I’ve always maintained that this piece of the Old Testament, which is easily falsified by modern genetics (modern humans descended from a group of no fewer than 10,000 individuals), shows more than anything else the incompatibility between science and faith. For if you reject the Adam and Eve tale as literal truth, you reject two central tenets of Christianity: the Fall of Man and human specialness.
Commenting on this quotation, Farrell writes, "I don’t know about human specialness, but on the Fall he [Coyne] is correct."
Let's think about this. If one rejects the literal truth of the Adam and Eve story, must one also reject the doctrine of the Fall? We can and should raise this question just as theists while prescinding from the specifics of Christianity, whether Roman, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant. For if the issue is, as Coyne puts it above, one of the compatibility/incompatibility of "science and faith," then it won't matter which particular theistic faith we adopt so long as it includes a doctrine of the Fall of Man.
The question, then, is whether the rejection of the literal truth of the Adam and Eve story entails the rejection of the Fall of Man. Coyne and Farrell say 'yes'; I say 'no.' My reason for saying this is that man can be a fallen being whether or not there were any original parents. I will assume (and I believe it to be true) that evolutionary biology gives us the truth about the origins of the human species. So I will assume that the Genesis account of human origins is literally false. But what is literally false may, when taken allegorically, express profound truths. One of these truths is that man is made in the image and likeness of God. I explain the easily-misunderstood sense of imago Dei here.
But how can God create man in his image and likeness without interfering in the evolutionary processes which most of us believe are responsible for man's existence as an animal? As follows.
Man as an animal is one thing, man as a spiritual, rational, and moral being is another. The origin of man as an animal came about not through any special divine acts but through the evolutionary processes common to the origination of all animal species. But man as spirit, as a self-conscious, rational being who distinguishes between good and evil cannot be accounted for in naturalistic terms. (This can be argued with great rigor, but not now!)
As animals, we are descended from lower forms. As animals, we are part of the natural world and have the same general type of origin as any other animal species. Hence there was no Adam and Eve as first biological parents of the human race who came into existence directly by divine intervention without animal progenitors. But although we are animals, we are also spiritual beings, spiritual selves. I am an I, an ego, and this I-ness or egoity cannot be explained naturalistically. I am a person possessing free will and conscience neither of which can be explained naturalistically.
What 'Adam' refers to is not a man qua member of a zoological species, but the first man to become a spiritual self. This spiritual selfhood came into existence through a spiritual encounter with the divine self. In this I-Thou encounter, the divine self elicited or triggered man's latent spiritual self. This spiritual self did not emerge naturally; what emerged naturally was the potentiality to hear a divine call which called man to his vocation, his higher destiny, namely, a sharing in the divine life. The divine call is from beyond the human horizon.
But in the encounter with the divine self which first triggered man's personhood or spiritual selfhood, there arose man's freedom and his sense of being a separate self, an ego distinct from God and from other egos. Thus was born pride and self-assertion and egotism. Sensing his quasi-divine status, man asserted himself against the One who had revealed himself, the One who simultaneously called him to a Higher Life but also imposed restrictions and made demands. Man in his pride then made a fateful choice, drunk with the sense of his own power: he decided to go it alone.
This rebellion was the Fall of man, which has nothing to do with a serpent or an apple or the being expelled from a physical garden located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Original Sin was a
spiritual event, and its transmission is not by semen, pace certain Pauline passages, but by socio-cultural-linguistic means.
If we take some such tack as the above, then we can reconcile what we know to be true from natural science with the Biblical message. Religion and science needn't compete; they can complement each other -- but only if each sticks to its own province. In this way we can avoid both the extremes of the fundamentalists and literalists and the extremes of the 'Dawkins gang' (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Harris, et al.)
Our question was whether rejecting the literal truth of the Adam and Eve story entails rejecting the doctrine of the Fall. The answer to this is in the negative since the mere possibility of an account such as the one just given shows that the entailment fails. Man's fallenness is a spiritual condition that can only be understood in a spiritual way. It does not require that the whole human race have sprung from exactly two animal progenitors that miraculously came into physical existence by divine agency and thus without animal progenitors. Nor does it require that the transmission of the fallen condition be biological in nature.