Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Adam and Eve question for Evangelicals

The issue of biological evolution and how Muslims will reconcile science and religion will say a lot about the future of scientific thinking in the Muslim world. The same is true for the many of the Evangelical groups in the US. The interpretation of Adam and Eve story is one of the key factors that give people pause about human evolution. Of course there are ways around it: For example, one can take the story a metaphorical one, or consider Adam and Eve and one of the first homo sapiens. Here is an NPR story (7 minutes) of some Evangelical Christians who are breaking away for science (and evidence) without abandoning their fundamental religious views:
But now some conservative scholars are saying publicly that they can no longer believe the Genesis account. Asked how likely it is that we all descended from Adam and Eve, Dennis Venema, a biologist at Trinity Western University, replies: "That would be against all the genomic evidence that we've assembled over the last 20 years, so not likely at all." 
Venema says there is no way we can be traced back to a single couple. He says with the mapping of the human genome, it's clear that modern humans emerged from other primates as a large population — long before the Genesis time frame of a few thousand years ago. And given the genetic variation of people today, he says scientists can't get that population size below 10,000 people at any time in our evolutionary history.
To get down to just two ancestors, Venema says, "You would have to postulate that there's been this absolutely astronomical mutation rate that has produced all these new variants in an incredibly short period of time. Those types of mutation rates are just not possible. It would mutate us out of existence."
Venema is a senior fellow at BioLogos Foundation, a Christian group that tries to reconcile faith and science. The group was founded by Francis Collins, an evangelical and the current head of the National Institutes of Health, who, because of his position, declined an interview.
And Venema is part of a growing cadre of Christian scholars who say they want their faith to come into the 21st century. Another one is John Schneider, who taught theology at Calvin College in Michigan until recently. He says it's time to face facts: There was no historical Adam and Eve, no serpent, no apple, no fall that toppled man from a state of innocence.
"Evolution makes it pretty clear that in nature, and in the moral experience of human beings, there never was any such paradise to be lost," Schneider says. "So Christians, I think, have a challenge, have a job on their hands to reformulate some of their tradition about human beginnings."
It is great that at least some Evangelicals are taking this stance. I think one can easily see similar issues with the Muslims world as well - and we see some of the similar responses as well:
But others say Christians can no longer afford to ignore the evidence from the human genome and fossils just to maintain a literal view of Genesis.
"This stuff is unavoidable," says Dan Harlow at Calvin College. "Evangelicals have to either face up to it or they have to stick their head in the sand. And if they do that, they will lose whatever intellectual currency or respectability they have."
"If so, that's simply the price we'll have to pay," says Southern Baptist seminary's Albert Mohler. "The moment you say 'We have to abandon this theology in order to have the respect of the world,' you end up with neither biblical orthodoxy nor the respect of the world."
Mohler and others say if other Protestants want to accommodate science, fine. But they shouldn't be surprised if their faith unravels.
You can listen to the full story here.

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