Evolution 2.0 – Interview with Paul Braoudakis
About the terminology in this interview:
“Evolution 1.0” is Neo-Darwinism, which asserted that evolution is random and purposeless. Neo-Darwinism is obsolete.
“Evolution 2.0” is our 21st century understanding of evolution, which says that cells evolve purposefully in response to signals from the environment, in ways far beyond man-made technology. It is just as cooperative as it is competitive.
“Evolution Alpha” means the same thing as Evolution 2.0.
“Evolution Omega” on the other hand is what mankind aspires to become as we expand equality and human rights. This kind of evolution is wholly different from the meritocracy of Evolution Alpha. Here we explore the religious context from which these ideas came.
Paul: Hello everyone. My name is Paul Braoudakis and I’m a friend of Perry Marshall, sitting here to my right. We’ve known each other for many years. We used to go to church together and now we do some things together on the business front once in a while. I’ve had a front row seat to Perry’s journey, at least part of it, and I thought it would be really interesting to be able to sit down with him and talk about some of the things that have really taken sort of front and center in his life in the last few years.
He’s written a fascinating book called Evolution 2.0. I know that many of you have read it, and he’s written many articles and blog entries and so on based around that book. I thought it would be interesting to pick his brain a little bit on some of the points that have been brought out from that book and from some of these writings.
We’re going to just spend a little bit of time going through in no particular order, just as questions came to me that were kind of probing, I thought, that Perry could offer a very unique point of view to. There’s really no agenda. Perry has not seen the questions in advance. This is not a scripted kind of thing, so what you’re going to be hearing and seeing right now is pretty raw.
Perry and I did discuss the fact that I’m not just going to be just throwing some softballs at him. There are some things that I will probably challenge him on, as I would imagine many of you will be challenging him on if you’ve read some of his writings. Nevertheless, we’re hoping for a very constructive dialog.
Perry, thank you so much for not only allowing me to come into your home, but affording me the opportunity to be able to do this with you. I think the greater body at large, if you will, thanks you as well, because I think there’s some great stuff that we’re going to be able to extrapolate hopefully.
Perry: Thanks for coming and helping me do this. We’re going to get right into it, so fire away.
Paul: Just as I was arriving here this morning I was thinking about the fact that sometimes our wounds end up determining the direction of our lives. You think about the fact that there might not be safe railroad crossings had someone’s family member not been struck by a train. We might not have Mothers Against Drunk Driving had someone not lost a loved one to a drunk driver. We might not have people volunteering for cancer research had they not lost someone to cancer.
I know that for you, part of this part of your journey was really precipitated by the events around your brother’s life, actually. Your brother and you grew up in a somewhat conservative Christian household…
Perry: That would be an understatement.
Paul: That would be an understatement, right. You had the whole Sunday School experience. You had the whole thing going. At some point, your brother Bryan decided to go to seminary on the west coast, a very conservative seminary, studied the gospels, studied scripture, and eventually was going to do some kind of missionary work.
That missionary work took him to Asia, to China specifically, and while he was there he was challenged on some scientific issues that he was reading and studying that kind of challenged him on his core Christian beliefs, the beliefs that he grew up with, and created sort of this crisis of faith for him. That crisis of faith actually got transferred onto you when your brother told you that he was really struggling in this area and kind of losing his faith.
Would it be safe to say that it was that event that sort of triggered you into this new dimension, into this new realm that you’re in right now, in wanting to explore this tension that has always existed between faith and science?
Perry: Yes. Neither one of us is the kind of person that can stick something that we know in a closet and pretend it’s not there. I think a lot of people actually do, but if I figured out that what I believed on the faith side of the equation was clearly incompatible with what you can see, taste, touch, and feel, then I wouldn’t be able to believe it anymore.
I had done lots and lots of religious conversations for a long time, and you were privy to that a long time ago, but you have never done that until you’ve done it with a guy with a Master’s degree in theology from a conservative seminary, and he knows Greek and he knows Hebrew and all that.
Bryan dragged me much deeper into the swamp than I had ever been before, and all the sudden I’m in this very unfamiliar territory and he’s asking much better questions than most people ask. The typical questions that you find on Quora, those are the softball questions. Most of those I think are actually pretty easy. He was asking much harder questions.
I went to see him in China and I realized, “Ooo, he’s way further down this road than I actually thought. He’s already thrown this thing out.” When I got on the plane to go there I didn’t realize that, so it was like, “Whoa.”
If you consider a family dynamic – sister, brother, mom, dad – if one of them completely defects, not only am I no longer a pastor’s kid, but I don’t even buy into this stuff anymore. It was a big fracture. He was kind of dragging me with him and he was piling questions on me and I was kind of on overload. My needles were in the red so I retreated to science, and I think that’s only fair.
Listen, people can deluge you with questions way faster than you can ever answer them, and nobody should expect, “I ought to be able to answer all these questions.” You ought to start with one or two, really, wherever you’re at in your life. You can’t handle 900 philosophical and religious questions all at once.
I said, “All right, I’m going to set aside all this really theological kind of stuff, because I know science really well. I feel confident in that so here we go, and I’m going to accept what I find. I’m not going to wall it off.” It was terrifying, but I had to do that.
Paul: What was terrifying? Was it terrifying that you didn’t know the answers or was it terrifying that your brother was perhaps losing his faith?
Perry: What was happening to Bryan was hurtful, but that wasn’t the big problem. The big problem was two things. One thing was if I wake up one morning and I’m like, “I don’t believe this stuff anymore” – if the same thing that happened to Bryan happens to me, internally that is going to take my whole interior map of the world and blow it up, and that’s just scary. I don’t know how it could not be scary, because you don’t know where you’re going to land.
Secondly, this is going to change my relationship to my wife and my kids. Are we going to have arguments about, “Does dad talk about his skeptical thoughts to the kids, or do we just go along with this and read them the Bible stories and all that? Does dad stay at home while everybody else goes to church?” so there’s all that.
Then there was even a much bigger thing, and this is actually a big deal, too. One of the things I knew because I had had lots of these conversations already, way more than most people ever had, I knew that 150 years ago Nietzsche had his whole “God is dead” thing. A lot of people present Nietzsche “God is dead” thing as this little triumphant speech, but that’s not really what it was. It was really, “Oh crap,” because Nietzsche said, “Look, western civilization is built on this whole scaffolding of basically Christian ideas, and if we’re going to tear that down we have to start over.” That’s really scary and Nietzsche predicted what happened in Germany and Russia. He predicted that and it came true.
I always interpreted that as, “Well yeah, Nietzsche was wrong. That was a big bad detour.” Now I’m sitting there going, “What if he was actually right? And maybe what happened in Russia and so on is the first attempt at trying to start over? How many times do we have to start over?” because that is scary.
This was disturbing on a lot of levels, so basically I said, “All right, I’m going to sort of put my blinders on. I’m overloaded with the theological questions, I’m overloaded with the philosophical questions, but there’s a question about purpose in nature.” Did my hand get here by a purpose-less process or a purpose-ful process? If a purpose-less process will get you a hand, I ought to be able to verify that in the engineering world.
I’m actually a little puzzled because Bryan’s telling me that just blind Darwinian processes will give you a hand, and I don’t remember anything in engineering school that was like that. There’s biology and evolutionary theory, and there’s engineering, and I’ve never seen those two brought together, but if there’s a way to bring them together I ought to be able to figure it out because I know how engineering is. I’ve done this a long time. So here we go.
Bryan got to where he didn’t really want to talk about this anymore. He was done arguing, and now I was off in my own little corner of the world just trying to swim. So here we are. That gets us to that point.
Paul: There’s Perry Marshall the marketing guru, and there’s now Perry Marshall the Christian evolution proponent or whatever you want to call him.
Perry: Armchair philosopher.
Paul: Exactly, and you came up with this book, Evolution 2.0. Just taking sort of a 35,000’ view right now, how has the book been received both from the faith community and from the scientific community?
Perry: I’ve gotten reception from certain parts of the scientific community and I felt that was the highest bar. Scientists are extremely conservative and actually most of them are pretty fragile. Scientists generally can’t afford to defy the consensus to any large degree.
