December 14, 2017

Adam and the Genome 7: Chapter 3- Adam’s Last Stand? (Part 3)

Adam and the Genome 7: Chapter 3- Adam’s Last Stand? (Part 3)

We continue our review of the book,, by Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight. Today, Chapter 3- Part 3

As Christians become increasingly familiar with the argument for common descent and begin to understand it, they, not unreasonably, begin to wonder where Adam fits in.  Where in the phylogenic tree did the man Adam exist?  As I hope you dear readers are starting to see, science is good at answering some questions (and sometimes good at raising more questions than it answers), it is simply unable to weigh in on the historicity of Adam and Eve as individuals.  What science can conclude is that if they were historical, they were not the sole parents of all humanity, but part of a larger population.  Beyond that, science cannot say.

When modern humans first arose in Africa about 200,000 years ago, there were other hominin species alive who had migrated out of Africa prior to our species coming into being.  Homo erectus was already widespread in Africa and outside it.  The ancestors of Neanderthals had left Africa at least 100,000 years before our species arose and had spread to the Middle East, Asia, and Europe.  Modern humans left Africa in significant enough numbers to leave evidence of that migration about 50,000 years ago.  The ones that stayed behind became the ancestors of present day sub-Saharan Africans, and the rest of us derive from that smaller emigrating group of an estimated 1,200 more or less.  As they left, they encountered the other hominin species that had left previously.

What were the nature of those encounters?  Well, since the advent of paleogenomics, we know that Neanderthal DNA is nearly identical to our own yet just outside the range of present day variation.  They are our “kissin’ cousins”, and apparently some “kissin’” went on, if you know what I mean, and I think you do, as some modern humans have 1-4% of Neanderthal DNA in their genomes. As Dennis says:

“Of course, this raises the whole “species question” again: if humans and Neanderthals interbred, then aren’t we just members of the same species?  Recall that attempting to demarcate species is and attempt to draw a line on what is in fact a continuous gradient.  So we “sort of” are the same species, because we did interbreed to a limited extent, and some present-day members of our species, yours truly included, descend in part from Neanderthal stock.  Are dogs, coyotes and wolves the same species or distinct?   What about lions and tigers?  It’s a similar question.  As a species, then, we had to shift our Facebook relationship status to “it’s complicated” when it comes to Neanderthals.”

The recent discovery of the “Denisovans” complicates that relationship even further.  The DNA sequencing on a specimen from the Denisova cave in Siberia revealed a hominin neither Neanderthal nor us.  They share a more recent ancestor with Neanderthals then they do with any other species.  Present-day humans of Asian and Oceanic descent inherit 3-5% of their DNA from the extinct Denisovans.  Further, Denisovans contain DNA from yet another hominin species.  Some speculate that might have been Homo erectus, but we’ve yet to find intact DNA from Homo erectus, so it remains speculation.

So, as Figure 3-7 shows, not only is hominin evolution a branching bush, but there are cross-connections as well.  Sometime between 500,000 and 300,000 years ago, the common ancestral population of Neanderthals and Denisovans leave Africa, later splitting into two species.  As humans leave Africa 50,000 years ago they encounter Neanderthals in the Middle East and breed with them.  As this human population expands into Asia, they encounter Denisovans and interbreed with them.  The result is that present-day sub-Saharan Africans lack Neanderthal or Denisovan DNA, Europeans have Neanderthal, but not Denisovan DNA, and Asian/Oceanic people have both.  So what does this have to do with Adam and the Bible?  Nothing, absolutely nothing, and that is the point. Obviously, the bible authors had no idea of any of this, nor could they even have imagined it, any more than they could have comprehended quantum theory or plate tectonics or space travel.  So stop trying to CONCORD the scriptures with modern science, it simply can’t be done.  Why not just take the point of the narrative as THE POINT God is inspiring the authors to make.  The ancient understanding of science is BESIDE THE POINT.

When presenting genomic data to evangelical audiences, Dennis frequently gets questions about Mitochondrial Eve and sometimes Y-Chromosome Adam.  Mitochondrial Eve is an ancestor to every living human, likewise Y-Chromosome Adam is an ancestor to every living male.  Wait, what? If we descend from a population how can that be true?  The answer is that they are both true.  It has to do with how mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA are inherited.

