- Should science influence our theology?
- How does Paul interpret the Adam story?
- What are some ways people try to support an argument for a historical Adam?
- What are entangled particles?
- What is meant by the “theory” of evolution?
- How large is the universe?
- What does it mean for us to call God “Creator” in light of what we know about science?
- What is quanta?
- Why are evangelicals resistant to incorporating science into theology?
- How does quantum physics impact our daily lives?
- What is third millennium theology?
- How do we limit our understandings of God?
Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Pete you can share.
- “Trying to solder together the biblical story of Adam and evolutionary science is intellectually and spiritually debilitating—it’s stressful.” @peteenns
- “What is needed is a synthesis of theology and science where science influences our theology.” @peteenns
- “Our state of knowledge of the world today is one that the writers of Scripture—not to mention the first 1500 years of the Church—had absolutely no frame of reference for.” @peteenns
- “The same science that gives us the bizarre quantum world has also had wide-ranging, very practical impact on our daily lives.” @peteenns
- “Theology cannot be dissociated from science, in part because Christians believe that the cosmos is God’s “general revelation” of God’s self.” @peteenns
- “The Christian faith is rooted in an ancient Semitic tradition that had no philosophers or scientists. The traditions that grew out of those times and places were written by men who lived in a very different world than ours, and they cannot be expected to bear for us the burden of doing theology in our moment in time.” @peteenns
- “What of this world do we carry with us and where is this sacred book limiting God and needs to be set aside, given what we know about the nature of the cosmos today?” @peteenns
Mentioned in This Episode
- Book: The Evolution of Adam
- Book: Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
- Book The Individuation of God
- Website: B4NP Store
- Support: The Bible for Normal People
Powered by RedCircleRead the transcript
Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People. The only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.
Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.
[Jaunty intro music]
Pete: Hey everyone, welcome to the podcast and today’s topic is all about evolution, but more than just evolution. Let’s get right into this, shall we? Some of you know a few years ago I wrote a book called The Evolution of Adam, came out in 2012 and I’ve been working on a second edition to that book, which is going to come out sometime next year, I think late 2021. And part of what I did was rewrite some of the pretty terrible prose I had in there. It’s amazing how unclear you are when you read yourself a few years later, but anywho, that’s not the point. The point is that I’m also writing an afterword to the book, pretty much, you know, where I’ve stayed the same and where I’ve changed with respect to the book, and it’s a little bit of both. I’ve stayed the same and I’ve changed, but I wanted to share with all of you today some of my thinking on where I’ve really changed my thinking or, maybe put it this way, expanded my thinking on this whole issue of the Bible and evolution.
So, to do that, let’s start if I may, with just a quick synopsis of what the book, The Evolution of Adam was about. I wrote that, as I said, in 2012 and I wrote it to contribute to a familiar and needed, also a little bit contentious discussion concerning the relationship between biological evolution and Christian faith. And, you know, I assumed evolution at the outset. I just assumed that it’s, you know, the essentially universal scientific consensus that common descent is a compelling and powerful account of how we humans came to be. I don’t contest that. My focus was rather on the key biblical passages that tend to be seen as barriers to this discussion among evangelicals; that’s the primary audience for the book. Not the only one, but the primary audience. And of course, those biblical passages are the story of Adam in Genesis 2-3, and Paul’s use of the Adam story in Romans 5:12-21. Paul talks about Adam as well in 1 Corinthians, but I don’t deal with that because, you know, the book was long enough. Plus Romans 5, I think, is the main passage. Anywho, these biblical passages have normally been read in evangelicalism as, you know, sitting a bit uncomfortably with the scientific consensus. You know, a historical Adam is the cause not only of death, but the inbred sinfulness and even guilt at birth for all humanity. A historical Adam is a theological non-negotiable idea within the evangelical system.
Now in the book, if you’ve read it this is not a surprise, but I argue that Adam is not a historical figure at all, but a synopsis of Israel’s national story that ends in disobedience, that ends in exile, so to speak. Just as Adam, you know, was put into a lush land and given a command to obey and if you obey, you stay in the garden; if you disobey, you leave. In the same sense, the nation of Israel was put into a lush land, the land of Canaan, and if they obey God, they stay in the land; if they disobey, they are exiled. And this is a medieval Jewish idea, at least, I did not invent that. I think it’s a great way of looking at the Adam story. And if you look at it that way, the Adam story really has no bearing on the historical/scientific question of human origins. And attempts to make the Adam story fit that, I think are just completely out of place.
