Wednesday, June 29, 2011

[UPDATED:] Troubling Questions Raised by Bishop's Acceptance of Child Molester to Be Priest

[UPDATE 07/07/2011: The Diocese of Nevada has finally issued a clarifying statement about this matter, in which Bishop Dan Edwards insists: "As I review what was done 2002 - 2004, I find no fault with the actions of any of our people, lay or ordained. The bishop, priests, and lay people of Nevada kept children safe and they were true to our belief that people can be redeemed." Unfortunately, the statement proceeds solely on the basis of the information supplied to the Diocese at the time by Fr. Parry himself -- namely, that he told Bishop Jefferts Schori and her Commission on Ministry only about the single molestation in the summer of 1987. He did not tell them of the multiple incidents before that -- one in 1981, and three more between 1973 and 1979 -- which led to his being required to have psychological counseling before he repeated his behavior in 1987.

What the statement shows is a compassionate group of laity and clergy who were misled by their desire to reward a gifted musician, who (they thought) had strayed on just one occasion, with a clerical position in the Church:
Based on the known facts and interviews with Fr. Bede, lay and clergy church representatives agreed that he should be received as a priest. The record shows no dissent. Nonetheless, the bishop added the restriction that he should not have contact with minors. This was to add double protection and prevent even the appearance of any threat to minors. This restriction and the reasons for it were conveyed by the bishop to people who supervised Fr. Bede’s work. Further, the bishop, in consultation with the diocesan attorney, recommended abuse awareness workshops.

For nearly a decade since that decision, Fr. Bede has served faithfully, still without a hint of misconduct. . . [emphasis added].
No doubt -- he appreciated being given the chance. But what is curious in all this is that no one is willing to deal with the consequences of Father Parry's having lied to all of them about the incidents in his background -- and with their having failed to turn up that evidence after two years of checking his background. The attorney for the abused plaintiff in Missouri was able to flesh all this information out even before he filed his lawsuit -- why were not the Commission on Ministry, and Bishop Jefferts Schori, concerned enough to do the same?

And then there is the damning report done by the Catholic Church, which concluded in 2000 that Fr. Parry still had "the proclivity to reoffend with minors." Bishop Edwards protests, contrary to the allegation in the Missouri lawsuit, that:
No such report was sent to the Diocese of Nevada and, to this day, we have no knowledge of its existence other than an assertion by the plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer in a John Doe lawsuit against the monastery.
(Of course, Bishop Edwards appears to think the report was done in the 1980's -- since he makes the claim that "Reliable testing to predict such sexual abuse was not even developed until nearly two decades later . . ."[emphasis added; h/t: Douglas LeBlanc].) Even if he is correct that the Diocese has no record of receiving the report, there remains the fact that Father Parry knew about it and its conclusion, because it resulted in the denial of his application to join a monastery. So this is one more deception to chalk up in connection with his application to be received into the Episcopal Church (USA). At this point, should not at least an inquiry be made into the basis for the lawsuit's allegation that a copy of the report was given to "the Episcopal Bishop for the Diocese of Nevada"? How can Bishop Jefferts Schori continue to maintain her wall of silence on this point?]

A recent lawsuit filed in Missouri over child molestation and abuse charges against a Catholic monastery there contains allegations which, if proved, raise troubling questions about the conduct of ECUSA's Presiding Bishop when she was the Bishop of Nevada from 2000 until her election to the national post in 2006. The lawsuit alleges that one of the abbey's Benedictine monks, Bede Parry, molested the plaintiff at a summer camp in 1987, and had sexual contact with several other young men over an eight-year period between 1973 and 1981 while they were at school or sang in the Abbey Choir, of which Parry was the director. (See this news release for a link to download a .pdf of the petition - h/t: Pageantmaster.) When the facts of the abuse came out in 1987, Parry left the monastery for a course of treatment, and then used his position as a Catholic priest to work at a variety of Catholic and Lutheran parishes in the southwest.

In 2000, Parry apparently applied to join another Catholic monastery, and underwent psychological testing and evaluation. "The results of this testing revealed that Fr. Parry was a sexual abuser who had the proclivity to reoffend with minors," the lawsuit alleges. Instead of joining the monastery, Parry was hired as the music director at All Saints Episcopal Church, in Las Vegas, where Jefferts Schori was the diocesan. (She did not need to be consulted about his hiring, and Parry now says that he did not disclose the test results to the clergy at All Saints.)

After a few years in that position, Parry says, "[I noticed that] they needed clergy, and I felt called. I talked to the bishop, and she accepted me. And I told her at the time that there was an incident of sexual misconduct at Conception Abbey in ’87. The Episcopal Church doesn’t have a ‘one strike and you’re out’ policy, so it didn’t seem like I was any particular threat. She said she’d have to check the canons, and she did." However, he says he told her only of the single incident in 1987, and not about any of the earlier ones.

Jefferts Schori presided over Parry's reception into the Episcopal priesthood in Las Vegas in 2004. (Pictures of the ceremony are at this link.) The questions that arise have to do with how thoroughly she evaluated his psychological state before agreeing to his reception. (The Roman Catholic Church had ordained him to the priesthood in 1982.)

Church Canon III.11, as in effect in 2003-2004, provides at the outset as follows, with regard to receiving persons in the Church as priests who were originally ordained in a church which shares the historic apostolic succession, but which is not in communion with the Episcopal Church (emphasis added):
Sec. 1 (a) When a Priest or Deacon ordained in a Church by a Bishop of the Historic Episcopate but not in communion with this Church desires to be received as a Member of the Clergy in this Church, the person shall apply in writing to a Bishop, attaching the following:
(1) Evidence that the person is a confirmed adult communicant in good standing in a Congregation of this Church;

(2) Evidence of previous Ministry and that all other credentials are valid and authentic;

(3) Evidence of moral and godly character; and that the person is free from any vows or other engagements inconsistent with the exercise of Holy Orders in this Church;

(4) Transcripts of all relevant academic and theological studies;

(5) A certificate from at least two Presbyters of this Church stating that, from personal examination or from satisfactory evidence presented to them, they believe that the departure of the person from the Communion to which the person has belonged has not arisen from any circumstance unfavorable to moral or religious character, or on account of which it may not be expedient to admit the person to Holy Orders in this Church;

(6) Certificates in the forms provided in Canon III.8.6 and III.8.7 [attesting that the candidate meets all the requirements to be a deacon and a priest, respectively] from the Rector or Member of the Clergy in charge and Vestry of a Parish of this Church; and

(7) A statement of the reasons for seeking to enter Holy Orders in this Church.
Section 2(a) of Canon III.11 next provides (emphasis added):
Sec. 2(a) If the person furnishes evidence of satisfactory theological training in the previous Communion, and has exercised a ministry therein with good repute and success for at least five years, the applicant shall be examined by the [diocesan] Commission [on Ministry] . . .
The lawsuit alleges that a copy of the 2000 psychological evaluation report was given to Bishop Jefferts Schori as part of the process by which she and the diocesan Commission on Ministry evaluated Parry's fitness to be an Episcopal priest. If so, the report should have triggered a new evaluation on the spot, because Canon III.8.7 (a) requires, as a condition of the certificate of fitness being issued (emphasis again added):
A person may be ordained Priest:
. . .
(3) if the medical examination, psychological examination, and background check have taken place or been updated within 36 months prior to ordination as a Priest.
As stated earlier, Bishop Jefferts Schori received Parry in 2004; therefore, the evaluation done on him in 2000 was more than three years old at the time of his reception.

The report itself may have disclosed the fact, but a proper background check would also have turned up that Parry had left Conception Abbey in 1987 on charges relating to multiple incidents of abuse over a fourteen-year period, and not a single isolated one. If Parry is correct that he lied to Bishop Jefferts Schori on this point, she should have easily discovered the lie with a little investigation -- and that lie would have been sufficient for her to deny his ordination.

The questions of what Bishop Jefferts Schori was told, what information she had available to her in the 2000 report (and any subsequent updating of it), and as a result of the background check done on Parry, thus become key to evaluating her decision to allow him to become a priest under her jurisdiction. But her spokesman at 815 Second Avenue Episcopal headquarters says only this: "We do not comment on lawsuits or allegations."

The point is, Bishop Jefferts Schori is not being asked "to comment on lawsuits or the allegations [in lawsuits]." (Neither she nor the Episcopal Church is a party to the lawsuit.) She should come forward with all of the information she had to justify her overriding of the highly disturbing conclusion supposedly reached by the 2000 report: that Father Parry was a sexual abuser who had the proclivity to re-offend with minors. A "proclivity" means a present inclination, and is no sign of any meaningful repentance.

The report was sufficient to keep Father Parry out of a Catholic monastery. Was it not also sufficient to keep him out of a position as an Episcopal priest? If not, why not?

