June 30, 2015

STOSOver at Books and Culture, I have been participating in a roundtable discussion concerning the historical Adam. The occasion is the launch of Karl Giberson’s latest book Saving the Original Sinner: How Christians Have Used the Bible’s First Man to Oppress, Inspire, and Make Sense of the World

Taking part in the discussion are 7 others who span the spectrum from “no historical Adam” to “without an Adam the gospel falls apart.” In round 1, we each wrote one post expressing our own position (here is mine). Now in round 2 we are responding as we choose (given limited space).

I chose to respond to the two “without an Adam the gospel falls apart” contributors, Hans Madueme and William VanDoodewaard. Both are staunchly conservative Calvinists, Madueme a theologian at Covenant College and VanDoodewaard a church historian at Puritan Theological Seminary.

Both are also quite confident that the Bible demands a literal, historical Adam, the church needs one, and whatever evolutionary science or biblical studies say to the contrary can safely be set to the side.

Some of my readers may remember Madueme’s review of The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human OriginsAs a rule I do not respond to reviews of my books on my blog, but Madueme’s was so transparently ideologically driven, I felt it would be worth while to expose the obscurantist rhetoric so common in this discussion. Unfortunately, he repeats the substance of his earlier view here in this roundtable.

And you wonder why people get frustrated at this discussion.

My post at Books and Culture is titled “Ignoring the Problem Won’t Make It GoAway.” I am reposting this post below (lightly edited), largely because it is not open to comments at Books and Culture. For those interested in this discussion, please be sure visit the roundtable!

********************* 

I am happy to see this discussion taking place, and the posts thus far have certainly shared diverse perspectives, each of which could be engaged in detail.

We see a clear divide in the posts to this roundtable—and it is a routine divide to anyone familiar with the debate within evangelicalism over evolutionary theory: those who accept evolution and who then engage the resulting hermeneutical and theological issues, and those who do not accept evolution because of the perceived harm it does to existing theological categories.

I am among those on the former side of the divide. I accept evolution as the explanation for how life on earth came to be. The scientific community, which includes Christians in general and as well as evangelicals, is in harmony on this point: there is no “first human.”

This scientific conclusion is not a trend, nor is it a “theory” teetering on the crumbling foundation of godless thinking. It is well established and utterly uncontroversial, and for that reason requires serious engagement by any who seek to take seriously both Scripture and the advance of human knowledge.

Negative voices come from a small minority, largely from those who feel that commitment to theological structures that require a first human, Adam, cannot be compromised without the entire Christian tradition crumbling right along with it. Adam, though a minor character in the Bible, is—we are told—nevertheless a key pillar upon which the gospel rests.

That small minority position is represented with remarkable–even bracing–clarity by two of the contributors to this roundtable, Hans Madueme and William VanDoodewaard, both sharing a deep and nonnegotiable commitment to conservative Calvinist theology.

Though neither is trained in the study of Scripture in its ancient setting nor in the relevant sciences—both of which are central components of the discussion—they are nevertheless fully confident in rejecting the contributions of these disciplines and remaining steadfast in their unalterable commitment to a “historical Adam.”

By choosing to ignore or minimize the prevailing scientific consensus on human origins and generations of biblical scholarship in ancient origins stories, they have also chosen to leave the conversation rather than contribute to it.

On a personal level, I have no quarrel with Madueme and VanDoodewaard, or others who might be content with the view they espouse. But as presumably public voices of reason seeking to defend a point of view and persuade others to adopt it, they have pursued a rhetorical strategy of ignoring or minimizing factors elsewhere considered to be well established and utterly uncontroversial.

This strategy should be labeled for what it is: obscurantist apologetics, which neither serves followers of Christ nor truth. And the great irony is that such tactics wind up alienating people from the very faith tradition they are so concerned to perpetuate.

Theological needs, no matter how closely held, cannot and do not determine the matter before us—whether there was a first human—because the question of human origins leaves “footprints” amenable to scientific and historical investigation. In other words, “Where do humans come from?” is a public question that can be answered through scholarly/scientific means in a way that “Does God exist?” or “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” cannot.

