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CS Lewis: Outside the Pale? (RJS)

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For those who don’t know this, this post is written by our friend “RJS,” a professor in the sciences at a leading American university. She regularly posts here about issues intersecting science and faith.

Last week in A Fine Tuned Universe 3 I posted on Augustine and his view of creation. Augustine’s conviction that science and reason cannot conflict in any foundational way with the faith is expressed in his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis:

When they are able, from reliable evidence, to prove some fact of
physical science, we shall show that it is not contrary to our
Scripture. But when they produce from any of their books a theory
contrary to Scripture, and therefore contrary to the catholic faith,
either we shall have some ability to demonstrate that it is absolutely
false, or at least we ourselves will hold it so without any shadow of a
doubt. (Vol. 1 CH. 21:41)

But some things are outside the pale of orthodox Christian belief. None of us really deny this. One of the comments on the last post noted that Augustine’s view of  the doctrine of original sin, causes the most significant conflict for many of us today.  This came up again in an e-mail I received dealing with the doctrines of Adam, Eve, and Original Sin. The letter writer sent the following (and I quote excerpts with permission):

I went through considerable emotional turmoil when a Presbyterian pastor I respect responded to my statement that I am not sure that the human race descended from a single pair and that I believed descent from more than one pair is not necessarily in conflict with biblical teaching. This pastor declared that my views are “outside the pale” of Christianity, not just Reformed Christianity, but all Christianity (including Roman Catholic doctrine), and that if I were to attend his church, he would consider me like the Oneness Pentecostals who deny the Trinity. I am not a Christian, even if I am a nice guy. He qualified by saying that he cannot judge my state before God, but doctrinally I am not a Christian.

The letter writer went on to note that this “pastor is generally a model of charity and would not say what he said if he did not feel conscience-bound to do so.” This letter poses the question I would like to consider today.

Is any position other than monogenesis of the human race with Adam and Eve as unique historical individuals outside the pale of orthodox Christianity?

To begin to consider this question I will lay out a few perspectives on the question of Adam and Eve within the boundaries of orthodox Christianity. 

What is the Roman Catholic Position?  The RC Church is open to evolution as God’s method of creation, but the view of Adam and Eve may be a bit more constrained.  Here is a web site with a fairly thorough answer on the RC view of Adam, Eve, and Evolution.  The letter writer above got essentially the same answer when the question was posed to a well known Catholic theologian. The key statement is this:

“… For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parents of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. …” (Humani Generis 37).

I am not a Roman Catholic and don’t feel particularly bound by this position, but I do think that it is worthwhile thinking about the nature of Adam and Eve in the context of the thinking of the whole church. Perhaps a reader here will be able to expand on official RC positions and the range of acceptable views.

Within the Eastern Orthodox Church the doctrine of Original Sin doesn’t carry as much weight – the original sin is the first sin and has consequences for all, but it doesn’t lead to inherited guilt or ontological change.  As a result the emphasis on Adam and Eve as unique individuals does not carry the same theological gravity.  Nonetheless Adam and Eve are generally assumed to be unique individuals.

Official Protestant views on Adam and Eve are all over the map – not surprising given the rather fragmented nature of the church. Very conservative institutions are uniform in the rejection of evolution and the historicity of Adam and Eve as unique individuals.  Other institutions take more nuanced positions. Examples abound, but I will confine myself to only two statements to illustrate. Wheaton is open to evolution but their statement of faith specifies:

WE BELIEVE that God directly created Adam and Eve, the historical
parents of the entire human race; and that they were created in His own
image, distinct from all other living creatures, and in a state of
original righteousness.

Biola’s Doctrinal statement says simply that Man was created in the image of God, after His likeness, but the whole human race fell in the fall of the first Adam. I have no real problem here. But they found it necessary to add a clarification:

Therefore, creation models which seek to harmonize science and the
Bible should maintain at least the following: … (c) God specially
created Adam and Eve (Adam’s body from non-living material, and his
spiritual nature immediately from God). Inadequate origin models hold
that … (b)
humans share a common physical ancestry with earlier life forms.

All of these positions, RC, EO, evangelical, affirm Adam and Eve as unique historical individuals even when evolution in general is acknowledged as reasonable and true. Clearly there is some truth to the Presbyterian pastor’s claim.

But now we get to CS Lewis The Problem of Pain
in CH 5 The Fall of Man.

For long centuries, God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself.  He gave it hands whose thumbs could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all of the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated.  The creature may have existed in this stage for ages before it became man: it may have even been clever enough to make things which a clever archaeologist would accept as proof of its humanity.  But it was only an animal because all its physical and psychical processes where directed to purely material and natural ends. Then in fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say “I” and “me,” which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty, and goodness, and which was so far above time that is could perceive time flowing past. … We do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state.  But sooner or later they fell. Someone or something whispered that they could become as gods. … They wanted some corner in the universe in which they could say to God, “This is our business, not yours.” But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were and must eternally be, mere adjectives.  We have no idea what particular act, or series of acts, the self-contradictory, impossible wish found expression.  For all I can see, it might have concerned the literal eating of a fruit, but the question is of no consequence.

