Who are mitochondrial Adam and Eve? Is evolution compatible with Christianity? 


The June 2011 issue of Christianity Today spends a lot of ink searching for the historical Adam, or more precisely, explaining why we shouldn’t expect there to be one unless we’re willing to redefine what we mean by historical. The issue, which gives a hearing to many opinions, eventually concludes with something analogous to “No, Virginia, there really wasn’t one, but if you think his existence is really foundational to your beliefs, we’ll just agree that the jury is still out and not worry about it. After all, science rules.”

The magazine then tells us, in essence, that the Human Genome Project has blown the whistle on the Adam thing, what with the 10,000 people starter population 100,000 years ago, so we’d better find a way to deal with it. The remainder of the article is devoted to quotations by scientists and theologians, many from BioLogos and/or the American Scientific Affiliation, explaining ways to rationalize replacing Adam and Eve with something comfortably figurative. If we cannot reconcile ourselves with letting the first couple and their fall into sin be an allegory for the human condition, we could perhaps just let them be king and queen of a race of “pre-Adamic hominids” who one day got tapped by God with His image. That should be literal enough to satisfy our doctrinal qualms and still do obeisance to the science whose word is absolute and infallible.

But where does the 10,000 person starter population come from?

Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosome Adam calculations assume that there was a starting population group. Over time many (most) of their personal genetic footprints died out. The Human Genome Project provided a way to track the DNA differences among people worldwide. Then, given the expected rate of mutations over the time needed to allow evolution to happen, and considering the current world population, the population geneticist calculates how many people would have been needed way back then to leave only one genetic footprint for each gender today. (That person whose footprint survived to the present is the last common ancestor.)

Thus the “troublesome” science we are told to accept over a natural reading of Scripture claims only to prove what it assumed to be true in the first place.

And what of doctrine? The article plainly states that Paul “links the historical Adam with redemption through Christ” in Romans 5:12–19, I Corinthians 15:20–23, and Acts 17. Despite the suggestion by some contributors that Paul only thought that Adam was real because he didn’t know better, two pastors make clear the doctrinal necessity of Adam. Tim Keller, though not a young earth creationist, (see Which Well-known Pastor Participated in This Pro-evolution Workshop?) acknowledges that denial of Paul’s teachings about Adam strikes at “the core of Paul’s teaching.” Furthermore, a literal Fall is necessary for biblical credibility, for “if it [the Bible] does not correctly explain the origin of a problem, why should one trust its solutions?” Pastor Richard Phillips rightly adds a warning that theistic evolution is a “Trojan horse that, once inside our gates, must cause the entire fortress of Christian beliefs to fall.”

In summary, BioLogos Christian scientists assert that humanity must have begun from a 10,000 individual starter population. Therefore, the Genesis account is wrong about Adam and Eve, who must be taken as metaphorical proxies for the human group God actually created.

I have heard it argued that God evolved two individuals out of a sufficiently-advanced primate tribe, and so the BioLogos narrative, the straightforward Genesis account, Paul’s statements and Jesus’ statements can be reconciled under this conceptual umbrella. Adam and Eve were the most evolved primates from an advanced, pre-human tribe.

One must either subscribe to the latter viewpoint or the conventional Genesis interpretation. There simply isn’t a possibility of reconciling Jesus and Paul’s statements about Adam and Eve with the BioLogos vision. They treat them as historical figures, and so BioLogos presents a narrative that is mutually-exclusive with Christianity.

Thankfully, a sophisticated reading of the Genesis account allows for the earth to be old enough to account for scientific measurements of its age. BioLogos is simply wrong by the authority of Paul and Jesus. Adam and Eve were actual figures or Christianity is false. The 10,000 starting population assumes that genetic variety could not be induced by increasing population size or by subtle, atomic manipulation by God and must be treated with suspicion or outright rejected.

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