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Denis Alexander is a molecular biologist and director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge. He is the author of several books on the harmony of science and Christian faith. In Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?, he argues that the choice between creation or evolution is a false dichotomy. Throughout the book, the implied answer is no, we do not have to choose. Evolution is the only option for those who take scientific investigation seriously and for Christians who want to honor God in their study of His creation.

Alexander’s authority in the field of biology is put to good use, as three chapters of the book are devoted to explaining the theory and process of evolution. There are several pages of illustrations and figures as he talks about specific examples in the history of life. He is also fair to Young-Earth Creationists and Intelligent Design proponents by using a total of four chapters to bring up many of their major objections and defend the theory against them. Since the book targets Christians, there is no doubt that many of his readers will hold these views, so it is critical that he address them well. He answers each objection and shows that many of them are based on a misunderstanding of the evolutionary process. However, at the end of these chapters, his writing comes across a little bitter toward them, asking rhetorical questions and challenging the godliness of YECs’ stewardship over their resources.1 Although I sympathize with his feelings, I worry that this cynical tone might turn YECs and ID proponents away, rather than warm them up to theistic evolution.

In addition to these scientific considerations, Alexander spends nearly half the book carefully considering Scripture and theology. He has more to offer here than Francis Collins’ book, The Language of God, which left many theological questions open. Alexander seems to have a basic knowledge of the Hebrew language and a strong understanding of Christian theology. He spends two chapters on the biblical doctrine of creation, two on Adam and Eve, and one chapter each on the topics of death, the Fall, and evil. All of these are important considerations in the Christian doctrines of creation and sin, and Alexander approaches them from a theistic evolutionist’s perspective. He presents five models for interpreting the events of Genesis chapters 1-3. I won’t go into detail on these models except for his favored model C. It is the view that “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.” 2 This view sees Adam and Eve as historical individuals, resulting from the process of evolution, whom God chooses to be the “federal head of the whole of humanity alive at that time.” 3 Up to this point, human beings would likely have developed language, culture, and perhaps even religion.4 But they would be morally neutral until they were in a relationship with God. I appreciate this view, because I have been convicted by other theologians, such as Timothy Keller, who affirm an historical Adam and Eve along with theistic evolution.5 This view, therefore, preserves the biblical idea of Adam as our covenantal representative, or “federal head,” as Alexander calls it.

Though he favors this view, he reminds us that it is just a working model. He considers it the best option available at the moment, but if something better came along, he “will readily discard C and adopt the new one.” 6 Because models such as these are fairly loose by nature, many questions are always hanging around. For example, one question that I have is how does C.S. Lewis’ idea of the moral law fit into model C? According to Lewis, we all have consciences which ring out in protest when we do something immoral, or when someone harms us. It helps us discern right from wrong, and by it, we know that we are guilty.7 This is the moral law that Francis Collins found appealing and which persuaded him to consider Christianity.8 Collins suggests that the moral law was given to us when we were given souls, perhaps when God breathed life into Adam in Genesis 2.9 Alexander, on the other hand, argues that this passage only refers to God bringing Adam to life, making him a “living being.” 10 He doesn’t talk about it explicitly, but Alexander conveys the impression that the moral law would have developed in us by means of evolution, which is evidenced by traces of ancient religion, like the carved animals and figurines made out of ivory or stone.11 In his model C, the only thing that changed when God chose Adam and Eve was that He began a relationship with them. This means that the moral law was already present, illuminating them to God’s moral will before they even knew Him.

Collins presents evidence that evolution does not account for our sense of morality.12 However, I want to take Alexander’s humility and not express certainty about it. Who knows what we may discover? I also think Alexander’s exegesis of Genesis 2 is better. Nonetheless, I am inclined to lean toward Collins’ position that our Moral Law entered into us only when God established a relationship with Adam and Eve. It makes sense that human beings would begin to feel convicted about sin only after God had established a relationship, not beforehand, when they were morally neutral. My question about Model C, then, is how this fits in with all of the other human beings on the earth. Did they receive the moral law at the same time as Adam and Eve? Or after the Fall? There is a lot to consider, all while maintaining established truths, like Adam and Eve being the covenantal representatives of the race, and so on. Some who read this book may be frustrated that there are not concrete answers, but such is the nature of the theological discussion right now. It would be wrong to say that we know for sure, and we should be suspicious of those who say they are.

