , but had I died there it’s reasonable to assume my femur would last longer than the next breaking wave.

          • DKeane123

            Correct about the trilobite, a land dwelling animal would have been a more appropriate example. But you do occasionally find a mix, if remains are washed or mixed together. A person falls in a river, a boat sinks…etc.

          • Johnny Number 5

            Yes, it is highly unlikely that any human in history could possibly have drowned at sea and left their femur bone in the same place where a sea creature lived…

          • Daniel Fisher

            I’ve seen dead bodies floating in the ocean near sharks. That is not what is in question – I am not familiar with any *fossilized* human remains in the same rock as sea creatures – but this is simply ignorance on my part – are you aware of any and/or can point to any links?

      • peteenns

        Careful, Daniel., You’re illustrating #10 😉

        • Daniel Fisher

          Well, since we’re on #10, I’m not exactly sure what you’re getting at there…. We should turn off our critical minds whenever the scientific establishment speaks, and cease independent thinking, bowing to the ‘experts’, and never question them unless and until they change their minds themselves?? (Talk about being a sheep!) I concur I shouldn’t talk as if I knew anywhere as much as they do, but nonetheless, I reserve the right to maintain a certain skepticism about their methods – especially when this establishment specifically rules out some potential conclusions a priori.

          Stephen Hawking, for instance, says that modern Physics precludes any possibility of God. Should I just bow to him as an expert scientist? Or perhaps maintain a certain skepticism about his methods and conclusions from Quantum Physics – a field wherein I easily acknowledge that he knows nearly infinitely more than me?

          • peteenns

            You can be as skeptical as you feel you need to be, but your skepticism wouldn’t be rooted in scientific knowledge but in other things (such as theology). But to be clear, I don’t for a minute think we can’t challenge Hawking or anyone when they make claims that go beyond their scientific right (so to speak). I’m aiming far lower here–if someone wants to disagree with Hawking about God, that’s fine and good, but if someone wants to say the universe is young and static, they’d better know what they are talking about.

          • Daniel Fisher

            I hear you – but realize, Hawking is stating that SCIENCE proves that God cannot exist – thus if you disagree with him, you are challenging his SCIENCE, not (merely) his theology.

            Sure, YOU may think that he is going beyond science when he makes such claims… but he doesn’t. He believes his conclusion to be the inescapable scientific conclusion based on his understanding of physics and scientific cosmology. If you challenge his conclusion, you are calling into question not simply his theology, but at least some aspect of his understanding of science.

            But I think we can acknowledge that one doesn’t need to have advanced degrees in quantum physics in order to dissent from Hawking’s scientific argument against the existence of God.

          • peteenns

            But again, that’s the very thing you could challenge him on, but not whether or not the universe is billions of years old.

          • Daniel Fisher

            I think we largely agree there.
            Point is then, if I may: those who are skeptical about the Darwinian conclusion drawn by scientists similarly do not think they are challenging the biological “science” (the tests done in the lab, the X-ray refraction of DNA, the genetic coding, etc.) – but rather challenging the (in their opinion erroneous) conclusion being drawn from the (undisputed) scientific facts.
            Those who are skeptical about the Darwinian conclusions similarly think that this conclusion is outside the box of what actual, genuine science is able to tell. We may agree or disagree with that, but this is where I understand their argument to lie – not with the science per se, but with the conclusions drawn once the science has been done.

          • I think most of Hawking’s scientific colleagues would say that his opinions (even if they agreed with them) on God’s existence are not scientific conclusions. I have heard him say that the origin of the universe is explainable by natural causes and has no need for a god. But I have not heard him say that God’s nonexistence is scientifically established fact – that is just a conclusion he himself draws from the data that all of us, religious or not, have access to. I don’t think I question any particular aspect of Hawking’s science (I’m sure it’s incomplete as all science is), even if I disagree with him about God. There really is a distinction here between science and philosophy/theology. That some scientists are tone deaf to the latter fields is probably due to popular rejections of scientific models on the basis of preferred ideologies. It is understandable why someone like Neil De Grasse Tyson gives short shrift to the enterprises of philosophy or theology. If all you hear from these fields is postmodern criticism of modern science as merely logical positivism run amok . . . or theologically based rejections of scientific data. . . well, you’d be a bit impatient too. And you’d probably be much more hostile to religious faith than you would be under normal circumstances.

            Showing respect to scientists in their own field of expertise is a good step towards mutual understanding. It doesn’t require that we rubberstamp their opinions on subjects outside their expertise.

          • Daniel Fisher

            That is fair. Id say the same regarding all that biologists have in terms of their expertise in genetics, population dynamics, and the like – I do have utmost respect for – it is just the conclusions wherein certain leaps and assumptions are asked for that I remain dubious.
            To be clear – I was summarizing and stating that Hawking was claiming that the Christian God cannot exist – i.e., a God who had nothing to do with the creation of the universe. I concur that he agrees that some sort of God who existed completely independently of all things could exist – but that is not in any sense ‘God’ as we understand him.
            But I think my point remains – his scientific colleagues can critique his ‘science,’ but so can I.

          • Brandyn

            Some scientific popularizers (among them some working scientists) have the unfortunate tendency to speak well beyond their expertise, as they believe a knowledge and skill in science gives them powers to resolve millenia old philosophical problems (frequently without even acquainting themselves with the nuances of those problems). This doesn’t mean we need to disregard their work in the field though, nor does it mean that we have to accept their work without second thought. However, I think the author is trying to argue that if you are going to attempt to argue against mainstream scientific theories, it generally takes some scientific training before one can actually substantively respond to those claims. Too often, people instead gain superficial understandings from fringe sources with which they already agree without actually delving into much or any actual scientific literature supporting the mainstream (or any) view.

          • peteenns

            Thank you Brandyn. Would you like a job as my interpreter? I can’t pay you, though 🙂

          • Daniel Fisher

            Well said – point is, though I realize many disagree – that we who remain dubious about the Darwinian process think exactly that – that studying the population dynamics, the evolution within species, the adaptation mechanisms in organisms, the DNA and genetics, is the area of the scientist’s expertise. It is when they hypothesize or surmise that the data they have means that various organisms are related to one another that some believe them to have “gone beyond their expertise” and are entering the realm of speculation and interesting, though thoroughly unproven hypotheses.
            I do try to read every good book arguing Darwinian evolution – and I just remain unconvinced… not by any of the actual hard science, but by what remains the ‘leap of faith’ about common ancestry between such disparate organisms, or even between prokaryotes and eukaryotes.

        • J. Inglis

          #10 is incorrect and too low a view of human intelligence, and too high a view of the scholarly guild. It certainly is possible for someone outside the guild to have a valid critique of the beliefs and supposed beliefs of the guild.

          It is possible for people to understand and weigh evidence, to use logic, be rational, and to be open to correction. I think it is ridiculous to give up just because someone flashes credentials of a long period of study. It is possible, and useful, to ask people to prove what they conclude.

          I don’t need to be a molecular biologist to be able to point out incorrect uses of statistics, over drawn or unsupported conclusions, invalid methodology, contradiction, illogic, or point out where scientists disagree with each other, etc.

          • peteenns

            I call for a public debate on molecular biology between J. Inglis and any molecular biologist anywhere.

      • Grotoff

        Really? You’ve personally confirmed heliocentricity?

  • Galorgan

    I hope more evangelicals read and absorb your posts.

  • gingoro

    Point 11. Who cares about being an evangelical or even a fundagenical. I am neither as I do not accept inerrancy so I don’t give a rodents posterior about being called an evangelical and I never belonged to the real fundies even though I might have been forced to attend a more or less fundy church when I was young.

  • Paul Bruggink

    This blog post is an excellent summary of the current situation. Now what is the path forward?

    • peteenns

      Bow to me. Obey me.

      • Agni Ashwin

        Would that be adoration or v-Enn-eration?

  • Ben Kyle

    Wow, this is great. Should probably address spelling errors.

    Very interesting point that conspiracy theories claim, “that one’s view has been ostracized simply because it cuts against the grain.” That is so true, but I’ve never understood how to articulate it. It’s just rhetoric.

    Ledgerwood’s comments on the “tribal marker” that is the interpretation of Genesis is rather brilliant as well, although in my own life I have seen a fulfillment of the stereotype. Conservative theologians see those who accept evolution as on the path to modernism precisely because people like me often do fade into relativism and gnosticism once they come to terms with with the historicity of adam. I think the conservative caricature is a self-fulfilling prophecy, because it’s the dominating voice. There need to be more people answering the theological problems discussed, showing how one uses scientific knowledge in worshipful faith. I think this article is a great beginning for that end.

    Lastly, I think much more should be said on the truthfulness of ancient texts. How can we show clear historical flaws in a text, and still show that it is good, true and worth studying as a sacred scripture? This question and the question of how one does not continue on the path of denying peripheral doctrines until one denies essential doctrine, do not have easy answers. Yet, we find ourselves in need of people dedicated to showing that they are questions worth asking. So, thanks, Dr. Enns.

  • This is a helpful distillation of rebuttals. I read an article by Richard Belcher (RTS) using the “waw consecutive” argument, and it seemed to me like such a weak argument. I told a YEC friend of mine, “Well, of course the author uses the waw consecutive — how else is he going to tell a story with sequences?” He had no response.

  • Craig Wright

    Peter, I was recently pronounced outside of the evangelical camp, because I go along with your views (it was actually my view of the OT violence), by an OT prof at a local evangelical seminary, and who attends our church.

    It is ironic that that very university, with which the seminary is a part of, featured C.S. Lewis on the front of their magazine. He would certainly be kicked out of the evangelical camp.

    • peteenns

      Very sorry to hear this, Craig. Isn’t it precious when self-confident gatekeepers make these sorts of pronouncements…

    • John

      … if for no other reason than his position on the unevangelized.

    • JR

      “Evangelical” is a defined term that large groups of people have agreed upon. http://www.nae.net/about-us/statement-of-faith
      “Science” is a defined term. Some scientists have proclaimed that ID proponents are not “doing science,” and are therefore not scientists. In doing so, they usually move the definition of science from where it has been historically. If I was an atheist who was starting to believe there might be a higher intelligence out there, I could decide that in my view atheism should include the possibility of God. Would it be helpful to continue to call myself an “atheist”? I don’t think so. It would be better to come up with a new term for myself or join another camp that more closely reflects my beliefs (ie. agnostic). Moving the definition of “Evangelical” so that it becomes synonymous with theological liberalism just forces evangelicals to come up with a new term for themselves. Why not just join the camp that actually fits best with your beliefs?

      Re: the supposed irony of C.S. Lewis on the front of their magazine, hopefully Evangelicals can celebrate (and yes, publish positive articles about) a fellow Christian who they wouldn’t identify as precisely being one of them. Henri Nouwen was obviously a Catholic (priest), but often gets good press in Evangelical circles. Does that mean they would says, “Henri is an evangelical”? No.

      At the same time, I’m not saying that the OT prof did what was right. He may have been hateful, and not reflective of Christian behaviour. I’m just saying you probably do need to think about which camp you fit best into and not try to keep “evangelical” just because you like the sound of the word.

  • newenglandsun

    not that i have an opinion on creation vs. evolution either way but this was one reason i became an anglican as opposed to a catholic. i don’t understand why someone can make it a dogmatic belief to accept that there was a single pair of humans who gave birth to the entire race. theologically farfetched, is it? no. but then again, i’m certain there are nuances i am missing.

    • gapaul

      Huh? I don’t think many Catholic theologians think a single pair of humans gave birth to the entire race.

      • newenglandsun

        actually, monogenesis is believed by many catholics to be the only allowable doctrinal interpretation of pius xii’s humani generis.

        • Agni Ashwin

          But many other Catholics (like Jimmy Akin, no liberal, he) would dispute those Catholics.

          • newenglandsun

            talking strictly about catholic DOCTRINE and not what an individual catholic thinks, there is more evidence that the catholic doctrine is monogenesis.


          • Agni Ashwin

            I think the point is that Humani Generis itself — while not arguing that polygenism is clearly consistent with Catholic doctrine — does not exclude the possibility that polygenism is consistent, or will be found to be consistent, with Catholic doctrine.

    • Chuck Bryant

      Catholics accept evolution as science and Genesis as theology. Neither of which is history.

      • newenglandsun

        that depends what you mean by “catholics accept evolution”. the catholic church as a whole has not condemned evolution, however, only with a monogenesis interpretation (like that of the biologos’s maintaining of a possible single pair parents).

        many catholics also do not accept evolution as there is no official doctrinal statement requiring belief in evolution for catholics. if by accepting evolution, you mean the catholic church has not condemned the theory of evolution, then yes. however, i am talking about the subject of monogenesis vs. polygenesis.

  • gingoro

    For this blog I assume Genesis is all midrash, reinterpretation… of the pagan near East stories of God so why does this matter? DaveW

  • James

    Yes, evangelicals are making mistakes in the debate on “the historical Adam.” The statement itself has rhetorical value. But who is the quintessential evangelical? Who owns the needed corrective? What does history even mean in relation to the biblical Adam? And the debate quickly spirals out of control. Let’s give more attention to the larger questions of authority and interpretation (as you suggest) and see what specific outcomes emerge. Hopefully, better ones than, “We don’t believe anymore in a historical Adam.” Maybe something like, “The character of Adam in the drama of redemption is such an encouragement to us!”

  • Paul Bruggink

    Re “But, here is my point: The fact that evolution causes theological problems does not mean evolution is wrong. It means we have theological problems” in your #7:

    The current theological discussion appears to be focused on the doctrine of original sin. See, for example, John E. Toews’ “The Story of Original Sin” (2013), Hans Madueme and Michael Reeves (Eds.), “Adam, the Fall, and Original Sin” (2014), and Denis Lamoureux’s article “Beyond Original Sin: Is a Theological Paradigm Shift Inevitable” in the March 2015 issue of “Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith.”

    Are there other theological problems of similar significance? What is it going to take to resolve them?

  • Daniel Fisher

    “The truthfulness of minority claims must be tested over time by a body of peers…” in other words, tested by the very establishment that has already stated they are unwilling to even entertain intelligent design as a possibility?

    Also, I must point out – when we discuss evolution in this context, we are not talking about something that can be scientifically, empirically “tested” or observed, like gravitation, electricity, speed of light, time dilation and relativity, etc. We are more in the realm of **interpreting** data – fossils, novel complex biological structures, DNA, reproduction, change in genetics in populations, etc., – these are the empirical facts; evolutionary theory is strictly an interpretation of those facts…. so I’d humbly dispute that those who dissent are acting contrary to the “trained scientists” – rather, they are dissenting from the **interpretation** of data collected by the trained scientists. I know of no supporter of Intelligent Design that disputes any empirically observed biological fact.

    In other words, in #1 Peter rightly reminded us that the Bible is not just “there,” it has to be interpreted…. and people with different interpretations are not (necessarily) denying “biblical authority.” I wonder if we might agree that something similar is true about all the scientific data when it comes to Darwinistic theory – That those who dissent are not simply “Denying Scientific Authority,” but rather, that the science in this context is not simply “there,” but it also “has to be interpreted”?

    • Answers in Genesis is full of disputing and misrepresenting empirical facts.

      And while I agree with you in broad sense that, just like any other theory, evolutionary theory is attempt to cogently put together a ton of data into a coherent narrative, you also just described almost every truth claim imaginable. That’s not to invalidate your point, but just to say the whole “interpretation” issue is universal to human thought.

      I see a cue ball hit an 8 ball, and the 8 ball goes into the corner pocket (I hope I called it). I could explain that in terms of Newtonian physics and cause and effect, and another person suggests invisible ghosts are moving the balls around. Both are stories about the data, in a sense, but that doesn’t grant them epistemic equivalence.

      • J. Inglis

        It doesn’t seem to me that that’s what Fisher is talking about, and I don’t know where you got AIG from.

        Fisher seems to be making the broader point about interpretation in general. You aren’t disputing that there is interpretation in science, so why go to the extreme of talking about ghosts moving cue balls, which in the context implies that Fisher is granting epistemic equivalence to things that do not have such equivalence.

        • Daniel wrote “I know of no supporter of Intelligent Design that disputes any empirically observed biological fact.” so I pointed out some that do. That’s where AiG came from.

          As to your other point, the ghosts and cue balls example was to show that the fact that interpretation is involved does not mean that all interpretations have equal validity. I was not trying to imply that the beliefs of ID advocates were of similar credibility to ghosts moving cue balls. That wasn’t my point at all.

      • Daniel Fisher

        Largely agree with you here – but I still think there’s a legitimate line to observe between empiric and non-empiric science… the most conservative Christians I know agree without hesitation in some forms of evolution, because those are demonstrated and empiric. I’ve watched fruit fly populations change right under my eyes in a few days, people breed dogs, bacteria adapt to antibiotics and other environmental factors… and no Christian that I know doubts these things as they are empiric and direcly observable…. it is the unobservable, induced and dare I say, speculated aspects of the larger Darwinian theory (e.g., that prokaryotes somehow became eukaryotes) about which I maintain skepticism.

        • Andrew Dowling

          But you’re not skeptical due to scientific concerns . . .you’re skeptical because of your particular religious faith. There’s a big difference.

          • JR

            I think Daniel has pointed out he is skeptical because of scientific claims, not faith. He pointed out his prof. who believes all the information for all the features in animals today was present in the earliest animals, and couldn’t see the illogic of that (and why he believed it was because the scientific evidence can’t show increased information). That’s a significant scientific problem that doesn’t seem to be addressed.

        • Sure, but would you be skeptical if Genesis had never been written, or would you just acknowledge that there’s a certain level of theorizing and extrapolation going on, but you’re comfortable going with that -just as you are- with all the other times the scientific enterprise does that, which it does all the time, because hypothesizing and the creation of theories is part of the process?

          Also, with this topic in particular, I think people who have the skepticism you do should be clear, to yourself if nothing else, at what level of evidence would be adequate. I say this because the history of the Creationists has been a history of moving goalposts.

