From One Couple?

Lucas Cranach Man and WomanThe next argument John Walton addresses in his new book The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate is the argument that Adam and Eve are required by biblically sound theology to be the unique progenitors of the human race. To do so he poses two questions:

  1.  Does the Bible claim that Adam was the first human being to ever exist?


  1. Does the Bible claim that all humans are descended from Adam and Eve?

Walton is convinced that if the Bible stakes out a firm answer of yes for these questions that we then must, as Christians, affirm it. In light of the scientific evidence, this would mean that God formed a mature creation with the appearance of history.  He uses the example of his teeth, where the evidence of a number of dental procedures are evident. God could have created him full grown, with an apparent history of dental work. The human genome likewise shows evidence of a history, an evolving population never less than 10,000 or so, and of common descent. But … “If the Bible claims otherwise, then we would have to take a stand against this emerging scientific consensus.” (p. 183)

He is convinced that the Bible intentionally refers to a unique couple (Adam and Eve), but this does not necessarily require an answer of “yes” to either of the two important questions. Adam and Eve would be included among the first humans (however we identify the beginning of humanity) called out as priestly representatives to keep God’s sacred space. Turning to Romans 5 and 1 Cor 15: “When [Paul] speaks of Adam as the “first man,” he is most interested in the archetypal role of Adam and in the theological issues surrounding sin.” (p. 183) It is not clear that either the author of Genesis or Paul intend to make scientific statements about human origins.

It is possible to affirm that all humans today are descended from Adam and Eve (although not solely from Adam and Eve) because the intermarriage within a small population could result in all people tracing back to include one specific pair in their genealogy within a relatively small number of generations.  One can also affirm that this pair is the beginning of spiritual human, created in the image of God, and that their descendants (within a finite number of generations long ago becoming all humans everywhere) inherited both the image of God and the consequence of the original sin.

Though it looks nothing like the traditional biblical interpretation, it makes similar affirmations while at the same time accommodating common descent and affirming that the history evident in the genome actually took place. (p. 185)

Other models and explanations are possible as well. Some grasp at population bottlenecks, mitochondrial Eve or Y-chromosomal Adam to support the possibility of a unique original pair.  In many ways, mature creation, is the simplest way to accommodate both science and the traditional interpretation of Scripture, although this approach has problems of its own.

These all maintain aspects of traditional biblical interpretation while at the same time adopting some of the basic aspects of the current scientific consensus. They require selective acceptance of scientific findings and/or significantly adjusted biblical interpretation. We need to ask whether such complicated attempts at reconciliation are necessary, and so we return to the questions above: Does the Bible claim that Adam is the first human being to exist and that all are descended from him? (p. 185-186)

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Evolutionary Inborn Evil?

Does the absence of a Fall make God responsible for human and natural evil?

Does the presence of a Fall remove the criticism that God is the author of evil?

France_Paris_Notre-Dame-Adam_and_Eve-dsMark Harris’s book The Nature of Creation: Examining the Bible and Science explores these questions in a chapter entitled “Suffering and Evil.” He has argued that human fallenness is an indisputable fact, attested to in both the Old and New Testaments and in human experience, but The Fall, a definitive once-and-for-all act of the first couple, finds much less support in the canonical texts of Scripture. Many of us also struggle with the idea that the presence of a Fall preserves the goodness of God – after all God could have created humans incapable of sin. Couldn’t he?

Evolutionary creation poses a larger problem, however, because it makes natural “evil,” earthquakes, mutations, and disease, part of the good creation of Genesis 1. More importantly, it makes the human tendencies for evil – our propensity for selfishness, lust, conquest, greed, and hate – a natural part of human nature from the very beginning. An evolutionary view of the development of humans reveals that both altruism and hate developed before and alongside any human moral sense. “Such a view jeopardizes the goodness of God, for it suggests that God intended to make humans this way, with original sin and inevitable part of our evolutionary makeup.” (p. 150) This isn’t quite the same as the claim that God creates humans with the freedom to make decisions, including the decision to obey or disobey God’s commands.

