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Genetics, Theology, and Adam as a Historical Person, Part 4

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January 3, 2011 Tags: Human Origins
Genetics, Theology, and Adam as a Historical Person, Part 4

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.

This is the fourth entry in a series taken from Denis Alexander’s essay addressing the question, “How Does a BioLogos model need to address the theological issues associated with an Adam who was not the sole genetic progenitor of humankind?” This essay was presented in November 2010 at the Theology of Celebration BioLogos Workshop in New York City. In Part 1 and Part 2, Alexander describes the process of model building in science and lays the groundwork for two models that relate creation theology and anthropology. Part 3 introduced the first of these models, the “Retelling Model.” Today Alexander describes the “Homo divinus Model.”

The Homo divinus model

Like the Retelling Model, this model also represents a protohistorical view in the sense that it lies beyond history as normally understood, but like the Retelling Model looks for events located in history that might correspond to the theological account provided by the Genesis narrative. But in this case the model locates these events within the culture and geography that the Genesis text provides.

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

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

Just as I can go out on the streets of New York today and have no idea just by looking at people, all of them members of the species Homo sapiens, which ones are spiritually alive, so in this model there was no physical way of distinguishing between Adam and Eve and their contemporaries. It is a model about spiritual life and revealed commands and responsibilities, not about genetics.

How does this model relate to the fact that Adam is made in God’s image? If we take Genesis 1 as a kind of ‘manifesto’ literature that lays down the basic foundations for understanding creation, in turn providing the framework for understanding the rest of the Bible, then the teaching of humankind made in the image of God is a foundational truth valid for the whole of humanity for all time. It is a truth that certainly encompasses the kingly responsibility given to humankind in Genesis 1 to subdue the earth; the truth also has a relational aspect in reflecting human fellowship with God, and the relational implications of what it means to be made in God’s image are worked out in Genesis 2, through work, marriage and caring for the earth.

Of course with our western mindset we would like to ask the chronological question: when exactly did the ‘image of God’ start applying in human history? But the Genesis text is not interested in chronology. Neither does the Homo divinus model as presented here seek to address that particular issue, but simply accepts the fact that the whole of humankind without any exception is made in God’s image. Instead the model focuses on the event from Genesis 2:7 in which God breathes His breath into Adam so that he becomes a nepesh, a living being who can respond to God’s claim upon his life. The model is about how Adam and Eve became responsible children of God, involving a personal relationship with God, obedience to his commands, and the start of God’s new family on earth consisting of all those who would come to know him personally. Paul says that ‘I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name’ (Ephesians 3: 14–15). Families have to start somewhere, and God chose to start his new family on earth with two very ordinary individuals, saved by grace like we are, and sustained by the ‘tree of life’.

In this model the Fall then becomes the disobedience of Adam and Eve to the expressed revealed will of God, bringing spiritual death in its wake, a broken relationship between humankind and God. In an extension of this model, just as Adam is the federal head of humankind, so as Adam falls, equally humankind falls with him. Federal headship works both ways. Just as a hydrogen bomb explodes with ferocious force, scattering radiation around the world, so sin entered the world with the first deliberate disobedience to God’s commands, spreading the spiritual contamination of sin around the world. And as with the Retelling Model, the physical death of both animals and humans is seen as happening throughout evolutionary history. Both models suggest that it is spiritual death that is the consequence of sin. Genesis 3 provides a potent description of the alienation that humankind suffers as a result of sin, with a fiery barrier separating them from the Tree of Life (3:24). But under the New Covenant the way back to the tree of life is opened up through the atoning work of Christ on the cross: ‘Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city’ (Revelation 22:14).

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 - #45963

January 5th 2011

@nedbrek - #45947

Nedbrek, I take it that humility and the willingness to suffer is one thing - actually doing it is what brings such attitudes to perfection. Just as Jesus’ “learned obedience” to his Father by actually being obedient under the temptation of manhood.

