Genealogical Adam – isolated tribes

One of the objections to the Genealogical Adam hypothesis is the case of isolated tribes who, perhaps, have never interbred with descendants of Adam in any plausible historical time-frame.

Joshua Swamidass has defended the hypothesis against this critique on theoretical grounds, but here’s some more interesting information to consider. Here is a recent news article about such tribes, many of which (it says) live in the Amazonian rain-forest, where perhaps they have been isolated since man moved to the Americas 11,200 years ago or more (or was it 130,000 years ago or more? Or 250,000 years ago or more?) Let’s stick with the safely conservative timeframe for now!

The article is mainly about protecting such vulnerable groups from destruction, but the subtext is, of course, the intrinsic value of their ancient and primitive cultures.

For years the Young Earth Creationist case has been that such tribes are not truly primitive at all, but degenerate – a necessary conclusion if the entire human race descended solely from Adam’s family, which had pastoral and agricultural lives from the start, and cities, music and metalwork soon thereafter. Genealogical Adam requires no such assumption, of course, but merely the occasional interbreeding of populations. Such cultures could be genuinely primitive, predating Adam, without affecting their present descent from him. All it requires is incomplete isolation. The Independent article indirectly confirms that possibility when it says:

To call these people “uncontacted”, as they often are, is imprecise. It’s nearly impossible to completely avoid contact with outsiders, and even harder to avoid objects like factory-made knives or bowls that make their way deep into remote areas through trade.

Coke can in Maya home – Mexico, 2006 (JG)

Where trade can go, procreation can also. But the image we mostly have of noble, or ignoble, savages following the untutored ways of life of their forebears since the dawn of time is a compelling one. I remember how, in previous decades, that issue was used to challenge Elisabeth Elliot for the evangelisation of the “Auca” (Huaorani) people of Ecuador started by her husband Jim, who was famously killed by them in an early contact. Elisabeth herself acknowledged that they had been happy in their isolated way of life, but much of the basis for opposition was the same kind of sentiment that makes us dislike the destruction of anything ancient and rare – the feeling of preserving our own origins.

But that feeling about the tribes of Amazonia, at least, is significantly challenged by another recent line of research, as shown here. As logging strips off the “virgin” rain-forest, it turns out not to be virgin at all, but secondary encroachment upon the remnaoins of a sophisticated culture that died within the last millennium. And consequently, the “lost tribes” displaced (undeniably unjustly) from their forest haunts are likely to be descended from the citizens of sophisticated civilisations that once were open to trade and cultural exchange on a large scale.

Although the Conquistadores usually get the blame for the demise of Central and South American civilizations, through disease if not warfare, there seems to be a pattern across large parts of the continent of cultural decline for centuries before that. Whether the isolated hunter-gatherer cultures that remain are “degenerate” is, of course, a matter of opinion. It could be argued that, in some ways, they are an improvement on a centralised state building vast monuments by, perhaps, slave-labour and no doubt involving human sacrifice.

But the point is that it’s quite possible, in just a few hundred years, for a cosmopolitan culture to collapse and be replaced by what, to all appearances, are aboriginally primitive tribes, speaking unique languages, within forests that look as if they have always been there.

Those facts give support either to Genealogical Adam or to Young Earth Creationism. On the other hand, they make projections from “primitive” cultures today on to genuinely primitive cultures of the ancient past rather dubious. For example, if shamanistic tribes today have direct cultural continuity with Cromagnon man, then the current interpretation of cave art as obviously shamanistic makes some sense. But if, like those isolated Amazon tribes, modern shamanism is a feature of the degeneration of primitive religion through Adamic sin, then those comparisons are likely to be entirely invalid.

The way my own thinking has been going recently is that Genesis 1 teaches that man was created with a real, but distant, knowledge of God, Adam’s intended role being to bring a new, intimate relationship that would lead to eternal life and fill all creation with the glory of God. I mentioned in a previous post how Irenaeus, in the second century, picked up on such a distinction:

Having made humanity lord of the world and all things in it, God secretly appointed humanity as lord of the angels who were God’s servants in the world.

And hence the preparation of the Garden, “an abode better than this world”, as Irenaeus puts it, for Adam.

If that scenario were the case, then to look at tribal religions now in all their animist or pagan forms, and to assume that our most ancient ancestors followed such patterns, may be entirely false. All such religions today, as the Creationists imply, might have degenerated from the incomplete knowledge Adam gained in the garden, just as their blowpipes and nakedness have degenerated – for better or worse – from roadbuilding, cities of 70,000 people, and stone temples.

