Reaching out through Adam


(Peaceful Science) #1

And this is quite relevant. What is at question here for me is not how I see these questions, but how others see them. In particular, how do those farthest from my position see these questions? How do I build bridges of understanding with them? I have to see things first from their perspective, even if I disagree.


Adam, Eve and Population Genetics: A Reply to Dr. Richard Buggs (Part 1)
Adam, Eve and Population Genetics: A Reply to Dr. Richard Buggs (Part 1)
(Tim) #3

Thanks Josh, I figured that was what you were up to :slight_smile:

I do think though that in the spirit of being honest, we not let those areas science “cannot speak to” be presented as free ranges for anyone’s speculations to be granted plausibility. Science cannot say whether there are meatballs orbiting Jupiter. But that hardly gives one license to believe there are culinary goodies in orbit of distant planets.

There is an issue of epistemology here. Just because you can shoehorn in an Adam & Eve by positing a completely unnecessary and unlikely truncation of thousands of homo sapiens down to 2 then back up again, while the other non-sapien classed humans persisted in large number, doesn’t mean you have good warrant for doing so. By the time you’ve pulled at and stretched and pleaded your way to such a scenario, you’re probably better served at that moment to reconsider the genre of Genesis 2-3. Just saying ;). Occam’s razor exists for a reason. It’s unfortunately become associated as belonging to the exclusive province of atheists critical of religion. But we all use it day in and day out else we fall into absurdity. If my train is late and I miss an important meeting, I could attribute it to signaling issues or passenger delays on one hand, or a vast government conspiracy aimed at subverting my life. Both are consistent with the evidence. But one of those scenarios invents a whole lot of unecessary and unlikely things. This is what I think the attempts to rescue a literal Adam & Eve do. Still, we need people out there doing what you do Josh. So thanks for that.


(Tim) #4

Josh,

Out of curiosity, I know that while you’re interested in olive branches to the YEC community, would it be fair to say that even with all the genetic preservation possible in interbreeding non-sapien human populations, the migration timeline we have of Homo sapiens across the world precludes a bottleneck to 2 within any relevant times for YEC? To say nothing of (and I may not have a full grasp of the genetic implications here) Y-MRCA & mt-MRCA?


(Peaceful Science) #5

Good question. It is not possible to imagine a single couple bottleneck of Homo sapiens in YEC timeline consistent with the evidence. This, however, is where a genealogical Adam becomes much more important. If we separate the definition of theological “human” from Homo sapien, and allow for interbreeding, we can see a single couple origin of “human” (as we understand it in theology today).

This is why I am so insistent that we use extreme care with the term “human” in scientific claims. There is no agreement in theology or science how to define this term, and theologians have legitimate autonomy to use the term as it suits them in theology.


I also emphasize that YEC is a very diverse group, and they are motivated by a wide range of concerns. Depending on what group we are talking about, they are going to take different paths forward.

Some (but not all!) are motivated by opposition to evolution in any form. This group is not going to be pleased with anything we can offer, but we can press them on why they root their faith this way. I find the Gospel is very unsettling for the anti-evolution worldview. At the core of it, if they are to follow Jesus, they have no choice but to accept Christians that affirm evolution as family. The same goes the other way too; we have no choice but to accept them. Living obedient to that radical acceptance of the “other” is one way we submit our lives to the truth of the Gospel.

Others (much more common) are motivated by their reading of Genesis, and they are not convinced by the hermeneutical paths often offered to harmonize Scripture with evolution. For some, they feel the need to take Genesis 1-11 as “history.” For this group, I am not sure that an Adam back 500 kya is going to do much good. However a genealogical Adam could allow an essentially literal reading of Genesis, with an Adam as recent as 10 to 6 kya.

