Tuesday, May 13, 2008

POST #16: Evolution, What about Adam?

As I resume my main post series, the next step is an open discussion of evolution. If you have followed this blog for long, you already know that the host accepts the vast array of evidentiary confirmations of biological evolution streaming in from such fields as biology, comparative anatomy, paleontology, medicine, and most significantly, DNA science. I am confident that any of my readers who have read even a smattering of the books I have recommended over the last 8 months (see the “Book Reviews” sidebar in the column at right) will agree that the science of evolution is now well-established.

When faced with the question of evolution, Bible-believing Christians are often troubled. The possibility that Adam might not have been historical, or special created, raises significant theological questions. When I have discussed evolution with my Christian friends, invariably the first question is “What about Adam?”

The assumption on the part of many YEC people is that a belief in Evolution leads inevitably to an atheistic and relativistic worldview. The simplistic cartoon at right typifies this assumption. It is simply not true. Thousands of Christians, including scientists and deep thinking theologians, are also evolutionists. Most, if not all, would profess that God created man, that we live in a world in which God sets the rules. Most, if not all, would disavow the juvenile implications in the cartoon that “Apes” are in our past (they are not) and they would reject relativistic morality.

A number of related questions typically follow “What about Adam?”; among them:
1) How can there be billions of years of living and dying organisms on our planet prior to Adam’s sin?
2) Does evolution relegate the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 and 3 to myth status?
3) What about the many New Testament references to Adam, and the theological groundwork for Christology which is laid in Paul’s understanding of the “The first Adam”?
4) It seems that Jesus regarded Adam as an historical person. Did he? Was he mistaken?

Such questions have been dealt with at length on various websites and in numerous books. Ultimately, they lead to issues of how we interpret the Bible, whether the Bible is inerrant, to be understood literally, etc. Because these issues could fill volumes, I will not attempt to deal with all of them in this post. Rather, I will simply present three possible “Adam scenarios”, any of which could be true. Maybe you could add other possibilities. To varying degrees, they remove many of the theological “problems” associated with evolution and Adam.

Scenario 1: “Adam” could be a type of mankind. Indeed, the Hebrew word means “man” or “mankind”, and is used in this generic sense hundreds of times in the Old Testament. The story of Adam and Even would, in this case, be an accurate, albeit fictional, representation of the story of our race. The Fall would have been a collective rebellion of the developing human race. The story of Adam and Eve would depict this Fall in the form of a parable, a common literary device in the Old and New Testaments.

Scenario 2: Adam and Eve could have been historical creatures, selected out of the thousands of developing humanoids. God might have taken these two non-spirit beings, and removed them to a garden, and breathed upon them spirit life. In this scenario, Adam and Eve would be representatives of an existing race; and their Fall would pass on to that race. After the Fall, God may have endued the rest of their species with spirits. The effects of the Fall would be passed on to the race. The Genesis account seems to suggest that outside the Garden there existed cities already filled with people (Genesis 4:14-17), a situation consistent with this picture. This scenario, with its literal Adam and Eve, would solve the riddle of Cain’s wife.

Scenario 3: It is possible that evolution progressed to a point where God chose to begin to relate to mankind in a personal way. It is possible that he took the genetic material, which had developed naturally, and specially created Adam and Eve out of the dust of the earth in a garden he had planted. This scenario preserves a very literal Genesis 2 and 3. While I do not personally favor this view, nor find it necessary, it certainly may have happened. Those who reject evolution because their hermeneutic insists upon a literal Adam and Eve story might well consider this possibility.

Of these three possibilities, I personally favor #1. However, I am open to all three. And I may be open to others which my readers may suggest. It is not important to me that a literal Adam and Eve be preserved. What is important to me is the view that Genesis 2 and 3 accurately tell the story of the Fall of man. In that sense, they are true. Whether myth, or parable, or literal history, the essential truths of the Fall of Man, and the resulting conditions (including spiritual death) are preserved for us accurately in the story.

What about Jesus? Did he accept a literal view of Adam and Eve (as, no doubt, most of his contemporary Jews did)? or did he “play along”, as I might do in retelling the story to my own children? Again, these questions are of little import to me. Believing, as I do, that Genesis 2 and 3 are full of significant truth, they will not lead us into error. Whether understood literally or allegorically, the message is unchanged. Man was given an opportunity to live in close fellowship with his Creator; he was offered a spiritual life of holiness and righteousness which could grow and prosper over time. Instead, man chose the path of rebellion, and forfeited the opportunity which God had offered. Sadly, this same choice is confirmed over and over by an entire race of human beings.

