Last week I began juxtaposing C. John Collins’ Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who They Were and Why You Should Care and Peter Enns’ The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins. In Pt. 2 I summarized Enn’s introductory thoughts. In Pt. 3 I did the same for Collins. In Pt. 4 I relayed Collins’ understanding of the interpretive options available to us. Today I move back to Enns and his understanding of the relationship between Christianity and science as well as the interpretive options he finds available.
Modern Christians are comfortable with the reality that the biblical authors didn’t share our cosmology. We don’t expect them to have understood gravity, or that the earth is a sphere that rotates around the sun, or what constitutes stars, and so forth. Enns writes,
“To the contrary, it is clear that, from a scientific point of view, the Bible does not always describe physical reality accurately; it simply speaks in an ancient idiom, as one might expect ancient people to do. It is God’s Word, but it has an ancient view of the natural world, not a modern one.” (Kindle Locations 228-231)
Why can’t we understand evolution to be one of those things that the ancients didn’t understand but that we do? Enns explains the difference saying,
“Evolution, however, is a game changer. The general science-and-faith rapprochement is not adequate because evolution uniquely strikes at central issues of the Christian faith. Evolution tells us that human beings are not the product of a special creative act by God as the Bible says but are the end product of a process of trial-and-error adaptation and natural selection. This process began billions of years ago, with the simplest of one-cell life forms, and developed into the vast array of life on this planet—plants, reptiles, fish, mammals, and so forth—and humanity. These humans also happen to share a close common ancestry with primates. Some Christians reconcile their faith with evolution by saying that God initiated and guides this process, which is fine (and which I believe), but that is not the point here. The tensions that evolution creates with the Bible remain, and they are far more significant than whether the earth is at the center of the cosmos, how old it is, and whether it is round or flat.” (Kindle Locations 230-238).
Recently I posted chapter-by-chapter my review of John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One (see here). Most of us are OK with the creation of earth being depicted in sub-scientific, poetic, metaphorical imagery conveying a theological message. We know how to reconcile the theological-poetic message of Genesis 1 with modern science, kind of. Last week one person commented asking if this whole science-faith dichotomy is a false one. It may be when we talk about the age of the earth, but is Enns right that it is a game changer for Christian anthropology?
“If evolution is correct, one can no longer accept, in any true sense of the word “historical,” the instantaneous and special creation of humanity described in Genesis, specifically 1:26–31 and 2:7, 22.” (Kindle Locations 239-240)
He does not accept paradigms that suggest that Adam and Eve are the first two “elevated hominids.” In other words, he doesn’t want to be seen as participating in a correspondence reading of Genesis that connects all the the mythological imagery to modern science. So no, for Enns the idea of Adam coming from the dust isn’t short hand for a long, long process of humans coming from the earth through the process of evolution. Enns writes, “This hybrid view does not adhere to the Bible but rewrites it.” (Kindle Locations 244-245)
The Book of Genesis isn’t the main concern for Enns, though he will address it. He understand the image of God language to correspond to ancient near eastern ideas regarding Kings representing deities. In other words, Genesis 1 democratizes something other cultures attributed to their King alone. No, the problem isn’t Genesis, or even the interpretation of Adam in the context of the Hebrew Bible. The problem is the Apostle Paul:
“Evolution demands that the special creation of the first Adam as described in the Bible is not literally historical; Paul, however, seems to require it. After all, what purpose does the actual obedience of the second Adam (Christ) have if there was no first Adam who disobeyed? So, as the argument often goes, if there was no first Adam, then there was no fall. If there was no fall, there is no truly inescapably sinful condition and so no need for a Savior. If evolution is true, then Christianity is false. When the issue is framed this way, the discussion tends to move toward one of two extremes: Christians either choose Paul over Darwin or abandon their faith in favor of natural science.” (Kindle Locations 281-285).
As we can see Enns is presenting a condensed form of Collins argument. In my last post I outlined the interpretive options suggested by Collins. These are Enns’ equivalent:
“1. Accept evolution and reject Christianity.”
“2. Accept Paul’s view of Adam as binding and reject evolution.”
“3. Reconcile evolution and Christianity by positing a first human pair (or group) at some point in the evolutionary process.”
“4. Rethink Genesis and Paul.” (Kindle Locations 294-312)
Enns choses #4. He says he will approach it in two parts: (1) Genesis and (2) Paul.
What do you think of Enns’ rejection of the other three options? What do you make of “rethinking” both Genesis and Paul?
Option #1 is a false dichotomy.
