Saturday, 21 September 2013

How to turn Christians into atheists? It's as easy as Y.E.C. (Part 2)

John Pople, author of the anti-evolution polemic [1]  at the Christadelphian Facebook site which is the subject of this two-part series, has previously argued that God has created the universe with the appearance of age [2-3], an argument popularised by 19th century biologist John Gosse, and rejected by his fellow believers as one which made God to be a deceptive creator. This track record of fundamentalist exegesis and science denialism show that Pople’s arguments on this subject need to be subjected to more than the usual degree of scrutiny.

Pople claims:
The difficulties with Theistic Evolution, are more scriptural than scientific (although the scientific problems are non-trivial, but this is a religious forum). The alterations that are required to be made to the early chapters of Genesis, and the parts of the NT that hang thereon, are so considerable to be basically tantamount to a rejection, rather than interpretation, in my view.
Unfortunately, Pople has already poisoned the well by implying that evolutionary creationists (I do not use the term theistic evolution [4] as it is not an accurate description of my position) are altering the early chapters of Genesis. Rather, I am arguing that the fundamentalist, literal interpretation that Pople advocates is internally inconsistent, ignores the ancient Near Eastern context of Genesis, and leads to a flawed reading of Romans. Furthermore, his reading of the Pauline corpus owes more to Augustine’s flawed reading of Romans 5v12 than to sound exegesis.

Pople tries to defend monogenism with the classic fundamentalist tactic of proof-texting:
1 The First Humans


These verses now need to be “interpreted” in a way that says “Well, actually, there were a whole slew of humans genetically near-identical to Adam; in fact millions of them, and there had been for millions of years.” 
Proof-texting refers to the exegetical tactic of taking a verse out of context in order to provide support for a theological position, and Pople unfortunately makes this of this exegetical mistake. If one looks at Genesis 1:26-31 one finds that on the sixth day God created not one person, but many:
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
According to Genesis 1, male and female humans were created on the sixth day, yet according to Genesis 2, Adam was created first, then Eve. How could Adam be alone if on the sixth day God created many human beings, as Genesis 1, when interpreted literally teaches.  This is not the only tension existing between Gen 1 and Gen 2 when interpreted literally. The sequence of creation, duration of creation and method of creation differ considerably between Gen 1 and Gen 2 if both are interpreted as literal, chronologically accurate accounts of creation. OT scholar Peter Enns points out:
These two stories are clearly significantly different, and they cannot be harmonized by saying that the first gives the overview and the second fills in some of the details. The presence of two different creation accounts is troublesome for readers who assume that Genesis 1 and 2 are historical in nature and that the Bible’s first priority is to recount history accurately. Yet the divergence of these stories cannot be reasonably questioned. To stitch them into a seamless whole would dismiss the particular and distinct points of view that the authors were so deliberate in placing there. The differences between the two creation accounts are further complemented by differences seen in other Old Testament passages such as Psalms 77:16–20; 89:5–37; Job 9:4–15; 26:5–14; 38:4–38; and Isaiah 40:12–31; 44:24–28. It does not seem to be a concern of the biblical writers to provide God’s people with a “unified” story of creation. [5]
 Pople’s implied claim that evolutionary creationists explain away the meaning of Genesis 2 not only ignore the fact that the reading of Genesis 1-2 that evolutionary creationists maintain has been misrepresented by Pople, but also ignore the fact his literal reading of Genesis 2 puts it in opposition with a literal reading of Genesis 1.

I have stated elsewhere that Genesis 1 uses a six day literary framework in which God tells how He, and not Marduk or Baal or any of the other rivals for Israel’s loyalty created time, weather and agriculture (note the two parallel groups of three days which strongly hint at a non-linear sequence). As OT scholar John Walton notes:
 “…functional concerns rather than material ones dominate [Genesis 1]. Indeed the only appearance of what might be considered material in these three days is the firmament – the very thing that we are inclined to dismiss as not part of the material cosmos as we understand it. In contrast the functions of time, weather and food can be clearly seen in the text and recognized as significant in ancient Near Eastern cosmologies. More importantly, we can see that the prominence of these three functions is common to the ancient world. Perspectives on the material universe will vary from era to era and culture to culture. It would be no surprise then that God's creative work should be proclaimed relative to those issues that serve as the universal foundation of how people encounter the cosmos. [6]
This reading of Genesis 1 recognises the differences in genre of both chapters, acknowledges the sociocultural background of Genesis and eliminates the tension between both chapters that Pople’s view ignores.

