Adam and Eve: theologians squirm and sputter

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.”


130 Comments

  1. Sajanas
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    I wonder how the recent discoveries that humans have interbred with Neanderthals, Devonsians, and (possibly) with other hominids in Africa makes the Biologos people feel. We’re a much more genetically diverse branch of hominids than previously thought, and I find that origin story way, way more interesting than the one with talking snakes and flaming swords.

    • Claimthehighground
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      Have no fear. When the Adam & Eve fable becomes the next flat-earth gap to go, they will find something else to rationalize the faith. And the same when DNA proof of interbreeding with Neanderthals and Denisovans? gets too accepted to avoid, they will have something else to hang their beliefs on. It’s gaps all the way down!

      The KISS of faith-Keep it simple, stupid!

      I prefer the British view. Mind the gaps.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      Also the push to get the now very tightly dated (very luckily tied to a ~ 3 ka geomagnetism inversion!) A. sediba as replacing H. habilis as more direct human ancestor through the H. erectus lineage. This ties in with Leaky and others seeing habilis as an australopithecine, which only to date discovered legacy may be H. floresiensis.

      Which actually ties in to this discussion. If A. sediba and its presumed ancestor A. garhi both made tools, why would erectus, floresiensis and others be singled out as “Homo”? The Science magazine is still unreleased, but apparently the hand and feet of A. sediba both tell of a combination tree living (signs of large grasp muscles) and bipedalism. The hips are said to be modern without having to pass a huge brain at birth, while cranial endocasts tells of early sophistication without much enlargement, akin to what is seen in floresiensis.

      Apparently you don’t need a huge brain to be sophisticated tool user. Do you really need a huge brain and what for?* And why do religions think they can contribute to the difficult questions of human evolution?

      —————
      * What if it is just a consequence of selection for a large head to accommodate sexual signals of a rich hair on (for one or both sexes)? =D

      • Claimthehighground
        Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        Apparently you don’t need a huge brain to be a functioning creationist, either. Maybe if their god had spent a little more time than 6 days, he could have fine tuned the thinking part of the brain. Oh, but then we wouldn’t have that neat sabbath to look forward to. It just all fits together so slick.

    • articulett
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      Maybe they’ll claim the fornication with these outsiders is the real “original sin”…

  2. Kevin
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Good grief. Feser writes coherent sentences, I’ll give him that — subject, object, verb. But they’re meaningless nonetheless. He might as well be writing in Klingon for all the sense it makes.

    He doesn’t think very deeply, does he?

    Also, Feser comes acropper of Aquinas in this regard, and since Feser says Aquinas is the only theologian in the past 1000 years worth his salt — well, there you have it. Aquinas clearly and explicitly explains in the Summa why god was correct in building Adam out of dust and Eve out of Adam’s rib. (In order that Eve be rightly subservient to Adam is the Thomist answer to that conundrum.)

    • lamacher
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      You really shouldn’t piss off the Klingons!

    • Claimthehighground
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

      To Ed Feser: Supposing, then there is no god. And there is no evidence against this supposition.

      Check, and mate.

    • Llwddythlw
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      I must confess that when it comes to the study of bollocks, I too am a complete ignoramus.

  3. nonsense
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    On the second one, I think what he was getting at is sort of like a “Mitochondrial Eve” and “Y-chromosomal Adam” sort of thing. You know, the most recent woman and man who is an ancestor to all humans, but whom are not our only ancestors. Think of souls like a genetic marker, so that every person that descends from them has that marker/soul.

    It’s still bullshit, but I think the “reasoning” would work out how he’s expecting.

    • nonsense
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      Oh snap. I just reread your reply (my mind was going while I first read it). I guess if they HAVE to be at the same time, then it’s ruined.

    • abb3w
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      This also neglects that the Genesis account involves separate population bottlenecks for males and females. A liberal theologian could argue it might not be “Y-Chromosome Adam” but “Y-Chromosome Noah”.

      • abb3w
        Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

        Mind you, it does require Methuselah and company living beyond even a patriarchal span….

      • Dionigi
        Posted September 10, 2011 at 3:48 am | Permalink

        Doesn’t the bible say that the son of Adam and Eve was sent to the land of Nod and knew his wife. She came from where?
        Their child also found a wife where do all these wives keep coming from?
        There must have been people around as well as the ones made by god maybe they were made by all the other gods around that yahweh refused to allow people to worship in the first commandment in the thou shalt have no other gods but me bit,
        Totally makes no sense when you bother to read fairy stories.

        • abb3w
          Posted September 18, 2011 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

          The non-Eve females don’t seem to require non-X-Eve mitochondrial chromosomes reaching past the Noahide bottleneck.

          The obvious alternatives for wives boil down to (a) incest and (b) non-ensouled primates, with Nephilim being obvious foci for the Biblically directed.

          I’m no Rabbi, but Wikipedia seems to suggest that neither bestiality nor incest were proscribed until the Noahide Covenant. (If Gaiman’s Sandman has any solidity to background, Judiac tradition points to incest, particularly regarding the Cain-Abel controversy.) In short: all easily papered over.

  4. Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see how you plan on receiving Templeton moneys with posts like these. :P

  5. JBlilie
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    “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)?”

    Wasn’t Dawkins just accused of being “dead to metaphor” for demanding evidence for Adam and Eve, etc.?

    Sheesh, is cognitive dissonance a phrase these people have somehow never encountered before, or what?

    • truthspeaker
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      I think legal thinking has pervaded aspects of our culture outside the law. In a jury trial, attorneys are trying to convince a jury, not arrive at facts. So in that context it makes sense to use multiple arguments that are inconsistent with each other, as long as at least one of them is convincing to the jury.

    • articulett
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

      I think many theists go out of their way to purposefully misunderstand the “selfish gene” and/or “natural selection”. In this way evolution sounds brutal and random and incapable of producing beauty, love,and complexity– “god” seems like the solution. They obfuscate understanding instead of clarifying because that is the only way they can keep their “god” alive.

      To us such people seem so disingenuous, but in ways I feel sorry for them. I think most of them are afraid to doubt their theology– afraid that their “loving god” might punish them forever for doing so. They “need” their fairytale. They need to convince others to keep convincing themselves.

      Also, many have a vested interest in selling salvation and riding on the coattails of those who ennoble faith and those who claim to speak for god.

      I always wondered what would happen as theists started realizing that their invisible savior appears to have died for a “metaphor”… now we are getting to find out. Theists can’t agree on a good explanation for why their omniscient omnipotent overlord inspired a book that is at odds with the evidence. Many are being forced to recognize that their own supernatural beliefs might be as wrong as all the supernatural beliefs, cults, myths, and superstitions they reject. They are being forced to judge themselves through the eyes that they have used to judge others.

      Given that many have been so nasty to scientists who don’t mince words on the subject, I have to admit to finding enjoyment in their downfall as they desperately seek ways of getting others to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

      I look forward to a time when they are as irrelevant as the gods they claim to speak for and when Adam and Eve occupy the same position as myths and creation stories past.

  6. JBlilie
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    I think this little bit of “logic” is in the dictionary under ad hoc (or post hoc):

    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.

  7. ChasCPeterson
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    the human population never went through a bottleneck of fewer than about 10,000 people

    Would somebody mind providing a reference for this claim? thanks.

    In the meantime, what about the original cladogenesis event that (presumably) split a population of Homo whatever, with only one of the sub-populations going on to become H. sapiens? Can we really calculate the size of that isolated deme (do people still use ‘deme’?) from extant genetic variation? And if so did it really number more than 10,000?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      See my reply, who kindly provided the very material that supports the claim.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        C&P fail: “my reply to Matheson”.

