Promotes no basis for Christianity at all!
The publication Christianity Today is a popular mainstream Christian magazine that many consider indicative of views in the evangelical church in general. Certainly that was true at its inception, but many are not aware that for several years now, they have advocated unbiblical and sometimes radical views of many ‘staples’ of Christian doctrine, including origins. In short, they are regarded as being very liberal by many evangelicals today. The article “The search for the historical Adam” in the June 2011 issue is only the latest in this trend.1
The article begins by saying, “Secularist brows furrowed in 2009 when President Obama chose prominent atheist-turned-Christian Francis S. Collins to be the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).” He is called “one of the most eminent scientists ever to identify as an evangelical Christian” (p. 23). High praise indeed, but what the article doesn’t bring out is that Collins’s beliefs about origins in many ways are no different than the atheists’. He accepts that modern humans “emerged from primate ancestors perhaps 100,000 years ago” (p. 24). Instead of coming from two individuals, the original human population (to the extent that we can even distinguish the first humans in a single generation) numbered around 10,000. He is the founder of the theistic evolution organization Biologos—an organization that places greater authority in secular science than the Bible. Indeed, some of its members have openly stated that the Apostle Paul and even Jesus (the Creator of the universe—Colossians 1) were wrong when it comes to science.
What of the Bible’s account, which, as a professing Christian, Collins is obliged to believe? It is relegated to being merely “a poetic and powerful allegory” (p. 24). The Bible is divinely inspired, trustworthy, and authoritative, but only on “faith and conduct,” not scientific matters.
What’s at stake?
The article notes that “foundational confessions of faith from the Protestant Reformation assume a historical Adam, and official Romans Catholicism defined this teaching at the 1546 Council of Trent” (p. 24). But the Church’s affirmation of the historicity of the first several chapters of Genesis began far before the 16th century. As is documented in Refuting Compromise, every major Church Father affirmed the historical Adam.
Since the Church Fathers and Reformers aren’t inspired, one could say that they were simply wrong and reflected attitudes of their own day. But when one makes the same claims about the biblical authors, one runs into some serious theological difficulties. Yet this is exactly what theistic evolutionists do. “Paul and Luke may have thought Adam was a literal man because they had no reason not to… but we have many reasons to interpret Adam as a literary figure” (p. 26). Waltke reflects the same uncertainty in the Bible’s teaching when he says, “We have to go with the scientific evidence. I don’t think we can ignore it. I have full confidence in Scripture, but it does not represent what science represents” (p. 26). And what does science represent? Truth? What then of Christ’s claim to be the Truth? He taught that Adam and Eve were real historical figures.
As we’ve shown before, the New Testament refers to Genesis as literal history 1–11 over 60 times. It refers to that straightforward history as the basis for making pronouncements about Christian belief, doctrine and practice. The historical Adam and his relationship to humanity is analogous to Christ’s relationship to believers.
Theistic evolution: a “Trojan horse”?
Christianity Today’s article is divided between people who say that “Scripture can be reinterpreted to accord with evolutionary theory,” and those who worry that “the hermeneutics behind theistic evolution are a Trojan horse that, once inside our gates, must cause the entire fortress of Christian belief to fall” (p. 27).
Peter Enns, the Senior Fellow of Biblical Studies for BioLogos, argues that “a literal Adam as a special creation without evolutionary forebears is ‘at odds with everything else we know about the past from the natural sciences and cultural remains. … The Bible itself invites a symbolic reading by using cosmic battle imagery and by drawing parallels between Adam and Israel” (p. 26). Dennis Lamoureux goes farther, saying, “Adam never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity … the Holy Spirit descended to the level of the biblical author of Genesis 1 and used his incidental ancient science regarding biological origins’ to reveal ‘infallible messages of faith about the human spiritual condition’” (p. 26).
But as Jesus said in John 3:12: “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” Indeed, in the evolutionary view the Bible is wrong about the human spiritual condition as well, because as CT writes “Vices we associate with consequences of the Fall and original sin, such as self-serving behavior, exist in lower primates and would have been passed on via evolution to humans. Thus Eden cannot be a literal description of how things really were in the primal human past” (p. 26). So if Genesis doesn’t reflect historical reality, it can’t depict spiritual reality either.