          “There are no transitional fossils between X and Y,” and then one is discovered, and it becomes, “There are no transitional fossils between X’ and Y.”

          Or “We’ve never seen a species evolve into another species,” then it happens in e. coli, and it becomes, “We’ve never seen a significant jump in complexity.” So, now the e. coli has to grow a horn or whatever.

          If we actually observed e. coli developing into an armadillo, then most Creationists would say, “Yeah, but we’ve never seen anything evolve into a human. Humans are too complex. Prove THAT.”

          At some point, you’ve got to decide that what you’ve got is good enough to move forward even if it can’t dispel every possible doubt.

          • Daniel Fisher


            “at what level of evidence would be adequate” This is a very insightful thought, and I agree in large part, the goalpost moving is a genuine danger. One observation, then I can share how I myself deal with it.

            First – I must note that observing changes in populations over time is nothing new – people were aware of that in Bible times; and people were breeding animals and plants long before Mendel’s discoveries. Darwin’s unique innovation was the idea that these population changes themselves were sufficient cause to conclude that all living organisms were the offspring of earlier, **less complex** organisms – that population changes over vast amounts of time (by what we now understand as random mutations in interaction with population dynamics and natural selection) could result in these novel complex organisms and their component novel complex structures.

            Hence, when people say, “well, that isn’t evidence of *complex* change,” this particular observation I would suggest is not arbitrarily moving the goalposts of the argument or changing criteria of proof – examples of this kind of complex change are the sine qua non for evidence for Darwinian evolution and common descent. Showing examples of the way that populations do in fact change over time (be it e coli or dogs) is proving something that no one (to my knowledge) disputes.

            Now, if you’re curious, the e coli is a great example of what might or might not have convinced me to rethink my skepticism: consider a one or two point mutation slightly alters the digestive enzyme produced… This happens all the time; 999,999,999 out of a billion times it is a useless or harmful mutation; but in a populations of billions over thousands of generations, occasionally this mutation actually makes something quite beneficial to a new environment, and the more fit bacteria better survive and eventually take over.

            But this is no new complexity. For example, take the sentence: “You are standing on a tire”, and randomly change one or two letters. 999,999 times out of a million, you’ll get gook. “You afe standing on a tirj”, “Ysu are stanwing on a tire.” But on a rare occasion, you get a sentence that actually works: “You are standing in a fire.” and, if you’re on fire, that may well be a more useful sentence. But that sentence is no more (or less) complex than the original one by changing two letters (no more or less than if the second sentence reverted to the first anyone would say it “lost” complexity).

            Now – some years ago, it was advertised that the way e coli evolved its new enzyme was not a couple of point mutations, but a “frame shift.” (more the equivalent of changing “you are standing on a tire” to “Hey man, stop drop and roll before you burn!”) Without getting into the details, this means that a whole new digestive enzyme would have been ‘invented’ from scratch – not by making small adjustments to an already existing, already complex, already functioning digestive enzyme. THAT impressed me, as it would have been genuine evidence of actual spontaneous generation of a complex digestive protein. And for a while this made me seriously rethink the odds and possibilities of random mutations actually creating something seriously complex and useful out of the blue. Honestly, that rattled my thinking on the topic. I admittedly searched and read some arguments from folks at discovery institute and elsewhere on the topic, and found them to be very weak, circle-the-wagons kind of responses that sounded like they knew they were beat on this point and had no good answer; for a while I had serious doubts about the integrity of the ID position because of this.

            Then, more experiments were done, and actually confirmed that this was not a frame shift, but actually, as previously suspected, a couple of point mutations. I was open to exploring this genuine evidence of Darwinian mechanism for producing complexity, but it turned out to be a false lead.

            So I can’t say for sure, but I like to think I would be open to evidence of increasing complexity from Darwinian mechanisms – but I honestly have never seen evidence of that. The ‘evidence’ most people present are all evidence that shows that populations can change over time through either population dynamics or mutations (or both) … a kind of evolution no one to my knowledge disputes. But evidence of this kind of evolution (which I concur is empiric, observable, and should be treated as scientific fact) is simply not evidence of what Darwin proposed.

          • Hi Daniel,

            I appreciate this, and it does help me understand you better. Thanks for taking the time.

            I guess our levels of tolerance in this department may be different. We can observe genes duplicating and mutation happening via the duplicated gene. We can observe mutation adding information to a genome. We can observe genetic diversity growing. We can observe gene-governed traits changing over time and gene-governed new abilities being acquired over time. We can observe natural selection as a process by which these things occur.

            The fact that these things applied to a much longer term theory of origins and organism development creates a plausible explanation for our findings in a wide variety of disciplines makes it seem likely to me. At least likely enough to adopt in the absence of glaringly disruptive evidence. There’s a sense in which this describes a great deal of scientific explanation: this story makes sense of what we find, and every new finding seems to confirm the story rather than create problems for it.

            If Genesis is not literally teaching biologically how mankind came to be, then there’s no reason for me not to adopt evolutionary theory. There is no competing theory of origins that offers equal plausibility and observability. Perhaps some research will come up that makes the whole enterprise unlikely, and some scientists will become very famous for that.

            The only reason I would reject evolution, knowing that it is impossible for me to actually observe large-scale changes in organisms occurring over ages of ages, is if the evidence made it implausible (it doesn’t), or if there were a competing theory that seemed to offer greater credibility (there isn’t). The only way this would be a struggle for me is if I understood Genesis to be a divinely-mandated fact sheet teaching its audience a scientific, biomechanical account of the origins of homo sapien. That does not seem to me to be an exegetically responsible way to understand Genesis.

          • Daniel Fisher

            Phil, good thoughts as always. concur with you about much of the breadth of what mutations, genetic variation, and the like can do… I would have no issue thinking that living things have evolved from various common ancestors to a far greater extent than the AIG people would probably allow; the hurdle for me is the major leaps in complexity that are simply not adequately accounted for (by everything I can even imagine) by the Darwinian model. Variations, even extreme ones, on already complex structure and functions is one thing – completely novel complex structures are something entirely different. If you’re curious, here is the core reason for my larger skecpticism:

            Given that bacteria reproduce as quickly as every 20 minutes – we have been observing them well over 50 years with the more sophisticated microscopes. This is easily over a million generations, with billions and billions of offspring from the common ancestor(s) we started with. And yes, we have watched them adapt to their environment in striking ways; resistence to antibiotics, altered digestive enzymes and the like. But over a million generations with billions on billions of offspring – and all in an organism relatively open to mutations…. not a single example of a new complex structure. No new flagellum, mitochondria, golgi body, cell wall, not even a simple microtubule, to my knowledge.

            So what we *observe*, empirically, is that a million generations of billions upon billions of offspring is insufficient to witness the most simple and basic step towards increased complexity.

            But I am asked to assume that – over a comparable number of generations – that this very same process in larger, multicellular, sexually reproducing animals can achieve exponentially greater levels of multi-layered complexity: take the evolution of echolocation (and *convergent* evolution at that, where this stunning technology evolved not once but twice!) – 1) *multiple* novel cell structures near-simultaneously arising creating 2) new specified kinds of cells in order to create 3) numerous integrated larger multicellular complex structures along with 4) the very specified computer-like neurological algorithms and control mechanisms in order to use them… all this in a comparable number of generations, yet with far, far fewer daughter offspring to work with and in species far less likely to benefit from genetic mutations….. Sure, this can happen in a few million generations or so over a few million years…. even though we can’t find even a single trace of step 1 over a similar million generations when we actually observe the process….

            This borders on the absolutely fantastic to me, I find it incredible in the most literal sense of the word. What we actually observe confirms to me that, while organisms evolve and adapt, they do nothing on the level required in order to produce the kinds of changes that Darwinism suggests must happen in order to conclude Darwinian common descent.

            (As to your other point, I would grant without hesitation that my theological commitments may well make me more sympathetic to certain points of view and more likely to see things that I might not otherwise, and a tendancy to start from a more sceptical position…. but this goes both ways no? – an atheistic or agnostic scientist will just as likely be more sympathetic to conclusions that do not require belief in special creation or intelligent design, no? We should all probably try to acknowledge our prejudices, but nonetheless keep our eyes and our mind open to where the data leads.)

          • peteenns

            On your last paragraph, what about Christians who are evolutionists? Are they duped? Inconsistent in their presuppositions?

            What science background do you have and where did you learn it? Do you know any practicing scientists who work with evolutionary models? Have you talked with them and expressed your incredulity? What did they say?

          • Daniel Fisher

            Pete, one clarification – Christians who believe in evolution may either be Darwinists or they may not be. An important distinction. I’ll explain more below.
            As for being “duped”? What I think is happening… well, it is the same as Darwin’s own insight… people see the adaptations and mutations and slightly changing features in organisms, and think, “Well, if you just continued this very same process over a hundred million years, then surely this explains these vast differences.” Just what Darwin speculated. But it misses the point that there are simply limits to what this process can do, and misses what we actually observe – empiric observation of evolution is always without exception variations on a theme… not creation of new themes.

            Without trying to imply motive or be condescending, I would say it is comparable to concluding that someone can swim across the pacific, since after all, if that person can swim 1 kilometer, the trip across the Pacific is just a series of thousands of 1 kilometer swims… it doesn’t take into account that there are limits to what these small steps can accomplish.

            Some Christian evolutionists (non-Darwinian evolutionists) might look at these tremendous advances in complexity (like echolocation or sight) and say, “mutation, natural selection, and population dynamics alone is insufficient explanation for that level of intricate, precise detail, God must have intervened to at a specific point or points for this to happen.” I have sympathy with that, even if I don’t agree for various reasons, as it takes seriously the weakness these Darwinistic mechanisms have to explain such complexity. But while they may embrace evolution this is not “Darwinism,” strictly speaking.

            Other Christian evolutionists (Darwinists), because they for whatever reason believe God was not *directly* involved in the evolutionary process, are simply in the same position as atheistic or nontheistic science… they must rely on natural causes to explain this complexity – and all we have are mutation, natural selection, and population dynamics. For whatever reason, they have chosen to embrace the same methodology as their non-theistic counterparts (seeking a strictly natural explanation for the evidence).

            So as for being duped? I wonder if we might agree that most of the (evolutionary) scientists we are talking about seem to start with naturalistic assumptions – even whether they are Christians are not, they are using naturalistic methodology – therefore, whatever they are seeing, *must* have a natural, not a supernatural explanation. If this is their actual method, then they are as sure to find a conclusion that this complexity happened without God’s direct involvement as the AIG folks are to find God’s involvement in the data.

            So personally, I can’t help but think that many Christian evolutionists (the Darwinian kind) believe in Darwinian evolution because they are convinced that it has been scientifically proven, and perhaps are unaware of just how significant the problems are with Darwinian concepts in explaining such vast complexity. Or they see the proof of mutation and natural selection on a small scale (my “1000 meter swim”) and think this has proven the whole Darwinian paradigm (my “swim across the Pacific”). Christians who are dubious about the power of natural selection and mutations, but still believe in common descent from a single organism (based on genetic similarity, fossil records, etc.) but believe it needed God’s multiple involvement aren’t strictly “Darwinists,” as they don’t believe the Darwinian methods (alone) are sufficient cause for what we have.

          • Sam

            I appreciate these posts Daniel. I think you make a lot of sense.

          • peteenns

            I think it might help if you not use the term “Darwinism.” Stick to evolution.

            You may know just enough science to be dangerous, Daniel–sort of like a seminarian with a semester or Greek or Hebrew 🙂

            No need to go back and forth like this. You feel as if you see major flaws in evolutionary theory, things that just don’t make sense to you. The problem, though, is that they make sense to those who work with and understand the data (which you don’t and I less). I remember my days working with BioLogos and talking with major practicing scientists at conferences beating their heads against the wall trying to think of creative ways of helping lay people understand common descent, etc. Popularist objections have been taught and it has made it a tough hill to climb for these people.

            I remember asking Francis Collins what effect the mapping of the human genome had on our understanding of common descent. He said it has made evolutionary theory “beyond doubt.” That plus the convergence of evidence from various fields all pointing in the same general direction is overwhelming.

            You (and others) can have your doubts, but if they are formed with at best a superficial (if not false) grasp of highly technical data and processes, they will not be persuasive. I prefer to trust the experts.

          • Daniel Fisher

            (I admit I know just enough Hebrew to be dangerous, granted!)
            If I may, though, about the terms – it is vital in these discussion to be very clear what we mean by “evolution,” hence why I try to specify “Darwinian” evolution – Since, strictly speaking, Ken Ham, Everyone at AIG or Institute for Creation Research, and the discovery institute believe in “evolution.”

            For me, I wouldn’t have a major scientific problem believing that all life may well have developed from a single primitive ancestor – I don’t have a prima facie skepticism about Francis Collin’s conclusions based on genetic similarities (though I know there are still other interpretations of the same data), and I have no issue acknowledging that the fossils and genetic similarities are consistent with the theory of common descent. It is the particularly Darwinistic paradigm I am so skeptical about, hence why I think it important to specify I am not objecting to “evolution” (either the short term observable kind or even the common descent from a single simple ancestor), but specifically Darwinian evolution (that these complex life forms evolved from the less complex from nothing more than mutations, population dynamics, and natural selection.)

            As for trusting the experts, that is fair enough – I think I just prefer to trust other experts 😉 – there are plenty of others who are writing recently that are recognizing the same basic problems that I noticed when I was looking at this in more depth years ago. For good or bad, I’m just not convinced. On a recommendation on this page, I’m reading “Why Evolution is True” by Coyle, and I can’t help but notice him glossing over very significant problems. I just can’t garner confidence in his objectivity or method when he just hand waves aside or doesn’t even seem to recognize the difficulties involved in giving random mutations a near-magical ability to do the things he claims they have done.

          • Preston Garrison

            The evidence for common descent is prior to and much simpler in principle than the mechanism(s) of evolution. I’m a biochemist/geneticist, so I’m much more familiar with the genetic evidence than the fossils. We don’t have to have a complete explanation of the mechanism to know that common descent is true.

            If we observe that two photocopies of a cartoon have an image of the same complicated coffee stain on them, it’s reasonable to think that they share the same original that got the stain. We don’t have to know what route the two copies took to get to their present location to conclude that. Genomes of say, primates, have millions of “stains” on them (complex mutations and patterns of simple mutations) that match up between species and groups of species in a phylogenetically consistent way.

            The mechanisms of evolution are complicated and will be argued about for a long time to come, but there’s plenty of evidence that it happened somehow.

            A blog post of mine on this is here: http://biomattersarising.blogspot.com/2014/12/transposable-elements-and-common.html

          • Daniel Fisher

            That may be – I’m not completely convinced of common descent, but I don’t have major objections either – I recognize the evidence as presented; everyone agrees after all that SOME organisms are obviously descended from SOME other different ancestors. For me, my criticism is the specifically Darwinian mechanism. And that creates the nagging doubt – if it turns out to be the case that there actually is no mechanism whatsoever that allows for said common descent, then it can’t have happened, and the evidence would require reinterpretation.
            People had proposed common descent evolution before Darwin, but he presented the scientific method that showed that it really could have happened (natural selection). But if this mechanism turns out in fact to be erroneous, then we are left with a theory that fits many facts but has absolutely no mechanism, then logically, it simply can’t be true; and then we must look for other alternative interpretations of the data.
            Thanks for the link, I’ll check out that blog as I have time.

          • Daniel Fisher

            As for me personally, I did 8 undergrad courses in bio, organic chemistry and physics at Furman as part of a premed sequence before I turned the corner to theology. I had no “creationist” professors, all were thoroughgoing Darwinists. (It was here I developed my awe of the intricacy of even the most ‘simple’ biological structures, especially within cells). Certainly, as you point out here, this is not enough to critique the actual science of the experts… but enough to be conversant with what is being presented, and enough to recognize the distinction between what is a scientific observation and what is an unproven or speculative conclusion.

            (e.g., I can recognize that when people present the e coli experiments as evidence of evolution, I can recognize it as an excellent proof and demonstration of adaptation, mutation, and natural selection – which no one disputes – and *not* as evidence of increased biological complexity, the core requirement to prove the Darwinian model.)

            I haven’t engaged in discussion in this field directly for years – but back when I did, I had one (thorough-going evolutionist) PhD that expressed his own incredulity that mutations can do anything for animal evolution, given the overwhelmingly deleterious nature of them especially in sexually reproducing organisms; he believed all evolution to be strictly population dynamics… I asked him, “even from the first animal ancestor?” he said yes; I noted that this meant that all the DNA that would express wings and sonar and femurs and elephant trunks and beaks and the like had to be present in the earliest animals if they would be later expressed by population sorting and not by mutations, and he agreed; I couldn’t get him to see any problem with this.

            Most others simply seemed to be convinced by what I referred to above as the 1000 meter / Pacific thing. We did the fruit fly experiments and did mutations on them, we looked at very minor divergences in bacteria populations…. If I expressed that I thought that Darwinism could not explain the stunning complexity of biological structures, they resorted to explaining that evolution was a “fact” that we were observing in the lab. We remained at that impasse – I could not succeed in communicating to them the very significant difference I saw between what we were seeing in the lab and what seemed required to produce the huge leaps in complex structures in organisms.

          • Hi Daniel,

            I’m curious as to how you’re arriving at millions of generations of observable bacteria development. Lenski’s experiment just hit 60,000 last year, and the strain with the ability to digest as food something that used to kill them hit between 31k and 36k. Dawkins guesses that 310 million generations were between homo sapien and protozomes, and almost 4 trillion generations between single celled and multi-celled life.

            I suppose an atheist scientist would tend to favor explanations that don’t involve the introduction of a deity for obvious reasons, but the issue under discussion isn’t whether or not God is part of the process of origins. The issue is whether or not man was supernaturally formed out of raw materials in the ground in a 24 hour period or whether he came on the scene through a long process of modifications – a process by which the diversity of life as we know it came into being.

