Tag Archives: Creationism

A Genetic or Genealogical Adam and Eve? (… An Alternative to “Deconstruction”)

In the era of social media, we find out about a number of (relatively) well-known Christians walking away from their faith, commonly described as a process of “deconstruction.” In 2020, we have heard of Jon Steingard, lead singer and guitarist for the Christian band Hawk Nelson, and his “deconstruction” (for an excellent dialogue with Steingard, watch this conversation between him and Sean McDowell). We also have heard of Rhett and Link, former staff workers with Cru, a Christian ministry focused on outreach to college students. Rhett and Link are originators of the popular YouTube channel, Ear Biscuits, where Rhett describes in a video how doubts regarding Darwinian evolution led to his faith “deconstruction.

What do we make of all of this?

Readers of Veracity will know that I write a lot about the creation vs. evolution controversy on the blog. To date, I have authored over 100 posts on the topic, in nearly 8 years. While many Christians display little interest in scientific matters like this, the polling data shows that a loss of confidence in what the Bible says about human origins, is one of the number one reasons why kids from Christian homes walk away from the faith, when they grow up.

One of the biggest concerns is about the existence of a historical Adam and Eve: Did Adam and Eve really exist, or is this simply a biblical fairy tale? (See this video segment from Rhett’s deconversion story).

S. Joshua Swamidass’ The Genealogical Adam & Eve: The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry, aspires to build bridges between Bible-believing Christians and scientists

The current scientific consensus, in the exploding discipline of genetics research, indicates that it would have been genetically impossible to account for today’s biological diversity, among humans, based on a solitary human couple, less than six thousand years ago.

A number of Christians see implications from this scientific pronouncement, but they differ on the specifics. For example, Canadian evangelical theologian and scientist, Denis Lamoureux, contends that science rules out the possibility of a single, Adam and Eve couple, since there had to have been an initial human population, of about 10,000 people, to produce the type of genetic diversity we see among humans today. For Lamoureux, without an Adam and Eve, you have no cosmic Fall event. Ironically, Lamoureux still believes that humans all sin; thereby, upholding historic Christian doctrine.

Lamoreux’s conclusion is therefore puzzling. For without a cosmic Fall event, where Adam and Eve were eating the forbidden fruit, it is difficult to determine a historical reason for exactly how sin entered the world, and corrupted the human race.

Rejecting an historical Adam and Eve bothers many Christians, and it is not that difficult to imagine why.

Many evangelicals remain blissfully unaware, but even C.S. Lewis, the Oxford don and great Christian apologist of the 20th century, did not believe that an historical Adam and Eve is required by a faithful reading of Scripture. However, the picture painted by a number of mainstream scientists today, including many Christians, goes beyond Lewis in insisting that the scientific data makes an historical Adam and Eve impossible.  What makes this situation all the more striking, and perplexing, is that the vast majority of prominent Bible teachers, over the past fifty years, all believe that Adam and Eve, as historical persons, are central to the biblical story. A massive array of essays, published as Theistic Evolution, in 2017, by Crossway publishers, slams Neo-Darwinian formulations for evolution, for having denied the existence of an historical Adam and Eve. Furthermore, some of the greatest preachers in the past fifty years, like J. I. Packer, John R.W. Stott and Tim Keller, have all believed in an historical Adam and Eve. My late pastor/teacher, Dick Woodward, thought the same.

Where does this leave us? Does this impasse signal an irreconcilable conflict? Does the historical reliability of the Scriptures crumble under the weight of not having a “real” Adam and Eve? Is there a way that science and Christian faith can come together, and make peace with one another? Or should we expect the inevitable, with more and more “deconversion” stories coming to light?

Enter S. Joshua Swamidass, a doctor and scientist teaching at Washington University, who runs a website at PeacefulScience.org.  Unlike those who favor the deconversion narrative, Swamidass is optimistic. He has proposed a very interesting answer to these questions, an answer that might resolve the difficulty. In short, to quote from his new book, “Evolution fractured the origin story of Adam and Eve, but we can recover it now” (The Genealogical Adam and Eve, ch. 14).

Dr. Swamidass grew up in a home where Young Earth Creationism was taught, and interestingly, he even shares the same birthday as Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis, the world’s leading Young Earth Creationist ministry. However, Swamidass suffered a crisis in his faith as a young person, as is the case with a number of young people today, who have his type of background. Yet in 2019, Swamidass published a book that he believes will help to bridge the divide between the church and science, regarding the historicity of Adam and Eve. The Genealogical Adam and Eve: The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry is Swamidass’ proposal to try resolve this perplexing problem, and it deserves serious attention from thoughtful Christians, and skeptics and seekers alike… as well as those who might be prone to faith “deconstruction.”

