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Being Human After Darwin 1 (RJS)

I am slowly working through a series looking at the impact that the evidence for evolution has on our theology. This series is based on a book of essays, Theology After Darwin (available from amazon UK or, as pointed out by a commenter, a search of Abebooks.com on author = Berry and title = Theology After Darwin will yield a USA-based source for a new copy of the book at a reasonable price (HT PB)). The question posed to the authors is quite simple, What are the implications for Christian theology if Darwin was right?

Nowhere do we find the question more central to our faith than in the subject of the essay by Francisco J. Ayala: Being Human After Darwin. David Fergusson, at the end of the chapter we discussed in the last Tuesday, suggested that a biblical understanding of human significance is challenged, perhaps, by the theory of evolution and common descent. If mankind is not the pinnacle and purpose of all creation, what are we? If we evolved in continuity with the animals what makes humans distinctive creatures? He commented briefly on the issue, but Dr. Ayala’s essay centers in on this question.

Francisco Ayala is the Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences, a University Professor, a Professor of Philosophy, and a Professor of Logic and the Philosophy of Science at the University of California, Irvine. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences elected in 1980 and cited for his work in evolutionary biology. His research expertise is listed on the NAS website as evolution, genetics, population biology, origin of species, malaria, parasitic protozoa, and epidemiology. In more recent years he has also been active in the philosophy of science and the interaction between science and faith. In his essay on what it means to be human Dr. Ayala first presents a brief survey of the state of knowledge on human origins and then considers specifically the egg-to-adult transformation, the brain-to-mind transformation, and the ape-to-human transformation.

Mankind is a biological species that has evolved from other species that were not human. In order to understand human nature, we must know our biological make-up and whence we come, the story of our humble beginnings. (p. 89)

The three transformations above, says Dr. Ayala, “define the humanum, that which makes us specifically human.” He suggests that a consideration of these transformations “provide[s] a valid foundation for a religious view of humans as special creatures of God.” (p. 90)

Human Origins. In the opening section on human origins Dr. Ayala outlines how traditional studies of origins, that is studies in the fields of paleontology, biogeography, and comparative biology (consideration of similarity and difference in morphology, development, physiology and such), have been enhanced and informed by the addition of molecular biology to the researcher’s tool box. Molecular biology, specifically genetics and the study of genomes, brings a level of precision and control to the study of ancestral relationships that is simply not possible from the other disciplines alone. But, and this is an important point, all of these sources of information come together to build a coherent picture with explanatory power.

The Missing Link. One of the common objections to common descent is the so-called missing link. This was a serious consideration in the nineteenth century when Darwin published his books On the Origin Of Species and The Descent of Man. While there are still gaps and questions, much has been learned and fossil remnants of many intermediate forms have been found and studied. The Cradle of Humankind in South Africa has been particularly fruitful for study. The hominid lineage diverged from the chimpanzee lineage some 7-8 million years ago. Dr. Ayala gives a brief sketch of this fossil record as it is currently known and understood. Homo erectus appeared on the scene somewhat before 1.8 million years ago. Many of the fossil species are thought to be co-lateral rather than in direct line of descent for modern humans.  Bottom line – many intermediate form fossils have been identified. You can dismiss common descent, but such dismissal cannot be based on the absence of fossil support for the proposal. There is support and it is growing as more fossils are unearthed and studied.

The data is not only in the fossil record but is embedded in each of us living today as well. DNA analysis of modern humans confirm the fossil evidence and points to an African origin for humankind. Modern humans appeared on the scene something like 150,000 years ago.

Analyses of DNA from living humans has confirmed the African origin of modern H. sapiens, which is dated by these analyses at about 156,000 years ago in tropical Africa. The DNA estimates of ancestral dates however, have broad ranges of possible variation (the so-called 95% ‘confidence interval’). The estimated origin of modern humans based on these DNA investigations is more appropriately given as 100,000-200,000 years ago. (94)

There may have been a bottleneck in the development of modern humans in Africa with the initial population consisting of something between 10,000 and 100,000 individuals, but there was a community within which the changes occurred.

