Friday laugh track, courtesy of… Dilbert again!

What’s amazing to me is that many of these are over 20 years old. And still hilarious.

Posted in Dilbert, Humor | Leave a comment

VS Ramachandran on your mind (TED talk of the week)

This week’s TED talk comes from VS Ramachandran, who is Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition and Distinguished Professor with the Psychology Department and Neurosciences Program at UC San Diego. I first became aware of Dr. Ramachandran, as I’m sure many others did, when I read his fascinating book Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind. He has written several other books as well and I am particularly interested in his most latest work, The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human, so you may see a review of that on this blog at some point.

Ramachandran is an MD, PhD who’s research is focused on using patients with neurological disorders to understand normal brain function. In this TED talk, he talks about three patients with different syndromes (Capgras delusion, phantom pain, synesthesia) and how understanding them has either led to therapy or a better understanding of mental connections. (I’m not a neurologist, but I would gather that calling synesthesia a disorder or disease would be a no-no, from the few people I know who have it, but that’s for others to debate).

I enjoyed the talk immensely. Ramachandran is a great speaker and his work is on a clearly fascinating subject manner. In addition, the way he goes about discovery is akin to solving a murder mystery and often involves cheap or non-modern equipment (which gives him a sort of MacGyver feel, I suppose). His path of discovery makes for good and informative story-telling.

My only beef was one statement he made early on in the talk when he called neurons “little wisps of protoplasm.” Not quite. The molecular and cellular biologist within me cringed at that description. Yes, there’s brilliant and beautiful complexity at the level of the brain that he studies, but neurons themselves are pretty darn complex too. This can only add to the story.

Enjoy!

Posted in TED talks | 2 Comments

Review of Evolution of Adam by Peter Enns (a final reflection)

Last week I wrote a 3-part review of Pete Enns’ Evolution of Adam.  Many others have been chiming in as well, with reviews all across the spectrum as you might expect, given the nature of the book. Some have labeled the book as heretical and have Enns fitted for a stake while others think it is THE book to read on Adam that will usher Evangelicals into the future, bring the 2nd coming, cure cancer, and get me to 1,000,000 blog hits a day.

Okay, maybe not.

But reviews have been mixed with the majority of folks that I read and trust overwhelmingly liking the book. So did I.

After writing an in-depth multi-part review and reading a bunch of other reviews (don’t miss RJS on Jesus Creed, either), you would have thought that I would have gotten everything out of my system and have nothing more to say… at least nothing more of merit (assuming what I wrote previously had any merit, anyway). But, to quote Michael Corleone in the Godfather that never happened (*), “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” The more I read about the book, the more I couldn’t shake that there was something else I needed to say.

And I finally figured out what it is today. At least I think. So here goes.

My biggest issue with the book had nothing to do with evolution, of course. After all, I’m a scientist who teaches on it regularly and a Christian who dares to think that even evolutionary psychology has its merits. My issue also had nothing to do with the introduction of biblical criticism and ancient near east comparative studies to our understanding of Genesis. Been there, done that. No, the biggest concern for me was the chapters on Paul and “his” Adam, written from the perspective of Enns’ incarnational model of Scripture. I asked myself (not really in the blog post but personally, although I did mention my concerns in the post)… isn’t Pete running the risk of reducing Paul to a mere commentator on the Old Testament? Isn’t he saying or at worst strongly hinting (without actually saying it) that Paul is no different or no better than the commentators of today? I thought the New Testament was distinct. Isn’t acknowledging that Paul used the Old Testament or that he could have been (gasp) wrong on the historicity of Adam the final nail in the coffin of inerrancy? How can Enns do this? What is wrong with him? He’s an Evangelical, right?

Well, here’s the thing. Maybe he didn’t do that. Some of his readers are saying that he did it or are afraid that he has now made it okay for others to entertain these ideas. But maybe, just maybe, he didn’t say these things himself and my personal thought questions above, while not unfounded, go way beyond what Enns is proposing. Maybe he didn’t do anything new (sorry Pete!), well, at least not anything earth shatteringly new and nothing that every garden variety Evangelical doesn’t himself or herself do on a regular basis when reading the Bible.