I’d still put a big question mark over Veedar’s emphasis on the involuntary weakness/healing strand of Scripture over the sin/judgement aspect. Of course one can try to build one’s faith apart from Scripture - but you have to take a particularly big knife to it in this case.

Genesis begins with sin and a curse, not sickness and a cure. Fast forward through sin crouching at Cain’s door, the Flood, Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah and God gives a law, not a Medicare package. The prophets warn of judgement and call for repentance, not spiritual hygiene. The Exile was a covenant judgement, and the New Covenant promised in its aftermath was a promise to write God’s law in their hearts. Get to the New Testament and Jesus is baptized into John’s baptism of repentance. Even when he heals, he often says, “Sin no more.” It’s hard to open the Bible at random and not find a reference to the problem of sin, and God’s judgement against it. That’s more than a metaphor.

Veedar - #45964

January 5th 2011

@John Garvey

I guess it depends on one’s view of the Bible. I believe that God doesn’t speak hebrew or aramaic. Any impression he makes upon a human being’s soul comes from uncreated grace. Then the human with all his/her limitations (sin, ignorance etc.) attempt to formulate what he feels God is saying by means of the human construct that is language. I do not think the OT images of God are anywhere near perfection, they are simply the best man under inspiration could come up with at that time. Which is why Jesus was needed to show us who God is. One can often constrast Jesus behaviour and teachings with the OT image of an angry judge as God. Indeed, Jesus revealed God’s name to his disciples again and again. It is “Father”.

Jon Garvey - #45973

January 5th 2011

@Veedar - #45964

“I guess it depends on one’s view of the Bible.” It also depends on your view of Jesus, and the portrait painted of him in the Gospels. I’ll happily restrict my challenge about opening any page of the Bible at random to suggest opening any page of the *Gospels* at random to find reference to sin and judgement in Jesus’ words.

Even his reference to God as our Father has to take into account his reference to those who opposed him as having the devil as their Father. It’s a question of being open to the whole message of Jesus (or of the Bible, come to that). Intellectual honesty, quite apart from reverence, demands that.

That isn’t to seek to emphasize that at the expense of the healing love of the Father expressed in Christ. But it is to remember the nature of the Gospel in all 4 Evangelists, in the historic Creeds of both East and West, and in every mainstream branch of Christianity for 2,000 years.

Veedar - #46000

January 5th 2011

@John Garvey

I do not dispute that there is such a thing as missing the mark (sin). Nor do I dispute that Jesus and the bible appropriately uses language suggesting judgement. But I do see the language as being metaphorical. By not cooperating with God but instead resist his plans for mankind, we reap what we sow. Of course, the almighty God could logically have chosen to do things differently. He could have saved all of mankind by an act of will. He has chosen to bring salvation/theosis about in a certain way.

So when we resist him it is of course our own responsibility.  However, it is His responsibility that he has chosen not to make his grace irresistible (for example), so one could say that the way he has determined to save people is also a judgement of those who resist salvation in the form it is offered.

I do think that when understanding what Jesus did on the cross and when dealing with the doctrine of original sin, sickness and healing are far better metaphors than lawbreaking. But cruelty and pure evil? Judgement and anger is better.

I do try to engage the biblical text honestly. But I also try to reconcile the God that I experience with the God presented in the Biblical text. Sometimes that can be a challenge.

Dick Fischer - #46005

January 5th 2011

Jon Garvey - #45904 wrote:

“…there are a number of details that sound likely to be literary or mythic devices, eg the direct creation of Adam, Eve derived from a rib, the snake being subtle and talking, blessings and judgments portrayed as trees etc.”

I can’t deny the possibility of mythic elements in the Genesis story, but the examples you list here ring with ANE history.  In Egypt, Ptah creates Atum.  In Mesopotamia, Ea creates Adapa, and Yahweh creates Adam.

In Sumerian the word for “rib” and “life” is the same.  In the Sumerian pun that the “lady of the rib is the lady of life,” parallels Eve taken from Adam’s rib and as the “mother of all living.”

