The Adam and Eve debacle continues: science drives theologians into a frenzy of fabrication

November 26, 2013 • 7:17 am

Busily engaged in apologetics, BioLogos has a new post on the never-ending kerfuffle about the meaning of Adam and Eve: “Why the church needs multiple theories of original sin.” It’s by Loren Haarsma, who has a doctorate in physics from Harvard and teaches it at Calvin College (he’s also the co-author, with his wife Deborah, of Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design).

The cynical—but correct—answer to the title question is: “Because science showed that there isn’t an Adam and Eve, so you have to make up stuff to save the meaning of Jesus.” And indeed, that’s precisely what theologians do, though of course they don’t admit it. Instead, they pretend that the scientific results showing that humans didn’t evolve from a single pair of ancestors simply means that we must reinterpret the Genesis story of Adam and Eve. But, as usual, theology cannot solve this problem, though Haarsma pretends that diligent theological study and proper interpretation of Scripture will yield an answer. It’s a prime example of how religious tenets are not only disproven by science, but, more important, how religion, unlike science, is powerless to find truth.

The facts first. Sheehan et al., building on an earlier paper by Li and Durbin (references below), calculated that the minimum population size associated with the worldwide expansion of humans out of Africa about 60,000 years ago was 2,250 individuals, while the population that remained in Africa was no smaller than about 10,000 individuals. For population geneticists, this is the “effective population size,” invariably smaller than the census size, so these are minimum estimates, and ones derived from conservative assumptions.  The population sizes are estimated by back-calculating (based on reasonable estimates of mutation rates and other parameters) how small an ancestral population could be and still give rise to the observed high level of genetic variation in our species.

Note: 2,500 is larger than two.

This means, of course, that Adam and Eve couldn’t have been the literal ancestors of all humanity. Normally, such a scientific trashing of scripture could be absorbed, at least by liberal theologians. They’d just reinterpret Adam and Eve as metaphors. But that causes big trouble on two counts. First, if there really were 2,500 or more ancestors, then all of them must have transgressed to bring original sin into the world. That is hard to fathom: did everyone do something bad at the same time?

Second, if Adam and Eve were metaphors, and the source of original sin is mysterious, then we have no idea why Jesus died. After all, his death and Resurrection occurred precisely to save us sinful humans from the transgressions of Adam and Eve. If you have to turn that story into a metaphor, then Jesus died for a metaphor. That’s not very palatable to Christians.

An easy and sensible way to solve this conundrum is to assume that the whole scenario is concocted: humans don’t have original sin; there was no Adam and Eve; and the Resurrection and divinity of Jesus were fictions. But Christians won’t have that, for the meaning of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection is the final, non-negotiable “truth” of Christianity. You can see everything else as metaphorical, but not that. For if you metaphorize Jesus, you’re basically abandoning Christianity.

But before Haarsma even gets to the science (whose truth he gracefully admits, because he has to), he discusses how the Church has historically dealt with the problem of atonement. The answer is that they’ve considered multiple theories and can’t settle on one. No answer is, or will be, forthcoming:

The church has developed multiple “theories of atonement” which seek to explain how Christ’s work solved the problem of sin. Not every proposed theory of atonement has been accepted; many were debated and rejected. But many competing theories remain—still studied, preached, and compared with each other centuries after they were proposed. This is because scripture itself uses numerous images for Christ’s work: victory over evil, ransom to free us from slavery, covenantal sacrifice, substitutionary bearing the penalty of sin, an example for us to imitate, and more. Indeed, how could a single human theory fully describe Christ’s work? By holding in tension multiple theories of atonement, each with its basis in scripture and each recognized as incomplete, we do more justice to the magnitude and the mystery of Christ’s atonement than any single theory could.

This is making a virtue of necessity.  Theologians recast “inability to decide among multiple explanation” into the words “hold multiple theories in tension.”  And then they pretend that this lack of resolution does “more justice to the magnitude and mystery of Christ’s atonement than any single theory could.” Can you imagine if scientists behaved this way? If they did, we’d say stuff like, “We have multiple theories of origins: evolution, creation ex nihilo, seeding of life from space, and so on, and we hold these theories in tension, knowing that this does more justice to the mystery of life than any single theory could.”

We don’t do that because science wants a correct answer, and is not satisfied with competing theories. But theologians are satisfied, because they have to be: unlike scientists, they have no way to decide among their competing explanations. And so they say, “They all could be right.” Let a hundred theories blossom.

Haarsma adds:

How did we find ourselves in need of such divine rescue? God created us. God is good. God loves us. So why aren’t we sinless? That’s the question of original sin.

But none of these theologians consider whether we actually do find ourselves in need of divine rescue, or why God is good and loves us. This is simply assuming that scripture is true.  In fact, many people are relatively sinless, leading decent lives.  Of course everyone lies on occasion, or commits small transgressions, but why can’t that just reflect our evolved and partly selfish nature? That is a good alternative explanation, and one that has some evidence behind it. It’s also one that theologians must ignore.