  8. Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    JAC: Because Christian doctrine depends absolutely on original sin …

    I think this is true for the most common forms of Christianity — e.g., Catholicism and Calvinism — it’s not so much true for some other forms of Christianity.

    Other lessons from the first chapters of Genesis — the supposed divine origins of humanity (created by God), our supposed unique characteristics (created in God’s image), and the explaining away of all the world’s problems to human sin — these are hard for any form of Christianity to do without, IMO. And these depend on the Adam and Eve story as well.

    • Posted September 8, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

      Other than the way-liberal Christians who simply see Jesus’ supposed life and death as setting and example for what we’re supposed to do ourselves, and who hardly buy into any of the supernatural stuff at all, I can’t imagine there are many Christian denominations that don’t need something like original sin. After all, what’s the point of God’s big showy sacrifice of himself to himself if we’re not all irrevocably tarnished and horrible to begin with? Ordinary sins might be expiated by good deeds, or sacrificing a dove or whatever, it’s only something of the caliber of original sin that would seem to require divine blood.

      Or am I missing something? I’ll grant that I was raised Catholic so perhaps I’m unwittingly projecting their framing of the issue onto all Christians, but I thought this version was pretty standard.

      • Posted September 8, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

        As another poster said, as long as ‘sin’ can be established, then there is a supposed need for salvation. Exactly how sin came about can be separated a bit.

        The denomination I was raised in didn’t believe in ‘original sin’, just that people started sinning as soon as they were mature enough to know right from wrong. Basically pre-teen onwards needed to be saved, since they were sinners.

        • Sajanas
          Posted September 9, 2011 at 7:47 am | Permalink

          Growing up as a Lutheran, I could see that we didn’t believe in ‘Original Sin’ persay, but certainly that humans were intrinsically in need of some sort of help. Of course, the interesting thing is that it is by no means impossible that a few people out of billions would be perfectly fine and not need Jesus at all, so I suspect they get around that by setting the bar so high that no one can pass it. You may have never harmed anyone, but have you helped as much as you could? The church holds up Jesus as a model of self destructive altruism to be the ultimate good, and most people just aren’t going to match that.

          Course, there’s also the problem that if we evolved from earlier forms, as planned by a God of some sort, our nature is not really our fault either… we were born into this world, not given a perfect world that we rejected. So it makes God look more like a villain who ‘created us sick and commanded us to be well’ as Hitchens said.

          • Posted September 9, 2011 at 8:11 am | Permalink

            The character “god” is a villain, for sure! I’ve no idea how the “god is love” meme persists. Denominations that have done away w original sin think they’re helping when it comes to theodicy: “of course god won’t punish you for Adam and Eve’s transgressions. That would be reprehensible.” But as your quote explains (which was actually Hitchens quoting Sir Fulke Greville), this only makes god look worse!

        • Posted September 9, 2011 at 7:56 am | Permalink

          Yep. That’s the Mormon position, for example.

  9. Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    The Adam and Eve story always seemed to me to be a “Just So” story. It’s a puzzle that some people can believe that it describes factual history.

    Original Sin always seemed to me to be bad theology. It makes God look evil. The main Christian message need only assume that man has a sinful nature. And it can do that without the theology of Original Sin.

    When science makes a bad move, somebody comes along and points out the mistake. And science drops the bad ideas. When theology makes a bad move (which seems to be most of the time), nobody is willing to point out that it was a mistake. Instead, they just make up new theology that attempts to cover over the deficiencies in the old theology. And so theology becomes sillier and sillier.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      Theologians are happy to criticize each others ideas, we just don’t read about it here.

      Now, back in the old days, they would have another theologian murdered if they didn’t like his ideas, so in that respect their zeal seems to have decreased slightly.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted September 9, 2011 at 8:25 am | Permalink

        ^each other’s

  10. Paul Havlak
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Hmm… modulo some confusing and unnecessary elements, #2 sounds like a good old-fashioned selective sweep… given a huge assumption that “souls” are adaptive.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 9, 2011 at 1:39 am | Permalink

      I think the message must be that sin is adaptive. Hey, it would make a good T-shirt!

  11. Ramsey Lawrence
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Hello Professor Coyne. Where can I read about refutations to the claim that the human population went through a bottleneck of fewer than about 10,000 people? Thank you very much.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      While we wait, see my reply to Matheson, who kindly provided the very material that supports the claim.

  12. Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, you refer to “science’s discovery that the human population never went through a bottleneck of fewer than about 10,000 people.” Is that a consensus view? Curtis Marean wrote last year in Scientific American about his proposal that humans rode out a glacial stage by hunkering down on the southern coast of Africa, and he claims that the human population experienced a dramatic bottleneck at that time: “from more than 10,000 breeding individuals to just hundreds.” I know that John Hawks et al. have written about uncertainty in estimating past human population sizes and time frames for likely bottlenecks, but that work is more than 10 years old. There may be much more current data to support Marean’s claim, but I don’t know.

    I’m not suggesting that this has any implications for Christian theology. But it looks to me like you’ve overstated what science has “discovered.”

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      That was a bottleneck 2 Ma ago, before Neanderthals even. Your own reference:

      Both genetic and anthropological data are incompatible with the hypothesis of a recent population size bottleneck. Such an event would be expected to leave a significant mark across numerous genetic loci and observable anatomical traits, but while some subsets of data are compatible with a recent population size bottleneck, there is no consistently expressed effect that can be found across the range where it should appear, and this absence disproves the hypothesis.”

      Modern humans are considered to be ~ 0.2 Ma old, if that, and the out of Africa bottleneck event that most are claiming to be an “Eden” event happened after that.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      Also, if you want to go as far back as 2 Ma, you would have to sum up Neanderthals, Denisovans, and the recent claims of similar populations in Africa that interbred with H. sapiens as part of the human base population.

      [Which I think may be the correct way to look at it. Our genome were never a discrete lineage in that sense, seeing that we liked to interbred as much as every other mammal, bird, reptile et cetera.]

    • MadScientist
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      The big question for me is: has Marean been able to establish his claims?

      No one puts any trust in the estimates; even the minimum postulated from experimental evidence so far would have to be taken as ‘probably too low’ but we can at least say “there’s no way there were fewer than these.”

  13. John K.
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Why stop using supernatural explanations now? Why not have god magic in genetic variation the same way he conjured up everything else?

    Theologians are weird.

    • articulett
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

      Really! The dude is supposed to be omnipotent… why would he use his super powers so lamely and so sparingly?

      He can just “magic” anything to look however he wants to fool whomever he wants to fool for whatever crazy reasons he might want to fool someone. (Of course, that sort of makes him look evil– but it’s not like the book he is said to have authored makes him look particularly beneficent.)

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 9, 2011 at 1:42 am | Permalink

      This seems like the perfect scenario for Last Thursdayism. God Last Thursday-ed the genome to make it look like evolution occured, just like he Last Thursday-ed the fossil record.

      These theologians trying to reconcile science with myths have an insufficient respect for magic.

  14. Claimthehighground
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    What about Lilith? Wasn’t she the “other woman?” Maybe that’s why Eve spent so much time chatting with talking snakes.

    • Grania
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      Nah – Lilith was the first wife of Adam (TrueFact) in fact, but she doesn’t count on account of her being not a human (TrueFactToo).

  15. zengardener
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    So, is “sin” a noun, a verb, a condition, all of the above? What?

    • Claimthehighground
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      It’s a plu-perfect, past participle cognitive prepositional gerund. Oh, and a noun too.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 9, 2011 at 1:43 am | Permalink

      Whatever it is, it appears to be dominant and highly adaptive.

  16. Nicolas Perrault
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Brumous fantasies erupting from an unquenchable thirst to believe constitute the lone signal discernable from the noise of theology.