Serpents were a popular motif and often depicted on pottery and cylinder seals.  It was the clever serpent who stole the life-giving plant from Gilgamesh.  And the date palm was prominently displayed in the center of cylinder seals being fertilized by angelic gods.

Plus these motifs carry through.  Moses fashioned a bronze serpent to convey obedience to God and symbolize the coming Messiah.  Palm branches were waved at Christ on his entry into Jerusalem.  So parts of the creation story rather than being simply “myth” may have greater significance.

Jon Garvey - #46010

January 5th 2011

Dick Fischer - #46005

“So parts of the creation story rather than being simply “myth” may have greater significance.”

Amen to that - I don’t like putting the words “simply” and “myth” togather. A bit like “just” and “poetry” or “only” and “science”.

Tim - #46142

January 7th 2011

I recommend giving this review of these thread series a quick read.  Very insightful stuff.


BenYachov - #47126

January 13th 2011

>[Jerry Coyne’s]  argument is that this scenario is found nowhere in scripture, being made up whole cloth by the apologist, and that the model doesn’t even attempt to work through how the rest of humanity outside the representative pair comes to be tainted by this pair’s original sin/rebellion in a just/deserving manner.

So Coyne (like so many of the New Atheists who often post here) is in essence an Atheist who believes in the Reformation Theological Doctrines of Sola Scriptura(scripture alone)and the perspicuity of scripture?

Where does that leave Catholics(like myself), Eastern Orthodox and Orthodox Jews who believe in Scripture with tradition and development of doctrine and deny the above doctrines?  Where does it leave moderate Protestants who believe an extreme a use of Sola Scriptura is an abuse called Solo Scripura?

Funny!  Jerry denies the existence of God yet he believes in a specific theological doctrine and acts like that doctrine is universally accepted?  So in order to attack the article above he has to first defend a religious belief that is not universally held by all Christians or even the majority.

The man is not competent to critique religion.  That is just a brute fact.

TGT - #47161

January 14th 2011

Amazing the mental gymnastics that must take place in order to reconcile the ideas of man with the Word of God.

Jon Garvey - #47228

January 14th 2011

@TGT - #47161

So true. That’s why I had to give up on Young Earth Creationism. I couldn’t do the somersaults.

BenYachov - #47263

January 14th 2011

I take it Jon Garvey is equating Young Earth Creationism with the “ideas of man”?


Richard William Nelson - #47302

January 15th 2011

Charles Darwin explains: “extinction and natural selection go hand in hand”. According to the theory of evolution, before the arrival of humans, life consisted of disease and death. Poet Alfred Lord Tennyson captured the essence of “survival of the fittest” in the now famous phrase—“Nature red in tooth and claw.” 

By the end of the sixth day, however, “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.” For progressive creationism, then, God must be a liar since

o   disease and death is not “very good”
o   disease and death—sin—is not the result from the fall of Adam

Fortunately, the scientific evidence to support progressive creationism, like the theory of evolution, does not exist. While evolution was once a theory in crisis, now the theory of evolution is in crisis without a theory.

As cytogeneticist Antonio Lima-de-Faria, decorated by the Swedish king as “Knight of the Order of the North Star” for his discoveries on the molecular organization of the chromosome, declared –“There has never been a theory of evolution.”

Richard William Nelson

Jon Garvey - #47314

January 15th 2011

@Richard William Nelson - #47302

Your post is a good illustration of my point (Jon Garvey - #47228).

The best response to the handy sound-bite from the Swedish Knight would be to Google his name, which shows he is not Swedish, and rejects Neo-Darwinism by substituting his own esoteric process of auto-evolution. The quote has all the marks of being lifted from a misleading website without any reflection - the same tactics the New Atheists use to discredit Christianity.

“Fortunately, the scientific evidence to support progressive creationism, like the theory of evolution, does not exist. While evolution was once a theory in crisis, now the theory of evolution is in crisis without a theory.” This paragraph doesn’t actually mean anything, and certainly not to the legion of supporters of evolution who actually handle the scientific evidence in a multitude of fields.

