Inside the Templeton Foundation: You can have your evolution and your Adam and Eve, too

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.

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34 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted September 12, 2016 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted September 12, 2016 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    “Biblical scholar” : n. An Individual who reads numerous books which are all about one book.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 12, 2016 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      reads numerous books which are all about one book.

      Anything in preference to reading the original book.

      • GBJames
        Posted September 12, 2016 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

        By some definitions of the word “original”.

  3. Posted September 12, 2016 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    The way some liberal believers explained away the “died for a metaphor” worry was that a literal Adam and Eve are not needed because the story is about recognizing that life requires death, or something. Hence *all* life “sins”. Why humans alone get the savior guy (who is just someone who recognized this or something), dunno.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 12, 2016 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      Why humans alone get the savior guy (who is just someone who recognized this or something), dunno.

      Because “G*d” is a human, not a small furry creature from Alpha Centauri.
      Jeebus may not have died for your sins (most of the doubt being about whether or not he existed, with some about what “sin” is), but Giordano Bruno certainly did die for this particular sin.

  4. CJColucci
    Posted September 12, 2016 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    When I was a believer, I had real trouble with the doctrine of original sin. Now that I’m not, it’s one of the few doctrines I grew up with that I don’t have a problem with. Metaphorical Adama and Eve = We’re All Bozos on This Bus. (HT to the Firesign Theater)

    • GBJames
      Posted September 12, 2016 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      Hand me the pliers.

      • JohnH
        Posted September 12, 2016 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

        Don’t crush that dwarf

        • GBJames
          Posted September 12, 2016 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

          Today, we are celebrating at the Powerhouse Church of the Presumptuous Assumption of the Blinding Light.

          • JohnH
            Posted September 12, 2016 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

            How can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all – an apt description of the Templeton Foundation.

            • GBJames
              Posted September 12, 2016 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

              Indeed. And let that be today’s message from the Department of Redundancy Department.

              • Robert Bray
                Posted September 12, 2016 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

                . . . and the Natural Guard.

  5. Heather Hastie
    Posted September 12, 2016 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Once again it seems that it’s not possible to retain both a link with Templeton and intellectual integrity.

    I recently cut ties with the Cultural Evolution Society because I realized they were no different from all the others when they announced last week they were going to apply for a Templeton grant. I also discovered certain people whose motives I don’t trust were involved at a senior level.

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 12, 2016 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Adam, in that painting by Cranach the Elder, better watch out for the junk under his fig-leaf around those antlers, elsewise he won’t be multiplying Eve’s sorrow and conception by propagating little Cains and Ables and Seths across the veldt east of Eden.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 12, 2016 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      Interesting symbolism there. Deer being a highly polygamous species. And the two fawns are extremely unlikely to be twins (does that ever happen in cervids?), so Mr Horn has been playing away from the monogamous bed.

  7. Posted September 12, 2016 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    I think it is unwise for Christians and accommodationists to try to square their religious beliefs with science — and not just because it appears to necessitate the distorting of science. In fact it assumes that the science is right in all important aspects relative to the faith, and that it will never progress subsequently.

    One version of preformationism in C18th embryology held that the whole of humanity was already in seed form in Adam and Eve, and this was the mechanism by which Original Sin is transferred to successive generations. Had the JTF been around at that time, they would have been throwing millions at that idea.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 12, 2016 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      One version of preformationism in C18th embryology held that the whole of humanity was already in seed form in Adam and Eve,

      Didn’t Mae west answer that one? “Is that a homunculus in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?”

  8. Kevin
    Posted September 12, 2016 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    I think Templeton is not wagering on Adam and Eve. Peter Woit (*) exposes the lucrative supply which
    flows to physics (almost exclusively theoretical) which is justifiably overlooked by NSF.

