Jerry Coyne on Pete Enns and biologos


(RiderOnTheClouds) #1

So I found this post by whyevolutionistrue attacking attempts by biologos to reconcile religion and science. It is troubling for many reasons.

Peter Enns was the Senior Fellow in Biblical Studies at BioLogos, the Templeton-funded and Francis-Collins-founded organization devoted to reconciling evangelical Christianity and evolution. Enns has good academic credentials, including a Ph.D. from Harvard in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. And he left BioLogos about the same time as Karl Giberson (the Vice President), and I suspect it was because both of these guys couldn’t abide BioLogos‘s weaselly stand on Adam and Eve: a refusal to take a stand on whether they existed or not despite the clear results of populations genetics that they could not have existed.

It should go without saying that his speculation is almost certainly false. It is clearly based on a straw-manning of the position taken by those ECs (including your’s truly) who do advocate for a historical Adam such as John Walton in his book The Lost World of Adam and Eve, where he argues that Adam, though a real person, was not literally formed from dust or the ancestor of all human beings. The Adam of Biologos then, is a figure with absolutely nothing to do with population genetics. We have no more or less evidence for the historical Adam than anyone else from the prehistoric era.

Why does Biologos refuse to take a position? Most likely because they see the issue as theologically irrelevant.

The articles are telling, for while being far more accepting of science and dismissive of Adam and Eve than were Enns’s former compadres at BioLogos, I find Coyne’s assumptions to be ridiculously ignorant.

Yet more straw-manning of Biologos’ position, and accepting his assumption (likely based on a presupposition that all Christians are scientifically naive dingbats who cannot hope to reconcile science and faith).

These two reasons are connected, of course, because Evangelicals are perfectly aware of the slippery slope: if Adam and Eve were just metaphors, then Jesus could be too.

Um, no, for this is a false equivalence, for the evidence does suggest that Jesus was a real person, and not a metaphor. This is held by Jewish and Atheist scholars such as Geza Vermes and Bart Ehrman respectively, not just fundamentalist Christians.

Furthermore, it is well known, and accepted even by fundamentalists that good parts of the Bible were intended to be figurative and poetic, such as the psalms and wisdom literature, and other parts literal. Jerry cannot act like his ignorance of the Bible is an argument, it isn’t.

Enns begins with a stark claim, and one that BioLogos would die rather than admit: science and the Biblical literalism of evangelicals are incompatible:

Biologos does not deny this. Biologos rather clearly claims the opposite, and writes many articles on the Bible’s prescientific cosmology.

I have a strong suspicion that the last sentence refers to BioLogos and its dumping of Enns and Giberson over the Adam-and-Eve business.

Please stop. You are taking your personal idea, based on a naive misunderstanding on evolutionary creationism as fact, it isn’t.

Although Enns is an Old Testament scholar, this is bizarre. It implies that the stories were “designed” as kind-of-metaphorical tales to explain human origins, and that the Adam and Eve story wasn’t really about human origins. It was a “warm-up” to explain human nature, and therefore shouldn’t be taken seriously.

But that’s bogus. Two millennia of Christians thought these stories were real, and saw them as literal. Of course those folks weren’t capable of giving a scientific account of humanity’s origins, but they didn’t know that! The Adam and Eve story, an amalgam of two earlier myths, was an honest attempt to describe human origins, and is still seen as such by millions of Christians who believe the Bible is either the direct word of God or is divinely inspired.

But it’s more important than that: the Adam and Eve saga plays a pivotal role in the message of Christianity: their sins brought God’s opprobrium on humanity, an opprobrium that could be expiated only with the death of Jesus. If you discard Adam and Eve, the whole rationale for Jesus’s appearance and crucifixion, and the Christian view of humans as innately sinful, dissolves completely. That’s why BioLogos is in such a frenzy about Adam and Eve. Science says they’re fictional; Evangelical Christians require that they existed. There’s no resolution except to concoct dubious stories that the Primal Pair sort-of-existed, that is, there were two real people among many that God designated as “honorary” ancestors of modern humans.

Now this is where the pigeon-chess ends. For it does seem to be a valid concern that Christians throughout the ages have taken these stories as literal. I am having trouble with this. How would you respond?


#2

There’s not much of a point trying to reason with a guy like Jerry Coyne. I’ve tried to read his articles before, and it’s really insufferable when he dips his nose into things he doesn’t know about (i.e. anything that doesn’t have to do with evolution). When Alvin Plantinga won the Templeton Prize, Coyne wrote this pure nonsense. One of my favorite parts was when he tried to dismiss Plantinga’s influence “coz 62% of philosophers are atheist!” – even though that number was in the 90’s before Plantinga came around. And perhaps it’s a mere coincidence that Plantinga’s scholarly books get published by Oxford (like 7 of them) and that they’ve received many thousands of citations – oh, and he’s an Emeritus Professor at Notre Dame. And according to TheBestSchools, Plantinga is the 35th most influential living philosopher. Ooops?

