5. Reparations

Human Origins

A very great deal of time was spent investigating the question of human origins, the pebble which first nudged the subsequent landslide. Having surveyed the issues with the primordial history and prehistory content of the Old Testament, this is a good juncture to discuss it. The debate over origins realigns on this new context, and some insights followed.

Murderous was the stabbing realization that Darwin has been correct all along, and that he has received such a thorough ‘Galileo treatment’ as repayment. Genetic mapping provides evidence of descent back to the basement of human history. Similar analyses provide multiply-proven linkages from humans to our hominid predecessors and beyond [2, 16, 49]. Yet such evidence has barely slowed the denialist engine of conservative evangelicalism. ‘Mere theory’ remains the mantra, worn through and haggard though it is.

Whether or not evolutionary processes can account for the origination of life itself remains in my mind an open question. So is the issue of whether the process is divinely guided or not, though it seems unlikely [9]. Yet it is clear that evolutionary development does explain human origins from our antecedents accurately [2, 16, 49]. The evidences are digital, they are affirmed by scientists from all ideological backgrounds, and they are conclusive [49]. I was convinced to reverse my position by Christian scientists, who manifest tremendous patience in explaining the facts to the dogmatically ignorant, like myself. Here, I highly recommend either [16] or [49] as accessible and readable treatments of the topic.

Myriad

The waters run quite deep on Genesis and origins, and the divergent field of Christian thought in this area makes any compact discussion difficult [8, 14, 16, 25, 27, 28, 33, 41, 42, 44, 49]. The doctrinal fault line begins at Adam, whose historical existence dissolves if humanity slowly developed from antecedent hominids. The reality of the Fall recedes into the mists, for the evidence indicates that we always suffered and died and did evil, even before we were properly human. The fault line propagates through the genealogies of the Old Testament to Paul’s doctrines of Jesus as the second Adam.

Tremendous theological energy ever pours into the question of how Genesis should be read and reconciled with the manifold evidences of both human and cosmic origins. The literal. The literalistic. The allegorical. Non-overlapping magesteria (NOMA). The Homo Divinus model. The Remembrance model. The incarnational scripture model. Arguments of the allowable evidence base.

Here we have two major problems. First, seeking reconciliation is already a poor-man’s project. The creation account was supposed have informed our understanding of that which we otherwise could not know. It was presumed for a very long time to be the one historical account of what happened, written by the one Being who could speak on the subject. It was not supposed to play catch-up or be found discordant with evidences from God’s own creation.

Second, and sadly for the seeker, there remains at bottom not a tinge of consensus from the church on how Genesis should be read, who or what Adam was, or in what way the Fall can be considered ontologically real. Blame for the evidence gaps are laid in all locations: taking the text too literally, taking the evidence too seriously, failing to recognize establishment agendas, not thinking anciently enough, confusing the material and the functional, confusing the theological and the historical, etc. The thinking reader is concurrently chastised for (1) taking the evidences of science too seriously and the authority of the text not seriously enough, and (2) being unsophisticated enough to have actually thought that the Genesis creation had ever intended to describe a real historical event.

Footbridges

I studied viewpoint after viewpoint, confident for a time that the answer simmered somewhere just beneath the next book cover. The experience of searching for a coherent solution, even for a professional researcher with two degrees in the sciences, proved both troubling and disheartening. I was finally pressed to conclude that the community does not actually have a working solution. Upon examination, each proposition still retains serious flaws. More models continue to be proposed because there isn’t a truly viable and compatible reading of the text yet. Like a collection of rope bridges coiled beside a chasm, stretching them out proves that none is adequate to span the divide.

Denis Alexander, a singularly forthcoming and concise author on the topic, said the following after describing two contemporary models attempting to reconcile the Adam of Genesis with human evolution [1]:

Both models are heavily under-determined by the data, meaning that there is insufficient data to decide either way… Both models might be false and a third type of model might be waiting in the wings ready to do a much better job; let us hope so.

~ Denis Alexander, How Does a BioLogos Model Need to Address the Theological Issues Associated with an Adam Who Was Not the Sole Genetic Progenitor of Humankind?

