Recent internet postings here, here and here make public a disagreement between the movers and shakers at BioLogos and Joshua Swamidass, who of course has posted here and shares our desire to see a genuine rapprochement between historic (particularly Evangelical) Christianity and science. I share his pain in finding his attempt at Peaceful Science being dragged into the culture wars. I regard him as colleague-in-arms on origins and as a brother. I even agree with him sometimes!
Although the current furore arises from Joshua’s support for Tim Keller, whose recent video (which prompted the matter) I covered here, trouble has been brewing for a number of weeks in the wake of Joshua’s writing, at BioLogos and elsewhere, on the genealogical Adam hypothesis, which he has also invoked to show that Keller’s stance contradicts no current established science. BioLogos appears to have disfellowshipped Joshua from the BioLogos Voices team, which indicates more than a little antagonism. Perhaps his critique and call for correction of Denis Venema and Scot McKnight’s recent book had something to do with it.
But far from denying science, the genealogical Adam hypothesis falsifies what appears to be the official BioLogos position (according to Brad Kramer’s comment on the Keller thread there*), that evolution must be the sole explanation for human origins. In particular, Denis Venema has been publically dismissive of Joshua’s statement of the genealogical Adam hypothesis, suggesting that anything’s possible if one invokes miracles.
One should note, though, that neither a creative act to transform an existing Homo sapiens (or any other species) into Homo divinus, nor even the special creation of Adam, would constitute a “miracle”, but rather an act of biological creation by the biblical Logos, as in Theistic Evolution or Evolutionary Creation. Venema’s remark only reveals an underlying semi-deistic theology. That the issue should lead to sanctions on Swamidass shows the semi-deism of BioLogos itself.
It appears, though, that what principally led to the BioLogos opprobium on Swamidass was not his raising even the possibility of a real Adam (rather than asserting it as an Evangelical non-negotiable, like Keller), but the utterly ridiculous claim that the genealogical Adam promotes racism, and that’s what I want to examine here.
Venema writes about “non-adamic hominids”:
Do we really want a theology that names them all as subhuman animals until their lineage happens to encounter and interbreed with Adam’s (Eurasian) offspring? God forbid. Likely this was not Swamidass’s intent, of course, but it seems to me that models like these lead to this decidedly unsavory conclusion.
The first thing to say is that this objection is not scientific – that is, it’s at best theological or moral, and more exactly is based on some kind of subjective “Yuk” factor controlling both doctrine and science. For someone who is willing to overturn historic biblical teachings on human origins because of the “objective findings” of science, to dismiss a scientific theory on the basis that it’s “unsavory” is, shall we say, inconsistent. It would follow that if (as is still being tossed around in the scientific community) mankind turned out from the evidence to have had more than one origin in Africa, Denis would refuse to accept the science on the grounds of human rights. That would be a little postmodern of him.
Current genetics, as opposed to the scientific eugenics movement kick-started by Darwin’s Descent of Man, actually discredits racism. But it does so simply by disproving a myth of race that only arose in modern times anyway, and (academically speaking) from the pretended science of the early anthropologists. Not only do races amongst humans not have any biological validity, but nobody in earlier times even considered they did – and most relevantly, that includes biblical times. In Old Testament categories, there were “Jews”, and “gentiles”, who were everyone else. The blackness of the Ethiopian is mentioned by Jeremiah only to make the very prosaic point that he can’t change the colour of his skin. In the New Testament the gentiles were divided into “Greeks” and “barbarians”, and in all cases the distinctions are partly tribal, and partly cultural – but never racial.
The Bible has no “sin of racism” because nobody was stupid enough in those days to divide people purely on grounds of colour – to do so comes simply under the heading of hating ones fellow-man without a cause, just as it would for bullying redheads or despising the poor. So there’s something oddly anachronistic about throwing charges of racism around respecting a time when the concept of racism didn’t exist.
