Was Adam Real? A Review of “Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science”

Was Adam “real”?

Well, it depends. What is your definition of “real”?

Must Adam be the actual, genetic, biological forefather of every human alive and who ever lived in order to qualify as “real”?

If so, we have a big problem with modern genetics.

If not, we have a big problem with the traditional creationist view of Adam.

A New Testament scholar (Scot McKnight) and an award-winning geneticist (Dennis R. Venema), writing in turn, each tackle the same question in Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science.

Was Adam real?

adam-and-the-genome

Venema Goes First

As a professor at a Christian University, Dr. Venema experienced the thin ice of accepting biological evolution and maintaining employment. But to his surprise, he caught more flak from university administrators for questioning a historical Adam than he did for teaching the common ancestry of humans and apes.

According to Venema, modern genetics is clear: the human population was never a set of two individuals.

Mapping the human genome was a turning point in history. For the first time, we could read the complete genetic blueprint for building a human.

Because we have the map, we know how many “versions” exist of a specific gene. For example, the genes that control hair texture come in many versions, including curly, straight, and the unfortunate “uncombable hair syndrome”. There are multitudes of gene versions throughout the human genome – our species is very diverse.

 

uncombable hair syndrome

“Uncombable hair syndrome”: genes for a specific trait like hair texture occur in different versions (called “alleles”)

 

Mutations in a gene are the source of variation in a trait. We know the rate at which genetic mutations occur. Mathematically, the diversity of present-day humans is so extensive it necessitates a large initial population. Math models have been created using other genetic components as well, and all models arrive at the same point: modern humans are descended from an ancestral population of about 10,000 individuals, not two.

Dr. Venema uses the analogy of language to illustrate the point. Languages with only a few speakers (for example, some of the indigenous languages of North America) – have almost no variations.

On the other hand, languages with many speakers – English, for example – can tolerate a large number of variations. Modern English is a global language and varies a great deal from country to country, even region to region.

The fewer the speakers of a language, the fewer the variations. Many speakers, a multitude of variations. The connection between the size of a population and the variation within that population applies to both languages and genes.

Actually, it is possible for a modern species to have descended from an extremely small ancestral group – this is called a “bottleneck”. Tasmanian devils are one such species.

 

 

At some point in their history, the Tasmanian devil population experienced a severe bottleneck. The population was reduced to a very small group. All Tasmanian devils living today are descended from that tiny bottleneck. As a result, all Tasmanian devils are virtually genetic identical twins. Tissue transferred between one Tasmanian devil to another causes no immune response – the recipient does not recognize the tissue as foreign.

But don’t try that with humans – tissues transplanted between humans invariably produce a strong immune response because humans are highly genetically diverse. If at any time the human population was a bottleneck of only two people it would leave a definitive mark on the genome.

McKnight’s Turn

Scot McKnight drives right to the point: what is a Bible-believer to do with Genesis 1-3 when our best science demonstrates unequivocally that modern humans arose from a population of 10,000 individuals?

McKnight opens with four principles that the best readers of the Bible always bring into play: respect, honesty, sensitivity, and the primacy of scripture.

Respect: Let Genesis be what it is. The creation stories in Genesis are consistent with other creations stories of the ancient near east.

Respect, then, means we learn to listen to Genesis 1-11 in its own world (and not our own).

Honesty: Face the facts; do not fear them. Genesis sounds like other ancient near eastern creation stories for a reason. Honesty requires we admit both similarities and differences.

Sensitivity: Understand the devastating impact on the faith of young adults who are educated in public schools when a literal six-day creation is given as a non-negotiable component of Christianity.

Primacy of scripture: Go to scripture first and respect the Bible for what it is saying. The Bible is not a “question and answer” book or a theology text; the Bible is a developing narrative of God’s revelation to his people.

adam and eve

McKnight then presents twelves theses – twelve pictures of what the Genesis narrative says about God. Adam and Eve are obviously literary characters in the theses. This does not mean they are fictional; likewise, it does not mean they are historical.

The remainder of the book is an in-depth look at how pre-modern Jews, including Paul and Jesus, looked at Adam and Eve. Do we assume that they believed Adam was the actual, physical, biological, and DNA father of us all?  This assumes that pre-modern Jews understood genetic principles that would not be known for another 2000 years.

McKnight’s examination of the variety of Adams and Eves in the Jewish world is fascinating. Using Old Testament writings, New Testament writings, intertestamental sources, and first-century sources, McKnight outlines how each author used the Adam story for his own purposes. No writer gave Adam a “historical” reading until long after Paul.

Some writers treat Adam as a literary character (but not historical). Others, as a genealogical character. Sometimes, allegorical.  But never as a genetic, DNA ancestor.

What are you going to do?

So what is an intellectually honest, Bible-honoring person to do with Genesis?

This book presents a challenge to the reader. Both authors tackle complex topics with the non-scientist and non-theologian in mind.

The genome map provides black-and-white evidence that the human population was never only one man and one woman.

The similarities between Genesis and other creation stories are inescapable.

Read the book; weigh the evidence.

 

ccat reading

*****

The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they reveal knowledge

*****

who invited the herbivore

 

Your Grandmother Fish, Genesis Retold, and a Scared School Board Lady

Mary Lou Bruner is scared of a lot of things, but she is particularly fearful of evolution.

