My maternal great-grandmother was Emma Tyler, who came from a non-conformist family (Brethren, Primitive Methodists or Independents to a woman) that I can trace right back to the sixteenth century in Braintree, Essex. There it was, coincidentally, that I ran a back pain clinic for the last two years of my medical career. Many of the Tylers were bakers and confectioners in the nineteenth century, and any older readers who knew Cambridge “back in the day” may remember that the best bread came from Tylers bakery opposite St Johns College. That was started by my 3X great-grandfather’s brother English Tyler in around 1840.
Being dissenters, it’s not surprising that in family tradition we were said to be descendants of Wat Tyler, who some say was from Essex, and who led the Peasants Revolt of 1381. He was treacherously murdered at a parley with King Richard II in London. The revolt, apart from its immediately social causes of overwork and exploitation, was much influenced by the theology of John Wyclif (1320-1384), the so-called “morning star of the Reformation,” and another leader was the Lollard priest John Ball (who ended up hanged, drawn and quartered for his role). Ball coined the slogan:
When Adam delved and Eve span
Who was then the gentleman?
And unless you misconstrue the answer as “Adam”, his theology was spot-on. Universal human descent from a single couple actually does relativise all social divisions, including racial and biological ones, as secondary. As he preached to the crowds:
From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.
Whether he was so radical as to be an anarchist is doubtful – his target was oppression and serfdom, and I don’t think either he or Wyclif would suggest the Bible forbids social structures established by consent. I was reminded of Ball’s words by reading C John Collins’ excellent book Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, in which he discusses the human equality that follows logically from their progenitorship, and questions whether any other origins story provides such a secure foundation for social justice.
By way of example consider, for a moment, the model propounded by those like Denis Venema, in conscious opposition to Genealogical Adam specifically and “mere historical Adamism” (Collins’ deliberately clunky term) in general. In this view, mankind beyond doubt evolved from a common ancestor with chimpanzees, and furthermore population genetics shows that the population never dropped below some minimum of, perhaps, 1,000-10,000. Adam must, in that reckoning, be a purely allegorical figure, or as per Venema’s co-author in Adam and the Genome, Scot McKnight, one whom Paul wrongly thought to be historical.
Often, those who hold this view are hesitant to ascribe any special supernatural activity to the formation of man, and of course such special divine action becomes even less plausible if a large-ish population, possibly scattered across the continents, is to be so endowed. It’s hard, after all, to imagine the whole human race waking up one day with an immortal soul.
Nevertheless if we conceptualise, anyway, true human origins as an event at the time of this bottleneck, whether natural or supernatural, the first human race consisted of several thousands of naturally-evolved creatures from the same stable as chimps and bonobos. I’ll leave to one side the work of Swamidass, Buggs et al., which shows a single couple bottleneck in deep time to be possible under population genetics after all, because Venema is having none of it, on the grounds of lack of a probable natural cause for it.
But if you take any population of great apes, there is a clear social structure. There are alpha males, dominant matriarchs, and differently empowered individuals who all find their place in the social hierarchy. There seems no reason to doubt that, species differences notwithstanding, such a pecking order would have existed in that first population of hominids who evolved into true humans, by whatever biological or social route. This has profound consequences, because had John Ball known of it, he would have had to change sides on the grounds that:
When the first bottleneck obtained
Social heirarchy remained.
Now, the mathematics of population genetics has disproven, as far as we currently know, the old evolutionary belief, held by Haeckel, Galton, H G Wells and that whole regiment of eugenicists and older anthropologists, in polygenism. But the science does allow for incomplete lineage sorting and for recombination of genetic material.
In other words, under the “many Adams” model, although it is impossible to say that natural leaders, or whites, or smart atheists, have the right to dictate to others because they are descended from the alpha males, pale skinned or smart atheists from that first bottleneck population, nevertheless such inequalities were the case “in the beginning”, at the time of human “evolutionary creation,” and so there will certainly be those now who are naturally endowed with the requisite qualities to rule others, and others genetically predisposed to serve them. Just as the Darwinian eugenicists said, natural selection will have favoured those most fitted for power, and so God has blessed the mighty through creation itself. “He has lifted up the rulers to their thrones,/ and has humbled those who were humble.”
Now, none of those Christians who take the non-historical Adam position would follow that logic, on the grounds that Jesus taught equality, humility and so on, sealing it with his own self-giving death on the Cross. And they would be right. But without Adam, just as an evolutionary view of sin makes righteousness an innovation contrary to selfish created nature, so the equality in Christ is no longer the restoration of the way we were created to be, but a new order of things in opposition to nature.
There’s more – none of these people, so far as I know, disagree that we participate in the blessings of Christ through faith. That is why there is supposed to be a special bond of love and equality within the Church of Christ, as brothers and sisters in Christ. But what logical Christian basis is there, under the “many Adams” scheme, for treating those outside the faith as also equals under God? Or for seeking to bring about secular social change for the equal dignity of all humanity – and especially the weak and disadvantaged – if it is no longer possible to base it on God’s created order before sin, but only on participation by faith in Christ? How can you speak truth to power if that power can reply with a truth that “in the beginning it was so“?
The logic of monogenism alone won’t cut it – every day thousands of fetuses with Down’s Syndrome are aborted because they are held not to be equal to healthy members even of their family, let alone the human race. If such children were exposed or quietly bashed on the head in that first, bottleneck, population of humans, then what’s the difference now? Whereas if they are born in the same image of God represented by that rather glorious, if sadly fallen, couple at the fountainhead of humanity, Adam and Eve, that dignity alone makes them of equal dignity. This should give us serious pause for thought about our theology of origins.
Incidentally, my initial personal family history provides a valuable illustration of the Genealogical Adam theory here. From my grandchildren to the oldest Tyler ancestor I have traced, John Tyler of Bocking, born c1568, is 16 generations. That actually means they each have no less than 64,000 ancestors from that generation. Add maybe another ten generations back to Wat Tyler in the fourteenth century, and that’s c.64 million ancestors each, or close to the entire population of Europe then. John Tyler is our true ancestor, a real person recorded in Essex parish records, but so is virtually everybody else living in the country then.