I’m both amused and bemused by William Lane Craig’s latest “Monthly Report” on his Reasonable Doubts website, a report that deals with a “Creation Project” conference he attended. Click on the screenshot to see the report:
The meeting was a Dabar Conference called “Reclaiming theological anthropology in an age of science“, with the aim of “orienting evangelical theologians to the relevant recent work in the natural sciences and to promoting scholarship in the field of the doctrine of creation.” In particular, it was convened to deal with the increasingly disturbing (to Christians) knowledge that Adam and Eve could not have existed as historical figures who were the ancestors of us all. This comes from population genetics, which tells us, given conservative assumptions about mutation rates, that the smallest bottleneck in our species in the last several hundred thousand years is at least twelve thousand individuals. That, of course, is greater than two (Adam and Eve) or eight (Noah and his family). Ergo, the human population could not have descended from either the Primal Couple or the Noah Clan.
This finding has cast into doubt the entire premise of Christianity: that we’re all afflicted with Adam and Eve’s original sin—a sin that can be expiated only by accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior, whose Resurrection portends and suggests our own resurrection in the life to come. Here’s the conference agenda:
No topic within the doctrine of creation has been more unsettled by modern science than theological anthropology. Increased knowledge of the physical world has made traditional views of the human person more difficult to affirm—our minds do not appear to be quite as separable as previous ages believed. Is belief in the soul scientifically naïve? More recently, genetic research has raised new questions about our biological origins and whether belief in a historical Adam and Eve is warranted. But what exactly is at stake in affirming (or not) a “historical Adam”? What are we to make of original sin, for example, if one removes historical referentiality from the opening chapters of Genesis? In this third year of the Creation Project we’re seeking wisdom about the origin, nature, and ultimate purposes of human life.
The meeting, of course, was supported by Templeton: the Templeton Religious Trust (another investment of Sir John’s legacy, but separate from the John Templeton Foundation). The Dabar Conferences are, in turn, under the aegis of “The Creation Project”, also underwritten by the Templeton Religious Trust.
So, what does William Lane Craig think? His previous discussions (e.g., here) suggests he accepts the “microevolution but not macroevolution” form of creationism. That is, he admits that there might be change within a species, or even production of related species by splitting, but rejects the notion of the common ancestry of substantially different life forms, and argues that the whole process is guided by God anyway.
Here are several ways that Craig handles the “threat” to Christianity presented by population genetics vs. Adam and Eve. None seem completely satisfactory, even to Craig himself.
1). The Bible could be metaphorical, but only in part. As he says (Craig’s words are indented, emphases are mine):
Vital to this question is understanding exactly what the Bible requires us to believe about the historical Adam, and so the contribution of Old Testament and New Testament scholars is absolutely vital. This question is not so cut-and-dried as most of us imagine. For example, one of the Old Testament scholars discussed the genre of literature represented by Genesis 1-11. Comparing these accounts to creation stories in ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian mythology, he finds in the biblical stories the same interest in what is called etiology(explaining something in the author’s present by telling a story about past prehistoric events) which is an earmark of myth. For example, we keep the Sabbath because God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. He argued that Genesis 1-11 is of the genre of what he called “mytho-historical” writing—the stories are mythological but there is an underlay of historical events beneath the myth. If this is correct, then one cannot press the details of the stories (e.g., Eve’s creation from Adam’s rib, a walking, talking snake, etc.). Rather, it would be like seeing the motion of people behind a curtain: you can tell there are people back there, but you don’t really know what they’re doing.
This of course, simply means that the Genesis story might not be taken literally. In fact, if he admits that Genesis is largely mythical, it becomes hard to tell what it means. One thing is for sure: it’s become mythical only because science has disproven its assertions. Theologians of earlier eras, including Augustine, Aquinas, and various “church fathers”, certainly took the story of Adam and Eve, and the Fall, as literal truth. It’s up to Craig to explain to us why what was once fact is now myth.
2). The New Testament’s claims about Adam and Eve, and the meaning of their existence, might be literary conceits.
But what about the New Testament? Paul surely believed in a historical Adam, didn’t he? That seems right, but does Paul’s argument in Romans 5 or I Corinthians 15 commit us to that belief? Some scholars think that Paul’s references to Adam are merely to the literary Adam of Genesis 1-3. For example, I might tell someone, “Jan is my man Friday.” Does that commit me to the reality of Robinson Crusoe and his man Friday? Obviously not!
But how does he conclude that the “literary Adam” is not a “historical Adam”? Is Craig admitting that Adam and Eve are just as fictional as Robinson Crusoe and Friday? If so, then what is the meaning of Genesis, and are Romans and Corinthians wrong in telling us that Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, but Jesus and his crucifixion and Resurrection expiated our sins, and gave us the possibility of eternal life?