The Genetic Evidence. Dr. Ayala does not go into the evidence for common descent found embedded in the human genome revealed by molecular biology and comparative genomics. Both Francis Collins in The Language of God and Darrel Falk in Coming to Peace With Science present more of the evidence. I discussed some of this in a post entitled “At Peace With Science?” two years ago (and reproduce some of it below). Two very good lectures on Human Evolution by Professor Darrel R. Falk from 2008 are also available from The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion (you can download in mp3 format – just search on Falk or Evolution). One lecture was part of a summer course for scientists while the other lecture was for an audience comprised primarily of church leaders.

So what is the evidence? There are a multitude of lines – each convincing in its own right, but together irrefutable. Dr. Falk highlights three strands of evidence, Alu sequences, Human Chromosome 2, and synonymous and nonsynonymous mutations. Dr. Collins in highlights Human Chromosome 2, ancient repetitive elements (AREs), nonfunctional pseudogenes such as caspase 12, and the functional mutation of the FOXP2 gene…but these six examples are only the tip of the iceberg.

Chromosome 2 is a fascinating story – apes have 24 pairs of chromosomes while humans have 23. This is, of course, a significant deviation and something that could derail the hypothesis of common descent. Humans could not have withstood the loss of an entire chromosome in the process of evolution and apes could not have evolved an additional chromosome that quickly. But human Chromosome 2 has clear evidence of fusion resulting from the head-to-head connection of two of the chromosomes found in chimpanzees and other apes; at some point in our development two chromosomes became one. This fusion is marked by the presence of residual telomeres (end caps) within the fused human chromosome and by the presence of an inactive residual centromere in the exact location where it is found in the separate chromosome of the chimpanzee.

The presence of the unnecessary residual telomere and centromere within chromosome 2 is one strong thread of the evidence for common descent – humans and chimps evolving from a common ancestor with chromosome fusion occurring on the branch leading to humans but not on the branch leading to chimps. Why would God create man from dust as a unique creature, give us one less chromosome, and introduce an unnecessary and unused telomere and centromere into chromosome 2?

The caspase 12 pseudogene provides us a similar example. This gene is found in the same location in both chimps and humans – it is functional in chimps, but nonfunctional, having suffered a knockout mutation in humans.

Molecular support of this type could fill thousands of pages…and has convinced virtually all working biologists, biochemists, and scientists of all stripes, that the general scheme of evolution including common descent is unquestionably correct. This is a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces fit beautifully within the framework of evolutionary theory. The only reason to doubt the general framework is a presupposition that it is not true.

While one could argue that natural mechanism alone is insufficient to produce what we see today, evolution by some mechanism is as nearly proven fact as anything in biology can be.

But what makes us human? All of this is incidental or background to the real thrust of the question Dr. Ayala addresses in his essay though. The three transformations, egg-to-adult, the brain-to-mind, and the ape-to-human transformations define important features of our history that serve to make us human. This will be the subject of my next post on his essay.

For now I return to the original question.

What do you think? What are the implications for Christian theology if Darwin was right?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

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  • scotmcknight

    RJS,

    Well, as I read and then re-read your post and see the argument for the age of humans it suggests we learn to read Genesis with a different set of lenses. Instead of reading Genesis 1-1, or 1-3, as a strict historical account — just as it is — evolutionary biology’s conclusion that humans both evolved from ancestor and are much older than Genesis might suggest, it suggests we see these texts in their ancient near eastern context of how they wrote about “origins” and “deep history.”

    I find it fascinating that God created us from the “earth” or the “dust.” That humans are called, if I may translate it, “earthlings” — earth/dust is “adamah” while Adam is “adam.” Is there not an indication that God raised us up from the earth’s life-forms?

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    “Is there not an indication that God raised us up from the earth’s life-forms?”

