November 25, 2020

Pete Enns on Mistakes in the Adam/Evolution Discussion

Creation of Man I, Chagall

Note from CM: We have asked Dr. Peter Enns before for permission to rerun his writing, and I’m tempted to do it a lot. Enns has received enormous attention from a wide audience for what he has to say about Biblical interpretation and the faith/science debate. That’s because he is courageous and clear-thinking, and frankly, what he says makes a lot of sense. But whether you agree or disagree with him, one undeniable contribution he has made has been to continue the conversation in a way that is thoughtful and civil.

This particular piece is a good follow-up to last Saturday’s “More Tired Rhetoric” post because it counters some of that pure rhetoric that keeps people from talking to rather than past each other.

The following post ran on Enns’ blog on November 10, 2011.

• • •

Recurring Mistakes in the Adam/Evolution Discussion
by Dr. Peter Enns

Over the past two weeks or so, there has been quite a bit of blog discussion over the question of Adam in light of evolution. I have kept up with various websites and other postings—not to mention comments on my own website.

Opinions vary, of course, and the Internet can be a good place to air one’s views and have a rousing back and forth debate. Nothing at all wrong with that. But, as I began reading editorials and comments, I saw patterns of responses that served more to obscure the issues before us than enlighten.

I began jotting down these patterns, thinking that, perhaps, I’ll write a brief post about “problems to avoid if we want to get anywhere in this important discussion.” But my list of recurring mistakes grew to fifteen—well beyond one post.

So, we’ll begin today with the first three recurring mistakes —in no particular order whatsoever. The others will follow in the days to come.

1. It’s all about the authority of the Bible.
I can understand why this claim might have rhetorical effect, but this issue is not about biblical authority. It’s about how the Bible is to be interpreted. It’s about hermeneutics.

It’s always about hermeneutics.

Creation of Man II, Chagall

I know that in some circles “hermeneutics” is code for “let’s find a way to get out of the plain meaning of the text.” But even a so-called “plain” or “literal” reading of the Bible is a hermeneutic—an approach to interpretation.

Literalism is a hermeneutical decision (even if implicit) as much as any other approach, and so needs to be defended as much as any other. Literalism is not the default godly way to read the Bible that preserves biblical authority. It is not the “normal” way of reading the Bible that gets a free pass while all others must face the bar of judgment.

So, when someone says, “I don’t read Genesis 1-3 as historical events, and here are the reasons why,” that person is not “denying biblical authority.” That person may be wrong, but that would have to be judged on some basis other than the ultimate literalist conversation-stopper, “You’re denying biblical authority.”

The Bible is not just “there.” It has to be interpreted. The issue is which interpretations are more defensible than others.

To put all this another way, appealing to biblical authority does not tell you how to interpret the Bible. That requires a lot more work. It always has. “Biblical authority” is a predisposition to the text. It is not a hermeneutic.

2. You’re giving science more authority than the Bible.
This, too, may have some rhetorical effect, but it is entirely misguided.

To say that science gives us a more accurate understanding of human origins than the Bible is not putting science “over” the Bible—unless we assume that the Bible is prepared to give us scientific information.

There are numerous compelling reasons to think that Genesis is not prepared to provide such information—namely the fact that Genesis was written at least 2500 years ago by and for people, who, to state the obvious, were not thinking in modern scientific terms.

One might respond, “But Genesis was inspired by God, and so needs to be true.”
That assertion assumes (1) that “truth” requires historical accuracy (which needs to be defended rather than asserted), and (2) that a text inspired by God in antiquity would, by virtue of its being the word of God, need to give scientific rather than ancient accounts of origins (which is also an assumption that would need to be vigorously defended, not merely asserted).

Put another way, lying behind this error in thinking is the unstated assumption that the Bible, as the word of God, must predetermine the conclusions that scientific investigations can arrive at on any subject matter the Bible addresses.

To make this assumption is to run roughshod over the very contextual and historically conditioned nature of Scripture.

If Scripture were truly given priority over science in matters open to scientific inquiry, the church would have never gotten past Galileo’s discovery that the earth revolves around the sun.

Creation of Man III, Chagall

3. But the church has never questioned the historicity of Adam.
This is largely true—though it obscures the symbolism especially early interpreters found in the Garden story, but I digress. On the whole, this statement is correct.

But this rather obvious observation is irrelevant to the issue at hand.

Knowing what the history of the church has thought about Adam is not an argument for Adam’s historicity, as some seem to think, since the history of the church did not have evolution to deal with until recently.

That’s the whole point of this debate—evolution is a new factor we have to address.

Appealing to a time in church history before evolution was a factor as an authoritative voice in the discussion over evolution simply makes no sense. What Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and the Puritans assumed about human origins is not relevant. (And, no, I am not dismissing the study of church history, historical theology, etc., by saying this.)

Calling upon church history does not solve the problem; it simply restates it.

Appealing to church history does not end the discussion; it just reminds us why we need to have the discussion in the first place.

