Why is Creation complaining?

This post was originally published on November 24, 2009 – the 150th anniversary of Origin of the Species. Wrestling with origins is likely something people will do until the return of Jesus, however the discussion over historical Adam seems to have created more interest in this topic so thought I would repost.

Darwin’s Origin of Species was published 150 years ago today sparking debate over the origins of man. So I thought it fitting to post some thoughts on origins today. Darwin himself seems to have struggled with the First Cause

But I may say that the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God; but whether this is an argument of real value, I have never been able to decide.

Life and Letters Vol. 1 (page 306-307)

He goes on to say in later reflections…

“Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason, and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist. This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the ‘Origin of Species;’ and it is since that time that it has very gradually, with many fluctuations, become weaker. But then arises the doubt, can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animals, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions?
I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.

Life and Letters Vol. 1 (page 312-313)

One of my favorite theology blogs has recently [it was recent in 2009] analyzed the various views one might have relating to creation and evolution. [but their is this recent post on that topic] has As I reflect on these options as well as what Darwin has written I turn to Romans 8 and have to wonder what creation is groaning about if chance and natural selection are the basis of our origins.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:19-25 ESV)

For if God did use evolution (macro/common descent) and natural selection to create man then what was creation subjected to and when?

It would seem that subjection to bondage and corruption would require a state of creation that existed prior to its being subjected. And that state must be something different than what exists today. But in theistic evolutionary views the earth is required to be essentially the same for the 4.5 billion years (give or take) of its existence because the “7 days” of creation in Genesis 1 are where the work of natural selection processes were at work culminating in the evolution of man.

But if that is the case then what freedom and state is creation aspiring too? What does that look like? And what affect does this have on our own hope in the future since our hope and that of creation seem to be intertwined with restoration at Jesus return?

Science Roundup: Dawkins, Doubt, and Probability

Several interesting articles were published over the last few days that deal with science and origins. Since exploring that topic, based on the release of Enns new book, was a popular series here I thought I would share these.

On February 23rd 2012 Professor Richard Dawkins debated the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams on the ‘nature of human beings and the question of their ultimate origin’. The moderator was Sir Anthony Kenny.

The debate is available on You Tube, though I have not watched it as of yet.

The report from the Guardian was that the bout did not live up to the hype.

In normal boxing matches, the duty of the referee is to keep the fighters from gouging and biting; but when you get a theologian and a scientist in the ring together, the referee’s job is get them to try to hit each other and not flail at the air. …

With such a formidable referee there was some chance that the contestants might land some blows on each other, and the Sheldonian theatre in Oxford was packed for this intellectual bloodsport. They would be disappointed, despite all Kenny’s best efforts.

Dawkins explained his view:

The laws of physics have conspired to make the collisions of atoms produce plants, kangaroos, insects, and us.

yet also admitted in the same debate:

the world’s “most famous atheist” now says he is not 100 percent sure that God doesn’t exist — but just barely.  … the evolutionary biologist swiftly added that he was “6.9 out of seven” certain of his long-standing atheist beliefs.

xkcd: The Difference

Dawkins comments came out around the same time as the NYT book review on Lawrence Krauss’ new book – “A Universe From Nothing”, which claims the opposite:

Scientists may be at least theoretically able to trace every last galaxy back to a bump in the Big Bang, to complete the entire quantum roll call of particles and forces. But the question of why there was a Big Bang or any quantum particles at all was presumed to lie safely out of scientific bounds, in the realms of philosophy or religion.

Now even that assumption is no longer safe … science can explain how something — namely our star-spangled cosmos — could be born from, if not nothing, something very close to it.

According to Krauss that something isn’t God but “randomness”.

Maybe in the true eternal multiverse there are truly no laws …

Maybe indeed randomness is all there is …

Maybe. But that does not sound certain to me, and something close to nothing is still not nothing.

Lastly, the neutrino that broke the light speed barrier and therefore the theory of special relativity may have been the result of a faulty conductor according to Guardian.

So it looks like neutrinos respect the speed limit after all. At least, the OPERA experimentalists announced a couple of days ago that they have found one problem (with a connector in their experiment) which could have led to a faulty timing measurement. When they run again with this fixed, they may well get a result compatible with the speed of light.

Something Discover pointed out right away:

So don’t let your imagination run away with this just yet. This result will, in my opinion, probably turn out to be incorrect for some reasons dealing with measurement. Faster than light travel is still a dream, even though I wouldn’t say it’s impossible… just very, very, very, very unlikely.

Here the author raises the issue regarding the possibility of particles that are faster than light, reminding us that, however unlikely, even the theory of special relativity’s claim, that the maximum speed achievable is the speed of light, is not  “certain”.  The Guardian does offer an interesting question? Should the results about the neutrino have been published and would we be questioning the results as much if it did not contradict a widely held theory.