Bishop Jefferts Schori and the members of her then Commission on Ministry have some explaining to do. Moreover, it is worth pointing out that in just two days, the new disciplinary canons take effect. At that point, Bishop Jefferts Schori, and any clergy members of the Nevada Commission on Ministry in 2003, have an obligation to self-report any lapses in clerical standards of conduct which they may have committed in connection with the Parry application. (For example, if they did not call for an update to the 2000 report, then they violated Canon III.8.7 (a) quoted above. If the Commission missed it, the duty to have the report updated as canon law required fell squarely in the lap of Bishop Jefferts Schori.)

We shall soon see how seriously the Episcopal Church (USA) takes its new canons.

[UPDATE 06/30/2011: I have been asked to elaborate on the statute of limitations which would apply to any charges against Bishop Jefferts Schori in this matter. The issue is complicated because of the transition provisions in the new Title IV canons which take effect on July 1. The basic period of limitations is established by new Canon IV.19.4 (a) at ten years from the commission of the offense. Since the conduct in question occurred in 2003-2004, we are unquestionably within the general ten-year statute of limitations with regard to any failure to comply with the obligations of then-canon III.8.7 (a) to update the psychological evaluation on then-candidate Parry.

However, new Canon IV.19.4 (d) specifies a two-year limitation on any proceedings brought against a member of the clergy on account of his or her knowingly violating the Constitution or Canons of the Church, as specified in new Canon IV.3.1 (a). Under the facts as presented by the allegations in the petition, however, I think that Canon IV.19.4 (d) is a red herring.

First: there is no current contention that Bishop Jefferts Schori knowingly set out to violate the Canons of the Church in failing to call, in 2004, for any update to Candidate Parry's 2000 psychological evaluation -- it was far more likely a negligent violation of the Canons. (As readers of this blog are quite familiar with Bishop Jefferts Schori's innate inability to read or follow the Canons, I shall not dwell on the point further.)

Second: if she negligently (or carelessly) failed to follow the canonical requirements for priestly ordinations in 2004, her conduct violated the language of new Canon IV.4.1 (g) - in failing to update the psychological evaluation of a priest ordained elsewhere, she may be charged with failing to:
exercise . . . her ministry in accordance with applicable provisions of the Constitution and Canons of the Church . . .
Notice what a broad sweep this provision of the new canons, effective July 1, entails: For willful and knowing violation of the Constitution and Canons, the limitation on presentments is two years (as it was under the Canons in effect in 2004). But beginning July 1, 2011, the Canons now provide that for simply failing to "exercise" one's ministry in accordance with the Constitution and Canons, the statute of limitations is ten years.

Those who rushed through the canonical changes to Title IV, which included the Presiding Bishop in the House of Bishops, are now hoist by their own petard, so to speak. But surely the conclusive irony to note in this regard is that if the Presiding Bishop fails to self-report her violation of Canon IV.4.1 (g) as detailed above, she thereby violates new Canon IV.4.1 (f), which makes it a separate canonical offense to fail to:
. . . report to the Intake Officer all matters which may constitute an Offense as defined in Canon IV.2 meeting the standards of Canon IV.3.3 . . .
Canon IV.2 defines "Offense" as "any act or omission for which a Member of the Clergy may be held accountable under Canons IV.3 or IV.4." As we have just seen, any failure by Bishop Jefferts Schori to abide by the requirements of Canon IV.4.1 (g) is thus an "Offense" as defined by Canon IV.2. And the "standards of Canon IV.3.3 require that
. . . the Offense complained of must violate applicable provisions of Canon IV.3 or IV.4 and must be material and substantial or of clear and weighty importance to the ministry of the Church.
This canon lawyer would have little difficulty in finding that allowing an unrepentant pedophile, whose most recent testing showed a "proclivity to re-offend", to be received as a priest in the Episcopal Church without any meaningful background check most definitely was "material and substantial", as well as "of clear and weighty importance to the ministry of the Church." After all, if as Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Jefferts Schori has zero difficulty in deposing clergy without bothering to follow the requirements of the Canons, she can hardly be heard to complain about being subject to a similar lax standard with respect to her own violations of the Canons.

A violation of Canon IV.4.1 (g) is expressly not subject to the two-year statute of limitations set out in Canon IV.19.4 (d). Consequently, any failure now by the Presiding Bishop to self-report the possibility of her violation of the Canons in 2004 would constitute a brand new offense under the revised disciplinary Canons, for which the statute of limitations would run for a further ten years!

The icing on the cake is provided by this provision (Canon IV.19.4 [c]) in the new Canons taking effect tomorrow:
Except as provided in Subsection (b) above, the time limitations for initiation of proceedings in this Section shall be retroactive only to January 1, 1996.
So the statute of limitations in the new Canons as of July 1, 2011 are expressly made retroactive to all offenses committed from and after January 1, 1996! Despite the fact, in other words, that there was a two-year statute of limitations in effect in 2004, when Bishop Jefferts Schori may have committed her violation of the Canons, General Convention changed all that in 2009 by providing a retroactive liability for offenses committed up to ten years previously -- all in the name, presumably, of providing greater accountability for the Church's clergy. So be it.

If she knew in 2004 what the Missouri petition says she did, then there is no escape for Bishop Jefferts Schori under the new Title IV provisions which she helped push through the House of Bishops at General Convention in 2009, as a means of adding to her primatial powers. It is a delicious irony that those changes may now come back to haunt her. More than anything else, this case exercise in applying the new disciplinary Canons to a complicated fact situation may serve as a striking illustration of the degree to which those Canons now open wide the door to the prosecution of clergy on any number of grounds which, under the old rules, might have slipped through the cracks without notice.

I am not particularly happy about the vast and open-ended expansion in clergy liability under the new Canons. That one of the first hapless perpetrators to be caught in their greatly enlarged snare may be the Presiding Bishop, however, is a particularly satisfying instance of poetic justice.]

Friday, June 24, 2011

Evolution Versus The Fall - A Postscript

In the conclusion to my series "Did Adam and Eve Exist?", I included this observation:
We are, in Chesterton's magnificent language, "kings in exile". How can that be, under an evolutionary scenario? The very idea of "the Fall" implies a reverse kind of evolution -- the opposite of progress. We (our precursors) were at some point in a more evolved state, and then we fell to a worse one, due to our precursors' own grievous fault. That is the point of the story in Genesis chapters 2-3, and there is no reconciling of that point with a purely evolutionary theory -- according to which "progress" is in only one direction, i.e., forward, to ever more advanced states of existence.
In this post, I want to elaborate on that observation. For it seems to me that in weighing the central Christian and Judaic concept of Adam's Fall against the scheme promoted by evolutionary science, we see why they must inevitably clash.

In 1996, the philosopher and zoologist Michael Ruse wrote Monad to Man - the Concept of Progress in Evolutionary Biology. Covering the gamut of evolutionary philosophy from Aristotle to E.O. Wilson and Stephen Jay Gould, Ruse showed how an underlying notion of "Progress" (which he capitalizes) in evolution (i.e., from "monad to man") directed both its own progress and the scope of its investigations. While not taking a position on the creation vs. evolution debate, Ruse showed how strongly the concept of evolution as a progressive process, from the simple to the more complex, is bound up with the study of evolution itself.

As I showed in my series on Genesis, the concept of Adam's Fall is at the very heart of Christianity -- with that fall came what western theologians (after Augustine) call "original sin", and what the eastern orthodox fathers call man's "fallen nature." It is this fallen nature which is the cause of man's tendency to sin, and which eventually resulted in Christ's sacrifice on the cross to save us from our sins. That is the essence -- and the beauty -- of Christianity. Take it away, and you no longer have any need for Christ's sacrifice or for his subsequent resurrection, as the means for conquering sin and death.

But as pointed out in the quote above, this concept of The Fall is at odds with the notion of evolution as a form of Progress from one lower form to a higher. In commingling the genes of their offspring with those of Homo sapiens after being driven out of the Garden, Adam and Eve were forced to take a backward step in their evolution -- one that, from their standpoint, represented an incalculable loss from the state they had enjoyed in Eden. (The account in Genesis drives home this point, by speaking of the "curses" under which they will have to now live for the rest of their mortal lives, and their descendants after them.)

The reason evolutionary theory is so at odds with core Christianity, I believe, lies in this understanding of how evolution itself is contrary to the idea embodied in The Fall. For Adam and Eve to have "evolved" to their higher state, and then slipped back again in some way, does not fit the evolutionary paradigm. And it leads to all of the problems with the timing of their appearance as "representatives" of their species which I discussed in the second part of the series. It is nothing for God to make two individuals as fully formed adults with the skills of language and the use of tools; but it is a huge saltation for natural evolution to have produced two (or even a few more) such individuals out of our hominid ancestors.

Five years after completing From Monad to Man, Professor Ruse published Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? In this book, he made a laudable attempt to bridge the gaps in the ongoing differences between evolution and Christianity. But he made his bias clear at the outset, in the book's preface:
Let me be open. I think that evolution is a fact and that Darwinism rules triumphant. Natural selection is not simply an important mechanism. It is the only significant cause of permanent organic change.
And that bias permeates his subsequent investigation into the conflicts, particularly when it comes to considering monogenism, the idea that current humans are the descendants of a single set of original parents. Citing the work of evolutionary biologist and Dominican priest Francisco Ayala*, Ruse writes (pp. 75-76; bold emphasis added):
Francisco Ayala (1967), a distinguished evolutionary geneticist (and at the time of this writing, a Dominican priest), points out that an essential component of Christian theology, confirmed by Pius XII in his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), is that humans are descended from a unique pair (monogenism). That part of the Adam and Eve story cannot be interpreted symbolically. Moreover, there are strong theological pressures to go along with this conservative reading, otherwise one has removed a major support of the doctrine of original sin . . .