The book has been endorsed by a leading physiologist at Oxford, a leading physicist at Oxford, and a bunch of different biologists, all of whom feel like traditional evolutionary theory is inadequate, but they do believe in evolution. There is a growing contingent of people that feel that way.
I’ve got the leading geneticist at Harvard Medical School on my judging panel for the prize, so from a scientific point of view it’s done quite respectably, especially considering I’m a guy with an electrical engineering degree who’s a business consultant for a living, and I’m a total outsider to that field.
I’ve had mixed reception from the Christian community. People are like, “Well, I sort of like what he’s saying,” but the really conservative guys don’t like Evolution 2.0 and the atheists hate it, although interestingly there have not been any substantive negative reviews of the book.
I did a debate with PZ Myers, a famous atheist, and I met him on every point. You can go read that debate or listen to it. I annotated the debate and we had some further blogs back and forth and I think I defended myself extremely well.
Jerry Coyne, another famous atheist, reviewed the book without reading it. He just reviewed an Amazon description of the book, which I think is kind of amusing. But anyway, the content of the book has stood up very well. The book has sold over 10,000 copies and I think that’s pretty respectable.
Paul: You mentioned just now a prize. I don’t want to assume that anyone watching this video knows what that prize is, but it’s kind of a big deal and a central part of what’s come out of the book, so can you tell us a little bit about that?
Perry: It’s the biggest Origin of Life prize in history. Origin of Life is the question of where did life come from. That is a very, very, very complicated question and it involves all kinds of disciplines. I took a sub-set of the problem, just a slice of that problem.
One of the problems you have to solve to solve Origin of Life is where does information come from? Where does code come from? Every cell in the world runs on genetic code of whatever organism it is. Genetic code is very similar to computer code. Mathematically it’s the same at a basic level.
I said I think the most fundamental question in science is how do you get a code without designing one, because there’s a million codes, and 999,999,999 are designed – HTML, bar code, zip code, etc. There’s one code that we don’t know where it came from and it’s called DNA, so it sure makes it look like DNA is designed.
That brings us to an interesting fork in the road, and I took a different fork than most people take. The intelligent design guys say, “DNA is designed, therefore God did it, there you go, life is designed, end of story,” and that’s essentially what I came to in 2004 when I started getting into this, because I wrote an Ethernet book and I was astonished at the parallels.
What I said was, “You know what? We don’t know that it wasn’t designed, and what if there’s a way to get a code without designing one that we don’t know about? What if there’s a law of physics? What if there’s some way that consciousness comes from matter?” You could probably conjure up all kinds of possible explanations.
I looked at the different tech prizes that were out there and I said, “I think a tech prize is the way to approach this. I think we put a big pile of money on the table and we say, ‘Somebody solve this.’” These things have been known to solve things that traditional research could not solve. With the $10 million prize for space flight, it took 8 or 10 years for somebody to win it, but somebody won it and it was a huge breakthrough for private industry.
I said, “Let’s do this,” so I went to an extraordinary amount of trouble with the Securities and Exchange regulations and attorneys, just like any other start-up raising money. You’ve got to check all the boxes. I formed a corporation, I hired lawyers and everything, and we put together this prize.
As I said before, I’ve got the leading geneticist at Harvard, the leading physiologist at Oxford, a fairly famous atheist, and I’ve got these guys on my judging panel. Right now the prize is $5 million dollars and nobody’s solved it.
I am not taking the approach of, “Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah, you can’t solve this.” That is not my approach. I’m all for somebody solving it, and if somebody solves it we want to buy the patents and we want to carry this thing forward, but the thing you don’t get to do is make up a story and call it science.
A long time ago I was listening to this NPR program from Boston, and Richard Dawkins, the world’s most famous atheist, was being interviewed. Somebody calls in and they go, “So Mr. Dawkins, where did life come from?” and he goes, “It was a happy chemical accident,” and then he just went on.
I sat there and I was dumbfounded. I thought, “This guy is a professor at Oxford and he’s saying life was a what? A happy chemical accident? Would you please give me a scientific definition of happy chemical accident?” It was so glib and it was so dismissive.
Any time somebody says something like that you should really pay attention. What is this guy trying to avoid? He has no answer. You should never treat these kinds of questions with such a level of flippancy and disrespect. This was one of the things that motivated me.
I was tired of reading, “Oh well, you know, there was a replicator by some ocean vents, and somehow or another…” I was like, “Look, I’m a marketer. I know those kinds of stories. You might as well be on late night TV. In fact, you know you guys, you could make a lot more money selling real estate if you’re going to make stuff up.” Really, I was just disgusted. If you don’t know, you say you don’t know. You do not make up a story.
You say, “There’s a lot of theories on the table and none of them are currently really validated by empirical evidence,” and you leave it at that. I think it’s extraordinarily dishonest when people make up stories like this. So I just punched a few atheists in the face, but let’s go to the other side.
Do I believe that there’s design and purpose in the universe and do I believe in God? Yes, I do. But if you say, “Where did life come from?” and I say, “Well, God made life,” okay, that’s nice and I agree, but that is not actually useful in any immediate practical sense. A scientist cannot say, “God did it, that settles it, let’s just put that in a paper and submit it to the next journal and let’s go out to lunch.” A scientist’s job is to peel the onion and peel the onion and peel the onion and peel the onion.
It took me a long time – I mean years – but I eventually figured out that, “You know what? You’ve got this extreme and you’ve got this extreme, but the only truthful position is to send this thing straight down the middle. Is this solved? Yes or no? Money on the table. We haven’t solved this. Let’s solve it. We haven’t solved it. This is not really an answer. This is like an ultimate answer but it’s not an immediate answer. This isn’t an answer either. So let’s figure this out,” so that’s the prize.
Paul: Has anyone ever taken Dawkins to task for that, that you know of?
Perry: People take Dawkins to task on all kinds of stuff, frankly. Dawkins is the most-refuted person in science probably, but frankly not too many people take the guy all that seriously anymore. He’s gotten more cranky and more eccentric with time. I don’t want to sit around and discuss Dawkins. I think the world has moved on past whatever he’s been up to.
Paul: I would agree. Let’s dive into some of the stuff that people have been asking. Some of the questions I think are probing.
I don’t think it takes a genius to figure out – and this has been quantified over and over – that if you took 100 people today and said, “If you could ask God any one question, or if you could know the answer to any one of the great mysteries of the world, what would it be?” – the top answer always, always comes back to, “Why would a loving God allow evil and suffering to exist in the first place, and then to continue?” Where do we go with that?
Perry: I think that is “the” question, and that question is one of the chasms between atheistic views of science and religious views of science. Let’s talk about American modern western Christianity and evangelicalism, because this is where the divide is the sharpest.
Typical average Christians sort of kind of believe that whether the earth is old or young, this death and suffering stuff is really man’s fault because of the fall. Usually people don’t think about this very carefully, but it’s like, “Well, there was no death and then Eve ate the apple and then here comes death and it’s all our fault.” That lays all the suffering at our feet.
That is actually an easier thing to swallow than, “No, actually God baked it into the equation from the word go.” That’s actually a lot harder for people to swallow. That’s what I want to talk about, but let’s go over to the atheist side.
The atheist side actually has it pretty easy on the surface, because the atheist side says, “Look, there is no purpose. There is no structure. There is no ultimate right or wrong. All there is is billiard balls banging around in the universe, which eventually led to us, and there is no why. It just is. Accept it. Grow up. Get rid of these silly notions about a perfect loving heavenly father or whatever. Deal with it.” That’s how atheism deals with it.
So you have, “Well, it’s all our fault because Eve ate the apple and then all this bad stuff happened,” and neither view actually wrestles with the question, “Yeah, but didn’t God actually set this up this way?”
My thesis is that in order to actually make sense of this you have to acknowledge that conflict is baked into the universe from the beginning, and that free will and choice is necessary to the point where evolution is a necessary component of a world like that.
Not only that, you have to understand evolution in order to even understand the Old Testament. That’s a big statement but I’ll say it again. If you don’t understand evolution, you don’t even understand the Old Testament.
Paul: Can you unpack that for us?
Perry: The standard Christian answer to “Why is there evil and suffering in the world?” is that you can’t have love without free will. God wants us to freely love him, so we have choices; therefore, we make mistakes; therefore, Eve eats the apple; therefore, it’s inevitable. You can’t have a free universe that has love in it without evil. You just can’t do it. I agree and that’s true, but people actually don’t take that seriously enough.
