An Atheist Evolutionist Asks a Good Question of Dr. Peter Enns

It seems that Young Earth Creationists are not the only ones who find BioLogos’ attempt to “reconcile science and faith” lacking. One atheist and evolutionist, Dr. Jerry Coyne, believes very strongly that evolution and Christianity are not at all compatible. In a recent article, Dr. Coyne challenges what he sees as BioLogos’ “sucking up to evangelical Christians, or giving them ludicrous ways to comport their faith with scientific truth—ways that are themselves unscientific (e.g., the historicity of Adam and Eve).”

First, Dr. Coyne reiterates his concern with BioLogos’ basic approach:

For a long time now BioLogos has ignored its initial mission of trying to convert evangelical Christians to evolution. It didn’t work—as I predicted—because those Christians know that if you buy Darwinian evolution, then you have to see much of the Bible as either fictional or at best metaphorical. And if you do that, then where does the metaphor stop? Was Jesus a metaphor for how we humans can save ourselves?

Evangelicals won’t buy that, nor do they like what they see as the other philosophical accoutrements of evolution: our status as mere evolved beasts like gibbons, the lack of a human soul, the absence of an external purpose or meaning to our lives, or of a God-imposed morality, and so on.

He goes on to quote from an article by Dr. Peter Enns on the subject of the Bible as metaphor where Dr. Enns attempts to show a similarity between Jesus’ parables and the “stories” in Genesis:

If this is how God chooses to communicate at the incarnation—the very climax and epicenter of his story—we should not be surprised to see God painting vivid portraits elsewhere in Scripture. This is especially true of Genesis and creation. Something so fundamental to God’s story may need to be told in a way that transcends the limitations of purely intellectual engagement. Genesis may be written more to show us—by grabbing us with its images than laying out a timeline of cause and effect events—that God is the central figure on the biblical drama.

Dr. Coyne isn’t buying it:

Most of us see the Bible as a total fiction. The great tragedy of Enns, and of accommodationists like him, is that he can’t buy that whole hog: because of childhood indoctrination or a desire to believe what is comforting, a Biblical scholar convinces himself that part of a fictional book really is fiction, though it teaches timeless truths, while other parts or non-negotiable fact. And he has no way, despite his Ph.D. in Biblical scholarship, to do that. Tell us, Dr. Enns: if Genesis was just a useful myth rather than truth, how do you know that Jesus was the Son of God and came back from the dead?

When Young Earth Creationists ask the question of where theistic evolutionists draw the line between reality and metaphor, they are ridiculed for over-reacting. Theistic evolutionists roll their eyes and say of course we believe that Jesus was actually resurrected. But notice again that the question keeps being raised and not just by the YEC crowd. If we can’t trust Genesis to be historical fact, then how can we trust that the Gospels are either?

21 thoughts on “An Atheist Evolutionist Asks a Good Question of Dr. Peter Enns

  1. Andy Wortman says:

    Coyne also wrote something about Enns’ views of Adam back in January here:

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/pete-enns-biologos-and-adam-and-eve-why-accommodationism-wont-work/

    In short, you have Coyne telling Enns to stop straddling the fence. Enns, in turn, has more or less called for Jack Collins to get off the fence in his review of Collins’ book here:

    http://www.rca.org/Page.aspx?pid=7796

    Once you allow for “deep time” you have opened the door to all kinds of trouble (especially for your doctrines of Scripture and Christology, not just Anthropology) and Coyne is clearly pointing that out. I also find it interesting that Pete Enns (who is now teaching at Eastern University – think Tony Campolo and Ronald Sider) is sounding more and more like Brian Maclaren, and Maclaren, in turn, is sounding more and more like John Shelby Spong (just compare the contents of A New Kind of Christianity with Why Christianity Must Change or Die). Anyone up to a class on “creation spirituality” or “ecofeminism” at the local United Church of Christ? Perhaps a discussion of Carl Jung and a Yoga class at the local Unitarian-Universalist “fellowship?” Maybe we can meet at a local humanist chapter and discuss a book published by Prometheus Press on why religious “indoctrination” of children – especially in things like “young-earth creationism” – is psychologically abusive? There appears to be a certain logic to history and perhaps the scandalous bugbears of a “young earth” and “flood geology” don’t look so bad after all!

  2. Kevin N says:

    I’m no fan of Enns, but the fact that Coyne thinks Enns is nuts does not help make a case against Enns. Coyne will reject any argument for Christianity regardless of who it comes from.

    • Andy Wortman says:

      Kevin,

      HL Mencken also thought the modernists of his day were nuts. His “hostile witness” was useful in showing the consistency of Machen’s critique of liberalism. Call it what you will, the trajectory of Enns, et al, is not that of the Bible itself and historic Christianity and Coyne and others know it. What’s so disturbing is that it takes an atheist to point this out and wake us up. For years many leaders in evangelicalism, and in Reformed circles, let Enns and others sow their seeds of doubt in the seminaries and we have a whole generation that now finds Enns arguments very compelling.

  3. TJ says:

    First time on your blog but I wanted to point out a couple of things. I think there’s a danger in the argument that Genesis 1 has to be taken literally or the whole bible goes out the window. For one, the notion that Genesis 1 isn’t literal is not new. There is a long history of people (including Augustine, Warfield), who didn’t think it was literal history. So to say that such an interpretation is a compromise or to reject the authority of scripture is to introduce a new standard of biblical interpretation and is, in a way, a compromise because of evolution.

    The second thing is that reformed hermeneutics have always argued that scripture has to be interpreted in accordance with the genre in question. So to say that every sentence of scripture has to be taken literally or none of it can means that all the Psalms and prophets must be taken literally.

    I don’t think that’s what you’re advocating, by the way. My point is simply that it’s unfair to apply a new or more strict interpretive principle to Gen 1 than the rest of the Bible. What is perfectly fair is to debate the genre of that chapter because it is so unusual in so many ways.

    • Rachel Miller says:

      TJ~ Using textual clues, as well as the very important reformed hermeneutical of Scripture interpreting Scripture (Jesus, Paul, Hebrews), it is fairly clear that the genre of Genesis is history.

      Also, Genesis as history was and continues to be the accepted approach by the Church. This is not in any way a “new standard of biblical interpretation.”

      • Kevin N says:

        Most conservative old-Earthers (C. John Collins, Hugh Ross, and many others) would agree that the genre of Genesis is some sort of history. Some mistakes that young-Earth creationists make in regards to genre include:

        1) Simplifying the issue of genre. To YECs (at least in a lot of their publications), everything is either “historical narrative” or “poetry.” The Scriptures are much more complex than this. Genesis 1 is clearly a narrative, as opposed to a poem. But it has a pretty unique structure to it; not the structure of poetry like one finds in Psalms or Proverbs, but not the type of structure one finds in most historical material in the Bible either. In fact, there really is no parallel to the Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 structure elsewhere in the Old Testament.

        2) Assuming that because the opening chapters of Genesis is history, all events must be taken “literally.” An example of this is the creation of Adam out of the dust of the Earth. Must this be taken “literally,” meaning that God took some soil and fashioned a man, or can it be taken figuratively (as in Job 4:19; Job 33:6; Ps 103:14), meaning that God made Adam from the same stuff as the rest of creation. Another example is the curse of thorns. Genesis 3 does not state that this is when thorns were created, but YECs often paint it that way. A non-literal (and more natural) way to read the text is that now Adam’s work—and that of his descendants—would be frustrated as a result of his disobedience.

        3) Assuming that anyone who reads Genesis in a non-literal fashion is denying its historicity. This is simply not true. Just because one doesn’t believe Moses had a clock in one hand and a calendar in the other as he wrote doesn’t mean they don’t believe Genesis.

        4) Labeling anyone who disagrees with their literal-historical-narrative-with-no-symbolism interpretation as a compromiser and slippery slope liberal. This is the Ken Ham approach, and that of many of his followers, but it is not true.

        As an old-Earth Christian, I believe Genesis from the very first verse. I believe that God created the universe from nothing in an orderly manner, that he created Adam and Eve as the first humans (the process is left somewhat vague, unless one is a hyper-literalist), that they sinned, and that we all bear the mark of that sin. In other words, I believe everything that Genesis (and the rest of the Bible) teaches about creation. Where is the compromise?

      • TJ says:

        Rachel, what I said was that to treat the 6/24 view as a test of orthodoxy is a new standard. To assume that anyone with a different view of that one chapter must reject the rest of the Bible is a new standard. I didn’t in any way argue that the 6/24 view hasn’t been the majority view in church history.

    • jilldomschot says:

      Adding to what Kevin said–the creation story in the Bible takes a chiastic form. It’s really fascinating when you study it in that way. I think one thing should be noted. Genesis is a book of history, but not a book of science. As a book of history, it gives us only the relevant information–as in, info that God considered relevant for us. I’ve always been slightly suspicious of young earth creationism from that standpoint. For example, how many generations does the geneology skip over? Or, what came before our creation? Was there an epoch of time that lasted for eons before God created what we know of as the heaven and earth? Is this why astronomers have detected light from stars that are 13 billion light years away from us? Or did God, perhaps, create the universe with apparent age? I don’t know because the Bible doesn’t answer these questions for me.

  4. fivepointer says:

    TJ writes,
    For one, the notion that Genesis 1 isn’t literal is not new. There is a long history of people (including Augustine, Warfield), who didn’t think it was literal history.

    No. There isn’t any “long history” of people reading Genesis allegorically. There is a history of a handful allegorists reading Genesis as allegory. The allegorical hermeneutics they brought to the Bible gave them those interpretations. Besides, Augustine wasn’t arguing to accommodate deep time opponents like Warfield was. He still believed the earth was just a few thousand years old.

    continuing,
    The second thing is that reformed hermeneutics have always argued that scripture has to be interpreted in accordance with the genre in question.

    Indeed. And the “genre” of Genesis is historical narrative. So we understand and believe Genesis to be a historical account of God creating in history. Just like the Gospels are a historical account of Jesus’s ministry on the earth in Israel. Do a search for Stephen Boyd who did a detailed statistical analysis of the language of Genesis 1 that confirmed what has always been believed by Christians regarding Genesis, that it is historical narrative.

    continuing,
    My point is simply that it’s unfair to apply a new or more strict interpretive principle to Gen 1 than the rest of the Bible.

    Understanding Genesis to be historical narrative is neither new, nor is it strict. Its the common, normal way to understand any literature. Were the Westminister divines mistaken when they wrote in 4.1 that the earth was created in the space of 6 days? Or the framers of the Philadelphia Confession and the London Baptist Confession, because they both affirm the same things as well.

    • TJ says:

      “Besides, Augustine wasn’t arguing to accommodate deep time opponents”

      This is my point. The assumption that anyone who takes any view other than the 6-24 is accommodating evolution is just that, an assumption. Just as Augustine took this view because he thought it was the correct view, so have many others such as Futato and Poythress.

      2nd, I don’t agree at all that the genre of Genesis 1 is clear cut or certain. I definitely do not agree that its genre is “just like the Gospels” at all. I’m familiar with Boyd’s analysis and don’t find it to be a convincing argument. I also object to forcing all of Genesis into one Genre. Doing this assumes that someone who doubts that Genesis 1 is historical narrative must also reject the rest of Genesis. Again, this is simply an assumption and frequently used as a straw man argument. Genesis 1 is probably the most unique chapter in the Bible and is unlike anything else in Genesis, the rest of which has all of the markers of normal narrative history.

      Finally, my point clearly was not that taking Genesis 1 as historical narrative is new but that making this a standard for orthodoxy is new. No one questioned the orthodoxy of a person who believed in the deity of Christ and a literal, historical resurrection because they had a different view of Genesis until the last 100 years or so.

      • Kevin N says:

        Well put TJ.

        The first time I read Boyd’s analysis I had this picture in my mind of Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society reading a statistical analysis of poetry to his class, and then having his students rip the pages out the textbook. Boyd divided Scripture into “historical narrative” and “poetry” and discovered that Genesis 1 is much more like the historical passages (e.g. most of Genesis, 1&2 Samuel, etc.) than it is like Psalms. Somehow his analysis failed to recognize the uniqueness of the layout of Genesis 1. It isn’t poetry, but it isn’t historical narrative either. It is something different.

        Another point about historical passages in the Bible — Many passages that read chronologically to us as 21st century Westerners are clearly not in historical order when examined more closely. Try reading the Gospels or Jeremiah (or a number of other passages) as “literal” consecutive history and you will go bonkers.

      • Kevin N says:

        Rachel,

        I didn’t say the opening chapters of Genesis are non-historical. A passage does not have to be “historical narrative” in order to be historical; compare for example Judges 4 and 5. One passage is the historical narrative description of Deborah’s victory, the other is a poetic rendition of the same. Both are historical, but they use different means of telling the story.

        Genesis 1 is historical, in that it describes events that really happened. Most OEC interpretations (e.g. day-age of Hugh Ross or analogical days of Collins) state this. The difference between the YEC and these OEC interpretations is the degree to which the events are “literal” as opposed to something else. The YEC interpretation leaves almost no room for symbolism, while the OEC interpretations give more weight to the nuances of literary genre.

  5. Wilfred A. Bellamy, Ph.D. says:

    Isn’t there a correlative issue in this dialogue? If Scripture is trustworthy, and I hold to that truth, how can I now trust men of renown who have joined their voices to those of Biologos. It seems to me that they have betrayed my trust by violating the “All Scripture …” of 2 Timothy 3:16. So what am I to make of their other publications?

    • Kevin N says:

      Not all who write for BioLogos (e.g. Timothy Keller) necessarily endorse everything written by other BioLogos authors.

      The Fundamentalist approach is to throw out everything contaminated by those they disagree with. If the age of the Earth and evolution are litmus tests for orthodoxy, then we must exclude works by Keller and all other compromisers, such as Francis Schaeffer, John Piper, Charles Spurgeon, J. Gresham Machen, and (the worst of the bunch) C.S. Lewis.