• • •

Pete Enns followed up this post with three more. Here are the links:


  1. A couple of days ago I set myself to imaging Genesis being written like this:

    “In the beginning after its initial expansion from a singularity, the Universe cooled sufficiently to allow energy to be converted into various subatomic particles, including protons, neutrons, and electrons. While protons and neutrons combined to form the first atomic nuclei only a few minutes after the Big Bang, it would take thousands of years for electrons to combine with them and create the first atoms, the building blocks of matter. The first element produced was hydrogen, along with traces of helium and lithium. Giant clouds of these primordial elements would coalesce through gravity to form stars and galaxies, and the heavier elements would be synthesized either within stars or during supernovae.”

    Whatever I consider to be true or false, I don’t think that this would have brought the generations of the past 4000 years any closer to the Creator.

    In a similar way, it might come to pass that in 4000 years this Big Bang version of Genesis is scientifically as ‘unbelievable’ as the the actual version of Genesis is right now. By then the model that describes protons, neutrons, and electrons might have become obsolete.

    What I expect to stay current is a story of people and emotions, life and death, love and pain, joy and sorrow that speaks to the heart of all generations.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      In a similar way, it might come to pass that in 4000 years this Big Bang version of Genesis is scientifically as ‘unbelievable’ as the the actual version of Genesis is right now. By then the model that describes protons, neutrons, and electrons might have become obsolete.

      If that model does become obsolete, I kind of doubt its replacement will be “GawdDidIt!!!” a la Ken Ham.

  2. “But even a so-called “plain” or “literal” reading of the Bible is a hermeneutic—an approach to interpretation.”

    I’m one who believes that the “plain” meaning does not always have to be the “literal” meaning. A little theology can help us in that department.

    Nice article. I appreciate the work.

    Speaking of work…I’m off to it.

    • What are the criteria for judging which hermeneutics are permissible? Can I interpret the Bible through a Marxist or feminist or behaviouralist or maybe an LSD-based hermenautic? Who are you judge, man?

      This is the biggest error: “appealing to biblical authority does not tell you how to interpret the Bible.”


      Christianity is the teachings of Christ and the Apostles. The Bible is the best evidence of that teaching, and tradition the second best. Christ and the Apostles frequently interpreted the OT and instructed Christians how to judge truth. The Bible does tell you how to interpret the Bible. Any interpretation that contradicts the Bible, ie, Christ’s the the Apostle’s teaching, is not Christian because it does not come from Christ.

      How could it be otherwise? If Christianity doesn’t define the rules of the game for itself, and I can come in with goofball theories about interpretation that interpret the Bible differently than Christ and the Apostles, it makes the whole enterrpise pointless and impossible. The only criteria is made to be human reason, which Christ and the Apostles taught opposes God and is self-serving.

      Nice Trick.

      The impossibility of this can be seen by trying to do this in other contexts. “[A]ppealing to legal authority does not tell you how to interpret the Law.” The Law is not just there, it has to be interpreted. Ah, so when I go to court and argue that my interpretation of the law should be taken seriously, even though it contradicts the text of the Constitution, the framers explanations of the Constitution, and 200 years of prececents, I should be taken seriously and not fined for contempt. The Law, like Christ’s teaching, includes second order rules about how it should be interpreted and judged. Those rules do speak for themselves. Scripture interprets Scripture, just like Law determines for itself what laws have force.

      Say I bought an Ikea chair, and decide the manual is not authoritative on how to interpret the manual, and I decide to use other design manuals and my own sense of design aesthetics. I might end up with a chair, but it probably won’t be an Ikea chair.

      So here, the Bible dictates the permissible ways to interpret it. Christ and the Apostles believed in a literal Genesis, and Paul explicitly relied in the historicity of Adam in explaining the Gospel. The church has not deviated for 2000 years. Unless you have a new Gospel unknown to tradition, or you’ve dug up Adam’s parents to call the whole enterprise into doubt, you have offered no Christian basis to question Paul and Genesis. It’s anti-Christian to do so.

  3. “this issue is not about biblical authority. It’s about how the Bible is to be interpreted. It’s about hermeneutics.”

    And this, my friends, sums up the “problem”.

    Even though I live in this strange part of the world where creationism à la AIG is discarded even in conservative evangelical circles, I am always annoyed to see my doctrinal integrity questioned because I do not believe (and never have) the God created the world in 6 twenty-four hours days 4000 years ago.

  4. I always feel bad disagreeing with people from Biologos (or in the case of Enns, ex-Biologos), and even worse when I think that they’re using the same logical fallacies that they accuse YE people of using.

    Reading though Enns’s arguments, there are a few strong ones, and a few exceptionally weak ones. Yes, the Bible needs to be interpreted, and a “plain, literal interpretation” doesn’t mean that you run everything though Occam’s Razor and western pragmatism. No, evolution is not a religion, at least it wasn’t intended to be. And yes, you can believe in evolution and evangelicalism.

