Thursday, March 01, 2012

Rib cagey

C. John Collins said:
...I note, as many have, that the verb "form" is probably an image for the work of a potter. I find that this image appears elsewhere in ancient Near Eastern origins stories, and thus I want to be careful about what Genesis is saying; drawing on the work of Alan Millard, I wrote: It also leaves us careful about applying too firm a literalism in relating the words of Genesis 2:7 to a physical and biological account of human origins, although it does insist that the process was not a purely natural one.
Maybe I'm missing something, which is quite possible, but this doesn't seem to be very clear to me. If God forming Adam from the dust is an image of the work of a potter, then is it a literal image or a non-literal, more picturesque or symbolic image? Did God literally form Adam out of the dust or ground or earth and mold him into Adam, or is this potter imagery no more than a represention or symbol for whatever actually occurred in reality? Collins appears to be playing coy.
To be sure, Buswell goes on to deny that God used a "genetic process" in the formation, though he does not slam those who hold some version of that. But the words of Genesis 2:7 do not actually rule out every kind of "genetic process." . . . We too are "formed [ultimately] of dust," even if the dust has gone through a few intermediate (genetic) steps!
1. At a minimum, Collins is open to the idea that God used a "genetic process" to form Adam and Eve. But I don't know exactly what Collins is referring to when he uses the term "genetic process." Again it's a bit vague.

2. On the one hand, Collins appears to tip his hand a bit more when it sounds like he's speaking for himself and indicating what he believes in saying we're formed from the dust "even if the dust has gone through a few intermediate (genetic) steps." That is, the fact that Collins notes there's a "genetic process" with "intermediate (genetic) steps" would seem to imply God created Adam and Eve stepwise or in some sort of progression through time rather than as, say, fully formed individuals in an instant of time.

But on the other hand, couching it in such a fashion still seems ambiguous to me. For one thing, "genetic steps" could indicate either microevolution or macroevolution (or both).

3. Indeed, I don't know why Collins uses the rather indistinct "genetic" as a stand-in for whatever it is he really means. Obviously every living creature on earth has genes (RNA or DNA based). God created living creatures to have genes. That's not controversial.

But is that what all Collins is saying?

4. In fact, I think one could reasonably take Collins to suggest Gen 2:7 doesn't preclude the idea that humans evolved from phylogenetically lower forms of life when he says "even if the dust has gone through a few intermediate (genetic) steps."

5. Yet I could potentially see Collins might mean something stronger such as Gen 2:7 is symbolically indicating life began in or as dust, evolved, and eventually became what we know to be modern humans. Like maybe Collins is really saying, evolutionarily speaking, inorganic matter in the primordial soup eventually produced life, so the dust represents inorganic matter evolving into hominid life, from which God in turn chose an individual male hominid and an individual female hominid and breathed his breath of life into them, and therefore these became humans bearing the image of God.

For instance, Collins has elsewhere said: "If genetics eventually forces reconsideration, he could perhaps reconceive of Adam and Eve as 'the king and queen of a larger population' and thereby preserve Genesis' historicity."

Again, what seems to lurk behind this view is the idea that Adam and Eve could have been selected by God from among a pre-existing population of hominids and made "human." Perhaps there's a small population of hominids (which evolved from another species). Say 10,000 individuals. Of the 10,000 hominid individuals, a male and a female hominid were chosen by God. Then God breathed the breath of life into them. Thus they became "human." And the father and mother of all subsequent humans including ourselves.

If this is the case, then it would be quite controversial. For it would be espousing theistic evolution to some degree.

And theistic evolution would arguably undermine Scripture. Others far better than I have pointed out how. I'll just point out if theistic evolution is true, then what's stopping modern humans from evolving into something not human in the future? Say into something like the star child of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Or say we become all but emotionless, maybe sort of like Vulcans, since emotions have become a tremendous evolutionary liability for humans. If we do continue to evolve, then that could theoretically affect our essential nature. Which in turn could mean Christ's nature as a man might be different from future "human" nature.

Or does God intervene to keep us from evolving beyond what we are now? If so, it strikes me as a rather ad hoc solution, no? But in any case the question remains, why?
Hence if a person should want to suggest some level of intermediate process for Genesis 2:7, then rather than argue on that point I prefer to make sure that he can see the event as a special creation.
This too sounds fuzzy to me. What does Collins mean by "some level of intermediate process"? Is this meant to imply neo-Darwinism?

In addition, is Collins saying if someone wants to intrepret Gen 2:7 as possibly allowing for human evolution along neo-Darwinian theory, then he won't argue the point, but he'll make sure the person sees humans were created by God's special creation? Although special creation has a distinct meaning in theological language, it's not so distinct as to preclude, say, the idea I spoke about in #5 above, I don't think. Is this what Collins is suggesting? Or something else? I mean, what precisely does Collins' use of "special creation" entail here?
Why contend over further details about the steps God took in forming, when we have bigger fish to fry?
That depends in large measure on what Collins is suggesting. Is he opening the door to the possibility of theistic evolution, for instance?
I wonder whether we can conduct such disagreements without insinuating that the other party has somehow undermined the authority of Scripture.
But if neo-Darwinism is true, then it would seem like Scripture is undermined, and, if so, then its authority diminished, as Belcher has explained in his review.
But I am left wondering why, if someone comes to suspect that a brother minister in the same denomination has articulated things that seem to have compromised his ordination vows, the first thought isn't, "That can't be right! Let me call that guy and see if I understood him correctly before I get us into the process of public warning which calls forth a public reply." It would sure save a lot of time.
At the risk of stating the obvious, Collins published a book for the general public. So it would invite a public response.

Anyway, again maybe I'm missing something or I'm too slow or simple-minded to understand what Collins is arguing, but my impression is Collins is quite wishy washy in spelling out what he actually thinks. At best, his response seems cagey to me.


  1. Methinks you could have styled this post as "Banadam Part Deux - Upon the Slippery Slope"!

  2. Too often I've seen presbyterians leaning towards the Theistic Evolution side pull out the Warfield card "but Warfield said something similar and suuuuurely you don't want to suggest he was guilty of any serious error, right?" Collins does the same here.

    I think he spent too much time playing the offended victim of Belcher's review and not enough adding clarity.

    Even if "form" doesn't rule out intermediate steps, how does that help us decide orthodoxy? Does "resurrection" or any other individual words used to describe what happened to Jesus three days later rule out a spiritual interpretation? Is that a good method of setting our boundary markers?