Attempted harmonizations fall short
Some try to harmonize the evolutionary account of humanity’s origin with the Bible by saying that “After God conferred his image upon Adam, he did the same with the others who then existed to bring them into the same realm of being.” In this view, “Adam’s headship of humanity extended … outwards to his contemporaries as well as onwards to his offspring, and his disobedience disinherited both alike” (p. 27). They appeal to a “population bottleneck around 150,000 years ago”, comprising at least several thousand individuals “at minimum” out of which modern humanity is supposed to have emerged and hypothesize that perhaps God made this entire population into the first ‘biblical humans’. They argue that “it would have required God’s miraculous intervention to increase the genetic diversity to what is observable today” (p. 25). But as we’ve pointed out before, what we see in genetics fits with what we’d expect if the Bible’s account is true—everyone is very closely related, and we’re not that different genetically.
But when you start talking about a whole population of beings which emerged from primate ancestors, you’re no longer talking about biblical humans in any sense. It’s an origins story, but it’s certainly not a biblical one, or one that is Christian in any historical sense.
The critical question is: is there any ground that these theistic evolutionists wouldn’t give way on, if science demanded that they do so? Collins concedes that “if Adam and Eve lacked an actual existence we nullify so many things in the Bible it results in a different story.” But then he immediately backpedals and argues that “the pivotal point is that however God produced the bodies of the first human beings, it wasn’t a purely natural process.” And if genetics seemed to contradict Adam and Eve as the literal ancestors of all people, Collins “could perhaps reconceive of Adam and Eve as the king and queen of a larger population and thereby preserve Genesis’ historicity” (p. 27).
In these harmonizations, it’s always the Bible which must give way—there’s not a single point where Collins, Giberson, et al make the argument, “Science says this, but we believe it’s wrong because the Bible teaches us otherwise.”
Over the years there has been a plethora of fanciful ideas that attempt to marry the Bible with ‘science’, and there also seems to be no shortage of willing evangelical organizations willing to promote such views. However, as Dr Jonathan Sarfati wrote in his classic book Refuting Compromise, “‘If we marry our theology to today’s science, we’ll be widowed tomorrow.” Indeed, many such novel interpretations have come and similarly disappeared over the years. As Christians, wouldn’t it be easier to just believe what the Bible says?
Theology and history are inextricably linked
The most conservative position that Christianity Today presents is that of Tim Keller, who argues that:
“Paul most definitely wanted to teach us that Adam and Eve were real historical figures. When you refuse to take a biblical author literally when he clearly wants you to do so, you have moved away from the traditional understanding of the biblical authority … If Adam doesn’t exist, Paul’s whole argument—that both sin and grace work ‘covenantally’—falls apart. You can’t say that ‘Paul was a man of his time’ but we can accept his basic teaching about Adam. If you don’t believe what he believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul’s teaching” (p. 27).
Physicist John Bloom, director of Biola University’s science and religion program, points out the problem:
“If there was merely a population of pre-Adamic hominids that ‘collectively evolved into modern man, then the theological foundation for the nuclear family, sin and death appears to be eroded. The credibility of the Bible when it speaks on these issues seems to be damaged. If it does not correctly explain the origin of a problem, why should one trust its solutions?”
Can anything be ‘Christian’?
A person who calls himself a Christian has an obligation to submit to the Bible’s authority as the Word of God, and not just in spiritual matters, but also in historical matters, and even where the Bible’s teachings make scientific implications. It should be worrying when so many mainstream scholars and pastors who self-designate themselves as ‘evangelicals’ can discard so much of the Bible’s teaching about origins.
An Adam who had ancestors, human or otherwise, is not the biblical Adam, even if you make him the actual ancestor of all humans who came after him (and most don’t). When you talk about an original population of 10,000 human beings, you’re no longer talking about a biblical account of origins.
In short, someone can believe any origins story they want. But they don’t have the freedom to call their preferred protology ‘Christian’ or ‘biblical’ unless it’s in full conformity with all the Bible’s teaching.
- Ostling, R., The Search for the Historical Adam, Christianity Today, June 2011, p. 23–27. Quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from this article. Return to text.