[Originally published as My Abstract from Reclaiming Wisdom]
I thought some of you might like to read my abstract from the conference this July. So here you go.
After Adam: Thoughts on the Integration of Biblical and Human History
Todd Charles Wood
During his lifetime, Leonardo da Vinci witnessed the beginning of a remarkable and ongoing expansion of knowledge about human history.
As Leonardo entered middle age, Christopher Columbus brought the “New World” of the American continents to the permanent attention of western Europe, sparking the Age of Exploration. These explorations disrupted the European view of the world, as exemplified by the medieval Mappa Mundi (map of the world).
The typical medieval map integrated geography with biblical history, showing the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe corresponding to the lands settled by Shem, Ham, and Japheth respectively. Leonardo produced his own Mappa Mundi in 1514, which included representations of the Americas.
The discovery of whole continents inhabited with unique animals, plants, and human beings disrupted the simpler picture of the three sons of Noah peopling three continents. Early reactions mostly focused on reconciling the more complex world with a historical understanding of Genesis 1-11.
These disruptions of our previous understandings continue to this day. As researchers regularly uncover evidence of previously unimagined peoples, Christians continue to revise our previous understanding of the history of humanity.
More recently, some evangelical Christians have begun advocating a different approach of abandoning the long-standing quest for integration of biblical and human history in favor of a higher critical approach to the text. This movement represents a retreat from Christian scholarship, as advocates champion a theology that has nothing to say about science and therefore nothing to say about the reality in which we live.
A theology that is impervious to scientific discovery is a theology that is irrelevant to our lives.
In contrast, those of us who continue to seek integration and a truer understanding of human history consistent with both scientific and biblical evidence realize that our work will never be finished this side of the Kingdom of God. Instead, we may take stock of the present (provisional) status of our understanding with an eye toward future discoveries.
- First, we recognize that the entirety of the human fossil record is very likely post-Flood in origin, representing the resettlement of the devastated wreckage of the world as Adam knew it.
- Second, we find that despite many spectacular fossil discoveries, we can still distinguish human from nonhuman. There is not an unbroken line of fossils connecting humans with animals.
- Third, the fossil remains of these early, post-Flood humans present morphologies and genomes well outside of the range of modern people. This ancient diversity raises the question of where and how this diversity arose.
- Fourth, the genetics of ancient humans reveals a complex history that resists easy reconciliation with the biblical record of Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
- Finally, we recognize that our theories are severely underdetermined by a paucity of data, as illustrated by regular discoveries of previously unknown human forms (like Homo luzonensis) and emerging evidence that theories of hominin evolution are heavily biased by fossil discovery.
The future of discovery is largely impossible to predict, but we can look forward to additional hominin diversity being uncovered in the fossil record, along with further expansion of our understanding of ancient genetics. How creationists will respond to these discoveries will depend on ongoing and concentrated studies of geology, radiometric dating, the biblical record, paleontology, baraminology, and genetics.
We ought to be encouraged by the present status and rededicate ourselves to further study.