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A Response to Coyne, MacDonald, Ruse, and Wilkinson, Pt 2

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February 5, 2011 Tags: Human Origins
A Response to Coyne, MacDonald, Ruse, and Wilkinson, Pt 2

Today's entry was written by Denis Alexander. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

In December of 2010, we posted a paper by Denis Alexander, Director of the Faraday Institute, which presents two models (the Homo divinus model and the retelling model) for relating Adam and Eve with the findings of contemporary anthropology. The paper, which ran in five series, drew responses from biologist and atheist blogger Jerry Coyne and ex-Anglican priest Eric MacDonald, who questioned both the Homo divinus model and Alexander and BioLogos’ attempts to integrate modern science with Christian faith. Michael Ruse also made a passing comment on the discussion in a Huffington Post article. In January, philosopher and theologian Loren Wilkinson posted his own two part response to Alexander, Coyne, and MacDonald on The BioLogos Forum, voicing his concerns with the Homo divinus model while reaffirming the harmony between science and faith and calling into question the "positivism" he saw in Coyne and MacDonald's response. Today, we post the second part of Denis Alexander’s response to Wilkinson, Coyne, and MacDonald. The full response can be downloaded in PDF format here and the first part can be found here.

Revisiting the Retelling and Homo divinus Models

The comments so far are really by way of introduction so that we can get going again with the main topic. But a few more general points still need to be highlighted in the context of comparing these two particular models:

First, it should, I hope, be clear by now that I don’t think there is any problem with using the language of “data” and “models” in this context, providing that we don’t start thinking that we’re using the terms as they’re generally used in everyday science. Since such terms are used, as we have seen, in a wide range of disciplines, there seems no particular reason not to use them here. If pressed, then I would say that their use in our present context is somewhat akin to the various models posited to provide evolutionary explanations for the origin of music.1 In other words, it is quite possible to generate plausible models for things which are consistent with various kinds of data and argument, including in this case a good deal of aesthetic insight, yet without any realistic hope of deciding between different models in the foreseeable future. If someone would prefer to label the Retelling Model and the Homo divinus Model, ‘informed speculations’, then I have no problem with that at all, except to say that in the end even speculation A may be more plausible than speculation B, so it comes to the same thing in the end. Carrying out thought experiments is the way that human knowledge expands.

Speaking of knowledge takes me to a second point, this one for the positivists. In many ways this particular discussion is one internal to the Christian community, a point that will become even more apparent below. Clearly models that discuss the possible ways in which humans first came to know God are not going to gain much traction in the minds of those who do not believe that God exists. So I wouldn’t blame atheists at all for thinking that even discussing such models is a bit of a waste of time. If I was trying to present arguments to atheists for belief in God, then this is certainly not where I would start! But my intention here is not to present arguments for belief in God, but instead to present some reflections for the world-wide community of around two billion Christians, who do as a matter of fact believe in God and, in their various ways, do believe that God can be known, and who, one presumes, do believe that theological knowledge counts as real knowledge.

Thirdly, it is important in discussing models to make it clear what they are trying to explain, and what they are not. The temptation in generating models is to try and make them do too many things all at once. The models that work best are those that that try and join up a few points reasonably clearly rather than lots of points less clearly. Having said that, it is certainly not the case that the simplest model must by definition (due to its simplicity) be the best one. In science the best explanations are often provided by models that are actually quite complex, especially in the biological sciences. It all depends what you’re trying to explain.

What the Models are Not About

So let me emphasize here what I don’t think the present Models under discussion are about. In his recent article posted on the Huffington Post site, Michael Ruse was having a bit of a go at Alvin Plantinga’s views on original sin and, en passant, took a swipe for good measure at my BioLogos paper. Now Plantinga is well equipped to defend his patch, so I will leave that to him, but Ruse’s passing comment concerning the Homo divinus Model was, as it happens, based on a wrong assumption. Personally I do not believe, as Ruse seems to assume, in Augustine’s theory of original sin, which suggests that somehow we inherit the guilt of Adam’s original act of disobedience (but I suspect that Ruse has not read my Creation or Evolution – Do We Have to Choose?, so there is no reason why he should have known that). I find such a notion nowhere in Scripture, which is insistent that whilst it is certainly the case that, as a matter of fact, all do sin (Romans 3:23), yet each person is responsible for their own actions and their own sin (Deut. 24:16; Jer. 31:30; Ezek. 18:18-20; Matt. 12:36; Rom. 14:12; Hebr. 4:13 etc.). Romans 5:12 makes it clear that death came to all people by them actually sinning, not by inherited guilt.