    If such an indication were inherent in the text, why have no commentators or interpreters picked up on it until fairly recently?

  • http://evangelicalmonk.com Bill H

    While I have not read this book, seems like it will be fascinating, I gather from your summary that Professor Ayala argues the uniqueness of humanity is primarily a result of our having reached this particular stage of evolutionary development – is that an accurate understanding? Thanks.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    When you look at the evidence selectively, it seems very convincing. When you look at all the evidence and think critically about it, it is not terribly convincing.

    Why do you leave out the fact that the same pattern of sudden appearance and stasis that we see in the overall fossil record can be found in hominid fossils to some extent?

    You said:

    “So what is the evidence? There are a multitude of lines – each convincing in its own right, but together irrefutable.”

    Reliance on genetic evidence requires extrapolating back into deep history, and requires that we assume no unknown intervening causes that could skew the extrapolation. It requires that we assume that God did not intervene at all over thousands of years. You may be comfortable with that assumption, but I am not.

    We are doing history here, and we know that we have a God who loves his people, made in his image, and has been actively engaged with them throughout history.

    It assumes the most important question that many of us are asking: what role did evolution play in human origins and what role did God play?

    As Christians we know that God played a role. We also know that (at least) microevolution played a role. The question for me and many others is the one Michael Behe is asking: Where is the “edge” of evolution?

    It does not help to start with presuppositions that beg that question.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Bill #3,

    I got the same impression. So over many years some apes were relatively more human than others, and then some humans were relatively more human than others and there is no reason to think that that is not still the case. So why shouldn’t some humans have relatively more human rights than others? If Ayala is right, then all men and women were not created equal.

    That is exactly the kind of logic used in scientific racism that was mainstream in the early part of last century and that led to the eugenics movement.

    The data does not require this, and we should be more cautious than Christians such as Henry Emerson Fosdick, who embraced eugenics and promoted it.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    The question that most comes to mind for me is whether people are different than animals in kind or extent. This question seems to me to need to be answered relative to God. But, the bible seems to indicate that humans are different in kind. That does not sit well with me (the Holy Spirit seems to be guiding me elsewhere).

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Genesis does not even speak of man in terms of kind. The plants and animals in Genesis 1 were spoken of as “kind,” noting that each reproduced after its “kind.” But the language concerning the creation of man is very different. He is spoken of in terms of “image” and “likeness,” in relation to God. Man is a very different creature than the plants and animals.

  • rjs

    pds,

    I specifically noted that one could argue about mechanism here. This particular post does not try to address this issue. Rather it talks about a historical connectedness however that came about.

    I don’t want to get into mechanisms and progress of evolutionary algorithms, but suffice it here to note that a change in the rate of change is entirely consistent with natural mechanism as populations find “passes” and new ranges of possibility are opened. The stasis and sudden bursts are consistent.

    However, the idea of what role God played in the process is an important one – and I will come back to the statement that everything happens through and by God. God was in the wind that opened a path for the Israelites out of Egypt (a “natural” phenomenon) and in the origin of mankind.

  • http://evangelicalmonk.com Bill H

    RJS
    My question was not intended to look at the issue of mechanisms, as you noted in response to PDS, rather I want to make sure I am getting the proper impression from your summary of Prof Ayala. I recognize at this stage the question/summary doesn’t speak to mechanisms. If my impression was accurate, my question, then I would be willing to listen to his ideas on “special creatures of God” within the context of evolution.

  • rjs

    Bill,

    Prof. Ayala is somewhat vague about his own position, but argues that there are features of evolution leading to the nature of humans that are consistent with stage of evolution and uniqueness from God. Put slightly differently, he suggests, I think, that humans are special – and that this is consistent with both evolution and the existence of God.

    I will summarize his thoughts and conclusions in the next post on this essay when I’ve thought about them more carefully. I’ve only given the last half of the essay a cursory read so far.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    RJS #8,

    Thanks for the clarification. But I don’t think “evolution by some (perhaps unknown) mechanism” has much meaning. I also don’t think a lot of Christians understand the distinction between 1. common descent of some kind and 2. common descent by random mutation and natural selection.