Option #2 requires putting your head in the sand, which isn’t necessary.
Option #3 is a possibility that can be accepted on faith.
Option #4 is the most viable and will give theologians something to do for the next generation or two.
#4 does result in employment and grant opportunities. I think BioLogos is doing a series of grants for research on these matters.
Re the BioLogos grants, see http://biologos.org/ecf.
Are any of the faculty at Western Seminary applying or considering applying for a grant?
Not that I know of.
Who says that biblical authors didn’t understand “…that the earth is a sphere that rotates around the sun”? [Job 26:7,10]?
(The reference ‘stretches out the north over the void’ is true by virtue of the fact that our equator more or less points into the Milky Way Galaxy, meaning our North and South poles point out of the plane of the Galaxy; in other words ‘void’. Thus, our equatorial regions see more stars because they peer into the plane of the Galaxy – anyone who has been to the equator can attest that it has far more stars visible than in the North or South)
I think assumptions like that are post-modernist arrogance – suggesting biblical writers knew less science than us – because they lived before us. That thinking is a fallacy.
… But to answer your question “What do you make of ‘rethinking’ both Genesis and Paul?” why not?
As long as it isn’t ‘revisionism’ for the sake of ‘revisionism’, or ‘revisionism’ for the sake of making science (and modern thought) palatable – we should always rethink out understanding of the bible to confirm the one we possess is valid. The benchmark, or litmus test should be in accordance with evidence of Pauls’ thinking, and not whimsical trends in science. (Recall that even 100 years ago science denied e universe had a beginning , until the discovery of the big-bang and back-ground radiation – our bible has a better track record than science).
I had that backwards. I said ” … for the sake of making science (and modern thought) palatable – ” … I meant ” … for the sake of making a biblical account more palatable to scientists and modern thinkers -”
Science presupposes no-metaphysics – so it would be an error to see the biblical account through the lens of a view which presupposes that God plays no part.
It seems like you’d reject Enns overall project. I am not far enough into the book to say what he does, but it does seem like a hermeneutic motivated by our current place in history.
Brian, I haven’t read Enns, and I’m only judging him by your description. I would give him enough attention to hear what he has to say, and weigh what he says against other evidence.
* I don’t accept (necessarily) that the biblical writers were more ignorant than we.
* I don’t accept (necessarily) that the biblical writers were ignorant of details of the workings of God’s creation (it may be that this knowledge – if it existed has been lost)
* I’m not confident that Paul’s theology of ‘Adam’ needs reworking given modern scientific knowledge. Science has a much narrower aperture than Paul’s theology, and only the narrowest view of Adam (as a historical fact) would require this.
(This especially given that Paul’s theology has changed far less in two millennium than our scientific views have).
If this is sufficient to show my view goes against Enns’s views, is possible I would reject him as you say – but I’d still be willing to hear him out.
To what extent do you deny that they knew less than us about scientific matters? I assume you’d agree they were unaware of DNA, or what constitutes a star, or E = MC2, and so forth. Can you clarify?
Brian, if I knew something you didn’t – does it follow my knowledge is more advanced than yours? Likewise, if you know something I don’t, does it follow your knowledge is more advanced than me?
I’d certainly agree they were unaware:
* of DNA;
* of what constitutes stars;
* that Mass and Energy are interchangeable.
Do you agree they knew:
* how to make mechanisms such as the Antikythera mechanism, with exceedingly fine tolerances without the aid of modern industrial tools ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antikythera_mechanism );
* how to lift massive weights without hydraulic assistance (such as the stones in the great pyramid, or the Colossus of Rhodes) with the ability to place them precisely;
* align buildings more accurately than we using only stars (the Great pyramid is aligned more true to True North, by an order of magnitude after 5000 years, than the next truest human building – the Paris observatory)
* how to read and predict the motion of stars using no instruments more than the naked eye and possibly stakes and strings
* And I would add – think able to reason more purely (logically) than many today (some Greeks reasoned that “the universe was expanding based on the fact that the night sky was dark”. This stunning bit of reasoning went as follows “If the night sky contains infinite or near infinite stars, and if each star emits light, the stars must be moving apart (the universe is expanding) since the night sky is NOT white, it is black … Each star emits light, if stars weren’t moving apart every point in space would have behind it a light emitter – thus the night sky would be white – not black. Since the night sky is black the stars must be moving apart)
Yes, we know many things they did not. The question is, if they knew stuff we do not, how can we claim to be more advanced?
