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Science and the Bible: Assessing the Evangelical Encounter with Evolution

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January 17, 2013 Tags: Christianity & Science - Then and Now
Science and the Bible: Assessing the Evangelical Encounter with Evolution
Ernest James Pace, “Leaking Badly and Headed for the Earth,” Sunday School Times, June 3, 1922, p. 334.

Today's entry was written by Ted Davis. You can read more about what we believe here.

Having now completed our study of the five main views about “Science and the Bible” held by conservative Protestants, I conclude with a final column, assessing the whole situation as I see it today.

For more than a century, evangelicals and fundamentalists have typically rejected both evolution and higher biblical criticism. Sometimes there are good reasons: the claims of some biblical scholars are so outrageous and the claims of some scientists so anti-religious, that a strongly negative response is entirely appropriate. Too often, however, the evangelical encounter with modern science conforms to what historian Mark Noll has called “the scandal of the evangelical mind”—namely, “that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” Attitudes toward science have been crucial to this analysis. As Noll says, “since 1960 creationism has done more than any other issue except abortion to inflame the cultural warfare in American public life.” (p. 192)

Readers who want to know more about Noll’s book and its reception should go here and here. His conclusions about evangelicals and science are fully consistent with those I am about to present.

Evangelicals in Tension with Science

Evangelicals exhibit considerable tension and ambivalence when it comes to science, especially human evolution. On the one hand, evangelicals enthusiastically embrace the findings of science, when it comes to most applications in medicine and engineering. They also accept the experimental sciences, such as physics, chemistry, physiology, or thermodynamics. They have no problems with gravitation, the periodic table, the circulation of the blood, or the law of entropy. Here, their attitude is highly empirical: if it can be shown from repeatable experiments and observations, it’s true and presents no challenge whatsoever to religious belief.

On the other hand, evangelicals are quite hesitant to accept some conclusions of the so-called historical sciences, such as geology, cosmology, and evolutionary biology. Fundamentalists reject the very legitimacy of those sciences, and have created their own alternative explanation, “creation science,” which comports with their particular views of biblical authority and hermeneutics. Evangelicals are more ambivalent. As we’ve seen, many evangelicals accept the big bang and modern geology, with a 4.65 billion-year-old earth and the enormously long history of living things before humans arrived on the planet. But evolution–understood here to mean the common descent of humans and other organisms–presents very serious problems for many, perhaps most, evangelicals. This motivates them to look for alternative views.

The alternatives evangelicals embrace are precisely those we have studied in this series. Some eagerly support the YEC view. Others prefer one of the many varieties of the OEC view. Many like the strident tone of the ID movement, with its vigorous assault on biological and cultural “Darwinism” and its near-universal rejection of human evolution. For most evangelicals, however, TE is probably not a viable option at present, for biblical and theological reasons.

Reconciling Evolution with Scripture

Most evangelicals do not see any reasonable way to combine human evolution with the following beliefs:

  • the uniqueness of humans, who alone bear the “image of God”
  • the fall of Adam and Eve, the original parents of all humans, from a sinless state, by their own free choices to disobey God
  • the responsibility of each person for their own actions and beliefs, within a universe that is not fully deterministic
  • the redemption of individual persons by the atoning sacrifice of Christ.

Evangelicals cannot and must not be separated from these crucial beliefs about human dignity, freedom, responsibility, sin, and redemption. The 64-dollar question is: can these beliefs be maintained without simultaneously affirming the necessity of an historical, separately created first human pair? The answer is probably in the hands of evangelical academics, especially theologians and biblical scholars. Can they be persuaded that the scientific evidence for evolution is sufficiently strong to warrant a re-examination of the traditional view? Can a credible gospel and credible science be harmonized?

There exists an enormous gap between popular conceptions of science–conclusions, methods, and attitudes–and those of scientists themselves. This gap is not unique to science among practitioners of specialized knowledge, and it is not unique to evangelicals among the lay public. But it is real and very significant, and it affects theologians and biblical scholars no less than anyone else. Those who try to bridge this gap are mostly scientists (in their role as educators at colleges and universities and insofar as they write books for lay readers) and science journalists. Many influential members of those professional communities are skeptical or even strongly hostile toward Christian beliefs, and this can exacerbate an already difficult state of affairs. If ways can be found to popularize good science, while showing appropriate sensitivity to the concerns of evangelicals, it would be a very good thing.

Signs of Hope

Certainly there are reasons to hope. The conversation about science and religion is considerably broader now than it was at the time of the Scopes trial in 1925. Back then, many Protestants faced a very grim choice. On the one hand, they could follow politician William Jennings Bryan and the fundamentalists, rejecting modern science in the name of biblical authority and orthodox beliefs. On the other hand, they could follow theologian Shailer Mathews and the modernists, rejecting biblical authority and orthodox beliefs in the name of modern science. There was no one out there like John Polkinghorne, Francis Collins, Joan Centrella, Owen Gingerich, Simon Conway Morris, William Phillips, or Ian Hutchinson—to name just a few of the many top scientists today who accept evolution while affirming the divinity of Jesus, the bodily resurrection, and the actual divine creation of the universe. But they are all scientists, not theologians (except for Polkinghorne, who is both). In Galileo’s day, it was the scientists who eventually convinced the theologians and biblical scholars to accept Copernicus’ theory of the earth’s motion around the sun. But, it took a long time, and the process was difficult and often painful. Thus far, the biblical scholars and theologians who have tried to move the conversation forward have not been very well received, as Richard Ostling has so capably reported. I suspect we are in for more of the same.

It’s Your Turn to Talk

That’s what I think. What do you think? I’ll mainly be listening quietly, since I’ve now said all I wanted to say. Thank you all for hanging in there for ten months—far longer than I had originally anticipated. After a short respite I’ll return with a new series, but I’ll keep the topic under wraps for the time being.

Ted Davis is Fellow of the History of Science for the BioLogos Foundation and Professor of the History of Science at Messiah College. At Messiah, Davis teaches courses on historical and contemporary aspects of Christianity and science and directs the Central Pennsylvania Forum for Religion and Science.

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Jimpithecus - #76026

January 17th 2013

One of the princple problems that I encounter is that, as far as the scientists are concerned, many of the organizations that are promoting the YEC model and are either crafting home school science curricula or creating venues for the propogation of these views (e.g. the Creation Museum in Kentucky) are not engaging the science with integrity or honesty, instead skewing the interpretations to arrive at preconceived conclusions (See Randy Isaac’s evisceration of the RATE Project).  As long as this continues, the scientists will hold these scientists in very low regard and are not going to entreat with them. 

paul.bruggink1 - #76027

January 17th 2013


You’ve done an excellent job of framing the problem. I greatly admire the few theologians (that I am aware if) who are beginning to deal with the problem. Peter Enns comes immediately to mind. In addition, I just finished two books by Roman Catholic theologians who discuss the problem and possible solutions from a Roman Catholic perspective, but their observations are relevant to all Christians.

The first was “In Search of Adam and Eve: A Case for a Theology of Evolution,” by William G. Joseph.  His book is heavy on the reasons why Christians need to take a fresh look at our historical doctrines in view of biological evolution, but rather light on the theological implications and possible directions this could take.

The second was “Christianity in Evolution: An Exploration,” by Jack Mahoney. He focuses more on a possible solution, namely that the purpose of Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection was primarily to teach altruism and to point the way to eternal life by his example. Theologians are going to be very busy for a long time when they finally get atround to dealing with these issues in lignt of the current overwhelming evidence for biological evolution. Hopefully, you and BioLogos can contribute to this effort.

Both books end with disclaimers that their efforts are just starting points for others to review and improve upon.

Jimpithecus - #76028

January 17th 2013

That last sentence is unclear.  What I should have written was “As long as this continues, the scientists will hold the promoters of the YEC model in very low regard and are not going to entreat with them.”

That’s better. 