This is why I mentioned above that I do not think any basic Christian doctrines hang upon the outcome of the various models under consideration. Christ’s atoning work upon the cross was for the redemption of all sinners (John 3:16) who repent of their own sin and put their trust in Christ for their salvation (Acts 2:38). Christ died for our sin, not for inherited sin. So when Michael Ruse calls the idea that there was an original human couple who sinned and whose sin was then inherited by the whole of humankind “silly” (thank you Michael), I am inclined to agree, although there might have been a politer word to express the disagreement that turns out not to be a disagreement after all.

Having cleared one misunderstanding out of the way, we now have to deal with one other. Since I agree with 90% or more of Loren Wilkinson’s two helpful articles (part 1 | part 2), I am somewhat relieved to find the odd point where I disagree, otherwise the discussion might have got boring. Wilkinson seems to think that the Homo divinus model is about the notion of when humankind first started being made in God’s image. In practice I have been careful not to try and include that important theological notion within the model; otherwise I fear that we might be trying to make it do too much work. Now it is certainly the case that commentators such as Prof. R.J. Berry – someone who was certainly promoting the Homo divinus model long before I started writing anything about it – have gone much more in this direction, so I don’t blame Wilkinson for not picking up on the distinction.2

The reason for not trying to include the notion of ‘image of God’ in the model is just that I don’t think it works very well. The language of ‘image of God’ first appears in Genesis 1, a chapter which I see more like manifesto kind of literature that lays down the principles and framework within which the rest of Scripture must be understood. ‘Image of God’ theology is a rich and diverse vein that runs like an undercurrent through the Old Testament, but which becomes much more explicit in the New, where we find that it is Christ who is the perfect image of God (Col. 1:15; 2 Cor. 4:4) and as we clothe ourselves with the “new self” we find ourselves being renewed in that image (Col. 3:10; 2 Cor. 3:18). For me a key point in the concept is that it is humankind that is made in God’s image – the whole of humankind – “male and female He created them” – without exception (Gen. 1: 26-28). The manifesto provides a basis for the way in which we should treat all people, irrespective of color, creed or nationality. Everyone has a value that is independent of their genetic or other endowments.

So personally I don’t think it’s so easy to conceptualize such a profound doctrine as being like a ‘thing’ that can suddenly be bestowed upon someone, though I certainly respect those who wish to build the model in that direction. I suppose I see it as more akin to the phrase “All men are created equal” in the US Declaration of Independence. They are endowed by their Creator with “certain unalienable Rights” and it seems to me that belongs more to manifesto literature. It is not that “unalienable Rights” began with Jefferson, just that this declaration encapsulated something deemed to be true for humanity in general, but (hopefully) to become especially relevant for this nation in particular.

What the Models Are About

Instead I start with a somewhat different set of questions when thinking about models such as the Retelling and Homo divinus models. Taking the corpus of Biblical literature as a whole, here we have a ‘grand narrative’ of creation, alienation from God due to human sin and disobedience, redemption through Christ, and a new heavens and a new earth. We have the possibility of fellowship with God through freely willed choice. Our nearest cousins, chimps and bonobos, to the best of our knowledge, do not. So the curious Christian is likely to ask at least some time during their lives, “Well, when did that possibility first begin? When did people first start knowing the one true God in such a way that they could pray, walk with God, and be responsible to God? When could they first be judged by God because they had sinned?” It is those kinds of questions that the Retelling and Homo divinus type of models are interested in addressing. Did all this happen rather slowly, as in the first model, or rather fast, as in the second? Notice that the questions raised are not to do with the origins of religion (however defined), which is another kind of discussion altogether, but with the origins of spiritual life, knowledge of God, the time when humans first became answerable to God for their actions. Notice also that the questions would still be there even if we had in our hands only the New Testament. It is not Genesis that poses the questions, though Genesis is clearly relevant, but rather the Christian theology of creation, sin and redemption. The themes of creation, sin and redemption keep replaying like a musical répétitif through the biblical symphony. The early chapters of Genesis is where the répétitif is first introduced, and so attracts our attention, but let us not forget the répétitif in the rest of the biblical texts.

