Framing the Evangelical Discussion of
Adam and Evolution
by Peter Enns
April 8, 2013
This past Saturday, I gave a paper at the northeast regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, which met on the campus of Alliance Theological Seminary, Nyack, NY. I was asked to talk about my book The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins. It’s no surprise that how I answer this question (Adam is not a historical person) is not in step with how mainstream evangelicalism tends to handle it (Adam definitely is, in some sense, historical). Still, I had a wonderful time, and the discussion afterwards was honest and cordial.
I decided to approach this paper by simply laying out what I think and why I think it–sort of a “here’s where I’m coming from” vibe rather than laying out a position that others should come to. Below, for those interested, are the bullet points of the paper.
- My starting point for how I handle this issue of Adam is twofold: (1) I accept the overwhelming scientific consensus concerning evolution, and (2) our considerable knowledge of how ancient stories of origins functioned. These factors affect how we read the Adam story and they cannot be dismissed or marginalized.
- It strains credulity to think that, of all ancient peoples with origins stories, Israel alone escaped this story-telling mentality and gave us something approximating “history” or “science” in the modern sense.
- The tensions between evolution and evangelicalism are real and cannot be “fixed” by simply “grafting” evolution onto evangelicalism. The two most common ways of doing that are by (1) making Adam and Eve into a pair of hominids chosen by God to be the “first,” and (2) making Adam and Eve a “gene pool” of the earliest hominid group, according to genetic studies.
- Both of these options fail because they are ad hoc, i.e., made up to support a position once wishes to maintain. A more spiritually and intellectually satisfying way forward is to leave aside ad hoc explanations and take a more exploratory, dialogical approach to solving the issue.
- Inerrancy in particular has a difficult time accounting for how the Bible looks so “untended” and “misbehaved” by inerrantist standards.
- An incarnational model of Scripture, though hardly the last word, is a better way of accounting for how the Bible behaves than an inerrantist model (and C. S. Lewis wasn’t an inerrantist).
- A well-rounded approach to addressing the Adam issue is the metaphor of a trialogue of three voices: historical context, canonical context, and Christian tradition. None of these voices is dominant or the judge over the others, including “Christian tradition.”
- The historical context includes ancient origins stories that “calibrate” how Genesis and Paul should be read. The canonical context is three levels: exegetical, Old Testament, and New Testament, and each adds its own complex of issues to the discussion. Christian tradition refers to the various Christian iterations of the gospel, all of which are provisional, not the final word on the gospel. (Fleshing out the “trialogue” metaphor was probably the longest section of the paper and it brought in a lot of issues I discuss in my book.)
- Theological discomfort should never be the reason for failing to follow through with where the evidence leads.
- I ended with three underlying big-picture theological issues that evangelicalism will need to address more deliberately in coming to terms about Adam: (1) the role that extra-biblical information can and should play in biblical interpretation; (2) whether inerrancy, regardless of how it is nuanced, is set up to handle this issue; (3) evangelicalism’s willingness to be self-critical and accept criticism or seek guidance from Christian traditions who handle the Adam issue differently.
Two things were clear to me as the day progressed: (1) Evangelicalism has a number of big questions ahead of it for addressing evolution, and I am not sure the evangelical system is designed to move forward without a lot of soul searching and discomfort; (2) Already among their ranks is a critical mass of thoughtful, yet quiet, people who are eager to find ways to move beyond the current impasse. Time will tell how this will pan out.
97% of scientists accept some form of evolution
(there must be something wrong with them)
by Peter Enns
April 12, 2013
A few days ago I posted the main bullet points for the lecture I gave at the Evangelical Theological Society on April 6. Some of the responses perpetuate common yet unconvincing lines of defense.
For example, I began my talk by saying that I accept the scientific consensus as a staring point when discussing the question of human origins.
A response I have heard–more times than I care to recall, and that I knew would likely come again even though I think I was super clear in my lecture–is, “Aha. See! If you start with science, of course you’re going to end up with evolution. And that’s your problem. You put too much faith in science instead of in the Bible.”
“Faith in science” suggests that one’s view of scientific matters is on the same sort of playing field as “faith in the Bible,” which then gives a sort of rhetorical oomph to the posed choice. But I don’t have ”faith in science.” I have made a conscious, intellectual decision to accept the overwhelming consensus of demonstrably knowledgable and trained scientists across the world and for several generations.
I have done this not by ignoring my faith, but by working out my faith. I am not ignoring the Bible and it’s “plain teachings,” but interpreting the Bible as responsibly as I know how.
As I see it, the real question isn’t, “Why do you choose science over God?” but, “On what basis do you think you have the right to dismiss the scientific consensus?”
A ready response to this question is some variation on the following: “I reject evolution on the basis of Scripture.”
I’ve been around this block a few times, and this response baffles me more and more each time I hear it. For one thing, it assumes as settled the very issue that is on the table, that Genesis is prepared to speak to scientific matters. Also, havoc would result if this response were applied consistently to other well-established truths that lie outside of the Bible’s line of sight (outer space, galaxies, round earth, a temple in Turkey that predates the biblical Adam by 5,000 years, beer making that predates Adam, by 1000 years, etc., etc).
I understand the drive to “choose the Bible over science” to protect one’s faith, especially if that is the only way one knows how to pose the problem.
But that leaves another question, a very serious one, unaddressed: “What exactly do you think is the deal with all these biologists, bio-chemists, physicists, anthropologists, etc., across the world who make up this consensus?”
I see three options for answering that question (either in isolation or in combination):
1. They are all conspiring against us.
2. The are all grossly incompetent.
3. They are blinded by sin from seeing the truth.
Those who reject evolution need to say more than “I’d rather follow the BIble.” They also need to give some account for why they think the consensus exists.
I’m not prepared to accept any of those options. To do so would mean leaving a world where knowledge can be pursued and ideas vetted, for if this line of defense can be applied to one issue, it can be applied just as easily to any other one might find unacceptable.