PNG - #76029

January 17th 2013

Just want to note that there is a relevant discussion over at the ASA General Discussion Forum under the thread “Trends in Creationist Beliefs.”


I think you will have to be a member to participate. I thought a post from K. Furman was especially notable, in that he recounts how, after 30 years as a YEC he changed his mind on the issue. He says the following:

“On the other hand, I now know the reasons why I could not FULLY engage with the scientific data for over 30 years, until just a few years ago.  Until then, I was blind to that tendency and the reasons for it.  Accordingly, it’s hard for me not to assume  that they can’t see it for the same reasons that I couldn’t see it for so many years.  But, of course, if someone had suggested to me then that I was not FULLY engaging with the data, I expect I would have been offended.  So, what’s to be done?”

That seems to be the situation, at least with people who pay attention to the issue at all. I don’t know how to get anyone to actually engage with the evidence - I don’t know what to do but put it out there in the clearest possible form for whoever is ready to really engage with it.

HornSpiel - #76050

January 18th 2013

Your quote illustrates the power of a worldview. What is a Christan world view? For many years the evangelical position was to insist on the reality and primacy of the “

HornSpiel - #76051

January 18th 2013


HornSpiel - #76052

January 18th 2013

HornSpiel - #76053

January 18th 2013

...supernatural at the expense of the natural”. Some have insisted a biblical world view is closer to that of animists in Africa or Papua New Guinea than what we have inherited from the Enlightenment. As a result Evangelicals have thrown out Science with Naturalism, Critical Thinking with Skepticism.

Besides Calvin College, Fuller Seminary has theologians trying to bridge the gap. it would be great to hear stories of pastors and congregation moving to TE. Are there any?

Eddie - #76030

January 17th 2013

This has been a good series of articles, Ted, and has generated much good discussion.  I appreciate your willingness to engage with readers—something which in the past some BioLogos columnists have not done as frequently or as seriously as others.

I might object to the characterization of ID’s tone as “strident.”  It is true that some ID proponents, especially when blogging, have written in such a tone.  But I don’t find the tone of the best ID books—Signature in the Cell, The Design of Life, No Free Lunch, The Edge of Evolution, Darwin’s Black Box, etc.—to be strident.  And in interviews and debates people like Steve Meyer, Mike Behe and Paul Nelson seem to me to be calm, polite, and measured in their responses to critics.  So perhaps “sometimes strident” would be fairer.

Your final point, about the situation today, could of course use some expansion.  You indicate that there is an alternative available today that was not available to Protestant evangelicals in the mid-20th century.  You point out that this alternative, contemporary TE, involves accepting divine creation and the divinity and resurrection of Jesus. 

The question arises about the relationship between the theology of some of the people you have named, e.g., Polkinghorne, and the traditional theology of the Protestant churches.  Is Protestant evangelicalism going to be satisfied that a theology is fully Christian if it simply holds on to the divinity and resurrection of Jesus, and some restatement of creation doctrine?  Or is Protestant evangelicalism going to to demand a closer line-up of TE theology with mainstream Calvinist, Lutheran, Baptist, etc. views?  Because it is not clear to me that someone like, say, Polkinghorne—who I believe you have said is an open theist—would have a theology acceptable to any traditional evangelical—even if he sincerely affirms the Creeds.  The same might be said, with adjustments for details, of some of the others you have mentioned.

I’m not arguing here that past Christian theologies are without flaw or that contemporary TE theologies are without merit.  I’m merely pointing out that “I believe in Jesus as well as evolution” is not likely to pass muster among many in the evangelical world.  Evangelicals generally want to hear much more about a person’s commitment to the inspiration and correctness of the Bible—every word of it, not just selected parts of it.  And they generally have some strong theological framework in which the Bible is interpreted.  I wonder if any current edition of TE is either Biblical enough or traditional enough to satisfy the bulk of evangelicals.

I’m not talking about very narrow fundamentalists, who clearly would not admit evolution under any circumstances.  I’m talking about “moderate” evangelicals, who might be persuaded to accept evolution, if they were 100% confident that the Christians pushing evolution held the same theological views that typical evangelical churchgoers hold—outside of the question of evolution.  I get the strong sense, from following these debates, that even the moderate evangelicals are very wary of theistic evolution, not so much because of “evolution,” but because they perceive that many of TE’s advocates have a lower view of the Bible, and a looser stance toward tradition, than everyday church people do.  And that situation has not been helped by statements from leading BioLogos people (not yourself) that God values nature’s “freedom” so much that perhaps he doesn’t control the outcomes of evolution and is not completely in charge of nature etc.  Or that Paul might have in his literalism misunderstood the real teaching of Genesis which regarding Adam and Eve is not historical etc.

If such difficulties are really just communication difficulties, i.e., if the leading TEs are all completely on board with a fully inspired and correct Bible and with the standard Calvinist, Lutheran, Baptist, etc. theologies, then I think the TEs will eventually be able to win the moderate evangelicals over to evolution.  But if the latter difficulties reflect real differences in theological position between TE leaders and the typical churchgoing evangelical, then I think that TE is not going to make much headway.  If the evangelical community does not believe that the TE leaders share the same religion with them—and that religion has to be much more than just an affirmation of the Creeds, but has to be very focused on the truth of the entire Bible—the evangelicals will not trust TE, and you don’t embrace what you don’t trust.

I suspect also that TE theology varies quite widely, i.e., that different leading TEs have quite different views on the authority and perfection of the Bible, the value of standard Calvinist tradition, etc.  It is hard, however, for the evangelical world to get a handle on this, because TEs so rarely frankly disagree with each other publically on theological matters.  Almost all TE public writing is directed against creationism and ID, to distinguish TE en bloc from ID or creationism en bloc.  I think this is a serious weakness within the TE movement.  I think that TE leaders need to start publically debating Christian theology with each other, not in the sort of academic venues that, say, Russell publishes in, but at ASA conferences, in Christian journals and books, on radio shows and blog sites, etc.  I think that the evangelical world needs to see the full range of possible TE theologies.  It might be that the evangelical world could accept evolution as formulated by, say, Terry Gray, but not as formulated by, say, Dennis Venema.  But that will never happen, until TEs are far more willing than they have been up to this point to bluntly disagree with each other over fundamental points of Christian theology.  As long as TE remains theologically vague, evangelicals will tend to be suspicious of all TE positions, because they will tend to equate the less heretical forms of TE with the more heretical ones.  So I think that more theological forthrightness (which heretofore has come only from a handful of TE leaders) will be necessary.

Is all of the Bible inspired?  Does it contain some human error?  Did all of the Biblical miracles occur, or only some of them?  Does God control every last detail of evolution, or only the broad direction, leaving much to chance?  Would God have been content to endow his image upon intelligent lizards, if that was what evolution produced?  Were Adam and Eve real people, or are they a poetic creation?  I can think of a score of questions like this on which many TE leaders have remained silent, or equivocated.  I think this “cautious” period of TE’s existence has to end, if TE is to take the next step toward acceptance.  I think TEs must now cease to speak tribally, as members of a movement opposed to creationism or ID, and speak as Christian individuals with personal theological commitments, and frankly criticize other TEs who in their view are teaching false or heretical theology.  Then the evangelical world can discern more precisely the options that it is being offered by TE, and sift the wheat from the chaff.

I’m hoping that future BioLogos columns will feature TEs who “go out on a limb” and dare to push their theological commitments “all the way,” and to engage other TEs in critical conversation.  In other words, I’d like to see this site drop its negative focus on refuting ID and creationism, and adopt an entirely new and more positive program—one of showcasing various TE views, and allowing TEs to debate with each other vigorously in full view of the evangelical readership.  That, to me, is the only route by which TE can win the hearts and minds of the evangelical mainstream.