The statement would be contextual: cosmic and human origins. I am sure there are things the ancients knew that we won’t or can’t.
Even so, it is still speculative (at best) to compare their knowledge to ours. They knew stuff about the cosmos that we do not, and whose to say their knowledge of human origins is defective?
It is possible that it wasn’t, but I think it is fair to say that overall we are scientifically and technologically advanced. The pyramids are great, but skylines of Dubai and New York are something else. The clay tablets they used were great, but I prefer an iPad. Chariots are fast, but not Nascar fast. You get the idea.
Brian, I think you would be interested in this review:
That does look like a good book. After my slate clears maybe I will ask the publisher if there are some review copies sitting around.
Brian – true.
Still, we simply use language and alphabets they invented, and take it for granted. Their mathematics is from cuneiform clay tablets and papyrus, not from computers. The utility of their inventions has withstood the test of time and in many instances exhibited far greater genius than what we produce today (and little appreciated).
Don’t get me wrong – ‘man on the moon’ is also a stunning bit human achievement, a veritable modern day ‘great wall of China’, but we do more because we have more. They had far less, and were still able to exhibit many achievements on the edge of human genius . A house cannot be built without foundation – and their stone-age/bronze-age accomplishments are that foundation which we take for granted.
It is folly and post-modern arrogance to think we have done more, or know more. If they were able to discover what they did with as little as clay tablets, can you imaging what they might have done with computers?
For the record, and I can’t find it at the moment so you’re going to have to take me on trust for now, in a YouTube video on the subject N.T. Wright holds to #3. I only bring that up to say that it’s a valid option for Christians. That said, I haven’t closed the book on option #4, so long as Enns does justice to Paul and Genesis (as Walden does with Genesis) without trying to find a way around them or dismiss them.
Andrew, “if I knew something you didn’t – does it follow my knowledge is more advanced than yours? Likewise, if you know something I don’t, does it follow your knowledge is more advanced than me?” Bravo!
Derek, to me it goes without saying that #3 is an option for Christians. The question is whether it’s a good option. Not sure what you meant by a valid option. I’d like to see that Wright video if you can find it.
Derek, you may be thinking of http://biologos.org/blog/meaning-and-myth/, wherein Prof. Wright states: “I do think it matters that something like a primal pair getting it wrong did happen. But that doesn’t mean I’m saying that, therefore, Genesis is kind of positivist, literal, clunky history over against myth . . . ” N. T. Wright, “Meaning and Myth,” video blog, Science & the Sacred, BioLogos, January 13, 2010.
I agree, I am posting an article today that makes this very argument.
For whatever it’s worth, I have a collection of statements made by theologians and/or pastors in books and/or on the internet regarding their positions on an historical Adam. The following is a tabulation of the results:
Yes – 30
Probably – 2
Maybe – 4
No – 17
The “Yeses” win, so I guess that settles it. 🙂
For the record, I have N. T. Wright as a “Probably.”
Paul, would you mind if I shared that chart on this blog?
Brian, not at all. Go for it. That way, if I have anything wrong, which is certainly possible, I’m sure someone will helpfully point it out. 🙂
Wonderful, I will aim to share it tomorrow.
Pt. 6: http://nearemmaus.com/2012/06/06/collins-and-enns-on-the-historicity-of-adam-pt-6/
Sorry to run off on a rabbit trail, but Andrew T. on June 4 writes: “(The reference ‘stretches out the north over the void’ is true by virtue of the fact that our equator more or less points into the Milky Way Galaxy, meaning our North and South poles point out of the plane of the Galaxy; in other words ‘void’. Thus, our equatorial regions see more stars because they peer into the plane of the Galaxy – anyone who has been to the equator can attest that it has far more stars visible than in the North or South)
This sounds nice but is not accurate. The plane of the ecliptic which forms the equator of our Solar system is not coplanar with the galactic equator. Our solar system’s plane is at an angle of about 60.2 degrees across the galactic equator, and we are located several dozen light-years toward galactic north of the plane of the galactic equator as well (a fairly insignificant distance given the size of the galaxy). Add to this the 23.5 degree tilt of the earth’s axis, our celestial equator (the plane of earth’s equator) means that the plane of earth’s equator is nearly at right angles to that of the galaxy.
A picture of the solar system taken from the outside of the galaxy through the sun looking toward the galactic center would look like this (orbits of the planets in blue) http://www.ghutchison.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/orbits/galaxy.jpg
That said, the language of Job 26 is still very evocative of some grasp of astronomical concepts, isn’t it?
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