Biologist Jerry Coyne vs. Adam and Eve

At his blog this week, Jerry Coyne calls out the BioLogos Foundation, a self-professed reconciler of good science with reasonable religion, for not unequivocally rejecting the historicity of Adam and Eve:

BioLogos does not take an official position on the historicity of Adam and Eve??  Do they not realize what they’re saying?  This is like asserting that “BioLogos does not take an official position on the age of the earth.”

Adam and Eve did not exist, and we know that because the entire human race did not descend from two people who were created ex nihilo about 6,000 years ago.  Science tells us that.  If BioLogos doesn’t take an official position on Adam and Eve, then they’re flying in the face of scientific fact.

I would add that literal Adam and Eve belief also promotes racism.

Why racism?

Because most white fundamentalists not only believe that humanity’s first parents came on the scene about 6,000 years ago, they also believe that those parents were conventionally white and came from Mesopotamia (Genesis’s location for the Garden of Eden). Below, for example, is the model of Adam and Eve shown to people visiting the young earth Creation Museum in Kentucky:

1a-w-n-adam-model-was-a-gay-pornstar

If there was an equivalent Afrocentrism Museum built somewhere that so grossly misrepresented what historians and scientists have learned about our human history and ancestry, there would no doubt be a great deal of derision heaped upon the museum. And while it is true that the young earth Creation Museum in Kentucky has received its (thoroughly deserved) share of intellectual pillorying on the grounds that it contradicts evolution, one element that has been politely sidestepped is its blatant racism.

But to assert, in the 21st century, that humanity’s first parents did not come out of Africa is no less ridiculous (and ultimately racist) than to assert, as Afrocentists do, that the history of Greece and Egypt was dominated by the achievements of black Africans. In other words, when white Evangelicals and fundamentalists show picture books to their children depicting Adam and Eve and all the early humans (such as Noah) as white, it is no different from Afrocentrists teaching their kids that all great Egyptians were black, and that Egyptians gave Greece their intellectual and cultural innovations. In both cases, children are being taught racially motivated and ahistorical nonsense. Our earliest human ancestors looked like the San Bushmen of southwest Africa, and may have even used a click language like the San people do now. These are facts (as the New York Times so thoroughly surveyed). The evidence is simply overwhelming that the ancestors of all modern humans living today came from either the southeast or southwest part of Africa, and were most closely related to the San people of southwest Africa (who are still living there today).

Put differently: “Adam and Eve”—or the first modern human ancestors of all living people today—whatever name you give them—were black—and not white. Period. And to deny this in the 21st century, and to teach something otherwise to your children, is not just a gross distortion of history, but racist.

That’s my opinion. What’s yours?

_______________

Below is an image of a white Adam and Eve, in Mesopotamia’s Garden of Eden, from a children’s book:

1a-w-q-and-they-were-white

And here’s a nineteenth century racist depiction of a white Noah (the father supposedly of all humans after the Great Flood) and his apparently all white family. (It makes you wonder where the artist supposed that black, brown, and Asian people came from):

4a-noahs-family

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              .

I’d like to emphasize that not all conservative Christians take Adam and Eve literally. Here, for example, is Alister McGrath sensibly interpreting the story of Adam and Eve as metaphor:

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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15 Responses to Biologist Jerry Coyne vs. Adam and Eve

  1. Rob says:

    As usual, Coyne is as woodenly literalistic as any fundamentalist. As I understand it, Waltke’s position is that there were two original humans. While I surely don’t buy it, the idea of two first persons can be held without placing them in Mesopotamia 6,000 years ago and without asserting that they were of a particular race or ethnicity.

  2. Grad Student says:

    A few months ago I visited the creation museum and saw the representation of Adam and Eve you have in this post. I was struck with how much they are clearly not European. To me they appeared more Persian or Arabic than anything else. (Of course, such ethnicities are still considered to be “white,” whatever that means.)

    While the museum is abhorrent in most respects, at least their Adam and Eve weren’t blue-eyed Caucasians.

  3. santitafarella says:

    Grad Student:

    That’s interesting that they tried to incorporate into a conventionally “Mesopotamian” looking couple perhaps the genetic variation of the whole human race. I’m glad that they gave at least this nod to our collective humanity.

    —Santi

    • Bob says:

      Racist? Give me a break. How do you know most white fundamentalists think Adam and Eve were white? Do most black fundamentalists think Adam and Eve were black? And even if they do, does that make them necessarily racist? We often envisage in our own image; that doesn’t mean that we’re racist or open to what scientists/theologians really think about the ethnicity of “Adam and Eve.”

      About a literal Adam and Eve. You and Jerry Coyne just don’t get it. There could have been two original human beings among a group of like species that were the first two to be conferred a soul by God. That neither necessarily flies in the face of science or orthodox Christian thought.

      Think outside the box.

  4. santitafarella says:

    Bob:

    Scientists do think outside the box. The box they stepped out of was the biblical Garden of Eden in Mesopotamia supposedly existing just 6000 years ago. Over the past century they’ve worked out a scientific narrative. What you are doing is trying to drag the old and failed Bronze Age hypothesis of our human origins into the 21st century by positing a moment when two individuals were given a soul and then subsequently populated the world with a new species of beings (humans). You are free to engage in your curious syncretism of the Genesis story with 21st century physical anthropology, but physical anthropology has no need of your overlay to make sense of how human beings got here.

