To begin with, I do beg Dr. Alexander’s pardon. For some reason, when I wrote about his “white paper” on Adam and Eve, I thought he was a physicist, but he is a molecular biologist, and I have changed the text accordingly. He is now retired from biological research and is working full-time trying to show how religion and science can be helpfully related. But I said he was a physicist and that is wrong. Perhaps I borrowed the label from Jerry Coyne, so the fact that that particular mutation spread is perhaps not all that wonderful, as Dr. Alexander suggests.
When I began this post a couple of hours ago the pdf of the whole response was damaged and not downloadable, so I went ahead with just the first part of the response. I notified the people at Biologos, and they very quickly had it up and running, so I was able to bring things to an end. The last part of the response is really irrelevant to my purposes, so I breezed over it fairly quickly, and ignored most of it. I just don’t think that models work very well in this context, and I don’t know why anyone would bother with them, but perhaps that’s just one of my interpretive shortcomings, and I should have worked with the idea a bit longer. The first installment is available on the Biologos website. The pdf is downloadable here.
However — to hop right into the middle of things. Alexander has decided to accept Loren Wilkinson’s characterisation of me as a positivist. I did once admire A. J. Ayer, back in the days when he was all the rage in philosophy, but I was also aware of the fact that strict positivism, at least as a theory of meaning, would not work, since it ruled out philosophical positivism as itself meaningful, and I did not in fact, to my knowledge, fall into that trap in my response to Alexander’s “white paper”. I am quite aware that science is far more nuanced than Carnap and Ayer and Popper took it to be (though Popper was hardly a positivist), and did not suggest otherwise; but I guess it’s a good brush to use to tar an atheist with, so no doubt it has now served its turn and we can put it back into the barrel to await the next unsuspecting sceptic.
I continue to sequester the term ’white-paper’ in scare-quotes because it still seems to me a bit of a stretch to think of biblical stories in these terms. I must have misunderstood, Alexander suggests, since models are used in all sorts of circumstances, even when there is no way to verify them, as with some of the more extravagant cosmological models. And then, of course, there are all those philosophical models, as in the free will debate, such as compatibilism, incompatibilism, determinism, etc.
So, why not theological models? I notice that I still have a copy of Ian T. Ramsey’s Models for Divine Activity on my bookshelf, heavily underlined, so I assume I read it once long ago. Nothing beside remains — the lone and level sands… etc.! Well, almost nothing! However, clearly, Ramsey wanted to address the problem of how we talk about God’s activity in terms that can make sense to people situated as we are.
Take the idea of divine presence. How is this being who is ubiquitous to be thought of as revealing himself at a particular location? Well, there are various models. There is the model of a cloud or of fire, and Ramsey says:
God did not exist as a cloud or fire existed, but his ubiquity, ‘presence’, ‘objectivity’, was mediated, modelled in a particular event. 
When Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up and smoke filled the temple, God was not smoke, but the smoke mediated the presence of God to him, suggesting mystery and majesty, and out of that experience he heard God ask who would go for him. His experience of an encounter with God was modelled (as the presence of God is often modelled in the Bible) in terms of smoke or clouds (as at the transfiguration of Jesus — and the ascension too).
I assume — and assumed — that this is what Alexander had in mind when he asked about which model would be most appropriate for understanding what the Bible wants to tell us in the Adam and Eve story, the story of the progenitors of the human race and their fall from grace. But this is a different kind of model, I think. It makes no clear sense to say that, in his experience in the temple, Isaiah actually encountered a being called God to whose call, on that occasion, his prophetic ministry was a response, but at least it spoke to human experience. However, the model for the Adam and Eve story is different; it is not clear to me how speaking in terms of homo divinus makes any sense of the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall, because that’s not trying to make a characteristic human experience accessible. It’s about a one time event, strictly speaking, whose effects are continuous over the whole of human history.
We might model this — this “event” which is not, and yet is, in some sense, an event — but what would the model tell us? In one sense it can’t be only a model, because Christianity’s doctrine of redemption seems to depend on some actual event which human beings underwent, and something from which they have to be redeemed. The model is standing in for this event — whatever it is – and there’s not a shred of evidence for it having taken place. And dreaming up models which do not necessitate the idea that all human beings are descendents of a single couple, might help, if it’s important to you that this be the case, but it seems like a pretty desperate expedient. That’s why I found it embarrassing to write about such things, because it’s so implausible, and if Christianity needs an explanation of such things, then it really is in trouble, it seems to me, and models aren’t going to get it out of trouble.
It’s one thing to have cosmological models which continue on from where empirical cosmology ends. Ramsey’s models of divine activity are interesting because they at least track what people take as experiences of God’s presence (to consider only the presence model). But it’s a completely different thing to create models of things that are agreed never to have happened. What status does Alexander want to give to the Adam and Eve story? He clearly thinks of it as an historical occurrence — in some sense. Otherwise, what is his model a model of? But what reason is there for supposing that such an event took place? That we are imperfect, and are prone to moral failure? But that’s what we should expect, given the fact that we are a late product of evolutionary processes.