Over the past few years, Swamidass has been bringing Young Earth Creationists, Old Earth Creationists, Evolutionary Creationists, and even atheists together, to try to find a solution to this question about Adam and Eve. Scholars from across spectrum, including veteran apologist William Lane Craig, Reasons to Believe’s A. J. Roberts, the Discovery Institute’s Ann Gauger, and atheist and molecular biologist Nathan H. Lents, have joined in these discussions, which form the thesis behind Swamidass’ book. The atheist here, Nathan H. Lents, actually wrote an endorsement of Swamidass’ book, as found in USA Today!! Lents is not planning to run forward for an evangelical altar call, anytime soon, but he does believe that the science behind Swamidass’ book is perfectly sound. Therefore, mainstream scientific critics of Christianity should take notice of what is being said here.

As I wrote about a few months ago, some post-Reformation era scholars, several hundred of years ago, began to reexamine the Bible, and noticed that there is evidence in the Scriptures that there were humans living on earth, as created by God, prior to and concurrent with the arrival of Adam and Eve. The exploration of this  idea helps to answer the age-old question of “where did Cain get his wife? This was the infamous question that Clarence Darrow asked William Jennings Bryan, while Bryan was on the witness stand, at the 1920s’ Scope Monkey Trial, the turning point moment in both the classic play and movie, “Inherit the Wind,” which were based on that trial.

Swamidass takes this idea of other humans, living alongside of Adam and Eve, outside of the Garden, and explores it, both in terms of its biblical and scientific possibilities. His conclusion? Pay close attention here: Neither the Bible, nor does science, indicate that all people today are genetically related to one another, as coming from a single human couple. Yet both the Bible and science can find room to agree, that all humans today are genealogically related to one another, from a single human couple, namely Adam and Eve, who lived about 6,000 years ago. Science, therefore, does not rule out the possibility of Adam and Eve being created de novo, by God, with no direct biological link to any other creatures.

Though Swamidass hopes his proposal will have a wide appeal, there are those at various extremes of the debate, who probably will not be convinced by what Swamidass lays out. For example, it is highly unlikely that Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis, will be persuaded to change his mind, by Swamidass’ thesis. The idea of people existing outside of the Garden of Eden could be a bridge too far for those fully committed to Young Earth Creationism. A variety of creationists, Young Earth and Old Earth, have their doubts about Swamidass’ thesis. Furthermore, the folks at the Discovery Institute, who pioneer thought about Intelligent Design, are less than enthusiastic. Veteran apologist William Lane Craig critically interacts with Swamidass’ proposal in several videos (#1 and #2), applauding Swamidass for his peaceful efforts, but ultimately remains unconvinced.

But on the other side, those several contributors (but NOT all!) to Biologos, the Evolutionary Creationism think tank, founded by NIH director, Francis Collins, who are convinced that Adam and Eve never really existed, will be reticent as well (for a compilation of reviews at Biologos: #1, #2, and #3). Then, of course, there are atheists, like Jerry Coyne, who are quite dismissive of any proposal, suggested by a Christian.

In other words, Swamidass’ proposal seeks to build bridges across wide divides, but in doing so, he breaks all of the older molds. But perhaps the older molds all need  breaking. Perhaps those who are less in entrenched in their particular silos might be open to what Swamidass has in mind.

This is the reason I am really excited by professor Swamidass’ peace proposal. We see all kinds of issues where Christians will divide from one another: separating churches, damaging friendships, and even causing tensions in family relationships.  In an age when the church is divided about a number of issues (charismatic gifts, the EndTimes, women in ministry, etc.), it is really encouraging and refreshing to see how someone is creatively willing to try to get a number of Christians, with very different views of human origins, into a room, to try to hammer out a peace proposal, as a sincere attempt to try to build unity among believers, without compromising truth.

That is a pretty tall order.

But it is necessary, if we really believe that Jesus meant business when he prayed for his people to be united as one, in John 17. It is also necessary, if we really want to stem the tide against the increase of deconversions. In an age where it seems like Christians (myself included) can easily get caught up in debates, that can so easily divide us, in a world that is already dividing at an accelerated rate, such peace attempts are worth the effort.

When it comes to Adam and Eve, the dispute is quite simple. The theologian or pastor insists on an historical Adam and Eve. The scientist insists that there is no way that a solitary Adam and Eve can account for the evidence, regarding today’s biogenetic diversity among humans. Swamidass frames the dilemma sharply: “This is the impasse. It has been the impasse for over a century. Pastor explains his honest understanding of Genesis. A scientist objects. The conversation ends. A fracture.” (Kindle location 171). Having been stuck in the middle of these type of conflicts before, I can feel the pain. But Joshua Swamidass’ peace proposal has helped me to re-read the first few chapters of Genesis with new eyes.

