The question of human origins and its implications for biblical interpretation has caused much consternation for well over a century. Charles Darwin did not invent the idea of evolution by natural selection. Just read his introduction to On the Origin of Species and you'll see that his ideas were not particularly novel. What Darwin did, though, was provide an elegant and detailed explanation for the process. Some within the church immediately balked at Darwin's theory. Others were so compelled by his work that they had to reconsider their own interpretations of Genesis 1-2 in light of it.
The theory of evolution is not going anywhere. In fact, rather than becoming less stable as a hypothesis, it is now firmly entrenched in the scientific community as "theory," which in the sciences is about as close to a knowable reality there is without it being "law." Jamie Tanner, professor of biology at Marlboro College explains scientific theory this way:
Most people use the word 'theory' to mean an idea or hunch that someone has, but in science, the word 'theory' refers to the way we interpret facts...For example, we have ample evidence of traits in populations becoming more or less common over time (evolution), so evolution is a fact but the overarching theories about evolution, the way that we think all of the facts go together might change as new observations of evolution are made.
Rather than casting doubt on evolutionary theory, new fossil discoveries and most importantly, the mapping of the human genome, only make the theory more compelling.
In Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science, Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight have done the church and the scientific community a great service. Venema is professor of biology at Trinity Western University and wrote the first four chapters looking at the biological, fossil, and genetic evidence that overwhelmingly supports human descent by evolution. McKnight, professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary, tackles the theological implications in the final four chapters.
For Venema, human descent through evolution is without dispute. He patiently walks the reader through the world of biology and genetics (with some paleontology thrown in for good measure) and demonstrates how and why biologists make the claims they make. He shows how evolution not only explains certain biological phenomena, but predicts certain outcomes. Venema also takes issue with the Intelligent Design movement, arguing that ID simply ignores too many data. Venema concludes with this:
[A]s I reflected on what Scripture says about creation, I came to view ID as counter to its witness. In Romans 1 Paul declares that observing creation bespeaks a creator...Creation reveals the Creator, and we are without excuse. Learning more about how that creation works only deepens our wonder. To paraphrase Bonhoeffer, Paul calls us to see God in what we know, not in what we don't know--and as science reveals ever more about creation, we know more and more about how God chose to bring his creation into being (pp. 90-91).
McKnight's chief goal is remove the shackles of culture and tradition from the biblical text so that we might read the Bible on its own terms. After taking the readers on a journey through the world of the Ancient Near East, McKnight shows how the literary Adam (and Eve; he's always careful to remind us that Eve is generally forgotten to later interpreters of Genesis) is treated in the Jewish interpretive tradition. This tradition can be summarized as follows:
Adam is the paradigm or prototype or archetype of the choice between the path of obedience and that of disobedience, the path of Torah observance and that of breaking the commandments, the path of Wisdom and Mind and Logos and the path of sensory perceptions and pleasure and bodily desires. The Adam of the Jewish tradition is depicted very much as the moral Adam...In some of these interpretive traditions Adam comes off more positively than in others, but in each of them Adam is not just the first human being (the literary-genealogical Adam) but also the first sinner, whose sin had an impact on those who followed him (p. 169)
McKnight concludes with an assessment of the "historical" Adam in chapter eight. Through careful analysis of Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49, McKnight concludes that the Adam of Paul is not a "historical" Adam, at least not in the sense that Paul would have thought that Adam (and Eve) have a biological relationship to all humanity by shared DNA.
Perhaps most important in McKnight's discussion, however, is challenging the Augustinian view (via Jerome's mistranslation of Rom. 5:12) that we are all sinners because Adam sinned. Rather, McKnight argues, we are all sinners because we all sin: "each human being stands condemned before God as a sinner because each human being sins as did Adam (and Eve)" (p. 187).
In summary, Adam and the Genome provides a great entry into the theological implications of genetic science. As a non-scientists, I was able to follow most of what Venema had to say about genetics, and McKnight's chapters were equally accessible for the lay theologian.