    As you know, Behe brings this out. If TE folks would help to bring this out and clarify the different meanings of “evolution,” I think the dialogue would improve.

  • http://www.studyyourbibleonline.com Wesley Walker

    Not sure if the fossil record is as convincing as you make it out to be. The “gaps” are not small, in fact they are quite large. They are so large that leading scientific minds have had to come up with new theories to explain how we evolved. For instance, the argument for punctuated equilibrium by Stephen Gould.

    Also could not the DNA evidence provide an example of an archetype, just as it could for evolutionary change?

    I still think we have a real problem with human identity apart from Special Creation. If evolution is true at some point humans will evolve even further, if this happens then what is truly God’s special creation? Might we not be His special creation, but instead just a part of the process (much like other primates)?

    Thanks for hearing my thoughts, I will check back this afternoon for replies. Please take these questions in the way I meant them. I’m really looking for good answers.

    http://www.studyyourbibleonline.com

  • http://evangelicalmonk.com Bill H

    RJS @ 10
    Thanks. I’ve been following the series on Nova (wttw in Chicago) on evolution and I see some resonance with the ideas brought out in the recent showing about human uniqueness – essentially dealing with the brain.

  • http://www.ill-legalism.com Rick Presley

    It seems to me that Ernst Haeckel’s “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” argument has been reconstituted in terms of molecular genetics. Additionally, another factor that seems to be omitted from the discussion (or at least the summary of the discussion) is that genes common to different species (homologs) do not necessarily perform common functions, or if they do, do not express them identically. In other words, similarity of genetic information is probably only as significant as morphological similarities. Chimps and humans follow the same body plan, roughly, and it stands to reason that their genes are just as similar. However, even when raised together, the ability of humans to acquire language creates a qualitative difference between us and chimps that moves us from the bestial to almost god-like in our disposition, demeanor, and accomplishments.

    In other words, even if evolution were true, there are questions that it cannot answer. Godel seems to have taught us that no system can be explained using only the terms common to the system. One must find an explanation outside the system to account for why the system is the way it is. Evolution will never be able to explain itself in terms of evolution, even if true. And therein lies the despair of a strictly naturalistic explanation.

  • rjs

    Wesley,

    How would you explain the features of human chromosome 2 from an archetype rather than evolution?

    It is these sorts of features – things like the residual telomere and centromere – that leads me to a conclusion of evolution. It isn’t just this one example, it is many examples. This one is just fairly easy to explain. While the fossil data on it’s own may not be conclusive, it is entirely consistent with the genetic data.

  • rjs

    But Wesley, to continue a bit… the issue of what makes humans unique and in the image of God is an interesting one, both in terms of function and being or ontology. Humans are not “just” a different type of animal.

  • http://www.studyyourbibleonline.com Wesley Walker

    I am by no means trained in the sciences. However, is it possible that we have not yet figured out what these things do and therefore when we say they are not useful to humans, that what we should say is as far as we know they are not?

    What about our genetic connection with animals that are not apart of our common ancestry?

    Also the whole genetics thing confuses me in two ways:

    1. Built within the genetic code is a limiting factor in how much change can occur. So how can we argue that we have changes of species?

    2. The common argument is mutations, but mutations are normally bad and it seems that several of them had to have happened at the same time in order for the new species to survive.

    Once again I’m not claiming to be an expert on science, but I am a preacher who must deal with these issues in the context of the church. A church that is much divided on this issue with each group having their “arguments” for and against evolutionary theory.

    Although to be real honest I would much rather be interpreting and explaining Scripture :).

    http://www.studyyourbibleonline.com

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I agree with the other point, what happens when a new, better human is born…. I think we saw the answer to that in Jesus, we kill ‘em.

