Monday, November 17, 2014

Can Science Deceive on Adam and Eve?


Who were Adam and Eve?

For an increasing number of evangelicals, this is a trick question.

Should it be?

Most evangelicals who read the Biblical account of creation in Genesis literally believe that Adam was the first human being to ever exist in our universe, and that Eve was the first woman to ever exist in our universe.

However, that literal view is considered by many religiously conservative scientists to be merely one of several interpretations of Genesis, and a flawed one at that.  According to conventional science, it would be genetically impossible for the diversity of humanity we have today to have come from two individual hominids.  The more realistic, scientific scenario would be that somehow, some sort of pack of thousands of humans evolved, from which a male and female emerged who, for whatever reason, became the focus of Genesis 2.

According to this analytical view of Adam and Eve, it isn't so much that the two of them actually existed, but that they mark the beginning of God's interaction with His creation on interpersonal emotional and intellectual levels that He'd heretofore been unable to.

Who, then, were Adam and Eve?  It depends on how deeply you subscribe to the increasingly popular academic exercise called "evolutionary creation."  It's an exercise that purports to combine cutting-edge science with rational theology to resolve what has been one of the biggest leaps of faith that the Bible has expected of its readers.  And that leap of faith has been to accept the notion that Adam and Eve really were the first two humans, from whom the billions of people who populate our planet today have descended.

Of course, traditionalists claim it would be heresy to say that the Bible is wrong, and that Adam and Eve were anything other than humanity's literal, original parents.  But the human mind can be incredibly clever, and a group of science advocates who purport to also be evangelical Christians have embarked on one of the most ambitious and well-funded programs to challenge traditional notions of who Adam and Eve were, and indeed, of how our world came into existence.

Their main mechanism for advocacy and promotion is an organization called BioLogos, based in Michigan.  BioLogos holds seminars, provides training to pastors, conducts classes for religious schools, and conducts other initiatives to promote evolutionary creation as a practical way of combining science and faith.  They're tired of having their scientific professions being belittled by non-science-trained theologians and religious zealots who barely survived high school biology.  They say science doesn't contradict scripture, and that when we say it does, we evangelicals are harming our witness to the world's intellectual community.

And they claim they can mix evolution and creation without abandoning the general validity of the Bible, the orthodoxy of the doctrine of original sin, and the theories of evolution that they say make more sense than blind, uneducated, provincial faith.

So, who were Adam and Eve?

According to their blog, there are three basic ways evolutionary creationists can logically interpret the account of Adam and Eve in Genesis.  Each of these options relies heavily on regarding the Bible as a piece of high literature; each also accommodates science; and each manages to avoid directly refuting the Bible:

One option is to view Adam and Eve as a historical pair living among many 10,000 years ago, chosen to represent the rest of humanity before God.  Another option is to view Genesis 2-4 as an allegory in which Adam and Eve symbolize the large group of ancestors who lived 150,000 years ago.  Yet another option is to view Genesis 2-4 as an 'everyman' story, a parable of each person’s individual rejection of God. 

The problem with such hypothesizing, however, is pretty simple:  Isn't the created superseding the deference our Creator has every right to expect from us as we grapple with His creation narrative?  Each of these options is based on the notion that we can pick and choose portions of the Bible that are more convenient to interpret as poetry.

But how do we know God intends for us to read Genesis as allegorical poetry?

This type of rationalizing has been done ever since the books of the Bible began to be written.  Mankind has always presumed for itself the ability to abrogate, ignore, or re-fashion parts of the Bible that pose difficulties for how we'd really like to live, or even how we'd really like to do ministry.

Duhh... this was the very impetus behind original sin, wasn't it?

Meanwhile, wasn't the Bible created to serve as God's testimony to all of His people on this Earth, regardless of when they lived, or where they lived?  We humans may consider some of what he wrote to be ambiguous, or open to certain types of interpretation.  But none of it can be open to new revelation or interpretation that wasn't available to people groups who've had access to it since its first books were written.  Granted, when He came to Earth, Christ did not contradict any of it, although He blew out of the water a number of misconceptions people held about Him.  Still, nothing Christ did during His time on this planet cast into doubt anything that had been written beforehand.  Not even the account of who Adam and Eve were.

So now, just because we have high-tech testing protocols that use sophisticated yet subjective dating patterns for minerals and other chemical compounds, science can now portray a scholarly new way of looking at creation that contradicts what millennia of theological teaching has held?

Have the Jewish and Christian religions been wrong about Genesis since it was written?  Are there other parts of the Bible that treat the first few chapters of Genesis as an allegory, or a parable?  Are there any credible strains of ancient, historic Hebraic or Christian cultures that embraced Adam and Eve as mere caricatures of humanity?

And what does it say about one's belief in Christ that God could use such a strange, illogical path to secure our redemption as sacrificing His own Son, but couldn't have simply commanded this universe into existence?

Or, maybe God could have commanded this universe into existence if He'd wanted to, but it makes for such a big barrier when trying to convert skeptical scientists, that it's best to cut God a little slack and build a more logical, empirical process of Creation so mankind could eventually prove how fascinating God really is?

That's really what evolutionary creation is all about, isn't it?  It's about being unwilling to believe something for which we truly need to have faith.  Not only is traditional creationism a dated notion, it demands an enormous amount of faith.  Creation presents too many challenges to the skeptic, the dogmatic, the inquisitive, the empiricist, the rationalist.  So, even if we can stretch creation's theological boundaries to where it's just barely within Christianity, we still need to make it more intellectually correct, more believable, more plausible, more provable.

Not that there's anything intrinsically wrong with science, or exploration, or inquiry, or curiosity.  Even if the people doing the discovering don't acknowledge God when they learn a new fact about our universe, such discoveries do glorify God, as they continue to prove His sovereignty, creativity, and power.

At what point, however, does evolutionary creation cease to honor God, and seek to honor mankind instead?  At what point does evolutionary creation stop pointing to the Creator, and begin to accommodate the created?

Which better captures God's power and sovereignty, anyway?  That from two individual human beings He personally created, all of humanity could come?  Or that He orchestrated some primordial ecosystem to metastasize and re-create itself over and over until a suitable human-type being eventually emerged?  Some people say it takes greater faith to believe in evolution instead of creation, but that's not exactly the type of endorsement for which evolutionary creationists are striving, is it?

Few of us like to leave our comfort zone.  For traditional evangelicals, it's uncomfortable to contemplate any option than a literal Adam and Eve, with Genesis representing the literal history of our universe.  It's what our great-grandparents were taught, and what even secular Christian culture has been comfortable in tolerating for generations, even as the theory of evolution has been evolving since the 1800's.  For scientists, it must be uncomfortable being unable to look fellow academics in the face and say that you have to take something on raw faith.

Perhaps traditional evangelicals like me are genuinely too uneducated to know all of the empirical challenges to creationism that exist in modern science.  But having an education doesn't necessarily mean that one has learned true facts.

If faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen, does God need evolutionary creation to still be the Creator?

And if He doesn't, why would we?

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