Adam and the Genome: Some Thoughts from Denis Alexander

(system) #1
Our task is to ask how science and Christian theology might generate an integrated account of human origins. If all truth is God’s truth, as Christians believe, such a task should surely be possible.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Albert Leo) #2

"There are many versions of such models. It should be noted that all of them assume human evolution is necessary for our big frontal lobes, our language, our consciousness, and our capacity to pray and relate to God. However, this “kit” of human traits is necessary but not sufficient to have fellowship with God. For that, God’s own revelation of himself is necessary, for fellowship with him depends on grace. It has always been so, and continues so to the present day."

Dennis, you have provided some excellent insights in your review of the book, Adam & the Genome. I have it on order and am anxious to read it. In my own amateurish preparation to lead an adult Confirmation Class on the subject of Science & Religion, I ‘stumbled upon’ two rather disparate pieces of information that (if both prove to be solidly factual) can shed a great deal of light on this problem or dichotomy of human ancestry as posed by (1) Genesis, and by (2) genetics. I would greatly appreciate your input on the brief resume below:

A few noted anthropologists have interpreted recent archeological discoveries as strong evidence that modern human behavior (art, music, belief in an afterlife as evidenced by grave goods, and sophisticated language) appeared on the scene rather suddenly. To contrast this observation with what one would expect from Darwinian evolution, which proceeds in tiny steps with no direction, Jared Diamond coined the phrase, The Great Leap Forward. This was adopted by some (but not all) of the leading anthropologists; e.g. Ian Tattersall, Simon Conway Morris, and, surprisingly, Richard Dawkins.

The second bit of information that I found germane was that a human requires less than 10% of his/her brain cells to operate effectively in modern society, IF the cells died off gradually (through hydrocephalus) after being properly ‘programmed’ early in life. In other words, the four-fold increase in primate brain size during the past three million years was an exaptation–i.e. small changes useful enough to warrant maintenance, but resulting in a potential waiting to be utilized. Using the very apt metaphor of computer intelligence, we can propose that God used evolution to build the computer hardware (brain neurons) that rivaled or even exceeded the IBM Watson. When he saw that the Homo sapiens species was ready (some 150,000 years after it first appeared), he ‘arranged for’ an epigenetic change to ‘program’ such a brain to operate as Mind. It would take just one such Homo sapiens (i.e. Adam) or just a few, to invent language which would then ‘program’ the brains of others who were not necessarily close kin. Thus, acting much like an atomic chain reaction, Humankind appeared suddenly on this earth.

Do you think this scenario is worth further scientific investigation? That is, to behave as a human, it is necessary, but not sufficient, to belong to the species, Homo sapiens. Human behavior also requires the brain circuitry to be ‘programmed’ as Mind. As you suggest in the quote I chose, for a human to make a true covenant with his Creator, this programmed Mind may still require His Revelation.
Al Leo

(Albert Leo) #3

In praising "Adam & the Genome". Marguerite Shuster, Fuller Theological Seminary, points to a target audience I think very important when she writes: The dismal history of Christian opposition to the relatively assured results of scientific discovery, and the impact on intelligent, scientifically savvy young people of what may appear to them to be a failure (in the past) by Christians to face facts,……"
Al Leo

(Albert Leo) #4

Scot McKnight, in the section “Which Adam & Eve are we talking about?” (p. 106), makes some interesting point about using the adjective, Historical, to precede Adam & Eve. Scott lists seven points that could be implied when that adjective was employed:

  1. two actual persons named Adam & Eve existed suddenly as a result of God’s creation;
  2. those two persons have a biological relationship to all human beings alive today;
  3. their DNA is our DNA, and that often means:
  4. those two sinned, died, and brought death into the world (fallen Adam & Eve);
  5. those two passed on their sin natures to all human beings, which means:
  6. without their sinning and passing on that sin nature to all human beings, not all human beings would be in need of salvation;
  7. therefore, if one denies the historical Adam, one denies the gospel of salvation
    [NOTE: emphasis as in original, but slightly shortened]

I found it worthwhile to examine how these seven points could be applied to the Adam & Eve I hypothesized in my previous post (above) wherein they, as the first humans were the first Homo sapiens to have the neural circuitry in their brains ‘programmed’ into Mind.

First of all, humanity as evidenced by programmed Mind, could have first appeared in either sex, male or female, young or old, and spread through newly-learned language to kin and non-kin alike. Archeological as well as Scriptural evidence points to the Mideast as the location that this occurred sometime about 40 K to 50 K years ago. (Some consideration should be given to the possibility that some Homo sapiens had previously migrated to Asia, and the same ‘programming’ mechanism operated there with slightly altered results arising from the different experiences arising from the different ecological influences.)

So, returning to Scott’s seven points, my hypothesis seems compatible with the first three: Humanity, as defined by behavior in addition to genes , appeared suddenly and in just one or just a few of the thousands of Homo sapiens present on earth at that time. Our DNA is the same as those H.s. who preceded this watershed event. Point #4 would have to be rewritten to convey the idea that this event that made us human made us moral agents capable of disregarding our newly acquired consciences, and thus capable of Sin. Biological Death was an integral part of Life since its very beginning, but Spiritual Death, refusal of God’s invitation to act as a creature made in His Image, was now possible.

Point #5 is OK. In passing down their biological natures (with its intrinsic selfishness) our ancestors passed on the proclivity for Sin. Points #6 & #7 just call for a different view of Salvation. To be the creatures God wishes us to be, we need to rise above our evolution-directed selfishness, and this was impossible without His direct intervention.

Am I kidding myself that this hypothetical story of Adam & Eve is compatible with Christian belief? I hope not.
Al Leo