Monday, 1 December 2008

Who were Adam and Eve? - The background (Creation or evolution, chapter 9)

As I read Dr. Alexander's book, my main fear ironically isn't that it'll persuade Christians to embrace Darwinism. What this book will actually do to Christians who really take it to heart is much worse. The worse thing is that it might lead them into a much more far-reaching theological downgrade, through the methods of Bible interpretation that Dr. Alexander uses. As with many "bad books", the badness isn't ultimately in the questionable and obviously controversial conclusions (though it is). It's in the questionable methods of Bible interpretation used to reach them; methods which the author doesn't tell you are questionable or controversial, but simply presents as if they were quite normal and the kind of thing we should all do without hesitation.

The chapter starts, as a previous one did, with a somewhat limited disclaimer. DA protests that we must start with the biblical text if we are to ask about Adam and Eve, not to start with evolution and then try to retro-fit it. So far, so good, but it'll soon become apparent that there's going to be a gallactic mile of wiggle room such that the end result is happily (for DA) the same as if he'd done the latter. He proceeds to state that we should "listen to what the Bible has to say and then see whether there are any interesting resonances with the evolutionary account." No. That statement is a classic statement of the "two books" approach DA consistently follows: the Bible is the book of theological meaning, science (and eventually Darwinism) is the book of scientific truth, and each must be listened to and obeyed. This is not evangelical hermeneutics. The authentic Christian approach to the Bible is to give it an unrivalled place of supreme authority and absolute truth, so that it dictates the parameters which any other supposed sources of truth must adhere too. The Bible is certain and non-negotiable; other sources of truth are uncertain, must fit within the parameters of Scripture and be believed with appropriate tentativeness.

To DA, Genesis is not only primarily theological in intent, but basically exclusively so, and so he tells us that as he reads it he will approach it looking for theological and figurative aspects (verse 191). This is putting the cart before the horse. The fruits of the theological instruction arise from the historical reality of what is described. To change analogy, DA wants to have the fruits of the tree after he's plucked up the roots. That's not evangelical theology; it's classical liberalism. Liberal theologians decided to take the historical narratives of the Bible, strip them of their roots in the real world of time and space, and keep the results for their ethical teaching. The liberals concentrated most of their fire-power on the gospels and particularly the miracles of Jesus in this because for them the mythological status of Genesis was already beyond question. They were at least consistent in treating the gospels in the same way as Genesis. DA's hermeneutic needs to be seen for what it is - exactly the same de-historicising hermeneutic. Should it be acceptable for evangelicals to do to Genesis, the Bible's foundational book, what we absolutely reprobate and call heretical when we see others doing it to other historical narratives in the Bible?

The rotten fruits of DA's down-grading approach to Scripture become clear as the chapter proceeds. It's a chapter of two parts (and only begins to discuss the question of Adam and Eve - the next chapter continues). The first half looks at what the Bible says; the second half examines the evolutionary account. The first half is full of uncertainty and doubt. This passage is difficult. This portion admits of many interpretations. The commentaries suggest many possibilities here. It is not certain what this means. We cannot base any firm conclusions on this, and so on and so forth. Then we get to the second half of the chapter to learn what contemporary evolutionary biologists says about man's origins, and it's a totally different story. Here are results about which we can be as certain as about anything. This is an assured and definite truth. There is no real doubt about this to anyone in the field, etcetera, etcetera. It's as if I'd wandered into a gathering of the village atheists - the "religious" source of truth is by nature uncertain, doubtful, speculative... but here's science, which tells us results which are guaranteed in their infallibility because they are derived from the fail-safe scientific method, praise be to Richard Dawkins, Hallelu-Hitchens and Amen! But please, really... if DA is really an evangelical by consistent practice and not just in profession, then which of the two, contemporary science and Scripture, should we keep being told is infallible and certain, and which of the two should he keep emphasising is tentative and unsure?