  • Andy D

    What I’ve been thinking about lately is what implications this has for a theology of the new creation. What does it mean for God to deem everything ‘good’ only to have to recreate it again after Jesus returns? I think mainly it reduces to the question “why?” I am interested in getting the book suggested and hope they touch on this issue. Or maybe it’s more simple than I’m making it out to be.

  • http://www.theproblemwithkevin.com kevin s.

    I’m not going to rehash the argument, but I would note that this post follows a familiar trajectory.

    -Intro
    -Credentials
    -Assertion that the evidence is overwhelming
    -Specific example that is nominally persuasive, far from overwhelming
    -Re-assertion that the evidence is overwhelming
    -Assertion that anyone who concludes otherwise is inherently unreasonable

    I am aware that evolutionary scientists find their arguments irrefutable. They’ve made that quite clear. To accompany such a trifling piece of evidence with so much bluster strikes me as absurd.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    The renewal and perfecting of humanity is an eschatological point, and King Jesus the Messiah is the firstfruit of that. In Him is the fulfillment of that for which humanity was created, and we, in Him, shall be changed, body and soul.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    kevin s, @20,

    Perhaps you can step forward and break the pattern and help get the conversation toward the “so what” part instead of refusing to get off the line at all. What could it hurt?

  • rjs

    kevin s.,

    Why do you find this to be a trifling piece of evidence?

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I know that the following is not part of this post, but it is interesting that I would find there to be much more impact and problems with declaring that God created man exactly as he is from scratch per a literal reading of Genesis. Quite frankly this whole YEC problem is quite alien to me since I was taught, by RCC nuns in the 60′s and 70′s that evolution is true. I have always known it to be true and that the Genesis stories are theological texts, not science.

    So the thought that they are literally true would have much more far reaching impact on me and most of the world than the converse of them not being literally true. Holy cow! Just imagine if we had to believe that God planted all this evidence and all these uneeded mechanisms all over the place when he did not have to! Just imagine what kind of god that would imply!

    Seriously, it seems much more probably that Genesis is a theological and religious text than any alternative.

    So, can’t we just get to figuring out what the implications would be for Christianity? Instead of arguing whether it is true or not, can’t you all put your effort into helping to figure out what happens now that we know (or now that we think maybe, if you like) it happens via a different mechanism?

  • rjs

    DRT,

    After this essay by Ayala we will get to:
    Doctrines of the Fall and Sin After Darwin (John J. Bimson)
    Theological Ethics After Darwin (Michael Northcott)
    The Problem of Natural Evil After Darwin (Neil Messer)
    Natural Theology After Darwin: Contemplating the Vortex (David Grumett)
    Eschatology After Darwin: The Deification of Creation (Denis Edwards)

    All of these should provide an opportunity to engage with some rather significant “so what” type questions – whether we agree with the authors or not.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    DRT (24), it sounds like your point is that we should just concede to your point of view about Darwinian evolution and the nature of Genesis and get to changing our theology accordingly. IOW, you appear to be begging the question.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Jeff,

    I really don’t think that is the case. Those who believe don’t believe in a literal creation regularly discuss the implications of believing such without conceding the point. That is all I am asking.

  • phil_style

    Jeff,

    why not trat this as a hypothetical thought experiment then. Perhaps play along with “assuming that darwinian evolution is true” . . . and work from there. That approach will, at least, allow us to move forward past the same old “yes it is”, “no it isn’t” territory. And it might be fun!

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    Going back to Scot’s initial comment, I think one of the first implications is our “lens” for Genesis. Along with this, I think there are some ideas about the inspiration of scripture that need patient review and discussion.