As Ayala points out, the trouble is that [monogenism] goes completely against our thinking about the nature of the evolutionary process. Successful species like humans do not pass through single-pair bottlenecks . . . "There is no known mechanism by which the human species might have arisen by a single step in one or two individuals only, from whom the rest of mankind would have descended" (Ayala 1967, 15). More recently, "the genetic evidence indicates that human populations never consisted of fewer than several thousand individuals" (Ayala 1998, 36). . .
*Ayala, F. J. 1967. Man in evolution: a scientific statement and some theological and ethical implications. The Thomist 31(1): 1-20; and 1998. Human nature: one evolutionist's view. In Brown, W.S., N. Murphy, and H.N. Malony, eds., Whatever Happened to the Soul? Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature (31-48). Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Ruse then goes on to concede that a miracle (direct intervention by God) could be posited -- but even in conceiving of such a miracle, Ruse remains bound by our homocentric view that Homo sapiens is all there was for God to work with (ibid.; bold again added):
Of course, theologically you can insist that some pair did uniquely get immortal souls (miraculously), and there is an end to it. By fiat you can introduce all of the intelligence you like into these souls. All else is contingent irrelevance. There were members of Homo sapiens before this pair and around this pair, but these others were not humans in a theological sense: that is, beings with immortal souls. But this stipulation is not without its difficulties, tensions certainly. Darwinian biology suggests that intelligence (and, as we shall see, related freedom and moral awareness) would be possessed by the parent generation and the contemporary generation and those of the next generations not descended from the pair. So on what basis can we declare them not to have been made in God's image?
Here Ruse simply assumes that Adam and Eve had natural parents, and that they were singled out at some point by God to receive souls and superior intelligence -- and then somehow betrayed God's trust in them -- but how? By reverting to their previous level? Ruse thus makes the point I made at the outset above: evolutionary biology, by itself, is incompatible with The Fall. And later (p. 77), he admits as much (bold emphasis mine):
We seem to have reached an impasse. And perhaps this was only to be expected. "Reductionism" is the philosophy or methodology where the aim is to explain away everything in terms of molecules and the like and to deny reality to all higher-level entities like minds and souls and so forth. Darwinism, the apotheosis of materialistic theory, is bound to be thoroughly reductionistic. Virtually by definition, therefore, a religion making souls central is bound to clash with a theory like Darwinism . . .
This does not stop Ruse from going on to develop a "Darwinian concept of the soul," which of course evolved along with everything else, even possibly as a "God-backed process" (p. 82), whatever that might mean. The emphasis is still on Progress with a capital "P" (bold added):
So I do stress that we have tensions rather than absolute and ineradicable contradictions. But, having bought into Darwinism thus far, the inclination is to think that there has been a gradual upward development from organisms with less sophisticated principles of ordering and thinking. The miracles are not one-of-a-kind events, but part of everyday life.
There can be, of course, no such thing as an "everyday" miracle, unless we want to define the concept out of existence, and rob it of its extraordinary character. In the same way, by making The Fall an incomprehensible event, we rob Christianity of its moral purpose. If there was no Fall, there was no need for Jesus Christ. Period.

The scenario I posited in the previous post keeps the core concepts of Christianity at the core, by explaining how there could have been, indeed, an original Adam and Eve pair -- but God-created, not gradually evolved or "God-selected" from among the naturally evolved. The Fall consists precisely in the loss of that pair's moral innocence, and in their subsequently having to join their gifts and skills (and their immortal souls) to the genes and bodies of then-evolving Homo sapiens. By conferring souls on their descendants, they raised the human race from another species of animal to one made in God's own image, with the concomitant responsibility to be morally accountable before God.

Thus while it is possible to be both a Darwinian and a Christian, Christians cannot let the Darwinians simply take over, and reduce man with his soul to just a collection of complex molecules. If the phrase "made in God's image" is to have any meaning, it has to refer to an immortal soul, not an "evolved" one. For man to acquire such a gift required direct intervention by God -- a miracle -- through His original formation of Adam and Eve. There is no point in having an immortal soul without there being a God; there is no meaning in God's gift of His Son without our being capable of being saved; and there is no point in being saved if there is no immortal life. All of Christian salvation theology is so closely intertwined as to make the miraculous creation of the first pair with souls a certainty for believing Christians.

But note that evolution is a key part of God's scheme, as well. If there had been no humans around when Adam and Eve were first driven from the Garden, we would have to conclude that their children (whom we would also have to suppose included one or more daughters) could not have been able to have children, except through an act of incest (which is an abominable way to have to start a race of beings "made in God's image"). Thus, evolution and The Fall are just as intimately bound together as are Adam and Christ. They each need the other to be fully explicable as a whole.

[Note: This is the final post in a multipart series. The Introduction is at this link, Part I is at this link, Part II is at this link, Part III is at this link, and Part IV is at this link.]

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Did Adam and Eve Exist? (Part IV: Conclusion)

[Note: This is the fifth post in a multipart series. The Introduction is at this link, Part I is at this link, Part II is at this link, and Part III is at this link.]

We have come full circle in our investigation into the historicity of Adam and Eve. We have seen how the biblical account was taken as factual by persons in Christian history as important as St. Paul. And indeed, it is probably true to say that all Christians until the nineteenth century, with the possible exception of a few enlightenment theists, such as Voltaire and Jefferson, believed in the historicity of the original pair.

Therefore, in questioning whether such a belief is still rational, in light of what science now tells us, I am raising the issue: what has science disclosed since 1800 that would make a Christian have to question whether Adam and Eve actually existed?

I have gone through the science and the theology in the previous posts. I will not summarize those here, in order to save space -- I simply ask of anyone who wants to challenge this post to do me the courtesy of reading the previous installments, linked in the first lines above. For I expect, given that in this post I am going to lay out a scenario for the historical Adam and Eve, there will be a fair number of challenges to my thesis -- which is fine, because that is how it will be tested against what others believe to be the case.

The scenario has been tested somewhat already -- as I will show below, I believe it squarely meets the four criteria for a theologically acceptable Genesis scenario laid out by Prof. C. John Collins in this article cited earlier (at pp. 159-60) and restated in his recent book on Adam and Eve (pp. 120-21):
1. To begin with, we should see that the origin of the human race goes beyond a merely natural process. This follows from how hard it is to get a human being, or, more theologically, how distinctive the image of God is.

2. We should see Adam and Eve at the headwaters of the human race. This follows from the unified experience of humankind, as discussed earlier (pp. 155–8). How else could all human beings come to bear God’s image?

3. The Fall, in whatever form it took, was both historical (it happened) and moral (it involved disobeying God), and occurred at the beginning of the human race. The universal sense of loss described earlier (pp. 155–8) makes no sense without this. Where else could this universality have come from?

. . .

4. If someone should decide that there were, in fact, more human beings than just Adam and Eve at the beginning of humankind, then, in order to maintain good sense, he or she should envision these humans as a single tribe. Adam would then be the chieftain of this tribe (preferably produced before the others), and Eve would be his wife. This tribe “fell” under the leadership of Adam and Eve. This follows from the notion of solidarity in a representative. Some may call this a form of “polygenesis,” but this is quite distinct from the more conventional, and unacceptable, kind.
Let us now proceed to see how this could be so.

Begin with this very astute observation centuries ago by the French philosopher Blaise Pascal (quoted also in Dr. Collins' article [text at n. 58], which should be read from start to finish), in his deservedly famous Pensées (see n. 58 in Collins for the full references):
Man’s greatness is so obvious that it can even be deduced from his wretchedness, for what is nature in animals we call wretchedness in man, thus recognizing that, if his nature is today like that of the animals, he must have fallen from some better state which was once his own.
Precisely -- what we call "sin" in man is regarded as natural in animals. This insight is key to the understanding of Genesis' account of the Fall. For it leads to the natural question which all pure evolutionists should have to answer: At what precise point in your scenario of hominid evolution resulting in Homo sapiens did the lights go on? When did hominids become aware of their own moral culpability, and why, and how?

There will be as many answers to that question as there are pure evolutionists, and that is just the problem -- from a purely evolutionary standpoint, it is impossible to say. There will be speculation about brain size, the evolution of consciousness, and so forth, but without a written diary or record (and writing came long afterward), the "evolution" of Moral Man will be forever enshrouded in the prehistoric mists.

