Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Who were Adam and Eve? Genesis and science in conversation (Creation or evolution, chapter 10)

This chapter continues and concludes the discussion of the question of how to identify Adam and Eve, begun in the previous. As with the previous chapter, the bigger issues are revealed in this chapter by taking a step back. It's amazing to see what DA is certain about, given how uncertain he is about many things in the Bible he isn't certain about. Ancient teeth fragments can be relied upon to reveal human evolution in dogmatic detail. Stone tools appeared 2.6 million years ago. We know who lived near Lake Turkana (not so far from here - another few hundred k's up north - a couple doing food relief from this town travelled there yesterday) 1.44 million years ago, and don't make the mistake of saying it was 1.43 or 1.45.

The chapter, then, starts with several pages of dogmatism about the evolutionary history of man and his various cousins, the gorillas , gibbons, chimpanzees and Great Uncle Archie's family of throwbacks. There's some discussion of genetics, the development of human culture and language, before focussing on the "Neolithic" era (10,000 BC onwards), as the ultimately most relevant to the identification of Adam and Eve. This all winds up to the conclusion, which ought to sound out the big warning bells for anyone whose evangelical instincts haven't been thoroughly labotimised by the 230-odd pages beforehand:
"It is against this cultural and historical background [reviewer: i.e. the history of humanity according to present Darwinian theory] that one needs to consider the early chapters of Genesis."
Did you get that? Perhaps you were one of those naive Bible believers who thought that God gave us Genesis as a true account of humanity's origins, so that by this divine yardstick you could measure, approve or reject all competing accounts. Perhaps you foolishly imagined that the Word of God gave you a cultural and hsitorical background against which to test theories from other areas of study, such as Darwinism. Simpleton! DA will put you right. The sure and certain revelation of Darwinism gives you the truth, and against this background you must read the Word of God. If you can't spot the theological down-grade by this stage of the book, you're not going to.

There's then a small aside whilst DA considers the question of whether humans are still evolving. I applaud him for including it, as many times in the book he simply skirts around relevant issues. In DA's theology, creation is via gradual processes which are part of the world today as much as they are the past. This does raise as a natural question - so, are human beings still developing upwards, and shall we in future be something else? Did Jesus die for the coming homo futuris as well as the present homo sapiens? Well, DA poses the question but his answer is a pot of warm slop. Holding to Darwinian orthodoxy, he doesn't deny any of the premises, but falls back on giving three reasons why future human evolution (though theoretically possible), is unlikely in practice. What it boils down to is that in the modern world we don't get the isolated populations where natural selection can kill off the weak before they pass on their faulty genes. I think DA's answer needs to be better informed by the realities of present anthropology, because what he says isn't true. It's widely reported in the news in recent months (following a kind of contact made with an isolated tribe in the Amazon rainforest) that there are still believed to be around 100 tribes in the world that have no contact with the rest of humanity or with modern life. So DA needs to cook up a better answer than this one. (Did anyone see Steve Jones' answer to the same question in the Telegraph recently? Equally preposterous!).

This then leaves us with the synthesis of all the material in the preceeding 40+ pages on the Adam/Eve question. After all this, just who were they?

DA presents us with five possible "models", different ways in which Christians have answered the question. These range right from saying that Genesis is thoroughly mythological, just a story to teach timeless truths, to the young-earth creationist (YEC) position that Adam and Eve were created immediately out of the ground on the sixth day. You can guess which model DA is going to favour and which he holds in utter contempt by the number of words he gives in describing each: in turn models A, B, C, D and E get 1/3 of a page, 1/2 a page, 3 pages, 1/3 of a page, and 1 sentence. Yup, model E is the YEC position (D is old earth / episodic creationism), and as DA wants to keep his good standing in the academic community its necessary to make clear he sees it as beneath his contempt to discuss, so just 1 sentence it is. DA sees all these models as possible within a Biblical framework, which is a revelation in itself about DA's approach to Scripture, though consistent with all we've seen so far. Whether you take an out-and-out liberal position and assign the foundational historical narratives of Scripture to the wastebin of utter myth, or whether you think that when God says he made Adam directly from the earth he really means it, is a matter of comparative indifference, though DA has a preference. After this, models D and E simply get tossed into the wastebin, because they are incompatible with the theory of human evolution, and that, to DA, is all that needs to be said to tell you they must be false.

That preference is model C, which recognises that the rest of Scripture does treat Adam and Eve as real historical individuals (not generic humanity, or "everyman"). Moreover, it recognises that this is going to be "perhaps" somewhere around 6-8,000 years ago - here we get the only fleeting mention that the Bible (e.g. Genesis 5) contains detailed genealogies, a point unexcusably absent when DA is discussing what literary genre the Genesis accounts are. This dating would make them (reading Genesis, as we have been told we must, against the backdrop of the certainities of contemporary Darwinian accounts) Neolithic farmers living somewhere in the east.

This identification does then pose a number of theological problems if you want to keep carrying your membership card for the club of Darwinian orthodoxy, such as:
  • Mmmm, doesn't that mean that far from being the first two humans, there were actually many thousands of others around at the time?
  • And those others... they will have already developed human language, culture, art and religious rituals, according to contemporary archaelogical and anthropological thinking.
  • So how can Adam be the father of the human race, and Eve the mother of all the living (Genesis 3:20)? What does this mean for the doctrine of original sin?
  • And this means that Adam had human ancestors (following the grunting gorillas) - so what of the genealogy of Luke, which puts Adam at the head? (Luke 3). How can Paul call Adam the "first man" (1 Corinthians 15:45)?
What we see as DA looks into some (but not all, particularly the interesting one about original sin - see Romans 5:12ff) of these questions is the same picture we've seen all the way along. His evolutionary orthodoxy holds absolutely firm - and the Bible becomes a nose of wax to be moulded as one pleases. He grants all these implications (lots of other humans, the human race is not all descended from Adam and Eve, Adam had human ancestors, etcetera), and then goes around to find some theological wheeze to still allow some kind of meaning to be put on the Bible's plain statements, and then he proclaims the resulting massacre of the sacred Word to be an elegant harmony of "science" (read: Darwinism) and "theology" (read: the Bible's history). Yuk.

The basic answer is that Adam was the first man to whom God started to reveal himself in a special way - the first man to come to a heightened awareness of God and his greatness, and to be invited into a saving relationship. What about the salvation, DA asks, of those who were before and scattered in other parts of the planet? We don't know, he answers, and should be humble. More pertinent would have been to ask, "saved from what - what does this concept mean in DA's alternative proto-history?" The picture DA gives us for Adam is basically that which holds for Abraham - a chosen family picked graciously out of a world of ignorance. What "graciously" could mean in a context where nobody else even has this mysterious awareness of God and hence none at all of his moral laws or commandments could mean, we are never told. The "salvation" DA has in mind seems to be very amenable to contemporary thinking - a kind of "God became my special friend", rather than the deliverance from holy wrath against wilful covenant-breakers which is actually the story of Scripture.

This leaves us wondering what the fall could mean. If life had gone on for gazillions of years, and intelligent humanity for tens of thousands, with no knowledge of God (how, from Romans 1:18ff, is that possible?), and God decides now to enlighten a couple of farmers a little, if they say "no thanks" what kind of fall is that - to just continue as you were before? How to understand death, the fall and evil within this bizarre framework are the subjects of the next three chapters. But perhaps I can urge my readers... it really is so much simpler just to believe the Bible as it really is than go into this insanity.

No comments: