Saturday, July 05, 2014

"After Adam"

Recent research in molecular biology, primatology, sociobiology, and phylogenetics indicates that the species Homo sapiens cannot be traced back to a single pair of individuals, and that the earliest human beings did not come on the scene in anything like paradisal physical or moral conditions. It is therefore difficult to read Genesis 1–3 as a factual account of human origins. In current Christian thinking about Adam and Eve, several scenarios are on offer. The most compelling one regards Adam and Eve as strictly literary figures—characters in a divinely inspired story about the imagined past that intends to teach theological, not historical, truths about God, creation, and humanity. 
Recent studies in primatology, sociobiology , and phylogenetics are also pertinent to the historicity of Adam and Eve and to the Christian doctrines of the Fall and original sin. Here a range of evidence establishes that virtually all of the acts considered “sinful” in humans are part of the natural repertoire of behavior among animals—especially primates, but also birds, insects, and other species—behaviors including deception, bullying, theft, rape, murder, infanticide, and warfare, to name but a few.7  
The source of the human inclination toward self-aggrandizement, then, is to be found in animal nature itself. Far from infecting the rest of the animal creation with selfish behaviors, we humans inherited these tendencies from our animal past. 
Together, these newer lines of research join other, well-established ones in making it hard to imagine that the earliest human beings appeared on the scene in anything like paradisal physical or moral conditions. They would instead have had to struggle to sustain themselves, and to do so, they would have possessed strong tendencies toward the same types of behavior common to all animals. Only over time would they have developed a sufficient spiritual awareness to sense that many selfish behaviors are contrary to God’s will, and the moral imperative to transcend those behaviors.

Of course, Harlow imagines that this is just a problem for traditional Christian theology. But it's not. If you accept this evolutionary account, then it doesn't just falsify young-earth creationism or old-earth creationism. Even theistic evolution is squeezed out of the picture. There's no middle ground between special creation and naturalistic evolution, for the evolutionary narrative is indistinguishable from naturalistic evolution. 

In theory, we can distinguish between historical and theological truths about God, creation, and humanity. For instance, the parables of Jesus are fictional stories, yet they teach theological truths. 

That, however, doesn't solve the problem Harlow has posed for himself. The parables of Jesus teach theological truths because they are true to life. Lifelike. They have verisimilitude. 

The problem for Harlow, even on his own terms, is that he isn't merely distinguishing between historical and theological truth. He has driven a wedge between the two. Gen 1-3 could only be theologically true, despite being historically false, if the narratives are at least analogous to historical events. But in Harlow's understanding, natural history is fundamentally unlike Gen 1-3. The real past is radically dissimilar to the "imagined past" of the Biblical depiction.  That follows on his own grounds, even if we grant his assumptions for the sake of argument. 

I won't say too much about the rest of his argument. His discussion of the scientific evidence is one-sided. Moreover, his scientific evidence is more persuasive if you ignore the unstated presuppositions, viz. methodological naturalism, the uniformity of nature. If, however, God is active in the process, then you can't assume a linear continuum of cause and effect. 

His comparative mythological parallels are forced. His exegesis lacks critical sympathy. This is not a feasible alternative to traditional Christian theology, but a dead-end. 


  1. Steve in a previous post you said the following:

    Take a movie about the Gunfight at O.K. Corral. The movie set depicts the Old West, circa 1881. An instant past. Buildings look like they were in place well before October 1881. The appearance of a non-actual history.

    Suppose the movie includes a period newspaper, dated Oct 25, 1881. The newspaper recounts some events from last month. Yet September 1881 doesn't exist in the movie. The newspaper gives signs of a history that didn't happen in the movie.

    What if the divine origin of the world is like a historical drama which actually begins later than the past it takes for granted? I don't see how that's antecedently objectionable or improbable from a theological standpoint. Don't we need to leave our options open?

    What do you think of the possibility that God did a similar thing with human DNA?

    1. Apparently your Christian faith is so desperately insecure that you need a last-ditch fallback strategy in case (so you fear) macroevolution might turn out to be true. Which is why you keep defending evolution, albeit hypothetically. You make the same maneuver on the inerrancy issue.

      That's not my position, and you're wasting time repeating the same pathetic arguments.

      Why would God make theistic evolution indistinguishable from naturalistic evolution? That would give atheists a justification for their disbelief.

      The question is not whether something is abstractly conceivable, like Last Thursdayism or brains-in-vats, but whether we have some reason to believe it's true.

      In the case of mature creation, the question is not whether there's direct evidence for mature creation, but whether there's indirect evidence for mature creation. In the nature of the case, mature creation might be indistinguishable from the end-result of a temporal process.

      Keep in mind, too, that both mature creation and products of a cyclical process both involve divine agency.

      The question is whether we have evidence to believe in mature creation independent of mature creation itself. Your attempted analogy is fallacious.

  2. Why would God make theistic evolution indistinguishable from naturalistic evolution? That would give atheists a justification for their disbelief.

    Since the standard arguments for the existence of God are in no way dependent on evolution being false, how would evolution provide justification for atheistic belief?

    In the nature of the case, mature creation might be indistinguishable from the end-result of a temporal process.

    Why would God make mature creation indistinguishable from the end-result of a temporal process like, say, naturalistic evolution? Wouldn't that, by your own standards, give atheists a justification for their disbelief?

    1. Evidence for naturalistic evolution would be an undercutter for God's existence. At best, it would be a question of whether standard arguments for God's existence outweigh counterevidence, of which naturalistic evolution would be a case in point.

      I didn't say or suggest that mature creation is indistinguishable from naturalistic evolution. Naturalism is hardly equivalent to a temporal process.