Adam’s Ancestors

  • Book
  • 301 pages
  • Level: university

Adam’s Ancestors is a story about a dark side of science and religion.  Written by David Livingstone and published in 2008 by the Johns Hopkins University Press, Adam’s Ancestors traces the trajectory of the theory of the “pre-Adamites”: humans, or human-like beings, that were supposed to have possibly existed on Earth but that were not descendants of Adam and Eve.  The theory of pre-Adamites arose as an attempt to explain the widespread distribution of people on the Earth (people of differing appearances, speaking differing languages), and also to explain certain portions of the book of Genesis.  Thus, both science and religion are involved in the story.  The theory that not all people are descendants of Adam and Eve—in other words, the idea that human beings are not all of one family—leads to some very ugly ideas.  Livingstone does not censor the various people who speak on this idea, so the reader of Adam’s Ancestors must be prepared to encounter, for example, nineteenth-century scientists who argue that this or that race of people are actually not people at all, but rather animals.  Usually the people condemned as lesser are those of darker skin, but not always—the Irish are also singled out as lesser.  Adam’s Ancestors provides a very different look at the intersection of science and religion.

From the publisher:

Although the idea that all human beings are descended from Adam is a long-standing conviction in the West, another version of this narrative exists: human beings inhabited the Earth before, or alongside, Adam, and their descendants still occupy the planet.

In this engaging and provocative work, David N. Livingstone traces the history of the idea of non-adamic humanity, and the debates surrounding it, from the Middle Ages to the present day. From a multidisciplinary perspective, Livingstone examines how this alternative idea has been used for cultural, religious, and political purposes. He reveals how what began as biblical criticism became a theological apologetic to reconcile religion with science—evolution in particular—and was later used to support arguments for white supremacy and segregation.

From heresy to orthodoxy, from radicalism to conservatism, from humanitarianism to racism, Adam’s Ancestors tells an intriguing tale of twists and turns in the cultural politics surrounding the age-old question, “Where did we come from?”

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