I am grateful for Alexander’s honesty in reporting, which is refreshing after some cloudier materials I have reviewed. Nevertheless, I must observe the indictment that follows, if this is our status after two millennia with the text of Genesis.

Francis Collins summarizes even more globally, nearly embodying my entire argument regarding Genesis [**]:

Diverse interpretations continue to be promoted about the meaning of Genesis 1 and 2…

Despite twenty-five centuries of debate, it is fair to say that no human knows what the meaning of Genesis 1 and 2 was precisely intended to be. We should continue to explore that!

~ Collins, Francis S. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (p. 153)

These quotations portend with clarity that Alexander’s hope will not answer: after such protracted library time with Genesis, the fairest conclusion is that there will not be a solution forthcoming. We ought to ask what the purpose of a muddled and non-revelatory revelation is intended to be. Genesis has joined Revelation as an unusably foggy text. They give us a sense that we know something about the beginning and the end, yet without being in any way usable. No human knows what the meaning was intended to be; little more needs be said.

Meanwhile, the non-solutions which our scholars propose sometimes embody a certain ‘moral flexibility’: the texts are gently bent, propped, reinterpreted, and appended in an attempt to square the hole [1, 16, 28]. Defending canon and theology, it would seem, justify the compromises offered. But as a professional and a believer, I find that I cannot shake that hand.

Irreducible Abrogation

But even after the last vestiges of creation historicity have been auctioned off, the basement theology remains abrogated by the real story of human origins. Scholars are quick to argue that we should recognize the theology of Genesis as true, though the story may be allegory. We cannot retain the theology, however, because the allegory is untrue to history, and in all the wrong places. The notion of the fall vanishes; the explanation of where suffering and death came from vanishes; and the idea of redemption (being bought back) to our intended Image of God vanishes.

The cosmos and the biosphere manifested chaos and creature suffering on an incomprehensible scale from a time long before humanity foot-printed the earth.  Human behavior or failings have not dented the metaphysical reality; our hominid predecessors murdered and stole straight through to the dawn of homo sapiens, and we have done nothing to stumble an already-groaning and sprawling cosmos [9, 21, 24]. There was no down-step in the cosmos, the biosphere, or antecedent behavior with the arrival of humanity. Nor can appeals to spiritual redefinition offset the burden; the proposal of soul-injection to evolved hominid bodies simply collapses when one does the math. We were always many; the hominid-human transition was a blur and not a bifurcation; and our species spanned the globe by the time our agricultural Adam appeared (agriculture has come only at the tail end of human history).

As such, proposing that suffering and death arises from primordial sin – the expression of human pride, coveting forbidden knowledge, or wishing to usurp God – these beg the wrong questions. They attempt to explain our imperfect state as a downhill change from a time when we were better. They attempt to explain as a change that which was constant. There was not a time when we were better. I found myself forced painfully to concede that the Fall does provide a diagnosis for the human condition: plausible and functional, but false. It is evident that the Genesis creation account does gives us a story of origins – just not our story. It is a plausible explanation, but not a factual one, as with the many other creation myths on offer.

I must regrettably disagree with much of the current pressure to argue that, although these accounts may not be exactly factual, they are yet in a way true. That though they may strike out on metaphysical descriptions, they yet have polemical content or convey a theology of truth. We can justify any religious text on such an argument. There are many competing myths from that era of history, and they all contain rubbish plus theologyAnything – even the Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elish – would stand equally true with our Genesis if we pander to such soft criteria [29].

The problems for Christian perceptions on Genesis seem to be four-fold:

  1. We have an honest ignorance of the peer myths from that era.
  2. We have an honest ignorance of the actual state of certainty regarding evolutionary development.
  3. We have an honest ignorance about the blank space that exists where Genesis’ author(s) should be listed.
  4. We express a strong tradition bias that favors our account, irrespective of merit, largely because of (1), (2), and (3), but also because of the status that Genesis gives us.

Mourning

It is difficult to describe the sense of mourning I experienced over Genesis. I was raised with fundamentalist views, which bit by bit were updated over the years. At the onset of this study I was by no means a textual literalist any longer. And the project of textual rehabilitation which the church has engaged for the past several centuries was perhaps defensible in scope.

