Adam and the Genome: Some Thoughts from Ken Keathley

(system) #1
Is Scot McKnight correct that the term "historical Adam" needs to be radically rethought? Theologian Ken Keathley is skeptical.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Phil) #2

Thank you for a thought provoking review. I look forward to reading the book for myself. My thoughts on historical vs literal Adam at present seem to turn around the question of whether Adam had the capacity to be a moral agent, if he were created as an adult without social interaction and guidance. Not to mention how could he be a competent adult when you consider the complex neurologic development that must occur to get to that point.

For analogy, when I bought a computer system, I faced the question of whether to buy the hardware from one vendor, and the softwear from another, as you hear horror stories where one company blames the other and nothing gets done when problems arise. I elected to buy both from one vendor, so that when something goes wrong, I just say, “fix it.” In the case of Adam,if historical both the hardware and the software would be provided by God, which leads to the question of who is the responsible party when things go wrong. I find that answer troublesome.

(Albert Leo) #3

Hooray!!! These discussions are finally trending toward the simplistic (?) solutions that I have favored for some time. Thinking of the human brain as computer hardware and the human mind as this hardware made operative through the addition of operating system/programs is not just some diversionary metaphor–it is very close to factual. The current issue of Chemical & Engineering News (1/23/17; sorry no public link available) features Computational Chemistry as used in pharmaceutical discovery. This has been my field for 40+ years. They outline the developments in this field as Decision Trees-> Nearest Neighbors-> Neural Networks->Deep Learning. In terms of how close is the metaphor of comparing Machine Intelligence to Human Intelligence, there is already some use of molecular DNA as a replacement for silicon chips in massive memory banks.

I believe that God created the large-brained Homo sapiens through a mechanism commonly referred to as Darwinian evolution. This primate was quite remarkably complex, but like his contemporary Neanderthals, H.s. was incapable of making moral decisions. About 40 K yrs. ago, by some as yet unknown mechanism (very possibly epigenetic involving histone methylation) the neural circuitry in the H.s. brain was optimized to operate as Mind. This Great Leap Forward (GLF) allowed for making decisions based on morality not just animal instinct; i.e. according to the individual’s conscience. How many individuals were initially given this gift? There is no way of knowing for sure. It could have been just one, Adam, who invented a language that could communicate this Gift to his contemporaries, and they to others with an almost explosive speed comparable to the chain reaction of an atomic bomb.

Darwinian evolution had constructed the computer hardware, as God intended. We have yet to discover the mechanism by which he programmed that hardware into Mind.

Having lived through the race to keep my human intelligence ahead of computer intelligence, and finally admitting (like Gary Kasperov the chess master) that the computer will win out eventually, I could write a book relating that in the initial stages of the race (John Topliss’ Decision Trees) the human needed little help; for the next stage, the QSAR and Nearest Neighbors approach (Hansch & Fujita, then Tanimoto) the human had to be trained in mathematics and thermodynamics; for Neural Networks, advanced mathematics and computer programming was essential; and the final stage, Deep Learning, one merely(?) trains the computer to teach itself.

The bottom line outcome of the GLF is that humans could then form cooperative societies that quickly dominated all other forms of life on earth. The use of Mind allowed each individual to act morally and not just instinctively, but then the individual was also subject to the 'social conscience’ of the culture in which he/she lives. This, I believe, is at the core of much of the current conflicts in the world.
Al Leo

(Doug B) #4

Moses, or whoever authored Genesis, may not have had the same definition of “historical” as you and I do. At the time the Bible was written, history as we know it–the recording of the past for its own sake–did not exist. The epic or the annals of the self-aggrandizing kings were largely the genres of the day. If we see history in them, it’s of an accidental kind. It was the Israelites themselves that gave us this new genre that we recognize as “history”. They gave it to us in the recording of what Yahweh had done for them over the course of time. And the heart of Old Testament history is a call to remember their God who delivered them from Egypt and called their ancestor Abraham to himself. It is significant that the call to remember doesn’t name Noah or Adam. This in no way denigrates the first 11 chapters of the Bible unless we impose our own culture values on the text–a preference for, ahh, the historical.

(John Rood) #5

If it turns out Paul was thinking about a “historical” (or shall I say, single genetic father of humanity) Adam, but that the Holy Spirit has carried Paul along to say something that can be read as corresponding only to a literary Adam, then it seems like the exegetical debate going on here is one I’ve seen before. The question is: does what God says through Scripture have to correspond to what was in the human author’s head? If Malachi gives a prophecy that Elijah will return, and if Malachi was really thinking it will be Elijah himself, are we ok with saying that what God is saying through Malachi is just that John the Baptist is coming? Or are we so committed to human-authorial-intent that it forces us to believe that, in addition to John the Baptist, Elijah himself must still come? When I read Matthew 11:14 (NASB), I wonder if Jesus would say that literary Adam is scripture’s Adam “if you are willing to accept it”. To me it seems like this is the tension between the interpretive commitments of Scot and Ken.

(Jay Johnson) #6

Yes, and this points us to a typological interpretation of the passage, which was the common methodology of Christ and his apostles. The Pharisees’ literal hermeneutic caused them to expect the actual Elijah to return from heaven. Thus, they question John the Baptist about it (John 1:21), and he says that he is not Elijah, because he is not! The Scripture used Elijah as a type, a symbol, for John the Baptist.

The same is true with the Pharisees’ expectations of the Messiah. Their literal interpretation of prophetic Scripture caused them to expect an actual king to sit on the throne, destroy Israel’s enemies, and rule the world from Jerusalem. They sought a physical and political solution and kingdom, not the kingdom of God. Their misunderstanding of Scripture not only caused them to fail to see the Christ right before their eyes, it led to a whole spate of false messiahs and a disastrous war with Rome.

We should not repeat the Pharisees’ mistakes. Paul clearly says that he is using Adam as a type of Christ, just as Malachi used Elijah as a symbol for the forerunner of the Christ. The typological use that Paul makes of Adam does not require a literal understanding of Genesis. Just as Jesus interpreted Elijah as a symbol for John the Baptist, Paul interprets Adam as a symbol for the Second Adam, Jesus Christ. Whether or not Adam was a historical figure is beside the point.