Mrs. Bruner is a 2016 candidate for the Texas State Board of Education – the people who pick our kids’ textbooks.

Mary Lou Bruner

Mary Lou Bruner

She has a strong resume and is definitely a viable candidate.  And we certainly know her opinions on All Things Education – she has been particularly prolific on social media over the years. (Mrs. Bruner recently scrubbed her Facebook, but not before a multitude of screenshots were picked up by several websites, in Texas and beyond.)

In a 2013 letter to the Texas State Board of Education, Mrs. Bruner warned of the direness to follow if the board allowed the teaching of evolution to Texas schoolchildren.

Evolution is “propaganda supporting the religion of Atheism”.

Evolution is “demoralizing our nation”.

Evolution causes us to reconsider “the purpose of public education”.  Mrs. Bruner also believes that teaching evolution is behind the rash of school shootings.

(Mrs. Bruner is not afraid of dinosaurs, but she does believe that there were baby dinos on Noah’s ark).

baby dino and noah

Your Grandmother Fish

Evolution is not a scary story from which to shield our kids – or anyone, for that matter. Evolution is, however, often difficult to understand. Misconceptions abound and usually drive reluctance and fearfulness.

Grandmother Fish: A Child’s First Book of Evolution is a new hardcover picture book, originally a Kickstarter project. Macmillan has just announced that they have picked up Grandmother Fish and will publish the second edition in September 2016. It is delightfully illustrated and the science is solid.

 

grandmother fish

Grandmother Fish is written for children – preschoolers actually – but my hunch is that adults were the primary target. Far from scary, Grandmother Fish is the story of us – it is a beautiful, sweeping picture of our place on the great tree of life.

Grandmother Fish had many grandchildren – they could wiggle and chomp. We had other grandmothers, too: Grandmother Reptile could crawl and breathe air. Grandmother Mammal could cuddle and squeak. Grandmother Ape could grab and hoot. We breathe air, move, and use our hands because in our human family tree were relatives from whom we inherited those traits.

Genesis Retold

Granted, our school board candidate is extreme in her fear of evolution – but she is not alone in her belief that evolution excludes faith and belief in God.

When the writers of Genesis told the story of creation, God was central: originator, sustainer, and lover. Yet, the “mechanics” of it all were completely within the only origins framework they knew – ancient near-eastern explanations of How It All Started. Old Testament writers were millennia away from the framework of modern science. It is no surprise then, that although God is central in the biblical story, the “mechanics” framework is the same as other ancient near-eastern cultures (I’ve written about Genesis and the near-eastern creation stories here and here).

What if – for today – we did it again? What if we told the story of God as originator, sustainer, and lover, but we told the story within the framework of modern science?

Leonard Vander Zee has done just that. New this month at BioLogos: “The Big Story”. big story

Using sweeping poetic language similar to the creation poetry of Psalms, Job, and Genesis, Vander Zee recounts the story of creation using the scientific knowledge the ancients did not have.

It is stunning – you can watch the video clip (it isn’t long, just under twelve minutes) and you can also read the transcript, but watch Vander Zee – the spoken poetry is beautiful.

Brains grew, capabilities advanced, until finally, a creature appeared with something entirely new: Human Consciousness. And God’s breath, the Holy Spirit, breathed into these conscious creatures, and they knew God, the creator of all. They stood tall and free, eyes shining with excitement and wonder before their Creator (“The Big Story).

ccat reading

*****

The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they reveal knowledge

*****

noah ark llamas

 

Bigfoot, the Big Bang, and the Measles Outbreak

The Happiest Place on Earth has become the Spottiest Place on Earth.

Early last December, one person with measles visited a Disneyland park in California. Maybe they sneezed. That’s probably all it took. Measles is so contagious that if someone has it, 90% (!) of the people close to that person will get infected if they are not immune.

It was a perfect storm: measles exposure in a very public place in a hot-bed of anti-vaccination-ism.
There were 644 new cases of measles in 2014 – the largest number in the U.S. in nearly one-quarter of a century – and dozens of those cases were linked back to the December Disneyland exposure.

disney tshirt measles

The science is conclusive – measles is a highly contagious, very serious disease that can cause severe complications and death. Before 1963 (when vaccination began), 400-500 people in the US died every year from the measles and another 4,000 developed encephalitis.

Also conclusive – the reappearance of previously-defeated diseases like measles and whooping cough is linked to increasing numbers of parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids.

There Must Be a Misunderstanding…

“We just aren’t sending the right message to parents!” – or so thought the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In a study published last year, almost 2000 parents were given specific information from the Centers for Disease Control regarding the measles vaccine, the MMR. The parents were divided into groups:

  • Group 1 received information explaining that the measles vaccine (MMR) does not cause autism.
  • Group 2 received information about the dangers of measles that can be prevented by the MMR vaccine.
  • Group 3 saw photos of children with measles that could have been prevented by the MMR vaccine.
  • Group 4 read a dramatic narrative about an infant who almost died from measles.

So what do you think? Which approach was most effective in convincing parents to vaccinate their children?

None. Not one of the approaches worked.

Although information that debunked the autism/vaccine myth successfully reduced misconceptions about an autism link, parents who were already unlikely to vaccinate doubled down and expressed even stronger feelings against vaccinations.