The scenario I wish to propose, however, gives a precise answer to that question -- that is, precise in the sense of we may know what happened and why; the details of just when and where are less clear. We begin by satisfying Dr. Collins' very first criterion, and posit that God created two unique individuals whom the Bible calls Adam and Eve, and placed them in an earthly paradise where all their needs could readily be met without effort. (The physical location of the "Garden in Eden" [Gen. 2:8] is not as important as is the fact that, as Creator, God could create any kind of earthly paradise He wanted, at any location, and at any time. Having created it, He could just as easily have removed all earthly traces of it, although there are some who think they know just where it was.)

Adam and Eve thus did not evolve from any primeval ancestor in the Darwinian sense; they were unique and one-time special creations of the Creator -- let us call them Homo praecipuus (from the Latin for "extraordinary, distinguished"). (They nonetheless shared enough of the Homo sapiens DNA to be able to interbreed with them, as we shall see.) Without any evolutionary experience or ancestry, and brought into the world as fully formed adults (as one wit remarked, "they were the only humans without tummy buttons"), they were unaware of sin at first -- and probably, as Genesis describes them, incapable of discerning right from wrong, or good from evil (which is why they were such easy targets for Satan, who in the Genesis version approached them as a talking serpent).

God's plan for them is not laid out in Genesis, but we can conceive that He may eventually have wanted them to grow to full maturity and then, with their offspring, take dominion over the earth. They would not suffer death as long as they could continue their connection with God and the Garden of Eden. However, the fact that Satan could also enter the Garden, and tempt the first pair as he did, implies that God must have foreseen that His creations would thus fall short of His plans for them, due to their gift of a free will to choose as they chose. Try viewing salvation in that light, whereby -- if God knew that Adam and Eve would succumb to Satan's temptations, He had determined ultimately to send His own Son to redeem their fallen state.

Note that Adam and Eve, again as portrayed in Genesis, were given from the outset the gift of language and speech, so that they could communicate with each other and with their Maker. (Soon after leaving Eden, they quickly acquired other skills: husbandry, farming and the manufacture and use of tools -- another fact which indicates the degree to which their genes were more advanced than that of other humans at the time.) But their Maker endowed them also with a gift far more precious than mere language -- as Genesis 2:7 relates, he breathed life into them, and they each became a "living soul." With the Catholics and the Orthodox, then, I posit that Adam and Eve were the first creatures on earth to have souls -- and further, that their ability to procreate would result in any of their lineage having souls, as well. It is the human soul, in my view, which gives meaning to the phrase "made them in His own image", and which gave them their capacity to become morally responsible individuals.

It is useless for evolutionists to ask the question: "What part of the human genome codes for souls?" Not being physical or corporeal, souls are not subject to the biochemistry of DNA, and not a subject for scientific investigation. But the irreducible fact for Christians is that we do have souls, and that they constitute most of what we mean when we say we are made in God's image. The consequence is that Christians do not have to be concerned that their core faith might be undermined by some future advance in evolutionary science.

When did the Fall take place? At this date, we cannot be precise, but we know something of what was going on elsewhere in the world. Genesis chapter 1 tells us that God created all the plants and animals before he created the first human pair, and even evolutionists agree with that timeline. (Genesis also says that God created all of the plants and animals, "each according to its own kind". I do not take a position here on the accuracy of the Darwinian hypothesis which goes by the name of "macroevolution"; it may be so, or it may not; either possibility fits into the scheme. God equally well could have created the genetic forerunners of each species [or family, or phylum] and then allowed evolution by natural selection to do its work. Until more evidence of macroevolution accumulates, it is not necessary to decide that point.)

In another of his books on Genesis (pp. 121-29), Dr. Collins shows us how the timeline of Genesis 1 may be fit together with the events narrated in Genesis 2-4, and I will not go over that here. Suffice it to say that, when Adam and Eve were first created, the earth was already teeming with plants and animals -- including the first "anthropologically modern humans" (who were not, however [and by design], inhabitants of Eden). Unlike Adam and Eve, those specimens of early humans had not yet acquired the capabilities of higher language -- and they did not, I posit, have "souls" as Christians understand that term.

The scenarios that I discussed in this earlier post, as well as still others described by Dr. Collins in discussing his four criteria, all have in common that they try to account for the acquisition of these defining human characteristics by the species Homo sapiens through some sort of evolutionary means. And that is where they break down logically, it seems to me. An earlier comment on this series cogently argues the problems with such scenarios:
Now, I'm not sure what you're going to argue here exactly: let's say that somehow 10,000 early humans "evolved". (Logically, you've got the problem of where those 10,000 came from, exactly -- why start there, after all? Did 20,000 almost Homo sapiens suddenly reach the same evolutionary point at the same time and mate to produce 10,000 Homo sapiens? Shouldn't there be an easier explanation?)

But leaving that aside, let's say two of those 10,000 named Adam and Eve ate the apple and created Original Sin. What of the [9,998] who didn't? Why didn't they convoke some prelapsarian version of an ecumenical council (especially since they were still perfect and unfallen) and correct Adam and Eve? Or are you arguing that 5,000 of that group were Adam and 5,000 Eve, and 5,000 serpents chatted them up, and they had an apple-ducking contest all at once? That seems less credible than Genesis, frankly.
These difficulties stem from getting the logic backward, in my opinion. We modern humans cannot see ourselves as like Adam and Eve, who are so remote from our world; we identify our origins instead with Cro-Magnon man, the cave painters, and all the early humans whom we resemble. So when we ask how and at what point sin and death came into the world, we tend to start from our own viewpoint, which is the wrong starting point.

It was Adam and Eve who were originally without any awareness of sin, and who had the ability to live as long as they wished without suffering death. Although sin as we term it was not yet in the world when Adam and Eve were created, the animal behaviors which -- in morally responsible humans -- we regard as sin (see the quote from Pascal above) were certainly in the world, as was suffering and death. So we do not have to account for the "entry" of sin and death into the world outside of Eden -- they were already there. It is just that there were not yet any morally responsible humans with souls in God's image, who could be held accountable for sinning.

God, in this scenario, created just two such humans -- and he gave them (in the Genesis account) simple instructions, which at some point they proceeded on their own (with the serpent's [Satan's] prodding) to disobey. Once they disobeyed God, they acquired moral culpability for their acts -- they knew they had done wrong, and they tried to hide from God in the Garden.

"For on the day you eat of that fruit, you shall surely die" -- not die on the spot, but become certain to die at some future point, just like any other mortal creature. The punishment for eating the forbidden fruit, and thereby acquiring moral culpability, was Adam and Eve's banishment from the paradise of Eden, where they could have remained free of death (and all moral responsibility). And so this scenario satisfies the third of Dr. Collins' criteria quoted above -- under it the Fall literally happened, due to Adam and Eve's disobedience of God's command.

And not only does this scenario satisfy Dr. Collins' third criterion, but it also furnishes a natural basis for the universal longing that man still experiences for a state in the distant past which is now "lost", or "fallen". As well expressed by G. K. Chesterton (again, quoted in the excellent article by Professor Collins [text at n. 60, which see for source]):
The Fall is a view of life. It is not only the only enlightening, but the only encouraging view of life. It holds, as against the only real alternative philosophies, those of the Buddhist or the Pessimist or the Promethean, that we have misused a good world, and not merely been entrapped into a bad one. It refers evil back to the wrong use of the will, and thus declares that it can eventually be righted by the right use of the will. Every other creed except that one is some form of surrender to fate.
A man who holds this view of life will find it giving light on a thousand things; on which mere evolutionary ethics have not a word to say. For instance, on the colossal contrast between the completeness of man’s machines and the continued corruption of his motives; on the fact that no social progress really seems to leave self behind; … on that proverb that says “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance,” which is only what the theologians say of every other virtue, and is itself only a way of stating the truth of original sin; on those extremes of good and evil by which man exceeds all the animals by the measure of heaven and hell; on that sublime sense of loss that is in the very sound of all great poetry, and nowhere more than in the poetry of pagans and sceptics: “We look before and after, and pine for what is not”; which cries against all prigs and progressives out of the very depths and abysses of the broken heart of man, that happiness is not only a hope, but also in some strange manner a memory; and that we are all kings in exile.
We are, in Chesterton's magnificent language, "kings in exile". How can that be, under an evolutionary scenario? The very idea of "the Fall" implies a reverse kind of evolution -- the opposite of progress. We (our precursors) were at some point in a more evolved state, and then we fell to a worse one, due to our precursors' own grievous fault. That is the point of the story in Genesis chapters 2-3, and there is no reconciling of that point with a purely evolutionary theory -- according to which "progress" is in only one direction, i.e., forward, to ever more advanced states of existence. Therein (in that insight, in other words) lies the key to resolving the apparent conflict between purely evolutionary and Christian "fundamentalist" viewpoints -- if, by the latter term, we describe a belief that Adam and Eve were actual humans, as described in Genesis.

Thus we now come to the hinge-point on which this scenario depends: Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden, and forever prevented from returning (Gen. 3:24). Where could they go?