Mitochondria are the components of a cell that performs energy conversion.  The have their own genomes distinct from the usual chromosome set that are called nuclear genomes because they are found in the cell’s nucleus.  In humans we have the nuclear genome consisting of 23 pairs from the mother and 23 pairs from the father and the mitochondrial genome.  Mitochondria are passed down only through eggs, as a result this snippet of DNA is passed down only from mothers to their children, not from fathers.

Similarly, the Y-chromosome has its unique pattern of inheritance; from father to son, and only to sons, since inheriting a Y-chromosome determines the offspring will be male.  These two forms of DNA, then, have a different pattern of inheritance from regular chromosomes, which can be passed on by either mothers or fathers to offspring of either gender.

Y-chromosomes hit a dead end if a male has only female offspring, and mitochondria hit a dead end if females have only male offspring.  So if we examine a pedigree, as before, shown in Figure 3-8, we can now trace mitochondrial and Y-chromosome variation.  We can see that the four children of generation III will inherit the mitochondrial DNA of their mother, who in turn inherited it from her mother (individual I-1).  The four children have only one ancestor from generation I for their mitochondrial DNA: their maternal grandmother.  Neither their maternal grandfather (I-2), paternal grandfather (I-3), nor paternal grandmother (I-4) contributes mitochondrial DNA to generation III.  Similarly, the two boys in generation III have only one ancestor in generation I for their Y-chromosome; their paternal grandfather.  The Y-chromosome of their maternal grandfather (I-2) has not been transmitted to generation III (nor II because this man had only daughters).

In contrast, you will recall that all four grandparents contributed regular chromosomal DNA to generation III, and that the DNA diversity in this generation requires at least four ancestors.  These children descend uniquely from one man (for their Y-chromosome DNA), one women for their mitochondrial DNA, but at least 4 ancestors for their regular chromosomal DNA.  This, in microcosm, is exactly why all humans can descend from one Mitochondrial Eve for our mitochondrial DNA, and one Y-Chromosome Adam for our Y-chromosome, and 10,000 other ancestors for our regular chromosomal DNA.  Both mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome DNA are prone to being lost in a lineage over time because of their gender-specific inheritance patterns.  The population bottlenecks that we passed through as species also likely contributed to the loss of many mitochondrial and Y-chromosome lineages.  Regular chromosomal DNA, on the other hand, is much more resistant to loss because it can be passed down to offspring of either gender by parents of either gender.  Y-chromosomes require and unbroken line of male ancestors; mitochondrial DNA requires an unbroken line of female ancestors; but regular chromosomes simply require an unbroken line of ancestors to be passed on.   Dennis notes:

“Unfortunately, many antievolutionary organizations like to promote Mitochondrial Eve, and Y-Chromosome Adam without explaining these issue.  Typically, it enough for them to state that they are respectively the common female ancestor for all women and the common male ancestor for all men, to claim (or merely imply) that these data are consistent with Adam and Eve being the SOLE parents of all humans, and to leave it at that.  Thus, for their case to seem plausible, they count on their audience not completely understanding how these types of DNA are inherited—or perhaps they misunderstand it themselves.”

Of course, and especially since the 2011 cover article in Christianity Today, certain evangelical Christians have attempted to rebut the genomic evidence that humans descended from a population rather than a pair.  Their attempts are mostly arm-waving appeals to “speculation” and “evolutionary assumptions” and have yet to rise to the level that actual genetic scientists take seriously.  For example:

“Stephen Meyer, a Discovery Institute leader of the intelligent design movement, (claims that) Biologos leaders are using an unsubstantiated and controversial claim to urge pastors and theologians to jettison a straightforward reading of Genesis about the human race arising from one man and one woman.  They think ‘the science’ requires such a reinterpretation, but apart from the speculative models that make numerous question-begging assumptions, the science does no such thing.”

Biologos has a number of series of posts that critique Meyer and allow him to respond.  It’s a nice back and forth and non-acrimonious to boot, so kudos to both parties for not flaming each other. But as far as making a compelling case against the genomic science, Dennis again quotes young earth creationist scholar, Todd Wood:

“The population reconstructions are complex and not easily understood by lay-people right now.  So creationist responses lag behind the current science, and the best your typical creationist can do is cast aspersion on the science.  Until we have a creationist well-trained in modern theoretical population genetics, I think we will continue to have only unsatisfactory answer to these ancestral population reconstructions.”

