Sorry Charles?

Back in 1996 I ventured off to what was then called Baptist Theological College. I went reluctantly and not expecting to enjoy myself, but thankfully the experience was very different to the perception.

One of my first year units was Intro to Old Testament, a subject I really couldn’t give due diligence to because I was also studying New Testament Greek and it was the ultimate time thief. Every other unit got studied at half capacity while I sought to pass Greek and invested all my spare time in rote memorising Greek words and expressions. While I eventually got HDs for Greek I missed out on really digging into the other areas, something I was somewhat bummed about (and the reason I never did study Hebrew and subsequently dropped out of the accreditation process.)

In that first year of OT study I remember beginning to explore some difficult questions around the early chapters of Genesis. I picked up The Biblical Flood by Davis Young, that looked at the biblical flood and began to raise questions from a geological perspective about the legitimacy of a worldwide flood, an ark inhabited by two of every species and the sheer logistics of having predators housed with prey, not to mention the means of dealing with animal excrement.

The author made a very good case for reconsidering and re-reading the Genesis story, and I was intrigued by what that meant and how it would play out. But ‘Greek’ called (bellowed) and I was forced to abandon real learning to try and get my head around an ancient language I had very little interest in, but without which I couldn’t make it to second year.  I doubt I would have been half as resentful towards learning biblical languages if it hadn’t impinged so negatively on the learning I really wanted to do. But as it was I ended up shelving many pressing questions to make sure I could enter my next year with Greek behind me.

So when a friend recommended Adam & The Genome recently by Venema and McKnight I felt it may be time to re-open some of those questions. I also have Greg Boyd’s ‘Warrior God’ sitting on the table, but it only arrived this week so I felt it worth finishing the ‘Genome’ first.

I must admit I am something of a McKnight groupie – if theology lecturers had fan clubs then I would join his as he has a remarkable ability to express in readable English, thoughts and concepts that are often inaccessible to us mere mortals. I also find myself on a very similar theological trajectory to McKnight, who is (to my perception) thoroughly conservative evangelical but willing to think, reconsider and adjust his conclusions if needed.

My short ‘Danelle-language’ summary of the book is that these two make a case for Darwin’s theory of evolution to be the best explanation of human origins and as a result call for a reading of Genesis that does not see Adam (and Eve) as historical, but literary. Venema makes the case from genetics for modern humanity descending from approximately 10000 individuals rather than just two distinct people. If the science is correct – and it does seem to be quite compelling – then we either have to see the biblical story as an aberration in history where God intervened dramatically, or we need to consider how we read it differently.

So Venema writes the first half of the book and explains the science behind all the genome stuff. To be honest I struggled to stay with him at times, but I did pick up the gist of his argument – essentially that Darwin got it right. McKnight then begins to look at how we view Adam and Eve in light of this scientific insight and offers an alternate and (to my mind) fairly convincing reading of Genesis that does not see two literal human beings, but rather two people as part of a story suitable for its time that is a way of giving sense to origins.

I have never had any trouble subscribing to an old earth point of view, but up until reading this I hadn’t given serious thought to Darwin’s theory as palatable. I could swallow ‘intra-species’ evolution, but the inter-species form Darwin required for us to get here today was always a bit of a stretch for my mind. Venema suggests it is legit and part of God’s creative process. He suggests the sheer weight of scientific evidence leaves us with no option but to let go of our abhorrence towards evolution and begin to accept that God chose to work thru the evolutionary process.

I don’t have time to unpack all of McKnight’s discussion, but suffice to say that his tracing of understandings of Adam through history, the genre of Genesis and his subsequent conclusions are not easily dismissed either.

It certainly isn’t a denial of the miraculous or supernatural as McKnight agrees that we still read the gospels as historical documents. But I am certainly up for revisiting and re-considering the early chapters of Genesis and where they fit in the broader story.

Am I convinced?

It’d be foolish to be convinced on the basis of one author, but it has certainly led me to think more about the subject as it is a much more believable rendering of things than anyone else I have heard to date.

Anyone else read it and can comment?

4 thoughts on “Sorry Charles?

  1. Sounds like it’ll be a great read – McKnight is nearly always outstanding.
    John Walton’s ‘The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate’ is also a great read (interviews and lectures on podcasts as well). After setting the text in its original context as an ANE creation narrative, Walton provides a compelling argument that challenges any ‘modern’ scientific rendering of the narrative and opens it up to a far grander ‘temple inauguration’ – an inauguration into which humankind are invited to participate in with the God who creates.