    • Chris Granger
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

      Love it.

  17. john
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    I also liked Jason’s point that even if God infused 2 of the 10,000 humanoids with souls, how unfair it is to the remaining souless population. lol

    • Claimthehighground
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      Well the kids, Shem, Ham and Japeth, had to go off and find wives. So this plays right into their scenario. Too bad the god guy screwed up the gene pool at stage 2 by letting half of the genes come from the soulless 9998.

      So that means Abraham, and Moses, and King David and Jesus weren’t pure. What
      s this, another gap?? Let the games begin.

    • Tulse
      Posted September 9, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      even if God infused 2 of the 10,000 humanoids with souls, how unfair it is to the remaining souless population

      How so? Do you want to risk eternal torture? Seems to me not having a soul is a pretty good deal if it keeps you out of hell. (Sure, it keeps you out of heaven as well, but there are plenty of Christian sects that seem to believe the percentage of people going there is less than 50%.)

  18. Dr. I. Needtob Athe
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    It’s shocking that a modern scientist would try so hard to salvage the simplistic fantasies of primitive people who were only making things up to fill the voids in their knowledge.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

      ^^

      that.

      although I’ve seen it enough times now that it no longer shocks me.

      I do wish the people who employ these ridiculous rationalizations would at least take a semester of basic psychology FFS.

      these rationalizations are nothing more than utterly predictable defense mechanisms.

      what’s shocking is that more psychologists refuse to acknowledge that standard pyschological defense mechanisms are all that is maintaining the very construct of religion itself.

      fucking wimps.

      • sailor1031
        Posted September 9, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

        It’s interesting that in try6ing to validate the genesis story they ignore the genesis story.

        “It was the common ancestor not only of humans but of all other living things on Earth as well.”

        Genesis clearly states that doG created all the animals individually and, at the end, separately created adam and then eve. If you’re going to stick to scripture then stick to it FFS.

  19. jose
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Adam and Eve’s existence isn’t important.

    • Claimthehighground
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      Hence my reply @1.

      There is no gap plugging, that the true believer can’t work around:

      Adam & Eve: Crucial and fundamental!
      Adam & Eve proved wrong.
      Adam & Eve: Not important, here’s what’s really important…[insert rationalization here].

      • jose
        Posted September 8, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

        Actually, there is a pretty clear fact that believers can’t do anything about, as I said in that comment: the resurrection of Jesus.

        That’s the ultimate and most central point of Christianism. Jesus must have resurrected literally. That means his actual, flesh-and-bone body arose from the dead, walked around a little and flew into the clouds. That must have actually happened or Christianism isn’t worth anything, because the whole story loses all its meaning. At the end times, every human is supposed to arise from the dead to be judged just as Jesus did. If there is no final judgment, then there’s no point to follow Jesus or God.

        Thing is Jesus never resurrected. It’s simple science. No way the brain could have suffered no damage after 3 days without oxygen. And bodies decompose. To me, that’s the biggest conflict between science and the Christian doctrine, not this Adam and Eve story.

        • Dan L.
          Posted September 9, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

          Why is the resurrection important? Why does Jesus need to do all these improbable things?

          Because of original sin. Sorry, you can’t just wave your hands and say “not important” about one of the important bits.

          • jose
            Posted September 9, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

            No, it’s not because of the original sin.

            It’s because if Jesus didn’t resurrect and went to heaven, then neither will we. There’s no reason for us to think we will if not even Jesus himself did. The whole point is that at the end times everybody will rise from the grave and be judged according to their actions (yes, actual flesh and bone. The catholic church at least does not accept the soul is independent from the body. As a matter of fact, that idea constitutes heresy. The soul is not like a little light blurb who can go to heaven or hell by itself. I can advance the following, obvious question. If you pose it, I’ll answer). Those who follow Jesus will be welcome in his home and those who rejected him won’t be accepted in his home.

            By the way, if you want to know why the fact that the story of Adam and Eve is just a fable doesn’t matter, you can go and read the comment I linked in my post.

            • Tulse
              Posted September 9, 2011 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

              No, it’s not because of the original sin.

              It’s because if Jesus didn’t resurrect and went to heaven, then neither will we.

              According to Sister Dorothy, who taught me catechism at Corpus Christi Elementary school, you’re a heretic. It is indeed because of Original Sin — that’s the reason Jesus is the Saviour, the Redeemer, the Pascal Lamb, and not just the Demonstrator That There Is A Heaven. Catholics affirm this every Sunday at Mass: “for us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven”; “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world“, “this is my Body, which was given up for you“.

              Sister Dorothy would make you write out 100 lines of “Jesus is our Saviour who died to wash away our sins”. And you wouldn’t get recess.

              • Ichthyic
                Posted September 9, 2011 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

                or maybe a knuckle crack with a ruler, depending on where and when…

              • jose
                Posted September 10, 2011 at 3:27 am | Permalink

                *sigh* Jesus is called savior because living without God and without Jesus is supposed to be bad. Being a sinner is supposed to be bad. It’s supposed to have symptoms, like doubt, guilt, moral dilemmas, anger, sadness, distress. Because he showed people the way to go to Heaven, to be saved from sin. That’s also what “taking away the sins of the world” means. That’s why catholics have confessional booths. Priests are authorized to forgive sins on Jesus’s behalf.

                Now, if you want to know why Adam and Eve don’t matter for sin to exist as the catholic church defines it, then you can go and read the comment I linked.

              • Tulse
                Posted September 10, 2011 at 8:32 am | Permalink

                Jesus is called savior because living without God and without Jesus is supposed to be bad. [...] Because he showed people the way to go to Heaven, to be saved from sin.

                Seriously, you would have deeply pissed off one easily pissed off nun. Jesus didn’t just indicate that living without god is “bad”, or “show people the way to go to heaven” — neither of those things would require his incarnation and death. Jesus is called the “Redeemer”, the “Pascal Lamb” (do you know anything about Jewish terminology?), the “Saviour”, because he was a sacrifice. It’s all very Old Testament — sacrifices were used to appease/praise god, but only the ultimate sacrifice could atone for humanity’s fundamental estrangement from god. And the ultimate sacrifice was god’s own son, made flesh.

                There would be absolutely no reason for Jesus to die a painful, tortured death if the sacrifice weren’t the important thing. He could have just said some nice words then retired and opened up a carpentry shop.

                Seriously, read the Catholic catechism.

                (Of course, all this is like talking about the finer points of Klingon grammar, but I feel I owe it to Sister Dorothy to set out the orthodox view.)

              • Diane G.
                Posted September 11, 2011 at 3:27 am | Permalink

                Most noble of you. ;)

      • jose
        Posted September 8, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

        By the way, that explanation I linked is not a reaction to this post or to any proof posted or linked here. It’s what I was taught in a catholic school twenty years ago. It wasn’t just made up to fill a gap cleverly pointed out by this blog.

  20. MadScientist
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    I like the Doctrine of Protean Sin. What did the amoeba do – eat another amoeba? So the apple was really an amoeba and the Original Sin was cannibalism. Let’s not forget that god had to take a rib from the make amoeba to create the female amoeba. Dem Sophistimacated Theologiums say the darndests things.

    • MadScientist
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      Dang … that’s the ‘male amoeba’, not the ‘make amoeba’.

  21. Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    The claim by Marean is pretty specific and has nothing to do with the bottleneck 2 Mya. The glacial age he references lasted from about 195,000 to 123,000 years ago. I’m curious about the evidence that this led to a dramatic bottleneck.

