Over at EvolutionBlog, Jason Rosenhouse analyzes a problem that I consider critical to theology and modern Christianity: the absolute refutation by science of the Adam and Eve story. In his post, “What does original sin mean in light of modern science?” Rosenhouse details some theological responses to science’s discovery that the human population never went through a bottleneck of fewer than about 10,000 people (much less two!).
I’ve written about this several times before (here, for example), for the story demonstrates not only the clash between science and religion (a clash that accommodationists say doesn’t exist), but also the victory of the former over the latter, as well as the ludicrous and tortuous tactics the faithful take to justify their preconceptions. Because Christian doctrine depends absolutely on original sin, Christians can’t simply discard the idea when it becomes untenable. As Jason shows, that shows the real difference between science and religion: science discards ideas when they fall to pieces; faith tries to cobble them together into something that still convinces gullible believers . In the end, nearly all scientific ideas can be falsified, while most religions ones can’t—for their falsification simply leads to reformulation in a newer and less falsifiable incarnation.
At any rate, Jason presents two “sophisticated” reformulations of the Adam and Eve story, and then deftly takes them apart. I wanted to briefly add my own take on these theological explanations.
1. Original sin is inherent in evolution. This is from Daryl Domning’s book, Original Selfishness (oy vey!):
What I have sought to show is that the overt selfish acts which, in humans, demonstrate the reality of original sin (by manifesting it in the form of actual sin) do indeed owe their universality among humans to natural descent from a common ancestor. This ancestor, however, far from being identifiable with the biblical Adam, must be placed in the very remote past, indeed at the very origin of life itself. It was the common ancestor not only of humans but of all other living things on Earth as well. However, it is not this ancestor itself that is of real interest, but the “natural descent” that proceeded from it: the very nature of physical life and the process of natural generation, which are governed by natural selection and the selfish behavior it requires.
What a load of rubbish we must plow through here! How can original sin be the result of differential replication of genes? Where’s the “sin” in that? It’s a purely passive phenomenon which involves no decisions, no actions on the part of individuals. Why does that merit punishment and salvation through Jesus? Further, doesn’t Domning realize that “selfish gene” is just a metaphor for differential replication of genes, which can be thought of as acting as if they were selfish, but are not in reality selfish themselves (shades of Mary Midgley)? Maybe the faithful aren’t so good at recognizing metaphors after all.
But of course the big mistake here is that “selfish genes” don’t always produce selfish behavior: they can also produce cooperation if that behavior benefits the propagation of the alleles that produce it. This, of course, has occurred in many species, from slime molds to ants to human beings.
The fact that Domning thinks this is a serious response to the Adam and Eve problem shows the complete intellectual vacuity of theology. It’s even worse because Domning is a professor of paleontology at Howard University, and should know better!
2. Original sin was bestowed on only two of many humans, and it is their descendants who populate the globe today. This hypothesis, from Edward Feser and biochemist Denis Alexander, also resembles the “federal headship” solution proposed by BioLogos president Darrel Falk, which we’ve discussed before. Here is the always amusing Feser:
Supposing, then, that the smallest human-like population of animals evolution could have initially produced numbered around 10,000, we have a scenario that is fully compatible with Catholic doctrine if we suppose that only two of these creatures had human souls infused into them by God at their conception, and that He infused further human souls only into those creatures who were descended from this initial pair. And there is no evidence against this supposition.
I needn’t go over all the problems that Jason finds with this, including the absence of a population of unsouled zombies in the Bible; but I wanted to mention one obvious flaw that Jason overlooked. If souls and sin are transmitted vertically, from parents to offspring—as suggested by the hypothesis above—then we should still see a two-person genetic bottleneck some time in the past, tracing back to those two lucky individuals who won the soul lottery. We don’t see that.
Moreover, all the genes of every living human should “coalesce” back to the same time and the same two people. But we don’t see that either: each gene segment had its ancestor at a different time (and often at a different place) in the past: the Y chromosome, for instance, coalesces back to an ancestor who lived about 60,000 years more recently than the female ancestor who bequeathed us the genes in our mitochondria. So this solution is also untenable.
The fact that rational and intelligent people can’t see through the ruse here—that religion isn’t a process of finding truth, but of rationalizing, post facto, hopes and ideas that one pulls out of thin air—is perhaps the saddest aspect of faith in America. It is just so bloody obvious. And the guilty ones here are not so much the credulous believers who are fed this kind of pablum, but the theologians who get good salaries for making this stuff up, and who have the temerity to label themselves “sophisticated.”