Adam Versus Claims From Genetics -- By: Vern S. Poythress

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 75:1 (Spring 2013)
Article: Adam Versus Claims From Genetics
Author: Vern S. Poythress


Adam Versus Claims From Genetics

Vern S. Poythress

Vern S. Poythress is Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Did Adam and Eve exist? Does science say otherwise? The human genome project has produced voluminous data about the information contained in human DNA. Various news media and scientists tell us that this information demonstrates our ape ancestry. How do we evaluate these claims?

Evaluation is important for theological reasons. As the claims based on genetics have mounted, the theological discussion about Adam has heated up. From people with biblical and theological training we hear the argument that we must revise our understanding of the Bible and theology because we have to accept that evolution is an established fact.1 In response, we hear the opposing argument that the Bible and theology call on us to retain the conviction that Adam was a historical individual whose fall into sin resulted in guilt and sin for all his descendants.2 On both sides, people with training in biblical studies have understandably avoided discussing in detail the character of the scientific claims, and yet these have obviously greatly influenced the side that has abandoned the traditional understanding of Adam.3 It is important to undertake a theologically informed evaluation of claims coming from genetics.

We cannot within a short compass examine all the claims and all the evidence in detail. But we can summarize some of the main points, and direct readers to more extensive information.

I. Ninety-Nine Percent Common DNA

We may begin with a commonly cited statistic, the 99 percent identity between human DNA and chimp DNA. In 2005 the Cornell University News

Service reported: “Chimpanzees and humans share a common ancestor, and even today 99 percent of the two species’ DNA is identical.”4 In 2010 the University of California at San Francisco News mentioned the same figure: “The genetic codes of chimps and humans are 99 percent identical.”5 In 2005 the National Institutes of Health News reported, “Our closest living relatives share perfect identity with 96 percent of our DNA sequence.”6

But assessing these claims is more challenging than it may appear. Note that the NIH report mentions 96 percent instead of 99 percent. Why? The same ...

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