Friday, December 9, 2011

Moritz on the Adam/Eve debate

In the latest issue of Theology and Science, Joshua Moritz has a fascinating editorial on the Adam and Eve debate sparked (in part) by the papers published in PSCF. I found a lot in the editorial that I liked, as well as some things that were baffling and frustrating. But let's focus on the nice stuff, shall we? Here's his take on the state of the debate with regard to the notion of "literalism" or "concordism:"
...anyone who has followed the recent conversation/debate between Evangelical Christian and Conservative Reformed leaders and scholars on the question of human evolution and the historical Adam could not help but notice the ubiquitous - and often derisive - use of the terms "concordism" and "biblical literalism." According to the majority of scholars in this discussion, both "concordism" and "biblical literalism" are hermeneutical perspectives that are to be avoided at all costs.
Ain't that the truth? I think he's caught on to a little hypocrisy here. I can certainly understand when an Evangelical evolutionist complains that creationists treat them poorly, but what about when those same folks turn around and talk about creationists like we're a disease to be eradicated? The "intellectual catastrophe of fundamentalism?" My brothers and sisters, these things ought not be. I think we can all stand to work on our ability to dialogue in a respectful and Christian way.

Anyway, Moritz wonders what a "literalist" even is, which is something I've wondered myself. I certainly don't consider myself a "literalist," and I wince every time I hear a fellow creationist describe our hermeneutic as "literalist." It isn't that simple by any measure. After discussing some historical examples, Moritz proposes a more clear way of thinking about creationist hermeneutics:
In light of the history of literalist hermeneutics, I thus suggest that a less pejorative and more accurate way to think of biblical literalism is the following: with regard to passages of scripture that are not obviously poetic or parable, the essence of biblical literalism consists in adopting a narrative approach to scripture (where the biblical text is basically read as an internally consistent narrative) and then going on to understand the details of the narrative as objectively true in the historical and scientific senses. This narrative-literal hermeneutic is a non-pejorative understanding of biblical literalism that I believe captures the core of what is going on in the minds of self-confessed scriptural literalists throughout Christian history.
I think I can live with that, as long as we recognize that the "objectively true" bit is not necessarily always clear. I'm still not thrilled with the "literal" in narrative-literal, but this is definitely progress.

Moritz then goes through a summary of interpretive opinion from modern critical scholarship that he claims is the "literal" reading of Genesis, several points of which I think are nothing of the sort. I fear Moritz here has fallen victim to his own theological tradition (of critical scholarship) coloring his reading of Genesis, which is what he warns us about earlier in the essay.

That drawback aside, his essay concludes with this really nice warning that I agree with 100%:
...I would caution theologians and believers of every confessional tradition, who in their eagerness to throw out all hints of concordism, by so doing manage to discard all hope of meaningful dialogue between theology and the natural sciences. If one is not to venture down the well-trodden path of neo-orthodoxy or existentialism, where scripture is said to make no claims whatsoever with regard to actual history or the structure of natural reality - a destination where many contemporary Evangelical scholars ironically seem to have unwittingly arrived - then one is forced to do the hard work of figuring out exactly which details of scripture concerning the objective world are theologically significant (or at least have been central throughout theological history) and which can be (or have been) relegated to the status of adiaphora.
(For the uninitiated like me, adiaphora is "a concept of Stoic philosophy that indicates things outside of moral law.")

If you can, this essay is worth reading. Especially you BioLogos fans (I know you're reading me!).

Moritz. 2011. The Search for Adam Revisited: Evolution, Biblical Literalism, and the Question of Human Uniqueness. Theology and Science 4:367-377.

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