[Note: This is a multi-part series, of which this post is the Introduction.]
In this second post in a new series, dealing with the question of the historical Adam and Eve, I want to examine closely the supposed discrepancies between what science teaches and what the Bible says.
Let us start with the givens of cosmology, geology, biology and anthropology:
- The Universe is 13.7 billion years old, and started all at once with a “Big Bang”.
- The Sun and its Solar System did not form until about five billion years ago.
- To contain the elements they have, the planets surrounding the Sun, especially the inner ones, had to have been formed out of the nuclear deaths of the very first stars -- only such gigantic explosions could have formed the heavier elements which make up, for example, Earth, Venus, Mercury and Mars
- The Sun still has another five billion years in its starlife cycle before expanding as a red giant on its way to becoming a white dwarf, but its nuclear cycle will begin to wreak devastation on the Earth about 1.1 billion years from now, and will get only worse thereafter
- The Earth formed out of debris surrounding the coalescing sun, about 4.55 billion years ago
- Life began on Earth about seven hundred million years later, in the most primitive (prokaryotic, simple-cell) form
- Thereafter, some 1.7 billion years later, the first eukaryotic (complex cell) forms of life began to appear on Earth, with multicellular organisms following a short while thereafter
- In the process, cyanobacteria converted the oxygen-poor atmosphere of Earth to one with 21% oxygen -- which was deadly to anaerobic life exposed to it, but which was strictly necessary for all forms of aerobic life to evolve and develop -- e.g., all current plants and animals
- The first forms of such multi-cellular, aerobic life were aquatic; later, some 540 million years ago, aquatic forms became amphibious, and then land-based forms evolved about 60 million years afterward
- Note: this is not a smooth, continuous evolutionary process, as an outline form implies (compare the Cambrian Explosion)
- After the extinction of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago, mammalian life became predominant on the land surfaces of Earth, and some forms (whales, dolphins, etc.) returned to the sea
- The common ancestor of all primates appeared some sixty million years ago ("million years ago" = "Ma" = “Megaannum”).
- The common ancestor of gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans of the Homo class appeared some 13 Ma
- The species that became today’s gorillas split off from the common ancestor line some six to eight Ma
- Chimpanzees and the species that would become humans diverged some five to seven Ma, although other authorities fix the split at only about 1.5 Ma
- Homo sapiens as a species evolved some two hundred thousand years ago
- However, anthropologists note the transformation that occurred in homo sapiens some 30-35,000 years ago, when the Cro Magnon branch of the species (now called "Anatomically Modern Humans") appeared out of eastern Africa and migrated into Europe and Asia through the Middle East. This group was marked by their elaborate burials, with signs of belief in an afterlife, together with an advanced ability to create tools and marvelous artistic works (the Lascaux cave paintings)
- The first human civilizations in organized cities date from four to five thousand years ago, although archaeologists have discovered signs of habitation at Jericho much earlier
- Earlier forms of life were not capable of rational thought as such, which is a characteristic especially of man, and to a lesser degree in some animals; but only man has been known to practice religion (with some claiming that the trait is genetic)
- It also would appear that the earliest forms of homo sapiens were not so capable of comprehending their individuality, either -- consciousness may have evolved only with the growth of language, via displacement and metaphor (Jaynes)
- The latest genetic studies show that the present population of modern humans evolved from a parent group (evolutionary bottleneck) of between 7 to 10,000 individuals -- and certainly not a single pair, as told in the first chapters of Genesis
These are the core facts of Christianity. They are facts for Christians, because as St. Paul said just a few years after Christ's death and resurrection:
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. . . . If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)
What difficulties do the facts of science create for the facts of the Bible? First and most important, let us recognize that the Bible is not a book of science. One does not use the Bible to calculate the value of pi (although the calculation in 1 Kings is not as far off as most people summarily conclude). The Bible is first and foremost a book of revelation, not of science as such.
That said, revelation implies a revealing of truth - God's truth, which is eternal, unchanging and unassailable. The difficulties begin when we try to discern the nature of the revelation through the eyes and minds of ancient Hebrews, in words that predate our own language by thousands of years, and so must be understood through the filters of philology and translation.
A prime example of the difficulties in doing so is provided by the opening chapters of Genesis, the very first book of the Bible. Is the creation as there described factual, or allegorical, or somewhere in between?
If the Genesis account of creation is taken as factual, a number of difficulties immediately arise -- for example, how is the Hebrew word yôm, which we translate as "day", to be understood? How could there be a "day" of twenty-four hours even before there was a sun, and why would God create the earth before he created the sun? (Wouldn't the water all freeze, for instance?)
This is not to suggest that these difficulties cannot be surmounted -- there is an entire contingent of "Young-Earth Christians" who have no problem in doing so.
Others take the position that there is no need to read the Bible in the light of modern science, which was unknown to the ancients. For such people, science and religion are two separate and independent worlds ("non-overlapping magisteria", in the words of Stephen Jay Gould), which do not conflict because they contain nothing in common. In that way, each world can have its own beliefs without fear of contradiction by the other.
My own background and nature do not let me use such an escape. For me, Christianity teaches that the Bible is the record of God's revelations. And in the Bible, Psalm 19 tells us:
19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
Stated in another way, there are two books of God's revelations: the Bible, and the book of nature. And they have to be revealing one and the same truth. For the truth, as noted above, is eternal, unchanging and unassailable.
This desire to integrate the two books into a single truth is not what most people refer to as "concordism". It is rather, as Randy Isaac puts it, seeking "to understand the meaning and purpose of nature and science through the eyes of faith on the basis of the revelation of our incarnate, crucified, resurrected Savior."
With all of the above as background, we are now in a position to assess the latest responses by theologians to the scientific data that we have all descended not from a single human couple, but instead from a pool of between 7-10,000 individuals. That will be the task of the next post in this series.