Of course, it could never happen here…

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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8 Responses to Genealogical Adam – isolated tribes

  1. Mark Mark says:

    If GA takes off then there will be a lot of discussion about this issue- particularly how viable it is for an Ussherian date for Adam and the mixing being complete by the Crucifixion. I do wish there would be at least as much attention directed to a question which speaks to the premises as to why GA is needed- does the bible really teach that we inherit our sin nature from Adam? Where does it say so? I can’t find one place in the text which actually says that, only places where if you already believed that going in you might ignore the contrary elements in the text to continue to think so…..

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Mark

      One thing that amuses me is that Ussher’s dating becomes broadly obvious, and historically very plausible, once creation is separated off from Adam. There is, within limits, a fair bit of flexibility depending on whether the patriarchal ages are regarded as literal or not, how many generations might be omitted for theological or literary reasons, and so on. So one could argue a case for any date after the onset of agriculture and pastoralism, but before that time, apart from the cultural setting, to my mind the story begins to lose its historic bearings.

      That’s where I most disagree with Ann Gauger (who disagreed with what I wrote on the Hump, or so she said on BioLogos!): an Adam born 50 Ky or 500Ky ago, whether as the first man or not, makes the vast majority of human history one with sin but without God, and disconnects the Genesis storyline through to Abraham to an absurd extent.

      What Paul quite clearly says is that sin came into the world through Adam, and if it (plus, I would add, Adam’s spiritual character) did not spread by generation, then it seems most likely to have spread culturally, which amounts to more or less the same. What is clear is is that Adam’s genealogy is important throught the Old and New Testaments in relation to Israel and Christ – it seems to be the milieu in which our being “in Adam” sits most naturally.

  2. Mark Mark says:

    “Ussher’s dating becomes broadly obvious, and historically very plausible, once creation is separated off from Adam.”

    Yes, and extending the same reasoning, once there is a creation (including people) long separated from Adam, it becomes more plausible that inheritance from Adam is not where humans got our proclivity to rebel against God. It just wasn’t sin because there was no law- exactly as is laid out in Romans 7.

    “So one could argue a case for any date after the onset of agriculture and pastoralism, but before that time, apart from the cultural setting, to my mind the story begins to lose its historic bearings.”

    I would say a date at or just before the origin of those things (at least the origin that ‘stuck’). Some of Adam’s near descendants for example, are identified as “the father” of all of those who live in tents and herd cattle. Adam arrives at the dawn of true agriculture- indeed he was designed for it, and his near descendants are identified with many other things which humans just did not do on a sustained basis 50K years ago. With both agree the narrative makes no sense with a 50K Adam.

    “an Adam born 50 Ky or 500Ky ago, whether as the first man or not, makes the vast majority of human history one with sin but without God” –

    Ah but they were not without God. They were without His LAW. He laid no “thou shalt not” on them until Adam. This is what kept sin inert, not their own good conduct. They did bad things but those things could not be done in rebellion against God, because He there was nothing He forbade.

    “What Paul quite clearly says is that sin came into the world through Adam, and if it (plus, I would add, Adam’s spiritual character) did not spread by generation, then it seems most likely to have spread culturally, which amounts to more or less the same”

    But the “world” there is humanity, not the natural universe, as surrounding verses should make clear. The serpent was in the garden, calling God a liar, even before Adam took the forbidden fruit. Adam did not drag humanity down so much as he failed to lift them up sufficiently- it is in Christ that that work is and shall be finished. Romans 5:12 does not say that sin passed. It says that death passed. Sin came alive and mankind died.

    “What is clear is is that Adam’s genealogy is important throught the Old and New Testaments in relation to Israel and Christ – it seems to be the milieu in which our being “in Adam” sits most naturally”

    That is two words from one verse of scripture you are quoting, let’s look at the whole verse…

    For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

    So we who are ‘in Christ’ are not the physical descendants of Christ are we? Then why must those who are ‘in Adam’ be those who are physical descendants of Adam? Adam is the apex of man’s attempt to keep God’s law by his own natural efforts. Those in Christ are those whose efforts to please God are centered on faith- on believing on the One whom He has sent. Read the whole chapter there and you will see it is all about comparing the advantage of the spiritual over the natural. It’s not about who descended from whom.