But on to Adam and Eve.  Haarsma describes three ways to reconcile the facts of science with “original sin” and our salvation through Jesus. I will put numbers in front of his alternatives to make this easier:

A variety of scenarios are being proposed by Christian scholars today for how we might understand the Adam and Eve of Genesis 2, and their disobedience in Genesis 3, in light of modern science.

1. Some scenarios propose Adam and Eve as two individuals living in Mesopotamia just a few thousand years ago, acting not as ancestors but as recent representatives of all humanity. As our representatives, their disobedience caused all of humanity to fall into sin.

2. Other scenarios propose Adam and Eve as two individuals, or as literary representations of a small group of ancient representative-ancestors, selected out of a larger population, living in Africa over 100,000 years ago at the dawn of humanity; they were ancestors—but not the sole ancestors—of all humans today; they fell into disobedience against God over a relatively short period of time with a fairly distinct “before” and “after.”

3. Other scenarios propose that Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Genesis 3 is a symbolic retelling of the story of every human who, over our long history, became aware of God’s claims on how they ought to live, and then disobeyed.

As noted by Haarsma, each of these has its own set of problems if you want to save the idea of original sin. The first raises the problem of how the transgressions of two people could infect the entire species. And what about those people outside the Middle East who were already on their own evolutionary path? How did original sin get to the Aztecs, Mayans, and East Asians?

The second scenario, which proposes that Adam and Eve could be “literary representations” (i.e., made up) of an entire group of ancestors, also fails to explain how that whole group became infected with original sin. (It’s easier to explain two people disobeying God’s orders than how 2,500 or more humans did so simultaneously.) And if Adam and Eve were real (i.e., not “literary”), then the chance that they would be genetic ancestors of us all is virtually nil. Did God then plan that, and, if so, what part of their DNA did we all inherit?

The final alternative, if you wish to save original sin, is the one employed by more sophisticated theologians like Peter Enns (reference below). Enns, formerly a biblical scholar at BioLogos, but presumably expelled from Paradise by his science-y transgressions, simply says that the whole scenario is metaphorical. Granted, in the Bible Paul sees Adam and Eve as the ancestors of all humanity, and the bearers of original sin, but, as Enns says in his book (p. 143):

“One can believe that Paul is correct theologically and historically about the problem of sin and death and the solution that God provides in Christ without also needing to believe that his assumptions about human origins are accurate. The need for a savior does not require a historical Adam.”

In other words, the Adam and Eve story is fictional. Enns, of course, does not solve the problem of sin and death, for nobody can. Any answer must be confected to give meaning to the fictional deeds and salvific potential of Jesus.  Since that stuff is non-negotiable, neither Enns nor other Christians are willing to abandon their faith for the more parsimonious hypothesis: to the extent that humans are “sinful” (i.e., behave selfishly and occasionally deceptively), that is the result of both our evolutionary past and the ability of our big, evolved brains to have a theory of mind and anticipate the results of our acts. There’s much evidence supporting this latter scenario: just look at the behavior of our primate relatives. But Jesus couldn’t have died to save us from our evolutionary heritage, for Christianity presumes that there was a time when humans were not “sinful.”

After metaphorically tearing out his hair over the explanation of original sin, Haarsma simply punts and says that having many theories is a good thing, and that, one fine day, we may know which one is right. All it will take is lots of hard work by theologians and a “proper”  understanding of scripture. And even if we can’t solve the problem, it’s still all to the good, for that will simply make us appreciate God all the more. (How is that supposed to work?). As he says,

If we do our job carefully, the church will be well served by the time spent working through the theological implications of these differing scenarios. If the problem of sin is so vast that it requires such an astonishing solution as the Atonement, perhaps we will also need multiple theories of original sin. Some theories of will be discarded as being inconsistent with God’s revelation in scripture. Those that remain should deepen our understanding and our appreciation of God’s grace and the immensity of the rescue God undertook through Jesus Christ.

Talk about turning necessities into virtues! The debate will never be settled, for theology has no tools to settle it. The game is given away when Haarsma mentions that “some theories will be discarded as being inconsistent with God’s revelation in Scripture.” But the whole problem is this: what, exactly, is God’s revelation in Scripture? It used to be a literal interpretation of Adam and Eve, and still would be had science not taken that off the table. But maybe original sin is metaphorical, too, and perhaps even Jesus is!  Indeed, maybe God isn’t loving and good, either. After all, he’s pretty much of a hateful bully in the Old Testament.

In the end, nobody can tell us what God’s revelation in Scripture is, though Biblical literalists are the best at doing it without looking like weasels.  The liberal theologians simply sit around and make up interpretations that comport with their more sophisticated a priori “interpretations” of the Bible. What a blessing that we scientists don’t have to act like that!

h/t: Michael


Enns, P. 2012. The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins. Brazos Press, Grand Rapids, MI.

Li, H., and R. Durbin. 2011. Inference of human population history from individual whole-genome sequences. Nature 475:493-497.

