Abstract:The contributors to Adam, the Fall, and Original Sin rightly maintain the traditional view of the historicity of Adam and the entry of sin into the world through him. However, the account displays three weaknesses. Firstly, the inerrant authority of Scripture is sometimes interpreted as entailing that the Ancient Near Eastern context of Genesis sheds no light on how it should be read. Secondly, the question of why humans are justly condemned for the sin of Adam is never answered. Thirdly, no ground for dialogue with science is provided. It is more successful in indicating what we should affirm than in grappling with the difficulties of affirming it.
Tritely told, the story goes like this. Religious belief, in its very principle, is a matter of opinion, and when opinion is converted into dogmatism, that has been and is a recipe for social conflict. Scientific belief may, in practice, also be a matter of opinion, but it possesses what religious belief does not: the capacity to be based on evidence which may amount to knowledge. It provides a basis for social well-being. Science is the product of reason; religion is the product of faith. So much for principle. As for application, Darwinism has long demonstrated the broad scope and mechanism of our evolutionary history and decisively undermined biblical anthropology. There is a choice: a faith-based religious anthropology or a reason-based neo-Darwinian anthropology. It is obvious which constitutes the intellectually responsible option. An historical Adam, fall and original sin does not.
Hans Madueme and Michael Reeves have gathered together a team of authors resolved to combat this position, not in the spirit of those who merely do not wish to cede this particular piece of territory but with the conviction of those who regard this combat more or less as a battle for the existence of Christianity.1 Their aim is to persuade, but the audience is strictly limited; one of the essayists, Carl Trueman, justifiably says that he assumes ‘that this volume is aimed primarily at a Protestant evangelical readership’. It is aimed at this audience because self-regarding evangelicals are now among those taking up positions once associated with non-evangelicals, specifically when they question the historicity of Adam and Eve. Hence, in part 1, the contributors deal with Adam and Eve in the Bible. Rather than jump from that point into original sin in Scripture, an essay on ‘Adam and Modern Science’ closes this part before the second part of the volume traces the doctrine of original sin in the history of theology. Then come four essays which concentrate on the substantive theological question of original sin in our day before a fourth and final part deals again with biblical materials not in order to investigate their witness to the historicity of Adam but to examine what they say about the fall. The closing essay is on ‘Adam, History and Theodicy’.
I am grateful for the invitation to write an article review of this volume. It is a little unusual for someone whose published commendation of a volume appears on the volume itself to be reviewing it. On the basis of correspondence extending over two or three years, by now, Hans knows that we differ on some significant points and it is not only gracious but also a sign of transparency on his part to promote this exchange in Themelios. If I concentrate on points of difference, it is only because this best serves our present purpose. Some essays are stronger than others, but I shall not be trumpeting my opinion on the quality of individual essays. It is as well to place my commendatory cards on the table from the outset. On the question of the historical existence of Adam and the entry of sin into the world through him, I believe that the tradition both rightly interprets Scripture and rightly stands theologically by its teachings. Here, I find that the volume is persuasive, and I am now happy to say so. C. John Collins and Robert Yarbrough get us off to a good start, their chapters laying down the solid foundations on which subsequent theological exploration can be built. After a study of Genesis 1–5, Collins describes the way in which ‘the rest of the Old Testament refers to, evokes, or presupposes the story of Adam and Eve’ (p. 5). Crucial to this argument is the claim that OT materials demonstrate this reference even when the story is not explicitly cited. A sample of extra-biblical Jewish writings from the Second Temple period interprets the Genesis story similarly, so ‘the whole Old Testament story presupposes the historical significance of Adam and Eve as the fountainhead of humanity and as the doorway by which sin came into God’s world’ (p. 5). Robert Yarbrough follows this through in relation to the NT, establishing the continuity between Pauline and OT presuppositions in relation to the role of Adam in the entry of sin into the world. Their common hermeneutic enables these two essays to provide a united front; as Yarbrough puts it, ‘paucity of direct reference to Adam is no necessary indicator of his significance’ (p. 41).
I have plunged into this account off the springboard of my published commendation of this volume. Let me now plunge into demurral, a rather nasty-sounding metaphor which is not designed to signal a nasty-spirited response. While Collins and Yarbrough persuasively show why we should demur from Peter Enns’s conclusion that Paul is giving an account of Adam discontinuous with that of the OT, the essay which sets out most deliberately to tackle Peter Enns, namely James Hamilton’s later contribution on ‘Original Sin in Biblical Theology’ in the third part of the volume, fails to come to effective grips with Enns’s reasoning in some key areas. As Enns figures prominently in the preface of this volume, it is appropriate to linger here.