    I am shopping these ideas because I am looking for some real theologians to answer them, not that I expect an answer from any of us curious amateurs.
    For more details…..
    https://youtu.be/92dneKaRf_Q

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Ah but they were not without God. They were without His LAW.

      That’s why I carefully wrote “with sin but without God” 🙂 . “Sin is not imputed where there is no law”, and “sin is lawlessness” (in the sense of breaking law). Men without a law would not be in sin. However, what their actual moral state would be is open to discussion, for the story of sin is the story of inventing new ways to do evil, as the early chapters of Genesis show. Therefore it is dangerous to project the present on to the pre-Adamic past.

      The assumption that palaeolithic man must be brutish is largely based on the “red in tooth and claw” evolution myth, plus the experience of modern tribes, who are all “in Adam”. It was C S Lewis who pointed out that you can learn little or nothing about morality from artefacts like stone axes or Venus figurines. That’s probably not strictly true, in that to find early neolithic group burials of bound and bludgeoned people is more than suggestive of violence.

      But signs of butchery, for example, on Neanderthal bones tells you, perhaps, only about different taboos or even starvation: Catholics in plane crashes in the Andes have eaten human flesh, and come to see it as sacramental. So to me it’s still an open question if we need deny “original righteousness” even before Adam.

      Likewise, assumptions about their spiritual life are based on speculation. For Adam to be formed for a new kind of intimacy with God does no injustice to any people formerly created for a more distant, and temporal relationship with him – though a real one – which I suspect Gen 1 indicates, as I’ve argued elsewhere.

      Since the concern of Genesis is with Adam’s line (because it is Israel’s story), we don’t know how much light the others were given, and neither should it really concern us, any more than it behoves us to speculate overmuch on the spiritual destiny of people in distant lands who, from Adam to the time they heard the gospel, had no knowledge whatsoever of the true God. We should rejoice in the grace we receive, not question why the same grace is not granted to others.

      My recent aim – given, if we’re honest, the utter implausibility of young earth chronology (it sets faith in the Bible against virtually every other form of knowledge, which was never how it was written… a post is due on that sometime) – has been to ask if Scripture itself might be written with widepread, ancient humanity in mind. I find many indications that it does – and conversely, good reasons why that is not made particularly obvious, and so missed by previous generations.

      XXX

      The logical fault that I (respectfully) suggest is in your Adam/Christ comparison is that what is contrasted is the flesh and the spirit, in which we participate by appropriate means. So to be in Christ requires a true spiritual union, a rebirth, a new creation by participation in his death and resurrection, an adoption as sons, a sharing in his Spirit, the sacramental consumption of his body and blood, rebirth through baptism into his name, and so on. All these come through faith, but indicate a truly “organic” and real partaking of Christ’s risen, spiritual, nature.

      To be in Adam is to be created in the womb (Ps 139), to be born the first time (John 3), to be conceived in sin like David. To partake of Adam’s nature is equivalent to a horse partaking of equine nature: the word “nature”, after all, is both in English and Greek, derived from “birth”: Peter speaks of one who is “by nature a Gentile”, and the Latin Christmas carol rejoices that “Christus est natus ex Maria”.

      I’ve written (and will do so more) on the parallels between Adam, Israel and Christ, as the principal three “movements” of the Bible’s narrative. It is not coincidental that sonship motifs are commonly applied to Israel.

      But I’ve also just been pointed (by a Creationist writer!) to a very “procreative” parallel between Adam and Christ. And that is that Matthew begins his gospel with a toledot statement (“This is the book of the generations of Jesus the Messiah”) in the exact words the Septuagint uses of Gen 2:4 (“This is the book of the generations of theheavens and the earth…”) and 5:1 (“This is the book of the generations of Adam.”).

      Matthew, of course, then gives a genealogy from Abraham to Jesus, thus as it were linking back to the genealogies of Gen 1-11, and especially that of 11:27ff. Matthew is pointing out, for Jesus, a genealogical link back to the original Adam genealogies. The “children of Abraham” motif is used both by Jesus and Paul for believers and, therefore, those “in Christ”.

      In other words, it seems to me that there’s more a torrent than an undercurrent of concern for genealogical descent through the metanarrative of the Bible. That’s why I find Genealogical Adam theory important. Note however that the “technical” question of “how sin is transmitted” and even why we share Adam’s guilt and corruption is somewhat separate to this: the biblical emphasis, for both Adam and Christ, is the human solidarity that comes from being family.

