BioLogos’ “Vision for Change”

In March, Dr. Tim Keller hosted BioLogos’ third Theology of Celebration workshop at the Harvard Club in New York City. Unlike the previous workshops, this workship did not conclude with a statement but with an “urgent desire to bring about change.” What needs to change? The sentiment at the workshop was that the church is in danger because so many pastors believe or even accept the possibility that the earth is less than 10,000 years old. Apparently, young earth creationism is the new “great evangelical disaster.”

While BioLogos states that they value “gracious dialogue with those who hold other views,” in their articles and interviews, they often seem quite dismissive or even hostile towards those who disagree, especially proponents of Young Earth Creation (YEC) and Intelligent Design (ID). They are especially distressed that despite all the “evidence” in favor of evolution so many evangelicals are still clinging to literalistic interpretations of Genesis.

BioLogos defines Young Earth Creationists (YEC) as denying “the revelation of God in nature and the gift of science.” Dr. Karl Giberson, formerly VP of BioLogos, believes that Young Earth Creationists represent an “intellectually impoverished parallel culture” that drives the “best and brightest evangelicals out of the church”:

Survey results recently reported by Christianity Today clarify once again the sober truth that evangelicals are not making much progress in accepting well-established mainstream scientific ideas about origins. Particularly disturbing is the finding that only 27 percent of evangelical pastors “strongly disagree” with the statement that the earth is 6,000 years old. A higher number “strongly agree” that the earth is just 6,000 years old, a conclusion refuted by mountains of evidence. Seven in 10 evangelical pastors “strongly disagree” that “God used evolution to create people.” …

The dismissive and even hostile approach to science taken by evangelical leaders like Ken Ham accounts for the Barna finding above. In the name of protecting Christianity from a secularism perceived as corrosive to the faith, the creationists are unwittingly driving the best and brightest evangelicals out of the church — or at least into the arms of the compromising Episcopalians, whom they despise. What remains after their exodus is an even more intellectually impoverished parallel culture, with even fewer resources to think about complex issues.

According to BioLogos, it’s not just the YEC that deny “science.” In an interview between Dr. Karl Giberson and Dr. Francis Collins, they dismiss the idea that proponents of Intelligent Design are conducting research:

Karl Giberson: What do you think of this project that the Discovery Institute has launched, with a laboratory where they want to do genuine scientific research, with their own in-house scientists? That’s a very strange development.

Francis Collins: It is very hard for me to imagine what they will do. Science by its very nature ought to be unfettered by any particular perspective on what these right answers are supposed to be. And yet here you are setting up this scientific circumstance that has as its goal to support intelligent design theory. That is counter to the way that science has to be conducted. And furthermore, as everybody has pointed out, intelligent design has this major fundamental flaw. It has no predictive value that anyone can discern. And it has no scientific strategy to demonstrate the correctness of its position because it’s implying divine supernatural intervention, which by definition science isn’t really able to establish. It’s the wrong set of tools.

So, rather than viewing those who disagree as “partners in the conversation,” proponents of YEC and ID are seen as barriers to the BioLogos goal of harmonizing evolutionary science and Christianity. As Dr. Falk wrote:

Should we try to convince all of the non-scientifically inclined evangelicals to cease believing that Adam and Eve are the first human beings? That would almost certainly be futile at this time—there is no point in trying. Besides it could harm their faith. What the church can, and in my opinion must do, however, is to make it clear that there are two ways in which evangelicals view this story. One is historical, the other, allegorical. To publicly acknowledge that and to make it clear that the latter view does not in any way disengage an evangelical from their faith would be of considerable significance. Let’s allow both views to co-exist in evangelicalism for now. I am convinced that we can eliminate the barrier by simply admitting that there are many deeply committed Christians who believe that many elements of the story of Adam and Eve is not historical. I think we need to tell our children that at a young age and I think we need to show them why there are committed Christians on both sides. It also would be good to show them why the historicity of Adam and Eve is not foundational to faith. (emphasis added)

Dr. Tim Keller, host of the most recent BioLogos Theology of Celebration workshop, said that it’s “the job of pastors” to develop a BioLogos narrative to combat YEC:

Few Christian colleges or seminaries teach young earth creationism (YEC), participants noted during discussion groups. But less formal, grassroots educational initiatives, often centered on homeschooling, have won over the majority of evangelicals. “We have arguments, but they have a narrative,” noted Tim Keller. Both young earth creationists and atheistic evolutionists tell a story tapping into an existing cultural narrative of decline. To develop a Biologos narrative is “the job of pastors,” Keller said.

