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Abraham and Sarah

David Cowles

Jan 24, 2023

“We would not expect to find every human being alive today sharing DNA inherited from one particular ancestral couple, and yet, they do!”

In Issue #6 of Aletheia Today Magazine (ATM, 1/15/2023), we introduced the concept of particularity, and we distinguished the particular from the systematic and the random. (You can read it here.)

Events are ‘systematic’ to the extent that they conform to the 3R’s (reason, regularity, and repeatability) but ‘random’ (the 4th R?) to the extent that they are independent of any causal background. We posited the possibility of a third classification: the ‘particular’ (the 1P?). Events are particular to the extent that they are not the products of specific causal chains but are dependent on the general causal background. 

We’ve been told that life comes in just two flavors: vanilla and chocolate; not true. It comes in just one! May I invite you to take a tour of my soft-serve ice cream factory? We make just one ice cream product: it’s our fresh cream flavor, but this product is also used as ‘stock’ for all our other flavors, including vanilla and chocolate.

Just as fresh cream forms the basis of all flavors, so particular events may form the basis of all events. Systematic and random events are first and foremost particular events - particular events that satisfy certain additional conditions. 

We cited an example of a ‘particular event’ from the world of genetics. We called this event ‘Adam and Eve’ but in retrospect, ‘Abraham and Sarah’ might have been a better choice. You see, in Genesis 26, God promises Abraham that his descendants would “become as numerous as the stars in the sky”…and so they have!

Let me explain. There are 8 billion people living on planet earth today, just 200 times more than in 1500 BCE (an average annual growth rate of 1%...put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr. Malthus). Systematic thinking would lead us to expect that every one of our 8 billion co-habitants has DNA inherited from the 1500 BCE gene pool; and so they do.

We would also expect today’s cohort to have some genetic information not found in the 1500 BCE gene pool, and that is correct as well. Such changes in the DNA code are the result of random mutations and natural selection.

We would not expect to find every human being alive today sharing DNA inherited from one particular ancestral couple, and yet they do!

Meet our ‘Abraham and Sarah’, nomads living unremarkable lives somewhere in Africa or the Middle East c. 1500 BCE. In all probability, they went about their business each day with little thought to the long term future; yet they unwittingly set off a cascade of events that directly impacts every single human being alive today. Kings and philosophers can only dream of having such reach or making such a difference.

The event I’m calling ‘Abraham and Sarah’ did not disclose a particular causal pathway, but neither did ‘our common ancestors’ spring out of dust, de nuovo. Abraham and Sarah depends on the general causal background but not on a specific causal chain. The ‘event’ itself is neither systematic nor random; it is particular.  

Abraham and Sarah met, copulated, and gave live birth to offspring who, in turn, copulated and gave birth to offspring. As it’s worked out, this Abraham and Sarah now appear in the family tree of every human being living today. They are ancestors of us all.

The event I’ve labeled ‘Abraham and Sarah’ is really a series of events reaching back to their births. The event includes their meeting, their mating, and their generating offspring who, in turn, lived to mate and reproduce. 

There is no sense in which we could say that this event was systematic. Any proposed causal chain would be frequently interrupted by random events: personal decisions, chance meetings, etc. Yet we cannot really say that the event is random either. A lot of unwitting cosmic preparation was required to make Abraham and Sarah even possible. 

Systematic events, to the extent that they are systematic, are caused by specific elements in the general causal background; random events, to the extent they are random, occur independently of any causal background. Particular events, on the other hand, are enabled by the general causal background but not caused by any specific elements in that background.

In theory, systematic events are easy to cause and easy to prevent. Just mess with the causal chain. Random events, on the other hand, can neither be caused nor prevented. Particular events are also easy to prevent (just abort Isaac in the womb) but impossible to cause.

The science of genetics includes a warehouse of particular events like Abraham and Sarah. Here’s another one of my favorites:

Every single human being of European descent, alive today, has DNA contributed by Charlemagne (c. 800 CE)! “No, wait, that can’t be true. Now you’re just making sh*t up!” Sorry, no, not made up, true! The world is just not as neat as I, or you, or Horatio would have liked. 


Image: Elements of image as seen in Messages in Christ short film “Abraham & Sarah.”

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