So what did Enns do? I think what he did was to systematize what everyone already does. He gave a name to it (incarnational) and applied a hermeneutic that we all already use to places of the Bible that some didn’t want him to. Enns dared apply his model to the words of Paul. Particular words of Paul that are considered to be sacred words having to do with humanity’s origins or so we think, which is what scares us (well, some of us) to pieces. But… we already read the Bible this way. We use discernment and appreciate that the Bible, while the Word of God, is no less inspired, even though it is a product of its culture and its time, whether we admit to or use an incarnational hermeneutic or not. None of us, no not one of us, reads every word of the Bible literally. And Enns is having the courage to say that this is okay. Furthermore, since the Lord Jesus was fully man and was fully God, then we might actually expect the Bible to be both of God and of man. Enns is providing the rationale for what… We. Already. Do. So, no, he’s not prescribing anything new, he’s just applying it to texts that some don’t want him to. He’s using a mechanism of interpretation consistently on the Bible in its entirety instead of on a select few passages here and there.

At least that’s what I think. And now I feel “fully reflected.”

Fault him if you want. I know I will, as I did in my review, and I will continue to do so as Enns and I ponder what it means to be an evangelical Christian in light of modern scholarship. But let’s not forget to put his thoughts and words into the appropriate context.

Let’s turn it around to the reader. Do you appreciate that the Bible is a product of its time and culture? What do you think of Enns’ ideas? Do you agree with him? Do you think it is okay to apply an incarnational model to all passages in the Bible? Are there some passages that are off-limits? How do we decide?   

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–(*) True Godfather fans believe Godfather III never happened. Some blame Sophia Coppola while others blame Andy Garcia. I blame the whole lot of them. Bad movie. The series ends with Godfather II. No, I didn’t see myself including a Godfather reference in a blog post. Ever. I guess there’s a first time for everything.

Posted in Accommodation, Biblical interpretation, Evolution, Evolution of Adam, Pete Enns, science vs. religion, theology | 2 Comments

Review of The Evolution of Adam by Peter Enns (post 3)

This is the final post of my 3 part review of Peter Enns’ newest book, The Evolution of Adam. I hope that you all are also enjoying other reviews from the tour, which has supported my point that the book’s primary quality will be to generate conversation. In this spirit of conversation, if you haven’t read it, I recommend this review by Nathaniel Claiborne, as it is systematic and provides criticism that I can’t because of the author’s background.

Today we talk about Paul (Part 2, Ch. 5-7). In my limited time as a member of the blogging community, it is clear that it is one thing for Evangelical Christians to accept that a legitimate reading of Genesis doesn’t necessitate a literal Adam; but Paul is a whole other ball of wax. The story goes, as you all likely know… if through one man sin entered and through one man sin was defeated, then if you say the one man isn’t historical who’s to stop someone from then saying the 2nd one isn’t either? Of more import theologically, if Adam wasn’t literal and there was no actual yes it really happened penalty from sin that is death, then what did Jesus have to die for? Augustine couldn’t have been wrong, could he?

Enns’ introduces his argument well early in Ch. 5:

“In this chapter we also take a closer look at how Paul uses the Old Testament in general. Paul’s handling of his Scripture is marked throughout by a creative engagement of his tradition. That creativity stems from two factors: (1) the Jewish climate of his day, likewise marked by imaginative ways of handling Scripture; and (2) Paul’s uncompromising Christ-centered focus. In other words, Paul’s understanding of the Adam story is influenced both by the interpretive conventions of Second Temple Judaism in general and by his wholly reorienting experience of the risen Christ. Paul is not doing “straight exegesis” of the Adam story. Rather, he subordinates that story to the present, higher reality of the risen Son of God, expressing himself within the hermeneutical conventions of the time.” (p 81)

“In making his case, Paul does not begin with Adam and move to Christ. Rather, the reality of the risen Christ drives Paul to mine Scripture for ways of explicating the wholly unexpected in-breaking of the age to come in the crucifixion and resurrection of the Son of God. Adam, read as “the first human,” supports Paul’s argument about the universal plight and remedy of humanity, but it is not a necessary component for that argument. In other words, attributing the cause of universal sin and death to a historical Adam is not necessary for the gospel of Jesus Christ to be a fully historical solution to that problem.” (p 82)

Creative. Imaginative. Christ-centered. Higher reality. “Use” of Old Testament. These are the buzzwords and themes that permeate through the last three chapters of the book. Does this feel like, as Claiborne writes in his review, Enns is using his incarnational model of Biblical interpretation to its detriment and is favoring the “human-ness” of the Bible at the expense of the “God-ness” of it? Is Enns relegating Paul’s writing to that of a commentary? Or even worse, is it more like an “inspired” term paper?  This reader doesn’t think so, but even for me Enns is treading lightly. I would imagine he’s got some heavy work cut out for himself with most others. Is Enns sensitive to this? Absolutely. He follows the previous paragraph immediately with:

