Posts Tagged ‘Adam and Eve’

Why most Protestants need Adam and Eve to be historical

August 30th, 2011 | 20 Comments

…and why the Church in the East never did.

Listening to most Evangelical first-string leaders, you’d get the impression that apart from an historical Fall of Man that marred the souls of all the descendants of the ones who fell, you’d have no need for Jesus, and Christianity sails right out the window. So much more than inerrancy hangs on the question: original sin and total depravity hang on some sort of historical Fall, don’t they?

Perhaps they do (though not necessarily) — but the massive blind spot we have is that a rather large, ancient, and revered segment of the Christian Church rejected both of those teachings long before science came along and refuted the possibility of an historical first pair of human progenitors. And yet these believers still maintain that the work of Christ in atonement is absolutely necessary for every individual regardless.

Archbishop Lazar Puhalo explains:

The Schism between the West and the East is great indeed, so much so that Protestants rarely ever hear that perspective. These sorts of surprises are why I have begun to love glancing at Christian theology through the lens of the Orthodox.

The creolization of Christianity and the theory of evolution

August 10th, 2011 | 2 Comments

NPR has a rather good article up called “Evangelicals Question The Existence Of Adam And Eve” (sic — what the heck is up with the indiscriminate capitalization?). It vividly showcases how the tide is (finally) starting to turn in this culture war for/against evolutionary theory. Peppered with quotes from several key people, including Dennis Venema, Karl Giberson, Al Mohler, and Reasons to Believe’s Fazale Rana, the article points out that more and more self-described Evangelicals are coming to grips with the fact that the scientific evidence against a literal Adam and Eve is overwhelming.

Adam and Eve by Peter Paul Rubens

Image via Wikipedia

Calvin College’s Dan Harlow underscores the importance of this discussion to the vitality of Evangelical Christianity when he says, “This stuff is unavoidable. Evangelicals have to either face up to it or they have to stick their head in the sand. And if they do that, they will lose whatever intellectual currency or respectability they have.” Respectability notwithstanding, conservative standard bearers like Al Mohler see nothing in Christianity worth holding onto sans a literal Adam and Eve. Despite Venema’s confident insistence that there’s nothing to be afraid of in accepting mainstream evolution (which decisively refutes two original progenitors), obviously there are some theological implications that remain in need of explanation. And although that end is not out of sight anymore, it’s still going to take a lot more work.

This reminded me of something I learned back in my linguistics program several years ago. (This isn’t a tangent: it’ll come back around!)

When two people groups speaking mutually unintelligible native languages come into contact and have need for communication, especially in a trade situation, they are likely to come up with some sort of compromise that will allow them to interact. Often they will form a sort of hybrid communication system taking elements from each of their languages. This communication system is called a “pidgin”: the vocabulary comes almost completely from the visitors who are seeking trade (historically, usually English or French) and the grammar (morphology, syntax) is taken predominantly from the native language. This system works well enough for trade, but pidgins are not classified by linguists as languages because they lack a number of grammatical features of natural human language. Because of its limitations, the pidgin is often spoken between the two language groups strictly in order to conduct business; the grammatical holes hinder much communication beyond such practical matters.

Yet in cases such as colonization in which the language of the traders makes an established presence, a pidgin may be spoken around young children who naturally adopt it as a native language rather than a limited communication system. In these cases, something very interesting happens: as part of the language acquisition process that comes so naturally to the young of our species, children fill in the pidgin’s holes. When children speak the pidgin to others, they unconsciously and effortlessly begin inserting new parts of speech, formulating verb tenses, bringing in missing vocabulary, and creating any other necessary language features that the pidgin lacked, so that the result is a robust, full-fledged language. This nativized pidgin is what is referred to as a “creole”.

Processes analogous to creolization recur outside language: quite commonly it’s in our children that thesis and antithesis are synthesized and for whom conflicts are likeliest to be resolved or otherwise fall away. Most of my peers in my generation grew up oblivious to and often incredulous of the traumatic struggle for racial equality that our parents and grandparents had to fight so hard for; I anticipate the same for my grandchildren in regard to the currently contentious issue of homosexuality.

I hope and expect this to happen also in the area of evolution and biblical literalism.

