Adam and the Genome: Introduction

A new book tackles the question of the "historical Adam" from the dual perspective of genetics and New Testament scholarship.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

By the way, Venema and McKnight are now confirmed to speak at the BioLogos Conference, Christ and Creation, in Houston March 29-31 on the topic of their new book. Check out the Conference Page, and consider joining us there!


I’ve registered along with my wife, and am especially excited to see a Pappadeaux restaurant just next door to the conference area. Oh, and the speakers. Especially the speakers. Should be fun as well as informational.

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One of the things I really enjoyed about the 2015 conference was meeting a number of people in person that I had only known online previously. It looks to be a great conference - very much looking forward to it.

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The Pappadeaux Restaurant is very good and the conference does sound like fun, but sadly I do not have the money to spend on “fun.” On the other hand if the conference lifts up the Logos of BioLogos and makes the point that God is not the God of the Gaps, but God of the Facts, then it will be worthwhile. God bless.

As far as what is note4d above, I would say that the story of the original couple is theological, rather than scientific. It explains how humans brought sin and its accompanying suffering and death on themselves through pride and rebellion.

Interesting enough the Western church tends to blame Adam and Eve for sin, suffering, and death through the transmission of Original Sin through sexual intercourse. The Eastern Church tends to downplay sin as evil actions and make it more the burden of physicality.

The story of original sin is a profound theological/philosophical truth of how humans chose to be evil in God’s good world. To reduce it to a scientific fact is to trivialize this truth.

Many Christians reconcile sin and evolution by saying that all humans are born sinful, the products of the evolutionary Selfish Gene. The is contrary of what the Bible says and a very dangerous heresy.

To reconcile the Original Sin and Bible with evolution we need to correct Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest.

Roger, I was vaguely aware that, even with the “New Synthesis”, Darwinian Survival of the Fittest did not tell the whole story, but it was your book and your posts on this forum that convinced me that cooperation in evolution was being so sadly neglected. So I entirely agree with the second portion of the quote above. However, if you have read my earlier posts, you realize that I believe that the Selfish Gene contribution to the mechanism of evolution does provide a logical explanation of why replacing the concept of Original Sin with Original Blessing is far from heresy, and, indeed, it resolves many of the problems discussed in this Forum and addressed in this new thread.

My approach to untying the Gordian Knot posed by this Adam and the Genome thread requires this postulate: The Homo sapiens genome is a necessary but NOT sufficient requirement to be considered Human. Behavior, not DNA, is crucial. A creature must be at least capable of behaving like us to be considered US. Upon meeting the natives of Tierra del Fuego for the first time, Darwin considered them “troubled spirits from another World”. Physically, they appeared to be human, but their behavior was so animal-like. When transported to Britain, Jemmy Button, York Minster, and Fuegia Basket quickly made the adjustment to modern society. Darwin could not have known of DNA and genomes, but when they showed they could behave as fully human, he could accept them as human.

When did the first Homo sapiens become human? For the first 100,000 years they lived much like their contemporaneous cousins, the Neantherthals. If transported back in time, we surely would have considered both species as close kin. But would we have considered them truly US? Who knows? But about 40,000 years ago (and relatively suddenly) Homo sapiens began burying their dead with provisions for an afterlife, they invented language and could communicate more effectively, they expressed deep feelings through art, scupture and music. Yes, we would accept those people as US.

Did that Great Leap Forward (contrasted to the evolutionary mechanisms, such a mutations, that are tiny and non-directional) come to be seen as Adam, the father of all humankind? Was some sort of epigenetic mechanism responsible? Was the large primate brain (clearly an EXaptation) just ready and waiting to be “programmed” to operate as a super computer? Evidently, when the circuits are optimized, we need less than 10% of the neurons in our brains to operate effectively in today’s society.

Perhaps these points are worthy of further discussion someday.
Al Leo


On the continuum, the gradient, of the idea of humans bearing sin (of any kind) from generation to generation, the Greek Orthodox tradition is one of the most forbearing ones.

Without becoming a Unitarian Universalist, or a Universalist of any kind, how are you going to secure a logical foundation even more tolerant and liberal than the Eastern Orthodox traditions about sin?

I can’t imagine how you intend to defend the idea that the Eastern Orthodox are heretical.

I (somewhat shamefully) admit I know very little about Eastern Orthodox traditions about sin, and I suspect from our previous posts, that I am pretty much in agreement with Universalist Unitarian principles. Furthermore I am very happy that heretics can no longer be burned at the stake. But as is evident from my very recent response to @Relates, I believe that an expanded view of evolution and recent findings in anthropology and archeology gives us every reason to discard the idea of Original Sin and to replace it with Original Blessing. Our preconceived ideas about God’s Perfection should not prevent us from believing that the evolutionary mechanism he chose to develop all life forms on earth has an element of selfishness in it. That is the Sin he wants us to overcome, and will reward us for doing so.
Al Leo


I’m certainly sympathetic to such a thought. I come from a very long and old branch of New England Universalism: the Rev. Paul Dean was one of the last prominent Trinitarians to advance the notion of Universalism. After he passed from the scene, it was increasingly Unitarians and Universalists trading compliments - - and ultimately led to the merger of the two denominations.

But that’s not going to get any traction with the Evangelicals. So I will continue to restrain the enthusiasm of my U.U. upbringing when discussing how to logically fit sin in with Evolution. Frankly, I think it’s all too obvious that there is nothing morally perfect about the natural state.

I saw a documentary about “savage birds” - - this was not its real title. But it showed various species and the behaviors of their young in the nest. In one species, it is standard procedure for the larger chicks to compete against each other… trying to shove each other out of the nest … Naturally the smaller ones are evicted soonest. And it continues to progress until there is only One Left Alive. <<< This upset me to no end in my youth… I was 48 at the time!

The natural world is a terrible place to put one’s heart in gear …


Do you have some thoughts about some bird species seem to have evolved where the parents produce more healthy chicks than they can raise - - and the dominant chick systematically eliminates his/her competition, by pushing them out of the nest or other inevitably fatal behaviors?

You would probably really be upset about cowbirds: They lay eggs in other species nests, and their young push the momma bird’s babies out.

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Exactly. I am upset by that. But I’m pretty sure @Relates would say that bird doesn’t really exist…

Cow birds and the like are termed nest parasites. Cuckoos exhibit the same behavior. In this clip a cuckoo has dropped an egg in a reed warbler’s nest, and you can watch the cuckoo chick tossing out the eggs of the reed warbler so it can get all the food. Pretty nasty design.

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So would an Intelligent Design supporter insist that God installed this behavioral design? He or she would have to, right? If the world is less than 10,000 years old, you can’t have humans created out of nothing … but expect evolution to take care of all the other creatures.

Theodicy is always a mess with these topics… but I.D. has to make it even harder to grapple with the issues…

Yes, I suppose so. And he would find obscure verses that suggest that God creates evil.

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