The Genesis account given the new genetic studies.
Before responding to Keith Miller's new comments, I wanted to throw out a possible scenario regarding how we should see the Genesis account given the newer genetic and other scientific information we now have. So far, my only disagreement with some of my other correspondents is that it seems to me undeniable that there was a first human couple and this couple was most likely the biblical Adam and Eve.
Would anyone be willing to critique the following? Comments would particularly be appreciated since it is very possible I have misunderstood some of the scientific information.
So what theology might we end up with concerning human origins given the new evolutionary evidence that has come to the fore? First of all, the new evidence is pretty clear that common descent is pretty much undeniable and that we never had a bottleneck of two individuals for a breeding population. This is quite compatible with a first human couple living in the midst of a population of several thousand or more non-human primates with whom they and their children could interbreed. Natural selection will eventually remove all non-humans from the population. Genesis does not mention this wider population which would soon become extinct for much the same reason it doesn’t mention dinosaurs. Since the Bible is concerned to give only a certain type of information, no one needed to know about them.
How would these non-humans differ from humans? Consider first how the Fall would affect their differences. A better theology than Schneider’s would have the human tendency to do evil inherited from our animal ancestors but suppressed and held dormant in the first couple until the Fall. Thus the first couple would not be perfectly good but rather completely morally neutral and innocent until a free choice could be made to obey or disobey God. With the first free choice of disobedience, that animal tendency to do evil was again activated in the human genome. The non-humans would lack spiritual characteristics found in humans. They could not relate to God as humans do. They would probably not possess the same intellectual abilities since this deficiency could provide a good means for gradually selecting them out and diminishing their population. They would not be significantly different from fallen humans since humans had returned to their prehuman, animalistic state with its natural tendency to selfish, sinful behavior. Nevertheless, humans would have a natural awareness of good and evil (via the Fall) not possessed by the non-human primates and humans would be responsible for acts the non-humans would not b responsible for. Humans would be capable of great moral acts of which the non-humans would not be capable.
Henri Blocher pointed out that Genesis 1 is a unique form of literature in the Bible. He called it prose-poetry. Thus it would be more appropriate to interpret it poetically. The strict symmetry of the the chapter suggests that it is not speaking of a chronology of events but a listing of categories of existence—of light (fire), air, water, and earth—and that which inhabits these realms. Thus we would have no problem with any chronology issues like the sun appearing on the fourth day.
But Genesis 2 is complimentary to chapter 1. Kenneth Kitchen has pointed out that the same kind of pattern we find in these chapters, a general history followed by a detailed description of a specific aspect of that history, is found in some Egyptian inscriptions. Thus each chapter is to be seen as a different aspect of the same type of literature and Genesis 1 is not the only chapter to be interpreted poetically. For poetic interpretation, there does need to be some correspondence between the poem and the meaning, it cannot be just anything one wants it to be. For example, for Eve to be taken from Adam as Genesis describes might mean simply that Eve was Adam’s daughter by a non-human primate (shades of Lillith), it cannot mean that they are completely unrelated. (I’ve suggested in the last blog that Adam and Eve would more likely have to be homozygous with the human gene in order for them to be truly human. If this is the case, Adam could mate with someone who is heterozygous with the human gene to produce Eve who would then have the homozygous gene.)
The Genesis myth is set in the milieu of the agrarian revolution. If, as seems very likely, humans did exist before the agricultural revolution, perhaps the myth is taken from an earlier oral account that was updated for agrarian societies. Since we have seen that it should be interpreted poetically anyway, the original story may involve a Fall in a hunter/gatherer paradise (there are such environments even today) with the curse involving a loss of resources and constant movement and migrations. This would be analogous to the curse of labor by the sweat of the brow. Actually, it wouldn’t be a hunter/gather paradise but gatherer only. Adam did not need to hunt since the paradisal setting supplied all of his needs and God commanded him not to kill animals. Other elements of the curse would remain the same: pain in child bearing, submission of woman to man, etc. The Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil could fit just as easily in a gatherer setting. Adam simply did not originally tend the garden. In any case, the essential story and message of the myth remains the same. God allowed it to change with time but not in any way that would alter the message. Neighboring Near Eastern cultures may have taken the oral tradition of the original gatherer society myth or the developed agrarian myth such as the Hebrews received or revised it and then the NE societies altered the story in ways that did remove and/or distort the meaning of much of the original message.
At the moment, so far as I can see, the only other change this new scientific information might imply for my theology involves my view of the Flood. I’ve found Hugh Ross’ arguments for a geographically local but populationally universal flood persuasive for many years. The new scientific information would now require that the Flood not be universal for the earth’s population. But Ross’ arguments can be seen to lead to a populationally local flood as well. He has noted that the word for earth often depicts only a limited expanse of land. If all the animals on this land are destroyed, likewise only all the people from this area of land are destroyed (Genesis 6:7). If the flood occurred on the Mesopotamian plain or perhaps a then dry Persian Gulf, it may be that God did not consider the more limited populations of hunter/gatherers outside of this area to be quite so wicked. When the source of this story says that God saw the wickedness of humanity and decided to destroy it, this writer/speaker was only concerned about those humans of which he or she was aware. Possibly an entire civilization was the focus of God’s judgment. Those living outside of the flooded area may have very soon moved into this area after the Flood and mixed with Noah’s descendants. The Flood may still have decreased the world’s population substantially to produce a bottleneck (not of eight people but of a few thousand). The bottleneck suggested by Y-chromosome analysis might have occurred at the Flood. The studies suggest a bottleneck much later than that of the mitochondrial studies. And of course, it might not have been a flood at all. If this portion of Genesis is to be considered part of the original poetic myth of Genesis 1 and 2, then the point of the story is that God destroyed a large number of people, however that was done.
Last edited Friday, July 13, 2012