If we prescind, then, from all the hermeneutical problems that the homo divinus model creates (and I think these are considerable as I suggested in my earlier post), we still have the rather embarrassing fact that we are proposing a model of a metaphor of something else, something imagined to explain the sorry history of humanity. That is, it is something that had really to have taken place, in some sense of ’really’, and yet it is metaphorical or mythical, and then on top of that we’re going to build a model. For, while Alexander only rates the task he has undertaken as a 1 out of 10 on a scale of importance, surely the fact that the whole cycle of passion-death-resurrection of Jesus presupposes this story in some fairly robust form should lead him to revalue it.
As for the long passage on the relationship between religion and science, as if to show that there are historical linkages between religion and science is all that needs to be said in order to relate these two “disciplines” (if theology qualifies as a discipline of knowledge, and I think there must be some question about that), it is enough to point out that of course there are linkages, because science sprang up in a culture where religion was not only very important, but where declining religious belief could get you killed. So, historians are going to find all sorts of religious people who became scientists. Of course they are. But this doesn’t show that there is any substantive relationship between religion and science. And playing footsie with the word ‘integration’ — which is used in the Biologos mission statement — is simply misleading, in my view. Biologos speaks without qualification of the integration of science and faith, and there is simply no reason not to take it at its word.
As for the language of the blogosphere. Alexander takes great exception and some umbrage to Jerry Coyne’s colourful confrontational style and language, as well as my “huffing and puffing”. The blogosphere is not a polite academic sanctuary where ideas are discussed with all the bitter cut and thrust of academic code. I recall with some satisfaction F.R. Leavis’s criticism of C.P. Snow, or Sir Peter Medawar’s classic put-down of de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man, and have sat through many a philosophy colloquium where intellectually explosive ordnance zinged past with devastating effect, though delivered with cool brilliance in impeccable academic prose. But here in the blogosphere there is a different priority. It has to be read to have an effect, and the effect must be immediate or it won’t be read. It’s just that simple. Welcome to the 21st Century!
However, let’s go on with the hermeneutical question, because I’ve just got hold of the second part of the response. Alexander goes on to speak about the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall, and tells us that, if we had read his book, Creation or Evolution — Do We Have to Choose?, we’d know he doesn’t think that there had to be a Fall in order for redemption in Christ to be necessary. In fact, he suggests that even Paul says so.
But this just won’t do; it really won’t. He refers us to Romans 5.12: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned,” and suggests that this means that, for Paul, death did not come through inherited guilt. But Paul also says that since we have all died in Adam, we will all be made alive in Christ (1 Corinthians 15.22), which certainly suggests that, whether we like it or not, Adam’s sin is central to the story of redemption and to our sinfulness unto death. Besides, Paul also speaks of the whole creation as subject to decay because of that first sin (Romans 8.20). So it simply doesn’t make sense when Alexander suggests that Christ died for our own individual sins, not for inherited guilt. If death in Adam affects the whole creation, and if in Adam all die, then the story of that crucial event that took place at the beginning of the human story is much more important to Christian theology than Alexander claims it to be.
And he must know, too, that there is a large constituency of Christians who will hold to this idea. It was not for nothing that Luther and Calvin homed in on precisely this part of the story. Baptism itself is important, because we are there cleansed from sin, not our own sin, otherwise the baptism of children would be meaningless, but the inherited guilt of that first monstrous sin, when the father of all mankind turned away in disobedience. And there is a reason for the exorcisms that used to be (and still are in some churches, though not, I think, in the Church of England) a part of the baptismal service where children were baptised. The infant travels symbolically from darkness (the darkness of sin and death) to light (the light of life and resurrection from death) in the course of the baptism.
Not a lot hangs on this for me, and the rest of Alexander’s response deals with which model better deals with the biblical details. I don’t think either of them do, and I cannot, for the life of me, see what meaning there can be in them. As models presumably they are models “of” something, but what they are models of and why we should want to model this questionable something in a particular way seems to me to be, well, quite frankly, a waste of time. If these things are religiously important, then so much the worse, I should have thought, for religion. As myth it might all make some sort of sense, but when you start trying to fabricate models, the mythical element is lost, and it all seems much of a muchness. We might live within the myth, in the way that Tillich, for instance, suggests, or we might try to find the contemporary meaning of the myth for today, as Richard Holloway tries to do with several biblical stories and their use by the church. But to use something as objectifying as a model, in this context, seems to me to be a misuse of the Bible, from a strictly religious point of view, and I wonder why it is thought to be important at all.