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The Historical Adam, Round 2: Harry "Hal" Lee Poe


Musings on Our Speculations

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I'll begin by responding to Karl Giberson, who criticizes reliance upon the "received wisdom from the past" and mentions "sacred texts, confessions, creeds, statements of faith or anything else." Normally, it is the "anything else" that creates the conflicts over science and religion. The big problems come from our tendency to interpret the Bible or our scientific data from some inherited philosophical perspective. Interpreting the Bible from a Platonic point of view, as Augustine did, leads to a view of sin and punishment transmitted biologically. Interpreting the Bible from an Aristotelian point of view leads to a belief in the creation of all life forms de novo by fiat.

If the Bible is only "received wisdom from the past," then it has no more relevance for our time than Homer's Iliad. On the other hand, if the Bible is revelation from God, as I believe, then we should be very careful to distinguish between the Bible and our theology. Theology is usually wrong to some degree. Some theology is more wrong than other theology, because it is always only human reflection and rationalization about our faith. It is not revelation from God. Just as scientific theories may sound good for a few centuries and then collapse, theology is a frail flower.

Next to Peter Enns. At some point in the modern world, Bible-believing people accepted the notion that scientific knowledge is the real knowledge. Both liberals and conservatives fell into this habit of mind typical to our culture, as illustrated by the Modernist-Fundamentalist Controversy. From this point of view, the Bible must be scientifically accurate to be true. If it is not scientifically true, then it is not inerrant. Modern evangelicals have accepted this Enlightenment critique of religion to disastrous ends.

Consider how this view would look over the course of world history. If Genesis were scientifically accurate in 326 B. C., then it was no longer scientifically accurate in A.D. 152. On the other hand, if it was scientifically accurate in A.D. 152, then it was no longer scientifically accurate by 1668. And if it was scientifically accurate in 1668, it was no longer scientifically accurate by 1740. The science keeps changing, which is why you never want to link your theology to science.

When Enns speaks of the implausibility of a "historical Adam," I believe he means that a literal reading of Genesis 2 is implausible. We have three different stories in Genesis 1-3 in which it appears that the word "Adam" is used in three ways. If the Bible is revelation, then God is telling us three entirely different kinds of things about himself, about us, about our relationships to one another, and about our relationship to him in these stories. The remarkable thing about them, which relates to their true nature, is that they continue to work even when the science and the culture changes.

Denis O. Lamoureux has a particular horror of concordism, by which I think he means the effort to make the Bible conform to a particular scientific view, usually an old, out of date scientific view. At one level, however, we must recognize that the Bible does correspond to the modern scientific view, if for no other reason than that the modern scientific view of the world reflects the biblical view. The anthropological problem with Genesis and the rest of the Bible is its linear view of reality, without which modern science is impossible. The order of creation is from simplicity to complexity. History in the Bible moves forward and things happen. History has a purpose and goal. The world changes. The human race had no empirical evidence for a linear universe until the 20th century. No other culture in the ancient world or since has derived a linear universe from a world which seemed to be governed by rhythms and cycles of nature.

The details of changing science are not the amazing thing about the Bible. The unaccountable feature of the Bible is its understanding of a universe in which new things happen and old things pass away. Where on earth did the ancient Hebrews get such an idea? It does not prove that the Bible is revelation, but it certainly is a difficult piece of evidence to ignore.

Ever since evangelicals first latched on to the term "worldview" and began mis-using it, I have reacted against the term "biblical worldview." Cultures have worldviews, but the Bible presents a faith that sweeps through many worldviews to which God speaks in the course of the Bible, including Chaldean, Canaanite, Egyptian, Israelite, Babylonian, Persian, and Hellenistic. One of the problems with Lamoureux's figure of the Bible's understanding of the three-tier universe is that he has constructed this cosmology from a variety of texts that speak to different cultural worldviews encountered by the people of faith from Chaldean to Hellenistic. Another problem is that he has accepted the Aristotelian interpretation of Genesis with reference to "kinds," "immutability of species," and creation "de novo," against which he reacts as if it were the biblical teaching instead of the medieval Aristotelian teaching.

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