Well, this is the point that Dennis ends the chapter.  I know it was “eyes-glazing-over” technical, but, as someone commented recently, it can’t be helped; sometimes reality is complex.  It is my opinion that before you can “pooh-pooh” the science, you have to at least make an effort to understand it based on what the scientists themselves say.  In other words, don’t base your judgement on the science on “creationist” critique, read it for yourself.  That is why I took the time to break this chapter into 3 parts.  It doesn’t look good, as a scientific proposition, that Adam and Eve, alone, are the first couple of the whole human race.  And now you know, at least dimly, the reasoning behind that.  That the genetic science will be refined in the future, I have no doubt, but overturned completely; it’s not going to happen.  So, from a genetics standpoint, it is Adam’s Last Stand.

However, I am going to go off on a tangent of my own (Dennis did not cover this) and speculate how Adam might be saved, in a manner of speaking.  I’m going to do that by introducing the concept of Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA).  In genetic genealogy, the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of any set of individuals is the most recent individual from which all the people in the group are directly descended.  In a 2004 article in Nature, Douglas L. T. Rohde, Steve Olson, and Joseph T. Chang presented a paper on “Modelling the recent common ancestry of all living humans”.  You can read the article here.   Here is the abstract of the article:

 If a common ancestor of all living humans is defined as an individual who is a genealogical ancestor of all present-day people, the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) for a randomly mating population would have lived in the very recent past. However, the random mating model ignores essential aspects of population substructure, such as the tendency of individuals to choose mates from the same social group, and the relative isolation of geographically separated groups. Here we show that recent common ancestors also emerge from two models incorporating substantial population substructure. One model, designed for simplicity and theoretical insight, yields explicit mathematical results through a probabilistic analysis. A more elaborate second model, designed to capture historical population dynamics in a more realistic way, is analysed computationally through Monte Carlo simulations. These analyses suggest that the genealogies of all living humans overlap in remarkable ways in the recent past. In particular, the MRCA of all present-day humans lived just a few thousand years ago in these models. Moreover, among all individuals living more than just a few thousand years earlier than the MRCA, each present-day human has exactly the same set of genealogical ancestors.

Got that?  I didn’t think so. 

Anyway, what they are basically saying is that, based on reasonable modelling, it is scientifically possible that a common ancestor to all of humans could have existed just several thousand years ago.  Now, how reasonable is that supposition?  Well, it is YALE and M— I — (FREAKING) T!!!  In fact, Adam of the Bible could very well have been the ancestor of all Israel.  Now, to be sure, he was not the only human alive at the time.  But Genesis hints that there were other people around.  Where did Cain get his wife?  How did he found a city?  Who was he afraid would kill him as he wandered away?  It would explain the genealogies, which, according to biblical anthropologist Alice C. Linsley, were not genealogies at all but rather King’s Lists. (As an aside spend some time on Alice’s blog to get a refreshing look at the real history the bible chronicles.)

As Alice says in her article, “Are Adam and Eve Real?” :

…it is not necessary to insist that Adam and Eve are the progenitors of all humanity. Instead we may understand them as the first ancestors of the people who gave us Genesis. This concept of the first ancestors or heads of tribes and clans is found throughout the Bible. Midian is the head of the Midianites; Jacob is the head of the Israelites, and Lot is the head of the Moabites.

That makes sense to me.  And it preserves the essential truth of what the Bible is trying to convey to us.  But the Bible conveys this truth in the context of the views of ancient men, not in some woodenly, empirical, modernist mind set.  If you can’t get shed of that modernist mind set, then you aren’t really a conservative theologian, because the only thing you are conserving is a modernist mind set, and you are setting that up as the be-all and end-all of thought.  God chose to convey His truth to us through the medium of ancient writings; if you have a problem with that, then your problem is with God, not those of us trying to be faithful interpreters of what the ancients were trying to say.

• • •

Other posts in the series:

Comments

  1. If you can’t get shed of that modernist mind set, then you aren’t really a conservative theologian, because the only thing you are conserving is a modernist mind set, and you are setting that up as the be-all and end-all of thought

    Well, at least I had THAT much going for me in my TR days – I *knew* I was being a Common Sense Realist rationalist, and I was utterly convinced it *was* the be-all-end-all.

