Adam, Eve, Human Genetics, and the Collapse of a Fundamentalist Worldview
For quite some time here we’ve been following the (dominantly American) social controversies of Evolution and how that unifying theory of biology interacts with social beliefs and practices, how those beliefs and practices are changing, and the resistance to the modern scientific worldview‡ by elements of society.
In the recent past there has been simmering another wrinkle, nay, maelstrom in the intersection of biology and religion and it is simply this: the non-existence of a physical Adam and Eve is (according to fundamentalist theists) catastrophically, terminally, disastrous to the entire Christian religion.
The problem the fundamentalists face today is brought to fore by the latest issue (June 2011) of Christianity Today (CT), in an article titled “The Search For The Historical Adam” [online preview.] The CT article references the recent work of the Biologos foundation in attempting to reconcile modern biology with Christianity.
Before we go any further in dealing with that CT article and its topic, for those wanting a background on human genealogy and genetics one might as well start with the Wikipedia entry on the subject, which even though (as commonly the case) is a battleground of different ideologies around this topic does at the minimum provides an outline for the novice for a field of science which has grown very quickly into a vast enterprise†.
The point of directing you to that wiki entry with its numerous elements and topics is this: From many different lines of reasoning in the field of human genealogy the conclusion is that the modern human population did not, could not have, come from just two Homo sapiens individuals. Not just not coming from two people 6000 years ago, but not two people ever.
Now back to the religious controversy as covered by Christianity Today. The CT article does not delve into the scientific issue of genetics and human genealogy but it does describe some of the fallout of evangelical academics (such as Tremper Longman III, or Bruce Waltke) who, after agreeing with the scientific consensus, discovered that they had to change academic institutions to continue their profession, or who are under pressure at their current institution for running afoul of their denomination’s doctrinal stance.
At the Biologos website Darrel Falk writes a summary essay (BioLogos and the June 2011 “Christianity Today” Cover Story) which briefly covers recent postings at Biologos that deal with Adam and Eve and the discovery that our human ancestry can not be derived from only two parents, or as Falk puts it:
[W]as there a historical Adam and Eve?
Science makes it abundantly clear, we believe, that God has created through an evolutionary process and that there was never a time when there were just two individuals on earth [emphasis added].
Falk’s article has links to some of the relevant Biologos entries that contribute to that answer.
One doesn’t have to imagine how the fundamentalists will respond because within hours of the publication of Falk’s online essay our old friend and YECer Ken Ham jumped on the publication of the CT cover story: I Agree with the Atheists!
Ken states his and the orthodox fundamentalist belief thusly:
Yes, Adam was a real man—the first man and a literal Adam. To say otherwise is to undermine Scripture and thus attack the Word, which is an attack of the person of Jesus Christ, Who is the Word.
Which is nothing new, of course. I suspect though that many readers may not be aware of how devastating the non-existence of (concurrently existing) physical Adam and physical Eve is to the fundamentalist worldview.
When Ham states “undermine Scripture” he is not just referring to Genesis. The fundamentalists requirement for a physical Adam and Eve isn’t based just on a young-earth belief system, for old earth creationists, who gladly accept the age of the Earth and the existence of geological ages, also require a physical Adam and Eve in their worldview.
Indeed, Ham finishes his little article with a series of Bible quotes, the majority of which not only come from the NT but from the Pauline writings.
Thus Ham (and the other literalists) are objecting to science showing that the chief theologian of the early Christian church and putative author of the majority of the NT after the Gospels, Saul/Paul of Tarsus, was just in error with respect to human origins and thus the existence of original sin.
With no original sin one doesn’t have a need for a sacrifice (at least on the order of Jesus’ crucifixion.)
Thus the whole house comes tumbling down, in the view of Ham and the rest of the fundamentalists. ※
Ham quotes some atheists from atheists.org, which expand on this problem of origin sin and the existence of Adam. That is why Ham chose the title for his essay, because he uses the atheists’ summary of Christian fundamentalists’ beliefs to bolster his view that this is indeed the catastrophic problem for Christianity. Talk about an echo chamber!