“I hope it is crystal clear that my intention in looking at Paul’s argument in this way is not to undermine Paul or complicate Paul unnecessarily simply to make room for evolution. Without question, evolution requires us to revisit how the Bible thinks of human origins. But many will immediately recognize the complex and unavoidable network of issues before us in addressing what Paul says about Adam, why he says it, and what we should take away from it—wholly irrespective of evolution. My motive is to allow some of those issues to come into play as we look at the specific problem of what to do about Paul in light of evolution. Further, although I feel strongly enough about my own thoughts to write a book like this, I make absolutely no claim to have found the best path forward in this complex set of issues. Rather, I remain now, as I stated at the beginning, committed to offering some perspective for interested readers to begin exploring Paul’s theology on their own in light of the reality of evolution.” (p 82)

In Ch. 5 Enns looks at the Old Testament occurrences of Adam (outside of Genesis) and finds that they do not support “Paul’s Adam.” Enns says that while Adam is to be found, there is “not any indication that Adam’s disobedience is the cause of universal sin, death, and condemnation, as Paul seems to argue (p82).” Why not? If this was the key event in human history that it is built up to be, why isn’t it mentioned or reflected upon again? Opponents would argue that Adam is mentioned in genealogies and this indicates he is historical. But, Enns is right. There is no discussion theologically of the ramifications of his disobedience until the New Testament. Furthermore, when obedience and disobedience are a focus of Old Testament texts it is in relation to Israel receiving blessing or curse and is not connected to Adam’s initial act. Of course, the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence so this argument, while interesting, is not without its limitations.

In the Western world, it is nearly impossible to divorce our reading of Paul and Genesis from Augustine’s later idea of original sin. Enns mentions this and compares the original sin view with the Eastern orthodox view of Adam, in which Adam’s act of disobedience was not a fall from perfection or a “pre-sinful” state but an act of youthful ignorance or immaturity. The story then becomes one of seeking wisdom (note this is highly sought after in the Old Testament), but in an inappropriately childish and impatient manner. For Enns, this reading of the text does not negate the reality of sin and need for a Savior, but he believes biblically the source of these doctrines is Paul and not Genesis.

In Ch. 6, Enns portrays Paul as an ancient man with a radical message. This is clear. Paul would have believed what his fellow Israelites did regarding the physical structure of the world which we know today is wrong. Most have no trouble agreeing with that. However, when it comes to Paul’s theology, it is much more difficult for us to say “he was wrong.” Don’t misread me. Enns is not saying that Paul was wrong and I am not either. But it is interesting how we deal with inspiration (1). In leading up to Paul’s use of Adam, Enns paints a picture of how Jewish interpreters post-exile leading up to Paul’s time understood the Adam story. This section was fascinating and reminded me of just how much there is for a Christian to learned by engaging with ancient Judaic texts. From these interpreters, Enns notes that:

“Thus far we have seen Adam as victim, exalted human, priest, and innocent bystander to Eve’s shenanigans; in no case is Adam responsible for human sinfulness, which is what Paul says. Other interpreters, however, are somewhat closer to Paul’s meaning.” (p 101)

Ch. 6 ends with Enns giving multiple examples of Paul’s creative use of the Old Testament in his writing (2 Corinthians 6:2 and Isaiah 49:8, Abraham’s “Seed” in Galatians 3:16, 29, Galatians 3:11 and Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 11:26–27 and Isaiah 59:20, Romans 4 and Genesis 15:6). It is in this section of the book that my previous concerns about inspiration  (just a commentary?) arose and I noted in the margin, “OK, so if Paul is more than a commentator of today, why are his letters more “relevant” than extra-biblical materials?”

The 7th and final chapter of the book is on “Paul’s Adam”, exploring Romans 5:12–21 and 1 Corinthians 15:21–22, 44–49. Enns writes that Paul views Adam as an historical and symbolic figure. However, while the notion of Adam as representative figure or “federal head” is a method of synthesizing evolution with a literal Adam, Enns writes that this is not an option biblically and would not have occurred to Paul. Instead, Paul sees Adam through the lens of Christ. His understanding of who Adam was is directly shaped by Christ and not vice-versa. But yes, Paul most certainly would have viewed Adam as historical. If science, biblical criticism, and archaeology rule out the existence of an historical Adam, what then happens to Paul’s connection of Adam and Christ? Is it no longer valid? Must we throw out this central theological point because Adam may not have existed?