In the group of parents who saw images of sick children, belief in the autism link rose. The narrative about the infant who almost died from measles increased the number of parent-reported stories about vaccine side-effects.

Similar results were found with the flu vaccine. People who were fearful that the flu shot could actually cause the flu were given solid evidence debunking this myth. And after the evidence – the flu fearful were even less likely to get a flu shot.

When Knowledge is Not Enough

In 2008 the Texas State School Board was embroiled in controversy over public school science curriculum. Front and center of the controversy, of course, was evolution. Southern Methodist University anthropologist, Dr. Ron Wetherington, served as an expert reviewer during the process.

At the time, the Texas State School Board was packed with staunch creationists, including the staunchest of all, president Don McLeroy.

Dr. Wetherington and his colleagues believed that education was the key to correcting misinformation. Denial of the evidence supporting evolution is largely due to ignorance, they reasoned. But Dr. Wetherington and his colleagues found that the facts of evolution were irrelevant in the debate. The Revisionaries, an award-winning film that documents the standards and textbook battles between the scientists and the Texas State School Board, features Dr. Wetherington.

Revisioonaries_poster_smallwave.indd

Most states include evolution in their science curriculum and approximately 70 percent of students entering college say they were taught about evolution. Yet, more than one-third of young Americans (18-29 years) do not believe in human evolution or are not sure. Even fewer Americans accept human evolution in the 30 years and older demographics.

Everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but not to his own facts.
(Daniel Patrick Moynihan)

Apparently this truism does not apply to science. Throwing facts at the problem is not helping.

The Science of Big Foot and Haunted Houses

Sometimes reasonable people doubt science, but doubting science has consequences. Vaccines save lives and anti-vaxers are decreasing the herd immunity that keeps the weakest among us safe. Fluoridation conspiracy theorists argue against a safe, cheap, and effective practice that promotes dental health across socioeconomic lines.

Evolution is real and is a fact and is the very foundation of modern biology and medicine. Rejecting evolution on religious grounds is driving people away from their faith and their churches in droves.

Americans, champions of public schooling and education for all, often flounder in their understanding of scientific knowledge.

Fifty-one percent of Americans are confident in the safety of vaccines, but roughly the same percentage of Americans believe in haunted houses.

The number of Americans who believe that the universe began with a big bang is equal to the number who believe in Bigfoot.

ohio-bigfoot-conference-2012

It’s one thing to know a bunch of science facts, it’s another thing to know what to do with them. More important than the ability to spout lists of science facts is science thinking.

Science is not a body of facts. Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not. (Marcia McNutt, editor of Science)

Science is facts, but not just the facts – it’s also how we decide what is true and consistent with natural laws and what isn’t. Science thinking is equally important: What is evidence? What is a theory? How do scientists work?

Tight With Our Peeps

Our beliefs about science  are largely motivated by our emotions. In that regard, we never left high school – we want to stay tight with our peers. apa_saved_by_bell_jt_130125_wmain

So, if my brain understands the evidence for evolution but my faith community denies it, most often my need to “fit in” will triumph. I will “doubt” or “deny” evolution because to allow myself to believe otherwise comes at an emotional cost.

I don’t really care about hurting science’s feelings, so there is not an emotional downside in ignoring science. crying scientist

That’s the reason anti-vaxers are often found in hot pockets of uniform communities and not spread randomly across all demographics.

That’s the reason why political party affiliation usually predicts a person’s opinion on the validity of climate change data.

Scientists themselves are not immune to self-imposed bias. We all favor evidence that confirms what we already believe.
But science evidence isn’t considered legit until it has been put up on the hot seat before the scientific community. If evidence cannot be confirmed AND replicated by multiple other scientists, it fails.

 In science it’s not a sin to change your mind when the evidence demands it. For some people, the tribe is more important than the truth; for the best scientists, the truth is more important than the tribe.

Science tells us the truth, not what we’d like the truth to be.

ccat reading

***************
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
*************

stop copying me

What’s New in Human Evolution and the Monkeys in my Family Tree

Obviously, the scientists in my family go WAY back. This newspaper ad, (circa late 1800s), features my great-great- grandfather, Stephen Kellogg. Professor Stephen Kellogg croppedProfessor Kellogg, that is: a “scientific masseur” and “suggestive therapeutist”. Family lore is that his wife subsequently left him, not keen on the idea of her husband seeing the local townswomen in various stages of massage-necessitated undress (not to mention the wide possibilities of suggestions in “suggestive therapy”).

The “professor” is an interesting bud on my family tree. And branching off all around him are greats and greats of aunts, uncles, and cousins. My family tree tells me that I descended from the illustrious Professor Kellogg – he is my ancestor, I am his direct descendant. All the aunts, uncles, and cousins many times removed are my relatives, some more closely related than others. They are my relatives, but not my ancestors.

Our Common Ancestor

“If we came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?”
A Twitter feed I follow called “Take That Darwin” trolls the twitterverse daily and retweets all the variations of the “why are there still monkeys” meme along with snarky responses (“Wow! Have scientists never thought of that??”). Irritainment, I know.

Short answer – people did not “come from” monkeys. Monkeys are still around because monkeys did not “change into” humans.

