This essay is a response to the first paper in the series Southern Baptist Voices, a dialogue between Southern Baptist seminarians and representatives of the BioLogos perspective on science and Christian faith. For a more complete description of the project’s history and aims, please see our introduction here.
In Part 1 and Part 2 of his own two-part paper, Expressing Our Concerns, Dr. Kenneth Keathley named six areas that many Southern Baptists find problematic about BioLogos. While Thursday’s Part 1 of our response covered the first three of those concerns, this post picks up with our consideration of Keathley’s points four, five and six.
4. The status of Adam and Eve:
Keathley declares the historicity of Adam and Eve to be a “litmus test,” though for what exactly he does not say. Presumably he means a litmus test for biblical orthodoxy, but not for being a Christian. Keathley rightly points to Paul’s argument in Romans 5 as one of the most challenging New Testament passages regarding Adam and Eve, and we have welcomed extensive discussion of it on our website.
BioLogos does not take a firm position on the historicity of Adam and Eve, but welcomes a range of perspectives, as seen in this statement composed by several evangelical leaders at our New York conference. We view the historical details of Adam and the physical details of the Fall as secondary matters of belief and not core beliefs on which all Christians must agree. Meanwhile, we wholeheartedly affirm the core belief that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3) and that the only answer to human sinfulness is the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Finally, then, whether or not Adam was a real person is a theological question, not a scientific one; the most science can say is that there was never a time when the human population from which all modern humans descended was as small as two individuals. This fact obviously creates interesting questions regarding the image of God and original sin, but nothing in evolutionary biology precludes the possibility that God began a covenantal relationship with a real, historical first couple who brought about spiritual death as a result of their disobedience.
Keathley paraphrases three of C. John Collins’s criteria for an orthodox understanding of Adam and Eve as laid out in his recent book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?:
- The origin of the human could not have come about by mere natural processes.
- Adam and Eve were “at the headwaters of the human race.”
- A historical fall must have occurred very closely to the beginning of the human race.
Interestingly, Keathley does not include Collins’s fourth criterion, which specifically allows for the possibility of an evolutionary scenario:
If someone should decide that there were, in fact, more human beings than just Adam and Eve at the beginning of mankind, then…he should envision these humans as a single tribe…This tribe “fell” under the leadership of Adam and Eve. This follows from the notion of solidarity in a representative (p121).
By “origin of the human” in (a), Collins means not simply how modern human physiology came about, but how humans came to be made in the image of God. According to Collins, “‘in our image, after our likeness’ [Gen. 1:26] implies that humans were made with some kind of resemblance to God, which was to enable them to represent God as benevolent rulers, and to find their fulfillment in their relationships with each other and with God” (p94). Humans having animal forebears does not, in Collins’s view nor ours, make this description problematic. Since science can only investigate “mere natural processes,” we do not expect that a purely scientific description could ever fully account for the human person.
Paraphrased as it is here, one might mistake (b) to mean that Adam and Eve must be the sole genetic progenitors of all humankind, but given the fourth criterion and further explanation, Collins makes it clear that this isn’t necessary. Rather, he is concerned to avoid “polygenesis,” the idea that humans arose independently in multiple places. Such an idea is unsettling, in his view, because it “[implies] that there are some humans who do not need the Christian message because they are not ‘fallen’—or else that every time God made human beings they ‘fell,’ or that there is some other means of transmitting sin.” As the scientific data currently suggest a single origin for humans (the so-called “out of Africa” model), we need not concern ourselves further on this point here.
As for (c), we do not dispute the occurrence of a historical Fall, though we do not presume to know how exactly it occurred. We have been clear to point out, though, that all physical death is not the result of human sin; many entire species became extinct long before humans appeared on the scene. As Collins points out, “the teeth and claws of a lion are not a decoration, nor have they been perverted from their ‘pre-fall use’” (p116).
In brief, we interpret the Gen. 2:17 threat of death upon disobedience to be that of spiritual death—broken relationships and alienation from God. More will be said on this critical topic when we post the Southern Baptist essays on death and the problem of evil.
5. The perennial problem of evil:
The problem of evil is indeed a challenge, as it always has been for the church. While the biblical narrative does indicate that death will be conquered forever in the new heavens and new earth, Scripture does not take a universally negative view of suffering and death in the present age. Rather it is recognized as being both a tragedy and a creative force. In John 12, Jesus says,
24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
The agricultural imagery helps us understand that new life comes at a significant cost. Consider also Paul’s words in Romans 5:3-4: “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” We don’t glory in suffering for suffering’s sake, but because of the outcome—a hope that doesn’t disappoint.
Not only does suffering ultimately produce hope in the life of individual believers, but as Tertullian observed so long ago, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” God in his mysterious wisdom has chosen to grow his church through great pain and suffering, but he promises to redeem it in the end.
In his essay, Keathley declares that “evolutionary theory presents selfishness as a virtue—perhaps the only virtue. Even altruism is seen as well-disguised selfishness.” While this may represent a popular understanding of evolution, we’d like to point out that any scientific theory is merely descriptive, not prescriptive. The observation that stronger individuals in a population tend to flourish at the expense of weaker ones does not justify a “might makes right” mentality. Any treatment of evolution that presents selfishness as a virtue has ventured outside the realm of science and into philosophy.
This topic will be addressed in more depth in response to the essay by Steve Lemke.
6. The nature and authority of Scripture:
We at BioLogos believe the Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God. By the Holy Spirit it is the “living and active” means though which He speaks to the church today, bearing witness to His Son, Jesus, as the divine Logos, or Word of God.
We do not use the words “infallible” or “inerrant” here because these words mean different things to different audiences. Keathley writes that the Bible is “without any mixture of error,” but what does he mean exactly? Are we to take Jesus’ statement that the mustard seed was the smallest of all seeds as a declaration of scientific fact, when botanists have identified smaller ones? Or was Jesus simply speaking in ways his readers could understand?
We appreciate Keathley pointing out that B.B. Warfield, who wrote so clearly in support of inerrancy, held to theistic evolution. We have posted an excellent two-part series on Warfield’s meaning of the term inerrancy by Michael Horton (here and here). Horton points out that Warfield defined inerrancy as the truthfulness in what the biblical writers were affirming. According to Warfield, “It is true that the Scriptures were not designed to teach philosophy, science, or ethnology, or human history as such, and therefore they are not to be studied primarily as sources of information on these subjects.” This statement may surprise many who take a narrower view of inerrancy. We recommend Horton’s essay without reservation and would be interested to know whether Southern Baptist scholars such as Keathley take issue with it.
Keathley concludes his essay with these words:
If the members of The BioLogos Foundation someday demonstrate how evolutionary creationism fits reasonably with a high view of Scripture, a credible approach to Gen 1-3, a historical Adam and Eve, and a historical Fall, then I will be the first to take their arguments seriously.
We hope this essay, and the ones still to come in this series, go some small way toward meeting his challenge. May God’s truth prevail in all our efforts.
With the posting of this last part of the BioLogos response, comments sections are open for all of the previous posts, as well. If you would like to comment on a particular point in either Dr. Keathley’s paper or the response, we suggest that you do so on that particular post, in order to facilitate easier navigation of the multiple conversations that are likely to arise around the issues raised. As stated in the introduction, we will be more actively monitoring the comments as they are posted so that both tone and content are consistent with the BioLogos aim of creating a space of conversation, rather than confrontation. Please also review our commenting guidelines.