Sheehan, S., K. Harris, and Y. S. Song. 2013. Estimating variable effective population sizes from multiple genomes: a sequentially Markov conditional sampling distribution approach. Genetics 194:647-62.

107 thoughts on “The Adam and Eve debacle continues: science drives theologians into a frenzy of fabrication

    1. The hurt is so deep for them that reason is turned off and faith negotiates every fabrication to veil their worldview from reality.

  1. “Some theories of will be discarded as being inconsistent with God’s revelation in scripture…”

    Notice not suggestion of: “some theories will be discarded inconsistent with reality..”

    1. “Some theories will be discarded …” but in the mean time we will continue to campaign against gay marriage and stem cell research in the sure and certain knowledge that we perfectly understand the will of god on those issues with precise clarity.

      Bloddy hell.

  2. “Note: 2,500 is larger than two.”

    I’m glad you clarified that. The numbers were a little baffling at first. 😉

    On a more serious note, I was under the impression that it was as low as 250 that left Africa. I got that (I believe) from a Dr Alice Roberts BBC programme. Does anyone know if the estimate has recently increased or was the 250 number only referring to breeding individuals? I was always amazed the number was so low, so it’s interesting to hear otherwise.

    1. The ~ 2 000 minimum figure, or ~ 4 000 on average, and about the same bottleneck for Neanderthals and later Denisovans, was IIRC established 2011 with the Neanderthal core genome 2x sequencing to some 60 % coverage.

      But now they keep going over that over and over with better coverage, more samples, more diversified models, so I have lost track.

      I didn’t know about the African bottleneck estimate, for example. About half that of chimps, I think. The Unsuccessful Ape. 😉

  3. Let’s see- an all-knowing God creates a couple who have no knowledge of good and evil (not having eaten of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil); tells them not to eat of the fruit because it will lead to “bad” things (“for in that day, thou will surely die”-which didn’t happen, by the way). Not having any reference point as to the fact that “bad” is worse than “good”, they eat of the fruit, at which point God gets really pissed and condemns all mankind from that point on….makes perfect sense to me!

      1. Oh, that is so good.

        I recently calculated (using a naïvely simple exponential model) that, given a start of one couple, and a generation time of 20 or 25 years, that the entire visible universe would be filled with people in only about 5,000 to 7,000 years. Unfortunately, it was pointed out to me that you can’t fill a sphere with a radius of billions of light years in a span of 5,000 years, and I would have to take into account relativistic effects! But the point stands–death is a necessary thing, and the planet without it would truly be hell.

        And, don’t miss this great cartoon that speaks directly to the whole Adam thing:

    1. Here’s the thing — if the original sin was eating of the forbidden fruit, let’s use science. Adam and Eve were simply the first primates with a mutation enabling color vision — the knowledge of good and evil was actually being able to discern a nice red-ripe fruit. So that puts us pretty much at the insectivorous prosimian grade.

      That means among things, that all the anthropoids — bonobos and baboons to howlers and owlers — are moral creatures and probably all damned if we can’t bring them to Christ. [Still room for theological debate about missionary societies for marmosets and lemurs, of course.]

      The conservatives may wish to work on the serpent Satan. My sense is that the temptor was a lizard, maybe an iguanid — we want color vision and a taste for fruit. Then there’s geckos, obviously better candidates for talking and for losing limbs, but do they have color vision, and wouldn’t they have tempted a tarsier with forbidden bugs? All worth theological rumnination, but science might take us further by defining the last sister group of serpents that have color vision. Anyone want to help work on a proposal to Templeton?

      1. I’m sure it was a gecko. After all, if they can sell insurance they could certainly sell some nice, ripe fruit.

  4. These people are in overdrive with their rationalizing, and some of them, at least, seem perfectly aware of it. How can they look in the mirror and see an intellectually honest person staring back? Is this what denial gets you? Have none of it!

    1. The intellectually honest question is “what would it take for me to change my mind and admit I was mistaken?” But since religion so successfully manages to mix up facts and values in the minds of the believer, what starts out as a query exploring a hypothesis and its alternatives turns in to a character test.

      “What horrible thing would have to happen to me, to make me give up hope and love?”

      They can now wonder how WE can look in the mirror. Charming strategy.

      1. I asked this very question to a Christian apologist on a blog when he was discussing atheist “churches”. His response was something of the order of “What would it take for me to abandon my wife and kids? Because that’s what my relationship with Jesus is like.” Yes, because a being you cannot see, hear, or detect is just like the people who are closest to you. Pointless arguing with people like that.

        1. If it’s pointless arguing with ‘people like that’ then it’s probably pointless arguing with any theist at all, since I think the Christian’s response is pretty standard. It’s also, as you point out, pretty damn superficial.

          They do know how to dig deeper. That’s why they keep giving out distress signals and veiled threats (‘I’ll abandon my wife and kids if you don’t stop!’) in order to end the dialogue.

        2. Isn’t the simple and accurate answer to that question: “Someone would have to show me that there is no reliable evidence that my wife and kids exist” — which is precisely the case with regard to the existence of “god.”