Will Swamidass win over the critics? Who knows, but this does stand as a possible way forward. For readers of the book, you should know about the errata page that Dr. Swamidass has, where he is making updates, whenever readers find errors in the book itself. I have read a good chunk of the book, and it is totally refreshing and different, and I would encourage everyone who is interested in this topic to check it out, or at least start with one of the videos below.

The Genealogical Adam and Eve is also a good response book to the Biologos book project, Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science, by Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight, which I have only had only a small amount of time to dabble in. You can find some very interesting discussion at PeacefulScience.org.

For digging deeper……The following YouTube videos explore the questions raised by The Genealogical Adam and Eve. First, there is an episode of the Unbelievable? podcast, where Dr. Swamidass, and an atheist colleague, explains the thesis of The Genealogical Adam and Eve. I would start with that video first. Second, with a greater amount of depth, there is an interview with Dr. Swamidass, by two of my favorite young Christian YouTube apologists, Cameron Bertuzzi, of Capturing Christianity, and Michael Jones, of Inspiring Philosophy.  The third video dives into more of the nitty-gritty, as it is an engaging conversation between Dr. Swamidass and Dr. William Lane Craig, hosted by Capturing Christianity. Enjoy!!


We Believe in Dinosaurs: A Film Review

Dinosaur at Toronto Airport

Veracity founder and blogger, John Paine, shows where he found a dinosaur at the Toronto airport….. Many Christians never bother with the thought of dinosaurs, but some Christians lose a lot of sleep over the existence of dinosaurs. Do you believe in dinosaurs?

We Believe in Dinosaurs is an independent documentary chronicling the story of the Ark Encounter museum in Kentucky, and will be featured as part of PBS’ Independent Lens programming in February, 2020.

Ten years ago, the world’s most well-known Young Earth Creationist ministry, Answers in Genesis (AiG), announced that they would build a full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark, as a Christian theme park, in Kentucky, deep in the heart of the American Midwest. Ken Ham, the president of AiG, envisioned that along with the AiG Creation Museum, the Ark Encounter would inspire a new generation of Christians to rethink how they read the Bible, to show how the story of a global flood, as taught in the Bible. according to Ken Ham, provides a better explanation of earth history, as the most Scripturally faithful alternative to a secular worldview, the latter which is currently undermining morals and other Christian values in the Western world today.

A full size replica of Noah’s Ark!!? Many Christians look to the work of Answers in Genesis as a way of supporting their belief and confidence in the Bible, whereas other Christians have the opposite reaction, and struggle with doubt, as to how accurately Answers in Genesis portrays science and faith. Others are curious and not sure what to think.

In February 2014, Ken Ham publicly debated famed TV personality Bill Nye, the “Science Guy,” which has since garnered millions of views on YouTube. The debate gave Answers in Genesis the exposure needed to make the Ark Encounter a success. Once the Ark was completed, Nye even returned to the Ark Encounter, for yet another impromptu, casual debate with Ken Ham, as they walked together through the exhibit.

Ken Ham has envisioned the possibility of “seven billion people” coming to the Ark Encounter. Given the record breaking attendance, over the past few years, Ken Ham maybe on the way to see this vision becoming a reality.

Humans existing side-by-side with dinosaurs, at Answers in Genesis’ Creation Museum, in Kentucky, in stark contrast with the narrative nearly every public school educated child learns from the modern scientific consensus, namely, that the dinosaurs died out millions of years ago before modern humans entered the scene.

Since the opening of the Ark Encounter in July, 2016, I have known dozens of my Christian friends who have visited the museum. Regardless of how my friends view the Scriptural accuracy of Young Earth Creationism, everyone I know who has seen the exhibit has walked away overwhelmed with the top quality and workmanship of the park. The Ark Encounter makes for quite an impressive visit, though it does represent a significant development away from the version of the Young Earth Creationist story that I learned during my years in college, at my college church.

Back some 35 years ago, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) was one of the premier Young Earth Creationist groups in the world, as the American version of Answers of Genesis, did not exist in those days. The Young Earth Creationists at ICR could not imagine how evolution could work, to account for the biological diversity we see today, except at the micro-evolutionary level, a biological process generally found within species. For example, Young Earth Creationists readily accept that the flu virus mutates every year, requiring a new flu vaccine on a yearly basis. This is a type of micro-evolution, which is compatible with a biblical view of history. The version of Young Earth Creation I was taught in my college church, as promoted by ICR, did not allow for any case for evolution beyond that.

So, what has changed over the years? Well, one big challenge for the Young Earth view of Creation, is in demonstrating how the placement of the animals on the Ark, in a global flood model, can adequately explain the great wealth of biological diversity we see in our world today, less than 6,000 years after the global flood occurred. Today, at Answers in Genesis, the solution has been to propose that Darwinian natural selection took place after the great flood event, but at a greatly accelerated rate.

