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The zero-sum game in human evolution and theology

I've often talked about the zero-sum game in relation to the homosexual agenda. "Moderates" think that, if they make concessions, they will then be left alone in the area they have carved out for themselves, but it never works that way. They are always pursued to that area and required to endorse more and more, until they must surrender completely or be punished.

I think that a parallel phenomenon goes on in the area of theistic evolution. For a long time, theistic evolutionists have attempted detente with secular Darwinists in something like the following terms: We will concede that you guys are right and are justified by "overwhelming evidence" in science when you say that man evolved by what appear to be fully natural processes from non-human ancestors. However, this was only man's body. To salvage our claim to some sort of Judeo-Christian belief in God's special relation to man and man's having the imago dei, we will postulate an entirely invisible, unverifiable and unfalsifiable event of "ensoulment" at a certain point in the natural, physical history of evolution. God specially created just the immaterial part of man, a soul, and placed it into a body that had come into existence entirely through the physical means that you Darwinists state. By this event, God made a male and a female into real human beings. These were Adam and Eve who were the ancestors of all human beings. They fell through sin, and the story of redemption history continues from there. Deal?

No deal. Contrary to hopes and expectations, this theistic evolutionist attempt to retreat into pure, non-empirical metaphysics in order to give the widest possible latitude to the allegedly "settled results of science" has not met with joyous praise from the secular Darwinist side.

In fact, they have doubled down: The claim now is that there could not have been a single male and female ancestor of all human beings, that human evolution goes through a bottleneck of a supposedly minimum number of ancestors of several thousand at the supposed time of our last common ancestor with chimpanzees. This based on conjectures from DNA sequencing.

Capitulation has been widespread, with the Biologos foundation leading the way in abandoning the existence of an historical Adam and Eve who were the literal, biological ancestors of all mankind. This, of course, forced by the (new) "settled results of science."

Those Christians who thought they could just comfortably follow the consensus of the scientific mainstream while maintaining their Christian theology in a separate, spiritual realm, have been put in a bind by all of this. The existence of a literal Adam, the ancestor of all mankind, whose literal fall into sin was the great catastrophe of human history, has been regarded for two thousand years as an important tenet of Christian theology, taken without question by Jesus and the early Christians from Judaism. The Apostle Paul proceeded to expound an explicit Christian theology of grace and redemption, based on the historical existence of Adam; Jesus is the new Adam who redeems us from the Fall of the first Adam.

But now "science" is telling us that Adam was, at the very most, some kind of tribal head of a very large group of hominids, all of whom interbred. In fact, the whole idea is that there are no two human parents whose blood runs in the veins of every human alive today. Theistic evolutionist Christians have been hounded out of their niche. Either they will have to abandon some fairly basic Christian theology or they will have to start asking whether, after all, the scientific consensus is so well-supported, so objective, so unbiased a result of plain empirical research, as they have been led to believe and have previously conceded.

As I noted briefly here, the whole purely spiritual ensoulment view was always dubious. Apart from the fact that it is vastly, not to say wildly, at odds with the Genesis text, such a view implies that the body of man is entirely animalistic and requires only the addition of a purely immaterial soul, like a cherry on top, to make man. The imago dei thus becomes an entirely immaterial matter having nothing whatsoever to do with the human body. There would have been large numbers of evolved hominids with the same kind of body as the "ensouled" Adam and Eve who, lacking the addition of that purely immaterial part, would not have had the imago dei.

This is both metaphysically and empirically questionable. Is it really plausible that so important a change as that between man and an ape-like creature would have no physical consequences, in brain structure and function, if nothing else?

Metaphysically, do we really want to postulate that man is, physically, nothing but a biological animal, magically united with an immaterial soul? Even I, self-styled Cartesian though I am, think this poor metaphysics. It is both scientifically and experientially evident that human emotions, desires, and abilities are deeply wedded to our natural embodiment. This does not mean that it is literally impossible that a disembodied human soul could have similar abilities and feelings, but it does make such a state not the normal human state. I, for example, am female, and this has to do with a very deep connection between my body and soul, a connection concretely manifested in all sorts of interactions among neural firings, emotions, hormones, and much more. A being who was never intended to be embodied at all would not, indeed could not, be female in the same sense.

The angelistic ensoulment view, without any bodily consequences, was a poor compromise from the beginning. I suggest that Christians would have been better served a long time ago if they had questioned the claims to neutrality, objectivity, and "overwhelming evidence" brought for the highly conjectural theories of naturalistic human physical evolution. If they are not going to abandon an historical Adam and Eve now, they are going to have to do that now in any event--dig into the empirical evidence and make some attempt to discover whether the latest declarations from the Scientific Consensus Magisterium really reflect undeniable empirical facts. This requires getting over the fear of being burned and looking silly--what we might call Galileo Avoidance Syndrome. (HT for the phrase to Esteemed Husband.)

As in other political realms, so in such a contentious area as the origins of mankind: There really are sides, and it does us no good to be naive and to assume that we can let the other side dictate our beliefs and, thereby, our terms of surrender. We need to be more stubborn, more willing to take a forward position, and more willing to say that the "consensus of experts" may well be wrong. The same is true, by the way, in the field of New Testament studies.

I hope later to write a bit about the book Science and Human Origins, by Ann Gauger, Douglas Axe, and Casey Luskin, but that is for another post.

Comments (59)

Lydia:
I think there is much merit to your post and to the project you suggest - actually looking at the evidence. That said - two points.
First, I have always seen the observation of Gen 2:9(?) which says that God made man from the slime/clay of the earth to be an apt place to plug in the possibility of evolution. God molded Man. Scripture does not say HOW.
Second, have you ever heard of/ read a blogger named Mike Flynn. If not, you are missing a real treat. He wrote a fantastic post attempting to reconcile monogenism and polygenism. I don't say I agree with it all but read it for yourself.
http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2011/09/adam-and-eve-and-ted-and-alice.html
Thanks,
Matthew

Yes, I believe I've seen that post before, but it was a while ago. As far as I can tell, his "solution" is either not compatible with what is being claimed about the bottleneck or is not compatible with Christian doctrine. Suppose, one the one hand, that he means that Adam and Eve *really are*, qua couple, the ancestors of all of us and that it is only their *children* who are supposed to have interbred with non-humans. I question whether this in itself is compatible with Scripture, but for the moment I set that aside. As far as I can tell, that suggestion is incompatible with the bottleneck claim. For that would still have us all really descended from an extremely narrow bottleneck of only two people--all of us really descended from a real single couple. Now, it may be that I am misunderstanding the bottleneck claim,a nd that its proponents would be fine with us being descended from a real first couple so long as their children interbred with others within a group of 10,000 or so. Now, second, suppose that he means that Adam slept around among non-human hominids and Eve slept around and that some of us have only Adam as an ancestor but not Eve and that some of us have only Eve as an ancestress but not Adam. That is _clearly_ incompatible with the Scriptural view.

Now, going back to that first idea. To some extent I see this kind of silly-putty approach to Genesis as highly problematic. It's like, "How much can we get away with?" Let's face it: The idea that man is unique, that man is made in the image of God, is very, very, very, very dubiously compatible (and even with all those "verys" I'm putting it mildly) with the picture of all of us as descended from an interbreeding between Adam and Eve's offspring and non-human animals. Indeed, what we're at that point talking about is all of us being the result of bestiality by humans with non-humans. All of us are only part-humans, in a sense, and there is no sharp distinction between *the race of man*, made in the image of God, and the beasts who are not made in the image of God. I would go so far as to say that an Adam and Eve who are our ancestors only in the sense that their children interbred freely with sub-humans are not the Adam and Eve of Scripture, the parents of the beings who are *strictly* different. Indeed, God even seems to have anticipated some such idea when it is clearly stated that among the beasts no mate was found for Adam. So, it wasn't okay for Dad to sleep with animals and bear offspring, but it was good enough for his sons?

Huge problems here.

Indeed, it strikes me as rather surprising that people who are Christians should approach this whole thing as though the notion of the imago dei and the specialness of man were not woven into the very warp and woof of Scripture in a way that cannot be disentangled simply by waving a wand labeled "myth."

Now, I want to back up to your point about "God molded man but we don't know how." Again, what _precisely_ is this supposed to mean? If it means that man simply descended from animals, then we have the whole polygenism issue rising up once again, plus the questions of angelism I raise in the post, plus the issue of the imago dei. If we're supposed to have God actually *intervening* so as to *make man different* in body as well as in mind, and a real, historical Adam and Eve in the normal sense in which Christians have always taken it, well, you aren't going to satisfy the advocates of the "bottleneck" in that case.

