Monday, August 17, 2015

Symposium on Adam and Eve

Books & Culture has recently published a symposium on Adam and Eve. John Wilson, the B&C editor, interviews Karl Giberson about his new book Saving the Original Sinner (2015) Then follows two rounds of contributions from eight scholars.
Here is the outline of the symposium, with links to all the papers.

Saving the Original Sinner [interview with Karl Giberson]
Round 1:
Round 2:
John Wilson, Adam’s Ancestors [brief wrap-up]

This symposium gives a useful overview of the current debate. The brief summaries of the views of the various participants saves one the tedious work of reading lengthy books and essays.

Unhappily, only two of the participants (VanDoodewaard and Madueme) affirm the Biblical position on Adam and Eve. The rest have all accepted evolution. Consequently, Enns, Giberson, Lamoureux, and Schneider all view Adam and Eve as purely symbolic. Walton and Poe do leave room for a modified view of Adam and Eve, but heavily adapted so as to fit within the evolutionary framework.

For those defending the plain meaning of Genesis, the contributions of Madueme and VanDoodewaard are thus particularly worth reading.

Dr Hans Madueme is Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. Here are a few pertinent quotes, one from each paper:
Obviously, if you agree with scientists that a historical Adam is impossible, then devising fresh hermeneutical strategies to resolve the tension with Scripture is a logical move. In fact, however, the Bible does very clearly depict a historical Adam; such revisionist exegesis goes against the grain of the text, driven by scientific pre-judgments that set epistemic limits on what the Bible can say. That's a mistake; Scripture unshackled—not science—is the self-authenticating authority.
Turning to the scientific "facts," let me call into question any commitment to methodological naturalism, the notion that we can only appeal to natural phenomena when doing genuine science. Methodological naturalism is the status quo among scientists and enshrined in the scientific perspectives that conflict with the Adamic events of Scripture. Theologically speaking, methodological naturalism strikes me as deeply problematic. To use Alvin Plantinga's language, it yields a truncated science; it does not appeal to the full evidence base—an evidence base that, I would argue, includes divine revelation and all the glorious realities to which it attests. Once we reject methodological naturalism, we will have a truer and richer appraisal of the biblical witness and the world it signifies. An appropriately expanded understanding of biblical reality includes Adam's historicity and its vital theological implications; for those of us who find those implications compelling, any scientific opinion that rules out Adam will fail to convince. (Death of God by Poison)
Scientific plausibility is the key; can we still believe doctrines that are implausible by the lights of current science? We can invert the question: If scientific plausibility should guide the expectations we bring to Scripture, then why would we be Christians? Why would we believe that the Son of God became a man? That he died and rose again after three days? That he ascended into heaven? These fundamental Christian beliefs contradict everything we know from mainstream science. If we can no longer believe Adam was historical, then why should we believe in the resurrection? In The Evolution of Adam, Peter Enns answers this way: "For Paul, the resurrection of Christ is the central and climactic present-day event in the Jewish drama—and of the world. One could say that Paul was wrong, deluded, stupid, creative, whatever; nevertheless, the resurrection is something that Paul believed to have happened in his time, not primordial time." That misses the point. We're told that we can't affirm a historical Adam because it's scientifically unbelievable, but why trust Paul on the resurrection when that, too, is scientifically unbelievable? Or, to flip the script, if we believe the resurrection, then a historical Adam is no biggie. (Demythologizing Adam)
Dr William VanDoodewaard is Professor of Church History at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is an ordained minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and the author of The Quest for the Historical Adam: Genesis, Hermeneutics, and Human Origins (2015). Here is a sampling from his symposium contributions:
I stand with the mainstream of historic Christian orthodoxy believing the literal tradition, including the creation of Adam and Eve, from dirt and a rib on the sixth day, a day of ordinary duration. There are numerous reasons for the endurance of this view, despite varied efforts to the contrary of a minority stream of individuals from the patristic era to the present. First, the literal understanding of creation, including human origins, is remarkably viable exegetically. It is also hermeneutically consistent with the whole Genesis text. Second, it coheres seamlessly with the rest of Scripture's teaching on creation, man, and redemption. The literal tradition on origins is cohesive with a full-orbed exegetically derived Christian theology.
The most substantive challenge to the literal tradition is posed by mainstream dating methods, particularly in relation to fossils. Even here, an understanding of a mature creation, the fall, curse, and ensuing natural processes interspersed with episodes of catastrophism along the way, gives cogent answers to satisfy issues of geological age and subsequent biological adaptation. The literal tradition has exegetical, hermeneutical, and theological coherence with Scripture, historical endurance beyond all other interpretive models, as well as extensive ecclesial and confessional support. There is good reason to believe that it stands as an example of the Holy Spirit's fulfillment of Christ's promise to guide of the church in the truth of the Word. (The First Man and Woman)
There is a certain clear and compelling logic to the post-Adam/no Adam viewpoint of Karl Giberson, Peter Enns, and others participating in this roundtable. Where we grant that an ancient earth requires an alternate, "non-literal" approach to time in Genesis 1 and 2, we are left with little (if any) exegetical ground to argue against wide-ranging evolutionary hypotheses. If we accept an adjusted hermeneutic and allow for mainstream evolutionary biology, there is no longer exegetical ground to maintain a historical Adam and Eve, created specially by God in a brief span of time, from the dust of the earth and Adam's rib, respectively. If we have actually adopted a new hermeneutic for Genesis 1-2 and maintain that Scripture teaches a unity of truth, then we ought to revisit and work towards reinterpreting New Testament passages on Adam.
I believe that the "middle ground" of an evolutionary Adam is just as untenable and ad hoc as Giberson and Enns note it is. But instead of creating agreement, this logic is ample reason to go back to what the mainstream of the Christian church has held to for millennia. The exegetically, hermeneutically, and theologically compelling position is that God created Adam, the first man, and Eve, the first woman, without progenitors, disorder, or sin. It was this Adam and Eve, the only existing humans, who fell into sin in the Garden, bringing the curse on themselves and all creation. (No Adam, No Original Sin, No Christ)
Note that both authors make a strong case for consistency. Granting an ancient earth, and therefore adopting a non-literal approach to Gen.1-2, undermines the exegetical case for an historical Adam. Likewise, if we can't believe in the Biblical Adam because it is scientifically implausible, why should we believe in an equally scientifically implausible resurrection from the dead?


