Peter Enns has released a new book called The Evolution of Adam. Peter Enns kicked off the Evolution of Adam Blog tour this week, where he states the problem and reason for writing the book:
But I feel the most pressing issue Christians face is the hermeneutical one: if evolution is true, what do I do about what the Bible says about Adam and Eve?
In this series of posts we are examining three themes from an article written by Enns for the Huffington Post entitled Once More, with Feeling: Adam, Evolution, and Evangelicals along with recent posts on his blog related to the topic of evolution, Christianity, and Adam/Eve. These are:
- If evolution is correct, than the Biblical narrative regarding creation and Adam/Eve is not.
- Evangelicals wrongly assume that the Adam and Eve story is about “human origins”
- People who are not trained as scientists are not able to evaluate scientific arguments.
People who are not trained as scientists are not able to evaluate scientific arguments.
In the HuffPo article, Enns tells us that we must accept the explanations given to us by the experts:
Then you have the mapping of the human genome. It’s a done deal: humans and primates are 90-something percent related genetically. The best explanation for it, geneticists tell us, is that humans evolved from primates. Since my greatest scientific achievement is doing puppet shows with dissected feral cats in high school biology, I feel I have no right to contest — and I likely speak for many other evangelicals in that regard (emphasis added)
This is fully developed in Part 4 of a series by Enns on recurring mistakes made in the Adam/Evolution discussion.
Since evolutionary theory is the product of scientific investigation, it follows that those best suited to evaluate the scientific data and arguments are those at the very least trained in the relevant sciences—or better those who are practicing scientists and therefore are keeping up with developments.
… As much as biblical studies requires some training and expertise, it is much more the case in the sciences. The years of training and experience required of those who work in fields that touch on evolution rules out of bounds the views of those who lack such training. (emphasis added)
In case we missed this point, Enns reiterates it:
My point is that serious scientific questions require serious scientific training—which only a fraction of the earth’s population can claim to have.
My point is that most of us do not have a place at the table where the assessment of evidence is the topic of discussion.
However we do this all the time. Making decisions requires us to make assessments of information even when we lack some training or expertise. Consider this event in the life of our family recently. My daughter was complaining about headaches for some time. After a series of tests including eye exams, allergy tests, monitoring water intake, x-rays, and sleep studies, the doctors concluded that her tonsils and adenoids were swollen. Of the two, the adenoids were the worse and judged to be causing the most problems. In addition, tonsils are debated as to whether they are part of the immune system so our family had to weigh the medical advice we received and do some research in order to evaluate whether to have both removed or only the adenoids. And we had to do this despite the fact that none of us have any medical training.
While the answers involved in answering scientific questions may be complex and most of us may lack the training required to understand all the details, I don’t think Enns intends to say that understanding the sciences is closed to the majority of the earth’s population. While I may not be able to design and build a rocket that can get into orbit or solve the tension between general relativity and quantum mechanics nor will I likely ever be asked to splice genes in a lab, I think I can grapple with and assess a logical argument even if I cannot fully understand all of the scientific evidence presented as part that logical argument to support a hypothesis.
We can do this because some logical arguments are definitively provable through deductive reasoning and experimentation. Concepts like geometric proofs, genetic mapping, and Galileo’s theory that objects fall at the same rate regardless of their mass in a vaccum.
However some conclusions cannot be proven they can only be shown as probable and are based on inductive logic rather than deductive logic. Generally speaking in inductive logic, we are starting with data listed out as premises. Then we draw a conclusion or devise a theory that may explain the data. However that theory or conclusion can only be claimed as valid with a degree of probability. Readers of Holmes adventures will recognize this method.
It is an old maxim of mine that whenever you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. – Sherlock Holmes
The inductive method comes into play when science is not experimenting or predicting things based on observation and mathematical calculations that are happening now but rather is trying to draw conclusions about what happened in the past. In this realm science is more about being a good historian trying to piece together an event from extant artifacts or a detective trying to solve a crime. Because we can’t go back in time we have to base our conclusions on assumptions and the information we have or are able to gather now. And that makes us equivalent to a jury trying to evaluate the cases presented to them during a trial.
If you think about we also do this whenever we read a theological text or commentary where various interpretations are given. In the post Recurring Mistakes in the Adam/Evolution Discussion Part 1, Enns explains how readers come to different conclusions about the genre of the Genesis accounts based on different pieces of evidence that are given:
So, when someone says, “I don’t read Genesis 1-3 as historical events, and here are the reasons why,” that person is not “denying biblical authority.” That person may be wrong, but that would have to be judged on some basis other than the ultimate literalist conversation-stopper, “You’re denying biblical authority.”
The Bible is not just “there.” It has to be interpreted. The issue is which interpretations are more defensible than others.
Here he concludes that some interpretations of Genesis are more defensible – that is more probable – than others. The argument for a particular interpretation is evaluated using inductive reasoning and we all do it regardless of whether we are Biblical scholars or not. Now, if people can do that with Biblical interpretations, despite varying degrees of training and education, without denying the authority of the Bible then it should be assumed that people can interpret the conclusions that science provides without denying science or being scholars. The one thing to keep in mind is that as evaluators of logical arguments we have to be willing to read and learn about the premises used as evidence to support various ideas, critically think and evaluate them, and then determine which conclusions are more defensible than others.
Enns mentions in the HuffPo article the theory that man and apes have a common ancestor from which they have evolved. A simplified form of the argument in logical form goes something like this:
premise 1:man and chimps have between 95 and 99% (depending on how the comparison is done) similarity in their gene sequences.
premise 2: man and chimps have pseudogenes in the same location and sequence.
premise 3: man has 23 chromosomes and a chimp has 24 chromosomes but the gene sequence and location of chromosome #2 in man matches 2 chromosomes in the chimp.
conclusion: therefore man and chimps have a common ancestor and chromosome #2 in man is the result of 2 chromosomes in their common ancestor being fusing together .
The first three premises are written as statements that can be either true or false. They can also be experimentally proven as either true or false by geneticists who can compare the genome mappings from a man and a chimp and do comparisons with the data as it exists today. Here Enns does have a point. Most of us are not geneticists and would not likely have a great understanding of how to map genomes nor would we understand the complexity involved with comparing genomes between different species. We would have a tough time assessing this information.
However we are all able to understand the argument as laid out above and reason through it. As presented this is a logical argument that presents a possible outcome. But does the conclusion necessarily follow from the premises? Can it be proven that this is the only conclusion possible? This theory may explain the data (premises) in this logical argument but is based on inductive logic. The theory or conclusion can only be claimed as valid only with a degree of probability. It can’t be proven. And it is this conclusion that we all are able to evaluate.
[check out part 3]