UPDATE: Eric MacDonald, with his much greater theological erudition, has analyzed Alexander’s argument at greater length over at Choice In Dying. A snippet:
If there was no first Adam, in the sense required, then Jesus Christ cannot be the second, and all the sentimentality and hollow joy of Christmas will not make up for this deficiency at the heart of the Christian theory of redemption — which, for good reasons, has never been solidified into dogma. The simple truth seems to be that there is no satisfactory way of doing it. Had this been attempted, the very implausibility of Christianity and the redemption it promises would have been obvious long ago.
Denis Alexander is a molecular biologist who is director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at Cambridge University, an institute founded with a grant from Templeton and sustained by further infusions of Templeton cash. Its purpose is the same as Templeton’s: to conflate science and faith.
In the latest Guardian, and just in time for the Christmas season, comes “Evolution, Christmas, and the Atonement”, Alexander’s own exegesis of the Bible—the right one of course. Part of it is metaphorical, part not.
Science tells us, of course, that the Adam and Eve story is bogus, though Alexander still tries to squeeze some meaning out of it (they can’t not do that, can they?). After admitting that modern evolutionary biology has decisively refuted the idea that the human species ever bottlenecked at just two people, Alexander begins his frenetic apologetics:
So do we then just shrug our shoulders and say “well so much the worse for theology – science wins in the end”? Surprisingly, perhaps, the Bible suggests otherwise. The tradition of interpreting the early chapters of Genesis figuratively – as a theological essay, not as science – goes back to two great thinkers from Alexandria: the first-century Jewish philosopher Philo, and the third-century church father Origen. In 248 Origen wrote that Genesis references to Adam are “not so much of one particular individual as of the whole human race”. Figurative understandings of the Genesis text have been part of mainstream theology ever since.
The first mention of Adam in the Bible is clearly referring to humankind (Genesis 1:26-27) and the definite article in front of Adam in chapters 2 and 3 – “the man” – suggests a representative man, because in Hebrew the definite article is not used for personal names, with Eve being the representative woman.
The Genesis narrative tells the story of humankind going their way rather than God’s way.
He doesn’t mention the longer tradition of interpreting the Bible literally, one that continues to this day with fundamentalists like Al Mohler and his Baptist minions.
I’ve already banged on enough on this site about how people like Alexander are always making theological virtues of scientific necessities, as well as telling people the right way to be a Christian. (Really, is that “humble”?)
The curious part of Alexander’s article, though, is the subtitle—an admission that parts of the Bible are NOT to be taken metaphorically:
Evolution, Christmas, and the Atonement
We are not descended from Adam and Eve – but still, Jesus was born to save us
Now how, exactly, does he know that second part?