Now, Falk and his collaborators at Biologos are attempting to avert this theological disaster. Falk himself proposes a “Federal headship” model of humanity, whereby he can keep the fallen nature of man while accepting the genetic reality that science presents.
The “Federal Headship” model that accepts the scientific findings while at the same time holding to the historicity of a real first couple has not yet been carefully worked out by theologians. The reason that we haven’t had many articles of that sort is because we haven’t been able to identify theologians who are looking at the question from that perspective.
Personally I doubt that Falk will be able to find theologians bright enough to somehow create this “Federal headship” doctrine, simply because it is a forced conclusion. It probably could be done if someone worked hard enough at it, but as Falk later admits the problem today is that current theologians either fall into the fundamentalist camp or, what Ham would label, the “liberal” camp. (Though Ham’s ascription of that term to Biologos no doubt confuses the issue, because the Biologos group is still decidedly evangelical Christian in formal declaration✜ and is at odds with those who call themselves Christian but gladly accept that Pauline theology is flawed because Paul was simply a man of his times and thus limited in his own knowledge of human origins, knowledge that would come 19 centuries later.)
I am no theologian (though I will play one on the internet when needed), but may I suggest for any Christian out there that a modern interpretation of the NT, an interpretation which accepts that the Bible is a work of men and includes the views of the times of its authors, does not totally replace the person who is named “Jesus” (and is labeled “the Christ”)? What does have to go by the wayside is the concept of “hell” as being an active judgement for “original sin”, since indeed there would be no original sinner. This ties together the two hot buttons on the American Christian doctrinal stove: Hell, and Evolution. If one absolutely needs a “Hell” then I suppose one will absolutely need an original sin. However, given the recent dust up over Rob Bell’s book on Hell it is pretty clear that the American evangelical and fundamentalist Christian communities aren’t ready yet to give up on their adherence to “Hell”.
The other option (for those who wish to keep Christian religious sentiments) is just to chuck both (Pauline) original sin and thus God’s need to judge it, accept that Paul was human and thus limited in knowledge and able to err, that Jesus was primarily concerned about how we treat each other and that he alone had the answer to the desire for life after death, and then get on with one’s life.
‡ By “modern scientific worldview” I mean simply the assertion that the nature of everything (including humans) can be tested by ever refined processes of observation and analysis. Certainly we humans are limited by our brain’s capacity to not being able to know everything about the universe, but we assert that anything and everything that physically exists in the universe is testable.
†For example, doing a Google Scholar search on “most recent common human ancestor” and including results only since 2010 yields over 17,000 hits.
※ This problem is not just limited to Christianity. See for example the latest entry on Islamic creationism in France:
In France, a Muslim Offensive Against Evolution about the influence of Harun Yahya. One young female Moslem is quoted:
But since January, the 55-year-old with a well-trimmed beard has launched a new campaign that is clearly targeting the Muslim faithful. Dressed in a traditional black robe decorated with rhinestones and a white veil that she wears “only” when she comes to the mosque, Maroua admits that she has always wondered about “the dinosaurs and the origin of man … but at school, it cannot be refuted: we’re taught that man descended from monkeys. At home and in the Koran, [we’re taught] that we descended from Adam and Eve, and that God created all living beings.”
Ali Sadun Engin, Yahya’s representative in the current tour of French mosques, seems to have convinced the young girl. “I find his explanations logical,” she says. […]
Though Moslems don’t have the same propitiation-doctrine problem that Christians face, the lack of an origin for humans and sin does cause some Moslems problem.
✜ For example, in their self description Biologos affirm:
We believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.
*** Edit on June 3, 2011 ***
CT finally posted the article in question in HTML format on their website: christianitytoday.com