Along those lines, BioLogos has recently announced a new grants program, Vision for Change, to focus on ways pastors and other church leaders can help their congregations learn to accept the “truth of evolution”:

As our regular readers well know, the majority of evangelical Christians reject one of the most well-established of scientific theories—evolution. Evolution lies at the heart of many scientific disciplines; it is as fundamental to biology as 2 + 2 = 4 is to mathematics or as E = mc2 is to physics. If these basic truths were found to be false, entire disciplines would collapse. To the majority of Evangelicals, however, an anti-evolutionary view of origins is equally fundamental. In their view, it affects how we read Scripture and understand the Gospel itself—the very heart of our identity as Christians. If evolution were found to be true, it would be disturbing indeed.

While Christian scholars and scientists have actively worked on evolutionary creation and related topics for decades, their work has mostly failed to leave the ivory tower, creating a vacuum in the church. Well-meaning public figures have moved into the vacuum to proclaim that much is at stake if Christians ever yield to mainstream science. These figures preach that scriptural authority, Christian theology, and Christian morals and values will all collapse if believers accommodate their thinking to the discoveries of “man’s historical science.”

It’s time for things to change.

Why is it time for things to change? Because BioLogos believes that if the church doesn’t begin to accept evolution as fact and work to reconcile this “truth” with the Bible, then the church will lose its relevance and impact on the culture. It may even drive believers from the church. In light of the March meeting in NYC and these other statements, it appears very clearly that Biologos has an agenda. Dr. Falk sums it up this way:

We in the BioLogos community urge the Church not to surrender the evangelicalism tent to American fundamentalism. There is far too much at stake. …

We’ll exist within the tent together for awhile. Eventually, I think even the fundamentalists will come to see that they need to allow science books in their library and fundamentalism will undergo its own evolution.

Biologos may want to dialogue for a while, but what they really want is to enshrine evolution as a new dogma for evangelicals.

BioLogos Conference: Hosted by Dr. Tim Keller

I guess that answers the question about whether or not he supports them. From the BioLogos newsletter:

On March 20–22, 2012, noted evangelical pastor Dr. Timothy Keller hosted the meetings at the Harvard Club in New York City. That in itself has symbolic significance. Harvard University was founded on principles firmly grounded in the Word of God in its pursuit of truth. But since then, Harvard has lost its way. Some wonder if a segment of the church is now in danger of losing its way too.

A statement emerged from each of the first two “Theology of Celebration” meetings, which were held in November 2009 and November 2010. The third meeting, held in March 2012, showed that the conversation has reached a new level of maturity. Given data that was presented at the meeting—which convincingly showed that almost half of America’s protestant pastors hold or strongly lean toward a belief in a universe less than 10,000 years old—there was a deep concern for the church not only in America, but also worldwide. This time, leading evangelical Christians left with not so much a statement as an urgent desire to bring about change. The church of the coming decades cannot divorce itself from matters about which there is scientific certainty.

BioLogos, Evolution, and the Resurrection of Jesus

As I’ve noted before, BioLogos is dogmatic about evolution and flexible about everything else. What happens when that approach is applied to the Resurrection? Michael Ruse, a contributor at BioLogos, writes about how to reconcile evolution with Christianity. While he is not a believer, he does believe that evolution and Christianity are compatible. In his book, Darwinism and Its Discontents, Ruse discusses how the Resurrection of Christ can be reconciled with a naturalistic worldview:

The Christian believes that humans can be saved by the death of Christ on the Cross and his subsequent Resurrection. The Christian believes that this salvation will come after death — or at the Second Coming. On these matters, Darwinism is silent. But what about the Resurrection, and indeed all of the other miracles surrounding the Christian story? What about the feeding of the five thousand and Christ walking on water? What about the subsequent miracles of the Apostles, or the miracles supposedly still occurring — the marks the Catholic Church seeks for admission to sainthood? Some supposed miracles are by their very nature put beyond the bounds of science. The appearance of souls — whether it occurred just once and then was transmitted, or occurs for each individual — is something about which science can say nothing. The same is true of transubstantiation, the miracle that occurs in the Catholic mass, when the water and wine is turned into the body and blood of Christ. No amount of microscopic examination of the host is going to reveal red corpuscles. It is just not that sort of miracle.