If you think Enns is going to say yes, you’re crazy! He writes, “the uncompromising reality of who Jesus us and what he did to conquer the objectively true realities of sin and death do not depend on Paul’s understanding of Adam as a historical person (p 122)” and says that without Adam, the universal and self-evident problems of sin and death and Christ’s death and resurrection of Paul’s theology still remain. Enns believes that Paul went beyond what Genesis indicates of Adam, but that the theological ramifications of Christ’s death and resurrection are still essential.

Sin, as it has been said, is the one Christian doctrine that is empirically verifiable, and Enns argues that we don’t need Adam to explain that we sin. We just know that we do it. It’s self-evident and so is death.  To the third theological point of the death and resurrection of Christ, this “is the singular focus of Paul’s writings and missionary activity, God’s climactic statement of his love for and presence in the world (p 125).” The resurrection was not a cultural assumption. It was an historical occurrence in real time.

Enns ends the book with a Conclusion chapter containing nine theses that he believes form the core issues before us with respect to Adam. They are a summary of the previous chapters and a couple points that he just begins to unpack. Like the rest of the book, these were very interesting, but in the end, left me wanting more. That being said, don’t get me wrong, I very much liked this book. It will be (it already has been) an amazing conversation starter and will hopefully pave the way for the discussion of evolution and theology that is necessary within Evangelicalism. Evolution and other scientific findings from neurobiology, psychology, genetics, and sociobiology are rewriting what it means to be human from a scientific perspective. If Evangelicalism wants to remain relevant and at least have a chance of saving and transforming the lives of our intellectual brethren for the Gospel and the furthering of God’s kingdom, these issues need to be addressed and, more importantly, there needs to be group assent that it is safe to do so. I hope and pray that books like The Evolution of Adam will be the catalysts needed and thank Pete for his willingness to throw his hat in the ring. Evangelicals would do well to respond graciously and with humility (without sacrificing criticism when needed) to help foster an environment of encouragement and safety so that others will follow in his lead.

And to Pete… thanks, brother. We needed this book.

Footnote:

(1) I taught on the age of the earth today in my biology class and mentioned that no one reads all of the Bible literally. We use discernment to say that particular books or even portions of books are poetic, prophecy, wisdom, historical, etc. Even in books we label as historical we accept minor mistakes or details that aren’t identical in different Gospel stories by way of our discernment. So, it is fairly easy for us (or some of us) to acknowledge that Paul could be wrong on some things, like the structure of the physical world or women’s roles in the church. But in theological matters or issues of Old Testament interpretation, no way, dude! I’m not saying this shouldn’t be the case, but am just pointing it out.

Posted in Accommodation, Biblical interpretation, Evolution, Evolution of Adam, Pete Enns, science vs. religion, theology | Leave a comment

Friday laugh track, courtesy of… Dilbert!

Posted in Dilbert, Humor | 1 Comment

Review of The Evolution of Adam by Peter Enns (post 2)

I have enjoyed being a part of the Brazog blog tour and reading other bloggers’ reviews of The Evolution of Adam, in particular James McGrath’s posts. It’s very rare that I am reading a book that many others are also reading and blogging on and it is refreshing to see others’ takes on similar material. In part 1 of my review on this blog, I provided an overview of the book, its intended audience, and Enns’ reason for writing it.  Today we will look at Chapters 1-4, which are collectively referred to in the book as “Genesis: An Ancient Story of Israelite Self-Definition.”

As I alluded to on Monday, the title of the book is a bit misleading. Evolution is a reason for questioning a literal interpretation of Genesis, but it is not the only one and as a reason itself is not covered in depth. Instead, Enns chooses to focus Part 1 of his book on the other reasons, reasons that do not receive as much attention and stem from his discipline of Biblical studies.