Precisely -- into the world outside of Eden, with its population of plants and animals -- and a small (3,000 or so) group of anatomically modern humans, according to the genetic evidence discussed in this earlier post. Adam and Eve gave birth to Cain and Abel. Their sons grew up, and being morally culpable (with souls of their own), they became subject to sin, like their parents. As God warned Cain, in Genesis 4:6-7:
“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”
Cain was unable to do so, and slew his brother Abel out of jealousy. He had to leave Adam and Eve, and go into the world with a mark of some kind to keep him from being killed -- by other early humans, who as yet, we posit, had little in the way of speech, language, or moral conscience. But Cain took a wife, also from among these other early humans (no, he did not marry his sister and have to begin the human race with an act of incest) -- and then we are told he went and began to build an entire city -- of other early humans, again (Gen. 4:17). Being able to found and build a city is a further indication of the skills with tools which distinguished Homo praecipuus from ordinary members of Homo sapiens at that time.

Cain himself had the Homo praecipuus genes of his mother and father. But once he married an early Homo sapiens, his genes recombined with that species in all his offspring, and passed on to their descendants. Cain would have taught his wife and family the rudiments of speech and communication, husbandry, and the manufacture and use of tools -- which they in turn passed on to others in the city he started. Cain's branch of the family may have been responsible for all the people of Africa -- if so, the group which Cain joined after leaving his parents was the small pool of 7,000 or so individuals which, according to the latest data from population genetics, made up the strain which originated in Africa. (Or it may have been one of the descendants of Adam through Noah who did so -- see below.)

Cain's children -- but not his wife (!) -- would also have been born with immortal souls. (Perhaps God's grace intervened even then -- at least, we may hope so.) As each of those in turn married still others, the number of descendants with souls would have multiplied geometrically. (Speaking from an evolutionary standpoint, Cain's tool and language skills, passed on to his descendants, would have given them each a selective advantage over other early humans, meaning that natural selection would eventually take care of the phasing out of any Homo sapiens without souls. It would be mischievous to ask whether there may be any such specimens still around. N.B.: It appears after all that we may hope there are not.)

Back with Adam and Eve, matters progressed similarly, but with a smaller starting population. Adam and Eve had Seth, and perhaps still others, all of whom would have spread the Homo praecipuus genes among the Homo sapiens population, and conferred thereby an evolutionary advantage on their descendants. In this way, the scenario satisfies the second and the fourth of Dr. Collins' criteria.

With the onset of the Flood, Genesis says that all other strains of human and animal life with the exception of Noah, his family and the animals saved on the ark were destroyed. (And if so, that event alone would account for the extinction of humans without souls, apart from the inexorable mechanism of natural selection.) The scenario sketched above does not have to go that far to make the point that all the current humans on earth stem from a "tribe" originally begun by Adam and Eve and their children. From the third generation of that tribe onward, the genes of Homo sapiens recombined again and again with those of Homo praecipuus, with the result that the latter became dispersed throughout the gene pool of the group, and are now lost to scientific study as such.

When the logic is viewed from Adam's perspective, then, and not from our own, he was responsible for the introduction of sin and death into his world -- which then necessarily became ours, as the generations after Adam increased. He and his progeny all had souls, which in turn gave them moral capability. From the first commingled generation onward (the generation after Adam and Eve's children), humans became aware, for the first time, of the fact that their animal instincts and origins (from the non-Adam side), when combined with a soul and a conscience (the heritage from Adam and his children), made them subject to sin --i.e., to "miss the mark" set for them by God (and later, by the laws He gave them). Thus the human dilemma of the Fall: man is made in God's image (he has an immortal soul, and knows right from wrong), but he has an innate tendency ("corrupted nature") to fall constantly short of the standard which being made in God's image sets for him.

We thus come to the conclusion of the scenario, but not to the end of the story. For man is still, many thousands of years later, trying to be Godlike in himself, while at the same time denying any need for God. The beliefs that there is no God at all, or that everything alive on earth today resulted solely from random mutations and natural selection over many billions of years, are just a few current-day examples of such long-standing, and apparently ingrown, attempts to do without God. Isn't it ironic, in consequence, that one could accurately define "man" as "that species which, made in God's image, spends nearly all of his time and effort trying to deny it"?

In summary:

1. Adam and Eve, far from being two "specially selected Neolithic farmers", were a one-time and unique creation of their Maker, Homo praecipuus, who made them body and soul, breathed life into them, and gave them dominion over an earthly paradise in the Garden of Eden.

2. But they disobeyed God's simple command, became through that disobedience morally culpable and aware, and were banished from their paradise to the world outside -- this was what Christians mean by "the Fall." "Original sin" thus refers solely to the act which caused God to expel Adam and Eve from paradise -- it does not, in the Augustinian sense, refer to Adam and Eve's conduct as having made all subsequent humans accountable for their sin (and so is fully reconcilable, as best as I am able to determine, with the concept of "original sin" as understood by the Orthodox Church).

3. Once outside, Adam and Eve gave birth to their children, who in turn had no alternative when it came time to procreate but to interbreed with the existing small pool of Homo sapiens into which they had come from Eden. Over time, the evolutionary advantages conferred by the Homo praecipuus genes made their descendants -- each of whom had souls -- dominant, until today there is not a single human whose genetic origin cannot be traced back to the original tribe headed by Adam and Eve (or perhaps the larger, African one joined either by Cain, or by one or more of Noah's descendants).

4. The instinct to "sin" has always been in the genetic makeup of Homo sapiens, inherited from their evolutionary ancestors in the animal kingdom. But until individuals were born with souls, and thus made in God's image, they were not capable of moral awareness of their sins, any more than animals are. The birth of humans with souls was the unique inheritance bestowed upon the human race by their equally unique ancestors -- Adam and Eve.

5. Our inbuilt genetic longing for the world as it was before the Fall -- i.e., in the Garden -- is an inherent remnant expression of the Homo praecipuus genes which our ancestors, Adam and Eve, bequeathed to us through Cain, Seth, and their other descendants.

The version of the Genesis story presented here has been inspired by the firm belief that God's revelation to us in the Bible is not in vain -- that God, all-powerful as He is, has the full capability to convey to us mortals that which we need for our salvation. "Salvation" is a Christian term for -- there is no avoiding it, if one is truly a Christian -- deliverance from Hell. Because we are all fallen humans, by reason of the events narrated in Genesis as explained above, we require the salvation of Christ, if we are not to be left to our own devices. Our "own devices" promise us nothing beyond eternal darkness or worse, because mankind is not divine, and has no power over death. Only Christianity promises us life eternal with our Savior, with our Creator, and with the Holy Spirit -- one God in three persons, for ever and ever, world without end.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Beautiful Church Threatened by Unprecedented Floods

Minot, the fourth largest city in North Dakota, sits just 116 miles south of the Canadian border, and is in the Souris River valley -- indeed the Souris cuts right through the heart of downtown. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of Minot, the reservoirs and dams north of them, in the path of the river (including many dams built by the Army Corps of Engineers pursuant to Congressional authorization in 1944), are near to the point of overflowing, because of heavy spring rains added to winter melt from an above-normal snowfall.

Minot has experienced devastating floods in the past, but nothing like what is expected to hit it starting late Thursday or early Friday. Between a quarter and a third of its twelve thousand residents have been ordered to evacuate by Wednesday evening, June 22. The Souris River, currently at an elevation of 1,555 feet above sea level, is expected to rise eight feet higher, to 1,563 feet, by this weekend. If this happens, it will exceed the previous flood stage record of 1,558 feet last measured in 1881.

The Corps of Engineers has built levees sufficient to withstand a flow in the Souris of up to 11,000 cubic feet per second. But with the releases from reservoirs in both Saskatchewan and North Dakota upstream, as their own dams threaten to be breached, the flow hitting Minot by late Thursday or early Friday is expected to be from 17,000 to as high as 20,000 cubic feet per second. These catastrophic flow rates, coupled with the unprecedented height of the flood stage itself, threaten to overwhelm the levees, and thereby dramatically worsen the extent of the flooding.

One of the landmarks of Minot is its Scandinavian Heritage Park, a cultural mecca for both tourists, and for all of the area's many descendants from Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland. This Park is situated south of the center of downtown, west of the intersection of 2nd Street SW (the continuation of Broadway) and 11th Avenue SE, in an area which fortunately is on slightly higher ground, and is thus not included in the latest evacuation plan. But as always with Mother Nature, things could change, dramatically and unexpectedly, at the last moment. A call to the Park's headquarters resulted in a recorded message stating that, due to the flood emergency, the offices would be closed from today forward, and that the traditional "Midsummer Night Festival" scheduled in the Park for Friday evening, June 24, had been canceled.

One of the centerpieces of the Scandanavian Heritage Park is this beautiful, full-size replica, built in 1999-2000, of the Gol Stave Church in Oslo, Norway, which was originally built in about 1250 A.D., in Gol, Hallingdal, and then moved to Bygdoy Park in Oslo about 100 years ago:

(Click on the image to enlarge and see the amazing detail. The original image, in even higher resolution, may be viewed by enlarging the picture at this link.)