    As for racism, why doesn’t the Creation Museum, if it’s not racist, switch out the Adam and Eve that they have and put a black Adam and Eve in their place? Science is unequivocal: the first humans looked like the San people in West Africa. We KNOW this as well as we know anything in physical anthropology, and yet whites persist in making their visual representations of Adam and Eve conventionally white. It’s outrageous and ahistorical in the same way that Afrocentric narratives concerning Greece are ahistorical: it promotes and preserves a prejudice for the purpose of racial uplift and feelings of racial normativeness, superiority, and priority.

    —Santi

  5. santitafarella says:

    Bob:

    I’d also add that, scientifically, the Adam and Eve hypothesis—an individual male and female living contemporaneously—accounting for the full genetic variation of existing humans is physically impossible. See here for an explanation why:

    http://biologos.org/the-questions/who-was-mitochondrial-eve-who-was-y-chromosome-adam-how-do-they-relate-to-genesis/

    Mitochondrial Eve and her Y chromosome Adam counterpart that accounts for our current human family literally may have lived a thousand miles apart and in different millenia.

    —Santi

  6. Bob says:

    Santi,

    No doubt your are a professor.

    First, I wouldn’t proclaim oh-so-boldly as you do that scientists think outside the box. Richard Dawkins sure doesn’t. To proclaim with certainty that the existence of an interventionist deity is precluded by the laws of science/nature is pure absurdity. Science can neither prove nor disprove that its laws are part of a closed loop. To hold certainty on this matter like Dawkins does is akin to the surety of religious fundamentalism and thinking inside the box.

    Second, um, scientists aren’t exactly the only ones who have stepped out of the “the earth is 6,000 years old box.” Millions of religious people have, and millions upon millions of religious people were never in it to begin with.

    Third, boy, was that some great professor babble. The great irony of it is that the same organization you cite below speaks of the veracity of my “curious syncretism” of Genesis: http://biologos.org/questions/evolution-and-the-fall/ My “syncretism” is anything but curious, it has been hypothesized by Christians for quite some time. Again, you need to step outside of your religion vs. science box.

    Fourth, oy vey, did you even read the article that you cited??? Where does it say that mitochondrial Eve and Y chromosome Adam were necessarily the first homo sapiens conferred a soul? To the contrary, again, read the distinction of “homo sapiens” and “homo divinus” in the article I linked, by the very same organization you cited!

    Fifth, if it bothers you so much, why don’t you call the creationist museum and see if they’ll switch out their white Adam and Eve? And while you’re at it, why don’t you call all the white churches that have a white Jesus; black churches that have a black Jesus; Korean churches that have a Korean Jesus, etc.? Yes, it may be ahistorical; but to blanketly proclaim all of these people as racist is nothing but pure ivory-tower, in-the-box thinking, snobbish speculation. How do you KNOW they’re all racists? That’s not the first thing I thought of when I’ve walked in black and Hispanic churches in the past and saw black and Hispanic-looking Jesus’s. The hospitality of the parishoners seemed to prove otherwise as well. Perhaps it’s what they’re most comfortable with or what they can best relate to. Does it necessarily make them racist? Simple logic says no.

    -Bob

  7. santitafarella says:

    Bob,

    I agree with you that metaphysical naturalism—Dawkins’s atheism—exceeds the empirical (is not a scientific postulate, but a philosophical one).

    As for Adam and Eve, the most generous religious gesture that white people can make in this regard—now that science has established the fact that our shared human ancestry begins in West Africa—is to stop portraying Adam and Eve as white. Just stop it. To do so would demonstrate a love of the truth, and it would show human solidarity (rather than racial solidarity), and thus would be a fulfillment of the vision of Jesus for the world.

    And it is always good to teach children what is true: the first human beings on God’s green earth (if God exists) were black, and it was like that for many thousands of years. It was only by the slow migration of Africans out of Africa, and into different climates, that led to people with different skin colors (from those already in Africa).

    Just tell the truth, and stop making excuses for not telling the truth.

    —Santi

  8. ogatoprecambriano says:

    Santi

    Does exist SOME metaphysics that DO NOT exceeds the empirical?
    Honest question. Metaphysics is a-empirical by definition isn’t it? That’s why it’s meta-physics isn’t it? Or I’m missing something?

    And Bob

    First, I wouldn’t proclaim oh-so-boldly as you do that scientists think outside the box. Richard Dawkins sure doesn’t. To proclaim with certainty that the existence of an interventionist deity is precluded by the laws of science/nature is pure absurdity. Science can neither prove nor disprove that its laws are part of a closed loop. To hold certainty on this matter like Dawkins does is akin to the surety of religious fundamentalism and thinking inside the box.

    You are misreading Dawkins, or not reading him at all.
    Now, he really thinks science have something to say about God’s existence, but he does not “proclaim certainty”, he proclaims that God’s existence have a very low probability.
    One can agree with him on this, that science can say something on the matter, or not.

  9. santitafarella says:

    Gato:

    You’re right. I was being redundant.

    And I would add that just because metaphysical naturalism exceeds the strictly empirical, it doesn’t mean that I do not regard it as a reasonable inference.

    I think that metaphysical naturalism is a reasonable inference. I just don’t know if it is true.

    —Santi

  10. Pingback: Biologist Darrel Falk: Torn Between Two Lovers (Biblical Literalists and Science-Oriented Atheists) « Prometheus Unbound

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  12. Anonymous says:

    Whats about east asians

  13. Anonymous says:

    What about aboriginies

  14. Anonymous says:

    What about the mixed races

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