Recently, two Calvin College professors–John Schneider and Daniel Harlow–have gotten into hot water at the Christian Reformed college in Grand Rapids, Michigan for denying the existence of a literal Adam and Eve. Schneider has chosen to resign over the issue. He had been at Calvin for 25 years and had tenure. Harlow continues to stay at Calvin and argue that his position is compatible with the teachings of the Christian Reformed Church.
Will the debate over a literal Adam and Eve be the next major issue that divides American evangelicalism? Or will it be something else? Debates over the existence of hell (see Rob Bell’s Love Wins and responses from Francis Chan and Mark Galli) and controversies surrounding gay marriage are definitely candidates. Or perhaps it might be a division over whether Christians should be preaching the gospel or engaging in causes related to social justice? (These, of course, are not mutually exclusive, but they have led to some generational debate within the evangelical fold).
Or perhaps evangelicalism will survive these differences.
Whatever the case, the Adam and Eve controversy has now found its way to National Public Radio. Here is a taste of a Morning Edition piece by Barbara Bradley Hagerty:
Polls by Gallup and the Pew Research Center find that four out of 10 Americans believe this account. It’s a central tenet for much of conservative Christianity, from evangelicals to confessional churches such as the Christian Reformed Church.
But now some conservative scholars are saying publicly that they can no longer believe the Genesis account. Asked how likely it is that we all descended from Adam and Eve, Dennis Venema, a biologist at Trinity Western University, replies: “That would be against all the genomic evidence that we’ve assembled over the last 20 years, so not likely at all.”
Venema says there is no way we can be traced back to a single couple. He says with the mapping of the human genome, it’s clear that modern humans emerged from other primates as a large population — long before the Genesis time frame of a few thousand years ago. And given the genetic variation of people today, he says scientists can’t get that population size below 10,000 people at any time in our evolutionary history.
To get down to just two ancestors, Venema says, “You would have to postulate that there’s been this absolutely astronomical mutation rate that has produced all these new variants in an incredibly short period of time. Those types of mutation rates are just not possible. It would mutate us out of existence.”
Venema is a senior fellow at BioLogos Foundation, a Christian group that tries to reconcile faith and science. The group was founded by Francis Collins, an evangelical and the current head of the National Institutes of Health, who, because of his position, declined an interview.