But what about rising from the dead and turning water into wine? Darwinism is a scientific theory, and scientific theories exclude miracles — that is what they are all about, working through laws. There are two (traditional) approaches one can take. The first, stemming from Saint Augustine, interprets miracles for their spiritual meaning rather than seeing them as violations of law. Thus, to take the miracle at Cana (water into wine), the real miracle was not some jiggery pokery that was shortcutting the fermenting process, but the fact that the man throwing the party supplied his guests fully, even bringing out his very best wine when they had no reason to expect it. Jesus filled him with such love that he went against his usual nature. (Can any one of my readers deny having brought out the cheap plonk when the guests were well lubricated?) Even the miracle of the Resurrection can be treated this way. The real miracle was not some reversal of life-death processes, but that, on the third day, the disciples who were downcast and lonely suddenly felt a great lift and that life was meaningful for them — that Jesus had left a message and example that they wanted to promulgate. If some psychologist explains this in terms of mass hysteria or whatever, so be it. There will always be a natural explanation. This leaves the meaning of the event untouched. (Michael Ruse, Darwinism and Its Discontents, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006, 280)

Dogmatic on Evolution, Flexible on Everything Else

One of BioLogos’ stated purposes is to help the church develop a worldview that reflects the harmony they believe exists between evolutionary science and faith. They:

value gracious dialogue with those who hold other views, and our ever-expanding conversation includes academic and other professionals in the fields of biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, business and medicine, but also theology, biblical studies, philosophy, history, literature, education and the arts.

While they are open to dialogue and conversation on a number of subjects, there are a handful of beliefs that are not open for debate. Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the NIH and founder of BioLogos, said in an interview with Dr. Karl Giberson:

Again, evolution may seem from the outside to have a lot of complexities and components and, certainly, lots of details—some of which we haven’t worked out—and for anybody to say there are no arguments would be a total mistake. There’s lots of stuff we don’t agree upon. But we do agree upon descent from a common ancestor, gradual change over a long period of time, and natural selection operating to produce the diversity of living species. There is no question that those are correct. Those are three cardinal pillars of Darwin’s theory that have been under-girded by data coming from multiple directions and they are not going to go away. Evolution is not a theory that is going to be discarded next week or next year or a hundred or a thousand years from now. It is true.

Another area that is settled, as far as BioLogos is concerned, is the issue of human ancestry. BioLogos does not believe that the human population was ever just two people:

Evangelical Christians have long suspected there are allegorical components to the Genesis story—a talking snake, for example—but as to whether Adam and Eve were not real people, there has been much more hesitancy–and for theologically important reasons. The science itself is silent—the most it can say is that there were never just two individuals who were the sole genetic progenitors of the entire human race. Several independent lines of genetic evidence unambiguously point to this conclusion. Science also make it very clear that humans developed through an evolutionary process.

So if these are the absolutes, what are the topics that are open for discussion? Here are a few examples:

Where Adam and Eve historical people?

One option is to view Adam and Eve as a historical pair living among many 10,000 years ago, chosen to represent the rest of humanity before God. Another option is to view Genesis 2-4 as an allegory in which Adam and Eve symbolize the large group of ancestors who lived 150,000 years ago. Yet another option is to view Genesis 2-4 as an “everyman” story, a parable of each person’s individual rejection of God. BioLogos does not take a particular view and encourages scholarly work on these questions.

Was there death before the Fall?

Humans appear very late in the history of life. The fossil record clearly shows that many creatures died before humans appeared. In fact, many entire species had already become extinct. This appears to conflict with Genesis 3, which describes death as a punishment for human sinfulness. However, the curse of Genesis 3 was that Adam and Eve, not the animals, should die for their disobedience. Therefore, animal death before the Fall is compatible with Christian doctrine. For humans, Genesis 3 and New Testament passages may be speaking primarily of spiritual death, not physical death.

How does original sin fit into the evolutionary history of man?

Original sin often refers simply to the current state of humanity, in that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Evolution does not raise questions about our current state of sinfulness. It does, however, raise questions about how and when the first sin occurred, and how this fallen state was transmitted to all people. The sciences of evolution and archaeology can provide some insight into these questions but are not equipped to answer them. These questions are theological, and over the centuries the church has considered many possible answers. Some of these options are consistent with the scientific evidence currently available.

Did evolution have to result in humans?

Because evolution involves seemingly “random” mutations, it seems that the Earth could have been the home of a different assortment of creatures. But belief in a supernatural creator leaves the possibility that human beings were fully intended. An omniscient creator could also have created the Universe’s natural laws so as to inevitably result in human beings.

What about Noah’s flood?

Genesis 6-9 tells the fascinating story of Noah, the Ark, and the Flood. Some Christians interpret the text to mean that the biblical flood must have covered the entire globe. They also work to explain the evidence in rocks and fossils in terms of this world-wide flood. Other Christians do not feel the text requires that the flood be global, but could have covered the small region of earth known to Noah. The scientific and historical evidence does not support a global flood, but is consistent with a catastrophic regional flood. Beyond its place in history, the Genesis flood teaches us about human depravity, faith, obedience, divine judgment, grace and mercy.