The question of free will and the question of agency and choice is a billion times bigger than humans. It extends to every living thing on earth because you can’t have language without free will. You can’t make an acronym without free will. We could say, “Perry and Paul’s conversation – PPC” and for the next ten years we could say, “Hey, remember PPC?” and it’s Saturday afternoon and we remember that, but we have to decide to agree that that is what that means.
Language requires choice, and that’s actually at the bottom of the question of, “Where did DNA come from? Where did language come from? Where did code come from?” It comes from choice. From everything that I’ve ever been able to study, the reason evolution happens is because organisms adjust to their environment and they make choices. They change their DNA, they edit their DNA, they do all this stuff.
So if you start with love requires free will, and agency requires free will, and then you start backing it up, you end up with for beings of any kind to exist together in any environment you have to have free will and competition, which necessitates suffering. It’s not just true at the level of human self-awareness. It’s true all the way down to bacteria. I think that both Christians and atheists have failed to accept this and reckon with it for what it really is. I don’t think you can have a universe with love and choices and agency that works any other way.
If you pay attention, any grown-up person should know this, the biggest leaps forward in our lives usually come from pain and struggle. They just do. That’s the truth. We’re both in business so we know this. Every movie you’ve ever watched just about is about somebody’s pain and struggle. If you went to a movie and it was like, “Well, when the baby was born he inherited $100 million dollars, and when he was 20 he won a Nobel Prize, and when he was 40 he became president,” and everything was just red carpet, that would be the most boring movie in the world.
I think people don’t really stop and consider the gravity of this. Now, if we take this view and then we bring it to Christianity and Judaism, we can actually start to make a whole lot more sense out of the tension between the New and the Old Testament, for example.
Paul: Staying along that theme of free will, I had a friend challenge me last summer on that concept. This is a person who you have to explain things to in a really simple way; otherwise, you’ll lose them. This is what I sort of came up with, and it’s not original by any means, but this is kind of what I use.
I say to them, “Look, let’s say you’re God and you decide to create human beings. The first choice you’re going to have to make is, ‘Do I want them to be robots or do I want them to have a free will?’ That’s your first choice and everything else emanates from there.”
Here’s the problem that we run into, is that you can’t have both. If I decide to punch you in the nose right now, I’m exercising my free will, but if God decides, “I love Perry Marshall and I don’t want Perry Marshall to get hurt, so I’m going to put an invisible hand right here and stop Paul,” then he would have protected you. There’s that whole “not allowing suffering” thing, but he’s impeded my free will. He has violated from the word go his own precept, right? So it always, always comes down to free will.
Perry: Yes, and furthermore when people bring this up they’re usually angry, frankly. They’re like, “There was that sex trafficking scandal in Florida! If God existed he would not let that happen!” and they’re really mad, and of course understandably so. Horrible, horrible things happen in the world. But what I always ask them is, “So draw a dotted line and you tell me what things should God allow and what things should God not allow. Tell me about that.”
Paul: Who becomes the arbiter?
Perry: Right. What is God supposed to do? I’ve never gotten any kind of coherent answer to that question. “Well, surely he would draw the line at incest, or he would never let this happen,” and it’s really arbitrary. Then if you know human beings, they’d go right up to the line, right? I think if you try to carry that thought forward you realize that it doesn’t take you anywhere useful, because I think you’re exactly right.
Paul: You described two concepts that you referred to as evolution-alpha and evolution-omega. Could you describe each of those and how they factor into free will?
Perry: Evolution-alpha is evolution of species and competition. For that matter it’s also capitalism and all that kind of thing, which everybody sort of understands, although let me say this. Most people really don’t understand evolution because it’s almost never explained correctly.
This is why I wrote Evolution 2.0. Most biology books and most evolution books make it sound as though evolution is blind, purposeless, and accidental. It is not. In fact, that whole blind, purposeless, accidental theory is really getting a thrashing in the scientific literature in the last 10 years. It’s not that way. It’s purposeful. It’s intentional.
Evolution-alpha is the survival and the competition, and it’s all around us all the time. That’s evolution-alpha.
Evolution-omega is this. If somebody says a truly advanced society would have handicapped parking for all the handicapped people, and it would have affordable education for everybody, and it would have equal rights for everybody, and it would have affordable medical care even for its poorest citizens, and all of those kinds of ideals, which I agree with, as soon as you talk about anything like that you have completely left evolution-alpha. It’s got nothing to do with it. In fact, it’s pretty much anti-evolution-alpha because it’s no longer meritocracy.
If you say, “We’re going to have a special ed program at the school and we’re going to take care of the kids with Down Syndrome” – oh, you mean you’re not going to kill them? I’m completely serious. If you are going to adhere to a perfectly Darwinian story, how are you ever going to get universal human rights from Darwinism? You can’t. Impossible. It’s totally antithetical.
In the modern world, especially in western countries, we have these almost totally pervasive ideas about human rights and freedoms and safety nets and hospitals and everything. That is evolution-omega. It’s on a completely different plane than evolution-alpha. The originator of evolution-omega is the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus.
Paul: How so?
Perry: The first shall be last. Blessed are the poor in spirit. The meek shall inherit the earth. If somebody asks you to go one mile with them, go two. Turn the other cheek. The Sermon on the Mount is the anti-Darwinian manifesto.
I’ve got a friend who died a few years ago but he said when he was 12 he heard a sermon on the Sermon on the Mount and he thought, “That is the most humane sensible thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” It’s like his heart just leapt out of his chest. “I love that! Yes! That’s how humans should be.” We all know this. Who could argue with the Sermon on the Mount?
Let’s just point out that that is a radical departure from the natural order of things, and then let’s add another thing and then zoom out a little bit.
In the 1800s the United States was very young and very new and very hot. “Everybody’s talking about America. What’s going on over there?” The aristocracy in Europe was freaking out. “What is going on?” so the French sent the smartest guy they had to the United States, Alexis de Tocqueville. They’re saying, “You go over there and figure out what makes this place tick,” so he goes to the United States.
He’s an extremely sharp guy and he wrote a book called Democracy in America, which is a remarkable book. It is absolutely a fascinating book, one of the best books I’ve ever read. He says, “So what is the United States all about? Well, if you get right down to it, the United States runs on two principles that are in tension with each other. They are equality and individualism.”
Individualism is a word he coined to describe Americans. The word did not exist before America. The French guy comes over and he’s like, “Those people are very individualistic.” He says, “Equality – was it that about?” We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed with their rights by their Creator – life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. That’s a cannon shot in the history of the world. He goes, “Where did they get that idea?”
They got that idea from St. Paul. That’s where it came from. St Paul said in Christ there’s neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free. All are equal in Christ Jesus. Here’s what Tocqueville says. He goes, “Nobody ever said that before them.” I didn’t know this. I’m like, “Really?” I’ve looked and I have never been able to find any blanket unequivocal statement in the ancient world before Paul that everybody’s equal.
So there’s evolution-alpha and evolution-omega. Evolution-alpha has been here since time immemorial, since the first protozoa ate the first bacteria or whatever. That’s how the world runs. Then you get into the ancient world, very harsh, very cruel. You’ve got tribes of people roaming around. What do you do come spring time? When the muddy roads are dry enough that your chariot doesn’t get stuck, you drive it down to the next town and you burn it down and you take everything. This is how the world works. Then Jesus comes along and he has the Sermon on the Mount, and then 10 years later Paul is talking about how everybody’s equal.
So here’s what Tocqueville says. Tocqueville says, “This idea of equality got planted in civilization and then it just started going.” Basically by 500 years later they’ve pretty much eradicated slavery in Europe because everybody’s equal. You get to 1100 and you’ve got stuff like the Magna Carta that says everybody is equal under the law, and that was new.
He says, “Every major event in Europe from that point forward created more equality, whether it was intended to or not” – the invention of the gun, the invention of the horseshoe, the invention of the post office, the invention of eyeglasses, the invention of the library, newspapers, printing press, media. He says all of this stuff made people more equal and more equal and more equal. Now we’ve founded an entire nation on equality.