    Both God’s goal and means of producing Genesis 1 is an area that seems to hold more questions than answers, and thereby produce more fearful reactions than willingness to calmly consider and discuss the possibilities.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    If Scot’s suggestion, that we need to learn to read Genesis with a different set of lenses (a Darwinian set of lenses, in view of the opening post), were so, I would have to wonder why we should need a different set of lenses from those which the first hearers/readers would have. I mean, until fairly recently, neither Judaism nor the Church has seen any indication in Genesis that God formed man from a previous creature instead of as special act of creation. The fact that Adam is made from adamah (Hebrew for “ground” or “earth”) is not such an indication, as Scot has suggested, that God actually raised him up from earth’s life-forms. The creation of man is not spoken at all in terms of a variation on a pre-existing kind or life-form. The creation of man is treated very differently. God formed Adam, not from a “kind” or a “life-form” but from “dust” (Hebrew, aphair, dry or loose earth, powder, mud, ground) of the earth. So Scot’s “indication” immediately falls apart.

    And I should have to wonder about the hermeneutical legitimacy of allowing modern viewpoints and the current consensus of scientists to sit in the driver’s seat on how to interpret an ancient Hebrew text. It is one thing to give history and archaeology and linguistics a voice, because they can tell us something about how the ancient Hebrews might have understood Genesis 1. But Darwinian theory, OTOH, does not ~ the ancient Hebrews did not have access to it. So to give it an interpretive voice on Genesis 1 is nothing more than eisegesis, anachronistically reading modern ideas into an ancient text.

  • rjs

    Jeff,

    When we look at Genesis and much of the Old Testament (and even the New Testament) there is an assumption of cosmology that is based on ANE “science,” what they thought they knew about the world. Things like a solid dome with water above, pillars, corners and so forth. It runs through as a backdrop to the text. When we read scripture we don’t necessarily think this is “true” but we do need to keep the context in mind in order to fully interpret the message.

    In the same way creation from the dust of the earth was the common way of thinking about the creation of living creatures. It is a typical method in ANE myths. It appears that this was the common cultural knowledge of the day (or at least so Christian experts in OT or ANE studies have said – I don’t know this from primary sources).

    Scripture tells us that mankind was created especially for relationship with God and with a task and mission on earth. The “how” is secondary I think. Reading modern science back into the text is unwise (I think). Looking for the message expressed in common forms of the day is good exegesis isn’t it?

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Thanks, RJS, but what we don’t have in the creation of man is creation from pre-existing life-forms, which were already in existence before God created man. It is treated quite differently from the creation of the animals, not as an extension of them. In the other ANE texts, everything was created from the material of the gods themselves ~ even the earth itself was made up of the material of the gods. But in the OT creation text, the heavens and the earth are not made up of God but made by God and as separate and distinct from God. The creation myths of the ANE reveal a continuity between creation and their gods. The OT creation account, quite different from ANE mythology, reveals God to be transcendent. So man himself, though made in the image of God, is made of the earth and distinct from the animals, not from the animals. While the OT is part of the ANE, there are important distinctions between the OT and the other ANE accounts.

    I do not think that people in the ANE took “created from the of the earth,” or from the blood of their gods, to mean “common evolutionary descent of all living things,” but as created from the earth, or from the blood of their gods.

    If the OT account were merely another ANE mythical account, then I would not bother to believe it, but would set it aside just as I set aside all the other myths. But the OT account differs significantly from the ANE mythologies and is not in the form of a myth (see The Bible Among the Myths, by John Oswalt).

    I do not think Christian theology obligates me to believe any of the ANE myths, but I do think it obligates me to believe the OT, because it is not an ANE myth, but a very different kind of account.

    The “how” of creation may be secondary, but that does not mean that it is unimportant, or that we can import any “how” we want into it.

    Yes, reading modern science, or anything else, back into the text is unwise. Or else we can reading anything and everything we want into the text and make it mean whatever we like ~ but then that would only tells us about how we wish to understand it or what we wish to believe, with no way to differentiate how we ought to understand it or what we ought to believe.

  • rjs

    Jeff,

    Isn’t it true that in ANE creation myths mankind is created from the dust of the earth (or the clay of the earth) to be a slave for the gods – to do the work that the gods do not wish to do? In the OT account mankind is created for a mission, in the image of God, for relationship with God, with the earth, and with each other.