Lydia, what is your take on the basic claim that I often hear made by theistic evolutionists that, "There is no reason God could not use a random process to create man?" This seems flatly incoherent to me. One may as well say that God could make a rock so big he couldn't lift it, which is obviously impossible. I suppose it's just a question of terms--do you think that it is part of what we mean when we say a thing is "random" that it is directionless, purposeless, non-teleological? This seems intuitively plain to me, and I think most people would agree; but I don't think I could attempt to demonstrate it without making some kind of conceptual error along the way.

I think they should be pressed on what, precisely, they mean by "use a random process to create man." For example, ask them whether they mean that God created man in *the very same sense* and *only in the sense* that God can be said to "create" a particular snowflake on your window in January. That is, in the sense that God providentially upholds the natural order in which that snowflake happens to arise, with no special fine-tuning of the initial conditions to bring about just that snowflake. If that is what they mean, then I think you should be staunch that that is strongly in conflict with the teaching of Scripture about God's relationship to man, the specialness of man, and the creation of man.

In any event, I think it is tedious of folks on that side of the matter to try to pretend that the whole question is a philosophical question of what God _could_ have done, when in actuality they are peddling a theory about what God _did_ do. Since their theory of natural evolution from non-human animals, including polygenism, is (I think we should staunchly maintain) prima facie at odds with Christian tradition and Scriptural teaching, the burden of proof is on them. I don't believe they have satisfied that burden of proof, nor even come close, and their condescending talk about "what God could have done" is really just not to the point.

Lydia,

Good post, but for me it just raises more questions (in a good way!) I've become increasingly skeptical of the Darwinian account of the origin of life over the past couple of years based on the evidence and based on philosophical attacks on the idea of consciousness (via Nagel and others). That said, since I do believe in microevolution, I'm left with the main question of how should I read Genesis 1-4. For example -- was there a real Garden somewhere on Earth? Was there death on Earth before Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Are we really all descendants of Adam and Eve? The Bible doesn't say where Cain gets his wife or where all those people are from he's worried might kill him -- are they all just his brothers and sisters? Etc.

Those are all really interesting questions, but I think a picture can be painted that answers them. For example, imagine everybody living a long time, and imagine that intermarriage with siblings is not wrong or taboo. Then the people Cain is worried about can be his brothers, sisters, nieces or nephews, etc. And his wife could be either a sister or a niece (for example). A real garden on earth (maybe fairly large from a human perspective--a kind of habitat) actually fits quite nicely with an old earth, progressive creation view, which is what I am inclined to. Conditions within the garden could be miraculously far different from conditions outside. E.g. Predators friendly to man. This explains well why being cast out of the garden was part of the sentence for sin. Animal death can also be distinguished from human death. St. Paul never teaches anything clearly about animal death (except for one reference about the creation groaning and travailing), but he does teach that human death was a result of human sin.

I would say that probably nobody, on either side of the debate, actually thinks of the evolution from entirely non-human, ape-like ancestor to man an instance of microevolution.

Lydia says,

"A real garden on earth (maybe fairly large from a human perspective--a kind of habitat) actually fits quite nicely with an old earth, progressive creation view, which is what I am inclined to."

The more I look at the weakness in the exclusive Darwinian case ('it was all random chance and we descended from the protoplasm') and the type of holistic Biblical picture Lydia paints here, the more I'm inclined to the same progressive old earth creation viewpoint. FWIW.

Lydia, I'm glad you framed this as a matter of biblical theology. Too many well-known Christian philosophers, whether or not they are theistic evolutionists, defend the compatibility of Darwin and Genesis by essentially retreating to divine sovereignty and mystery. An almighty God, the thinking goes, is not in any sense limited by how He can create the world so if the scientific evidence supports evolution we should be open-minded about this. Unfortunately for this argument, the origins debate has never been (primarily) philosophical in nature. Sure, some creationists will scoff at the idea that God would fumble his way through millions of years of evolution to bring about man, but their real beef is with Darwinism's incompatibility with Genesis. Merely offering that theism and evolution can coexist doesn't resolve much.

Which brings me to my main contention in all of this, and what I believe you were getting at as well. As a general rule of thumb, it should not be our science which drives our theology but the other way around.* There are plenty of defenses for this claim: for one it is what naturalists do(perhaps implicitly, through an atheistic theology), two "science" tells us nothing outside of a meta-view of the world which contextualizes its findings, three the competing and often contradictory discoveries and theories need something external to break the tie, etc. But primary to all of this is the fact the Bible provides us knowledge about the physical, natural world. "In the beginning" tells us the universe is not past-eternal, God creating on different days (even if not literal 24 hour days) shows a hierarchical and distinct order in creation along with establishing the 7 day week (and Sabbath) as a structure for human society, God's creation of "kinds" shows that there is some biological distinction among animals, and Adam's descendants inheriting original sin show a common (cursed) unity among men of all nations/races.

So when Darwinism contradicts any of these rather basic theological teachings, this is only a problem in the sense it is an error on the part of the naturalist. But why wouldn't the naturalist err? His atheistic philosophy precludes his science from recognizing certain truths. This is not dissimilar from psychologists who argue there is nothing immoral about homosexuality on dubious "scientific" grounds.

*It should be noted that our biblical theology can be wrong. The point is, if the Bible is a blessing which teaches us truths about theology, morality, salvation, etc. so that we may avoid the errors of the pagan its truths about the natural world allows us to escape the error of the naturalist.

GW, thanks for your comments. These are of course fairly delicate issues, but I would say that, if one accepts the authority of Scripture at all, one should only *with great reluctance* after long investigation and on the basis of *very strong* scientific evidence accept something so contrary to the normal sense of Scripture as polygenism. My major problem is what I see as a kind of naivete or haste on this. Even people who say that they are unhappy about the conclusion of "no historical Adam" seem to me puzzlingly quick to accept *extremely* conjectural work in science, work that as far as I can see comes nowhere *near* to overcoming what should be, for Christians, an extremely strong presumption in favor of the existence of a literal Adam. It is almost as though they are not "hearing" the large amounts of conjecture built into the models that are yielding these supposedly "overwhelmingly supported" results against the existence of an historical Adam. I don't know why this is, except perhaps a kind of layman's diffidence. And then of course there are those who aren't particularly unhappy about the conclusion at all. In my opinion, they are severely underestimating the strength of the biblical case.

So therefore, I advocate a strongly unified worldview. All truth is God's truth. There are no real contradictions in truth, so the true science will always agree with the true interpretation of Scripture. I do allow scientific and empirical considerations to influence my biblical interpretations, but this can just be seen as a moderate, common sense thing. An example I give is this: Suppose that some verse in Scripture refers to "going up to Jerusalem" and suppose that, as it turned out, Jerusalem was *neither* north of the speaker *nor* in a hilly region. (This is all counterfactual.) Then one might conclude that the phrase "going up to Jerusalem" meant to refer to the political and/or religious significance of Jerusalem. (Compare the practice in England of saying that young people "go up to Oxford.") One would be influenced to conclude that the phrase was an idiom, on the basis of topographical information.

Now, that's a pretty trivial example (and a made-up one, because Jerusalem actually isn't in a valley!), but it's the kind of thing that makes me not say that science should never influence our biblical interpretation.

But we have to have a kind of sense of these things--of the importance and scope of Biblical evidence. And on the historical Adam, the importance and scope of Biblical evidence is, in my opinion, very strong.

Jeff:

I've become increasingly skeptical of the Darwinian account of the origin of life over the past couple of years...

Darwinism has an account of the origin of life?

William,

Concerning Darwinism and the origin of life -- touché! By the way, as a result of some result blogging I had a chance to visit some old W4 posts concerning the topic of abortion and George Tiller. There was a "Mr. Zero" who showed up in one comment thread and you proceeded to slowly, but methodically show his ideas to be sophistry and full of evil intent. It was a wonder to behold and it makes me miss you around here.

God bless you for defending life so eloquently!

Why, thank you. Some of those old posts (and the comments) are fun to read. I revisited some recently and saw Lydia doing to someone exactly that to which you refer. Wish I could remember what it was about because I wanted to compliment her again even after some years have passed.

There would have been large numbers of evolved hominids with the same kind of body as the "ensouled" Adam and Eve who, lacking the addition of that purely immaterial part, would not have had the imago dei.