Equality is evolution-omega and individualism is evolution-alpha. You’re all equal, you’re all just as good, you’re all equal in the eyes of God, you’re equal in the eyes of the law, and if you want to be Jeff Bezos go for it, and if you want to be Warren Buffet go for it. If you want to be a monk in a little monastery somewhere, go for it. Let your freak flag fly. That’s the United States.
So let’s talk about the New Testament and the Old Testament. Let’s remember, before the Sermon on the Mount and before Paul says everybody’s equal, everybody is unequal and nobody says otherwise. Even the Jewish law, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” they weren’t assuming that this was everybody. They assumed it was their fellow Jew. This ideal of equality didn’t exist. Everybody was obviously unequal in every possible way.
None of us are exactly equal on anything. This is really important for understanding the Old Testament. We can open our Bible and read about Joshua killing the Canaanites and all that stuff. They’re saying, “What kind of horrible monster of a God would pronounce genocide on all those poor people?!”
As you sip your latte and you have this outrage of these Bronze Age ridiculous people and this silly Bible God, I have a question for you, and the question is where did you get the idea that it’s not okay to go kill all those people? Where did it come from?
You didn’t come up with this yourself. You got that idea from Jesus. You didn’t get it from the Greeks and you didn’t get it from the Romans and you didn’t get it from the Chinese and you didn’t get it from the Hindus. You got it from Jesus, and that was new. When Jesus said that stuff, that was new. We have to acknowledge where our ideas come from.
My contention is that the Bible is perfectly consistent with the hypothesis that God revealed Himself to primitive tribal unsophisticated Darwinian people and said, “Let’s build a civilization now.” That’s how I read the Bible.
Read Leviticus and Numbers and Joshua. Read Genesis. Read all these stories. Are not these people on the one hand very, very similar to us? They’re all human, obviously. But you see their ideas about morality and culture go from very unsophisticated to, by the time you’re reading the book of John, it’s incredibly sophisticated – or Romans or the Epistles.
You can’t get there in one step, and I think a lot of people are still kind of stuck in this perfect Garden of Eden kind of an idea, and I argue that that never existed, not the way people say it did. We need to unpack that, I think, but I think there’s a lot of fuzzy thinking around this.
Again, there was no equality in the ancient world. In no sense were the Canaanites equal to the Jews, and there was no basis for saying they were. This is the way the ancient world was. It’s just the way it was. It’s the way humans naturally are and it’s horrible.
Paul: So let’s talk about the God of the Old Testament, the one that you call – tongue in cheek – the mean Old Testament Bible God.
Perry: One of the things that I think is implicit in modern people’s thinking is that God would never pick a favorite. That’s a New Testament idea. It’s not an Old Testament idea. What the Bible explicitly says is that God comes to Abraham and he goes, “Hey, I’ve got an adventure for you,” and you don’t even know how many other people might have gotten the same offer and turned it down.
If you read these stories, you have all these people who self-select. God calls Samuel, and Samuel is saying, “Okay.” God calls Jeremiah and “Okay.” God calls Moses, “Okay.” It’s a story of all these people who said yes, and again, you don’t know how many other people had a shot and never took it.
Paul: But you could look at the New Testament and say there was “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” There was a favorite there. And then we do know the story of the rich young ruler who did say no, who had been given an amazing kingdom assignment but turned it down, so there are some.
Perry: Right, and you have Balaam in the Old Testament, who was told to bless Israel and he ended up cursing them until he basically became a reviled figure in history. And you have the kings in Israel who choose to go in some bad way, so there are these choices.
Here’s another thing, a very important point. In the Old Testament everything is these covenants. “If you do all this stuff, then I will prosper you. And if you don’t, hellfire is going to come raining down.” It’s all evolution-alpha.
Evolution is great if you’re on top, and 80/20 is great if you’re on top, and business is great if you’re Jeff Bezos. It is, it’s great. But my contention is you can’t teach people equality, love, human rights and all that other stuff before you’ve taught them rules and consequences.
So we’ve got this deal. You take the Sabbath off. You worship at the temple. You honor God. You take care of the poor. You do your laws right and everything is going to go great. If you don’t do this stuff…
Now, here’s another thing that I think people really neglect. You think what they did to the Hittites was bad? You think what they did to the Amorites was bad? You think burning the city and killing all women and children is bad? That’s nothing compared to what happened to Israel, seriously, nothing. Mostly they just killed everybody. That’s what they did. That is what people do in wars. But 70 years of captivity in Babylon? Slavery and hideous horrible situations? I’m telling you. The Hittites and the Amorites and all that stuff, that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Let’s take the biggest one in my opinion. It’s the fall of Jerusalem. The fall of Jerusalem was so horrific, it makes 9/11 look like a birthday party. Josephus describes it because he saw it. He says that the Romans surrounded Jerusalem and they starved the city out. I don’t know how long this went on – a year or year and a half. No food is going into the city. Everybody is starving to death. People are killing their children and eating them.
500 mercenaries a day were running out of the city trying to kill the Romans, and 500 of these mercenaries everyday were getting crucified outside of Jerusalem. There were so many crucifixions of Jewish mercenaries outside Jerusalem that all the trees were cut down all the way around the place. And then the place was utterly demolished and completely flattened. The Romans were so sick of the Jews.
Jesus foretold that. He foretold it before it happened, and he foretold it before 70 AD. That’s a whole other conversation.
People don’t deal with this. This is evolution-alpha and there’s no escaping it, because if you don’t have free will you can’t even have language. You can’t even have genetics. Those are the consequences of an evolutionary world, and I don’t think most people seem to have the courage to deal with it, but this is the way it is. This is the way it works. I don’t think you can appreciate the contrast to what evolution-omega really is until you first deal with this is the natural order of things.
Paul: So Perry, let’s talk a little bit about this tension between science and the faith community. In 2011 the Barna Research Group did a 5-year study on the challenges of faith development among teens and young adults within a rapidly shifting culture. The research project was comprised of 8 different national studies that included interviews with teenagers, with young adults, with parents, with youth pastors, and even senior pastors.
They explored the reason for disconnection from church life after the age of 15, and the #3 reason given was that young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith because of the tension they feel within Christianity and science. That was the #3 reason given.
The most common of the perceptions in this arena is that Christians are too confident that they know all the answers. 35% said that. 29% said that young adults with a Christian background feel that churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in. Another quarter of the respondents embraced the perception that Christianity is anti-science, and nearly the same proportion, around 23%, said that they’ve been turned off by the creation vs evolution debate.
Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries. How does that information strike you?
Perry: It makes total sense. If you wanted a poster child for the disaster of where this is at right now, it would be the Bill Nye and Ken Ham debate that’s on YouTube from a few years ago. Basically what you have there is a hard right-wing Christian fundamentalist against an almost as hard but not quite left-wing fundamentalist.
I’ve read Bill Nye’s book and he barely understands evolution at all. It’s nothing to write home about, I can tell you that. And frankly, I’m just really disappointed at what Ken Ham has done, because I figured out really quick that you cannot defend the universe being 6,000 years old. Good luck defending that view. Science just doesn’t support it. So you have these two camps and neither one of them answers the questions that it claims to answer.
I’ve found you have to go straight down the middle and you have to take the pieces that each side has that are good, and you have to discover a few new things that neither side is talking about, so I totally get this.
My brother got caught in this and this is one of the reasons he defected, because he came to a point and was like, “Hey, wait a minute. The earth isn’t 6,000 years old.” I had already figured that out. “Well, yeah,” but he was on that train for a long time. Then, man, when he got off that train, he got off. I think a lot of people who are well-intentioned are actually just making the problem worse. That’s the honest truth.
Paul: What would you say to the person who says ultimately, “Who cares?” Seriously, just hear me out here. Who cares? Because in a normal human lifespan – let’s just call it 100 years – what really matters to me during my 100 years is that my family and friends are happy, that we’re all healthy, that the stock market does reasonably well, that I can have some great experiences while I’m here, and that ultimately I leave the world in a little bit of a better place than what I found it in.
Whether Piltdown man ever existed, or whether the earth was created in 6 days or 6 million years, it’s completely inconsequential to me, so who cares? Why should we care about this?