  5. In 1950, Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical entitled Humani Generis, which said the following:

    “When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which through generation is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.”

    People who know more about evolution that me can I’m sure pick lots of holes in this. Suffice to say, that all Christian Churches struggle with this issue and the results are never edifying.

  6. “Enns, formerly a biblical scholar at BioLogos, but presumably expelled from Paradise by his science-y trangressions, simply says that the whole scenario is metaphorical. Granted, this is Paul’s explanation in the Bible,…”

    I am curious to know where in the Bible Paul declares the creation story to be metaphorical?

    1. I dunno, but I just had a Christian tell me the command in the OT to stone non-virgin brides to death was just a metaphor for god wanting us all to be pure at marriage.

      Cognitive dissonance is a powerful thing.

    2. I think you’re misinterpreting Jerry’s phrasing. Read it as: “Enns says the whole scenario is metaphorical even though a literal scenario [“this”] is Paul’s explanation in the Bible…”

  7. On Twitter I sometimes write the following to believers: “There is bad behavior, there is wrong behavior, and there is immoral behavior. but there is no such thing as ‘sin’.” I usually don’t get a reply.

    In the meantime, Jerry, hats off to you for once again wading through this theological mumbo-jumbo. Frankly, I’d rather contemplate the protocols of the United Federation of Planets (there’s even a Wikipedia page for this) than deal with “theology”!

  8. “…one fine day, we may know which one is right. All it will take is lots of hard work by theologians and a “proper” understanding of scripture. ”

    Yeah, ’cause after 2000 years of cogitation they’ve barely scratched the surface of the issue. C’mon, let’s not be so mean – we’ve got to give these guys some time!!

    Oh, and one more thing, where can I buy the definitive guidebook to the “proper understanding of scripture”? I’m sure it must exist somewhere, but the Religion shelves in my local bookshop are so crowded I can’t seem to find it.

    1. “where can I buy the definitive guidebook to the “proper understanding of scripture”

      They sell them in the store where you buy your Peyote.

  9. Oh, and the elephant in the room: Why does any scientist who believes in the miraculous, as Haarsma presumably does, feel compelled to comport biblical stories with our latest understanding of how things really happened?

    I guess I can answer my own question. It’s the result of him working out two accepted but opposing ideas in his own mind.

    But it’s still frustrating to see.

  10. I met Deborah Haarsma at a conference in Melbourne, Australia, while she was working in astronomy at MIT. Although she sort of “looked Christian” in the way she dressed etc, many non-Christians look that way as well. Certainly her astronomical work was not tainted by her religion. In fact, I was rather surprised when I learned that she had taken a job at Calvin College.

    1. Although she sort of “looked Christian” in the way she dressed etc, many non-Christians look that way as well.

      Ok, could you expand on this?

      1. Is it not obvious? Wearing a dress even in the winter, little or no makeup, no ostentatious jewellery etc. I know many atheists who look similar, hence my qualification.

        OK, thinking of televangelists and their wives (and girlfriends), there are of course other types of Christians who like to pile on the makeup. 🙂

        As I said, she appeared to keep her work and her religion separate, hence my surprise when she moved to Calvin. All I meant was that, in retrospect, her demeanor was typical of a certain type of Christian.

        One has to be careful about judging books by the covers, though. For example, the drummer of the English heavy-metal band Iron Maiden, Nicko McBrain (real last name), is a born-again Christian. I admit that I had ignored Iron Maiden because of the imagery (more of the fans than the musicians) before serendipitously discovering that they have some really good music. (They are much closer to 1970s hard rock than most of what goes under the name of “heavy metal.) Ironically, as an atheist I occasionally find it difficult to listen to Iron Maiden because of the Christian imagery in some of the songs. 🙂 Fortunately, McBrain has written only part of one song, so this is a rare occasion indeed. (The music is still good, though. J.S. Bach was another Christian who wrote some good music, even the works with religious lyrics. No, I’m not comparing Iron Maiden to Bach directly, but one thing I notice about both is that the music is quite complex and can be heard many, many times without getting boring. Other good music I can still listen too repeatedly, but after a few times I’ve essentially memorized the piece and the novelty wears off. Not so with Bach and not so with Iron Maiden. Note: otherwise, I listen to practically no other heavy-metal music, mostly 1960s/1970s rock, English folk music, Baroque music, Renaissance music, mediaeval music.)

      1. Ah, the Haarsma’s and their employer are located in Grand Rapids. I look forward to mention of this Loren Haarsma piece on Reasonable Doubts.

  11. Jesus Christ (heh), that made my head hurt. This is why creationists are so easy — none of that work-around crap to deal with. God created Adam & Eve specifically; humans didn’t evolve from non-human ancestors. First Adam, then Eve – boom boom, two humans, original sin. Ne not required. This of course requires determined nose-thumbing at all of the mountains of evidence to the contrary, but that’s never been a problem for them before.

  12. Talk about ‘tangled webs’! But you have to have a sort of admiration for the creativity of Sophisticated Theologians’ in their efforts to ‘solve’ the great mysteries of scripture, and its ‘correct’ intetpretation. Yet, how will we ever know which interpretation is to be accepted. The god is sure mysterious!