Consistently with the earlier essays, Hamilton emphasizes against Enns the distinction between telling and showing and the way in which narratives work. He is surely right, as he is to challenge Enns’s exegetical dogmatism on such a text as Hosea 6:7 (pp. 201–2). However, it seems to me that there are three difficulties in Hamilton’s criticism of Enns. Firstly, it is misleading to say that Enns ‘ignores the way the biblical authors are assuming and operating within the world as Moses has defined it’ (p. 204). Enns does not ignore it; the fact of the matter is that, on critical grounds, he has a different view of Pentateuchal authorship and dating from that of Hamilton, whose view he regards as demonstrably improbable in the extreme. As far as Enns is concerned, we do not know who wrote, e.g., Deuteronomy; it could have been anyone up to and including Ezra.2 If we do not understand the OT as a whole in its post-exilic setting, on which there is considerable scholarly consensus, we shall not understand what it is trying to do and that includes what is going on in its opening chapters. In sum, since Moses did not define the world in which the biblical authors are operating, there is nothing to ignore. That is Enns’s position.
Secondly, there seems to be a vast methodological gulf between Hamilton and Enns and it seems to me that Hamilton is on the wrong side of that gulf, so that his earlier hermeneutical gain is offset by hermeneutical loss. I allude to Hamilton’s claim that ‘[t]he only access we have to what the biblical authors thought or assumed is what they wrote’ (p. 189). This is deeply problematic. If the claim were that, de facto, we know too little about the ANE background of the OT for it to cast any light on what biblical authors thought or assumed, that would be one thing and contentious enough at that. However, the point seems to be one of methodological principle and, as such, presumably amounts to the claim that the Bible is an exception to rules of general hermeneutics. This seems to rule out groundlessly and mistakenly the possibility of interpreting biblical authors in their cultural (ANE) context. There is certainly plenty to discuss in relation to how ANE and canonical contexts should be related, but why should a ‘high’ view of biblical inspiration entail the claim that a writer’s thought or assumptions is accessible only through what he writes? If space prevents Hamilton from giving a hermeneutical account, at least the hermeneutical disagreement with Enns ought to be couched explicitly not only in terms of the distinction between telling and showing, but also in terms of reading Genesis against its ANE background. Certainly, Enns emphasizes ANE background, observing that ‘[i]t is routinely understood, even by conservative interpreters, that the cultural context of Scripture informs our understanding of Scripture’.3
Have I fairly represented Hamilton’s position? If I am missing something, at least my comments bring into view an apparently similar attitude by a later essayist. Noel Weeks, in his essay on ‘The Fall and Genesis 3’, refuses to interpret the early chapters of Genesis in conjectural terms derived from ANE Egyptian or Mesopotamian texts. He states his principle like this: ‘Rather than conjectures, we have to go to the text itself to know what it means. Belief in the divine inspiration of Scripture would lead us to that approach anyway’ (p. 292). This is to confuse issues of authority with issues of interpretation. Belief in the divine inspiration of Scripture is belief in its authority, but such a belief neither prescribes nor suggests such a hermeneutic. True, we should not build anything on conjecture, but that is different from apparently dividing up the hermeneutical world into what is conjectured and what is in the text. The same problem arises when Weeks proceeds to comment that he is not ‘adopting the canonical approach of Brevard Childs, for that method presupposes an earlier chaotic history for the text but ignores that history because it leads into a chaos of conjecture from which no meaningful interpretation can emerge’ (p. 292). Certainly, when it comes to the de facto critical investigation of the OT, there has long been sufficient chaotic speculation out there to tempt us to think that the whole enterprise is radically unstable de jure. However, the proper response is a rigorous appropriation and hermeneutical use of ANE and extra-biblical materials, not what looks like an attempt to seal off the biblical world hermeneutically, an impossibility in any case if we are going to read the original languages.
Thirdly, returning to Hamilton, it is tendentious and emotive to say that Enns seeks the kind of synthesis between the Bible and evolution ‘where the Bible bows the knee to evolution’ in practice (p. 196). In context, this claim is connected with the first two points and it is worth adding that Enns’s treatment of universality and particularity in the relevant Genesis account is a little more nuanced than Hamilton implies.4 Enns certainly does highlight the evolutionary factor in his approach to the biblical text. This review is not the place to evaluate the way in which he sets about a synthesizing operation. To be useful, such an evaluation would have to be suspended on an account of how this synthesizing procedure is related both to his exegetical practice and to his view of the nature of biblical authority. I note here only that it is one hermeneutical thing to read the Bible against its ANE background, knowledge of which might directly inform our reading of the text, another hermeneutical thing to read it against the background of a scientific view, knowledge of which should not directly shape our reading. For example, in principle the ANE material may help me to interpret the biblical material by disclosing to me the world of the biblical writer; contemporary scientific views do not attain that. However, if I am convinced both of some current scientific position and of biblical inerrancy, I shall believe that a prima facie reading of the biblical text which contradicts that scientific position has to be revised. This, as such, is not to bow the knee; it is to seek the integration of beliefs and to allow that it is my interpretation of the Bible, not the Bible itself, that needs correction. What science can do is to help me to read the Bible on its own terms (which includes in its own context); it does not dictate the reading. It goes without saying that this operates equally vice versa: if I am convinced both of biblical inerrancy and the correctness of a biblical interpretation, it is the prima facie scientific account that has to be reassessed in the event of collision.