Instead of the standard Darwinian view, which sees all of biological life within a tree of life, where all living organisms share a common ancestor, the Answers in Genesis view proposes an orchard of life, whereby the diverse animal populations on-board the ark, represent different trees within the orchard, that are responsible for generating all of the future diverse animal populations we find on planet earth today.

Old Earth Creationists do not accept a global flood, but rather say that the message of the Bible is consistent with a large local flood. Such Old Earth Creationists, who accept the standard view of a 4.34 billion year old earth, as being compatible with Scripture, are skeptical of the Answers in Genesis orchard of life proposal, in that it assumes that the animals on-board the Ark, were somehow genetically supercharged to accomplish this amazing feat. But Old Earth Creationists maintain that such genetic “supercharging” could never have been sustainable, in such a short period of time, in less than a few thousand years. That is part of the reason why a large local flood makes more sense, wiping out only a part of the earth’s creaturely world, at least from a scientific perspective, compatible with Old Earth Creationism.

While biology informed by the scientific consensus affirms a “tree of life,” the Christians with Answers in Genesis believe in an “orchard of life.” Yet other Christians believe in a “lawn of life.” What diagram of life do you affirm, and why?

But Old Earth Creationists are not the only ones who find the ideas offered by Answers in Genesis, to visitors of the Ark Encounter, to be less than convincing. The Institute for Creation Research, (ICR), whose material I read back in the 1980s, argues that Darwinian natural selection, in any form, including Answers in Genesis’ version, is completely incompatible, not only with science, but with the Bible as well. But if natural selection is off the table, as ICR proposes, what then actually is the mechanism that could result in today’s biological diversity? One should note that Answers in Genesis founder, Ken Ham, once worked with ICR, eventually splitting off to form the U.S. version of Answers in Genesis, in 1994.

It all makes for a confusing situation, for those who try to examine the details of Young Earth Creationist views of the Bible, and how they relate to science. Which version of Young Earth Creationism is correct?

One of those avid Young Earth Creationist thinkers, who has since had serious second thoughts about Young Earth Creationism, is David MacMillan. MacMillan was interviewed by independent filmmakers, Monica Long Ross and Clayton Brown, to create the documentary We Believe in Dinosaurs. MacMillan was interviewed by Christian apologist, Randal Rauser, detailing how he got involved in the making of the film.

One of the strengths about We Believe in Dinosaurs is that there is no narrator in the film. The film is made up of interviews with people deeply invested somehow in the Ark Encounter project.  On the side sympathetic towards Answers in Genesis, is the talented Doug Henderson, who headed up the sculpture team, who produced all of the animal representations found in the Ark Encounter exhibit. Outspoken critic of the Ark Encounter, Dan Phelps, a geologist with the Kentucky Paleontological Society, is also interviewed in the documentary.

Though several Christians are interviewed in the film, Christian viewers of We Believe in Dinosaurs might feel uncomfortable about the film’s secularized approach to the topic of Creation. The film sides clearly on the side of promoting evolutionary science, but its stance towards biblical Christianity is undecided, offering multiple Christian viewpoints in the film’s interviews.

Yet regardless as to how Christians might think about this documentary, one think is for sure: Christians themselves today are divided about how to think about the relationship between Creation and the Bible, and this division threatens to have a profound impact on the Christian witness for the Gospel, in an increasingly non-believing world.

Some Christians are quite content to believe in a 6,000 year old earth, and never give it that much thought. Other Christians have wrestled with the Scriptural text, and have come to different conclusions as to how God might have created the world, and how long that process took place. Even other Christians are aware of such problems, that face the Christian believer today, but who are wholeheartedly convinced that the scientific argument is still there, waiting for us to discovery it in nature, and that argument will eventually win over, even the most skeptical scientists, towards a more traditional, six-24-hour day interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis. And yet, sadly, there are also others, for whom the cognitive dissonance between the Bible and science is so great, and so disturbing, that they walk away from the faith, in disbelief.

As a Bible-believing Christian, with an interest in sharing my faith with others, I tend to steer clear of such topics, like the age of the earth, or evolution, unless the discussion of such topics would provide an opportunity to talk about Jesus. I want to stay focused on the Gospel, and not get sidetracked by conversations, that would leave Jesus off to the side. Nevertheless, science-based topics can be a real stumbling block for those, who wonder how the Bible and science fit together. With that in mind, We Believe in Dinosaurs might give some good food for thought.

We Believe in Dinosaurs would be a helpful discussion starter, for Christians to view, to help gain a more balanced perspective, as to why the topic of Creation and the Bible, is so divisive in Christian communities today. Is Christianity and science fundamentally at odds with one another, or are they in harmony? Watch We Believe in Dinosaurs to explore that question. We Believe in Dinosaurs will be broadcast on PBS television stations, on February 17, as part of their Independent Lens programming.