Ted Davis - #76046

January 18th 2013

Thank you for your thoughtful assessment of my assessment, Eddie. I take your point that the tone of ID is “sometimes strident.” The IDM effectively began with Phil Johnson, and in his case (at least) the pertinent description would be “always strident.” For Bill Dembski it would be “sometimes strident,” and I could show you several essays coming from The Discovery Institute (presumably with am imprimatur from Steve Meyer, whether or not he was the author) that are just “strident.” I’m sure you’ll agree that  popular (and therefore probably more influential) pro-ID literature (which includes literature about ID itself and literature that simply draws on ID as part of a larger cultural view) is “often strident.”

sy - #76058

January 18th 2013


I am very happy to read your comment, and I will say that after thinking about what you wrote, I am in full agreement. I think it is fair to say that TE represents a consistent and unified general approach to science and Christian faith, but you are right that there is quite a lot of divergence of views in regard to the details. And, not to make too nasty a pun, the Devil is indeed in the details here.

You present many of the critical questions that have different answers depending on the TE proponent who gives the answer. And I agree that open debate among TEs regarding these questions should be seen as a good thing, and not as a sign of disunity or despair. The reason I feel this way is related to what I think is a slight misperception in your discussion of the overall attitude of TE toward biblical inerrancy.

You ask “Is all of the Bible inspired?  Does it contain some human error? ” Frankly I am not aware of any TE who would say answer no and yes to these questions. What many, probably most TEs would say is that the Bible does not contain any human error, but that the interpretation of the divine, inspired word of the Bible has often contained human error. The literal meaning of the words of Genesis, first example, is not necessarily that of the interpretation by the Southern Baptist Conference. I happen to believe that John Walton’s interpretation of the literal meaning of Genesis is quite beautiful and theologically accurate, and in addition does not conflict with the scientific data we have about the origin of the world and of life.

But, there are many TE ways to say these things, there are many ideas under the TE umbrella that deal with the issues of the human evolution, Adam and Eve, the fall, etc. and I agree with you that open discussion, and even debate on these various diverse ideas can strongly assist the effort of Biologos and TE to develop a cogent and coherent detailed theology that is consistent with the key tenets and creeds of  Christianity to the extent that would have a useful influence on evangelicals, and help them to see that the knowledge we gain about God’s works, is just as revelatory as that which we learn from His words.

PNG - #76066

January 19th 2013

On the question of whether ID is strident or not, it makes me think of the time a few years ago when I went to a lecture by Bill Dembski at one of Chuck Colson’s conferences. I stood up after the talk and told Dembski that from the perspective of a biochemist the evidence for, say, all mammals having a common ancestor, is pretty good. He of course disagreed and the discussion went nowhere. Afterward a friend who was there told me that he had looked around the crowd as I was talking and really expected that I might be physically attacked by the faithful. The reaction apparently subsided quickly, as I didn’t notice it. So, maybe “vehement” with some self control.  :)

Jon Garvey - #76071

January 19th 2013

I went to a meeting a number of years ago at which, for unaccountable reasons, Philip Johnson and a Young Earth Creationist both spoke. My impression was:

Creationist: strident.

Evolutionist in audience heckling him: strident.

Johnson: not strident.

So maybe atrocities occur on all sides in culture wars. Fortunately nobody ever looked close to being lynched, but that seldom happens in Pentecostal churches over here anyway!

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76031

January 17th 2013

The problem is just not science, it is also political and philosophical.  Evangelicals are now  the chief supporters of the Repubican Party, which has become the stooge for the NRA, millionaires, and militarists. 

The problem with the Bible is a theological problem, not a scientific one.

All these issues copuld be solved if evangelicals would stop confusing the Bible with the Logos.  Jesus the Logos is the Alpha and Omega of our faith, not the Bible.  Jesus saves. the Bible does not.

Even so we all need to admit that evolution is a challenge to traditional philosophy and Christianity.  It makes us think though what we really believe.  It is not a easy problem and evangelicals deserve our sympathy and help to work through these challenging philosophical and theological issues that no one has really solved.

Indeed the biggest problem to their solution is the hubris of both evangelicals and non-evanglicals, who refuse to admit that they do not have the solution. 


Jw Farquhar - #76208

January 26th 2013

To Ted Davis and Roger,

If there were a theology RESET button that would start at the Bible’s beginning and solve “the scandal of the evangelical mind” problem, would anyone here ever push it?

One expert witness of the beginning made this comment in saying 18 of the Gospel of Thomas:

Congratulations to the one who stands at the beginning: that one will know the end and will not taste death.

Now that the dust has settled and your readers seemed to have finished commenting, I offer you (and any other open minded participants here) a free digital copy of what I think is a solution to the evangelic/fundamentalist problem of reconciling science and evolution to scripture. I hope that you might find this radically different interpretation of the Bible interesting, if not intriguing, if not enlightening.


In a dialogue between a doubting Thomas and an inspired Daniel Veritas, Daniel interprets the Bible through the scripture of Genesis I using three authorities of interpretation: the image of God, the likeness of God, and the numbers of God. In this way biblical authority is maintained, because foundational scripture interprets the Bible instead of human speculation.

Never before has such a complete solution to the mysteries of the Bible been placed on the doorstep of humanity with a Genesis I foundational theology that is validated again and again by all the God-breathed numbers in the Bible.

When the Bible is interpreted with biblical authority we see a divine plan where:

  1. a foundational theology perfectly reconciles all scripture to itself,
  2. faith and reason become partners,
  3. science and scripture perfectly support each other,
  4. evolution becomes a non-issue,
  5. Old and New Testaments have an astonishing new harmony,
  6. an amazing numbered pathway for salvation is exposed,
  7. the restoration of the original one-mind church becomes reality.

Daniel’s Secret draws its title from the Book of Daniel’s sealed prophetic vision of 2300 evenings and mornings that science tells us is exactly 77 moon-months for the 77 Face of God counted exactly 7 evenings and 7 mornings on the Creation’s seventh day. Bible numbers expert and author, JW Farquhar, validates this interpretation mathematically with the 77 77 77 natural descending genealogy of the Son of Man in the Gospel of Matthew, the 77 ascending genealogy of the Son of God in the Gospel of Luke that leads back up to God, and then again and again with many more 77 biblical references to Jesus.

Destined for the End Times, Daniel’s Secret God of Creation has remained hidden from humans for millennia, despite being completely introduced in the Bible’s first six sentences, despite another six-fold introduction in the Creation’s six days, and despite being numbered 777 on the Creation’s seventh day as the Holy Trifecta, that repeats and repeats in the Bible forever.

The Kingdom of God is now here on earth, because numbers cannot lie.

Sometimes a picture is worth 10,000 words.

Seenoevo - #76035

January 17th 2013

“As long as TE remains theologically vague, evangelicals will tend to be suspicious of all TE positions, because they will tend to equate the less heretical forms of TE with the more heretical ones.”

Not a very appetizing choice. When in doubt, go for the less heretical?

Seenoevo - #76036

January 17th 2013

Toward the end of this article, a link is provided to a Christianity Today piece by Richard Ostling. Several times in that article, Ostling notes how the initial human population numbered in the thousands:

“Collins’s 2006 bestseller, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief—which so vexed those secularist critics—reported scientific indications that anatomically modern humans emerged from primate ancestors perhaps 100,000 years ago—long before the apparent Genesis time frame—and originated with a population that numbered something like 10,000, not two individuals…

“According to a consensus drawn from three independent avenues of research, [Venema] states, the history of human ancestry involved a population “bottleneck” around 150,000 years ago—and from this tiny group of hominids came everyone living today. But the size of the group was far larger than a lonely couple: it consisted of several thousand individuals at minimum, say the geneticists. Had humanity begun with only two individuals, without millions of years for development, says an ASA paper, it would have required God’s miraculous intervention to increase the genetic diversity to what is observable today. A BioLogos paper by Venema and Falk declares it more flatly: The human population, they say, “was definitely never as small as two …. Our species diverged as a population. The data are absolutely clear on that.”