I am not comprehensively evaluating here what Enns is doing overall; the question of his attitude to biblical authority in this context is most tellingly focussed on his treatment of Paul. But what would Hamilton make of the accusation that to deny that Joshua really meant that the sun stood still is to bow the knee to post-Copernican heliocentricity? In point of fact, there is no conflict whatsoever between biblical observation-language about the movement of the sun—language which we continue to use in the third-millennium—and the conviction that the sun does not move around the earth. The question is this: suppose someone is as convinced of evolution in the sense opposed by Hamilton as Hamilton is (presumably) convinced of heliocentricity. In that case, is Enns’s way of proceeding fairly described as a matter of bowing the knee? Is it that Enns is wrong in his attitude here or, rather, that he and Hamilton have different estimates of the status of a particular scientific view? Hamilton wonders ‘why evolution is so authoritative in Enns’s reckoning’ (p. 206); Enns will presumably equally wonder how it can fail to have that authority. Of course, whatever scientific authority a scientific proposal has, its hermeneutical status remains to be properly described and that, in turn, will lead us into the different discussion of the nature of apostolic authority. However, the question of whether the evidence for the relevant kind of evolution is as strong as the evidence for a heliocentric view of the world is surely what really lies behind the question of whether there is knee-bowing going on.5
Concentrating on Hamilton’s essay risks giving the unfair impression that he is unrepresentative of his fellow-authors in carrying the burden of these criticisms, but that seems not to be the case, even if he is not always representative of all. To reiterate: it is only because of his engagement with Enns and only because much is made of Enns in the introduction to the whole volume that I have singled out this essay.6 As do the essayists in this volume, I demur both from Enns’s interpretation of the relationship between Pauline and Old Testament perspectives on Adam and his theological perspective on the historicity of Adam, so I am accompanying the essayists to first base.7
Suppose, then, that we are persuaded that the essayists give a fair account of how things stand biblically with Adamic historicity. How, now, do things stand theologically with original sin? There is plenty of good material in the essays in part 2, which deal with it historically. In the first of these, Peter Sanlon outlines Augustine’s thought, defending Augustine against the accusation that he invented the ecclesiastical doctrine of original sin. However, when Sanlon turns to a brief account of the Pelagian objection, trouble begins to brew which will later bubble up pretty fiercely with pressure on the theological defence of original sin in part 3. Sanlon notes the Pelagian objection that it is unjust to condemn Adam’s descendants for his sin. Judging by the silence of the essay, Augustine had no response this. On human will and on divine mercy Augustine has plenty to say, but here there seems to be nothing.
Will Lutheranism step into the breach and fill the void? There is no essay on medieval thought in this volume, so Lutheranism is next in line and we have a characteristically informed account of original sin in the Lutheran tradition by Robert Kolb. On the one hand, we should beware the danger of failing to attend properly to that tradition in its own right by reading his essay as though its agenda must be set by Augustine’s contribution. On the other, Lutheranism entered into mainstream Augustinian inheritance on the matter at hand and we are entitled to wonder whether the question of the justice of the condemnation of Adam’s progeny will rear its head and, if so, whether it will be addressed. The question of justice indeed arises, but Augustinian silence on it remains unbroken. In Kolb’s essay, we learn again of the human will and of divine mercy, but again not of how our condemnation for the sin of Adam can be regarded as just. Of course, this is accounted for in part by the sixteenth century context of Lutheran theology. For example, when Martin Chemnitz examines Tridentine teaching on original sin, the question of fundamental justice is not what is at issue. Yet, when Melanchthon tells us that it is the theological responsibility of the church to unfold and explain its brief doctrinal statements, we might expect something more; but Melanchthon does not offer it in the form which should interest a reader of this volume and where Melanchthon does not go, Chemnitz is unlikely to go.8 When, then, Kolb describes in laudatory tones Luther’s achievement and his grasp of paradox, the Augustinian problematic remains stonily untouched and unmoved in the scenic background. Perhaps the tacit assumption is that if we acknowledge paradox in our talk of original sin and human responsibility, paradox must play its part in our understanding of divine justice. Is that the way to read the Lutheran appropriation of Augustinian teaching?
However we answer that question, in any list of unlikely accusations against Calvin, the accusation of refusing to grasp the nettle and of being silent when speech is owed should come pretty high up. Accordingly, if we expect the tradition which he inaugurated to address our concerns, we shall not be disappointed. Donald Macleod guides us helpfully through it. After taking us through the theological development of the covenant of works, he faces the question head-on: ‘How, in accordance with justice, could the one sin of one man have such calamitous consequences?’ (p. 137). Once the question is introduced, it dominates. Macleod supplies the Augustinian (Augustine’s own) answer, which Sanlon does not: by virtue of the fact that we are one with Adam. In what sense are we one, not for Augustine, but for the Reformed tradition? The answer is: by federal unity. Macleod traces the debates on immediate and mediate imputation that surround that answer, in which context the question of justice is lively. Federal union secures the justice of our condemnation.
