Enns, Evolution and the Slipperiness of Slippery Slopes

Perhaps the least surprising development since the release of Peter Enns’ book, The Evolution of Adam, is the release of critical reviews from biblical literalists (or biblicists, if you prefer Christian Smith’s language). I stumbled across two of these – one by Ken Ham, president and CEO of the creationist group Answers in Genesis, and another by James Hamilton, who appears to have written some books himself. (Actually, Hamilton isn’t reviewing the book itself, but rather a lecture Enns gave that appears to be essentially a summary of the points he makes in the book.)

Rather than try a point-by-point rebuttal that these men will never read – and for which I don’t have the time – I wanted to note two arguments they share in common, and which seem to be the core of their respective objections to Enns’ book.

1. The slope, it’s slippery!

I don’t think it’s any surprise that classic slippery slope-ism is a big part of their argument. As Ham puts it, “[S]ecular scientists today will argue that a man can’t rise from the dead. Or that you can’t have a virgin birth in humans, or that a man can’t walk on water. So shouldn’t we (using the same approach as Dr. Enns) also give up the literal Resurrection and literal virgin birth of Christ?

Hamilton argues similarly from Enns’ approach to Paul’s creative use of the Old Testament:

This seems to suggest that what has happened in Christ is not what the OT was building to all along. If this is correct, how are the New Testament authors not imposing a fulfillment on the Old Testament that was never there to begin with? How is this not bad interpretation that should be rejected? How can bad interpretation marked by creativity be authoritative?

Enns answers both of these questions in his book, but let me give this a shot.

First, as I’ve argued elsewhere, there is no doubt science argues both against creationism and against resurrection, but it does so in different ways because those things are very different. They both are not supported by scientific evidence, yes, but there is no evidence rejecting the physical resurrection of Christ, Lazarus or anyone else. The bodies haven’t been found, in other words, and they aren’t likely to be (because Christ actually rose from the dead, in my opinion, but also because it was 2,000 years ago, and how do you determine conclusively whose bones are whose?)

On the other hand, there is a flood (har!) of evidence contradicting the events described in Genesis 1-11 – the fossil record, the distance of stars from earth (if we’re seeing light from a star billions of light-years away, how does that fit with a 6,000-year-old universe?), the human genome itself. These things all point not only to an earth that is billions of years old, but to a human race that evolved from primates tens of thousands of years ago. Further, in the case of fossils especially, scientists have been able to use evolutionary theory to hypothesize where and at which point in the fossil layering they should be able to find transitional species (“missing links”) – and have found them exactly where they expected.

Meanwhile, there is no such contradictory evidence for Christ’s resurrection. Yes, science says once you’re dead, you’re dead, but even Ken Ham wouldn’t argue against that evidence. Rather, he would say, accurately, that Christ’s resurrection was a miracle. No one is rejecting the possibility of divine miracles, and certainly a six-day creation would be one. (So would an evolutionary creation, in my opinion, but never mind.) But the question then becomes: Does God do miracles, inspire people to write about them, then cover up and falsify the evidence?

We don’t see that trait in the resurrection story. If we treat the Bible not as a single, univocal text but as a library of more than five dozen ancient literary works from various genres, we see multiple texts claiming Christ rose from the dead. The four gospels, certainly, then many letter writers of the early church, especially Paul in 2 Corinthians – writing before the gospels existed – who runs through a list of eyewitnesses to the risen Christ, including himself. It’s bad logic to quote the Christians for proof of something only Christians believe; nevertheless, it doesn’t appear God attempted to hide Jesus’s resurrection. He certainly didn’t raise him from the dead while making it appear scientifically as if Jesus was still dead. Creation and resurrection are on two different slopes.

2. The primacy of evolution

This is the meat of both Ham and Hamilton’s argument.

Ham:

Enns accepts what the secular world teaches concerning evolution and millions of years, and it is so obvious this determines how he approaches the Bible. He does not have the same view of inspiration as I do. In fact, he doesn’t have the biblical view of inspiration: All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

Hamilton:

It seems from this lecture that for Peter Enns the theory of evolution carries as much authority, if not more, than the Bible. … As we read the Bible, are we to mold it to fit the world as we understand it, or are we to be molded by it so that we understand the world as the biblical authors did?

Hamilton doesn’t cite 2 Timothy 3:16 specifically, but he might as well have – “Enns has thus separated himself from Christians who believe that the biblical authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit.”

I find the use of this passage odd. Even as an unquestioning child who went along with whatever I was taught about the Bible, pinning an entire argument for literal, word-by-word divine scriptural dictation on this vague passage seemed weak. Here’s the whole paragraph of 2 Timothy 3:14-17:

But you must continue with the things you have learned and found convincing. You know who taught you. Since childhood you have known the holy scriptures that help you to be wise in a way that leads to salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus. Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.

I’m intrigued especially by the first sentence: “You must continue with the things you have learned and found convincing.” The much-cited verse itself leaves undefined the key words “inspired” and “useful.” When I say something inspired me, I don’t mean it was dictated to me, and when I say something is useful to me, I don’t mean it’s perfect. Further, 3:16 seems heavily reliant on verse 15, which specifically is referring to scripture leading “to salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus.”

Nevertheless, regardless of the actual meaning, the question we must ask ourselves is: To what extent do we join Ham and Hamilton on their slippery slope? Because, yes, they have one, too. If we extend their argument – that 2 Timothy 3:16 requires us to believe in a six-day creation 6,000 years ago – to its natural extreme, then we must also believe in a stationary earth that is supported by pillars and around which the sun revolves (Psalm 19:5-6, 75:3).

To what extent do we allow the biblical text to usurp our own observations of the world around us? Because that’s all science is, the study of what we can discern, and if God has left some evidence for us to find and from which we can draw conclusions, I’m not at all convinced this is of less value than the words he left us in the Bible. In both cases, God is speaking and revealing something about himself.

But this isn’t just Paul the blogger speaking; it’s Paul the Apostle:

Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities — God’s eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, because they are understood through the things God has made.

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