Adam and the Genome: Some Thoughts from Dennis Venema

| By on Faith and Science Seeking Understanding

Over the last week, I have greatly enjoyed reading the thoughts of three valued colleagues on Adam and the Genome (AatG). (And yes, the fact that the acronym for the book is made up entirely of letters also used to represent DNA is a coincidence—one that I noticed only after the book had gone to press. It’s a pleasing coincidence nonetheless—there’s even a “start codon” in there. But I digress.) In reading them, I am again reminded of the unique community that we have here at BioLogos—a place where people of differing views are welcomed, and gracious dialogue is possible. Thank you, Ken, Pete and Denis for your willingness to engage with us.

My goal for my half of the book was to lay out, as clearly as possible for the average reader, why it is that mainstream biologists—Christian or otherwise—agree that humans evolved, and that we did so as a substantial population. While other books on evolution can be quite good on the evidence for common ancestry, I am not aware of any other book that deals as thoroughly with the evidence for our ancestral population sizes as we became human. This evidence, over the last few years, has become a key part of the evangelical conversation about Adam (and as Scot McKnight reminds us, his often-neglected partner, Eve). That conversation has been hampered, in my view, by this evidence being something of a “black box” for Evangelicals. My hope is that the book will allow non-scientists to see what scientists see when they examine the genome—and that this will inform the theological and exegetical conversation for others, even if they might disagree with Scot’s take on things.

In response to Ken Keathley’s puzzlement about the chapter on Intelligent Design (ID), I agree that it may not seem obvious why a chapter debunking the claims of the ID movement would be a natural follow-up to the genomics evidence for common ancestry and population genetics. The chapter is primarily for those who, having seen the genetic evidence for common ancestry and found it convincing, then wonder if there might yet be something to “hold onto” in some form of Intelligent Design—i.e., if there is something that evolution can’t explain in which they might take comfort. This is a very, very common response—something I have called “ratcheting concordism” (PDF) in the past. If someone has something of a “God of the gaps” mentality (even unconsciously), then it is very natural, having been dislodged from a previously-held gap, to look for another one. Just this last weekend I spoke twice to lay audiences on the topic of the book, and due to time constraints I had to limit my presentation to the evidence for common ancestry and population genetics. The results were predictable: in both cases I was asked during the question and answer period about common ID claims—that evolution cannot produce new information, or that certain biological structures could not have evolved because they are “irreducibly complex.”  These questions are good and natural for folks to ask. My gut instinct to include this material – even at the expense of other topics—seems warranted.

That said, material more germane to Ken’s position – evaluating the credibility of anti-evolutionary arguments against population genetics and common ancestry – is also a very reasonable subject. Though there simply was not room for it in the book, I have written on this extensively here at BioLogos. For example: 

Evaluating the “testable creation model” of the OEC organization Reasons to Believe (RTB)

Investigating the flaws in RTB’s arguments about shared mutations and common ancestry

Responding to OEC arguments about population genetics – the claims of Vern Poythress, William Lane Craig, and RTB

Responding to claims that vitellogenin pseudogenes in the human genome – remnants of genes from a time when our lineage laid eggs – are not actually “real pseudogenes”

So, those who read the book and have similar questions can find my replies in these sources.

I was also pleased to read the reviews by Pete Enns and Denis Alexander – two scholars who agree with the science. Pete, I don’t have much to say, except to say that I am delighted to see you thoughtfully critique Scot’s ideas. Ever since I learned of your “Adam is Israel” thesis – shared here on BioLogos many moons ago – I’ve thought it has a lot of merit. I think it fits in well with Scot’s take on things, and I think Scot’s work complements some of your ideas. Of course, I’m way outside my area of expertise here, but I look forward to you, Scot, and others testing and critiquing one another in the coming years. That’s a conversation that I will continue to watch with great interest.

Thanks also to Denis for his measured thoughts and irenic critique. (Between Alexander, Lamoureux and Venema, there are altogether too many Den(n)ises in this conversation, no? And that’s before we include the Denisovans… but I’m digressing again). Denis, you correctly note that neither Scot nor I decided to wrap things up in, as you put it, “big picture theology,” perhaps because of an allergy to concordism. I think your critique on that front is pretty much spot on for me, though I will let Scot speak for himself. For me personally, those sorts of models do have a concordist flavor to them. I would similarly hesitate to sketch out a model that deals with the firmament, or the serpent, or the various trees in the Garden of Eden, and so on. I recognize that some do feel very strongly that such models are possible, or even preferable. The more I have learned about the ancient Near East, the more I have my doubts about the profitability of such models. Early on in the project I told Scot that he had a free hand to follow the evidence where it led, in his opinion. That neither of us wanted to pursue such thoughts was to me a happy convergence. That said, nothing in Adam and the Genome precludes one from engaging in speculation if one finds it helpful – and I recognize that some folks very much do, and may find our lack of speculation problematic. It is speculation, though, since none of these models, in my opinion, can be established from either Scripture, or science, or a combination of the two.


Notes

Citations

MLA

Venema, Dennis. "Adam and the Genome: Some Thoughts from Dennis Venema"
http://biologos.org/. N.p., 15 Feb. 2017. Web. 22 October 2017.

APA

Venema, D. (2017, February 15). Adam and the Genome: Some Thoughts from Dennis Venema
Retrieved October 22, 2017, from http://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/adam-and-the-genome-some-thoughts-from-dennis-venema

About the Author

Dennis Venema

Dennis Venema is professor of biology at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia and Fellow of Biology for BioLogos. He holds a B.Sc. (with Honors) from the University of British Columbia (1996), and received his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia in 2003. His research is focused on the genetics of pattern formation and signaling using the common fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism. Dennis is a gifted thinker and writer on matters of science and faith, but also an award-winning biology teacher—he won the 2008 College Biology Teaching Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers. He and his family enjoy numerous outdoor activities that the Canadian Pacific coast region has to offer. 

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