God lives in the gaps. And the gaps must be getting downright cozy for God.
The God of the gaps fallacy runs deep. It really does. The idea goes like this: If something can be explained naturally by science, then God is unnecessary, at least in that particular corner of the universe. So the further and deeper science reaches, the smaller and less relevant God becomes.
Put another way: There is a single explanatory space, and that space is entirely filled with the natural and the supernatural. These two do not overlap; where there is a natural explanation there is no supernatural one. Where there is a supernatural explanation there is no natural one.
[Here's a related question for further amusement: Is God best understood as an explanatory principle? No more than air is best understood as an explanatory principle, we say.]
This basic fallacy animates New Atheism; it animates young-Earth creationism; it animates old-Earth creationism; it animates intelligent design; and it animates virtually all discussion about science and religion I come across in the popular press. I think it’s safe to say that some version of this fallacy exists in the minds of virtually all Americans. Can’t say much for our neighbors north and south and across the big ponds.
I have just read the cover story of June’s Christianity Today. The front of the magazine reads: “The Search for the Historical Adam: The State of the Debate.” I must be living under a rock, because I didn’t know there was a debate. Then again, I don’t read CT very often.
The gist of the article is that, now that the data from the Human Genome Project are available for crunching, the historical Adam is in big trouble. The wiggle room for a factual First Couple is pretty much gone. Drawing on Francis Collins‘s and Karl Giberson‘s recent book, The Language of Science and Faith, the piece states that the authors
reported that… anatomically modern humans emerged from primate ancestors perhaps 100,000 years ago — long before the apparent Genesis time frame — and originated with a population that numbered something like 10,000, not two individuals. Instead of the traditional belief in the specially created man and woman of Eden who were biologically different from all other creatures, Collins mused, might Genesis be presenting “a poetic and powerful allegory” about God endowing humanity with a spiritual and moral nature? “Both options are intellectually tenable,” he concluded.
What is interesting about this is that “the center of the evolution debate has shifted from asking whether we came from earlier animals to whether we could have come from one man and one woman.” The gap, it does shrink, and its God shrinks right along with it: Okay, so maybe Adam and Eve were not hand-made directly by God out of clay, but maybe the human race descended from two particularly “advanced” (for lack of a better term) primates. So there was an Adam and Eve, and they looked and smelled a lot like their cousins, but they were somehow less ape-y and more human-y. Just enough so that they knew to stay well away from the other, lesser, creatures, and inbreed.
Is this how the article goes, or am I misreading it?
It hardly matters. The point is clear: As science progresses, we shift our religious stories just enough so they remain consistent with science while retaining some trace of literalness. The assumption is clear: Science, with its emphasis on facts, calls the shots. There is no truth but the factual worth talking about. Stories of themselves are devalued. At what cost?
There are other gap-shrinking ideas being cooked up by those who wish to maintain the historicity of Genesis. The article quotes one John Collins (no relation to Francis), an Old Testament scholar at Covenant Theological Seminary, as going beyond the above scenario to something else again: a primitive “royal couple”:
[John] Collins comments that if Adam and Eve lacked “an actual existence we nullify so many things in the Bible it results in a different story.” To him, the pivotal point is that “however God produced the bodies of the first human beings, it wasn’t a purely natural process.” If genetics eventually forces reconsideration, Collins remarks, he could perhaps reconceive of Adam and Eve as “the king and queen of a larger population” and thereby preserve Genesis’ historicity.
Witness the incredible vanishing Adam Gap. Witness the incredible shrinking God.
[This is in accord with a plain reading of Genesis?]
Irony 101, Lesson 8: Of all the people in the world, should not we Christians be those most comfortable with the coincidence of the natural and supernatural? Of God working in the world, through the world? And here we are, insisting that God would never create us out of “natural processes,” as if we know what that phrase even means.