Genesis 1-3 and Human Origins

I am going to be speaking about Genesis 1-3 and Human Origins as part of a conference later this year.  While I certainly have my own areas of interest (the ANE cultural and literary elements of Gen 1-3, what role does “historicity” play, what makes a human “human”, etc), I’d love to know the questions that others are asking.

So … when you hear someone say “human origins”, what questions come to mind?

– April 2013 update – 

As I put the final touches on my PowerPoint for the BCMB Conference, I thought I’d take a couple of minutes and summarize the six models of origins that Gerald Rau suggests in Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything.  I’ve found them to be quite helpful in categorizing and cataloguing my own thoughts.

It is not possible for a short posting like this to do justice to all of the research, information, and synthesis contained in the book, but if I were to pull out a few key points they would be these (and yes, they are taken out of context and grossly oversimplified!):

  1. Naturalistic Evolution
    • Process: random, natural, spontaneous
    • Genesis: ancient myth, no God
  2. Nonteleological Evolution
    • Process: universe created, then undirected natural processes
    • Genesis: ancient myth, God exists
  3. Planned Evolution
    • Process: universe created perfectly, no subsequent intervention
    • Genesis: noncondordist, Adam and Eve not individuals
  4. Direction Evolution
    • Process: intervention by direction of natural processes
    • Genesis: nonconcordist, Adam and Eve are individuals
  5. Old-Earth Creation
    • Process: major body plans created separately
    • Genesis: concordist, days extended
  6. Young-Earth Creation
    • Process: each kind created separately
    • Genesis: concordist, days literal

Whew, there is a lot packed in that short list, isn’t there?  🙂  As I look at the list (and after having read the book), there are some models that I can’t connect with how I read the Bible, but there are a couple of options that seem to fit well.  I still have more thinking to do …

What about you?  If you had to choose a model, which one would it be?

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6 Replies to “Genesis 1-3 and Human Origins”

  1. Classical evolutionary thought often suggests that the following characteristics are what make humans “human”:  walking upright, use of tools, social life, ability to think abstractly/symbolically, and use of language (or some combination of these characteristics).  In others words, being “human” is defined on a purely functional level (ie, what a human can “do”).What are your thoughts?  What are the pros and cons of defining humanity by means of these characteristics?

  2. Here is a question I was recently asked:
    “In Genesis 1:27 we read that God created man and female in His own image on the sixth day. In Genesis 2:7-22 we read that after God created man He planted a garden and put man in it to care for it, then He created livestock, birds and wild animals.  After that He created a woman.  What is the time frame between the creation of man and woman?”

    And here was my response:
    “Good question, with a few possible answers.  If we go with JEDP theory from a while back, the conclusion would be that Gen 1 and Gen 2 were written by different people and that would explain the differences.  Not many scholars (including me) hold too strongly to this theory anymore.
    If we go with a more literary approach, we would see that some translations treat verse 8 as the start of a “past
    tense” section (this is due to a feature in Hebrew called waw-conversive/waw-consecutive).  In other words, verse 8 starts to describe what had already happened (prior to the forming of man in verse 7, the garden had been planted, animals had been formed, etc).  In this case, there are not any “events” between the creation of man and the
    creation of women in chapter 2, so it is consistent with what is in chapter 1.
    Or, if we interpret Gen 1-2 as not describing the process/mechanics of creation, but rather the function/purpose of
    creation, then the precise ordering of events is not what the text is wanting to describe in the first place.” What do you think?

  3. Here is a question to mull over … is Genesis 1 good science? Before you answer, though, think about what you mean by “good science”.  The good science of the ancient Greco-Roman world?  The good science of the Renaissance?  The good science of the Enlightenment?  The good science of the 21st century?  Or the good science of the future?
    Why are we so determined to cram the world and text of the Bible into our current scientific understanding?  “Good science” changes from generation to generation, so what makes ours better than everyone else’s?

    Perhaps, though, in terms of understanding the meaning and purpose of Genesis 1, we need to change our question and ask, “What would have Genesis likely meant in the world/worldview into which it was written?”.  That seems to be a lot more responsible than asking an ancient text to somehow answer questions that come of out a foreign Western-based material mindset.  In other words, what happens if we let the text speak for itself in its own historical and cultural context?  Perhaps, we might discover that it really isn’t talking about the physical mechanics of the origin of the world.  Perhaps it is talking about something much bigger.



    PS.  If you only have time to read one book about the “creation-evolution” debate, and you want to learn about each of the various models that scholars have proposed, you should read Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything. Well written, densely packed, and very helpful.

  4. One of the questions that I have just been asked offline is “If humans evolved from apes, why are there still apes?”.

    Recognizing that my expertise lies in the text and context of the Hebrew scriptures, not in the various disciplines of evolution, let me offer some quick thoughts. My understanding of evolutionary theory is that one of the core principles
    is that of common ancestry.  That is, both humans and primates share a common ancestor, not that there is linear evolution from primates to humans.  As an example, my uncle and I share a common ancestor (ie my grandfather and his father), but I am not a descendent of my uncle.  One of the word pictures that is often used to visually represent evolution is a tree with many branches – humans are not an extension of the primate branch, but rather humans and primates are different branches that come from the same trunk.

    Hmm, I’m not sure if I said that correctly, but it is the best I can do.  Those of you who have actual expertise in evolution, let me know if that is incorrect.

    So … to answer the original question, from an evolutionary perspective, the reason there are still apes is that primates and humans are different branches, and one did not replace the other. Now of course, some
    of the questions that really interest me are “How does this intersect with Genesis 1-3?”  Is this a question that Genesis was written to answer?  What other biblical texts are relevant to this discussion? What do you think?

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