Douglas Murray, in a February 9, 2013 Spectator article, takes the new atheists to task for their unrelenting criticism of religion. Speaking of the story of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis, Murray writes:
Schopenhauer said that truth may be like water: it needs a vessel to carry it. It is all very well to point out — as Dawkins did again the other night — that Adam did not exist. But to think that this discovery makes not just the story of Eden but the narrative of the crucifixion and resurrection meaningless is to rather startlingly miss a point. You can be in agreement with Professor Dawkins that Adam did not exist, yet know and feel that the story of Eden speaks profoundly about ourselves.
In response, scientist Jerry Coyne wrote:
This is, pardon my French, complete bullshit. If Adam and Eve did not exist, and there was no Original Sin caused by human action, and the Primal Couple was just a metaphor, it means that if Jesus really was crucified and resurrected, he died for a metaphor.
And what is that metaphor? Who knows? What, exactly, is the “truth” in the Adam-and-Eve story? Good luck with that, for those Evangelical Christians who doubt the historicity of Adam and Eve have been arguing for years about what it might mean as a metaphor. A fictional Primal Couple completely turns the Christian narrative on its head, for a metaphorical Adam and Eve means that humans are sinful not through their own choices and nature, but because God made them that way. And in that case, why did Jesus have to die, for God could simply have made us good? If Eden speaks profoundly about ourselves, then what is that profound meaning?
Well, theologians have thought of many meanings, but all of them come from secular reason rather than faith, for you can’t privilege one over the other when making up stories. (By the way, if Murray, as an avowed atheist, also thinks that Jesus wasn’t divine, crucified, and resurrected, then the entire story becomes a meaningless fairy tale, no more “profound” than the polytheistic Greek or Norse religions. Why doesn’t Murray see profundity in the stories of Zeus and Thor?)
If one wants to extract profound meaning from life without having to puzzle over fairy stories, may I suggest to Murray that one consider classical, secular philosophy? There isn’t any interpretation needed: it’s all there in black and white. I argue that if you have to construe “profound truths” from silly stories, you are doing it by imposing upon them some lesson about life that you’ve learned not from religion, but from secular reason, experience, and philosophy.
I, for one, find no credible ‘profound truth’ in a metaphorical Adam and Eve. We’re born with some selfish tendencies? Evolution tells us that! And there’s nobody to expiate them, so the resurrection story is ludicrous.
Jerry Coyne is right. If Adam and Eve are just a metaphor then original sin, the need for redemption through the blood of Jesus, and even the resurrection of Jesus, lose any meaning. If the first Adam is a metaphor how do we know the last Adam, Jesus is not?
Can you imagine the local Baptist preacher saying in his sermon this Sunday, Brethren, Jesus the metaphor died for us, the children of Adam the metaphor? Imagine trying to sell people on their need of metaphorical salvation?