Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Vern Poythress on Historical Adam versus Claims from Genetics

Historical Adam versus Claims from Genetics? Visiting one of the blogs from the Gospel Coalition site, I found this very useful article evaluating DNA evidence in relation to claims about historicity of Adam. It is by Vern Poythress, who is both a solid and sharp theologian, as well as holding a PhD in Mathematics from Harvard University. Here are the section headings he uses in the article:

  1. Ninety-Nine Percent Common DNA
  2. Or Less
  3. The Challenge of Interpreting Data
  4. No Purpose?
  5. Gradualism
  6. Interpreting the Evidence
  7. Miracles and Solidarity
  8. Do Percentages Matter?
  9. Junk DNA
  10. The Function of the Framework
  11. Does Nonfunctionality Matter?
  12. The Minimum Population Bottleneck
  13. How Long Ago Did Adam and Eve Live?
  14. Three Sides to the Analysis
  15. Commitments
  16. Understanding the Creation of Human Beings
I like the article because he tackles and analyses the assumptions with clear and careful logic, as well as understands the issues and deals with questions that are significant. A key point that he makes is the distinction between evidence and the interpretation of the evidence. Often these these are merged together too much, and interpretation is smuggled in as if it were as evident as the evidence itself. However, there are logically lots of opportunities for different interpretations of the same evidence, depending on presuppositions and assumptions, etc. Section 3 begins with these words:
"The data from the human genome project and similar projects for chimpanzees and other animals has to be interpreted. It does not interpret itself. What is the significance of the similarities? Do they in fact show that human beings have ape ancestry? Do they imply that we are little more than naked apes? Do they tell us who we are as human beings?"
If you are like me, then you will like to read the conclusion first, to know where something is headed, decide if it is worth reading all of it. So here are some snippets that show the directions Poythress heads in...
"In the midst of rapidly expanding research, popular claims made in the name of science easily fall victim to one of three failings: they overreach or exaggerate the implications of evidence, they misread the significance of technical research, or they argue in a circle by assuming the principle of purely gradualistic evolution at the beginning of their analysis."
"I am a follower of Christ. So I do not come to this issue in a religiously neutral way. But neither does anyone else. Science itself cannot be practiced without a prescientific faith or trust. For example, scientists must believe (1) that the world displays regularities, (2) that human beings have minds so attuned to these regularities that they have a chance of discerning them, (3) that examination of the world and experimentation concerning its regularities are ethically legitimate, and (4) that scientists ought to and for the most part do remain honest in their examination of the world and their reports of their conclusions."
"This view of God’s involvement has implications for Adam and Eve. It is up to God how he wants to go about creating the world. He is sovereign. He specifies all the laws that scientists later explore. He is not a victim or a prisoner of his own laws! He may if he wishes create new species through gradual processes; he may also create in unique ways."

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