It seems clear to me that while BioLogos states that:

Properly interpreted, scripture and nature are complementary and faithful witnesses to their common Author.

what they mean is that Scripture must be reinterpreted in light of their understanding of science. I think Francis Schaeffer said it best:

What the Bible teaches where it touches history and the cosmos, and what science teaches where it touches the same areas do not stand in a discontinuity. There indeed must be a place for the study of general revelation (the universe and its form, and man in his “mannishness”) – that is, a place for true science. But on the other side, it must be understood that there is no automatic need to accommodate the Bible to the statements of science. There is a tendency for some who are Christians and scientists to always place special revelation (the teaching of the Bible) under the control of general revelation and science, and never or rarely to place general revelation and what science teaches under the control of the Bible’s teaching. That is, though they think of that which the Bible teaches as true and that which science teaches as true, in reality they tend to end with the truth of science as more true than the truth of the Bible. (Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Worldview, Volume Two, [Wheaton: Crossway, 1982], 154-155).

We Could Have Been Reptiles

I ran across this gem in Francis Collins’ book, The Language of God:

If you rewound the clock several hundred millions years, and then allowed evolution to proceed forward again, you might end up with a very different outcome. For example, if the now well-documented collision of a large asteroid with the earth 65 million years ago had not happened, it might well be that the emergence of higher intelligence would not have come in the form of a carnivorous mammal (Homo sapien), but in a reptile.

How is this consistent with the theological concept that humans are created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27)? Well, perhaps one shouldn’t get too hung up on the notion that this scripture is referring to physical anatomy – the image of God seems a lot more about mind than body. Does God have toenails? A belly button? (Collins, The Language of God, 140)

Another BioLogos View on Adam: He Never Existed

In the discussions over evolution and Adam, many of the folks at BioLogos, and elsewhere, say that a belief in evolution is compatible with a belief in an historical Adam. It’s important to note, however, that the versions of Adam that are compatible with evolution are very different from Adam as described in Scripture. (See my previous post on the subject.) Not all of the scholars at BioLogos agree that there was an historical Adam.

Dr. Denis Lamoureux, associate professor of science and religion at St. Joseph’s College in the University of Alberta and a leading figure representing the BioLogos view on origins, wrote the following in his book, Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution:

My central conclusion in this book is clear: Adam never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.

In a series of articles (available here, here, and here) at BioLogos, Dr. Lamoureux expands on this thesis. First he explains that the commonly held belief that God created de novo , or from nothing, is simply ancient biology:

Considering the limited scientific evidence available to ancient peoples, this conceptualization of origins was perfectly logical. As with all origins accounts, including those held by us today, the ancients asked basic etiological questions (Greek aitia: the cause, the reason for this). These included: Where did these things or beings come from? Why are they this way? Who or what is responsible for their origin? There was no reason for ancient peoples to believe the universe was billions of years old, and they were unaware that living organisms changed over eons of time as reflected in the fossil record. Instead, the age of the world was limited to the lengths of their genealogies, many of which were held by memory, and therefore quite short. Biological evolution was not even a consideration because in the eyes of the ancients, hens laid eggs that always produced chicks, ewes only gave birth to lambs, and women were invariably the mothers of human infants. Living organisms were therefore immutable; they were static and never changed.

In conceptualizing origins, ancient people used these day-to-day experiences and retrojected them back to the beginning of creation (Latin retro: backward; jacere: to throw). Retrojection is the very same type of thinking used in crime scene investigations. Present evidence found at the scene is used to reconstruct past events. In this way, the ancients came to the reasonable conclusion that the universe and life must have been created quickly and completely formed not that long ago. And this was the best origins science-of-the-day.

Dr. Lamoureux states that it is a misunderstanding to teach that God created species de novo and “according to their kind:”

Grasping the notion of de novo creation is one of the keys to understanding Genesis 1 and the origins debate. This creation account refers 10 times to living creatures reproducing “according to its/their kind/s.” Young earth creationists and progressive creationists argue that this phrase is incontestable biblical evidence against biological evolution, because God created separate groups of organisms. They term these groupings “created kinds” or “baramins” (Hebrew bārā’: to create; min: kind). However, this popular anti-evolutionist belief that the Creator intervened dramatically in the creation of individual groups of plants and animals fails to appreciate the ancient mindset and its intellectual categories. The phrase “according to its/their kind/s” reflects an ancient phenomenological perspective of living organisms. …

Ancient people always saw that birds reproduce birds, which reproduce birds, which reproduce birds, etc. They retrojected this experience back into the past and came to the logical conclusion that there must have been some first or original birds that the Creator had made de novo. Thus, the de novo creation of living organisms, such as birds in Genesis 1, is based on the classification of life in static or immutable categories, as perceived by ancient peoples like the Hebrews. More specifically, it reflects an ancient biology; and in particular, an ancient understanding of taxonomy.

