Adam, Eve, the T-Rex Test and Christian Higher Ed.

There's been lots of Internet conversation about the most recent issue of Christianity Today's lead piece regarding science and the search for a "historical" Adam and Eve:

The lead article--The Search for the Historical Adam--can be read here. The CT editorial--No Adam, No Eve, No gospel--can be read here.

I don't spend a lot of time writing about these issues. Mainly, because I just don't think there is a debate here. I think the data--cosmological, geological, paleontological, archeological, and biological--pretty clearly point to 3.5 billion year old earth and the evolutionary Tree of Life. I tend to assume this is obvious. Which is why I don't write a lot about evolution as I see commonly done on blogs I frequent (see Jesus Creed and Exploring Our Matrix). I don't want to spend a lot of time trying to convince people of something I think is pretty clear.

Consider something I'll call the T-Rex test. Take someone to a natural history museum, point to the T-Rex, and ask them the following: How do you get that on Noah's ark?

But this stuff is apparently not obvious to many. Which I keep forgetting. But I really shouldn't given some of my own experiences in this regard. For example:

A few years ago I got an invitation from a university many consider to be a flagship school in American evangelicalism. There was a position opening up at this school that was to focus on research regarding the integration of psychology and theology. And given that that is what I do, the Psychology Department there wanted to know if I'd be interested in applying for the position. The first step was a phone interview with the head of the search committee. During the interview we talked a lot about the position and how my ongoing research, interests, and skills fit with what the school was looking for. It looked like a good fit.

But after that discussion we moved on to any questions I had about the school and department. Mainly I asked about the intellectual climate at the school, politically and theologically. ACU is a pretty diverse and open-minded place (for a faith-based school). But this was an evangelical school I was talking to and I'm not an evangelical.

One of the issues we got around to was evolution. I learned that it was a controversial topic on the campus. I found out later that every faculty member on the campus had to sign, annually, a statement of faith that endorsed Adam and Eve to be "the historical parents of the entire human race."

That gave me pause. So I asked, "Well, one of my research interests is integrating evolutionary psychology with Christian theology. I'd like to write a book about this someday. Could I do that on your campus?" He was unsure. So I said, "Listen, I have a blog where I write about my work and where I've sketched out some of this engagement with evolutionary psychology. Why don't you, your search committee, and your Provost go to Experimental Theology and tell me if I'm a fit for your school."

A week later they got back to me. Thanks, they said, but looking over the blog they felt they could no longer recommend me for the position. While they said that this blog was "fascinating and scholarly" and that the subjects I write about "are essential ones that deserve full discussion in Christian higher education," ultimately the positions I take would put me "in conflict with the statement of faith for the college."

No worries. I'm extraordinarily happy where I am. But the exchange really was an eye opener. Is that the intellectual climate of flagship schools in American evangelicalism? Seriously? A member of a Psychology Department at an intellectually elite evangelical school couldn't pursue research integrating Christian theology and evolutionary psychology?

Apparently not.

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50 thoughts on “Adam, Eve, the T-Rex Test and Christian Higher Ed.”

  1. Thanks for your clear reasoning. I try not to write on these things either. They seem to me to be a distraction from actually reading the Scripture. There are real things in the Scripture and in our engagement with the Most High that are far from obvious and that affect us daily. 

    But, on the other hand, there are lots of people who are really hurt by these distractions - so some day it might be necessary to write again.

  2. My university's treatment of those who teach on reconciling evolution with theology...

    I'm ashamed I graduated from that school.  That's just the tip of the iceberg.  The way they treat homosexual students is shameful.

  3. Goodness gracious.

    You know, the administrations of a lot of these schools is often worse than the faculty. I hope your undergrad experience wasn't all bad, that you found some some safe, open-minded, and spiritual mentors among the faculty.

  4. That's what happens when I end my subscriptions to Scientific American and National Geographic. I lose track of the age of the earth.

  5. Thanks for writing this. You can imagine what it is like for evangelical postgrad students looking for teaching work in the future. Bleak would be the word for it.