As a case in point, I had a conversation about woodenly literalistic interpretations of Scripture and evolution with my young daughter, a science nerd; at first, as a good Sunday School pupil (and my mother’s granddaughter), she was horrified to think about the possibility that what she’d heard wasn’t God’s truth (“But God doesn’t lie!” she once whispered desperately), but it was not too difficult to explain to her that the opinions of her creationist teachers hadn’t been taking all the important information into account. So in a relatively short conversation I was able to assuage her concerns and free her of some latent fears about her beloved science books so that she’ll be a part of the first generation of American Christians that tolerates some variation in the list of acceptable “vocabulary” for the origins question; in turn, theology/philosophy nerds (my son is already heading this direction) will nativize the “grammar” of how it all works and what it all means when taken together. Most importantly, they’ll now be able to look sympathetically at believers on both side of the question to an extent much more difficult for my generation and older.

I’m suggesting that we who have struggled in our exodus from conservative Christian theologies should not despair too quickly or fear too much for our children’s ability to retain and adapt Christian theology: this transition will not be nearly as difficult as it was for us who were more inculcated in our own native tongues before we made contact with those foreigners with their bizarre, barbarian languages. My hope is that, so long as we continue to stand by and tinker at the puzzle we’ve begun and teach our children to lay down their arms when dealing with those who disagree, we can trust that they will come in behind us and, relatively effortlessly, fill in the holes.

Evolution and the fall of the Fall

June 3rd, 2011 | 3 Comments

I just finally got around to reading the post from BioLogos from May 31, “BioLogos and the June 2011 ‘Christianity Today’ Cover Story“. Within it, president Darrel Falk makes note that they’ve had trouble identifying theologians who affirm both the historicity of Adam and Eve and evolution. While the scientific data cannot alone rule anything out, the stance that accepts God’s selecting one man and one woman out of an early population of Homo is something Falk flags as having had little serious theological effort placed into explaining it:

The “Federal Headship” model that accepts the scientific findings while at the same time holding to the historicity of a real first couple has not yet been carefully worked out by theologians. The reason that we haven’t had many articles of that sort is because we haven’t been able to identify theologians who are looking at the question from that perspective. In general, our experience has been that theologians are in one of two camps. Either they work within the framework of a non-historical Adam and Eve or they believe the scientific conclusions will eventually prove to be deeply flawed and humans were not created through an evolutionary process after all.

That divide is something I’ve certainly witnessed, and no doubt it’s used by the latter group to demonstrate the “slippery slope”. And in this case, I think they’re right: most who go all the way to say that so many aspects of Genesis 1 and 2 are not historical or literal have a hard time drawing the line at the historicity of the first pair. The divide comes over how we deal with the NT’s treatment of Adam, who Paul especially seems to use as a key figure in his theology (I would argue that Adam is not any more key to Paul than Melchizedek is to Hebrews, used typologically). In short, it’s not nearly as much about the historicity of Adam and Eve as it is the historicity of the Fall.

Although people like Tim Keller and Denis Alexander will continue to try arguing for a first pair of souled individuals, a position that was assumed by C. S. Lewis and has recently been affirmed by Vatican theologians, my guess is that the next generation of Christians who grow up accepting evolution as a “first language” will never seriously consider it, in the same way that teens growing up today rarely crack open their parents’ books on how to install software or run basic functions of Microsoft Office. Federal headship, like most other models of the Fall, may well be a moribund theological construct.

Falk urges “caution” with the federal headship view of the Fall because there are a number of theological questions that have yet to be teased out satisfactorily. Did God only impart His life-giving spirit to two of them, who promptly turned around and “fell” in a way we might have expected from the rest of their still-animal tribespeople? How did their divinely imparted souls that separated them from their peers and ancestors get passed on to their descendants? How did their fallenness get passed on?

Given questions like these and the available alternative of understanding that the “fallenness” of humanity and its solution in Christ don’t depend on an historical Fall from an historical pair, I’m fairly confident that a denial of the historicity of Adam and Eve will become the dominant paradigm within the next couple of decades.

