Book Review: Adam and the Genome


Book: Adam and the Genome

Subtitle: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science

Authors: Dennis R. Venema and Scot McKnight

Publication Year: 2017

Reviewed: Dr James Graham, retired General Practitioner, Glasgow.

Rating: 4/5

So often books on science and the Bible are written by scientists who then try to deal with the biblical texts or theologians who try to deal adequately with the science and they do so with varying degrees of success. This book is different in that the science is dealt with by a scientist and the Bible by a New Testament scholar, giving it a high degree of credibility in both fields. It has not been easy to read but with concentration and a second reading I have been able to understand and follow the arguments.

The tendency of many conservative evangelical Christians to stick rigidly to literal readings of Scripture and a refusal to consider other alternative interpretations has led to, at worst, all out war between faith and science and at best a high degree of suspicion between the two. This is so sad because the brightest young Christians are often driven away from a possible career in science or driven away from the Christian faith when confronted by true science. This is one reason why a greater proportion of scientists tend to be atheists, a fact frequently used by them to attack the Christian faith. This book is an important contribution to the discussion and is especially important for young Christians who are open minded and genuinely seeking the truth. This scenario is dealt with by Venema in the first chapter where he also explains the meaning of ‘theory’ as a scientific term before going on to deal with the fossil record.

In chapter two Venema discusses genomes as language and shows how changes in genes match changes in form. This is illustrated by changes in language and by the way errors crept into old books and manuscripts as they were copied before the advent of printing. The loss of genes is easy to explain but opponents of evolution argue that new material needs special intervention from the Creator. Venema explains how this occurs as a natural process. He concludes a ‘confession’ of a creationist.

In chapter three the author moves from evolution in general to presenting evidence that, not only did humans evolve from lower primates but that we are descended from a pool of several thousands humans and not from a single pair.  He then presents evidence that modern man is descended not only from Homo erectus but also from Neanderthals and Denisovians through limited interbreeding. Finally in this chapter Venema deals with the question of mitochondial Eve and Y chromosome Adam which some cite as evidence of descent from one man and one woman.

Chapter four is Venema’s final contribution to the book and here he deals with Intelligent Design (ID). He takes the view that ID uses God to fill the gaps in our knowledge, the God of the gaps approach, and quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “We are to find God in what we know; God wants us to realise his presence, not in unsolved problems but in those that are solved.” He concentrates mainly on two prominent proponents of ID, the biochemist Michael Behe and the philosopher and historian of science Stephen Meyer.

Towards the end of the chapter he has a section headed ‘Evolution is Design’ where he argues that evolution is evidence of God as Designer. Finally the lack of information on the origin of life used by ID proponents is presented as yet another God of the gaps argument.

Scot McKnight the New Testament scholar takes over from Chapter Five. He begins with a personal testimony where he describes his journey from being anti evolution to accepting it. There follows a plea to read Genesis in the context of the ancient Near East. Five principles for reading science and the Bible are set out as follows:

  1. Respect. Read the Bible in context and respect for the time and culture in which it was written.
  2. Honesty. Keep an open mind and consider the possibility that you may have been wrong.
  3. Sensitivity to the study of science. Christian young people are often forced to accept six day creationism or science but not the Bible and science.
  4. The Primacy of Scripture. Read Scripture in its context.
  5. Decide which Adam and Eve we are talking about: Evolutionary Creation View, Archetypal Creation View, Old Earth Creation, Young Earth Creation.

In Chapter Six McKnight puts Adam and Eve in their context followed by twelve theses. The context is the ancient near eastern myths, Enuma Fish, Gilgamesh Epic, Atrahasis and the Assur Bilingual Creation Story. The next section contains his twelve theses for reading Genesis in context. I found these enjoyable and instructive mini-sermons on the Genesis text but feel they are rather longer than needed for his argument. The question of the historicity of Adam and Eve is raised here but its treatment is left till the next chapter.

In the seventh chapter I am rather lost. McKnight goes through intertestamental and first century literature examining how various Jewish myths viewed Adam. There is a genealogical Adam and an archetypal Adam but he concludes that the ‘historical Adam’ is a post Biblical view. I am at a loss to understand this since they all viewed him as a real person.

Adam, the genome and the Apostle Paul are the main topics of Chapter Eight. McKnight begins by considering people who lose their faith after encountering science and then goes on to dissect the important Pauline passages dealing with Adam (and Eve). He does this by using five theses and concludes that Paul’s Adam was not the historical Adam. I found McKnight difficult to follow and feel his arguments were too convoluted and he could have made his point in a more concise and readable manner.

The book includes an Afterword by Daniel Harrell, Senior Minister, Colonial Church, Edina, Minnesota and is, in my view, extremely important in summarising Scot McKnight’s very circuitous arguments in a succinct manner. Even if you can’t follow all  of McKnight’s chapters don’t give up as you should find Daniel Harrell’s briefer account more easily digestible.

I have given this book four stars. It would have been five because of the importance of the evidence presented but reduced to four because of the difficulty in reading parts of it.

Dr James Graham, retired General Practioner, Glasgow.

Be nice, be contrary, but don't be rude :-)

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