I’m sure Pete Enns knew what he was getting into when he published The Evolution of Adam last month. As Scot McKnight said in his endorsement, this is a guy who’s earned his “battle scars.” (Enns was let go from Westminster Theological Seminary for his previous book, Inspiration and Incarnation.)
Southern Baptist theologian Al Mohler has already promised a response to Enns’ book. (I gather there’s not much chance of him endorsing it.) Ken Ham, president of the young-earth advocacy group Answers in Genesis, beat Mohler to the punch with a scathing review in which he accuses Enns (and his publisher) of heresy. Citing 2 Peter 3:5, Ham charges that Enns is “willfully ignorant.” (Though speaking of willful ignorance, it should be noted that 2 Peter 3:5 is a rebuke to those who deny the second coming of Christ, not those who question how God brought the universe into being. Context matters.)
There’s a reason The Evolution of Adam is generating a lot of heat. It’s not so much a book about evolution and creation, or science and the Bible, as it is about this foundational question:
What kind of book do we think the Bible is?
For many believers, questioning the “traditional” view of creation (Enns will argue it’s not as traditional as we think) is to question our view of the whole Bible, its divine inspiration, and its very reliability.
A friend of mine framed the discussion like this: do we let the “science story” drive our reading of the Bible, or the other way around?
It’s a fair question. But is it the right one?
Most evangelicals accept the Bible is not a scientific textbook. Still, it’s commonly argued that Scripture, to the extent it addresses natural phenomena, is scientifically accurate.
But what if the Bible depicts a flat, motionless earth? What if its human writers held pretty much the same cosmology as everyone else in the ancient Near East — namely, that the earth is a flat, circular disc covered by a dome of sky, the whole thing surrounded by water? What if the Bible assumes the sun rotates around the earth?
In fact, this is precisely how the biblical writers understood the cosmos. Exhibit A: two articles by Paul Seely, published in the Westminster Theological Journal (hardly a bastion of liberalism). One is The Geographical Meaning of “Earth” and “Seas” in Genesis 1:10, and the other is The Firmament and the Water Above.
Or you could just read passages like Daniel 4:10, which describe a large tree that is “visible to the ends of the earth.” Even as hyperbole, this statement doesn’t make any sense if the author understood the earth is a sphere. Or how about Psalm 104:5, which speaks of an immovable earth?
Or what about the day “the sun stood still” in Joshua 10?
Even today, you can find flat-earthers and fixed-earthers who say they’re just being faithful to the Bible — to a literal reading of the Bible, that is. They maintain we shouldn’t let science (“so-called science,” they might say) shape our reading of holy Scripture.
Following a period of painful adjustment, however, the vast majority of Christians came to accept what science was telling us — namely, the earth is a sphere that rotates around the sun, not the other way around.
Ask a believer today how they reconcile Joshua’s claim that “the sun stood still” with scientific fact, and they might tell you the Bible is speaking idiomatically about God’s intervention on Israel’s behalf. Or that it was simply putting things in language that made sense to an ancient audience. Most would accept that whatever else Joshua 10 means, it’s not trying to make a scientific point.
To which I say: EXACTLY.
Given that the biblical writers held the same cosmology as everyone else in the ancient world, if we were to submit their descriptions of the earth to scientific scrutiny, we would be forced to conclude they got some things wrong.
But if they weren’t trying to make a scientific point, then it’s no use judging the merit or the inspiration of what they wrote on the basis of its scientific accuracy.
To ask which story — science or the Bible’s — ought to drive our worldview is asking the wrong question, because they are two different stories about two different things.
So as we turn to the issue of Adam and the origins of the universe, the million-dollar question is this: if we accept that passages like Joshua 10 and Psalm 104 should not be read scientifically (even though it took a couple hundred years for us to get there), why should we insist on a scientific reading of Genesis 1?