  6. For some reason, Colling's story didn't make the cut when they filmed "Expelled! No Intelligence Allowed"...

  7. I, too, have been following this discussion on Jesus Creed.  While they are more progressive than most, it still amazes me how much time is wasted on arguing about the science and about interpreting Genesis, as opposed to discussing whether NT theology even requires a particular understanding of Genesis.  It seems pretty obvious to me that there is sin in the world, and almost as obvious that Jesus' death dealt with that sin regardless of who or what was responsible for it.

  8. Yeah, a Darwinian "survival of the fittest" that enshrines a "will to power" as the highest good is just about as good a description of Original Sin as you'll find. Regardless, as you note, what matters less is how we got this way, just that we are this way.

  9. Laughable, but what can be said about closed minded Christian higher education systems in the right wing stratasphere - they would never have someone with an open mind on evolution. Booo to them!

  10. I'm not someone who claims that God speaks to them too often, but there were a couple of times when I started out on my doctorate in educational psychology when thoughts came unbidden like remembered conversations I'd never had.

    May I share one of these?

    During an early seminar, discussion of a particular epistemological stance brought me to a place where I realised I had a choice:

    Put up walls around my existing Christian beliefs, or

    Let them all collapse & see where the stones fell.

    In that moment of decision, a phrase came to me: "The Truth can stand up for itself".

    That was an epiphany for me - the truth didn't need my supporting walls.

    And one of the stones fell on your blog, but that's another story...

  11. I had honestly never thought of our intrinsic selfishness and the constant temptation to deny life's interconnectedness as explaining the interplay of evolution and "original sin"...
    Brilliant, quite brilliant! Thank you. 

  12. This reminds me of Ben Stein's documentary "Expelled" that came out a few years back.  Although Stein personally grates on my nerves, I found it intriguing just how little intellectual discourse is allowed on intellectual campuses.  At the time I was a religion teacher at a K-12 school and had found myself in deep water for having open discussion in my apologetics class.  I didn't have my contract renewed because I dared to have a discussion about universal salvation in a class that was supposed to teach my students how to defend what Christians think about salvation....  I'll never understand why conversation and dialogue are seen as such dangerous things.  We may come to different conclusions, but what harm is there in discussing the issues?

  13. What's interesting to me is that the same groups that put up walls around academia (and other realms) will often be the loudest ones to yell when someone does the same to them. 

  14. I disagree. From what I understand about Darwinianism, "survival of the fittest" is not synonymous with "survial of the strongest". The survival of a species is predicated on its ability to adapt within its environment and procreate. Only the "fittest" within a species will be able to meet this challenge hence passing down (by copying) the most desirable genes. This does not have to be accomplished at the direct expense of another organism.

  15. Just FYI, the same people that made 'Expelled' are making one on the hell debate:

  16. I'm reading a biography of Teilhard de Chardin right now and there's a helpful little potted history of the background at the beginning where it suggests some early modern humans may have been behind the bike sheds with some Neanderthals so we all might have a bit of Neanderthal in us. Sometimes when I read the vociferous debates about things like this, it seems clear that is so.

  17.  Point well taken. "Survival of the fittest" isn't the cleanest description of natural selection.
    Mainly I was gesturing at the centrality of self-interest. And while
    you're right that self-interest doesn't have to be zero sum,
    self-interest still rules even in nonzero sum interactions.

  18. I agree with that statement. And I'm glad that human consciousness has evolved to the point where we can sympathize/empathize with each other as well as other beings we share the planet with. But I would be wary of any theology that classifies the instincts we possess within our genetic blueprint, that were forged through billions of years of natural selection, as "sin". That equates to being held accountable for the crime of simply existing. 

  19. Richard, let me introduce you to my brother. 

    He and I just had a similar conversation this week...can there be a place for religion if one accepts evolution. Put another way, can we accept that people possess souls if we believe that we evolved from a soulless life form. 

    I directed him to your blog as a good place for conversation.

    P.S. Good post. 

  20. But I would be wary of any theology that classifies the instincts we
    possess within our genetic blueprint, that were forged through billions
    of years of natural selection, as "sin". That equates to being held
    accountable for the crime of simply existing.

