Last week I begged the reader’s indulgence as I turned my blogpost into a personal reflection. This week I’ll ask you to forgive me for turning it into an advertisement:
After a long and turbulent journey (at times it felt more like a gestation), book #2 is now available.
My first book was more of an autobiography of how I transitioned from a very Fundamentalist kind of faith — one I couldn’t reconcile with the rest of my life in the working world and social marketplace — and into a faith which didn’t require me to compartmentalize like that.
This second book is an academic comparison of two quite different views of human origins: special creation at the hands of God versus a gradual evolution from an ancestor that we share in common with chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, Neanderthals, and a long list of other now extinct “cave-people.”
The fact is, we humans exist. No surprise there. But some of us — myself included — are the type to ask “how?” and “why?”
Imagine walking up to a table on which is drawn a “map” or time-line summarizing the story that answers those two questions. On the table is also the evidence that we use to support our story.
Sitting down at one side of the table, with an open Bible as a reference and Christian tradition as our guide, we can point to several distinct touch-points along the path describing our origin:
- we were created roughly six thousand years ago, in a Divine act completely separate from that which gave rise to the animals;
- there was one original couple, living in a garden somewhere in the vicinity of Mesopotamia;
- God took clay and created us in his image, and breathed life into us;
- something happened in which there was a fundamental change in the human experience—a sharp break in the fellowship between God and man—a change which impacted agriculture, thorn-bearing plants, predation, and childbirth, and in the end we somehow died.
Rising up from our chair, we walk around to the other side of the same table and take a seat beside several piles of evidence from various scientific disciplines, the largest of which include piles of fossilized bones and tools, and test-tubes labelled “DNA.” Looking at the very same question, but now from this new vantage point, we look down that path we had just moments ago drawn out on the table and find absolutely no confirmatory evidence for any of those touch-points:
- the time-line is too short;
- the number of original humans is too few;
- the geographical location is incorrect;
- we aren’t really all that different from the animals;
- death, thorn-bearing plants, predation, and hard childbirth have been with us for countless millions of years.
Instead, sitting on this second side of the table, the evidence beside us forces us to draw out a completely different path, one at right angles to the first, to explain the origin of humans:
- we’ve been around for millions of years, having evolved in the genetic cradle of Africa from an ancestral type that we share in common with the primates;
- we ourselves were nearly wiped out as a species, but a few tens of thousands of us hung on and survived to dominate the planet;
- we’ve had many other genetic cousins and siblings who also came out of Africa and have since gone extinct.
These two different stories appear to be in complete opposition. Both can’t be true. Or can they?
Some might wonder whether this is such an important question. I think it is. (of course, one should expect me to say that, given how much time and effort I put into writing a book on the question!?)
And here’s why.
The fundamental belief of most Christians is that we have sin and therefore need redemption. Many will refer to “Original Sin,” not realizing that such a term is not found in the Bible. The Apostle Paul developed the core of Christian theology around Adam (and Eve) — Acts 17:26; Romans 5:12–19; 1 Corinthians 15:21–22; 1 Timothy 2:13–15 — and St. Augustine developed that further into the doctrine of Original Sin.
But what if there was no first pair of humans, and no actual place called “the Garden of Eden,” and therefore no act of rebellion in that Garden?
Some resolve this tension by treating the Biblical account as an allegory: Adam and Eve represent the whole population of humans, each of us in our own individual act(s) of rebellion. They will still refer to humans as “broken image-bearers,” and that “we live in a fallen world.”
But those descriptions only make sense if we were once perfect: what if we were never perfect to begin with? What if we evolved from lesser animals, and many of the things we now call sin are the result of reflexes and limitations that were wired into us during our evolutionary journey? For example, lust is part of the biological urge to reproduce. Selfishness and theft come from a habit learned during our billion year long struggle to survive (picture sea-gulls fighting over the bread you threw at them, or the family dog sneaking up on a plate of flood left carelessly unattended). Racism and tribalism are part of a defensive strategy to protect our band or our environmental niche.
And why do we limit certain theological concepts (such as sin, redemption, and the image of God) only to humans?
“Human” refers to a certain set of genes: but we’ve since learned that Neanderthals and other “cave-men” had essentially the exact same genetic sequence, and chimps have a sequence that is only slightly different from that, which in turn is only slightly different from …
Why should the whole redemption story hinge on a genetic sequence? What will happen in the future when humans start playing around with and modifying our genetic sequence? What will happen when our future genetic sequence becomes as different from the one we have today — because of a progressive accumulation of additional mutations — as our present sequence is different from that of our ancestors that birthed the Neanderthals? Who says we can’t continue evolving?
“Human” also refers to a lineage. I’m human because my parents were, and my grandparents were, and my great-grandparents were, and …
But how far back does one extend that lineage, if we’re going to set aside the idea of a first Adam? At any point in the human lineage where we identify an “earliest human,” we find that that person also had parents and grandparents. And that human lineage blends seamlessly into the lineages of other species. There is no sudden transition. So again: what do we do with Neanderthals, and chimpanzees, and many other hominids?
At one point in time, humans and Neanderthals co-existed and interbred. For most of us today, a small percentage of our DNA is Neanderthal DNA!? But what does Paul’s theology say about the half-breed children that were born when humans and Neanderthals did interbreed, and the children when those half-breeds continued to breed with Neanderthals (and/or other “cave-people”)?
The questions don’t stop there. Challenging the traditional concepts of Adam and Eve, the fall in the garden, and the nature of original sin leads to all kinds of other questions:
- the theological implications of death and disease;
- the various genealogies in the Bible, including the one that links Jesus directly back to Adam;
- why did Jesus die on the cross;
- our view of the Bible (its origins; inspiration; inerrancy; infallibility; authority; purpose);
- Noah’s flood;
- the origins of languages;
- the tendency all through our history to look for “the Great Being” and set up all kinds of religions.
In my book I address these and many, many other questions. Look at the Table of Contents and see the scientific and theological ground I cover.
It won’t be an easy journey. But it’s my own best attempt to reconcile my Christian faith with scientific evidence. It’s a search for truth.
I pitched the book at readers who are well-read and able to do a little bit of work, and willing to (or needing to) grapple with some really tough questions. But the reader doesn’t need an advanced science degree: three whole chapters are given to help the inexperienced but motivated reader understand the scientific background. A quarter of the book (chapter 8) is devoted solely to how we need to adjust our Christian theology in light of this new evidence (the bones, and more importantly, the genetics). I’m particularly targeting students going to high schools, colleges and universities who will come up against many things that will challenge their Christian faith: not just scientific facts and ideas, but also other world religions. I’m also targeting their parents and ministry leaders (pastors; youth group leaders) who will have to answer their questions.
The book is available through my publisher’s website for $25.60, or you can get one from me at a discount (postage, if necessary, will be extra).
I hope you find it useful. Feel free to contact me with your feedback, and your questions.
(by the way, if you’re curious about the title, I’ve blogged about that previously).