  3. Mark Mark says:

    “The logical fault that I (respectfully) suggest is in your Adam/Christ comparison is that what is contrasted is the flesh and the spirit, in which we participate by appropriate means.”

    Well I agree. That is what the passage was suggesting. Not sure how that winds up being a “logical fault” though once you consider the details of the birth and the re-birth that you reference. Maybe you did not see the video which gives more details?

    “So to be in Christ requires a true spiritual union, a rebirth, a new creation by participation in his death and resurrection, an adoption as sons, a sharing in his Spirit, the sacramental consumption of his body and blood, rebirth through baptism into his name, and so on.”

    Yes, all of that, but as the video goes to great lengths to point out, it is the FATHER who adopts us as sons. Our role to Christ is that of Brother. We are born again, once of the flesh and once of the spirit. As Man, He is our brother, as God, we are His church and our life is in Him.

    “To be in Adam is to be created in the womb (Ps 139), to be born the first time (John 3), to be conceived in sin like David. To partake of Adam’s nature is equivalent to a horse partaking of equine nature: the word “nature”, after all, is both in English and Greek, derived from “birth”: Peter speaks of one who is “by nature a Gentile”

    I agree with this also. What I would like theologians to address is whether this is because Adam was the original man, or the representative man. I think (as do you) that it’s the latter, and if the latter, I do wonder where in scripture it mentions any necessity of his being somewhere on our family tree. The perfect place to say that would have been Romans 5:12 but as discussed in the video Paul does not say that men suffered for Adam’s sin, but for their own.

    “I’ve written (and will do so more) on the parallels between Adam, Israel and Christ, as the principal three “movements” of the Bible’s narrative. It is not coincidental that sonship motifs are commonly applied to Israel.”

    And that was some wonderful writing. It also fits right in with what I am saying. With Adam vs. Others, Israel vs. Gentiles, and the Body of Christ vs. unbelievers there was an us and a them. Only in Christ was the barrier between us and them broken down (Ephesians 4 starting around verse 11 I believe).

    “In other words, it seems to me that there’s more a torrent than an undercurrent of concern for genealogical descent through the metanarrative of the Bible.”

    Very true, until we get to Christ. He is the end of all that, and the purpose for it from the beginning, being the Seed. I look at it the exact opposite way. This was to establish His credentials as being in the line of descent from Adam, and Eve, (and Noah, and Abraham, and David but those are other lines of thought). Why would that even be necessary if all humans were already somewhere in that family tree by then? They were trying to show that He was qualified to be the new stand-in for Mankind, even as Adam was.

    Changing gears a bit: Honestly I do wonder if J.R.R. Tolkien had some stirrings of ideas like this. Aragorn in clearly a Christ-figure and he had an ancestor who failed greatly, his line was obscured but tracked carefully in some circles, and he played a key role in correcting the failure of his ancestor (though the parallel is not so tight here).

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      What I would like theologians to address is whether this is because Adam was the original man, or the representative man.

      In pre-old-earth times, of course, there would be no distinction: he was representative because he was progenitor. Yet there is a distinction even between him and Eve, for Eve sins first, and yet Adam is accounted the one through whom sin came into the world.

      That’s caused people like my Reformed friend Penman to consider, in an evolutionary setting, Adam in a pure “federal headship” role, in which his sin passes to the race because he is their representative.

      My own model is more like that of Abraham – he is selected by grace as representative (hence it’s not important that he wasn’t elected by democratic ballot!), but fails both by not achieving “pneumatic” status for the race, and by bringing sin into the world.

      I maintain a genealogical emphasis partly because of the pervasiveness of the hereditary theme in Scripture, and partly because Genealogical Adam makes it unnecessary to dispute the issue and risk crossing traditional doctrine.

      If one wants to take a biblical model where calling seems largely independent of genealogy, then the obvious candidate is David, chosen by grace or for his faith, the head who represents his people is such a way that when he sins, his people are guilty, or more positively when he defeats Goliath, Israel conquers the Philistines.

      Yet even here, heredity counts – his genealogy from Adam and Israel is carefully documented in 1 Chron, his descendants inherit his federal head status – and of course, the covenant merges with that of Abraham in the person of Jesus, who is king of Israel both as the branch of David, and as the root of David. As I was taking about “not touching the Lord’s anointed”, I’m not happy to give up on Adam’s genealogical importance yet!