People who believe this will have to part with any remaining fondness they harbor for the idea that there is a definite thing called 'human nature.' They will have to drop the 'nature' part, since only the soul will be essential to humanity. If an animal body can house a human soul, then that latter is not the form of the body, and the two do not comprise a genuine unity, but a mere accident.

I've long believed that theistic evolutionists have to put their collective foot down on this principle or else give up the game: the creation of man (and woman) required a great miracle (God's direct intervention, if any are fuzzy on the concept) encompassing both body and soul. For if the soul is a creation of God, how will nature alone supply a body suitable to its expression? To deny this is also to deny Adam his own uniquely human biological identity, a thing which every human I'm aware of actually possesses. Either that or give up the "theistic" part of your evolutionary allegiance.


Lydia, your original post implies, without directly stating, that there was an actual deal made--if not an official contract, then a sort of "understanding"--between theistic evolutionists and secular scientists. This implication is reinforced by phrasing like "In fact, they have doubled down: The claim now is that there could not have been a single male and female ancestor of all human beings[...]"

But surely you don't honestly believe that secular scientists, even in an unofficial capacity, made any concessions that stipulated, okay, we won't do any research or examine any evidence that might contradict the pre-existing idea that modern humanity can be traced to a single male and a single female. No evolutionary biologist worth her salt (or her calcium or carbon) would agree to such an arrangement.

So, what you're really saying seems to be: theistic evolutionists, at one time, reconciled their acceptance of divinely inspired origin stories with modern science by convincing themselves that the biblical origin stories were sometimes metaphorical, but that certain key elements were still intact in a literal way.

Now, the individuals who espouse these very specific beliefs are feeling tension, because new published research calls into question one of the "key elements" that they believed was still intact: the single human male and female aspect of the origin story.

Would that be a reasonable interpretation of what you wrote?

The two points I think are worth making: 1) No reasonable evolutionary biologist would enter into a "deal" with regard to scientific inquiry, so I think the deal metaphor doesn't really work. 2) No one calls themself a "Darwinist;" that's a word used only by various types of creationists, so it's not really reasonable to contrast "theistic evolutionists" with "secular Darwinists."

Phil, you'll notice that I put the word "deal" with a question mark. I immediately followed it with, "No deal." In other words, I was suggesting that the theistic evolutionists _hoped_ that this would be accepted and that they would be left alone at that point, because they had made the connection between their (remaining) religious beliefs and the empirical world so much more tenuous and limited than it had previously been. I am implying precisely (as you say) that this was rejected. Now, I do think that there is a certain _haste_ on the part of the secular establishment to trumpet that they have shown absolutely beyond reasonable doubt that Adam and Eve are impossible. That would correspond roughly to my "doubled down" language: Sort of a "gotcha" moment.

As to the whole thing about the use of the term "Darwinist," that is a relatively new complaint. I have seen it addressed repeatedly on the ID side, and evidently it's a little bit like homosexuals (now) being insulted by the term "homosexuals" or blacks (now) not wanting to be called blacks. Twenty years ago it was A-okay, but now the People In Charge of Language have decided it's an insult, and only "the right" uses it. Something to that effect. Frankly, I find such term-whining and terminological goalpost shifting (which I believe has the intent of keeping the "other side" in a constant state of apology and nervousness) to be tiresome in the extreme and will continue to use the term "Darwinist" quite without apology.

As to the whole thing about the use of the term "Darwinist," that is a relatively new complaint.

You're aware that research into and publication about evolutionary biology continues each year and every day, right? Rhetorically, the term "Darwinism" is used as a pejorative in the U.S. in 2014, intended to imply that evolutionary biology can be reduced to a hypothesis presented by one flawed old man, and accepted whole by believers who are the modern equivalent of the followers of a cult of personality.

Of course, you didn't mean it as a pejorative, and thus it is entirely coincidental that you contrasted "theistic evolutionists" with "secular Darwinists." Is that what you're saying?

[...]evidently it's a little bit like homosexuals (now) being insulted by the term "homosexuals" or blacks (now) not wanting to be called blacks.

I seem to recall a conversation on this blog where the argument was made that, while swearing and uttering curse words might not technically be sinful, the rudeness required to use words when you know that your audience will find them offensive might constitute a sin. I can't find the original post for that, though. And I may be thinking of a different blog, and a different writer who only reminds me of you after a couple of years of distance, but I seem to remember you were especially annoyed by the argument, "It's not my fault you're annoyed when I use profanity! It's all in your head!"

I feel like there's a similar logic at play here. "Well, since I don't intend to be offensive when I call people 'blacks,' I'm just going to keep doing it."

I suspect that you would be more open-minded to the possibility that the connotation of certain words can change over time if we were talking about a new slang euphemism for sex, or for defecation. Do you see my point?

Phil, please. If you're going to try to get me involved in some stupid metalevel argument where you maintain the silly thesis that "Darwinist" is now, suddenly, in 2014, equivalent to a swear word because "language changes in meaning," I'm not going to play. Talk about a threadjack.

And I'd be just as happy to refer to "theistic Darwinists." As a matter of fact, I don't particularly _like_ a lot of self-styled theistic evolutionists. I too often find them to be annoyingly closed-minded at best and occasionally (I'm sorry to say) intellectual bullies who think themselves better than their benighted creationist brethren, whether of the old earth or of the young earth variety. Perhaps it's another example of _your_ lack of knowledge of insider terminology that you appear unaware that "theistic evolutionist" or "TE" is just one of those phrases that is used constantly, by critics and by the people themselves alike, to refer to the group I had in mind. It certainly doesn't somehow insulate them from criticism or make them better than "secular Darwinists." Stop looking for deep rhetorical contrasts where none exist.

I dont see why a theistic evolutionist / ID proponent cant still hold, nonetheless, to the scripturally unavoidable existence of a single, literal,
first human - a heterosexual male named Adam. (And eight of his offspring who survived a global flood that wiped out the rest of Adam's offspring.)

Here's an interesting, serious question: At what point does the scientific evidence for a group of human beings existing as our ancestors, as opposed to a literal Adam and Eve, become so overwhelming that to hold onto our belief we are forced to resort to admitting that we have no good reason for believing in the existence of a literal Adam and Eve except that the Bible says they exist?

Put in a way that doesn't involve a massive run-on sentence: Let's say that the evidence for a group of human beings together being our ancestors, as opposed to two, becomes overwhelming. At what point are we going to be forced to admit that the only reason we have for believing in a literal Adam and Eve is because the Bible says so, no matter what the actual evidence is? As in, it becomes akin to refusing to admit that the Earth is more than 7000 years old. Should we still hold onto our belief then, if the evidence ever reaches that point?

MarcAnthony, sure, that _could_ happen. But, as the saying goes, that day is not this day. :-)

In that case, one would have to ask just what one really meant by this overwhelming scientific evidence and set it against the probability of an Adam on the basis of Scriptural teaching. Remembering that Scriptural teaching is itself _evidence_ about the truth.

MarcAnthony, I fear the first line of my last comment may have sounded flippant or misleading. I don't think that scientific evidence *is* somehow "building up" and making it more and more difficult to believe that there was a real Adam and Eve. I think the claims on that point from the evolutionist side are very much overblown. So my "that day is not this day" comment was not meant to imply that we're sort of sitting around waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I'm working gradually on a further post on this topic but am not sure when I will get it posted.

So my "that day is not this day" comment was not meant to imply that we're sort of sitting around waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I figured that's what you meant.

I always figured the best rule of thumb was take what the Bible says literally until the evidence against a particular thing becomes overwhelming...and certain beliefs (like the Resurrection) if debunked would of course mean that Christianity was built on a lie and should be dropped.

Of course, we do not need to ever worry about that.

Perhaps it's another example of _your_ lack of knowledge of insider terminology that you appear unaware that "theistic evolutionist" or "TE" is just one of those phrases that is used constantly, by critics and by the people themselves alike

Um... I'm sorry if I was unclear and you interpreted my criticism of the loaded term "Darwinist" as a suggestion that you use the term more? That's an unusual interpretation, and it's definitely not what I was suggesting.

Phil, you were trying to infer some kind of heavy contrast (and therefore a pejorative intent) from my using "evolutionist" for the theists and "Darwinist" for the secularists. Not at all. It was merely an artifact of the common nature of the entire phrase "theistic evolutionist" in the circles I run in. And now we are done with this silliness. For decades biologists have been swearing allegiance to neo-Darwinism, by that name, which is (they tell us) supported by "overwhelming evidence," and now suddenly the term "Darwinism" is an insult? But only, of course, when used by people who _don't_ swear the allegiance. What's next? Maybe a diktat that "evolutionist" is also an insult, followed by the triumphant declaration that it's now impossible to criticize "the scientific consensus based on overwhelming evidence" at all in any forum, because (ha!) no labeling terms have been left to the critics that are not pejorative whenever used by critics.