Now, with respect to Paul, I said that he did believe in a historical Adam, and I explain why he would think that—because he is a man of his time, a first century Jew. He’s thinking like an ancient person. He also interpreted the Adam story, and this is getting more to the meat of things, he interpreted the Adam story not, not plainly, not in a way that would be recognized by the original author, but he interpreted the story very creatively. And to cut to the chase, Paul’s interpretation, right, it’s an interpretation, his interpretation of the Adam story is a creative Christ-centered Jewish midrash. And midrash is, you know, sort of a fancy term, but it basically means the creative adaptation of a text to speak to a very different circumstance. And that creative interpretation of Paul’s was driven by a pastoral concern to drive home this new reality that he’s talking about where Jew and gentile together are part of one human family who both need Jesus.
Now, this is an interpretation of the Adam story, it’s not, it’s not a binding comment on what that author of Genesis meant, and neither does Paul answer scientifically/historically, you know, the question of human origins. And we’re just, we’re asking too much. This is sort of one of the main takeaways of the book. We’re just asking too much of Genesis and Paul to answer questions that they’re not even asking. Our questions were about science and history, and theirs were not.
Now, by trying to solder together, if I can put it that way, trying to solder together the biblical story of Adam and evolutionary science is intellectually and spiritually debilitating—it’s stressful. You know, other Christian traditions have come to peace with a symbolic reading of the Adam story, but even the best expressions of evangelical theology are still very much preoccupied to align some sort of literal first man with evolution—sort of having your cake and eating it too. And the solutions that are usually offered, as I see them, they don’t work because they are, they’re ad hoc. They’re made up to relieve some theological pressure. For example, Adam is seen in some evangelical writings not as the literal first man, in fact, not even a man at all, but as a gene pool. You know, some theories say that all of, all present humans descended from a gene pool of between 5,000-10,000 humans that lived about 100,000 years ago or so. I know some of the numbers are a little bit different, but here Adam is not a person, but a gene pool. Other theories are things like, you know, there’s an evolutionary process, sure we agree with that, that’s fine, but there’s still an Adam and Eve and here’s where we get them. God zapped two humans X number of thousands of years ago and made them Adam and Eve, and everyone past and present and future is somehow connected to these two creatures. So, it’s not that people were descended biologically from them, but, in fact they’re not even the first people. They’re just sort of picked specially by God. Those are two options and ironically, I mean, think of is this way. In an effort to protect the non-negotiable biblical truth of a historical Adam, evangelical theology seems to be content by making up an Adam that the biblical story simply can’t bear.
The truth is, evolution has rocked evangelical theology to its core. They can’t coexist as they are. You can’t fix it by pinning the evolutionary tail onto the evangelical donkey. Evangelicals cannot continue making believe that this theology is rock solid, and they just need to find some way of grafting this annoying bit of science onto it. Nothing is served by finding more and more subtle ways of like, shuffling and reshuffling the same deck and not interrogating evangelical theology itself. So, what’s needed, instead, is a synthesis of theology and science, and it’s a synthesis where the science actually influences our theology. And my thinking over the past decade or so has not strayed from this basic outline. So, that’s pretty much what I was trying to do in the book.
Now, what’s changed? Well, this is what’s changed: I have come to see the need for theology to grapple more with the broader scientific landscape. Okay? The broader landscape within which biological evolution is but one small part, and then doing that, seeing how all of this affects and informs how we talk about God.
See, evolution is a theory, and forgive me, but before we go on, just to talk about that word theory. In contract to popular usage, theory, in scientific usage, does not mean like a hypothetical idea that needs to be tested, but an idea that has been tested, widely and over time and has risen to the level of broad scientific consensus. And that’s why the common criticism that we hear sometimes that evolution is “only a theory,” it really mistakes the scientific meaning of that term with the popular one. So, I will say it again, evolution is a theory that explains not just the emergence of life on this planet but the emergence of the cosmos as a whole; that’s part of this landscape that I’m talking about, this broader landscape.