    Still wish it was, all things considered… :-/

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Well, at least I had THAT much going for me in my TR days – I *knew* I was being a Common Sense Realist rationalist, and I was utterly convinced it *was* the be-all-end-all.

      “When you point at something with your finger, the dog sniffs your finger. To a dog, a finger is a finger and that is that.”
      — C.S.Lewis(?)

  2. >> …it is not necessary to insist that Adam and Eve are the progenitors of all humanity. Instead we may understand them as the first ancestors of the people who gave us Genesis.

    Just as I was starting to wonder if I had died and gone to hell, the sun comes out and something is said that I can join Mike the G in saying, “That makes sense to me.” And not only the people who gave us Genesis, but the people who gave us Jesus. I have yet to determine if my eyes have suffered permanent glazing.

  3. “And not only the people who gave us Genesis, but the people who gave us Jesus.” An important point I should have made. If Jesus is truly God incarnate, then the incarnation MUST be tied to real human beings, otherwise we are Docetics. Jesus had real human ancestors, or he wasn’t a real human. Don’t ask me about the Y-chromosome, I DON’T KNOW. Could there possible be a naturalistic explanation: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16934-girl-with-y-chromosome-sheds-light-on-maleness/ maybe, maybe not. Was Joseph Jesus’ biologic father? Only if you believe Mary was a LIAR. I don’t, she said she hadn’t been with a man, and I believe her. So– miracle. Still, I reiterate: Jesus had real human ancestors, or he wasn’t a real human.

    • I’m open to the possibility that Mary was a liar (or her chronicler was). I think a lot of theology can be jettisoned or reasoned through once you realize how heavily we rely on 4th century therapeutic fan fiction to understand everything about Jesus’ conception. That, coupled with the creeping divinity of Jesus we see throughout 1st-2nd century documents, and, well…

      It’s funny how we just accept as mythology all the stories of Zeus and other gods impregnating human women, but somehow accept as reality Yahweh doing that to Mary…

      It’s hard not to view this as yet another thing unoriginal about Christianity. Occam’s Razor and all that.

      • I’m not normally a slippery slope believer, but it seems to me if you venture into “Mary was a liar” territory you’re treading upon a slippery slope that pretty much leads directly to “throw everything else out, too.”

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          A LOT more so than evolution.

        • I’d agree. But at the same time, I’ve heard that about many, many, many, many…many…things all my life. To a fundy, all things are fundamental. And they’ve all been proven false.

          A lot of it still hinges on the resurrection. Jesus does not need to be born of a virgin for Christianity to be true. He maybe doesn’t even need to be divine…but he definitely would need to have been resurrected.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            To a fundy, all things are fundamental. And they’ve all been proven false.

            Which doesn’t help the credibility of things that actually are true.
            (AKA Lowering the signal-to-noise ratio.)

          • flatrocker says:

            > “A lot of it still hinges on the resurrection.”

            But doesn’t it hinge even more so on his actual divinity? A resurrected person, assuming it is even plausible, is not necessarily required to be divine. All that’s needed is some sort of divine intervention. But the whole “conceived by the Holy Spirit” thing however denotes and requires divinity. This is considerably more problematic.

            Stuart, based on the deconstruction of Jesus in your comments, welcome to the world of Arius. There’s nothing like a recycled heresy. The original ones are always best when dressed up for the new showing.

            • lol, I’m just thinking, but it’s good to know that’ similar to Arius. So, who was Arius a heretic to? What were the political benefits? What are the religious implications? What first hand sources do we have from Arius as opposed to what others put into his mouth? etc

              • Burro [Mule] says:

                Athanasius said “God became man so than man could become divine”. Arius created a chasm so wide that even God could not span it. Cut out communion with the divine, and you make saints impossible and have to settle for ethical businesspeople or solid citizens. No energies of the Age To Come operating in this age.

                There were political and economic issues involved, but overall, you have to believe orthodox opinions carried the day providentially. In other words, focus on the flower instead of the manure it is planted in.

                • Dude: Even Santa Claus punched Arius in the nose 🙂

                • Heather Angus says:

                  “… you have to believe orthodox opinions carried the day providentially.”