Harris runs through a number of attempts that have made to develop an evolutionary theology of creation, but while they provide insights none of them are fully satisfactory. He turns instead in a different direction:

Therefore, the difficulties of developing an evolutionary theology are best solved by recourse to the theological future, which is, in any case, the approach of the New Testament. We must recognize that there is a divine work of perfection still to be finished, of which we know little and understand even less. Any adequate evolutionary theology must recognize this fact and underscore its own provisionality. And this is not a new realization: it was originally made by Irenaeus some 1800 years ago. (p. 155)

Saint_IrenaeusNow Harris is not claiming that Irenaeus knew anything about evolutionary biology or had any inkling that the earth is billions of years old. Rather he is pointing out that the eschatological perspective has ancient roots. It has been recognized by many that the divine plan of God involved progress from the garden to the age to come. We live in a world immersed in time and space. The humans created in God’s image were given a task, “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen 1:28a) John Calvin recognized this in his commentary on Genesis. It is not a new idea, driven by science. The age to come is not, and was never intended to be, a stasis in the garden or a return to the garden

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Posted in Adam, Genesis, Humanness, Original Sin, The Fall | Tagged

Paul’s Adam

Lucas Cranach Man and WomanThe next chapter of John Walton’s recent book The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate digs into the question of Paul’s use of Adam, particularly in Romans, but also in 1 Corinthians. Because he is an Old Testament scholar he brought in a New Testament scholar (and one who has written extensively on Paul) – N. T. Wright. Most of this chapter was written by Wright.

First, Walton suggests that we should focus on Paul’s use of Adam and not get sidetracked by such questions as “Does Paul believe in a historical Adam?”

The modern questions and traditional readings can easily lead us off track if they are not focused on the actual case that Paul is building. It is important for us to set aside our modern questions and traditional interpretations and focus on what Paul is doing as he makes his points. (p. 170)

The traditional interpretations may not be correct and our modern questions may not be important. If the traditional interpretations are correct, focusing on the actual case that Paul is building will lead us back to these interpretation. If they are not correct, well shouldn’t we be seeking the best interpretation?

What is the focus of Paul’s Argument? N. T. Wright develops a sketch of the argument: The importance of Adam is in his vocation as God’s image bearer in the world.

[Paul] didn’t start with a Jewish theory of “the fall of Adam” because such a theory did not exist. His reflections are prompted by a different apparent tragedy, but one that then turned to triumph: the crucifixion of Israel’s Messiah and his resurrection from the dead. The problems of which Saul of Tarsus was aware in his early life – the problems, political and theological, caused by Roman oppression and by Jewish failure to keep Torah properly – were revealed, by the Messiah’s cross to be much deeper than he had imagined. If a crucified Messiah was the divine answer to the problem, the problem must have been far worse than he had thought. (p. 171)

But now Paul sees that the Psalm 8 glory that God intended for humankind is being fulfilled in Jesus and shared with those who are in Christ, that is, “in the Messiah.” The best way to lay out the argument is to quote Wright:

It is important to be clear about this wider context because the question generated by the scientific study of cosmic and human origins (“did Adam exist?” or “was their an original Adam?) has become muddled up with the soteriological question, as to whether an “original Adam” is necessary for a biblical doctrine of salvation. But this would-be biblical doctrine has often been presented in a shrunken and distorted way. (p. 172)

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Is “The Fall” Necessary?

backyard critters cropChapter 7 of Mark Harris’s book The Nature of Creation: Examining the Bible and Science turns to the question of the Fall. In many ways this is the key question when examining the Bible and Science. Some things simply seem inexplicable in the context of a “good” creation, the product of an all powerful, all knowing, loving God. One of these critters in our backyard doesn’t belong. Skunks aren’t exactly evil – but it seems a stretch to call them good (at least in the backyard). The rabbit was quite wary – essentially a statue until the skunk wandered away.

Of course the presence of skunks in the backyard, or even the existence of scorpions, venomous snakes, and parasites, is not really the point. There are theological issues that raise the biggest questions. Harris suggests that two theological problems are seen to arise in the absence of The Fall.

First there is the problem of evil. Darwinism implies that competition, struggle, suffering and death have always been integral to the world. Theologically, they must therefore arise from God’s initial creative act (and continuing creative actions); they are “necessary evils”, part of what has made the world what it is. The same might even be said of human sin, since it can be construed as inherent to the original created order if it is seen as the inevitable outcome of the selfishness which arises from the struggle for existence implanted in the evolutionary process. (p. 131)

Many will take this to indicate that evolutionary creation makes God the source of sin and evil in the world and reject evolution on these grounds. Others resolve the conundrum other ways. A good God cannot be the source of evil, thus it becomes important to retain the notion of humanity as fallen, detoured as a race from God’s ideal plan. The question for many becomes “can we have fallenness without The Fall?”

