The Genealogical Adam and Eve– Part Eleven

The Genealogical Adam and Eve– Part Eleven November 8, 2021

Q. You have a very odd use of the word periscope throughout your book. For a while I thought your spellcheck was doing the same thing mine has done—changing pericope into periscope. Can you explain what you mean by the term when you talk about the periscope of Scripture, for example?


A. A pericope is an excerpt of text. A periscope is limited view of reality that comes with tunnel vision, like the periscope of a submarine.  So no, this was not autocorrect behaving badly. I am extending here an analogy about genetics. DNA is like a streetlight, telling us about our immediate vicinity of genealogical relationships. That’s why paternity and sibling DNA tests work so well.  DNA is also like a telescope, giving us a tunnel vision view of distant objects. That’s how DNA can tell us we share common ancestry with the great apes. But that powerful vision comes with tunnel vision. I cannot see my wife standing right next to me while I see Saturn’s rings through a telescope. That tunnel-vision is important to understand why it is that genetics is blind to Adam and Eve. Though they might be real people in the same physical reality we all inhabit, they fall into a gaping blind spot. We do not expect to find evidence of them.

Narrative stories work this way too. They tell us a great deal about the subject of the stories, but narratives have tunnel vision on the subject. Stories never give us a full account of reality. They never tell us every story. So both Scripture and science are like periscopes. They tell us a great deal about that to which they are pointed. But they do not tell us much about what happens outside their view.  Adam and Eve are in the blind spot of genetic science. Evolution, and also the people outside the Garden, are in the blind spot of Scripture. That is what I meant by periscope.

It is entertaining that the only other scholar that noted confusion about a pericope vs. a periscope was Glenn Branch. He is an atheist at the National Center for Science Education. Perhaps something is similar about how your brains are wired, or so it seems! Thinking about this deeper though, perhaps you are on to something.  Scripture gives us a sacred history of our origins, but this is only part of the story. It is an excerpt, a “pericope.” Science also gives us a natural history of our origins, but this is only part of the story. It also is just an excerpt, a “pericope.”

One of the grand tasks of the Christian tradition, it seems, is to make sense of these two pericopes together. At this moment in history, there is some new ways forward. We might together uncover more about how these sacred and natural histories entwine. That, in fact, is the invitation of my book.  Let’s rejoin this grand conversation. Perhaps we can figure out more together.

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