What is both interesting and significant is that, at the end of his essay, Macleod observes that, in the Reformed tradition, we are still left with the question (among others): exactly ‘[w]hy, for example, should the sin of Adam involve all his offspring in guilt?’ (p. 146). Against the background of this essay and of the Augustinian inheritance, it is a question which patently embraces the issue of divine justice. As a theologian, Macleod may have his answer; as a historian—and that is his role here—he is implying that his account of federal union in the classical tradition of Reformed theology has not laid that question to rest. It may be worth adding one footnote to this account. Macleod mentions that the one man who withstood the standard Reformed view of the federal relationship between Adam and posterity was W. G. T. Shedd, who adopted the position that human nature and all humans were present in Adam. My supplementary observation is that it is precisely the issue of justice which apparently drove Shedd to make his proposal. Shedd believed that the imputation to his posterity of the sin of a vicarious representative violates the order of justice.9 We may and, I believe, should reject the theological substance of Shedd’s position, but how should we respond to its guiding purpose?
Perhaps the Wesleyan tradition will tell us. Again, preoccupation with the question of justice should not be allowed to prevent that tradition from speaking on its own terms and, in a fine essay, Thomas H. McCall permits it to do just that. Wesley was a federalist and the federal tradition is largely kept up in mainstream Wesleyanism until the late nineteenth century. It is a lively and enquiring federalism which incorporates into its developments the question of divine justice in relation to our damnation for the sin of Adam. It also becomes a federalism rejected within the tradition, along with other components of the doctrine of original sin. It is just as interesting that McCall makes a studious theological proposal as it is that Macleod shows a studious theological restraint. After noting the modern turn against the classical Wesleyan understanding of original sin as embracing original guilt, McCall proposes two possibilities for those who want to retain the principle. The first is a fresh working of the notion of mediate imputation. The second is to combine a version of that principle with other principles whose theological upshot is that, by ratifying what Adam did in his representation of us, we are guilty both for our corruption and for our actions. These suggestions are briefly set out at the conclusion of the essay. When, then, we have read Carl Trueman’s essay on ‘Original Sin and Modern Theology’, which concludes this part of the volume, we might conclude that the Christian tradition had left modern theology with significantly unanswered questions on the doctrine of original sin. Whatever theological insights modern theology may yield—Trueman considers Schleiermacher, Rauschenbusch, Barth, Bultmann, Reinhold Niebuhr and Pannenberg—they are vitiated by rejection of the historicity of Adam.10 However, as far as our reading of Madueme and Reeves’s volume is concerned, we are bound to ask to what extent modern theological thinking on this question is the product of the failure of orthodoxy to establish the theological credibility of its tenets. Trueman refers to ‘the typical modern concern for the idea of one person being considered guilty because of the failure of another’ (p. 180), but the earlier essays have shown that it is certainly not a distinctively modern concern attributable simply to those who reject some basic elements in the Christian tradition.
Accordingly, when the co-authors of this volume arrive on the scene in its third part, they have given themselves a pretty demanding theological job to do. Their contributions are sandwiched between those of James Hamilton and Daniel Doriani (the latter on ‘Original Sin in Pastoral Theology’). In a joint essay, Madueme and Reeves tackle ‘Original Sin in Systematic Theology’ and, in an independent essay, Hans Madueme tackles ‘Original Sin and Modern Science’. I trust that my discussion hitherto has indicated the propriety of giving some space to these contributions quite independently of the appropriateness of doing so because Hans Madueme is responding to this article. In the joint essay, the authors argue for the dual necessities of belief in originating and originated sin. If we do not believe in the former, we cannot avoid the conclusion that evil is a part of creation, and this is drastic. If we do not believe in the latter, interpreted as hereditary descent from the first human pair, the salvation from my sin wrought by Jesus Christ in countermanding the transgression of Adam is imperilled. Ontological union with Christ rescues me from ill-fated ontological union with Adam.