Perry: Some people are never going to order their world according to how old is the earth or something like that. Most things in your life you’re going to do the exact same way whether you think the earth is old or young. Realistically that’s the truth.
But there is a slice of people where the way they’re going to figure out what’s true and false in the world is they’re going to look for tangible measurable scientific mathematical truths, and those are the most true things to them. Those are the most verifiable realities, and I think those people deserve to have their questions answered.
I believe that if you have a coherent rational world view, the pieces should fit together reasonably well. You shouldn’t have all of these contradictions and all these little departments that are just kind of jammed together haphazardly. I can’t live my life that way.
This is why when Bryan started asking me these questions I couldn’t just ignore him, because what he was saying was, “Perry, I know you’ve created this world view and I know you’ve been told all these things and I know it might seem to be working for you, but if you push it out just a little farther you’re going to find that it falls apart.”
I want my idea of the world to actually be as accurate as possible. I think there’s some real practicality to getting this right, and here’s why. This evolution-omega has to be based on something. I don’t think it works if it’s just hanging in thin air as some arbitrary postulate that most of us hopefully agree on.
It’s not a coincidence at all that the Declaration of Independence says that men are endowed by their Creator, because what happens when you switch stuff out? “We believe these things to be self-evident, that all men are endowed by us with these rights.” It suddenly becomes arbitrary.
English common law and the whole notion of a Constitution, the whole notion of the Magna Carta, really western law and Jewish law, because western law is based largely on Jewish law – there is law and there is Law, and law is what’s in our books and our laws and our statutes and everything, but it is a reflection of a higher Law, and nobody is above that Law – if you take the thing that that is all hung on away, you have spaghetti and thus you have the problems with post-modernism, and thus you get the chaos and mayhem. All of the big atheistic experiments have ended as unmitigated disasters, all of them.
Paul: Can you name a couple?
Perry: Pol Pot, Lenin, Mao, Stalin. There’s a jingoism that goes around that says, “Religion has killed more people…” No, let me correct you. Atheistic governments killed more people in the 20th century than religious wars killed in all other centuries put together. That’s a fact. All the religious wars in the history of the world have killed about 30 million people. Communist governments killed 120 million in one century.
Atheism has been an unmitigated disaster wherever it’s been explicitly enforced, and the thing is, the only way for a majority of people in a population to be atheist has been at gunpoint. Humans are irrepressibly religious.
Somebody will go, “Well, Sweden’s an atheist country. Norway is.” No, it’s not. Their laws are based in European law structures that are essentially Judeo-Christian. No, they’re not atheist countries, not functionally, and the majority of people in those countries are not atheists.
I’ve had countless conversations with atheists over 25 years. When I was tussling this out with Bryan, atheism seemed to be pretty credible, that impression in my opinion was a very shallow impression. Atheism is actually shallow. It looks good on the outside but it doesn’t really explain anything.
I think the reason that the west is successful is because it takes this idea of equality very seriously and it’s based on the idea that everybody has a divine spark, that even some guy who’s in solitary confinement for murder and is on death row, we still believe that guy has a divine spark.
There are still people who are saying, “I think the death penalty should be eradicated because you shouldn’t do that to people.” I’m not getting into that debate. That’s not what we’re here to talk about. I’m just pointing out that we have this really resonant idea, and it’s rooted in the idea of God. You take God out of the equation and you’ve got nothing left. You only have an arbitrary notion that’s always somehow negotiable. It needs to be non-negotiable; otherwise, you don’t have human rights. You have evolution-alpha.
Paul: Let’s stay on this theme right now because it seems to me that Christianity or the faith community, if you will, and science, by the very nature of what they both purport to be, should be more in harmony. There should be more of a mutual respect for each other.
I was struck recently, and I can’t believe I’ve never really thought about this before or seen it before, but as I was reading the biblical narrative of the nativity it just struck me for the first time that the very first people who came to worship the baby Jesus were astrologers and scientists of that age. Divinity/faith was visited by science because there was this natural desire to worship and to respect and to be a part of it.
This little microcosmic example should have been a nod to us that maybe there should be mutual respect and reverence, rather than the acrimony and the strife that we have today.
Perry: I agree. We need to rewind on a number of things. The idea that science and faith are in this nasty dogfight didn’t exist until about the 1850s to 1870s. Paul, have you ever heard the story that the queen of Spain told Christopher Columbus, “No, that’s not going to work. You’re going to sail off the edge of the earth” – you ever heard that story? That never happened. Nobody thought the earth was flat in 1492. The story that I just mentioned was made up in the late 1800s by a guy named John Draper and it caught on, and it was made up to make Catholics look stupid.
The truth about the Christopher Columbus thing is that they just didn’t agree how big the world was and how far away the next continent was going to be. Christopher Columbus thought it was India and he thought it was a lot closer, and they didn’t know there was this whole other set of continents in-between, so that’s how that really happened.
This is called the conflict thesis. If you go before that, yes, there was Galileo, but even that story hasn’t been represented very accurately for the most part. Science grew out of the Judeo-Christian worldview.
I want you to think about something. Science got started in ancient Greece and it fizzled out. It got started in ancient Rome and in Islam and in the Mayas and Incas and in Egypt and in China and it fizzled out. It got started in western Europe and it took off like a juggernaut. Why? I think it’s because of Christian theology.
First of all, there’s no question that a large percentage of the early major scientists were deeply religious and they regarded science as a way to worship God. But even further than that, in the Catholic Apocrypha there’s a book called Wisdom of Solomon. It’s about 2200 years old and it says, “Thou hast ordered everything in weight and number and measure.” That statement is a lot like Paul’s statement of equality. It’s the first statement of the scientific worldview that I know of in history.
The funny thing about that is if you just go, “So God has ordered everything in weight and number and measure, so we ought to be able to get our weight scales and our rulers and our calculators and our abacuses and we ought to be able to figure everything out,” you get to about 1000 AD and this starts to be how people are thinking.
Science starts out as philosophy and natural theology, and then it eventually becomes its own discipline, and then it becomes so big and people can get so lost in it that they don’t even know where it came from. It comes from the idea that God made an orderly universe.
So fast forward to now. It’s 2019 and there is still a theological view that God made an orderly universe. Evolution 2.0 is a book about how God made an orderly universe, that evolution is an orderly systematic creative process that’s driven by the intelligence of the cell. That’s a better hypothesis than, “Oh, evolution is driven by random copying errors.” No, it’s not. That random copying errors theory is an anti-scientific theory. As soon as you say it’s random, you’re done. There’s nothing more to study because you can’t study randomness. You can loosely characterize it, but you’re done. It’s unpredictable. No, I say it is predictable.
Here’s another example. “Well, the fine tuning of the universe is just because there’s a trillion trillion universes and we live in the lucky one, and all the other ones are just disasters.” If that isn’t the most unparsimonious theory I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s anti-scientific and it presumes that the next discovery will probably just be haphazard and accidental. The anti-theistic view of the world is actually vandalizing science, even while it claims to be scientific. There is no conflict between faith and science. You just have to understand that.
I think it’s really important to recognize that the Bible is not written in scientific language. It’s written in epic story language. I think people try to take Genesis too literally and then they get in the weeds. The first day God created. The second day God created. They’re not 24-hour days. And then there are some people who will die on the hill of, “Yeah, it is 24-hour days. It has to be.” I just think they’re picking the wrong battles.
Paul: There’s sort of this postulate, if you will, in the scientific community that if you can’t explain something via science, it must therefore be invalid. I don’t know if that’s codified or not, but there’s certainly that view out there. And yet, in the Bible it talks about this concept of the secret things belonging to the Lord. In the book of Deuteronomy, in the book of Daniel, in the book of Jeremiah, in Proverbs, in Mark, in Amos, and at least another half a dozen books we’re told of certain mysteries or hidden things that only God knows.
Now, some of these things he allows some people to peek a little bit behind the curtain, and others of them we’re told that we’ll eventually be exposed to, and others we’ll probably just never know because the hidden things belong to the Lord.
What if our endless quest to understand things, like the origins of the universe and so on, is one of those hidden things of the Lord that may or may not ever be revealed to us? And what if in our endless pursuit to try to understand the mind of God, and all the strife and discord that that’s created throughout the millennia, is nothing more than a repeat of what essentially happened at the Tower of Babel? And keep in mind, by the way, that the Tower of Babel never got fully built, not because of man’s inability to build it but because they could no longer communicate.