    The Hawks paper is interesting, but so are many of his much more recent blog posts. I think he’s a bottleneck skeptic, but I also think it’s clear that Jerry’s claim is not a consensus view. It would be great to hear from some experts.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

      last I checked this “bottleneck” consisted of tens of thousands of individuals, in hundreds of different populations.

      if that’s a genetic bottleneck, then pretty much every species that has ever been put on CITES must be experiencing a horrendous genetic bottleneck.

      not buying.

      • Posted September 9, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

        Where did you “check” for the population size during this bottleneck?

  22. Linda Jean
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    i hope you realize that a VERY small fraction of religionists (fundamentalists) take for granted the hard core literal interpretation of the adam and eve story.

    • JonL
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      I hope you realize that I’d require some kind of evidence for that claim.

      http://www.npr.org/2011/08/09/138957812/evangelicals-question-the-existence-of-adam-and-eve

      Cites a poll that shows four in ten AMERICANS believe in a literal Adam and Eve. Not fundamentalists; Americans. Sooo, I’ve no idea where your “VERY small fraction of religionists” notion comes from.

      • Wowbagger
        Posted September 8, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

        Sooo, I’ve no idea where your “VERY small fraction of religionists” notion comes from.

        I could hazard a guess and go with the same place most religious arguments come from…

    • Posted September 8, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      I hope you realize that a non-literal Adam & Eve is even more problematic for Christianity…

      Jesus died for what, again? Our sins.
      And where did those sins come from, again? Either a) human nature, or b) Adam & Eve

      Human nature) how did human nature become sinful? Not explicitly stated, but since god made us, musta been god. Why, then did god sacrifice himself to himself for the sins he created in us?

      Adam&Eve) Oh, wait. That’s just a metaphor. VERY few religionists believe that actually happened. So god sacrificed himself to himself for sins created in an allegory?

    • articulett
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      What do they tell themselves Jesus died for? And who were the first humans that had souls that could suffer forever and, thus, needed to be saved?

      Jesus is a biblical character in a book that was supposedly authored or inspired by God who is both Jesus’ father and Jesus himself right? So how do Christians go about picking and choosing what is the “true” stuff tht Christian are “supposed to” believe to be “saved”? And what excuses do they make for the lack of clarity, seeming barbarity, and general incoherence of a supposed omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent 3-in-1 being?

      I think that they they just avoid thinking about the whole thing. That’s what I did when I was a theist and was afraid that I might lose my faith and be punished forever for doing so.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know where you live, but in my country, the United States, fundamentalists are far from a small fraction of Christians, and fundamentalists aren’t the only Christians who believe in a literal Adam and Eve.

      But Jerry’s post is about how without a literal Adam and Eve, the rest of Christianity makes even less sense than it did before.

    • sailor1031
      Posted September 10, 2011 at 4:09 am | Permalink

      well if you don’t take it literally then you don’t have any basis for the doctrines of the fall and original sin leading to a need for redemption and the sacrifice of the late JC – so they mean nothing. And don’t forget that genesis is considered the word of doG by most christians – there are some ‘new testament only’ types out there – so it must be true even if it cannot be.

  23. gillt
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    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.

    Only because souls are not inherited but transmitted as an STD. That’s why God forbade bestiality; it puts in jeopardy our dominion over the beasts that walk the earth, swim in the seas and take to the sky.

    Theology is easy compared to science.

    • articulett
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      I wonder what god thought about our relations with the Denisovans and Neanderthals? I hope they didn’t catch that “soul” STD… it can cause you to suffer eternally for not believing the right unbelievable story I hear. Clearly, it’s better to just be part of the animal crowd where you get to cease existing when you die. God, it seemed, saved the worst for his “favorite” creations.

  24. Brian
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    “…if we suppose that only two of these creatures had human souls infused into them by God at their conception…”

    If we suppose indeed. A phrase really can contain a universe of self deception, or at least self mystification, can’t it? But why stop with these two souls? “If we suppose” that the Bible is the true word of god, that Christian doctrine is true, then the science that appears to conflict with it must just be a faulty product of our limited cognitive abilities, or maybe God is testing our faith, and all of our work is done.

    “And there is no evidence against this supposition.”

    One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry here. It looks like he’s never encountered Russell’s teapot, or perhaps came away with the wrong lesson.

    You can almost hear the prose creaking under the weight of the desperate attempt to demonstrate that what is clearly a fanciful myth is in some way an accurate account of human origins. That’s theology I guess.

    • articulett
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      There is no evidence against the supposition that there are invisible penguins marching about America.

      Nor is there any evidence that missing children aren’t being abducted by aliens.

      And science has not proven that dogs are not the reincarnation of dinosaurs as far as I know.

      And to be perfectly honest, one can’t prove that there aren’t immaterial penises growing out of the heads of theists.

      I’ve heard that with God– all things are possible.

      (I’ve also heard that QM “proves” that all kinds of weird things are true– so why not these weird things?)

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 9, 2011 at 1:49 am | Permalink

      Yeah, those are the two phrases that jumped out at me, too. Such bullshit.

  25. Posted September 8, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps having a soul is a dominant trait. Eventually all the descendants of initial population would have one without the two person bottleneck.

    • articulett
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

      Having one allele doesn’t mean that allele is passed on. Achondroplasia (the most common form of dwarfism)is a dominant trait. But two dwarfs can have a normal size child if they both pass on their normal allele and can, in fact, be expected to do so a quarter of the time.

      Unless god is doing his magical thingie making sure the “original sin” gene is being passed on, it isn’t going to reach all the descendents of any human. Chromosomes come in pairs. Gametes only have half of them.

      But let’s face it… nobody really thinks the “soul gene” or the “original sin” gene is genetic. For example, Y chromosome “Adam” is an ancestor to all males. He is also the ancestor of many females– but none of them have his Y chromosome at all and may not have any of his direct DNA– nor can they pass on any traits alleles carried on that chromosome.

      On average you’d get an eighth of your DNA from each of your 8 great grand parents… but it is possible that you don’t get any of your DNA from one of your great grandparents because during the randomness of gamete formation all of his mates 23 chromosomes was passed on and none of the others was. This is, of course more likely as you go back further in time and have more ancestors…

      • articulett
        Posted September 8, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

        Ugh– excuse my garbled response… I meant to edit before posting.

        In any case, recessive traits reappear in a population whenever they meet up with another recessive trait. Think of albinism. Most albinos are born to non-albinos. If people can survive fine without the dominant trait (as all those people living along side the originator of the supposed “soul” gene could)then their soulless alleles would continue to be in the gene-pool and meet up on occasion creating a soulless individual.

        But if theists such a Francis Collins really thought there was a soul gene, then I think they would be doing their damnedest to isolate that gene and to see if it was missing in psychopaths and such. I don’t think anyone seriously thinks that “souls”, “free will”, or “sin” are genetically transmitted– I think they think of it as more “magical” and ineffable than that.

  26. cornbread_r2
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    “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.” — JC

    According to the RCC, the propensity to sin is transmitted through sexual reproduction from parent to offspring, but souls aren’t. Souls are gratuitously created by God, one at a time, at conception. In theory then, God could create souls or not, at any time.

    • articulett
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

      Yep… souls are magical, invisible, immaterial and indistinguishable from the nonexistent– kind of like god.

    • articulett
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

      And I think having a souls is to “lose” the lottery. I think it’s much fairer to die like all the other animals then to be forced to live forever– possibly in everlasting anguish for not following the right nebulous rubric dictated by an unknowable being.

      Surely it’s better not to exist then to be born only to suffer eternally. And it doesn’t sound much better to spend eternity worshiping the sadist who came up with such a plan.

    • Tulse
      Posted September 9, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Souls are gratuitously created by God, one at a time, at conception

      And thus monozygotic twins are really screwed.

