9. DIMENSIONS: Concluding Reflections
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219 9 5 Dimensions Concluding Reflections T he idea that all human beings aredescendedfromAdam is deeply embedded in the thought forms of Western culture and of the monotheistic religions more generally. In both sacred and secular consciousness the assumption of the universal descent of all peoples from a common stock is widely shared. These accounts—whether religiously inspired or scientifically sanctioned—are fundamental to the way in which the human species thinks of itself and to our understanding of the elemental bonds that unite all branches of the human race into a single family . Human genesis and human solidarity go together. Alongside this dominant picture, however, has been another story, one that dwells on human difference rather than resemblance, one that appeals to multiple origins rather than common descent, one that conjures up an inhabited world before Adam, a primeval universe whose legacy still lingers to the present day. That story has been our quarry in this book. At base the concept of a pre-adamite world is profoundly simple. Adam was not the first inhabitant of the earth. But the theory’s simplicity belies its versatility. In fact, it is multidimensional. Pre-adamism’s early life was plagued by charges of heresy, infidelity, and skepticism. Both on the grounds of its biblical exegesis and its reliance on evidence from non-Western chronology and archaeology, the postulation of a pre-adamic cosmos was seen as an assault on the integrity of scripture. For the self-same reasons it has subsequently been read as the first move in the development of textual criticism. The spiritual fate of pre-adamism’s most conspicuous early champion, Isaac La Peyrère, is encapsulated in the following piece of doggerel, composed as an epitaph and loosely translated from the French: 220 adam’s ancestors Here lies La Peyrère, first a good Israelite, Then Hugenot, Catholic, Pre-adamite; Four religions he tried, till, perplexed with so many, At eighty he died, and went off without any.1 Whateveritshereticalbeginnings,however,thetheorylatercametoreside among religious conservatives displaying nothing of the sense of irresolution advertised in this epigram. Now, rather than undermining biblical authority, the pre-adamites were co-opted as a means of preserving its integrity in the face of challenges to its infallibility from a variety of scientific disclosures. Some depicted the changing morphology and animal life of pre-adamic landscapes in response to the findings of historical geology; others speculated on the possibility of pre-adamic human races in order to accommodate biblical chronology to archaeological artifacts; still others postulated that the adamic family had evolved from pre-adamite hominids. In each case the motivation was to keep faith with both science and the Bible. Pre-adamism’s migration from heresy to orthodoxy, from its role as a weapon of skepticism to a tool of fundamentalism, speaks to the contingency of theological labeling . The very idea that initially represented a secularizing trend in scientific endeavor by challenging the detailed accuracy of scriptural history and by liberating anthropological investigation from Mosaic strictures, has ended up being valorized as a reconciling tactic among conservative believers. In each of these roles pre-adamism operates as a harmonizing strategy, as a means of keeping the claims of religion and science in tandem. As such, it discloses something about the general nature of concordist proposals. By working to preserve the peace between science and theology, it is not so much that pre-adamism acted as a conceptual bridge between two discrete spheres of knowledge and belief. Rather, it functioned as a kind of mold that sculpted both scientific commitment and theological conviction into a distinctive shape. Harmonizing schemes are not to be thought of as passively zipping together two disparate sets of beliefs. They are, rather, agents actively fashioning both scientific theory and religious doctrine into new forms. Scientifically , pre-adamism—depending on the precise version adopted—predisposed its advocates to certain explanatory alignments: they frequently found themselves committed to particular theses about linguistic origins, about the role of environmental modification in organic history, and about the fixity of type. By the same token it also had religious implications for the doctrines of the Fall, the image of God, the soul, and biblical hermeneutics. Dimensions: Concluding Reflections 221 Harmonizing strategies are thus rarely single-unit ideas; rather, they are conceptual systems—packages of ideas—that transform the very notions they seek to unite. The changing fortunes and status of the pre-adamite over the centuries, moreover, are connected in significant ways...