Here are the arguments of Paul to which Craig refers (again, my emphasis):
6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.
8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
. . . 13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.
15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.
. . . 18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.
19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.
20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:
21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
I Corinthians 15:
12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:
14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
This seems pretty clear to me: Jesus’s coming, divinity, and resurrection gave us the possibility of eternal life by washing us free of the sin inherited from Adam. Indeed, if there is a non-negotiable belief inherent in Christianity, this is it. If Adam and Eve didn’t exist, then you have to find a reason why we’re all born sinful and need the ministrations of Jesus to be washed clean.
3). Maybe the population-genetic calculations were wrong. To obviate this, Craig claims that extra genetic diversity which hides the real bottleneck of Adam and Eve came from —get this—hybridization of Homo sapiens sapiens with our Neanderthal subspecies:
As I shared in our last Report, some scientific popularizers have claimed that the genetic diversity of the present human population could not have arisen from an isolated primordial pair. Joshua Swamidass, a geneticist from Washington University, who was at the conference, helped me to understand that this claim is completely wrong-headed. Rather what is at issue is the genetic divergence in the present population, that is to say, the mutational distance between alleles (= the variants in our genes that are responsible for various traits like eye color). These data present a severe challenge for a historical Adam and Eve more recent than 500,000 years ago. (But here’s a new wrinkle: Swamidass says he neglected to take account of the genetic contribution of Neanderthals and other archaic humans who interbred with homo [sic] sapiens and so have contributed to the human genome. He’s going to run new calculations to see if that makes a difference to the date.)
Given that the genetic variation in our own species contributed by Neanderthals is only about 2-3%, and none in Africans, I wouldn’t hold my breath to see if the “new calculations” reduce the bottleneck from 12,000 to 2!
Craig’s penultimate redoubt is this:
4). Well, even if the geneticists are right, and Adam and Eve didn’t exist as the Bible says, we can still confect a story from Genesis, even if the Bible be metaphorical:
If there was no historical Adam, then obviously we cannot be held accountable for his sin, nor did sin and death enter the human race through Adam. To a large extent, I think, the importance of this issue is going to depend on how committed you are to Catholic/Reformed theology. The doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin to us is not one that is clearly attested biblically. What is essential, I think, is affirming the universality of sin and the need of every human being of God’s saving grace. That doesn’t require a historical Adam. For me, then, the central theological issue raised by the historical Adam will be, not original sin or the Fall, but rather biblical inspiration and authority. Can we in a scientific age trust what the Bible teaches?
Here he’s simply making up stuff, picking and choosing the parts of the Bible he likes (universal sin, but not obviously inherited “original sin”, as well as “God’s saving grace”) and rejecting the parts he doesn’t like (Adam and Eve). And if that’s the case, what is the “authority” of the Bible? For if the Bible be but “inspiration” and not truth, how are we to be Christians? What are we to believe? The answer to his last question is clearly “no”. Evolution itself tells us we can’t trust what the Bible teaches.
In the end, if we interpret the Bible by how we’re “inspired” by it, then each person has their own dogma and there is no one way to be a Christian. After all, why couldn’t “God’s saving grace” be metaphorical, or even the existence and story of Jesus himself? Who gets to be the arbiter of Biblical truth? In the end, it can be only science.
5.) Finally, for Craig Biblical interpretation comes down to “understanding how their original authors and audiences would have understood Biblical texts.”
Handling this issue will involve two components for me: biblical exegesis and scientific findings. What’s important is not to let the science guide one’s exegesis. One must set that aside and try honestly to understand these texts as their original authors and audiences would have understood them. Once that is done, then the challenge will be integrating them systematically with a scientifically informed view of the world. I’ve got my work cut out for me!
Indeed he does, for he’s trying to understand what the Bible says by ignoring from the outset the empirical facts. First you figure out what the authors of these texts meant (note: here he’s almost admitting that the Bible was a human production not guided by God), filter that through the “inspiration” that you get from the metaphors that you discern, and then somehow twist the science into that interpretation. This is the reason, for instance, that Craig simply cannot buy the main parts of biological evolution: it conflicts with any form of creation by God. Indeed, I now have trouble deciding whether Craig is a traditional Christian rather than a Smorgasbord Christian who’s completely reinterpreting Christian doctrine.
As reader Mark, who sent me Craig’s link, remarked:
Oddly Craig doesn’t seem to think the story of the fall is central to Christian belief (or his belief anyway), so his concern is simply to shoehorn the science as we know it into his understanding of the Christian myths and legends. You can see from the second quote above that science is always the handmaiden to Craig’s beliefs, rather than the guide to them.”