I don’t understand this. I wonder:

1) Does this mean that one day about 100,000 to 150,000 years ago, when no humans (homo sapiens) yet walked the earth, that about 10,000 humans mutated into existence simultaneously? How could it not?

2) What is the science (empirical or theoretical) which allows for the exact same type mutation, leading to the same biological result, occurring on a massive scale (e.g. involving 10,000 beings), at the same time?

3) How does this relate to Mitochondrial Eve, who, probably all geneticists agree, is the one particular female all of the 7 billion human beings on the earth trace their lineage back to?

4) Why would scientists this month be saying that about 80% of deleterious single nucleotide variants arose in the just the last 5,000–10,000 years?  http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v493/n7431/full/nature11690.html


Venema, Falk and others declare “the data are absolutely clear” on this.

It’s not clear to me.

But then, Seenoevo may not be a scientist.

GJDS - #76037

January 18th 2013


You should realise by now that asking questions is not scientific, but idealogical, since these evangelical/authorities have ‘mountains’ of evidence in support of their clear and obvious truth (I am being humorous?) - it seems that other sicentists just are not up to the mark when these people are involved?

Seriously, the data is not clear nor definitve - the speculation is sometimes so ‘off this planet’ that one may question people’s intellect and sanity - but the argument continues. I think this is the clearest ‘evidence’ human beings require - the entire question is an endeless quarrel. Perhaps one day we may get a clear view from science, but that day is not today.

Nonetheless, I ask (also), “should we believe other nonsense, such as a 6000 yr earth? Or should we seek to be guided by Biblical teachings, which includes seeking and having a deeper knowledge of God’s extraordinary creation (which we have yet to know and understand)? 

PNG - #76063

January 19th 2013

Seenoevo,  of course no one imagines that “10,000 humans mutated into existence simultaneously.” Speciation and the changes of other traits occur in a population, gradually over the course of many generations. If we’re talking about the kind of things that biology can deal with, allele frequencies and reproductive incompatibility, there is no exact point in time when modern humans popped into existence. There may have been a speciation event when one population (Homo erectus?) diverged from another one (Neandertals?) and the ability of the two populations to breed effectively with each other gradually declined to zero. From a purely biological standpoint, you could say that modern Homo sapiens began at that point, but that isn’t the same thing at all as becoming spiritually human.

There was a gradual change of traits, anatomical and otherwise to those we recognize as indistinguishable from us. The time of 100,000 to 200,000 years is based on when the bones look in detail like modern human bones. I think some of the other traits like language ability and intelligence would be necessary for full humanity in the spiritual sense, but not sufficient. Some geneticists have proposed that there was some mutation with dramatic effect on the brain that occurred before the emergence of cultural artifacts about 50-40,000 year ago, but there isn’t any evidence that I know of for that. The change in spiritual nature to what someone has called Homo divinus, is not something that genetics can deal with. There is no spirituality gene. The transition to full humanity, which I can only see as qualitative and not quantitative and something that God simply initiated and accomplished, wouldn’t correspond to anything genetics could detect, although presumably it would be followed in time by religious behavior that might leave some trace in what the archeologists can dig up. It is a matter of judgement what that would consist of (art?, altars?) Of course, when I say this I’m not talking science anymore - I’m offering my own speculation on a spiritual matter.

Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosome Adam are just the individuals who carried the progenitor mito DNA and Y-chromosome that have persisted until today. These ancestral sequences are reconstructed by phylogenetic methods from contemporary sequences and ancient sequences determined from archeological remains. The other mito and Y-chromosome lines that were around at that time have died out. If you want to find out exactly which mutations your own mito DNA or Y-chromosome has accumulated in the meantime (and in the process get some idea where your patrilineal or matrilineal ancestors came from geographically,) you can pay your money to any of several companies that do genetic genealogy.

I commented on your last question on a previous thread. And of course what is “absolutely clear” to a population geneticist and what is clear to other people are two different things.

Jon Garvey - #76065

January 19th 2013


Your comments towards the end are very relevant to the questions raised in the post, so a couple of brief thought. As you rightly say, “full humanity” in some sense is a qualitative, spiritual change - that particularly applies to actual relationship with the true God, which must a yes-no thing. Neither covenants nor eternal life evolve.

So we come to the vexed question of Adam and Eve. As John Walton has shown pretty well, both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are concerned with functional rather than material origins. That’s not to say that Genesis 1 ignores man’s physical or mental attributes, but that it doesn’t answer the question, “How did hominids appear?”, but “How did God put men in charge of his creation?” The answer even to that question goes far beyond what biology can address.

Walton sees Genesis 2-3 as describing a separate thing from that in ch1: yet again, it’s a functional account (taking into consideration its archetypal - rather than allegorical - genre). One could see it as answering the question “How did mankind get into personal relationship with Yahweh, become linked to eternal ife, and yet end up at odds both with God and his world?”

Very much part of that discussion is your necessarily loose concept of “full humanity”. The first man in Genesis 2 terms (or perhaps men - but Adam, as an archetype, is close to the representative head idea described by Paul, so might well be one historical individual) would therefore be nothing whatsoever to do with “the first modern H. sapiens”, but “the first man in relationship to Yahweh, which is what full humanity actually is.”

That raises all kinds of questions to be answered by the theologians (as per Ted’s article), but means that if we take Genesis on its own terms the whole heart-searching about fossil hominids, bottlenecks, sudden cultural advances and so on has very little to do with any doctrinal matters.

Genesis 2-3, in particular, addresses just those qualitative issues that science cannot deal with. And even Genesis 1 is concerned with man’s place in God’s worshipping Universe, not with his bones in the ground.

PNG - #76067

January 19th 2013

No quibbles from me on anything you are saying.

sy - #76074

January 19th 2013

Just to pile on a bit to what PNG and Jon have said in response to Seenoevo. The actual text of Genesis 2, in which it is stated that “There was no man to cultivate the Earth” could be easily interpreted to mean that there were no farmers, which is well in line with Walton’s functional hypothesis. It is also consistent with the creation of humans, much earlier, as recounted in Gen 1. In this interpretation, (which I and others have discussed in ASA publications) there is no contradiction between Gen 1 and Gen 2, nor with the scientific evidence for a slow biological evolution of the human body, and a more rapid (almost revolutionary) appearance of advanced cultural artifacts 50,000 years ago.

So, theologically speaking, it really isnt that impossible to reconcile the data with the Biblical account. Even when taking the text absolutely literally.

Jon Garvey - #76038

January 18th 2013

I appreciate the general truths of what Ted says about the intellectual shortcomings of Evangeliism in the US (3000 miles wide and 1/2 inch deep used to be the insult over here). At the same time, Noll’s book about the evangelical mind was written by an evangelical and primarily read by them. So it’s largely evangelicals complaining about other evangelicals’ minds. One thing that has struck me during my time in this debate has been the realisation that all positions in the evolution-faith debate hold some pretty well-qualified people. The issue is ideological more than intellectual.

There is a strong element of saying that if people don’t agree with “my” position, they’re obviously stupid. Hence the amusing spectacle of population geneticists complaining that molecular biologists “don’t understand evolution” etc.

There is, indeed, a real problem today of over-specialisation. Theologians are not only not trained in evolutionary biology, but are considered unqualified to speak on the Old Testament if they’re “New Testament scholars”, or even Biblical Archaeologists. It’s equally true that biologists generally are blissfully unaware when they talk theological nonsense.

But speaking personally, I’ve been comfortably aware of evolution since I was six, studied it at Scholarship Level at school, and spent a career in medicine which, at least, made updating my knowledge fairly painless. At the same time, I’ve studied Bible for nearly 50 years, and done degree-level theological training.

That gives me sufficient insight in both fields, I think, to understand that when people talk about the need to re-write Christian theology from the ground up in the light of evolution (making Christianity , it seems, often more or less a moralistic add-on to evolutionary altruism) they are going well beyond the science and embracing ideology - essentially scientistic ideology, but also specifically western liberal ideology. The priorities are glaringly obvious.