    Max Tegmark, who is no experimentalist, has an arbitrarily (vague) designed grant from Templeton (**) that could certainly be used for modestly useful cosmology. This, I call, stealing from Templeton. Tegmark, however, is no genius and would do better to get off his pedestal and actually calculate some real world problems in condensed matter and quantum information.

    (*) http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=8727

    (**) https://www.templeton.org/what-we-fund/grants/physics-of-the-observer

  9. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 12, 2016 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Ditching a literal Adam and Eve also means ditching the classical conservative Western Christian view as to just why exactly Jesus’ death is atoning or delivering.
    If you believe Jesus’ death is a substitutionary sacrifice for sin including a genetically inherited guilt from Adam which makes everyone damned by default since we are literally born inherently bad, then by gum you need a literal Adam and Eve.

    Liberal Protestantism can accommodate the death of belief in Adam, but I don’t see how evangelical Christianity can.

    Something along the lines of Eastern Orthodoxy could sort of work, but those churches are very culturally retro so they are not likely to buy in.

    Greek and Russian Orthodox Christians don’t believe in the Western notion of original sin- Adam and Eve polluted the spiritual environment a la Pandora opening her box and all of us by a process of osmosis absorb some evil into ourselves over time. Jesus’ atonement is a matter of sharing the suffering of the human race, but is not a matter of paying a penalty/price to God. And good-hearted non-believers are okey-dokey with the deity.

    Unfortunately, the Orthodox churches have a history of anti-Semitism, don’t admit gays, or ordain women, so I’m not that enthusiastic about them.

    • eric
      Posted September 12, 2016 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      If you believe Jesus’ death is a substitutionary sacrifice for sin including a genetically inherited guilt from Adam which makes everyone damned by default since we are literally born inherently bad, then by gum you need a literal Adam and Eve.

      True, but if you strike everything from “including” on, you don’t. Not that the sacrifice makes any more sense that way (God is omnipotent; instead of ‘sacrifice to wash it away’ he could’ve just ‘snapped fingers to wash it away’). But, Christian theology doesn’t really need a literal A&E if they think the sacrifice is for all the sin people actually do, not all the sin people magically inherit.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted September 12, 2016 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

        As Clint Eastwood said in a few of his Westerns “I reckon so”.
        But classical Western Christianity acknowledges “original sin” and “actual sin”, and in traditional Catholicism you need the church for all of the latter you commit after baptism.

  10. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted September 12, 2016 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    It is a good point that the question of a literal Adam and Eve is “a decisive battle that evangelical Christians simply can’t win”, but I think that it will be a very long time before they admit they have lost.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 12, 2016 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      it will be a very long time

      “Satan langlaufing to work” long, or protons decaying long?

  11. Posted September 12, 2016 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    JAC – National Institutes of Healthy – I like it!! If folks want to come over to Planet Boulder and reply to some fundamentalists, feel free!!!

  12. busterggi
    Posted September 12, 2016 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Money given to study Adam & Eve is a mythappropriation of funds.

  13. eric
    Posted September 12, 2016 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    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.

    I’m actually more curious about how the RCC will address it in the future. The evangelical Protestant sects are an easy call – they will do what protestants do, and split with some churches and organizations rejecting the science, and others modifying their beliefs. That’s pretty much de rigueur for Protestantism, and the only thing we really have to guess at will be the names the new splinters will call themselves.

    But the RCC doesn’t have that option. Unfortunately for my curiosity, at the pace they address issues I may not see how they resolve it in my lifetime.

  14. Sastra
    Posted September 12, 2016 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    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.

    Well, I don’t know how popular this is — or whether it’s been advanced by Sophisticated Theologians or not, but one explanation I’ve come across is equating or substituting “sin” with “imperfection.” Human beings are not perfect. We make mistakes, we don’t know things, we lie, cheat, and steal to some degree or another, even the best of us. “All come short of the glory of God.”