  2. I haven’t read the book but I’m familiar with evolutionary biology and the ‘God created evolution’ argument (it’s similar to the ‘God caused the big bang’ argument).
    It’s interesting that it’s only religious folk (mostly Judeo-Christian and Muslim faiths) that have an issue with evolution, while physics and chemistry are fine, except of course where they support the geological and astronomical evidence of an ancient universe.
    Growing up in the church, I find it (retrospectively) very scientifically illiterate and even wilfully ignorant. I heard leaders condemn critical thinking and universities numerous times, as if using your brain and reason to consider evidence was a bad thing.
    Finally, it doesn’t take much critical thinking to realise there are serious credibility issues in the early Genesis stories, most obviously the question of who was there to witness the alleged events in the first place. I can’t imagine any Christian (or Jew or Muslim) would accept any other religion’s text so freely while there are such gaping textual criticisms. It seems like having millions of pieces of evidence coming together to establish a scientific theory isn’t good enough, but a story passed on orally for generations by a pre-scientific society before finally being written down by an unknown author is an undisputable fact. I know not all Christians take the Bible to be completely inerrant, but a lot do.
    Sorry for the rant Hamo.

  3. Heya Hamo,

    The book does look interesting – and will look for an opportunity to listen in on audible.

    On the topic of science and Christianity, earlier this year I stopped challenging dodgy Pastors and theology and redirected my efforts to engaging militant New Atheists online. 🙂

    This has been very interesting and challenging – especially as they are so grounded in a materialistic (read scientific naturalism) philosophy. There entire world view is grounded in the presupposition that there is no supernatural.

    I have been in dialogue with so many people from soft agnostics, hard-core atheists, old-earthers, young-earthers, crack-pots and Jesus mythicists.

    For a while, I thought I was out my depth until I felt prompted to demand from them the same ‘evidence’ that they were demanding of me to prove my own position. (There is a standard line of attack that is used that there is an obligation (or burden of proof) for the positive claimant to evidence. This was great for lazy atheists because the can mock without having to do anything. Once this position was rolled back (long story) the position shifted.

    There are a number of ‘atheist miracles’ that even the very best scientific minds can theorise about but not yet explain scientifically :
    1) Something originating from nothing
    2) Life originating from Non-Life
    3) Getting order from chaos
    4) Explaining the immaterial reality (consiousness, existence of laws that govern everything etc)

    What I have found that they atheists who mock theists for claiming we hold to ‘a God of the gaps’ but they too hold a faith – in ‘scientific naturalism’ of the gaps.

    They will say that the answer is not yet known but we hope that one day science will provide the answer.

    I thought my faith would be rocked by the ruthless challenges to my “Sky Fairy”, “Imaginary Friend”. “Delusion”, “Flying Spaghetti Monster” – but drilling deeper I have found that science, reason and logic all have limits. We all have faith in something to take us beyond these limits. Importantly none of us have all the answers.

    What is has become real to me is to understand that there is an immaterial (‘metaphysical’) reality beyond time, space and matter that governs and transacts with or material reality.

    This is evident in that there are bodies of laws (mathematical, science, biological, physics, chemistry, logical, financial, economical and even musical) that govern the reality in which we exist.

    I have no doubt that something bigger than the laws themselves is behind all of this. And this bigger reality has authority over these natural laws.

    Jesus showed us this when he performed miracles – walking on water, raising the dead and many others.

    So what I will say is that our entire faith hangs not on a compromise between science and faith but on the fact that God is sovereign over all natural things. In fact our entire faith hinges on the ‘supernatural’ act of the resurrection. St Paul said if this is not true our entire faith is in vain. 1 Cor 15:3-19

    Even the Atheists cannot ‘disprove’ the historicity of the Resurrection beyond reasonable doubt.

    I am not sure whether God is an Old-Earther, a Young-Earther a Mixture or whether he created Man on day 6 from clay or whether it is a process of evolution.

    But what I am sure of is God is the God of the Resurrection – then nothing is impossible for him.

    This includes the delivery of the very early ‘miracles’ in the Bible and this is giving me stronger confidence to trust the scriptures.

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