Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Adam and the Epistemic Status of Scripture

The recent controversy over the historicity of Adam has hit the front page of the latest issue of Christianity Today (June 2011).  The tendency is to portray this as one more incidence of "faith" vs. "reason" or "the bible" vs. "science."  Such simplistic portrayals often hide deeper issues that need to be probed.  For example, underlying the debate are differing conceptions of authority that impinge upon the understandings of science, scripture, and their inter-relationships.  In the current edition of Christianity Today Bruce Waltke, an Old Testament scholar, is mentioned.
"That dismissal was overshadowed at the seminary by a related dustup over noted Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke.  The administration abruptly accepted his offer of resignation due to a BioLogos video in which Waltke remarked that 'if the data is overwhelming in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult.'  Waltke began teaching at Knox Theological Seminary this year.
"Though that dispute concerned theistic evolution, not the historical Adam, Waltke is open to the new thinking.  In an interview, the former president of the Evangelical Theological Society affirmed the 'inerrancy of the Bible, but not of interpretations.'  He sees Adam and Eve as historical individuals.  But if genetics produces the conclusion that 'Scripture has a collectivity represented as an individual, that doesn't bother me,' he said.  'We have to go with the scientific evidence.  I don't think we can ignore it.  I have full confidence in Scripture, but it does not represent what science represents.'"  (p. 26)
Aside from the fact that it is questionable whether an Old Testament scholar is qualified to assess whether the "data is overwhelming in favor of evolution," the bigger concern is the epistemological paradigm being promoted by Waltke in his comments.  He states: "We have to go with the scientific evidence.  I don't think we can ignore it.  I have full confidence in Scripture, but it does not represent what science represents." Implicit in his remarks is a view of of the authority of science in relationship to the authority of scripture.  Two issues are important to appreciate here.  First, there is the relationship between science and scripture.  There are several models of integration that are put forward.  J. P. Moreland in his introduction to The Creation Hypothesis (IVP, 1994) lists out six such models.
1.  Science and theology are concerned with two distinct realms of reality (natural-supernatural, spatiotemporal-eternal), and science and theology are subservient to very different objects (e.g., the material universe and God) and can be defined only in relation to them.
2.  Science and theology are noninteracting, complementary approaches to the same reality; as such, they adopt very different standpoints, ask and answer very different kinds of questions, involve different levels of description, employ very different cognitive attitudes (e.g., objectivity and logical neutrality in science, personal involvement and commitment in theology), and are constituted by very different language games.  These different, authentic perspectives are partial and incomplete and therefore must be integrated into a coherent whole.  However, each level of description is complete at its own level, with no gaps at that level for the other perspective to fill and with no possibility of direct competition and conflict.
3.  Science generates a metaphysic in terms of which theology is then formulated.
4.  Theology provides a context wherein the presuppositions of science (understood in a realistic way--i.e., with science seen as a rational, progressive intellectual activity that secures true and truer theories about the external theory-independent world) are most easily justified.
5.  Science can fill out details and help to apply theological principles, and vice versa.
6.  Science and theology are interacting approaches to the same reality that can be in conflict in various ways (e.g., mutually exclusive, or logically consistent but not mutually reinforcing) or can be in concord in various ways.  (pp. 11-12)
The reason Moreland lists these out and discusses them is to show that there are various options.  Oftentimes it is assumed that when the Bible and science conflict that it is the Bible that must give way because it is not a work that speaks to the scientific arena.  How often is it stated, "The Bible is not a text book on science!"  Well, yes, of course, that is true but the proponents usually want to imply more than a simple classification of genre.  They want to make it so that the Bible does not come into conflict with the statements of modern science so they re-evaulate the biblical data as only pertaining to the moral or "spiritual" side of life.  Therefore, from the get-go it is impossible for the Bible and science to ever conflict because they speak to different realms that do not impinge upon one another.  This seems to be the assumed view of Bruce Waltke.

Waltke's comments appear to presuppose the second model listed above--a complementary, noninteracting approach.  The idea here is that by keeping the discipline of theology separate from science there is no reason for the two to come into conflict.  The potential of conflict is defined away in that the two disciplines are not speaking of the same realms.  The cost of such separation is high and leads to the second issue, namely the epistemic status and authority of the scripture.  Does the Bible speak to matters that intersect with the world of science and history?  Does the Bible make claims about the world that have truth value?  The answer is "yes!"  But theistic evolutionists want to compartmentalize the Bible off from the "real world" of science so as to keep it safe from attack from science.  This approach has been tried again and again but it continues to be ineffective against the inroads of naturalism.  Such a compartmentalizing approach makes the Bible irrelevant as to its "facticity"--its ability to speak in a factual matter on areas that impinge on the real world of science.  J. P. Moreland, in his recent book The Kingdom Triangle (Zondervan, 2007) makes the following observation that is helpful in the current discussion:
Theistic evolution is intellectual pacifism that lulls people to sleep while the barbarians are at the gates.  In my experience, theistic evolutionists are usually trying to create a safe truce with science so Christians can be left alone to practice their privatized religion while retaining the respect of the dominant intellectual culture....While there are exceptions, many theistic evolutionists simply fail to provide a convincing response to the question of why one should adopt a theological layer of explanation for the origin and development of life in the first place.  Given scientism, theistic evolution greases the skids toward placing nonscientific claims in a privatized, make-believe realm in which their factual, cognitive status is undermined.  (p. 46)
Waltke, and other theistic evolutionists, thus, make two fundamental moves that must be questioned.  First, they opt for a model of theological/scientific integration that is flawed.  This is rarely seen because the model is assumed and not argued for in any sort of rigorous manner.  Second, their view of the scriptures does not allow them to have it speak in an authoritative manner to issues that impinge upon the natural world.  Science as a naturalistically driven method of discovery is given pride of place as authoritative and scripture must make its peace with the dictates of those who speak in the name of "science."  The words of Robert Lewis Dabney are old (1871) but apropos:
Again, the whole posture and tone of this class of physicists toward revelation is hostile and depreciatory; their postulates, with their manner of making them, imply a claim of far more authority for human science than is allowed to inspiration....But these physicists never dream of surrendering a deduction simply to the Bible contradiction of it.  Thus they betray very plainly whether they think human science more certain than revelation.  The very attempt to bring the truth of their scientific conclusions to the test of the Bible is resisted as an "infringement of the rights of science," an unjust restraint upon the freedom of their intellects.  Now these men will scarcely claim for a man a right to argue himself into the belief of demonstrated falsehoods.  The implication is, that the Scriptures really settle nothing by their own testimony; that is, that they have no true authority with these scholars. "A Caution Against Anti-Christian Science" in Discussions of Robert L. Dabney Vol. 3 (Banner of Truth, 1982) p. 155.
The quest for the historical Adam is not merely a question of genetics, population dispersion over time, fossils, etc.  It is a question about the epistemic status of Scripture.  Is it authoritative?  And, if so, to what extent is it authoritative?  Does its authority encompass science and history or is it allowed only to "speak" to those areas of human thinking regarded as the "spiritual" or "moral?"  These questions cannot be ignored for answers are presupposed no matter what one says about Adam.