A series of three planned posts, beginning with this one, will include both my own discussion of why the origins of man matter and my review of the second book by John H. Walton that I have read, The Lost World of Adam and Eve (hereafter TLWOA&E). I have read the book in its entirety. My review of The Lost World of Genesis One (TLWOG1) is here. I have decided to break up my review of TLWOA&E into parts to make both posting and reading somewhat easier.
Why does the origin of man matter? Even the origin of animals matters, but why, more specifically, do our origins matter, as human beings? Why does it make a difference what Christians believe on these matters? How could a full acceptance of human common ancestry and material continuity with animal ancestors be problematic for a Christian worldview?
In this post, I will discuss three key areas where human origins matter. My discussion will be tailored toward answering the view of human origins that I take John H. Walton to be promoting as orthodox, since my goal is to present a review of his book on Adam and Eve. Thus, since Walton holds that there definitely was an historical person who can be described by some of the descriptions normally given to the historical Adam (though not all of them), I will not be addressing directly the implications of denying the existence of anyone like the historical Adam. However, I think it will be quite evident that my remarks apply a fortiori to that more radical position.
Ethics, speciesism, and the image of God
Suppose that one holds that the image of God in man is entirely an immaterial matter. Suppose that one holds it to be true or at least a fully open and orthodox option that man evolved by what would appear to be natural processes/secondary causes from animal ancestors and that, at some point in time, God placed into some hominid or group of hominids a purely immaterial imago dei, indetectable by science. I will call this "the ensoulment view." The ensoulment view raises some serious difficulties in the area of ethics.
Epistemologically, how do we now know that some member of the species homo sapiens is in the image of God? Christian pro-lifers who think in terms of the image of God have argued on both ends of the spectrum of life--both at the beginning and at the end--that we tell this entirely on a biological basis. If someone is a living member of the species homo sapiens, he counts as a full person with a full right to life. Even if he is newly conceived, even if he is in long-term coma and is never expected to awaken, it doesn't matter. All men are created equal, and "men" has a speciesist meaning. We know that you are a man, a member of the human race with full human value, because you are a living human being, period. Pro-lifers have rightly rejected as a red herring attempts by the pro-abortion crowd to drag in the theological issue of ensoulment. We have said that we aren't sitting around waiting for a human being to "get a soul" from God, that human beings are equal and protectable from the moment that they exist as members of the human species.
But there is a troubling change in the epistemic situation if one accepts the ensoulment view regarding the history of human origins. On the ensoulment view, there is every reason to think that there was a time in the history of our race when there were biologically type-identical creatures, some of whom were in the image of God and some of whom were not. If that doesn't bother you, it should. If the imago dei is purely immaterial, and if it is entirely possible that people who are physically type-identical to ourselves lack it, then why don't we wonder whether embryos or fetuses lack it until some later point of development? Why don't we worry that people in comas have lost it? If you think that this is an entirely hypothetical view that I am making up as a stick with which to beat the theistic evolutionists, think again. It is a real view held by some "Christian" ethicists that some living human beings lack the image of God. (See Robert V. Rakestraw's contribution to this volume and Robert N. Wennberg's view as quoted here.)
Now, I want to be absolutely clear: I have reason to hope and believe that John H. Walton himself would vigorously reject the views of those "Christian" ethicists. He expressly says, "It is essential to affirm that all people are in the image of God, regardless of their age [or] their physical ability or inability....The image is not stronger in some than others, and it is something that gives us all the dignity of being specially gifted creatures of God." (TLWOA&E pp. 42-43) These are laudable views on the subject of human equal value and dignity, and I commend Prof. Walton for them. I would contend, however, that if one thinks the ensoulment view of human history to be a theologically and biblically viable option, then one lacks the robustly "speciesist" basis that is metaphysically and epistemically needed to undergird an affirmation of the equality of all members of the human race solely on the basis of that membership.