Although the building in Minot is used as a museum, and not as a functioning church, its elements are all connected with the Nordic religion which gave the original structure its reasons to be built, as explained in this piece. Consider the remarkable structure as the Scandinavian equivalent, fashioned out of wood staves, of a medieval Gothic stone cathedral -- and let us pray for its safe escape from the impending floodwaters.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Did Adam and Eve Exist? (Part III)

[Note: This is the fourth post in a multipart series. The Introduction is at this link, Part I is at this link, and Part II is at this link.]

Having surveyed the science relating to the creation story of Genesis from a general point of view, we will now go into the latest findings from the science of genetics, including the subfield of population genetics. On the basis of the recent mapping of the human genome, by which the entire DNA sequence of the current human species was finally spelled out from start to finish, and on the basis of similar mappings of the gorilla and chimpanzee genomes, it has become possible to compare their relative similarities and differences with each other in mathematical detail. The results help to specify the likelihood that any two or more separate species shared a common ancestor, i.e., evolved from that ancestor, but along the way, through mutations, natural selection, genetic drift and geological or geographical factors contributing to speciation, separated from that common genome and developed in time as a species apart from other contemporary offshoots of that same ancestor.

Relationships determined by the mathematical analysis of genome maps can be compared in at least three ways, as described in more detail in this article. The three ways are based on what geneticists call homology, synteny, and the comparison of pseudogenes.

Two genes are said to be homologous when they have substantially the same DNA sequence. The article by Prof. Dennis Venema just linked describes the degree to which the human and chimpanzee genomes may be said to be homologous, depending on the criteria chosen (footnotes are omitted):
. . . The human genome has approximately 3.0 x 109 nucleotides [the basic building blocks of DNA]; of this number, 2.7 x 109 nucleotides match the chimpanzee genome with only a 1.23% difference between the species.

In short, the vast majority of the human genome matches the chimpanzee genome with only rare differences. The inclusion of sequence alignment gaps between the two genomes that are thought to have arisen through either insertions or deletions (so-called “indel” mutations) drives the identity of the two genomes down to about 95%. Restricting the comparison to the sequences responsible for coding for proteins raises the value to 99.4%. By any measure, humans and chimpanzees have genomes that are highly homologous and readily interpreted as modified copies of an original ancestral genome.
The article contains a detailed comparison chart (Figure 1) illustrating the variations in the DNA for insulin among humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, horseshoe bats, and mice, and then shows another chart comparing insulin amino acid sequences for the same six species. This data, of course, focuses on a very tiny piece of the respective genomes, but illustrates the general aspects of homology discussed in the article.

Synteny is the word used by geneticists to describe the presence of two different genes on the same chromosome. By comparing the spatial arrangement of individual genes on chromosomes, the similarities or differences between two species may be seen gene-by-gene, instead of nucleotide by nucleotide. And under this yardstick, there are again a large number of synteny groups observed in comparing the human and chimpanzee genomes, which point to their having shared a common ancestor in the past. (References to the individual studies are footnoted in the Venema article.)

Pseudogenes (literally: "false genes") are sequences of DNA which are no longer thought functional, due to past mutations. (Recently, more detailed analysis is uncovering additional uses for, and functions of, many pseudogenes and similar "junk DNA".) They still have, however, a discernible sequential connection with other functioning genes in the genome (which points up the specific locations where mutations in the pseudogene occurred). If two different genomes share a lot of pseudogene sequences in common, that fact is evidence of their sharing a common ancestor in the past, due to having similar mutations at similar places in their DNA sequences. Such sequences are simply passed down through the generations with little further alteration, and preserve another record of a linked past.

The Venema article details the evidence about one pseudogene stemming from a very ancient ancestor (footnotes again omitted):
One protein used as a yolk component in egg-laying vertebrates is the product of the vitellogenin gene. Since placental mammals are proposed to be descended from egg-laying ancestors, researchers recently investigated whether humans retained the remnants of the vitellogenin gene sequence in pseudogene form. To assist in their search, this group determined the location of the functional vitellogenin gene in the chicken genome, noted the identity of the genes flanking the vitellogenin sequence, and located these genes in the human genome. They found that these genes were present side-by-side and functional in the human genome; then they performed an examination of human sequence between them. As expected, the heavily mutated, pseudogenized sequence of the vitellogenin gene was present in the human genome at this precise location. The human genome thus contains the mutated remains of a gene devoted to egg yolk formation in egg-laying vertebrates at the precise location predicted by shared synteny derived from common ancestry.
On the basis of multiple lines of evidence such as these, geneticists conclude that the human species "evolved" from primitive ancestors in the ancient tree of life. However, as we have seen in the earlier posts in this series, such a theory of evolution does not tell the whole story, if the basic precepts of Christianity are to be taken into account. In particular, straight evolution from ancient ancestors does not account for the appearance of, let alone the origins of and reasons for, "original sin" as taught in Christian theology.

The final bit of evidence detailed in the Venema article has to do with the highly abstruse and technical subject of population genetics. Briefly speaking, geneticists can use their comparative data of the various genomes to calculate, retrospectively, the approximate size of an ancestor population for its descendants to have today the observed number and variety of genes in their gene pool. Venema provides this example of such a calculation (footnotes again omitted):
For example, a small, but significant, fraction of the human genome is more similar to the modern gorilla genome than to the chimpanzee genome. For this subset of sequences, our species tree does not match the gene tree (figure 2). This discordance is expected for closely related species that have diverged from each other in a short amount of time. Put another way, the reason our genome is overwhelmingly more similar to the chimpanzee genome is that we most recently shared a common ancestor with chimpanzees. Yet, in spite of this, we retain some regions of our genome that are more closely related to gorillas. This situation arises because the population that gave rise to the human-chimpanzee common ancestor was large enough, and genetically diverse enough, to transmit this variation to us without passing it on to chimpanzees. Chimpanzees and humans are thus separate genomic samplings of a diverse ancestral population. Had this pool been small, the human-chimpanzee gene trees would match the species tree in almost every case. The proportion of gene trees that do not match the species tree can therefore be used to estimate the population size of the ancestral population.
Prof. Venema explains that this method, in the latest large-scale studies which he references, returns a value of between eight to ten thousand individuals in the population at the time that human ancestors and gorilla ancestors began to speciate. Any larger, and the closeness of parts of the human-gorilla genomes would not be observed to the same degree; any smaller, and the population would most likely not have been able to keep the gorilla subcomponent separate, and preserve it distinct from the chimpanzee part until today. (See the species- and gene-tree diagrams in the article [Figure 2].)

Another method of population genetics, based this time on synteny data, provides confirmation of the results derived from the homologous data. The details are in the Venema article, but here is the bottom line (I have again omitted the footnote references, and have added the bold emphasis for reasons that will appear in my next post):
Studies based on SNP/LD [synteny] approaches have now estimated ancestral population dynamics for various human groups over time in more detail than is possible with mutation-based estimates. African groups have a higher effective population size (~7,000) than do non-African groups (~3,000) over the last 200,000 years. This approach, though based on methods and assumptions independent of previous work, nonetheless continues to support the conclusion that humans, as a species, are descended from an ancestral population of at least several thousand individuals. More importantly, the scalability of this approach reveals that there was no significant change in human population size at the time modern humans appeared in the fossil record (~200,000 years ago), or at the time of significant cultural and religious development at ~50,000 years ago.
The techniques of population genetics, as they become more and more refined, are like a microscope that uses ever and ever higher power to achieve ever greater resolution. In the short space of ten to fifteen years, we have gone from the data supporting an ancestral population of about ten thousand individuals into one that breaks into two groups: a larger, African group base of about 7,000; and a smaller, non-African base of about 3,000 individuals.

In the next post of this series I will put forth a tentative hypothesis that could, if it can withstand wider scrutiny, provide a bridge between the seemingly disparate genetic evidence sketched above and the ancient biblical literary evidence discussed earlier.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Another Court Sets an Example for "Neutral Principles"

A little more than a year ago, I discussed in this post the proper application of "neutral principles of law" in resolving a church property dispute, which was in front of Circuit Judge Carl Heldt of Vanderburgh County, Indiana. Now comes word of a similarly principled decision from a local Circuit Court Judge in Jackson County, Missouri (a .pdf version of the seven-page opinion and order is here -- H/T: Layman online).

Both the Indiana and Missouri cases involve offshoots of the Presbyterian Church, and both involved congregations which split off from their local presbytery -- which then sued them for the real and personal property of the respective parishes. The presbyteries in each case staked their claim on arguments of express and implied trust, basing themselves on this language from the Book of Order (constitution) of the PCUSA:
All property held by or for a particular church, a presbytery, a synod, the General Assembly, or the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), whether legal title is lodged in a corporation, a trustee or trustees, or an unincorporated association, and whether the property is used in programs of a particular church or of a more inclusive governing body or retained for the production of income, is held in trust nevertheless for the use and benefit of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
This provision, first added in 1981, parallels ECUSA's Dennis Canon, added in 1979. However, the two provisions differ in significant ways. In PCUSA's version, all parish property is declared to be held in trust "for the use and benefit" of PCUSA. The Dennis Canon spells out that while all parish property is held in trust for ECUSA and the local diocese, that trust "shall in no way limit the power and authority" of the parish over its property, "so long as the particular Parish, Mission or Congregation remains a part of, and subject to, this Church and its Constitution and Canons."