Science, evolution rather, explains the emergence of the cosmos as a whole from the Big Bang to this moment nearly 14 billion years later, from the smallest subatomic particles to the largest galaxies. Evolution is also the framework for understanding the emergence of our planet from grains of dust orbiting the fledgling sun that lumped together over many millions of years to form a sphere and thus beginning its 15-billion-year transformation. Evolution, in other words, is the indisputable meta-narrative of how all things came to be; it’s the big, overarching story that accounts for cosmological, geological, and biological reality—so pretty much everything. The question of Adam vis-à-vis biological evolution must be set against the backdrop of the meta-narrative of evolution.
You know, our state of knowledge of the world today is one that the writers of Scripture—not to mention the first 1500 years of the Church—had absolutely no frame of reference for. Those previous historical moments, you know, they’re not adequate for addressing many of the questions that we face today. We all know, for example, something of the truly incomprehensible size of the universe, you know, thanks to the breathtaking photographs of the Hubble Space Telescope: the universe is filled will billions upon billions of galaxies.
You know, our universe—to be precise, the “known universe,” which isn’t the whole thing, apparently— is as I said, about 14 billion years old, and now listen to this, 14 billion years old and 546 sextillion miles across. That’s 546 plus twenty-one zeros, or, if this helps, a billion times a billion times a thousand. You know, in an era where Americans are used to hearing about trillion-dollar national debt, speaking of mere billions seems quaint. But, to offer some perspective, think about this – if we were to count to one million, at one count per second, one, two, three, right? If we were to do that, it would take, to count to a million, it would take about 11.5 days. Think of doing anything for 11.5 days. It takes a long time to count to a million. Now, to count to one billion would take, well, 1000 times that—which comes out to roughly 32 years of counting one, two, three, right? Ugh, that’s a long time. Now, to work up to the size of the 546 sextillion mile universe, we would need to count to one billion, for starters, a thousand times (that’s 32,000 years), and then do all that again another billion times. That would take, hmm, now is when it gets crazier, that would take 32 trillion years and that is incomprehensible and that’s just to reach one sextillion. Do that all again another 546 times, and it would take you—well, this is where my calculator just gives up and punts and spits out 1.75 followed by 16 zeros, which is just south of 20 quadrillion years to count the size of the universe and that number quadrillion means nothing to us. These are incomprehensible, incomprehensible numbers.
You know, the universe is so large, even the speed of light, 186,282 miles per second, even the speed of light takes 93 billion years to go from one end to the other. If we can even talk about the ends of the universe, we probably can’t since apparently space curves in on itself which I don’t understand, so let’s just keep moving. But just for argument’s sake, you know, 93 billion years to go from one end to the other traveling at the speed of light. It’s unbelievable. To bring some of this down closer to our scale, the speed of light covers in one second 7 ½ times the circumference of the earth. To get to the closest star in our galaxy, okay, just the closest star in our galaxy, one would need to keep that speed up every second, of every hour, of every day, of every year, for about 4 years and 4 months. Just imagine that whooshing around the earth 7 ½ times a second, which it itself incomprehensible, and keeping that up for 4 years and 4 months. That’s, that’s what it would take to get to the closest star.
You know, and there are apparently between 100 and 200 billion stars in our galaxy—which would take about 3,000 to 6,000 years to count and some estimates are closer to 400 billion stars—and on top of that 100s of billions of galaxies in the known universe. And, just to add insult to injury, the closest galaxy to ours (Andromeda) is about 2.5 million light years away. Just imagine that, whooshing around the earth 7 ½ times a second and keeping that up for 2.5 million years.
