Re: [asa] promise trumps biology (accepting biological evolution for Adam)

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Sat Dec 13 2008 - 06:54:52 EST

Gregory et al -

Comments on your post below.

1) As I've tried to explain before, I don't consider the term "theistic evolutionist" a major issue. It certainly has its drawbacks. It implies that the person's major commitment is to "evolution" - i.e., he/she is an "evolutionist" - & that that commitment is then qualified as "theistic." But if one's "theism" is an expression of fundamental religious conviction, "ultimate concern," then things should be the other way around. In addition, then the label "theistic" is very general so the term TE conflates a huge number of very diverse positions, so that a Jewish process theologian & B.B. Warfield could be lumped together. (Actually the 2d problem is a consequence of the 1st. It doesn't really matter what kind of theist you are as long as you're an evolutionist.)

But I'm not going to spend a lot of time & energy fighting that terminology. There are more important issues. I'll make the point that I did above & as long as the terminology doesn't distort conversations I'm involved in I'll leave it at that. "Evolutionary creationist" is in some ways better but still not ideal. "Christian who accepts biological evolution" as a description of my position is clumsy but about as good as you can get without being even clumsier.

2) Populations evolve, individual organisms don't - at least in the sense in which the term "evolve" is used in biology. Since you've objected strongly to overly-broad uses of the term "evolution" I assume you wouldn't approve if I said that I, as an individual, have "evolved" over the past 65+ years.

I don't think the debates you refer to about gene-centric vs. population-centric evolutionary theories are really at issue in questions about the origin of humanity from a single couple. The genetic issue there, as I - a non-geneticist - understand it, is how long it would take for the present genetic diversity of the human race to develop from a single couple.

3) You ask, "Does this mean that you do not necessarily tie your theology to a group of first humans rather than to a pair of first humans?" That's a false dichotomy. The model I suggest doesn't need to specify the size of the group & two individuals are a small group.

4) The fact that Islam & Baha'i hold to human origin from a single couple doesn't count for a lot because they derive that belief from the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

5) Yes, the reason for skepticism about origin from a single couple comes from science. But it's not a matter of me speaking as a scientist rather than as a theologian. This is, after all, not my area of scientific expertise. It is rather me as a theologian willing to be informed by science. But note, "be informed by" doesn't mean "be dictated to by."


Hello again George,

"the model of original sin developed in an earlier article and summarized here does not require that there was no historical Adam." - G. Murphy

It seems to me that you are leaving enough room for variation in your position, George, so as not to commit a 'gap' argument. This most recent post of yours brings our perspectives closer together (they were less close after reading the two articles you again linked to that are in PSCF), though perhaps you are more liberal-scientistic leaning and I am more traditional-philosophistic leaning. It is enough to acknowledge that you leave room for a historical Adam and do not dismiss the possibility entirely. Perhaps is this one reason why you don't wish to carry the label 'theistic evolutionist', that is, evolutionary biological theories only rarely speak of Adam and Eve as any kind of 'reality'? I know that you are not a biologist, so this may not even be a relevant question...

George writes: "Of course evolution is a phenomenon of populations, not individuals, but mutations that spread through populations can begin with an individual. You hear geneticists talk about when the gene for red hair, e.g., arose. We don't know when the first group of hominids that should be considered human in a theological sense arose."


As you are probably well aware, George, there is much debate amongst biologists, naturalists and other natural scientists about whether evolution is focussed thoretically on individuals or on groups. The notion that a mutation, variation or adaptation *can* 'begin with an individual' sounds loose to me as a sociologist, since most human-social changes begin with individuals (the *most* makes my claim also soft! ;-). The gene-centric in biology model for example differs from the populations-first approach. You seem to be suggesting there is no debate or that it was already settled in biology-genetics fields. Is this a fair assessment of your position? (cf. D.S. and E.O. Wilson, "Rethinking the Theoretical Foundation of Sociobiology," 2006)


Later you write:

"More generally, it's a mistake to tie theology to any particular scientific theory - the mistake many scholastics made with Aristotle."


Yes indeed, and this should lend credence to leaving open the *possibility* that a 'single couple' was indeed the source from which all present-day humans asended - a 'unified humanity' perspective, if you like, rather than a disunified 'multi-regional model' (see link below). Does this mean that you do not necessarily tie your theology to a group of first humans rather than to a pair of first humans?


Personally, I'm fine with the latter such position (i.e. a single human original pair) as it seems to me theologically responsible to tradition and consistent with Scripture. Also, it is not only the Judeo-Christian tradition (including all three major branches, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant), but also the Islamic tradition and Baha'i. A bid to 'de-emphasize' Adam and Eve from the historical record is a bold move that 'science' moreso than 'religion' seems intent to make. Is it not the scientist in you speaking George about the 'almost certain group origin of humans' (my phrase) and not the theologian?


and also a less academic contribution on 'unified humanity':


Warm regards,








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Received on Sat Dec 13 06:56:15 2008

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