      • Mutating Replicator
        Posted September 9, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

        And chimeras formed from multiple fused embryos get an extra helping of soulness.

  27. Posted September 8, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    It could just be that it’s about the money.

    Amazon info HERE Original Selfishness: Original Sin And Evil in the Light of Evolution by Daryl Domning & Monika Hellwig

    A 2006 quote from the above link:

    …Domning [...] Over the past decade he has developed (partly in response to the creationist challenge) an additional interest in the theological implications of evolution. [...] He is a member of the science-religion faculty discussion group of the Washington Theological Consortium, which is currently the recipient of a 3-year Templeton Foundation Local Societies Initiative grant to develop a series of adult-education discussion guides on various science-religion topics and to hold a related series of public seminars

  28. Posted September 8, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    I think I’ve learned something about genetics! Let me make sure I have it right…

    Suppose that two humans are born with an allele we’ll call Z. They mate and each of their children inherit and express Z. For unspecified reasons, Z will never ever again appear in the gene pool from mutation, but only from inheritence.

    If I’m understanding what I’ve read here correctly, it is essentially impossible for Z to spread to the entire human population, no matter if it is dominant or whatever, because of the inevitable errors that remove Z every once in a while. Thus, while ancestry, as an abstract fact, is permanent and only grows until it encompasses us all, specific genes are not quite like that.

    Knowi that I’m no expert… what did I get wrong there?

    • Bill Gilliland
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

      Z can easily spread to the entire human population. It just requires all chromosomes that do not carry Z to go extinct. (When this happens, Z becomes fixed in the population.)

      Whether the recurrent mutations to non-Z have an effect really depends on the mechanism of selection driving Z to fixation as well as the nature of the Z mutation. (e.g. If Z is a duplication of a gene, any deletion suffices to revert the mutation. Conversely, if Z is a complete knockout of a gene, back mutation is essentially impossible.)

      • Posted September 9, 2011 at 9:52 am | Permalink

        In that case, I’m again not sure why Jerry Coyne wrote:

        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.

        why a bottleneck?

        • Dan L.
          Posted September 9, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

          I think you have to make the additional assumption that all modern human beings have souls, and therefore all of them must be descended from the originally ensouled couples. If you allow that only a subset of modern humans have souls then there doesn’t need to be a bottleneck.

          This is directly analogous to Bill’s note about traits getting fixed in a population. By assuming that all modern humans have souls, we are making an analogy between souls and “fixed” traits — traits that are shared by every member of a species. When we see a fixed trait, we do expect that there was a fairly small bottleneck at one point. For example, no snakes have legs so we would expect that all snakes are descended from a very small population of legless lizards.

          Similarly, if all humans have souls and souls are inherited similar to genes, then all humans having souls would imply a population bottleneck just the same way.

          Or, think of it this way: if souls are not necessary for biological survival or reproduction, if souls are inherited from parents, and if humans did not pass through a population bottleneck where everyone had souls, then we would expect many human beings today not to have souls.

          Of course, this also depends on HOW the soul is inherited, but when you get to the point of arguing the specific mechanics of how an almost certainly imaginary entity is passed from parent to child it might be time to take an internet break.

  29. Tim
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    I know what I’m saying is obvious, but I can’t help but express my continual amazement at this entire effort. Two ideas always occur to me when I read this alsolute bullshit:

    (1) If faith is so terrific, why is it so terribly important to reconcile it with science? The fundy (Martin Luther) viewpoint is at least sort of internally consistent:

    Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but – more frequently than not – struggles against the Divine Word….
    Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed. Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees must be put out of sight and … know nothing but the word of God.

    I mean, at least Luther had the clarity of the lunatic and understood who/what the enemy was.

    (2) If science and religion are compatible, how is it that the manifestly absurd hypothesis of “original sin” can’t be rejected? How can people capable of writing in complete sentences not finally say to themselves, ‘OK, OK, that’s a stupid idea.’ How sad that they become so invested in their childhood indoctrination that they don’t finally throw in the towel? Is it just that, having hung onto the nonsense for so long, it would be too embarrassing to let it go?

  30. Bill Gilliland
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    Moreover, all the genes of every living human should “coalesce” back to the same time and the same two people.

    I don’t think this is an actual prediction of the coalescent process. Under Feser’s model, souls are inherited vertically, like 100% infectious retrotransposons. Adam and Eve (and their ensouled descendents) could interbreed with soulless humans, and all the kids from those matings would get souls.

    Eureka! We’ve solved where Cain’s wife came from!

    Well, by Feser’s model, Cain’s wife has no soul, but all her progeny from mating with Cain do have souls. However, since genes from Mrs. Cain could survive and be passed on, there is no reason to expect the coalescent for those genes to point back at Adam and Eve.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted September 9, 2011 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      Bill, you seem to be the first to catch Jerry in the errors of his post. Not a professional geneticist myself, but he seems to be clearly wrong in the bit you quoted and, earlier, this:
      “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.”

      It’s quite possible for everyone now alive to be direct descendants of one ancient couple (within a population of thousands) without a single one of their alleles surviving. This would not be detectable as a bottleneck or coalescent event. If there was just one generation where none of Adam’s direct male-to-male descendants had sons, his Y-chromosome is finished. Ditto Eve/female/daughters/mtDNA. Same could happen independently with any and every other gene, mutatis mutandis. But ex hypothesi souls are inherited like slavery (one-drop rule), not like actual genes.

      I’m absolutely not defending the Adam and Eve theory, just being pedantic.

      • clamat
        Posted September 9, 2011 at 11:13 am | Permalink

        If there was just one generation where none of Adam’s direct male-to-male descendants had sons, his Y-chromosome is finished.

        But…doesn’t the Adam/Eve story mean all men are direct male-to-male descendents of Adam? If there were a generation where none of Adam’s direct male descendents had sons, wouldn’t that mean no more men, period? What am I not understanding here?

        • Platypus
          Posted September 9, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

          But…doesn’t the Adam/Eve story mean all men are direct male-to-male descendents of Adam?

          No. Under Feser’s model, a soulless male with a non-Adam Y chromosome could interbreed with an ensouled female descended from Adam and Eve. Their progeny get souls (although I think “infected with souls” is a more apt phrasing) and that Y chromosome can enter the subpopulation of ensouled humans, even though it cannot trace its lineage back to Adam. (Of course, Adam’s Y and this Y would also coalesce, some time prior to Adam being blessed with Patient Zero status.

          To use a real world example: “Mitochondrial Eve”. The coalescent process of cytoplasmic inheritance really can trace all human cytoplasm back to a single human female who lived in the not too distant past. However, individual nuclear genes do not have to follow the same pedigree, and can coalesce independently of one another at different times in our history.

          This nitpicking doesn’t change the fact that Feser’s model is highly distilled hogwash, of course.

          • clamat
            Posted September 9, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

            Got it, thanks.

            Actually, there seems to be some support for Feser’s model…

            A soulless male…could interbreed with an ensouled female[.]

            Happens far too often, even in these modern times.

  31. vel
    Posted September 9, 2011 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    the idea of “federal headship” always amuses me since Christians also want to claim that their god is “fair” and “just”. Fairness and justice do not include punishing people for somethign that they didn’t do. and to say that this can be passed by genetics, is just too hilarious. I wonder if other “sins” can be passed the same way. That seems to be what they are claiming here.

  32. Jim Mauch
    Posted September 9, 2011 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    It is kind of fun to play the twisted logic of the theolog. Here is my explanation of original sin. Because Adam & Eve shoplifted the apple they were cast out of the Garden of Edin and placed on the ancient Earth as replicating molecules condemned to billions of years of natural selection. I know that mountains of bible verse invalidates my explanation but who cares we will just disregard those parts. Problem solved. Now on to Noah and the flood.

