Winner(s): Adam and Eve contest

June 11, 2011 • 5:56 am

It’s been nine days now since I posed a theological question, with the best answer to receive an autographed paperback of WEIT.  As you recall, the purpose of the contest was to help those confused Christians who want to accept both the Biblical story of Adam and Eve and the known genetic fact that humans could not have descended from a single pair of individuals who lived at the same time.  Like Michael Ruse, we’re trying to give our believing friends an anchor for their faith.  Here was the question:

In one short paragraph propose your own theological solution:

What is the best way to reconcile the Biblical story of Adam and Eve with the genetic facts?

You cannot answer that these issues are irreconcilable; remember, you’re being a theologian who is trying to help the Christians, and so have to propose a solution that sounds superficially plausible.  If possible, write it in theologyspeak, too, and try to give it a name as interesting as “The Federal Headship Model.”

The answers were many: the thread had over three hundred posts, though only a fraction of those involved the kind of  theological answer I wanted. You can imagine how difficult it was to choose among them.  In fact, there were so many good ones that the creationist website Uncommon Descent chose its own favorites in fourteen separate categories.

My own take: some of the answers didn’t make genetic sense and were so eliminated.  Others were simply too easy: positing that Adam and Eve were the ancestors of humans insofar as souls—but not genes—were concerned (kudos to Ben Goren, though, for a most thoughtful and elaborate presentation of this hypothesis).  Some were humorous but without the gravitas required in such an answer, and some simply finessed the problem by requiring too many miracles.

In the end, I couldn’t decide on a single winner, so I have chosen three—one in each of three categories.  All will receive books.

1. Overall theological and biological plausibility.  This answer, by Drew, appealed to me because although it posited another miracle (multiple germ cells in the Ancestral Couple), the miracle made good biological sense: that added genetic diversity was there to prevent inbreeding depression among the incestuously-produced descendants of Adam and Eve.  Although the soul part appeared a bit gratuitous, I think this is the kind of answer that BioLogos might have loved.

The Multi-Germic Theory

Roughly 140,000 years ago God slightly tinkered with the genes of two existing hominin pairs to ensure that the next baby they each had would have brains which were capable of interacting with a soul. These two individuals, one male and one female were Adam and Eve. God then imparted them both with many germ line cells each carrying a different genome, this allowed that each of Adam and Eve’s children would not be genetic siblings so that there would be no loss of fitness due to sibling interbreeding. Each distinct gene set was based roughly on the genomes of various human-like beings that had preceded Adam and Eve, which had evolved through natural processes, but was distinct enough that it allowed for the brains of the offspring also to interact with a soul. One consequence of this modification was that it gave the F1 generation enough genetic diversity to appear as though they sprang up from a large pool of existing ancestors. It may also have been necessary that for a few generations following F1 that the individuals continued to have the variable germ cells to further protect the offspring from inbreeding defects.

2.  Sophisticated-sounding obfuscation.  This one, by Aqua Buddha, just struck me as so outré, so incomprehensible in its lucidity, that it might just pass for serious theology.  And I loved the gratuitous Biblical quote at the end.

The Existential Dispersion Model

A false dichotomy prevails in this debate, one in which a human Adam is said to either exist or not exist. A more nuanced formulation, informed by recent advances in theology, envisions Adam as the sum total of human genes that coalesce by some divinely delineated point in our genealogy. This point (the exact time of which is unknown to us, as is true of all temporally indexed divine interventions), corresponds to the moment at which the Almighty bestowed the soul upon mankind. Biblical Eve is an overdetermined formulation of this same concept. And the Lord saith “set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal” (Ezekial 4:20).

3.  Pure LOLz. Many of the entries were funny (I love my readers!) but this inventive one, by Ichneumonid, coopted modern physics in a way that might not convince a theologian, but certainly strikes the funnybone.  It perfectly satirizes the crap emitted when modern theology tries to digest science.

The many theologies model

A consequence of quantum theory is the many worlds hypothesis. That is, every particle in the universe occurs in every possible location leading to an infinite number of universes in which all possible outcomes are realised. In at least one of these universes (actually an infinite number – this is the really neat thing about infinity, everything is infinite!) there actually is an Earth in which humans are descended from just two ancestors, Adam and Eve, and, remarkably, everything that is described in the Bible actually happened! Unfortunately, the minor shortcoming of this hypothesis is that there is no evidence that any of this actually happened in our particular universe. However, God in His infinite infiniteness, is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent in all of these universes and (I know this is the bit that doesn’t quite get me there) momentarily has confused our universe with another (does God get Alzheimer’s?) and so has inadvertently given His followers on this Earth the wrong information. But wait, this is where God’s test of faith comes in! HE knows this is NOT the universe where all that occurred, but has set this as a test for us, so that we can come to truly know Him through faith alone.