                  Well, they carried the day, but “providence” certainly had some help from the power of the ascendant, emperor-backed authorities of the day (from Wikipedia):

                  Of the roughly three hundred bishops in attendance at the Council of Nicea, two bishops did not sign the Nicene Creed, which condemned Arianism.[15] Emperor Constantine also ordered a penalty of death for those who refused to surrender the Arian writings:
                  “In addition, if any writing composed by Arius should be found, it should be handed over to the flames, so that not only will the wickedness of his teaching be obliterated, but nothing will be left even to remind anyone of him. And I hereby make a public order, that if someone should be discovered to have hidden a writing composed by Arius, and not to have immediately brought it forward and destroyed it by fire, his penalty shall be death. As soon as he is discovered in this offence, he shall be submitted for capital punishment. … ”
                  —?Edict by Emperor Constantine against the Arians[16]

                  • Robert F says:

                    Following that, the Emperor softened on Arius and Arianism, lifting the banishment; Athanasius (the defender of what we now call orthodoxy) himself was banished as a result of one of the councils. But the so-called orthodox bishops continued unabated in their hatred of Arius and Arianism, one of the bishops even praying for Arius’ death before he could return from banishment. Lotta love in the orthodox house.

                  • Robert F says:

                    If we believe that the violent politics of empire is how God providentially vindicated what we now call orthodoxy, and brought it to historical dominance, then it’s hard to see how our view of God differs fundamentally from the parts of the Old Testament that depict him as a vengeful, violent and exterminating potentate. Is this how the God of love really works? Putting theological doctrines above the flesh and blood of real human beings? I don’t buy it anymore, nor do I have faith in the supposed and much vaunted holiness of the ancient Church.

                    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

                      Exactly. It is so much easier to paint a pretty picture when one is separated by so much time; and when the victors wrote the histories…

          • Dana Ames says:

            Stuart,

            First of all, western theology (I know, I know, but please hear me out) has buried the idea of what “salvation” meant to the 1st century Jews, and then to the Christians who started out as Jews, underneath the heap of philosophical conceptualization from the late medieval period onward. Soteria was in no way a “get out of hell free” kind of thing. It was, rather, a new Exodus, in which the Big Thing from which people were being delivered was not Pharaoh, or even sin, but Death – because if God doesn’t do something about human death, the human body and soul/spirit remain forever sundered, and the picture of the cosmic temple given at the beginning of Genesis, with Man set up as the image of God in it, would fall to pieces, and God’s good creation would be brought to nothing. So Christ entering into Death and breaking its power by being resurrected is necessary to the reality of being “saved” – in Greek, its semantic range includes “deliverance” and “healing” – nothing about anyone being punished, nothing connected to the western ideas of atonement except – in a very limited and nuanced way – substitution (see N.T. Wright). The healing comes as Christ’s resurrection sweeps away the fear of death which keeps us enslaved, and it becomes possible for us to resist doing un-loving and inhuman things.

            But second, if that were to be the case, then Christ had to be both human and divine in order to effect that. Please, please read this:
            https://www.scribd.com/document/306906861/The-Patristic-Atonement-Model#from_embed
            If Jesus were not both God and human, the whole thing would not have worked, and we would still be DEAD (in our sins, which are the doing and the result of doing everything that is un-love and inhuman that drives us toward non-existence).

            Thirdly, this was being “worked out”, if you will, much sooner than the 4th Century; both Jewish and Christian scholars agree on that, including many who are not particularly “conservative.” The virginity of Mary is already affirmed by the time of the Apostolic Fathers, around 100 A.D. already. I’ve just been re-reading them; it’s there, and very clearly. If you have the time, you could go to YouTube and listen to the talk by Fr John Behr, “The Shocking Truth about Christian Orthodoxy.”

            The divinity of Christ in the Incarnation is necessary for God to be able to identify completely with humanity and to enter into the creation – which was his plan from the beginning – in order to bring all of it – “all things” – into unity with Himself. It’s all so very, very, much bigger than what we have been fed – often by very well-meaning people, but who have a stunted theology.

            Dana

  4. Daniel Jepsen says:

    Mike, I have really gotten a lot out of this series. It answers a lot of questions, and gives me some other questions to ponder. I imagine they took a LOT of time, so thanks for that.

  5. Daniel Jepsen says:

    “If you can’t get shed of that modernist mind set, then you aren’t really a conservative theologian, because the only thing you are conserving is a modernist mind set, and you are setting that up as the be-all and end-all of thought.”