However, humans share a common ancestor with the great apes, specifically chimpanzees and bonobos. Genetic analysis estimates that the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees lived between eight million and five million years ago. After that, the family tree branched off in different directions – modern apes preceded by their (now extinct) ancestors as well as great aunts and uncles and cousins; modern humans preceded by their (now extinct) ancestors as well as great aunts and uncles and cousins.

Family Tree or Family Bush?

Until the late 1990s, the record of human history was fairly straightforward. The human family tree was scraggly – basically just a trunk and one or two branches. Here’s what we thought: about 4.4 million years ago, the very first hominins (the science word for humans and their ancestors) appeared in east Africa. The most famous early hominin is “Lucy” (her science name is Australopithecus).

About 2.2 million years ago, our genus, Homo, appeared. About one million years ago, members of Homo left Africa and moved into Asia. Separated from their kin in Africa, a new species of Homo arose in Asia called Homo erectus. Homo erectus moved into Europe and became Homo neanderthalensis (the Neanderthals).

These two Homo species thrived for hundreds of thousands of years until a new species of Homo charged out of Africa and took the planet by storm. The new kids on the block were us – modern humans – Homo sapiens. We were so good and smart and talented and verbal we out-competed or killed off all other Homo species until we were the last group standing, approximately 30,000 years ago.

Or so we thought.

Turns out, the human family tree is a bit bushier – not quite the straight shot we once thought from Lucy to Homo erectus to Neanderthals to us. Over the last several decades, a wealth of new fossil finds has changed the picture.

Scientific American (Sept. 2014)

Scientific American
(Sept. 2014)

In addition, evidence from genetic studies has fine-tuned it all. (Side note: it is hard to overstate the impact of modern genetics on evolutionary biology – it is the smoking gun of evidence predicted by the fossil record.)

Evidence now indicates that some of the early hominins left Africa thousands of years before Homo, but died out.

There is also evidence that for several thousand years, our direct ancestors shared the planet with some of our close relatives (other hominins) who were not in our direct lineage – hominin aunts, uncles, and cousins, so to speak. These hominin aunts, uncles, and cousins eventually went extinct, with modern humans the lone survivors.

Recent discoveries also indicate that modern humans were emerging, filling Africa, and migrating out of Africa during a time of climate changes, specifically the waxing and waning of ice ages. The superior brains, dexterity, and language of modern humans probably allowed them to survive while earlier humans went extinct.

And it appears there was another reason for the replacement of the Neanderthals by modern humans in Europe: modern humans and Neanderthals interbred. In fact, the genomes of non-African people today are up to 3 percent Neanderthal.

The human family tree is evidently full of branches, all of which eventually came to a dead end except one: Homo sapiens – us.

What Makes Us Special?

Our Skeletons. The human skeleton, unlike the skeleton of the chimp, allows upright posture, walking on two feet, and fine motor coordination. Two characteristics that initially allow scientists to distinguish early human fossils from chimp fossils are found in the skull. In humans, the opening for the spinal cord is forwardly placed, allowing for upright posture.

Teeth are also telling – the canine teeth are small in humans and large in chimps; human teeth are arranged in an arch, chimp teeth are in a rectangular configuration.

large canines in chimps ARKive image

ape,               "Lucy",              modern human

ape, “Lucy”, modern human

 

Skull and teeth traits emerged early in the hominins, but other traits that are hallmarks of the human body emerged in our forebears piecemeal over millions of years: a large brain, a long flexible thumb, long legs, a short and broad pelvis, a long flexible waist, and low shoulders.

Human femurs (thigh bone) point inward, allowing upright walking; chimp femurs are splayed outward – a sign of a knuckle-walking chimp.

chimp, "Lucy", modern human

chimp, “Lucy”, modern human

When scientists find fossils with some or all of these traits, they know they’ve found a human or a human relative, not an ape.

Tools: Tool use really took off with the appearance of the genus Homo, but there is evidence that tools were used at least a half a million years before Homo arrived. The Homo groups used fire, clothing, and built shelters. The more sophisticated tools of Homo allowed more efficient hunting and butchering of animals, fueling the growth of a large brain with a protein-rich diet.
But even the large brain in the earlier members of Homo did not result in the success achieved by modern humans.

Symbols. What really made us who we are happened relatively quickly (in evolutionary time). About 100,000 years ago, a Homo group in Africa acquired the ability to use and understand symbols. This unique cognitive ability distinguished Homo sapiens from all other groups. Humans could engage in shared tasks such as hunting big game and building complex societies. They developed language and communicated abstract ideas. Humans are alone in the ability to discern what another person is thinking in order to work toward a shared goal.

So Where’s the Missing Link?

“Scientists have never found the missing link!” is often a throw-down argument used to topple claims of human evolution. Lancelot Link Secret Chimp
Actually, there isn’t a missing link between apes and humans.
There are multitudes of links. There is a wealth of missing links. The bushy tree of human evolution is full of them.

Scientific American

Scientific American

“Lucy” and her close cousins are excellent examples of the transition from ape to modern human. Lucy’s skull is small and chimp-like, so she had a small brain. But her teeth were more human – small canines with arched tooth rows. In her middle, she was a mixture of ape and human traits. But her lower body was almost modern human.
The fossils that date from the time of Lucy and her cousins to the early Homo groups become less and less ape-like and more and more human-like as they progress to anatomically modern humans.

Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham’s creationist organization and the most prolific producer of young earth, literal seven-day-creation writings, rejects all evidence of human evolution and the existence of any “missing links”. The proof, they say, is not in the fossils, but rather in the “Biblical Worldview”:

Therefore, a now-extinct ape with a unique pelvic anatomical design should not even be considered as a possible missing link. There were none. Anatomical variations do nothing to threaten biblical authority or to support evolution. …Adopting a biblical worldview means accepting God at His word.

A Creating Creation

Accepting the natural history of human beings does not have to threaten faith.
The real threat to faith is equating a “biblical world view” with a 6,000 year-old earth and a literal, historical, and scientific interpretation of the Genesis creation stories.

There is absolutely nothing in evolutionary biology that dismisses God or devalues faith. Charles Darwin recognized that his ideas would be perceived by some to be irreligious and he addressed the religious objections head-on. Why would someone hold religious objections to the origin of man, over time, using natural processes, Darwin asked, but not object to the natural processes that, over time, bring about the birth of a baby?

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of each kind, cattle and crawling things and wild beasts of each kind.” And it was so. God made wild beasts of each kind and cattle of every kind and all crawling things on the ground of each kind, and God saw that it was good (Gen. 1:24-25).

In 24, the earth is commanded to “create”. But in 25, it is God who creates. Inconsistent?
Not at all.
Here’s Robert C. Bishop, writing at BioLogos:

…these verses are telling us that God and creation are both at work fulfilling God’s purposes in bringing forth and sustaining living creatures.

In other words, God created a creation capable of creating.

Biologically, we are related to all living things – we are part of one big family tree.
Chemically, we are made of the same stuff as the universe.
Truly, we are creatures of the dust and clay.

And none of that contradicts faith in God. None of it demeans or devalues God – a God who loved his creation so much that he stepped down and became part of his creation, part of the family tree, a creature of the dust and clay. God with us.

ccat reading

 ***************
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.

*************

anthropologists-dream

 

 

 

 

Indiana Jones and A Tale of Two Books (Reading Genesis, part 2)

George Lucas and Indiana Jones couldn’t have made a better story. In a library that had not checked out a book in several millennia, archeologists discovered stacks of clay tablets in an ancient language.

In the early 1850s, archeologists excavated the library of a Babylonian king (Ashurbanipal) in the ancient city of Nineveh. The trove of clay tablets was treasure. There were records of laws and administration. There was literature. And in the religious texts, there was a story of creation.

In the story, order is created out of chaos.

In the story, light exists before the creation of the sun, moon, and stars.

In the story, the sequence of creation is division of waters, dry land, creation of lights, creation of humanity – all followed by a time of rest.

This Babylonian creation story is called Enuma Elish (from the opening phrase “When on high”). Enuma Elish is dated at 2000 BC, but it appears to have originated in even older Sumerian stories (3000 BC).

It was a bombshell at the time. Enuma Elish was far older than the Genesis creation story. Until the discovery of Enuma Elish, the Genesis creation account was unique. Not only was Genesis not unique, it wasn’t even original.

And to top it off, just a few years later (1858), Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species.

Stop the ride, we’re getting dizzy. roller_coaster_scream

Genesis After Darwin

Just as mid-nineteenth scholars/theologians were grappling with Enuma Elish, here comes Darwin. Popular lore presumes that all scientists immediately discounted everything about Genesis, while fundamentalist Christians (who were not bright enough to understand the science) held to it.

Reality was a bit more complex. There were churchmen and scientists who rejected Darwin’s claims for a variety of reasons which were not always religious. At the same time, a group of 717 “gentlemen” – many of whom were leading scientists of the day – signed a document affirming “science as a gift from God” and that “the author of both (science and scripture) would not allow them to ultimately contradict” (David Wilkinson, in Reading Genesis After Darwin).

As far back as the time of Isaac Newton, British scientists questioned a 6,000 years-old earth. Even in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, geologists had demonstrated that the earth was far older than the 4004 BC start date popularized by Bishop Ussher. Scientists and theologians in the nineteenth century debated the specifics of geologic history, but Christian writers who believed in a young earth were the exception, not the rule.

Even Darwin did not set off an immediate religious firestorm – Darwin was not the first to suggest the idea of evolution. Darwin was ground-breaking because he described the mechanism of evolutionary change (natural selection).

Most nineteenth century Christian leaders and scholars were not all that upset about the evolution of plants and animals. They weren’t all that upset about a very ancient earth. They were not even upset about a non-literal reading of Genesis. The upsetting part was the idea that human beings were in the story, too. To many Christians, the idea of humans sharing a common history with all life diminished the dignity of humans. How could man be a moral being if he shared history with the common animals?

 

Even so, B.B. Warfield, founder of the Princeton School of Theology (which birthed the American fundamentalist movement), said this:

I do not think that there is any general statement in the Bible or any part of the account of creation, either given in Genesis 1 and 2 or elsewhere alluded to, that need to be opposed to evolution.

Other scientists, including the noted botanist Asa Gray, saw God in the elegant process of evolution.