There is another point where again I rather part company with Wilkinson’s view, because he seems very clear that one type of model must be right (the Retelling Model) and the other wrong (the Homo divinus Model). But I just don’t think it’s that clear. I have often remarked that I maintain the first Model on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the second Model the rest of the week. I think it’s a bit like libertarian and compatibilist views on free-will. I know in which direction I lean on that particular question, but at the same time I could give a pretty strong defense of the position I personally don’t believe. And when Wilkinson says he doesn’t like the Homo divinus Model because it’s “too complicated”, to an immunologist that’s like a red rag to a bull! All the best immunological models are actually rather complex because what they’re seeking to explain is rather complex and, as mentioned already, the best models are those that provide the best explanation, not necessarily the simplest. I realize that we’re not talking about immunology here, but life is complex.

Furthermore, when Wilkinson speaks of the ‘Retelling Model’ I don’t think we’re really talking about the same thing. Wilkinson wishes to draw attention to the non-historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis and remind us that they recount the story of ‘every man’. We are all God’s earth-keepers who have fallen short of caring for God’s earth properly due to our sin and failure to listen to God’s commands. That’s fine, we’re all agreed on that. But it’s not what the Retelling Model is about (and its label may not be helpful at this point). Instead the Model is seeking to speculate about when and how humans first came to know God. I can easily see how that question might not even interest those whose days are filled mainly with literary pursuits, but it does interest those of us who spend our days reading evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, anthropology, cognitive psychology, and so forth. Models that fail to at least take this literature into consideration don’t really count as models in my book.

So the only commitment that I’d recommend is to be committed to the strengths (and weaknesses) of both positions – or you can simply kick the ball into Barthian touch and refuse to ask the questions. However, I do think that most Christians find themselves asking these kinds of questions at some point in their lives, even though they might not think (as I don’t think) that the fact that we don’t know the answers is that important (and for the foreseeable future we’ll never be sure either way, though you never know when unexpected data might come along in the far future, so the golden rule is “never say never”).

Since either model can be incorporated equally comfortably within the current understanding of human evolution, preference for one model or the other is likely to be made on theological and aesthetic grounds, and on one’s own sense, informed by Scripture, of their plausibility/implausibility, coupled with one’s reading and understanding of the various scientific disciplines already mentioned. Contra Wilkinson, I do not think discussion of predestination is going to help us much here. Think of the Retelling Model. Here in this context it is imagined that a population of early humans at some unspecified time come to an awareness of God as creator and of (at least some of) their responsibilities toward God, but reject the light that they have received. This is perceived to happen as a process over a long period of time, maybe thousands or even tens of thousands of years. In the case of the Homo divinus Model, such ‘spiritual enlightenment’ is seen as occurring less as a process, more as a saltation, again in a small human community or even in a single couple. In either case, it is clear that God at some stage begins to hold people responsible to Himself. So is that ‘predestination’? That hardly seems to be the best description for what is going on here. Throughout the Old Testament God calls people for particular tasks to fulfill His will – Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and on the list could go. Is that predestination? I don’t think that’s the right language. God can call whom He wants. And whatever Model you may hold to regarding the origins of spiritual life, you have to accept that the people coming before that did not experience such spiritual life of whatever kind you envisage. And here is where the biology comes in useful, because it simply won’t do to identify your ‘spiritual life model’ with the first group of Homo sapiens, because the emergence of a new hominin species most likely takes tens of thousands of years. So where are you going to draw your before/after line? ‘Saltations’ might work in spiritual experience, but they certainly don’t work in mammalian evolutionary biology.

Comparing the Two Models

Once you understand that these Models represent faith seeking understanding as to the origins of real human spiritual life, with its attendant responsibilities towards God, then you can see why I tend to lean more towards the Homo divinus type of model. For it is easy to conceptualize beings that have no moral responsibilities toward God, so cannot be judged. Likewise it is easy to comprehend that beings have been given sufficient knowledge of God and His claims upon their lives such that they are now truly responsible to God. What is less easy to conceptualize is some kind of half-way house between the two, which is what a lengthy process would entail. Either you’re responsible for something or you’re not. Now the fact that we find the half-way house position difficult to conceptualize doesn’t rule it out of court; we might just be limited in our comprehension (and you can always invoke the partial responsibility of young children in the spirit of Irenaeus), but in my book it does make the Retelling Model look less coherent.