Well, to sum up: the universe is big. It is immeasurably large and old, and our speck-of-dust Earth is insignificant on the cosmic scale. Our home planet is, as Carl Sagan famously put it, a “pale blue dot” just in one solar system on the outskirts of one lonely galaxy. This cannot be left to the side when we speak about the God of the Bible. What kind of a God are we dealing with? What does “God” even mean? Where is this God? Is “where” even a meaningful question? And is this God personal, and what would that even mean for the Creator of such an inhuman scale to be personal? You know, the writer of Psalm 19 raises his eyes to the heavens and praises God, for there he sees God’s glory. And this may be all fine and good from an Iron Age perspective, but for, you know, for us, our “heavens” are not “up there.” There is no “up.” The “heavens” surround us on all sides and just keep on going—infinitely, for all intents and purposes—and the thought of it all should be unsettling for all who are paying attention. You know, I’m struck by the words of seventeenth-century philosopher Blaise Pascal, this rings so true to me. This really, when I first saw this years ago it was like, oh gosh, he’s known me my whole life. Here’s what he says:
The eternal silence of the infinite spaces frightens me. When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and after, the little space which I fill, and even can see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant, and which know me not, I am frightened, and am astonished at being here rather than there; for there is no reason why here rather than there, why now rather than then. Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time been allotted to me?
You know, the universe is disarmingly huge, and the thought of all this makes me freeze in my tracks. We cannot carry on employing pictures of God that arose before our immense, incomprehensible, expanding, and very weird universe came to light. The profound discoveries of the last hundred years especially have changed forever how we perceive reality, of which human origins, really, is just one very, very small part. That’s the much bigger issue before us, and whether Adam was a real person is really, I have to say, easy to figure out against that larger backdrop. Evangelical theology cannot rest content hammering out the Adam question vis-à-vis biological evolution in isolation from the bigger picture of the evolving cosmos that physicists have discovered.
The age and size of the universe are just the beginning of the scientific challenges to evangelical theology. Einstein’s work in the early twentieth century resulted in a fundamental shift in how we look at the universe and our existence in it. Among his many accomplishments, Einstein demonstrated that the passage of time, listen to this, the passage of time is not constant for everyone but experienced differently by, say, someone on the earth’s surface and someone orbiting the earth in a satellite—which is too profound a thought to be skimmed over. Time slows down the closer one is to a massive object (like the earth) and speeds up the further one is away from the object. Time is slower even for those living in a valley compared to those living in the hills above. Time is not stable. In fact, as physicist Carlo Rovelli explains, “Physicists and philosophers have come to the conclusion that the idea of a present that is common to the whole universe is an illusion and that the ‘flow’,” so called flow, “of time is a generalization that doesn’t work.”
If you’re interested, Carlo Rovelli is an Italian physicist. He wrote this beautiful little book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics and I got that quote from page 60 if you’re interested. But right below that, I just love this part, right below that Rovelli goes on to cite a letter that Einstein wrote after the death of his longtime friend Michele Besso to Besso’s grieving sister, and this is what Einstein wrote. He says: “People like us who believe in physics know that the distinction made between past, present, and future, is nothing more than a persistent, stubborn illusion.” Yeah, time is not the constant forward arrow we perceive it to be.
Jared: Stay tuned for more Bible for Normal People.
[Producer’s group endorsement]
So, time is relative, and that relativity can only be perceived by atomic measurement devices. It would be experienced more dramatically if one were traveling near the speed of light or were near a massive black hole—you know, a few minutes there might be equivalent to ten years or decades or something to those outside of its gravitational pull (and this was depicted very well in the 2014 film Interstellar). What is truly odd about all this is the fact that gravity is not a “force” at all that “pulls” on things, but it’s only experienced as such by us. And in truth, what we call gravity is the effects of the bending of space and time by the Earth’s mass. Einstein showed that space and time, in fact, are not two independent entities but together form a single space-time “fabric,” which is affected by mass. See, how we perceive space (as like, the “pull” of gravity) and how we perceive the passage of time going in a forward, linear direction, that’s all determined by how close we are to a massive object as well as the speed one is traveling. We may experience our reality as stable (time passes at a constant rate), but the actual reality is much different.
Now, how all this works is well above my paygrade; if you’re confused, so am I. But whatever it means and whatever its implications, I think some pressing questions come to mind, namely this one: you know, if the physical universe is really such a place that at the end of the day doesn’t match our experience, could we really say any less of our experiences, and perceptions, and thoughts about the Creator of that universe? How can all of this not affect our God-talk? What would it look like for us to call God “Creator” in light of these scientific theories of the creation? How would theology change? I’m not sure, but the question can’t be avoided, and, again, in comparison, dealing with the Adam question, is not really that sophisticated or difficult.
