Wednesday, February 20, 2008

African Adam

Quite frankly, I don't exactly know what to do with data like this. The fact that genetic diversity decreases the further away you get from east Africa seems to be fairly convincing evidence that we are all descended from someone who lived in east Africa. As someone who believes in the truthfulness of Scripture and who doesn't believe that science is a conspiracy to turn people away from faith, I'm interested in the tension between this account of human ancestry and the account in Genesis, which locates our first parents in Mesopotamia.

I have a few ideas on the subject, which have been knocking around in my head since at least halfway through college. For one thing, I think that we have to recognize some unique sensitivities we have as children of the Enlightenment. I'm not saying that these sensitivities are a bad thing, but we shouldn't be flabbergasted when people in premodern cultures don't share them. One thing I don't think premoderns cared so much about: anachronism. In Salisbury Cathedral, I saw medieval carvings of biblical stories with the characters dressed in what would have been contemporary clothing. I wondered, Did they really not know that people dressed and looked differently in the biblical cultures? Then I realized that the stonemason probably wouldn't have cared if he did know. In a world with only a handful of historical documents available to be read by the handful of literate people, and almost no cross-cultural contact for the average person, the more "accurate" the carving, the less meaningful it would be to its audience.

The point that I'm trying to reach is that the first readers of Genesis probably already thought of their origins as lying in the east, long before Genesis was written. So a story about origins was naturally framed in an eastern, Mesopotamian setting. I imagine a modern such as myself confronting Moses about his "anachronism" and getting a shrug, or a blank stare.

Not the most satisfying resolution, I know. I keep hoping to hear what better thinkers than myself have to say about the topic. I'm going to a conference about Science and Faith in March, but I don't remember seeing any papers on this subject. I've never seen the issue of human origins in Africa dealt with in a commentary on Genesis.

On a related subject, didn't someone I know work on the Potato Genome Project?

1 comment:

Beau said...

That conference looks incredible. I'm blind with jealousy . . .