    Love that quote

  6. More or less, in order…

    “…science is good at answering some questions (and sometimes good at raising more questions than it answers), it is simply unable to weigh in on the historicity of Adam and Eve as individuals…”

    Well…in so far as Adam and Eve are considered the primordial couple from which all humanity sprang, then yes, science can determine that they are unhistorical. But if we discussing Adam and Eve in some other context than either a mythological one or a scientific one then we have to ask, what ARE we talking about? We’re certainly NOT talking about either Genesis or genetics. Or, as an act of creative mythological imagination they certainly exist. As a fact in history they certainly do not. As moderns, children of the enlightenment, we make such a distinction. The ancients would not have made such distinction. If we could ask the writers of Genesis whether A & E were literal or figurative they would have replied, “Yes”, or probably would have just been puzzled by the question. This is what science has given us; the ability to experience the mythological realm through our active imagination without believing any of it is real. This is not a bad thing.

    To the fundamentalists I would just say, if you force me to choose between Genesis and genetics I’m going to choose the latter. After all, which is ultimately the greater revelation?

    “…there were other hominin species alive…”

    In my opinion this is the final nail in the fundie coffin. Or maybe the Almighty took a few practice runs?

    “…apparently some “kissin’” went on…”

    Love conquers all. Thank God! The old view was that we were looking at a many many millennia long war of extermination. It’s a relief to fond out that homo sap conquered the world with a stave and not a sword. (So to speak.)

    “eyes-glazing-over?” Eyes opening rather. Look nobody gets this the first time. But if you show due diligence any normal person can grasp this stuff. I’m no genius. I just read it over and over until it began to sink in.

    “…Until we have a creationist well-trained in modern theoretical population genetics…”

    Good luck with that.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Love conquers all. Thank God! The old view was that we were looking at a many many millennia long war of extermination. It’s a relief to fond out that homo sap conquered the world with a stave and not a sword. (So to speak.)

      Or a blend of the two.
      In tribal warfare, you kill all the enemy tribe’s men and take their women for your tribe.

  7. Thanks, MtG. This whole series has been illuminating and today’s post was perhaps the most lucid of the bunch.

  8. Burro [Mule] says:

    Hunh.

    I have to admit I am enjoying this series, but over all I find all the discussions of genetic history reinforcing certain atavistic instincts that have always been part of my nature, but which Orthodoxy has provided some modicum of relief. Particularly, the information that sub-Saharan Africans have no Neanderthal or Denisovian DNA could have been peeled off of any number of alt-right sites I am too weak to refrain from cruising.

    Now, modern liberal [read Democrat] ideology is for the most part Puritan Christianity refined seven times until it is minusGod, but the moral fury remains. Where does the strength come from, those of you with impeccable ‘progressive’ bonafides, to see the race through to the end? Is there enough mojo left in this insipid New England spiritual soup to disarm the ancient War Monkey, or will the sacral State be called upon to shackle him?

    I don’t think this will end well. I feel the need to go buy a few extra boxes of cartridges and spend some time at the range.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      Why would that bother you, Mule? I mean, step back some years and the ancestors were one common ancestor. Step bacj sone more and… We place arbitrary distinctions to justify tribalism. The sooner we recognise it, the sooner we can kick its ass.

      While the majority of my ancestry is “European”, I have small percentages of African, South African (Khoi and/or San) and SE Asian (via Madagascar – thus likely slave) ancestry as well. That makes me just another human. It also means I have both Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA (in case you wonder, I had genetic tests done).

      Really, race and tribalism arw distractions we need to purge ourselves of. Nothing good, and I mean nothing good comes from obsessing about this stuff. It is interesting insofar as our human story, but not as a means of distinction and division.

      • Tribalism. The root of all evil, really.

      • Mule [Burro] says:

        I don’t think you have answered my question. If ‘tribalism’ is ‘bad’, then the opposite, ‘universalism’ must be ‘good’, but how does universalism bestow any survival advantage? It isn’t like we are engaged in a life to death struggle against arachnids from Tau Ceti, for example.

        I find in myself the desire to privilege my own children over the children of others. True, my children have different tribes on their father’s and their mother’s side. I find in myself the desire [and once, the ability] to privilege my brother’s children over the children of some other person’s brother. There have been times that I have been tempted to violence in implementing this, restrained ultimately by the fear of the violence of the state. Now, this desire, is it wrong? Does ‘nothing good’ come of it? Should I voluntarily, in every case, surrender the privileges of my children or my nephews in favor of the privileges of the children and nephews of others? If you say I should trust to the courts to sort this out, you merely change the venue of the struggle.