Who told you that animal death came from Adam’s fall? Not the Bible, which says the immediate cause for human death was exclusion from the tree of life in the garden. Where does it say all the animals in the world had access to that tree?

Finally, your post might carry more weight if this were a progressive creation website, which it isn’t.

Richard William Nelson - #47425

January 16th 2011

Greetings - Jon!

Thanks for pointing out that Antonio Lima-de-Faria is not Swedish - he was actually born in Portugal - please note that my post never said he was Swedish.

Actually, could have used any one of thousands of quotes critical of current evolution theories. Faria “rejects Neo-Darwinism by substituting his own esoteric process of auto-evolution” along with a vast number of evolutionary scientists.

Neo-Darwinism, like other “isms”, is not weathering well. The 2008 Altenberg Summit and the post conference book - Evolution The Extended Synthesis - edited by Massimo Pigliucci and Gerd B. Muller and published by MIT highlight why neo-Darwinism is dead.

Faria is just one in a long list of scientists that have abandoned neo-Darwinism in the search for alternative evolution theories. The purpose of the 2008 Altenberg Summit was to develop a consensus on a theory of evolution. The bottom-line from the summit - a comprehensive theory of evolution does not exist.

Hence - “While evolution was once a theory in crisis, now the theory of evolution is in crisis without a theory”

Richard W Nelson

Jon Garvey - #47501

January 16th 2011

@Richard William Nelson - #47425

Fair enough, Richard. But amongst these many thousands of scientists, how many

(a) reject deep time?
(b) reject the prehistoric existence of disease and death?
(c) reject progressive change in species over geological time?
(d) or even deny Neo-darwinian mutation/natural selection as one component of evolution?

In one point I agree - it is clearer now than ever that the “red in tooth and claw” analogy is an inadequate picture of natural selection. It was never true that life “consisted” of disease and death, even now. I have a couple of disease, and am going to die at some stage. Even for a non-believer that would be a small part of the truth, though for a human with “eternity in his heart” a vital one.

But even the foxes, badgers, buzzards and rabbits I see have lives that fulfil their animal natures, even though they will all succumb to mortality in the end. Why would it be different for a dinosaur?

Natural selection can favour being huge and gentle, good at hiding, useful to other species, immensely fruitful etc - Malthus isn’t essential even to Darwinism.

TGT - #47573

January 16th 2011

@Jon Garvey: Yeah, a plain reading of Genesis does so much disservice to the rest of Scripture, unlike the plain light that compromises with Darwinian evolution put it in?! Everything in the universe can be well explained (as best that humans can do) with a simple straight-forward reading of Genesis.

Jon Garvey - #47680

January 17th 2011

@TGT - #47573

Do you mean a plain reading with a knowledge of the Hebrew culture in which it arose, or a plain reading from a western worldview augmented by modern (mainly American) additions like vapour canopies, creation-with-appearance-of-age, “kinds” as a taxonomic category, flood geology, results of the fall not mentioned in Scripture, etc?

Richard William Nelson - #48133

January 19th 2011

Greetings - Jon!

At stake is a comprehesive theory of evolution. The take away message from the Altenberg Summit is that a comprehensive theory of evolution does not exist.

Evolution exists as a fact only in the realm of philosophy-not science.

Richard William Nelson

BenYachov - #48210

January 19th 2011

>Who told you that animal death came from Adam’s fall? Not the Bible, which says the immediate cause for human death was exclusion from the tree of life in the garden. Where does it say all the animals in the world had access to that tree?

I Reply: As I recall, my memory is a bit fuzzy, both Aquinas and Augustine believed Animals died before the Fall of Man.  In fact Augustine believed man was mortal before the fall(in that he could be killed) but he wasn’t subject to aging to death.

One must not equate the modern Mythology of the modern YEC with the views of Historic Christianity.

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