In any case, Alexander’s book is a great contribution to the discussion, and I highly recommend it. I especially invite YECs and ID proponents who are interested in learning more about theistic evolution to read this work. Alexander is a faithful guide through a murky controversy, and his book sets the foundation for further reading and research.

Notes

1. Denis Alexander, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? (UK: Monarch Books, 2008), 353.

2. Alexander, 236.

3. Alexander, 236.

4. Alexander, 231.

5. Timothy Keller, “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople,” Biologos Foundation, accessed December 18, 2012, http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/Keller_white_paper.pdf.

6. Alexander, 243.

7. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 1952), 7.

8. Francis Collins, The Language of God (New York: Free Press, 2006), 22.

9. Collins, 207.

10. Alexander, 195.

11. Alexander, 226.

12. Collins, 28-29.

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The BioLogos Forum has posted these articles by Dr. Timothy Keller, discussing the relationship between science and faith. You can find links to the original article at the top of each section. In writing this post, I want to highlight for myself, in particular, the order in which he addresses each topic. With so much to ask and say about this debate, how does one go about it systematically? What is most important? What should be a priority in the dialogue?

All of the ideas listed below are my paraphrases of Keller’s thoughts, summing up his ideas. My own ideas are in green.

Part 1 – Overview of the tension – Click here for Dr. Keller’s article

What’s the Problem?

In this debate, so many voices say evolution and Scripture are irreconcilable. Richard Dawkins (atheist) says evolution means God is not in charge of creation. Ken Ham (Christian, Young-Earth Creationist) says evolution goes directly against a clear reading of Scripture.

Some aren’t so sure that they are irreconcilable. Peter van Inwagen (Christian philosopher) says that even if belief in God was a product of evolution, it still would not take away the reality of God Himself. In fact, it would be an ingenious way for God to install a universal search for Him in all of humanity. Science cannot prove or disprove Him.

Pastors and People

There are four main difficulties presented by evolution for orthodox Protestants.

1. Biblical authority – By accepting evolution, aren’t we letting science affect our understanding of Scripture instead of vice versa?

2. Confusion of biology and philosophy – Doesn’t believing evolution lead to a “Grand Theory of Everything” that answers life’s great “why” questions?

3. Historicity of Adam and Eve – As Christians believing evolution, don’t we have to believe Adam and Eve and the fall are merely symbolic? What about Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15?

4. Problem of evil – If death and suffering were in the world before the fall, as evolution has it, how do we reconcile this with Scripture (Genesis 3) and the idea of a good God who created a good world that human beings messed up?

Part 2 – Difficulty #1 – Biblical authority – Click here for Dr. Keller’s article

Question: If God used evolution, then we can’t take Genesis 1 literally, and if we can’t, then how can we take any of the Bible literally? It undermines the Bible’s authority.

Answer: To respect the authority of the Bible writers, take them as they want to be taken. Sometimes they want to be taken literally; sometimes they don’t. Listen to them; don’t impose our thinking and agenda on them.

Genre and authorial intent

Just because one part of the Bible is taken literally doesn’t mean all parts are. Ask whether the author wants to be taken literally or not. Judges 5 is Hebrew poetry of Judges 4’s historical prose narrative. Luke 1.1 makes it clear that Luke wants his account to be taken literally. Accounts like Genesis 1 and Ecclesiastes aren’t clear – there will always be debate about them.

Genre and Genesis 1

What genre is Genesis 1? Edward Young (Hebrew expert, six literal days interpretation) admits Genesis 1 has “exalted semi-poetical language” but it’s not straight poetry. There is no parallelism, like Exodus 15.

C. John Collins (analogous days interpretation) says the genre of Genesis 1 is “exalted prose narrative.” By calling it prose narrative, we acknowledge it’s making truth claims about the world in which we live. By calling it exalted, we recognize not to impose a literalistic hermeneutic on it.

In Keller’s view, the strongest argument that the author doesn’t intend a literalistic interpretation is the lack of natural order in the creative acts of Genesis 1 and 2. There is light before the sources of light are created. There is vegetation before there is atmosphere and before rain. Genesis 2.5 implies that God followed a natural order. There were no plants because God had not caused it to rain…. Genesis 1.11 also implies that God used a natural order in His creation. “Let the earth sprout vegetation…”

Keller thinks Genesis 2 can be read literally, but not Genesis 1. Thus, Genesis 1 does not teach a six 24-hour day creation. Maybe Genesis 1 is to Genesis 2 as Judges 5 is to Judges 4.