Tenacity: John C. Whitcomb

John C. Whitcomb Jr., one of the early pioneers of the contemporary Young Earth Creationist movement, died on February 4th.

John C. Whitcomb, Jr. 1924-2020

In 1961, John Whitcomb teamed up with a hydraulic engineer, Henry M. Morris, to write The Genesis Flood, the foundational book that launched today’s Young Earth Creationist movement. Whitcomb was a theologian at Grace Theological Seminary, and he sought out Morris, who was then the chair of the civil engineering program, at Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Virginia. Combining Whitcomb’s knowledge of the Bible and Morris’ knowledge of science, the two collaborated in articulating the now, well-known thesis, that a global flood, as described by a traditional interpretation of the Book of Genesis, could sufficiently explain the existence of the fossil record, in an attempt to show that science could be synchronized with a traditional understanding of the Bible.

Other leading evangelical thinkers, such as Edward John Carnell, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary, were determined to persuade Whitcomb and Morris, that their project was ill-advised, and at one point, the preferred publisher, Moody Press, refused to publish the book. But Whitcomb and Morris persisted with tenacity, and so the idea that the earth was only 6,000 years old, and not 4.34 billion years old, as maintained by the scientific consensus, took off in the imagination of thousands of Bible believing Christians.

In subsequent years, organizations such as Ken Ham’s Answers In Genesis would expand on the themes articulated by the Whitcomb/Morris “flood geology” thesis, proposing that dinosaurs lived together with humans, in recent earth history, before the great flood. Such ideas have stood to be contrary to the reigning contemporary scientific consensus, that dinosaurs lived millions of years ago, long before the appearance of humans on planet earth.

Despite the fact that The Genesis Flood has had virtually no impact on the modern scientific enterprise, as taught by a plethora of public schools, universities, and Smithsonian museums, Whitcomb and Morris’ thesis has continued to generate controversy in evangelical churches across America. Dr. Whitcomb was also known for his defense of a classic 6th century B.C.E. date and traditional authorship of the Book of Daniel.

The Genesis Flood. The 1961 classic text that upset well over a century of sophisticated evangelical views supporting “millions of years” of earth’s history in favor of a radical concept of “flood geology,” in attempt to bring back an appeal to a literal, 24-hour day view of a Young Earth Creation.

I first made an attempt to read The Genesis Flood during my years as a mathematics major in college, while studying other scientific disciplines as electives. While I was attracted to Whitcomb’s appeal to the Bible’s authority, I remained unconvinced by his thesis. It was not until 20 years later that I actually began a written correspondence with Dr. Whitcomb. In his letters, between the two of us, over several months, I was impressed by his earnest appeal, and even more impressed by his gentle piety, in commending his ideas towards me. In particular, Dr. Whitcomb was clearly tenacious in holding his interpretation of the Bible, despite my attempts to encourage him to consider other alternatives.

“Agreeing to disagree,” on non-essential matters of the Christian faith, can lead to having some difficult conversations. But in my interactions with Dr. Whitcomb, I came to treasure his candor and gentle demeanor when engaging in controversial subjects. God used that time of correspondence with Dr. Whitcomb in my life, to help me to have a greater love for others, and encourage an interest in building bridges with other believers, even when agreement in sensitive matters, is not always easy to be had.

While I am open to the possibility of Dr. Whitcomb’s thesis, I am still not convinced that his understanding of Scripture, nor his understanding of the science, is correct. Nevertheless, I consider Dr. Whitcomb as a dear brother in the Lord, who genuinely desired that others may come to know and love the Creator of the universe, and so I grieve his death, yet knowing that he is surely with the Lord Jesus now. One day, I hope to be able to have a conversation with Dr. Whitcomb, where we will both surely learn the exact extent of what the flood really was, and exactly how old the earth really is.

The Baptist Bulletin has published a generous remembrance of Dr. Whitcomb’s life. Ken Ham, at Answers In Genesis, also wrote a remembrance of Dr. Whitcomb.


Were There Humans Before Adam Was Created?

During the great age of exploration of the 15th and 16th centuries, European Christians faced a nagging problem in how they read their Bibles. Traditional belief understood that all humans were descended from a single human couple, Adam and Eve, as taught in Genesis 2. But as folks like Christopher Columbus set forth on their famous journeys, they ran into humans no one ever expected. Thinking he was near India, Columbus thought of them as “Indians.” But Columbus was nowhere near India.

This created a problem: Who were these Native Americans? Where did they come from? And how did they get to the Americas?

The most popular theory that emerged speculated that these Native Americans were the descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, the people of the biblical Northern Kingdom, which according to the Bible, was overrun by the Assyrians, over 700 years before Jesus was born. A common example can be traced back to 1660, when a New England Puritan missionary to some of these Native Americans, John Eliot, helped to spread this idea, to English settlers coming to the New World.