    I agree to a point. I agree that just because something is the product of natural selection doesn't mean it's sinful. But we should also be wary of saying that just because something is natural that it's morally neutral or even good. It's perfectly reasonable to label a natural impulse sinful. Or not.

    Basically, we're just talking about the naturalistic fallacy.

  21. oh actually the Neanderthal mating thing was in the NY Times.

  22. I wasn't trying to insinuate that at all. I was merely trying to dispute the idea of natural selection carrying the indictment of "original sin". 

  23. Can anyone explain to me how a college's statement of faith trumps "fascinating and scholarly" consideration of "essential [subjects] that deserve full discussion in Christian higher education"? Where is the education?

    How does such thinking still endure, when it is so patently mindless? Sorry to be so blunt (and so witlessly naive), but it is such a dangerously uninformed approach to the world. And that position is so unnecessary, faith-wise. I find these conflicts unspeakably confusing.

    Or is that position strictly a political decision to avoid ruffling literalist funders?

  24. Isn't there a sense of holiness involved in maintaining the staunch opinion that evolution doesn't have a leg to stand on? It's an emotional link to the contra mundum faithful of the past.

    And if the relevant faculty hires based upon the applicant's orthodoxy, the faculty continues to hire on that policy from generation to generation-- nobody with a different perspective ever gets in to make a change.

    At least, things don't seem to have changed in the 20 years since my mother taught at Bryan College (and was fired because she was divorced):

  25. Richard, thanks. 

    A happy position.  Cheers to you.

    It’s amazing, really, how the simplicity and power of the basic syllogism (superfecundity, variation, heredity, natural selection) makes this elegant mess too easy to assume as a given in others’ understanding. 

    It seems (only a guess) that an academic bears at least a dual burden in plotting his way between volatile theological myths and volatile academic-culture myths which too want their own and new replacement narratives of academic  advance to forge academic/secular – yet still normative – definitions of terms placing the academy at the center of its own creation narrative.  

    Add the term “experimental” (scare quotes owe here) to theology, and you make us all consider how God involves so much human statement, constructed by fallible humans to model and map our reality, and that our many statements of God may be full of all kinds of errors, even if Reality continues unabated – the experiment is ours (open theology notwithstanding), and in service of testing which statements to reject and accept, we’ve invented science.  Only for Mark Chaves (Sociology, Duke, President SSSR) to warn scientists in particular to overcome, “The Religious Congruence Fallacy,” (for the fun see, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (2010) 49(1):1–14).

    Risky business.  

    “No worries. I'm extraordinarily happy where I am.”  

    Glad to hear it.  First time I’ve noticed the irony of using skepticism literature (Qoheleth/Ecclesiastes) to offer a blessing – “I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one's lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor--it is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13).  

    Not to let you get too “extraordinarily happy,” there must be some Divine irritation for you to nudge us to be a little less red in tooth and claw. 



  26. Evangelical universities are not interested in education. They are interested in creating clones.

  27. I subscribe to CT and received it the other day.  My wife was home when we got it in the mail and that article was the first she read.  She called me at work a few minutes later all irritated and fiery because of it (I love my wife!) 

    I just don't understand how someone can take an ambiguous part of the Bible and say, "If this didn't happen, then (insert a more concrete and important part of the Bible here) didn't happen either!"   Really?  The gospel is based on the literal interpretation of Adam and Eve? 

    I've been hearing this one a lot lately, "If Hell isn't eternal, then the work Jesus did on the cross WAS A JOKE!"  


  28. Gasp!  I was good with 3.5 billion years but the extra 1.04 billion is clearly heresy!  The Bible tells me so.

    Sorry, just thought you needed a troll, if only a fake one :) 

  29. The honour would be mine, Joshua - although I'm not sure that I'm the copyright holder.  Blessings.

  30. In conversation with my mom, she actually said, "If there is no hell, then we have no hope."

    (sound of my jaw dropping)

  31. Implying an "ought" from an "is."  Because something (or someone) is a certain way, this constitutes (in and of itself) moral legitimacy for the way they are.
    Example: Men are just naturally polygamous by genetic inheritance, so just forgive Kevin--you can't blame him for being a man.
    Example 2: People are just inherently violent, so we can't expect them to not hurt each other.