Experimentalists get ignored if they are right, and hugely cited if they are wrong.

Theorists get ignored if they are wrong, but a Nobel Prize if they are right.

When the “most famous atheist” is willing to admit that science cannot disprove the existence of God, even if he thinks it is highly, highly improbable and scientists may have observed particles that are traveling faster than light it reminds us that the scientific conclusions on origins and cosmology,which are based on inductive reasoning of current observations and experiments can not be “proven” with error-free certitude. They can only be considered in degrees of probability. Something to keep in mind when wrestling with the claims of both science and theological interpretations.

Enns on Experts, Evolution, and Evangelicals (Part 3)

This is part 3 of a series. Be sure to read part 1 and part 2.

I have been doing some reading regarding Peter Enns view of Adam. In the first two parts we examined three starting point for Enns.

  • 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.

In this post we look at his approach to Adam, which goes something like this:

  • Paul understood Adam and Eve to be the first humans and the parents of all humans.
  • The theories (like evolution) that are offered based on the scientific and archaeological evidence contradict Paul’s view of Adam and human origins.
  • Scientific theories like evolution are right.
  • Therefore Paul’s view is wrong and/or we are reading him incorrectly.

This is a logical argument and it is not too hard to understand how Enns, who is not a trained scientist, arrives at his conclusion. One of his starting points is the inability of a non-scientist to “contest” scientific theories. Therefore he must accept them and figure out how to handle Paul’s view of Adam in light of evolution.

Adam: man or myth?

Over at BioLogos Enns  has a 6 part series on Paul’s Adam.  In the series he lists 9 factors that are important in considering how to interpret Paul’s treatment of Adam. Without getting into all the factors here, Enns acknowledges that the Bible and Paul treat Adam as a real historical person:

The biblical depiction of human origins, if taken literally, presents Adam as the very first human being ever created. He was not the product of an evolutionary process, but a special creation of God a few thousand years before Jesus—roughly speaking, about 6000 years ago. Every single human being that has ever lived can trace his/her genetic history to that one person.

There is really little doubt that Paul understood Adam to be a real person, the first created human from whom all humans descended. And for many Christians, this settles the issue of whether there was a historical Adam.

Enns then agrees that Paul’s theology is the Grand Unifying Theory (GUT) of Scripture

This is breath-taking theology. In a few short verses, Paul is doing nothing less than bringing together the grand narrative of Scripture. The crucified and risen Messiah brings closure to the entire biblical drama. The Christ is the second, obedient, Adam (Romans 5), the firstfruits of the new humanity (1 Corinthians 15). In Christ, all of creation starts over.

and concludes:

This is the problem in a nutshell: Paul says something of vital and abiding theological importance that is anchored in an ancient view of human origins.

The cognitive dissonance is created when one accepts the theory of evolution. So Enns suggests that Paul’s view is wrong. How can this be? Paul, despite being an apostle with the gift of prophecy, was a first century Jew. He wrote from a scientific understanding that was accepted at the time in which he lived but is now known to be incorrect based on modern science.

Paul was an ancient man, not a modern one. Should we expect him, therefore, to share views of the world, of humanity, the cosmos, etc., common to his time? Or, does Paul’s inspired status mean that his view of physical reality transcends his time and place?

What we are really asking here is “What does ‘inspiration’ mean?” That is a huge question, but let’s remain focused on the Adam issue. The question is this: Does Paul’s status as an inspired author of Scripture mean that his views of human origins and the world as a whole are scientifically accurate (since, as the argument goes, a text inspired by God could not give false information)? Does his inspired status mean Paul cannot share the view of the “ancient science” of his first-century world?

These are some serious questions that invite discussion, beyond what can be done in this post. Paul certainly wrote to people using the language and culture in which he lived. The letters that he wrote were written primarily to address problems in various churches, encourage the faithful, and communicate theological truths. Paul was not writing a science or history textbook, but God (and therefore theology) interacts with both. Therefore it is possible to write a scientifically accurate view of human origins that was written primarily as a historical account of how God interacted with His creation.

I am not sure what Enns argues for in the book Evolution of Adam, but in the series he concludes (actually precludes since it was the first post) that Adam is a literary device that helps explain Israel’s origins.

… the Adam story is really an Israel story placed in primeval time. It is not a story of human origins but of Israel’s origins. … The question in Genesis is whether “Adam” will be obedient to “the law” and stay in Eden, thus continuing this special relationship, or join the other “adam” outside in “exile.” This is the same question with Israel: after being “created” by God, will they obey and remain in the land, or disobey and be exiled?

After Enns lays out his general argument for a non-historical Adam, he reminds us that we all must weigh the two options 1) accept Paul’s view or 2) reject Paul’s view. That should open up the discussion for all who wish to engage. Right?

Any version of #1 above is, at the end of the day, or even the beginning for that matter, unrealistic and wrong.