Pople’s attack on straw man versions of evolutionary creation continues:
These verses now need to be “interpreted” in a way that says: “Well actually, human death had been going on for millions of years. Adam’s great-grandparents are dead, for example, and it had nothing to do with eating from some forbidden tree. So, actually, God’s not telling Adam anything useful, because Adam can see he’s going to die anyway, just like his forefathers did. This must just be the threat of an *early* death from God, not an introduction of a potential new state divorced from God.”
Again, ignoring the snide reference to “interpreted” which carries the accusation that ECs are indulging in poor exegesis, Pople’s is once again misrepresenting ECs.

What God says in these verses is fairly simple; if Adam or Eve broke God’s commandment, then they would die. It does not say that they would have their nature changed from an indeterminate ‘very good’ state to a corruptible dying state, a genetic change which would then be by their descendants. There was no change in Adam’s nature after his sin, a view which Robert Roberts clearly recognised as early as 1869:
Our friend imagines there was a change in the nature of Adam when he became disobedient. There is no evidence of this whatever, and the presumption and evidence are entirely the contrary way. There was a change in Adams relation to his maker, but not in the nature of his organization. What are the facts? He was formed from the dust a living soul, or natural body. His mental constitution gave him moral relation to God., Roberts, The Relation of Jesus to the Law of Sin and Death, The Christadelphian (6.578.85), 1869.

Adam, before transgression, though a living soul (or natural body Cor. 15:445), was not necessarily destined to die, as obedience would have ended in life immortal. After transgression, his relation to destiny was changed. Death (by sentence,) was constituted the inevitable upshot of his career. He was, therefore, in a new condition as regarded the future, though not in a new condition as regarded the actual state of his nature. In actual nature, he was a corruptible groundling before sentence, and a corruptible groundling after sentence; but there was this difference: before sentence, ultimate immortality was possible; after sentence, death was a certainty. This change in the destiny lying before him, was the result of sin., Roberts, Apparent Contradictions Reconciled, The Christadelphian (6.62.243), 1869.
What we have here is the introduction of eternal death as a penalty for sin, rather than the injection of mortality into two people who prior to sin were not genetically capable of death. Such a view runs counter to the Bible, is alien to the original Christadelphian position, and is dangerously close to Original Sin.

Pople continues:

These verses now need to be “interpreted” in a way that says: “Well, not really. Death in humans, in fact, is not directly related to sin at all; since we now know that humans were dying for millennia before Adam ever showed up. The Apostle Paul is clearly hamming it up here, to make some sort of point that Jesus is a good guy.”
Pople’s argument shows that he has completely confused death and mortality, and in the process again misrepresents the EC position. Once again:
  • Eternal Death is the punishment for sin
  • Mortality is not the punishment for sin.
  • Adam was created mortal.
The wages of sin is not mortality, but eternal death – this can be seen in the parallelism in Romans 6v23:
Wages of sin --> eternal death
Gift of God -->eternal life
The argument is completely destroyed if the wages of sin is mortality. I die because I am an organic creature. I remain dead forever if I have sinned and not sought forgiveness.

Romans 5:13 and Romans 7:7 clearly point out that sin is not accounted where law does not exist. Any hypothetical human being who lived prior to the introduction of God’s law was not subject to the law of sin and death, and therefore died ‘as the beasts that perish.’ Again, it is this confusion of mortality (the state where one will eventually die) and death (the cessation of life) which undermines Pople’s argument, one which did not even properly take into account the very verses he cited:
“For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.”
Again, note the reference to death, not mortality, as well as the parallelism where eternal life is contrasted with eternal death as a punishment for sin. We die forever if we remain in Adam. We live forever if we remain in Christ. Being in Adam therefore is not a function of being physically descended from him, but rather following his example. The entire argument is destroyed if we read death as mortality, as anti-evolutionists in our community do.