    But throwing out straw-men arguments and quick dismissals to refute critics isn’t all that logical, either. By phrasing arguments in the most black-and-white ways possible, and then devoting paragraphs (and Calvin and Hobbs and other mocking graphics), he’s falling into the usual problems that I’ve associated with YEers. The options aren’t “Adam or Evolution,” as I get the feeling he want to state. I’ve read other pro-evolution evangelicals who are comfortable with Adam, but he’s dismissive and almost belittling of this position — and even the concept.

    And speaking of dismissive, “What Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and the Puritans assumed about human origins is not relevant” is just that — despite what we says. Calling something irrelevant doesn’t make it so, and appealing to church history is a fair argument — specifically as it pertains to their understanding and belief in Adam. Old Earthers and Biologos people have done the exact same thing to suggest that YE ideas have problems, he need not be as dismissive. It’s not a conversation ender, true, but it’s also not an statement worthy of such derision.

    Personally, I know full well that there’s a paradox here, and one we may not be able to solve with any amounts of modern science or interpretation. For some reason, I’m okay with accepting paradox and mystery sometimes, and this is a position that Christians have had to maintain throughout centuries. That’s not to be anti-science, but rather accepting that we may not know the answer to this riddle any time soon.

    • Biologos people have done the exact same thing to suggest that YE ideas have problems, he need not be as dismissive. It’s not a conversation ender, true, but it’s also not an statement worthy of such derision.

      Well, I don’t really think the conversation we need to worry about is so much between the YEC and the Peter Enns of the world. I don’t think Enns is going to convince many of the YEC people because they are driven by dogma more than evidence. I believe Enns is more speaking to people who feel themselves torn by statements that say you have to choose science or the Bible. And, really, at some point, I think everyone comes to a junction where having continuing conversations with someone who refuses to admit they’re wrong on any point is just a waste of time.

      The one thing I’ll say regarding paradox and mystery is that there’s a big difference between those words and a flat out contradiction. We can’t, for example, say that Adam (as in the first human who ever lived) was really a historical figure because of the Biblical text and he wasn’t because of science. Both of those statements can’t be true.

      • I think everyone comes to a junction where having continuing conversations with someone who refuses to admit they’re wrong on any point is just a waste of time.

        I’d change this to “refused to admit they MIGHT be wrong”. Those folks drive me nuts. I admit I might be wrong on lots of things. Doesn’t mean you can change my mind with your evidence. But I am open to better evidence.

    • Having just read Enns’ The Evolution of Adam, I reject the assertion that Enns “almost belittl[es]” “pro-evolution evangelicals who are comfortable with Adam.” By no means. Enns belittles no one. What he does do, though, is carefully show that evangelicals who hold onto Adam and science, have had to fashion an “Adam” that Genesis simply oes not describe.

      I’m glad to see Enns get the attention he should here. It’s invigorating to read the work of a Christian who doesn’t hate inconvenient truth.

      Maybe I’m thinking too much of our US politics of late, but I’m really tired of finding that the dumbest guy in the room is always the loudest Christian.

      • What he does do, though, is carefully show that evangelicals who hold onto Adam and science, have had to fashion an “Adam” that Genesis simply oes not describe.

        So what are the implications of this?

        • Implications? They’re not good.
          Because, I think, at bottom they still want to see Adam and Eve as literal progenitors of the entire human race.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Personally, I know full well that there’s a paradox here, and one we may not be able to solve with any amounts of modern science or interpretation. For some reason, I’m okay with accepting paradox and mystery sometimes, and this is a position that Christians have had to maintain throughout centuries.
      — Justin

      Some months ago, Chaplain Mike commented that after the Industrial Revolution (hot on the heels of the Age of Reason), the idea spread to look at the Bible as an engineering textbook. Not only does an Age of Reason have no need of Unicorns, they have no need of Paradox and Mystery. (CM went on to state this as the origin of Dispensationalism, trying to reconcile every word of the Bible/KJV into a single chronology and encyclopedia of Fact Fact Fact.)

      A side comment of this from Slacktivist’s scene-by-scene Left Behind snark blog had to do with the effect of this on the weirdest book of the Bible, Revelation. Specifically, the End Time Prophecy checklist which assumes every event in Revelation is a single chronological checklist of Event, Event, Event. No paradox, no mystery, only a History Written in Advance. And how in adapting Revelation to make it Twenty-Minutes-into-the-Future “Realistic”, the writer(s) “abandoned the power of Myth and were left with a bad technothriller.”

      Contrast this with Lauren Faust’s relaunch of My Little Pony a year or two ago. The first scene of the first episode of the entire series begins with Myth — the Pony myth of The Mare in the Moon. A myth that in the introductory two-parter is shown to not only be true myth and mystery, but a prophecy fulfilled. Lauren Faust and her cartoon ponies understand the power of Myth and mystery, and these theologian types and activists do NOT.

      • Oh man. Look, it’s all about myth vs. western rationalism – just like Pinkie’s sixth sense. Just because we can’t explain it doesn’t mean it’s not true.

        I guess what I’m saying is — we should put the horse before Descarte.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          “Pinkie Pie is the Gate through which the Spheres meet…”
          — the Ponynomicon

  5. Joseph (the original) says

    I don’t think Enns is going to convince many of the YEC people because they are driven by dogma more than evidence.