            Newtonian physics don’t require a divine being, but Christians accept them as part of God’s design and governance of the universe. Atheistic presuppositions have nothing to do with it.

            I would suggest, knowing that I could easily be wrong, that it’s not your theistic presuppositions that are creating your skepticism, but your hermeneutical commitments to a certain way of understanding Genesis. I share your theistic presuppositions, but I do not share your hermeneutics, and that probably accounts for our differing levels of resistance.

          • Daniel Fisher

            it is an approximation – if e coli reproduce approx. every 20 mintutes; 3 per hour x 24 = 72 per day; x365 = 26280 per year; x 50 = 1,314,000 in the last 50 years. Granted this is the theoretical best case scenario; I’m not familiar enough with Lenski’s experiment to know how the numbers of generations is being estimated or if the environment he is using is slowing their maximum growth; but we can look at studies and pictures of these bacteria 50 years ago, and confirm no new complex structures in the last 50 years. That is at minimum on the order of hundreds of thousands at least. Lenski’s bacteria I understand were ‘coaxed’ with various evolutionary pressures artificially put on them, and still they only show the kinds of adaptations that don’t demonstrate increased complexity.

            I’m not sure the relevance of the 310 million generations were between homo sapien and protozomes; what strikes me more is, for instance the 2,000,000 generations to pop out a fully integrated echolocation system. (echolocating whales are thought to have evolved from their non-echolocating ancestors within ~10 million years; given a generous 5 year maturity and reproduction cycle, that is 2 million generations): 2 million generations to near simultaneously develop the countless new complex intracellular structures that reshape and precisely configure numerous new cells into numerous integrated organs and neural pathways to create both transmission system, the independent and pinpoint accurate receiving system, and the crazy fast integrated target-data computing system….
            If I saw a few complex new structures developing over the hundreds of thousands to millions of generations we have been watching bacteria, a microtubule here, a cell wall there, a new membrane here, etc. then this would not seem quite so far fetched to me. But we’ve seen nothing like this in nearly a million generations; yet in 2 million generations this is supposed to have happened, with near miraculous coordination, a thousand times over?
            You may be right that I am letting my theological commitments influence. But for what it is worth, I am EXTREMELY skeptical about various theories of quantum physics, especially the idea that particles *actually* travel in two different places at the same time and observation later collapses this process…. yet I can think of no theological impetus for me to have this skepticism, it is based as far as I can tell on logic, science, and critique of the reasoning involved, not because it somehow relates to my theological commitments.

          • We may have come across something important, here.

            Your theoretical calculations have arrived at millions of generations of bacteria that you feel have not developed anything very complex according to your definition of complexity.

            But the -actual- long term e-coli experiments have only produced around 60 – 70k generations. I pointed this out to you, and you are still criticizing evolutionary theory on the basis that millions of generations of bacteria have failed to produce sufficient complexity.

            Forgive me if I misunderstood you, but it doesn’t matter how many generations of bacteria you calculate we should have observed. The cold hard reality is we’ve observed less than 70k. How many generations you think we ought to have by now is irrelevant. We have 70k.

            So, is that enough to observe the level of complexity you’re looking for? It doesn’t seem so, so how can you critique it on that basis?

            Also, complexity enables greater complexity. That’s why an enormous span of time would have to pass to get from single-celled organisms to multi-celled organisms with a much, much shorter time to get from protozomes to humans.

            By way of analogy, it took a very long time to get from domesticating horses to trains. It took a shorter time to get from trains to cars, and an even shorter time to get from cars to airplanes. Because technological advances enable advances, the growth is geometric rather than linear.

            So, you can’t just say it took it took non-echolocating whales X amount of time to develop echo-location, so bacteria should be showing some pretty significant development in half that time. That would be like saying it took 350 years to get from the first newspaper to online blogs, so it probably took around 350 years to get from writing to the printing press.

            And, once again, we haven’t observed millions of generations of bacteria. Please direct me to the long term e coli experiment that has produced millions of generations. As far as I’m aware, Lenski’s is the longest running, and as I said, it’s produced over 60,000, and it’s been running since 1988.

            I’m just confused how you can be so adamant in your critique and be so unfamiliar with this experiment. Is there another one you’re using for your reference?

          • Daniel Fisher

            I wasn’t referring to that specific experiment – 70,000 in that current experiment, sure – I was referring to the fact that we have records of what various bacteria looked like, what complex internal structures they did or didn’t have, back some 50-60 years ago if not far more. There have been no documented bacteria, ever since we were able to observe them under microscopes even some 100 years ago, that have developed anything resembling new structures – new cilia, membranes, etc. Sure they have adapted in various ways over those 100 years, but no documented new structured organelles of any kind in any observation whatsoever – not just Lenski’s specific experiment. That’s my main point, sorry if I was unclear.

            As for the whales, I am simply noting that to develop echolocation, *at minimum* there must be numerous significantly complex structural changes within cells in order to accomplish such a feat – the very kind of structural changes that are *not* observed even in bacteria (or any other cells to my knowledge) over at least comparable numbers of generations.

          • Ok, I do understand you better, I think, but now I’m a bit more baffled, overall.

            Are you saying that no bacteria anywhere have ever evolved meaningful complexity? How would you know that? If you looked at a strain of e. coli a hundred years ago and a strain of e. coli, now, and they appeared to be the same, how would that establish anything?

            Take, for instance, the bacteria that evolved the ability to digest citrate. That cropped up in a strain that eventually bottlenecked. Other strains did not develop this ability at the same time. It was a mutation that arose in part of the population that eventually went extinct. If you looked at the first generation of bacteria and the 60000th generation, you’d go, “Well, I guess nothing happened here.”

            No, a whole new species of citrate-eating bacteria arose and died out.

            The only way you could get evidence for the kind of thing we’re discussing is to actually observe the development of observable communities of bacteria over time, which is exactly what Lenski’s experiment is doing.

            I mean, take a look at these photos of species that have varied just from being stuck in an extinct volcano:


            We didn’t even know about them ten years ago. And who knows how many species have lived and died in that volcano, never to be seen again?

          • Daniel Fisher

            Phil thanks for these thoughts, this discussion does help clarify the particulars involved.

            Evolving a new enzyme that digests new materials is striking adaptation, but the enzyme that digests the citrate (or another striking adaptation is the similar one that digests nylon) is no significantly more (or less) complex that the preceding one. Generally that enzyme has the exact same chain of amino acids as the predecessor except for a few substitutions here or there (point mutations).

            Another way to think about it… If you found a bacteria that lived on citrate alone, put it in a sugar rich environment, and found after numerous generations at it had evolved its digestive enzyme to digest sucrose instead, no one would say that this new enzyme is significantly **less** complex than its predecessor, that it **lost** complexity. They are different, work on different substances, but one is not inherently more or less complex than the other. Or, by analogy, if I made a few modifications to my house key that allowed it to instead fit my neighbor’s house, which key would be “more complex”? They are adapted to different locks, but this doesn’t make one significantly more complex than another. New complexity would be demonstrated by new complex structures: new organelles, membranes, internal structural components, etc., the kind we could recognize as novel based on the documented microscopic study of the same bacteria from 50 – 100 years ago or more.

            Regarding adaptation, no one to my knowledge would be surprised by the new animals found in isolation in said volcano… This is generally a result of natural selection and population dynamics. This is not categorically different than what Darwin found on the Galapagos. They are different, sometimes strikingly different, than their ancestors, but “more complex”? What exactly is more complex about them than what we find in their ancestors? We can similarly find *very* significant differences in dogs through selective breeding, comparable if not more striking than what is illustrated in this volcano; but what variety of dog would we say is more significantly complex than any other? For instance, no one who doubts Darwinistic evolution to my knowledge similarly doubts that wooly mammoths, mastodons, and both modern Asian and African elephants all evolved from a common ancestor. Some degree of evolution over time, and common descent from some ancestors, is embraced by everyone: Ken Ham, the AIG folks, people at the discovery institute, etc. that isn’t what is disputed. It is the accounting for new complex structures (that everyone agrees at least have the appearance of design) by these same strictly natural means that is disputed.

          • Daniel Fisher

            Phil, one additional thought about biblical prejudices, if it helps – as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my particular scientific critique is with the Darwinian method, not so much with common descent in itself. While I’m still dubious on that, I don’t have nearly the skepticism about that I do with the actual Darwinistic method. There is evidence that can quite legitimately be interpreted as supporting common descent (fossils, genetic similarities, etc.) – but I do not find a similar legitimacy to the Darwinistic mechanism as being able to explain what we find in organic life.
            So, my even with my own understanding of Scripture, this doesn’t in itself give me a reason to doubt “evolution” (common descent from a single simple ancestor) in and of itself insofar as it is clear science – for me, it really comes down to the science of the mechanism.
            From there, though, until I can be convinced there is a viable mechanism that would support the Darwinian paradigm, I am withholding final judgment on the common descent question – since if it turns out that there genuinely is no mechanism, then the data must be interpreted differently regardless of how well it fits the picture of common descent.

        • Lark62

          The fact is that there is evidence that it happened. If you look at human dna, there is an inactive chunk of virus dna imbedded at a certain spot. Primates have the exact same error in the exact same location but other mammals do not. So either humans and other primates have a common ancestors, or the exact same extremely rare error occurred multiple times but only in primates.

          Some species of whales have primitive hind legs. About 1 whale in 500 is born with legs.

          Read a decent book on evolution. I like Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne. Work with facts

          • Daniel Fisher

            Can you provide further info about the “whale legs”? I searched and all I could find, particularly with pictures, is on the talkorigins site with a picture either extremely dated or simply an artist’s rendition – it referenced numerous articles but only two of them were later than the 1960s, and the most recent one went back to 1984.

            I’m not saying this makes it incorrect…. but I would think that if genuinely 1 in 500 whales is born with “legs,” then a picture of that on the internet, and more recent journals regarding this phenomenon, would be a little easier to find?
            I’ll look up the other item you mentioned, while keeping in mind that much of what we previously thought was ‘junk’ DNA is actually quite useful, even for things previously unexpected. I will take a look at the book you recommended as well.

          • Preston Garrison

            “If you look at human dna, there is an inactive chunk of virus dna imbedded at a certain spot. Primates have the exact same error in the exact same location but other mammals do not.”

            In fact there are millions of these orthologous insertions in primates, some in just 2 species, some in 3 or more, depending on how long ago they happened.

    • Lark62

      Evolution can be seen, tested and studied. The evidence is overwhelming. The Theory of Evolution is as well supported as Atomic Theory, the Germ Theory of Disease, the Theory of Gravity and the Theory of Plate Tectonics.

      There is simply no evidence or scientific work supporting intelligent design. There is just a lot of talk from people who either make a living getting money from the gullible or who have a stated objective of turning our nation into a theocracy by undermining science (google discovery institute wedge document).

  • Scott Hedgcock

    Dr. Enns- reading this article made me ask one basic question- how can all of these 11 points not equally apply to the central point raised by Protestant Liberals who deny the resurrection of Jesus to be an historical event? As well established as evolution might be science has even more firmly established that dead men stay dead. In light of this overwhelming scientific evidence and consensus on this point how can we affirm that Jesus did rise from the dead in some literalistic fashion. I would be interested to hear if you think this is an apt comparison or if not where the differences lie.

    • peteenns

      I am not suggesting that science has a philosophical priority about what can and can’t happen (see my #2), which is what your question assumes. Biological (not to mention geological and cosmological) evolution leaves footprints that can be studied. Singular human events do not.

      • Scott Hedgcock

        Should I understand that to mean that the uniqueness of the resurrection of Jesus means it is outside the scope of scientific investigation while the evolution of humanity (including the particulars of its earliest origins) is?

        • It isn’t outside the scope of scientific investigation, but it is outside the scope of biological investigation. It’s well within the confines of historical investigation, and there is plenty of evidence to be found there for it.

          But, also, it’s totally valid to just admit that the resurrection is, in fact, a ridiculous idea. Paul makes this very clear. We basically sound like idiots for proclaiming it. Paul knew people didn’t rise from the dead, too.

          • 4 WIW

            Phil, please enlighten me. If you are referring to the Apostle Paul, not someone else in the commentor list on this blog, could you tell me what version of the Bible you use to understand that the Apostle Paul didn’t believe in the resurrection of Christ. In all my life as a Christian (more than 50+ years) today is the first time that I have ever read anywhere that Paul didn’t believe in resurrection.) Who said there is nothing new under the sun?

          • Hey there, 4WIW.

            I didn’t say Paul didn’t believe in the Resurrection. I said Paul knew it sounded ridiculous to believe in the Resurrection. Paul knows that the Gospel we proclaim sounds stupid. But he believed it and proclaimed it. I also believe it and proclaim it.

            1 Cor. 1:18-31 and 4:10, for example.

            I hope that clears it up. Looking back on what I wrote, I can see how a certain kind of reading of my post might produce the idea I was saying Paul didn’t believe in the Resurrection. What I was saying, in fact, is that it’s fine to own up to the fact that the Resurrection sounds crazy.

          • 4 WIW

            Phil, thanks for for the clarification. Supposedly George Bernard Shaw said that “the greatest problem with communication is the illusion that it happened.” Glad to know your thoughts about the Resurrection of Christ. I don’t disagree.

      • J. Inglis

        There is more equivalence than you grant, and I don’t see Hedgcock’s question making that assumption about the philosophical priorities of science. Biological death of organisms leaves footprints that can be studied. Dead things don’t come back to life.

        The creation of a single pair of original humans would be singular human event, as would the resurrection of Jesus.

        I see it as a fully apt comparison. And many christians and nonchristians also see it as an apt comparison.

        • peteenns

          Well, we’ll have to disagree. You can’t “study” the resurrection of Jesus but you can study whether humanity began as two people.

    • gapaul

      Not all Protestant liberals deny the resurrection, but point taken.
      I think your argument is the one I hear the most. A sort of “domino theory” of historical Bible truth — if I let go of this one piece — the historical Adam, the ark, then it will all come tumbling down.
      But reading the Bible makes me think even the writers aren’t that keen to offer “just the facts.” Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 contradict each other, and there they sit, side by side. Chronicles and Kings cover the same ground, but tell the stories differently. The Gospels do the same. Was Jesus crucified on the Passover, or the night before?

      • Andrew Dowling

        By any reading the Gospels don’t describe a bodily resuscitated corpse as understood by science, unless you know of any human bodies that can walk through walls and appear/disappear at will.

      • Daniel Fisher

        I have seen this tossed around so often, and I am completely confused where people are getting it from – where do people get the idea that anything in the Bible suggests Jesus was crucified *on* the passover?

  • Ross

    Although in #7 you mention that not having a historical Adam creates theological problems, I am growing to think it may actually resolve some.

    I’ve often heard people talk of the unfairness of living in a fallen world and being far from perfect due to the actions of some eejit long ago. Well, if these two eejits never existed, but we read the story metaphorically, placing ourselves into the role of every-woman/man, then it comes strikingly home that we are indeed responsible for our own shortcomings and have no-one else to blame. Hopefully we can see the need for grace and receive it.

    Okay, it may interfere a bit with Paul’s first Adam, second Adam theology, but there again, I think a lot more than that of his theology is a bit shaky. Follow the Worldly authorities anyone in North Korea, Syria, Sunderland etc?

    • Alison Watson

      Interesting perspective there, Ross. And timely. While in the shower yesterday, I was having a debate with myself as to whether North Korean Christians should submit to Kim Jong-Un, the world’s foremost persecutor of their faith, on the ground that his regime was ‘established by God’. I can’t make that make sense at all.

      • Ross

        I personally think some things just cannot be accepted for truth and justice to prevail. As I replied to Phil, I think Paul’s “advice” is really conditional on circumstances. If no-one ever stood up to the authorities I think the World could be a much worse place.

    • I think Paul’s instructions to the Roman church to submit to the Roman government had more to do with Rome’s perceived role and a feared retribution against the early Christian communities than a universal statement for everyone to submit to governments everywhere.

      In Paul’s time, the Roman empire was primarily the force that kept Judean persecution of his churches from getting out of hand. Furthermore, he’s writing at a time when those early Christian communities were preparing for a big, bad tribulation period. I think his command to them is meant to be in the sense of, “Look, guys, don’t cause trouble and bring the Romans down on our heads. That’s exactly what Judea is doing. You play nice, and the Romans will look favorably on you and judge your enemies.”

      • Ross

        Yep, that makes sense. I can see his advice being okay in certain circumstances, however I have bridled at those who use this “doctrine” to recommend acquiescing to profound injustice.

        • Andrew Dowling

          Paul didn’t think earthly power structures would be around much longer. Paul’s ethical exhortations can’t be disassociated from his apocalyptic outlook, although much of the modern church ignores or downplays it because they view it as embarrassing.

          Don’t marry unless you basically can’t control your urges because the world is passing away? I don’t see that preached from evangelical pulpits . . .

    • 4 WIW

      Dear Ross, not having a perpetrator of original sin creates a few other theological problems. For example: if we are not under the federal headship of Adam’s sin then verses like: “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” or “There is none righteous, no not one.” or All
      we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” are contestable if not contemptible. To not understand how sin entered into the world and that it is a condition we are born with implies that some have lived sinless lives or that living sinlessly could be the fruit of better public education etc. All such theories lead to a works righteousness or atheism.

      • Ross

        Yep, I can see your point. However I would say that we are all still in the same boat with “no-one righteous” as we all inevitably follow the same path. This would bring in the argument that some would say that “theoretically” some could lead a sinless life (I think your contestable point), or bring in the idea that we are “created” to inevitably sin (your contemptible point).

        By questioning the historical fall, which many do, of course a large number of questions arise as to why the World is “fallen”. For me I think maybe it’s an answer we just aren’t going to be given. I’m fairly happy recognising the position we are in. Some people need to have “the reasons”, some don’t.

        I don’t feel that doubting the historical fall, lessens or makes the intro to Genesis pointless. It just puts it more into the poetic and mythical arenas. Rather than being a historical recollection introducing the “federal headship of Adam’s sin”, in time and space, many see it as a picture to each and every one of us as to where we are. As I said, this would be construed as we being each created with the inevitability of falling, the result of which is the same as the historical Adam starting the whole game off, even if the method is different. I don’t see it as creating the state where some will not be in need of Grace. Nor do I see it as pushing some sort of capriciousness up onto God.

  • Julie

    Are we one hundred percent sure that Paul believed in a historical Adam? I mean in the way that evangelicals do now? I always get the feeling that history and narrative in general – stories, myths, legends – were much closer and more intertwined in earlier time periods. I’m not sure that extremely firm distinctions were being made.

    • peteenns

      That’s a very reasonable question, Julie. I go back and forth on that now and then. James Dunn, for example, doesn’t think Paul thought Adam was the first biological human. Neither does my friend Tremper Longman III.

      • John Shakespeare

        I’m relieved to hear you say that. I have thought for some time that it is possible that Paul regarded the historicity of Adam in the same way that Jesus believed in the historicity of the good Samaritan. (Though I have heard it asserted by inerrantists that the parable must be historical because it contains the words ‘A certain man’.)

        • peteenns

          When I wrote TEA I purposefully took the worst case scenario–that Paul thought there was a first man Adam–and worked through he implications. I still think most of the time that that is the safest assumption to make but I’m more than open.

          • Julie

            I noticed when I read Dante or (long ago) when I read Socrates, that they just don’t seem to categorize narrative in the way that we seem too. Socrates will discuss the gods but then talk as though he only believes in God, or so it seemed to me at the time. Dante also talks of Hell in a completely literal way, but at the same time seems to know that he is creating a story that expresses his theology rather than building his theology around an existing story. I am not sure that the same distinctions were present at the time.

      • I don’t think it’s possible with 100% certainty to deduce Paul’s belief about the ‘historicity’ of Adam from a flat reading of the text at a distance of 20 centuries later, and in a different culture.

        Any writer communicates to their subconscious knowledge of the audience’s position, culture and understanding, including their subconscious, without flagging it up.
        So if Paul knew the audience knew that when he used the name Adam, that it acted as a theological symbol for the created origin of the human race, and its subsequent failings, then he simply needs to use the word ‘Adam’ as a commonly held label to go on all that baggage, without referencing the other details.

        Or Secondly,
        If he wanted to convey one truth without getting tangled in a different debate, then Adam can (A) signify the origins of human rebellion, while avoiding the distraction of (B) a debate about literalism and history, meaning that Paul could communicate clearly about A to people on both sides of debate B without getting distracted from his message, or revealing where he stood on B.

        So I don’t think we can know whether or not Paul believed in a literal Adam from his writings, just as we can’t know whether or not Jesus believed in a literal Jonah from the Gospel writer’s records of his words.

        If we read them as literal, we are treating them as if they are writing as a C21st literalist would, rather than leaving room for the appropriate humility of our vast distance from the origins of their words and their audience, and their knowledge of their audience.

  • Jim

    I won’t have to worry about whether to remain in my evangelical ecclesiastical group if they ever find out I believe in evolution — they will promptly remove me. Since I didn’t expressly state that I did not believe in evolution when defending my views upon ordination, does this constitute the “change of views” that I am obligated to self-report?

    • JR

      If you are a minister who no longer believes the creed of your denomination, then I think the only ethical things to do is to:1. If there is a place to voice disagreement and have the creed potentially changed, raise your voice; 2. leave your denomination. Groups have the right to define themselves (who is in or out) – if you know you’re out, why do you want to be a part of them? By staying silent you are tacitly agreeing to their stance.

  • Robert the Bruce

    Dr Enns,

    Could you please explain how #10 doesn’t necessarily translate into a “trust-us-we’re-experts” mentality? Does this also not mean (as you put it) that those who don’t know Hebrew (and Greek for that matter) “have no place at the table” when discussing interpretation of Genesis?


    • peteenns

      Not sure I follow you. I’m talking here about evaluating scientific matters.

      • Robert the Bruce

        sorry. I guess this is what happens when you write a comment multi-tasking at work.

        let me try again. Re: #10 — specifically concerning your phrase having “a place at the table” — so do you mean that if someone lacks any graduate/undergraduate level education in the biological sciences that their thoughts/opinion are null in any conversation on evolution and biological origins merely because they lack the scientific background? and if so, would this not lead to a “trust-us-we’re-experts” functional relationship between those in the scientific academy and those not?

        hopefully i worded that a bit better.

        • peteenns

          Of course!! If the topic is matter that require scientific training. Otherwise it would be like having someone who–say–knows their Bible well in English presuming to take part in a conversation about the Hebrew verbal system.

        • Andrew Dowling

          Would you not trust a trained surgeon to operate on you rather than the enthusiastic layman neighbor who loves reading about surgery on the Internet?

    • lorie22

      I believe that the article is meant to encourage discussion on the topic for anyone who is interested. Number 10 seems to be reminding the reader that many who claim certainty in their ‘view’ are also not necessarily experts in the field.
      Just my thoughts though…I don’t pretend to speak for Dr. Enns

      • peteenns

        That’s pretty much what I am saying.

      • 4 WIW

        Interesting comment. I once heard it said that in terms of promoting the theory of evolution as fact, the most dangerous people in the world are high school biology teachers. In my on case the opposite is true. When I was 17 I was a new Christian and I tried to reconcile the creation story with evolution though the use of the view of theistic evolution. My science teacher, a devout Roman Catholic, gave me an A on the paper, but privately warned me to be careful going too far down that road. Later while at the University of Michigan, I heard a presentation by Dr. John C. Whitcomb, Jr. coauthor of The Genesis Flood, about his own spiritual journey and it became clear to me that the faith we need to please God is to believe that He is just as capable of having created the universe in 7 micro-seconds, as 7 literal days or 7 billion years.

    • For me, I take it as a reminder that we need to be aware of our limitations. I have the general, liberal arts level of science education (currently looking into the theory that thunder is not the angels bowling) and can comment on science at that level, but I have to recognize that I’m out of my league when I’m arguing with the consensus of the paleontology community about the age of fossils. There is no article or Josh McDowell book I can read that’s going to bring me up to speed enough to peer review those guys.

      This is pretty much the case in every aspect of life. I can only critique my doctor’s diagnoses up to a point. I can only critique a construction team’s materials decisions up to a point. That doesn’t absolve me of my responsibility to learn or think critically, but it does mean I have to be cognizant that my own level of knowledge on a topic does not put me on the same playing field as a professional who has dedicated their lives to it.

    • Lark62

      For me, I pay attention to the track record – how often is the person or group right and what do they do when wrong.

      Evolution is pretty consistent about being right. The discovery of Tiktaalik is one example. Also, genetics fully confirms evolution even though genetics were unknown at the time of Darwin. On the other hand, when more and more evidence indicated that Piltdown man couldn’t be real, the scientific community acknowledged it as a fraud completely and permanently. Piltdown man is gone and doesn’t return.

      Compare that to ID. Irreducible complexity was shown to be ridiculous during the Kitzmiller v Dover trial, but it is still around. The expert witness (Behe) stated evolution of the immune system was impossible, admitted he had read none if the scientific papers or textbooks documenting the evolution of the immune system, then repeated his unfounded and clearly incorrect assertion without shame.

      There is no basis for any reliance on the accuracy of ID or the integrity of its proponents.

      So I trust scientists because they’re experts, but also because it had been shown they can be trusted.

      • DesertLady48

        Yep, ID had its day and court and went down in flames. Behe himself stated there was test that could be done to falsify his “irreducibly complex” bacterial flagulem(sp?) and he hadn’t done it!

  • jaia60

    Good article. It would be a big step if we Christians simply acknowledge that science and religion are two different, and not incompatible, things. Let science explain the physical world, and let religion deal with the spiritual and the unknown, and guide us in living our lives.

    It seems so obvious (now), after a literalist upbringing, that the poetic creation stories in Genesis were derived from ancient stories (myth) that explained the world in terms that people living thousands of years ago could understand.

    I doubt that God intended for us to stop exploring and learning about the physical world after the KJV was published.

    • Chris Falter

      Pete, is it accurate to say that our understanding of the grammars, idioms, etc. of Biblical languages are not static? I know that our understanding of the history is constantly developing as archeologists go about their business.

    • William Davis

      Genesis was largely derived from much older Sumerian, Babylonian myths. If you are interested I can demonstrate very specifically. I find ancient history and mythology fascinating 🙂 Just for a taste, here is the oldest known flood myth. Eridu was a Sumerian city, arguably the oldest city in human history:


      The epic of Gilgamesh is more fun, but not as old (still a lot older than the Torah of the Hebrew Bible). The creation days are mostly a compression of the Sumeria Epic of creation, Enuma Elish. There were 7 tablets, humans were created out of clay. In Sumerian language, ti was the word for life and rib. Eve was the Hebrew word for life (some Bible translations use life instead of Eve) but the joke about the rib was lost in the Hebrew language.
      There is a lot more where this came from 🙂

      • Sam

        More and more scholars now date Enuma Elish to about the 12th or 13th century BC which is well after the time of Moses and therefore Genesis. So hard to see how the Genesis creation account could be derived from something that was most likely written after it. W.G. Lambert would be probably the best known proponent of the now pretty widely accepted later dating if you want to look it up.

        • Agni Ashwin

          The narrative of Atra-Hasis is an Akkadian-Babylonian creation/flood narrative dating to c. 1800 BCE.

          • peteenns

            Not to mention Gen 1 is late monarchic at best, likely later.

        • Andrew Dowling

          What makes you claim Genesis is as old as Moses?

          • Sam

            Jesus often refers to the law of Moses. He also refers to the division of the Scriptures into ‘the law and the prophets’ or ‘the law, the prophets and the psalms.’ It’s my understanding that in this division, ‘the law’ was generally understood to mean the first 5 books of the Bible. I suppose one could argue that more specific references to ‘the law of Moses’ were speaking more narrowly of the laws in Exodus and Leviticus etc. but it seems to me that Jesus and the writers of the New Testament are pretty accepting of the division that attributes the Pentateuch to Moses. I know a lot of scholarship has been influenced by Wellhausen’s JDEP to date these books much later, but I’ve always found such arguments pretty speculative and imaginative.

          • peteenns

            Sam, I appreciate your comments, but to save you some trouble, you making some assumptions here about the nature of biblical literature only held by extremely conservative inerrantists. You can certainly believe as you wish, but you won’t get very far.

        • William Davis

          More and more scholars now date Enuma Elish to about the 12th or 13th century BC which is well after the time of Moses and therefore Genesis.

          I’m fine with that, but more and more scholars date the Torah to around the 8th century B.C. I think the joke about the rib proves it to me. Often jokes like that get lost when translated to another language.

          In Egyptian, Moses simply means “born of” and is almost never used by itself. To me, this indicates it isn’t the name of a real person, but of a legend. One of the oldest stories about parting the sea is extremely old, and is about one of the greatest kings of Egypt, Seneferu, father of Khufu who built the Great Pyramid at Giza. It’s a fascinating story if you have time to read it:


          If you are interested I don’t mind chatting about the origins of Judaism in Canaan. Ugarit comes into play here and gives us a tremendous insight into the origins of El and Baal (not to mention an entire pantheon of gods, elohim) but also has helped us translate the Bible.

  • Chris Falter

    The inerrantist crowd makes a strong critique of the “latest” scientific findings: “Why should the latest [man’s] thinking be privileged over God’s eternal, unchanging Word?” the thinking goes. (point #8)

    But is it not true that our understanding of the grammar of Biblical languages and the historical context of the Scripture also changes over time? And therefore, if we are committed to historical-grammatical hermeneutics, won’t the results of our hermeneutic likewise change over time?

    The inerrantist may reply: well, they don’t change very much, and not in a fundamental way. To which the evolutionary creationist could likewise reply: the science of biological origins has likewise shown remarkable stability over the better part of two centuries.

    Fellow believers: Don’t hold your breath waiting for the scientific community to change its mind about descent with modification.

  • jaia60

    I’m curious how non-literalist churches handle Sunday School. In my case, decades ago, we learned about Adam and Eve, taught as absolute fact, and never learned otherwise from the literalist teachers, which I think is part of the problem.

    It took me until I was in college to begin separating science from religion, and for a long time I was a bit bitter about the literal Sunday School upbringing.

    How and when do Sunday Schools today handle and explain the transition from fact to myth?

    • LorenHaas

      Led a group at our church through Dr. Enn’s “Genesis for Normal People”. It was attended by a 15 year old who had grown up in this church. Her question to the pastor in attendance was, “Why did you teach us about Noah and the Ark if it was not true?” His answer was that we have different abilities to understand bible stories at different ages and he apologized for misleading her in Sunday school when she was much younger. It was a great teaching moment for everyone in the room.

      • peteenns

        Great story, Loren.

        • LorenHaas

          It was an eye opener.
          Our pastor has gradually but consistently lead the congregation (American Baptist) away from an inerrant and literal understanding of the bible. We have lost some congregants but we are gaining more who feel encouraged.

      • jaia60

        That is an admirable response.
        I’m in a mainstream church, and even though one can look on the website and find that the church officially accepts evolution science, I get the feeling that the pastors tend to avoid it publicly, knowing that a significant percentage of the members, even in mainstream churches, still believe what they learned in Sunday School.

      • Jpm

        I remember as an adult feeling betrayed by my conservative Baptist church training when I read of the deeper meaning of deeper story of God’s provision of salvation in the Noah story, when all that was ever presented was a children’s story, so it cuts both ways.

      • 4 WIW

        Wonderful, now the girl thinks of Christianity as the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. Skepticism is to truth what the spirit of antichrist is to Christ.

        • LorenHaas

          So it is better to just continue to believe in Easter Bunny and Santa Claus and not to grow up and gain an adult understanding?
          You aren’t a holiday novelty salesperson are you?

    • Mike Stidham

      Generally such Christian Ed programs are moralistic in their approach. Rather than going for factual knowledge, it’s more “how then shall we live?” even for young children.

      • Andrew Dowling

        Pretty much all Sunday schools, including the Catholic and mainline churches, teach the Bible stories as literal events to the elementary age children, and later on more de emphasize any focus on history and focus more on the moral lessons learned.

        • newenglandsun

          Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and many Anglicans generally don’t focus on breaking up the Church into age groups like that. As such, children will be in the liturgy right with their parents and they simply have the Bible read to them as the Church would read it to them.

          • Andrew Dowling

            NE Sun, there is this thing the Catholics do called Sunday School. Also another huge apparatus known as the parochial school system.

          • newenglandsun

            when i attended a catholic church (though an eastern one so westerners might be different), the younger children attended the same liturgy with their parents and there was only one liturgy.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Catholics don’t do Sunday School as a part of the church service, it’s either before or after the Mass (depending on which one the child attends)

          • newenglandsun

            that is what i meant…there’s also catechetical classes for people trying to more familiarize themselves with the full doctrine which children and adults can also attend though there were more adults at the ones i went to.

    • William Davis

      Why not just tell it like any other story. Start with “This is the story of Adam and Eve”. They won’t necessarily assume it’s fact, children are used to, and enjoy educational fiction. My 4 year old son has taught himself to read via tablet/x-box and other “educational fiction”.

  • ClaraB43

    I could be wrong, but I seem to recall St. Maximos the Confessor somewhere disdaining as fools those who would read the Genesis creation accounts literally. Can’t find it now. Anyone?

    • peteenns

      Not sure if he did but there a famous Augustine quote like that that gets put out there a lot.

      • gapaul

        Can’t find the Augustine quote, if anybody knows it, I’d appreciate it.

        • AHH
        • Paul Bruggink

          “Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although ‘they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion’. (1 Timothy 1.7)” [Augustine, The Literal Interpretation of Genesis (De Genesi ad Litteram), Book 1, Chapter 19; from Ancient Christian Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation, No. 41, (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press), 1982 (A.D. 408)]

      • Ian Carmichael

        And Calvin makes similar, but more nuanced comments in his Commentary on Genesis. (The quote is something like ‘Moses is writing for the rude and unlearned’)

    • newenglandsun

      there’s a quote i recall from origen but the church fathers had varying different views of the genesis creation account. hence why most churches don’t mark a specific view as dogmatic.

    • Ian Carmichael

      Can’t find the text, but there’s a rather full treatment of Maximus, Augustine and Science in “Science and the Eastern Orthodox Church”

  • Ignatz

    “Literalism is not the default godly way to read the Bible that preserves biblical authority.”

    Have you ever pointed out to a fundamentalist that Paul called the story of Isaac and Ishmael an “allegory” in Galatians 4:24? It sometimes gets an actually angry reaction.

    • peteenns

      Good point, but no. We’d just get into an endless debate about how Paul’s allegory is actually something closer to plain sense.

    • Lindsey Tallent

      I think his retelling is the allegory. I don’t think he is trying to say that the original story is. And I’m not saying this as someone who needs it not to be.

    • JR

      Your exegesis is lacking. Lindsey is right. The greek word means “spoken allegorically” – in other words, “I’m speaking allegorically of Hagar and Sarah as representing two convenants” not “the story of Hagar and Sarah is allegorical fiction.”

      • Ignatz

        Oh, I think Paul probably thought of it as both things simultaneously. They used to say that Scripture was “literal, allegorical, and anagogical.” But it was the spiritual or allegorical dimension that they viewed as important. It wasn’t Scripture because it was a history book, it was Scripture because of its spiritual meaning.

        And you can see that allegorizing in just about ANY early Christian document discussing the Old Testament. Not just Paul, but Augustine, Basil, the Epistle of Barnabas – everywhere. If fact, they almost hyperallegorize it – so that Moses holding up wood and stretching out his hands becomes an image of the cross, for example. And they get that from the NT, which sees Christ in Jacob’s Ladder, in the Brazen Serpent, etc.

        • JR

          If one says “both” (literal AND allegorical) then one affirms the literal existence of Adam, Hagar, & Sarah, and simply says additional meaning can be taken from the allegorical interpretation.

          You use “they” very loosely in your sentences above, implying that it includes the writers of scripture. I do not think you
          can safely say that the same “they” is in view in the following
          sentences when you say that it was the spiritual or allegorical
          dimension that “they” viewed as important.

          Jesus seemed to think the
          literal meaning of scripture was pretty important, and debated it with the spiritual leaders of the day. If it’s all allegorical it really is all up to your subjective interpretation—there is very little to argue about. Ditto for Paul. While the writers of scripture do sometimes speak allegorically, they
          are nowhere near the type of allegory we find in Augustine. Jesus spoke in parables, but then explained plain meaning from them, not some sort of hyper-allegorized super-spiritual mumbo-jumbo. [By the way, the NT doesn’t ‘see Christ’ in Jacob’s ladder, Jesus himself made a cryptic reference to himself as the ladder in John 1:51, though he doesn’t specifically mention Jacob’s experience in the passage, so it is conceivable (though unlikely) it isn’t even Jacob’s ladder that he had in view.]

  • Sam

    In the history of science, the majority of experts often ridiculed the loan contrarian voice that proved to be correct. To give one of many manty examples, Ignaz Semmelweis, a 19th century Hungarian physican was roundly criticized for insisting that doctors should wash their hands to reduce mortality rates in marernity wards. He was committed to an asylum and beaten to death by guards. The expert is often wrong because like all of us he has a fallen mind which is prone to false presuppositions. You admit that you know little about science. How much do you know about the history of science?

    • LorenHaas

      Did you know that the history of science is not kind to creationists?

    • Andrew Dowling

      Those claiming one needn’t wash their hands did not have peer reviewed empirical studies to back up their claims. You are the one needing a course on science history and what science actually is.

      • Sam

        Does peer review equate to infallibility? Is it possible for those peers to have false presuppostions that lead them to draw incorrect conclusions? Has peer reviewed science never been wrong?

        • Andrew Dowling

          Can a study be wrong? Sure. Will multiple peer reviewed studies over the span of decades be wrong, with no-one ever catching crucial methodological errors/mis-haps? Highly improbable.

          That’s the beauty of the scientific method.

          • James

            It is beautiful but not God. Christian theists have the niggling problem of affirming the existence of a Creator and Sustainer of all, including a very good method of discovery. Materialist are not so encumbered. In effect, they can make of the method a god. But even the Big Bang is freely questioned by good scientists (read Scientific American for alternate theories). For some it smacks too much, by their own admission, of “a beginning.”

          • Andrew Dowling

            “It is beautiful but not God.”

            According to much of the Hebrew tradition it is, in which God is the author and sustainer of all life (later Christian theology has described this as the “Ground of All Being”). If you don’t like that evolution is a part of that, take it up with God.

          • Sam

            There’s an interesting article in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. Titled ‘Peer review: a flawed process at the heart of science and journals.’ Worth a read I think.


          • peteenns

            Sam, you seem to be in default contrarian mode. Could you tell us what your overall point is?

          • Sam

            Peter, I guess my basic point here is that I think you and others are putting too much faith in scientific experts. I don’t believe that the scientific process is free of subjectivity and of assumptions that at times can be very flawed. I also think it’s a mistake to say that only experts in a particular field can question or dispute that field. Scientific discoveries are sometimes made by people with no credentials in the field that their discovery relates to precisely because they weren’t hampered by the overriding flawed assumptions that dominated that field.

            I hope that answers your question, although I’m not sure if doing so doesn’t just confirm the ‘default contrarian mode’ you’ve saddled me with 😉 Nice trap, damned if I do and damned if I don’t. Mind you, my initial post here also had a question that was probably a little unfair in a similar respect. I could have argued my point about the history of science in a less accusatory manner. So sorry about that.

          • peteenns

            You’re confirming the point of my post, Sam. And anyone can banter about skepticism, but unless they actually know the field their objections are not worth noting.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “I don’t believe that the scientific process is free of subjectivity”

            And religion is . . . . .

          • 4 WIW

            To Sam’s point, one of the current urban myths as it were is that scientists are objective searchers of physical truth. This may have been true at some point in human history, but the world of science today is corrupted by several factors including the pursuit of recognition, wealth, power of influence, a desire to destroy religious belief – did I say wealth? The whole debate over man-made global warming is a perfect current example of where scientists have to sing the siren song of the sky is falling in order to get funded. Just like our political system, greed has distorted what would otherwise be a noble endeavor. The same thing can be said for organized religion, so as will all things caveat emptor.

    • Lark62

      When the lone voice is backed by evidence, the scientific community will come around.

      Example – Wegener had evidence that the continents moved, but no evidence for how they moved. The idea of moving continents was radical and Wegener was mocked. Then more evidence happened. Lots of evidence. Overwhelming evidence across multiple disciplines. The theory of plate tectonics is now pretty much universally accepted. Because evidence happened.

      You cannot use the forward progress of science based on new evidence to support giving credence to unsupported and debunked myth.

      Semmelweis apparently based his hypothesis on hygiene on evidence – better outcomes in a sterile environment. Wegener also based his hypothesis on evidence.

      Science moves forward based on evidence. And even the most cherished theories must give way.

      Forget the lone voice. An entire chorus of voices shouting “my creation myth is real because I like my creation myth and want it to be real” is not evidence. The biblical creation myth has been debunked. It is internally contradictory and actually quite silly. Was Adam created before animals (gen 2) or after animals (gen 1). We know the earth formed after the sun and the sun is simply another star, on the smallish side. Whatever new truths scientists discover, it won’t be that the moon is a “light.”

      This simply is not a case of a scientist with evidence being ahead of his time. Proponents of the biblical creation myth are not scientists. They are small children refusing to acknowledge that Mickey Mouse is not real.

      • Sam

        I know many scientists who are creationists and the Creation Science movement is interestingly a movement of scientists. To simply label such people as small children seems a bit arrogant. Furthermore, the majority of theistic evolutionists that I know don’t actually have a science background. I worked in a christian school for a while and all the board members and most of the staff were theistic evolutionists with just a few exceptions – the science teachers to a man were creationists. So much of how one interprets the ‘evidence’ depends on your presuppositions that you bring to that so called ‘evidence’ or data.

        • Are you suggesting that the fact that the science teachers at a Christian school were creationists is an argument that the evidence for evolution is in dispute?

          • Sam

            I’m simply observing that in my experience, particularly in christian circles, I don’t find knowledge of science to very often be the determining factor in where people come down on evolution. It’s not as if those with arts backgrounds are all creationists and those with science backgrounds are all evolutionists. I do believe the science is disputable though many would claim that it isn’t simply because the majority of experts say so. However I don’t base that view merely on the anecdote above.

          • Lark62

            There is no serious dispute by experts on their respective fields.

            The Discovery Institute has a list of “scientists” who believe in Intelligent Design. The list includes computer scientists and others with no authority in relevant branches of science. The last I heard, they had 800 or so names.

            The Natl Center for Science Education didn’t want to dignify that list or let it go unchallenged. So they started a list of those who accept evolution with 2 requirements – a PhD in a RELEVANT field and their first name is Steve or some variation of Steve.

            There are about 1400 scientists named Steve on the list.

            The science supporting evolution ifs solid.

          • William Davis

            Science teachers aren’t scientists…

        • Lark62

          Scientists base their conclusions on evidence. Scientists must be willing to discard a hypothesis, no matter how cherished, if the evidence fails to support it. Scientists follow the evidence.

          By definition creationists start with the desired result and look for evidence supporting that result and systematically ignore anything and everything that would contradict that conclusion. This isn’t science. Calling it science doesn’t make it true.

          • Daniel Fisher

            Some would observe that, by definition, “naturalistic” scientists start with their presumed conclusion (that life must have arisen by natural means), and unsurprisingly come to a naturalistic conclusion. When a scientist uses a method that de facto rules out any possibility of supernatural conclusion whatsoever, I’m not sure this is any more or less “question begging” than what the creationists are accused of?

        • William Davis

          Science is highly specialized. How many biologists do you know that reject evolution. Of these scientist, how many have Ph.Ds, and what are their areas of expertise. Are they doing active research, if so, in what? If none have added anything new to our scientific knowledge, they aren’t really worthy of the label “scientist”. One who has studied science would be more appropriate.

        • Klasie Kraalogies

          Define “many”. Especially in relation to the number who actually do accept evolution.

          There are also a few well trained medical professionals who went off the deep end and questioned whether AIDS is caused by HIV. Does not make them right.

  • Ian Carmichael

    Very well put. And, you may be interested that even Charles Hodge noted that it was important to distinguish between what the Scripture writers “happened to believe” and what they “intended to teach”. It’s cited somewhere in Denis Alexander’s “Rebuilding the Matrix”.

  • Laymen (in this case, non-biologists) have no choice but to accept the scientific consensus (in this case, evolution) where it exists as our best provisional explanation for that part of reality.

    • peteenns

      I agree. That is largely my point.

      • William Davis

        I applaud your efforts, and hope more go in this direction.

    • JR

      The appeal to authority is a logical fallacy.

  • GordonHide

    Are there any Christians who treat the entire bible as myth or probable myth and concentrate on Christian values, traditions, rituals, festivals, wellbeing and cohesiveness of their group?

    • Andrew Dowling

      I don’t think it’s historically tenable to consider all of the Bible solely mythical, but I and many other Christians accept that the Bible does contain a lot of ahistorical/mythical narratives, and stories mixing together both history remembered and history mythologized.

    • Warren

      Denominations that focus mainly on what you’ve listed tend to downplay orthodoxy altogether, rather than adopt a mythic one. That is, I’m not aware of any denomination that includes “The Bible is most definitely a collection of myths and ancient documents” as part of its official creed, but there are plenty of denominations that don’t really care what you believe about hell or the origin of life, so long as you do good.

      The Episcopal Church is a pretty big one, with quite a bit of ceremony and hardly any doctrine; PC(USA) is much less ceremonial and conspicuously describes the Bible, in its ordination vows, as “the unique and authoritative witness of Jesus Christ universal,” while other Presbyterians would say “the Word of God and inspired by the Holy Spirit”; the Progressive Church is probably the most extreme end, explicitly stating that “following the path and teachings of Jesus can lead to an awareness and experience of the Sacred and the Oneness and Unity of all life” and that said teachings “provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life.”

      If you’re looking for specific people who identify as Christian, focus on social justice, and most emphatically do not believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, check out Fred Clark’s blog.

    • newenglandsun

      The word “myth” does not mean “factually innacurate” or necessarily “ahistorical”. The word “myth”, in its technical sense refers to any story involving deities or describing primordial events that cannot necessarily be proven one way or another. So yes, the entire Bible is a book of myths under this definition.

      • Jon-Michael Ivey

        The technical, academic, historic meaning of myth does not even require the story involve deities or describe primordial events. A myth must merely have a deep cultural resonance and serve to explain some of the important values of the culture that originated it. In this sense it is entirely appropriate to refer to the Holocaust as a myth, while affirming that Hitler really did try to exterminate the Jews (and others).

        • newenglandsun

          Thanks for the further definition. I had forgotten the precise definition. It’s been since sophomore year that I’ve heard it.

    • Lindsey Tallent

      I think the Unitarian Universalists (which are not generally Christian, but can be) are probably your best bet. Second to that, the more liberal streams of Episcopal or Presbyterian churches, perhaps.

  • Joey Navis

    after reading most comments,,, it just seems so nonsensical to literally believe two separate and distinct creation stories which take place in the first chapters of genesis,,, the first orderly and the second kinda chaotic,,, but nevertheless two very different stories,,, pretty much incompatible. they are very beautiful stories portraying the creator and the first people in wonderful ways,,, but to insist on a literal interpretation is forcing a round peg into a square hole

  • Johnny Number 5

    For point 10, I think you’re overplaying, if only by a little, the authority we should grant to experts. Essentially, experts are just a community of people who have come to identify themselves as a group/guild of experts, and have been sufficiently successful (either through rhetoric or through pragmatic presentation of expertise) to convince others to join their guild via approved channels (e.g., grad school) and methodologies. Experts like to claim that only fellow experts have the standing to question their interpretation of the data, but that’s begging the question of who actually should have that standing, which is always a political process of groups in society claiming to have expertise and then using rhetorical or political tools in order to justify that standing. Not to mention that there are groups of scientists that claim scientific expertise who really shouldn’t be given the same benefit of the doubt as other fields because they are younger or are working in a space that has sparse/expensive data relative to the problems they are trying to address (sports/fitness science comes to mind; there are relatively few random controlled trials for, say, what kind of workout produces better effects, at least compared to the number of people making claims of expertise in that area, mostly because it’s difficult to sufficiently isolate variables to make clear, scientifically valid claims).

    That being said, I’m mostly a philosophical pragmatist at heart, and I think that at least in the arena of science, the explanations of experts tend toward becoming more accurate depictions/models of the way the world really is. The effectiveness of the scientific method to do things in the world (Behold, we have electric lights and airplanes!) is a particularly useful rhetorical tool to demonstrate that science generally tends toward accurate understandings of the world.

    And therefore I think we should mostly trust the scientific consensus at any given time to probably give us the best explanation possible given the tools available at the time. However, given how human all of this knowledge construction is, this doesn’t mean that scientific explanations are thereby unassailable, even from non-guilded non-experts. Scientific guilds aren’t free-floating cadres of smart people unmoored from the societal processes of knowledge creation or the networks of power that enable/allow certain conceptions of reality to circulate more free freely than others. Rather, they are human-defined, historically-constructed communities, and therefore are always available for critique by other humans.

    Nor does it mean that we lowly non-experts aren’t in a position to judge any scientific statements. I think I’m actually well-positioned, as a reasonably-well educated (though not in biological sciences) person, to evaluate at least general categories of evidence and scientific theory. It’s on this basis that I became overwhelmingly convinced of descent by modification; I saw enough clear evidence to convince me that the young-earth creationism of my youth simply was not a historic description of the earth. I wouldn’t have come to agree with biologists on evolution simply on the basis of them brandishing their credentials/expertise. Indeed (by Arthur C. Clarke’s third law), if scientific ideas were so far beyond me that I couldn’t evaluate them, I would only be able to conclude that they’re magical. But no, I *can* actually come to a good working knowledge of (most) scientific theories and come to independent judgments on their plausibility. If people like me couldn’t at least get the general idea about the conclusions of science, then science as an establishment, regardless of it’s accuracy and/or truthfulness, would eventually lose it’s societal positioning as a guild of experts.

    I think the best way of approaching the question of expertise, at least for non-experts, is to think of the scientific consensus as a pretty heavy Bayesian prior. In other words, whenever there is new evidence or ideas to evaluate, we should be open to changing our views, but that updating of our views should be heavily weighted toward what the current scientific consensus is, and it would take *a lot* of evidence or very extensive counter-theories in order to convince us to budge from what scientists already tend to believe. Most “new” pieces of evidence aren’t enough to disrupt a very consistent and extensive collection of disparate-but-mutually-reinforcing data and theories supporting evolution.

    Which means I tend to agree with #10 in practice as to how we should approach the general consensus of experts from the scientific community, but I disagree with what I think is a somewhat insufficiently theorized conception of what scientific expertise is, how it operates, and where it comes from.

    • Essentially, experts are just a community of people who have come to identify themselves as a group/guild of experts, and have been sufficiently successful (either through rhetoric or through pragmatic presentation of expertise) to convince others to join their guild via approved channels (e.g., grad school) and methodologies.

      • Johnny Number 5

        You make a thorough and eloquent reply to my arguments regarding the sociology of knowledge (and therefore, the sociology of expertise). Would you care to elaborate on exactly what you disagree with here.

  • Brian Millhollon

    Dr. Enns Thank you! Excellent and extremely helpful synopsis of the challenges facing the Christian faith as it wrestles with the implications of evolutionary principles . I found # 7 particularly insightful: ” The theological and philosophical problems for the Christian faith that evolution brings to the table…require much thought and a multi-disciplinary effort to work through”. I can’t imagine a more Herculean task, requiring in our time the resolve of a Luther, the passion of a Galileo, the intellect of an Aquinas or Pascal and the faith of a Paul . It is THE theological work of our day and I pray that the church will engage the challenge and stop pretending it either didn’t exist or is a particularly nasty trick of the devil. Evolutionary principles on their own make for a pretty crummy world view. It is the task of church to bring these principles into perspective and it cannot do this if it is afraid to ask the very hard and often very scary questions.

    • William Davis

      Evolution was never supposed to be a world view, it is simply an observed fact of nature. Natural selection is a theory of evolution, but odds are it’s more complicated than just natural selection. This leaves room for plenty of philosophical conjecture. Philosophy is where world views are at, and everyone has a philosophy. At this point it is necessary for any coherent philosophy to be consistent with evolution, so I’m glad you guys are trying to join the club 🙂 To me, evolution makes creation much more fascinating, and you might find this interesting:



      I think this is something a wide variety of world views can come together on, and marvel at what we call reality.

  • Rafael Galvão

    I have to point out something in #6, because this is a huge point for Young-Earth Creationists. They keep insisting that Darwinism is a religion and for some atheists, it really is, though the problem isn’t like that.

    See, I have a degree in Economics and my favorite subject is history of economic thought. R. H. Nelson, in “Economics as Religion” advanced the idea that mainstream economics is a secular religion (he even makes a historical research to show how Evangelical movements in the late 19th century helped to establish the economic science). The idea can be extended to the fact any school of economic thought can be taken as a secular religion and that could potentially be at odds with the Bible.

    The point is that there are Neoclassical Christians, Keynesian Christians, Austrian Christians, Marxist Christians (yes, they exist, there are even less antibiblical things in Marx’s writings than in Ayn Rand’s writings), but none of them think of their school of thought as a secular religion, but the accusation can be leveled at any moment. If you take them as a set of tools of economics analysis, there shouldn’t be, the problem is when it becomes an idol.

  • Wow Peter, you so nailed it – great comprehensive list!

  • Norman

    Pete’s #4 can have an interesting twist or reversal. “Both Paul and the writer of Genesis thought Adam was a real person, the first man.”

    It’s doubtful that the writer of Genesis when he constructed the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis thought “wow” I’m writing about the first human in history. It’s more likely he or they realized that indeed they were constructing/conceiving a theological narrative from the get go and it was “they” who developed these characters albeit representative of human well understood attributes. It’s the same possibly with Paul; in my opinion it’s quite debatable whether Paul is presenting a biological idea of Adam in Romans 5 & 7 and in 1 Cor 15. Paul being a product of 2nd T literature instead of the enlightenment very possibly was seeing Adam as a priestly representative (see the 2nd BC book of Jubilees) more in tune with the calling of Israel than a biological progenitor of human kind. Even though it may come across reading as biological literal at first glance there is just too much internal and external literary evidence that points to Genesis being all about theology in one variation or another.

    Where this gets turned around though IMO is with some modern biblical scholars who build their commentaries about Paul from the precept that Paul was also an ignorant ancient and we have to give him some leeway to be ancient. That’s all right as long as it’s done without bringing too much of one’s own presupposition’s to the table as I still see some do (IMHO). All of us (and I include myself here) attempt to pigeon hole Paul from many different angles; that is what one does as we examine the evidence. However since this isn’t scientific empiricism we do so from a loosely held amalgamation of logical determinations. If you think Paul is speaking biological then you draw your conclusions appropriately but if you think Paul is speaking covenantal and from more of a theological priestly 2nd T imagination then one may draw different conclusions about Rom 5:12. How to split this proverbial hermeneutic baby is simply not easy and likely one should hold their concepts rather loosely to an extent while pushing toward what makes the best hermeneutic logical sense.

    I said all of this to say that I essentially agree with Pete regarding his article although I tend to think well trained curious and read laymen can interpret how well logically both Biblical scholars and Scientist present their evidence. Both categories are not immune to bringing presuppositions to their arguments without recognizing it. Well trained laymen can learn to be adept in recognizing logical presentations but obviously it does become more difficult with the more technical the information becomes. Scientist like Biblical scholars really don’t perform their ultimate responsibility unless they can communicate their ideas downward to at least the educated layman. That is where I must give Pete recognition for his attempt to indeed bring the discussion down to levels in which the important concepts can trickle out and be assimilated by the culture. Big job ahead of course as it’s an uphill battle but thanks Pete for the determined effort. It is appreciated.

    • newenglandsun

      In a Roman history class I took this semester, I asked the professor what Justinian I and Empress Theodora looked like. She suggested we get a blue telephone box and find out. Man, don’t you wish we had a blue telephone box?

      • babby660

        Dr. Who lives (and rocks).

  • Lars Olav Gjøra

    I got stuck with #4. “Any notion of inspiration must embrace and engage the notion that God, by his Spirit, speaks within ancient categories. […] Should the principle be abandoned when it becomes theologically uncomfortable?”

    What are other arguments for God speaking within ancient categories except the ‘3-tier universe’ argument? It seems to me that there is a distinction between speaking into a historical situation and speaking within ancient categories.

    Also mentioned somewhere is the argument that “we have to distinguish between what Paul happened to believe and what he taught.” And the “plain reading of the text” seems to be that Paul taught that a historical Adam has a place in the gospel story. Not necessarily as the first man, though.

    • Andrew Dowling

      “And the “plain reading of the text” seems to be”

      Paul’s Judaism (or Jesus’s) doesn’t do “plain readings of texts” . .

  • stefanstackhouse

    Jesus didn’t say anything about Adam, but He certainly did mention Abel (Matt 23:35, Lk 11:51), and it is clear that He considered him to be a real person who had really lived. Because Jesus is my Teacher and Lord, I must submit to His teaching and accept that Abel was a real person. All truth is God’s truth, and I have to have faith that in the end, when all is known, we will be able to see the reconciliation of scientific evidence with a historical Abel.

    I don’t know how you can read Gen 4 as being something totally apart from Gen 2-3. It would seem to me if one presumes a real historical Abel, then one is pretty much forced to presume a real historical Adam & Eve as well – either that, or else tie oneself up in a pretzel trying to escape that conclusion.

    Mind you, I would still be quite open to Adam, Eve, Abel and Cain all having lived very long (hundreds of thousands of years) ago, and of the language of Gen 2 being metaphorical for the creation of the first real humans out of a population of near-human hominids. Such conclusions are quite consistent with a reasonable hermeneutic.

  • postoergopostum

    Regarding #8. Science is changing, therefore it’s all up for grabs.

    Isaac Asimov wrote the most eloquent short essay that addresses this issue I’ve ever read, accordingly I recommend it to all. It’s called, The Relativity of Wrong, and here’s a link;


    • Are you suggesting that a changing body of knowledge can’t be trusted? What body of knowledge does this NOT apply to? Certainly theology is changing all the time.

  • As well, when discussing “scientific accuracy”, one also has to come to terms with the fact that this is not a binary. Accuracy is a sliding scale, relative to knowledge and resolution (as in scope, not determination). In fact, all science is essentially a model, with the understanding that any model is less complex than the infinitely complex universe we inhabit. Newtonian physics and euclidian geometry are just fine when building my new back porch. They don’t have the resolution to model very large or very small physical interactions. Etc., etc., my point being that any claim that the Bible must/should/aught to be “scientifically accurate” misunderstands what, exactly, science is.

  • Sorry, Peter, but Paul’s reference in Romans 5:12ff to the Genesis Adam Story should be *assumed* to be read literally. Otherwise the entire letter, along with the corpus of his writings generally, makes no sense at all. He was obviously wrong about his history. When it comes to the Bible, like other “Progressive-Minded” Evangelicals, you want to have your cake and eat it, too. Better to move on with the science and leave tribal superstition behind. That includes Jesus.

    • peteenns

      Well now, that was condescending. And wrong.

      • Veritas

        Could not the original Adam be simply the first human with a conscience and therefore the first with a sense of right, wrong, and that they were created?
        This would lead to shame, fear, and that they had transgressed what they were called to. Here sin entered the world, because, if they were blind, they would be without sin, but since they can see, their sin remained….

      • What seems condescending is assuming people need a PhD-level grasp of the New Testament’s hermeneutical nuance(s) to understand what Paul was saying to the simple folk meeting in+around Rome in the name of Jesus, Peter.

        Your book is fabulous, though. Cheers.

        • peteenns

          What difference would you say a PhD makes?

          • It demonstrates you have the cognitive capacity to think abstractly, comprehensively, and meaningfully about a topic of interest. In your case, quite successfully — as amply demonstrated in your books.

            But it also demonstrates you have the creative capacity to engage in elaborate “post-hoc” arguments that rescue your emotion-based pre-commitments from the logic of your rational thinking — aiding and abetting your leap of faith.

            You’ve admirably convinced your readers that the Bible lacks the authority it claims for itself. It’s errors are systemic, as modern science continues to demonstrate. Why stop with your acknowledgement of Genesis?

            Kind Regards, Pete. Cheers.

          • newenglandsun

            It depends how the PhD is being used. Some people who have PhD’s sure don’t act like they have PhD’s. These would be the guys to feel a need to advertise to everyone they have a PhD. They also tend to think that having a PhD gives them superior knowledge to a subject. All a PhD in most instances means is that you’re effectively trained in writing bullshit at a persuasive, academic level and possibly know more languages than others. Theoretically, one who does not have a PhD can also be just as knowledgeable…maybe two M.A.’s is smarter than one PhD?

    • Stuart Blessman

      I absolutely agree, Rob. But we’ll be bringing the Sermon on the Mount with us, since it seems most have no use for it anyways.

  • 3vil5triker .

    So, here’s my take on Genesis:

    In the beginning, humankind was simple, obedient, and trusting. Like all the other animals, they walked around naked, without shame. They lived in paradise.

    But what was paradise for our primitive ancestors? What did they need beyond sustenance, shelter and companionship? How can you long for something you cannot know you are missing? As the expression goes: ignorance is bliss.

    However, God had revealed himself to our ancestors, and with that knowledge came desire: to become like God. Unheeding of the warnings that were given, they crossed the threshold of knowledge.

    The veil was lifted from their eyes. They came to know good and evil, capable of both doing right and wrong, and experiencing both love and hate. They came to know the miracle of life.

    And so, death entered the world.

    Not actual death, since death has always been an inextricable part of life, but our knowledge of it, and with that knowledge came fear and despair.

    So, another way of interpreting the Genesis is as a story of awakening and transition instead of a story of origin. After all, isn’t it our minds more than our physical bodies what truly separates us from all other life on Earth?

    As to what part does Jesus play in all this, maybe he paved the way and showed us a path to transform our knowledge into wisdom and our despair into hope: that death doesn’t have to be the end.

    Of course, I’m just an atheist, giving my own interpretation of a biblical story within a contemporary context. But, does that make it any less true than any other?

    • babby660

      Of the Fossil Record versus the Biblical Record, I’d like to point out that the Fossil Record is set in stone & that Adam & Eve most likely were illiterate.

    • Andrew Dowling

      I actually think you make some strong points.

      On kind of a side note, homo sapiens were likely not the first hominids to have a conception of death. There’s strong evidence the Neanderthals buried their dead, and who knows what some of the earlier homo incarnations like homo habilis or homo erectus were aware of.

      Heck, elephants collectively mourn their dead. I suppose they will not be exempt from the wrath to come either . . .

  • Rust Cohle

    It’s good to say the Bible is figurative instead of literal; it is even better to be consistent about it.

    Now [figurative/literal] Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was […] the son of [figurative/literal] Adam, the son of God. Luke 3:23-38

    For just as through the disobedience of the [figurative/literal] one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the [figurative/literal] one man the many will be made righteous. ~Romans 5:19

    For as in [figurative/literal]Adam all die, so also in [figurative/literal] Christ all will be made alive. ~1 Corinthians 15:22

    • peteenns

      Yours is a very flat Bible, Rust, that treats it like a math formula that requires both sides of the equation to be balanced. The hermeneutical, historical, theological issues are far more complex that what you relay here.

      • Rust Cohle

        I think this reply illustrates why Hector Avalos, professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University, “criticizes his colleagues for applying a variety of flawed and specious techniques aimed at maintaining the illusion that the Bible is still relevant in today’s world” and for “being more concerned about its self-preservation than about giving an honest account,” in his text The End of Bible Studies. prometheusbooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=52

        • Stuart Blessman

          Good question to ask. Is the Bible still relevant in today’s world? Or is Jesus still relevant in today’s world?

          Could get rhetorically tricky real quick, lol.

    • I take Exodus 14 as purely literal. Therefore, I also take Exodus 15 as purely literal. This is how I know that God has a physical nose and parted the sea by sneezing it apart.

    • Paul D.

      It is certainly the case that some people are much more comfortable with accepting the Old Testament as being allegory, theology, and just plain literary invention (which there’s nothing wrong with) than they are when it comes to the New Testament.

      After all, as long as we can be sure that at least seven of the Pauline epistles are genuine, that Paul was divinely inspired, and that Jesus said most of the stuff the Gospels claim he did, we can still do theology and play our hermeneutics games.

  • Realist1234

    Re Point 9 ‘Those without training in the relevant fields are particularly susceptible to following a minority voice if it confirms their own thinking.’ This may be true, though I would also suggest that those who have been trained in, say, the biological sciences and evolution tend to accept the mainstream view without question. Sometimes it takes an ‘outsider’ to rightly question not only the apparent ‘facts’ but also the assumptions upon which those facts are based. I do not know if the author has read John Lennox’s book, ‘God’s Undertaker – has science buried God?’ but I suggest he should, as it raises valid questions to the whole evolution debate. I accept that micro-evolution occurs, as this can be observed (as Darwin did with the famous finches(and it should be remembered that the changes in the finches were temporary, not permanent)) but I am still unconvinced of macro-evolution (the ‘creation’ of new species rather than simply changes within a species, over very long periods of time). On asking questions on another blog to those convinced of the truth of evolution to explain the development of life on earth, I found it rather ironic that a number of the ‘proof’ examples provided required human, intelligent intervention for the changes to occur! Finally, it should not be forgotten that evolution does not explain how life started in the first place, just how it may have developed once it did start. Some scientists then posit the theory that life came to earth on a meteor, comet etc. But that simply moves the goal posts, as you would then have to explain how that ‘life’ came to be on the meteor…

    • peteenns

      “those who have been trained in, say, the biological sciences and evolution tend to accept the mainstream view without question.”


      • Realist1234

        Evolutionists do not question evolution because they have been told it is a ‘fact’. Why would you question a fact?

        • Dude, you know what a hotly debated topic is in scientific circles right now? Gravity.

          I’m not sure why you think the scientific community operates the way it does, but it’s not full of a bunch of sheep who never question established topics.

          • David Rahrer

            Quite the contrary, scientists question everything. Trying to prove current theories false is how we end up with what is likely true. But when you have done that extensively, as with evolution, it is only rational that it achieves a more prominent place in our understanding of how things work.

    • Any scientist who finds compelling evidence that Darwin was off his rocker would be instantly famous. No scientist has a motivation to preserve the status quo. Science is not an organization.

      • Realist1234

        My point is the vast majority of scientists are not looking for evidence that contradicts Darwin, and those that raise doubts, for example because of a lack of transitory fossils showing the connections between species, are told the evidence will turn up at some point.

        • What scientists are raising those objections and then becoming placated by explanations that the evidence will turn up at some point?

        • Lark62

          There are thousands of transitional fossils. We can watch the progression from one species to another in the fossils. Example – we have fossils of many animals that lie between a hippo like land animal and whales.

          Edit – corrected hypo typo

        • Chris Falter

          Actually, scientists have discovered a fantastic array of transitional fossils in categories like dinosaur -> bird, lobe-fin fish -> amphibians, and [land-dwelling common ancestor of hippos and cetacids] -> whales.

  • What? Really? Like “it” never questioned Jesus’ virgin birth, the Trinity, Jesus Rising…etc “the church has never questioned the historicity of Adam.”

  • Halo9x

    There are two types of truth, theological truth and scientific truth. God is the author of both since it is God who inspired the Bible and created the physical universe. In looking at the creation account I realized Gen. 1 is relaying a theological truth in poetic doublet form which when diagramed makes a menorah. The point being ‘who’ did the creating not ‘how long’ which is normally the point of interest. In short most people are asking a question of Gen.1 that the author is not addressing. The author is is therefore addressing a theolical truth not a scientific one. As for Adam, Gen 1 speaks about ‘mankind’ in general. In Gen. 2, the author focuses on the specific man, Adam who will be the familily through whom God brings about salvation via Jesus, His Son. The Old Testament is the story of Adam’s family. I accept there evolution may be possible within species but reject cross species evolution. Blue Jays don’t evolve into Eagles! Apes don’t evolve into men or there would be no more apes. The fact that God isn’t wasteful when it comes to design shouldn’t be surprising. In your point about God creating a system where survival of the fittest exists does not allow for the consequences of sin! We live in a world affected by SIN. I doubt SOTF would exist in a world where sin didn’t exist. God did create a world where free will does exist which allowed for SIN to come into being. I look forward to the new heaven and new earth wherein righteousness dwells after this one is judged. The current one is doomed and the only hope is Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s ability to transform those who respond to the gospel.

    • Andrew Dowling

      “Blue Jays don’t evolve into Eagles! Apes don’t evolve into men or there would be no more apes”.

      Sorry, you “really” need to read more about evolutionary biology before you spout stuff like this.

      (General comment)
      Yes, many people don’t accept evolution because then their whole resolution to theodicy/the problem of evil is disjointed, That is why Augustine formulated the doctrine of Original Sin;to him that explained why bad things happen to good people.

      But it’s not true. There wasn’t a historical Adam in a Garden. We have very strong evidence it’s not true. That something disturbs one’s theology is not a legitimate reason to discard reality. That’s the crux of this whole debate.

      • Then WHY are there still monkeys, Andrew? *drops mic*

        • Lark62

          But but, if Adam was created out of dirt, why is there still dirt?

        • Chris Falter

          Hi Phil –

          Maybe I am misunderstanding your point, but it seems you are interested in finding out more about the common ancestry of primates. You should be aware, though, that Andrew was talking about apes and you asked about monkeys–but they are distinct families.

          The DNA and fossil evidence points to neither chimps, bonobos, or humans as existing 8 million years ago (or so). Instead, they link back to a common ancestoral population at that time. Per this Cal-Berkeley diagram, different lineages split off and evolved into what we see today.

          As a Christian who believes that God reveals Himself both generally (through the book of nature) and specially (historically in Israel, Christ, and the church, and written in the book of Scripture), I believe that that 8 million year history of evolution did not occur apart from the providence of God. I cannot prove my belief scientifically, however.

          • Hi Chris,

            I know. I was joking with Andrew. I fully agree with him. The “why are there still monkeys” comment is one that comes up from time to time, and I was riffing off that.

            But I liked your reply; it’s very true.

  • Scott Cress

    Dr. Enns,

    This question has to do with #7 above. Is it possible for theology to create scientific problems? In what cases? Why or why not? Thank you ahead of time.

  • Scot Fourowls

    Jesus never told or referenced the “Adam” story, choosing instead the first creation tale of genesis (if you want to credit the Roman imperial selection of the gospel red-letter canon of words as attributed to Jesus by church imperialists in the 4th century C.E.). The first creation tale, written earlier in the yahwist timeline, featured a plural form of deity or deities in original archaic languages, male and female, with females and males equally created in the deities’ image. Jesus referenced this story, nothing about Adam or Eve, in the biblical canon of the accepted gospels.
    Yes, I do believe I know — and any intelligent scholarly thinker who has read what’s available as biblical exegesis today knows — much more than Paul, pseudo-Paul or any of the other writers of the imperial biblical (new testament) canon that Jesus never wrote.
    Bible worship is a travesty of all the Holy Spirit actually has for us in ever-changing mystery and synchronicity grounded in infinite unchanging compassion. The man-made doctrine of biblical inerrancy — a paper pope invented by bad scholarship and worse motives of misogyny and racism by 19th century American protestant pastors — deserves to be shredded along with similar doctrines of the koran’s inerrancy. Christians of all types as a collective body are evolving faster along the continuum away from book-worshipping fundamentalism than Muslims overall, and Islam is a dramatically head-chopping more violent force in the present century than Christianity, but the ugliness of those who have a fundamentalist desire to dominate others shows itself in all religious fundamentalisms. The ugliness hiding in the hypocrisy of biblical and koranic literalism is nothing that the real Jesus would want anyone to practice.

  • Scot Fourowls

    Peter Enns, as a Jesus follower (something which I hope we have in common), also I hope you have the courage as moderator to approve my comment on biblical exegesis and the flawed biblical inerrancy theory, tailored to your posting on this blog. If you don’t, you would be just another bible-worshipping hypocrite unwilling for people to hear both sides and let the Holy Spirit move them to know the truth. While I certainly would forgive that and move on, you would have to live with your own cowardice. So I hope you’re bigger than that!

    • peteenns

      Sorry for the delay, Scott. I have been in my prayer tower asking God to turn me from a coward into a courageous person so that I can let your comment pass. I did so, but I am still so very afraid.

      [I moderate comments, and since I am a busy guy I don’t get to them right away.]

  • Duan Walker

    “All biblical writers were limited by their culture and time”
    “God, by his Spirit, speaks within ancient categories”

    i dont see how writers limited to a particular culture would have any effect on an inspired word of god who has knowledge of the future.
    furthermore, if god is limited to speaking within ancient categories then, that limits god also. so here we are 2k yrs later still trying to figure out what he really meant. well played god

    • Duan, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. Why do you think that was? And do you think the fact that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew places any kinds of limitations on God?

      Why wasn’t the Old Testament written in, say, English?

  • Doug B

    Great post, with some excellent points. It’s nice to hear somebody make the tough admission that, as you said “The fact that evolution causes theological problems does not mean evolution is wrong. It means we have theological problems.”

    The thing I really don’t get, for Christians who reject literalism, is how you make any sense of it all. Once you interpret Adam and Noah as figurative, where do you draw the line? Was Jesus figurative as well? Is God himself figurative? Once you establish that the Bible has to be interpreted within the framework of what our reason and senses tell us, and that it’s a product of authors with limited knowledge, isn’t it a small step from there to treat the entire thing as allegory?

    If science could say with authority that Jesus didn’t exist, would Jesus be relegated to being a symbol instead of an actual being who exists in time and space? Or is THAT where you draw the line? And how is that line in the sand justified? Or are you prepared to accept a Christianity with no supernatural element, if that’s where the facts lead? If not, why?

    Once it’s possible to admit the Bible isn’t literally true, how do you separate historical fact from fiction? What’s the burden of proof? Do you give the Bible the benefit of the doubt until the scientific evidence is so overwhelming that you have to relent?

    I’m really curious how these questions are answered, as it seems to me that some of the fundamental assumptions of Christianity (i.e. the existence of an eternal soul) fly in the face of science every bit as much as evolution, and your position on this issue means you must have some rational way to accept what science tells us about the origins of the universe, but reject what it tells us about things like souls.

    • I don’t think the Bible teaches eternal souls, either, but that aside….

      Teasing out what the Bible intends to teach at any point has very little to do with science and vice-versa. Either Genesis 1 & 2 was written to be a literal blow by blow of how everything came to into being, or it was written for some other intent. What is Genesis 1 and 2 trying to teach us, and can that be true without it being literal? What genre is Genesis, or do different parts have different genres? Is the book of Genesis meant to be read the same way as the Gospel of Mark?

      Are these tricky questions? You bet. It takes rather a lot of serious study of not just the texts themselves, but various aspects of the world and the history and the community that surrounded them to even make good hypotheses. If we were in first century Judea, we could probably get away with just being simple fishermen. But we are ages away from the world of the Bible. We have to try to reconstruct that environment with the tools that we have, which is largely what historical criticism is attempting to do.

      Why do I believe that an actual Jesus physically rose from the dead in history, but I don’t believe the world came into being in six 24 hour days? Tons of reasons:

      1 – The Gospels are collations of eyewitness accounts among other things, written at least partially by people who were Jesus’ peers and friends; nobody who’s a candidate for writing Genesis was around for any of it or knew anyone who was.

      2 – Genesis has all the characteristics of ancient near-eastern primordial history-myth. The Gospels have all the characteristics of Jewish histories of their national struggles and heroes.

      3 – People who claimed to have seen the risen Jesus spread the message of the political ramifications of it in the face of imprisonment, torture, and martyrdom.

      4 – God being the creator of the heavens and earth, more powerful than the other gods of the ancient near East, and Israel’s election and story of exile are all things Genesis intends to teach and can all be true without Genesis 1 and 2 being literal history. God providing a way for Israel to escape the coming wrath through the faithful martyrdom of Jesus is something the Gospels intend to teach, and this cannot be true if Jesus was not a faithful martyr. It -can- be true if not every detail of that story is literal history.

      I could go on, but you probably get the gist.

    • Andrew Dowling

      There’s pretty strong evidence for the historical Jesus, which is why practically all serious scholars of ancient history consider Jesus to have really existed, using the same tools historians use to assess any other reported person of history.

      Now if your question is, if we somehow found data tomorrow that proved Jesus was fictional (I’m not sure what this would be, but I’ll go along with the hypothetical), would Jesus then have to be seen as a figurative symbol . . .yes without a doubt. To not would be to simply stick one’s head in the sand about reality, like some Mormons do about Joseph Smith being a charlatan.

      As an aside, I disagree with Phil below about the Gospels being straight eyewitness historical accounts. Any rendering of Jesus we have is already intertwined with the symbolic and figurative, but that doesn’t mean Jesus is fictional.

      • Just for clarity, I do not believe the Gospels are straight eyewitness historical accounts. They do contain some information from such accounts. Sorry if I gave the wrong impression. The Gospels are not straight up history in any sense we’d understand that in a modern perspective, and they definitely are not collations of eyewitness accounts. But eyewitness accounts do work into the narrative.

    • Ross

      Dear Doug. I don’t know if I can answer your question satisfactorily as the answer depends on a lot of ifs buts and wherefores.

      Not every one views the World in the same way, we all have different “schemas” on how we think about life, the universe and whether Marathons should be called Snickers.

      Some people are pre-disposed to an apparently coherent logical way of thinking which may, for instance consist of “how did things start, how did they develop, where are they going.” Inerrantist biblicists may feel that “the Bible” gives this plain and clear. Others feel that “science” does the same.

      They would tend to think in terms of the ability of man to know, to a fair extent, that these things are knowable and have been declared, either by revelation, or through human activity.

      I have met many people who are looking for the ultimate answers and feel that they are there to be found.

      Personally, I realise that in fact I know very little. When I look at all the “theories” out there, I (being more than a wee bit sceptical) recognise that they all fall short. So I would say that no-one knows all the answers. In fact no-one knows much really.

      In terms of science, I recognise that I am not a scientist so know very little about the age of the Earth, evolution, the big bang or the sex life of ants. However as much as I do know, I feel that an old Earth and some kind of development of species over a long time seem very plausible.

      As a follower of Jesus I also recognise that much of what has occurred in the life of believers over the millennia, plus the contents of the bible are also very relevant and give great wisdom and comfort (plus a fair amount of worry and terror!).

      Neither “science” nor the bible, nor the history of belief give “all the answers”. In fact I would say there is more “mystery” than “knowledge”. So we end up with the position that we may “know enough”. to give our lives some coherent basis for going on.

      To my mind anyone who feels they have “all the answers” deludes themselves.

      But I would say that the life of Jesus does give enough of the answer to create a way of living which is “a great pearl to be sought”.

      So maybe to answer your question, “science” has only scratched at the universe, it can tell us much about some things and little if anything about a great many others. Religion, I.e. the experience of the Israelites and the life and death of Jesus can give us some hints, some very important hints about what life is about.

      Neither give us all the answers, but Jesus gave us a direction to go in.

    • James M

      “Do you give the Bible the benefit of the doubt until the scientific evidence is so overwhelming that you have to relent?”

      1. The Bible is not on trial, though.

      2. It is literally true in some sense – that does not mean it contains nothing but assertions of verifiable historical fact. Job 28 is true, but not historically true. There is no “scientific evidence” for the Virginal Conception of Christ, the fall of Helel ben Shachar in Isaiah 14.12-31, the fall.of satan “like lightning” in St Luke 10.18, the real existence of Leviathan & Behemoth, or of the Four Living Creatures & the Two Beasts in Revelation.

      3. The existence of the soul is irrelevant to the reality of evolution, because the soul is neither a material entity nor a material body – it is a purely spiritual entity. It has no parts – there is nothing in it to undergo evolution.

      “Once it’s possible to admit the Bible isn’t literally true, how do you separate historical fact from fiction?”

      ## By study of the literary genres. A lament is not a genealogy, a curse is not a census, a myth is not a legal text, an apocalypse is not a liturgical text. No-one needs telling that the Battle of Hogwarts in Harry Potter 7 is not history, and that it is not a genealogy either; but the distinction of literary genres in the Bible is less obvious, so more work is needed. The beast-fable about the serpent in Genesis 3 is no more historical than the Babylonian lament of the serpent who went before the god Shamash to complain that the eagle had eaten her young:


      That the serpent and the woman in Gen.3 talk on equal terms is a sign that the story belongs to a world “before history”, in which the familiar separations of animal from human, animate from inanimate, have not taken place. This is the atmosphere of faery-tale & folk-tale, the world of Balaam & his donkey, of Achilles & his horse Xanthus:

      “Then from beneath the yoke the gleam-footed horse answered him, Xanthos, and as he spoke he bowed his head, so that all the mane fell away from the pad and swept the ground by the cross-yoke; the goddess of the white arms, Hera, had put a voice in him : `We shall still keep you safe for this time, o hard Akhilleus. And yet the day of your death is near, but it is not we who are to blame, but a great god and powerful Destiny. For
      it was not because we were slow, because wee were careless, but it was
      that high god, the child of lovely-haired Leto [Apollon], who killed him
      among the champions and gave the glory to Hektor. But for us, we two
      could run with the blast of the West Wind (Zephyros) who they say is the
      lightest of all things; yet still for you there is destiny to be killed in force by a god and a mortal.’”


      If one is reasonably well-read, and does not read only the Bible, it really is not difficult to learn how to tell different kinds of writing apart. The most unyielding Fundamentalist is incapable of not distinguishing the Gettysburg Address from the adventures of Conan the Barbarian.

  • jaia60

    I’m sorry, but to me this argument on literalism has nothing to do with Christian belief and trying to live a Christian life.

    Belief in God is belief in something eternal and supernatural, which probably by definition can never be proven or disproven, or even remotely understood.

    And my faith is in no way jeopardized by the idea that creation stories written down thousands of years ago do not hold up to scientific scrutiny today.

  • 4 WIW

    Interesting perspective as usual. It makes me wonder if you have an opinion on the historicity of the genealogies in the OT. For example, if we treat Adam as a figurative being, not a literal man, can you tell me at what point in the listed genealogies that we are to believe that the first mention of a real, (literal) person begins? Is it Seth, Noah or David or Mary? Thanks, looking forward to your answer.

    • Serug. Definitely Serug.

      • 4 WIW

        Based on your response, is it fair to say that you don’t consider any of the Biblical named individuals to be historical persons? I’ll give you Pontius Pilot – he is well documented.

        • It’s Pilate, but I make a lot of typos myself and depend on the graciousness of my readers, so I’ll let it slide without a “pilot” joke.

          I’m very curious how you got all that out of my three word comment. What I believe about a particular genealogy is not a blanket hermeneutical statement on the Gospels or the entire Bible as a whole.

          But since you asked, my response was meant to be a joke. I don’t even know who Serug is/was. He just shows up in the genealogy, so I arbitrarily picked the most obscure name.

          However, part of what makes the joke work is my belief that the question, “Where does this list move from figurative people to literal people?” is the wrong question.

          • 4 WIW

            Thanks for catching my spelling error. It didn’t look right but I wasn’t focusing on the spelling at the moment. I’m intrigued. If as you say “Where does this list move from figurative people to literal people?” is the wrong question, then what is the right question?

          • The right question is, “Why is this genealogy here? What purpose is it serving? What is it trying to tell us?”

            The two genealogies we have in the gospels are not the same. They’re not necessarily contradictory, but they have made definite choices about who to include, who to exclude, and how to start and end that are different from each other. Why is that?

            This seems to suggest there is a purpose other than a -strictly- historical one. The genealogies aren’t there for historical background like the opening of a biography. They have a theological intent, and when you determine what the genealogies are trying to say, then you’re in a much better position to decide its relationship to underlying history.

            I would argue this is the same for the “genealogy” of the earth in Genesis 1 and 2.

          • 4 WIW

            Thanks for a thoughtful and graciously-worded answer. I understand how desperately necessary it is for some folks to have to square Biblical history with the results of the physical sciences. I have degrees in chemical engineering and chemistry, so I have had a lot of exposure to science. I certainly do not claim to understand the all of the nuances between old earth and young earth arguments, but frankly at my stage of my Christian life those things don’t really matter. God will make it all clear in time. The fact that I choose to believe that Adam and Eve were (indeed are) real people is a gift from God – not something that I conjured up within myself. The reason I have responded to Dr. Enns article at all is because in our efforts to mythologize the Bible, we are teaching our young that Scripture is shifting sand – nothing could be further from the truth.

          • Well, let me assure you that I believe (and teach my children) that the Bible is authoritative for us and cannot fail us in what it intends to teach.

            It’s the “what it intends to teach” part that is where things get dicey. I think it’s totally legit to have a “what the Bible means to me” aspect of reading it, but in Christian discourse, we’re often trying to figure out what the Bible is trying to say to us collectively, and that needs to be informed by what it -was- trying to say collectively to its original hearers.

            And that is a tricky process. What are the odds that the “plain reading” of a 21st century white American dude are going to line up with the intent of a Semitic author centuries before the birth of Jesus? So, I need to delve into their world. What do they get out of it? How do they hear it? Would they be having the same debates we’re having, and if not, why not? What was important to them?

            I think (I hope) we can all agree that the biblical authors are not trying to be 100% scientifically or historically accurate with every line they write. Heck, when I say, “There was a cool sunset last night,” I’m not being scientifically accurate (the sun does not set), but making a true statement all the same. So, really, even though it feels threatening to discuss Adam in this way, it’s really just fellow Christians trying to determine where those lines fall, not a group dispute over whether or not Scripture is authoritative.

          • 4 WIW

            Phil, you make very good points and I don’t disagree with them. I once had a chance to talk to one of the members of the team that compiled the NIV translation and I asked him about the use of idioms in the OT and NT. He laughed and said that indeed there is a lot of idiomatic speech in the Bible and it makes translating certain passages difficult. Imagine trying to convey the meaning of “he’s a chip off the old block” back into OT Hebrew for an OT audience, if we were trying to describe how Solomon was like his father, David.

          • 4 WIW, I’ve read your comments and the replies on this post, including some appearing below mine here. I’m just jumping in to briefly say, as a 65-year-old lifelong student of the Bible and science (mostly via psychology), that the Bible is a complex collection of EDITED (in most cases, esp. the OT) texts written from a wide variety of beliefs, hopes, emotions, etc. And the genres represented within this library (not single “book”) are diverse. In some cases, such as the Gospels, the genre is unlike anything else we are familiar with and remains somewhat mysterious, even to the deepest scholars. (I read a lot of them.)

            When we are looking for life guidance, emotional support, or perhaps an understanding of our origins, our human future, etc., it can be tempting to “just do the literalist thing” and take from the text whatever makes us feel best or we think makes sense. Maybe o.k. for oneself, but NOT for “our young” as you well point out.

            I know it may not seem very helpful or “positive” to say that the Bible is a very complicated book and takes an incredible amount of study within and around it to begin to properly interpret it, give it its proper authority (quite limited though important in my view), but it’s reality. And those who want to skip past that have done themselves and often others a whole lot of harm in the past and continue to do so. All that said, I’m glad if the Bible has helped you make more sense of life and been a helpful guide. That was certainly the case for me for about 45 years, though now I read it with a less personal and broader lens.

          • mstrmc

            The genealogy in Luke are of Mary’s. The other is of Joseph. Thats why they are different. As for the reason it is given in Matthew…. if you have an adopted son, you could be German, and your adopted son could be Jewish.
            However, when we see through this adoption, we get a better view of what Christianity is all about. Those that believe upon Christ, are automatically the stones raised [children] unto God.

            There is no connection whatsoever, as far as bloodline is concerned. Therefore the bloodline in this first chapter has nothing to do with the bloodline of Jesus Christ.

  • Ronnie

    If Adam and Eve are not ‘literal men’, what is Adam doing at the top of Jesus’ genealogy in Luke 3:23-38?

    • peteenns

      Maybe the Gospels writers assumed Adam was a real person–as we would fully expect them to.

      • 4 WIW

        So if the Gospel writers believed that Adam and Eve were real persons, but indeed they were only allegorical, does it make sense that God would put forth a historical record that could so easily be dismissed as myth? In general His creation of man with the initial limitations pre-Fall and then the exacerbation of such limitations as a result of the Fall leaves man not able to discern truth from fiction. Don’t you think that God in order to be true to Himself and to His elect would have corrected this misunderstanding long ago. With such a soft foundation of understanding the historicity of Scripture, why should anyone believe that Jesus is all man and all God as stated in the great Creeds and Scripture itself. To have such a weak adherence to the veracity of Scripture leaves one in a more miserable place than atheists. At least they have rock-solid convictions about what they don’t believe in.

        Consider the following: Hebrews 11 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.

        If Abel (son of Adam) was not a literal human being of what value is the faith that is being held up as exemplary. If Abel was fictitious, then so was his faith, then so is mine.

        • Andrew Dowling

          The Scriptures weren’t written as history books. You’re seriously mistaken about the nature of ancient religious literature.

          • 4 WIW

            Andrew, I don’t know you, but I would like to know if you are a born-again Christian. Your answer to that question will influence how I think about your reply. Thanks.

        • Ronnie

          THANK YOU for pointing out the issue I was pointing to above. Someone here gets it.

        • Scott Jorgenson

          If the Good Samaritan was not a literal human being, of what value is the love that is being held up as exemplary in that account? If the Good Samaritan was fictitious, then so was his love, and then so is anyone’s – right?

          You have just ruled inadmissible the possibility that any story may teach truth or have something meaningful and real to say, from the parables of Jesus to “The Brothers Karamazov” or “Lord of the Flies”.

          There may or may not be reasons to disagree with what Peter Enns is saying here. But this objection cannot be one of them.

          • 4 WIW

            When it comes to understanding Scripture context is everything. The story of the Good Samaritan is just that a story, i.e. parable, to prove a point. Clearly the idea represented by the term “a certain Samaritan” is used to set the stage for an example. While it is possible that Jesus knew of an actual event which He described, He does not speak so with the force that would warrant a literal reading of the story. On the other hand there would be no harm done to assume the story is literally true. My point about the reference to Able is that Able is held up as a real person of faith – one whose faith we are to emulate. We certainly are free to treat the OT as a collection of fairy tales – once having done that however, it is hard to see why we should attempt to learn anything from it.

            2 Thessalonians 2:13 and following says: But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord
            Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace,
            comfort your hearts and establish you in every good
            word and work.

            These verses don’t say to hang on to fairy tales. Once we go down the road of allegorizing all of the OT we wind up in the spot of Pontius Pilate asking:What is truth?”

          • Scott Jorgenson

            When people in traditional storytelling cultures make reference to quasi-historical, quasi-legendary figures of their deep past, they are neither necessarily endorsing such figures’ historicity, nor is whatever teaching point they are drawing from such references necessarily dependent on their historicity.

            In somewhat like manner, even in this modern age I can refer to something Sherlock Holmes or Huck Finn did and neither be endorsing their historicity nor hinging upon it whatever point I am making. How much more so can those in pre-modern storytelling cultures do this.

            And of course it is possible to learn from ‘fairy tales’; that’s a major purpose of them. The story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf gains its teaching force from its narrative coherence and plausibility, not from whether or not it has any historical basis. So what if it never actually happened?

          • 4 WIW

            Scott, it is sad that you would compare holy Scripture to the writings of Doyle or Clemens. I have read the collected stories that feature Sherlock Holmes. While they make for a great read, they do not carry the force of revealing the mind of God, the good news of the Gospel, the instructions for Godly living and the potency of leading us to trust in the promises of God. You are most certainly entitled to not consider the Bible the inerrant inspired Word of God in the original languages. Conversely I am entitled to consider it so. There is nothing to lose (apart from rejection by skeptics and unbelievers) in believing that Scripture is inspired and inerrant – there is a lot to lose considering it to be allegorical and mythological – thus I defend the safer view.

          • peteenns

            4WIW, honestly, are you bing willfully contrarian here?

          • 4 WIW

            Dr. Enns, thanks for responding. First, I’m not sure what you mean by asking if I’m being willfully contrarian. Could you please explain? My quick answer would be that I am trying to gently defend the holiness and power of Scripture. As a layman I’m not doing well – just the best I can to honor God. On another note I had asked you a question about at what point in the genealogies of Christ we are to feel confident that the names presented refer to real human beings. My question was a serious one, not a “cheap shot.” It just seems to me that if one takes the position that some of the persons mentioned in the genealogies of Christ are not real, then they must have an opinion about when the genealogies are literal, otherwise one is left in great doubt that Jesus was real either.

          • peteenns

            4WIW, I appreciate and understand your point of view. It might help you to know that my blog is called “rethinking biblical christianity,” because of the felt need to move beyond the positions you are advocating here and with which I am deeply, intimately, familiar, as are many who comment here. I understand your unwavering defense of your theology, but you likely won’t get many takers here. If you’re interested in seeing how I come out on some of the issues you raise, you could search this blog and find scads of posts on the nature of Scripture. If you want, you could also read my Inspiration and Incarnation, The Evolution of Adam, The Bible Tells Me So, and perhaps my essay in the Five Views on Inerrancy volume.

          • 4 WIW

            Dear Dr. Enns, while I have a direct way to speak with you on your article, I reviewd it again and I noted your comment at Point #4; “All biblical writers were limited by their culture and time in how they viewed the physical world around them. This is hardly a novel notion of inspiration, and premodern theologians from Augustine to Calvin were quite adamant about the point.”

            Doesn’t the concept of divine inspiration address this issue by indicating that God communicated with the writers of the OT and NT in such a way as to break through the limitations of culture and time? So for example, the angels showing up outside of Bethlehem demonstrate God’s ability to communicate directly with those whom He chooses when it serves His purposes. Or are we to assume that the story of the angels appearance at the first advent of Christ as recorded in certain Gospels is allegorical and that this is how Matthew and Mark (perhaps writing for Peter) would imagine God would act (sending angels to announce the birth of Christ) if He were God?

          • Scott Jorgenson

            Of course Sherlock Holmes and Huck Finn don’t carry the force of unfolding revelation that the Bible does. But those weren’t the grounds on which I was making the comparison. The sole dimension of the comparison was in what I said: how it is possible to passingly refer to fictional characters of tradition in order to help develop a teaching point. Their lack of historicity, and even what the original teacher or audience may have thought of their historicity, is beside the point of whether the reference works rhetorically to bolster a claim. That’s just a way in which stories function, especially in pre-modern societies where the line between long-ago history and legend was always fuzzy.

          • PorterJustPorter

            You’re really introducing Pascal’s Wager into the proceedings? That’s not only intellectually dishonest but morally abhorrent as well. If one’s belief in God (IN ANY WAY) is connected to a “what if I’m wrong” ultimatum wagered against the fate of eternal life…then one is a despicable human being….and if there is a God, he’d know better than to let him/her skirt by on a loophole. And don’t reply with “well, that’s not the only reason I believe,” because if that misguided rationale is already floating around in your brain, then you’ve already lost, son.

        • James M

          We can believe, because Christ founded a Church, a community of believers in Him. And it is in that Church that the Tradition of the events of His Life is preserved.

          “…does it make sense that God would put forth a historical record that could so easily be dismissed as myth?”

          ## That takes for granted that Gen.2-5 is meant to be an “historical record”. Those chapters do not belong to or relate history, any more than (most of) the Book of Revelation does. Since Revelation is not history, it would be very fitting if the other end of the Bible were not history either, but myth. Myth is not falsehood, but a way of relating truths that cannot – without falsifying them – be expressed as history. God is not historical – why must His Book be ?

          Is courage fictitious or unimportant because Frodo Baggins the hobbit shows it ? Is malice any less repulsive because it is a characteristic of the enemies of Superman as well as of Lord Voldemort ? Possessiveness is repulsive, whether in the life of an historical miser or a non-historical Elf.

          Faith in Christ is important because of Christ, not because of Abel or Noah: their lack of historicity no more takes away from the importance & value of faith, than Voldemort’s lack of historicity takes away from the wickedness of murder. Cruelty is hideous whether the perpetrator be a Klingon in a bird of prey, a Sith lord, a Nazi or a jihadi.

          Faith is not dependent for its value or importance or reality on the real historical existence of those said to have exercised it – any more than sin is fictitious because Adam & Eve are fictions.

      • Without Malice

        Why would you fully expect them to? Wouldn’t Jesus, being the son of God, know full well that the story was a myth, wouldn’t he know full well the truth of evolution, and wouldn’t he have the ability and the moral responsibility to tell the people the truth about this matter? And why did Jesus who also knew full well that diseases, mental illness, and epilepsy were not caused by evil spirits and demons not tell the people the truth about this matter either; instead of just filling people’s heads with more ignorance and superstition?

        • Scott Jorgenson

          Wouldn’t he have the ability to know factually accurate science? No, not necessarily. A docetic Christology might require that, but a kenotic one need not.

          Wouldn’t he have the moral responsibility to correct factually inaccurate science? Again no, not necessarily. A God as interested in our scientific progress as in our spiritual development might have such a responsibility, but perhaps that is not the kind of God in view here.

          Conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists might be stymied by the objections you raise, but I think most people reading this blog have a different set of lenses.

        • James M

          Only if He was a modern Fundamentalist, rather than a first-century Palestinian Jew. Why should the inability of US Fundamentalists to take seriously the fact that theirs is the only culture to have regarded the Bible exactly as they do, be imposed on Jesus and His contemporaries ?

          He used the Bible – IOW, the OT – but was not afraid to correct it and go beyond it. The Biblicist Jesus of Fundamentalist & much Protestant belief is largely a fantasy; He taught by telling imaginative stories; not, as a rule, by expounding Scripture.

    • Scott Jorgenson

      What is the traditional Japanese sun goddess, Amaterasu, doing at the top of the genealogy leading to Akihito, current Emperor of Japan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_imperial_family_tree)? The mere existence of a genealogy does not necessarily indicate that it is to be taken as equally literal in all of its generations.

    • Without Malice

      Uhh, because both Luke and Matthew got their genealogies the old fashioned way: they pulled them out of their . . . hat.

    • James M

      The connection with Adam makes the theological and kerygmatic point that Jesus is as universal in His implications as Adam – St. Matthew’s genealogy makes a different point: that Jesus is (1) the King Who is Son of David, and (2) the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham of a son. Different – though over-lapping – theologies of Christ call for different emphases by the different Evangelists. The theology of the texts is for the sake of the *kerygma*, the proclamation, of Who Jesus is – the historical details are of secondary importance. Who Jesus is, matters far more than whether the gospels give the same details about the same incident.

  • knishface

    The greater question is whether the metaphor of Adam is ever going to understood

  • jaia60

    Isn’t the whole idea of “inspiration” a matter of belief, and not necessarily fact?

    Isn’t using words from 2 Timothy to prove that the Biblical texts were inspired by God a matter of using the Bible to prove the Bible?

    • Without Malice

      Especially since 2 Timothy is a forgery and anyone who has gone to a half way decent seminary knows it. There was never an Adam and Eve, and there was never a fall, no talking serpent, and no tree with magical fruit. It’s all a myth my friends, stop mistaking it for history. Of course, this does raise the question of why your man/god Jesus didn’t know it was a myth, which he would have if he had really been the son of God. He also would have known that disease, mental illness, and epilepsy are not caused by evil spirits and demons and that those things (evil spirits and demons) do not exist. But it seems he was just another ignorant unlearned man who didn’t know any better.

      • James M

        “Of course, this does raise the question of why your man/god Jesus didn’t know it was a myth, which he would have if he had really been the son of God.”

        ## A big non sequitur. He was God as man – not an infinite (but perfect) Wikipedia. The NT writers stress his extra-ordinariness very strongly, but do not sacrifice the reality of His Humanity to it. He knew what His Incarnation as a first-century Palestinian Jew required Him to know – in other words, His knowledge was “economic” – it was appropriate to the *oikonomia* of the Incarnation. The problem you mention was met a long time ago – the Fathers of the Church dealt with it.

    • trinielf

      Whenever someone drops the 2 Timothy 3:16 on you, ask them WHO wrote the words in that letter? Paul? So this is Paul’s opinion right and when he wrote that letter to Timothy what were the “scriptures” he was referring to? Remember there WAS NO BIBLE YET when he was writing this. He certainly was not referring to his OWN personal letter to Timothy when he was writing this. He was referring to the only scripture that existed at the time which was the Torah and Talmud many of which would not even make it into the final bible. And how did this VERY Paul treat with many aspects of the Torah? If you read Galatians, he called parts of the Law, weak and beggarly and a curse. Certainly even now, many parts of the Old Testament are ignored or glossed over as not appropriate or applicable to modern times. Some parts actually fly in the face of all common decency, human rights.

      Also what does he mean by “inspired by God”? Did he mean infallible and infinitely applicable for all time? Clearly not or he would not call the Law a curse and weak and beggarly.

      • James M

        Semantically, “*pasa graphe*” could perfectly well include non-Scriptural texts, like 1 Enoch, or the Book of Jubilees, or more recent “useful” writings. A lot of what is not inspired is far more “useful” than parts of the Bible.

        The making of a written “New Testament” could perfectly well be regarded as a sign of lack of faith and apostasy – True Christians (TM) either need no Bible, or are content with the Jewish Bible that Jesus sanctioned. His own words in Luke 16.31 rule out the making of a NT of inspired books. True Christians (TM) heed the Holy Spirit – not the written letter that kills. For they have the teaching of God engraved on their hearts, as per Jer.31-31-34. Scrioture was “done away in Christ” – it witnessed to Him, & when He came, its day was over.

        I know how *that* would go down if said to Fundamentalists.

      • mstrmc

        Paul studied under Gamaliel, the foremost Scriptural Hebrew scholar of the time. The notion that there was no bible (written scripture) is bogus.

        The Galatians were making a religion out of the old testament law. Paul was telling them that Christ fulfilled old testament law, the statutes, ordinances and rituals. These were no longer required.

        Saying that some parts actually fly in the face of all common decency and human rights is understandable, but unless you give an example it cannot be understood.

        • trinielf

          The bible, I refer to is the modern bible. Yes there was a canon of Hebrew Scripture in Paul’s time and not all of it is in the modern bible we have today. In addition, Paul’s own letters were not part of the bible nor would he have been referring to his correspondence as holy scripture at his time of writing this.

          Those making a religion out of the bible Old and New Testament are also falling into the same trap of legalism.

  • Robert Blake

    In Genesis, God indicates that man is made in His image. If we were just part of some evolutionary line, we would not be made in his image. We would then be made in a monkeys image or whatever preceded our current frame. Or whatever microscopic life form initiated the whole process. Unfortunately, one cannot ignore that fact, we were made in His image. How does someone who believes God made all things by evolution ignore that? Or that Jesus speaks things into being when on earth? Just like the creation story, God’s word creates.

    • Are you suggesting that being made in the image of God means we are physiologically the same as He is?

    • God created Adam is his image, meaning Adam was an ambassador for God or a representative of God to the heathen. Christ is “in the image” as he represents God on earth. We come into the image of God when we conform to the image of Christ. Unfortunately we are taught to believe it is a birthright.

  • Daniel Fisher

    Peter, I went back and read some of Francis Collins’ book. In response to your point about how we need to trust the experts on *Science*, a few observations:

    “Intelligent Design fails in a fundamental way to qualify as a scientific theory.”
    – this is a philosophical, not a scientific/empirical claim. Would he use the same standard to dismiss the SETI program as “unscientific”?

    “Core ID theory….suffers by providing no mechanism by which the postulated supernatural interventions would give rise to complxity.”

    – supernatural interventions now need confirmed mechanisms to be believed? this is also a philosophical/epistimilogical, not a scientific difficulty. Should Jesus’ miracles be discounted on the basis that science can provide no mechanism by which the postulated supernatural inverventions would give rise to healings, calmed storms, etc.? Similarly, if the SETI program detected signals that were clearly of intelligent origin, would he dismiss them on the basis that the researchers at SETI could provide no specific mechanism for their origin?

    And most significantly, consider the speculative nature of
    his statements:

    “The system APPEARS to have begun….”
    “It is not prohibitively difficult, given hundreds of
    millions of years, to CONTEMPLATE how this system COULD have evolved…”
    “PRESUMABLY, the elements of this structure were duplicated
    hundreds of millions of years ago…”

    – One does not need to be a trained scientist to be able to recognize such statements as suppositions or speculations, and not as empirical science.

    • James M

      Miracles cannot be accounted for by natural causes – they do not proceed from nature, but from God alone.It is a colossal waste of time and energy to try to derive them from nature – one might as well hunt for God’s email.

  • James M

    “The Lord of the Rings masterfully records in great and vivid detail people (and others) doing things in sequence. But is it still pure fiction.”

    ## Excuse me, but it gives its sources, in detail. Only a modernist liberal would deny that a supernatural God can preserve an ancient Elvish text for thousands of years down to our days. Hobbits wrote it – TLOTR says it – I believe it. “Pure fiction”, my pipeweed !

    The whole thing comes with maps, dates (for over 6,000 years), quotations from even older texts – corroborating evidence (what are the Alps, if not fragments of the Misty Mountains built by Morgoth ?).
    The trustworthiness of the Silmarillion & TLOTR is proven by the incontestable fact that Cape Wrath in Scotland is some distance south of Morgoth’s ancient fortress of Angband (now underneath the North Pole, along with most of the Grinding Ice). The expedition of the Valar against Morgoth was called the War of Wrath. What could better explain the puzzling Scottish place-name, than the supposition that it is named after the War of Wrath ?
    Dinosaurs are most naturally explained as descendants of the dragons of Morgoth & Sauron.
    The extinction-events in the palaeontological record are plainly to be explained by the drownings of Beleriand & Numenor, the latter of which is the source of the Atlantis-myth.
    What is Atlantis, but the Greek form of the Quenya word *Atalante* ?
    Hobbit-holes explain the tradition of faery hills.
    Megalithic monuments & Cyclopean walls & the Great Pyramid ? The remains of great works built by the Men of Gondor “in the the days of their might”, of course.
    The pyramid-like structures of Latin America were obviously built by the Numenorean forebears of the Men of Gondor, then forgotten at the Downfall, since they were in lands far west of Middle-earth.
    Orcs have left their name in the words Orcus (= Hades), orca, ogre.
    It is very probable that the USA is built on land that is a fragment of the Undying Lands, left behind when the World was made round in Second Age Year 3319. That would explain the great natural wealth of that land-mass.
    Russia, which is on top of Mordor, is appropriately unpleasing.
    The fear of vampires is based on a memory of the Nazgul & Gollum.

    “Pure fiction” ? I think not ! The explanatory power of these ancient texts is evidence of their truth.