SAVING THE ORIGINAL SINNER: How Christians Have Used the Bible's First Man to Oppress, Inspire, and Make Sense of the World.
In his latest endeavor to make a case for the coherence of evolutionary science and religion, Karl Giberson uses the biblical story of Adam as both a starting point and a framework for exploring the alleged "conflict" between religion and evolution in American culture. Giberson is a physicist who, in an earlier book (Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution) gives "a deeply personal account" of how he was raised as a fundamentalist whose ambition was originally to study science and to become an advocate for creationism, but who, in his scientific studies, discovered young-earth creationism to be indefensible. Yet, still a Protestant Christian, he felt compelled to justify his belief that one can both accept evolutionary science and remain Christian. Largely because of the rather negative reception of the Saving Darwin book in evangelical circles, he spent much time defending his views to critics and to the administration of his own evangelical college. Eventually, he quit his job (where he had taught for 27 years); he now teaches at a Catholic school that "welcomes examination of its own traditions." It was within this environment that Giberson was able to write the current book under review. He notes that several other scientists and friends at evangelical schools, who had also written books or articles about evolution as God's creative process or about how Christianity need not believe in a literal Adam, have been driven out of their teaching positions. Clearly, within the environment of an evangelical college or university, delving too deeply into this topic is a potentially risky task, although the scientists at many of these colleges have been trained at first-rate and elite universities.
The Adam of the Old Testament is only rarely mentioned in the biblical texts after Genesis. Christians, however, have focused on Adam as the ultimate source of sin, death, and evil among humans. Furthermore, says Giberson, Adam is seen as establishing the social order regarding heterosexual marriage, free will, observation of the Sabbath, use of the earth's resources, condemnation of nudity, and the assigning of subordinate roles to women and non-whites in modern society, as well as influencing people's views of evolution and big bang cosmology. However, Adam would probably have remained a relatively minor character had it not been for the Apostle Paul, whose theology cast Christ as the "Second Adam" and whose role is to undo the damage done by the first one. Giberson next recounts the roles of early Christian apologists in developing this viewpoint. The question arose: Did Adam's sin stain all of humanity and make it impossible for any of us to avoid sin, or was Adam simply an example for each of us, that we all have the free will to either sin or to avoid sin? The Pelagian heresy, advanced by the early Christian ascetic Pelagius, took the second view. According to Pelagius, Adam was merely an example of each of us. Adam's sin was his own; infants are born into a state of innocence and Christians need not be overly concerned with Adam's sin to the point of hopelessness.
The definitive Christian answer to this question was put forth by the early theologian Augustine of Hippo (St. Augustine) who, says Giberson, was the most influential Christian in the Western church after Paul. Augustine argued for "original sin" with which we are all born due to Adam's sin, and for Christ as the "Second Adam." This arises from his affirmation that salvation can only come from the church through the sacrament of baptism. Any other path claimed for salvation, such as through good works, would suggest that Christ had died in vain. Therefore, seeing Adam as simply an example of the temptations faced by "Everyman" is insufficient to explain the passion of Christ. But, if all are born inheriting Adam's transgression, then infants must be baptized as well. It made sense to Augustine that the suffering of innocent infants who have disease and deformities is the result of the sins they inherited, not any they had as yet committed. Furthermore, as babies mature, he noted, they always commit sins in their actions as if they are actually unable to choose the good over sin. As such, Augustine established the role of Adam as the source of original sin and Christ as the only path to salvation. Thus, Christ himself became the only character in the entire Bible that is more significant than Adam.
From here, Giberson brings in the medieval topic of dualism. As Christianity moved into the late Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas argued that while Adam's fall had indeed impaired the ability to resist sin, it had not affected human reason. Thus, through the study of natural philosophy, humankind can learn to understand God's grand design on a cosmic scale. Aquinas taught the centrality of the unmoving earth as the locus of God's great acts of creation and redemption, but that the earth was surrounded by moving heavenly spheres which reflect God's untainted mathematical perfection of creation. This "Christianized cosmos" led to the search for Adam's language as the common source of all other human tongues and for the location of the Garden of Eden. Furthermore, if Adam was indeed the first man, then European histories were necessarily extensions of Old Testament chronologies which were thought to extend back to around 4000 BC to Noah, who descended from the first man, Adam. This meant that no national history could extend back before that time and that all humans of all nationalities must have diverged from Noah's (and Adam's) lineage.