This position, consistent with polygenesis and the evidence from paleontology and molecular biology, is along the lines of my thinking these days, although other positions are also reasonable. A similar suggestion with some interesting thoughts is advanced by one of our readers on his blog, evolutionary chisel divine sculptor and gradual fall.

Does Christian orthodoxy require monogenesis with Adam and Eve as unique historical individuals?

Do you think that the position suggested by CS Lewis is outside the pale of
orthodox Christianity? If so, per the pastor above, was CS Lewis then “not a Christian?”

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.



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Scott Morizot

posted June 30, 2009 at 7:20 am


I’m not sure that Orthodox theology is particularly tied to an idea of Adam and Eve as unique individuals. As a rule it’s easier to speak of them that way and particularly when there was no reason not to assume they were actual people no reason not to speak of them that way. When writing or speaking I will much of the time speak of them as actual people myself, whether or not they actually were. But it’s a matter of little significance in Orthodox theology.
As one illustration, I’ll refer here to a recent podcast by Fr. Thomas Hopko. As the Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, he’s certainly one example of Orthodox theological thinking. And it’s consistent with what I have pulled from any age so far.
http://audio.ancientfaith.com/namesofjesus/noj_2009-06-13.mp3
I think it’s a problem the West created for itself, not one that actually exists in reality.



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joanne

posted June 30, 2009 at 7:28 am


RJS, I think there is another biblical position. By asking what was the author saying to the people to whom he was writing we might see another position.
Moses was writing to the people of God journeying to the promised land. God was giving the land to the people. He was teaching them to honor God as the one true God and remain in allegience to him. The story of Adam and Eve was a story about being tempted to follow other gods and therefore lose the land that had been given according to the covenant.
The serpant in the story is an image of wisdom in the Ancient Near East. The people of God were to remember that they could be deceived by what seemed like wisdom and follow after the gods of the nations around her. Like the two people in the story, if they followed, they would lose the land. The tree prohibition symbolized the Law and the creation narrative was about the amazing provision of God for the people. The story could be completely true or a story conveying the truth about allegience to God.
I don’t think that Moses even had it in his mind that he was writing a doctrinal statement about original sin. He was telling the story of God’s people and teaching them about the covenant. That is why Genesis is part the Torah–the law.
We are each one adam and each one eve faced with choosing allegience to God or following the gods of our own world who seek to tempt us away from the one true God. I don’t think original sin is a substance passed down through the genes. Humans have been given the freedom to choose God.
I think this is consistent with the NT story of JEsus… he overcame when he was tempted by satan in the desert. He remained true to God and therefore kept the covenant.
I think the doctrine of original sin was a later interpretation of Genesis.



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Peter

posted June 30, 2009 at 7:33 am


I would consider the “fundamental” understanding of this issue to include simply 1) We are made in the image of God; whatever that means, we were meant to have more in common with God than with the rest of creation; 2) We have a problem: sin and all the division that is the fruit of it (separate from God, divided amongst ourselves, universally mentally ill in our inability to even know ourselves, etc.)
Without these convictions a person is limited in what he or she will expect to receive or is able to receive from God’s precious gift, IMHO.



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angusj

posted June 30, 2009 at 7:36 am


Q: “Does Christian orthodoxy require monogenesis with Adam and Eve as unique historical individuals?”
I suspect there’s some ambiguity as to what “Christian orthodoxy” means. To some I suggest it means the essential truths of our faith that to believe otherwise places us outside the fellowship of believers. To others “Christian orthodoxy” simply means having those beliefs that are common to the vast majority of Christ’s church, including the essential truths of faith. (Two examples of the latter might be the doctrine of eternal conscious suffering for “the lost” and, in centuries past, the belief in a flat earth.) I personally would place the belief in monogenesis with Adam in my second category of “Christian orthodoxy” while evidently the Presbyterian pastor mentioned above would consider this an essential truth of Christian faith.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2009 at 9:22 am


RJS,
What is the simplest evidence or argument for polygenesis, that we are not all descendants of one couple?



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angusj

posted June 30, 2009 at 9:50 am


Scot asks: “What is the simplest evidence or argument for polygenesis, that we are not all descendants of one couple?”
Look at Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam.
“Mitochondrial Eve is believed to have lived about 170,000 years ago, or roughly 8,000 generations ago.”
“Y-chromosomal Adam is the patrilineal human most recent common ancestor from whom all Y chromosomes in living men are descended. Y-chromosomal Adam is thus the male counterpart of Mitochondrial Eve, although they lived at different times, approximately 100,000 years apart.”