  33. Posted September 9, 2011 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    So, I realize I’m way late to the game here, but my $0.02:

    The first attempt — where “original sin” refers to our evolved moral struggles, if I may simplify it somewhat — is not so bad as Jerry and Jason make it out to be, IMO. Note that it does not work for sects (such as Catholicism) which require infant baptism for salvation, because that dogma requires “original sin” to be something much more palpable and less metaphorical. Which is why, I think, you don’t see Catholics like Feser attempting that argument.

    But I do think it at least partially salvages the Christ sacrifice narrative, in that it gives Jesus something to atone for. I mean, we do all have evolved tendencies to be dicks a lot of the time, don’t we? Nevermind that we only have a reference on what “being a dick” is because we have evolved to mostly be moral creatures — if we posit that there was some sort of external morality prior to that (as most theists do) then our evolved natures could be seen as imperfect in much the way that original sin implies.

    This still leaves serious problems not just for theodicy, but even just for God’s basic competence/sanity. We’re left with a scenario where God sacrifices himself, to himself, to make up for a design error that he himself was responsible for. But since theists who have made it this far must already have embraced the “mysterious ways” brand of uber-special pleading, that silliness can probably be handwaved fairly easily. If you’re going to try and reconcile A&E and original sin with modern science, this is not a bad tack.

    But as I said, it fails for Catholicism and other Christian sects which require a very concrete and literal notion of “original sin” in order to justify doctrines such as infant baptism. Which is where Feser et al’s “selective ensoulment” model comes in. And this one is a real howler.

    For starters, I’m a little confused about Feser asserting that the soulless humans couldn’t reason or talk. That model just doesn’t work, for any number of reasons. It seems more sensible — and I think this is the Biologos pitch — to say instead that they are more like David Chalmer’s P-zombies: They look like humans, talk like humans, quack like humans, but they don’t experience qualia. This is, IMO, a rather silly notion (though I credit Chalmer’s silly notion with being what finally crystallized for me that the duck test applies to qualia, but to go down this road would be diverging too far afield for an already long comment) but silly though it may be, it is no sillier than the idea of a soul, and so I think Feser would be better served to go down this road. But even if he did…

    I think Jerry’s objection about it still requiring a 2-person population bottleneck shows some confusion. If I am to understand correctly, I think Feser is proposing that this ensouled population interbred with their zombie H. sapiens counterparts — that is the only way that this model solves the population bottleneck problem.

    And that’s just fucked up if you think about it. Some other commenter, either here or at Jason’s blog, pointed out that this leaves open the question of how the soul is inherited. Matrilineal? Patrilineal? Dominant? Recessive? A blend?

    And this also means a good number of God’s chosen people were copulating with zombies. Ew.

    Nope, I think that religions which require a concrete notion of original sin — as opposed to the fluffier, more metaphorical notion that Domning embraces — are up a creek in terms of compatibility with science. It is irreconcilable, even if you are willing to engage in some pretty serious special pleading.

    • cornbread_r2
      Posted September 9, 2011 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

      “366 The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not “produced” by the parents – and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.”

      As I understand it then, souls are not inherited; they are created one at a time at conception. If that’s the case, then it would seem that our unique human faculties of intellect, will and reason are not dependent upon the possession of a soul since zygotes and the severely brain damaged — who are said to have souls — obviously don’t have those higher faculties.

    • Tulse
      Posted September 9, 2011 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      But arguably if you dump a literal Adam and Eve for naturally evolved humans you don’t just lose Original Sin, you also lose the most obvious notion of soul, which is absolutely critical to almost all Christianity, far more so than Original Sin. Sure, people may just be “naturally” sinful, so we can say that A&E are metaphorical in that respect, but unless we also say the soul is metaphorical, there must have been an “ensouling event”, where some version of homo is magicked with a soul. That simply can’t be reconciled with “natural” evolution, as souls presumably don’t also evolve.

      • Posted September 12, 2011 at 10:45 am | Permalink

        I can’t respond to that without a halfway decent definition of a soul… so yeah, I guess I agree with your criticism :)

  34. Brad
    Posted September 9, 2011 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    I wanted to follow up on the idea that science can withstand falsification of almost anything. Imagine that we start uncovering evidence that something is badly wrong with natural selection. At first it’s just anomalies, but they keep pestering us, and other things turn up. A few people begin really questioning Neo-Darwinism. Then a new theory arises that would make sense of the anomalies. It has some other problems,b ut some people ‘convert.’ The problems are somewhat ironed out, the anomalies don’t go away easily (on the old theory). More people convert, and after some years, the new theory is largely accepted, natural selection left behind.

    This all makes perfect sense. Here’s what we know from the history of science. This would be messy and some epople would get vicious and mean. Yelling would go on. Reputations would be ruined adn slandered. Power games would be played. But it would settle out, more or less rationally.

    And naturalistically! The new theory wouldn’t vindicate the supernatural! Creationism wouldn’t thereby be true, not at all. of course religious people would go nuts, all off the deep end, but the change from Darwinism would NOT be their vindication!

    Seems pertinent to me.

  35. 386sx
    Posted September 9, 2011 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    This hypothesis, from Edward Feser

    He’ll probably say it wasn’t his hypothesis. He’ll probably blame someone else for it. That seems to be the recurring theme with Edward Feser. Someone nails him on a hypothesis, and then he gets all faux outraged and says it’s not even his hypothesis.

  36. DrBrydon
    Posted September 9, 2011 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    “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)?”

    No.

    For people who deal with the nuances of Biblical metaphor everyday, the religious seem to be incapable of understanding it elsewhere. Look at the responses to the title of Ophelia Benson’s “Does God Hate Women?”

    At the same time, though, “selfish” seems a pretty low standard for defining sin. Am I sinning if I hog the covers [I don't]? If I take the last cookie [I do]? If I protect myself [I would]? To Jerry’s point selfishness frequently leads to cooperation. Could we even exist as a species without it?

  37. Margaret
    Posted September 9, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    The Old Testament god is clearly a violent psychotic bully who doesn’t care who is punished when he gets mad. If you view “original sin” (or “original grudge” or “original hissy fit” or whatever) as an attribute of the god rather than of the individual people, then you don’t have to worry about a genetic bottleneck in passing it down the generations. A minor god adopted a couple of those cute little humans as pets, they weren’t properly subservient, he threw a hissy fit and had a grudge against all humans (he clearly can’t tell them apart) after that. Jesus’s death appeased the bully and he has thankfully left us humans alone ever since. Some people still go to special buildings called “churches” to give thanks that the bully is gone.

    What do you mean that’s not what they’re in a church for?

  38. Posted September 9, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Dan L. wrote:

    When we see a fixed trait, we do expect that there was a fairly small bottleneck at one point. For example, no snakes have legs so we would expect that all snakes are descended from a very small population of legless lizards.

    That’s incorrect. A fixed trait can result (for example) from a selective sweep, in which the frequencies of the trait and the associated alleles increase over a relatively short time frame due to positive selection. A selective sweep doesn’t have to involve a bottleneck; in fact, I wonder if positive selection might sometimes lead to slight increases in population size.

  39. s.k.graham
    Posted September 9, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, although I agree with your conclusion, there is a significant flaw in your particular critique. (There’s already a great many comments, apologies if this has already been pointed out)

    You say, incorrectly:

    “…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 ”

    This is not necessarily so. *All* living humans could be direct descendents of *all* of the “ten thousand” of bottleneck fame (or all or nearly all of A&E’s contemporaries). We would get our souls from A&E, but we would still get 99.99% of our genetic material from all those other ancestors. Consider that, even with significant inbreeding, it only takes about 15 generations to have over 10,000 distinct ancestors (without absolutely zero inbreeding, 15 generations gets you 32,768 unique ancestors). The “biblical bottleneck” or “genesis population” (so to speak) would take place about 300 generations ago.