Stop wasting my time with such nonsense.

Thanks for this post, Lydia, and for your and others' comments. This is an encouragement to me for personal reasons at this time.

God providentially upholds the natural order in which that snowflake happens to arise, with no special fine-tuning of the initial conditions to bring about just that snowflake. If that is what they mean, then I think you should be staunch that that is strongly in conflict with the teaching of Scripture about God's relationship to man, the specialness of man, and the creation of man.

But why must we hold them to be in conflict? God, after all, not only Providentially upholds that natural order but is the Agent by which that order is, and is what it is, at all. Indeed, to suggest that the conditions of the universe needed "fine-tuning" to bring us about would not only (to me) contradict the idea of an omnipotent and omniscient God to start with, but would also suggest that our creation was an afterthought to the natural order rather than (as I believe is official Church doctrine) being the entire point of it.

In other words, it seems to me that it is precisely because the universe was so precisely Created for us that it appears -- from our finite, temporal, limited point of view -- as naturalistically random as it does. The very ability to wonder at the apparent absence of God's signature upon the canvas of Creation may itself be that Signature. This is, of course, empirically unfalsifiable, but at this level empiricism is not an adequate tool of evaluation, I think.

As for Adam and Eve, I think the notion of human evolutionary descent as biological organisms is far less of an issue than the issue of human spiritual descent as fallen souls; the very name Original Sin implies an Original Sinner, and the important chain of descent is from the first being (however that being came into existence) aware enough to interact with God as a person, to understand God's instructions, and to deliberately defy those instructions (in the process somehow prematurely acquiring a degree of knowledge and further self-awareness not yet permitted). The exact form of that defiance -- whether it manifested in the literal consumption of a supernatural fruit or not -- or of how it spread among whatever other beings could be called human, is less important than the fundamental truth that it did happen and it has been passed on, and no humans living now or ever since have escaped that taint. Study of human evolutionary descent is not so much a contradiction to this thesis as simply irrelevant to it.

The very ability to wonder at the apparent absence of God's signature upon the canvas of Creation may itself be that Signature.

I could not disagree more. Scripture tells us that the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork. This kind of "it looks random, and that's the very signature" is (forgive me) a sophistical, unconvincing attempt to make a virtue out of necessity. Presumably you _believe_ that there is an apparent absence of the divine signature upon physical creation, so now, in what really sounds like an almost post-modern attempt to make black into white, the appearance of randomness is supposed to be evidence of divine providence. That is not remotely what we are taught either in Scripture or in tradition. Indeed, I would say that it contradicts the entire notion of the created order as conveying general revelation.

On Adam, again, I completely disagree. Both St. Paul and Our Lord clearly refer to Adam as an historical and real person. Yes, I know the claim that they are referring to him as a literary figure, as we might refer to Sherlock Holmes. I consider that to be an _extremely_ implausible interpretation of the passages. Indeed, Christ uses the fact of the creation of man as male and female to be the basis for His teaching on the nature of marriage.

Moreover, the repeated references in Scripture to man as *having been made* in the image of God, and the enormous ethical and metaphysical weight Scripture places on that point, are simply at odds with the idea that human nature is simply the result of natural descent from animal ancestors. Man is sharply distinct from the animals according to Scripture and has been given dominion over them. It is in a sense a recognition of that fact that motivated some to devise the ensoulment view that I criticize in the main post. Despite the fact that I criticize it, I do at least give credit to those who devised it for making some attempt to make a bright line between man and animals, making that bright line fall at the point of human origins, and for recognizing the biblical necessity for doing so. Those who hold that it really doesn't matter how man got here are failing to recognize that necessity.

Phil, you're a master of your trade.

Lydia, you're one of a kind.

Always fun visiting here.

"This kind of "it looks random, and that's the very signature" is (forgive me) a sophistical, unconvincing attempt to make a virtue out of necessity."

You misunderstand me: I am not saying that the appearance of randomness is itself the Signature; I am speculating that our perception of that randomness as "randomness" might be the Signature. If the universe were truly random we would not have the sense of order needed to perceive it as random.

I simply think your original premise -- "God providentially upholds the natural order in which that snowflake happens to arise" -- implies a distinction that doesn't in fact have to be assumed: that God either upholds the natural order so humanity can "spontaneously" arise by "purely natural" processes or that He actively "fine-tunes" (in other words, revises, thus not upholding it) that order, or outright miraculously intervenes in spontaneous creation, so as to bring about humanity. To me this is rather like the question about the efficacy of prayer that C.S. Lewis addressed using the metaphor of Ophelia in HAMLET: did Ophelia drown because the branch broke or because Shakespeare wanted her to die at that point in the play? The question becomes meaningless once you realize that Shakespeare is making the entire play from start to finish.

If the natural order is created and providentially upheld by God, then there are no "natural processes" in the sense that evolutionary materialists mean that term, and the upholding of that order is not merely passive maintenance but is an active part of the process by which we were Created. To me, this doesn't conflict with Scriptural emphasis on man's importance but rather confirms it: the entire universe, down to its very physical laws and the billions of years of its existence, was built to bring us about -- and to do so so seamlessly and so (apparently) inevitably that we can deceive ourselves into not seeing the Creator or the need for Him. Again, to quote Lewis, "The silence of the infinite spaces terrified Pascal; but it was the greatness of Pascal that enabled him to be terrified." We are not "simply" the result of natural descent from animal ancestors, because there is nothing "natural" about that descent at all; that doesn't mean that descent didn't happen, or that how it happened isn't critical to understanding our existence here and now.

"Both St. Paul and Our Lord clearly refer to Adam as an historical and real person."

Again, you are implying a distinction between "mythic figure" and "real person" that I think doesn't need to be assumed, and in Adam's case is not much use in practice. Was there a real Adam, a single specific ancestral human who lived on this planet, actively interacted with God, defied Him by acquiring knowledge of good and evil at the instigation of a malevolent nonhuman entity, and thus changed the fate of our entire species? Absolutely. Can we know enough about this person to treat him as a unique human individual and personality, rather than a mythic figure? I suggest this is highly unlikely at best and flatly impossible at worst. Adam, therefore, becomes something like Christ: drawing once more upon Lewis, a mythic figure who has the advantage of being real -- his reality is simply shown by logical necessity rather than reliable contemporary documentation.

The problem with trying to get down to the specifics of things like "where was Eden?" or "can a single common genetic ancestor be isolated for all humankind?" is that they make our faith in Scripture dependent on the changing state of scientific knowledge, so as a merely practical matter I recommend against getting too invested in such specifics except where they absolutely cannot be dispensed with (such as the historical existence of Christ).

Again, you are implying a distinction between "mythic figure" and "real person" that I think doesn't need to be assumed, and in Adam's case is not much use in practice.

I'm sorry, but that statement makes no sense to me at all. Of course there is a distinction between a real person and a mythic figure. Paul Bunyan is a mythic figure. Napoleon Bonaparte was (and presumably still is, somewhere in the afterlife) a real person. You are a real person. I am a real person. Sherlock Holmes is not a real person. To say that there is no distinction here is to talk some kind of newspeak. Of course there is a distinction. In some cases we may be epistemically unsure. Was Robin Hood a real person? Was King Arthur a real person? We may simply _not know_ the answer to those questions. But the questions are meaningful. There is a yes or no answer to the questions even if we don't know the answer.

As for whether that distinction is "of use in practice" in Adam's case, again, I strongly disagree. It is "of use in practice" in the sense that if Adam isn't real then St. Paul was _wrong_. If Adam wasn't real, then we have far less reason to believe that God created male and female and performed the first marriage between them--forming the basis for Jesus' statement that "what God has joined together, let no man put asunder." If Adam wasn't literally real, then the claim that his sin brought death upon all men is false. And so forth. A very important distinction "in practice" indeed.

Was there a real Adam, a single specific ancestral human who lived on this planet, actively interacted with God, defied Him by acquiring knowledge of good and evil at the instigation of a malevolent nonhuman entity, and thus changed the fate of our entire species? Absolutely.

Given that you have just pooh-poohed the very meaningfulness of the distinction between a real and a mythic Adam, I am dubious as to what you even mean by this apparently robust assertion.