But seriously, Coyne also thinks things like the universe can create itself and that Jesus didn’t exist. It’s really hard to read some of the things he posts. It’s probably a better use of time to read an actual book or something.


(Juan Romero) #3

Coyne is not much different from Richard Carrier, so don’t expect much from him.

Exactly.

Me too.

The same could be said about Richard “Bayes Theorem” Carrier.

Ad populum fallacy.

Bill Craig and J.P. Moreland are also included, so thumbs up for the list.

I’ve seen worse, like someone who said “The universe never began two exist, it has always been there, it just expanded”. No, really, I still have the comment.

The guy I mentioned above, in his (failed) attempt to debunk Christianity, also said “Even a historian proved Jesus was invented in the Middle Ages by the Romans”


(RiderOnTheClouds) #4

I agree that he has next to no knowledge of Christianity, the arguments of ECs, religion in general, the bible, or history. But I find it is still a valid issue that thousands of years of taking Genesis literally probably doesn’t come from nowhere.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #5

Whoops!

What Coyne wither doesn’t know or doesn’t want you to know.

In all seriousness, Plantinga doesn’t endorse ID as a scientific theory, but as a philosophical notion, that God is responsible for creation, even if through evolutionary means. Coyne clearly has an agenda to fulfil here, to portray all Christians as inherently backwards when it comes to science, for the same reason he is ignorant regarding the EC stance on the historical Adam.


(Christy Hemphill) #6

I think most people see it as quite relevant. It’s just that within the community of people who believe God used evolution to create, there are diverse views on Adam and Eve, and no one sanctioned party line.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #7

Don’t think I’m done with Coyne yet:

But that’s bogus. Two millennia of Christians thought these stories were real, and saw them as literal. Of course those folks weren’t capable of giving a scientific account of humanity’s origins, but they didn’t know that! The Adam and Eve story, an amalgam of two earlier myths, was an honest attempt to describe human origins, and is still seen as such by millions of Christians who believe the Bible is either the direct word of God or is divinely inspired.

How Coyne, who is a scientist, not a historian of the ANE or a Biblical scholar is able to make a claim such as this is beyond me. I think there is actually evidence for a contrary, as I’ve stated before, humans being formed from dust appears to be a ‘deliberate’ (so likely it was well known not to be real history by it’s authors) alteration of the standard mythical tradition of formation from clay (the verb Yatsar is used for moulding a clay pot) in order to make a theological message, this would indicate the non-literality of the passage.

You could go Enns’s route, and summon forth a tortured model of Biblical inspiration in which God chose to communicate fundamental truths of the human condition in a manner so confusing that normal people cannot read them on their own. Instead they need assistance from the local departments of archaeology and ancient civilizations, and to have it explained to them that what certainly appear to be factual accounts of human origins are actually something else entirely. We are left to sympathize with all those generations of honest seekers laboring prior to the advances of modern scholarship, who simply had no hope of coming to a correct understanding of God’s word.

Against this you have the possibility that the Genesis stories are purely human constructions, and that they seem naive from a modern perspective because they were not written by people with any special insight into much of anything.

Once again, I may need help with this point, why would God make genesis so cryptic?


#8

I don’t think that God makes this stuff cryptic on purpose. The thing is, these are ancient stories from an ancient culture (sometimes using a pagan culture as a framework), transmitted orally, then redacted and written down. And finally translated.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #9

But why woldn’t God make it easily understandable for all time?


#10

I don’t think that’s possible. After all, we’re mere mortals with finite brains.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #11

I admittedly cannot bring myself to believing that Genesis 1 was intended as a Generic ANE attempt at explaining away creation. To say that you need to ignore hundreds of years of archaeology, period. The notion of the ‘Tanninim’, which are known to be chaotic sea dragons being creations of God is extremely bizarre in historical context, and it would make no sense if it was actually what they believed really happened. Move along now, nothing to see here!


(RiderOnTheClouds) #12

It would be nice if someone could help me out here?


(Christy Hemphill) #13

“Taking Genesis literally” is vague. Many of the cultures I have studied take origin stories “literally,” but that doesn’t mean they necessarily believe everything in them is a fact. It is hard for us to wrap our modern minds around the way stories function in cultures different than ours (where they are primarily seen as fiction to entertain), or around the idea that truth and fact are not always conflated. I don’t think we often conceptualize correctly what was going on in the minds of all these people we claim were “taking Genesis literally.” I don’t think they were necessarily conceiving of things the way modern YEC folks conceive of things.