    The OT is substantively different in its meaning and theology. But I think that it can still use the common knowledge method of creation from dust without commenting on the accuracy of such a method of creation. Just as it can refer to ANE cosmology without commenting on the accuracy of such cosmology.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    RJS, yes humanity is created for a mission, a purpose. Created in the image and likeness of God and given dominion over the earth. Created for relationship with God, each other and the earth. But again, that does not make secondary considerations, such as how God did what He did, unimportant, or that any way of describing it will do. In this case, it is important that mankind be made in the image of God and like God because God has given humanity kingship over the earth ~ we represent God on the earth. It is also important that man be made from the earth because God has given humanity kingship over the earth ~ we represent the earth before God. It is a sort of type of the Incarnation.

    Man is the only creature said to be created in the image and likeness of God. This was not said of the angels, and it was not said of the animals. We are not formed from the angels, and we are not formed from the animals. They pre-existed man (at least the animals did), and it would not have been hard to explain that God took an animal and formed man from it, and breathed His own breath into it. No more difficult than to explain than that God formed a man and breathed His breath into it. The author of Genesis was not bound by the conventions of ANE mythology ~ Genesis 1 already differed from the other ANE accounts pretty radically.

  • o

    @Jeff (#30),

    To add on to rjs’s (#31) point, when Genesis says that God made Adam from dust, the Bible itself doesn’t demand that we take the statement literally or scientifically. In Job 10, Job says that God made him “with His hands” like a potter shapes clay out of dust, and that he “knit together” Job’s muscles and bones.

    When we read this, we just assume that God created Job through scientifically established mechanisms of childbirth, and we say Job is using common ANE creation language (being formed by hands from dust) to describe what was otherwise a natural biological process.

    Because of these and other instances in the Bible, I’m inclined to think that it’s entirely possible that God forming Adam from dust is ANE creation language to describe what was otherwise a natural biological process.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com dopderbeck

    I don’t think the facts of human evolution ought to change our essential theological / doctrinal assertions about humanity: we are connected to yet different than the rest of creation, we are given special responsibilities, we are made in God’s image, we are embodied yet more than physical, we are fallen and sinful and suffer the consequence of death.

    The facts of human evolution do, however, require us to think more carefully about exactly what these theological / doctrinal assertions mean, as well as to think more carefully about how we understand scripture. This is what theology has always done. It is not always an easy task — and here there are, to be sure, some very sensitive questions. Human origins is certainly a place at which it can be tempting to throw the baby out with the bathwater (as some contemporary writers on this subject seem to want to do with the meaning of “sin” in light of neurobiology, for example). But this is what theology does and should do.

  • Steve Noren

    Being a former full-time farmer (now part-time), trained as an animal scientist, with extensive studies in plant and soil science, I have become fascinated with Dr. William Albrecht’s work as a soil scientist at the University of Missouri, and also the further work of Neal Kinsey, his last student (after he retired). Probably the most interesting matter Dr. Albrecht discovered is that there is an ideal range of available minerals in the soil (65-70% Ca, 12-20% Mg, 5-7% K, etc., variations due to soil type) that produces the healthiest crops, and that Neal Kinsey, in dealing with human doctors, claims that that ideal range of available minerals in the soil is also the ideal range of those minerals in our bloodstream.
    If true, does this point to an ideal state in some past during which man was formed of the “dust of the earth”?–a state that perhaps was severely damaged by something like a mind-boggling, catastrophic worldwide flood?
    I personally, in my life, have been all over the board in considering evolution, theistic evolution, old earth creation and young earth creation, and am currently leaning toward old earth creation, not billions, but hundreds of thousands of years, because of the anomalies found in the earth (human footprints alongside dinosaur prints, clearly manmade items in coal seams, real blood in dinosaur bones, for example).
    My opinion is that, if Darwin was right, then all religion is finished. As more is learned of how the brain functions, there is less room for an external god, as areas of the brain can be stimulated to produce religious experiences as well a host of other experiences, and more room for the religious experience to be an adaptive function of the complex human brain, nothing more. You theologians have your work cut out for you.

