According to this recent story on NPR, the accumulating evolutionary evidence of genetics is penetrating even into Evangelical university settings, threatening the most basic Christian tradition of a literal Adam and Eve birthing our species in the Garden of Eden:
But others say Christians can no longer afford to ignore the evidence from the human genome and fossils just to maintain a literal view of Genesis. “This stuff is unavoidable,” says Dan Harlow at Calvin College. “Evangelicals have to either face up to it or they have to stick their head in the sand. And if they do that, they will lose whatever intellectual currency or respectability they have.”
“If so, that’s simply the price we’ll have to pay,” says Southern Baptist seminary’s Albert Mohler. “The moment you say ‘We have to abandon this theology in order to have the respect of the world,’ you end up with neither biblical orthodoxy nor the respect of the world.”
Mohler and others say if other Protestants want to accommodate science, fine. But they shouldn’t be surprised if their faith unravels.
Christians are right, frankly, to mistrust science. Not because science is unreliable, but because science does, indeed, threaten the very foundations of religion. One might ask why. Aren’t Science and Religion concerned with completely different spheres of the human experience: one with physical reality, the other with spiritual belief? There are many who support this polite fiction.
The problem is that every religion makes claims about the origins of life. Yet none of these creation stories have survived the discoveries of science intact. Even the Catholic church (perhaps, as suggested by the NPR story above, recalling the historic debacle of Galileo’s persecution) has thrown in with evolution, and placed God back at the beginning of that natural process (where he can, presumably, sit for a while as science continues to search for just how life did begin). Evangelical Christianity has drawn its line in the sand by claiming that the Bible is the unerring word of God, and the more devout of that wing of belief have carved out a special niche in the walls of unreason, determined to be the purest of the pure who take every single event as described in holy texts as the gospel truth. So they believe in a literal Adam and Eve, with Eve made from a rib taken from Adam’s side while he slept. A rib removed, it is written, by God himself.
But as others (like Christopher Hitchens) have pointed out, one aspect of what makes religion appealing to some human minds is the opportunity it presents to be part of an exclusive club, a club which has stringent requirements for inclusion. We like this. In fact, we like it enough that the further the things we profess to believe are from what most everyone else believes, the more we congratulate ourselves for holding firm to those beliefs.
So the religious extremist has little to lose and everything to gain by fighting the tides of popular and scientific opinion. The fundamentalist is, in fact, entrenched in a dynamic that is fed by an antagonism toward “the world” (which can mean reason, education, community mores and the like).
There are a lot more believers in another group, however: those that are cultural believers (having been born into a tradition, as most Americans that have been raised under a pervasive Christian influence). These are the reasonable believers, who have, by and large, been ready to admit that the Bible is mostly allegory. These are also the ones that accept scientific evidence, and then work to incorporate it into their belief system. They continue to believe in God, to be sure, but they don’t wear it on their sleeve (and they don’t go in for the extreme fundamentalist mindset).
It is the moderates who won’t have too much trouble abandoning the idea of an actual Adam and Eve. But then, they have not staked their entire belief system on a indefensible position of Biblical inerrancy. What is significant about the NPR article is that the acceptance of the genetic evidence of our evolution is beginning to penetrate the Evangelical Christian community, which is, I think, profound. At this stage it is still at a level where the presidents of bible colleges can force heretics to resign, but the fault lines are showing. Eventually, this might lead to the more extreme fundamentalists calving from the evangelical community like a lone iceberg from the arctic ice sheet, left alone to float in the broad ocean and, eventually, to melt away.