Yet on human origins, three prongs wounded. The first was the recognition of exactly how dire the doctrinal situation actually stood, and how intractable the conflicts between natural history and Genesis actually were.

The second was observing what biblical scholars were willing to redefine and transmute in attempting a response. On grounds of the Mosaic authorship collapse, there remains little basis to think that Genesis is actually God’s Account of creation. This is nowhere conceded. It is nowhere conceded that perhaps the very human author was simply guessing. I have yet to find a Christian source that even considers the possibility that the Genesis account may not be inspired by the one true God. We do have a right to ask, at this point. But the canon stands, and right or wrong, the textual rehabilitation project will move forward, until the last drop has been spilt.

The third wound was personal shame. It reached a local zenith upon considering the part I have played in the Galileo Treatment of Darwin and his successors. I read the accounts of Galileo and the statements which both the Catholic and Protestant authorities made at the time, and I hear distant echoes of the same things that Christians say about Darwin today. I have been among them. I have been vocal, adamant, and dismissive of both good science and good researchers. The pain runs deepest upon reviewing why: it was out of my unflagging loyalties to an ancient text – one without author, credibility, or even consensus. Reparations are sadly due.

Evidence for Darwin’s theory is overwhelming; evidence for the text is non-existent. After two millennia with this scripture, there remains no consensus, even as the evidence gap continues to widen. Serious answers on the origins of humanity and suffering must be looked for elsewhere. A jagged pill to be sure, but I have in the end been grudgingly compelled to swallow.

Next: [6] Old Testament >>

4/5/2013

© Copyright 2013

Comments

  1. This was very well said:

    We have an honest ignorance of the peer myths from that era.
    We have an honest ignorance of the actual state of certainty regarding evolutionary development.
    We have an honest ignorance about the blank space that exists where Genesis’ author(s) should be listed.
    We express a strong tradition bias that favors our account, irrespective of merit, largely because of (1), (2), and (3), but also because of the status that Genesis gives us.

    Like

    • I read your Deconversion pages today. I cannot tell you the resonance that there is with what you went through, the tag lines and attitudes you encountered, etc. I am going to dig through them and comment a bit more tomorrow. Very well written, moving.

      Like

      • Thanks, man. I’m experiencing the same thing reading your story. It’s so encouraging to run across other people who have gone through the exact same thing, even down to writing a dissertation to family and friends explaining our changing perspectives.

        It’s so disheartening when the people you care about most don’t seem to see the issues the same way — I assume that’s how it was for you; it certainly was for me. So finding “kindred spirits” is an awesome feeling. 🙂

        Like

  2. Re: a portion of Denis Alexander’s quote: “Both models might be false and a third type of model might be waiting in the wings ready to do a much better job …”

    You might be interested in reading this post for a rather intriguing perspective on the origin of man.

    Like

    • Hi Nan,

      I took a look at that article. Interesting, but kinda thin. I asked the author for citations, since their weren’t any. I think he misunderstands the Cambrian Explosion, but anyway.

      BTW, I saw the long, long dialogue you had with Eliza on one of your posts. Couldn’t figure out how to comment back there (closed?), so I went to the link she had on Trusting the Savior from August 21 and left some questions for her there. You were very patient for a long time. 🙂

      Like

  3. Yes, most of the article seemed to be “opinion;” however, I thought his perspective was, well, shall we say … different?

    Sorry you weren’t able to add to the dialogue with Eliza, but I just couldn’t take any more of her preaching. Get this! After I closed the comments, she went so far as to send me an email (!) with a few final words! Scary.

    I just checked her blog and don’t see your questions. Hmmm. I wonder why … 😉

    Like

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Michael Seidel, writer

Science fiction, fantasy, mystery and what-not

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My freedom from spiritual abuse happened when I walked away from the abusers. My healing and recovery from the complex trauma of spiritual abusers, spiritually abusive faith and toxic religion happened while I was still a Christian and continues to this day. My deconversion came later after many many years of studying the Bible, Christian apologetics, cults and spiritual abuse. When I realized that the Bible is not the inerrant Word of God, the only honest thing I could do was to stop calling myself a Christian. What I write here, may be very different from what I’ve written in the past. It might also be repeats of the past themes. ~ Zoe

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