Then there was a well-known 19th century attempt to solve this problem. A New York treasure hunter had a read a book by an American Congregationalist minister, Ethan Smith, View of the Hebrews, that explored this possible connection between the Native Americans and the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, in considerable detail. Yet this treasure hunter, Joseph Smith, was to popularize this view through his translation of the Book of Mormon, capitalizing on the same theme, and thereby creating a uniquely American sect of Christian religion. Aside from the Mormons themselves, no one takes this view seriously today.

Most researchers conclude that the ancestors of today’s Native Americans came across the Bering Straight from Russia, within the past 35,000 years, but probably no less than roughly 16,500 years ago. So, does this mean that the Bible got it wrong, when it came human origins?

The Naming of the Animals, by John Miles of Northleach 1781-1849 (media credit: sothebys.com). Adam named the animals, but were there any other humans existing at the time, who were not in the picture (outside the Garden, in the Americas?)

There is more to the story. The efforts of Ethan and Joseph Smith (not related), were preceded in the 17th century by French theologian Isaac La Peyrère. La Peyrère, who had a Marrano Jewish background, was originally a Calvinist, though he later converted to Roman Catholicism. La Peyrère’s proposal endeavored to solve some persistent problems in biblical interpretation, in the process of explaining the origin of peoples like the Native Americans.

Isaac La Peyrère’s Biblical Reconstruction of Human Origins

In Genesis 4 we read that after the murder of his brother Abel, Cain obtained a wife and built a city. But the text gives us no description as to where his wife and the population of this city came from. Many Young and Old Earth Creationists propose Cain must have had a sister, another unknown child of Adam and Eve, and that Cain must have married her. But this introduces yet the strange difficulty that God might have changed his moral law to allow such an incestuous relationship to take place. For Christians today, who believe that God’s law prohibiting same-sex relations never changes, such an exception to incest, in the case of Cain, is problematic.

La Peyrère concluded that there must have been a human population existing alongside Adam and Eve, from where Cain could have obtained his wife. La Peyrère appealed to another biblical passage to further his case. In Romans 5:12-14 (ESV), we read:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

The troublesome phrase here is highlighted. Who were those whose sinning was not like Adam’s transgression? What was the Apostle Paul talking about here? La Peyrère suggested:

if Adam sinned in a morally meaningful sense there must have been an Adamic law according to which he sinned. If law began with Adam, there must have been a lawless world before Adam, containing people” (Almond, Philip C. (1999). Adam and Eve in Seventeenth-Century Thought. p. 53)

La Peyrère’s solution was to challenge the long-held traditional view, that the creation of humans on day six, in Genesis 1, was the same event as the creation of Adam and Eve, in the garden of Eden in Genesis 2. It has been long recognized that syncing up the events on day six of creation, in Genesis 1, with the events described in Genesis 2, is not without difficulty (I go into detail in this previous Veracity blog post).

La Peyrère proposed that Genesis 1 speaks of the creation of a human population, and that these humans pre-existed Adam and Eve. Specifically, Genesis 1 has no mention of a single couple being created. These humans were the start of the Gentile, or non-Jewish peoples.In Genesis 2, Adam and Eve, on the other hand, were the start of the Jewish people, from whom the Messiah would come to redeem the world.

La Peyrère further went onto suggest that these Gentile peoples in Genesis 1 eventually became geographically isolated the Adam and Eve descendants, and eventually unknown to Adam and Eve’s progeny. So, when we get to the story of Noah and the flood, La Peyrère argued that the great flood was local in scope, wiping out the then known humanity of Adam and Eve’s descendants, and thereby not touching the other unknown humans who had migrated elsewhere around the globe.

Even though La Peyrère made a clever proposal, Jewish, Calvinist and Roman Catholic theologians of his day condemned La Peyrère’s “pre-Adamism” as a heresy. His 1653 book on the subject, Præadamitæ, was burned in an effort to censor his views. La Peyrère escaped the death penalty himself by supposedly retracting his views, though copies of his book have survived.

In view of events in subsequent years, the theologians of the day were probably correct in rejecting La Peyrère’s teachings (La Peyrère had other peculiar ideas that caught the attention of the enlightenment philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, one of the fathers of modern skepticism). Furthermore, in the 19th century, scientists used pre-Adamite theories about humanity, like that taught by La Peyrère, as a justification for racism. Before the rise of Charles Darwin, many scientists believed not in one human race, but rather, in multiple human races, who were distinguished based on the color of a person’s skin. Defenders of Christian orthodoxy were surely right in rejecting such views.

Despite whatever disagreements many Christians have with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, both Darwin and the Bible share the common view that humans, of all colors, shapes, and sizes, share the same humanity. As a result, no scholar today would contend against the notion that we all share a common humanity.