    “…driven by dogma…” period. no evidence intended, implied, nor supplied. and no scientific evidence will be presented at the Creation Museum.

    the ‘creation’ of pseudo/quasi-scientific confabulations to support YEC dogma is where the shark jumped the tracks after evolving wheels, or some other possibility tossed out there to convince the gullible. i feel there is much more ‘believability’ holding to a YEC position without trying to scrunch up scientific ‘findings’ to bolster one’s faith. simply believe in the possibility, but it will only come across as silly when trying to play science experts while trying to ‘prove’ alternatives to the rapidly growing scientific findings.

    YEC dogma & modern science cannot play in the same sandbox since they will not agree on the rules or findings while digging there. and the YEC posturing then becomes the kooky viewpoint that is so easily dismissed as, well, kooky…

    re: Adam & human evolution. it could be that neither the bible or science will ‘prove’ what he/they were historically. seems like God not so concerned about such a thing. i mean He could have easily directed the first peoples to sufficiently preserve Adam’s body (they apparently had a lot of time to learn the process) & have it kept intact throughout succeeding generations as some of the early saints have been. heck, no problem! and preserved in such a way as to have DNA intact. all the ‘scientific’ details divinely communicated to our earliest ancestors because the bible was intended to be a ‘scientific’ reference manual(s).

    or it could be God is very pleased with progressive revelation of His creative creativity as people discover more & more intricate elements of this wonderful, awe-inspiring expanse of the cosmos & our place in it…

    • Joseph (the original) says


      and the theological implication of a deliberately deceitful God that had the creative idea to create a recent earth+universe that appears very, very, very old boggles my mind…

      instead of a God of revelation, we have a god of deliberate deception???

      all because such a deity is capable of doing such a thing & it is this very issue such a deity will use to separate the sheep created ex nihilo vs. those scraggly goats that evolved from some lower lifeform???

      not sure how such a deity could be considered trustworthy. the mental gymnastics/contortions needed to dismiss any scientific discovery, measurement, extrapolation as being completely baseless, false, deception, etc. the same as considering yes Virginia, all of the visible, measurable cosmos only looks old because God wants you to condemn all scientific pursuits as demonic…

      “Science & Tigers & Bears! Oh my!”

      • Joseph (the original) says

        ***2nd addendum***

        i think the intransigent position of the militant YECers about as near to a Christian superstition than any i have encountered in my faith journey. seems this could belong to Martha’s article that preceded this one…

        Lord, have mercy… 🙁

        • Excellent points (all of them). In some ways I feel as if I don’t have a dog in this fight. The fight between science and faith in the Roman Catholic Church is all too well known, but is now ANCIENT history. I am not asked to believe anything in Faith that can be disproven by science, logic, and math, blessedly. I could not accept any view that asked me to cloak my mind as a woman of science….and in fact, I am stirred to even greater Faith and Awe in the Creator by what I see in His world and the rules by which it operates.

          It is enough for me that God created this world and everything and everyone in it, by some process and through a time table known to Him alone. At some point, a human soul was breathed into existance by God, and the ability to make choices was part of this ensoulment that separated this person, made in the likeness of God, from the beasts around him who may not have apperared radically different externally.

          In Florida, we lived in a lovely neighborhood packed with families from Campus Crusade and similar fundamentalist Christians. The first time I heard that the fossils in the Grand Canyon were devil-made artifacts placed ensnare and mislead the faithfull, I laughed outloud……until that VERY akward instant that I realized that the neighbor speaking, complete with a Master’s degree….was NOT joking.

  6. plain meaning of the text.

    This is along the same lines as the term “common sense”. Both are based on your personal life experiences. Drop a Corvette and a supply of gas into a group of people living as in 1800 and their plain understanding of things and common sense will lead them down paths of thought and action which make no sense. Or do the same thing with a high school chemistry book. Neither the car or the book will make “sense” to anyone. And appealing to a plain or common sense understanding of either will give you bizarre results. How long before they figure out the gas goes into the funny opening on the side/rear. That you open via a level/button near the seat. Or do they just put oats and water in it? And so you give them the operators manual. Read one for your own car. Most of it assumes knowledge of things that did not exist 200 years ago. The word gas, if understood at all, would likely be taken to mean something like “air”.)

    The problems with “plain meaning of the text” in today’s world are the same. To come to the Ken Ham YEC position we have to take science back a few hundred years and ignore most of what has come since. Or warp it to mean something it doesn’t based on our life experiences (from 500 years ago).

    • Jack Heron says

      That’s a very good point, David. In order to understand the plain meaning of Genesis (if, indeed, we think that’s the best thing to do) we have to think ourselves into the heads of Israelites in the ancient Near East. Which is rather more difficult than ‘Read a modern English translation and believe what you, a 21st century American, think it says’.