On the other hand, what the Bible does record as occurring under the wise counsel of God are distinctions. Evolutionary theory actually implies that there are no real or ultimate distinctions between living things, but that the whole tree of life is a continuum. That is why modern genetics, whilst it may falsify racism, cannot actually affirm “humanity” as a moral category, because the universal called “human” has no distinct meaning under Darwinian assumptions. In the Bible, though, man is classed as different from the animals, for all his animal characteristics. If, as Venema says, we should not call hominids “subhuman animals” if they are not in genealogical relationship to Adam (which only he has – societies have long used other, more nuanced, categories), then does he contend that human ancesters were never “subhuman”? If, in evolutionary terms, they were however, there was necessarily a gradual and irregular transition to “humanness” over time and geography, if you discount a supernatural creative act.
But theologically, as well as biologically, the biblical story is also founded on distinctions between people. Leaving aside the possibly arguable distinction between Cain’s line and the “holy” line of Seth, there is no doubt at all that, for the entire Old Testament period, God saw fit to relate to mankind covenantally exclusively in his chosen people Israel, with the exception of those few who, like Naaman the Syrian, might have converted to Yahwism. As Paul says to his gentile readers, before Christ came “you were without God and without hope in the world”.
Abram was called in Genesis 12 so that, ultimately, all nations might be blessed. But the path to that was through a very thorough covenant exclusivity. His cousin and travelling companion Lot did not inherit the land. Abraham’s son Ishmael (the slave woman’s son) and his other children through Keturah were outside the covenant – only Isaac was in. Isaac’s younger son Jacob inherited the promise – his older twin Esau did not. Israel kept his twelve sons apart from the “uncircumcised” in Canaan, and the family went to Goshen in Egypt with Joseph knowing that they could live separately there because the Egyptians despised herdsmen.
Once Moses brought Israel out of Egypt, it was to make them a people apart, separated from “the nations” not only by their unique belief in the true God, but by their God-given law with its circumcision and laws of ritual holiness. Only after the coming of Christ, “when he had overcome the sharpness of death” did God “open the kingdom of heaven to all believers”**. Why that two-millennia delay in introducing a universal gospel should be is an interesting biblical study, which probably involves Paul’s conviction that Christ appeared “just at the right time.” It may even be related to Adam’s genealogy.
But with a history like that, what, exactly, makes it so utterly unacceptable and “unsavory” that God might designate one man to be created in his image before the rest? Does Venema picture pre-adamic humans longing to get to know God, to pray and read their Bibles, and being refused because they are only “sub-human animals”? Might not the image of God in Adam include the very hunger for God that Ecclesiastes describes in terms of God’s placing “eternity in their hearts”?
Lastly, Venema finds it appalling that non-Adamites would remain “subhuman animals” through no fault of their own (my dog is a dog through no fault of his own: it’s not a scandal, but just the way God planned it) “until their lineage happens to encounter and interbreed with Adam’s (Eurasian) offspring?”
Another BioLogos perennial is displayed here – the absence of any robust doctrine of providence. To Paul in Acts 17, God “determined the times set for [men] and the exact places where they should live.” Had he embraced the genealogical Adam hypothesis, he would have taken it for granted from basic theology that the spread of God’s image through the race would be according to God’s providential timing and embrace all those for whom God purposed it. That, after all, is the kind of thing that we must suppose for the slow spread of the gospel – the sole means of eternal salvation – throughout the world since its tiny beginnings in the death and resurrection of Mary’s (Eurasian!) son.
But BioLogos seems to have little regard for providence, whilst its thorough acceptance of methodologically natural science makes it comfortable with the thoroughly un-theistic doctrine of random chance – “their lineage happens to encounter…”
The charge of racism against Joshua Swamidass, then, appears to lack any scientific merit, and certainly makes no sense theologically. We haven’t seen a retraction from BioLogos yet, though.
* Brad Kramer: “[Keller] has never been entirely in the BioLogos tent because he has significant reservations about human evolution, and those reservations are no secret—he explains this in his BioLogos essay. He endorses our efforts to reconcile faith and science but not every aspect of our position on evolution and human origins.”
** Te Deum laudamus, Nicetas, bishop of Remesiana (4th century).