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mmagnolia

posted June 30, 2009 at 10:00 am


Greetings!
Any headlinng of Clive Staples Lewis is the twinkle which twinkled, and has so for four decades!
Yes, Reverend [my entitling] Lewis was/is beyond routines of “pale”. To me, his food for thought is a buffet of socratic monologue–to which his invitation is boundlessly inviting!
My answer to the question is: By today’s doctrinal norms, both C.S. Lewis and his Friend Jesus The Christ are “chrstians”–barely! However, we are blessed because by that–if we abide by that!
Peace!



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Scott Eaton

posted June 30, 2009 at 10:04 am


“Does Christian orthodoxy require monogenesis with Adam and Eve as unique historical individuals?”
The biggest question this raises for me is found in Romans 5. There it states that death entered into the world through one man – Adam. If there were an entire race of humanoids prior to Adam and Eve, then death must have existed before Adam and Eve and this would contradict Paul.
Now perhaps you could get around this like progressive creationist Millard Erickson does in his “Christian Theology” and state that the image of God has first appeared in Adam and Eve and so they are truly the first humans (or Eikons as Scot calls them). They are the first to have a “God awareness” and relationship and union with Him. This seems to be the position of C.S. Lewis. So perhaps the death Paul refers to in Romans is only the death that came about in these “first humans” and then carried on throughout the rest of this fully human race.
So it would seem that Christian orthodoxy does in some way depend upon monogenesis, however you define that.



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RJS

posted June 30, 2009 at 10:10 am


Scot,
angusj gets at some of the data in his links.
We are all, everyone of us in all nations and races members of the same species descended from a small population of several thousand individuals who lived in east Africa some 190K years ago (estimate). The idea that modern humans – homo sapiens – evolved independently in multiple locations is not supported by the data.? In this sense we have monogenesis.? But the idea of a unique pair whose descendants only mated other descendants just isn’t reasonable. While we all have the same pool of ancestors far more recently, the “common father” and “common mother” were not a couple.
It is possible to retain a form of monogenesis from an original pair in the sense that a pair within a larger population were made truly human with a soul, sinned,? their offspring mated with others in the community and all offspring were human, carrying the image of God and the stain of original sin.? Theologically one can define Adam and Eve as this change (or some one of these accumulated changes) and only those who descended from this pair were in fact human in the theological sense of created in the image of God. This quickly became the entire population. But using the narrative as a guide, “Cain” and “Seth” and others then found mates among those who were not “truly human,” they did not take mates from their siblings.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2009 at 10:17 am


Scott,
Good point, and one that has been touched on here before by RJS. There is another issue here: what does “death” mean? If it means “physical death,” then we’ve got a serious problem. If it means “death” in an eternal sense, the result of the Eikon sinning before God and becoming cracked, then there is no problem whatsoever.
And, isn’t it important for us to probe what Paul might have had in mind — of the sorts of issues we are now asking about origins and the like — when he said “Adam”? It is highly unlikely that Paul was thinking the way do about origins and about history…



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dopderbeck

posted June 30, 2009 at 10:42 am


That pastor is an idiot.
Check out John Stott’s commentary on Romans. In his discussion of Romans 5, Stott endorses a non-monogentic position, following Derek Kidner’s commentary on Genesis from the 1970’s. If John Stott is “outside the pale” of orthodoxy, then then your definition of “orthodoxy” is too small. I also note that J.I. Packer endorsed Denis Alexander’s book on creation and evolution, in which Alexander took a non-monegentic position. A blurb doesn’t mean you agree with everything in the book, but obviously Packer doesn’t think Alexander is “outside the pale” — and again, if J.I. Packer is “outside the pale,” well, we might as well all start reading the King James only. At Packer’s home intitution of Regent College, BTW, I’m confident that non-monogentic positions are acceptable. In a course on origins at Wheaton, a non-monogenetic position is discussed as an alternative, apparently with enough conviction that a majority of students migrate to that position after taking the course (see here: http://www.asa3.org/asa/PSCF/2007/PSCF12-07Moshier.pdf) — so I’m not so sure that even the Wheaton statement of faith is strictly interpreted anymore. Moreover, as David Livingstone discusses in his book “Adam’s Ancestors,” non-monogetic positions have been held at various times in the history of the Church (though not without controversy — Le Peyrere was deemed a heretic!).
As to Roman Catholicism — you should not conclude that Catholic theology requires monogenism. It isn’t that straightforward. I teach at a Catholic university. Our campus Priest has no problem at all with non-monogentic human evolution. Yes, in the encyclical Humani Generis, Pope Leo insists on monogenism — but an encyclical is not infallible teaching. (See Francis A. Sullivan, “Creative Fidelity: Weighing and Interpreting the Documents of the Magesterium” for a detailed discussion of how the Church’s teaching office actually works). A very interesting treatment of all this from a Catholic perspective is Daryl P. Domning and Joseph Wimmer, “Evolution and Original Sin: Accounting for Evil in the World,” available at http://www.congretationalresources.orgEvolutionOriginalSin/About.asp. I’m sure that this question remains subject to debate within “liberal” and “conservative” wings of Catholicism — the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on this, for example, assumes monogenism is required — but the point is that Catholic theology is not, well, monolithic on this, AFAIK.