    Biblical-Eve (or perhaps Soul-Eve) and Mitochondrial-Eve do not have to be the same woman. Mito-Eve does not represent a bottleneck. Even if you have a large steady population size, any asexual lineages, such as mitochondria or Y-chromosome, will trace back to a single ancestor if you go back enough generations. Mito-Eve and Y-chro-Adam were each just one of many individuals alive at their respective times. The same could be true of Soul-Eve. (This does assume that soul-imbued humans interbred with the soul-deprived).

    Biblicists can (and perhaps should, in order to be taken slightly more seriously than they already are not taken) make the following hypothesis: If a genetic marker for “having a soul” can be found (and traced in the same manner as mitochondrial DNA) then it will be found that the common ancestral source for soul-DNA will trace back to circa 6,000 YA.

    Of course, Biblicists also have the Noah’s Ship-in-a-Bottleneck to explain away. Alas, but they do have their work cut out for them.

  40. Phosphorus99
    Posted September 9, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    I am no geneticist but it seems to me the following questions must arise for the consideration of the time of their existence to be relevant :

    Are” Y-chromosome Adam” and”Mitochondrial Eve” equivalent to the Biblical Adam and Eve ?

    Are “Y-chromosome Adam” and “Mitochondrial Eve” the first and only ancient humans to have these particular genes ?

    What would happen if another male with the same Y-chromosome as “Adam” , alive at the same time or before “Adam” had no sons and similarly for “Eve” but had no daughters ?

    Shouldn’t the Biblical Adam and the Biblical Eve be where all genes – not simply Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA – but also teeth, eye colour etc coalesce ?

    • s.k.graham
      Posted September 9, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

      Phosphorus99,

      Not sure if you are asking me or something up-thread, but your questions seem relevant to my post. Y-chro-Adam and Mito-Eve are, by definition, the first and only to carry their respective name-sake genes (or, if not quite the first, then the only surviving carrier at a given time — i.e. a bottleneck of one). Both the Y chromosome and the mitochondria reproduce asexually (the former via sperm only, the latter via eggs). Note that different descendent lines accumulate different mutations, and loosely speaking by counting mutations we can get some idea of how long ago the single, unique great*grandparent strands of DNA existed.

      Actually *all* genes reproduce asexually (they just copy themselves after all), so for any gene (say the gene for human hemoglobin) we can estimate the time back to the “Adam” or “Eve” for that gene by (again loosely speaking) counting mutations, but we cannot determine the gender of the original carrier of that gene because its propagation is not restricted to male/female line as with Y-chromo or mitochonria.

      The existence of a unique progenitor for any given gene at any given time does not (at all) imply a bottleneck in the population at the time of the progenitor. This is because, statistically speaking, it is inevitable that the eventually all the lines from the contemporary population will die out even if only due to chance without natural selection playing a part. The converse, however, tends to be true — if there was a tight bottleneck in the population, then there is a good chance that there will be a unique progenitor for at least some genes at or near the time of the bottleneck — but not necessarily the same progenitor for each gene.

      Mitochondrial-Eve, Y-Chomosome-Adam, Hemoglobin-Progenitor, can all be different people at different times. Also realize that at the time of a progentiro for a given gene, all the other individuals alive at that time also have variations (alleles) of the same gene, and all those variations could (in principle) be traced back to an even earlier progenitor.

      Hmmm… this is the sort of thing that would be explained much more easily with a diagram or two… maybe later if I’m not feeling too lazy. :)

      Addressing your last two questions directly:

      “What would happen if another male with the same Y-chromosome as “Adam” , alive at the same time or before “Adam” had no sons and similarly for “Eve” but had no daughters ?”

      The point of things like mitochondrial-Eve is that we are estimating the time back to the “most recent unique common ancestor” for the particular gene or section of genome, or whatever. It tells us nothing of the existence of anyone who carried a perfect clone of that gene at or around the same time. To clarify, there is a large margin of error in these estimate. If we say mitochondrial eve lived “200,000” years ago, an error of a few percent means several thousand years and hundreds of generations. Maybe Mito-Eve was born exactly 205,499YA and already had 419 direct (female-only) great*grand-daughters by 200,000YA. And maybe all women today are descendended (direct unbroken female lines) from a subset of 93 of those 419 (the other lineages eventually having died out — as many as half of those 419 probably died out with no children at all). What we can say is that a unique common ancestor existed for any given bit of the genome, and by “counting mutations” we can estimate when that person lived.

      “Shouldn’t the Biblical Adam and the Biblical Eve be where all genes – not simply Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA – but also teeth, eye colour etc coalesce ?”

      This is true given ordinary biblical literalism — that A&E are the sole (and soul?) great*grandparents of us all — a bottleneck of two individuals. But in this new biologos interpretation (correction: fabrication!), A&E were just two out of a large population of humans. They were supposedly given souls, a trait that would be inherited by all their descendents — think of it as the “Soul-gene”, which has the special ability of *always* being passed on — during crossover it makes sure a copy of itself gets on both sides, so all sperm and eggs carry a copy of it. A&E’s children would have mated with other, soul-less, humans, but their children, grand-children, and so on always guaranteed to have the soul-gene. Presumably all the soul-less zombie lineages ultimately interbred with the soul-carriers or died out. Or maybe some humans alive today still lack souls, um… just like all the animals.

      The end result would be that all or most modern humans have all or most or a large fraction of A&E’s contemporaries as direct ancestors.

      I should confess that I critiqued Jerry’s critique of Feser before also reading Rosenhouse’s critique of Feser or Feser’s original post to see if I missed something. Jerry’s quote of Feser leaves quite open the possibility of souled and soul-less mating, which in turn nullifies Jerry’s critique vis-a-vis A&E being the unique progenitor for all moder human genes.

      As it turns out, Feser’s original post briefly mentions (in the last paragraph) the interbreeding question, but incorrectly dismisses it as irrelevant. The genetic evidence is only compatible with the assumption that A&E’s descendents interbred widely with larger soul-less population. If there was no interbreeding, then A&E would have to be a genetic bottleneck for all human genes, as Jerry said.

      • Phosphorus99
        Posted September 11, 2011 at 4:19 am | Permalink

        Thanks a lot for your explanation.

        Are the genes analyzed to arrive at the conclusion under consideration uniquely human or is the whole genome used ?

        • s.k.graham
          Posted September 11, 2011 at 10:31 am | Permalink

          We are talking about analysis of human genes, yes, when considering evidence for bottlenecks and genetic “Adams” and “Eves” for human genes. “Genome” refers to the entire DNA sequence of an individual organism, and informally is used to refer to the entire variety of genomes in a species, so when you say “whole genome” I think you mean something else like “all genes from all species”.

          Most “genes” are shared by many species — remember that “gene” actually refers to a set of alleles (exact sequences of segments of DNA) which are all sufficiently similar to be recognized as variations of the same unique original sequence. All animals, indeed all organisms carry many of the same “genes”, but typically each species will have a different set of alleles of that gene.

          The analysis in question applies to human alleles. The same kind of analysis can (and is) done across whole groups of species to estimate the time of the most recent common ancestors. For example, the most recent common ancestor for all mammals is estimated to be about 200 million years ago.

    • Bill Gilliland
      Posted September 10, 2011 at 12:38 am | Permalink

      Are” Y-chromosome Adam” and”Mitochondrial Eve” equivalent to the Biblical Adam and Eve ?

      No. They are simply the most recent common ancestor of all extant Y chromosomes or mitochondria. They don’t have to be alive at the same time.