The force of Madueme and Reeves’s first point (on originating sin) is hard to avoid; the Achilles’ heel of the position which denies an historical fall is the theological implications for our view of evil in creation. In this context, we should also welcome the authors’ rescue of Irenaeus from those interpretations which make him an ally of that denial, although it is a pity that the historical account in Part 2 begins with Augustine and not with Irenaeus. The second contention—on originated sin—is more troublesome. There are two difficulties here. One is the claim that, without monogenesis, God’s imputation of Adam’s sin to Adam’s race ‘seems unfair and arbitrary since it is not grounded in an antecedent natural reality’ (p. 217). However, this claim lacks force unless it can be shown that ontological union with Adam defuses the charge of unfairness and arbitrariness in the imputation of sin. Madueme and Reeves produce no argument to that effect. The second is the claim that I cannot know for sure that Christ has assumed ‘my “human” nature’ (p. 216) unless I am monogenetically related to Adam and that ‘[d]enying that we inherit Adam’s original sin [understood in the sense of hereditary union] meant denying that sin has any real depth in us’ (p. 218). However, it is one thing to argue the exegetical case for the authors’ claim about an ontological link, quite another to argue its theological necessity in this fashion. I confess that I am reminded of the argument that if you deny the historicity of Adam, then belief in the historicity of Jesus Christ is unsafe. As though belief in the historicity of Jesus depended on belief in the historicity of Adam! Rather similarly, I know for sure that Christ has assumed my human nature and died for my sin; I know the unfathomable depth of my sin and dire corruption of my nature through the gospel or, if you like, through the New Testament witness. I know it unshakeably while I may puzzle over how to understand it theologically, how to interpret Romans 5, or how to regard the relative claims of monogenism and polygenism.11
This brings me to a weakness in the volume as a whole, manifested especially in this essay. In rejecting interpretations of Genesis judged compatible with polygenesis, those interpretations which accept the contemporaneity with Adam of ‘humanlike contemporaries’, Madueme and Reeves aver that this looks like a ‘blatant contradiction to the biblical teaching’ and that ‘[o]ne looks in vain for any indication in Genesis 2–3 that there were any humans, or humanlike beings, other than Adam and Eve’ (p. 216f.). What is puzzling here is the total silence not only in this essay but in the whole volume of a key passage in this discussion: Genesis 4:14–17. The index to the volume indicates hundreds of biblical texts cited in this work, but Genesis 4:14–16 never turns up at all and Genesis 4:17 turns up only once in connection with 4:17–22, without hint of its significance for this debate (see p. 10). This, of course, is where we learn that Cain, after expressing the fear that his expulsion from the land which he was working will make him a wanderer liable to be murdered, settles down in Nod and gets married. It looks as though the text places him in a populated world. Of course, it cannot clearly be doing so, because of what has preceded it in Genesis 2 and 3. Then how should the chapters be related? The possibilities are many. They are ignored in this volume. Madueme and Reeves also ignore the fact that they are committed to the goodness of original incest as the means of propagation according to God’s design, whether between siblings or between Adam and his daughters, Eve and her sons and so forth onto the possibility of uncles and aunts until the whole thing is (should we not say, mercifully?) avoided. Had the authors said that they were willing to accept this; had they explained why the affirmation that Cain’s wife must have been his sister does not really strain the text; had they added that neither is it strained by the supposition that those feared by Cain as he wandered away must have been his own kin and that he was either initially alone in Nod with his wife or had been joined by other unmentioned kin—had they said all this, the reader could have weighed the words and agreed or disagreed. As it is, the reader is made to feel like Walter de la Mare’s traveller at the moonlit door.12
Quite apart from what we might conclude about the literary genre of Genesis 2–3 (or 1–3, for that matter) studied in its own right, we must ask what light Genesis 4 throws on our reading of the preceding chapters just as we must ask to what reading of Genesis 4 those chapters point us. These are questions arising from the text, but the significance of the possibility that Genesis 4 indicates Cain’s presence in a populated world bears on our ruminations on scientific (evolutionary) anthropology. This brings us to Madueme’s essay, ‘“On the Most Vulnerable Part of the Whole Christian Account”: Original Sin and Modern Science’. Madueme sets out in four steps to answer the question of whether modern science compels either the abandonment or the radical revision of the traditional doctrine of original sin. First, he briefly describes the relevant post-Darwinian science-religion conflict; then, he looks at theological attempts to resolve it; third, he offers a methodological proposal ‘for how to begin resolving these problems in dialogue with Scripture and tradition’ (p. 227); finally, some concrete suggestions are made. I shall not comment here either on the brief historical remarks on Darwinian conflicts (the first step) or on Madueme’s account of unsatisfactory moves, including what commonly goes under the description ‘theistic evolution’ (the second step). The ‘jackpot’ question, says the author (p. 238), is the methodological one tackled in his third step. To the jackpot, then, we shall go.
The third step is executed in three moves. The first—strictly a ‘commitment’ rather than a ‘move’ (p. 241)—is an affirmation of biblical inerrancy. The second is an affirmation of ‘pneumatic certainty’, the testimony of the Spirit to the truth of Scripture. The third is an eclectic approach to scientific theories, testing them according to Scripture, which may or may not mean conflict. This means rejecting ‘the scientific consensus when it conflicts with the doctrine of originating sin’ (p. 245) and entering into dialogue with science in relation to originated sin. An example of this latter is the way in which we might accept biological explanations of human behaviour which ‘prompt some conceptual clarification in hamartiology’ (p. 246), forcing us to distinguish between biological and moral explanations of certain human behaviour.
What are we to make of this proposal? Well, if (a) commitment to biblical inerrancy is warranted and (b) we can be pneumatically certain that the Bible is the Word of God, then (c) an eclectic approach to scientific theories seems to follow. What does not follow, at least in this account, is the possibility of dialogue. What Madueme calls ‘genuine dialogue with science’ (p. 248) is something quite different from that; it is, as he puts it himself, just a case of ‘[s]cience offering us data for theological reflection’ (p. 247). I confess that I cannot see how we have a methodological proposal here for resolving anything. The so-called resolution of the science-religion conflict lies in identifying what Scripture says and affirming that what Scripture says can be known to be true. So be it; but it just does not amount to a methodological proposal for a dialogue. As it stands, it is just a statement of faith.