However, other, modern developments in evolutionary biology complicate matters, when it comes to trying to synchronize science with a traditional interpretation of the Scriptural text. For example, we have continuing questions about the presence of hominids, or pre-human creatures, like the Neanderthals. Where do they fit in the Bible’s story? Archaeological research today suggests that modern humans rose out of East Africa, and not, strictly speaking, the Middle East. Then there is the research on the human genome, for which many genetic scientists argue that the earliest human population had upwards to 10,000 individuals… and NOT 2!

In view of these developments, some Old Earth Creationists, and even perhaps Evolutionary Creationists, look to some elements of La Peyrère’s work today as a potential solution. For example, Genesis 1 could be understood as referring to humans originally created in East Africa, some of whom eventually migrated to the Middle East, the traditional location of the Genesis 2 narrative. Furthermore, if La Peyrère is correct, then there is effectively no difficulty in associating a Bering Sea crossing of the ancestors of the Native Americans, to populate the Americas over 10,000 years ago, and no need to appeal any “Lost Ten Tribes of Israel” proposal as an alternative means of explanation. As with a lot of things like this, research in these areas have a speculative component.

Isaac La Peyrère (1596-1675), who wrote under the pen name of Samuel Maresius. Some find him as a precursor to modern biblical criticism, but others see him as a pious scholar, who sought to solve a nagging problem in biblical chronology. He was also known as an early proponent of a type of Christian Zionism, believing that the returning Messiah would join the king of France, to set up rule in Jerusalem, and rebuild the Temple.

An Objection to La Peyrère: How to Interpret Genesis 3:20?

For example, one of the most serious problems with La Peyrère’s proposal is with Adam’s naming of Eve, in Genesis 3:20 (ESV), that “she was the mother of all living.” For many students of Scripture, this single verse makes La Peyrère’s proposal of other humans living before and alongside Adam and Eve, a non-starter. Traditionally, this verse has been assumed to teach that every human person ever born, was and is, a physical descendant of Eve, herself. But is this interpretation the only possible way of reading this text?

For example, taking this verse too literally would be absurd. Does the text really mean that every living thing comes from Eve, like every plant and animal? Surely not. Adam was already living, by the time Eve came along, so it makes no sense to say that Eve was Adam’s mother. There must be some limitation, or qualification, to the notion of Eve being “the mother of all living.” Unfortunately, the text does not spell that out for us.

As it turns out, different translations of Genesis 3:20 might give us a different clue as to how this verse should be interpreted. For example, in the NIV 2011 translation, we read the whole verse as: “Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.”  Taking this in a reasonable, yet still strictly literal fashion, the highlighted “would become” might imply that Eve is the mother of all who would come after her, but not the mother of all humans, already living at the time Adam named her. Or it could be that Eve “would become” mother of the Israelite line of humans. Or it could be that Eve “would become” the mother of all living, say at a future point in time, such as when Jesus Christ comes as the Messiah, which would be quite relevant for the Apostle Paul, when in Romans 5, Paul argues that Adam was the type of the one who was to come, namely Jesus.

Furthermore, it could be interpreted that by naming Eve, as “the mother of all the living,” Adam was uttering a rebellious statement against God’s curse, that had little to do with the reality of the situation. Other scholars suggest that Adam’s naming of Eve was instead a sign of faith, that through Eve she would be the bearer of children. To make this even more complicated, some early Jewish commentators link the name “Eve” with a similar Aramaic word for “serpent,” implying that Eve was the deceiver of Adam, a designation that the narrator of the story reinterprets.

Some of these interpretative options are better than others. The traditional argument, that Adam and Eve were the parents of all humans to have ever lived after them, was is one of the better options. But it is not a slam dunk. Either way, the exact meaning of saying that Eve was the “the mother of all living” remains unclear.

For those who wonder how the ancient story of Genesis might be correlated with the discoveries of modern science, La Peyrère’s ideas might be worth considering. There are still questions out there that are difficult to answer. Nevertheless, the bottom line should be evident: Those who insist that science somehow “disproves” the Bible can be safely set aside.


Intelligently Designed: Phillip E. Johnson

I had the privilege of joining the University of Berkeley legal scholar, Phillip E. Johnson, for dinner with some friends, several years ago, before he gave a lecture at our church on Intelligent Design. Johnson, who wrote the 1991 landmark book, Darwin on Trial, died in early November, 2019. Professor Johnson, a gracious and kind gentleman, nevertheless puzzled me. Why would Johnson, as a lawyer, spend so much of his intellectual energy, challenging Charles Darwin’s theory of biological evolution? Why would a lawyer bother with biological science?