The birth of modern science began to challenge these views. In the mid-1500s, Nicholaus Copernicus postulated that the corrupted earth actually moves through the uncorrupted heavens, an idea which was later advocated by Galileo. Anatomists Andreas Vesalius and Paracelsus challenged the long-established teachings of the Greek physician Galen, practicing in the Roman Empire, whose ideas of anatomy had stood for over one thousand years. These new scientists met with strong resistance because the general opinion was that God had imbued Adam with complete knowledge and that ancient texts (especially the Bible), being closer in time to Adam, were wiser, closer to God, and therefore more accurate. Giberson notes that it took centuries to dislodge these old ideas. New sciences that challenged the old biblical accounts were suppressed, denounced, and viewed as unorthodox.
Giberson argues forcefully that a person can be a Christian without believing in a literal Adam and Eve. Since anthropologists find it impossible to trace all humans back to a single pair of ancestors in the Middle East some six thousand years ago, this indicates that humans are theologically, not biologically, descended from Adam. The biblical accounts of creation and the flood are clearly retellings of Babylonian creation and flood myths, Enuma Elish and the Epic of Gilgamesh (based on an even earlier myth of Atrahasis), which were written centuries before the two different creation and flood stories in Genesis.
The "Book of Nature," however, clearly has no Adam, as the process of natural selection and the fossil record documenting evolution do not require it. Although Darwinian evolution was initially challenged by other hypotheses, modern evidence clearly indicates that Darwin was correct in his description of evolution by natural selection. The fact that evolution has been firmly established within the scientific community triggered three modern responses in the twentieth century. The Modernists saw evolution and modern biblical scholarship as undermining older Christian views, indicating a need for a new post-Enlightenment Christianity. The Fundamentalists, on the other hand, insisted that a literal reading of the Genesis accounts, including Adam and Eve as real persons, was necessary, and that any scholarship that uproots this is to be rejected. A third group, which Giberson calls Traditionalists, tried to make small theological adjustments to accommodate the discoveries of science without calling for a new understanding of Christianity. Over time, the fundamentalist view evolved into the pseudoscience of "scientific creationism" that is still popular among conservative Christians. However, this triggered another extreme cultural backlash; the "anti-religious culture warriors," such as Richard Dawkins, began using evolution as an argument against religion. The above disagreements are the source of the current conflict.
Saving the Original Sinner is a well-written, well-researched, readable history of the origins of the conflict between religion and evolution in contemporary society. And certainly, other scholars have written about this topic from scientific and religious viewpoints. But the uniqueness and the heart of this book (where I can, from experience, empathize with the author), lie in the introduction, in chapter 11, and in the conclusion. Here, Giberson discusses his own struggles: first, as a Christian academic who left fundamentalism to accept evolution, and secondly, as a faculty member at an evangelical college, struggling to teach that there is, in fact, no conflict. He met constant resistance both from the college administration and from the "gatekeepers"--the outspoken individuals who were not associated with the college, but insisted that any concession to accepting evolution is a reason to steer Christian students away from that college.
A Christian can accept modern science, Giberson insists, including evolution. But the task is difficult. Giberson notes that, in contemporary America, the anti-evolution movement has grown stronger and more conservative over the past century, whereas in the scientific world, evolution has become firmly established. Evolution is no longer just a chapter in the back of a biology book, but has become the central, organizing principle of biology. Therefore, the challenge remains: to resolve the problem of how to take "God's Two Books" (Divine Revelation and the Book of Nature) seriously. Says Giberson, "The task is beginning to look impossible from any perspective." A historical Adam has become an essential component of Christian theology--as a part of creation, the Fall, and Christ's redemption. And no Christian scholar has found a more satisfactory resolution to the origin of sin. Yet, the physical evidence clearly indicates that the human body evolved from an earlier form. But he argues that "the Book of Nature (science) need not bow down every time they disagree" and that "Christianity does not need an inerrant Bible."
Reviewed by Alfred R. Martin, Professor of Biological Sciences, Benedictine University, Lisle, IL 60532.
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|Author:||Martin, Alfred R.|
|Publication:||Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2018|
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