The second theological problem raised by Darwinism concerns Christ;

The resurrection of Jesus Christ makes Neo-Darwinism incompatible with Christianity. Accommodating Neo-Darwinism leaves the biblical story, centred on the resurrection, incoherent, as it creates a story in which the hero Jesus, through his resurrection defeats an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26) of his own making. (Lloyd 2009: 1 in Debating Darwin)

There you have it in a nutshell, the concern shared by many conservative Christians about Darwinism: that it is incompatible with Christian faith because Darwinism appears to make Christ’s achievement pointless. (p. 132-133)

Both of these problems are related – and both have the same core concern. We need, so it is claimed, fallenness and a Fall to have a coherent story of redemption. And, without a historical Adam, the Fall, and thus Christianity, is vanquished to the dustbin of failed hypotheses.

Harris looks at several aspects of this claim.

A Historical Adam. Harris runs through several of the solutions that have been proposed to retain a historical Adam and The Fall despite the evidence for evolution and common descent. Some will suggest that there was a bottleneck, perhaps even a pair, in human population – a solution that is not consistent with the evidence as Dennis Venema has argued in a series of posts at BioLogos (Adam, Eve, and Population Genetics). Denis Alexander argues for a Neolithic Adam, different from his forebears and contemporaries as Homo divinus – there is a theological distinction between Adam and the others making Adam and Eve the first spiritual humans (BioLogos blog series Genetics, Theology, and Adam as a Historical Person and also his book Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?). John Walton’s approach is somewhat different – but as his new book appeared more recently it isn’t included in Harris’s chapter. These solutions can seem strained. Their coherence and plausibility rests on the importance that a person attaches to the theological significance of the Fall and to their view of the nature of Scripture as authoritative.

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Jesus is the Keystone

church of the transfiguration 2Jesus is the Keystone of God’s plan to resolve disorder and perfect order, or so claims John Walton in the next chapter of his new book The Lost World of Adam and Eve. But Jesus is more than simply the solution to a problem. He resolves disorder introduced by sin, but his presence and participation was always part of the plan to perfect order.

We can begin this discussion by looking at an all important creation text, Colossians 1:15-23.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (1:15-20)

Although this isn’t a text that leaps to mind when thinking about creation according to Scripture, it should be. Look at the passage:

  • Christ is the true image of the invisible God. Humans are created in the image, Christ is the image.
  • The firstborn of creation (before Adam)
  • In him all things were created
  • He created all things
  • He is before all things (not contingent)
  • In him all things hold together
  • The fullness of God dwells in him

Christ is the center and source of order. His role in perfecting order is not contingent on the human need for redemption, but precedes human existence.

Christ also resolves the disorder introduced by sin.

  • He is the head of the church and firstborn from the dead
  • Through him all things are reconciled to God
  • We attain peace through his blood

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How to Talk About Science and Faith

Or perhaps, and more important, how not to talk about science and faith. Some thoughts from 50+ years as a Christian involved in a range of churches, and from 30+ years as an active scientist, 23 years as a professor.

1. Make Sure Your Facts are Straight.

Balance YECThere is no scientific controversy about the age of the earth. It is old, far older than 10,000 years. The few scientists who doubt this almost invariably do so for religious reasons, with Christianity being the most common. If you feel that the Bible teaches a young earth and thus hold this position, be honest in the way you approach it.

Ridiculous and easily falsified claims will undermine your credibility with anyone who happens to check, or who is exposed to science in more detail in the course of their education. Make sure you understand any science you use to support your position. Too often scientific results are twisted to support a young earth when, in fact, they say nothing about the age of the earth.

One of the most recent examples concerns the discovery of remnants of soft tissue (organic biomolecules) in fossils many millions of years old. (See here for a recent story.) This is a discovery that has been taken by some who hold to young earth creationism to indicate that the earth is far younger than we suppose. However – complete carcasses of animals have been found that are tens of thousands of years old, and soft-tissue remnants that are hundreds of thousands of years old are unremarkable. DNA sufficient to sequence a 700,000 year old horse and collagen fingerprinting of a 3 million year old camel fossil are among the more recent papers in the literature. Nothing about soft tissue remnants brings us anywhere close to an earth only a few thousand years old. This would require a massive revision of laws of chemistry, physics, geology and biology.