In the Christian world contemporary with Darwin, evolution was not collectively panned. There was a sense that because God was revealed ultimately in Jesus, the Christian faith was not dependent on the design argument (D. Wilkinson, Reading Genesis After Darwin)

A Tale of Two Books

The publication of Darwin’s Origen of Species on the heels of the discovery of Eluma Elish forced a conversation on Biblical interpretation like never before.

Fast-forward to the twenty-first century, and again the concurrent publication of two books is driving a conversation among Christians.

Richard Dawkins, a British evolutionary biologist and go-to guy for contemporary atheism, published his best-seller The God Delusion in 2006. Dawkins makes no bones about it – “scientific creationism”, “intelligent design”, and of course, a literal Genesis, are complete nonsense and unworthy of attention, except for ridicule.

That same year, another best-seller – The Language of God – was published by an American who will go down as one of the premier scientists of our generation – Francis Collins. Dr. Collins led the Human Genome Project, now heads the National Institutes of Health, and is a frequent public voice for all that is cutting-edge in science. Dr. Collins is also a committed and vocal Christian.

Like Dawkins, Francis Collins has no interest in making Genesis a science textbook.

Unlike Dawkins, Francis Collins believes that the Bible enriches our understanding of science and science helps us better interpret and understand scripture (Reading Genesis After Darwin).

Dawkins argues that modern science is completely incompatible with belief in God. Ironically, many Christians agree with him.

Collins (and many scientists like him) are authentic examples of why that isn’t so.

 The Options

In a twenty-first century conversation, Christians have three options for reading Genesis:

Option One – Reading Genesis Literally and Historically. Option one reads the opening chapters of Genesis and interprets exactly as written. The entire cosmos was created in six 24-hour days. All life was created separately and specially. The earth is about 6,000 years old, based on genealogies in Genesis. No additional considerations are needed because the text is taken at face-value. There is a sense of security in believing “what God says and not what man says”.

But for those who read Genesis literally and historically, there are things that cannot be ignored. A literal belief means a stand against the vast, vast majority of modern science and scientists. It means a stand against the science that is trusted for medical care, disease research, agriculture, aviation, engineering, and energy. The science concepts that explain the origin of the cosmos and development of life on earth are the same concepts that support our modern lives. If young-earth creationism is true, modern science collapses. Literalists have to own the contradiction.

Option Two – Forcing Modern Science into Genesis. Option two wants to find modern science in the Genesis creation story. In order to account for an old earth, some have suggested that there is a huge gap of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. Others have proposed a “day-age” solution where the days of creation are actually millions of years. “Intelligent Design” is a well-organized, well-funded movement that recognizes a very old earth, but holds to special creation of living things in the sequence found in Genesis.

This option attempts to take science seriously, but still treats the Genesis creation story as a scientific account. This option has both theological problems and scientific problems. For example:

  • most agree that the meaning of “day” in Genesis is a real, 24-hour day
  • the order of appearance in Genesis of different kinds of living things conflicts with genetics and the fossil record

Option Three – Making Peace with Genesis and Modern Science. In Reconciling the Bible and Science: A Primer on the Two Books of God, Lynn Mitchell and Kirk Blackard explain that nature and the Bible are God’s two books – his two revelations. Both books reveal truth about God. Here’s Mitchell and Blackard:

No conflict exists between biological evolution and the belief that God is the source of all there is, with a creative plan that includes natural consequences and divine governance over a continuing and ever changing process…the theory of biological evolution, based on empirical evidence, makes no claim as to why life originated or who was or is the moving force.

Next up in this series on reading Genesis:

How do the ancient Babylonian creation stories differ from the creation story in Genesis? Why is it important?

How was Genesis intended to be read and understood? How would the original hearers have heard the creation story?

 

***************

I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.

I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and

night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.

I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because

the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.

***************

2010-08-30-2010-8-30-Science-Cat

Nones on the Run and the Lonely Middle Ground

Where were you in ’82? 80s-fashion

In the last thirty-two years (or less), how have you changed? Hopefully your tunes are smaller now and you probably aren’t sporting a sweatband as an accessory.

What about your worldview? Your theology? Have you ever tracked your own thought evolution from childhood to adulthood to where you are now?

Since 1982, Gallup has tracked American beliefs about creationism and evolution. The same questions were asked every two years and the responses tracked:

Which comes closest to your viewpoint?
• God created humans pretty much in their present form sometime within the last 10,000 years (traditional young earth creationism)
• Humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms, but God guided this process (evolution and God, sometimes called “evolutionary creation”)
• Humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms, but God had no part in the process (atheistic evolution)

Currently, more than forty percent of Americans believe that humans were created in their present form no more than 10,000 years ago – and this percentage has held relatively steady over the last three decades. Respondents who regularly attend worship services and those with a high school education or less were most likely to accept young earth creationism.

The percentage of Americans who believe “God had no part” (atheistic evolution) in human origins is steadily increasing – jumping from nine percent when tracking began in 1982 to nineteen percent this year.

At the edges of the science versus faith conversation are the two extremes: one group has hunkered down and held tight (science is wrong and Genesis is literal); the other has staked out ground and is growing (no role for God in creation).

