Re: [asa] Question for all the theistic evolutionists

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Fri Mar 16 2007 - 14:26:40 EDT

I think what you are suggesting is that even if the entire human genome
can't be linked to two individuals 6000 years ago, maybe our genetic history
includes Adam and Eve's contributions as well as other contemporary and
prior hominid/human ancestry.
What I'm saying is something a bit different. I'm suggesting that the
entire focus on genetics is misplaced. The geneological studies I mentioned
don't have anything to do with genetics. They are mathematical models of
the ancestry of individuals. There is a difference between the ancestry of
genes and the ancestry of individuals. So, in order to be able to
trace your geneology back to Adam and Eve, you would not have to prove that
you have inherited any genes from them. (There is in fact no way of
actually proving such a geneology, but the mathematical models that have
been published suggest that an MRCA for everyone living today probably lived
only a few thousand years ago). In a similar vein, although the Bible
portrays Abraham as the father of the Jewish people, certainly not all
Jewish people living today carry any of Abraham's genes. (For more on the
MRCA geneological models, see here:

As I understand it, it's mathematically certain that you can trace your
geneology to some people who were living five or so generations ago and from
whom you have not inherited any genes. If you were to draw a family tree of
who begat whom begat whom in the history of your family, that would not mean
that you have inherited genes from every name on the tree. Thus, to say
that someone is geneologically your ancestor is not the same thing as saying
you inherited that person's genes. This is one reason there are political
disputes sometimes about genetic testing for ancestry -- for example,
testing to determine someone is an indigenous person for the purpose of
obtaining benefits under affirmative action laws. (This is my
understanding, and I would appreciate if anyone more knowledgeable about
genetics than I could confirm if I'm right or correct if I'm wrong).

This seems to me at least one possible approach to the problem of the
"unity" of the human race. It is not so much a genetic unity, in which some
aspect of human genetic divergence must coalesce when Adam & Eve were alive,
as it is a geneological and spiritual unity, in which everyone's family tree
would include Adam & Eve up in the branches and everyone is spiritually
descended from Adam both in receiving the image of God (which is at least in
part ineffable) and in inheriting the sin nature (which also is at least in
part ineffable).

You ask good questions about where the "other" contributions to the human
genetic code would come from. The view I'm floating here would indeed
involve some sort of at least limited interbreeding between prehistoric
humans and other contemporary hominids. This would also mean that I, like
Glenn, wouldn't think it's absolutely necessary to situate Adam in the
neolithic. (That's another discussion, but I think some fair reference to
accomodation can help explain the anachronisms in the Genesis narratives of
Adam and his immediate successors). The interbreeding thing sounds weird,
but it's a possibility anthropologists have acknowledged for a long time.
It would also mean that the "image of God" would have to be a bit of a fuzzy
concept, and we would not be able to answer many questions about the
spiritual status, of, say, the immediate precursors from which Adam arose.
But again, I don't see that as a huge problem -- we don't know much about
the spiritual status of other created sentient beings, particularly angels,
but that doesn't trouble us much.

I don't think, however, that it would raise the sort of problems that
troubled folks like B.B. Warfield concerning the theological importance of
the unity of the human race. If you read Warfield's famous essay on this,
you'll see that his concern is with racist heresies that resulted from the
belief that some surviving race of humans was not made in God's image (these
sorts of heresies informed Southern slavery in the antebellum U.S.). That
is not a concern because all of those archaic hominids became extinct long
ago, and the remarkable homogeneity of the human genome compared to other
animals shows that, if there was any interbreeding with those archaic
hominds, the genetic traces of that inbreeding do not produce any variations
in contemporary humans that would distinguish one "race" from another. All
mainstream geneticists agree (at least I think they do) that humanity as it
exists today is one "race" despite the fact that there was always an
effective population size of more than two individuals from which the
current human stock arose.

