Science as we know it grew from pagan, occult, and biblical roots.
Christianity Today likes to emphasize the biblical sources. The story of creation, told in Genesis and elaborated in the New Testament, pictures a rational intelligence creating an orderly and predictable cosmos.
Without that predictability in the natural world, neither Newton nor Einstein would have been possible. There are times, however, when a careful reading of the natural world seems to conflict with our reading of Scripture.
Sometimes, Christian ways of thinking must adjust. Two famous names—Copernicus and Galileo—tell that tale. Other times, Christian thinkers adopt some of what scientific research suggests, but hold firm on key aspects of biblical knowledge. The name B. B. Warfield tells that tale: The Princeton theology professor (d. 1921) taught in the wake of the Darwinian revolution. He and fellow evangelical leaders saw good reasons to believe that humanity's physical form was descended from other animals. However, two key biblical teachings kept these theologians from eating the whole Darwinian apple.
First, in Darwinian thought, pure randomness was the engine of evolution. But randomness denies the divine Reason (the Logos in the language of John's Gospel) behind the creative process. Christians must root for intelligence over chance.
Second, Darwinian evolution challenged the belief that human beings were created in the image of God. This doctrine was a hedge against racist theories that would be used to subjugate, exploit, and eradicate undesirable people. Warfield rightly saw the dangers in Darwin, while trying to learn from the biological science of his time.
Now we come to another great moment of tension between Christian readings of Scripture and science. This issue's cover story, "The Search for the Historical Adam," reports the claims of recent genetic research that the human race did not emerge from pre-human animals as a single pair, as an "Adam" and an "Eve." The complexity of the human genome, we are told, requires an original population of around 10,000.
Christians have already drawn the line: there must be an original pair of humans endowed with souls—that is, the spiritual capacity to relate to God in the special way Genesis describes. In 1996, John Paul II stressed Pius XII's dictum that "if the origin of the human body comes through living matter which existed previously, the spiritual soul is created directly by God." And institutional statements of faith, such as Wheaton College's, set limits by affirming that original couple's existence: "… God directly created Adam and Eve, the historical parents of the entire human race … in his own image, distinct from all other living creatures, and in a state of original righteousness."
What is at stake?
First, the entire story of what is wrong with the world hinges on the disobedient exercise of the will by the first humans. The problem with the human race is not its dearth of insight but its misshapen will.
Second, the entire story of salvation hinges on the obedience of the Second Adam. The apostle Paul, the earliest Christian writer to interpret Jesus' work, called Adam "a type of the one who was to come" (Rom. 5:14, ESV), and wrote that "[j]ust as we have borne the image of the man of dust [Adam], we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven [Jesus]" (1 Cor. 15:49, ESV). He elaborated an "Adam Christology" that described a fallen humanity, headed by Adam, and a new, redeemed humanity with Christ as its head.
This understanding, that Christ's obedience undoes Adam's disobedience, is not some late development, but is integrated with the earliest interpretations of what God did and is doing in Christ. This conceptual framework is almost impossible without a first human couple.
Hebrew thought offers one clue to resolving this tension: the corporate nature of humanity. Scripture often calls groups of people by the name of their historical head. Israel is an obvious example. So are Canaan and Cush.
At times, Scripture also holds groups of people morally responsible for the actions of some of their members.
Thus, some have suggested—as does John Collins in Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? (Crossway, 2011)—that if both biblical and scientific clues suggest a larger population contemporary with Adam and Eve (Whom did Cain marry? Whom did God protect him from?), we can still conceive of Adam and Eve as leaders of that original population. That suggestion has the virtue of embracing both a prehistoric couple and a prehistoric population.
At this juncture, we counsel patience. We don't need another fundamentalist reaction against science. We need instead a positive interdisciplinary engagement that recognizes the good will of all involved and that creative thinking takes time. In the long run, it may be the humility of our scholars as much as their technical expertise that will bring us to deeper knowledge of the truth.
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See Christianity Today's cover story on "The Search for the Historical Adam."
Previous CT coverage of Adam, evolution, and the origins of life include:
Sin in the Double Helix | Reports linking moral behavior to genetic traits actually prove Scripture's claims, not undermine them. (March 17, 2011)
Adamant on Adam | Resignation of prominent scholar Bruce Waltke underscores tension over evolution. (May 25, 2010)
Fossil Ida Touted as Evolution's 'Missing Link' | Some paleontologists are dismissing the fossil's close connection to humans. (May 20, 2009)
Sam Brownback on Evolution | Faith and Science are compatible, he says. (May 31, 2007)
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