According to Dr. Lamoureux, the creation account in Genesis does not explain how God actually created, rather it is an example of God accommodating himself to the understanding of those ancient people:

The writer of Genesis 1 attributes the origin of the basic kinds of plants and animals to de novo creative acts by the Creator. In other words, ancient science directs the Holy Spirit-inspired biblical author’s conceptualization of divine creative activity. Ancient peoples saw that the basic kinds of living organisms around them never changed, and that these reproduced only after their kinds. It was perfectly logical for them to connect these two observations and then come to the reasonable conclusion that creatures must have originally been created quickly and completely formed. We would have arrived at the same conclusion had we lived at that time. So here’s the bottom line: Genesis 1 does not reveal how God actually created life.

Dr. Lamoureux recognizes that his conclusion will be challenging to many Christians. He points out that even though he believes that the creation account in Genesis does not tell us how God created life, this does not mean that God lies in the Bible:

To be sure, this idea is challenging and even threatening to many Christians. But the Message-Incident Principle sheds light on the situation. Accordingly, the Holy Spirit descended to the level of the biblical author of Genesis 1 and used his incidental ancient science regarding biological origins in order to reveal the central Message of Faith that He was the Creator of life. Of course, some are quick to ask: Did God lie in the Bible? Absolutely not! Lying requires a malicious and deceptive intention. The God of the Bible is not a God of malice or deception. Rather, by grace the Holy Spirit came down to the level of the ancient Hebrews and employed their ancient understanding of origins—the de novo creation of life—in order to communicate as effectively as possible inerrant, life-changing, spiritual Truths. The ancient origins science is a vessel that delivers “living waters” (John 4:10) to nourish our thirsty souls. To conclude, God accommodates in the Bible and simply does not reveal how He made plants, animals… and humans.

So what does his theory mean to his understanding of Adam?

Adam’s existence is based ultimately on ancient science, and his quick and complete creation from earth made perfect sense from an ancient phenomenological perspective. The ancients saw that humans never change into other kinds of creatures, and that humans give birth to humans, who give birth to humans, who give birth to humans, etc. It was reasonable for them to retroject (Latin retro: backward; jacere: to throw) these day-to-day experiences back to the beginning of creation and conclude that the Creator had made an original human or pair of humans. In addition, ancient peoples saw that after an organism died, it decomposed and became dust. This observation, coupled with their own activity in shaping clay into pottery, provided a conceptual framework for the fashioning of humans and other living organisms from earth. …

The de novo creation of Adam is example of the Holy Spirit accommodating, that is, descending, to the level of the ancient Hebrews in the biblical revelatory process. He takes their view of human origins, which is the best science-of-the-day, and employs it as a vessel to reveal that He is their Creator. And just like His use of ancient astronomy, when He separates the waters above from the waters below with the firmament in Genesis 1, His forming of Adam from the dust of ground never happened either. No doubt about it, this idea is shocking to most Christians. But the Message-Incident Principle offers perspective on this situation. How God made humans is incidental to the message that He made us. Adam is simply an ancient vessel that delivers inerrant, life-changing, spiritual Truths.

Lastly, Dr. Lamoureux explains how his understanding of de novo creation as a form of ancient biology affects what Paul wrote about Adam:

[T]he consistency argument states that since Paul refers to Jesus as a historical individual in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, then references to Adam in these chapters must also be to a real person in history. However, this common line of reasoning fails to distinguish real history (the existence of Jesus) from an ancient understanding of human origins (the de novo creation of Adam).

