Re: [asa] biological evolution and a literal Adam- logically inconsistent?

From: Bethany Sollereder <>
Date: Mon Sep 01 2008 - 20:31:04 EDT

David & Merv,

I think an important part of what's missing in the literal/figurative debate
is that regardless of how we see the story today, the original audience of
ancient Hebrews would have understood it as a real and true account of their
own origins (call that "literal" if you like). Ask an ancient Hebrew "Where
did you come from?" and he'll answer "from the dust of the ground near the
Garden of Eden". At the same time, we don't have to try and force it into
being concordant with modern science (like asking how 'true' we being made
from the dust of the ground is in terms of elemental composition) because
God is accommodating to the understanding of the day. Evolution would have
been completely outside of the range of their interest/understanding of the
world around them.

As for the fall, a literal fall is necessary for conceptions of original sin
and the cosmic fall. Also, it is important for the universal sinfulness of
man. But of course, it depends on what you mean by literal. You can have
universal sinfulness while not holding to the "fall" of 2 people some 6000
years ago through eating from a forbidden tree. But you'd have a harder
time talking about a cosmic fall without some such incidence.

Let's also keep in mind that more theology than we think comes from Milton
and his masterpieces than we sometimes realize. Genesis does not speak of a
fall at all, nor does the rest of the OT. Only Paul in his famous "for all
have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" and his groaning creation
come close to the language of a fall as we usually speak of it.


On Mon, Sep 1, 2008 at 12:43 PM, David Opderbeck <>wrote:

> Merv said: What's wrong with taking the fall as a figurative story
> illustrating a real state of mankind?
> I respond: Hmmm.. Here's a place where I honestly get hung up. I have
> heard it argued that a literal Fall of some sort is essential to orthdoxy,
> in which case the consequence of denying a literal Fall are significant.
> But then I've heard it argued that a literal Fall is not essential to
> orthodoxy. I'm personally still working on how to suss this out. Any
> theologians here have a thought on that?
> On Mon, Sep 1, 2008 at 3:36 PM, Merv <> wrote:
>> And I would even take it farther than David O. --and say that I don't see
>> too much difficulty in teasing out figurative or literal here (which may be
>> the "blessing" of comparative ignorance on my part since I'm not as
>> knowledgeable on ANE mythologies or related subjects and can happily proceed
>> to oversimplification in glorious ignorance of all the nuances.) What's
>> wrong with taking the fall as a figurative story illustrating a real state
>> of mankind? In this case the referent is a quite real thing (our historical
>> and present sinful state), but the reference to it and how it started is a
>> figurative story given to help us understand. Although if you were to press
>> me on exactly *what* that story helps us understand beyond the bare fact
>> that we fell into sin --I would be at loss. Indeed it has been badly abused
>> to justify poor treatment of women ("first sinners", after all). So it
>> would seem to me that at least some of any intended message in that passage
>> miscarried in regard to our present culture.
>> But I do know this: "figurative" does not necessarily equal "false".
>> God is my "rock" or my "fortress", and just because those symbols (the
>> references) aren't literally true in the sense of God being a rock
>> somewhere, doesn't make the referent (God) any less literally real. The
>> metaphors are supposed to be for our benefit although that benefit seems to
>> be lost on many modern people who are perhaps more inclined scientifically
>> than towards literary understanding.
>> I do agree with David O. that separating out the figurative from literal
>> (as well as discerning the substantial overlap of the two) is a messy and
>> hard business as we proceed on through the Scriptures. I don't think there
>> are any easy formulas for that. ---Theological and intellectual sweat;
>> and in the end: God's grace to cover for our inevitable misunderstandings
>> and misapplications. That's as close as I would propose for a formula for
>> building understanding. (Maybe I had better listen up regarding those ANE
>> cultures.)
>> --Merv
>> David Opderbeck wrote:
>> Bernie said: My original question is how could people take "the making
>> of man by forming dust" figurative and then the immediately following story
>> of the fall literally (real talking serpent, real tree of life, etc.).
>> Isn't it inconsistent to take one literal and the other figurative?
>> I respond: that's what I thought your question was originally. No, I
>> don't see why this is inconsistent at all. It is not a simple type of
>> literature that is either "literal" or "figurative" in a binary fashion. I
>> think it's incredibly difficult to tease out what is to be taken each way.
>> Again, I give an example from sports: "Yankees slaughtered the Tigers
>> today." Did the Yankees literally kill the Tigers? No, that is a
>> figurative expression. Was there a real historical game to which that
>> figure refers? Yes. It is not necessarily either-or.
>> In a similar way, the fact that the Fall story doesn't appear to be a
>> simple, straightforwardly "literal" account doesn't necessarily mean it has
>> no historical referent.
>> On Mon, Sep 1, 2008 at 2:37 PM, Dehler, Bernie <>wrote:
>>> So Merv- I think you are saying Gen. 2 and 3 are both figurative. My
>>> original question is how could people take "the making of man by forming
>>> dust" figurative and then the immediately following story of the fall
>>> literally (real talking serpent, real tree of life, etc.). Isn't it
>>> inconsistent to take one literal and the other figurative? Sounds like you
>>> take them both figurative, so it is not an issue for you. Seems to me if
>>> the first is taken figuratively, then it is even that much easier to take
>>> the fall story figurative because it is more obvious a departure from real
>>> life.
>>> Is the story of the fall literal or figurative? It seems to me that the
>>> vast majority of Christians go agnostic on that question, because it is so
>>> difficult to deal with the ramifications. For example, I don't think I
>>> found any definite answers from Hugh Ross' ministry (Reasons to Believe- Old
>>> Earth Creationist) on it (I didn't do a thorough search, so if someone knows
>>> his take, you can share).
>>> ...Bernie
>>> -----Original Message-----
>>> From: Merv []
>>> Sent: Monday, September 01, 2008 9:51 AM
>>> To: Dehler, Bernie;
>>> Subject: Re: [asa] biological evolution and a literal Adam- logically
>>> inconsistent?
>>> Dehler, Bernie wrote:
>>> > . . . . . . . .
>>> > I don't get that response. If God made man from dust, and it is
>>> literally true, that means he really scooped up real dust. If God didn't
>>> really scoop up real dust, then it is a figurative saying.
>>> >
>>> > When the Bible says we are all made of dust (Gen. 18:27 and
>>> > Psalm 103:14), maybe it is referring to the ancient science when they
>>> thought Adam really was literally made from real dust?
>>> >
>>> > Today we may say our bodies are made of stardust (considering
>>> cosmological evolution), but there's no way they could have had that idea, I
>>> think.
>>> >
>>> > ...Bernie
>>> >
>>> Bernie, I think you're anthropomorphizing God by imagining that the only
>>> way the claim [He made us from dust] can be true is if God (looking like
>>> a human with hands) literally appeared, and began shaping Adam from some
>>> handy dirt much like a child playing in a sandbox. In this sense I
>>> think most would agree that the passage is 100% figurative. Where else
>>> in the Bible does God ever assume human form (except at Bethlehem) and
>>> do things in that way? Very rarely --yes I know there are the
>>> human-looking visitors Abraham & a couple others which carry the label
>>> "Angel of the Lord". But almost always God is still given 100% credit
>>> for doing things in a mediated sense by influencing people's hearts
>>> (pharaoh, Moses,...) or by using natural things to bring about events (a
>>> wind drying up the red sea or bringing the locusts into Egypt, knitting
>>> us together in our mothers' wombs...). Surely you don't dispute those
>>> passages because of the absence of an actual figure with knitting
>>> needles failing to appear on any sonograms? (I know you don't, and yet
>>> I think this very illustrative of the point I'm attempting to make.)
>>> Even the O.T. authors don't insist that the only work that can qualify
>>> as being God's is work he did while looking and working like a human
>>> with human hands. And it is Scripturally unwarranted to insist on such
>>> a thing for this passage (which also makes no claim about *how* God
>>> formed the dust, but only that he did). So if you are uncomfortable
>>> with accepting both literal and figurative in this case --fine: ditch
>>> the literal. It was 100% figurative --and also 100% true. It also
>>> happens to correspond with what evolutionary theory teaches (the "made
>>> with dust" part) so any who are troubled by wanting to have their truth
>>> "only in literal form, please" can actually still have it in this case
>>> and save their head scratching for other passages where truth doesn't
>>> easily accommodate modern literalist form. The prophets of old had no
>>> problems with metaphor (e.g. that God is a potter and we are the clay);
>>> so we probably shouldn't either --nor should we relegate it down to
>>> "second-class truth" because of its non-literal status.
>>> --Merv
> --
> David W. Opderbeck
> Associate Professor of Law
> Seton Hall University Law School
> Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology

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Received on Mon Sep 1 20:31:42 2008

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