In other words, evolution per se no more overturns the doctrine of man’s spiritual fall than Copernicus overturned God’s concern for the world. But if one already wants to turn “the mystery of evil” into a biological commonplace, and the need for divine saving grace into a lesson in moral effort, then one can stir in a bit of Malthus etc and claim that historic Christian teaching is dead. If one wants to minimise the sovereignty of God, or his supernatural activity, then one can graft evolutionary theory on to Israel’s religion as the 19th century boys did, and with equally little scientific justification.

But at some stage many will realise that neither evolutionary science nor Christian theology are actually forming the agenda.

PNG - #76064

January 19th 2013

Do you think “rewriting Christian theology from the ground up” is a fair characterization of the Biologos position? (I’m not assuming that’s what you meant, just wondering.)

Jon Garvey - #76070

January 19th 2013


There are times when it’s been difficult to pin down “the” BioLogos position - perhaps it is Legion. It’s also sometimes difficult to say when commenters are reflecting a general TE consensus or just sounding off on their own. In this matter I think Eddie’s post above says a great deal that is true.

But if, for example, one looks at the Amazon blurb for the book by Jack Mahoney given further up the thread as an example, apparently, of fruitful theology addressing evolution, it redefines pretty well every tenet not only of evangelical but of “catholick and apostolic” faith. In that it cuts across a number of the affirmations of the Nicene Creed, it’s rewriting theology. In that it’s doing it because of evolution at the expense of revelation, it’s doing it from the ground up.

Sy’s reponse to Eddie above suggests that most TEs believe that Scripture does not contain error, but that human interpreters do - and I suspect that is true for most evangelicals in the pews who are sympathetic to evolution, though it’s not stated that often on BioLogos, in my experience.

Peter Enns, for example, certainly does believe that the Bible contains human error as a matter of theological principle (his particular incarnational model), apparently even including the Lord Jesus within that capability of error (the same incarnational model - Jesus must have erred because he was a man). He was once on the BioLogos board and has contributed here recently. Incidentally, that view of incarnation appears to be non Chalcedonian - and therefore is rewriting Christology. Since it’s done on the basis of human nature, downplaying Christ’s divine nature, that too is from the ground up, in my view.

Some of the discussion at BioLogos about the doctrine of human sin has hinged on the “error” of Paul’s seeing Adam as an actual man who was sinless and fell, and often the conclusion has been that sin was in reality an inevitable feature of God’s choice to create through evolution. In this way the focus of doctrine shifts from salvation and grace to theodicy and divine obligation: God made this mess, so it’s up to him to sort it out. That is a paradigm shift in doctrine, though not admitted to be such.

Ted’s article refers to this question, and is based on Mark Noll’s analysis - Noll himself sees Enns as one of the few US evangelicals stepping up to the intellectual plate on these matters.

We’ll leave out the common fudging of the historic (and scriptural) affirmation of God’s total sovereignty in creation by woolly and incoherent talk about nature’s “freedom to create itself” which appears to have been imported as a job lot from Process Theology and falls apart without it, even within the Open Theism espoused by a number of those who have written for BioLogos. But I’ve written extensively on it already and spent well over a year getting anyone at BioLogos to defend it rationally.

One can only glean someone’s position either from what they affirm, or from what they disagree with. Sometimes BioLogos has made strange decisions in this respect: one was to engage Francisco Ayala, an apparently freelance theist who regards much of creation as evil (to the extent that to see God’s creative hand in the design of pathogens is “blasphemous”) in order to refute Stephen Meyer’s book. ID appeared to be such an abomination that Meyer’s orthodox evangelical faith was held of little account.

The answer to your question then, in summary, depends on how BioLogos itself addresses the four evangelical beliefs raised by Ted in his article. “Evangelicals cannot and must not be separated from these crucial beliefs.”

GJDS - #76075

January 19th 2013


Indeed, the synthesis seems to me to be frighteningly like thesis-antithesis leading to this ‘legion’ that purports to talk of salvation through faith in Christ, but instead is obsessed with puting forward Darwin’s ideas first and formost.

Jimpithecus - #76087

January 19th 2013

John, while I agree that there are many people on all sides of the debate that are very well qualified, Not everyone is equally qualified in all areas.  For example, Ken Ham writes and lectures on evolution all the time even though it is quite clear that he knows absolutely nothing of the subject.

  I think as Christians we fool ourselves into thinking that if we read one article on a subject it makes us experts.  It does not.

Jon Garvey - #76108

January 20th 2013

Quite right Jim. However, the theologians can’t offer anything to science-faith if they are uninformed biologically, and the biologists will do an equally bad job if they don’t have a good handle on theology. And both need a grounding in philosophy, history of science, history of religion, ANE literarature ... and so it goes on.

So some  crossing of academic boundaries is inevitable, and needs to be treated with tolerance. I don’t follow Ken Ham so accept your assessment of his evolutionary knowledge. However Jerry Coyne says the same thing about Jim Shapiro on the same campus, so there seem to be maybe half a dozen people in the world who actually do!

Jon Garvey - #76042

January 18th 2013

For “Evangeliism” read “Evangelicalism”. The first isn’t even a word!

Ted Davis - #76047

January 18th 2013

I’m gratified by the appreciation several have expressed for this column and the series it concludes. Let me add here a reference I should have cited in support of the paragraph about the knowledge gap between specialists and the general public. Several years ago, cultural historian James Gilbert (http://www.history.umd.edu/Bio/gilbert.html) wrote a fascinating book about several episodes involving science and religion in the US during the last century that illustrates the magnitude of the problem very well. I reviewed it for American Scientist and also (in an expanded version) for Reports of the National Center for Science Education. The latter can be read at http://home.messiah.edu/~tdavis/gilbert.htm.

Chip - #76054

January 18th 2013

Re:  Eddie @760030


Bravo.  As in past discussions, Eddie’s response is thorough, eloquent and thoughtful.      

I would agree without any qualification and offer a more blunt assessment of the general BioLogos approach, in which science and Christianity are most often “reconciled” by  watering down (or dismissing outright) orthodox theology, while remaining largely uncritical of virtually anything having the label “evolution.”  This is true even when the aspect of evolution under discussion is an utter fairy tale for which there is no scientific evidence at all, as was the case a few days ago when we learned about the scientific (sic) explanation of  how morality evolved.   

Having said that, I thank you Ted for the series, and for a level of engagement with the material and the readership which has stood refreshingly apart from the norm. 

sy - #76076

January 19th 2013


While I consider myself a strict evolutionist (whatever that means) and follower of Biologos and TE in general, I agree with your comment (and much of what Eddie says, as well, as referenced above). I also consider myself to be as strict an evangelical, as I am an evolutionist, and therefore I agree that watering down of either position is a mistake, and, more importantly, not necessary. I do agree that there is much in the evolutionist positions taken by some, that is as incorrect scientifically as there is in bilblical interpretations of some evangelicals. I have heard Christian leaders even question the application of Imago Dei to humanity, in a (misguided, in my view) attempt to come to terms with a mistaken version of evolutionary theory.

What is needed is a good deal of very hard work, on both fronts, in order to strip away the weak parts of what passes for science and theology, in order to expose the single perfect and unified truth, that I am confident we have been given by God. Finding that truth, is not, and never has been a simple task.

And I should add, in response to Jon’s elegant comment, that I, like everyone else, speak only for myself, and really dont know what most, or even any other TE follower believes. I think it quite likely that at this stage of the process of movement building, everyone has at least slightly different views on some aspect of these very complex issues. Which is why I think that Eddie’s suggesting up thread for an open and free discussion among TEs would be very valuable.

