Genetics, Theology, and Adam as a Historical Person, Part 5
This is the fifth and final 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. In Part 3 and Part 4, he introduced the “Retelling Model” and the “Homo divinus Model.” Today Alexander outlines the disadvantages of the Homo divinus Model and presents some conclusions.
The Homo divinus model has the advantage that it takes very seriously the Biblical idea that Adam and Eve were historical figures as indicated by those texts already mentioned. It also sees the Fall as an historical event involving the disobedience of Adam and Eve to God’s express commands, bringing death in its wake. The model locates these events within Jewish proto-history.
For some, however, a disadvantage of the model will be the appeal to the Federal Headship of Adam to satisfy the need to see God’s call to fellowship with Him as being open to the whole of humankind and, equally, to see Adam’s disobedience as impacting the whole of humankind. The notion of Adam’s headship is of course perceived through passages such as Romans 5:12 and 17, and 1 Cor.15:22, although Romans 5:12 makes it clear that spiritual death came to all men by them actually sinning. Each person is responsible for his or her own sin. The model is not therefore consistent with a strictly Augustinian notion of the inheritance of the sinful nature, but in any case many biblical commentators do not find this notion in Scripture, which emphasizes the fact that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), rooting that fact in Adam’s sin (1 Cor. 15:22), but also highlighting the personal responsibility that each person has for their own sin (Deut.24:16; Jer.31:30; Rom. 5:12).
The Homo divinus Model will not answer all the theological questions that one might like to ask, any more than will the Retelling Model. For example, what was the eternal destiny of all those who lived before Adam and Eve? The answer really is that we have no idea. But we can be assured with Abraham: ‘Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ (Genesis 18:25). Thankfully we are not called to judge the earth, and we can leave that safely in the hands of the one who ‘judges justly’ (1 Peter 2:23). The question asked about those who lived prior to Adam and Eve is not dissimilar to other questions that we could ask. For example, what was the eternal destiny of those who lived in Australia at the time that the law was being given to Moses on Mt Sinai? Again, we really don’t know and, again: ‘Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ Christians who spend time speculating about such things can appear as if they are the judges of the world’s destiny, forgetting that that prerogative belongs only to God.
The two tentative models presented here may be seen as a work in progress. Both models are heavily under-determined by the data, meaning that there is insufficient data to decide either way. Both models might be false and a third type of model might be waiting in the wings ready to do a much better job; let us hope so. But for the moment the various ideas that have been suggested seem to represent versions of these two models.
Is it likely that new data may come along that will render either or both of these models untenable? It is not impossible, though if that happens it is from science that the new data are likely to come. For example, the Out of Africa model for human origins could be over-turned by new discoveries, unlikely as that might seem at present. Equally it is not impossible that new data might come to light on the roots of monotheism that might influence the model-building exercise.
Given that both models presented here suggest that human evolution per se is irrelevant to the theological understanding of humankind made in the image of God, it is likely that a preference for one model or another will be made based on a prior understanding of the claims made by particular Biblical texts. It should also be apparent that the adoption of one model over another may well have an impact on other theological perspectives. For example, if the Genesis Fall account is the story of the gradual alienation from God that occurred during some unspecified early era in the emergence of Homo sapiens, as in the Retelling Model, then the interpretation of the Fall can readily start to centre around human antisocial behavior, or the emergence of conflict, or even just human behaviors required for basic survival. But, important as these things are, I would suggest that they do not bring us to the heart of the biblical doctrine of the Fall, which is not about sociobiology, but about a relationship with God that was then broken due to human pride, rebellion and sin against God – with profound consequences for the spiritual status of humankind, and for human care for the earth. The Fall is about moral responsibility and sin, not about misbehavior, and sin involves alienation from God. A relationship cannot be broken by sin unless the relationship exists in the first place.
Such reflections are a reminder that models should never take the place of the data itself; otherwise we have a case of the tail wagging the dog. Sometimes in science we have to hold on firmly to different sets of very reliable data without any idea as to how the two sets can be built into a single coherent story. In relating anthropology to Biblical teaching we are in a much stronger position than that, since the models proffered go at least some way towards rendering the two data-sets mutually coherent. But no-one is naïve enough to think that such models are completely satisfying. On the other hand, one or other may give some useful insights along the way, and hopefully stimulate the building of better models in the future.
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.