(Scott Jorgenson) #14

This. Take the Enuma elish as an example. Marduk uses the upper half of Tiamat’s body to create the earth, including certain distinctive landforms and features of Mesopotamia: her breasts are the mountains and her tears are the Tigris and Euphrates. But mountains and rivers are within the realm of daily experience: tears are salty but the Tigris and Euphrates are fresh; and breasts are soft but the mountains hard and rocky. Even the simplest commoner of the day could see from daily experience on the land that these things were not strictly and literally true. But there is no reason to think the people of Babylon disbelieved the story, and looked upon it as “just” fiction, despite that. Seeing how much honor the story was given and how it was preserved through history, there is every reason to think that the people embraced and believed it anyway, in some folk-sense that has evaded the western mind probably since Greco-Roman times. I think it’s similar with much of the very earliest biblical literature, such as stories that lie behind the primeval narrative (Genesis 1 - 11).


Believing Scientists Respond: Why Are You a Christian?
(Wayne Dawson) #15

I might be more concerned if it appeared to be heavily edited to satisfy my 20th/21st-century mind … and what use would that text have been to people long ago? … or people way in the future world who will come to the table with a whole set of different demands than us? Maybe the best thing is to leave it cryptic. … … with lots of warts … …

We have to read through the eyes of faith in the end. … … That will not satisfy Coyne, but … well … …

– by Grace we proceed,


(George Brooks) #16

[quote="[[ Jerry Coyne on Pete Enns ]] , post:1, topic:37883"]
If you discard Adam and Eve, the whole rationale for Jesus’s appearance and crucifixion, and the Christian view of humans as innately sinful, dissolves completely. That’s why BioLogos is in such a frenzy about Adam and Eve. Science says they’re fictional; Evangelical Christians require that they existed. There’s no resolution except to concoct dubious stories that the Primal Pair sort-of-existed, that is, there were two real people among many that God designated as “honorary” ancestors of modern humans.
[/quote]

@Reggie_O_Donoghue,

  1. There are millions of Christians, who for 15 centuries, do not agree that humans have “innate sin”. These are, of course, the millions of happy and fulfilled Christians of the various Eastern Orthodox communions. For centuries they have rejected the Augustinian view that sin is passed down directly to future generations. What they believe is that humans are innately prone to sin, and that all humans having arrived at moral awareness, cannot help themselves but to sin.

  2. Please note that I put the phrase “innate sin” in quotes. The writer actually uses the phrase “innately sinful”! Being “innately sinful” and having “innate sin” are two rather different concepts. References to Romans 5 usually stop well short of the full range of possibilities. If the sinful inclinations of humanity are based in the imperfect nature of mortal flesh, this too can be “death” passed on to each generation of humans… for flesh begets flesh.

  3. Even amongst Christians of the Western world, being raised under the shadow of Augustine’s views on original sin, or The Fall, there are and have been millions of devoted Christians who have stepped on the so-called slippery slope, and have firmly kept their feet from shifting any further.

And for those who have allowed their feet to shift, how is this any different from those who are raised “under the Augustinian umbrella” who end up leaving the faith for any number of reasons, having nothing to do with Adam and Eve?

Does Jerry Coyne believe , and so many others, that the slippery slope is so toxic that teaching falsehoods about the age of the Earth is somehow acceptable, to keep people from one particular kind of slippery slope? If there is a slippery slope, it is just one of many… and one that God (in his infinite wisdom) has made no effort to resolve by making the world demonstrably 6000 years old.

If Geology is a slippery slope, then the whole world is a slippery slope… without mentioning the genetics of Adam & Eve at all or ever.

The logic of the “slippery slope justification” for ignoring the witness of your eyes and ears … so that nobody could ever step on a slippery slope is wrong in two ways: a] it is just one of the slippery slopes; and b] all of us are already on slippery slopes that we negotiate as well as our faith and conscience permits.


#17

Didn’t Augustine questioned the literallity of genesis way before modern science appeared?


(Mervin Bitikofer) #18

Short answer: He did reject the notion of 24-hour creation days in Genesis, thinking they were probably actually instantaneous instead! You should be careful, though. He would have said he was defending “literal” understandings of scripture. And that meant something else to Augustine than it probably does to most of us today. Here you can see a Biologos article (part 2 of it actually) that directly answers your question of Augustine on Genesis. But the part 1 of the article is well worth reading where the author discusses what “literal” meant back then. To find it like I did (and so access both parts), just go to the Biologos.org home page and type ‘Augustine’ into the “What are you looking for” bar.


#19

Thanks! I will read it. If i’m recalling it correctly now, I think I’ve read something about some theologians at that time also interpreting Adam and Eve as non-literal because of issues like Cain’s wife and who could have built the city he fled to if no other humans existed except for Adam, Eve and their children, but I don’t remeber exactly where…I will post it here if I find it again.

Edit: By “non-literal” I don’t mean like they were not actual people, but in the sense of the idea that all humanity descended from them was not exactly right.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #20

You are right that early luminaries had many ways to read scriptures to keep such things from being problems. And some highly favored heavily allegorical readings for more passages than we do today even. At the risk of you feeling piled on, you might, then, also be interested in this essay (same author: Mark H. Mann) that is the first part of a many part survey of a lot of church fathers with these very questions in mind. At the bottom of each part is an easy link to the next.