On 3/16/07, Jon Tandy <> wrote:
> David,
> I made (I think) a related question and suggestion about year ago and
didn't get a direct response, although I suspect what the answer might be.
> In direct response to your question, how could all living humans be
geneologically related to a relatively recent Adam and Eve? This would
require that we be genetically linked to those two individuals, at some (for
sake of argument) 4000 B.C. time frame. I think what you are suggesting is
that even if the entire human genome can't be linked to two individuals 6000
years ago, maybe our genetic history includes Adam and Eve's contributions
as well as other contemporary and prior hominid/human ancestry.
> How would that happen? What would that look like? Obviously it would
entail relations between the Adamites and the others. Possibly the wives of
Cain and Seth, which have long been speculated on. It looks to me entirely
possible. However, what happened to the rest? If those who are NOT
genealogically related to Adam and Eve aren't alive any more, what happened
to them? Maybe the "chosen people" and their sinful descendents essentially
wiped them out through conquest, slavery, rape, and generally submerging
their primitive culture under waves of new dominion. Some of the activities
listed in the previous sentence would lead to further merging of the
non-Adamic human genes into the resulting dominant Adamic cultures. Maybe
the God-given ability to "have dominion" over the earth, under sinful
influence, led to the Nimrod-style propagation of nation-states, warfare,
conquest, slavery, etc. It is only essentially in Biblical times,
literally, that "culture" and large scale civilization has arisen (Egypt,
Babylon, China, etc.), as I understand it.
> Theologically speaking, this idea is much more satisfying to me than
Dick's suggestion that we might be living side by side with non-Adamic
peoples, who are not literally under Adam's curse. While I recognize that
some of you have suggested solutions for this problem, I don't find them
completely satisfying.
> Not being a geneticist, however, I can't evaulate the above proposition.
If all living humans could trace their ancestry to two individuals, even if
there had been previous genetic contributions, I don't understand how that
wouldn't be genetically detectable, on the order of a "mitochondrial Eve".
Maybe this is what you're talking about in reference to "monogenism" (which
I don't understand). Maybe this is akin to what Glenn was referring to as
the "lucky guy" -- could Adam have been the lucky guy who has ended up with
his chromosomes most widespread?
> Are scientists who say that all humans trace back to a small group of
hominids in the roughly 5-7 mya Africa referring to a scientific
monogenism (as opposed to the Biblical monogenism), in other words that
genetically all humans genetically trace back to a single point? Is this as
opposed to your suggestion of the genealogical origin, assuming that all
other branches of the human genome have died off for various reasons?
> And here's another question -- putting aside certain theological questions
for now, what if Eve was actually an existing (obviously non-Adamic,
genetically) wife of Adam, who carried the mitochondrial lineage from 200ky
in Africa? How would we be able to tell the difference today, genetically?
I would think there should be evidence of a population bottleneck in 4000
B.C., if all living humans had to go back through a single woman.
> I would appreciate anyone who can give a knowledgeable response to this
> Got to stop -- over my post limit, and need to get back to work.
> Jon Tandy
> -----Original Message-----
> From: [] On
Behalf Of David Opderbeck
> Sent: Friday, March 16, 2007 11:29 AM
> To: Glenn Morton
> Cc:
> Subject: Re: [asa] Question for all the theistic evolutionists
> Glenn, you always do a wonderful job of demanding specifics -- you should
have been a lawyer, you would've been a fantastic cross-examiner!
> But, I've yet to see you provide specifics to a set of questions various
people have asked you: if we accept the evidence that some language, some
culture, and even some religion and altruism, were present in various
hominid lineages long before homo sapiens sapiens, why are those things
necessarily evidence of the image of God? What empirical observation
establishes these things as the image of God? What Biblical passage? Even
if all these characteristics are aspects of the image of God, why are hints
and precursors of those characteristics in earlier hominids -- or in
contemporary primates, for that matter -- themselves the image of God? (I
say "hints and precursors" because my understanding -- correct me if I'm
wrong -- is that the scientific consensus remains that these characteristics
that were present in earlier hominids were nowhere near as developed as they
became, relatively recently, in homo sapiens sapiens). Isn't it just as
reasonable to suggest that part of God's instilling of his image in Adam
involved the "perfection" of these characteristics in such a way that human
beings could exercise care and dominion over the rest of creation, develop
sophisticated artistic, religious, business, and social culture, and relate
intimately to the triune God, in a way that no other hominid could?
Clearly, as an empirical matter, no earlier hominid succeeded in doing these
things to even the minutest speck of a fraction of the achievements of
modern humanity.
> And doesn't this at some level have to be a philosophical and theological
presupposition rather than something that is fully empirically demonstrable
in any event? What is the philosophical / theological foundation for a
belief that the image of God is entirely an empirical matter?
> A last question: I haven't seen you address the MRCA studies based on
geneology. I grant that they do not establish monogenism. However, the
thought I'm trying to develop is that our notion of monogenism based on
common genetic ancestry is misplaced as far as the Biblical narratives are
concerned. The Biblical narratives relate to geneology, not genetics.
Therefore, all that is necessary for a Biblical monogenism, perhaps, is that
contemporary people could theoretically trace their geneological roots to
Adam and Eve, even if Adam and Eve were not the only people / beings alive
who contributed to the current human gene pool. It seems to me that the
geneological assertion is very plausible under the geneological MRCA studies
that have been published. And when the Bible presents geneologies, those
have nothing to do with genes. I think the geneology of Jesus in Matthew 1,
which traces Jesus' line through Joseph, establishes this
conclusively. Obviously, if the virgin birth is true, Jesus probably
(excepting a scenario where the Holy Spirit does a literal artificial
insemination using Joseph's semen) didn't inherit any genes from Joseph.
> And a last thought on this question of geneological rather than genetic
monogenism -- actually a question for anyone who might know about this as an
historical matter. Obviously, a significant problem with my notion of
geneological monogenism is that it would conflict with the historic teaching
of the Church. However, my understanding of the Church's historic position
is that it was heavily informed by the mistaken belief that conception
involved the quickening of an "homunculus" -- a tiny person -- already
formed in the woman's womb. If I understand this view correctly, every
homunculus itself would contain humunculi. Thus, Eve, as the "mother of all
the living," would have carried all the humunculi that ever became or will
become quickened into living people.
> We obviously now know that notion is false, but we seem to want to replace
it with genetics. So, instead of humunculi, we now tend to think we must be
able to attribute all present human genetic variation to Adam & Eve in order
to preserve monogenism. But obviously, even with this position, we've
already come so far from the classical notion of monogenism that it is
really something entirely different. While we all carry some genetic code
that reflects common ancestry going back to the chimp-human split (and
before), we obviosly don't all have identical sets of genes, with each other
or with our immediate ancestors, much less with Adam, whenever he lived. It
seems to me that any genetic perspective on monogenism is orders of
magnitude away from the classical position. All of which, I think, can
support the idea that Biblical monogenism is not a scientific concept about
heredity, but rather is a geneological concept, by which everyone can find
Adam & Eve in their geneological "family tree," even if Adam & Eve were not
the only people / beings living at the time they were alive who contributed
to the current human gene pool.
> Having said all that, let me say this: all of this is of course
speculation. I don't claim this as a firm theory. At the end of the day, I
don't think we know enough about the science or the texts to assert anything
but tentative ideas on all of this.

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Received on Fri Mar 16 14:27:11 2007

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