This prediction will lead to the question, “But what about those who hang onto inerrancy? How will they simply reject the Bible’s teachings about Adam and Eve?” Well, for one thing, I think most Christians (and in honesty, people in general) tolerate enough cognitive dissonance to the effect that this will not invariably be noticed as a conflict with an assumption of evolution. Another factor is the attempt to salvage a semblance of inerrancy by arguing for figurative language and other literary devices to account for Paul’s treatment of Adam and Eve (this was the path I took several years ago). But even more so, I think that the inevitable acceptance of evolution by the younger generations will in fact pull a modified or abandonment inerrancy along with it. As Cliff Martin likes to point out, the Church will accept evolution; it must.

A new, definitive introduction to the Adam/evolution problem in Christian theology

February 23rd, 2011 | 20 Comments

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: devout evangelicals will never be able to come to terms with evolution as long as they believe that it denies the existence of an historical Adam with an historical Fall. As goes creationism, so goes Christianity. Some will cling to their Christianity so tightly that they will never entertain any beliefs that contradict it; others cannot live with the cognitive dissonance and will eventually call it quits on Christianity once they recognize that universal common descent is, for all intents and purposes, indisputable.

The issue is why Jesus had to die if there were no original sin. Why do we need the second Adam if there was no first Adam? What did Jesus do if he didn’t undo the sin that came in because of Adam? At various times and places on this blog I have offered my answers to those thoughts, which include understanding the nature of the Bible and alternative views of the atonement, most especially. But I have often felt and occasionally expressed exasperation that there were no high profile Christians grappling with this problem, which is surely on the short of list of the most problematic issues in Christian theology.

The BioLogos Foundation has done a good job of turning that around, especially since bringing on Dr. Peter Enns as senior fellow. But he has really outdone himself this time. The next time I have someone ask me about the Adam problem for evolution, I will ask that person to carve out 50 minutes to watch the following presentation. In it, Pete Enns manages to lay out the finest explication of the narrative motivations behind Genesis and Paul’s use of the Adam story that I’ve heard in quite some time. Enjoy, and spread it around.

Hard link

H/T I Think I Believe

Where do we go once leaving Paul’s Adam? (BioLogos)

April 6th, 2010 | 3 Comments

I have really enjoyed Pete Enns‘s contribution to BioLogos of late. His latest frames the Adam/Eve question in an interesting and honest way. Here’s an excerpt related to my last post:

What if we affirm that Paul’s view of human origins does not settle the matter for us today? Of course, this leaves us with a pressing question: how do we think about Adam today?

This is where the conversation begins for those wishing to maintain a biblical faith in a modern world. And whatever way forward is chosen, we must be clear on one thing: we have all left “Paul’s Adam.” We are all “creating Adam,” as it were, in an effort to reconcile Scripture and the modern understanding of human origins.
[O]nce you move to [the above affirmation], you have left Paul’s Adam and are now working with an Adam that is partially and even largely shaped by your own understanding and worldview. You are in an entirely different discussion.

It sounds bleak, but I have hope that efforts like the BioLogos Foundation, if they continue on their current trajectory, will begin to push through.

Squaring the Bible with the evidence

April 5th, 2010 | 8 Comments

Christians coming to terms with evolution, including many ID advocates who acknowledge common descent, will often arrive at a midpoint of sorts between denial of evolution and all-out theistic evolution (or evolutionary creation) that acknowledges that we are by-products of evolution and seeks to hold the line on the most theologically problematic aspect of evolutionary theory: the historicity of Adam and Eve. For many, this is a comfortable resting place and they remain content acknowledging the deafening scientific consensus of common descent on one hand and believing in a literal first human pair on the other.

This is often done by positing a bottleneck of the population down to two individuals, often misunderstanding the unfortunately ambiguous terms Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam. The more sophisticated (but odd) way of doing this is to allow there to have been more than two at the time of Adam and Eve, but to posit that the Fall event occurred to them uniquely, and that the effects have passed down to later humanity through descent from them.

From Denis Venema and Darrel Falk at BioLogos comes a handy explanation of the relevant genomic evidence.

Attempting to square the Genesis account and common ancestry by positing a literal Adam and Eve who were the progenitors of the entire human race is, biologically speaking, looking for the most extreme population bottleneck a sexually reproducing species can experience: a reduction to one breeding pair.

Is there evidence that such a bottleneck has ever occurred?

The short answer is no, and that there is much evidence against it.