  7. I like how Enns points out those things we all add to the text in our pursuit of whatever we want to believe about the earth. I had a similar conversation recently with someone who believes there was a global flood several thousand years ago. I pointed out that there are a millions unique species out there – of insects (scientists estimate there are between 1 and 10 million left to discover). Of course, there are animals as well. They are distributed over all continents, and some live in irreducibly complex symbiosis with their neighbors (cordyceps fungi come to mind). So, this person also had to believe in rapid species dispersion and evolution/speciation. They had never realized before what they were implying with their words. I think this kind of inspection is helpful.

    • I had never thought of this before. Excellent point. Or in other words, if the flood only happened several thousand years ago, how did the kangaroos get to Australia. And why are the types of animals in Australia so different to the rest of the world?

  8. The Previous Dan says

    When I first started reading this I wondered if it would be objective meta-observations regarding the debate or just a platform for Enns to reiterate his position. Unfortunately it turned out to be the latter. It should really be titled “Mistakes MADE BY THOSE WHO DISAGREE WITH ME in the Adam/Evolution Discussion.” That is unfortunate as I doubt this sort of thing really fosters understanding between the two extremes. Is his vision so tunneled that he doesn’t have a single critique for those of his own persuasion to consider? How about the tendency to cover their ears and shout “Flat Earther” at those who don’t agree to accept Genesis as myth. Both sides of this debate are guilty of battling straw men and attempting to shout down the opposition.

    • It might be more helpful to the discussion if you would point out some the false rhetoric Enns is using rather than to just assert that this is what he is doing.

      • The Previous Dan says

        Unless I’ve missed something, all the mistakes he lists are made by those who disagree with his interpretation. As I said, his article would be more objective if he would point out mistakes made by those who agree with his interpretation as well. THAT would foster better understanding between the two extremes.

      • The Previous Dan says

        “I’ll write a brief post about ‘problems to avoid if we want to get anywhere in this important discussion.’”

        This led me to believe Enns would be offering meta-observations to both sides in order to encourage a thoughtful and civil discussion.

    • It seems to me, though, that in this issue speaking of “sides” is kind of masking what’s going on. We’re not simply talking about a pure theological issue like the complentarian/egalitarian debate. We’re talking about science and how it relates to the Christian faith. The Young Earth people take the position that the majority of scientists in the fields of geology, astrophysics, biology, etc. are lying to us when they present their evidence. So if someone’s primary claim is that the other side are liars or not arguing in good, faith how exactly does one reason with them? Sure, there can be claims and counter-claims in science. That happens all the time. But at least there is generally an agreed upon method to get to the bottom of which claims are correct. When the people making one claiming are questioning those very methods, well, it seems all bets are off.

    • I guess what I’m getting is that I don’t think that Christians realize the extent to which scientists working in the fields I mentioned think that the YEC position is a total joke. And it’s not just non-Christian scientists that think this. Christian ones do to. To them, asking them to treat the YEC position respectfully is asking them to give validation to something they think is a completely ridiculous position. In other words, it isn’t going to happen.

      • And many non-Christians think that ALL Christians are YEC’s…….our faith gets defined by a small minority of believers, and the rest of us are left holding the bag and trying to expalin…

        • Well they do tend to speak out (YELL) more than the non YEC Christians.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            You get the same pheomenon in Furry Fandom.

            You can do only so much to distance & distinguish yourself from the LOUD crazies who spout off to everyone (especially media) that They Are One Of You and You’re Just Like Them. Especially when the crazies are usually no-life fanboys who can dedicate 24/7/365 to Their Cause without a job or life to get in the way. They can always outlast those of use who have jobs and lives.

            And the crazier and more dedicated you are, the louder and longer you yell.

    • My biggest issue with the concept of reasoned debate over this is with the people who follow Ken Ham and AIG. And lets be honest here, they have declared themselves to be the leaders in the battle to save the Christians from the evils of main stream science.

      Anyway here’s the key section of their statement of faith take from their web site:

      Here is the last bullet.
      By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record. Of primary importance is the fact that evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information.

      But what this statement fails to address or mention is that not everyone interprets Gen 1 in the exact same way they do. So you have two issues.

      1. Our AIG interpretation of scripture is the only valid one. (Listen to them talk about KJV sometime.)
      2. No matter what science or anyone discovers, our reading of the bible cannot be wrong.

      This is where most discussions I’ve watched or been involved in eventually die. With the above two points treated as absolute, there is no discussion. It’s all words filling air time till you get to this end point.

      • But David, let’s be fair here. In 1986 The National Academy of Sciences told the Supreme Court that the science “is not concerned with supernatural or occult explanations which are, by definition, excluded from the realm of science.” (citation below)

        So, while Ham and others might disregard any scientific discovery they don’t agree with, it would appear that modern science, by definition is not ready to deal with any involvement of God in the evolutionary process altogether. Are you ready to throw God out of the discussion completely? Because if not, well then, your scientific credentials are very much still in question.

        My point being, both sides seem to be at extremes at times, not just the YECers.

        • Yes. Let’s be fair.
          In 1986 The National Academy of Sciences told the Supreme Court that the science “is not concerned with supernatural or occult explanations which are, by definition, excluded from the realm of science.”