Can we know enough about this person to treat him as a unique human individual and personality, rather than a mythic figure? I suggest this is highly unlikely at best and flatly impossible at worst.

What does it mean to "treat" Adam as a unique human individual? You have just asserted "absolutely" that he was a single, specific person, which sounds a lot like a unique human individual. So again, you're talking in two different and apparently conflicting directions. As for how much we _know_ about him, that is a purely epistemic question. We might not know any more about him than what we are told in Scripture, but that doesn't mean that we can't "treat him" (whatever, precisely, "treat him" means) as a unique human individual.

On the first part of your comment, I suggest that what you are doing is downplaying the importance of special divine action as a sign by downplaying its very meaningfulness. This is strongly unbiblical. Of course, _where_ or _whether_ special divine action has occurred is a matter requiring specific investigation. But that there _is_ such a thing and that there _is_ a distinction between it and the natural order is actually fundamental to the very nature of Christianity as a miraculous religion. If there is literally no meaning to the distinction between God's sustaining of the natural order and a miracle, then miracles cannot be a sign. When the people at Jesus' baptism heard God's voice from the sky, on this view, it would have made sense for some clever philosopher to launch into a treacly discussion of how God is equally well revealed in every raindrop that falls. But that is not what we are told. Again and again and again we are told that God gives _signs_ and that we are supposed to _notice_ these signs. It is simply a plain fact of Scriptural religion that God was revealed in a *different sense* in the voice at Jesus' baptism or in the resurrection or even in the fire from heaven that burned up the sacrifice in the duel between Elijah and the prophets of Baal than the sense in which God is revealed in the formation of a snowflake. If we try to fuzzify that distinction, we end up with functional deism, whether we want it or not. If everybody's somebody, no one's anybody. There must be a way for God to give a specific message or endorsement, and that is possible only if there is such a thing as the natural order and acts which stand out against that natural order. It is simply not good for intellectual clarity to try to argue that such a distinction does not exist, and it is even worse to argue that Christianity, specifically, stands in opposition to that distinction.

The problem with trying to get down to the specifics of things like "where was Eden?" or "can a single common genetic ancestor be isolated for all humankind?" is that they make our faith in Scripture dependent on the changing state of scientific knowledge, so as a merely practical matter I recommend against getting too invested in such specifics except where they absolutely cannot be dispensed with (such as the historical existence of Christ).

Here you are completely at odds with the scandal of particularity, which is of the essence of Scripture. The Bible, as a story of God's dealings with man, is inherently historical. If there was no literal Abraham, then God didn't make promises and a covenant with the Jewish people. If there was no literal David, then God's promise that the seed of David would be the Messiah is null and void. And so on and so forth. The idea of trying to evade literal affirmations in connection with Scripture, of being relieved with historical unfalsifiability (which comes at the price of historical unverifiability) is completely misguided.

It is of course possible to make _mistakes_ in applying the principle I am describing. Neither Scripture nor history gives us reason to expect to find a plaque saying, "Eden was here." The children of Israel would not have been expected, in the normal course of history, to leave traces in the Sinai peninsula during their forty years' nomadic wanderings. But Christians should welcome confirmations from archeology and other independent sources--of which there are many--rather than cringing away from specifics and hoping thereby to escape falsification. Similarly, Christians should not engage in unclear talk about whether Adam was or was not a real, historical person, in the hopes of avoiding some sort of problems thereby.

Such a deliberate minimization of specific and empirical content is not what St. Peter meant when he says, "We have not followed cunningly devised fables." The apostles did not regard Jesus' historicity as a fact to be admitted because (darn it) it "could not be dispensed with." They _gloried_ in the empirical reality of Jesus, His miracles, and His resurrection. St. John goes on and on about "that which we have heard, seen, and our hands have handled."

Actually both a 'bottleneck' and literal Adam and Eve aren't incompatible. Take, say, 10,000 people living relatively close to each other. Take a male and female in that group. They have kids, those kids have kids with other kids from the original 10,000 and so on. Some generations later you find that literally everyone in the present population can trace their family trees back to someone the couple.

This is the same mechanism that allows people to determine things like almost everyone in Mongolia today is related to Genghis Khan. It's not like Khan literally fathered all the children in the region ages ago.

Apart from the fact that it is vastly, not to say wildly, at odds with the Genesis text, such a view implies that the body of man is entirely animalistic and requires only the addition of a purely immaterial soul, like a cherry on top, to make man. The imago dei thus becomes an entirely immaterial matter having nothing whatsoever to do with the human body. There would have been large numbers of evolved hominids with the same kind of body as the "ensouled" Adam and Eve...

There are lots of hominids today in the world, yet humans do stand out unique. Noam Chomsky argues, for example, that language is unique to humans (yes some animals do communicate with sounds and there's been some success in teaching apes and chimps scaled down types of sign language but we have no evidence that any other animal can use language as humans do). (BTW i'm not saying language=soul but it might be analogous...the brain structure that makes humans language capable seems to be only a very small change from non-language) If you settle on the soul being an arrangement of the body you can avoid having the soul as some type of 'cherry' on top of a body and avoid trying to figure out how people can have souls but chimps can't.

"There is no reason God could not use a random process to create man?" This seems flatly incoherent to me.

Evolution is not about a 'random process'. 'Random factors' in evolution refer not to actual randomness but to factors that originate outside the theory of evolution. Example; a metor impact throws up dust and choaks the earth for several years, large animals die off leaving only small ones. A metor coming out of nowhere making the conditions for evolutionary success on earth is random in the sense that it's from outside the theory. But metors aren't random, they follow the laws of motion which was laid down by Newton and Einstein.

Genetic mutation likewise is random in the sense that if you are following a particular gene, there's a chance that gene will be copied imperfectly when the cell divides. But ultimately the only randomness in physics happens at the quantum level and even there that's up for debate. But randomness works when you lack information. The dealer shuffles the cards really fast, you don't know the initital order and your eyes can't track how each card changed in the deck so lacking that information you use probability and treat the hand you are dealt as 'random', but it isn't.

Which if you're going to talk about God you're going to have to address a deep question first of whether or not God created randomness or if God simply created something that appears random to non-God observers.

There are lots of hominids today in the world, yet humans do stand out unique.


When I spoke of hominids with the same kind of body as Adam and Eve, I meant literally *the same kind of body*. Not as dissimilar as ours is from apes. I meant that, on the pure ensoulment view, they would have *the very same type of body* but not be human because no ensoulment. Nothing in our present situation corresponds to that, certainly not our relationship with apes.


Actually both a 'bottleneck' and literal Adam and Eve aren't incompatible. Take, say, 10,000 people living relatively close to each other. Take a male and female in that group. They have kids, those kids have kids with other kids from the original 10,000 and so on.

Some people do try this type of thing (Adam was the head of a clan or something) as a solution, but that isn't what's meant in this post by a literal Adam and Eve. A literal Adam and Eve would be the sole progenitors of the human race.

So let's say Adam and Eve were the 'inflection point', the hominids they were with looked biologically almost the same as Adam and Eve but whatever it was....genetic mutation, a slight change in brain structure that opened the door to language, some 'ensoulment' event, giant black monolith appears, whatever... They are different but not so different that the other hominids see them as a different type of animal and they themselves may not see themselves as different but they are. If you had their skeletons and their fellows skeletons you may not see the difference...maybe not even if you had DNA samples. They have kids, their kids have kids with the other hominids' kids because, again, they all look very much alike to each other. Flash forward in time and everyone alive can trace their family tree back to those two BUT there's also plenty of DNA from the other 9,998.

This would seem to fulfill the requirement that the entire human race was progenerated by literally two people but avoids stretching credibility with ad hoc theories like Cain and Able marrying their sisters, lifespans that went on for centuries letting people bear children by the score etc.

Well, again, it isn't that I don't understand the theory you're describing. I do understand it. That just isn't what I meant by "a literal Adam and Eve" and isn't the way Christians have traditionally understood it, isn't what St. Paul apparently meant by "Adam," and so forth.

There is nothing ad hoc about long early lifespan since we have independent biblical attestation to it. It's not as though Moses wrote that early men lived a long time because he foresaw that somebody later would raise an objection to Adam and Eve as the sole first parents and made that up to forestall the objection!