        As for common ancestry, if we go back far enough, we find that the same arguments you make against racism and tribalism could be used to place sea slugs and humans on the same level.

        I believe that Jesus taught the radical idea that we should treat the children of everybody’s brother as if they were our own brother’s kids. Jesus had no children, and He also didn’t have any enemies. He believed that our common Father could provide for us all without stint or need of envy. This is not easy for me. I need a continual conscious dialog with Him in order to maintain that sort of equilibrium. Now, since you have ceased to have recourse to Him in any direct way, I find myself envying the casual ease with which you appropriate Christian (or Islamic) ethics without the metaphysical baggage of Christianity (or Islam). It appears to me that to assuming universalism as a day-to-day ethic leaves you wide open to the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

        Now, I’ve played to your strength.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          –> ” If ‘tribalism’ is ‘bad’, then the opposite, ‘universalism’ must be ‘good’, but how does universalism bestow any survival advantage?”

          Not sure I can argue that point too much from any actual study that I have in hand, but I believe that “helping each other” is better in the long run than “out for myself.” That goes for small groups and large groups.

          Also, in terms of Christianity, since it’s “love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus pretty much detonates the notion that we should remain tribal.

        • Now, since you have ceased to have recourse to Him in any direct way

          So, if you don’t believe in God you can’t agree with Christian ethics? “Truth” is an all-or-nothing package?

          That’s the SAME trap I fell into with Reformed theology all those years back…

          • Burro [Mule] says:

            Nah.

            I guess some people are just “good by nature”, and don’t need supernatural help not to be racist and misogynist.

            I always wondered why homosexuality couldn’t be helped but homophobia was a choice.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

              Whoever’s at the top of the Power Struggle gets to make the rules.

              “Before that can happen, make sure WE are the ones who define what is legal and what is not.”
              — L Ron Hubbard

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          It isn’t like we are engaged in a life to death struggle against arachnids from Tau Ceti, for example.

          “BUGS, MISTER RICO! MILLIONS OF BUGS!”
          (couldn’t resist…)

        • Maintaining a difference between Us and Them is a learned, not inherited, skill. It is the inability to clearly delineate our individual existence and interests from those of others that leads to finding our identity in the tribe. By the same token, the tribe itself can only maintain an observed difference between its own existence and interests and that of other tribes by teaching its members to see the world that way. But ultimately it shares the inability of its members to clearly delineate its own existence apart from that of others, and this inevitably leads to finding its identity in the shared humanity of other tribes. Universalism is inevitable, because identity, whether of tribe or individual, is not static but expanding; where expansion ends, death takes over.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Is there enough mojo left in this insipid New England spiritual soup to disarm the ancient War Monkey, or will the sacral State be called upon to shackle him?

      “But Holy State (we have lived to learn)
      Endeth in Holy War.”
      — Rudyard Kipling, “MacDonough’s Song”
      http://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/kipling/macdonoughs_song.html

    • >> Now, modern liberal [read Democrat] ideology is for the most part Puritan Christianity refined seven times until it is minusGod, but the moral fury remains.

      I think you’re on to something there, Mulo. Very interesting. Independent thinkers in the hands of an angry progressive. It might be more evident if you thought of this heritage as Yankee rather than Puritan. The fount and bastion of higher education, which is where much of the indoctrination occurs today and has for some time. Think Ivy League, but not confined, disseminated. And by Yankee I do not mean Northern, a distinction I only learned late in life. When I understood that the Yankee mentality and ideology had made its way across upstate New York up to Minneapolis and infected Southern Michigan along the way where I grew up, it was a major light bulb moment. The moral fury is the same as that of the fundamentalist but the uniform is different and they often play against each other.

      >> Is there enough mojo left in this insipid New England spiritual soup to disarm the ancient War Monkey, or will the sacral State be called upon to shackle him?

      Disarm? Rather poke with sharp sticks until Armageddon is unleashed. The sacral State may be in process of shackling, or at least there are encouraging hints in the seven-times-distilled independent news reports, but the outcome is far from certain. The 1% does not give up easily, and why should they? Yes, spend some time at the range to at least let the sound of freedom ring, but more to the point join me and perhaps others in prayer, fervent if possible, that our captivity may end in our lifetimes, if not sooner. Yes, love wins, but it’s a cliffhanger.