Since it happens to be a Friday as I write this, and not a Monday, let me also say that I think the Retelling Model doesn’t do a very good job on the biblical notion of sin. Now there is no one single biblical definition of sin, but rather an ensemble of key ideas that together comprise the notion. But certainly important elements of sin include the idea of broken fellowship with God and alienation from His presence, consequent upon failing to give God the glory and placing oneself in the position that only God can rightfully hold, the creature seeking to become like the creator, a story vividly recounted for us in Genesis 3. This is difficult to conceptualize with the Retelling Model, much easier so with the Homo divinus Model. I think it is no accident that as versions of the Retelling Model (although it may not be called that) gain traction, so the tendency is to think of sin more as unfortunate sociobiology, poor humans in thrall to the dictates of their genes, but fortunately ‘saved’ by evolutionary theories of altruism. I have a feeling that Michael Ruse would like Christians to go in that direction because it makes it easier to ‘naturalize’ the language of sin. But I think such accounts are profoundly deficient from a theological perspective. In biblical thought, sin is a theological concept which only makes sense in relation to God and to God’s will. If there is no God then there is certainly no sin, and what you’re left with is human misbehavior, certainly not ‘evil’ except as a socially convenient label.

Whichever model you hold to (if any!), you still have the problem of interpreting how the first reality of sin impacts upon humankind as a whole. This is where I don’t think Wilkinson has really grasped the nettle. In the Homo divinus Model I have the first sin impacting upon the world not through inheritance (as in Augustine), but via the theological notion of Federal Headship, involving a lateral rather than a linear fall-out. This is an aspect of the Model that is somewhat arm-waving, I freely admit, but I don’t think the Retelling Model does much better, unless you want to push the Model right back to the emergence of Homo sapiens somewhere around 200,000 years ago and locate spiritual life and its subsequent rejection within a community of a few hundred breeding pairs, their innate rejection of God’s purposes then becoming the pattern for all who were to follow. The problem with that scenario is the uncertainty about the linguistic and creative capacities of the first humans, about which we know nothing. Some anthropologists continue to highlight the ‘cultural revolution’ in human tool-use and, possibly, linguistic and other cultural capabilities, that appear to have occurred during human development about 50 thousand years ago as part of the so-called Upper Paleolithic Revolution. Others prefer to highlight the continuity in cultural development over this period and before. Whatever the outcome of that particular discussion, it does impact to some degree on the Retelling Model. If humanity did not yet have a sufficiently developed theory of mind, together with other cognitive capacities, to be in a position to be responsible to God for their actions until the era of the Upper Paleolithic Revolution, then the Retelling Model has to cope with the fact that there were many different communities of humans within Africa by that stage, and humanity was already well on its way in the Great Trek out of Africa to populate the rest of the world. So at the least Retelling Models have to take such factors into account in their discourse on sin, and, to be frank, at this point in the discussion the notion of the transmission of sin – either lateral or vertical – becomes as arm-waving as in the Homo divinus Model. In other words, it is not that the Homo divinus Model has a problem on this point which the Retelling Model does not – both Models are in the same boat; both Models have to give account as to how/why/when sin entered the world and in what sense sin ‘spread’ or ‘became relevant’ to the rest of humanity.

It is also worth pointing out that the notion of Federal Headship has not been arbitrarily invoked to help in this context, but has a long and respectable theological lineage stretching back to Calvin and before.3 We can also think of it as involving corporate responsibility, which is a difficult concept if you happen to have been raised in the individualistic West. Having lived in the Middle East for 15 years, one becomes acutely aware of how one is deemed to represent one’s perceived leader, however much (as an individualistic westerner) you might like to be perceived as just yourself. I was reminded of this during one of our many crossings over the ‘Green Line’ that separated West from East Beirut during our time spent in the Lebanon in the early 1980s. The usual bearded militiaman holding the usual Kalashnikov put his head through the car window, checked my papers and then gave a big friendly smile with golden teeth shining: “Breetish!” he said “Margareet Thaatcher!” and then laughed uproariously. In his eyes I was the representative of the whole of Britain, the country headed up by a female Prime Minister, which must be some kind of joke. The point in the present context is that in Middle East culture Federal Headship is an ever present reality, even though you might not be that pleased (as in this case) to be identified with the ‘Head’ in question. Talk about corporate responsibility!

