There is little doubt that a major fault-line in the integration of a Christian understanding of the world with the major findings in modern science is centered on the issue of Adam. We saw this in the response to the posts last week on Tuesday (Pastors Unconvinced … Now What?), Wednesday (Science, Evolution, and the Bible), and Thursday (Testing Scripture on Creation and Fall). In the introduction to his new book The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, Pete Enns points out that the age of the earth is not a game changer for Christianity. Great age, like the loss of a flat earth, or a stationary earth, center of the universe (whatever “universe” meant in earlier cultures) can be integrated into traditional Christian beliefs with very little significant impact. Many conservative Christians, although not all, will agree with Pete that a young earth is not a necessary consequence of the reading of Genesis.
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. (p. xiv)
Genesis 1 is not really the problem. Genesis 2,3 … here is the problem. Pete continues:
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. … Some Christians reconcile their faith with evolution by saying that God initiates 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. (p. xiv)
But the core of the problem isn’t really Genesis 2 and 3 either. It is Paul and Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. Evolutionary biology leads to the inescapable conclusion, from the standpoint of the science alone, that the first Adam with whom Paul contrasts Christ as the last Adam, never existed as a distinct individual from whom all other humans descend. Pete suggests that the pressing question is not “can science and religion be reconciled?” This rather generic question can be dealt with in a convincing manner (well convincing to some anyway) using philosophical arguments, natural theology, intuitive arguments about meaning and purpose. The pressing question is more tightly focused: “can evolution and a biblically rooted Christian faith coexist?”
Where is the most pressing issue from your point of view?
Does Paul’s reference to Christ as the last Adam, a life-giving spirit, ring hollow if there was no first man Adam who became a living being?
Peter Enns is a biblical scholar and an OT scholar in particular. He received his M. Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1989 and his Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Harvard in 1994. He is currently teaching at Eastern University near Philadelphia. His book The Evolution of Adam, like his earlier book Inspiration and Incarnation, comes from his desire to be faithful to the Old Testament in its Ancient Near Eastern Context and to the bible as the word of God.
In looking at the dilemma of many Christians, desiring to take Paul and Genesis seriously but unwilling and unable to ignore the evidence for evolution, Pete sees four possible options. (p. xvii)
1. Accept evolution and reject Christianity. Far too many take this option. Evolution is not the only issue or the only stumbling block, But it certainly plays a role. And it certainly plays a role for many in our Universities.
I was accosted by a woman after church recently, someone I’ve known for many years. She came up to me purposefully with a problem and wanted to know how I would approach it. She had a friend, one of the many students she has interacted with at the University over the years, who just recently returned to China. Through many opportunities to talk about the Christian faith there was always one road block, and nothing else mattered. “I’m an evolutionary biologist”, her friend would say, “I can’t be a Christian.” It isn’t just Christians who struggle and reject, it is also many who see the dilemma and won’t even listen. Far too many Christians preach this dilemma, or, more positively, its converse, as the only real options – the consequences of this are serious.
2. Accept Paul’s view of Adam as binding and reject evolution. This is the converse of the first option and many in the church take it. Either they don’t realize the strength of the evidence for evolution or they do, but feel that the faithfulness demands that they reject evolution anyway. Perhaps they take a mature creation view, that God created humans (and often the earth as well) with an appearance of age.
Both these first two options, Pete points out, are assuming that the bible is prepared to give us an accurate account of human origins. Thus we have to choose. There are other ways forward however. One has been discussed quite a bit in many different posts on this blog.
3. Reconcile evolution and Christianity by positing a first human pair (or group) at some point in the evolutionary process. A number of serious and thoughtful Christian scholars take this position. C. John Collins’s book Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? takes this view, as does Denis Alexander in Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?, and as did John Stott in his commentary on Romans. Even CS Lewis in The Problem of Pain falls loosely, perhaps, into this camp. Lewis, however, doesn’t preserve so much a historical Adam as a historical fall.
Pete, as an OT scholar, sees a serious problem with this approach.
The irony, however, is that in expending such effort to preserve biblical teaching, we are left with a first pair that is utterly foreign to the biblical portrait. As I see it, this is enough of a problem to warrant alternate solutions.
This third option also shares one shortcoming with the previous two: a failure to properly address Genesis as ancient literature and Paul as an ancient man. (p. xvii)
This leads us to a fourth option – and the option that Pete sets forth to develop and argue in the remainder of the book.
4. Rethink Genesis and Paul. Perhaps we need to reevaluate what we can and should expect from both Genesis and Paul on the subject of human origins.
Part One of The Evolution of Adam looks at Genesis, while Part Two addresses the ways in which Paul uses the story of Adam in Genesis. Working through this book should make for a good series and a good discussion. Whether you ultimately agree with Pete or not, his approach adds something new and something important to the mix.
Are there other options that should be considered?
Is rethinking Genesis and Paul a valid approach? Or is it asking for trouble?
If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.