Ted Davis - #76129

January 21st 2013

There’s been an “open and free discussion” among those TEs who are ASA members for several decades, at ASA meetings and in their excellent journal (http://network.asa3.org/?page=PSCF). However, for the most part this has been conducted by scientists, philosophers, and historians rather than biblical scholars and theologians. This is not the fault of the ASA (which has always welcomed biblical scholars and theologians as members), but it’s a relevant fact. The general disconnect generally continues. When a biblical scholar (Dan Harlow) and a theologian (John Schneider) were invited to address human evolution at a recent ASA annual meeting, they both got into hot water at their home institution (Calvin College); another biblical scholar (C. John Collins) who spoke in the same session was much better received back home (Covenant Theological Seminary), b/c he took a more traditional view (though hardly the traditional view that the YECs advance). (For the talks in this session, go to http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2010/PSCF9-10dyn.html.)

To a significant extent, evangelical scientists (and other traditional Christians in the sciences) believe the evidence for human evolution is very strong, but the leaders of their religious communities are often not open to that conclusion, for reasons that have been discussed in this column and some other parts of the series. IMO, until that conclusion is actually accepted by those leaders, there will not be any viable candidates for an “evangelical TE position” that actually garners popular support in the evangelical world.

The roots of this disconnect go a long way back, and can’t be fully explored in this comment. If we go back only a few decades, however, and follow only the ASA (the most relevant organization on the science side of the divide), it’s worth noting that the ASA used to meet jointly with the Evangelical Theological Society (http://www.etsjets.org/), which is probably the most relevant organization on the science side of the divide. Those joint meetings were not annual, but they happened at least a few times (I haven’t researched it to get a precise number). However, it’s been a long time since the last one. The causes of this apparent separation are not entirley clear to me—it would make for an interesting doctoral dissertation topic for someone—but I suspect that views of “inerrancy” and human evolution were central to it. I don’t think this has done good things to the level of theological conversation in the ASA, and I’m sure it has not done good things for the level of scientific conversation in the ETS. Suffice it to say that at a very recent ETS meeting, a speaker advocated what one might call “ark-eology,” namely searching for evidence of Noah’s ark on “the mountains of Ararat,” a research agenda with a very, very sketchy history (to be as charitable as I can). And, for several years, geologist Ken Wolgemuth (http://www.solidrocklectures.org/attachments/Christian_Geologists_on_Noahs_Flood_Davidson_and_Wolgemuth.pdf) has been attending ETS meetings, trying (laudably, IMO) to persuade many of the members that they need to accept the evidence for an “old” earth, trying to counter the influence of creationist Terry Mortenson (http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/bios/T_Mortenson.asp), who (for his part) has been trying to persuade ETS members that accepting an “old” earth makes Jesus a liar and undermines the gospel message of sin and salvation. If the ASA and ETS were still in regular communication, I doubt that either of these kinds of things would be happening at ETS meetings.

(Incidentally, the ETS also came out against “open theism” a number of years ago, thus foreclosing the possibility that members who want to explore that idea from an evangelical perspective could do so without breaking fellowship with their friends. I’ve said elsewhere that I do not find open theism fully persuasive myself, but that I am open to hearing arguments in favor of it. Some of the very best Christian scholars are open theists, including philosopher Robin Collins whose work in apologetics is widely admired by ID people, so I don’t think this was a very good decision. Since some TE advocates are also “open theists,” this further hinders conversation among evangelicals about evolution.)

I do not know when, how, or even if a reapprochement between evangelical scientists and theologians & biblical scholars might happen, but without it IMO few (if any) of the types of concerns expressed by Jon Garvey, Eddie, and some others here will be addressed to their satisfaction.

Ted Davis - #76130

January 21st 2013

CORRECTION: Obviously, I meant to say that the ETS is the most relevant organization on the theological side of the divide.

Norman - #76080

January 19th 2013

In response to some of the above post, I’ll present some thoughts.

It’s very likely that the seeds for human religious capabilities had been physically developed tens of thousands of years prior to the 50,000 year period.  More likely the appearance of religious artifacts is the result of population growth allowing for the continuation and spreading of ideas that previously was limited because of sparse populations due to isolation.  It should be observed that humans build upon acquired knowledge but it requires extensive contact with other human groups to perpetuate that knowledge.  The idea of a sudden gene appearing miraculously is a relic of creationism again IMO.  

Genesis 1-3 are theological presentations appropriating the mythical and poetic literature of their times and has little if nothing to do with real world material creation as we like to imagine.  Adam’s creation in Gen 2 is about the purpose of a priestly individual who has been established in covenant with God and has a responsibility to till or work the Garden.  This language is the same as that describing the Jewish Priest managing the Temple and was indeed very likely written by scribes or Priest somewhere close to the Babylonian exile period. 

There is an undergirding purpose in this literature that reflects an editorial position that is demonstratively polemic toward those Priests who were beguiled into a legalism that corrupted Judaism.  This theme is found throughout the OT and 2nd Temple literature and Christ and Paul pounced upon this Priestly corruption during their time and exploited it for the change away from Mosaic Law into Grace imbued Christianity.  However what Christ and Paul identified was not a new problem but was a recognized old one as evidenced by Genesis fall story and Ezekiel’s extensive work. 500 years prior to Christ.  

The Garden fall story therefore is simply a recapitulation of the embedded problem and tension within Judaism and reflects two different camps vying for control of religious means.  This division became acute with Christianity and a Messiah who claimed the correction that was needed to rectify what had gone wrong in Judaism.  Christ and Paul essentially claimed the Adam story as being fulfilled in their methodology which restored the Garden to its pristine concept

1Co 15:45  Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.


sy - #76085

January 19th 2013


So if you think the appearance of religious artifacts (not to mention new kinds of arrow heads, evidence of fishing, new kinds of artwork, and a host of other technological and other major changes) was the result of a population growth, then what led to that growth?

In fact population growth did increase explosivelly at that time (40-50,000 years ago) to the point that people needed to find new places to live, and migrated out of Africa. All of this happened at once, and was probably all part of one major change in the abilities and nature of H. Sapiens. There is indirect evidence that language ability also increased tremendously at this time.

I know all of this is controversial, and there are well informed opinions on all aspects of the issue

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76082

January 19th 2013


I think that we must define what we mean by error.

The Bible is basically about God and not about humans. I would definitely say that the Bible is theologically true.  On the other hand whether Methuselah lived to be 969 years old or not is not a big issue.  Whether mustard seed of all the seeds or not, is not a big issue. 

 Mark 4:31  It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth:
32  But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.

It is the meaning that counts.


Jon Garvey - #76086

January 19th 2013

Roger, I quite agree that the Bible is theologically true.

But the examples you give are hardly the point in dispute. Jesus himself undoubtedly had seen smaller seeds than mustard in the fields, and cedars bigger than its plant. Try the scarlet poppy for starters (possibly “the lily of the field”) whose seeds are obvious to any observer and a fraction of the size of a mustard and which grows in Israel.

Moreover, so had the evangelists. Moreover nearly everyone who has read it for the last 2000 years - I even knew as a child it was smaller than the cress I grew with it on blotting paper. I’ve never heard Fundamentalists insisting that botanists are wrong and gardeners heretical to deny the truth of Jesus’ words. I’ve yet to come across anyone who’s lost their faith when they heard about modern discoveries regarding mustard.

And that’s because figures of speech have always been recognised - no doubt the more scholarly even suggested there was an idiom current in Jesus day to account for his words. Certainly some have gone to the effort of suggesting it was the smallest cultivated seen in Judaea at that time.

But only in our own time, as far as I know, has anyone thought to use it as evidence of Jesus’s human fallibility. And therefrom to extrapolate that the one who led three disciples up a mountain to reveal his divine glory had the same parochial viewpoint about things as any other first century rabbi… though of course they will often say that the mustard seed “mistake” is authentic, whereas the transfiguration must be pious mythmaking by the early church!

Norman - #76088

January 19th 2013


Obviously we are still very limited in our investigation of how culture developed in humans over the eons.  Genetic work is going to provide a lot of the insight but we are early on in that investigation. I’m not sure what we can garner from recently mapping of Neanderthals and Denisovan species genome and comparing them but that holds some promise.