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Scott Morizot

posted June 30, 2009 at 10:53 am


Well, even ignoring its typological meaning and its “myth as truth” nature and simply reading the story as written, the idea that the man and the woman were created in a physically immortal state and that the death referenced is simply physical death doesn’t make any sense.
First, they are told that when they eat of the fruit, they will die. But they don’t physically die when they do.
Second, they are then barred from the tree of life so that they will not become physically immortal in their “dead” state. Since they are barred from it, it seems reasonable that physical immortality was something to which they might have attained, but did not yet possess before the “fall”.
Given that, I think the way most of the Fathers seem to have read the story is the most reasonable. That is, that man was created with the potential for either mortality or immortality and that by turning from God we sought nonexistence and embraced mortality. But it’s not that we were once perfect and immortal and “fell” to a mortal state, but rather that we were created immature with the potential for either. Thus Christ is not restoring us to some past state which was lost, but bringing us into the fullness of a condition we never knew.



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dopderbeck

posted June 30, 2009 at 10:56 am


BTW Scot McK — the evidence that seems to be most difficult, if not impossible, for a traditionally monogenetic position — direct biological generation from a single pair — comes from the diversity of the human genome. Generally, all humans share a very similar genetic code. We clearly all are of “one blood” in that sense. There are of course obvious variations — skin tone, eye shape, etc. — that produce the now defunct category of “race”. There are also variations in unseen parts of the genome, particularly in the “major histocompatibility complex” (MHC), an area of the genome relating to the immune system. A number of mathematical models strongly suggest that the diversity of the MHC could not have been produced unless the effective breeding population size numbered at least in the thousands, going all the way back to the time of the human-chimp split about 4 million years ago (I actually know a guy, BTW, who thinks “Adam” was a monkey that lived 4 million years ago!). The germinal article on this is Francisco Ayala, “The Myth of Mitochondrial Eve,” but there have been numerous studies since then. AFAIK, nobody in the scientific community questions the basic validity of these results.
Now, it is possible that these models include some mistaken assumptions. A key assumption involves the mutation rate for the MHC. If the MHC genes at some point in the past mutated with astonishing rapidity, it might be possible to derive a single common ancestor in the recent past. But, from what I understand (and I am not a molecular biologist, so if I’m wrong I hope someone will correct me), we’d be talking orders of magnitude here, not some relatively small calibration error. In short, it seems like, if we want to insist on strict biological monogenesis, we’re in “appearance of age” territory concerning the human genome.



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Nathan

posted June 30, 2009 at 10:59 am


Scot,
I don’t find a clear distinction between spiritual/physical death in the Bible, so I am hesitant to endorse that kind of view. Blocher, in his book In the Beginning, noted that the death foretold in Genesis 2 could be understood as the pronouncement of a death sentence, not (as I was raised to think) a dualistic spiritual death followed by an inevitable physical death.



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dopderbeck

posted June 30, 2009 at 11:04 am


RJS — just notice that your letter writer contacted a “well known Catholic theologian” and was referred to Humani Generis. What theologian? This doesn’t jibe at all with my experience in talking with Catholics about this.
BTW I’d throw out another idea here: propagation. A virus, a gene, a so-called “meme,” a bit of computer code on a network — all can start in one place (monogenesis) and then propagate throughout a network, until every node on the network is affected. Now, what if the early hominid population is like a network, and the “image of God” and “original sin” are like a thing that starts in one place and then propagates virally, within a few generations, throughout the network? It seems to me that this would satisfy most of our theological concerns (which are indeed important) — that all of humanity shares in the “first humanity” as well as the “first sin” of Adam.



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Brian

posted June 30, 2009 at 11:04 am


I honestly don’t know where I would be without C.S. Lewis. I know I wouldn’t be a Christian (and, by doctrine, maybe I’m not!). I realize that the Literal/Inerrant/Direct-Word-of-God interpretation of the bible is the large majority view of Christians and churches, and that view blesses and enriches millions. However, it also leaves many of us out in the cold – forced between having to choose between intellect and shut-your-eyes belief.
Whether Adam and Eve were “literal” or “symbolic” matters little to me and becomes a roadblock. What matters is what the story is saying to us… right now. What does the story tell us about the nature of God and our relationship with Him? How can we apply the creation story to our lives and make it part of us?



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David

posted June 30, 2009 at 11:08 am


By expecting the Bible to give a scientific history we are asking something of it unintended. We need to move ourselves out of the paradigm where scientific reason is the lens through which we see the Bible. Scientific reason is for science and very useful it is too. But the Bible is not trying to teach us scientific truth, it is trying to teach us spiritual truth – a world in which a metaphor or a story may carry more weight than a fact, because it is able to show us something spiritual. To my mind there is not a conflict between science and Christianity, but to really appreciate all that the Bible can teach us we need to move into a more uncertain world. But then like CS I am probably way beyond the pale!



