Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Board my burning ship!

Peter Enns hosted a guest post by Karl Giberson

Giberson was a founder of BioLogos, the flagship of theistic evolution. 

The challenge of taking “God’s Two Books” (nature and the Bible) seriously has grown dramatically in recent years as genetic evidence has made it clear that Adam and Eve cannot have been historical figures, at least as described in the Bible.

i) That statement has the merit of clarity. Rather that saying genetic evidence forces us to reinterpret Gen 2 (or Rom 5), he says genetic evidence falsifies Gen 2. Adam and Eve, "as described in the Bible," "cannot have been historical figures" given the genetic evidence.

So on his view, Gen 2 is simply inconsistent with the genetic evidence. He doesn't fudge the issue by saying the traditional interpretation of Gen 2 is wrong. Rather, he says Gen 2 is wrong. The traditional interpretation is right; what's wrong is the text itself!

ii) Keep in mind that Giberson is a physicist. He has no particular scientific expertise to pronounce on human evolution. 

More scientifically informed evangelicals within conservative traditions are admitting that the evidence is undermining Creation-Fall-Redemption theology. Christians have struggled to preserve this central Christian understanding in a way that is faithful to both the Bible and science; literalists have tried to preserve it by rejecting science or making increasingly strange claims about the world.

Why does he label them "literalists"? He's just admitted that he interprets Gen 2 the same way they do. The difference is that he feels free to reject it. He acknowledges what the Bible says, but denies it. 

He then picks on Ken Ham. But Ham's an easy mark. Why not select a more intellectually impressive creationist as his foil? 

Ross also insists that the Fall inaugurated only human death. Ross goes further. Not only is death a part of the natural order but God ordained it to provide oil and other raw materials useful for humans. The benefits to humanity of these earlier life forms, says Ross, renders their suffering, death, and even extinction a good thing, and not an evil to be explained as a consequence of sin.

Although I disagree with some other things Ross says, I don't have a problem with that statement. 

[Denis] Alexander suggests that the Genesis account is based on an actual historical episode where God reached into history: “God in his grace chose a couple of Neolithic farmers in the Near East, or maybe a community of farmers, to whom he chose to reveal himself in a special way, calling them into fellowship with himself—so that they might know him as a personal God.” (Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?p. 236)

That treats Gen 2-3 as an allegory. Problem is, Gen 2-3 doesn't say or imply that God chose a couple of Neolithic farmers in the ANE, or maybe a community of farmers, to whom he chose to reveal himself in a special way. It doesn't say anything like that. What it says isn't even analogous to that. And what it actually says is contrary to that. 

So that's an arbitrary "interpretation" that has no basis in the text. No connection to the text. Superimposed from the outside. 

Back to Giberson:

Christianity, after all, is not a religion about Adam; it is a religion about Christ. Adam can be understood in many ways. Unfortunately, however, the historical Adam has become a line in the sand for many evangelicals, who don’t even want to engage the conversation.

i) That's far too facile. Can a Christian have faith in Christ without having faith in what Christ had faith in? Christ had faith in OT history–including the creation account (Mt 19:4-5). Can a Christian have faith in Christ if he fails to share Christ's faith in OT revelation? 

ii) Moreover, many evangelicals do engage the conversation, but hold their ground.

iii) Finally, Giberson isn't laying his cards on the table. But as he himself as admitted elsewhere:

…my belief in God is tinged with doubts and, in my more reflective moments, I sometimes wonder if I am perhaps simply continuing along the trajectory of a childhood faith that should be abandoned. As a purely practical matter, I have compelling reasons to believe in God. My parents are deeply committed Christians and would be devastated, were I to reject my faith. My wife and children believe in God, and we attend church together regularly. Most of my friends are believers. I have a job I love at a Christian college that would be forced to dismiss me if I were to reject the faith that underpins the mission of the college. Abandoning belief in God would be disruptive, sending my life completely off the rails. I can sympathize with Darwin as he struggled against the unwanted challenges to his faith. 

Sounds like he's a closet agnostic (or atheist). Intellectually, he's not a Christian believer. But the consequences of open apostasy are too emotionally and socially disruptive. So he goes through the motions. 

Why, then, does he think it's so important to make Christians agree with him, when he himself has so little intellectual investment in the Christian faith? Why go to such efforts to coax them into a sinking ship which he'd abandon if a lifeboat was available? Why exhort Christians to board his burning ship when he himself would jump ship were it not for his professional and sentimental attachments? 


  1. "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' 23"And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'

  2. A recent lecture by Fazale Rana on Evidence from Molecular Anthropology for an Historical Adam and Eve

    My collection of links to Reasons to Believe Resources Relating to Human Origins

  3. "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one..."