So is there no dialogue in the volume? Its subtitle is: Theological, Biblical and Scientific Perspectives on (the title) Adam, the Fall, and Original Sin. Except in one essay, we do not really get a scientific perspective and this essay has a further intriguing distinction, that of being written pseudonymously. It also ‘aims to bring the traditional doctrines of Adam and the fall into conversation with the scientific data by outlining the expectations we harbor for the human fossil record based on the biblical witness and comparing these expectations with current data and theories of paleoanthropology’ (p. 54). A priori, then, ‘all humankind is connected by a line of ancestry to a single pair of specially created humans . . . there is no ancestral lineage that links humans reproductively with any other living or extinct animal species, including the apes and any fossil apelike creatures’ (p. 55, emphasis original). Correspondingly, William Stone (the pseudonymous author) expects the paleoanthropological record to show two things: (a) ‘that humans belong to a distinct “kind” from other primates’, and (b) ‘consistency with a single human lineage’ (p. 55). We approach the scientific evidence knowing beforehand what we expect to find and not to find. And what do we find? We find that Adam is probably to be located at the root of the homo erectus to homo sapiens lineage almost 2 million years ago and that his progeny divided into different species. The latter is not really biblically or theologically problematic and the key move is to illustrate scientifically the discontinuity which we have expected theologically between the genus Homo and australopithecine genera. Of course (says Stone) this leaves problems unsolved. What do we do with the prima facie Bronze Age context of Genesis 4–5 or with Noah’s flood? We do not know; but we can expect to get there some time.
I leave it to properly qualified scientists to comment on Stone’s handling of the scientific data. Although there are occasional allusions to genetics, it is fossils rather than genetics that interest William Stone; consequently, we have no essay in the volume which tackles crucial questions in scientific biology. I shall cut to the chase by omitting also any discussion of the scientific reasoning involved in the essay and ask the question: what shall we make of Stone’s method of approach and its effect on the possibilities of conversation between Scripture and science? Certainly, if ‘x’ is known to be the case or if there are strong grounds for believing ‘x’, it is not only in order to bring that knowledge or belief into our evaluation of any claims and theories—it is necessary. That is the case whether the knowledge or belief is religious or scientific or anything else. Methodologically, there is no objection in principle to a person bringing his or her religious beliefs to bear on scientific investigation; to say otherwise is to affirm that the outcomes of scientific investigation are, in principle, more certain than those of religious reasoning and that such an affirmation might take the form of a methodological commitment every bit as a priori as that of Stone. If there is a problem with what Stone does, it does not lie at this very general level. Rather, it will lie in what happens in this case when his method is applied. Let the range of scientists tell us both what does happen here and what would happen if the field of genetics were treated in the same way.13
We know, of course, what the overall evaluation of Stone’s conclusions will be in mainstream science (at least in general; I do not myself know what will be made of every detail in the argument). Here, we are in the neighbourhood of an issue which Madueme also faces in his essay: just how secure do scientific ‘findings’ have to be in order to overthrow theological conclusions? Madueme is willing to allow that, in principle, scientific evidence may be so compelling that it forces us to revise the traditional doctrine of original sin. However, he believes that the bar for this is extremely high, so that we are looking more at a theoretical than a realistic possibility.
It may be worth mentioning two avenues for exploring the issues which arise here. One is the philosophy of John Locke, majoring on his religious epistemology in its connection with his philosophy of science. Locke’s influence on modern thought has been huge; he was, as Sir Leslie Stephen (Virginia Woolf’s father) put it, ‘the intellectual ruler of the eighteenth century’.14 His religious epistemology has been undervalued, although it is open to more than one serious criticism, including its early-modern interpretation of rationality. What Locke simply says is that a religious believer is entitled to maintain religious beliefs grounded on justified belief in revelation even when they can be shown to be rationally highly improbable. Revelation trumps contrary rational probability. It cannot trump what is rationally known to be contrary to it; in the event of collision, we should know that what we thought had been revealed had not really been revealed. Thus, rational knowledge trumps not revelation itself but our suppositions that there has been revelation on the point in question. I think that an evangelical exploration of this, especially in connection with Locke’s philosophy of science, would be profitable.15
The second is contemporary or twentieth century philosophy of science. Some of us will demur both from the exegesis of Genesis in this volume which rules out ‘theistic evolution’ and from the authors’ refusal to accept the scientific evidence for the integration of humankind into evolutionary history.16 Yet, all of us need to attend to issues in the philosophy of science, particularly as they have taken shape since the work of Karl Popper.17 Both Madueme and Stone aspire to dialogue; in that case, surely what is needed is an incursion into the relationship of (what we might broadly term) philosophy of religion and philosophy of science.18
Stone’s enterprise is driven by a conviction which is not his alone, though it is impossible to say whether it is shared by all the other authors—a conviction that the doctrine of original sin is either drastically redefined or lost if humans are located along an evolutionary line extending back to pre-human or non-human ancestors. This is not necessarily so. When Scripture talks about ‘man’ or humankind, it is tempting to assume that it means what anthropologists mean when they use that language. However, anthropologists do not demarcate species by identifying a point at which the first humans became addressed by God, called by God, answerable to God. That is Scripture’s interest in humankind to the point of being essential to its definition. There will be a neurological correlation to this summons, but, unless we accept some form of mind-brain identity theory, the spiritual summons is hidden, as is the apostasy of the fall. What is definitive of humanity by biblical standards is scientifically invisible, just as God and salvation are invisible, and an evolutionary pre-history does not in the least affect this. Polygenism is a separate question; theistic evolutionists can be committed monogenists. I think that Madueme is right to point out the dangers in this area of accommodation to the latest scientific picture, dangers which are grave indeed if even someone of Henri Blocher’s stature has to make retractions. Madueme is also right to note the possibility of adhering to the historicity of Adam without commitment to the chronological matter of where, on the evolutionary time-line, Adam appears (p. 237–38).