Others (who are not generally YECs) are strongly motivated by their reading of New Testament theology. There are three references to Adam made by Paul (Romans, I Cor, Acts) that indicate that (1) he saw Adam as real person in our past, (2) ancestor of us all, and (3) this was theologically important. For entirely sensible reasons, they are uncomfortable with the argument that “Paul was wrong about Adam, but right about Jesus.” For this group, some may be drawn to a single couple origin (no interbreeding) 500 kya, or alternatively to a recent genealogical Adam. This will probably come down to the relative importance of disallowing interbreeding (not really a historical dogma) vs. maintaining the Genesis timeline.

This last point is important. A genealogical Adam allows a far more literal and concordist reading of Genesis than even Reasons to Believe takes. Some will look down on that, but others will see this as “consilience”. I find it to be an intriguing option that has been under considered, and calls into question a great deal of work over the last several decades.

As just one example, “mankind” and “man” in Genesis is the word “Adam” in Hebrew. Some have taken this as clear evidence that Genesis is figurative. An alternate (and far more traditional) reading is possible too, where we define the mankind of scripture as the descendants of Adam. In this sense, Scripture is given to the descendants of Adam, who are so thoroughly defined by their descent from that they are called “Adams.” Which reading is correct? This may be more defined by presuppositions than hermeneutics.

For those convinced that this is a figurative text, I’m puzzled by their certainty. Even taking ANE into account, how do we know that it wasn’t an prophetic revision of the creation myths of their neighbors? We already see examples in Scripture of additional meaning given in texts beyond what the original author’s intended. Ultimately, we do not really even know the original author’s intent. The references by Paul to Adam should give everyone some pause to taking a purely figurative view, especially because science does not rule it out. In the words of CS Lewis, why couldn’t Genesis be a myth that “became” true? Why could it not be a product of that time (in the genre of ANE), but also inspired by divine knowledge of a real history of theological significance? Perhaps it is just figurative, but given the full context, I do not understand the certainty sometimes asserted here.

Any how, there is quite a bit of information here, and I hope this isn’t too off topic. Ultimately, I’ve found that there are people of peace in the YEC community looking to build bridges. We do well to build bridges where we can. If there is a way to preserve theology important to then, we should obliged. Maybe they will ultimately be right on some key point. The conversation is enriched by diversity.

Maybe. However, in my experience, the right response is to ask the question instead of presume there is no answer. I’d ask why they find such a scenario the most warranted. We find out interesting things from such questions.

Of course, they may not have good warrant. Or they might actually see something we missed. We won’t know until we create a safe context for others to explore and contemplate, free from harassment.

Sometimes we can gain a great deal by backing of what we think is the “right answer” is, and wonder alongside other people with their questions. Sometimes there is beauty in another person’s perspective, but we miss it if we can’t ever pause at see it from their point of view. Maybe they are wrong. But honest, maybe we are wrong too. There is an opportunity for a conversation. We could enter in.


(Tim) #6

Thanks Josh, but with respect to the notional idea of a “genealogical Adam” who would be genetically indistinguishable from any other homo sapien but somehow the first “true” human that mattered and for whom only his descendants would likewise be considered “true” humans, you run into all sorts of incredible propositions. Such as the Native Americans who would have migrated over past 10KYA then not being “true” humans. If we can find any today of pure ancestry should we tell them they’re not truly “human”? Or what of the Aboriginal Australians? And others? This seems on its face a little absurd don’t you agree?

As far as literal vs figurative for Genesis 1 or 2-3, neither of those categories really map well onto the ANE world. They’re more modern categories of literature that we should be careful of forcing upon ANE texts. Genesis 2-3 seems most closely aligned to an etiological story. Why is there chaos in the world? Why is there death and pain? It could be in part a theological argument in that same mode in opposition to other cultures’ explanations employing other mythic events or narratives. Or it could be an attempt at such an explanation in it’s own right. Or something in between. That said, I worry that going too far down that rabbit hole could get a tangent for this thread. But I do want to clarify though that the genre I was suggesting wasn’t “figurative.” I don’t think most ANE scholars would see it that way.