What appears to have happened is between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago the African Species migrated out of Africa and recombined to a limited degree with Neanderthals and Denisovan species that they had split from perhaps 200,000 years or more prior on the first migration out of Africa. Perhaps it was that interbreeding that energized our modern species with the dynamics somehow but I doubt it because the sub Saharan species never interbred and they have the same capabilities as that out of Africa group.  This to me implies that the African group that gave rise to our species 200,000 years ago from a small group of 10,000 or less already had the physical and mental capabilities needed to eventually allow humans to build upon knowledge as it increased.  I just think we are likely going to find that population growth which allows for combining knowledge is going to be a strong factor along with changing environmental dynamics that propelled our lineage forward. If you have very sparse populations you simply may not reach critical mass in collective learning that allows for major culture transformations.  Humans are possibly too busy staying alive day to day to make much progress by developing the critical mass of knowledge. It will take larger populations of some magnitude to stimulate and enable significant advancements.  Advancing culture dynamics would progress slowly until civilization reaches the point where a critical mass is obtained and then things would possibly mushroom. Much like we are seeing advancements in later periods of history in which knowledge keeps building upon itself. It may be in fits and spurts for a while but gradually knowledge gets passed down.

Now this is just my educated observation and it will be very interesting to see how things develop.

However we in the church are learning how to put aside the “creation science” approach that still inhibits most of us due to our contemporary upbringings.  The YEC sometimes graduate to the OEC but they both are naturalistic creationist by and large in varying degrees. I think when we look to a miraculous gene, that we are falling back into that mold of “creationism” of which we are comfortable. Even as a Theistic Evolutionist I wear the mantel of “creationism” by saying God did it but I try to limit my impulse to insert specific points in which God acted.  I like to consider that human’s evolutionary development can all be answered from natural evolutionary process even if we can’t fully explain the details yet.

sy - #76105

January 20th 2013



Thanks for your thoughtful reply to my reply. I do agree with you that all the data is not in, and one of the problems with coming to a final consensus and overarching theory of human evolutionary development is that new data is continually throwing cold water on previous theories. Which, of course is a good thing, since that is how knowledge grows.

As an example, from what I know (and I may not be totally current, so please correct me, and I would love to see the references) the evidence for “modern humans” arriving in Europe, the mid east and Asia, (where modern human refers to H. Sapiens with the full intellectual and technological tool kit that we have, including complex language, knowledge of fishing, elaborate cave painting. Religious artifacts, specialized tools including points and knives, and so on) is not earlier than 50,000 ya. At around the same time, cave art and other modern artefacts  also appear in Africa, so its likely that this advancement happened in Africa, led to a far more successful population, which recovered from the severe bottleneck and expanded at an enormous rate. Migrations out of Africa of the moderns, then displaced Neanderthals and Denisovans, who, as you say, were the remnants of an earlier Homo migration, but were not modern.

As far as the interbreeding idea, as far as I know, what has been found is a few percent of Neanderthal DNA in H. Sapiens, which might indicate a very limited degree of interbreeding. In any event, it seems very unlikely that this degree of interbreeding would have had much of an effect on human function, including the fact that African and Asian populations are genotypically very close to European, although much more diverse.

I would also tell you that I actually had no creationist background, since I was raised as strict atheist, and only came to Christianity in the latter part of my life. I firmly agree that normal evolutionary processes are completely and totally responsible for the development of human beings, including the complexity of brain function at least up to the point of the transition to modern humans. What happened after that I don’t know. But I think that neither naturalistic nor divine explanations of the nature of modern man, including the knowledge of and ability to know and worship God, say anything against Darwinian evolution, and are not in any way creationist. A “miraculous” mutation, or an act of God, somehow expanding the mental capacity of a very intelligent animal, to become a person with a soul, and the mysterious thing we call consciousness, do not, to my mind contradict in any way the Darwinian paradigm of human evolution.

Perhaps I feel more free to posit such an idea, since I have no qualms about suggesting God’s hand in human existence as we know it today, having never believed in any creationist concept of human development. I do not suggest that Adam lived 50,000 years ago, of course, but I think the Biblical concept of a punctiliar appearance of a Man with a soul, is nicely reflected in the idea of the Upper Paleolithic Revolution, assuming that the new data we continually amass, continues to confirm that is actually what happened.

PNG - #76110

January 20th 2013

I think they also find some Denisovan DNA in East Asian and Melanisian populations, if I remember right. John Hawks noted recently on his blog that he is hearing from some people who have sent their DNA to 23andme that they have a surprising and unexpected amount of Denisovan admixture, but that may be a mistake in interpretation.

Norman - #76114

January 20th 2013


We are living in a remarkable time. It seems there are new genetic extrapolations occurring every other month or two. There is new software available that will help work the genetic puzzle more effectively.

“A History Lesson from Genes: Using DNA to Tell Us How Populations Change”

“Another group of researchers has already used Pritchard’s software to show a link between Denisovans, an extinct relative of Neanderthals found in Siberia, and Papuans in the South Pacific. It doesn’t make geographic sense right away, but such a finding forces researchers to ask more questions about how these groups migrated and changed over time. Much like DNA evidence has revolutionized criminal investigations, often negating assumptions based on physical evidence, advanced genetic analysis like Pritchard’s can change what we think about human history as well.”

Article found at following link.


Seenoevo - #76091

January 19th 2013

PNG responded:

“Seenoevo, of course no one imagines that “10,000 humans mutated into existence simultaneously.” Speciation and the changes of other traits occur in a population, gradually over the course of many generations…there is no exact point in time when modern humans popped into existence.”

Three questions I hope you can answer:

1) Would you then say that this quoted statement is false

 “A BioLogos paper by Venema and Falk declares it more flatly: The human population, they say, “was definitely never as small as two”    ?

2) About what was the smallest population of homo sapiens ever, if not two?

3) How could there not be an “exact point in time when modern humans popped into existence”?


“From a purely biological standpoint, you could say that modern Homo sapiens began at that point, but that isn’t the same thing at all as becoming spiritually human.”

I’m not talking about a possibly indefinable “spiritually human” being. I’m talking about what a scientist today would identify as homo sapiens (e.g. from DNA analysis).

Merv - #76094

January 19th 2013

Seenoevo asks:

2) About what was the smallest population of homo sapiens ever, if not two?

3) How could there not be an “exact point in time when modern humans popped into existence”?

Does everything necessarily have a precise cut?   Was there a time in your early life that you did not know how to read?  Do you know how to read now?   So does this mean there absolutely must exist that single definitive moment before which you couldn’t read, but after which you could?

Could such broad resistance to the notion of any kind of gradualism be rooted in nothing more than an anti-evolutionary ideology?  

Is it really so hard to understand the evolutionary claim (whether one accepts it or not) that existing populations of “pre-humanoids” drifted genetically and geographically, some of which to eventually become our progenitors?  Would this not mean that there were never only “two”?  


PNG - #76106

January 20th 2013

Seenovo, my impression is that no one in population genetics today would have any problem with Venema and Falk’s statement. There is a lot of modeling of the human population going on based on the observed variation of DNA sequences in current populations. In some cases they focus on the variants in a limited part of the genome. In others, it is now possible since a lot of whole genomes have been sequenced and a lot of computing power is available, to model based on the whole genome. The change of population sizes over time is one class of parameters they fit. No one gets anything below a few thousand as the smallest population bottleneck for the whole species since the divergence from chimps, as far as I am aware. There is a bottleneck observed for the European + Asian population at the time of emergence from Africa, but much less so for the African population. This just reflects the fact that it was a small sub-population in Africa who left. 