Now, as if Einstein’s space-time continuum weren’t enough to process, and it is, his theories led others in his day to discover a world on the other end of the cosmic scale. Apparently, everything—so we’re told—everything, including space/time is made up of incomprehensibly small, discrete units or packets, “quanta” is the word that’s used, the small packets of matter and energy. This subatomic “quantum” world acts in ways that are IMPOSSIBLE according to the mathematical laws, so called, that govern the massive objects that occupied classical physics, like Newton and Einstein’s theory of relativity. Another kind of physics, quantum physics, with its own set of mathematical formulas, was needed to account for this reality.
One of the better known, and among the more bizarre, notions of quantum physics is that light on the subatomic scale, light behaves like a wave until it is measured by an outside observer, at which point it behaves like a particle. Light is not one or the other, but potentially both—until you look at it. Likewise, electrons that “orbit” the nucleus are actually not orbiting at all but are clouds of probable locations that only pop into existence when measured. Electrons aren’t really anywhere, strictly speaking, until measured.
Now, pardon me folks as I fumble through this, this is a bit comic here almost. You know, this isn’t my area, right? And I just, I’m working with this stuff as best as I can, but you know, another piece of quantum physics that has found its way into popular culture is called “entanglement.” When a particle like a single photon has been split in half (granted, that’s enough of a thought to make me want to go take a long walk somewhere) but a photon that’s been split in half, just imagine that, and the two halves are placed at a distance from each other, the two halves are still instantly entangled—which means something like the behavior of one is instantly mirrored in the other. Now here’s the thing, this happens, this could be called a fact of quantum physics, like, no one really disputes this from what I understand. But, this happens, this entanglement of these two particles, this happens no matter how far apart the entangled particles are. Well, how can that be? Well, if the two particles were, like, “communicating” with each other (whatever it means for particles to communicate, let’s leave that to the side), but if they were communicating with each other, the mirroring of the two particles could not be instantaneous, why? Because nothing exceeds the speed of light. But quantum entanglement is instantaneous. Two entangled particles could be on opposite ends of our galaxy, 200,000 light years apart, and one would still mirror the other instantly. Now, physicists are still debating what all this means, but on the quantum level of the universe, it seems that distance at the speed of light, fundamental to laws of physics, are not laws that entangled particles obey.
Now, one might think that these observations are too weird to be true, but physicists assure us that the math works and has proven itself countless times. And the same science, getting more practical here, the same science that gives us the bizarre quantum world has also had wide-ranging, very practical impact on our daily lives: things like atomic clocks, supercomputers, transistors, uncrackable codes, GPS, MRI, lasers, and a bunch of other things. Many aspects of quantum physics have been debated for a century, and there’s a lot of disagreement on things, and there’s a lot still hidden from us, but quantum physics is not smoke and mirrors. It’s science, showing us something of the universe that we inhabit.
Now, this is as good a time as any to make clear what you have no doubt sensed already, and that is that I am not a scientist. I’m not trained in physics, you know, though, I have to say learning about the world that I live in has always fascinated me. A basic grasp of evolutionary biology, well, I think that’s possible for most people, but when it comes to relativity and quantum physics, most human beings are in exactly the same boat as I—the science is too technical, it’s too mathematical for the public to be able to follow, let alone incorporate into our theology somehow. And just a side issue here, I don’t want to be misunderstood. I’m not suggesting that the various dimensions of the study of evolution are, you know, easy to understand. They’re not. These are also things that happen in highly specialized fields that requires years of training. You can’t talk your way around the ins and outs of evolutionary biology after doing a Google search. But given some time and effort, I think most of us can follow more easily basic points concerning things like the fossil record or maybe even the human genome much, much better than something like Schrödinger’s equation, which is a basic building block to quantum mechanics and you can Google that if you want to. But any formula that basically is mostly made up of letters and not numbers and they call it math, I know I’m in over my head at that point. See, most of us, my point, most of us, including myself, should be very cautious about bringing highly specialized sciences into conversations about what God is like.