If talk of Federal Headship and corporate responsibility is not really helpful to you on this point (and for people not pre-soaked in a culture with different assumptions, it is a difficult notion), then why don’t we think of a metaphor based on cricket? I have deliberately chosen cricket because its rules are as arcane to most Americans as the rules of American football are to most Brits. Cricket was certainly being played in England by the mid-sixteenth century, although its roots go back much earlier. But for this thought experiment I want you to imagine two scenarios. In scenario one (which happens to be correct, but let that pass) the present rules of cricket develop slowly over a period of centuries. In scenario two, let us imagine that the present rules of cricket were created de novo all at once in the sixteenth century. Either way, notions such as “getting runs”, “losing a wicket” or being “run out” only make sense within the particular game labeled “cricket”. The terms have no meaning out of that context. Now imagine that in China at the same time (either for scenario one or two) there were people in Shanghai who had certainly never heard of cricket, but who regularly started playing around by throwing a ball at each other and trying to hit it with a stick, and were even judged to be “out” when the ball was caught. Were they playing “cricket”? Well, not really, because you can only play cricket if you play according to the rules, even though there might be some accidental similarities between the two games.

The point here is that the concept and status of being “caught out” (and therefore no longer being in the game, as a batsman at least) has to begin somewhere, in scenario one as a consequence of slow development, in scenario two rather abruptly. For the first time on planet earth, a new system has come into being that sheds a new light on the meaning of hitting balls with pieces of wood, and then catching the ball, a meaning that didn’t exist before. In analogous manner, the notion of “sin” only begins to be theologically meaningful once a new framework for its meaning has been established, at least somewhere in the world. Certain concepts, with their attendant language, only make sense once the framework is in place.

Now I have deliberately set up the story with two scenarios so that it can fit either the Retelling Model or the Homo divinus Model, because both Models have to face up to the same questions. And like most metaphorical stories it can only achieve maybe making one point at best (so please do not start blogging about Adam and Eve playing cricket…), but hopefully it might help on this one point, the idea that certain concepts only have meaning once the framework is in place that provides their meaning.

In terms of biblical theology, I do think that the Homo divinus Model does greater justice to New Testament teaching, in particular to the understanding of the first and second Adam as expounded in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. As already mentioned, it is the aim of Models to take into account the overall corpus of Biblical teaching, and I find it ironic that people think that the Homo divinus Model draws its inspiration from the early chapters of Genesis, when the reality is that it depends more on New Testament narratives. I realize that not all commentators think that the parallel between the ‘second and first Adams’ in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 needs to be taken too stringently, but I have to say that the parallel looks pretty stringent to me.4 This for me is certainly an important factor providing a nudge in the direction of the Homo divinus Model. But do we really know what happened? Absolutely not! It is “tempting to speculate…”, but all we can be quite sure about is that the person who is quite certain they know the answer must definitely be wrong! As I said at the beginning of these comments, for me the discussion itself scores only 1, maybe a maximum of 2, on a scale of 1-10 in the list of items that Christians should be concerned about. And when it comes to writing about it, I’m quite sure that the number of words I’ve written on the topic is far less than 1% of all the words that I’ve written on other topics. But scoring 1 on a scale of 1-10 is not zero, and it’s fun to bat these ideas around with the hope that, one day, people might come up with much better models.

In the interim I do hold to one model more than another, and that not for merely utilitarian reasons, as I’ve already emphasized. And it is really important that Bible-believing Christians realize that there are conceptual resources that enable them to preserve essential Christian doctrines that are important for their faith without the need to worry that some new scientific findings are going to come and snatch them away. And passionate Christian Darwinians can go on happily being passionate Christian Darwinians, just as they have been since 1859.


1. See, for example, Stephen Mithen’s entertaining book The Singing Neanderthals - The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body, Harvard University Press, 2007

2. e.g. Berry, R.J. and Jeeves, M. ‘The nature of human nature’, Science & Christian Belief 20: 3-47, 2008 – plus much earlier citations

3. Grant, J.A. & Wilson, A.I. (eds.) The God of the Covenant, Leicester: Apollos, 2005

4. On this also see the forthcoming article: R.J. Berry, ‘Adam or Adamah?’, Science and Christian Belief 23: 23-48, 2011, In Press

Denis Alexander is the Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge, to which he was elected a Fellow in 1998. Alexander writes, lectures, and broadcasts widely in the field of science and religion. He is a member of the International Society for Science and Religion.

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Jon Garvey - #50569

February 9th 2011

@dopderbeck - #50475

Yes, but the Aaronic priesthood was initiated as part of the Covenant to which the whole nation agreed at Mount Sinai and thereafter. The Jews actively participated in the priesthood both in this initiation event and by their offering of sacrifices. If the priesthood failed, Israel would be judged (a) for breaking their voluntary covenant with the Lord and (b) because they had no provision to cover their sins.