Perry: That’s a great question. One of my favorite scriptures is the one that says, “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” I think it’s man’s assignment and destiny and blessing and curse to be constantly perplexed and constantly be peeling the onion and discovering things. I don’t think we’ll ever know everything.
Actually, my suspicion is this. I suspect that there’s always another subatomic particle. What if it never ends? They certainly haven’t gotten to the end now, and I can’t even tell you the names of all the subatomic particles. And then you get into biology, and how many systems are in your thumb? I don’t even know. I bet you could definitively come up with at least 25 or 50, maybe 100. I don’t think it ever really ends. What that suggests to me is that we’ve probably barely gotten started.
There are a lot of people on the far left of science who think that we’ve basically already figured everything out. I totally disagree. I think we’ve only scratched the surface. I think the people who make it sound like we’ve pretty much got it all figured out are kind of stuck in the 19th century, frankly. Who knows how much more there is to discover, but I’m convinced we’ve only scratched the scratch on the surface. I think that’s very exciting and I think it’s very positive.
I also think that a really helpful attribute of any scientific endeavor is a huge degree of humility. Can you literally fall on your knees and be prostrate and have a physical posture of humility towards the earth, towards nature, towards science, towards God, towards all of those things, and go, “I am a wee ant”?
I think one of the big tragedies that happens very insidiously in science, and really in everything, is that wonder and mystery slowly get replaced by status and titles and the human dominance hierarchy, and it kills science because the best thing you can have in a scientific experiment is a result you did not anticipate. If that isn’t humility, what is?
Paul: I was watching the movie The Sixth Sense the other day, remember that?
Perry: I might have the sound track, but I don’t believe I actually watched the movie.
Paul: Oh Perry, come on man, you’re killing me. I’m not going to spoil it too much for you, but there is a massive twist in that movie that shocked audiences when it first came out, to the effect that people needed to go and see it a second time. It was a huge bonanza for Hollywood because it ensured a second showing, which was actually genius.
I pulled out the DVD the other day and I watched it and I listened to the director’s commentary. What he said was that, “Before we filmed this thing and before we laid out the story we had to define the rules. There are certain rules that had to be in place during the movie during certain scenes, and if we violated any one of those rules the whole thing topples, the whole thing falls apart.”
I thought about that in terms of this. Let’s say you subscribe to a six-day creation narrative. You have to obey the rules. There are rules there. In other words, everything the Bible says happened on that day absolutely must fit into a 24-hour period as we define a 24-hour period. If you violate those rules the whole thing goes out the window. You’ve said evolution is wonderful when you obey the rules, so here’s the question. What are the rules?
Perry: The rules are you have to be better, faster, cheaper, more effective at converting resources into value. You have to contribute more to the ecosystem around you. You have to out-eat. You have to be more cooperative. That’s a big one. I think the cooperative nature of living things has been way understated by most scientific narratives.
I’m an entrepreneur and a business consultant. The rules of biology aren’t that different than the rules of business and economics. In fact, I think they’re really kind of the same thing. I think that business is how people feed themselves. It’s an extension of evolution. In fact, all Darwin’s ideas about survival of the fittest came from the economists and the business people of the time, because that was the easiest place to see competition.
If you’re Starbucks, you’ve got to be better next year than you were this year. Everything has got to improve. That’s evolution. Those are the rules. If you don’t get with the program then you get eaten, you get slaughtered. It really sucks to be on the bottom.
Paul: You said that when we claim that an all-powerful God is behind the universe, we solve a fundamental scientific problem while simultaneously introducing a fundamental moral problem. Talk about that a little bit.
Perry: When we believe in an all-powerful all-knowing wise God, we have a grounding for belief in science and the regularity of nature, for believing that the sun will come up tomorrow morning, for believing that gravity is going to keep working the same way, for believing that when we finally discover the next equation it’s going to be beautiful and elegant and symmetrical and all that cool stuff, which always ends up being true. I majored in electrical engineering and I studied a lot of physics and a lot of math. If you can put on your geek hat and really appreciate that stuff, it is beautiful. Absolutely it is.
So theology says you should expect it to be, and the next discovery will also be, and the next and the next. That’s what it buys you. It’s got this great wonderful result and it gives us science, which we have now.
But now you’re suffering and you see that not only are you suffering, but some rabbit goes limping by in your front yard and it’s only got three legs and you’re saying, “Wow, there’s a lot of stuff in the world that isn’t the way these creatures want it.” So now you have to grapple with, “Why did God make a world like that?” This is where I think the conservative Christians have failed to take their own story seriously enough.
We open the Bible and we read Genesis 1, Genesis 2, Genesis 3, Genesis 4. We have the Adam and Eve story. Everybody says, “The garden of Eden was a perfect paradise.” Who said that? Did the Bible say that? I don’t see that anywhere.
Paul: It’s inferred.
Perry: It’s inferred maybe. It’s never explicitly stated, but what’s the situation? They go, “There was no death before the fall.” It never says that. We can circle back to the death part, but here’s what I read in the story. There’s a man, there’s a woman, there’s a tree of the knowledge of good and evil, there’s a tree of life, and there’s God who they meet up with every afternoon and they go for a walk, and they’ve got plenty of food apparently, and there’s a serpent. So what happens? God says, “You’ve got these two trees, and don’t eat from that one.” There’s no explicit warning about the serpent.
If you go with the Christian interpretation, which is that the serpent is Satan, you have the most evil, angry, vindictive, furious creature in the universe and he’s hanging around and God doesn’t even say a word about it. This guy is worse than any child molester. “Don’t eat from that tree” and that’s all they get.
Are you seriously going to tell me that this is perfect? Where did anybody get the idea that this was perfect? It’s not. You cannot defend the idea that this was perfect. That exists in people’s heads only. It’s not in scripture and it’s a set-up. Conflict is baked in from the word go. The whole thing is ready to snap like a trap.
Most Christians don’t have the courage to deal with that, but this is the story that the biblical narrative asks us to wrestle with, because the story is as hard as life itself, and this story is incredibly resonant.
Paul, you and I went to Willow Creek. I don’t know if you ever ran a seeker small group, but I did for a long time.
Paul: I did not.
Perry: A seeker small group is Bible study for non-Christians, and man, that was a stir fry. You never knew what you were going to get. You never knew who you were going to get. It was never not interesting. So I get this group of people and were asking them, “So you guys, what do you want to study?” and somehow we got, “Let’s read the first parts of Genesis. Let’s read the Adam and Eve story,” so here we go.
I was probably 25 and I’m a little surprised that I had the foresight and wisdom to say this, but I said, “Look, we’re going to read this. I don’t care if you think it’s literal or figurative or anywhere in-between. We’re not going to care about that. We’re just going to read it, deal?” and everybody said, “Okay, deal.” So we go in.
After about four or five weeks of this we’re probably only in the middle of Chapter 3, because it ends up being so multidimensional. Every single verse just opens up all these questions, and you’re just getting lost in the story. Four or five weeks into this thing everybody is just mesmerized by the depth of the questions and all that. I was thinking, “Dang, this is seriously inspired.”
I’m really glad we’re not sitting here trying to argue about how literal this is, because this is telling truths that are so resonant with life experience that that’s really beside the point. I saw this story get inside of people and change them from the inside out. It really flipped their views on all kinds of stuff, and it did it itself. I didn’t really have to push anything on them. It was like a “just add water” story and it just expands.
Genesis 1-4 is the length of four blog posts and yet this story manages to pack in all of the dilemmas of the human condition in 5,000 words or something. It’s just unbelievable. That experience gave me this appreciation for the depths of these archetypal stories.
I think we have stripped the poetry of its beauty and we’ve flattened the story down to a scientific narrative, which it is not. We’ve just stripped all of the real power out of it, and now we’re pounding people on the head going, “If you don’t believe that a day is 24 hours then you’re a heretic.” That’s just tragic and it misses the whole thing.
There’s a reason why that is the origin story of three major world religions – Islam, Judaism, and Christianity – because it is such a powerful story. You will wrestle with the questions in that story in your life, whether you know it or not, whether you’re consciously self-aware or not.
