Most Christians share one, solid similarity: They embrace Jesus Christ as God's son and as a central figure of the faith. Beyond that, beliefs and practices can get a little murky when compared between various denominations. One of the most contentious issues of debate among adherents is whether the Holy Bible, the central text of the faith, should be viewed through a literal or a figurative lens. This, of course, has implications when it comes to discussing humanity's origins.
This morning, NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty delved into this contentious debate, writing about whether Adam and Eve historically existed or whether they are simply literary figures. In framing the discussion, Hagerty boils it down to a simplistic, two-pronged question: "Did they exist, and did all of humanity descend from that single pair?" She writes:
According to the Bible (Genesis 2:7), this is how humanity began: "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." God then called the man Adam, and later created Eve from Adam's rib.
If one embraces this version of the creation story, he or she believes that God very literally created Adam, then Eve and that every man, woman and child in existence can essentially be traced back to these first human beings.
It is this notion that evolutionists generally scoff at, as they embrace very different constructs regarding how mankind came about. But, as Hagerty writes, it seems there are now some conservative, Christian scholars who are also coming forward to say that they can no longer publicly support the Genesis account of creation.
Take, for instance, Dennis Venema, a biologist at Trinity Western University. When asked how realistic the Genesis version of creation is, he explains, "That would be against all the genomic evidence that we've assembled over the last 20 years, so not likely at all." While some may dismiss Venema as a liberal, scientific mind (possibly even an atheist of sorts), he's actually a Christian and a senior fellow at BioLogos Foundation. Below, watch Venema discuss why he believes evangelicals can, indeed, accept evolutionary theory:
The above video constitutes only a portion of the discussion. Additional segments are available here.
Last month, The Blaze highlighted some harsh words that BioLogos founder and National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Francis Collins had for atheists. The goal of the Christian BioLogos Foundation is to reconcile science and faith. Collins, also an evangelical Christian, breaks with conservative ranks, as he -- like Venema -- endorses the theory of evolution and rejections literal interpretation of Genesis.
When it comes to tracing mankind's lineage, Venema says there's absolutely no way all of humanity traces back to Adam and Eve. To begin, he claims the human genome shows that mankind emerged from other primates and that we did so as "a large population." Additionally, he explains that the Genesis time frame of only a few thousand years isn't long enough to explain these evolutionary developments. Hagerty writes:
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."
Venema isn't alone, of course. Others, like John Schneider, who taught theology at Calvin College in Michigan, recently said that it's time for Christians to abandon the idea of a literal Adam and Eve. He says:
"Evolution makes it pretty clear that in nature, and in the moral experience of human beings, there never was any such paradise to be lost. So Christians, I think, have a challenge, have a job on their hands to reformulate some of their tradition about human beginnings."
Clearly, these ideas are not going to be welcomed by more conservative Christians who do, indeed, see literalism in the Bible's descriptions, particularly when it comes to the story of creation. Hagerty speaks with a number of individuals who object openly to evolutionary theory:
"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... [...]
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, says that rebellious choice infected all of humankind. [...]
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.
Below, watch a talk by Rana during which he seeks to debunk evolution, while supporting creationist theories:
Now, evangelicals who originally saw themselves as being opposed to evolutionists who rail against creationist theory are now also forced to face individuals from within their own ranks. The debate has become so intense that some scientists have allegedly been forced out of Christian schools for their less-than-literal views on mankind's origins.
Back in 2006, National Geographic provided some interesting information on the American public's take on evolution. The U.S., when compared to other Western nations, is essentially much less inclined to accept evolution as fact:
In the U.S., only 14 percent of adults thought that evolution was "definitely true," while about a third firmly rejected the idea.
More recent (2010) Gallup data shows 40 percent of the nation embracing the notion that God created man in his current form, with only 16 percent claiming that God played no part in the process of creation. While the scientific and Christian communities continue to grapple with internal disagreement, it seems the creationists are thus far winning the PR war.
Take our poll and tell us how you think mankind came about (Note: We will have an update with results later today, as they have been removed for the time being to verify their accuracy):