Mention of Blocher takes us into the last part of the volume. In his essay on ‘The Fall and Genesis 3’, Noel Weeks thinks that it is a struggle for Blocher to combine reference to an historical Adam with symbolic trees in Eden and that Blocher ‘seems reduced to saying that he is certain something happened but that translating from the symbolic to the actual is beyond us’ (p. 299n37).19 As a matter of fact, there is neither struggle nor reduction here. History symbolically rendered is scarcely alien to Scripture. Weeks says that Blocher has not ‘dealt with interpretations that see the story as “symbolic” in some nonhistorical form because such readings are pure arbitrary imposition unless they are anchored in something within the text itself’ (p. 305). Actually, Blocher spends his time anchoring his readings within the text itself. If Weeks insists that Blocher and others go outside the text in order to interpret trees as symbolic, then we are not only taken back to our earlier remarks about hermeneutics and ANE context, but Weeks has to tell us why he is not being arbitrary in taking the trees non-symbolically. What Collins says about other scholars in his opening essay applies to Weeks: he is ‘conflating historicity with a literalistic scheme of interpretation, without argument’ (p. 9n17).
However, Thomas Schreiner’s essay on Romans 5:12–19 does expose the difficulties with Blocher’s reconstruction of the doctrine of original sin and those of us who are willing to entertain the proposition that Henri Blocher’s theological ability is unexcelled on the contemporary scene will conclude that, if the doctrine of original sin remains a riddle after he has examined it, riddle it will remain for some time to come. Schreiner’s exegetical argument results in a modification of Murray’s advocacy of the imputation of Adam’s sin and he opposes Blocher’s challenge to the traditional federalist interpretation of Romans 5.20 Whatever we make either of Schreiner’s interpretation of his interlocutors or of the relative exegetical merits of the positions concerned—and Schreiner conducts his arguments well—he is surely correct to protest that Blocher’s interpretation does not fulfill its aim of relieving the problem of divine justice in condemning his progeny for Adam’s sin. The final chapter of Blocher’s Original Sin is focussed on presenting a theological interpretation of original sin which has (prominently) amongst its goals the aim of turning aside this allegation of divine injustice. Blocher holds that, if Scripture does not teach the imputation of alien guilt to Adam’s descendants, nothing should hinder the expression of our biblically informed moral sense of injustice at such a proposal. Indeed, Blocher grants that infants are guilty and deprived of fellowship with God and is aware that this is open to the charge of injustice, if it is Adam that brought them into this condition. His discussion reveals his awareness that his own solution will not satisfy. Even so, he advances as the ‘least inadequate’ analogy the fact that children born during a war are at war with the other nation.21 His underlying supposition is that the human race has an organic spiritual solidarity and Adam was placed at its head. Blocher is not convincing. In the situation of war, we do not regard children as guilty for the fact that their leaders have brought the nation into war; we do not condemn them, even if they cannot but be implicated in action undertaken against their nation. Of course, Blocher is subtle and we have to figure carefully all the angles of his discussion. Nonetheless, it is hard to gainsay the fairness of Schreiner’s observation: ‘It is difficult to see how anyone who struggles with God’s justice in the matter of Adamic headship will find Blocher’s solution much of an improvement over the theory of an imputed guilt’ (p. 277). Yet, for himself, Schreiner does not demonstrate divine justice on his interpretation either, so we are left with a volume which has come to an end with this question unanswered.22
In conclusion, I go back to first base and to commendation. Adam was an historical figure through whom sin entered the world. Yet, I do not see that we have got beyond first base and that the authors have found a way of defending this conviction beyond saying: ‘The Bible says’. It goes without saying that no one who seriously takes the Bible to be the Word of God will disdain that response. However, when more is attempted, more is expected. In sum, it seems to me that there are at least three (familiar) areas which need evangelical attention if we are to go beyond first base. We need (a) an in-depth engagement with different ways of understanding the literary genre of the early chapters of Genesis; (b) a renewed attempt to explain, if it is possible, the justice of condemning his progeny for the sin of Adam;23 and (c) a philosophy of science which explores carefully the work and legacy of Karl Popper. Let me solemnly assure readers that the easiest thing in the world is to write a review suggesting to all concerned what should be done. Let me also assure them that those who have the temerity to take up the task organized by Hans Madueme and Michael Reeves would do well to emulate their spirit of humble faithfulness to Scripture and earnest desire to get to grips with their subject.
Added Note: Revisiting B. B. Warfield on Creation and Evolution
At this point, I am following Noll and Livingstone’s reading of Warfield, but I am grateful to Brian Tabb for drawing my attention to Fred G. Zaspel’s criticism of it in “B. B. Warfield on Creation and Evolution.”24 Zaspel argues that their description of Warfield as an evolutionist at best goes far beyond the evidence, at worst ignores some of the evidence and at all events must be rejected. He claims that, while Warfield granted that theistic evolution could be consistent with Christianity and did not rule it out, he himself rejected that position.25
The disagreement invites careful scrutiny of Warfield’s work and what follows is not a detailed adjudication but a general judgement with an eye to my observations on Hans Madueme’s reading. Zaspel’s challenge surely fails. Four reasons of unequal weight can be given for this.
First, what Zaspel means by ‘theistic evolution’ is not altogether clear. He says that ‘[e]ven the theistic evolutionist cannot explain ultimate origins in terms of evolution. . . ’,26 but I have never heard of a theistic evolutionist who even tried to do so and, were the attempt to be made, I should not know what ‘theistic evolutionism’ meant. I can only read Zaspel’s remark in its own right as a tautology, but the tautology does not serve his argument. However, perhaps this is a minor point. Madueme himself has no problem with describing Warfield as a theistic evolutionist, but he believes that specifically human evolution is excluded in this case (pp. 228–29).27
Second, practically the first thing which Noll and Livingstone say in their introductory essay is that ‘Darwin, Darwinism and evolution . . . were distinct’ for Warfield,28 but Zaspel collapses the last two. Thus he moves from quoting Warfield on the improbability of ‘any form of evolution which rests ultimately on the Darwinian idea’ (my italics) to the denigration of evolution in general.29 Unfortunately, it is impossible to investigate all the aspects of Zaspel’s case here, because, at a certain juncture, he gives the wrong reference for a citation from Livingstone’s work.30
Thirdly, Zaspel’s case turns largely, though not entirely, on the need to attend closely to Warfield’s precise and careful formulations. This is a welcome insistence and Warfield’s writings on evolution are an impressive model of careful theological reflection and expression. However, Zaspel’s principled approach rebounds on him in practice for he delivers a major component of his thesis only at the cost of doing precisely what he accuses Noll and Livingstone of doing, which is to be inattentive to Warfield’s actual wording. Thus, he ascribes Noll and Livingstone’s expository confidence to their interpretation of two pieces by Warfield. The first is his review of Orr’s God’s Image in Man. According to Zaspel, in this review Warfield ‘evidently (my italics) sees the biblical account of death as an obstacle to evolution’.31 Actually, Warfield does not imply, still less say, any such thing. What he says is that ‘[p]erhaps’ (my italics) Orr overstates the matter when he says that ‘“there is not a word in Scripture to suggest that animals . . . came under the law of death for man’s sin.”’32 Warfield’s response to Orr is: ‘The problem of the reign of death in that creation which was cursed for man’s sake and which is to be with man delivered from the bondage of corruption, presses on some with a somewhat greater weight than seems here to be recognized.’33 As a matter of fact, Zaspel has earlier represented both Orr and Warfield in excessively vague terms to the point of misrepresentation. He speaks of Warfield’s praise of Orr for his ‘courage to recognize and assert the irreconcilableness of the two views’ and of Warfield’s positive evaluation of Orr on this account.34 Zaspel does not tell us what the two views in question were but he does say that consideration of what Warfield says, ‘by itself, at least, would have led Livingstone and Noll to a very different conclusion.’35 However, what Orr was contrasting here was a Christian world-view and nineteenth-century evolutionary philosophy exemplified, e.g., by Ernst Haeckel. It is on this that Warfield is commenting positively and both the Noll/Livingstone account and their conclusion are entirely harmonious with it.36
Fourthly, as for the second of the two pieces on which Noll and Livingstone apparently depend, Zaspel grants that there is a case for their reading. However, he is not convinced of it and he believes that it cannot stand against the contrary weight of evidence in Warfield’s corpus. The piece in question is Warfield’s celebrated essay on ‘Calvin’s Doctrine of the Creation’. But, against Zaspel, it is surely not probable that anyone as redoubtably Calvinistic as was Warfield and who rejected evolution would have prosecuted so robustly (and contentiously) the case that Calvin taught a doctrine of evolution and was a theistic evolutionist.37
This is not necessarily to dispose of everything which Zaspel says: e.g., the weight which he places on Warfield’s 1888 lecture essay on ‘Evolution and Development’ compels anyone who wishes to adjudicate this disagreement in detail to give meticulous attention not only to what the word ‘evolution’ comprehends in Warfield’s writings but also to the hermeneutical principles with which we approach Warfield’s texts. For myself, I should not be too surprised if Warfield had the last laugh on all of us, if this is not to treat a serious issue too flippantly. Perhaps in his later writings (the focus of the debate) he did not show his hand at all, neither overtly rejecting human evolution nor overtly declaring it, not giving away even his leanings one way or the other. Until the laughter echoes loud and clear or until another case is put forward for Zaspel’s conclusion, there is no need to demur from Noll and Livingstone’s conclusion.comments powered by Disqus