  6. Fred Butler says:

    Kevin writes,
    I believe that God created the universe from nothing in an orderly manner, that he created Adam and Eve as the first humans (the process is left somewhat vague, unless one is a hyper-literalist),

    The process is left somewhat vague? It is rather clear to me. God created Adam supernaturally in a moment of time. I’ll even grant your description of “dust of the earth” to mean the same stuff the earth was created from. The point being is that God fashioned man instantaneously, in a supernatural manner, not through the process of “pre-adamic” men.

    that they sinned, and that we all bear the mark of that sin. In other words, I believe everything that Genesis (and the rest of the Bible) teaches about creation. Where is the compromise?

    Let me outline two:
    The impact of death is one serious compromise. I know the typical OEC response is to say it was spiritual death and that animal death was there before Adam sinned and that it was “good.”

    However, this diminishes what the Bible tells us about death in general. That it is an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26) that will be banished from the new world at that Resurrection. There will be “no more death” as it says in Rev. 21:4. If “death” was a good agent, why is it no longer there? Why is it spoken about as “an enemy?” An enemy only to man? But to everything else it’s good? I’m not buying such an explanation.

    Death also causes untold amounts of suffering in a pre-cursed world. OEC tend to see pre-Adam sin death as a creative element that providentially shaped life in the world, but such an explanation wrecks havoc on one’s overall theology of death, sin, redemption and renewal. Through out the OT, death is spoken about as a destroyer, particularly in the form of famine and disease. One that not only destroys human life, but also the ground and all animal life.

    Next, the genealogies specifically link Adam’s direct creation to the time of Jesus. Luke’s genealogy in chapter 3 specifically does this, and he builds upon a number of other genealogies found in Gen. 10, 11 and 1 Chron. 1-9. They are designed to anchor redemptive history in time and space and a real history of the world beginning at creation. I would even grant the OEC argument that there are a few “gaps” scattered among those names, but not gaps of thousands of years that OEC need to have in order to accommodate what modern archaeological historians claim is true about man’s origins on the earth. In other words, Adam wasn’t created 20,000 years ago.

    • Kevin N says:

      Fred,

      The simple Biblical truth is that none of the passages used by young-Earth creationists to “prove” that animals died before the fall (Gen 3, Rom 5, Rom 8, 1 Cor 15) actually say anything whatsoever about animal death. It is the YECs who are reading something into the text, not the OECs.

      Is death (spiritual and physical) an enemy for humans? Certainly. Would Adam have lived forever without death if he had not sinned? This is also a certainty, but it is not clear from Scripture that this would have happened automatically; otherwise what is the point of God placing the Tree of Life in the garden?

      I don’t like animal death either, but the silence of the Scriptures on the topic means that one cannot be dogmatic on whether or not they died before the fall. If a nematode (microscopic soil worm) died before the fall when an elephant stepped on the soil, did this violate God’s goodness? How about if a fish died before the fall? If you answer “fish did not die before the fall” then why did the risen Lord Jesus Christ eat fish? One would think that in the resurrection Christ was living as if in eternity. The YEC arguments for animal death before the fall start to sound a bit like “If I were God…” rather than “The Bible says…”

      Believing in an old Earth does not compromise the integrity and truthfulness of Scripture; in fact I think old-Earthers often read the Bible more carefully than the young-Earthers do. One cannot lump all old-Earthers in with Enns, and Coyne’s babblings are irrelevant to whether YEC is a superior Biblical reading over OEC interpretations.

  7. David Palmer says:

    In raising the spectre of Darwinian evolution you do have to draw a distinction between guided and unguided evolution – there is a real difference. I assume Biologos and Dr Enns(?) argue for guided Darwinian evolution whereas Dr Coyne for unguided evolution. There is a big difference, certainly to the extent that it would not nr

  8. David Palmer says:

    Just to finish the point I was making when I pressed wrong button ….

    It would not be correct to assume that a person or organisation espousing guided Darwinian evolution must see much of the Bible as either fictional or at best metaphorical. Whilst I’m not an evolutionist myself I can imagine a conservative evangelical holding to guided Darwinian evolution treating at most the the first 11 chapters of Genesis “metaphorically”, is a long way short of “much of the Bible”.

    I recommend Al in Plantinga’s recently published “Where the conflict really lies”. Don’t be put off by his acceptance of guided Darwinian evolution – his dismantling of the arguments of people like Dawkins, Dennett, Coyne is very powerful and usable whether we are YEC, old earth creationists or adopt guided Darwinian evolution.

  9. Jerry says:

    Rachel,

    Excellent post. I’ve interacted with a man who was an economist for the Carter administration, whose brother studied under Reinhold Niehbaur, & also whose father was a professor at also an opponent of Machen’s at Princeton. When I asked him about Jesus’s resurrection he became indignant, as if that was his business, and as if it counted for nothing

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