Part 3 – Difficulty #2 – Confusion of biology and philosophy – Click here for Dr. Keller’s article

Question: If biological evolution is true, does that mean we are just animals driven by our genes, and everything about us can be explained by natural selection?

Answer: No, belief in evolution as a biological process is not the same as belief in evolution as a worldview.

The New Atheists insist that naturalism automatically flows from belief in biological evolution. Because of this, many Christians don’t know how to differentiate between evolutionary biological processes (EBP) and the Grand Theory of Everything (GTE). They likely hold on tightly to Young-Earth Creationism because of this.

Christians who believe in EBP as an account of origins ought to teach or explain how this differs from GTE and come together with other Christians to fight it. If you argue for EBP, you must bring up and put great emphasis on arguing against GTE. See David Atkinson’s quote in the original article.

Part 4 – Difficulty #3 & 4 – Historicity of Adam and Eve and the Fall – Click here for Dr. Keller’s article

Many say we should read Genesis 2 – 11 in light of other creation myths of the ancient Near East, that the biblical authors were “men of their time,” sharing ideas with other cultures. If we did this, we would read these chapters as holding general truth principles, but not as describing actual historical events.

Many ancient writers used symbolic/figurative language. Psalm 139.13: God “knit me together in my mother’s womb” – definitely figurative. Genesis 2.7: God “formed Adam from the dust of the ground” – likely figurative (compare Job 10.8-9).

Kenneth Kitchen (Christian Egyptologist) says Near Eastern societies didn’t “historicize” myths, but rather “mythologized” history. “They celebrated actual historical events and people in mythological terms.” We can conclude that Genesis 2 – 11 are “high” accounts of actual events.

Paul the apostle thought Adam and Eve and the Fall were historical. When you refuse to take him literally when he clearly wants you to, you have “moved away from the traditional understanding of Biblical authority.”

Part 5 – Difficulty #3 & 4 – Historicity of Adam and Eve and the Fall – Click here for Dr. Keller’s article

Some think you can believe that Adam and Eve were symbolic, along with the Fall, of some original group of human beings. Keller thinks this is too simplistic. (I agree. Consider the above points.)

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul makes the point that, as Christians, we are in a covenant relationship with Christ. We get credit for what He did. This is what Paul means when he says we are “in Christ.” In the same sentence, (v. 22) he says we are similarly “in Adam.” Adam was a “covenantal” representative for the whole human race; what he did (in history) is laid to our account.

If you don’t believe what Paul believes about Adam, that he and his actions were historical, then you deny the core of Paul’s teaching. Paul’s whole argument, that both sin and grace work “covenantally,” falls apart.

This traditional view of the historicity of Adam, Eve, and the Fall, is foundational to the doctrine of original sin (including, I would say, total depravity) and equal sinfulness of the entire human race.

Part 6 – Difficulty # 3 & 4 – Historicity of Adam and Eve and the Fall – Click here for Dr. Keller’s article

This is Derek Kidner’s model of how Adam and Even can fit into an evolutionary origins account of humanity.

Job 10.8-9 makes Genesis 2.7 likely that Adam is also a product of EBP. God breathed into him the spirit of life, endowing him with the image of God. Eve was created special from Adam, followed by God breathing life into all of Adam’s collaterals (the other human beings on the planet at the time.)

Adam would still be seen as the “head” of all of these other people, and they would inherit original sin along with the rest of us (through solidarity, the “oneness” of the covenant relationship, not heredity). These people would answer the questions of Cain’s wife and the city he builds in Genesis 4, along with Genesis 2.20 and Adam’s search for a wife.

There are several factors that imply the world was not perfectly good before the Fall. The darkness and chaos of Genesis 1.2, Satan’s presence in the garden, the need for humans to work (Gen 1.28) and eat (Gen 2.9) meant that the original creation was not perfect. When Romans 8 says that nature groans under the weight of corruption, it would mean that it is disintegrating as a result of humans not being good stewards (because of their hate for God.) The Fall primarily brought spiritual death to human beings.

Still, perhaps Adam and Eve were given conditional immortality as a foretaste of heaven.

There are many other models of how Adam and Eve could fit into the evolutionary account of origins. Keller’s main argument is that he wants us to be “bigger tents” than the anti-scientific religious community and the anti-religious scientific community. He argues that belief in a historical Adam and Eve is extremely important, but that there are several ways to hold this view while also holding a belief in evolutionary biological processes.

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