Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Will the Real Adam Please Stand Up?

As science proceeds onward with ever more findings and analysis, it becomes increasingly difficult for Christians to stay abreast of the latest claims, let alone to harmonize them with their faith. This difficulty is partly due to the huge atheistic bias present in all current secular reports about the advancements of science, whether it be from the so-called "Scientific" American, or the latest pronouncements from Richard Dawkins and similar ideologues.

We now supposedly have a definitive statistical analysis of the "genetic pool" from which the first members of homo sapiens emerged, and lo and behold -- the analysis claims that there could not have been an original pair, such as Adam and Eve. Instead, the genetic "bottleneck" from which all subsequent humans evolved supposedly contained somewhere between 7000 to 10,000 members, according to the mathematical analysis of the DNA of homo sapiens. The conclusion, smugly drawn by most atheists and agnostics, is that Adam and Eve could not have been an historical pair. From that observation, they conclude that the entire Bible is fiction.

One the one hand, I must say that I am tempted to let the atheists and agnostics stew in their own juices -- that is, after all, the worldview they have settled upon, and neither any one Christian, nor any event short of the Second Coming, is going to persuade them of the limitations of that perspective on human affairs. But on the other hand, I am concerned lest the secular viewpoint serve to undermine the ongoing faith of my fellow Christians who might lack the ability to understand the technical scientific details involved. So, if you find your faith challenged by these latest "findings", this series of posts on Adam and Eve may be of interest to you.

It is a very large topic, far too big to be covered in just one post. There is a good overview of the Christian debate in the current issue of Christianity Today, entitled "The Search for the Historical Adam." There is also a very wise editorial in the same issue, which cautions:
At this juncture, we counsel patience. We don't need another fundamentalist reaction against science. We need instead a positive interdisciplinary engagement that recognizes the good will of all involved and that creative thinking takes time. In the long run, it may be the humility of our scholars as much as their technical expertise that will bring us to deeper knowledge of the truth.
What is happening is that scientific scholarship in biology is advancing more rapidly than is the scholarship in current theology and philosophy. It is not so much that theologians need to re-examine the first chapters of Genesis in order to adapt their interpretation to the latest scientific findings: the Bible is not a book of science. It is first and foremost a book of revelation -- and that means that the revelations it contains, while all stemming from the single source of inerrant truth, were received by different peoples at different times, each with their own particular ability to comprehend the revelation, and to record it in terms which we can understand today. The task is made the more difficult by our having to view these revelations through the filter of translations from ancient languages, which predate English by many thousands of years.

So I cannot promise that it will not be a bumpy ride. But the huge topic is a worthy one, and Christians need to work their way through it in love and charity, without rancor or spite. In the next post in this series, I will survey some of the various theological responses to the new anthropological findings that have been offered to date, before delving into more of the science itself.

[Note: This is just the introduction to what will be a multi-part series. To read the rest of the posts, follow this link to Part I, and take the link at the end of that post which will take you to the next Part.]


  1. You are optimistic to believe that the Second Coming might cause even a smidgeon of doubt within the Dawkins devotees. They'd just chalk it up to sun spots or high cholesterol counts.

  2. Mr. Haley,

    The mathematics seems to me suggestive of something utterly inconvenient for those who wish to insist on the strictly evolutionary development of Homo sapiens. I say this (and I am neither a biologist nor, being a degreed geologist, am I a "young-earther"), based on the following line of reasoning.

    As I understand the theory of evolution, it asserts that any sexually-reproducing species comes into existence as a separate species distinct from its ancestors by the development of one or more genetic traits not present, or at least not present and expressed in the same specific form or structure, in its immediate parents. If this is an accurate characterization, then it strains credulity to suppose that somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 individuals would have manifested the same permutation (or perhaps simply mutation) within something of the order of a few generations.

    Perhaps there is something I am misunderstanding here, so I will await with some avidity your succeeding article(s) on this topic.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  3. MA, the details of the genetic analysis are in the article by Dennis Venema linked above, beginning on page 173 in the right-hand column. Don't forget that all the evidence shows is that we, the chimpanzees, and the gorillas all shared a common ancestor about nine million years ago ("MYA"), and that the gorilla ancestors speciated off from that line first, about six MYA, before the chimpanzee and human ancestors separated some two MYA.

    None of those earlier ancestors is around any longer, but the population estimates show that there were thousands and thousands of them. From a group of, say, twenty-five thousand primary ancestors, it would not be unlikely for some ten thousand or so to have been cut off by accidents of weather, volcanoes, earthquakes or the like. That subgroup would then start to speciate away from the parent group, since it has only itself to breed with. In time (a million years or more), the numbers of the species would grow again, until another "accident" isolated yet another subgroup, which would then start to speciate away from its predecessors, and so on.

    The "Adam and Eve" hypothesis, up until now, has always been taken as claiming that the human ancestor population went through an extremely narrow "bottleneck" of as few as two precursors, but the genetic evidence pretty much rules out any such scenario. In the succeeding posts, I will treat this subject in more detail.

  4. Big Vicar, you may well be right! Thanks to your coming here to comment, I got a chance to view your blog, and so have linked to it at the right. You link to a lot of other blogs that I don't link here, so the connection should be fruitful for those wanting to explore more conservative blogs.

  5. The more significant DNA studies actually verify the Biblical accounts of Abraham and his ancestors coming our of Africa. Haplogroup R-M173 is of particular significance because this pertains to the ancient Kushite and Nilotic peoples who are genetically related.

    Also this:

  6. Yes, Big Vicar, they are the modern Logical Positivists.

    A few years ago I did a study of the lives of the 3 leading logical positivists. Their lives were depressing and 2 of the 3 took their own lives.

    Not that way to life!