restricted access 6. ANCESTORS: Evolution and the Birth of Adam
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137 6 5 Ancestors Evolution and the Birth of Adam I n popular consciousness, if not in scholarly opinion, the theory of evolution finally killed off Adam. Widespread reports of “The Death of Adam,” as several books have been entitled, have cemented this impression. John C. Greene’s Death of Adam, for example, is subtitled “Evolution and Its Impact on Western Thought,” and the first port of call in The Death of Adam by the Pulitzer Prize–winner Marilynne Robinson is “Darwinism.” In fact, both of these authors are much too sophisticated to attribute to Darwin the assassination of the idea of Adam. Greene’s account is really a subtle and striking narrative of the decline of static creationism since the time of Sir Isaac Newton;1 Robinson’s is a critical philosophical engagement with how the new Darwinians conceive of human nature and in particular their denial of human exceptionalism in the state of nature.2 Nevertheless, the sense that Adam was finally exterminated by Darwin and his disciples is widely shared. In place of that image I want to suggest that for a significant body of opinion the coming of evolution meant the birth, not the death, of Adam. The thought here is that for those wanting to retain continuity with the heritage of adamic theology and yet are persuaded by evolutionary accounts of human origins, the suggestion that Adam was born of pre-adamite parents—that he had a direct genealogical lineage—found considerable support. Adam had a navel, for Adam had ancestors. Evolutionary Pre-Adamism This chapter in the story, then, modulates the narrative that has been unfolding in several more or less significant ways. First, at least in the hands of 138 adam’s ancestors some, it marked a departure from the conventional association of pre-adamism with polygenism. By identifying the adamic family as the direct descendants of forebears and as a relatively late arrival on the stage of natural history, it preserved the unity of the human family. Not that common descent inevitably implied racial equality; evolutionists such as Thomas Henry Huxley and Darwin himself, we should recall, saw no reason to deny racial inferiority and superiority because humanity’s common ancestor was pushed so far back into evolutionary history that it predated the emergence of the human species. It simply confirmed the consanguinity—a favorite expression at the time—of the human family. A monogenetic form of pre-adamism was thus now available in the marketplace of ideas. How its champions negotiated a range of doctrinal questions springing from this scenario will attract our attention in the pages that follow. Second, and again this applied more to some than others, these newer arrangements raised metaphysical questions about the human constitution and, in particular, about how the dualism of body and soul was to be handled. One strategy was to suppose that Adam’s ancestors had undergone physical evolution to the point that a hominid body was suited to receive a human soul. This version allowed for both an evolutionary and creationist account of the appearance of Adam at the same time. Third, advocates of an evolutionized pre-adamism sometimes , but not invariably, allowed for the continued existence of pre-adamite stock and speculated on the relationship its members sustained with Adam and his family. In some cases the translation of other hominid groups into modern humans was countenanced, in some cases not. Whatever the precise shape this revisionist pre-adamism assumed, the consequences for science, theology, politics, and history spiraled off in new and unpredicted directions. Such, of course, is the way with all harmonizing systems. Designed as they are to retain continuity between scientific discovery and theological beliefs, in fact they are mutually transformative; they alter both the scientific and the theological architecture of their patrons. Reconciling schemes are not to be thought of as neutral, disinterested joints holding together two limbs, or simply as bridges between two independent domains. They are, rather, more like a solvent that dissolves two substances to produce a new compound. Once adopted, monogenetic pre-adamism— like its polygenetic predecessor—channeled the intellectual and political energies of its champions along certain explanatory axes and obliged them to reorient both their theology and their science in one direction or another. The suggestion that Adam’s body had been subject to evolutionary transformation but that direct divine intervention was required to create his Ancestors: Evolution and the Birth of Adam 139 “soul,” owed a good deal to the...


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