It turns out that one of our readers, who occasionally comments as “Douglas E” (DE), was involved with both BioLogos and the Templeton Foundation, and has some inside skinny on both organizations. Actually, BioLogos comes out looking much better than Templeton, since the Foundation put DE and his colleagues through endless hoops when they were trying to fund a proposal to turn evangelical Christians toward evolution, and then ultimately rejected the hypothesis for reasons that I’ve long suspected.
You can read the whole tortuous story (and see the links) at DE’s website A View from Planet Boulder, in a post called “The Templeton two-step.” In short, DE, in collaboration with geneticist Joseph McInerney, Francis Collins (Founder of BioLogos and now head of the National Institutes of Healthy), Pete Enns (a Harvard-trained theologian who later became the chief biblical scholar for BioLogos) and Darrell Falk (a Christian biology professor who later became president of BioLogos), decided to apply for an educational grant from the John Templeton Foundation.
Templeton had already given a big grant to fund the infrastructure and leadership of BioLogos, an organization designed to acquaint evangelical Christians with evolution, and, by showing them that their faith was really compatible with evolution, make them fans of Darwin. But beyond salaries and infrastructure, BioLogos needed funds for educational programs. So DE and his colleagues applied formally to Templeton for a grant to develop educational resources for religious students learning evolution, a grant called “Integrating Evolution and Faith: Resources for College Biology Professors.”
A sidelight here: both Karl Giberson (executive Vice-President of Biologos) and Pete Enns didn’t believe in the existence of a historical Adam and Eve as the First Couple (see here and here), a belief that is almost a sine qua non for evangelical Christians. After all, if you don’t see Adam and Eve as real people, then where did Original Sin come from and how did it get transmitted to all humanity? And if none of us are imbued with Original Sin, what’s the point of Jesus coming to Earth to give up his life so that, by taking him as our savior, we could be cleansed of that Sin? Without Adam and Eve as literal people, the whole narrative of evangelical Christianity falls to bits.
Yet both Enns and Giberson saw Adam and Eve as metaphorical, a view that has its own theological problems but is at least supported by science, for population genetics tells us that the human population was never smaller than 12,500 individuals during the last million years. I discuss Enns’s view on how one should argue for a metaphorical Adam and Eve in Faith Versus Fact (pp. 130-131) as well as here. You can read Enns’s own arguments in his book The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins.
But a metaphorical rather than a literal Adam and Eve is, as I said, anathema to Evangelical Christians (and also to the Catholic Church, whose official dogma is that yes, Adam and Eve were not only real people, but the ancestors of us all). If the pair was simply a big metaphor, well, then Jesus died for a metaphor.
Enns and Giberson left BioLogos around 2011, and I suspected from various murmurings that they either left of their own accord or were fired. As I wrote in 2012:
Peter Enns was the Senior Fellow in Biblical Studies at BioLogos, the Templeton-funded and Francis-Collins-founded organization devoted to reconciling evangelical Christianity and evolution. Enns has good academic credentials, including a Ph.D. from Harvard in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. And he left BioLogos about the same time as Karl Giberson (the Vice President), and I suspect it was because both of these guys couldn’t abide BioLogos‘s weaselly stand on Adam and Eve: a refusal to take a stand on whether they existed or not despite the clear results of populations genetics that they could not have existed.
Besides his tortuous interactions with Templeton, which apparently micromanages grants—including making sure the “theological aspect” is up to snuff—DE says some things that confirm that an Adam and Eve kerfuffle was behind the departure of Enns from BioLogos. A metaphorical Adam and Eve just wasn’t acceptable to Templeton, but was the only thing acceptable to the grant-writers. And so the grant went down the tubes, and Enns and Giberson left BioLogos. From DE’s post:
In retrospect, this should have been translated as “Pete needs both guidance and a leash.” Pete would likely admit that he is not the most diplomatic person, and often uses challenging and controversial ideas to generate meaningful discussions about important topics. The titles of his books indicate his positions: The Bible Tells Me So – Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It; The Evolution Of Adam – What The Bible Does And Doesn’t Say About Human Origins; The Sin Of Certainty – Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our “Correct” Beliefs. I think that it would be safe to say that these are not the types of things that many fundamentalist Christians want to hear, and certainly would not be inclined to accept; hence the Foundation’s fixation on ‘theological credibility.’
Also, in retrospect, it seems quite clear that JTF [John Templeton Foundation] personnel had privately conveyed concern to BioLogos about how the details of Theist Evolution /Evolutionary Creation were going to be presented in a pastoral manner to the targeted evangelical community. Note my emphasis on ‘pastoral’. The target community needed more pastoring than biblical scholarship, especially if that scholarship accepts the scientific evidence for human origins, not a literal interpretation of the Genesis account of the creation of Adam and Eve. To accommodate this perceived need, the JTF proposed that we add personnel to the proposal to address the pastoral component, and that Pete’s time and effort be cut back. Understandably, Pete was not pleased. The implicit message was that targeted evangelicals would likely not be particularly receptive to Pete’s Old Testament scholarship regarding creation and Adam and Eve. As one Templeton official said: “They need an Adam and Eve.” [JAC: my emphasis there.]
This is when Joe and I said “Nope”. We agreed that this is not how projects should be developed, reviewed, funded and managed. We had established a good working relationship with Pete and respected his theological positions in relationship to what we biologists accept as established science. We were not interested in being funded by an organization that appeared to be involved with micromanagement, control, and influence. It seemed clear to Joe and me that the JTF had a literalist/creationist bias regarding the project and its expected outcomes, e.g., many evangelicals need a real Adam and an Eve; thus promote any data and any experts that support such a notion. Not possible from my and Joe’s perspective.
As DE noted in an email to me, “My recollection is that the folks at Templeton felt that many evangelicals ‘need an Adam and Eve’ and thus believed that the Enns position would be off-putting to their target audience. Of course that was the whole point – to get the evangelicals to understand that there was no original two, and to convince them that they could take the bible seriously without taking it literally. Basically they let the tail wag the dog. They seem not to understand that their target audience is not the flaming fundamentalists who have no intentions of ever changing their minds, evidence be damned!!!”
I’ve long felt that the Adam and Eve story is going to become the Waterloo of accommodationism: a decisive battle that evangelical Christians simply can’t win. Now I’m not a Sophisticated Theologian™, but I can’t see how the whole Christian narrative makes any sense if Adam and Eve were metaphorical—if for no other reason than if that were true, there’s no convincing story for why we’re all imbued with sin and need to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus. The conflict between the facts of population genetics and the necessities of Christianity admits of no easy resolution, and is a paradigm of how when facts contradict faith, people tenaciously cling to their faith.