My point is not to deny that Adam, as head, failing in his task could impact on his people, but to question how they *became* his people in the first place. If Adam introduced sin, how did the race come to participate in it, both in imputation and actual commission?

Israel could not be represented by the High Priest if they were not part of the covenant through circumcision (and by active participation in the cult). We are not represented by Christ until we accept the word and are baptized by faith. What, then, is the parallel case for, say, a third millennium BC hunter in Guatemala (or substitute if you wish a human across the world from Adam whenever you consider him to have lived)?

dopderbeck - #50602

February 9th 2011

Jon Garvey—to “become” one of “Adam’s people” is simply to be made in the image of God, which is bestowed directly by God and is inherent to being human.  This is simply grace.  Human beings are born human.  I think that could have been true for any lateral contemporary of Adam.  Certainly, in scientific terms, the unity of the human race is not in doubt, even though it did not spring from only one breeding couple.

Perhaps all this involves a community with and under Adam in the sacramental space of the “garden.”  Or perhaps it involves propagation from Adam over multiple generations that include lateral “grafts,” if we need to think in terms of linear biological descent.  (Modern humans did, after all, interbreed with Neanderthals).  But it seems to me that linear biological descent is not strictly necessary to the theological unity of humanity if human ontology is more than physical—and that is my main argument.

I personally don’t see the need to locate any of this in the Neolithic, BTW.  The Gen. 1-4 narratives are cast in a cultural setting familiar to the hearers of those stories.  I’d suggest they are retelling events that happened much further back (in Africa?  who knows).  I’m not a “literalist.”

dopderbeck - #50603

February 9th 2011

Further Jon Garvey:  You’re right that becoming a member of the covenant community involves an element of choice—though it’s significant that most new members were circumcised as infants and were presumptively members unless they opted out.  And the same is true for most Christian traditions re: infant baptism. 

I might also tie in here Barth’s approach to the doctrine of election.  For Barth, Christ is the elect and we as fellow humans with Christ are represented by Christ and therefore already accepted by God.  When we believe and are baptized / confirmed we confirm this election and acceptance.  We are not made members of the covenant community because of our belief and baptism.  The cause is God’s election of humanity in Christ.  Of course, many instead still choose to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—to turn their backs on the sacrament of the Tree of Life (Christ).  This seems to preserve some some nice parallels between the sacramental space / mandate-mission of the Garden, the sacramental space / mandate-mission of the Temple, and the sacramental space / mandate-mission of the Church.

Gregory - #50609

February 9th 2011

“to “become” one of “Adam’s people” is simply to be made in the image of God, which is bestowed directly by God and is inherent to being human.  This is simply grace.  Human beings are born human.  I think that could have been true for any lateral contemporary of Adam.  Certainly, in scientific terms, the unity of the human race is not in doubt, even though it did not spring from only one breeding couple.” - dopderbeck

Yes, this is agreeably written.

The one part I wonder about is when you speak about the ‘unity of the human race is not in doubt.’

What about those today who subscribe to polygenism?

Iow, if ‘homo sapiens sapiens’ happened to ‘emerge’ in different places on the Earth at different times, then the ‘unity of the human race’ is broken. Isn’t it?

dopderbeck - #50614

February 9th 2011

Gregory—I don’t think so and I don’t think that’s how evolutionary biologists / anthropologists, all of whom are poloygenists though most are monophyletists based on the OOA hypothesis, think of it.  Most agree, for example, the the notion of “race” is a construct without any meaningful biological foundation.  Genetically and morphologically, we are remarkably homogenous.  Whatever precisely separates us biologically from our antecedents—whether it is skull size, mutations in genes relating to speech, cultural adaptations, and/or some variety of things—this has propagated throughout the human population.  AFAIK, all evolutionary biologists who study this agree that there are neither Neanderthals nor Homo Erectus nor any other type of early human among us anymore.  We are all one kind.

Jon Garvey - #50638

February 9th 2011

@dopderbeck - #50602

I’m still trying to pin down origins here. I’m happy for Adam to occur in any point in history, though I see no reason to quibble with an ANE setting (thanks to your pointing me to the MRCA studies of Rohde - many thanks for that).

But at one point we have glorified apes, very sweet at times and rather violent at others, but neither in relationship with God or morally or spiritually accountable to him.

Now we have a race of humans that is both (and unfortunately lost in sin but for grace).