In any event, I like you, prefer open dialogue and engagement rather than exclusion or marginalization. As long as it’s acompanied by intellectual honesty and transparency. So I enjoy this conversation :slight_smile:


(Jon) #7

The quote I provided was explicit about his sympathizing with the YEC community. I didn’t lift the quote out of that context, the quote stated that directly.

Of course I intended to include that in my section. The point I am making is that I provided a quotation saying we should find ways to interpret the science in a manner harmonious with YEC beliefs, and you gave the impression that the quotation was actually talking about something else.

You don’t have to read the entire post in order to know that “Honestly, I think it would be really great if we could find a way for YEC time scale to work with the evidence without abusing. I’m rooting for them” actually means “Honestly, I think it would be really great if we could find a way for YEC time scale to work with the evidence without abusing. I’m rooting for them”. Shifting the focus away from this quotation to a discussion of his motivation for this quotation, doesn’t change the meaning of the quotation.

My point is that in doing the latter, he is going to facilitate the former. And I’ll repeat my previous point. The reason why a 6,000 year ago Adam is so important to YECs is that it underpins their entire theology. In order for that theology to work, their Adam must be a de novo creation, must be the universal progenitor of the entire human race, and must have lived no more than 6,000 years ago (though that mythical date is becoming increasingly stretched). This is hopelessly unsupportable, both theologically and scientifically. We cannot offer them scientific support for the Adam that they want. Even scientific evidence for a homo sapiens bottleneck as little as 100,000 years ago, is not going to do anything to support that.

I fail to see how telling YECs “I have great news, science cannot rule out out the possibility that the human population didn’t dip down to two individuals in the last 500,000 years, as long as we use a definition of “human” which includes not only homo sapiens but several of their ancestor species, and as long as we accept evolution as a fact”, is going to offer them anything but false, hollow hope. Giving them the impression that they can have a 6,0000 year old Adam which is like their Adam, when in fact the Adam you’re providing is not like their Adam at all, is just a bait and switch.

I would be a lot more happy with the idea of going to YECs with the statement “The Adam you want is theologically and scientifically impossible, but let me show you why theologically that doesn’t matter, and how the science supports an Adam which is theologically sound”. Encouraging them to hold onto the Adam they have and want, is not going to help them. Sooner or later they need to face the uncomfortable truth that they are wrong. This is something everyone has to face in their lives at some point. It’s just part of being a mature human being.


(Jon) #8

I think the term “missionary” was being used with the sense of “someone who introduces people to a new idea” rather than “someone who helps convert non-Christians into Christians”. I would say most YECs are Christians of some sort, if we’re fairly liberal about the definition of “Christian”. I would say that some aren’t.


(Jon) #9

Well that’s great, I look forward to seeing how you’re going to do that.

I agree.

I agree with that as well. I am actually one of the people for whom the common solutions offered by TE / EC Christians are unsatisfying. Remember, I’m someone who believes in a historical Adam and Eve who really did live in the last 10,000 years (though I don’t believe they were the first humans who ever existed, or that they were the universal ancestors of every human who has ever lived). I’m far more conservative in my understanding of Genesis 3 than a lot of people here. I don’t believe it’s Genesis 3 is a non-historical allegory, metaphor, parable, myth (in the common non-technical sense), or spiritual tale.

Of course it doesn’t. That wasn’t in dispute.

I agree. We can do that by first requesting the evidence for the hypothesis. When that arrives, we can test it. To date, it has not arrived.

This isn’t in dispute either.

But once you start moving to the distant past, you have abandoned the proposed model.


(Peaceful Science) #10

That is a common misunderstanding.

  1. First, aboriginal Australians and Native Americans would also descend from Adam. It only takes a few thousand years for ancestry to become universal. Surprising but true. Have a paper coming out PSCF detailing this. Its well accepted in population genetics.

  2. Second, even if they did not descend from Adam, that does not make them less “human” in a biological sense. They could still be in the Image of God and have souls,e tc. It just means they are not descendants of Adam, and perhaps are not affected by the fall in the same way as us.