It is instructive to compare this concept of inherited mortality with the Westminster Confession of Faith, which outlines the first principles of the Reformed faith. It makes clear their belief in the physical inheritance of the consequences of Adam’s sin to all men:
1. Our first parents, being seduced by the subtilty and temptation of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit. (Gen. 3:13, 2 Cor. 11:3) This their sin, God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory. (Rom. 11:32)
2. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion, with God, (Gen. 3:6–8, Eccl. 7:29, Rom. 3:23) and so became dead in sin, (Gen. 2:17, Eph. 2:1) and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body. (Tit. 1:15, Jer. 17:9, Rom. 3:10–18)
3. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; (Gen. 1:27–28, Gen. 2:16–17, Acts 17:26, Rom. 5:12, 15–19, 1 Cor. 15:21–22, 45, 49) and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation. (Ps. 51:5, Gen. 5:3, Job 14:4, Job 15:14)
4. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, (Rom. 5:6, Rom. 8:7, Rom. 7:18, Col. 1:21) and wholly inclined to all evil, (Gen. 6:5, Gen. 8:21, Rom. 3:10–12) do proceed all actual transgressions. (James 1:14–15, Eph. 2:2–3, Matt. 15:19)
This argument owes much to Augustine’s flawed reading of Romans 5v12, which in turn came from the flawed Old Latin translation. It is significant that Catholic theologian Jack Mahoney draws attention to this fact, given that the Catholic church also believes in Original Sin (though does not endorse the Reformed view of inherited guilt):
The formal teaching of the Council of Trent, then, is that Adam’s original sin is inherited by everyone through procreation and that its guilt is forgiven by the conferring of baptism, yet something of its results remains even in the baptized, experienced as concupiscence or sinful desires, fomenting or fueling sin in each of us. On this several comments can be offered, the first crucially relating to where it all starts, namely, to what Paul meant in Romans 5:12 when he used the Greek phrase eph’ hō relating to Adam’s action. Augustine and others, including the council fathers at Trent, relying on the Old Latin translation, took this to mean in Latin in quo, or “in whom,” with the clear implication that everyone had sinned in Adam. Most exegetes today understand this phrase as using the common Greek preposition epi to imply succession rather than inclusion, thus giving the meaning “since when” all have sinned rather than “in whom” all have sinned. We must conclude that if this is the original Pauline meaning, it removes from divine revelation any reference to Adam’s descendants being incorporated in solidarity “in him” (in quo), and as a result it dispenses with the conclusion that the whole of succeeding humanity has been condemned en masse as a sort of “condemned mass in Adam,” as Augustine and others explained, J. N. D. Kelly delivers his considered verdict in explaining how the Old Latin version of the New Testament (which had influence only in the West) gave “an exegesis of Rom 5, 12 which, though mistaken and based on a false reading, was to become the pivot of the doctrine of original sin.”

As a consequence of this reflection, it follows that there is now no need for theology to find a method by which to explain how all Adam’s offspring inherit his original sin. Trent’s insistence that Adam’s original sin was transmitted among all subsequent human beings by propagation, or by generation, rather than simply by imitation (which Pelagius was considered to have maintained) was clearly due more to the theological polemic of Saint Augustine against Pelagius and his supporters than to Paul’s writing centuries earlier. (Emphasis mine) [7]
Mahoney’s recognition that the traditional reading of Romans 5v12 is not reflected by the Greek text means that Paul is not saying that we genetically inherit the consequences of Adam’s sin. What we do inherit is a bad example which, when followed to its end results in eternal death. Physical death has nothing to do with sin, and Pople’s conflation of mortality and death is a reflection of his poor exegesis.

Pople’s claim that those whose views on Genesis differ from his are rejecting scripture:
My conclusion: Once we’re done “interpreting” scripture to that degree (= ‘rejecting scripture’)
is ironic, given that he is employing a fundamentalist interpretation of scripture, one which ignores genre and context, in particular the ancient Near Eastern background of Genesis and the Second Temple background of Paul. [8] This lack of engagement with the relevant background to the narrative calls the validity of his interpretation into doubt. Literalism is not the default exegetical option. It needs to be defended, and Pople never justifies his interpretation. He simply assumes it as a given. It is a cheap shot to accuse evolutionary creationists of rejecting scripture. What we reject are flawed human interpretations of scripture.

The irony of his penultimate paragraph:
it seems to me very likely that our entire faith could very easily slide out of the window; and this has happened in a number of cases in our community, alas.
is that the fundamentalist reading of Genesis he advances, his rejection of evolution and his belief that God created the universe with an appearance of age (the long-rejected Omphalos view) is more likely to result in a loss of faith.
“My own eldest son has decided he cannot be baptized because he has seen the evidence for evolution with his own eyes, and our ecclesia will not tolerate discussion on the subject. Unlike some young people, he is too honest to say he doesn’t believe it, just so that he can ‘pass the test’ and be baptized.”

“I will be spending most of this semester studying common descent and evolution in first year biology, and have done so through DNA and cells so far. It really is fascinating and very undeniable. There's also a young Christo girl from [X ecclesia] in the subject, and I am interested to know what she's thinking.”
Such comments are sadly rare, and they are enough to show that it is a fundamentalist reading of the Bible, coupled with hopelessly uninformed criticism of mainstream science which is more likely to cause a loss of faith in the next generation than evolutionary creationism. [9]

Pople’s conclusion is rich in irony:
My strong advice: Read the Bible and believe it;
Indeed, but one must strive to avoid conflating personal opinion with the inspired original. As for his final words:
and don’t be waylaid by humans flattering themselves that they know better.
 It is excellent advice.


Of course, the evidence for human death predating Adam is beyond dispute. Anatomically modern human fossils predate the earliest possible date for Adam and Eve (the domestication of animals and plants in the ANE ~ 10,000 years ago) by over 180,000 years:

Omo Kibish remains - dated to around 195,000 years of age, and found in Ethiopia.

Jebel Irhoud remains. Dated around 160,000 years. Found at Morocco

Qafzeh remains. Located near Galilee in Israel. Dated between 90-100 thousand years ago

 Skhul remains. Located at Mt Carmel in Israel. dated between 90-120 thousand years ago

Klasies River Cave remains, Found at the Klasies River cave region in South Africa. Dated between 75-125 thousand years ago

Mungo man. Dated between 40-60 thousand years ago. Found at Lake Mungo in New South Wales, Australia.

To the ample fossil evidence confirming the fact of human death predating Adam, we have the genetic evidence showing not only that it is impossible for the entire human race to have descended from only two people living 6000 years ago, but the reality of human-ape common ancestry.

Human-ape common ancestry is confirmed by the multiple shared genetic 'errors' such as endogenous retroviruses, pseudogenes and retrotransposons. These identical errors occur at exactly the same place in the genomes of humans and apes. Common descent readily explains them - humans and apes share a common ancestor in which these genetic errors were first acquired, and then inherited these errors. Special creation is mute in the face of this data. Even the ID apologist Michel Behe accepts this evidence:
"Both humans and chimps have a broken copy of a gene that in other mammals helps make vitamin C...It's hard to imagine how there could be stronger evidence for common ancestry of chimps and humans." - The Edge of Evolution (2007, Free Press) p 71-72) 
If we did all descent from Adam, then we would have evidence of a sharp genetic bottleneck in ouer genome. We don't. The amount of genetic variation in our genome could not have arisen via known mutation rates from 2 people living 6000 years ago. (Postulating faster mutation rates won't work. Not only is there no evidence for this, but a small population would rapidly accumulate a lethal load of genetic mutations and crash into extinction.)  As the Evangelical Christian geneticist Dennis Venema puts it:
Taken individually and collectively, population genomics studies strongly suggest that our lineage has not experienced an extreme population bottleneck  in the last nine million years or more (and thus not in any hominid, nor even an australopithecine species), and that any bottlenecks our lineage did experience were a reduction only to a population of several thousand breeding individuals. As such, the hypothesis that humans are genetically derived from a single ancestral pair in the recent past has no support from a genomics perspective, and, indeed, is counter to a large body of evidence. - Genesis and the Genome: Genomics Evidence for Human-Ape Common Ancestry and Ancestral Hominid Population Sizes. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (2010) 62:167-178
Any theological view which is based on a denial of these fact is wrong. It's that simple.

4. Theistic evolution (the idea that God guided the evolutionary process) was an alternative to Darwin’s theory of natural selection that was advanced to explain how evolution could have occurred.
5. Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012), 52.
6. John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, (2009, InterVarsity Press)  60–61.
7. Mahoney J “Christianity in Evolution – An Exploration” (2011: Georgetown University Press)
8. See ref 5.
9. Personal correspondence and discussion with others who share my EC views has confirmed the value of our exegetical position in maintaining the faith of those whose are aware of the evidence for evolution, and have been at the brink of atheism. Aggressive evolution denialism is a menace to faith.