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Saturday, July 25, 2015

God, Adam & Eve and Science

Dr. James McGrath has posted an interesting graphic depicting the degree to which the various denominations of Christianity accept evolutionary science. (View at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2015/07/science-and-christianity-in-the-u-s.html) As part of the same post, he provided a link to an article that I found to be extremely interesting and thought provoking. The article by Karl Giberson of Stonehill College is entitled "Why Losing Adam & Eve is so hard." (View at: http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2015/06/gib398002.shtml)

In his article, Giberson looks at the profound impact that the Biblical story about Adam and Eve has had on Western thought, especially within the United States. In fact, he makes a compelling case for this story being "The Central Myth of Western Culture." Giberson sees this story as the basis for the opposition to science that exists within Evangelical Christianity. He points out that this myth has colored Western notions about such things as man's relationship with the natural environment, the proper role of males and females in society, the institution of marriage, race relations, free will and the nature of sin and temptation. Of particular interest to this blogger, Giberson underscores how this mythology has been used in the fight against gay marriage ("God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!") He also points out that the study of genetics has demonstrated that we (humans) are closely related to chimps and bonobos, and that mankind existed for many millennia prior to the events described in the second and third chapters of Genesis.

Nevertheless, after reading the article, I found myself once again asking the question: Why must we accept the understanding/perspective of the literalists in interpreting this story? Is acceptance of the historicity of Adam and Eve, and the events described in these two chapters of Genesis, really essential to understanding this story and incorporating it into our theology? In the article, Giberson wonders aloud whether or not the original human author(s) of these passages even believed that they were recording a story about real individuals and events. When one considers the highly symbolic nature of the language employed in the telling of this story, I think that we would have to admit that this is at the very least a possibility (e.g. a paradise like garden, a tree of life, a tree of the knowledge of good and evil, a talking snake). Moreover, Christ's and Paul's use of the story does not necessarily entail an endorsement of the historicity of the characters or their story. Isn't it possible that they recognized some profound spiritual truths had been communicated in this story, and that they used it to illustrate/communicate some spiritual truths of their own?

Why can't we see this story as an affirmation of God's interest in and involvement with mankind? Why can't we see this story as an affirmation that humanity shares a common origin - that we are all related to each other? Why can't we see this story as illustrative of the truth that mankind has rejected a moral code of Divine origin and has pursued one of its own devising? After all, isn't it possible to say that various passages throughout the Bible are illustrative of what happens when man pursues his own understanding of what is right and what is wrong? Does this story mandate the acceptance of the concept of original sin, or is it possible to interpret it as illustrative of how each of us as individuals pursues our own definition of right and wrong and lose our innocence along the way? Does this story mandate the notion that our collective and individual ability to reason has been corrupted (Giberson points out in his article that Aquinas didn't think so)? Does this story negate the notion that each and every one of us are born with a tabula rasa and ultimately bear at least some responsibility for what gets written on its surface? In short, does the whole theological house of cards have to collapse if Adam and Eve never really existed?

In the final analysis, we each have to answer these questions for ourselves. This blogger is comfortable with the story of Adam and Eve and accepts evolutionary science. What about you?

4 comments:

  1. How about the Gospels, do they need to be historical for liberal Christians to still function?

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  2. The gospels don't have to be historically accurate for Christians to function. Of course, the basic outlines (Jesus existence, ministry, death and resurrection) of the story must have some basis in fact for the religion to have any validity. It is, however, of no consequence to this Christian what color his robe actually was, whether or not someone paraphrased some of his teachings, if their geography was off or they got some of the events out of sequence.

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  3. Miller, I (as a CoG member for near on 50 yrs and have now come to the conclusion that I had built my whole adult life on a foundation of sand.)read your blog from time to time to see what you have to say, because you also see many of the things I have come to see regarding the Bible but yet you can still believe in God where I can not. Considering that I could be wrong again I keep checking.
    This article only shows me more clearly that the whole construct is man made and all you are doing IMO is writing your own Bible :-) regards Toby

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  4. Toby, I'm glad you made it out alive, and that you are still willing to search for truth and consider different perspectives - that's important. I hope that you will continue your search for truth - never give that up (I believe that we were meant to explore and ask questions). I hope too that you will continue to check in from time to time and comment (and I promise not to expect or demand that you agree with me). Best wishes, Lonnie.

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