    That’s it. It’s not our fault, it’s just that God was logically incapable of creating something equal to God. So now the big concerns are 1.)realizing and admitting that yes, we’re not perfect and thus we’re undeserving of being in the presence of Perfection and 2.)recognizing that it is still possible to bridge the gap between us and God if we reach out to meet Him by accepting that He reached out to meet us when He died on the cross. Or something like that.

    In this scenario, Jesus needed to die to show us that a Perfect God is a caring God, suffering like a human being by choice. He didn’t “wash away sin.” It’s more like a strong, powerful king deliberately losing an arm-wrestling contest in a cheap tavern to encourage the peasants to believe that it’s okay if they come up to the castle and live with him. Once you say “wow, the king did that because he wants my company?” and are suitably impressed, your dirt/imperfections no longer seem like deal breakers to you. You go.

    Or something like that. I’m not saying this interpretation works; I’m saying it apparently works if you really, really want it to work, which is a much lower bar.

  15. Posted September 12, 2016 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    it always strikes me that the templeton foundations spends a lot of money so they can pretend that Christians don’t sound like gibbering idiots.

    if someone has to die to show that a god is a “caring” god, it certainly shows that this god is being a bit inept on the job. The caring needs to come *before* requiring someone to die painfully. This god would have the mare following up the wagon.

  16. jeffery
    Posted September 12, 2016 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    “The conflict between the facts of population genetics and the necessities of Christianity admits of no easy resolution…” Hell, it admits of NO possible resolution, unless one gives up on logic and science altogether; that’s the problem!
    It’s interesting to realize that the “core” issue in all of this goes beyond the Adam and Eve fable: it all boils down to whether the Wholly Babble IS the literal word of God- to admit that it isn’t totally destroys the basis for the entire belief system, as it also would in the case of the Koran in Islam, the Bhagavad-Gita in Hinduism, the Book of Mormon, etc.
    It is only when the “claim to fame” of these texts is completely, consistently, and persistently (as these “memes” will always try to pop up again) debunked in the minds of a majority of the world’s population will we see a lessening of their negative influences on society.

  17. John Harshman
    Posted September 12, 2016 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    There is a solution (accepted by some Catholics, in my experience) that preserves both literal A&E and the absence of a bottleneck. To whit:

    Adam and Eve were real people, but were part of a human population of thousands. They were just the first people to have souls, and only their descendants received souls after them. Ensoulment gradually became fixed in the human population (possibly through selection?), and if either of your parents has a soul, you get one too.

    This also solves the problem of how Cain got his wife. Or at least it eliminates the incest problem, though I would argue that it creates a weird bestiality problem.

  18. Roger
    Posted September 12, 2016 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    Hmm why would anyone think the whole kit and caboodle is not a myth? (Rhetorical question lol.)

  19. Posted September 13, 2016 at 2:08 am | Permalink

    I don’t see why Christians need Adam and Eve to be literal figures. A couple of commenters have already pointed out different ways Christians could interpret a metaphorical Adam and Eve that still justifies Jesus’ literal sacrifice.

    Here’s another idea: Sin means higher intellect and self-reflective consciousness. After all, the metaphorical tree was the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.” Adam and Eve represent the first hominids who evolved big brains.

    With self-reflective consciousness comes the foreknowledge of death, as well as many other painful thoughts. Self-reflective consciousness often leads to psychological problems, and this is the suffering we endure since being “banished from the Garden of Eden.”

    Jesus came to give us a big knock on the head and make us stop thinking so hard, or to make us stop worrying about the literal truth of things. Faith means turning your back on the reality of our big brains and returning to a kind of pre-Fall innocence, like the beasts of the field.

    • Posted September 13, 2016 at 4:32 am | Permalink

      The first two hominids who evolved big brains? I got news for you–there wasn’t a macromutation in two people.Besides, the Bible states clearly what happened, and if it was inspired by God, then why didn’t he SAY it was a metaphor? instead of making up a bogus story.

      Tell your metaphors to the Catholic Church, which says one CANNOT NOT ACCEPT a literal Adam and Eve.


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