Dr. Lamoureux concludes that:

[I]t is necessary to underline that Jesus and His sacrifice on the Cross are not dependent on the existence of Adam. …

Of course, Paul believed that Adam existed, and mentions him later in 1 Corinthians 15. But Adam’s existence is based on de novo creation, the origins science-of-the-day for Paul and his readers. Therefore, in the same way that we must separate, and not conflate, the inerrant message that Jesus is Lord from the fact that the 3-tier world presented in Philippians 2 does not exist; we must also separate, and not conflate, the historical reality of Jesus and His death and bodily resurrection from the fact that Adam never existed, because Adam’s existence is rooted in an ancient biology of human origins. …

To be sure, this is a very challenging and counterintuitive way to read Scripture. Nevertheless, we must not conflate, but instead separate the inerrant, life-changing Messages of Faith from their incidental ancient vessel in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. These passages in the Word of God do not reveal how God actually made humans, but that He created us; and that we are sinners in need of a Savior, whom the Lord has graciously sent to die on the Cross for us—the latter is The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So, to summarize Dr. Lamoureux’s argument, Scripture doesn’t speak to how God created, de novo creation was simply the scientific understanding of ancient men, and the fact that Adam didn’t exist makes no difference to Dr. Lamoureux’s faith.

Carl Trueman on “Celebrity” Pastors

Dr. Trueman spoke at the Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference last week. His talk was on the celebrity culture that surrounds some pastors in the US. In an article at Reformation 21, Dr. Trueman summarized his understanding of celebrities and the church:

My general conclusion on this point is that celebrity is clearly here to stay; the key point is that those who have such celebrity cachet acknowledge it and leverage it for good. By ‘good’, I mean direct people back to their own churches and set examples themselves as those who are committed first and foremost to their own people, congregations and denominations. T4G was quite a contrast to the recent reports of an extra-ecclesiastical high-profile meeting of Christian evolutionists, where celebrity appears to be being leveraged to set the agenda and impact the doctrinal testimony of churches. Nothing I heard at T4G indicated that anyone here had that kind of ecclesiastically subversive ambition.

[The “extra-ecclesiastical high-profile meeting of Christian evolutionists” that Dr. Trueman references is the BioLogos Theology of Celebration workshop from last month.]

You can read the rest of his article here. Several of the talks from T4G are available at the T4G website.

BioLogos Models for Reconciling Adam with Evolution

In their attempts to find common ground between evolutionary science and Genesis, the scholars at BioLogos have written various articles on how to reconcile Adam with their belief in the common descent of men. In an article, “Were Adam and Eve historical figures,” they preface the discussion this way:

Genetic evidence shows that humans descended from a group of several thousand individuals who lived about 150,000 years ago. This conflicts with the traditional view that all humans descended from a single pair who lived about 100,000 years ago. While Genesis 2-3 speaks of the pair Adam and Eve, Genesis 4 refers to a larger population of humans interacting with Cain. One option is to view Adam and Eve as a historical pair living among many 10,000 years ago, chosen to represent the rest of humanity before God. Another option is to view Genesis 2-4 as an allegory in which Adam and Eve symbolize the large group of ancestors who lived 150,000 years ago. Yet another option is to view Genesis 2-4 as an “everyman” story, a parable of each person’s individual rejection of God. BioLogos does not take a particular view and encourages scholarly work on these questions.

At the second “Theology of Celebration” workshop, Denis Alexander, Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge, presented a paper which outlines two of those models for reconciling Adam and Eve with the findings of contemporary anthropology. Here are some highlights from his paper.

First, Dr. Alexander describes the role of such models:

The models that we propose are not the same as the ‘data’. On one hand we have the theological data provided by Genesis and the rest of Scripture, true for all people throughout time. Uncertainty here arises only from doubt as to whether our interpretations of the text are as solid as they can be. On the other hand we have the current scientific data that are always open to revision, expansion or to better interpretation. Nevertheless the data are overwhelmingly supportive of certain scientific truths, for example that we share a common genetic inheritance with the apes. The role of models is to treat both theological and scientific truths seriously and see how they might ‘speak’ to each other, but we should never defend a particular model as if we were referring to the data itself. The whole point of any model is that it represents a human construct that seeks to relate different types of truth; models are not found within the text of Scripture – the most that we can expect from them is that they are ‘consistent with’ the relevant Biblical texts. Let us never confuse the model with the truths that it seeks to connect to each other.

Next, he lays out the problem these models should address:

The last common ancestor between us and the chimpanzee lived around 5 – 6 million years ago. Since that time we and the apes have been undergoing our own independent evolutionary pathways. Today we have religion, chimps do not. At some stage humanity began to know the one true God of the Scriptures. How and when did that happen?

The two models, the “Retelling Model” and the “Homo divinus Model, share certain basic presuppositions:

Both models accept the great theological truths about humankind made in the image of God and about the alienation from God brought about by human sinful disobedience. Both models accept the current anthropological account of human origins.