The Apostle Paul is quite unequivocal that human death came through the sin of Adam:
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned....Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many....For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:12-16)
These words of Paul echo God's warning to Adam about eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: "But from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die." (Genesis 2:17)
The words of Paul and the story of the fall and man's subsequent bondage to death find an echo in our own grief over human death. The horror both of a corpse and of a ghost reflects the fact that we feel deeply that there is something wrong about the separation of the material and immaterial in man. This is not how it was meant to be. A great gulf has opened somewhere in the fabric of the world, allowing human death to occur.
Physical death is a sign in our own flesh that something has gone grievously wrong and that the human cosmos is in need of a Savior. Jesus the Healer (the Haelend, as the Anglo-Saxons called him) saves us from our sin. He also promises a new creation in which there is no more death (Revelation 21:4), in which that original wound of human death is healed.
Any theory of man's origins according to which there was human death before the fall of man is enormously problematic from the perspective of Biblical Christian theology. We will see in a later segment how Walton deals with human death prior to the fall.
Sex, complementarity, and marriage
Jesus' teaching on monogamy and divorce is firmly grounded in the reality of God's deliberate creation of male and female in the beginning of the history of man:
Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning 'made them male and female' and said, 'for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way...." Matthew 19:3-8
Jesus' words are recorded similarly in Mark 10:2-9.
At a minimum, Jesus is teaching here that God intended one man and one woman for marriage and that, because of God's original design plan for man, God does not approve of promiscuity and frivolous divorce. (No threadjacks on whether divorce is ever permitted, when, etc.) He bases his position on God's making man in the form of one man and one woman to begin with.
I note here that if God "made" (or ensouled) an entire tribe of people at the outset, the force of Jesus' words would be diminished. Jesus counts on the fact that his hearers will think of "making them male and female" as making one apiece, male and female. Otherwise, in a large original group, there could have been plenty of frivolous breakups and sexual pairings. Jesus' point is that the original state of mankind is that there was precisely one man and one woman and that this is God's model for marital fidelity and exclusivity.
The origins of human sexuality are also relevant from a natural law perspective. If man's body developed by natural processes (aka secondary causes) with an entirely immaterial "imago dei" imbued only later, then the division into male and female is no more evidently the result of God's special intent for mankind than the evolution of the rabies virus. Or, for that matter, the fact that some people experience homosexual spontaneous attractions. One can, of course, affirm that God is intimately involved in everything somehow, but the origin of gender and the origin of the human body as specially God's design is not affirmed by theistic evolution. Indeed, one of the arguments for common descent is that the human genome allegedly contains many elements that "look like accidents" (alleged pseudogenes and the like). Why should we not regard heterosexual sex and male-female gender as more of these apparent accidents in the development of mankind? Or, alternatively, why should we not consider that homosexual feelings are "God's doing" along with everything else and that God means a minority of people to be different in this way, since God is working through everything that happens?
Jesus' words about God's intending to make man male and female, with the undeniable implication that man's physical nature is intended by God specially to be male and female, is a powerful Scriptural argument against this for those who accept Scripture. If we fuzzify the notion of "made," then Jesus is not really saying that God made man as male and female in any specially intended way, any more than God made every other event or outcome that happens in the physical world.
The moral argument against promiscuity is also undermined if the imago dei has no material aspects. A stallion does not violate the moral law or any aspect of his nature by keeping an entire herd of mares as a harem. Yet natural law theorists teach that it is against the law given in our material nature for human beings to be promiscuous or (still more) to engage in homosexual and other perverse acts. If we take these rules to be merely divine special revelations rather than part of the innate nature of human beings, and/or if the first human beings were materially indistinguishable from hominid animals whose sexuality had no moral significance, then the natural law basis for sexual ethics and the innate significance of human sex is called into question.
The Apostle Paul also clearly asserts male-female complementarity in the church on the basis of a literal understanding of the making of Adam and Eve:
But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. I Timothy 2:12-13
Whatever one may think about what counts as "exercising authority over a man," the point is that male-female complementarity is taken by Paul to arise from God's intent to create the man first and the woman second, as unambiguously taught in Genesis 2. To take these accounts to have nothing to do with the physical making of man by God is to undermine this Scriptural argument as well for gender complementarity as the special intent of God.