  • http://www.theproblemwithkevin.com kevin s.

    @rjs

    “Why do you find this to be a trifling piece of evidence?”

    It nominally (and controversially) addresses one argument against evolution in a way that clearly works backwards from an assumption. That’s fine. It is valid as a stand alone example in this debate.

    The rhetorical context here, however, does not match the power of the example.

  • rjs

    kevin s,

    This piece of evidence works two ways. It is neither nominal nor controversial.

    It is true that given the assumption of evolution, people were looking for an explanation for the difference in the number of chromosomes. But this is how all science (and all “puzzle solving”) works. When no explanation is found one must look deeper at the initial assumption (in this case evolution).

    But in this case we also have within the chromosome both the residual centromere and the area where there the two telomeres join. The two chromosomes for a chimp on both sides join together to form the human chromosome. In other words there is direct evidence of the history.

    This is similar to the kind of evidence one might find walking through buildings at a university. The building I work in had an addition several years ago. One of the clues to this is the fact that what used to be an exterior brick wall is now an interior wall. This is obvious – and anyone walking through knows that there was an addition.

    With respect to human chromosome 2, I am not claiming that this is evidence for the mechanism of evolution. I am claiming that it is evidence for a direct historical connection through some kind of progressive change. If we did not already, on the basis of other evidence, have a working hypothesis of evolution – this evidence would point to such an hypothesis.

    You complained about the structure of my post. How would you structure such a post? I cannot write and present on Scot’s blog a text book on evolution. Nor do I wish to simply state credentials and tell you to believe me. So I have been trying hard, for several years now, to put forth arguments that both explain why I take the positions that I do. I have also been trying to think hard about the consequences in the context of Christian theology.

  • EricW

    @Steve Noren 37:

    I personally, in my life, have been all over the board in considering evolution, theistic evolution, old earth creation and young earth creation, and am currently leaning toward old earth creation, not billions, but hundreds of thousands of years, because of the anomalies found in the earth (human footprints alongside dinosaur prints, clearly manmade items in coal seams, real blood in dinosaur bones, for example).

    “(human footprints alongside dinosaur prints….)”

    Where is this? Are you referring to the Paluxy Riverbed tracks?
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/paluxy/mantrack.html

  • Steve Noren

    I am familiar with the Paluxy “tracks” and others and have problems with those that require a lot of imagination to see the humanness of the footprint. However, there are others–a clearer footprint in granite in the Cleveland National Forest (minus a toe), what appears to be a sandal print in Utah in 300-600 million years old rock, some in Rockcastle County, Kentucky. Perhaps they will all be proven not to be human, but it seems to me that there are a lot of anomalies no matter what we are trying to prove or disprove that keeps me wondering…
    But in keeping with the main thrust of rjs’ question for this session, if Darwin was right, then being human is merely another step in evolution and there is no need for God, except as a personal mind game for “kicks and grins”. Somehow the thought of that leaves me extremely lonely. You theologians had better come up with something good that a layman can grasp, or all I am left with is a personal belief that runs counter to all scientific evidence, mere anecdotal folk tales.
    After reading that paragraph, do you wonder why we peasants hang onto the words of the strict creationists? We know what’s at stake.

  • http://www.avantrex.com John Munday

    Yes, Genesis 2:7 says Adam was made from dust, which leads many to assert man is a special creation, not evolved from animals. But Genesis 1:24-25 also says “God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures…God made the wild animals”RSV. As several here have noted, ANE writing similarly uses the dust motif. Elsewhere in Scripture is the assertion that we are all made of dust. Thus nothing particular about process is implied by the origin of man in dust, or by the origin of animals in the land. Both cases may simply reflect the ordinary observation that animals and humans grow by eating the produce of the land, and thus both can be said to come from the dust or land.


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