    1. I’m afraid you’ll have to go back further than that – the first replicating molecule that devoured another molecule for sustenance was the source of original sin. But to get the Templeton you will have to admit that those molecules had conciousness. Because of quantum! Or something like that.

      1. Of course! I got it – the first self-replicator was indeed conscious, because of quantum. And since, as we learned from Mr. Chopra, all consciousness will permeate the universe, the whole universe became changed to its present, post-sin state when the first self-replicator sinned.

        This does not only explain original sin, but suffering through so-called “natural” forces as well, doing away with theodicy in the same go.

        Oh my. It’s clearly to easy to do this.

  13. 3. Other scenarios propose that Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Genesis 3 is a symbolic retelling of the story of every human who, over our long history, became aware of God’s claims on how they ought to live, and then disobeyed.

    For my money I’d say this one was closest to the “truth” — in that my guess is that the story of Adam and Eve (and the atonement) resonates with people because it echoes the story every human being plays out in their childhood. They pass from what their parents consider to be “infancy” to a state where they’re accountable and expected to behave.

    Used to be just fine to shit yourself, grab at things, and do whatever you wanted if you could: Paradise. Now it’s all “no, no, no” and “shame on you” and “stop that:” Paradise Lost. The change must be in you. You became bad…. and still want to be bad, given that the new default on Good appears to be perfect and flawless obedience.

    But that’s the trouble with trying to make sense of the ‘metaphors.’ You’re not giving folks a Reason to Believe. You’re giving them another “aha” moment on the path to atheism.

    1. It’s appealing, but the “no, no, no”phase starts well before the formation of our first lasting memories, and as toddlers sometimes seem to be a death wish on two legs, plenty of things have to be forbidden to them early on.

      In addition, while our culture idealizes childhood as idyllic, many people have unhappy childhoods, and most children have episodes of extreme fear, anxiety, or sorrow.

      The idea of a golden age where life was easy is very common, and could be a metaphor for the transition “to agriculture from the hunter/gatherer lifestyle. Part of Adam’s punishment is “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life…By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground…”

      1. True: the Golden Age always seems to be the one where we didn’t have to work (or we think we didn’t have to.) But it has always seemed to me that the complaints about our inherently wicked, sinful nature have their roots in a frustrated, unhappy, shame-filled, and anxious toddlerhood — one where the Authority is simultaneously worshiped, feared, and resented.

        The Ultimate State of Bliss in a Union with God looks suspiciously like that of a contented, suckling babe.

          1. And humans are so easily brainwashed the butcher doesn’t even have to hide the blade behind his back. All he has to do is tell the humans that it is for their own good and it is their fault anyway, and they are content.

        1. Sure, the other thing that paradise has no use for is knowledge, and the blank slate image of the infant mind is at home there.

          (Of course, real infants are hard wired to investigate and learn as much as their developing bodies and brains allow).

          Puberty is another transition where life gets complicated and the number of forbidden but desirable activities blossoms.

          Which might be one reason why gender and sexuality issues run all through the Eden myth and the doctrine of Original Sin.

          Metaphors can work on a lot of levels, for good or ill.

  14. Adam and eve are a metaphor, Jesus is a metaphor and so is god. Surely words that can so easily be translated or interpreted to give so many different “theories” have to be so vague and general as to be meaningless as something to live by. It is why the predictions of Nostradamus,’ or any other psychic and oracle, are only useful after the fact. These theologians have turned the Bible into a collection of horoscope readings, mixed in with stories of bloody sacrifices and casual genocide. Keep it poetic and general then if any facts happen to come their way they can say they got there first, just like fans of Nostradamus. They can never be wrong and they can never be useful.

  15. Haarsma repeats the point that multiple theories are good…then repeats the point that it’s good when the church eliminates the wrong ones, and that it will be a great day when we have the single right one.

    Can’t have it both ways.

    It’s either a good day when theology finds the single right interpretation, or it’s a good day when theology finds the multiple ones that increase our understanding…but one of those good days precludes the other day being good.

    I also find it somewhat amusing that Haarsma is acknowledging that a book inspired by God in order to help us achieve salvation is unclear on basic concepts like why we need salvation. It brings up the old chestnut: is God unclear because he doesn’t know why we need salvation, because he is doesn’t have the power to communicate the correct answer to us, or is it because he doesn’t want to communicate such an important point clearly?

    1. They’d probably say this is why you need faith.

      God wants you to know the answer, but first and foremost you need faith in him.

      1. Yeah, that’s the pat response. Carrying with it the ludicrous implication “and all those Christians who disagree with my interpretation? They don’t have faith, even though they say they do.”

        40,000 answers to the question of what the faith means, and the faithful respond to this ’embarrassment of riches’ by claiming the answer is clear and 39,999 of those groups are insincere or decived by the devil. Rather than admit the obvious – if you’ve got 40,000 different interpretatinos of something from groups that look pretty sincere, they probably are sincere and it’s just not all that clear a message.