Paul: That’s a good springboard into the next couple of questions here. Since we’re in Genesis right now and since we’re talking about the garden, you have a view here that might be seen as a little controversial, I suppose, by some Christians.
You say, and this is a direct quote from you, “Adam wasn’t the first human. There were plenty of other humans before Adam, but God breathed the breath of life into the man and he became a living being. There were plenty of other people around. Humans were scattered across the earth. Archeology and anthropology make this painfully clear.”
My question to you, and try to keep this as succinct as you can, regardless of the fact that it’s a Pandora’s box of sorts – where specifically has archeology and anthropology made that painfully clear?
Perry: You can go to any museum or pick up any anthropology book or any paleontology book and you’ll find these various gradations of humans all over the place. They’re in Africa, they’re in Australia, they’re in eastern Europe, they’re all over and you can date them. Humans in relatively modern form have been around at least 100,000 years. I don’t really think there’s any serious rebuttal to that. I think it’s a fact.
But then we have the biblical narrative and you have the Adam and Eve story and you have this just baked-in assumption in western civilization that Adam and Eve were the first human beings. I’m going to challenge that.
Cain kills Abel and then that whole little drama unfolds and then Cain says, “If anybody finds me they’re going to kill me,” and God puts a mark on him so they won’t kill him, and he goes and finds a wife and he builds a city.
I’ve got a few questions for you. God put a mark on him so who wouldn’t kill him? Because if you just take the story as telling you everything, there’s only Adam, Eve, and Cain even on the earth. Why would you go build a city if you’re one of three humans? And where did Cain get a wife? My contention is there were plenty of other people around.
When God forms Adam from the dust of the ground and he breathes the breath of life – we know we’re all made of dust, we know that, and how the dust actually turns into a human is not the point of the story. The breath of God is not oxygen. That’s spirit.
I’ve got a book here called Historical Genesis from Adam to Abraham by Richard Fischer, and I know Richard. This book goes through and does a very nice job of explaining that if you look in ancient near east literature in Mesopotamia, there are references to a person who, in these other languages, seems to be Adam, and that Adam was a holy man.
I contend that Adam was not the first human. Adam was the first prophet. In other words, Adam was the first human to get instructions from God. “This is how I want you to live,” and Adam punted on his assignment and then he gets thrown out of the garden. It doesn’t mean he’s the only guy around, but now he’s the only human with an awareness that “This is how God wanted it to be, and now I’ve failed,” so he’s the first human with divinely inspired shame.
Now we need to deal with Romans because it’s a mis-interpretation of Romans, where this idea of death before the fall comes. I want to read you from Romans 5 and I want to adjust the interpretation a little bit. This is Romans 5:12. “So just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned, for before the law was given sin was in the world, but there is no accounting for sin where there is no law.”
The default assumption in most sermons is that death is physical death, and I say no. Elephants were stepping on mice long before any of this ever happened. This has nothing to do with animals and this has nothing to do with normal physical death. This is spiritual death. That’s the death that entered into the world through one man. Spiritual death entered into the world through a prophet that abdicated his responsibility, and death through sin, so death spread to all people because all sinned before the law was given.
This is a second assumption that most people get wrong. Most people assume law is Mosaic law. No, this is Adam law. “For before the Adam law was given, sin was in the world, but there is no accounting for sin where there is no law.” In other words, Grog was conking Grog on the head long before Adam, but God never told anybody not to do that because we were living in an evolution-alpha world.
You have your tribe and you have your family and you circle the wagons and you kill people outside the tribe and you protect people inside the tribe. You see these order structures with animals and everything else, and that was the rules. It was just the rules. God shows up and he’s saying, “No, I am breathing my breath of life into you.”
“There is no accounting for sin where there is no law, yet nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam, who is a type of the coming one, transgressed. But the gracious gift is not like the transgression, because if many died through the transgression of one man, how much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of one man, Jesus, multiply to the many?”
So I say sin is transmitted the same way salvation is, through knowledge. As soon as people knew what God wanted, then they had this guilt and they had this inability to do it. Then it’s saying evolution-alpha is transmitted genetically, but evolution-omega is transmitted by knowledge, so evolution-omega can overtake evolution-alpha because it can spread faster. I think that’s a much more elegant way of harmonizing scripture with science.
Let’s talk to the non-Christian person who doesn’t believe in Christianity. Let me remind you that science does not give you any basis for equality. There’s not one thing you can measure and say, “Oh yeah, all the humans are equal.”
Equality is a metaphysical assumption, and without God it hangs in thin air with nothing to hold it up. When people don’t believe it’s a God-given thing, they’re always negotiating with it. “Yeah, well these people aren’t really equal, and those people aren’t really equal.” It always goes on. We need our equality. It’s really easy just to go back to the jungle, and you don’t want to go back to the jungle.
Paul: Perry, can I respectfully push back on a couple of the points you made?
Paul: The first thing that came to my mind when you were saying this was imagine if you were writing a chapter of a book and you, Perry, were talking about your family, and in this particular chapter you kept mentioning you, your wife, and maybe your son Cuyler. If all I had at the end of the chapter was that picture, there might be an assumption that Perry only has one child and I would move forward with that assumption.
When we read the story of Adam and Eve, we read about the tragedy of Cain and Abel. That is not to say that there were not other children that were created. The guy lived 970 years – plenty of time to procreate lots and lots and lots of people. Just because the story is relegated to that particular foursome does not necessarily preclude that there aren’t others.
When we ask, “Where did Cain get his wife?” unfortunately today we call it incest, but back then a necessity for procreation, the same thing Noah experienced after the flood. There’s a plentiful explanation for where his wife would have come from, from where these other people would have come from that might have gone against him, so there’s that. Hold onto that one.
Then the other thing that you mentioned was that even before Adam people were sinning, but no law had been given. Why? Because they had no knowledge of how God wanted man to live. But I would say that just because the verse says sin was in the world before the law was given, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there were people before Adam, because if you think about it, Lucifer and his angels had complete dominion over the earth long before God decided to create life here. And since he is the embodiment and personification of evil, to say that sin was in the world before the law was given would not be a contradiction of any sort and would not necessitate other human beings having to have been there.
To say sin was in the world before then – you said it yourself – it was in the form of the serpent. Yes, sin was in the world. In fact, the only contradiction that this verse creates is when it says that sin came into the world through one man, but then it also says sin was already in the world. How was sin already in the world if sin came into the world through one man? But when we accept the fact that sin is in a sense personified by Satan, who pre-existed Adam, it kind of makes more sense.
Then you said that sin is transmitted by knowledge and not genetics, the same way salvation is, and I want to challenge you on this one as well. You’re right to say that salvation is dependent on knowledge. Even Romans 10:14 says how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they’ve never heard of him? And how could they hear about him unless someone tells them? There needs to be knowledge for salvation.
However, Isaiah 48 and Psalm 58 and David’s famous 51st Psalm when he says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me,” and Romans 3:23 and Genesis 6:5 all point to sin indeed being passed on, whether through genetics or localized through a specific physical gene in the body or through the spirit, I don’t know. But the evidence certainly does point to the fact that it is indeed being transmitted and not learned.
It’s the age-old example of who teaches the toddler to lie when he’s asked if he ate the last cookie? Who told him that you should say something that is untrue? Where did he learn to lie? And lying is a sin. Proverbs 22:15 says folly is bound up in the heart of a child. Bound up means inextricably sort of meshed.
So all of that together, how do you respond to those?
Perry: My first question is if I’m going to go with Adam was the first human being and everybody came from Adam, how do I square that with modern archeology and anthropology when I’ve got aborigines in Australia 40,000 years ago?
Paul: Great, so let’s talk about that. Let’s say you’ve got those. My question would be where is the baseline? In other words, how do we know that they pre-existed Adam?
Perry: You have to push the Adam story back a really long way.
Paul: So what we’ve got then is a date issue. We don’t necessarily have a “one pre-existing the other” issue. The truth of the matter is, if we adjust our dates certainly Adam could have been the progenitor.
Perry: There’s a couple other issues I have, too. As far as we can tell from population genetics, humans come from a population of several thousand people. Now, this is not my area of expertise, but from what I can tell reading the genetics literature, there is evidence that there is one human female that the whole human race has in common, and a male that the whole human race does have in common, but there’s not evidence that that man and that woman were a couple.