What about the middle ground – the people who see no conflict between science and faith?
Over the last three decades, the percentage of Americans who believe in evolution and God has held steady – around 38 percent. But in the last four years, the percentage has dropped, and in 2014 was at an all-time low of 31 percent.

cake-eatingConventional wisdom says that if you have the opportunity to have the best of two worlds – if there’s an opportunity to have your cake and eat it – the smart thing to do is to seize it.
Given the opportunity to believe the science learned in school and maintain faith in God as the ultimate cause and source, you’d think the middle ground would be growing, not shrinking.

In the science and faith conversation, the middle ground is no man’s land.

It’s hot lava. HotLava

It’s a mystery. It’s a mystery particularly when contemporary world-class scientists like Francis Collins and Kenneth Miller are enthusiastic defenders of both evolution and faith. It’s a mystery because most evangelical colleges support both evolution and faith (although often on the down-low, behind closed doors in biology class).

Karl Giberson (What’s Driving America’s Evolution Divide) believes that the increase in the “God has no role” percentage tracks directly with the fastest growing religion in the United States: the nones.

One third of Americans under age 30 do not identify with any religion (Nones on the Rise, Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project). Giberson sees the extremist “you can’t believe both” approach to science and faith as a primary factor in the rise of the nones in the young adult demographic:

young American Christians, by the thousands, are rejecting a religion that tells them to reject science. Many respondents to the Gallup survey apparently perceive the choice to be between evolution and God, rather than between evolution-without-God and evolution-with-God.

Scot McKnight has a slightly different interpretation of the Gallup data. McKnight points out that in all age groups, unguided evolution tracks pretty closely with the number of “nones” in each group. In the graphic below, McKnight inserted the “nones” data next to the “evolution” data:

Gallup-Poll-on-Evolution-by-age-newApparently the under-30 nones aren’t the only ones rejecting a religion that tells them to reject science.

But contrary to Giberson, McKnight sees a reason for optimism in this fact: the under 30 group is the only group that favors God-guided evolution over young earth/special creation. McKnight is hopeful for the acceptance of “evolutionary creation” in the emerging adult generation.

Why They Left

The five-year study by David Kinnaman and the Barna Group haunts me. Kinnaman studied young adults who, though raised as regular churchgoers, left church after their teens. Kinnaman’s book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church details the study.

Here’s Kinnaman:

No single reason dominated the break-up between church and young adults. Instead, a variety of reasons emerged. Overall, the research uncovered six significant themes why nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.

And on that list of six significant themes?
This:

Churches come across as antagonistic to science.

Although it is encouraging that more young adults favor “evolutionary creation” over young earth creationism, we can’t ignore the fact that overall, young adults are leaving their faith and fueling the rise of the “nones”.

Take another look at Scot McKnight’s graphic. Gallup-Poll-on-Evolution-by-age-new

Interestingly, it is 30-49 year olds who are rejecting God-guided evolution at a higher rate than younger and older groups. What’s going on there? And how is this group – probably the age demographic of the leadership in most churches – impacting the exit of the young nones?

Claiming the Middle Ground

The extreme voices in the science and faith conversation – Ken Ham, Richard Dawkins – draw honest seekers to the edges, thus the shrinking middle ground. Anything else is defined as either a compromise of faith or of intellect.

What are committed people of faith to do when they want to love God with heart, soul, strength, and mind?

Ignore science? Pretend it isn’t so?

…or, revisit the way we read Genesis.

Deep breath. We’ve done this before.

In light of modern science, Christians revisited what they thought scripture plainly taught about the movement of the earth and sun.

In light of modern science, Christians revisited what they thought scripture plainly taught about the structure of earth’s atmosphere.

In light of modern understanding of human rights and the historical context of scripture, Christians revisited what they thought scripture plainly taught about slavery and most recently, segregation.

What Would it Take?

Toward the end of the Bill Nye – Ken Ham debate, the moderator asked this simple question to each debater: what would it take for you to change your mind?
Nye: evidence.
Ham: nothing.

What is it for you? What questions are you asking? What would you like to see addressed here in this blog? Comments? Evidences?

In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle to accepting both science and a Christian worldview?
I would like to do a few posts on reading Genesis, and I’m thinking about an “Evolution 101” series covering the basics of evolution science.

Please leave your feedback, your comments, your suggestions!

****************

I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.
I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.
I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.

cat angular momentum

Doubting Science, Changing the Rules

5meIt was, according to one reviewer, a male nerds’ night out—wearing their best Hawaiian shirts and tees boasting superheroes, periodic tables and jokes about Pluto. I was there, too, in my “peace, love, & space” shirt – Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, the beautiful Winspear Opera House in Dallas, and three hours of science nirvana.

Seated directly next to my husband and me was a ten year old boy. I know he was ten because when Dr. Tyson noted the number of kids in the audience, he jumped up and down, waved like a windmill and shouted “I’m ten! I’m ten! I’m ten!” In fact, Little Sheldon was on his feet or at the edge of his seat nonstop for three hours – shouting out answers to rhetorical questions, giving full-bodied and full-voiced agreement to Dr. Tyson’s talking points and laughing so loudly at the science humor I thought he would bust a vein. (The comments section for this Dallas Morning News review mentions this kid.  Three tiers in the Winspear and everyone heard him.)

To this boy and all the other enthusiastic kids present, Neil deGrasse Tyson is a rockstar. To the whole audience, really – the show had been sold out for months. Dr. Tyson is funny and engaging and talks like he’s your best friend (if your best friend is an astrophysicist rockstar).

