Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Trajectory Towards the Biblical Account and Adam and Eve

First, to all my friends and readers, let me apologize once more for not writing at all in the past couple of months. Things have been quite busy lately and while I love to write, it is has had to take a backseat to my new call as associate pastor at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church. This past weekend, however, God brought me through a huge milestone--ordination approval by our presbytery--which means all the time I was spending studying has been freed up. I am sure it will not take long for other things to fill it, but I hope one of those is writing regularly again.

Those of you who have read my blog for a while know that I like to follow and comment on the debate about the existence of an historical Adam and Eve. There has been a lot of genetic research in the past few years, which has brought this debate into the popular media. There are some who argue that the genetic evidence shows that Adam and Eve could not have been historical individuals. There are even some Christians that make this argument. I have argued, however, and still hold that their interpretation of the genetic evidence is guided by an a priori commitment to Darwinian evolution and that the data can be interpreted within an orthodox, biblical framework with equal validity. I would also argue that new research over the past couple of years has confirmed that validity of a biblical interpretation of the data. What I want to do in this article is look at the trajectory of the scientific data as a whole over the past several decades and show how it is converging towards the biblical account of human beginnings. (It might be helpful first to read this article or this article for background on the genetic evidence discussed below, though not absolutely necessary.)

The latest data comes from a few papers published in Science in August. All three of these (here, here, and here) argue that all male and female genetic lines can be traced back to two individuals--y-chromosomal "Adam" and mitochondrial "Eve"--who could have lived at the same place and time, which counters many previous arguments that claimed the "genetic Adam and Eve" could not have known each other at all. (Now, evolutionists are quick to argue that these two individuals were not the Adam and Eve of the Bible, but a man and women from a large population of the first humans whose genes just happened to continue on while all others died off. I argue against that here and Dr. Rana of RTB makes a case against that here.) Now, the dating of the original pair in these papers is not consistent with each other, but given the large margin of error/uncertainty when it comes to these types of calculations, it is understandable that their dates might differ. And, when all their error bars are taken into consideration, they could all overlap in the 100,000-150,000-year range. What is important is they all indicate that the genetic Adam and Eve may have lived at the same time and in the same place. (These studies confirm a few early studies from the end of last year and the beginning of this one, which Dr. Rana of RTB discusses here.)

These papers are the most recent body of scientific data, which is part of a long history of evidence that is converging towards a biblical account of human origins. Let me explain. About 30 years ago, the popular interpretation of the scientific data was that humanity originated about two million years ago and from independent pockets of populations of lesser species of the genus homo throughout the world. This multiregionalism data was difficult if not impossible to square with the biblical account of creation, so it was easy to dismiss the Bible as "anti-science" and irreconcilable. But, as data from archaeology and the fossil record was refined, as microbes and human parasites like lice were studied, and as genetic data began to be introduced, the date for humanity's origin became much more recent and the number of independent locations from which humanity may have originated became fewer and fewer. Eventually, multiregionalism was abandoned by the majority of the scientific community in favor of the Out-of-Africa model. In this model, it is believed that humanity originated in East Africa recently (about 100,000-150,000 years ago) and eventually migrated to the Middle East. So, the data has moved from multiple, independent origins of humanity millions of years ago to one fairly recent origin possibly in or about East Africa. In fact, the margin of error could put humanity's origin as far east as the Mesopotamia region or as far south in Africa as modern-day Ethiopia. This convergence towards the recent origin of humanity in one location fits very well with the biblical data that puts humanity's origin in a single location near the Mesopotamia region. Furthermore, in the past 20 years, human migrations have been studied, and the evidence points to a great migration that began fanning out from the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East into all other areas of the earth. This migration event fits quite well with the Tower of Babel described in Genesis 11. In fact, even paleolinguistics is finding evidence for a single proto-human language, which also fits well with the Tower of Babel. And, finally, as discussed above, the data for a genetic Adam and Eve once showed that they existed thousands of years apart from one another, but that data is converging towards the two existing at the same time and in the same location. There is, of course, a margin of error in these dates (and, in fact, I argue here that biblically we might expect them not to match), but even with that error, the data is converging more and more towards a single, recent pair of humans from which all humanity comes.

So, about 30 years ago there was virtually no way to square the data with Scripture, but most Christians wisely did not abandon their Bibles and waited. As we waited, the scientific data and dominant interpretation moved away from very old, multiple, independent human origins towards a single, recent point of origin with a single pair of humans, which is consonant with the biblical account. The migration data shows that even more recently humans began aggressively fanning out from the Middle East into the rest of the world, which is consonant with the biblical account. And, paleolinguistics is uncovering evidence for a single proto-human language for all mankind, which is also consonant with the biblical account. In sum, the trajectory of the past 30 years of data has begun to coalesce towards the biblical account of human origins and migration. What was once virtually impossible to reconcile with the biblical account can now be easily harmonized with Scripture. Scripture said it first, and the scientific data is finally catching up.

Are there questions still to answer? Certainly. Fitting the Flood in, for example, is more difficult (though certainly not impossible, as I argue here). But, I do not think we should expect to have all the questions answered yet. We have been given snapshots of the earliest part of human history in Genesis 1-11, we are getting even broader snapshots of the earliest part of human history through the scientific data, and the trajectory of the data is pointing towards what the Bible has been teaching all along. Given time and patience, I believe the questions will be answered and the Bible will continue to demonstrate its veracity. We should find this harmony and trajectory very encouraging, but really, it is also exactly what we should expect. God created the world and wrote Scripture, which means as we collect more data from the scientific enterprise and interpret that data properly, it will show us that the Bible has been right all along. That is what we should expect. That is what we have seen over the past few decades. And, that is what we will see in the future.

By His Grace,


A. Taylor Rollo... said...

I want to make one final comment about those who argue this data does not point towards the biblical account of Adam and Eve. Even some Christians make this claim, but, as I stated early, that view is guided by an a priori commitment to Darwinian evolution, which demands an interpretation that holds these genetic individuals were just two of a large population of the first humans. This is because, by definition, evolution is a population-level phenomena. According to the dominant Darwinian paradigm, populations evolve, not just individuals. So, someone who is committed to evolution, will look at the genetic data and come to the conclusion that the genetic Adam and Eve were just two individuals among a small population whose genetic material lived on while all other lines died off. But, by saying that, I do not want to make it sound like those who take this view are the only ones with a bias. We must remember that all of us look at this data (or any data) with our bias that we bring to the table. I look at the data having faith that what Scripture says is historical and theologically accurate, and therefore I interpret it within that framework. A Christian or atheist who is committed to evolution will look at the data as I mentioned in the beginning of this paragraph. We all have our presuppositions and biases. My point is that this data can be interpreted within an orthodox, biblical framework and that interpretation is an equally valid interpretation of the data.

Big Jen said...

Congrats on approval for ordination!!

A. Taylor Rollo... said...