Sunday, February 04, 2018

Let's Keep Our Eyes on Jesus First, and Then the Historical Adam and Eve

This, from my new book, Mere Science and Christian Faith, is a taste of how I step into the current debate over the historical Adam (and Eve). 
I decided to keep the footnotes in this time.

The center of our faith is Christ, not Adam. 
I have to say I love this kitschy picture.

It’s worth noting that Adam does not make extensive appearances in the Bible nor the creeds (1). As I've mentioned there's those who are biblical literalists insist on an historical Adam and Eve and in the process need to deny the consensus of science on the age of the earth (position one). There are those, like C. S. Lewis, who believe that take mainstream science as describing the reality of our universe and see that the biblical texts don't describe two historical persons, Adam and Eve, but instead typological first humans (position three). And position two (like biologist Gary Fugle) hold to the consensus of modern science and also assert a historical Adam and Eve.

Which view of Adam and Eve's historicity then fits best with the work of the historical God-man Jesus the Christ and his offer of redemption through his life, death, and bodily resurrection? 

Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus as a real historical figure. He is our center. This means we have to start with Jesus Christ—with his life, death, and resurrection, with the fact that he has saved us from sin, the world, and the devil—and then see what this implies about Adam.

This in fact returns me to my big affirmation: as Christians, we believe that redemption comes through the grace of Jesus Christ, received by faith. This is the universal answer for the universality of sin. It is also the best way to approach original sin. In his magisterial and thorough review of the sources for the doctrine of original sin, Rondet reminds us that even there the emphasis is on what Christ has done: 
“For a Christian of the very first few centuries original sin was not in the foreground; on the contrary, the redemption was the fundamental assertion." Henri Rondet (2)

This brings me back to physicist Karl Giberson’s quip (and Karl quips so well) that our belief (or not) in a historical Adam and Eve “shouldn’t cause us to hurl accusations of infidelity at one another.” (3) So if one of these view about Adam's historicity makes a portion of us in the church nervous—believing that if the other side wins we’ll soon jettison all biblical truth or all engagement with modern science—let’s remember that the process goes both ways. Here let’s turn not first to theologians or biblical scholars but to the science philosopher Imre Lakatos, who maintained that certain teachings at the “hard core” of Christianity (the divinity of Christ as the historical God-man, for example) are not jettisoned easily, even in the presence of anomalies. (4) Position three holds that Adam and Eve’s historicity is not part of the “hard core” of Christian faith (in Lakatos’s words), while position two (and one) hold that it is.

Which one do you think is correct in light of science and Scripture?

(1) There are twenty-two places where Adam is a name (not a town as in Joshua 3:16 or Hosea 6:7), but principally this occurs in Genesis 2–3, Romans 5, and 1 Corinthians 15. Here’s the full list: Genesis 2:4; 2:20, 25; 3:17, 20, 21; 4:1, 25; 5:1, 3, 4, 5; 1 Chronicles 1:1; Luke 3:38; Romans 5:12, 14; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45; 1 Timothy 2:13-14; Jude 1:14.
(2) Henri Rondet, Original Sin: The Patristic and Theological Tradition, trans. Cajetan Finegan (Shannon, Ireland: Ecclesia, 1972), 25.
(3) Quoted in Richard Ostling, “Search for the Historical Adam,”
(4) Imre Lakatos, “Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes,” in Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, ed. Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 91-106.

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