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JMorrow

posted June 30, 2009 at 11:17 am


Thanks for doing this series. I wasn’t aware of the number of supporters within typically “orthodox” Protestant circles for the non-monogentic view of the biblical creation story. I lean much closer to that understanding as articulated by CS Lewis.
I wonder what others think of the implications of this discussion for evangelism and cross-cultural mission. I just finished reading Vincent Donovan’s classic Christianity Rediscovered and found it interesting that in the process of sharing the Gospel and biblical stories with the Masai of East Africa, he did not press the Adam & Eve story upon them and eventually avoids mention of it altogether. He found their own creation stories to give a sufficient enough account of the definition of sin. Contra Augustine’s original sin concept, Donovan found that most non-Christian cultures he worked with already had a sense of sin and didn’t need Augustinian theology to assist them. Rather it was an understanding of forgiveness which proved most potent in his evangelistic discussions. My own cross-cultural experiences confirm much of that thinking.



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pds

posted June 30, 2009 at 1:08 pm


peelingdragonskin.wordpress.com
Scot (#5)
I think RJS(#9) and dopderbeck (#13) overstate the certainty we can have from the scientific data. The history of evolutionary science should make us cautious and humble. The theories are regularly changing and there is little consensus as to the details. See for example:
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/02/0216_050216_omo.html
There used to be consensus that “Lucy” was our ancestor. Now many question that. Many believed for many years that Piltdown Man was our ancestor. Then they figured out that it was a complete and total fraud. Many believed that Bernie Madoff was a great money manager.
Skepticism has served me well over the years.
How certain we can be depends on the assumptions underlying the calculations. When you are doing calculations and estimates that stretch back 50,000 to 200,000 years or more, how certain can we be? Let’s remember that at that point we are doing natural history, not observational science.
Isn’t the key question: who were the first creatures considered by God to be in his image, capable of communion with him, capable of being a temple of the Holy Spirit, capable of eternal life in joyous fellowship with him. Can science answer that question with certainty?
The pastor in the post seems to me to be overly dogmatic as to the meaning of the Biblical text. I think RJS is overly dogmatic when she says, “the idea of a unique pair whose descendants only mated other descendants just isn’t reasonable.” Is it really unreasonable if God was actively involved in the process? I don’t think either position is epistemologically reasonable.



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Kenny Johnson

posted June 30, 2009 at 1:56 pm


“The pastor in the post seems to me to be overly dogmatic as to the meaning of the Biblical text. I think RJS is overly dogmatic when she says, “the idea of a unique pair whose descendants only mated other descendants just isn’t reasonable.” Is it really unreasonable if God was actively involved in the process? I don’t think either position is epistemologically reasonable.”
Total agreement.



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RJS

posted June 30, 2009 at 2:04 pm


pds,
You asked a rhetorical question, and I agree that it is the key question.
Isn’t the key question: who were the first creatures considered by God to be in his image, capable of communion with him, capable of being a temple of the Holy Spirit, capable of eternal life in joyous fellowship with him.
Science cannot even begin to address this question – and it is not a science question in the first place.
But there are questions that science can address – and the issues of genetic diversity and mutation rates are science questions.
The scientific evidence is one reason why I think that all humans descend from a small community not a unique pair. But the textual evidence of Genesis is another reason. In fact Genesis assumes that the descendants of Adam and Eve, especially Cain, live among a larger community. It is the assumption that we have a unique pair with Adam and Eve at the tip of a pyramid that leads to speculation about many unnamed unmentioned siblings and mating among these siblings. This reasoning is imposed upon the text we have.



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AHH

posted June 30, 2009 at 2:16 pm


Wow, sure seems like that pastor is “adding to the Gospel”.
Along the lines of Peter @3, it seems to me that the essential for orthodoxy along those lines is that we are created in God’s image and are “fallen” in a state of sin (cracked Eikons as Scot would say). The details of how we got to that state are secondary at best.
Admittedly, non-monogenetism causes some tension with some traditional Christian doctrines. But we have discussed here before how one can view the Adam & Eve story as symbolic while holding to the authority and inspiration of Scripture, and how Paul’s mentions of Adam could easily be “typological” references (as Paul’s main points were about Jesus, not about Adam) incorporating the way he and his audience were used to talking about the origin of sin. And, as dopderbeck points out, there are non-monogenetic scenarios that even have Adam & Eve as historic individuals.
People like this pastor mentioned put up stumbling blocks that keep many scientifically literate people from considering Jesus.