      In fact, the coalescence of generic adam in Gen 1 with the personal and the archetypal Adam of ch2 prompts me to see Adam as the representative of the existing race who becomes the representative and progenitor of the new spiritual man. And yet his name links him with the previous race – don’t ask me where that leads with regard to how the work of Christ relates to a bright Homo erectus making art a few 100K years beforehand!

  4. Mark Mark says:

    Jon we may not be that far apart. Obviously I am here and not elsewhere and that’s because I sensed that from the get go. It is not so much a clash, as it Biologos, but just a matter of honing minds and ideas which are groping toward similar themes anyway.

    “I maintain a genealogical emphasis partly because of the pervasiveness of the hereditary theme in Scripture, and partly because Genealogical Adam makes it unnecessary to dispute the issue and risk crossing traditional doctrine.”

    Which theme culminated in Christ and supports the federal headship idea even better than the “sole progenitor” model because then descent from Adam would not matter. But you last part there is just why I also encourage GA. I don’t see the necessity of it but I see the usefulness of it for certain parts of the church to accept what the Bible is saying about the role of Adam.

    “Eve sins first, and yet Adam is accounted the one through whom sin came into the world.

    That’s caused people like my Reformed friend Penman to consider, in an evolutionary setting, Adam in a pure “federal headship” role, in which his sin passes to the race because he is their representative.”

    I would say your friend Penman is on the right track because he is looking at the text an this is what it suggests, and also fits better with Adam (and David) as a figure of Christ. The evolutionary setting? I see zero textual support for that idea, and I still have a hunch that the scientific support won’t be as solid as it appears now once we actually learn more about what we are doing.

    “As I was taking about “not touching the Lord’s anointed”, I’m not happy to give up on Adam’s genealogical importance yet!”

    I would not say that you should do that. His genealogy is important. That is why it was tracked. It was important because it leads to Christ- which is what virtually all of these accounts from scripture are pointing to when rightly understood IMHO. What I am not convinced of- because the scripture does not seem to say so- is whether his being somewhere in our genealogy is somehow essential for us possessing a sin nature. I just want us to re-examine the reasons why it is important rather than abandon the idea that it is important.

    “And yet his name links him with the previous race – don’t ask me where that leads with regard to how the work of Christ relates to a bright Homo erectus making art a few 100K years beforehand!”

    Again I am not convinced that Homo erectus is the progenitor of Adam the man or Adam the race, except maybe as borrowed source code. This is a question which may be more settled by science than theology though. The humans in Genesis 1 and the Man in Genesis 2 were of the same kind so far as I can see, though very different in what we today would call “privilege”.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      The humans in Genesis 1 and the Man in Genesis 2 were of the same kind so far as I can see, though very different in what we today would call “privilege”.

      The Hump began (in its present form, at least) because productive discussion like this, on such issues, never seemed to be possible “elsewhere” – there was a never-stated agenda that led to put-downs from the usual commenters and non-response from the site-owners.

      But to your point… At this stage, I think Genesis underdetermines the continuity between “adam”, and “Adam”, if that shorthand suffices. My reasoning is that there seems to be, in Scripture, a transformative element to the very fact of relationship with God, which even in the case of Israel was described in terms of “creation” (Isa 43:1, etc).

      And in particular, one potentially fruitful line of research is the line in Ecclesiastes that says God has put “eternity in men’s hearts”. Now, Adam, it would seem, was offered eternity through the tree of life, and that yearning for its loss has been part of human experience from Gilgamesh to the present. Even unbelievers usually believe in an afterlife.

      But was that longing also part of human experience for the n-hundred thousand years beforehand, when no tree of life had been made available? I don’t think Scripture teaches that man was created immortal, but that it’s a gift of grace.

      So might there not have been a time when “natural man” was content to enjoy his time on earth, perhaps worshipping his Creator in heaven with no pretensions to ruling over angels and the heavens, or living eternally with God? He was the highest of the earthly creatures – from Gen 2 onwards, God plans to make him a heavenly creature.

      A strength in that, it seems to me, is that it allows for as much time as the evidence for early man suggests, and even for development of all kinds, including microevolution, within the species – and even for macroevolution, should that be attractive.

      If, as my impression of the way the science is going, concludes that there is only one species of Homo, then my suggestion poses no new theological issues. In fact, it’s great for progressive creationists, because one only has the creation of one “mankind” to consider. It might even have been a single couple, before Joshua’s watershed – though Genesis 1 doesn’t require that!

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