          The NAS and most all science oriented organizations don’t publish on theology. If they can’t explain something they tend to say so. And if theories about such things come up as strange or really out there, many times they are shot down. Science admits (real science) that there’s a lot they cannot explain.

          But Ken Ham and AIG claim a scientific basis for most of what they publish about the age of the earth/universe. YEC wants it both ways. YEC does publish what they call science. But only to the degree they can box it into their theology / reading of the Bible.

          • Understood, to a point. But, as Christians, we have to assume [i]some[/i] theological basis to our view of the origin of life, don’t we? But doing so, it appears, puts us firmly outside the realm of science. So I feel stuck. How can I put my eggs into the basket of institutions that start at the very beginning of their work assuming no God whatsoever? I have to imagine that has some bearing on their conclusions, because whether we want to admit it or not, much of science involves interpretation of observation.

            If we can accuse Ham of bad science, I still think we can accuse science of bad theology. Being quiet on the subject doesn’t give them a pass. Not believing in God would be a definitive example of bad theology, would it not? 🙂

            It’s as if God is not a God of miracles, of divine intervention, of passionate involvement in the being that is man. There is no room for that in science, and so I feel I have reason to be skeptical, that’s all.

          • @ Jerry

            “So I feel stuck. How can I put my eggs into the basket of institutions that start at the very beginning of their work assuming no God whatsoever? ”

            You might want to read Francis Collins’ book The Language of God. He points out that to assume that scientist assume that there is no God is in and of itself an incorrect assumption. Francis Collins by the way is an Evangelical, the prior head of the Human Genome Project and is currently the Director of the National Institutes of Health.

          • But, as Christians, we have to assume [i]some[/i] theological basis to our view of the origin of life, don’t we? But doing so, it appears, puts us firmly outside the realm of science. So I feel stuck.

            Why? Science has nothing but some very fuzzy theories on how things got from interstellar dust to DNA based simple life. And none of the theories have much of a following. So science says “We don’t know”. Belief in God is not a science issue. But even if God caused it why couldn’t God have done it by setting things in motion within the rules of the universe as created by God such that it took a billion or few years?

      • They should apply that second sentence in their statement to their own approach, methinks. It would seem they don’t see the Bible as evidence, subject to interpretation or themselves as fallible people.

        What is it with Christians treating the Bible as though it were the Quran?

      • David….

        These two bullet points are simply a variation of the old wall-sign/poster/souvenir carving from Pigeon Forge that all proclaim…..

        1. The BOSS is always right.

        2. If the BOSS is wrong, see rule #1.

        Makes short work of any discussion.

  9. I think Jung’s conception of myth would be pertinent to this conversation, though I am woefully inadequate to elaborate at length. Perhaps there is a Jungian analyst out there who could but my shot would be this:
    Myth is truth, not falsehood. Myth is generated like water from a spring that will not be stopped. It wells up out of the human condition to state the truth about things as they really are. A true myth is embued with power and life because God (“God” is my terminology in this case) creates the inspiration for it deep in the spirit. That’s why it has legs. It changes and adapts through the ages, is lost and reborn. It will not quit. Well, as I said, I am not qualified to go on at length but wish I could because my intuition is that therein lies the apex of the triangle that supersedes and joins the two dichotomous ideas of Genesis and evolution. Genesis is true. Evolution is true. Judging the language of the spirit through an empiricist’s scope is a hopeless and futile endeavor.

    • I like you, ChrisS.

      • Thank you. You made me laugh. That’s touching and kind. Thank you.

        • Not sure about the reconciling thing but I would read Craig’s comments below regarding myth. Jesus was a member of the human race or we are most to be pitied. Our faith is predicated on His human experience. That doesn’t mean that there is not a myth of the suffering savior that crops up at different times in different cultures. It is born out of us which is why we can embrace it.

    • I like your direction. See my comments below re. myth.

  10. Randy Thompson says

    When I read the creation account in Genesis, I think of it as a divinely inspired parable.

    Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, taught spiritual truth using stories–parables. I think we can safely assume that Jesus reflects his Father in this matter. God has given us a parable about creation and fall.

    Science asks questions about creation and comes up with answers, good, bad and indifferent. Theology asks questions about the fall and what the existence of a Creator means for us. Scientists work off of the text of (God’s) creation; theologians work off of what God has given us in Scripture, in all the limitations of its cultural contexts.

  11. Good article! Here’s some additional thoughts regarding the futility of timing debates.

    Time is relative, certainly to God. (A day is as a thousand years, and the reverse, to him.) Within our own universe it is variant–at the edge of the universe millions of years transpire while elsewhere only thousands (never mind black holes). I personally believe it is fruitless to be arguing six 24-hr days for creation (never mind its sequence) when it isn’t even until the fourth day that the means of defining such (the sun) has been created. Time is a function or factor of creation–God would have made it when he created the universe.

    For instance, say God accelerated the process of creation so that from his perspective a billion years transpires (fast forward, as it were) in what effectively is 24 hours to him? Is it a day, or is it a billion years? My point is . . . time is not absolute, so arguing absolutes with regard to time is meaningless. God is absolute, not his creation (and therefore, not time).