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dopderbeck

posted June 30, 2009 at 2:31 pm


pds — I think I hedged my description fairly and accurately. Again, I’m not a population geneticist, but the data (the number of alleles in the MHC) are what they are, and the assumptions in the models that employ the data are reasonable. I have spoken with one Christian population geneticist about these models, and he is completely convinced that they are fundamentally sound. As I mentioned, everyone acknowledges that there are assumptions in the models, the rate of mutation being one of the most significant. It’s not impossible that these population genetics models are wrong, but it seems quite unlikely.
I admit that this information causes me more angst than any other faith-science question. There is no denying that the unity of the human race, both in our created nature as God’s image-bearers and in our ontological participation in sin, is a clear theme of scripture and is of fundamental importance to sound Christian theology. The fact that we all are made in God’s image and yet enslaved to sin without Christ goes to the core of the gospel. Vital theological questions, such as the extent to which a person can participate in his or her own salvation (i.e., the ancient question of Pelagianism) are in play. It’s glib to dismiss these concerns. And it is much easier to hold this together if Gen. 2-4 and Romans 5 are simple and straightforward references to biologically monogenetic human origins. So, I personally won’t insist that everyone must immediately abandon any possibility of literal biological monogenism.
BUT — it seems to me that, at the same time, we should not insist that literal biological monogenism is so fundamental to Christian orthodoxy that the faith falls apart without it. The fact is that there are very significant data strongly supporting the conclusion that the human species has always comprised a population of at least thousands. Given this information, and believing that all truth is God’s truth, it seems to me right that we explore how “theological monogenism” — the spiritual unity of the human race as taught in scripture — can be complementary to the genetic polygenism apparently reflected in the record of nature. At the very least, it seems to me simply ignorant for some pastor to throw around phrases like “outside the pale” in reference to other Christians who are doing their best to wrestle with all the data.



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freelunch

posted June 30, 2009 at 2:39 pm


pds,
Lucy is still considered part of our family tree. She may not have been a direct relative to humans today, but any common ancestry between her and us was not long before she lived.
Creationists and other supposed sceptics have to get over the Piltdown fraud. There were questions immediately and the only reason the fraud wasn’t exposed much sooner was because there were a number of more pressing and political items that interfered in a decent examination of it.
Scepticism is important, but only when wisely used. Young Earth Creationism has been shown to be false. All other sorts of creationism that reject common ancestry of life on earth are also false. Those who teach doctrines that are contrary to clear scientific evidence are unworthy to teach about science or God.
The history of the development of evolutionary science is surprisingly supportive of the success of the scientific method. Science isn’t perfect, but it is self-correcting. It seems quite sad to me that there are religious people who refuse to correct the doctrines they teach when scientific evidence arrives to show that those doctrines are false.



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pds

posted June 30, 2009 at 3:25 pm


I only have time for a quick reply.
RJS (#21) – The question is how we define “human.” From God’s perspective? That’s theological, right?
You said,
“The scientific evidence is one reason why I think that all humans descend from a small community not a unique pair.”
When you make statements based on genetics about “all humans,” and apply that to the Adam and Eve question, what definition of “human” are you using?
Where did your “small community” come from? In this “small community” or the ones that preceded it, were there creatures that were 72% human? 87% human? 49% human? If so, was it murder to kill them and eat them?
Could there be survivors today who seem human but are only 93% human?



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Darren King

posted June 30, 2009 at 3:38 pm


Personally, I believe this pastor’s comment to be ridiculous and indefensible. Its ironic that he’s Presbyterian – because many, many, many Presbyterians would disagree with him on this issue. If he sees things this way – why is he serving in a church that is generally so much more progressive than him?
Secondly, even if the pastor was a good guy, with a servant’s heart, that comment alone would be enough to make me leave the church. That kind of narrow definition(izing) is just not what we need as we move forward as 21st century followers of Jesus looking to impact the world with Kingdom values.



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freelunch

posted June 30, 2009 at 3:46 pm


Could there be survivors today who seem human but are only 93% human?
No, not unless you are talking about the other apes.
Organisms don’t work the way you appear to think they work.



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RJS

posted June 30, 2009 at 3:56 pm


Darren,
Some Presbyterian groups are fairly conservative, Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) for example. PC(USA) is not so conservative.



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ChristSpeak

posted June 30, 2009 at 3:58 pm


The really interesting question isn’t whether or not Adam and Eve were or were not the first creatures (though I would argue they are, based on the seemingly-intended literal account of Genesis), but how it would effect Paul’s later arguments based on their account.
For instance, even beyond questions of original sin and inherited guilt, this would even move into doctrines of complementarianism vs egalitarianism, since Paul uses Eve having been created after Adam as part of his reasoning for the roles of men and women.
I would say that, exegetically (in Genesis), it may be possible that there were ages of animal evolution that then culminated in Adam and Even being created from the dust (as per the literal interpretation). Of course, this would assume that animals could die before the fall, which is a question in it’s own right.
Just based on Paul’s usage of the account, I would argue that a literal Adam and Eve are necessary for the Gospel to hold together. if evolution turned out to be true, it may be able to be reconciled with the text (as long as Adam evolved before Eve, etc.). However, I would still say that a normal reading of the text would not suggest it in the least.
Of course, I also reject evolution based on scientific principles, but that’s another story :)



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AHH

posted June 30, 2009 at 4:09 pm


Darren King @26:
This “Presbyterian” pastor may well not be in the “mainline” PC(USA), where such a dogmatic stance would indeed be unusual.
One could more easily find pastors who would take such positions in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (where a Prof. of biochemistry at Calvin College was put on trial and removed from being an Elder in the 1990s for affirming animal ancestry for Adam) or the Prebyterian Church in America (where most are much less open to evolution than Tim Keller is — D. James Kennedy for example was in the PCA).