JohnV said...

Dr. Byl:

After having read the presentations and responses of the eight scholars, I note that at no time do any of the six who take a different view of Adam take issue with my belief and faith. They think they do, but they actually don’t.

The six are careful to paint my belief with their theological structure and view of the confessions; but they are their own and not mine. They build their own structure and then find fault with it, and present it as finding fault with my belief.

They represent Adam as I never would, because Adam has to exist in the world of their construct; he can’t exist in mine. They set forth, in carefully chosen words, a presentation of evolution that depicts it as science, and thus equal to General Revelation, while all the time it is nothing more than their own paradigms bolstered by agreeing scientific information, ignoring all the rest. Not even secular evolutionists give it as much authoritative clout as these people do.

But the worst is that the confessions which they find fault with are confessions which came into being as a result of the Reformation, and are therefore replete with the Reformer’s “interpretation” of the Bible: again their construct, not mine. In other words, it’s their version of the confessions of the church, but certainly not what we believe them to be, a summary of the true and complete doctrine of salvation. And quite the opposite the standards set by the Reformers, who were adamant about keeping all human taint out of them, as much as possible. Words were carefully chosen so as not to suggest what the Bible itself did not clearly teach. And nothing new was added, for the Reformers were keen on the intergenerational witness of the church to the presence of doctrine which was from the beginning of the church.

In our churches the confessions are still represented as faithful summaries of the Bible’s own true teachings. So I doubt that those who preach a different doctrine will gain much ground in the CanRC. But our inability to recognize straw men is disconcerting. A straw man these days is all decked out with life-like features, including computerized audioanimatronics, so that it can wave at a passing car that has honked its horn. But a straw man is still just a straw man. Academics portray our simple faith with words that can fool the faithful; building idols with words so to speak, not so we would worship them but rather so we can find fault with the pure Word of God and with the faithful summary of it which we inherited from all the generations of the church before us.


JohnV said...

Here is a brief synopsis of what each has to say as it pertains to the record of what the Bible actually teaches; that which we are scrupulous about when considering the church's confession and teaching.

The Bible is to be read against the backdrop of ancient mythology: we must re-orient our expectations of the Bible. Enns

No received wisdom from the past should be immune from the challenge of modern sholarship. Not even the witness of the church to Christ's faithfulness (the church's confessions, creeds, and statements of faith which have stood unchanged since the beginning, since Christ's earthly ministry.) Giberson

The Bible is written with an ancient (and obviously not accurate) astronomy and geography, and so also an ancient biology. The Holy Spirit allowed these in order to reveal spiritual truths. Lamoureux

The doctrine of the Fall was an innovation introduced by Augustine, and not held as doctrine before that. A commitment to a theological tradition over the text is unacceptable. Poe

Beliefs such as a literal belief in Adam and Eve are discrediting the Bible. Christian leaders should allow themselves to be guided by the wisest and best scholars, scholars on Genesis, scholars since the 19th century, and not by theologians of the past or by long-held theologies. Schneider

God communicated to a near-eastern culture, and so we expect Genesis to reflect that culture. (We would not expect the culture to be effected by revelation from God, but rather expect that revelation from God be effected by human culture: God cannot overcome the ignorance of people: implied) Inerrancy is to be determined by ideas in the revelations which transcend the culture, (though it does not transcend ours: implied) Walton

In summary, our culture and our culture alone is the true arbiter of what is doctrinal and what is not. Our culture alone is able to rise above limited perspectives, even though the science to do so does not rise above it. One cannot do science unless in an environment of paradigms suggested by man, imposed upon the data, and accepted by peer review; and science is ever subject to the limitations of man himself. Yet we alone of all men of all ages, including those blessed with inspiration from the Holy Spirit, we alone are able to rise above the cultural limitations imposed upon God in revealing His salvation to man.

All our church's confessional statements are to be seen as suspect. Therefore the question, found in our baptism form, which asks:
"Do you confess that the doctrine of the Old and New Testament, summarized in the confessions and taught here in this Christian church, is the true and complete doctrine of salvation?" is "wrong-headed".

That is, unless we re-define most of the key words in that question. "True" and "complete" must have temporal meanings, and must exclude the idea of unchangeability; "doctrine" is what the church currently believes, which has changed over the centuries; and "belief" has to mean "Yes, I do believe; I believe the intent, not the words. Don't expect me to say that I actually believe it as if it is really true or complete."

It is clear that these men have little regard for the Reformation's strictness for Sola Scriptura in what the church requires for Biblical faith. They too easily re-define what we mean by "confessions".