But toward the end of the question and answer time, Dr. Tyson turned somber and confessed his fears about the people outside the walls of the Winspear that night:

I worry for America. We led the world, and the rest of the world would listen in.

Dr. Tyson isn’t the only leading scientist who is worried about America.
Here is the 2013 winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, Randy Schekman:

Science ignorance is pervasive in our society. These attitudes are reinforced when some of our leaders are openly antagonistic to established facts.

Doubting Science

A recent Associated Press-GfK poll (March 2014) questioned adult Americans about several science topics. Instead of quizzing science knowledge, the pollsters asked respondents to rate their confidence in various statements of scientific evidence.

Happily, most Americans believe that smoking causes cancer – only four percent are holding out. Only six percent question whether mental illness is a medical condition and only eight percent doubt there is a genetic code inside our cells.

So far, so good – but things go downhill fast from there.

  • Fifteen percent of Americans doubt the safety and effectiveness of childhood vaccines.
  • Forty percent do not believe the earth is warming due in part to man-made trapped gases.
  • Forty-two percent of Americans don’t believe in evolution.
  • Thirty-six percent don’t believe that Earth is 4.5 billion years old.

And a whopping 51 percent of adult Americans doubt that the universe began in the Big Bang.

A new Gallup poll (June 2014) corroborated the AP poll: 42 percent of Americans believe that God created humans, pretty much in their current form within the last 10,000 years.

And in that belief, Americans pretty much stand alone.

Of 34 industrialized countries (32 European countries, USA, and Japan), only Turkey ranks lower than the United States in acceptance of evolution.

What’s the Harm?

If ID/creationism is allowed to share a legitimate scientific spotlight with evolution, the very foundation of the scientific method is undone.

Is that a problem? What’s the harm in remodeling the way we “do” science?

  • Science would be no different than any other human endeavor – subject to political and social opinions.

Does evolution seem to be random and meaningless? Does Intelligent Design/creationism bestow meaning and purpose to creation and to humans particularly?
No worries – just pick the position you prefer! Teach both! Let students decide!

Evolution is just the camel’s nose in this science remodel.

In fewer numbers than evolution-deniers (but growing) are the Americans who believe that vaccines are harmful, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It doesn’t matter to anti-vaxers that science is not on their side. Anecdotal evidence and personal opinion against vaccination trumps all, even in well-educated anti-vaccine enclaves.

When personal philosophy is on equal footing with evidence (whether with evolution or in medicine), reality doesn’t really matter.

  • Supernatural explanations of natural events stifle scientific curiosity and exploration.

Giants of modern science – Galileo, Newton, Einstein – all spoke about God. They speculated as to how God ordered things in the natural world, but never did they add God to a mathematical equation. God was never cited as the reason for the results of a formula or a step in a process.

…if there is one characteristic that has distinguished Western science from every form of inquiry in human history, it is its uncompromising insistence that nature itself must be the source of answers for questions about the natural world (p. 197).

When God is pushed into the gaps of what we don’t know or don’t understand about the natural world, science stops. Why look any further?

The answer is God.  funny-test-answer-saturn-rings-single-ladiesIf special design is the answer for the complexity found in living things, why study more? There are no patterns or relationships to discover.

And the massive amounts of genetic data collected over the last two decades that indicate the interrelatedness of all life? Just an illusion, no need to develop the new medical treatments indicated by those findings.

  • No policing needed

Traditionally, a new discovery is put out to the open market of the science community. Hypotheses are formed; experiments are conducted. False conclusions are eventually found out – science self-corrects. Over time, findings about a discovery stabilize and a framework of understanding is constructed. Although refinements may be made, once a framework reaches this level, it is considered fact. This framework is called a theory – (atomic theory, gravitational theory, germ theory, and evolution theory are examples).

In the science remodel advocated by Intelligent Design/creationism proponents, science does not need policing. If an idea has value to a significant number of people, that is enough to define the idea as real science. No research or confirmation is needed.

Despite volumes of publications, there is still no peer-reviewed evidence for Intelligent Design/creationism. Intelligent Design/creationism cannot compete on the scientific playing field as-is. If Intelligent Design/creationism is given equal footing in the scientific community and in the classroom, the game must be changed.

Bad Definitions Make a Crummy Debate

Intelligent Design/creationists define evolution as atheistic. Atheists define evolution as atheistic.
Both are wrong.

Evolution is not Christian. Evolution is not un-Christian. Evolution is not conservative or liberal for that matter.

Evolution is science:

Evolution tells us that we have a history on this planet, a history we share with every living organism (p. 220).

Following the Dover Intelligent Design trial, political pundit Charles Krauthammer said this:

How ridiculous to make evolution the enemy of God. What could be more elegant, more simple, more brilliant, more economical, more creative, indeed more divine than a planet with millions of life forms, distinct and yet interactive, all ultimately derived from accumulated variations in a single double-stranded molecule, pliable and fecund enough to give us mollusks and mice, Newton and Einstein? Even if it did give us the Kansas State Board of Education, too.

Elegant, brilliant, creative, divine. As a believer in God, I find nothing in that description to fear.

 

This series is a chapter by chapter overview of Kenneth R. Miller’s Only a Theory, with my discussion and commentary.

****************

I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.
I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.
I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.