        1. It’s a close cousin to the “No true Scostman” fallacy.

          What I don’t get is how they deceive themselves into thinking that their answer is the only right answer.

          Everyone is the hero in their own lives, I guess…

          1. Thinking you have the only right answer is fine. Thinking that you have the only right answer and this answer is so obvious that no rational person could sincerely disagree with you, when so many humans do disagree with you, is the ludicrous claim.

  16. This proliferation of untestable theories is a problem of not only theology but also much of the humanities.
    Why care about reality when you can have so much fun creating theories out of thin air?

  17. Gotta admit it ; there is a great sadness in watching educated people speak bollox, – all drawn from their assumption that all knowledge comes from authority ! They are not aware of that assumption; they never are. Even when you point-out that all their intellectual effort is towards supporting a talking snake walking upright, they still do not get it. But it does provide us with fascinating insights into the workings of the religious consciousness.
    Listening to Haarsma is like going to a lecture at a prestigious university, and noticing, in the first few minutes, a pair of clown’s feet protruding from his podium. Then you notice the red rubber nose, and the high arched brows, and the red hair, the white gloves, and the chequered onesie. And slowly you realise that it is all drivel! How could he possibly carry on, braving our incredulity? And, above all, why doesn’t he realise that he is mouthing streams of astonishing irrational nonsense that obliges us to reflect, ‘what is that holey book he keeps referring-to, and how could it mean so much to him?’
    Haarsma’s lines of reasoning fall into the category of ‘Exponential Error Dispersion’, which is an idea taken from any three-body system is in motion in an enclosed space, and how it may suddenly give rise to unexpectedly violent aberrations. It is also to be seen in the weather, where it is wrongly called ‘The Butterfly Effect’. The errors mount exponentially, as in all religions, whereby a simple explanation of a religious notion releases scored of errors, and they, in turn, have to be chased-down and explained; giving rise to even more errors. The whole things is a fantastic exercise in pursuing logical possibility where no reality exists.
    I can only suppose that the flight of Christian apologists into the rarefied atmosphere of finely-minced b*llsh*t suggests that like communism, the internal tensions bring it all close to imploding. Come to France. See our empty churches and cathedrals. It’s a shame. A new British program called ‘Cathedral’ had the clergy mournfully admitting that his service attracted 20-30! This, in Wakefield Cathedral designed to hold one to three thousand! Game over.

  18. How did we find ourselves in need of such divine rescue? God created us. God is good. God loves us. So why aren’t we sinless? That’s the question of original sin.

    A rational person, when confronted with cold, hard facts that are inconsistent with a particular theory, with abandon said theory — or, at least, modify it until it is consistent with the observations.

    It takes a particularly perverse type of insanity to insist that a theory is true when said theory, thousands of years old, had already been demonstrated false centuries before its popular formulation. I refer, of course, to Epicurus and his famous riddle — which is exactly what Haarsma paraphrased in the quote above.

    Yes, benevolent deities are deader than the flat earth or the four elements or the Golden Fleece or the Philosopher’s Stone. That we’re having a “serious” discussion about them and the proponents expect — nay, demand — respect for their position and intellectual integrity beggars — nay, buggers — belief.

    …and, to top it all off, the theidiots choose a faery tale about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard as the focal point of the “debate”….



  19. Excellent post. I have one question, though. Isn’t it a mathematical certainty, given our diploid way of reproducing, that all of us alive today can trace our ancestry to a single pair of individuals? Of course they very likely didn’t even live in the same millennium and every generation likely has a different pair of ancestors. But given the way we reproduce, isn’t it an arithmetic necessity that there were single individuals we all are descended from?

    1. No, it is not a mathematical certainty. An entire group of organisms can evolve; a species does not always have to arise from a single set of parents.

      And there are ways to tell the difference; you look at genetic diversity in the descendent population. Wider diversity requires more ancestors. Our human genetic diversity points to an absolute lower limit “bottlneck” of about 2,250 individuals outside of Africa and another 10,000 in Africa. This bottleneck occurred about 60,000 years ago.

      Now, you can go all the way back to the origin of life I suppose, and say there was likely one first replicator (which replicated many times, and evolved sexual reproduction somewhat later). But if the point is to defend the A&E story, that’s kind of a pyrrhic victory, isn’t it?

      1. I think mecwordpress might be groping towards the idea of a last common ancestor, which is a very real phenomenon. However, while there will always be at least one common ancestor, there are often a great many common ancestors; the last common ancestor is just the youngest of the lot.

        It’s not out of the realm of possibility for there to be a breeding pair to simultaneously be the last common ancestor, but I’m pretty sure the odds are stacked heavily against that. And, even were there such an example, they would not be the only ancestor; they would just be a particular pair of great-great-great-great-…-great-grandparents out of all the others, and they would just happen to be the pair that everybody happens to have in common.