But what I will say is this: even a nontechnical, general, superficial grasp of the scientific landscape I think is enough for us to marvel at the mystery, the complexity, the incomprehensibility, the unpredictability of the cosmos in which we find ourselves. How we conceive of God needs to keep pace with what we know about the cosmos on the scale of the very large and the infinitesimally small. This would not require anyone to, you know, solve the mysteries of the physical universe, but simply to acknowledge that the mysteries are profound, not going away, and—whether we admit it or not—do not leave theology unaffected.
Theology cannot be dissociated from science, in part because Christians believe that the cosmos is God’s “general revelation” of God’s self. Special revelation, in technical theological terms, that usually refers to the Bible and/or Jesus. Mainly Jesus, but the Bible as well, that’s a special revelation, but creation is a general revelation. We learn something of God from creation. Right, the declaration of Psalm 19, I mentioned earlier, that “the heavens declare the glory of God,” that still holds, but our “heavens” today are markedly different from what medieval theologians or Iron Age psalmists understood—we know more. The staggering dimensions and vast age of the universe coupled with the revolutions of relativity and quantum physics are psychologically and spiritually disorienting. I mean, particularly for Christians whose theology, what they believe about God and all sorts of things, for people whose theology was shaped fundamentally in the 16th century and the wake of the Protestant Reformation—and that is the roots of evangelical theology today. For us to declare along with the psalmist that God’s glory is seen in our cosmos, that takes theological energy, it takes imagination, it takes an all-in embrace of mystery and ambiguity, and above all, it takes a willingness to allow for and to experience and to embrace theological change. In my experience, however, these are not always the marks that are typically associated with evangelical theology.
Now another reason why theology and science can’t be kept at a safe distance from each other, they simply CANNOT be kept at a safe distance from each other, is that they are never actually distant to begin with. Theology is a discipline that has ALWAYS expressed itself in the contexts of current ways of thinking about the world and anything else. And here, just a quick shout out, hopefully this is a good resource for you, we did a podcast a while back with Ilia Delio, a Villanova theologian, and she also has a book The Unbearable Wholeness of Being where in the first thirty or forty pages she fletches things like this out pretty well. But anyway, theology
reflects our human context. There is no “theology from above” because people do theology and all theology is a human endeavor, and this is certainly true within the Bible itself, the ancient Israelites, whose origins stories in Genesis 1,2, and 3 reflect ancient views of the cosmos in general. It’s true of the timeless Gospel which is nevertheless expressed in the clearly NOT timeless categories of 1st century Judaism. Similarly, the Early Church, which was gentile, left behind the Jewish apocalyptic vibe of the New Testament to embrace another worldview. You know, the Jewish apocalyptic view of the New Testament, it is Jewish, Jews were writing it, they’re writing it within the context of the Jewish tradition and it’s apocalyptic, meaning God’s gonna set all things right pretty soon. And Jesus’ resurrection is like the first stage of that, and the second stage is coming like, real, real, real soon. That is the context of the New Testament, that’s sort of its structure almost, but with the Early Church that was left behind. The Jewish apocalypticism of the New Testament is not a factor anymore, and another worldview is embraced, Greco-Roman philosophy.
And so they spoke of God as omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and Christ as, in the words of the Nicene Creed, “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten of the Father, not made, being of one substance with the Father. . . ..” You know, all this stuff which is fantastic and wonderful, but strictly speaking, none of this is a biblical concept, it’s all shaped by the “state of knowledge” at the time.
Even the God that many take for granted today—sovereignly directing all things along the axis of linear time according to inviolable laws—well, this God owes a great deal to Newton’s mechanistic cosmos, were what we see is what is and can be explained by conventional “laws” of physics. Speaking of God in such ways has grown steadily obsolete over the last century. Astrophysics, relativity, and quantum physics have presented us with models of the cosmos that have fundamentally changed our understanding of reality—these models did not exist even remotely in the minds of those who gave the church much of its theological language over the centuries, including the biblical writers. These scientific models of the cosmos stagger the imagination and are placing increasing and relentless pressure on the church to develop accessible theological models that can keep pace with the science.