As for Cain and Abel marrying their sisters (or one marrying a sister and another marrying a niece, or something like that), again, that just _follows_ from the apparent biblical claim that Adam and Eve were the only and first two human beings without exceptions. It isn't something low-probability given the theory that one dreams up after the fact. The problem with marrying your sister just evidently wasn't a problem. I will go farther, and this will come up in a post I am planning but am working on polishing for a while: I think it _antecedently fairly plausible_, given special divine creation, that God would have made Adam and Eve with extra genetic diversity to avoid any problems with inbreeding. Which would explain why marrying your sister wasn't a problem.

Of course it's not what traditional Christians historically thought of about Adam and Eve, but strictly speaking it doesn't seem to contradict scripture to me and if scripture is written by a non-human intelligence which has more knowledge than the humans it is passing it too....I could see why the actual mechanics might not work the way a reader would envision upon first reading the story. (And for the record many traditional readers of Gensis would have assumed a 7 day creation meant 7 days....not days that lasted anywhere from nano-seconds to billions of years)

Call this the 'Obi-wan Kenobi defense' (you'll recall Obi-wan basically lied to Luke about his father...but explained that what he said was true 'from a certain point of view'. This 'truth' seems kind of stretched when you're talking about the plot of Star Wars but if we're dealing with a deeper source of truth than a sci-fi writer it may be worth considering that path)

More importantly, there's a problem in your position that I best heard summed up (from the previous Pope I believe) as 'truth may not contradict truth'. You don't get to compromise or reject scientific truths anymore than you get to declare you're not going to believe that all the angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees simply because that seems easier. For example, there are real problems with starting with just two humans and getting the genetic diversity we see in humans today. That is either true or it is not. If it is true then that means we either didn't start with just two humans or our present genetic diversity is some sort of illusion.


Your attempt at reconciling that feels like what is called in the world of comic books 'retconing', which stands for retroactive continuity. Basically if the hero's father was named Jon in book 23 but in book 356 he says his father was Bill, retconing will happen when in book 552 they try to explain that once the hero's father was Jon but then he turned into Bill making both 23 and 356 consistent (usually this is where multiple universes, time machines or some other exotic plot device is developed).

I feel like you're explanation tries to kick the can down into the 'God of the gaps' argument and will suffer from a few weak spots that will just get worse over time until your structure collapses.

1. There's really no end to this. You can go right back to the 6,000 year old earth spouted by old-school creationists and reconcile that by asserting that everything that seems true is a lie. God made the fossils look older than they are, he created galaxies on Monday that looked billions of years old etc. This basically turns God into either the Wizard of Oz or the computers in The Matrix....a cunning trickster who, for inexplicable reasons, has decided to devote his amazing powers to pulling off a big con job. The next logical question to ask then is why isn't the con even bigger? Christianity, for example, is premised on actual emperical events. Real people like you and me knew Jesus, saw him die, saw him rise. Yet if you're hitching your philosophy to a trickster God why trust that? Could just be part of the big con job like those dinosaurs?

2. Assuming you don't go that far, you still end up making essentially scientific theories about areas not yet observed. For example, you're assuming some mechanism other than mutation introduced DNA diversity early on in human history. That's a scientific statement that someday may actually be testable. The 'retconing' to me sounds like it's kicking the can into those areas in the hopes that science either never gets around to being able to test those areas or if they do you'll be long out of the picture by then. That's not, IMO, a platform for an argument that's structurally sound and stable.

For example, there are real problems with starting with just two humans and getting the genetic diversity we see in humans today.

No, there aren't. And I agree that truth doesn't contradict truth. Then we have to decide what the true explanation is of the evidence we have. The argument that "there is a problem with" our present genetic diversity from the perspective of two parents is very shaky. I will be exploring that scientific shakiness and the extremely conjectural nature of the arguments in a later post.

The 'retconing' to me sounds like it's kicking the can into those areas in the hopes that science either never gets around to being able to test those areas or if they do you'll be long out of the picture by then.

Actually, I already explained why it isn't what you call "netconing," though I did it briefly. It has to do with the nature of ad hocness and with whether the position is low probability *given the hypothesis in question*. I will be going into this more in the later post. I am not "hoping" for anything. I'm trying to discover the truth.

You also seem to forget that I'm asserting that there is _positive evidence_ for the traditional position concerning the historical Adam. That this positive evidence concerns the trustworthiness of Jesus and Paul on this theologically relevant point doesn't make it something other than evidence. If you have independent reason to believe P is true and someone comes along and says not-P, there is nothing epistemically irresponsible about trying to find out a) what their evidence is, b) how strong it is, and c) what hypotheses are available to explain all the evidence, including your initial evidence for P.

If I follow 'netconing' correctly, you're saying there's a difference between an event that cannot happen versus one that may happen but is very unlikely to have happened. For example, genetic mutation is random so it is possible then for a human couple to conceive, say, a panda. Yet getting all the mutations 'just right' for that to happen would be akin to, say, walking into a casino and winning very slot machine for the next 24 hours and walking out the richest person in the universe.

On a bit less dramatic scale, I suppose you could say starting with just two people, genetic mutation could somehow insert enough genetic diversity to make it look tens of thousands of years later that you really started with 10,000. But as I pointed out on the other thread, if you're going down that road, then extreme improbable events can't be ruled out on the other side. Quantum mechanics would not rule out the possibility that a person who died would suddenly reanimate as his atoms randomly leap into just the right position for him to be alive again. Likewise he may 'tunnel' out of existence a short while later. Strictly speaking if you're going to try to save a religious POV by turning to extremely unlikely probabilities there's no reason why the same sword couldn't be used to cut down a religious view that's backed by extremely good evidence. I think functionally you end up in the same neighborhood as the 'trickster God' theory where common sense has to be ditched and unlikely things embraced.

you're saying there's a difference between an event that cannot happen versus one that may happen but is very unlikely to have happened.

Nope. Not what I'm saying at all. Look, there's a huge literature on the analysis of ad hocness. I don't want to summarize it here. And, no offense, but I don't have a whole lot of confidence in your ability to follow my explanation. Briefly, again, it has to do with whether the theory in question (for example, the theory that God specially created Adam and Eve) gives _very low probability_ to the auxiliary hypothesis (for example, the auxiliary hypothesis that Adam and Eve had extra genetic diversity) and also whether the negation of the theory in question has a need for a low-probability auxiliary to explain the evidence. I have a paper just published on this. Perhaps at some point you will be interested in reading it. I am saying that the theory in question does _not_ give low probability to the auxiliary, that in fact it is a natural concomitant of the main theory. Therefore, the auxiliary is not ad hoc.

genetic mutation could somehow insert enough genetic diversity to make it look tens of thousands of years later that you really started with 10,000

Population genetics, in my layman's opinion, is about as reliable at telling us what it "looked like" millions of years ago as tea-leaf reading. The science is just really, really conjectural and poor. So, no, that isn't my theory either.

So let me try one more pass putting it in simplistic terms.

God decides he wants to make human kind and wants to do it by making just two people to start. Realizing that a population of two is going to yield a very low amount of genetic diversity, he opts to set off a mechanism that spawns a lot of extra diversity initially but over time diminishes. Flash forward to the future where we are noting the amount of genetic diversity in human reproduction is small so extraopolating that small number backwards in time we conclude there's no way you could have ever started with less than 10,000 people. Our error might be assuming that genetic diversity was constant over time rather than once being very large and declining over time. (actually it occurs to me this has to happen twice if you read Noah literally).

I'm not sure where probability enters to this argument, though. I don't see how you can assign a probability to God creating a different mechanism for genetic diversity, he either did or didn't so the probability is either 100% or 0%. The problem I'm proposing is that the assumption creates its own set of testable predictions. For example, if we secure DNA samples from several generations of very early humans (say from a tomb with a grandfather, father, son and grandson) we'd see DNA variation behaving differently between those generations than against generations today. If that doesn't pan out to be the case, though, there's no end to the amount of ad hoc theories you can present....for example you could argue that 99% of early humans looked exactly like us, the DNA diversity was only a product of a handful....or you could argue that the diversity back then was different but some mechanism caused the DNA to change in the bodies over time in such a way that they look exactly like generations today. There the probability element isn't really the problem IMO, it's that a bad theory is being given too many 'passes' rather than accepting the theory that better matches observation. If that theory has to be 'retconed' to Scripture, well it seems either way there's going to be some retconning going on here.

If that doesn't land closer to the mark, I'll defer to your published paper to see if i can follow your argument more closely.

For example, if we secure DNA samples from several generations of very early humans

That would be extremely hard to identify. We might be talking millions of years ago, and estimates as to exactly, precisely when the first humans came on the scene vary a lot even by evolutionary standards.