Johnson had a been a successful legal scholar, rising to the top level of his career, when in his 30’s, his life began to fall apart. His marriage failed, and he felt like he was going nowhere in his academic career. He then became a Christian, he remarried, and he gradually decided to invest his life in something more, something that really mattered.

When he read Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker, he was baffled by the logical argumentation employed by Dawkins’ all-encompassing evolutionary worldview. Johnson then made it his mission to understand and expose Dawkins’ logical flaws. In many ways, Phillip E. Johnson was the “godfather” of the contemporary Intelligent Design movement, reinvigorating the late 18th century (early 19th century) Christian apologetics of the British clergyman, William Paley, who first articulated the watchmaker analogy, promoting intelligent design.

By observing the behavior of the Ichneumonidae group of parasitoid wasps, that devour their hosts alive from the inside out, Charles Darwin had rejected William Paley’s argument: “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars.” Darwin was most well-known for his Origin of Species, but he also extended his arguments in works like his The Descent of Man, suggesting that evolution was an “unguided” and “undirected” process.

Johnson believed that the “unguided” and “undirected” elements of Darwin’s theory had horrific implications that extended beyond the domain of biology. The “purpose-less-ness” advocated by modern defenders of Darwin, like Richard Dawkins, tore at the very fabric of Judeo-Christian culture. Johnson marshaled his legal training against Darwin, combatting against the pro-Darwinian trends within academia.

Johnson’s counter-arguments to Darwin gained sympathy among a growing cadre of intellectuals, including Christians like Michael Behe and Stephen Myers, and many non-Christians as well, including Jonathan Wells, a member of the Unification Church (the Moonies). This eventually encouraged the growth of the Discovery Institute, a think-tank dedicated towards refuting Darwinian evolution. In this sense, Phillip E. Johnson’s “Intelligent Design” movement is not specifically a Christian, biblically-based movement. Technically speaking, the “designer” in “Intelligent Design” need not be the God of the Bible. It could even be some super-intelligent life-form, from the reaches of outer space. Rather, “Intelligent Design” is but one apologetic strategy, that has been used by at least some Christians to defend a Christian, biblical worldview. Yet in many ways, Johnson’s broadly argued case for “Intelligent Design” has been a rallying point, a unifying effort to break the impasse that divides Young Earth Creationists and Old Earth Creationists.

Nevertheless, Johnson’s critique against Charles Darwin has been very controversial, even within the church. For one thing, even atheistic scientists concede that there are a number of elements of Darwin’s theory of evolution that are no longer accepted within the larger scientific community. For example, Darwin knew nothing about genetics. We have Austrian monk Gregor Mendel to thank for giving us the contemporary scientific consensus as to how genes actually work… NOT Darwin.

But among Christians, the controversy over Johnson’s work centers around the definition of that slippery word, “evolution.” By “evolution,” does one actually mean “micro-evolution,” whereby small changes within species happens? Or does one mean “macro-evolution,” with large scale biological changes among plants and animals? What is meant by “directed” or “undirected” evolution?

Most Christians are willing to concede the principle of “micro-evolution.” Yet even the most ardent Young-Earth Creationist will argue that “macro-evolution,” at the level of biological families (though NOT beyond that!), indeed did happen, in a highly accelerated manner, after the global flood of Noah, as a means of explaining the extraordinary biological diversity we see today. Proponents of “Intelligent Design” have fashioned themselves as opponents of “theistic evolution,” despite the claim that Michael Behe, one of “Intelligent Design’s” greatest advocates, is actually a “theistic evolutionist” himself! Christians are all over the map when it comes to defining what they mean by “evolution.”

Phillip Johnson’s efforts to see the Intelligent Design movement expand more into popular education stalled in 2005, when a judge in a Pennsylvania federal court, against the Dover School District, ruled that the teaching of “Intelligent Design” violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  But “Intelligent Design” still lives on, as a vital intellectual force, as evidenced by the popularity of such films as Ben Stein’s “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.”

Phillip Johnson’s arguments for “Intelligent Design” will surely survive his death. How well they will convince those living in the next generation yet remains to be seen. The larger consensus among academic scientists still rejects “Intelligent Design” as pseudo-science. Some theologians, who possess scientific training, such as Oxford’s Alister McGrath, are concerned that “Intelligent Design” leaves Christian apologetics vulnerable to a type of “God of the Gaps” theology, that does not adequately serve as the best way to defend the Christian faith. Nevertheless, best-selling books by Intelligent Design advocates, such as Stephen C. Myers, continue to be enthusiastically read. All the while, many Young Earth Creationists regard “Intelligent Design” as a halfway attempt to uphold Christianity, that does not go far enough in defending the Bible. I still have lingering questions myself, following my dinner with Phillip E. Johnson, some years ago. Nevertheless, the legacy of Phillip E. Johnson will continue to give many a lot to think about, for years to come.


%d bloggers like this: