Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Genesis and polygenesis

I'm going to comment on this post:

Genesis 1 describes the creation of human beings. (The process is put in pre-scientific or supernatural terms, and so doesn’t give us a scientific perspective on how this happened).
The human beings of Genesis 1 are not in a garden in Eden (there is no garden of Eden in Genesis 1; the command to “subdue the earth” would speak of the whole earth, wherever humans are, not Eden, which is nowhere in view).
Genesis 2 describes a distinct and separate creation of two humans. (Again, the process is put in pre-scientific or supernatural terms, and so doesn’t give us a scientific perspective on how this happened).
The two humans of Genesis 2 are in a garden in a place called Eden (which is clearly not synonymous with the earth since it has specific geography on the earth).
Since the two humans created in Genesis 2 are not the humans created in Genesis 1, the two humans in Genesis 2 cannot be seen as the progenitors of the humans of Genesis 1. The humanity of Genesis 1 was to image God in all the earth, not Eden, and so the Genesis 1 creation speaks of a divine origin (by whatever means) of human life on the planet. The humans of Genesis 2 are parallel to and consistent with those goals, but their story is more specific. They have a more particular purpose, which is revealed in Genesis 3.
This view does not require that all human beings come from a single pair of humans. Rather, there were humans on the earth along with the pair known as Adam and Eve. It therefore matters not if the human genome data requires more than a single pair of humans. This view also doesn’t require one specific view of how humans wound up here, so long as God is in the process.
ESV and other translations cheat here, translating ‘erets as “land” to avoid tension with Gen 1:11-12, where the same word is used when God did indeed have the earth bring forth the plants prior to the creation of humans.
The whole point is that someone COULD begin with entirely new presuppositions about Gen 1-2 and read the text in a different way. So, when I get questions in the comments, I’m answering like a person with those “other” presuppositions. And I’ve said that many times. What you really need to do is start thinking about what if the genetics material is correct. That’s far more useful. I don’t think the science is settled, but in another 5-10 years, as genetics keeps advancing, this may be at the level of something unassailable. At that point, as has been done for centuries, biblical scholars and theologians will need to re-assess the meaning of Scripture. That process isn’t at all new (a heliocentric solar system used to be thought heretical). This enterprise will either be done well, or not. It’s best to start thinking about it now.
The post was intended (as I keep saying) as an exercise in reading the text at face value in the event the statistical genetics argument put forth by Venema (and embraced by others).

i) I view the relationship between Gen 1-2 quite differently than Heiser. I think these are two distinct, but overlapping creation accounts. Gen 1 is a general creation account whereas Gen 2 is more specific. Gen 1 is cosmic or global whereas Gen 2 is local. 

Gen 1 sets the stage for Gen 2. We'd expect the Bible to contain a creation account that describes how the one true God is the Creator of all contingent beings. 

But Scripture takes a special interest in the origin and history of mankind. After sketching the creation of man in Gen 1, Gen 2 goes into more detail regarding the origin of man and his immediate environment. Humans didn't live everywhere. Since the human race began with a single breeding pair, their ancestral homeland is naturally quite localized. 

Gen 2 isn't about the origin of fauna and flora in generally, but about the first humans and their aboriginal habitat in particular. "Subduing" the earth is a long-range task.

ii) It isn't "cheating" to translate the same word differently if the context is different. 

iii) The relationship between Gen 1-2 is like the relationship between Gen 6-7, where Gen 7 circles back around and fills in more details.  

iv) To say "The human beings of Genesis 1 are not in a garden in Eden (there is no garden of Eden in Genesis 1" is a deceptive argument from silence. Gen 1 isn't meant to tell the whole story. Taken by itself, Gen 1 is intentionally incomplete. By design, it was meant to be supplemented by Gen 2, especially in reference to Day 6 (the creation of man). 

There's a difference between "Gen 1 does not say if humans were in the Garden" and "Gen 1 says humans were not in the Garden." Heiser is inferring a negation from silence. But that's fallacious. Gen 1 leaves it open. 

v) We can't directly compare the sequence of events in Gen 1 with Gen 2 because Gen 2 lacks the seven-day frame of reference. Likewise, Heiser fails to distinguish a sequence between different "days" (Gen 1) and a sequence within the (unspecified) timeframe of Gen 2. 

We wouldn't expect Gen 2 to be systematically synchronous with Gen 1, for Gen 2 doesn't cover all the same ground. Rather, it takes many of the prior stages in Gen 1 for granted.   

This view makes other passages in the early chapters or Genesis more comprehensible. For example, the classic “conundra” created by Gen 4:8-17 are now easily answered. The question of where Cain’s wife came from is not difficult — she came from the other humans out there in the world into which Adam and Eve were expelled. Other people were already there. When Cain worries (Gen 4:13-14) that someone will find him and kill him after he murdered his brother and is exiled, his worry becomes legitimate — there are lots of people out there in the cold, cruel world, and he has no family now for protection. When Gen 4:17 has Cain building a city (did his wife help?) this view handles that with aplomb — there were lots of other people already living to help him construct his city.
The traditional view has great difficulties in Genesis 4. It must either affirm that only Adam, Eve, and Cain are living after Abel is murdered (and that is the plain implication of Genesis 4) or posit (i.e., invent) long stretches of time for Cain to find a wife also born from Adam and Eve later on, and then more stretches of time to have enough people born and grown so Cain can build a city — something he obviously couldn’t do by himself. These have been classic dilemmas given a traditional approach to Genesis.
The traditional view DOES need to invent long stretches of time to avoid Cain building a city by himself. And is the text really saying that Cain feared people yet unborn would kill him in 20 years or so?! That’s special pleading if there ever was any. It’s a real problem, not an imagined one. In other words, regardless of the Adam issue, these are problems for a traditional view of Adamic humanity, and have been well traveled for centuries
You’d need a workforce of hundreds or thousands to build a city — and that doesn’t count all the mothers staying at home with kids. You are simply dramatically under-estimating.

i) We need to distinguish between what the narrator says and what a character within the narrative (e.g. Cain) says. The narrator's viewpoint is normative. What Cain says is not. Cain may just be imagining things. 

ii) Cain's statement is proleptic. Adam and Eve had other kids (Gen 5:4). The prediluvians lived for hundreds of years. The population would expand exponentially. Likewise, Cain's own offspring could help him build the "city."

iii) Why would humans who are unrelated to Adam's family avenge Abel's death? Cain envisions a blood feud, where murder dishonors the victim's kinfolk. But if the humans whom Cain alludes to aren't relatives of Abel, they wouldn't even know who Cain is, much less would they be motivated to execute him. A revenge killing only makes sense if the avengers are relatives of Abel. 

iv) Heiser exaggerates what is meant by a "city." As one commentator notes:

The city refers to some form of fortification. Hulst explains, "Any settlement, more-or-less permanently inhabited, protected by the erection of a 'fortress' or simple wall, can be called 'ir," B. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Zondervan 2001), 99. 


  1. Heiser wrote:
    This view does not require that all human beings come from a single pair of humans. Rather, there were humans on the earth along with the pair known as Adam and Eve.

    I've liked this interpretation. However, it would seem to make Paul and other Biblical authors doctrinally errant in teaching that all humanity has descended from Adam and Eve.

    And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place- Acts 17:26

    21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.- 1 Cor. 15:21-22; Compare Rom. 5:12-21

    The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.- Gen. 3:20

    The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.- 1 Cor. 15:47

    A legitimate (though not necessary) inference from 1 Cor. 15:21-22 and Rom. 5:12-21 is that all sinful humanity who are eligible for salvation are descended from Adam. Acts 17:26 seems to explicitly teach it (though I think the word "man" in the ESV and "blood" in the KJV are not in the original Greek but are supplied by the translators).

    Gen. 3:20 also suggests that all humanity sprung from Adam and Eve.

    Also, any Pre-Adamite, Co-Adamite or Polygenism theories has the hurdle of 1 Cor. 15:47 to overcome. Technically, Co-Adamitism isn't ruled out by 1 Cor. 15:47. However, Paul seems to imply that Adam was not only the first progenitor of humanity, but the only first progenitor of humanity.

    In Gen. 9:19 the term "earth" may merely mean "land." In which case it doesn't preclude the possibility of polygenism. But similar to the above passages, the author seems to be implying that all humans are descended from one geneological line.

    Luke was written with a primarily Gentile audience in mind and so his genealogy seems to be implying that there's some link to the fact that as Adam who was the progenitor of all humanity (including all Gentiles) was the son of God, so Jesus as THE Son of God is savior of all mankind (including all Gentiles).

    Some reasons why pre-adamism is attractive is because it could account for the genetic data, the paleo-anthropological data, and the archaeological data. That combined with a local flood could also explain how the Nephilim survived the flood. However, holding to such a position would seem to require a rejection of Biblical inerrancy.

    1. Some have argued that the creation of man in Genesis chapter 1 is of Pre-Adamites distinct from the creation of Adam and Eve in chapter 2. However, Jesus seems to combine the two accounts when speaking of marriage (Mark 10:5-9; Matt. 19:4-6). Also, Jesus use of the phase "from the beginning" would also seem to preclude the possibility of Pre-Adamites.

    2. There are some ways in which proponents of Pre-Adamism or Co-Adamism/polygenism attempt to get around the passages mentioned above. However, I'm not sure they really address the weighty fact of how the authors of Scripture seem to be teaching Adamic monogenism. I agree that the writers of Scripture could (and probably did) have false personal beliefs and notions while being infallibly inspired to write Scripture. However, when they incorporate those false notions with doctrinal teaching in Scripture then that touches on Biblical inerrancy.