In Enns view there is not room to discuss option #1. If you accept Paul’s view that Adam is a historical person you are wrong and the discussion appears closed. It is only open (for Enns) if you are working through some scenario in option #2.

[rejecting Paul’s view of Adam and origins ] is where the conversation begins for those wishing to maintain a biblical faith in a modern world. And whatever way forward is chosen, we must be clear on one thing: we have all left “Paul’s Adam.” We are all “creating Adam,” as it were, in an effort to reconcile Scripture and the modern understanding of human origins.

Enns raises many points on Genesis and Paul in the series. He seems to open a door to discussion but then slams it closed by rejecting out of hand the acceptance Paul’s view of Adam and origins. Why? The evidence can’t be ignored.

I speak as a biblical scholar, not a scientist. But ignoring evidence is not a reasonable option. And reconfiguring the evidence to support Paul’s assumptions of a 6000 year-old earth and two humans as parents of the entire human race is, quite simply, impossible.

are you a man or a mouse?

Francis Collins in his book Language of God explains some of the evidence for a common mammalian ancestor

The study of genomes leads inexorably to the conclusion that we humans share a common ancestor with other living things. …

Even more compelling evidence for a common ancestor comes from the study of what are known as ancient repetitive elements (AREs). There arise from “jumping genes,” which are capable of coping and inserting themselves in various other locations in the genome, usually without any functional consequences. Mammalian genomes are littered with such AREs, with roughly 45 percent of the human genome made up of such genetic flotsam and jetsam.

When one aligns sections of the human and mouse genomes, anchored by the appearance of gene counterparts that occur in the same order, one can usually also identify AREs in approximately the same location in these two genomes.

Some of these may have been lost in one species or the other, but many of them remain in a position that is most consistent with their having arrived in the genome of a common mammalian ancestor, and having been carried along ever since. Of course some might argue that these are actually functional elements placed there by the Creator for a good reason, and our discounting them as “junk DNA” just betrays our current level of ignorance. And indeed, some small fraction of them may play important regulatory roles. But certain examples severly strain the credulity of that explanation. The process of transposition often damages the jumping gene. There are AREs throughout the human and mouse genomes that were truncated when they landed, removing any possibility of their functioning. In many instances, one can identify a decapitated and utterly defunct ARE in parallel positions in the human and the mouse genome. (The Language of God., 133-37)

He concludes:

Unless one is willing to take the position that God has placed these decapitated AREs in these precise positions to confuse and mislead us, the conclusion of a common ancestor for humans and mice is virtually inescapable. This kind of recent genome data thus presents an overwhelming challenge to those who hold to the idea that all species were created ex nihilo”.

Interesting. The argument that the presence of “junk DNA” all but proves a common ancestor because God is not the author of confusing and misleading information. However I see incredible parallels to the argument Enns is making. According to Enns, Paul clearly wrote and taught that Adam is the first human and parent to all other humans but that interpretation must be rejected. Why? Because “junk DNA” proves Paul was wrong.

With apologies to Collins, I rewrote the last paragraph as a response to Enns argument:

Unless one is willing to take the position that God has placed the poetic/mythical Adam in the Scriptures in such precise positions as genealogies and  major theological treatises to confuse and mislead us (as well as his apostles and prophets), the conclusion of a historical Adam is virtually inescapable. This kind of Biblical data thus presents an overwhelming challenge to those who hold to the idea that Adam is a literal device used to explain Israel’s origins.

one man’s junk is another man’s functioning genome

Enns wrote that for those willing to move to option #2

you have left Paul’s Adam and are now working with an Adam that is partially and even largely shaped by your own understanding and worldview. You are in an entirely different discussion.

Considering the fact that “junk DNA” is still undergoing research and revision among scientists and that our understanding of genetics is still in its relative infancy – the human genome was only mapped in 2003 – I think that Enns may be overstating the case regarding evolution. Jonathan Wells, who has a Ph.D in Molecular and Cell Biology Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley, was interviewed in Salvo magazine (Aug 2011) about his latest book The Myth of Junk DNA. He suggested:

Actually, Collins no longer relies on “junk DNA.” In 2007 he announced in an interview for Wired magazine that he had “stopped using the term.” In 2010 he wrote that “discoveries of the past decade, little known to most of the public, have completely overturned much of what used to be taught in high school biology. If you thought the DNA molecule comprised thousands of genes but far more ‘junk DNA,’ think again” (The Language of Life, pp. 5–6).

Christians should not be afraid of science, however they should also not be afraid to challenge and explore the theories proposed by science. We should be good Bereans of both the theology and the science we are taught. Science is great for explaining how the world works now but we should be wary of accepting the latest scientific explanation for what happened in the past.  As for me, on this day I will settle for Paul’s Adam over the one I would create and shape based on my own understanding or the theories of “junk DNA”.