Adam, Eve, and the Fallout

Posted on September 4, 2011


The buzz generated by the Christianity Today article examining recent questions about Adam and Eve apparently caught the attention of NPR. They produced a segment that used many of the same sources, condensing much of the same material into eight-minutes of audio.

Both stories cover the dialog taking place among some evangelicals concerning whether or not there was a historic Adam and Eve from which the entire human race descended. The traditional understanding of a fallen first pair has been critical to many theological doctrines, particularly original sin, but it’s called into question by fossil evidence and genetics. These are issues Augustine didn’t know about, but modern scholars cannot ignore. Some argue with the data, such as Dr. Rana of Reasons to Believe. Some discard the data and point out the theological consequences, such as Dr. Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Others have accepted the scientific conclusion and are reexamining their theological constructs in light of the new evidence. An increasing number of evangelical and conservative theologians have come to accept that the human race cannot be traced back to a population of two people at any point in history – let alone a mere 6,000 years ago. It’s kind of a big deal, so some sparks have been flying over the issue.

Both NPR and Christianity Today mention a recent controversy involving two professors form Calvin College, Daniel C. Harlow and theologian John R. Schneider. They had recently taken part in a journal series examining the theological implications of recent genetic discoveries for the American Scientific Affiliation – an organization of Christians in science. Their interesting articles drew the ire of their employers and college president, so they were investigated. This isn’t the first time Calvin has done this.

Albert Mohler continues to suggest that Harlow and others have adapted the traditional view of Adam and Eve to gain the respect of secular scholars. When interviewed for the NPR piece, Mohler said:

“The moment you say ‘We have to abandon this theology in order to have the respect of the world,’ you end up with neither biblical orthodoxy nor the respect of the world.”

RJS, a Christian working in science, responded to the accusation on the theology blog Jesus Creed:

“I agree with Dr. Mohler that if we say we have to abandon theology to have the respect of the world we will have neither. But that is not really the issue. This ongoing discussion is not to retain respect for the sake of respect, but to remain engaged in a sincere search for truth – God’s truth.”

She went on to list other Christian scholars and theologians who have recently risked their jobs (and often lost them) to deal with these issues, such as Peter Enns, Richard Colling, Darrel Falk, Bruce Waltke, and Tremper Longman. Accusing each of them of compromising the faith to gain popularity is an unfair attack on the individuals that ignores the need to honestly examine the evidence. If they didn’t find the evidence so compelling, I don’t think they would have jeopardized their careers and disrupted their lives.

That’s definitely the case with me. If I didn’t find evolutionary biology so convincing, I wouldn’t take a position which many of my loved ones consider heretical, unchristian, and dangerous. Some may call it a slippery slope, but I would argue that shunning genetics, geology, astronomy, and biology doesn’t exactly put you on solid ground, either.

There comes a point when the empirical evidence is so strong that it’s foolish to doubt it. This is the case with heliocentricity. One would never think the earth was a sphere that orbited the earth without advanced human observations and reasoning. Although there are lots of Bible verses that clearly state the earth is firm on its foundation and cannot be moved, nearly all Christians today have simply reinterpreted these statements given the strength of the evidence against a stationary earth discovered through man-made methods.

I agree with Dr. Rana that Adam and Eve are a bigger deal, but the theological consequences don’t change the facts. Early theologians, and even Biblical authors such as Paul used observation and reasoning in their writings. The Reformers reexamined essential doctrines and even demoted and eventually discarded several books of the Bible using human reasoning. The Galileo affair helped highlight the importance of using our senses and intellect to read the general revelation found in nature. There are times when we find harmony, and there are times where there is some tension to resolve. Some of us are already working on resolutions.

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Sources and further Reading:

Christianity Today’s article
An excellent summary of the current state of the issue.

NPR article
Transcript and audio. Features many of the same sources as Christianity Today article.

Dan Harlow’s ASA article
After Adam: Reading Genesis In An Age Of Evolutionary Science

John Schneider’s ASA article
Recent Genetic Science and Christian Theology on Human Origins: An “Aesthetic Supralapsarianism”

A Search For Acceptance by RJS
Challenging Mohler’s claim that scholars are seeking acceptance over truth.

False Start by Albert Mohler
Pointing out the theological consequences.

The Beginning Of The Gospel by RJS
Answering Mohler’s question about how the Gospel message could begin without a historical Adam.

Clarifying Again What’s At Stake by Albert Mohler
Again, the consequences. It appears he missed RJS’s point, but it’s a response nonetheless, so you can judge for yourself.

Truth or Consequences
A previous post I wrote about consequentialist objections to evidence.

Posted in: Adam & Eve