This leaves those seeking to maintain both common descent and theological concordism advocating one of the following positions (as best I can tell):

  1. defining the pair as a literary representation of the entire human population at the time of an historical Fall (as C.S. Lewis did)
  2. defining the Fall as something not passed down genetically, but as a metaphor for something that happened within a group of our race’s representatives (possibly even a literal pair)

Any other options I’m missing?

I prefer to just embrace the idea that the Jewish religious leaders who compiled Genesis from earlier stories used those stories to teach various theological concepts, including an etiology for sin, death, toil, the excruciating pain of childbirth, and the pitfalls of trying to live life doing “what seems right in [one’s] own eyes” without due dependence on the system prescribed by those leaders. There’s more there of course, but I want to emphasize that our fundamental task in interpreting Scripture has to be to put ourselves in the minds of its human authors as best as we can given the tools of literary and historical research rather than read into Scripture all kinds of theological beliefs we already hold.

With evolution and with Scripture, we aren’t pushing God out of the picture to say that He in some sense authored both via natural processes. A committed affirmation of God’s creation by general Providence doesn’t selectively comb nature for divine signatures or other Easter eggs that will prove His authorship of it; we accept the whole creative process, warts (death, pain, etc.) and all as finding its source and being in God, with all the mysteries and difficulties this creates, resisting the urge to say, “God doesn’t do things that way, so science must be wrong here.” In the same way, we shouldn’t posit theological gems of special revelation throughout every passage of Scripture, somewhere between the lines, redeeming otherwise problematic passages. Rather, we simply do our best to uncover what it says, warts and all, and acknowledge that whatever it says, it was meant to be that way. Most of us already accept that David wasn’t speaking with the ideal level of faith, understanding, and resignation to the Golden Rule in the cursing Psalms; I’m merely saying that we should carry out that sort of evaluation consistently.

The trouble with intramural accommodationism

March 27th, 2010 | 4 Comments

Can one be consistent in accepting both the common form of inerrancy as described in the Chicago Statement and universal common descent?

This question is something I struggle with when I observe people try to sell other believers on evolutionary theory without openly acknowledging the ways in which their own rejection of the idea of a single pair of progenitors has resulted in an often subtle yet usually profound modification of how they understand the Bible to work. I, too, have been tempted on numerous occasions to begin the presentation of my case by positing a (purely hypothetical) scenario in which accepting that early Genesis was unhistorical does not result in a revised or nuanced bibliology; if not outright dishonest, I feel that this approach is nonetheless misleading, perhaps even disingenuous, and a setup for problems later.

Rather than giving in to this temptation, I have opted to problematize their assumptions about what the Bible should be or should say. After all, this is the main problem, and one that underlies more misconceptions and naïveté than just their beliefs about origins.

Now, the fact is, there are indeed many Christians who accept mainstream evolutionary theory but are otherwise quite conservative theologically, including in their bibliology, although anecdotally I surmise that the number is far fewer of those who accept evolution and maintain an “inerrant” Scripture as taught by most of our evangelical pastors and teachers. Even when they say they accept inerrancy, they have – futilely, in my opinion – taken up the tack of nuancing “inerrant” to mean something quite different from those who take the term at face value; “inerrancy” implies more than a mysterious theological concordism, but scientific and especially historical concordism as well. But for those in the group, however small, that have (for the moment, anyway) caught their foot on their way down the slope, I understand why they can feel free to try to persuade others that they can go on believing essentially the same things that they’ve been taught they should, at least about the nature of the Bible, mutatis mutandis for the Adam/Eve part of course.

But what about the rest of us? My question is this: how legitimate is it to advertise compatibility between science and “that old time religion” while we know good and well that it’s only compatible after precisely the kind of modification to their bibliology that’s held them to their skepticism of science in the first place? Should we instead put more effort into maturing their bibliology on all fronts, and not just Genesis? I vote for emphasizing the latter and minimizing the “cake-and-eat-it-too” sort of accommodationism that misrepresents what most of my fellow theistic evolutionists have begun to conclude. Until they’re ready for a change in their understanding of what our faith rests upon and for an acknowledgment of the limitations of Scripture, I doubt they’ll go particularly far into acceptance of science no matter how cleverly we present it.

Do you agree?