Professor John Schneider is the latest Christian scholar to leave his post amid a controversy that is gripping America’s evangelical community. In a country where surveys suggest that four in ten people believe in the biblical account of the origins of Man, some are calling this a “Galileo moment”, akin to the agonies suffered by the Roman Catholic Church over the suggestion in the 17th century that the Earth revolved around the Sun.Professor Schneider and a colleague, Professor Daniel Harlow, had published papers noting that it was becoming ever harder to maintain that all humans were descended from Adam and Eve. He suggested that Christians needed to abandon the idea that the Fall was an historical event.
Uproar ensued. Readers and influential evangelicals all over America called for both men to be fired. Professor Schneider left his job. The college said that he had sought early retirement but Professor Harlow, in an interview with a Christian newspaper, said: “John was pressured to leave.”
Professor Harlow then announced that he would be taking a sabbatical and would no longer write on so controversial a subject. “At this point in Calvin College’s history, it cannot handle that,” he said. “I cannot handle that. It’s taken a heavy physical and emotional toll on me.”The Christian community needs to get a grip on this because the evidence is not going to go away. It is only going to get better. Christians that take a strict literal approach to Adam and Eve are going to find themselves increasingly cornered and distrustful of modern science and its efforts to understand the history of humanity. I have used Daniel Harlow's articles in research and quoted from them in this blog before. It is sad that he is leaving this discussion because he has much to bring to the table and his absence will only hurt the dialogue.
There are a number of different viewpoints on how to tackle the literal Adam and Eve question, which was covered in Christianity Today and of which I wrote in a post for CFSI. As Darrel Falk points out, it is possible that there were two people that were hand-picked by God to begin his relationship with the human race. This is not much different than God's covenant with Abraham, although it does not address the issue of the soul. If there were other people around at the time of Adam and Eve, did they have souls? Could they see Heaven? It is difficult to reconcile the idea that there were anatomically modern human beings around that were not part of God's plan for humanity.
I do not know where this discussion is going to go. Like the case of Bruce Waltke, though, there is obviously a sizable reluctance to address the possibility that Adam and Eve were not real people but part of an allegorical tale meant to teach us what our relationship to God is, what sin is, and why we were created in the first place. This controversy will get worse before it gets better.