In general, I oppose the use of the term “human” in these conversations without qualification. I would not say “true” humans versus “not-true” humans. Rather, I would just say that those before Adam were “human” in a different way than us. They were biologically like us, and were likely in God’s Image and with souls. However, they were also in a different theological era than us, and therefore had a different theological status. It is possible that descent from Adam brought us into a new theological era by way of descent from him. The point here is that “mankind” in Scripture (literally “adams”) is a distinct concept from the taxonomic category of Homo sapiens. Equivocating the two just creates confusion.

The real question is whether a coherent theology of the fall can be developed. I’d say that several theologians think the answer is “yes,” and that this might be a game changer in their context. I think there could be a great deal of consilience with this approach.

But I am saying something different. I’m saying we should read other’s points of view as sympathetically as possible, and do what we honestly can to accommodate their values. There is just no reason for instigating conflict where it does not exist. There is plenty of places of real difficulty, so we need not invent difficulty where it does not exist.

That is all I mean when I said:

Honestly, I think it would be really great if we could find a way for YEC time scale to work with the evidence without abusing. I’m rooting for them”

And, in fact, that is what I think a genealogical Adam does on several key points (but not all). So why not present science in a manner that is most welcoming to their point of view?

It is fun. =). The invitational rhetoric ends up being more effective in the end too.


(Jon) #11

I don’t know how many times I need to say I agree with this. But this honesty requires telling them that they can’t have the Adam they want.

But we can’t make the YEC time scale work with the evidence in a way which gets them the Adam they want, and we need to be direct about that.

How many times do I need to say that we should present science in a manner which is most welcoming to their view? The issue I have is when that shifts to prioritizing “most welcoming to their view”, over being honest with the facts.


(Tim) #12

I take your point on how quickly universal ancestry can spread. However, what I was driving at were populations geographically isolated from interbreeding with others. It may be the Aboriginal Australians would be our best bet for that. And one would then have to posit, what, that they were some “different” type of human throughout potentially most of human history until someone comes along on a boat and has liaisons with a daughter in one of their tribes and the community over the course of a few generations becomes a “different” type of human? No differences genetically or ostensibly behaviorally. But it’s there “theologically.”

This seems very much like the Seventh-day Adventist rationalization following the “Great Disappointment.” It’s not that the prophesy was wrong since it completely failed to manifest on earth, it’s only that it all happened in heaven and you can’t say it didn’t because you can’t observe what happens in heaven can you? No you can’t, I win and I’m going home :wink:

Now, on to tone and rhetoric and all that. I think what you’re doing does have a place and is useful. However, my own immediate surroundings deal more with people who are more concerned with evading issues when challenged, but more than comfortable preaching when not, than feeling misunderstood or not given their fair chance to be heard out. That’s why, for instance, I think it’s important to ask Richard about whether the evidence presented thus far rules out a 10KYA ancestral bottleneck to 2. Since he’s been reluctant to say anything to contradict YEC doctrine, a small amount of holding one’s feet to the fire to give an honest answer may not be the worst thing in the world.


(Peaceful Science) #13

This is much less problematic than biologically different types of "human (e.g. Homo sapiens and Neanderthals) interbreeding.

Once again, language here creates problems where there is none. How about still “human” before and after, but now in a different theological era, because they are now under the fallen headship of Adam. There need not be a theological problem here, but it does depend on the full theological system invoked. That is all under development, so it is premature to make judgements at this time.

The God we find in the Bible is making theological distinctions all the time, and the word “human” is not in Genesis. Rather it is “adams” of which Genesis speaks. It is not unreasonable to think that Genesis is telling us the origin of adams from Adam. The fact that we translate this to “human” and “mankind” in our heads may just be confusing everyone. Maybe. In this reading, adams were a subset of Homo sapiens during Genesis, but become everyone by the time of Paul (or earlier). Scripture (and the Gospel) is given to all us adams, so it’s not surprising that we conflate this with “human.” That is a perfectly fine mistranslation for the present, but might fall apart in the distant past.