Thus there are important ways in which the ensoulment view undermines both Biblical and natural law ethics in the area of sexuality and gender.
To sum up "Why does it matter?" there are serious theological, ethical, and scriptural reasons for affirming that there is not merely spiritual discontinuity between man and animals but also significant material discontinuity. This means that Christians should be willing to do serious work before concluding that science "tells us" that there was full material continuity between man and animals and that there could not have been an Adam and Eve in the fully traditional sense of being the first humans. I have written here about these scientific issues, and I also highly recommend the book Science and Human Origins on these subjects.
By no means is the science as cut and dried as Walton presents it as being in his brief discussion in TLWOA&E. While Walton sometimes disclaims capability in the realm of science (see this interview at around 1:04 and 1:52), he does not allow this to stop him from labeling the scientific evidence against the traditional understanding of Adam and Eve "compelling" (p. 182). Furthermore, while he refers repeatedly to the idea of allowing science to "prompt us to go back to the Bible to reconsider our interpretations" (pp. 14, 103), he does not suggest that Scripture prompts us to ask questions about whether the science really says what some are telling us it says. In fact, though Walton showed an awareness of intelligent design theorists in the previous book, his footnote in TLWOA&E (p. 238, proposition 20, note 1) on the scientific issues surrounding Adam contains no reference to the vigorous and interesting work done by intelligent design theorists on the very issues he raises (pseudogenes, genetic bottleneck, and the like). See both Science and Human Origins, my post on the historical Adam, and here, as well as too-numerous-to-link posts at Evolution News and Views.
His footnote on the scientific issues consists of references only to critics of intelligent design--Francis Collins, Denis Alexander, and Graeme Finlay. This is a remarkably one-sided approach to the science, especially coming from one who urges that the scientific side of the matter should be "judged on its own merits." (pp. 71, 81, 181)
Walton does not say explicitly what he personally believes about the origin of Adam. Therefore, when I refer to "the position he is endorsing as orthodox" or other such locutions, the roundabout wording is very deliberate. But consider: Suppose that the scientific evidence is, as he states when he summarizes it, "compelling" that Adam and Eve could not have been the only first humans, with everyone descended from them. And suppose that the project of his book is successful in showing, as his chapter titles state, that "It is not essential that all people descended from Adam and Eve" (chapter 20) and "Humans could be viewed as distinct creatures and a special creation of God even if there was material continuity" (by this he means full material continuity of the human body with non-human ancestors). In other words, the argument of Walton's book is that full-scale theistic evolution of human beings, on the purely physical level, is perfectly compatible with a faithful reading of the Bible and with Christian theology. Given both of these--both the existence of "compelling" scientific evidence and the absence of any theological/Biblical reason to the contrary--why would anyone believe that Adam was physically specially created by God as the first human being and that all humans are descended from Adam and Eve?
Moreover, some consider Walton's biblical and theological arguments to remove all reason for Christians to have a stake in examining the science of human origins. As I aim to show in this series of posts reviewing TLWOA&E, Walton's interpretations of Scripture do not constitute a get out of jail free card for thinking Christians, allowing them to do no research into scientific counterevidence pertinent to the historical Adam on the grounds that "Walton has shown us" that there can be no conflict between Scripture and science on this matter. I have, unfortunately, encountered this attitude in some who cite Walton with great approval; they assert that "the science should be left to the scientists." I would like to think that Walton himself would not endorse such intellectual passivity, but unfortunately his book has had this effect on some in the evangelical community.
I want to suggest that we allow Scripture to "prompt us to ask questions" and to do some looking into both sides of these scientific issues, not passively accept the (alleged, present) consensus of science. If I can show in the segments of this review that Walton's interpretations of Scripture are implausible and strained and that the theological and biblical problems for the full physical evolution of man remain severe, I will have provided a motive for that further investigation.
Disclaimer: A review copy of The Lost World of Adam and Eve was provided by Intervarsity Press Academic. A positive review of the book was not required.