  32. I'd put it a little more gently, like "Christian universities are more interested in preserving a culture than pursuing truth," but essentially I agree.

  33. I literally live under the shadow of the Creation Museum.  I'm not an academic and thankfully our public schools seem OK from this perspective but I am so scared about the assumptions and group think that seems to occur around these issues.  This isn't a well thought out comment but I'm thinking a lot about these issues too. 

  34. Is this the one in KY? I drive by it all the time when we travel to PA to visit my family. One of these days I plan to drop in. As a psychology of religion research I'm interested in stuff like that. Have you checked it out?  

  35. From Religion Dispatches:

  36. hmm.. I've been re-pictured as a rocking horse. Oh well. Here is the first of a number of responses I have to the Adam and Eve post. I am a Christian living in New Zealand. My wife and I recently attended an Apostolic church for a few years, and now attend a Baptist, have moved to a new town. The term 'evangelical' doesn't really have much currency here. I'm not even sure exactly what it means, or whether I am one. I have looked into it but I'm still not sure. In my current and previous churches, many people hold different positions with regard to literal/non-literal, creation/evolution and the various subgroups. No one really bothers to argue about it much. We all follow Christ to the best of our knowledge. And there is plenty of information out there if people want help making up their mind. I suspect we avoid these issues a bit because they are controversial. But none of us have everything entirely right anyway, so why make it a big in/out deal?

  37. Good to see that the rocking horse was only temporary, I did subsequently appear as myself below. Like yourself, Richard, creation/evolution etc hasn't been a focus for me during most of the 20-something years of my attempted pursuit of Christ. I sorted the issue for myself about 20 years ago while doing my BSc, and have only re-visited it a couple of times to check new evidence. I have a literal view of the Bible, including all the scientifically relevant points. I know much of science appears to contradict this, but it is not conclusive (science never actually can be, it only deals with probabilities), and there is enough 'wriggle room' for me to hold literal for now. Concerning Adam and Eve, I think its quite funny that genetics has now been used to confirm that all living humans share a single male and a single female ancestor, though it is not commonly thought they co-existed. I haven't brought the significance of this to the attention of my scientist friends, I don't think they would really take to it. I am mildly surprised it hasn't been made a big deal, it isn't even a focus of the CT article. Perhaps I'm missing something? Anyway, on to T-rex. Assembling two (or 7) of every living thing to put on a boat in the time of Noah can only have been a miracle. Is it so much more to top it off with a T-rex, or two? Perhaps they were already extinct? I don't know of anything in the Bible stating extinctions had not by then occurred. Or maybe (this will please no one on either major side of the debate) they just didn't make it? After all I haven't seen any around of late. Thank God I would say, especially if I was Noah. I would also say, assuming that what seems obvious is true, has not been a helpful approach to me personally in exploring these things. Talking to scientists though, it does seem to have become a significant part of the modern scientific method.

  38. Oh but if you do, you can buy a souvenir like a t-shirt that says 'I'm literally human'.

  39. Sorta?

    "Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its
    mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate ... "

  40. >though it is not commonly thought they co-existed

    But that makes it hard for Adam to literally lie with his wife Eve, doesn't it? If you want to be a literalist, your best bet is probably to scoff at this new "evidence" of common ancestry. Just tell people you have very high standards and require /conclusive/ evidence for the things you believe.

    > Anyway, on to T-rex ... maybe (this will please no one on either major side of the debate) they just didn't make it?

    Story says Noah took /every kind/ of animal, and /every kind/ got off the ark. Extinction seems odd since God is going to such ends to save every kind of animal. So if you want to be a literalist, your best bet is probably "miracle".

  41. I would really like a creation museum t-shirt, but I think buying one might be the moral equivalent of giving money to an alcoholic.

  42. Doesn't say whether it is an adult or a very young animal. Richard points out the size of the T-Rex, but nowhere does the account say whether a full-grown animal is taken or a smaller younger animal.

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