So all we really need is a willingness to wonder why God might make a distinction between Adam’s descendants and others. That is where things get most interesting, and are least considered. Give it time. =)


(Phil) #14

When I read this, it reminded me of the idea that Adam and the Genesis account is centered on the ancestors of Israel and their immediate neighbors, and perhaps does not have the same application to the people of Australia and South American natives, until that time that the headship of Adam and Abraham was applied to all, and as expressed in Galatians, all those of faith became children of Abraham, and thus now fall under the headship of Adam if your interpretation leads you that way. That would be of course a spiritual rather than genetic or even genealogical connection, but is consistent with how the Bible uses the connection in Galatians3:
7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”[d] 9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.


(George Brooks) #15

@tallen_1,

I think @Swamidass was saying to “drop” the “human” distinctions - - which I interpret to mean drop the “True Human” vs. “Non-True-Human” nomenclature as well.

The scenario that seems most successful is the one where Adam & Eve are created to carry a special influence to rest of the “existing population”. Most likely, this is a “human couple” amidst a pre-existing population that is also human.


(Phil) #16

Interesting in that while watching a video referenced on another thread about Newbigin, the speaker discusses what makes a “missionary act” and seeing things through the other culture’s perspective is an integral part of that, relevant to what we see in this case.


(Wookin Panub) #17

I do not question theistic evolutionist salvation, but there can be NO built bridges. Evolution goes against the very character and nature of God that we see in scripture. To accept evolution will turn scripture on it’s head. That is just not acceptable to us.


(Phil) #18

Unfortunately, your views are probably common in the YEC community. However, there are many who either have left that community or who are on the outskirts of it who may remain in the fellowship of Christ if feel they can do so without losing integrity. Also, it also reminds us that while we may hold to one view or the other, we are frail and broken humans who do not have all the answers, and should look at these things with humility.


(Wookin Panub) #19

And I feel sad for them. Because there is nothing more peace filled and liberating in spiritual growth then knowing one can ultimately trust ALL of the word of God. Furthermore there is nothing more humbling to me then putting aside my own pride, my own understanding, my own logic and intuition and receiving God’s word and wisdom as ultimate truth. You think I don’t struggle at times with the age of the earth, because it was ingrained in me since I was a child. So then scriptural authority shifts my presupposition that God’s word is true, and even if I were wrong. The safest bet will still be the word of God. I would rather be a fool for Christ than a fool for man.


(George Brooks) #20

@Wookin_Panub,

Your adamant comments have all the music of a zealot’s intractability. How could you possibly be so sure?

Do you agree that God sometimes uses evaporation to make it rain? I would hope so.

So how is it that you can only imagine God making humans with a >POOF<, and would never ever use genetics to intercede at one time or another?

If God would leave all this Geological information to show us how old the Earth is (which you have to admit is odd to say the least, right?), then don’t you think it’s premature to conclude that God would never use genetics and natural selection to work his miraculous ways?


(Phil) #21

That is the direction I am leaning. If you look at Genesis, and the descendants of Adam and later of Noah, it seems to relate to Israel, rather than the global earth. We tend to think of earth as the planet, but that was nowhere near what the original author believed. Here is a definition from an Adventist publication that seems appropriate:
https://spectrummagazine.org/article/brian-bull/2012/11/11/genesis-account-six-hebrew-words-make-all-difference
•’eretz: land (1543 times in KJV), earth (712 times), country (140 times), way (3 times), ground.

To follow Tyndale and translate ’eretz as “earth” is to mislead the modern-day reader into pic­turing “Planet Earth,” for this is what the word “earth” inevitably conjures up for us in the con­text of a cosmology. As before, what Tyndale could get away with (without doing injustice to the Hebrew text) is no longer possible for us. “Land”—the most frequently used English equivalent for ’eretz—is much less likely to mislead. This, however, is not merely land as in real estate, but also (and often) land as in “promised land” or “land of Israel” (’Eretz Israel is now the state of Israel).

To look at it in that perspective makes a difference in how you look at the creation and flood accounts.