NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — If believers allow modern science to tell them what they can theologically affirm, the logic does not end with a discussion of whether there is a historical Adam, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” Sept. 22.
“It continues throughout the entirety of the body of Christian truth. And that is a disastrous route,” Mohler said. “And frankly, you’re either going to accept [or reject] that the Bible gives us the authoritative word concerning the entirety of our understanding of things relative to who we are as human beings, what God did in creating the world and what God did for us in Christ.
“If the Bible is not the authoritative source for that and instead has to be corrected by modern science, then the Bible is just there for our manipulation, and quite frankly, the Gospel is there for constant renegotiation,” Mohler said. “It ends up being another gospel, the very thing the Apostle Paul warned against.”
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was part of a 30-minute discussion that included Daniel Harlow, a religion professor at Calvin College, on the continuing debate over the existence of a historical Adam and Eve as the first parents of all humanity and as the solitary first human pair.
Harlow argued against a literal interpretation of the creation account in Genesis, contending that the literary genre of early Genesis is divinely inspired story, not documentary history. Also, he believes Adam and Eve are not central to biblical theology.
“If Adam and Eve were central to biblical teaching, it would be a surprise to learn that they are not mentioned in the entire Old Testament after Genesis Chapter 3 and 4,” Harlow said on NPR.
“If Adam and Eve are at the heart of the Christian faith, then Jesus and the apostles missed that memo. If you read the Gospels and read the Book of Acts, which purports to give the apostolic preaching of the Gospel, Adam, Eve and the serpent are not there.
“What is central to the Christian faith is the life, the saving death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Harlow said. “So we don’t need a historical couple tricked by a talking snake for the truth claims of Christianity to be true. What we need simply is a recognition of the reality of human sinfulness, that human beings are in the grip of sin, and that we need a savior because of that.”
Mohler, in his comments, said Adam is “a very important part of how the Bible explains the Gospel. In particular, the Apostle Paul twice grounds the story of the Gospel in the linkage between Christ as the second Adam, understandable in terms of why He came and what He did for us, with reference to the first Adam.
“And the Apostle Paul, by the way, is not just telling us about biblical theology here and helping us to understand the Gospel. He is also telling us how to interpret the Old Testament,” Mohler said. “And I think it’s a very important issue here that we recognize that what’s at stake in this discussion is not just, as important as it is, the historicity of the first several chapters of Genesis or the historicity of Adam and the fall.
“Those are absolutely, I believe, vital to orthodox Christianity, but also to the question as to whether or not the apostles get to tell us how we interpret the Old Testament. And I believe that’s a very important issue.”
Mohler said the argument against the historicity of Adam did not emerge until “all of a sudden, a person said science has a privileged word to say.” Furthermore, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the central fact of the Gospel story, yet there is no scientific basis for making that argument.
“Modern science, in terms of its naturalism and materialism, generally rules completely out of order even the question of supernatural events,” Mohler said.
Harlow said at times human understanding of what the Bible intends to teach needs to be revised.
“Let’s be clear: The Bible is not an authority on scientific matters. It was written in a pre-scientific age. It’s not a science textbook. There’s a lot more knowledge about the world to be had,” Harlow said, adding that the Gospel accounts of the resurrection “are fundamentally different in the type of literature they are from the early chapters of Genesis.”
Mohler said Christians have nothing to fear from legitimate science, but scientism and naturalism do pose a problem.
“I’m perfectly willing for science to tell me what the scientists are working on and how they believe the world is working. I cannot draw my conclusions about the Bible, about the Gospel, from them,” Mohler said. “Instead, I have to say, ‘All right, I know they have their say. I respect that.’
“I believe that at the end of the day, there will be no final conflict between Christian truth revealed in the Scriptures and true science. But in the meantime, it’s just not fair to say you have two different realms that don’t overlap. It’s not just a how and a who. The claims of modern science go far beyond merely a how, and the claims of the Scripture go far beyond merely a who,” Mohler said.
When the host asked Mohler whether students at Southern Seminary should be exposed to the line of thinking proposed by Harlow and other scholars, Mohler said, “Oh, absolutely, the controversy needs to be taught. And quite frankly, no one can be a well-educated and an intelligent person in the modern world without understanding the theory of evolution and its implications.”
Mohler said the arguments being made by the central proponents of evolutionary theory are not new.
“What is new … is the fact that we’re now down to what I think is the key issue of our understanding. And that is, even given all the controversies that had been taking place amongst evangelicals over Genesis in times past, are we now at a place where it’s going to be legitimate to say that there was no fall, that there was no Adam, there was no Eve?” Mohler said.
“That is where the implications of this thought have taken us. And this is where the dividing line is going to happen. There is a serious and deep, perhaps irresolvable, divide between the scholars who would stand with Professor Harlow and those who would stand with me.”
Erin Roach is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. To access the audio and transcript of NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” segment on human origins, visit http://www.npr.org/2011/09/22/140710361/christians-divided-over-science-of-human-origins.