On your last point, I don’t know that it would be possible to identify markers today that would absolutely distinguish Homo sapiens from not-Homo sapiens, since the genomic determinants of the skeletal characteristics of Homo sapiens haven’t been identified. There are markers that, if present in a little piece of bone you dug up, could rule out that it was Homo sapiens. We all have a pseudogene for the gene that codes for synthesizing glycolyl neuraminic acid, so if that gene is observed to be a functional form, it’s not Homo sapiens, but we lost it over a million years ago and Neandertals also have the pseudogene. There is one endogenous retrovirus insertion that happened less than a million years ago, but again Neandertals would have it too. If you could sequence enough of a genome, you could estimate from the sequence how old it is and thus whether it is older or younger than the period where skeletal characteristics become “modern.”

The reason there isn’t an exact point when modern humans pop into existence is that it depends on what criterion you choose for remains being Homo sapiens. If we knew the genetic basis for reproductive incompatiblility at the last speciation event, we could look for that, but we don’t know that at this point. (The N-glycolyl neuraminic acid pseudogene mentioned above may have contributed to reproductive incompatibility between Australopithecines and Homo erectus, but that’s further back. It decreases fertility between mice who have had the mutation introduced and those who have the functional gene.) The ancestral sequence of our mito DNA has been deduced, so you could choose that as an indicator, but that would be arbitrary and it would exclude some “people” who were contemporaries of “mitochondrial Eve.” Evolutionary change occurs to populations, and no population is genetically uniform at any time, so any definition of who is a Homo sapiens has to specify what criterion for inclusion is used.

PNG - #76109

January 20th 2013

For a representative recent paper, look at:

Mol. Biol. Evol. 28, 889, 2011, Deep Divergences of Human Gene Trees and Models of Human Origins,  http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/content/28/2/889.long

This paper is freely available. A paper in Natue in 2011 has been widely referenced, including here at Biologos, but you will have to go to a university library or otherwise have access to get it.

Inference of human population history from whole genome sequences. Nature, 475, 493, 2011.

GJDS - #76096

January 19th 2013

“Most evangelicals do not see any reasonable way to combine human evolution with the following beliefs (four points in Ted’s presentation)…… I would add many militant atheists would agree and support his point of view.

The article by Richard Ostling also points to further agitation and arguments from atheists, even questioning the suitability of Collins as the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). I think the controversy is wider than that between camps such as TEs and IDs – the ‘strident’ nature of this argument is extreme if any of us participate in exchanges with atheists on evolution and their proposal to every human activity. The more strident amongst them openly declare war on religion in general and the Christian faith in particular. I find it intriguing that often the most extreme appear to be ‘disappointed’ followers of a religious institution (I think Hugo may be a famous example, who was taught by Jesuits and held an extreme hatred for them – although he may have been motivated by the indifference to the poos shown by the clergy, Dawkins is another example; Voltaire is a example of ‘choosing his beliefs to suit himself’). Of greater interest to me is the outlook by ‘non-believer’ that I know who do not accept so much controversy since they do not have a hang-up about either religion or science.

The point I wish to make is that the subject of evolution/Darwin’s ideas has not been treated in a dispassionate and objective manner, as is required for sound science. No matter how often we debate and argue various aspects of this area, we will find it almost impossible to sit back and calmly evaluate its strengths and weaknesses, and THEN, consider what we think reasonable and can form part of our universal truths – and that is what the Christian faith requires of us.

The evidence for my point of view is everywhere – today I saw a program where a neuroscientist make some observations, and various proponents that this is further proof for their particular positions. Another professional (non-scientist) instead pointed out that science may easily provide a complimentary view with phycology and religion.

If we add controversy from every area, be it science, social areas, religion, history, we truly end up with a ‘godless mess’.

GJDS - #76097

January 19th 2013

that should read…... indifference shown to the poor by the clergy….

GJDS - #76104

January 20th 2013

Reply HornSpiel, #76049

Your enthusiastic affirmation of ‘evolutionary computation’ is another example where the ‘need to believe’ surpasses clear thinking and reason. This area is an outgrowth of artificial intelligence (whose history is anything but evolutionary, nor any sort of selection). If you wish to argue the point, a little reading will show that AI and some of its sub-fields, is possible because of the increasingly greater computing power developed by demand pressures and competition, and the development of sensors (which has more to do with automation and a dash of neural algorithms!!). I can recall almost all of the major topics discussed during 1980-90 regarding computing, automation, simulation, AI, and eventually significant molecular modelling with super computers (arrays) using semi-empirical QM and ab initio DFT – I cannot recall any discussion that mentioned evolution or any such non-sense. With these advances, people are now finding ways to develop these types of programs – just what can we deduce from this? If you wish to argue the point, it would support a form of ID and nothing remotely like Darwinian mutation and selection of so called fitter things. I however, see this as another example of an ideological commitment, in that ‘after science has dealt with all of the important matters, along come evolutionists to proclaim another triumph for Darwin’s ideas. This is not some sort of strident opposition to evolution – I claim that it is a reasonable response to the facts.

Seenoevo - #76112

January 20th 2013

Merv responded to my questions 2 & 3: “Does everything necessarily have a precise cut? Was there a time in your early life that you did not know how to read? Do you know how to read now? So does this mean there absolutely must exist that single definitive moment before which you couldn’t read, but after which you could?”

Directly before and directly after Seenoevo learned how to read, I trust scientific analysis of my biology (e.g. my DNA, my bones) would indicate Seenoevo was the same, was a specimen of homo sapiens. I think that, with humans, one’s behavior does not control one’s biology, and vice versa. But biology can identify a being as human. [Yet PNG indicates we can’t unambiguously determine homo sapiens biologically. See next comment.]


As far as precision, I didn’t pronounce it, they did. I’m just asking questions of their professions of precision. They didn’t say mankind was old or even thousands of years old. They said mankind was 100,000 years old (later revised by 50% to 100%+). They said mankind absolutely clearly did not start as two (2) people. And they didn’t say mankind started instead as a large population or even as a population of thousands or millions. They said as a population of about 10,000. Those are pretty precise pronouncements.


And those pretty precise pronouncements perplex me. No, I really don’t understand how you go from zero to 10,000 (in 60 seconds?).


“Could such broad resistance to the notion of any kind of gradualism be rooted in nothing more than an anti-evolutionary ideology?”

Could such a question be rooted in a pro-evolution ideology?

I think everyone has an ideology. The question is, is your ideology good and true? Has ideology become a dirty word? Couldn’t Christianity be classified as an ideology?

GJDS - #76116

January 20th 2013

Ideology as currently used is meant to refer to a political position or system (although it is often used to refer to political/economic ideas that people adopt). The use of this term is a ‘dirty word’ because it is mostly associated with those who may diregard the truth to pursue their political objectives. Originally however, the term simply refers to the study and origin of ideas, and would not be a ‘dirty word’. It is a matter of what is commonly understood by the term.

Seenoevo - #76113

January 20th 2013

PNG wrote: “… I don’t know that it would be possible to identify markers today that would absolutely distinguish Homo sapiens from not-Homo sapiens…

“The reason there isn’t an exact point when modern humans pop into existence is that it depends on what criterion you choose for remains being Homo sapiens…

“Evolutionary change occurs to populations, and no population is genetically uniform at any time, so any definition of who is a Homo sapiens has to specify what criterion for inclusion is used.”

PNG appears to be saying we can’t unambiguously identify homo sapiens biologically.

Then, how can you pinpoint and quantify the emergence of something you can’t identify?

PNG - #76136

January 21st 2013

The anthropologists can tell when a skeleton or skull is indistinguishable from a modern human. I gather that in general the skeletons they dig up (minus the skull) become essentially modern by about 1 million years old. The skulls are distinct until about 200,000 years ago when they look fully modern. The Neandertal genome is very close to modern human, but it can be distinguished. Given the fact of successful interbreeding, it would seem that Neandertals were just a little outside the range of normal variation for modern humans and should probably be regarded as the same species. You may not be able to pinpoint a moment in time when modern humans emerge, but if you have the necessary data, you can say quantitatively how much does this skeleton or this genome differ from the normal modern range. Is that too complicated?

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