In between we have (as I understand you):
(a) fully evolved humans before Adam - but not yet introduced to covenant relationship, to accountability and therefore to sin. How are they like or unlike us? Are they born in the image of God?
(b) Adam or an Adam community of priests, whose task and experience mirrors the Genesis account.
(c) Contemporaries of Adam outside the garden sanctuary - some, most likely, not in social contact with him. He was intended to mediate between them and God, but fell into sin. They are, you say, born in the image of God - but can they have been aware of that apart from Adam? And discounting Augustinian propagation, how did they become rebels against God?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #50655

February 9th 2011

1. All humans are born self-centered.  They must be because all of their strength and energy must be used to survive.  They cannot do anything for themselves or for others. 

2. Even though babies are selfish, they are not sinful per se.  It is their “nature” to be selfish.  To develope a character which is loving and considerate of others takes time, growth, and maturity.  Many never reach it and remain natural human beings.

3. Most people fall somewhere in between trying to obey a law or ideal of unselfishness, but we cannot do so on our own.

4. To fulfill God’s purpose for our lives we must repent, which means rejecting our former selves and turning to God or Jesus.  Only by dying to ourselves and being born again through the Holy Spirit of God can we truly be Other oriented.

penman - #50691

February 10th 2011

Jon Garvey #50450

=How essential, or helpful, is the doctrine of the soul?=

Hi Jon
There must be some kind of soul or spirit or whatever one elects to call it. The NT data are pretty convincing (to me!) on that. “Do not fear those who can kill the body but not the soul” etc.

However, I am open-minded on how the soulish aspect of our nature originates. As you may have realised, I’m fairly happy to embrace huge chunks of mystery in my theology. So for all I know, the soul may simply be the mind, & the mind may somehow be generated by biological factors. My original critique was aimed at how older theologians tried to combine Adam-as-source-of-all-humans with a creationist view of the soul (each one newly created by God). That I think was an inconsistency. But it isn’t my model. I incline to think we do derive the whole of our nature by natural generation.

But I think the human soul (however it originates) is uniquely capable of existing apart from the body, in the intermediate state - a distinctively human attribute. Animal consciousness perishes at death. There’s a good exposition of this in =Body, Soul and Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-dualism Debate=  by John W. Cooper.

penman - #50692

February 10th 2011


Jon - from Biologos posts & private correspondence, I know you get a terminal bout of the shivers from the idea that when Adam sinned, the then existing human race somehow instantaneously shared in his sin, while probably knowing nothing of this Adam fellow. To them he was an unknown alien figure. So how could they in any meaningful sense participate in his sin or justly share its consequences? Is that an accurate summary?

If it is, it leaves me with a parallel question. The generations of humans AFTER Adam still end up in the same position. Most of them have never heard of Adam. He is to them an unknown alien figure. So doesn’t the question recur? How can THEY in any meaningful sense participate in his sin or justly share its consequences? Don’t get me wrong; I think they DO. I’m no Pelagian. But I’m asking whether you see a parallel here? If it holds, it may alleviate the perceived problem of Adam’s contemporaries participating in his sin in some meaningful fashion, even if they had not heard of him. His contemporaries & subsequent generations would be in same boat.

I could say more but I’d end up with a horrific multiple post…

Jon Garvey - #50704

February 10th 2011

penman - #50692

Hi penman - not so much the shivers, as a lack of understanding of how the human condition is explained. Current experience is that every human has a portfolio of attributes in relation to God (and those who don’t are accounted for in Scripture as in denial rather than in ignorance). So a sense of God is inherent, as is a sense of accountability, and as is the sense of guilt & shame that goes with it. Associated is the desire for eternity, and a sense that human life survives death, and maybe the human sense of destiny and mastery of the world.

The Gospel has to connect with these and stir them up, but not to create them afresh.

If those things are part of the nature endowed on Adam, then classic Augustinian ideas easily explain them because they are inherited from our forefather. But though a strict federal headship model easily explains “forensic” concepts of relationship with God, and of participating in Adam’s sin, it seems less able to explain how we came to experience life as we do now.

Did those unknown to Adam suddenly acquire these characters en masse (a seismic psychological shift for the planet!), or did they have them before in the absence of any corresponding spiritual reality, or what?

penman - #50710

February 10th 2011

Jon Garvey - #50704

You’ve hit on the same three things as I have, in terms of human spiritual uniqueness, or what constitutes humanity spiritually: conscience, God-consciousness, & soul-survival beyond death. Let’s call these attributes “spirit” for the sake of argument (I don’t mind what we call them at this point).