The Presbyterian version attempts to declare a simple trust, and has no language of defeasance -- that is, of forfeiture -- if the parish in question decides to leave the presbytery. Technically, it could be read to mean that the parish in question may continue to hold legal title to the property, but that it would have to make the property available for the "use of" any congregants still remaining in the presbytery.

The Episcopal version is, however, equally unclear about who is entitled to become the "trustee" of the parish's property (i.e., hold the legal title to it) once the parish is no longer subject to the church or its canons. The courts which have ruled on the matter thus far have simply handed the property over to the local diocese, for it to install a new congregation if it can, or to sell to others if it cannot.

The Missouri court made much of the weaknesses in the PCUSA provision. Comparing its terms with a Missouri statute which spells out how a trust is created, it observed that none of the facts shown fit within the statute:
Defendant admits that at all times the property in question has been titled to Colonial (hereinafter referred to as "plaintiff') solely, and not to Defendant. Defendant also admits that Plaintiff is not financially indebted to Defendant in connection with any ofthe property in dispute. In order to create an express trust under Missouri law, plaintiff as grantor would have to declare that it holds the property in trust for defundant. Defendant, however, cites the following clause from the PCUSA's Book of Order, added in 1983, in support of their position that an express trust exists:
The court quotes the language from the Book of Order as quoted above, and then points out: "The language 'for the use and benefit', confers only a right to use the property, it does not confer ownership of the property." In a normal trust, as earlier indicated, the trustee holds the legal title to the property. The beneficiary of the trust is the one who uses and occupies the property. But the PCUSA clause wants to take a shortcut -- it wants to make the church the beneficiary of the property without any deed by its owner first putting it into a trust.

The court points out, first of all, that the language of the Book of Order does not convey any title to anything -- which is one of the requisites for a trust to be created under Missouri law: "The Book of Order is a unilateral document created by the defendant as beneficiary of said trust and not by Plaintiff, the grantor. It is not signed by Plaintiff."

Next, the court points out another defect -- the language of the Book of Order is too vague, and does not specify any particular Missouri property:
The above clause in the Book of Order refers to property, generally. Missouri law requires that in order for a trust to be created, the subject matter must be definite. Edgar v. Fitzpatrick, 377 S.W. 2d 314 (Mo 1964). The above clause does not describe the property with any specificity.
This is a new point, which I have not seen touched upon in any of the Episcopal Church cases -- and attorneys for the parishes in those cases would do well to note it. For ECUSA's Dennis Canon is equally vague about describing any particular property to which it applies. If there is any state law on this point, you should be sure to cite it! The court now concludes, with respect to its discussion of an express trust:
Missouri law also requires that an express trust be created by the "direct or express words of a grantor or settler, or by the intentional act of the party having dominion over the property." Gwin v. Gwin, 219 S.W.2d 282 (Mo App. 1949). The above clause is drafted by the beneficiary and not the grantor contrary to and in violation of Missouri law. For these reasons, the court finds that the above clause does not create a trust over plaintiff's property.
. . . Defendant cannot create a trust of another's property for its benefit. The defendant's alleged trust clause violates Missouri law. No express trust exists.
Next, the court moves on to the presbytery's claim that Colonial's property, which The Layman reports has an assessed valuation of $4.7 million, had been imposed with an implied trust in its favor. First the court surveyed the law on implied trusts in Missouri (emphasis is the court's):
Missouri law identifies two types of implied trusts, a resulting or a constructive trust.
A resulting trust is one implied by law from the acts and condnct of the parties and the facts and circumstances which at the time exist and surround the transaction out of which it arises. . . . A resulting trust arises "where one pays the purchase price for land with legal title taken in another.". . . The theory behind a resulting trust is that one who provides purchase money for property intends to receive the benefit of that property. . . . A resulting trust arises, if at all, the instant a deed is taken. . . . It cannot be created by subsequent occurrences. . . . Clear and convincing evidence must exist in order for a court to find a resulting trust.
. . . "To establish a constructive trust, an extraordinary degree of proof is required. The evidence must be unquestionable in character. The evidence must be so clear, cogent, and convincing as to exclude every reasonable doubt in the mind of the trial court." . . . "The stringency of the proof requirements has been attributed to the public policy in favor of the security of titles and the reluctance of courts to disturb record or other apparent ownership." . . . The touchstone for imposition of a constructive trust is injustice or unfairness, which may take the form or be the product of fraud, abuse of a fiduciary or confidential relationship, undue influence, or unjust enrichment.
One sees at once that the presbytery has a very high bar to reach under Missouri law to establish its claims of an implied trust. And indeed, it does not take the court long to find a lack of any evidence -- let alone clear or unquestionable evidence:
There are no facts in the counterclaim or motions submitted herein that allege that defendant provided purchase money for the property, that there was a taking of the deed resulting in fraud or mistake or that plaintiff has been unjustly enriched.

There is no evidence that a deed was taken, that purchase money for the property was provided or that plaintiff has been unjustly enriched. There is no evidence of fraud or mistake. Rather the Court finds that it would be defendant who would be unjustly enriched by taking possession of plaintiff's property.
Exactly -- thank you for that clarity, Judge Del Muro.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Did Adam and Eve Exist? (Part II)

[Note: This is the third post in a multipart series. The Introduction is at this link, and Part I is at this link.]

In the previous post, we surveyed all the principal facts concerning the origins of the universe, sun, earth, life and mankind itself -- as science currently claims them to be. We contrasted them to the core religious facts of the Christian faith, and then asked the question whether the description of our origins in the early chapters of Genesis was factual, allegorical, or a blend of the two.

The core facts of the Christian faith include that Jesus was born, crucified to death, buried, and then resurrected from the dead. This last fact supposedly puts Christianity at odds with science, since the latter currently knows of no way that such a resurrection could happen. (We are not talking about just any "near-death" experience here, for which science might be able to blur the boundaries. Jesus was taken down from the cross on the basis that he was already dead -- as verified by veteran Roman soldiers, who had stabbed him in the side with a spear. He was laid in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb, and enshrouded as one who was dead, to await the day after the Sabbath for further anointment. Some thirty to thirty-six hours later, his corpse vanished from under the shroud, the stone sealing the tomb was rolled away [to the consternation of the Roman troops keeping watch], and he was almost immediately experienced again as a living person, with no deleterious effects from his brutal scourging and crucifixion just a day and a half before. Science has no possible explanation for such facts.)

But science, fortunately, is not the final judge of Christianity. If the core facts of Christianity are not true, we have St. Paul himself to tell us that "our faith is then in vain" (1 Cor. 15:14) -- and this reassurance is from a man who had actually met the risen Christ a few years before. Nota bene, John Shelby Spong, et al.: one cannot be a follower of the Christian religion without believing its core facts -- otherwise, an eyewitness to the resurrected Christ testifies that without belief in the physical resurrection of Our Lord, one's faith is in vain.

Science is in no position to judge the truth of the core facts of Christianity, because the idea of God's incarnation as the Son, and the Son's subsequent resurrection, are events outside the realm of science. That does not mean they never happened, but only that science lacks the ability to deal with them. (And please do not misunderstand -- that is not a criticism of science, any more than saying that a screwdriver lacks the ability to deal with a rivet is a criticism of the screwdriver.)

Nevertheless, Christians must be on guard that in seeking to bring accounts in the Bible into harmony with the currently known facts of science, they do not abandon, betray or undermine the core religious facts of their faith. Christ's resurrection was the entire point and goal of creation: as he himself made clear, he came to fulfill the law -- and to save sinners by doing so. Any reading of Scripture which diminishes that core truth is unhelpful at best, and possibly much worse.

The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and their subsequent fall, is one of the key pieces that gives Christ's death and resurrection a purpose, and thereby helps to explicate what he meant by coming "to fulfill the law." As St. Paul explains again, in chapter 5 of his Epistle to the Romans:

5:12 So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned – 5:13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world, but there is no accounting for sin when there is no law. 5:14 Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam (who is a type of the coming one) transgressed.5:15 But the gracious gift is not like the transgression. . . .

5:18 Consequently, just as condemnation for all people came through one transgression, so too through the one righteous act came righteousness leading to life for all people. 5:19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man many will be made righteous.

Note that Paul continuously speaks here of Adam as "one man", and contrasts him with another unique individual, Jesus. Paul identifies Adam as the vehicle by which sin entered into the world, and in doing so verifies Adam's historical, not mythological, status. He thus authenticates the Genesis story -- however it may have actually happened, Paul firmly believed, from the revelation he had received, that it was through a single, God-created individual that sin first entered the human world.

There are many other analytical reasons for regarding the Adam of Genesis as an historical person, but this is the chief theological one. Through Adam sin became universal among men, so that Christ Jesus could later come to save sinners. It will thus be necessary, in evaluating the various treatments of Genesis which I shall now discuss, to keep this point uppermost in mind.