Dr. Alexander gives the following definition of the Retelling Model:

The Retelling Model represents a gradualist protohistorical view, meaning that it is not historical in the usual sense of that word, but does refer to events that took place in particular times and locations. The model suggests that as anatomically modern humans evolved in Africa from 200,000 years ago, or during some period of linguistic and cultural development since then, there was a gradual growing awareness of God’s presence and calling upon their lives to which they responded in obedience and worship. The earliest spiritual stirrings of the human spirit were in the context of monotheism, and it was natural at the beginning for humans to turn to their Creator, in the same way that children today seem readily to believe in God almost as soon as they can speak. In this model, the early chapters of Genesis represent a re-telling of this early episode, or series of episodes, in our human history in a form that could be understood within the Middle Eastern culture of the Jewish people of that time. The model therefore presents the Genesis account of Adam and Eve as a myth in the technical sense of that word – a story or parable having the main purpose of teaching eternal truths – albeit one that refers to real putative events that took place over a prolonged period of time during the early history of humanity in Africa.

Some would wish to press this model further to suggest that the Adam and Eve of the Genesis account do in fact represent the very first members of our species back in the Africa of about 200,000 years ago. This suggestion, however, faces a significant scientific problem. All that we know of the emergence of a new mammalian species is that this is a gradual process that may take thousands of years. A reproductively isolated population gradually accumulates a unique ensemble of genetic variants that eventually generates a new species, meaning a population that does not generally interbreed with another population. A new mammalian species does not begin abruptly, and certainly not with one male and one female.

According to this model:

[T]he Fall is interpreted as the conscious rejection by humankind of the awareness of God’s presence and calling upon their lives in favor of choosing their own way rather than God’s way. The Fall then becomes a long historical process happening over a prolonged period of time, leading to spiritual death. The Genesis account of the Fall in this model becomes a dramatised re-telling of this ancient process through the personalised Adam and Eve narrative placed within a Near Eastern cultural context.

Dr. Alexander then describes the positive elements he sees in this model:

In favor of the Retelling Model is the way in which the doctrine of Adam made in the image of God can be applied to a focused community of anatomically modern humans, all of whose descendants – the whole of humanity since that time – share in this privileged status in the sight of God. Likewise as this putative early human community turned their backs on the spiritual light that God had graciously bestowed upon them, so sin entered the world for the first time, and has contaminated humanity ever since. Such an interpretation is made possible by the fact that the very early human community within Africa would have been no more than a few hundred breeding pairs. If the Retelling Model is taken as applying to this very early stage of human evolution, prior to the time at which different human populations began to spread throughout different areas of Africa, then these putative events could have happened to the whole of humanity alive at that time.

There are some drawbacks to this model, according to Dr. Alexander:

Against the Retelling Model is the way in which it evacuates the narrative of any Near Eastern context, detaching the account from its Jewish roots. If the early chapters of Genesis are about God’s dealings with the very early people of God who later came to be called Jews, then Africa is not the direction in which we should be looking. Much depends on how exactly the Genesis accounts of Adam and Eve are interpreted; on how much weight is placed on the Old Testament genealogies that incorporate Adam as a historical figure (Genesis 5; 1 Chronicles 1) and on the New Testament genealogy that traces the lineage of Christ back to Adam (Luke 3); and on passages such as Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 that are most readily interpreted on the assumption that Adam is understood as a real historical individual.

In contrast, the Homo divinus model addresses those concerns:

According to this model [Homo divinus], God in his grace chose a couple of Neolithic farmers in the Near East, or maybe a community of farmers, to whom he chose to reveal himself in a special way, calling them into fellowship with himself – so that they might know Him as the one true personal God. From now on there would be a community who would know that they were called to a holy enterprise, called to be stewards of God’s creation, called to know God personally. It is for this reason that this first couple, or community, have been termed Homo divinus, the divine humans, those who know the one true God, the Adam and Eve of the Genesis account. Being an anatomically modern human was necessary but not sufficient for being spiritually alive; as remains the case today. Homo divinus were the first humans who were truly spiritually alive in fellowship with God, providing the spiritual roots of the Jewish faith. Certainly religious beliefs existed before this time, as people sought after God or gods in different parts of the world, offering their own explanations for the meaning of their lives, but Homo divinus marked the time at which God chose to reveal himself and his purposes for humankind for the first time.