The good news, of course, is that God is filled with grace. He is a redeemer. And he values mankind too much to let us wander off indefinitely. Through his Son, Jesus, he makes a way for us to return to the favored status he always had in mind for us. And the pathway into that favored status can begin with every choice we make!

Please comment ...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Book Review: Paradigms on Pilgrimage

I received my copy of Paradigms on Pilgrimage (Clements Publishing, 2005) this week, and finished it in a couple of sittings ... which is to say that I found it hard to put down. The authors, Stephen J. Godfrey and Christopher R. Smith write of their personal pilgrimages out of a YEC paradigm which they were taught earlier in life, and into an understanding of the evolutionary history of life on earth. The two men, brothers-in-law, have backgrounds in different disciplines. Godfrey is a trained paleontologist, and Smith is a student of the Biblical interpretation and literary science. Each describe the succession of understandings as they struggled to integrate what became for them undeniable — evolutionary science — with their Biblical faith. Any believer who struggles with this huge shift in paradigms would benefit from the personal accounts of their respective journeys.

Stephen Godfrey writes the opening five chapters. His style is engaging and, at times, entertaining (chapter one is entitled, “The Dog Skeleton and My Grandmother’s Toothbrush”). As Godfrey receives his training in descriptive paleontology, and as he becomes proficient in the science of fossils, his long-held assumptions of Young Earth Creationism and Flood Geology are rocked again and again. He entered the field, in part, hoping to find evidence in the fossil record to support his YEC views. But instead he finds that the fossil record renders Flood Geology wholly untenable, and that it strongly supports the evolutionary hypothesis. What I found interesting is that, even in the facing of this mounting evidence, Godfrey clings to a literalist view of early Genesis, and he continues to look for something,
anything, some shred of data that might be used to discount Darwin and/or substantiate a literal reading of Genesis. He describes the chronology of his personal discoveries and his ensuing struggle, and leads the open-minded reader to understand why his ultimate acceptance of evolution was the only reasonable conclusion.

These chapters are filled with illustrations and fossils that tell amazing stories of the history of life on earth; I found them fascinating. The chapters dealing with trace fossils should forever put to rest the idea that the Flood is responsible for laying down our fossil rich geological strata. At one time, I found the notion of so-called “polystrate fossils” (fossilized trees which are said to pass through multiple strata of sedimentary deposits suggesting that all these layers were the result of a single catastrophic event) quite convincing. Still looking for that shred of evidence for Flood Geology, Godfrey describes his disappointment when he personally observed this phenomenon: “Some young-earth creationists ... were claiming that places like Joggins, where fossilized trees were seen to pass upright though the surrounding sedimentary rocks, provided powerful evidence that the world had been overtaken suddenly by a global flood. I had once believed this to be true. However, after visiting Joggins, I knew first hand that this could not be. The tree stumps lined up along clearly visible, once horizontal, beds” (page 49).

Christopher Smith takes up his pilgrimage in the second half of the book. Trained in theology, Biblical languages and literary studies, his shifting paradigm travels along a slightly different course from Godfrey’s. Like his co-author and brother-in-law, Smith was taught a YEC perspective as a young person, and he tenaciously stuck to his views even during his years at Harvard University where he was among an extreme minority. Not until the time of his graduation did he begin to experience doubt about his literalist/creationist understandings. He describes the processes involved in the ultimate merging of his Biblical faith with what he was learning about his world from the various fields of scientific inquiry. In short, he develops a hermeneutic which not only accommodates good science, but is far more in keeping with the internal evidence of the Bible itself. Far from undermining his confidence in the Bible, this new paradigm has opened new vistas upon the Biblical truth, and given him fresh insight into what God is really communicating through the inspired scriptures.

Some believers may struggle with some of Smith’s methods of understanding and interpreting Scriptures. Paradigm shifts in theology and Biblical interpretation are never easy. Smith’s views do not entirely line up with my own. But I appreciate his honesty in dealing with Scriptures with intellectual honesty.

The final chapter of the book returns to the first chapter of the Bible, in light of the Ancient Near-eastern Cosmology context in which it was written. Genesis 1 can only be understood in light of its historical context. The authors help us to see that, read properly, Genesis is not in conflict with evolution.

I wish every evangelical and fundamental believer could read this book. Making the journey from a YEC perspective into an acceptance of evolutionary science can be a painful and difficult experience. But in light of the overwhelming evidence for evolution, it is a journey believers must be willing to make. This book can be very useful in smoothing that path. I recommend it to my readers.