Historical Adam: Wearing the genes

Dennis Venema

Adrian deLange
February 8, 2013

One of the hardships I have with this debate (other than overly outspoken leaders like Mark Driscoll) is the degree of certainty with which some scientists are willing to express their theories as fact. Last time I checked, there's no way to "prove" anything about human origins (even if we think we can rule some things out). From what I remember from Biology 101, scientists can only ever give us a "best guess" (albeit an educated and informed one)--following the data--but never fact.
Maybe I'm wrong there, but I still wonder whether it isn't only overzealous Christian "fundamentalists" who put Christian scientists in a rough spot, but also overzealous scientists (Christian or otherwise) who put fundamentalist Christians in a rough spot. I think both sides have seen that, if you try to corner a beast, it lashes out. So let's (both sides) name our parts in this ongoing debate and move on.
Thankfully, though, I don't see this article trying to corner anyone! And if we're trying to make theological progress, here is my two cents:
Genesis (and the whole of the Old Testament) is not at all concerned with our terribly modern idea of history--eg. (1) chronicling the "facts" (2) in order (3) one right after another with nothing missing.
Instead, Genesis (and other OT books) talk about things that happened, but they also highlight events, rearrange the order, and even leave things out--all with a particular intent. And that intent is for God to tell his people (then and now): "You were nothing and I made you something; You were not a people and I made you a people; you were enslaved and I set you free--now follow ME and no one/nothing else!" The bible is not scientific, but relational!
The point is a description of the kind of God we ought to worship--one who made heaven and earth and upholds them with his mighty hands, yet also desires us--and the kind of people whom we should be--servants of that God in whatever capacity we find ourselves. You can assume an historical Adam and Eve--or not--but the assumption that the Bible's primary concern is to accommodate our modern scientific and historical worldviews just might be the most destructive dimension of this whole argument.

February 9, 2013

There seems to be a mantra here:
In light of this "fact", we as Christians MUST cease to believe that there was an actual single first Man - Adam - specially created DISTINCT and SEPARATE from the beasts (Genesis 1).
On the contrary, there is much well documented evidence which calls into question the veracity of evolutionary theory on many points. So, since there is so much at stake theologically, you better show me time-lapse footage of a fish growing legs and crawling out of the ocean (a la Tiktaalik) while simultaneously "evolving" the capacity to breathe air. Until then I'll trust God's eyewitness account, and my understanding of Sin and Salvation will remain intact (Romans 5)

James Gilmore
February 10, 2013

The mantra actually seems to be "evolution is the theory that best fits the data." If the data is looked at objectively, without presupposing the pattern into which the data must be fit no matter how much twisting or bending of the data is required, that is the case.

Were six-day creationism a scientifically-valid theory, it would be able to provide a scientific explanation why human beings share so much DNA with, and why human beings carry the vestigial DNA of many of, those species of "beasts" to which the six-day creationists claim we are completely unrelated.

You claim "much well documented evidence" against "evolutionary theory"... can you provide citations to back that up that follow the standards and conventions of scientific inquiry (i.e., published by peer-reviewed and established scientific journals or presses)?

Moreover, I would suggest that a theology viewpoint that cannot stand up to objective scientific inquiry—the means by which we know and understand the natural world—is a weak theology. If your "understanding of Sin and Salvation" requires that certain things be scientifically true that are not only not supported by the evidence, but in fact are contradicted by it, then I'd suggest that your theology needs to develop an "understanding of Sin and Salvation" that can withstand more severe scrutiny.

February 10, 2013

Nature, Vol. 394, No. 6691, p. 313 (1998) © Macmillan Publishers Ltd.
"... among the top natural scientists, disbelief is greater than ever — almost total.
Research on this topic began with the eminent US psychologist James H. Leuba and his landmark survey of 1914. He found that 58% of 1,000 randomly selected US scientists expressed disbelief or doubt in the existence of God, and that this figure rose to near 70% among the 400 "greater" scientists within his sample [1]. Leuba repeated his survey in somewhat different form 20 years later, and found that these percentages had increased to 67 and 85, respectively [2].

In 1996, we repeated Leuba's 1914 survey and reported our results in Nature [3]. We found little change from 1914 for American scientists generally, with 60.7% expressing disbelief or doubt. This year, we closely imitated the second phase of Leuba's 1914 survey to gauge belief among "greater" scientists, and find the rate of belief lower than ever — a mere 7% of respondents."
So, the mainstream scientific community is by and large either atheist or agnostic. (A 2007 study showed basically the same thing) Therefore you would not expect scientific journals to spend much ink on any study which leads to the conclusion that there is a God. (Although there have been many peer-reviewed articles published in support of Intelligent Design http://www.discovery.org/a/2640)

On presuppositions: Studies of the origins of life cannot use the scientific method in the classic sense. They investigate events which cannot be repeated in the laboratory. It's a forensic study which seeks to piece together how things came to be as we see them now by examining the evidence available. Any such study must necessarily be carried out relying on a set of assumptions. Those presuppositions will largely determine the conclusions of the inquiry.

Since the bulk of scientists reject God, you would not expect them to come at the evidence from a biblical or theistic viewpoint (that is why the notion of "intelligent design" is anathema to evolutionists - it shoots holes in random mutation as the driving force behind the development of life and posits an intelligence instead).
Answers in Genesis, Institute for Creation Research, and the Intelligent Design movement all count credentialed scientists among their ranks. But they apply a different set of assumptions as they examine the evidence. The real question is: Whose assumptions are correct?

On theology:

I can't be sure whether you are a Christian, but if you are, and you reject an actual Adam and Eve based on a belief in Evolution, how do you account for humankind's sinful condition?
Was it the conscious choice of the first man, who was created perfect and sinless (Gen 1 - "very good" - high praise considering the source) to rebel against his Creator and thereby bring sin and death into the world, infecting all of humankind with hereditary total depravity (as is clearly taught in Scripture)?
Or did we inherit our sinful nature from the animals? That is: Did God "create" us sinful to start with?
Where does the blame for our sinfulness ultimately lie? With God or with us?
That is the crux of the issue.

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
February 11, 2013

These questions that you end with are exactly what we will be exploring as the series continues. Look for the next installment Friday.

James Gilmore
February 11, 2013

"Therefore you would not expect scientific journals to spend much ink on any study which leads to the conclusion that there is a God."

If the creationists' studies could actually demonstrate their theory by showing concrete evidence (not simply inference, but positive and affirmative evidence) of a guiding intelligence—in other words, if they actually had evidence strong enough to convince a skeptical scientist according to the rules of scientific inquiry—then I think they would find the publishing environment much more welcoming.

The fact that they have thus far proven incapable of doing so suggests to me that they are coming from a fundamentally un-scientific place; as a Christian, I think that's all well and good, but I don't pretend that my theology is science. Any theology in which belief in God is dependent on certain things being scientifically true had better be prepared to demonstrate that those things are true within the boundaries of scientific inquiry.

"The real question is: Whose assumptions are correct?"

Actual scientists have an answer for that: the assumptions about the pattern are proven correct or incorrect as new data comes in that either fits or doesn't fit with the pattern. If, as new data comes in, that data is wildly divergent from the pattern, then something about the theorized pattern must be off.

And as we get more and more new data, that data strongly supports the pattern suggested by evolutionary theory. For example, Darwin wrote The Origin of Species almost 100 years before Watson and Crick discovered the DNA molecule—and yet, as the author of this piece writes, the evidence we have in the DNA molecule supports the theory of evolution, as it shows evidence that we are related to the other animals of the world. The DNA we share with other animals is something that cannot be explained by those who suggest a fundamental discontinuity between animals and humans.

Tim Hendrickson
February 12, 2013

Perhaps I will be starting a bit of a firestorm when I admit that some if these questions do not hold my interest. It is enough for me to know that sin exists, that it is inescapable, and that we need to be forgiven for so many of the things we do, say, and think. I really could not care less whether that sin is a result of a real person or not. I should probably admit, though, for the sake of full disclosure, that I regard the creation narratives in Genesis as metaphorical.

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
February 12, 2013

The origin of sin really doesn't interest you, Tim? Even if you consider the Genesis creation narrative to be metaphorical, the arrival of sin on the scene still takes place within it. In metaphorical terms, what do you think that part of the story may have meant to communicate?

Tim Hendrickson
February 12, 2013

I think the arrival of sin in Genesis is a stylized way of introducing and explaining something that most humans innately feel--that we are constantly doing, saying, and thinking things we should not. On the other hand, I avoid questions about the origin of sin because they lead me to a very dark place, one which reveals a God who relies on sin, death, and pain to fulfill His own designs. That would be a very vain and manipulative God indeed, one in which I could not believe. So I suppose I was wrong to say that the questions do not interest me. Perhaps I should have said that I avoid them because I'm not sure I will like the answers.

February 12, 2013

This strikes me about your comment:
You say that contemplating the origin of sin reveals "a God who relies on sin, death and pain to fulfill His own designs".
But this conclusion can only be reached by adhering to the evolutionary paradigm. As I previously made clear, if evolution is true, God built sin, death, etc into Creation, and in fact He did use it to "fulfill His own designs". Furthermore, the blame for our sinfulness ultimately is laid at God's feet in that system. That is a dark place, and a dark God - not the God of Scripture.
The God of Scripture is perfect. He created us in a state of sinlessness - Adam did not inherit a sinful nature from the animals. Adam was not sinful until he sinned. And we all inherit that sinful nature from him. Sin is our (humankind's) fault, not God's. Study Romans, and you will see how a metaphorical reading of Genesis dismantles the theology of the Cross.
Putting the blame for the origin of sin where it belongs - where the Bible puts it - will keep you out of that dark place and bring you into the light of the glory of His Truth.

Tim Hendrickson
February 13, 2013

You may be right, 2, but I cannot make myself believe something by sheer force of will. The evolutionary view makes more sense to me, so I must view Adam as metaphor and struggle with the consequences of that view.

February 15, 2013

I’m popping into this conversation a little late. I’m commenting on this article and it’s comments after having read the following article by Alvin Plantinga. But one question that seems to reoccur in this present article (and comments) has to do with the condition of human sin, as though this could not have happened apart from an original fall (of Adam and Eve) into sin, which from that point on has spread to all of humanity. This seems rather logical to the Christian mind, but to those who reason to conclusions apart from the Bible, such thinking is rather bazaar and unrealistic. A better explanation and one that fits well with the theory of evolution is the “survival of the fittest.” A phrase coined by Herbert Spencer to support the idea of evolution, it also explains why people tend most often to be self-centered. Even as all of life (there are exceptions) wants to survive, animals and humans make dramatic efforts at self preservation. Christians have come up with the notion of sin and its offence against God, but the reality of this idea of “sin” is just the lengths that some (most) people will go to in order to survive, get ahead, be the most liked, and be the last one standing. It was true of the animal world long before the advent of the human race and has continued on with humans. That makes a lot more sense than a fall of an supposed Adam and Eve.

Steve Westover
February 18, 2013

I am a Christian and I believe the Bible to be the wholly and inerrant word of God, complete and without error. Do I believe the creation account as written in Genesis- yes. Do I believe in evolution- I believe it is credible and I believe there is evidence to support it BUT I believe in evolution with in a species not in all life came from a single cell, but I also marvel at the complexity of life and believe the experts who tell me the mathematical improbability that this complexity can be reduced to chance. I also belive the scripture that says Gods wisdom is sooo much higher than ours. In other words take the smartest person who ever lived or will live and they are fools compared to God. What does this tell me- it tells me science hasn't caught up with God yet.

Darryl Stringer
February 26, 2013

Adrian: This fits in well with a book by Peter Enns that I've just finished reading. It's called "The evolution of Adam". He basically reinforces what you're saying, and suggests that the account of Adam and Eve fits into the story of Israel, not the history of the entire human population.

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