      • Burro [Mule] says:

        Thanks, Chuck.

        I can usually depend on you to get it. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.

        Otherwise, I feel like Spike the dragon among the ponies. Everyone else is a charter member of the get-along gang and I’m always spoiling for a fight.

        • There are a number of researchers, Simon Conway Morris comes to mind, that think evolutionary development is propagated as much by cooperative behavior as competitive behavior. Unless I’m mis-remembering, Morris believes that particularly with humans the cooperative behavior led to language which resulted in a huge leap forward. So there’s that.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            Exactly. As othwrs also mention, co-operation often fosters beyter survival odds. A broader, larger population improves the chances (mathematically) of surviving a catastrophe, for instance. Beneficial genes such as disease resistance sprwad more, thus benefiting a larger population. Etc etc.

            It is not difficult to understand, unless you’re looking for reasons to justify your own prejudices.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Sounds like Kropotkin in Steven Jay Gould’s essay “Kropotkin was No Crackpot”.

            The essay’s thesis was that Kropotkin (a Russian Anarchist)’s attitude on Darwinism was very much opposite that of the English Social Darwinists, the root cause being the different social/historical/environmental backgrounds of the England and Russia:

            England was a society crowded onto a highly-populated island; Social Darwinism took the “yuppie” tack of “survival of the fittest” being competition between individuals. The fight was between individuals in a zero-sum game of limited resources.

            Russia was a vast underpopulated land rich in resources with a lethally harsh climate; Kropotkin’s interpretation of “survival of the fittest” meant cooperation between individuals against the vast wilderness and Russian/Siberian Winter. There the fight was against the environment, and Cooperation between individuals — not tooth-and-claw Competition — was the key to survival.

        • I maintain it’s possible to have tribes without tribalism. Isn’t that really the goal? Not some vague homogenization. Not so much a “melting pot” — more like a salad. Watch out for the Russian dressing, though.

          • Why ? Do you like the Cesar better ?

          • >> I maintain it’s possible to have tribes without tribalism.

            Something that the American Indian has learned and demonstrated ahead of the curve. Highly desirable and not so easy to do. You may some day come to find that Russian Kale is an essential ingredient.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        The moral fury is the same as that of the fundamentalist but the uniform is different and they often play against each other.

        Communists vs Objectivists. Vladimir Lenin & Ayn Rand.

        Funhouse mirror reflections of each other like the half-white/half-black aliens in that original-series Star Trek episode — total opposite implacable enemies to the death on the surface, identical on the inside.

    • No being edged out of the world and onto the cross for you, Mule, eh? Not if you can help it with those cartridges and time at the range? Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition!

  9. Something I was thinking about the other day:

    Gen 3:11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

    Why would God assume someone else had told them? So he’d assume an angel had, or another person? Why weren’t Adam and Eve immediately like “wait, there are more people?” And why was nakedness something to be ashamed of? Shame from nakedness comes from other people and society, so unless there were others around to view them in order to be ashamed…?

    Or this is all a mythological story full of motifs and commonly known mores (now kids, don’t giggle, but they were naked! the horror!) meant to teach something to someone and might have been a commonly shared mythological story passed down generation by generation until an author decided to write it down and maybe combine a few competing mythologies into one, but any actual historical ties lost in the telephone game of tradition and author’s intent.

    Or one author made it all up using some other story, “now it’s OUR history!” Who knows.

    • Robert F says:

      Who knows? In spite of the religious investment we’ve put in it culturally and individually, we can only speculate about the historicity of the story. And our speculations are likely as insubstantial as a sigh, careful deliberations notwithstanding. Who knows? Who needs to know?

      • And who really cares? What difference would nailing down this story, or any part of it, into history make in the daily conduct and experience of our lives? What difference would it make?

  10. Klasie Kraalogies says:

    There are a few comments about tribalism, as well as morality in the thread above. An author which I referred to in my deconversion series, the primatologist Frans de Waal has a lot to say about issues that bear on this. The fact is that cooperation and some sort of moral code do offer an evolutionary advantage.

    I would start with “The Bonobo and the Atheist “. It is readable and fun, and not anti-theist.