Science need not be seen as disruptive to religious faith. It is only disruptive of the faith of those who see the Bible as a book of science and history that is not only “true” in some transcendent sense, but also factually accurate in every particular. For people who hold to these beliefs, scientific progress poses challenges, the latest of which is how to address the news from the science of genetics that Adam and Eve did not, and could not have, played the role attributed to them in the Book of Genesis.
The Book of Genesis (2:7) describes the origin of humanity:
“The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
Genesis then explains that God called the man Adam, and later created Eve from Adam’s rib. The roughly 7 billion modern inhabitants of planet Earth are, according to those who see this as an accurate account, all descendants of this original pairing. Four out of 10 Americans accept the Genesis account, according to a recent Gallup Poll.
Developments in the field of genetics do not support this view:
. . . now some conservative scholars are saying publicly that they can no longer believe the Genesis account. Asked how likely it is that we all descended from Adam and Eve, Dennis Venema, a biologist at Trinity Western University, replies: “That would be against all the genomic evidence that we’ve assembled over the last 20 years, so not likely at all.” . . .
Venema says there is no way we can be traced back to a single couple. He says with the mapping of the human genome, it’s clear that modern humans emerged from other primates as a large population — long before the Genesis time frame of a few thousand years ago. And given the genetic variation of people today, he says scientists can’t get that population size below 10,000 people at any time in our evolutionary history.
To get down to just two ancestors, Venema says, “You would have to postulate that there’s been this absolutely astronomical mutation rate that has produced all these new variants in an incredibly short period of time. Those types of mutation rates are just not possible. It would mutate us out of existence.” [Via NPR.]
It’s always seemed to me that there’s a difference between what happened and what’s true. Those who believe the Bible is “true,” but also that the historical and scientific details are beside the point, can easily say: there is no competition, and therefore no conflict, between science and faith. But that is not the path that conservative Christians, at least, seem to be taking:
“From my viewpoint, a historical Adam and Eve is absolutely central to the truth claims of the Christian faith,” says Fazale Rana, vice president of Reasons To Believe, an evangelical think tank that questions evolution. Rana, who has a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Ohio University, readily admits that small details of Scripture could be wrong.
“But if the parts of Scripture that you are claiming to be false, in effect, are responsible for creating the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, then you’ve got a problem,” Rana says. . . .
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, says that rebellious choice infected all of humankind.
“When Adam sinned, he sinned for us,” Mohler says. “And it’s that very sinfulness that sets up our understanding of our need for a savior.
Mohler says the Adam and Eve story is not just about a fall from paradise: It goes to the heart of Christianity. He notes that the Apostle Paul (in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15) argued that the whole point of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection was to undo Adam’s original sin.
“Without Adam, the work of Christ makes no sense whatsoever in Paul’s description of the Gospel, which is the classic description of the Gospel we have in the New Testament,” Mohler says. [Via National Public Radio.]
So rather than taking the easy way out, the most conservative of Christians are doubling down. It looks to be a move no wiser now than when the church insisted in the 17th Century, contrary to Gallileo’s observations through a telescope he made himself, that it is “heresy” to believe that the earth orbits the sun.