If we accept the existence of a mass of anatomically modern humans alongside Adam, I suppose it leaves us with three choices.

1 - Spirit was bestowed on the mass, or maybe a portion of them, simultaneously, so that there was now a spiritual race existing on the globe.
2 - Spirit was spread to other anatomically modern humans from Adam & Eve or their offspring by interbreeding.
3 - Spirit belonged only to the Adamite line which gradually supplanted the non-spirit-bearing mass of anatomically modern humans.

My agnosticism kicks in here. I wouldn’t care to dogmatize about any of the choices, although I prefer 1. Since we know so little about early modern humanity, maybe there was a seismic shift, a quantum leap, in global human consciousness, which theologically was the mass-bestowal of spirit. Currently I don’t see why not. And I shrink a little from interbreeding between “spiritual man” & “animal man”.

gingoro - #50711

February 10th 2011


“My agnosticism kicks in here. I wouldn’t care to dogmatize about any of the choices, although I prefer 1.” -penman

Good post I like your summary of the options although I have a problem distinguishing options 2 and 3.  My preference is option 1 as well.  IMO we far too often tend to give our preference too much weight when various options may be compatible with scripture and nature.  Ofter just reserving judgment is a very fine intellectual position. 
Dave W

normbv - #50715

February 10th 2011

I choose the dynamics of recieving the Holy Spirit today as the means of man’s spiritual identification. The Jews didn’t comprehend man’s biological antiquity as we do but simply dealt with man as they observed him which is no different than todays man.  Sin for Adam was specific to the Law/commandment he was given. Christ fulfiled it and removed it. The difference between men before Adam is that they were not aware of God as He was revealed to Adam.  All men strove to understand the Creator but most made a mess out of it yet God identified Adam and later Israel as the correct approach. Christ confirmed it.  Again no biological change needed in the eyes of the Jews but simply a recognition and acceptance of the one true God.  The message is essentially simple yet our inquiry into man’s mental development and capacity is hardly simple. Gen 4:26 is instructive as it says that the offspring of Adam is when men began calling upon YHWH the God of Israel. I assume that is correct.

dopderbeck - #50721

February 10th 2011

John G,  the way penman is thinking about this is much as how I would think about it.  At the end of the day I agree with you that this is something we can only speculate about in terms of “mechanism.”  The only “data” we have are the dogmatic truths of the unity of all humanity in both the imago Dei and in bondage to sin, and the empirical truths of material human origins. We have great confidence in the ulitmate coherence of these different lines of truth but no firm way right now to offer a fully satisfying account—but this circumstance is no different than the progress of any other “science.” (Explain “dark energy” and “dark matter,” for example!)

The Augustinian emphasis on biological generation certainly is neat and satisfying in some ways, but really it ends up being equally mysterious.  There is, after all, no material “sin substance” in the sperm and egg.  To me, the real problem with a non-strictly-Augustinian mechanism for original sin’s transmission is confessional.  Both Catholic and Reformed creeds emphasize biological or “ordinary” generation.  But ultimately the system of doctrine has to cohere with all of reality.  This is one reason so many of us draw on Eastern Orthodox sources.

penman - #50774

February 11th 2011

Is it just my computer, or have all comments since Feb 8th been mysteriously deleted, including some good contributions by David Opderbeck & Jon Garvey? Even a couple by me…

dopderbeck - #50790

February 11th 2011

penman—I’m having the same problem.  From multiple “this comment has been closed” comments, I wonder if the comment thread was hacked or something?

Jon Garvey - #50882

February 12th 2011

@dopderbeck - #50790

Maybe it’s just the new division of comments into pages - I wonder if there’s any chance of repositioning the links to the pages at the end of the comments, rather than the top - it’s easy to thing that a thread’s gone cold?

Tacroy - #53402

March 6th 2011

We have the possibility of fellowship with God through freely willed
choice. Our nearest cousins, chimps and bonobos, to the best of our
knowledge, do not.

Whoa! I didn’t think we actually had any knowledge about whether not bonobos and chimps are capable of being saved! I thought that at the moment it was just conjecture and interpretation, generally as a result of dogma handed down from the Catholic Church.

What sources do you have for this result? I’d love to know how, exactly, they measured whether or not chimpanzees were in fellowship with God, and if such measurements are applicable to humans.

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