“Attempts to reconcile Genesis and evolution are understandable, but they invariably lead to making some adjustments in the biblical story, and these adjustments always move us away from a strictly literal/historical reading of Genesis toward something else – call it “symbolic” or “metaphorical” or some other term. Unless one simply rejects scientific evidence (as some continue to do), adjustments to the biblical story are always necessary. The only question is what sorts of adjustments best account for the data. Part of this book is aimed at thinking through the the parameters for answering that question.
Yet Christians have a bigger problem than dealing with Genesis if they want to reconcile Christianity and evolution: Paul. Here we come to the heart of the matter, what I believe is the ultimate source of concern for Christians who are seeking a synthesis between the Bible and evolution.”
This week is the blog tour (check it out… other bloggers and prizes!) to celebrate Peter Enns’ (bio here) recent and highly anticipated book, The Evolution of Adam. I am very happy to be a part of this tour as Adam is such a key, yet unfortunately divisive issue in Evangelicalism today.
I will be reviewing the book over three posts this week. Today I’ll provide an overview of the book and Enns’ reason for writing it. Then we’ll discuss the two main parts of the book in posts on Wednesday and Friday.
Perhaps the first place to start this review is the first place that Enns’ starts the book himself. Why this book? Enns says that there are two reason why he wrote it. First, although evolution has been around for more than 150 years (that’s forever in biology, by the way), it has become an even greater topic of interest lately. This is due to the now common popular level attacks on Christianity from the New Atheists who use evolution as their weapon, and the evidence obtained in the last decade from the Human Genome Project showing that humans and other primates share common ancestry. Second, as a direct result of this increasing public presence of evolution and especially, human evolution, there is ever more concern amongst Christians of how to deal with evolution, since many believe it (or think they should believe it) undermines their faith. Enns hopes to shed light on Christian faith and evolution, specifically from the perspective of his area of expertise, the Biblical studies.
In so doing, Enns assumes two characteristics in his readers, namely, that they would be Christian (primarily Evangelical) and that they feel evolution should be taken seriously. Enns offers no apologetics in this book. Reading it won’t convince you of the validity of Christianity, nor will it show you the evidence for evolution. It assumes that you come to the table in acceptance of both and if you need to, will consult the appropriate references elsewhere. This is extremely important to note. Because he leaves treatments of these topics out, the book is streamlined and makes for an easier read. And hopefully, it will stop some readers in their tracks. There is no reason to even attempt synthesis if you don’t believe in or understand the elements you hope to combine. That being said, Enns assumes the truth of evolution and believes that it should cause us to rethink how we view the Bible. There is no vice-versa. This could potentially alienate some readers, even those that fit the characteristics mentioned.
The lack of substance on evolution, while making for a more focused work, also makes the title of the book seem a bit misleading. What Enns means by the evolution of Adam is the evolution of the idea of Adam. This makes sense. But the main reason he puts forth for causing the change is perhaps not what you would anticipate. Yes, evolution is mentioned, but rather briefly. As we will see on Wednesday, it was a factor but only one of several that were necessary for us to reconsider our reading and understanding of Adam. In the field of science and religion, these other factors go relatively unmentioned when compared to their “cousin”, evolution. With my scientific background this made no difference to me and I am, in fact, grateful for his extended discussion of the other players. Even if evolution is, you know… in the title of the book!
I opened this post with two paragraphs from page xv of the Introduction. These two paragraphs highlight what most commonly causes issues for Christians when considering evolution and the Bible, Genesis and Paul. At the end of the Introduction, Enns gives four options for his readers as to how he thinks we can proceed.
- Accept evolution and reject Christianity.
- Accept Paul’s view of Adam as binding and reject evolution.
- Reconcile evolution and Christianity by positing a first human pair (or group) at some point the in the evolutionary process.
- Rethink Genesis and Paul.
No reader that has made it thus far in his book and fits the characteristics about should choose option 1 or 2 (right?), so that leaves 3 and 4. Enns favors 4 and his reasons for so are the focus of Parts 1 (reading Genesis) and 2 (Paul and Adam) of the book.
I would add that the first 3 options seem a bit rigid, while the 4th one is very broad. We could spend time and text on the 1st option and how the various streams of Christianity differ a great deal in their understanding and acceptance of evolution in their theology. In addition, there is not much discussion in the book as how to correctly parse the 4th option. Enns’ goal is to show his reader that the best understanding of the Bible is not options 1-3. But specifics of what the reconsideration should look like are not going to be forced on us. There is some freedom here.
If this leaves the reader wanting more, so be it. In spite of this, I believe the book to be a great contribution to the field of science and religion (as you’ll see in the upcoming posts as well). After my first reading of it I labeled it a great conversation-starter and thinking about it longer hasn’t changed my mind one bit. It’s a well-written, well-reasoned, and timely book that will illuminate yet leave you asking questions. It’s not the end all be all on this topic, but it wasn’t designed to be. It was written to show Christians what the Bible doesn’t say about Adam.
And once you know what it doesn’t say, perhaps you can then begin to realize what it actually does say.