Why is humanity's descent from the apes so certain? DA is consistent in relying on a single argument that he's outlined earlier in the book, though here he goes into more detail (and the man's certainly very gifted in explaining unfamiliar scientific concepts, provided you at least have some background). It's the argument that the human genome is full of what are basically relics from the past - gene sequences that are no longer active, or have been corrupted in some way. His argument is then theological - this really looks like common descent, and therefore it must be, because otherwise God would be playing games with us by deceiving us. As before, though, DA doesn't compare his scenario to the alternative creationist paradigm, but simply asserts that the particular account he's given fits really well and that there's no alternative (we'll have to take his word for it), therefore it must be true. Real life creationists, though, as opposed to the "some Christians say..." straw-men who roam through the pages of this book, have no problem in accommodating the concept of many inactive genes in the human genome. We believe in the fall - a fall which had a real and very serious effect on humanity at very many levels. Man became subject to all kinds of illnesses, sicknesses and even death. As there is no real separation between the theology and the real-world biology, what that would mean among other things for the genes that we would expect to find we lost abilities in our genomes, which is just what DA skilfully explains. DA relies heavily on what he says are identical losses of functionality in humans and some of their supposed evolutionary cousins. Again, though, there are other possibilities. These gene sequences may not be as useless as presently thought - future science may discover a function we do not presently know, making DA's argument a Darwin-of-the-gaps one. Or, the common Designer, having designed man and physically similar beings using common design, may have at the fall made common changes in the genomes. DA's argument that common gene sequences must mean common ancestry (as opposed to common design, a thesis he never mentions), is an empty assertion.

DA's down-grading approach to Scripture is nowhere illustrated more clearly than in the case of his explanations of what the Genesis account says about Eve. Eve was made out of Adam's side whilst Adam was in a deep sleep (Genesis 2:21). DA explains all of this, goes on to explain the significance of this for the doctrine of marriage... and then goes on further to assert that therefore since the important implication is the doctrine of marriage, we thus should not insist that Eve was actually made out of Adam's side after all. With the skill of the clever rhetorician he is, he seeks to make this sound as ridiculous as possible: "Now if we take this ... as referring to some early Near Eastern operation during which God both provides the anaesthetic and does the surgical manipulation of a male rib to generate a woman, then we will have missed the point of the text by reading it through modernist spectacles. No, if we go down that route then we are in real danger of abusing the text, which is about the foundations of marriage." DA, though, does not trouble himself to investigate the New Testament texts where the writers do, with all seriousness, interpret the details of Adam and Eve as real historical phenomena and not just nice literary teaching aids (e.g. 1 Timothy 2:13 - Eve being formed after Adam, or 2 Corinthians 11:3 - Eve really was deceived by a talking snake!). The irony is that it is DA's own non-apostolic interpretation which is classic modernism. He reads Genesis 2, scoffs at the idea of a talking snake or a woman being formed out of a sleeping man's rib, and concludes like a good rationalist that it cannot really mean that, and therefore we are just intended to extract the theological payload from the passage and leave the vessel that was used to teach that payload in the realms of mythology where it belongs. Similar is his treatment of the name given to Eve, the "mother of all the living" (Genesis 3:20). This disagrees with Darwinian orthodoxy, and hence cannot be literally true, so DA re-interprets it to say that it might mean that she was the mother of the family of faith - later in the book DA will admit that Aborigines cannot, if Darwinism is true, be descended from Eve, which leaves some interesting implications...

Hence it's no surprise to find that DA entirely skips over any discussion of Genesis 5, with its very down-to-earth genealogy, with a long list of dates and names, of Adam down to Noah. It's hard to extract too much theological significance from "And Enos lived ninety years, and begat Cainan", unless in fact Enos living 90 years and begetting Cainan, i.e. the literal history, is itself the theological significance. That is how it is, because the Bible writer is tracing out the line which eventually leads to Abraham, David and Jesus the Messiah - the line focussed on in 1 Chronices 1, Matthew 1 and Luke 3. The real-world actual-historical nature of the text is not an optional extra that we can throw away, because the Saviour we have is a real-world flesh-and-blood one. Genesis finds a fundamental part of its significance in being his history. The Bible does not leave the question "who were Adam and Eve?" hanging in the air. It gives us a very full and precise account, complete with detailed genealogies which eventually go right from Adam to Christ. God promised at the fall that there would be a seed of the woman who would conquer the serpent (Genesis 3:15). Jesus is that unique man, and so the Bible is very careful to demonstrate very precisely how he fulfilled that promise, giving us his line and the dates going right back to the beginning, so that we might know him for who he is. The ultimate fact in Darwinian manglings of Genesis is that it's not just a side-story in the Bible that they're playing games with - it's the foundation of the whole lot.

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