Historically, Christian theology has been geocentric with humans as the crowning centerpiece. This is why the church strongly resisted the heliocentrism, sun at the center of the solar system, the heliocentrism of Copernicus and Galileo, not just because the notion was not found in the Bible, but because decentering earth and humanity – we’re not the center of everything – that really destabilized the worldview within which the church has always conceived of God. You know, we’re it, and we’re at the center of the center. We’re on earth, and this is, everything is the focus of what’s happening on this planet. The Christian faith has largely come to terms theoretically with the idea of a solar system in a vast cosmos, but you know, it took time—and a willingness to conceive of God differently as our understanding of the universe changed. This posture must continue even with—I’m gonna say especially with—the unique challenges of relativity and quantum physics. And that is the real challenge before us, far more sweeping in scope and far more necessary for the church’s thriving than fixating on whether Genesis should be taken literally. Of course it shouldn’t. Why are we still talking about this?
Perhaps the time has come for what Peter Todd calls “third millennium theology,” and this is a very provocative book, Peter Todd, The Individuation of God in Integrating Science and Religion, it’s 2017. But, you know, maybe it’s time for a third millennium theology, a theology that’s suited for our state of knowledge in the third millennium. We can’t know beforehand, at least I can’t, what that third millennium theology might look like and where it might lead, I don’t know. But one thing I do know: continuing to talk about the Creator while keeping our understanding of the creation at arm’s length will ensure a parochial theology, one that’s more centered on self-defense than actually helping explain the Creator and our place in the world with, you know, I think what’s really needed, with a sense of conviction and also a sense of hope and a sense of compassion.
The Christian faith is rooted in an ancient Semitic tradition that had no philosophers or scientists. The traditions that grew out of those times and places were written by men who lived in a very different world than ours, and they cannot be expected to bear for us the burden of doing theology in our moment in time. To claim that God does not change does not mean that our understanding of God should never change. Moving forward on the question of evolution would mean embracing the fact that the biblical story reflects an ancient world, and then to have the freedom to ask, “What of this world, of this biblical world, do we carry with us and where is this sacred word limiting God and needs to be set aside, given what we know about the nature of the cosmos today?” But whatever we do, we can’t simply merge the ancient world and the modern scientific one. Yet that is exactly what evangelical theology has been trying to do by saying yes to science and then quickly adding “but we need a historical Adam, too.” Drawing a historical Adam of the Bible into the story of evolution can only fail. It may serve as a temporary sort of holding pattern, but it will not give us a true and lasting synthesis.
The future of evangelical theology, if it wants to have a future, will have to be in true theological conversation with the meta-narrative of evolution, cosmic, geological, and biological. This is not time for a hesitant, protective, or ad hoc posture. The question evangelicalism has to ask itself is whether its theological temperament is constituted for this theological task, for it will mean allowing in an uncomfortable degree of theological flexibility—or perhaps even rethinking core elements of that theology altogether.
The question of Christianity and evolution is only one small piece of a much larger and more pressing conversation. The first step in entering that conversation would be for evangelicalism to interrogate its own theology, especially with respect to the alleged necessity of a historical Adam when all evidence is to the contrary.
Pete: All right folks, that’s enough of me on my soap box for a week, but listen, thanks for listening. Just before you go, just a quick plug here: did you know, I hope you know, did you know that we have an online shop with tons of Bible for Normal People merch and swag and every book that I’ve written and Jared too? And we have books for normal people and books for abnormal people, geeky scholars and stuff, and all the snarky theological swag that you can think of – even onesies for littles ones of Noah’s flood and all that kind of stuff. It’s fantastic. Listen, head over to https://peteenns.com/store/ and buy at least one thing for every person you know. I think that’ll pretty much cover your bases. Okay, or do the best you can. That’s fine too.
Hey listen folks, again, thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.
Narrator: Thanks to our team: Executive Producer, Megan Cammack; Audio Engineer, Dave Gerhart; Creative Director, Tessa Stultz; Marketing Wizard, Reed Lively; transcriber and Community Champion, Stephanie Speight; and Web Developer, Nick Striegel. From Pete, Jared, and the entire Bible for Normal People team – thanks for listening.
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