        Further, for as many generations back as we’re describing, for any mutations that arose in any last common ancestor…well, those mutations would have to be powerfully positive selectors extremely beneficial to recipients for the mutation to survive in all descendants. Remember that there’s everybody else in the gene pool without said mutation, and the odds overwhelmingly favor it simply getting diluted out of existence unless it’s a radical game-changer.

        Then again, the notion of a genetic component to Christian “Sin” is even more laughably absurd than the notion of a quantum mechanical force that explains the power of Harry Potter’s magic wang.



      2. I wasn’t in any way trying to defend the A&E story. I reject it outright as a factual story. I understand that our present genetic diversity points us to a time when humans went through a bottleneck and I fully understand that populations evolve and that a species usually (though it is not necessarily true) arises from a population of organisms.

        I did not suggest that our last common ancestor must have been human (though I do not see why it could not have been) only that one must exist, given the way we reproduce. At least that’s how it looks to me, even if it does appear that I’m “groping”.

    2. Due to the large spans involved it can be difficult to visualize.

      There are genetic differences between a mother and her child, but they are relatively minor. There are many more genetic differences between that child and one of its great to the 3rd grandparents but, again, they are relatively minor. They are still, with no confusion and by any of the many species concepts, the same species.

      But say you go back 80,000 generations? The genetic differences that have accumulated in the generations between this distant ancestor and the child are numerous enough that they are now reasonably classified as different species. They are different animals. One is Homo sapiens and the other is Homo ergaster

      But here is the thing to put it in perspective. That distant ancestor is one member of a population to which it is as closely related to as the child is to its contemporary population. They can each interbreed with their contemporary populations, but not with each other (even if you could magically get them together) because of the accumulated genetic differences. And yet, the line of descent from that distant ancestor to the child is direct and unbroken.

  20. A great book on this topic is “Evolving Out of Eden,” co-authored by biblical scholar Robert Price, who shows what a hash the fact of evolution makes of a few key Christian dogmas.

  21. When I read some of this theology, I keep imagining a kindly and enouraging teacher who is saying “Go on: say what you are thinking. It’s OK – there is no wrong answer”.

  22. I don’t believe there’s any mention of original sin in the Adam and Eve story, which of course is to be found in the Hebrew bible. Original Sin seems to have gotten its start in life when “St” Paul pulled the concept out of his ass.

  23. The thing that continues to amaze me is that it’s not like Christianity is sensible but suffers from some particular problem areas.

    It’s that NOTHING about Christianity makes sense (all things considered). Nothing. There is virtually no sentence in the Bible
    that really makes sense of it being authored by a Supreme Being, and virtually any sentence out of the mouth of a Christian describing or defending her beliefs immediately makes my brain react “hold on here…but that doesn’t make sense because..”

    It’s senseless to the core.


    1. To be fair, it does make a type of sense within the context of the fantasy — like how a light saber can effortlessly cut through solid metal in this one scene but bounces off the railings in the other scene. Just invoke the particle of the week and all is well.



        1. When you realize that it’s just a swords-and-sorcery faery tale, complete with flaming swords and flying horses and wizened wizards and scary monsters and damsels in distress and all the rest, but set in space, it becomes much more entertaining and a lot less annoying.


      1. Ben,

        That’s sort of why I added “all things considered” as in how, if it’s not internally
        inconstant, it’s inevitably inconstant with real life.

        But even that said: almost all, if not all, of the bible I think is nonsensical insofar as little of it makes sense when you think about it…just like any fantasy movie makes only superficial “dramatic” sense, but it’s just full of logical holes and inconsistencies when you give the story more thought.

        Not to mention, pretty much every story in the Bible makes no sense in the context of representing the reasoning and works of an All Knowing, All Powerful, All Good being.


        1. Ah, but don’t you see? In the context of the faery tale, the supreme anti-hero is defined as a wonderful dude, and so everything he does in the context of the faery tale is, by definition, wonderful. When he lays waste to the entire planet, when he tortures and kills the Egyptians, when his minions rape and murder by the millions, those are all good things.

          The problem, of course, is that Christians make the fundamental mistrake of thinking that any of that has any bearing whatsoever on reality outside of the faery tale. But they really are all wonderful in the anti-utopia of the fantasy world.


  24. The population sizes are estimated by back-calculating (based on reasonable estimates of mutation rates and other parameters) how small an ancestral population could be and still give rise to the observed high level of genetic variation in our species.
    Therein lies the catch eh? lol Taking a look the Li and Durbin paper they’ve used the ‘slower’ rate from recent genetic family tree comparison studies (1.25 x -8) vs. the ol’ standard (2.5 x -8) which was accepted (even though seemingly circularly derived with phylogenetic distances correlated with fossil evidence/assumed divergence times.) Point being this very significant parameter is still to be refined and a much smaller effective population size may still be in play. Anyone find the Sheehan paper as a free download?

  25. Adam and Eve were real. The bible (a witness) says so. Its a witness in good standing until proven otherwise.
    Heaps of people believe in Adam/Eve. I do.
    How do researchers on this know it ain’t true.
    Its the whole bible ‘s credibility that proves genesis credibility.
    Its evolutionary biology that is a myth.
    How do we judge the evidence in these matters?