I don't see how you can assign a probability to God creating a different mechanism for genetic diversity, he either did or didn't so the probability is either 100% or 0%.

Probability is a relationship between propositions. It doesn't have to be fundamental to reality. Probability has to do (on my view) with what a rational person would expect on some given background. The conditional probability I was talking about concerns how much one would rationally expect the auxiliary given the hypothesis of interest. *If* God is creating the entire human race from one original couple, then, given that too little genetic diversity is likely to cause the accumulation of bad mutations (as seems to be the case now, anyway, based on our best science), God (being omniscient) will know that and is likely to fix that problem somehow so that that doesn't happen in the early human race. One way to fix it and avoid bad effects of inbreeding would be by making Adam and Eve with more genetic diversity as compared with humans today. For example, their children might not even all be genetic siblings. This would have functional value. It wouldn't just be "to fool us" or something. It would be similar (in the sense of having a functional purpose) to creating Adam "old" enough to be able to walk around and feed himself, for example.

"That would be extremely hard to identify. We might be talking millions of years ago, and estimates as to exactly, precisely when the first humans came on the scene vary a lot even by evolutionary standards."

Hard yes, but not impossible. Humans have often buried their kin close together so it is quite possible to unearth a tomb with multiple skeletons, confirm w/DNA that the skeletons are all direct relations with each other and then map how diverse DNA was from parent to child in that set to sets today. It will either be the case that the diversity is about the same as it is today or that it will be different. But 'extremely hard' does seem to hint to me that you're trying to 'hide' God's actions in areas where it would be impossible or very difficult for science to ever find.

That would seem to be the argument you're making in asserting that maybe the 'diversity' was somehow 'super-front loaded' into just Adam and Eve or immediate offspring...hence even if we find a 100,000 year old tomb the 'diversity mechanism' was really built into the 500,000 or 1,000,000 year time frame....but in theory there's no reason why Adam and Eve's & related kids own tomb may not be discovered. Again God's handiwork seems to always take place just out of sight of the flashlight of science....at some point if you are correct that is going to start looking like God doing that on purpose rather than out limited ability to make observations of the past is providing us with a misleading view of how the past happened. At what point would you be forced to seriously consider the 'trickster God' hypothesis?

Hard yes, but not impossible. Humans have often buried their kin close together so it is quite possible to unearth a tomb with multiple skeletons, confirm w/DNA that the skeletons are all direct relations with each other and then map how diverse DNA was from parent to child in that set to sets today.

I was referring to the difficulty in showing that they were among the earliest humans--e.g., that they were in, say, only one or two generations from the first humans.

In fact, I'm an old-earther, so I'm pretty comfortable with hypothesizing Adam and Eve as being created two million years ago. I don't really see any predictions for 100,000 years ago, right off the top of my head.

I've already answered the "trickster" claim. I don't really want to type out that answer again. Just read back through my comments.

Such a discovery would close down your possibilities. Let's say we limit human life on earth two two million years. A million year old discovery, then, would, if it showed no difference in diversity, limit your theory to just a million years. A 1.9M year old discovery would limit you to just 100,000 years and so on.


Of course two million years might be on the long end of plausible estimates of human life on earth. Many estimates are closer to 200,000 years which gives even less time for a 'DNA explosion' to have happened and increases our chances of uncovering evidence of it if it has.

limit your theory to just a million years.

I'm not sure what this means. If Adam and Eve, but not their offspring, were _created_ with the genetic capability to be the parents of many offspring who were not genetic siblings, then this was a one-time event at the beginning, at the time of their creation--intrinsically limited. No extra time needed.

Well I suppose we could assume that Eve got pregnant, became as big as a 7 story building and then gave birth to 9,998 children. Strictly speaking I don't think there's anything in the Bible that says that didn't happen...and if it did it would probably be impossible to find in the fossil record unless we happened to stumble upon a tomb of 10,000 bodies with DNA preserved. But barring such a non-human type of reproduction the 'DNA diversity explosion' would have to continue to get to maybe 10K people....(or actually if you're going to take the Noah story literally you'd have to date it from after Adam and Eve and you're going to have to give Adam and Even enough time to populate the world with enough people for the Flood to be a reasonable event.

Actually, genetic diversity sometimes increases rapidly anyway by purely natural means after the founding of a new population. That is known independently. And we already discussed above the independent evidence of long-livers in this period. With, presumably, lengthened fertility as well. For the original couple to have had a few hundred children, anyway, with normal gestational periods doesn't seem to me all that far-fetched, especially if you throw in some twins. Remember too that I'm extremely dubious about the science purporting to show these large minimal bottlenecks. I think it much less objective than we are led to believe.

You keep bringing up Noah: I'm not entirely convinced of the full universality of the flood. Phrases like "over all the earth" can refer to a large region but not literally all the earth. There is legitimate difference of opinion on the universality or otherwise of the flood among Christians. Not so, I would say, concerning the historicity of Adam and Eve as traditionally conceived.

If the entire earth was not covered but only a small region that killed a few thousand or tens of thousand or even hundreds of thousands of people there would be no need for an Ark (which also adds a genetic diversity problem for all the animals supposedly saved from extinction by it). Regardless the story does seem to clearly assert that humankind was wiped out (except for Noah and company of course). If this story can be morphed into a non-historic event why is the idea of Adam as member of a clan of near-humans out of bounds?

For the original couple to have had a few hundred children

A tomb that had a biological female parent and a hundred or more biological children would indeed be a stunning find. But I notice what seems to be happening here is the theory keeps retreating to areas where it seems science will hopefully not look. Instead of 200,000 years let's go back 2M. Instead of a generalized mechanism for higher diversity early on that lowered to what we see today, let's assume front loading all diversity into a single uber parent. If one didn't know better it's almost like you're hedging your bets...knowing that there isn't going to be any diversity increase discovered in very early humans so you're putting your theory more and more out of reach of observation not because that makes sense for the theory (since you reject the 'trickster God' hypothesis) but because that protects the theory from observation.

But I notice what seems to be happening here is the theory keeps retreating to areas where it seems science will hopefully not look. Instead of 200,000 years let's go back 2M.

Actually, my reason for that is that I've seen arguments connecting the first humans with homo erectus, and that's a common time for homo erectus. But if you'd rather assume some deep plot, go ahead.

Instead of a generalized mechanism for higher diversity early on that lowered to what we see today, let's assume front loading all diversity into a single uber parent.

No, that was what I meant all along, because between that and long lives early on (for which,a s I said, I have independent evidence), we avoid _problems_ with inbreeding; therefore, that seems to be all that is functionally needed. Long life of offspring would itself create diversity, since they'd have a lot of kids, even if their kids were ordinary genetic siblings. And did I mention I think the population genetics science claiming they can "see" minimums of 10,000 or whatever is in fact junk? Yes, I think I did mention that.

A tomb that had a biological female parent and a hundred or more biological children would indeed be a stunning find.

I have no idea where this idea is coming from that everybody buries all family members together in one location. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

If this story can be morphed into a non-historic event why is the idea of Adam as member of a clan of near-humans out of bounds?

Because of stuff like original sin being passed to all men by Adam. Because Jesus seems to be endorsing the traditional view on Adam and Eve and Jesus was God. Because of the importance of the imago dei and a sharp distinction between man and animals. Things like that.

Finding a female body and a body of hundreds of others who are genetically the child of that female would be a stunning find because today it's biologically impossible for a woman to have more than, say, 25 or so children. As I understand it you're proposing that Adam and Eve might have been exceptionally long lived and had hundreds, even thousands of children creating genetic diversity but after that things settled down to what we 'normally' see with human reproduction. That would be a more 'human' way of imagining reproduction than my vision of a building sized Eve having 9,998 kids at once but would cause all the genetic diversity of 10,000 humans to appear in one special initial generation. That would mean any 'tombs' discovered would not observe anything different among early humans unless we were lucky enough to land upon the remains of the very first humans.


Here, though, we return to your probability point. I could see why God may opt to front-load all the diversity in just Eve's children. I could also see why God may opt to let genetic diversity be a declining variable to help the human population get to a viable point from starting at such a low point but then taper off once the right critical mass was achieved. Both options could in principle be detected by scientific observation but the first would be a much more difficult observation to make. If you reject 'trickster God' then there's no special reason I see to assign the first one a higher probability.

"Because of stuff like original sin being passed to all men by Adam. Because Jesus seems to be endorsing the traditional view on Adam and Eve and Jesus was God. Because of the importance of the imago dei and a sharp distinction between man and animals."