    Obviously God could have created everything in six days, six billion years, or in six billionths of a second. So why describe it (or do it) as a week? The point of the account is God models work through process and development, and sabbathing. And this is deemed good. It’s how and what we should be about in life. Frankly whether it was literally six 24-hour days is beside the point. Could have been when you have a truly transcendent and supernatural God . . . but that’s not the point, and it doesn’t matter.

    The truth of God’s creation is the point–God is the sovereign origin of it all, and he calls us to follow his model of good creation, measured by sabbath (i.e., not only doing/working for God’s glory, but being/contemplating for God’s glory, within time).

  12. And another thing . . . there is a difference between “fact” and “truth”; and it would be helpful to Christian discourse if we could keep our terms straight. The fact is, there is very little that we call “fact” that actually is fact. Rather, they’re often alleged truths, which (unlike facts) are subject to a person’s interpretation. Facts are what they are regardless of personal interaction; truth is all about personal interaction, interpretation, and application. A rock is a rock regardless of whether anyone ever knows of its existence; how it came to be and why it exists . . . that requires interpretation by people.

    There are myriad examples of non-factual truths throughout Scriptures: poetry, parables, and proverbs (3 Ps) for instance. Figurative language is not factual, and yet it is true (Jesus was less than factual when he represented himself as a door or a vine, and yet what he communicated was true, and profoundly more significant than any factual details).

    Genesis 1-2 is unquestionably unnaturally structured in its writing–it is purposefully structured with form and meter. It is poetic far more than intentionally historic or scientific. This is for the obvious reason that the people whom God inspired had no discipline or practice of codifying either history or science as we know them today. Whoever wrote down Genesis 1 and 2 (perhaps Moses, per tradition, though not at all necessarily–nothing in the inspired Scriptures themselves indicate or necessitate Moses’ authorship) was writing from the perspective and to an audience that had no precedent or relevance in writing histories or even conceiving of science. God condescended to iron-age humans by inspiring them to write according to language, culture, and knowledge of their time . . . in a form they could understand.

    As Genesis 1-2 plainly show just in form of writing, that had far less to do with the factual minutia that our modernist culture wants to anachronistically impose upon the text, and far more to do with language and form that would communicate truth to those people. When we observe the text from the distance of several millennia, we have to interpret–language, but also culture and historical context.

    So my need to understand the truth of Genesis 1-2 in terms of truth is about the text itself, not any scientific paradigms I might want to align it with. Frankly, I’m just as skeptical toward supposed scientific objectivity as I am about literalist traditions. I’m far more interested in authorial (especially God’s) intent than I am ensuring the words line up with what I might want it to literally mean. You might as well be protesting that a hymn is not true if it is written as anything but objectively factual and historical, and scientifically accurate. That is not its intent or purpose.

    The OT histories, and the Gospels and Acts, on the other hand, were clearly intended in their writing to be historical accounts.

    The Bible is an anthology of a variety of writing genres spanning centuries and cultures. God inspired writers with their own strengths, gifts, and settings for the very reason that they could speak to their own. And that’s God’s M.O.–rather than just stepping in with a glorified, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself,” God instead works with and through fallible, finite, and imperfect . . . unscientific (even) people.

    • Is there such a thing as history that is entirely factually pure? If all the details are factual accurate, how many factually accurate details have to be present to make the story true? If all the events are factually true, is the story they are placed in true? All to say that any empiricist/rationalist approach to history has limits.

  13. Myth has been invoked–I’m no great fan of Jung, though I’ve studied him. But my field of expertise is Literature, so I am a great believer in myth.

    That being said, I believe Genesis 1-3 was clearly not written (nor inspired by God) for the mere purpose of being taken as factual (as we mean by “factual” in our modernist sensibilities). When I say “factual” is irrelevant, I’m not saying that it couild not be. I’ll never argue that Genesis 1-3 could not have happened factually as described–I’d never argue any such thing for a truly sovereign and supernatural God. Myth, after all, does not mean fiction or false or a lie (not in the truest definition of the word–look it up in a good dictionary.) There are even pagan myths that have factual historicity to them–poetic myth does not mean “lie” or “fiction” even.

    So some want to protest, if you take Gen. 1-3 as mythical, where do you draw the line with the rest of Scripture? I simply respond, pretty close to where everyone else does . . . because EVERYONE has to draw lines. We all have to interpret (hence the apt discussion re. hermeneutics).

    For instance, the Gospel accounts have foundational elements that are common to many myths from ancient history–this though the Gospels are indisputably written as histories, in a time and culture that understood and practiced the recording of history. (That’s one legitimate way to draw lines.) Luke even expressly states that historicity is his purpose. (That’s another.) Thus the Gospel story is as C. S. Lews described: the myth that was fact. That is, what all other stories in ancient mythology described and wanted of a god becoming a man, God actualized in history.