By the way, soft tissue remnants in dinosaurs were reported as early as 1966 (“Cells, collagen fibrils and vessels in dinosaur bone” Nature 211, 655, 1966). The new results suggest that these remnants are more common and useful than originally thought and don’t require exceptional preservation. The limits for preservation of soft materials are set by chemical degradation reactions. The newer fossil findings send us back to the lab to understand the chemistry better. What is the chemical environment and what are the chemical reactions that preserve these remnants? The results are exciting because the information provided by these remnants can greatly expand our picture of now extinct species.

Don’t take quotes out of context, don’t misrepresent and misinterpret others to “proof-text” your position. More damage is done by the way the position is defended than by the position itself.

Don’t accuse those who are Christians and scientists and who hold to an old earth (the vast majority) of bowing to materialism or trying to curry favor with the establishment unless you truly understand the evidence and can offer a coherent explanation of why the evidence points in a different direction.

If you are getting your scientific facts from resources provided by a creationist organization, please double check them. Find out why those of us who are Christians and scientists find this information misleading, incoherent, wrong, and even occasionally deceitful. Joel Duff at Naturalis Historia explains much of this quite carefully from the perspective of a Christian and a biologist. (And his most recent experience is troubling as he tells about it here.)

The only scientifically coherent approach to “Young Earth” is to postulate a mature creation with the appearance of age. Personally I think this position has theological problems and misinterprets the purpose and role of Scripture in Christian faith. I don’t think Scripture is intended to set us straight so that we know that the appearance of age in the world is an illusion, but others see things differently.  We can have this discussion.

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Posted in Resources for Discussion, Science and Faith

But the Greatest of These is Love

Balance2I have to admit it. There have been a number of posts lately over at Jesus Creed that I’ve found rather depressing. These aren’t bad posts. In fact I’d say that they are quite good by and large, but they they feel a bit like picking at scabs. Austin Fischer’s post last Thursday “Are Scientists Really Split on Evolution?” made an excellent point – and an important one. Whether you think evolution is true or not, don’t rest your argument on urban myths and wishful thinking. And try to discourage others from doing so as well. Unless you consider a few percent disagreement to mean that the scientific community is “split,” it simply isn’t true. And the majority of those in the roomy tray are there for reasons other than science – generally, but not always, for religious reasons.

Some of the conversation following this post was discouraging simply because it demonstrated how much work remains. 232 comments and counting. We have to realize that this discussion in the church is really about biblical interpretation, theology, and doctrine. It may also be about metaphysical naturalism, especially with non-Christians. But it isn’t about science.

And then …

This post was followed by Jeff Cook’s post Monday on Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope’s book Church Refugees. As of this writing the post has 165 comments, many by Christians who are quite disillusioned with the way a local church too often acts. There are many hurt people around. I have to admit that I have fought against disillusionment and despair at times myself. The kind of misinformation and untruths about science and scientists that are portrayed by far too many Christians plays a role here, but it isn’t the only factor or even the most important reason. The church as a growth business, the focus on human celebrities, authoritarian structures, theological purity, fights over style (with the rhetorical putdowns that are often in play), and the sneaking suspicion that the focus is on building an earthly empire rather than on being and growing the people of God.

Why stay in the church?

Church Sign ds - Copy2The church isn’t a celebrity, or a sermon, a worship service, a music style, or a brand (or even an evangelistic outreach mission). A church is a gathering of the people of God. I’d say that it is a gathering for worship (which is not another term for music), sacrament, exhortation, discipleship, fellowship, service, and evangelism. A church is a gathering of the people of God – not for an hour once a week, but in community. Not any ordinary community though – a community with a purpose. On my walk last evening I passed a church sign that put it well: Ordinary People Living Differently Because of the Love of Christ. Too often this isn’t the church – but it should be. We are called to be a people of love because of the love of God.

Consider the instructions given to the people of God (aka “the church”) in the pages of the New Testament. These instructions don’t concern style and form (music, preaching, and such) or size. They concern character and community and love. Paul lays it on the line:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. … And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor 13:1-3, 13)

Without love, powerful preaching, prophecy, faith, knowledge, acts of piety and charity are all nothing. And 1 John agrees:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 Jn 4:7-8)

What does this mean for the church? I’d suggest it means that any local church that doesn’t take these to heart has a problem. All of the instructions contained in the New Testament are governed by the directives above to love one another.

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