Adam and the yuk factor

There’s been a lively exchange on the website of Catholic philosopher Ed Feser in response to a paper by Kenneth Kemp, putting forward a version of the Homo divinus model of anthropology. You may know that this is the theory that seeks to reconcile scientific accounts of human origins with a historical first couple, and I’ve expressed qualified support for it before, eg here .

The discussion has provoked some reaction from Uncommon Descent’s Vincent Torley both on Ed’s blog and in his own articles. One of his main problems is with the concept that newly ensouled/rational humans would then necessarily intermarry with irrational “pre-Adamic” men, a concept which seems to him both distasteful and bizarre.

I don’t want to enter into a discussion of the whole issue here. Kemp and Feser both write from a Catholic and Thomist position in which the key concept is the “rational soul”, and I’m not sure that’s an approach with which I’m entirely happy. But I do want to touch on the broader issue of continua versus discrete changes in this area.

The pure evolutionary scenarios, including those theologies that deny the whole idea of a historic Adam, necessarily regard all human endowment, including the spiritual, as emergent from natural processes. The concepts in view are such things as cognition, abstract thought, moral cosnciousness, developing awareness of the spiritual and even of God; and usually the gradual slip into selfish behaviour (or the realisation that inherited evolutionary behaviours constitute moral problems).

The problem is that these matters don’t really map to the concerns of Biblical spirituality at all, and that’s not just the Genesis account, but the whole conceptual framework. If we take Genesis, though, as a broad introduction to the Bible’s concerns, it is not so much that it speaks of sudden rather than emergent endowments, for that could be just a literary metaphor. The problem is that it says very little about divine endowment at all, but a lot about divine appointment. Most of those appointments are hard to conceive of in any gradualist, emergent sense.

In Genesis 1, man’s creation is introduced in terms of the image and likeness of God. If that refers to some natural capacity like appearance, intellect, moral sense and so on, then it could, perhaps, be the result of evolution, provided one cuts free from mind-body dualism, which is contentious even outside Catholic tradition. Clearly an immaterial mind or rational soul would be a different matter.

But equally outside the evolutionary process would be “image” meant in the sense of some spiritual, God-like property separating man from the natural realm: that would have to be an add-on to evolution, which could by no stretch of the imagination achieve transcendant spirituality. If added on, then such a property must be sudden, not gradual – how could one be “almost-spiritual”?

For myself, I favour the view that “image” is far more likely to refer to the appointment of man to represent God on earth, as the image in his cosmic temple. This thought also appears central to the Genesis 2 narrative, in which Adam and his wife serve as priests in a specific, geographically defined, temple sanctuary. Conceivably, God might appoint the whole species, of several thousand individuals, to such a role. But it is hard to see how “appointment” can emerge, least of all through an evolutionary biological process. One represents someone, or one doesn’t represent him.

Things get worse as the account progresses, for the “image” motif leads directly to God’s appointment of man to rule and subdue the earth. As a matter of plain fact, evolution never achieved human predominance. In fact, we can see it even now only in some debased, caricatured form. Scripture, of course, sees it as part of what Christ will achieve (eg Hebrews 2) in remedying the Fall. But one can only say that man began to have some kind of actual dominance over nature with the Neolithic age, long after the species and (as far as we can tell) all its biological properties, emerged. To put it in a nutshell, Y-chromosome Adam did not rule God’s creation. Genesis 1, then, talks about a quantum event – the appointment to rule and subdue, which was to be put into effect by Adam and his heirs.

The Eden account adds some other, quite specific, gifts from God to Adam. First mentioned is the tree of eternal life, lost through the first sin and restored (we now trust) through Christ. It goes without saying that, whether that is understood as physical immortality or as eternal life with God after death, it is not something that can possibly emerge gradually. Either the whole race, or a representative like Adam, must have received it instantly (in the latter case dividing the species into those with and those without it).

By the same token, if access to eternal life was lost through sin, it was lost at a stroke. Either the whole race lost it (and how would a complete species sin at once?), or its loss by some divided the race into two for some period of time. And there must have been a first, historic, sin if such a gift was lost even to just one individual. This is closely related to the Biblical idea that sin is not directly equivalent to moral failure, but to loss of relationship with God. Specifically, it’s disobedience to a command (as Paul says in Romans 5). Again as a matter of history, we have no evidence that palaeolithic man, for all the hints of “spiritual” awareness, had any direct relationship with the true God. That would have to come, since God is outside his Creation, by revelation. As would any command from God. These would be historical events involving either the whole race, or a representative. If the latter, then the race, once more, would be divided by the revelation. At some point in historical time someone received revelation from God, a command, the knowledge of accountability and, subsequently, faced judgement both on earth and in eternity. None of that emerged gradually, least of all through evolution.

Some form of special creation, superimposed on evolution, would of course overcome these issues of a race divided into “spiritual” and “earthly”, but at the cost of rejecting the current scientific evidence. I’m not sure if that’s where Vincent Torley is coming from, but if so it would appear that he (or those who argue for such a thing) are situating their “Adam” figure in deep time, lest one has to reject archaeology as well as palaeontology and genetics. To me that adds a whole raft of new problems, wrenching Genesis from its historical setting and, indeed, from its ANE literary context, and implying that God left mankind in a state of theological and moral ignorance (from the archaeological evidence) and reprobation (from the Scriptural evidence) for some 60+K years until Abraham was called by God (another individual, note, set apart from the rest of mankind in order, ultimately, to redeem them in Christ).

If one rejects such a separate creation either in deep time (or, of course, on the YEC timetable), and if one rejects the (in my view) heterodox naturalistic views of the emergence of religion, then at some stage, in some manner, one has to accept that certain key things were discrete, historical events, different in kind from any evolutionary process: the first self-revelation by Yahweh, the appointment of man as image and viceroy, the gift of eternal life, the decree of accountability to God (not to mention the institution of marriage) – and, subsequently, the loss of much of that by sin.

The evidence is that there was a scattered, if interbreeding, community of at least several thousand individuals throughout the period we’re considering, from 200K BC in Africa to 3K BC in Mesopotamia. So it seems almost inevitable that, in some way, Homo sapiens would inevitably have coexisted with Homo divinus and/or Homo divinus-sed-praecipitus. And whether or not one holds to a hereditary view of sin, the fact remains that those two populations must have interbred, because there is only one “blood” of mankind today, all of whom are commanded by God to be repent and be saved to eternal life.

Personally, I vascillate in my views about what aspects of humanity are a supernatural endowment by God. I’m a little unhappy to pin down the image of God to rationality, especially when tied into a specific entity called “the soul”, and yet consciousness is one of the most difficult issues to square with naturalism. But what I do observe is that, just as Genesis is interested in the cosmos constituted as God’s temple with man as his image, rather than with material ontology, so it is also more interested in man’s covenant relationship with God than with his biological, or even his intellectual, capacities.

The “yuk” factor that comes to mind when considering the offspring of spiritual Adam interbreeding with “non-humans” (Charlton Heston’s liaison with Noma in Planet of the Apes seems to be the analogy of choice in the debate) maybe ought to be seen as more parallel with Abraham’s relationship with Hagar or Keturah, or even that of Boaz with Ruth. All those women may have acquired new problems by attaching themselves to a stiffnecked and backsliding people – but they also came under the blessing of God’s covenant people, and crossed from the life of this world and the flesh to the life of heaven and the spirit.

Arguably, that’s when they became fully human.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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