The fact that the scientific investigation of human origins has caused a theological problem does not mean evolution “must” be wrong, as Madueme and VanDoodewaard seem content to establish as a logical premise. It means, rather, that Christians have a theological problem. The question is how—or whether—this challenge will be addressed.

The pressing nature of the theological challenges of evolution to Christian theology are not successfully handled through the adoption of apologetic tactics, the goal of which seems to be precisely disengagement from the hard theological, philosophical, and hermeneutical work before us.

The specific rhetorical tactic employed by Madueme and VanDoodewaard is to argue from theological consequences and goes something like this:

“If evolution is true and there is noTEA biological first man, then what we believe is false. Since what we believe is true, this consequence is unacceptable and we are therefore well within our right—indeed it is our sacred obligation—to do what is necessary to neutralize evolution by simply declaring it false.”

Arguing from theological consequences is at best bad logic and at worst a manipulative tactic rooted in deep fear. None of us, including Madueme and VanDoodewaard, would tolerate for one moment this line of reasoning if employed by defenders of other ideologies.

Madueme and VanDoodewaard will no doubt contend that their view rests on the solid foundation of Scripture, though putting it this way, admirable as it is, nevertheless ignores the hermeneutical and theological complexities of Genesis recognized by many others.

In truth, their foundation is not really “Scripture”—as if its meaning were plain—but rather the “proper” reading of Scripture, which is determined by their theological tradition (better, their interpretation of their theological tradition—not all Calvinists would agree with them!).

In other words, Madueme and VanDoodewaard give final adjudicatory authority not to the Bible (despite their rhetoric) but to their theological tradition whenever science or historical biblical scholarship raises questions about the historical nature of the Bible, including the historical reliability of the Adam story.

Such unwillingness to reflect critically on that theological tradition in view of historical studies is the reason why the impasse between the two “divides” mentioned at the outset continues. No true dialogue will emerge until this underlying issue is addressed.

I do not mean to suggest that Madueme and VanDoodewaard are lone voices for the view they espouse here in this roundtable. In fact, their view is common among fundamentalist and conservative evangelical apologists. But we do not do justice to the very real impact of evolution on Christian theology by disengaging from the challenge in favor of maintaining those very theological categories that the scientific and scholarly consensus has called into question.

Those committed to Christian faith amid the challenges of our contemporary world deserve better than hiding under a theological security blanket, wishing all the problems away.

June 12, 2015

STOSToday’s post is the second of two by Karl Giberson and is adapted from his newly published Saving the Original Sinner: How Christians Have Used the Bible’s First Man to Oppress, Inspire, and Make Sense of the World

Giberson teaches Science & Religion at Stonehill College and is a key figure in the science/faith dialogue. His other books on the subject include Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in EvolutionThe Wonder of the Universe: Hints of God in Our Fine-Tuned World and (with Francis Collins) The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions.

******

The challenge of taking “God’s Two Books” (nature and the Bible) seriously has grown dramatically in recent years as genetic evidence has made it clear that Adam and Eve cannot have been historical figures, at least as described in the Bible.

More scientifically informed evangelicals within conservative traditions are admitting that the evidence is undermining Creation-Fall-Redemption theology. Christians have struggled to preserve this central Christian understanding in a way that is faithful to both the Bible and science; literalists have tried to preserve it by rejecting science or making increasingly strange claims about the world.

One of the strangest claims arising out of Creation-Fall-Redemption theology relates to its relationship to possible alien life on other planets.

A couple of years ago the media buzzed about a new planet discovered far from our solar system, Gliese 581g. The new planet was potentially habitable since its temperature was in the range where water is liquid. The news promoted speculation about possible alien life.

Ken Ham, who succeeded Henry Morris as America’s leading creationist, responded that the alien planet would have been victimized by Adam’s Fall: “The Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe,” he said. “This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin.”

Ham believes that the “Gliesens” would have seen their paradise planet mysteriously wrecked about 6000 years ago when God cursed the creation. The Gliesens would have been happy, immortal, surrounded by docile herbivores. Suddenly, because of an act on a planet trillions of miles away, Gliese would have been stricken with inexplicable suffering, death, and different laws of physics.

And, although human sin on a distant Earth wrecked their planet, the poor Gliesans “can’t have salvation,” says Ham. “Only descendants of Adam can be saved.” To even “suggest that aliens could respond to the gospel is just totally wrong,” he says.

A slightly less strange proposal comes from Hugh Ross and his Reasons to Believe organization, which defends old earth creationism with a day-age reading of Genesis. Ross denies that the day-age interpretation represents a compromise with science, insisting that a careful reading of the entire Bible—and not just Genesis—points clearly to the days of creation being long epochs.

Ross also insists that the Fall inaugurated only human death. Ross goes further. Not only is death a part of the natural order but God ordained it to provide oil and other raw materials useful for humans. The benefits to humanity of these earlier life forms, says Ross, renders their suffering, death, and even extinction a good thing, and not an evil to be explained as a consequence of sin.

The leading intelligent design theorist William Dembski holds the traditional view that animal death is a real evil caused by human sin and not God’s way of making petroleum. Like Ross he understands that science has proven that the earth is very old. So how does Adam’s sin make the dinosaurs go extinct 70 million years before he existed?

Dembski describes his book, The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World, as an attempt “to resolve how the Fall of Adam would be responsible for all evil in the world, both moral and natural IF the earth is old and thus IF a fossil record that bespeaks violence among organisms predates the temporal occurrence of the Fall.”

The description of the problem is mainstream and one of the reasons why the young earth creationists are forced to reject so much science. But Dembski’s resolution is anything but mainstream.

Dembski proposes that “the effects of the Fall can go backward in time.” He proposes a “retroactive view of the Fall, in which God by anticipation allows natural evil in consequence of the Fall.”

The British biochemist Denis Alexander, offers yet another solution. He accepts the great age of the earth, evolution—including human evolution—and millions of years of death, suffering and extinction prior to the arrival of humans. He also understands that genetic evidence rules out the possibility that the human race ever consisted of one man and one woman.

Alexander embraces key Biblical ideas that play meaningful roles in Christian theology, but he does not insist on literal interpretations. He seeks historical events that lie “behind the text”—events that undergird the theological content of the biblical accounts, but may be quite different from the accounts themselves.

Alexander suggests that the Genesis account is based on an actual historical episode where God reached into history: “God in his grace chose a couple of Neolithic farmers in the Near East, or maybe a community of farmers, to whom he chose to reveal himself in a special way, calling them into fellowship with himself—so that they might know him as a personal God.” (Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? p. 236)

Alexander calls these early humans Homo Divinus, “the divine humans, those who know the one true God, the Adam and Eve of the Genesis account.” “Homo Divinus were the first humans who were truly spiritually alive in fellowship with God,” says Alexander. “Homo divinus marked the time at which God chose to reveal himself and his purposes for humankind for the first time.” (Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? p. 237). The “death” brought on by sin was spiritual, not physical.

These ways of construing Adam all have adherents claiming the label “evangelical” in America and yet their views of Adam are all over the map.

In an ideal world the positions described above—and some that construe Adam as a purely literary figure—could be in conversation, competing for the allegiance of Christians trying with integrity to reconcile their tradition with the advance of science.

Christianity, after all, is not a religion about Adam; it is a religion about Christ. Adam can be understood in many ways. Unfortunately, however, the historical Adam has become a line in the sand for many evangelicals, who don’t even want to engage the conversation.

And even those who agree that Adam was historical are far apart with no hope of reconciliation.

June 10, 2015

STOSToday’s post is by Karl Giberson and is adapted from his newly published Saving the Original Sinner: How Christians Have Used the Bible’s First Man to Oppress, Inspire, and Make Sense of the World

Giberson teaches Science & Religion at Stonehill College and a key figure in the science/faith dialogue. His other books on on the subject include Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in EvolutionThe Wonder of the Universe: Hints of God in Our Fine-Tuned World and (with Francis Collins) The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions.

**********

The notion of a moral boundary separating good from evil frames early Christian disputes about the meaning of Adam’s sin. Their reflections on the nature of sin were largely considerations of where to draw this boundary.

Was everybody evil in the same way, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn suggested when he penned these memorable lines: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart”?  Or did sin emerge from entirely different sources?

Were the white lies told by everyone to protect other’s feelings rooted in the same human flaw as the cruelty of the Roman executioners who made sport of killing Christians? Perhaps simple human imperfections could account for the former, while the latter needed something more dramatic, like demons, which seemed to be everywhere in the early Church.