The Homo divinus model also draws attention to the representative nature of ‘the Adam’, ‘the man’, as suggested by the use of the definite article in the Genesis text as mentioned above. ‘The man’ is therefore viewed as the federal head of the whole of humanity alive at that time. This was the moment at which God decided to start his new spiritual family on earth, consisting of all those who put their trust in God by faith, expressed in obedience to his will. Adam and Eve, in this view, were real people, living in a particular historical era and geographical location, chosen by God to be the representatives of his new humanity on earth, not by virtue of anything that they had done, but simply by God’s grace. When Adam recognised Eve as ‘bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’, he was not just recognising a fellow Homo sapiens – there were plenty of those around – but a fellow believer, one like him who had been called to share in the very life of God in obedience to his commands. The world population in Neolithic times is estimated to lie in the range 1–10 million, genetically just like Adam and Eve, but in this model it was these two farmers out of all those millions to whom God chose to reveal himself.

Just as I can go out on the streets of New York today and have no idea just by looking at people, all of them members of the species Homo sapiens, which ones are spiritually alive, so in this model there was no physical way of distinguishing between Adam and Eve and their contemporaries. It is a model about spiritual life and revealed commands and responsibilities, not about genetics.

One of the potential drawbacks of this model is that it does not address “when” mankind first began to be in the “image of God:”

Of course with our western mindset we would like to ask the chronological question: when exactly did the ‘image of God’ start applying in human history? But the Genesis text is not interested in chronology. Neither does the Homo divinus model as presented here seek to address that particular issue, but simply accepts the fact that the whole of humankind without any exception is made in God’s image. Instead the model focuses on the event from Genesis 2:7 in which God breathes His breath into Adam so that he becomes a nepesh, a living being who can respond to God’s claim upon his life. The model is about how Adam and Eve became responsible children of God, involving a personal relationship with God, obedience to his commands, and the start of God’s new family on earth consisting of all those who would come to know him personally.

According to this model:

[T]he Fall then becomes the disobedience of Adam and Eve to the expressed revealed will of God, bringing spiritual death in its wake, a broken relationship between humankind and God. In an extension of this model, just as Adam is the federal head of humankind, so as Adam falls, equally humankind falls with him. … And as with the Retelling Model, the physical death of both animals and humans is seen as happening throughout evolutionary history. Both models suggest that it is spiritual death that is the consequence of sin.

Dr. Alexander believes that the Homo divinus model has the advantage over the Retelling model because:

it takes very seriously the Biblical idea that Adam and Eve were historical figures as indicated by those texts already mentioned. It also sees the Fall as an historical event involving the disobedience of Adam and Eve to God’s express commands, bringing death in its wake. The model locates these events within Jewish proto-history.

However, he does recognize that a potential disadvantage of the Homo divinus model:

For some, however, a disadvantage of the model will be the appeal to the Federal Headship of Adam to satisfy the need to see God’s call to fellowship with Him as being open to the whole of humankind and, equally, to see Adam’s disobedience as impacting the whole of humankind. The notion of Adam’s headship is of course perceived through passages such as Romans 5:12 and 17, and 1 Cor.15:22, although Romans 5:12 makes it clear that spiritual death came to all men by them actually sinning. Each person is responsible for his or her own sin. The model is not therefore consistent with a strictly Augustinian notion of the inheritance of the sinful nature, but in any case many biblical commentators do not find this notion in Scripture, which emphasizes the fact that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), rooting that fact in Adam’s sin (1 Cor. 15:22), but also highlighting the personal responsibility that each person has for their own sin (Deut.24:16; Jer.31:30; Rom. 5:12).

Dr. Alexander ends with recognizing that neither model will answer all questions regarding Adam and the various theological implications:

The two tentative models presented here may be seen as a work in progress. Both models are heavily under-determined by the data, meaning that there is insufficient data to decide either way. Both models might be false and a third type of model might be waiting in the wings ready to do a much better job; let us hope so.

What is the BioLogos View of Origins?

Wes White has a great summary of the BioLogos view on his blog today. Here is an short excerpt:

BioLogos is an organization and movement that promotes the acceptance of evolutionary theory among evangelicals. The goal is not to replace Scripture but to synthesize evolutionary theory and the biblical record. Here is a brief statement of what they believe: “It [the BioLogos view] accepts the modern scientific consensus on the age of the earth and common ancestry, including the common ancestry of humans.” In regards to Adam and Eve, the Biologos view is that there are various ways of reconciling the views of biological evolutionists with the biblical record. Consequently, we can summarize the BioLogos view of evolution this way:

  1. BioLogos accepts the view that the world is billions of years old.
  2. BioLogos accepts the common ancestry of animal life on earth.
  3. BioLogos accepts the evolutionary view that humans share a common ancestry with other animals.
  4. BioLogos believes there are various ways to reconcile the Scriptural data concerning Adam and Eve with the evolutionary view.

You can read the rest on Pastor White’s blog.