Adam and Eve as the first humans from a near-but-not-quite-human clan would work for that. Granted to our naked eye (and possibly DNA tests, CAT scans, etc.) the clan and Adam & Eve may look alike but then we really don't know what 'made in the image of God' really means. Our ability to perceive an image is no doubt imperfect. Many apes, chimps and monkeys have shockeningly human features and mannerisms. We can say they have our 'image' but they aren't human. Likewise just because two organisms look the same to us doesn't mean they are the same to an entity with higher intelligence and higher ability to perceive.

I don't think you've made a case why it's ok to reject young-earth creationism and taking the Flood literally (which many, but not all traditional Christians accepted) and not accept that the story of Adam and Eve may not be as literal as people traditionally thought. You could still accomodate what you say are the critical points: the entire human race descended from two individuals who existed in actual history and were made in the image of God and because of some transgression have passed sin down to all their offspring.

And did I mention I think the population genetics science claiming they can "see" minimums of 10,000 or whatever is in fact junk?

No doube since neither of us are experts in genetics and early human anthropology this is serving as a proxy for more accurate observations (or potential observations). For example, assuming exceptionally long lived humans would probably generate yet other consquences for the fossil record (for example, mitochrondrial DNA which is always inherited whole from the mother might end up creating an interesting record if you have all the diversity in regular DNA coming from a single mother)

Adam and Eve as the first humans from a near-but-not-quite-human clan would work for that.

No, it wouldn't. But I don't really think I have the interest to make any attempt to convince you, in particular, of that. I might put in the energy for someone who was a Christian already and who was actually concerned to try to understand Christian theology rightly.

I could also see why God may opt to let genetic diversity be a declining variable to help the human population get to a viable point from starting at such a low point but then taper off once the right critical mass was achieved.

I don't follow that. *If* the effects of inbreeding were as they are today, then it could be a bad thing to start from two ordinary parents with no extra genetic diversity.

No doube since neither of us are experts in genetics and early human anthropology this is serving as a proxy for more accurate observations (or potential observations).

Actually, I've been studying recently in some detail what the scientific argument is supposed to be. I've had a post on it sitting around but am waiting for someone else to get back to me before hitting "publish" on it.

I don't follow that. *If* the effects of inbreeding were as they are today, then it could be a bad thing to start from two ordinary parents with no extra genetic diversity.

Imagine I give you two dogs and send you off to some distant island. You let the dogs breed until they achieve a population of about 10,000 and you keep the population at that level for several generations.

I give someone else 10,000 dogs and send them off to a different island. They let the dogs breed but hold the population to no more than 10,000 for multiple generations too.

A scientist arrives to study the dog populations at each island, knowing nothing of their history. I'm certain he is going to find a much greater mix of genetic diversity on the 2nd island. I suspect he might even be able to say that the genetic diversity on the first island is so limited it could only be accounted for by the population starting with a very small number...maybe just two!

So now you're a deity with supernatural powers and you wish (for whatever reason) to start with just two dogs but end up with a richer array of genetic diversity. One way would be to cause new genes to be introduced at the beginning as the population slowly grows. This would be like breeding two dalmatian and getting and Irish Setter. Another way may be letting 'dog Eve' live a very long time having lots of puppies who are genetically diverse but all the puppies and their puppies continue with normal genetic diversity. Irish setter puppies will not make dalmatian puppies.

The end result may be for our visiting scientist to see the same diversity on the island that started with two than the one that started with 10K. But if the scientist looked more carefully he would see hints that the two islands do not have identical histories. Bones of dogs gone by would reveal that genetic diversity was 'acting funny' in the past.

Well it would act funny if you used first method of letting diversity be higher in the distant past. It wouldn't act funny if you used the 2nd method unless he uncovers 'dog Eve' and her direct puppies. Then he would see there is something very wrong with the picture.

If he looked carefully by, say, mapping when genes first start showing up I suspect other things would start to appear 'wrong'. If you want to know today where Irish Setters came from, you could start mapping genes out and you'll see how they appeared as combinations of earlier breeds. In the island case you'd see them appearing from nowhere with no earlier 'setter genes'

For functional purposes (avoiding the bad effects of inbreeding), there is no advantage to multiple miracles introducing extra genetic diversity over several generations. I'm therefore mildly (but not strongly) inclined to think it more likely that the designer would use the method of making the first couple capable of giving birth to genetic non-siblings but not intervening to give their offspring the same capability. However, the difference is not likely to come up in practical terms at this distance of time in any event. If God did the latter, it would not have taken a great many generations in any event. I'm also mildly inclined to think that the long lives of the early humans were the result of some natural process following upon creation--something sort of physical "nearness in time to Eden" effect that we don't now know the mechanism of. With even a few generations living for hundreds of years, you're going to get a _lot_ of genetic diversity within a few generations even when each person conceives only genetic siblings like modern people do. If the whole process starts two million years ago, it seems implausible *as a matter of fact* that we will be able to detect much about it.

Frankly, I think it enormously implausible from the get-go that we would have methods of analysis that would show how many ancestors we had x-hundred thousand or x-million years ago. Why even think that is possible? The burden of proof is on the population geneticists. As far as I'm concerned, they have not discharged it in such a way as to give us rational confidence that they have any such detection methods.

There are bad effects to inbreeding but they are not catastrophic. If I give you two dogs and an empty island you could end up with 10,000 dogs given enough time and generations. Granted some genetic illnesses may be much more common than if you started with 10,000 dogs but it's not like humans aren't already prone to all types of illnesses (as are all animals and plants).

So assuming I'm right about the nature of starting a population with just two members versus 10K or more, it's very reasonable to say if the human population does not look like a population that started with just two members, why think we did? Because God wanted to start with two people but also wanted many of the benefit of starting with 10,000 people? Why not simply change the rules to let starting with 2 reap the benefits of starting with 10,000? Why make a bunch of ad hoc revisions to the way biology works to accomodate humanity (esp. given the fact that biology these days seems to work pretty accurately to describe humanity, if it didn't healthcare would be a lot less effective) if you have the freedom to design biology itself from the beginning?

An answer I'm sure you might have is that you're following Scripture on some level...but then if truth can't contradict truth then two different paths to truth should arrive at the same point. If God comes down and says to us as a Revealation that OJ Simpson did indeed kill his ex-wife, then a diligent and honest forensic scientist who fails to watch such an event on TV becuase his focus is 100% on the physical evidence should arrive at the same conclusion.

Why not simply change the rules to let starting with 2 reap the benefits of starting with 10,000? Why make a bunch of ad hoc revisions to the way biology works to accomodate humanity (esp. given the fact that biology these days seems to work pretty accurately to describe humanity, if it didn't healthcare would be a lot less effective) if you have the freedom to design biology itself from the beginning?

Either "changing the rules" (whatever exactly you have in mind) or designing two people with more genetic diversity than people have in 2014 is going to be making something different than what it usually is in 2014. If you are determined (despite my repeated answers on this point) to call this "ad hoc," you could use that word (wrongly) for the one as much as for the other. The point is that there is a functional reason to avoid the potential problems with inbreeding when starting with two humans. That's going to require doing _something_ different at the beginning from the way things work now. To my mind it is a more parsimonious hypothesis that extra genetic diversity was given to the first two than that "rules were changed" in some other or on-going way. And indeed, it lets biology work very similarly to present-day biology after that input. In any event, things at the beginning are going to be at least somewhat different. But then again, if you think about it, if there _was_ an "outset" that occurred by creation, that's "something different" from day-to-day events anyway.

But inbreeding is not a huge problem. You can start a huge population with just two members if you wish. It has downsides such as increased genetic diseases but the risk from that would still be less than the many risks human life faces in its 'natural' form (for example, risk of death in childbirth is huge).

This means there's no problem if God's motive was to start with 2 people and get to a tad under 10 billion in so many eons of time. No particular reason to either front-load or back-load some mechanism of adding genetic diversity to the population that would not normally arise from the way biology seems to work today. That leads to the conclusion that if the population of human animals today doesn't appear like it started with just two, it probably didn't.

But that assumes what we mean by people is an anatomical human with matching DNA too. The clan idea really seems to resolve that issue by being open to the idea that a human is something other than just the anatomy and DNA. You can get a 'human trait' then that starts with two people but has the benefit of the DNA diversity of 10K or more entities.

But inbreeding is not a huge problem.

Enough of one that I can see a reason for avoiding it. Perhaps we'll just have to agree to disagree.

Perhaps....it was interesting though....

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