/end crap

Drew, Aqua Buddha, and Ichneumonid: please email me with your addresses to get your autographed books.  To the rest of the readers, many thanks for your deep thoughts on theology and genetics, and though you may not have won this time, you may get the satisfaction of seeing your ideas come to fruition in future theology.  Keep your eye on BioLogos!

23 thoughts on “Winner(s): Adam and Eve contest

  1. Hey, thank you Dr. Coyne,

    I have sent you my address via email.

    I too thought that the bit about the soul was a bit gratuitous, but I given that the Godites who “accept” evolution always have to make the claim that full humans have a soul whereas the predecessors did not, I thought “how great would it be to add in the claim that there had to be an actual physiological change, caused by god himself, to facilitate the soul/body interaction.”

  2. Ken Ham might have liked Drew’s explanation, but he’s already tied himself to the idea that incest was okay way back then because the genetic line was pure, and only after the original sin + multiple incestuous relationships did we start to see the problem with incest, hence the need for a command against it. Sorry Ken.

  3. Hmm, I guess I’m flattered that my submission was selected at Uncommon Descent. In case you haven’t gone there, here is the opening to the blog post:

    “Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to Tyro, Drew, Ray Moscow, Andrei, Dr. I. Needtob Athe, Anatman, Chris McNeely, Marcello, John Salerno, Miles, Mark, TheShortEaredOwl, Solomon Wagstaff, Evan Guiney, KP, Sven DiMilo, Patrick, Kevin Anthoney, Ftfkdad, Happy Cat, Prof. Pedant, Ben Goren, Qbsmd and Tim Byron.”

    1. I saw that, I also saw one of the early commenters mocking me because I said that the soul interacts with the brain. Isn’t that how they have claimed that it’s supposed to work in the past?

  4. My advice is to document these responses to Jerry’s contest in meticulous detail. Some future generation of Christians will claim that their long-cherished doctrine of evolutionary origins was a revelation from God, and not the product of some atheist blogger’s musing.

    1. Yeah, in my original submission I added:

      “P.S. The scary thing is that whichever entry wins might actually be used by some fundies to make a case for Adam and Eve! Of course, what a great thing it would be to point out that they had to resort to getting it from atheists who were *forcing* a solution out of thin air!”

      To which Uncommon Descent was kind enough to respond:

      “[Hey, John. I’ve got no shame, and I’ll cheerfully borrow ideas from anyone. But I also believe in giving credit where credit’s due. – VJT.]”

  5. Winner #2 manages to work not one but two references to marijuana into his winning entry. Score one for counterculture. Surprised you missed them.

  6. I guess I could get used to having people kneeling before me – in the immortal words of Mel Brooks “It’s good to be da King!”, although in this case my piece was less inspired by God than by a few glasses of Australian red!

  7. And so begins the first three chapters of The Case For Adam and Eve 😉 Don’t expect to be interviewed. (and good job, I enjoyed them all)

  8. There is nothing more depressing than reading through the comments on the uncommon descent website. People just throw ideas about and treat them is if they are all equally plausible, without a shred of evidence for any of them! 🙁

  9. Regarding #3: interestingly enough, there are not an infinite number of observably distinct universes. Eugene Koonin had some very interesting things to say about this in a talk at NIH a few years back.

    Consider the current consensus that the universe has a finite number of particles, and that Heisenberg uncertainty limits the number of observably distinct positions. Limit our scope in time from the Big Bang up to the point last point we’re interested in (for example: one second in the past, or the future collapse or heat death of the universe). Then all possible states, even all possible combinations of states into histories, can be encoded as a single, finite (albeit immensely large) integer.

    Following the theory that there are infinite universes, each observably distinct universe state (or even complete universe history) must be repeated an infinite number of times.

    Koonin used this all-possible-worlds hypothesis to explain the improbably origin of the highly complicated DNA-RNA-protein machinery at the core of all life. He even published a paper on it.

    Of course, it’s very unscientific, in the sense that it’s not even wrong, not even testable. If that’s the way the multiverse works, then any connection between one second and the next is an illusion, imposed by the existence of two nearly identical states which are somehow arbitrarily classified as before or after.

    Koonin falls prey to the traps of illogic even before finishing the abstract. After explaining how cosmic chance could have produced such unlikely phenomena as life, a point from which Darwinian evolution could take over, he writes, “A corollary of this hypothesis is that an RNA world, as a diverse population of replicating RNA molecules, might have never existed.” But of course the RNA world existed, that’s just another unlikely configuration of molecules. Everything exists, somewhere in the multiverse.

    Happily, Koonin wasn’t satisfied with such a pat answer, and has kept doing real science.

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