Jerry Coyne on Pete Enns and biologos

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

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

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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!

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

“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.


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).


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,

[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.


  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.


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

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 home page and type ‘Augustine’ into the “What are you looking for” bar.

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.

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.

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Thanks! Augustine vision seems perfectly consistent with EC in that specific matter of creation ex nihilo. That is why I find these claims that the church only began to adress these issues when it became “embarassing” in the light of science a little unfair.

I mean, either these passages were not meant to be taken literally or the authors who “fabricated” the story were really incompetent in tying the loose ends of their story. I tend to favor the first hypothesis.

As long as one doesn’t take your claim and extend it too far trying to make Augustine into an “old-earth” proponent or some such thing (and I know you aren’t doing that), you are perfectly right. The notion that we only recently started “wrestling with scriptures”, and only because of science … is demonstrably false.

I started skimming through the second link I sent you above (on the two-book approach) and see that it may be more about gnosticism / Marcionism and how they handled it (at least in the first few parts); so perhaps that might not cover your specific areas of interest, unless it does in some of the later parts.

I think I recall (probably Bishop Barron) hearing that Augustine (or maybe it was Origen or Justin Martyr) actually took old testament accounts of God telling the Israelites to “put the ban” on this or that enemy tribe (meaning to wipe them out utterly and completely) and saw that as an allegory for God showing us how to deal with sin in our own lives.

… Okay so I found it, and it was Bishop Barron (speaking of Origen as it turns out); you’ll like this. It’s Barron explaining how some early church fathers read the early violent passages allegorically way back then. Anti-theists today stay away from all such analysis, so enshrined is their dogma of a cruel god as one of the sacred centerpieces of their reason for turning away. Their skepticism evaporates or is checked at the door before approaching this shrine. They seemingly will not entertain the consideration that they could be wrong about this. And yet here we have it: interpretive development so early in church history that shows how critical development of scriptural understanding was unfolding even then. YECs tend to stay away from these historical observations too, and their reasons for doing so are only partially different.

[edits have happened for clarity and to take some (no doubt not all) of the abrasive edge out.]

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Coyne claims that Richard Dawkins is ‘destroying’ the times religion editor on this issue. How true is this?

I still need help with the notion that God could have made genesis so cryptic to those without knowledge of the ANE

Reggie, my opinion is that it is really not that cryptic unless someone insist on making it literal. Then, the cognitive dissonance gets injected and we get confused as to what it means to us spiritually when we get focused on making it about physical matters. The meaning as to showing us the nature and relationship of God to creation and ourselves is pretty obvious, if you just let it speak to you. Now, to understand it as literature does require a lot of knowledge of ANE, since it is ANE literature, and that knowledge may certainly help us have a deeper understanding. However, there is a great deal of meaning we can get from it without knowing much about ANE.

What about the people living before the discovery of this stuff, could God have not made it easier?

Reggie, you should read this of Jon’s if you haven’t already.

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