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Darren King

posted June 30, 2009 at 4:11 pm


RJS, I’m aware of that. Still, its an interesting choice for someone with such conservative views.



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tscott

posted June 30, 2009 at 4:12 pm


Cs Lewis The Problem of Pain in Chapter 5:
How well said



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Tom Paine

posted June 30, 2009 at 4:28 pm


I hope most people reading this article do not take the majority of Presbyterians to be dogmatic believers in a literal Adam and Eve to whom everyone is genetically related.
I am a Presbyterian minister and I certainly don’t believe that and neither do most Presbyterian I know or have known over the course of my life.
The Biblical account of Genesis is absolutely true but we need not confuse truth with literalness. Jesus, for example, is the lamb of God but he did not have four legs.
Tom Paine



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freelunch

posted June 30, 2009 at 4:53 pm


Of course, I also reject evolution based on scientific principles
No, you do not. You cannot. Evolution is completely consistent with all of the evidence we have. You have no scientific cause to reject it. My guess is that you are inadequately taught or have been lied to by religious leaders who would rather teach false doctrine than admit that they may have been mistaken.



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Phil M

posted June 30, 2009 at 6:29 pm


No, you do not. You cannot.

Ha! Enter the scientific dogmatism/fundamentalism. “You are not a real scientist or you would believe what I believe”.
Contrary to the popularised retelling of history Copernicus’ main persecution came from not from religious leaders, but from other scientists and they persecuted him not because they thought his theory was heresy but because he dared to contradict the established scientific theory of the day in an area for which he was not formally trained. There’s a lesson there.



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Ken

posted June 30, 2009 at 6:59 pm


Thank you RJS for this and continuing posts about science and faith.
Is any position other than monogenesis of the human race with Adam and Eve as unique historical individuals outside the pale of orthodox Christianity? NO.
The opinion of one preacher is not what circumscribes the “pale of orthodoxy”. His definition is one of 38,000 or more in America today. Surely the pale of orthodoxy must be something like the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed, neither of which mentions monogenesis, nor would we expect them to. They were written before the rise of science. Increasing knowledge changes our interpretation of scripture, but not its truth. Thank God for C.S. Lewis.



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Darren King

posted June 30, 2009 at 7:16 pm


Tom,
No worries. That’s part of the point I was making.



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freelunch

posted June 30, 2009 at 8:10 pm


Ha! Enter the scientific dogmatism/fundamentalism. “You are not a real scientist or you would believe what I believe”.
Of course, I said no such thing.
Reality bites those who have dogmas that are contrary to reality. No one has managed to provide any scientific reasons to reject evolution. The above commenter is not a scientist. That was clear from his post and his method of posting.
I notice that you didn’t actually defend ChristSpeak’s unsupported and unsupportable claim, you just used my dismissal of his foolishness to attack me without any relevant evidence.



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Steve

posted June 30, 2009 at 9:36 pm


It is a great error to assume the only way the Bible can communicate truth is through literal history. The very symbolic names Adam (“Man” or “Humanity”) and Eve (“Life”) suggest that another point of view is legitimate as does the fact that different stories about the creation of humanity are to be found in Gen. 1 and 2.



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Mark Z.

posted July 1, 2009 at 1:27 am


“Of course, this would assume that animals could die before the fall, which is a question in it’s own right.”
It’s not a very interesting question when we can dig the remains of those animals out of the rocks. Say what you want about the completeness of the fossil record or the uncertainty in radioisotope dating, but we can point to the remains of animals that died before the human race existed.



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RJS

posted July 1, 2009 at 7:31 am


ChristSpeak (#29)
You said:
For instance, even beyond questions of original sin and inherited guilt, this would even move into doctrines of complementarianism vs egalitarianism, since Paul uses Eve having been created after Adam as part of his reasoning for the roles of men and women.
and then: (as long as Adam evolved before Eve, etc.)
1 Tim 2:9-17 appears to roots restrictions on women in creation order (Adam then Eve) and in deception (Eve, not Adam). Is this Paul giving instruction using a common knowledge story – or is Paul inspired to make this connection? A deep tangle of thinking. The most damaging part of the complementarian/egalitarian discussion in the church arises from this eternal subordination “very essence of being” position.
But the fact that the evidence may require rethinking a favored conclusion or doctrine does not justify dismissing the evidence. And the push to dismiss the evidence is damaging to the church because it causes countless people to jettison the faith of their upbringing or to refuse to consider the Gospel in the first place.



