A friend of mine just sent me a brief article and asked me to comment. Here’s the article:
“Polls by Gallup and the Pew Research Center find that four out of 10 Americans believe humanity descend from Adam and Eve, but NPR reports that evangelical scientists are now saying publicly that they can no longer believe the Genesis account and that it is unlikely that we all descended from a single pair of humans. ‘That would be against all the genomic evidence that we’ve assembled over the last 20 years so not likely at all,’ says biologist Dennis Venema, a senior fellow at BioLogos Foundation, a Christian group that tries to reconcile faith and science. ‘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 part of a growing cadre of Christian scholars who say they want their faith to come into the 21st century and say 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.” – Slashdot
There’s been an interesting movement that’s been quietly happening for quite a while now, but nobody noticed because we were all watching the continuing, unending debate between Christians and scientists about Creationism. This movement has been away from creationism, and has involved a majority of Christian scholars. For the past 80 years or so, there’s been a fierce public debate (that started decades earlier in the academic community) about creationism and evolution, and how they’re incompatible. Surely everyone imaginable has weighed in on this, but we usually only hear about two camps: American Young-Earth Creationists, who are themselves a subset of American Evangelicals, which is also a subset of a subset of a subset of Christianity; and the scientists who try to answer them. I’m not trying to frame this in a way to make Creationists look bad – there are some incredibly brilliant people who subscribe to this theory, and I think that everyone should be able to learn about it – but just to say that they’re a very small minority of the Church. And the scientists who still debate about creationism and evolution are getting fewer and more polemical – it’s getting down to the Dawkins types, who only engage in it because they like nothing better than to make Christians look ignorant and backwards, and they’re quite good at it.
I should point out that, probably, a majority of Christians in the world still believe that God created the world in six literal days, that we all descend from Adam and Eve, etc. etc. This is a very understandable belief, and a very simple one – straightforward. It’s also true that most of them have never really examined that belief, or done textual studies on Genesis 1-3, or done biological research. But this article isn’t about what the average Christian believes, it’s about what Christian scholars believe – and it’s saying that Christian scholars, more and more, are not Young Earth Creationists. But that’s nothing new.
The Catholic Church has always upheld the belief that all truth is God’s truth – which makes perfect sense. If it’s true, then, well, it’s true: there’s no such thing as something that is true that contradicts God, by very definition. I find it ironic that this statement comes from a group of people who grant the status of inerrancy to particular people, but hey, they’re right on this bit. If it’s true, and God is true, and yet it doesn’t seem compatible with our understanding of God, then maybe it’s our idea of God that’s wrong.
Similarly, biblical scholars, for the most part, stopped reading Genesis 1-3 literally about a hundred years ago. There are still some holdouts, but for the most part, we’ve moved past literalist hermeneutics. It doesn’t do justice to the text, which is a brilliant composition that has particular form and content that was never meant to be taken literally in the way that we understand literal. It’s full of truth, and is thus a “true story”, but it’s symbolic, representative, typological, etc. In fact, it closely resembles the Egyptian and Mesopotamian creation myths – on purpose, to show something that’s true about God that those other myths missed. And don’t take “myth” to mean “untrue” or “primitive”, because it’s an actual genre of literature, with its own features, that doesn’t bear literal readings very well.
A few years back, Bruce Waltke, revered Old Testament theologian and Evangelical, got canned from Reformed Theological Seminary because he said “if evolution turns out to be true, and we still deny it, then we’re denying God.” (Paraphrased). His statement, which sums up the attitude Catholics have had toward science for centuries, is unambiguously true – but it touched on a hot button. It should be mentioned that Bruce Waltke was likely already walking a tight line there due to his association with the abovementioned Biologos institute, and he’s probably better for the change; even so, it made a big statement to force him out over this issue.
And finally, scientists who insist on Young Earth Creationism (a literal 6-day creation) are a minority even among Christian scientists. I’m not a scientist, so I won’t even get into that part of the debate; but even the scientists who still challenge the conventional line on evolution are not typically doing so from a Young Earth Creationism perspective anymore: they’ve moved on to Intelligent Design, or other theories.
I’m not saying that anyone’s dumb for being a Creationist: we’ve been steeped in it forever, and there are some really, really good arguments out there. Personally, it’s been my understanding of scripture that has changed my mind. As I said, I’m not a scientist, so whether I’m reading creationist books or evolutionist books, I have to take their word for it (which renders the exercise pretty pointless, because I’m forced to believe whoever I’m reading at the moment). But when we read scripture, we can either force it into a scientific mold or we can take it on its own terms, and its own terms (in this case) are mythological, not scientific – which means that the whole creation/evolution debate is based on false premises.
In that respect, it reminds me of the Hitchens/Blair debate this past spring: it was a debate that was founded on a secular humanistic understanding of religion. Creation/Evolution is founded on a scientism worldview, which forces us to see all things in a literal/objective/scientific light. Texts aren’t like that, and religion isn’t like that, and for the most part, life isn’t like that. I feel like all of our years trying to defend our faith against science, in a scientific debate, has done nothing except make us gluttons for punishment. That’s not to say that creationists don’t use science – this is a very common charge against them that is an unfair generalization – but only that we’re standing on Dawkins’ turf, and trying to beat him at his own game. There’s a better solution.
I’ll close with one last thought, and I apologize if I’ve rambled. I read a book a while back called To Change the World by James Davison Hunter. I mentioned it here a few times. One of Hunter’s points is that we (the Church) need to stop being against the world, and actually affirm the good that exists in the world. We act as if God only works through us, or only in the ways that we understand and talk about in our small circle of the world, when in reality He’s out there, and there’s a whole lot of good things in the so-called “secular” world that bear His glory. Science is one of those things, and we ought to be taking part in it. Actually, most of us already are.