      Are “Y-chromosome Adam” and “Mitochondrial Eve” the first and only ancient humans to have these particular genes ?

      Not at all. These individuals were members of a population, and of course they got their genes from their parents.

      What would happen if another male with the same Y-chromosome as “Adam” , alive at the same time or before “Adam” had no sons and similarly for “Eve” but had no daughters ?

      Well, then the other copies are the ones that survived to present. Not quite sure what you mean.

      The coalescent involves thinking about what happens backwards through time… Every person has 2 parents, 4 grand parents, 8 great-grand parents, etc. Pretty soon you run into the problem of having more ancestors than there were people alive. There is an easy solution to the problem — people are related. As you follow genealogy back in time, you start finding relations between more and more distant people.

      If you extend this process back far enough into the past, you reach individuals who are the common ancestors of *everyone* who was alive when you started. You can visualize following that population forward in time from that point; other individuals in the population will have offspring, and some of the progeny from “eve” will die without leaving offspring, but eventually every individual in the population will be a great^n-grandchild of the common ancestor.

      Shouldn’t the Biblical Adam and the Biblical Eve be where all genes – not simply Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA – but also teeth, eye colour etc coalesce ?

      If the biblical creation story were true, we’d expect all alleles to be traced back to them (that’s the 2-individual bottleneck.)

      • Phosphorus99
        Posted September 10, 2011 at 7:23 am | Permalink

        If it is in the nature of genetics and reproduction that there will inevitably be many “Adams” and “Eves” for extant alleles and these “Adams” and “Eves” do not have to co-exist in time or space why are differences in the time in which the “Y -chromosome Adam” and “Mitochondrial Eve” lived inconsistent with a Biblical Adam and Eve ?

      • s.k.graham
        Posted September 10, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

        Here’s hoping my blockquotes worked…

        Are “Y-chromosome Adam” and “Mitochondrial Eve” the first and only ancient humans to have these particular genes ?

        Not at all. These individuals were members of a population, and of course they got their genes from their parents.

        Since I said “Yes, by definition” to Phosphorus99’s question, I want to clear what seems to be a disagreement, but isn’t.

        Confusion may stem from common informal use of the word “gene” when “allele” is meant. (I am guilty). “Allele” refers to an exact DNA sequence. “Gene” refers to a set of alleles in a population which are all similar enough to be recognized as mutations of the same original exact sequence. Setting aside movement or duplication of genes in the genome, alleles a given gene are all competing for the same location in the genome.

        The “Adam” or “Eve” for a “gene” refers to the unique individual carrier of the allele most recent common ancestor of all current alleles (variations) of that particular gene.
        All alleles of the gene in the moder population are variations (by mutation) of that “original” allele. for purpose of this discussion, the entire Y-chromosome and entire mitochondiral genome can each be considered a single gene.

        There were many other alleles of the gene carried by many other individuals at the time of that gene’s “Adam” or “Eve”, but the lineages of all those other alleles eventually ended. Indeed, except for Y-chromosome genes, the “Adam” or “Eve” of a gene could have carried another, different allele on the other chromosome in the chromosome pair, which eventually failed to get passed on). Note that it is the lineages of the other alleles which ended, not necessarily the lineages of the people that carried them — you only give half your genes, randomly, to each of your children. If you only have one child, then the lineage of half your alleles ends with you, unless a sibling or cousin also carries that allele and passes it on.

        • Posted September 10, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

          Does the fact that the alleles / genes in the present population require that there must be at least 10,000 to 15,000 persons in the last bottleneck imply that there could not have been other much smaller bottlenecks prior to this last ?

          • s.k.graham
            Posted September 10, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

            Does the fact that the alleles / genes in the present population require that there must be at least 10,000 to 15,000 persons in the last bottleneck imply that there could not have been other much smaller bottlenecks prior to this last ?

            My understanding of the 10,000 human bottleneck figure is that it represents the smallest possible bottleneck for our ancestors over the course of homo sapiens existence — so going back several hundred thousand years (note that there is no definitive boundary between the beginning of homo sapiens and the end of homo just-before-sapiens). This is determined by statistical analysis of how long ago the various genetic “Adams” or “Eves” lived for many different genes. There could, I suppose, have been even smaller bottlenecks in our pre-human ape-like, or pre-ape, rodent-like ancestors — bottlenecks that may be too far back for the statistical method and available data to detect. (I’m not personally familiar with the details, so I do not now how far back in time that the 10,000 minimum bottleneck applies to).

            Unless you want to claim that A&E were apes or rodents, or some such, this does not help the biblical version of events.

            Biblical A&E in the ordinary interpretation require an extreme bottleneck about 6,000 years ago. So we would expect all our estimates of the genetic “Adam” or “Eve” for all genes to come out approximately 6,000 years ago (given uncertainty in the method, we might expect a spread of 3,000-10,000 years ago for many different genes analyzed. But the reality is nothing like this.

            Various new “interpretations” (i.e made up stuff) that allow for “other humans” (and interbreeding with those “other humans”) can avoid the bottleneck problem. You might also reject the 6,000 year age of Earth implied by the bible and suppose that homo sapiens is older than how ever far back the 10,000 minimum bottleneck goes (older than we have yet seen fossils for) — then you could suppose A&E live a million years ago, or two million or how ever far back is necessary.

            Given your choice of “name”, I assume you are looking for a way to fit the biblical story together with science. You can always reject certain literal aspects of the bible and make up new stuff to fit available scientific facts. But at some point, don’t you see that you just have to say “Look, it is just a story. Maybe it is completely made up, or maybe it is a very exagerated and distorted story that had its seed in real events surrounding the ancient Hebrew tribal ancestors.” (like maybe “Adam” and “Eve” were the leaders of a rebellious tribal faction who were exiled from their homeland by the tribal chieftian or local king… after centuries of retelling, the story grew and changed until it became the myth of Genesis).

  41. Robert Hagedorn
    Posted September 10, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    Is Saint Augustine’s exegesis of the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Genesis correct? Do a search: First Scandal.

  42. Alan Fox
    Posted September 13, 2011 at 1:32 am | Permalink

    I seeFeser is now apllying “what’s sauce for the goose” and after accusing Jerry of being an ignoramus on theology (his brand, I guess) he now feels freee to argue biology!

  43. Alan Fox
    Posted September 13, 2011 at 1:33 am | Permalink

    Excuse numerous typos.

  44. Alan Fox
    Posted September 13, 2011 at 1:35 am | Permalink

    Oops messsed up link to Feser’s post as well.

  45. Posted November 14, 2011 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    I am a bit confused by the reference to the “ten thousand minimum bottleneck.” Does this refer to the roughly ten thousand effective population size estimate which is claimed to obtain for the last million years or so? If so, effective population size estimates do not entail the least possible population size, but simply the average size of a population in terms of the number of individuals that can contribute genes equally to the next generation. This concept does not preclude much smaller actual populations during the last million years, and the standard formulae for determining its value (such as published by Wen-Hsiung Li) is much more responsive to the rate at which the population returns to a steady state than to any other factor. One might be surprised at how small a population bottleneck is possible under the right conditions.


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  1. [...] Jerry Coyne revisits Adam and Eve, and the tortured logic promulgated here and there in order to maintain Original Sin. [...]

  2. [...] Coyne just posted an interesting article about science versus religion, Adam and Eve: theologians squirm and sputter. The whole of Christianity is based on the Adam and Eve myth and original sin. Without that, [...]

  3. [...] from Feser’s point of view, that the near scientific certainty that Jerry Coyne speaks about in a recent post, that we can dismiss the idea of an original primordial couple from which all modern humans have [...]

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