    The Genesis 1-3 account has nothing resembling the factual and objectively observable elements that the Gospels do. I suppose I can go into an exposition of Genesis 1-2, showing the structure and form, utilization of cadence and thematic repetition being far more significant in terms of the sequence of how it is described happening, and compare that to ancient mythologies. It would show that this form was how any serious communication of creation, and why things are as they are, would be done through poetic myth. Cultures of that era never communicated such grand and meaningful truths by way of mere historical anecdotes.
    If God were to communicate to iron-age (or earlier) people through historical records comparable to how he inspired the Gospel writers 2,000 or more years later, it would have been meaningless to them . . . though perhaps more accessible to us, 4,000+ years later. But that’s the point, isn’t it? The Bible isn’t just about us.

    Still–I’m not saying the words being used do not allow for anything historical. I’m saying the words are not written for that purpose. Consider Longefllow’s Paul Revere poem: it could be that it happened exactly as described. Regardless, that’s not Longfellow’s purpose in writing it as he did. We can argue on details whether they may or may not have happened as detailed in the text, I suppose. But the facts are not what make a poem or song or myth true. There are even myths that never happened but are nonetheless true (I don’t believe this to be the case necessarily with Gen. 1-3, but the point is still valid).

    Obviously the language used for describing a work week are in terms of God’s work week. The geocentric work week didn’t even exist at least until well into the creation (4 days at least). The clearly explicit meaning is that these starts and ends of days were days in God’sterms, not humans’. Humans and the earth didn’t even exist, nor did the universe, when God’s work week began.

    This, per my hermeneutic, is simply the plain, straightforward logic and meaning of the text, without any need to bring in cultural evangelical biases, cosmologies, or physics into the discussion.

    • Indeed. My point about myth does not preclude the possibility of an actual Adam on the ground; not at all. In fact I tend to think there was an Adam. I just think the myth is more important in this case than the character. The essence of Adam is alive to this day and that is the critical importance of retelling the story and having it written down. I really appreciate your analysis of the historical nature of the gospel stories. Without an empirical, physical Jesus of Nazareth we might as well eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.

    • “Still–I’m not saying the words being used do not allow for anything historical. I’m saying the words are not written for that purpose.”


  14. unless you have faith like a child you can not enter the kingdomof heaven
    read gen 1-3 to a child then ask them how God created and how many days it took
    then remember the foolishness of the message preached that saves our wretched souls
    does God really save by looking to his son hanging on a tree beaten beyond recognition?
    our idolatrous hearts cause many problems, even after we are called out of darkness

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And this means just what?
      Non-sequitir Salvation Ramble?

      • Joseph (the original) says

        When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 1Cor 13:11

  15. If without evolution there would be no questioning of the historicity of Adam, then prepare to find a way out of the corner you’ve painted yourself into before Mohler figures it out.

    • Genesis doesn’t make sense as a strictly historical narrative. That takes evolution out of the argument. There has got to be more to the words of Genesis than a history lesson or a scientific journal. One can leap into faith or accept the an alleged paradox, but at some point you’re telling your brain it isn’t seeing the logical problem of making the text be a literal scientific or historical record. I question how that assault to the intellect ultimately affects how we view the gospel: if we are forced to accept an irrational view of Genesis, is acceptance of the Gospel anything more? However, if Genesis can be accepted based upon its proper context without checking ones brain in at the door, then the Gospel can be received within its proper context.

      It doesn’t mean faith is not without its mysteries. If we equate mystery with irrationalism, then we’re done. As Einstein wrote, “Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in point of fact, religious.”

      I would not consider Einstein irrational.

  16. Christiane says

    The Creation . . . and the ‘Adam’ Event
    No, I don’t have any problem with evolution as ‘how God did it’ . . . not at all

    But I think there was an ‘Adam’ who received from God a ‘soul’, an eternal soul.
    And with the coming of the Christ Event, something given by God to Adam was reclaimed through the power of the Incarnation, the Passion of Our Lord, and the Resurrection, as expressed in the Orthodox prayer on Holy Saturday, this:

    “The Lord’s descent into the underworld

    Something strange is happening- – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness.
    The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep.
    The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began.

    God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
    He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep.

    Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve.

    The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory.
    At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone:
    “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.”

    He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying:
    “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

    I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake.
    I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell.

    Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.
    Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image.
    Rise, let us leave this place,
    for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

    For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

    See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you.
    See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image.
    On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back.
    See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

    I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours.
    My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell.
    The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

    Rise, let us leave this place.
    The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise.
    I will not restore you to that paradise,
    but I will enthrone you in heaven.

    The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open.
    The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.”

    (From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday)

  17. Not sure I have a logical answer to that Damien. Sorry. What can I say? I’m not scholar, I’m a painter. I’m just looking for what works. Maybe there’s just a comfort in believing he was an empirical character but as stated before, the myth does not preclude the possibility of the actual human character or as in the case of Christ the myth was born out of the human character. Granted, what I am saying may not be coming out completely congruous but I reserve the right at this late hour to drink my wine and go to bed. Perhaps we can flesh it out more thoroughly at a future date. Slainte!

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