Population genetics seems to indicate that the human race came through a bottleneck of a few hundred or a few thousand people a couple hundred thousand years ago. Furthermore, I think the evidence from transposable elements and pseudogenes does indicate that our ancestry comes from primates. Traditional Christians don’t typically accept that, but almost all people in the sciences do.
You could read the passage either way, I agree, but if I say, “Cuyler went and built a city,” to presume that there were other people around and I just didn’t mention them is perfectly reasonable.
There’s a lot of stuff to untangle here, really. This is a very complicated subject, but I think if we say Adam was a real person somewhere between 6,000 and 15,000 years ago, and that Adam getting an assignment from God coincides rather conspicuously with the explosion of culture in the Fertile Crescent – you still had aborigines and other people all over the world, and that was all going on already, but you had this explosion of culture, especially religious activity in the Middle East – that makes sense to me. I can harmonize the biblical narrative with the scientific narrative and I just don’t have a problem.
What I’m looking for and my priority in thinking here is I want the simplest most elegant smallest number of assumptions that will tie these two stories together without conflicts, and I think the way I’ve described it to you does that.
You asked several other questions and you’ll have to remind me.
Paul: We started by talking about the fact that by you mentioning your wife and your son doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have other children. It’s just that you didn’t mention the other children. So it’s quite possible that there were plenty of human beings, maybe hundreds, maybe even thousands of them. Again, 970 years gives you a lot of procreation time, and then those folks procreate and so on and so forth.
Then the other one was about sin being in the world before Adam. What I’m saying is that’s entirely solvable by the fact that yes, sin was in the world before Adam, personified by Lucifer – as we now call him Satan – in the biblical narrative as taking on the form of a serpent. How do you respond to that?
Perry: I think that people have made a much bigger deal of original sin than it actually is. I think of original sin this way. Everybody is born with evolution-alpha. Why does the toddler lie about the cookie? Because he’s obeying the rules of evolution-alpha. He wanted the cookie. He was hungry.
Paul: Why did he lie about it? Why didn’t he just say, “Yeah, I ate it.”
Perry: Because he’s covering his ass. That’s the natural thing for people to do. What civilization teaches people to do is, “You always tell the truth, even if you’re going to get in trouble, because you take responsibility.” But truth is this abstract higher reality.
Paul: But what if the toddler was unaware that there’s a disciplinary thing that goes along with it? I wish I had these videos in front of me because I’ve seen them. There was a child and they could only utter a few words. They were that young, maybe a year or year and a half old. They didn’t know that there were consequences. In other words, you would lie, like you said, to cover yourself if you knew that there were consequences. Otherwise, why would you feel the need to cover yourself?
God asked that question of Adam and Eve. “Why are you covering yourself? If you’ve done nothing wrong, why are you covering yourself?” That toddler chose, for whatever reason, to hide or obfuscate the fact that, “Yeah, I ate the cookie,” and the question is why. What was the reasoning behind that? Who taught that child to lie? For me anyway, it all comes back to this idea that there is sort of this predisposition.
Perry: I agree there’s a predisposition, but I think the predisposition is not even genetic, it’s intrinsically biological. Christians have this idea and it’s almost like they think that there’s a gene for sin that you could never get rid of. That’s almost how Christians seem to think.
I don’t think that children are born inherently guilty. Children are born inherently prone to lie. I think dogs will lie, too, but we have this higher spiritual awareness of, “No, you’re not supposed to lie. You’re always supposed to tell the truth, even when it hurts,” and that truth is a higher bigger thing than even humanity is. That is a distinctly spiritual metaphysical idea.
Paul talks about our flesh being at war with our spirit. Evolution-alpha is always fighting evolution-omega. What’s an addiction? An addiction is when your craving for alcohol overrides all of your culture, all of your programming.
My neighbor had a brother who was on heroin and she says to me, “Dude, if anybody’s ever on heroin, just figure they’re lying all the time.” She was really emphatic about it because we were worried about somebody else that was messing with heroin. She says, “If his lips are moving and he’s on heroin, he’s lying.” That’s like putting evolution-alpha on steroids and now the spirit is in prison.
I think a lot of things in life make sense within this paradigm. I think the New Testament paradigm of the old man and the new man perfectly overlays on top of this. It overlays just fine. I’m just adjusting these boundaries just a little bit to actually make it line up with the scientific narrative that we know a lot more than we used to know.
Paul: At the same time we still need to reconcile some of the verses that I brought up, maybe at least 10 that I found, and this was just a cursory look about this idea that sin is passed on. Again it doesn’t have to be a genetic thing. It could be passed through the spirit.
We know that Adam had the same DNA makeup as you and I did, but he’d still be lying there like a stump until God breathed his spirit in him. That’s what animated him. That’s what gave him a soul, if you will. That soul, that spirit possibly has the opportunity to pass on in the same way that a genetic marker does.
Perry: If there’s a weakness in this whole model that I’ve given you, here’s what it is. I cannot give you a scientific definition of what this divine spark is. If I say, “Adam was not the first human. He was the first prophet, and God breathed the breath of life into the man and he became a living being,” and you go, “Okay, so what about the aborigine that was 10,000 miles away? What about that guy?” – I can’t give you an answer to that question. I don’t know. But here’s what I can say. I don’t know anybody that can tell you what the divine spark is. It’s a mystery.
All I know is that when we engage with that idea and start to assume that it’s true, something amazing unfolds. We have this thing that animals don’t, and that’s what I can tell you. That is a fuzzy line, it’s not a sharp line. I think one of the reasons Christians like the “Adam was the first human” story is it seems to make that really clear, but I’m just pushing back and saying even then it’s not really that clear. You still have all these questions like what about did the aborigine go to heaven? Or what about the child before the age of accountability and all that?
Nobody knows the answers to these questions, so I think there’s a very fuzzy line right there and I’m just calling it fuzzy. I’m saying I can’t resolve that, but everything else I think fits reasonably well. Probably there’s some flaws here and we could talk through them, but I think if people were willing to consider this kind of a view, it just kind of bleeds a lot of the tension between faith and science out of the picture. It clearly recognizes where we need to enact faith in order to create the kind of the society that we want.
Man having the divine spark – that’s the central axiom of Western civilization.
Paul: For me, a lot of that fuzziness is solved, at least in my own spirit, by again that passage that talks about how the hidden things belong to the Lord. There are some things that we’re just not going to know, or we just don’t know them now. They may be revealed later, but if God chooses not to then I’m okay with that and I’ve settled that in my own spirit.
Perry, let me just say this in closing. Like I said, we’ve known each other for a long time. I read your book before it became your book. I helped a little bit with the editing of it and so on, and I remember writing to you these exact words. I said, “Perry, this book is a game changer,” and I still believe that, very much so.
Here’s one thing that your book did for me. It did cause me to stretch in my own thinking. I, just like you, was brought in the evangelical Christian “going to church” kind of thing and subscribed pretty comfortably to most of the given doctrines and was pretty comfortable with being a 6-day 24-hour period with the Hebrew word ‘yom’ definition of creation.
Since reading your book and since seeing the logic behind it, I don’t know that I necessarily subscribe to that view anymore, but here’s the great thing as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t really matter in the great scheme of things in terms of my own salvation. In other words, when I stand before God one day, I don’t believe for a second that there will be loss of rewards because I went with that idea versus what was in there.
These are two equally great theories. They don’t for one nanosecond diminish the role of God, both in my life and through human history. Therefore, I think they can peacefully co-exist. If there’s fuzziness there, let there be fuzziness. I’m okay with that.
I thank you for being able to help me to stretch and to see things in a way that transcended the boundaries of my comfortable Christian viewpoint. Hopefully – and now I’m speaking to all of you who are watching – something you heard here or saw here or maybe even read in Perry’s book might have done the same for you. I would encourage you that, if that has been the case, that you would go onto the blog, and tell them the address of the blog.
Paul: Go to evo2.org and start a dialogue about this. If you’ve been challenged in some way or if you are being challenged right now, let us know about it. I think we all get better that way.
Thank you so much for being with us. Thank you for sitting through and enduring, and we’ll catch you next time.