Christianity Today and the Search for the Historical Adam |

TBC Staff

Feedback: “The Search for the Historical Adam” and Population Genomics [Excerpts]

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

Enter Dr. Francis Collins, current director of the National Institutes of Health, the key player in the 2003 completion of the Human Genome Project, the man who should know all there is to know about human genetics. 

Dr. Collins’s 2006 book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, told the world that all members of the human species “descended from a common set of founders, approximately 10,000 in number, who lived about 100,000 to 150,000 years ago” (page 126 of the book).  Along with a later book co-authored with Dr. Karl Giberson, The Language of Science and Faith, Collins tells us that the concepts of the ancestral “first couple” and the “Genesis time frame” do not “fit the evidence.”  He attempts to comfort us with his idea that the Genesis story is a nice allegory explaining how God gave human beings “a spiritual and moral nature.”  Indeed, in his book, he makes it clear that it is only a moral nature and a yearning to search for God which distinguish the human from the animal.

Collins founded BioLogos Foundation, a coalition of scientists and theologians dedicated to promoting “theistic evolution.”  A staunch defender of Darwinian evolution from a single-celled ancestor, Collins believes that “the biblical God was the creator of all earthly organisms, humanity included, and used as his method the standard evolutionary scenario of gradual natural selection among genetic mutations across eons.”

We are assured that Paul was very sincere in his literal references to Adam because he simply didn’t know any better, having no access to the science we have. Before moving on to doctrinal concerns raised by Paul’s writings, we really should examine the “troublesome” science of “population genomics” unavailable to poor ignorant Paul. After all, we are being put on notice that the science is demanding a paradigm shift in our understanding of God’s Word. We’d better have a look at the assumptions underlying that bold conclusion.

Search the Christianity Today article much as you will, it never explains how the conclusion that there had to be 10,000 original people was reached. Oddly enough, neither does the BioLogos website. The latter does tell where to find the information. According to a footnote in one of its articles, “The genetic evidence [of a population of several thousand people from whom all humans have descended, not just two] is explained in: Francis Collins, “Deciphering God’s Instruction Book: The Lessons of the Human Genome,” in The Language of God (New York, NY: Free Press, 2006).”2

So what evidence for this starter population does Dr. Collins provide in his book?

None. On pages 126 and 207, the conclusions presented about the required population size are simply repeated. They are said to come from “population geneticists” who “look at the facts about the human genome.” They assure us that “studies of human variation . . . all point to an origin of modern humans approximately a hundred thousand years ago, most likely in East Africa.” That’s it.