As biology, anthropology and the science of genetics have all made their advances, those who try to apply their findings to the Genesis story have encountered what they view as increasing difficulties. Consider the case of Francis Collins, the well-known Christian geneticist who headed up the Human Genome Project. After the human genes had been fully mapped, Dr. Collins published The Language of God, in which he explained how the accumulated genetic evidence pointed to the emergence of "Anatomically Modern Humans" (in today's PC terminology) some 100,000 years ago, in a species whose population was on the order of 10,000 individuals. He noted that these findings cast some doubt on the miraculous story narrated in the first two chapters of Genesis, and suggested that the latter's account might rather be a "poetic and powerful allegory of God's plan for the entrance of the spiritual nature (the soul) and the Moral Law into humanity" (p. 207).

He followed this statement with the observation: "Since a supernatural God can carry out supernatural acts, both options [miraculous creation and poetic allegory] are intellectually tenable" (ibid.). Just four years later, however, he published his most recent book, The Language of Science and Faith (co-auhored with Karl Giberson), in which he asserted (p. 208; italics in original):
Literalist readings of Genesis imply that God specially created Adam and Eve, and that all humans are descended from these original parents. Such readings, unfortunately, do not fit the evidence, for several reasons. . . .
Perhaps the shift in emphasis here, from a belief in "supernatural acts" being "equally tenable" to a claim that any such acts "do not fit the evidence", is unintentional. Nevertheless, the dominance of (preference for) a science-based account over a faith-based account is inescapable, and may be observed elsewhere among scientists in these days who profess the Christian faith.

Francis Collins established the BioLogos Foundation in November 2007, and served as its president until being tapped by President Obama to head up the National Institutes of Health in August 2009. Other members joining the Foundation included Collins' co-author Karl Giberson, who earlier had written Saving Darwin, a book about how to be a Darwinian and a Christian at the same time; and Darrel Falk, a long-time professor of biology at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, and co-author (with Francis Collins) of Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology. (When Collins left to head up the NIH, Falk succeeded him as president of the BioLogos Foundation.)

With a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, BioLogos operates The BioLogos Forum, which "highlights the compatibility between modern science and traditional Christian beliefs." Though BioLogos takes no official position on whether or not Adam and Eve were historical persons, many articles published on the BioLogos Forum have entertained an allegorical, or at least "representative", view of the first couple. One such article is this one, written by Denis Alexander, who is Director of the Faraday Institute, an interdisciplinary enterprise under the aegis of St. Edmund's College, Cambridge. In it, he posits two models which are current among scientists who are professing Christians, and which may be used to harmonize the story told in Genesis with the latest genetic findings (as summarized in this article).

Dr. Alexander names the first view "the Retelling Model," and describes it in these words (footnotes are omitted; italics added):
The Retelling Model represents a gradualist protohistorical view, meaning that it is not historical in the usual sense of that word, but does refer to events that took place in particular times and locations. The model suggests that as anatomically modern humans evolved in Africa from 200,000 years ago, or during some period of linguistic and cultural development since then, there was a gradual growing awareness of God’s presence and calling upon their lives to which they responded in obedience and worship. The earliest spiritual stirrings of the human spirit were in the context of monotheism, and it was natural at the beginning for humans to turn to their Creator, in the same way that children today seem readily to believe in God almost as soon as they can speak. In this model, the early chapters of Genesis represent a re-telling of this early episode, or series of episodes, in our human history in a form that could be understood within the Middle Eastern culture of the Jewish people of that time. The model therefore presents the Genesis account of Adam and Eve as a myth in the technical sense of that word - a story or parable having the main purpose of teaching eternal truths - albeit one that refers to real putative events that took place over a prolonged period of time during the early history of humanity in Africa.
Under this view, the entry of sin into the world came as a result of a communal, and not individual, betrayal (italics again added):
In favor of the Retelling Model is the way in which the doctrine of Adam made in the image of God can be applied to a focused community of anatomically modern humans, all of whose descendants – the whole of humanity since that time – share in this privileged status in the sight of God. Likewise as this putative early human community turned their backs on the spiritual light that God had graciously bestowed upon them, so sin entered the world for the first time, and has contaminated humanity ever since. Such an interpretation is made possible by the fact that the very early human community within Africa would have been no more than a few hundred breeding pairs. If the Retelling Model is taken as applying to this very early stage of human evolution, prior to the time at which different human populations began to spread throughout different areas of Africa, then these putative events could have happened to the whole of humanity alive at that time.
In other words, we cannot say, on the basis of Genesis alone, that sin was introduced into the world through the act of just one or two chosen individuals. The story of Adam and Eve is a myth which is used to impart "eternal truths" -- but it probably is not factual.

Dr. Alexander names his second view of Genesis as "the Homo divinus model." According to this version,
God in his grace chose a couple of Neolithic farmers in the Near East, or maybe a community of farmers, to whom he chose to reveal himself in a special way, calling them into fellowship with himself – so that they might know Him as the one true personal God. From now on there would be a community who would know that they were called to a holy enterprise, called to be stewards of God’s creation, called to know God personally. It is for this reason that this first couple, or community, have been termed Homo divinus, the divine humans, those who know the one true God, the Adam and Eve of the Genesis account. Being an anatomically modern human was necessary but not sufficient for being spiritually alive; as remains the case today. Homo divinus were the first humans who were truly spiritually alive in fellowship with God, providing the spiritual roots of the Jewish faith. Certainly religious beliefs existed before this time, as people sought after God or gods in different parts of the world, offering their own explanations for the meaning of their lives, but Homo divinus marked the time at which God chose to reveal himself and his purposes for humankind for the first time.

The Homo divinus model also draws attention to the representative nature of ‘the Adam’, ‘the man’, as suggested by the use of the definite article in the Genesis text as mentioned above. ‘The man’ is therefore viewed as the federal head of the whole of humanity alive at that time. This was the moment at which God decided to start his new spiritual family on earth, consisting of all those who put their trust in God by faith, expressed in obedience to his will. Adam and Eve, in this view, were real people, living in a particular historical era and geographical location, chosen by God to be the representatives of his new humanity on earth, not by virtue of anything that they had done, but simply by God’s grace. When Adam recognised Eve as ‘bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’, he was not just recognising a fellow Homo sapiens – there were plenty of those around – but a fellow believer, one like him who had been called to share in the very life of God in obedience to his commands. The world population in Neolithic times is estimated to lie in the range 1–10 million, genetically just like Adam and Eve, but in this model it was these two farmers out of all those millions to whom God chose to reveal himself.

Just as I can go out on the streets of New York today and have no idea just by looking at people, all of them members of the species Homo sapiens, which ones are spiritually alive, so in this model there was no physical way of distinguishing between Adam and Eve and their contemporaries. It is a model about spiritual life and revealed commands and responsibilities, not about genetics.
The reader may find some rational basis on which to distinguish between these two models of Genesis; for the life of me, I cannot. While the Homo divinus model asserts that God first revealed himself to "two Neolithic farmers" (among many), it also allows for the revelation to have taken place with respect to "a community of farmers" -- it cannot say which version is correct. Instead of being isolated in the Garden of Eden, Adam is "the federal head of the whole of humanity alive at that time." (Italics added.) In other words, just as in the "Retelling" model, the events of Genesis causing the introduction of "original sin" happened for an entire community of people, all at the same time. And insofar as it holds that such a scenario explains the account in Genesis, I find it indistinguishable from the "Retelling model" sketched earlier. Both models seem to imply that sin (however defined) need not have entered the human race through a single primeval couple, but that Adam and Eve are symbolically representative of the first humans who strayed from God's path.

It is relatively easy, even for a non-scientist, to see just what is the stumbling-block here. The problem lies in the statistical DNA evidence which says that modern-day humans are all descended from an ancestor population which at its smallest comprised no less than about 7,000 individuals. Among such a population, what role is left for an individual couple? When, exactly, in human history did God choose to make Adam and Eve his candidates for eternal life in the Garden of Eden? And once they failed the test, how did it happen that all of the other evolved hominids at that point became corrupted with the sin of the original pair?

These are knotty questions, deserving of much thought. I, in the company (I am sure) of many like-minded Christians, have been pondering them for a long time. In doing so, I have always sought answers which did not require me to abandon altogether, or to mythologize out of historical reality, the account in Genesis chapters 2-4, for the reasons initially given by St. Paul. Communities of individuals do not arrive all at the same instant at a resolution to disobey God's command -- even in the Genesis account, Eve went first, followed shortly thereafter by Adam, by virtue of his intimate relationship with her.

(Somehow, I cannot envision a primitive Adam, rushing through the camp of his Homo divinus community, yelling: "Hey! You have got to taste this! Never mind that He said we must not taste it -- I tell you, I have done so, and you all have to, too!" Is the story of Genesis really as prosaic a stand-in for what happened as that? I don't think so.)

But before we can take on the questions directly, I think it best if we first try to understand the genetic science that is taking us in the direction of a relatively large initial community (of the species Homo divinus, if you will), as opposed to a single initial couple. And that topic will be the subject of the next post in this series.