Thanks Dennis for this apposite response!
You bring to me memories of the comedy “The Englishman Who Went up a Hill but Came down a Mountain”:
When does a hill cease to be a hill and become a mountain?
There is no way to answer this question by geographical concepts like ‘heights’ or ‘reliefs’. It requires an act of definition coming from outside geography, and may be useful for human practical purposes: Nowadays, the UK Ordnance Survey generally defines a mountain as having a minimum height of 610 meters or 2,000 feet.
Something similar happens with the beginning of humanity: It cannot be established by genetic or other biological means. Humanity is mainly a community of living beings governed by moral rules and law. As such a community, humanity begins at the time when God endows Homo sapiens with the sense of law, and humans become responsible to Him and capable of sinning. This is the moment referred to in Genesis 2:16-17. My tenet is that we can ascertain when this occurs by finding vestiges revealing sense of law.
In this respect the following story may be of interest:
In January 2014 I organized in London an Interdisciplinary Seminar to discuss the question of the compatibility of the emerging results in evolutionary genetics and the Christian teaching on original sin and atonement. Richard Durbin accepted my invitation to present his results and participate in a panel. And Denis Alexander was also there.
On January 3rd Richard and I met for lunch with Peter Adams, who was supposed to moderate the Conference panel in the afternoon. Toward the end Peter asked to Richard whether it is possible to define sharply the moment when the species Homo sapiens begins. After pondering a bit Richard arose from his chair saying: “I will add a slide in my presentation for answering this”, and he left for the library. And this was the slide he added to close his presentation:
• From the point of view of biology, some units represent true discrete objects, others useful descriptive concepts:
–True objects: nucleotides, mutations, individuals
–Useful concepts: genes, species
• Compare to the relationship in geography between heights and contours as true physical measurements, and mountains as a useful concept.”
I remained amazed by the statement that ‘species’ is not a sharp biological concept but rather as fuzzy as the concept of ‘mountain’ in geography. This was the beginning of the “mental fight” that led to my Essay in BioLogos.
I became intrigued whether this view was supported by other authors, and soon discovered that Charles Darwin himself states in The Origin of the Species: “… I was much struck how entirely vague and arbitrary is the distinction between species and varieties.” However Darwin did not realize the crucial role of the elimination of intermediate varieties to the end of assigning rights. This may explain why he tends to use racist categories in describing Fuegians. In any case he overlooked a basic feature of Evolution. A bit the same like Einstein overlooked the fundamental role of Quantum Nonlocality in Physics.
In summary, I fully agree to your statement in #BioLogos2017: “when scientific evidence is strong we reexamine theological interpretation as general revelation is also of God.”
But we have the duty to give such a theological interpretation, if we do not want to slide in intellectual frivolity.
Like Francis Collins: “I feel for scientists who have to hide their faith at work, and hide their science at church.”
I think Denis Alexander is right: “there is no need to keep theology in a watertight box, in isolation from the materiality of the created order.” I myself try to act accordingly [see this Comment in Nature].