The other two reasons come from Biblical criticism and archaeology. Biblical criticism showed, using “internal data”, that Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch as we have it now was written later than first imagined, during the post-exile period. This led to the belief that the Genesis creation narrative (and the rest of the Pentateuch) was composed as a theological response to its exilic crisis. Meanwhile, Biblical archaeology revealed from “external data” that Israel had a narrative context and that they freely adapted themes for their stories from surrounding nations. The combination of criticism and archaeology thus paints a picture of a nation writing stories of their culture and their own beginnings that were based on those of others but were uniquely shaped to reveal who they were as God’s people, in the good times and in the bad. (p 5-6)

In Ch. 2 (When Was Genesis Written), Enns puts forth some of the specific reasons that have led scholars to believe in a post-exile date for the Pentateuch. First, there are the many interpretative challenges that arise from either academic or even general reading of the text. Enns list 14 such issues from the first three chapters of Genesis alone. Second, examples from within Deuteronomy are provided which make Mosaic authorship suspect and also suggest a later date of composition. Enns points out that questions about these examples and others have caused issues to arise regarding authorship of the Pentateuch since the 4th century AD. Note that Enns does NOT say that these issues were concerns of the majority (or even a “healthy” minority); he is showing that differing interpretations existed prior to the major driving forces (evolution, Biblical criticism, Biblical archaeology) making themselves known. However, it wasn’t until later, beginning in the 17th and 18th centuries that the influence of Biblical criticism would be really appreciated. I’ll leave the details of this for the interested reader because this is outside of my field of expertise and this review is feeling bogged down already! Nevertheless, for those who are interested in this topic and are not familiar with the work of Julius Wellhausen, Ch. 2 is worth the price of admission. It is well written, informative, and interesting, which ain’t easy when talking about Biblical criticism! Or so I hear…

In Ch. 3 (Stories of Origins from Israel’s Neighbors), Enns writes that proper understanding of Genesis can only be achieved by comparing with the “external data” of other, older ancient near-east creation stories, a position brought to the popular level over the last few years by the work of John Walton. Enns crafts the term “genre calibration” to make this point. Yes, yes, 1000 times yes, he goes to lengths to show that Genesis is unique and does speak out against some of the prevailing ideas about God (or the Gods) and God’s behavior. Nonetheless, the similarities are profound.

Whether Genesis was inspired by the specific stories or arose out of a common worldview is insignificant; in combination with the arguments from Ch. 2, this means that the creation accounts in Genesis should not be considered as historical events.  Enns states that Genesis must be read and understood by these ancient standards and that, as such, it cannot overlap with the scientific story of human origins.  I would counter-argue that similarities or not, I don’t understand why it is directly and logically connected that Genesis can’t be a guide to scientific debates. I don’t think it can and I am not a concordist, but how does showing that the Israelites and others shared similar myths definitively mean Genesis (and Adam in particular) can’t contribute to “contemporary scientific discussions” about human origins? Perhaps I am arguing semantics here, but I don’t think so. Enns ends Ch. 3 by writing that Genesis is not a literal or scientific description of historical events but a theological statement in an ancient idiom and that we need to reorient our expectations of what Genesis can and is telling us (p 56). In these last few pages he writes persuasively, honestly, and forcefully, returning to his ideas from Inspiration and Incarnation. I appreciate his flair and transparency, but others may not. However, it doesn’t benefit anyone if he doesn’t lay it out there like he does. The end result is that his words will stimulate conversation, which as I mentioned in the first post of my review is a major focus of the book.

Although I would gather that Ch. 4 (Israel and Primordial Time) is the most speculative of the first 4 chapters, I must say I found it to be the most fascinating and the most personally rewarding. In it, Enns writes that Adam  IS proto-Israel and that the second creation story in is placement of Israel in primordial time. The sweeping cosmic vision of Creation described in Genesis 1 becomes Israel’s creation story in Genesis 2. Enns notes parallels of Israel’s creation as a nation at the exodus, the giving of the commandments, the land of Canaan, and the exile to specifics of Adam in the garden. If you subscribe to the view that the Pentateuch was written post-exile, the mirroring is fascinating and Enns spends the majority of the chapter attempting to support his argument. (p 66)

On Friday, we will look at Part 2 (Paul and Adam).  See you then.

p.s. I’m beginning to see why Rachel Held Evans wrote this in her excellent review of the book.

“ I wish I could get into all the details of what made this book so helpful, but this would require a series of posts that will have to wait for a later time.”

Once you’ve waded into the details, it’s hard to get out… !

Posted in Accommodation, Biblical interpretation, Evolution, Evolution of Adam, Pete Enns, science vs. religion, theology | 2 Comments

Just realized there were some potentially offensive ads on my blog…

I knew there were ads on my blog, but being a relative newbie and not hearing a lot of feedback from readers, I didn’t make too much out of it.  But a friend just sent me a screenshot of an ad and I didn’t like it one bit. So, certainly know that I have nothing to do with the ads and frankly, don’t know how much control I have over it. If readers have experience in dealing with this, I’m all ears!

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