Paul had famously connected Adam’s sin to Christ’s death suggesting that the latter erased the former for everyone—white liar and executioner alike—but the nature of the connection he drew was ambiguous and admitted different interpretations of what happened when Adam sinned. It would be centuries, in fact, before Augustine would explain this connection as “original sin,” insisting that Adam’s transgression was passed on to everyone.

Augustine, we might say, moved the boundary between good and evil until it ran through everybody, and not merely in the space between the good guys and the bad guys, between the Christians and their persecutors.

The key question on the table during the centuries leading up to Augustine was: Do we differ from the pre-fall Adam because he sinned? Did he pass something down to us making it impossible for us to avoid sin? Or do we have the same chance to avoid sin as Adam did?

This was a lively question and early Christians were of two minds. On the one hand, we may all be like Adam and Eve in our capacity to resist temptation. The story of Adam may simply be our story, reflecting the real challenges—but not impossibility—of resisting temptation. Adam was a primordial Everyman, falling short despite his best intentions, a dramatization of what we would have done in his situation and what we must avoid in our situation.

On the other hand, God’s response to Adam’s sin was not confined to Adam. The ground was cursed. Abel the farmer must have had a harder time of it because of his father’s sin although no mention is made of this. Childbirth became painful for all women—not just Eve—and serpents were reduced to crawling on their bellies. Adam’s descendants clearly lived in a different world and possibly were different from the first man.

Did Adam do something that changed him in ways that were passed on to his descendants? Are we now powerless to resist temptation? Or are we still free to not sin, and live perfect lives, as the Genesis story suggests was the case for Adam?

Hebrew reflections prior to Paul suggest that Adam passed nothing on to his offspring. Subsequent sin—Cain’s murder of Abel, the wickedness of Noah’s generation or the folly at the Tower of Babel—is never described as inevitable. Adam’s sin is never mentioned again in the Hebrew Scriptures, which is very curious, given the importance now attached to it.

Paul, as we now see clearly, embellishes the Adam story in ways that certainly stretch the “authorial intent” of the writer(s) of Genesis. He saw things in the story—or maybe read them into the story—that nobody else had seen. But Paul nowhere suggests that Adam’s unfortunate choice was made by a “pre-fallen” human. And, significantly, Paul also does not argue that subsequent human sin is inevitable because of what Adam did.

The four “biographies” of Jesus—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John—written years after Paul’s letters all deal with good and evil but they set up the tension as between Satan and Christ, not between a sinful nature and knowledge of the good.

Adam, by these lights, seems to be the first sinner only in the sense that Neil Armstrong was the first human to step onto the moon. Something extraordinary occurred when Armstrong took his “one small step for a man” but that event certainly did not transform humanity.

In contemporary debates over the historicity and theological significance of Adam we would do well to distinguish the Adam of Genesis, the Adam of Paul, and the Adam of Augustine. We must certainly avoid reading Augustine’s Adam back into Genesis as if that is our only interpretive option.

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.)

March 10, 2015

TEAI apologize for so much head-jerking excitement and knowledge coming your way in one day.

First, beginning sometime today March 10 through March 13, Brazos Press will be running an ebook special (of $2.99) for The Evolution of Adam.

So if haven’t read it but you’ve been wondering exactly what manner of heresy I stumble into regarding evolution (crazy things like: non-scientists have to take the scientific consensus seriously and the Adam story isn’t history but theology that participates in the ubiquitous ancient genre of myth), wonder no more.

“Oh, I can’t afford $2.99.” Liar. Yes you can. Do it.

Also, just arrived at my doorstep yesterday, for all you people out there with no time to read, is the audio version of The Bible Tells Me So.

TBTMS audio

It’s read by Joe Barrett, a voice some of you may recognize from other audio books. He does a great job, though I have to admit, I was hoping for Roseanne Barr. Or at least Whoopi Goldberg. Just not Tim McCarver. Anybody but him.

The audio version is slightly more than $2.99–like 10x more, but that’s the going rate for grown people having books read to them.

On the plus side, I no longer need to recommend you find some way of turning pages while keeping an eye on the road. This seems like the safer option.

Follow Us!



Browse Our Archives