    1. [The Bible is] a witness in good standing until proven otherwise.

      See, the thing is…proving otherwise is trivial.

      Even a cursory reading of the Bible is enough to show that it’s nothing more than an ancient anthology of some really bad faery tales. It opens with a story about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard — and it’s in that context which all this Adam and Eve nonsense happens. Later, we have a talking plant, fer chrissakes — and on fire, no less! — that gives magic wand lessons to the reluctant hero. And it ends with this utterly bizarre zombie snuff pr0n fantasy in which one of the King of the Undead’s thralls thrusts his “finger” into the king’s gaping chest wound and gives his guts a goose.

      Such stories need no further serious examination than any other unapologetic work of fantasy.

      But, if we do so examine them, just to humor the credulous who have bought into the scam that is Christianity, at every step we see the Bible flatly contradicts objective observation in every way imaginable. There never could have been fewer than a few thousand humans at any point in history or else humans wouldn’t have the genetic diversity that they do. A global flood is a physical impossibility to begin with — there’s nowhere near enough water — and it would have left absolutely unmistrakable traces of environmental and ecological destruction that we simply see not even an hint of. Hell, there are even high-altitude desert-adapted trees still alive today that would have been killed if the story were true. There are neither records nor physical evidence of any significant Hebrew presence in ancient Egypt, and there never was any decades-long “migration” across the couple hundred miles between, say, Cairo and Jerusalem (a distance that would take less than a year at even an inconceivably-slow mile per day). And not a single one of the numerous detailed records from the first half of the first century even make a vague hint at Jesus or anybody resembling him or any of the events surrounding him…except, of course, for all the nearly-identical Pagan demigods whom no lesser a figure than Justin Martyr admitted the Christians made Jesus up from.

      So, I’m afraid you’ve got it exactly umop-apisdn: if the Bible says it, if there’s any truth to it it’s either entirely an accident or simply a thin patina of verisimilitude such as Harry Potter appearing on a magical train platform in a very real London station.

      Much more rational to simply dismiss it all wholesale as the violent and insane primitive superstition it so clearly is, and to get your knowledge and wisdom and inspiration from more deserving works.



      1. Unfortunately Ben, RB’s brain is like the laws of the Medes and the Persians: set in stone and unchangeable. excellent post,BTW.

    2. “How do we judge the evidence in these matters?”

      That is a great question. Do you judge the evidence for the truth of the bible by the same standard you judge the evidence for the truth of the Koran or the Book of Mormon? If not why not?

    3. Mr. Byers:

      Your posting history on various science blogs and websites is such that I’m not going to play your game until you first answer two questions (the context, short and easily readable, is here: I’m only going to list the questions themselves, but I encourage you to pop over there and see the backstory):

      Question #1: What evidence would falsify your chosen variety of creationism?

      Question #2: What evidence would you accept as provisional proof of evolution?

      Best wishes on your continuing education,

      Mark Joseph

    4. The bible (a witness) says so. Its a witness in good standing until proven otherwise.

      It is a myth, a mundane work of fiction, among similar myths in a *huge* myth factory, until proven otherwise.

      Pretending otherwise would be loony and fruitless, because it is so full of archaeological and historical errors.

      Lastly, proving otherwise would mean having extraordinary evidence, because it is an extraordinary claim.

  26. “Some theories will be discarded as being inconsistant with gods revalation in scripture”

    The whole being discarded because of the revalations of science!!!!!

  27. I always thought theology was a rational study of religions.

    To me, theologians attempt to get to the actual meaning of ancient texts without bias (except for those with ministry degrees). for example, to determine if the word used is for pederasty or something else.

    I recognize that theological studies often coincide with ministerial studies but these guys appear to be just apologists for Christianity not legitimate theologians.

    1. You’re thinking of religious studies, a multidisciplinary field which draws from sociology, anthropology, abnormal psychology, literary analysis, and the like. It’s common to find religious studies departments at even the most rabidly secular of institutions.

      Theology is almost exclusively an enterprise pursued by True Believers™ attempting to divine the Ultimate Nature™ of their favored gods.

      Somebody in a religious studies department might be interested in comparing trickster deities across religions. Her Christian theologian counterpart at the seminary, on the other hand, will devote himself to apologias devoted to explaining why the tricks YHWH played on Job and Abraham and Moses and Adam and Eve and the rest weren’t quite so nasty after all, and we shouldn’t even be thinking of them as treacherous deceits in the first place.



    2. What Ben said.

      And… Theo is Greek for “god”. Theology is the study of god. Since there is no evidence for the existence of this thing called “god” the discipline is, when you get down to it, the study of nothing.

      Of course it isn’t really nothing. It is an idea, or more correctly an incoherent collection of ideas, about something that doesn’t exist. Theologians spend their time justifying and rationalizing the existence of this idea.

      Religion, on the other hand, really does exist. There are real religions in the world. People who study religions are studying the behaviors of real human beings on a real planet in real space. It is very like studying History.

      So one is very different than the other.

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