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STJ

posted July 1, 2009 at 9:33 am


The Orthodox view is intriguing. I’ve been pondering a book presenting this perspective called The Ancestral Sin, by John S. Romanides.



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STJ

posted July 1, 2009 at 9:39 am


Yesterday while reading Denis Lamoureux’s excellent book Evolutionary Creation I came across these bibliographic leads on the question of how Roman Catholics are dealing with “Adam” and evolutionary challenges, in an endnote on p. 465:
‘The fact that the exhaustive intellectual tradition of Roman Catholic scholarship continues to wrestle with this issue is evidence of the challenge of the sin-death problem. See Catechism of the Catholic Church, 88-93, 216. Compare with criticisms offered by Michael J. Walsh, Commentary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1994), 97-111; Joan Acker, “Creationism and the Catechism,” 183, America (16 Dec 2000), 6-9.’



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Percival

posted July 1, 2009 at 11:08 am


Joanne #2 Has a very good point here which I am surprised no one discussed any further.
Simply stated, the writer of Genesis and Paul were not writing about the same thing. She also points out that Genesis is about “the land”. I think that we have been somewhat mislead in our interpretations of the first chapters of Genesis by thinking it is about “the earth”. We can see the “land” theme all through Genesis starting with, “In the beginning God made the land and the sky.”
How many times do NT writers reinterpret OT stories and prophecies? A lot! We often see NT writers engage in what we consider to be strange interpretations of the OT. Maybe what is really strange is our insistence on not reinterpreting stories for different audiences and different purposes.
I don’t go along with everything Joanne said, but I think the main point of her comment is spot on. A central theme in Genesis is the land. Paul is talking about something else.



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Percival

posted July 1, 2009 at 11:11 am


Oh, and Dopderbeck, I think you do not have sufficient evidence to say that pastor is an idiot. We may conclude that he said something idiotic, but if that is the sole criteria for judging someone, then I’m afraid we are all idiots!



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RJS

posted July 1, 2009 at 11:23 am


Percival (#45)
I agree – and the letter writer emphasized that this Pastor was thoughtful and charitable. But I think that his statement here was damaging – specific view of Adam and Eve is secondary, not fundamental.
I think that there are lessons on many sides here – one is that we should respect each other as Christians, even when we disagree. A second is that we should be very careful about assigning views as “outside the pale.”
With respect to doctrines of God, Jesus, and Creation I think we should stick with the essence of the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds, perhaps embellished a bit using some NT texts. We add to this the orthopraxy of following the NT ethic (unfortunately missing from doctrinal and creedal statements). These are to my thinking what defines Christianity and Christians. We can disagree on most everything else and still be brothers and sisters in Christ.



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Percival

posted July 1, 2009 at 11:28 am


RJS,
Oh, I totally agree that what the pastor said was idiotic!



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Jason

posted July 1, 2009 at 12:22 pm


While I think that Morizot is correct in everything he typed, I would note that there are a significant number (perhaps a significant minority) of Eastern Orthodox who would disagree and who would consider This passage from Lewis as well as much of Fr. Thomas Hopko’s thinking to be Outside (think “Athos”). To the best of my knowledge, this is not a matter of Dogma. Some range of pious opinion is allowed.



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dopderbeck

posted July 1, 2009 at 3:47 pm


Well, I’ve been duly spanked for calling the man an “idiot.” I’m sorry, but there’s no excuse for a spiritual leader living in our world today to be ignorant of this sort of issue and of the range of views available for thinking about such issues. If you’re not capable of counseling honest questioners wisely, get out of the business of counseling questioners, or at least withhold responding until you do some research. The point isn’t that the guy needs to give the “answer” I personally like; the point is he has to be educated enough to understand the problem. To quote Forrest Gump, “stupid is as stupid does.”
I will now harumpf back under my grumpy hat and finish my bitter, burned cup of leftover microwaved coffee.



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RJS

posted July 2, 2009 at 6:52 am


dopderbeck,
I’ve found that this issue (Adam and Eve and monogenesis) is the touchiest issue in the science/faith discussion. It raises the most significant doctrinal questions. But I also think that this is why it needs a gentle approach and some careful thought.
Erecting a fence as this pastor did does not actually help someone who is struggling work through the issues – it provides no tools or resources in the face of the wisdom of the world (some good, some bad)
But a simple dismissal of the uniqueness of mankind and the reality of rebellion against God and a faith rooted in real history in real places, as some are inclined to (not you I know), is just as much of a problem.



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Peter

posted June 24, 2010 at 8:59 pm


Hello, please visit my page and listen to the sermons of Scott about Lewis “In His Own
Words”, they are eye-opening! He quotes him from his own books (and so on), showing who
he really was. Its very important, you should listen to!
http://www.4shared.com/dir/NqMKaOV_/Scott_A_Johnson.html
:) Peter



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