Yesterday on NPR, Talk of the Nation host Neal Conan conducted a fascinating interview (Christians Divided Over Science of Human Origins) with Daniel Harlow, religion professor at Calvin College, and Albert Mohler, head of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The topic: Whether Genesis should be interpreted literally or metaphorically. NPR religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty joined the conversation. The NPR reporters opened with this cringe inducing exchange:
CONAN: In particular, I was fascinated to read that some genetic evidence, DNA, was investigated by some of these Christian scholars and say, wait a minute, there’s no way you can have the diversity of human beings we have on the planet if you start with two people.
HAGERTY: Yeah, that’s right. They say now that we’ve mapped the human genome, it is clear that modern humans emerged from other primates way before the timeframe of Genesis, you know, like 100,000 years ago. And they say given the genetic variation, we can’t possibly get the original population to below about 10,000 people at any time in our evolutionary history.
While it is nice to know that some Christian scholars are finally acknowledging the genetic evidence which makes the Adam and Eve origins story impossible, the relatively recent mapping of the human genome did not demonstrate that modern humans “emerged from other primates way before the timeframe of Genesis…like 100,000 years ago.”
Human are primates with a long evolutionary history; our lineage separated from our closest relative primate lineage some 5-6 million years ago. The genus Homo is approximately 2 million years old. We have known these things for quite a long time. Fossils are amazing that way.
This quibble aside, Christian literalists and progressives have been arguing about Genesis and evolution for well over a hundred years. If the testy exchanges between Harlow and Mohler are any indication, they aren’t any closer to resolution. For those who are required by their Christian faith to make a decision, I can see the difficulties.
There is something weirdly compelling about Mohler’s argument that if Christians jettison a literal Genesis because science compels it, then a bunch of other important biblical stuff — like the resurrection and miracles — have to go too. The slope can get slippery in a hurry once you start deciding that some supernatural things happened but others didn’t. But then Harlow’s rejoinder, which is ably stated in his article “After Adam: Reading Genesis in an Age of Evolutionary Science,” is compelling too.
Fortunately, I don’t have to make these kinds of decisions.