Becoming Adam: GAE book review

@Jay313 has started a podcast and blog called “Becoming Adam,” exploring human origins. He just put up the first part of a review of Joshua Swamidass’s new book “The Genealogical Adam and Eve.” Comments or questions welcome!


Thanks, Jay, for doing this in-depth review. I agree that the evidence for Tasmania’s long-term isolation is strong. Not sure what a GAE at 14KYA does for those interested in the idea.


It certainly looks that way. I wasn’t familiar with this @Jay313 so thanks for sharing. I do see the clause at the end of that section discussing Tasmania in his book regarding the ancestry of “nearly everyone” being sufficient. In other ways, I guess GAE can still be 6 kya if you ignore some of the humans around the globe.

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Or you can always just invoke special definitions of “human.” I’ve heard that might work too.


I am disappointed at the snarky tone of this post but I also think that those commenting here should engage the arguments of the book if you are going to raise such objections. There is a chapter of the book devoted to this topic. Below is a quote from the beginning of that chapter, after which Swamidass discusses the implications of isolation in detail.

“What if this assumption is incorrect? What if one or more populations were isolated for thousands of years in our past? No universal ancestors could arise except before or after that time of isolation. If the isolation was for a very long period of time, this could substantially push back when universal ancestors would arise. What it would mean if a specific human population was, in fact, isolated? The most likely candidates might be the indigenous populations of Tasmania. If this population were isolated from six thousand years ago till AD 1, would this be a problem?”


I was not intending to be snarky or even to object, necessarily. It was just an observation. I will let people who have actually read the book comment further, as I don’t have anything else to add to the discussion.

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Exactly what I did. The arguments of the book don’t seriously engage the evidence of Tasmanian isolation. And if it really isn’t important for everyone alive to be a “descendant of Adam” by A.D. 1, then why bother setting a target date at all? Just use the original estimates that Rohde came up with for our present-day population. Adam and Eve could fit anywhere from 1500 B.C. to 500,000 B.C. Just slide A&E in wherever you want. Evidence doesn’t matter because “science is silent.”

Pretty soon, every denomination can have a historical Adam of their choice. Southern Baptists prefer 6000 years ago. Here’s your Adam. Methodists prefer sometime around the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago. Here’s your Adam. Episcopalians and PC-USA prefer 40,000. Here’s yoooouuuur Adam. Genealogical Adam can go anywhere and be anything.

What do you call a theory that can’t be falsified? The word that comes to my mind is “untrue.”

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Welcome to the forum, Michael! I think the issue of what “implications from isolation” there are is where I tend to pivot on the subject. It highlights whether or not “genealogical” issues are important or not. I think in earlier cultures, genealogy had a prominent place both in Genesis and in the Gospels, as it was a tool that gave legitimacy to the nation of Israel in Genesis, and to Jesus as messiah in the Gospels.
I am not sure it has much place in today’s society, as little stock is placed in where you originated. In fact, it seems that coming from humble beginnings is boasted of more than prominent ancestors. Though I suppose if you had a prominent ancestor who rose through humble beginnings, you can rightfully claim both! Adam I suppose would fit in there somewhere, as he was poor as dirt, and got evicted and cast out to fend for himself with nothing but a loincloth…"

Anyway, I guess the question in my mind is “Does it matter?” and to me it does not, though if some see it as a saving transitional space for their faith, that is a good thing.



I think I could help you with the general issue - - though I note that Joshua has a few other philosophical angles that he explores.

But I think a lot can be accomplished long before we actually turn to these philosophical angles:

First, we must understand that the G.A.E. scenarios PRESUME a Trinitarian stance. This stance is not a scientific one: it accepts (even insists upon) the acceptance of the divinity of Jesus, his miraculous birth, and his miraculous resurrection.

Second, for the most part, these miracles are not interpreted by modern Christians as a refutation of science. They are one-off events which we generally accept as being beyond science to comprehend, let alone within the scope of science to refute.

Third, the miraculous creations of Adam and of Eve are seen in a similar light - - they are one-off events that are not interpreted as a refutation of Evolutionary science (or any science). And like the resurrection itself, these events likewise, if they happened, are not within the scope of science to detect, let alone refute.

Fourth, this leaves us with the matter of the audiences for whom the GAE scenarios are intended!: YECs, who are already quite satisfied that Tasmania has not been isolated for dozens and dozens of eons. YECs take for granted that Tasmania (like all known human populations) are already occupied by the descendants of Adam. For the struggling YEC who wants to accept millions of years of fossil evidence as proof of Evolution, the issue is not the isolation of Tasmania, but the metaphysical significance of Adam and Eve.

GAE makes it possible for Christians to reconcile a belief in Evolution with a belief in God making a special effort to create Adam and Eve. In the GAE model, the genealogical expansion of Adam’s lineage into all the various human population is not something that can be proved, but is more something that efficiently resists disproof!

How do I mean this? The God that miraculously resurrects Jesus in Jerusalem is of course the author of many other categories of providential miracles! If a boat is lost in a storm (a storm guided by God), and perhaps has only one survivor, discovered on a lonely Tasmanian beach, this surviving man or woman (or even a pair), can certainly effect the completion of Adam’s lineage reaching every place on the planet. Our task is not so much proving that something like that happened - - but more showing how easy such a thing would be for God to accomplish!

GAE is a theological stance offered to theologically oriented individuals. The idea that contact has to be proven is something I would have expected from atheist audiences - - not from groups who have had years to consider the providential power of God in the telling of the story of humankind!



There are many, including me, who look forward to the day that GAE scenarios are so commonly encountered, and so frequently considered, that debates within the GAE community become more lively (and perhaps more productive) than the YEC debates that have long burned here on the BioLogos pages!

The fact that different denominations can have different theological starting points, or different theological requirements - - affecting the interpretation of human history - - should go without saying.

It is unavoidable… and not necessarily an evil.

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Except they are making a historical claim, not a theological one, when a literal Adam and Eve are inserted into space-time at a specific point. Historical claims are subject to scrutiny for evidence.

Exactly. What is the driving force here? Is it the magic 6000 years that’s most important? If the science matters at all, it seems a pretty simple thing to say, “Okay. GAE existed around 14,000 B.C. The date has changed, but everything else remains the same.” But Swamidass brushes aside the science, despite reminding us that he’s a scientist in the first sentence of the first two chapters, so that the magic number is somehow safe.

I would like to know if Swamidass plans to correct his scientific errors in the next edition. The entire chapter should be rewritten.

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I will leave it to you to decide which denomination has their facts best laid out.

GAE, as a helping tool, has an interest in guiding the lunatic fringe, but ultimately it is up to each group to make their own decisions.

With your help, perhaps a critical mass can be developed around the least troublesome scenario… but only time will tell!


As you know, I am a Unitarian Universalist, and so I have no “skin” in the game for when Adam and Eve would have really existed, since I am actually more inclined to think Adam and Eve are allegorical.

But I can also see a 6000 year time frame adequately “filling the bill” depending on which aspects of the rise of agriculture are emphasized.

What I am rather inclined to resist, however, is the thought that Adam and Eve fit in a time frame more than 10,000 years ago. I just don’t think the facts can be stretched that far. And @agauger’s favorite scenario (400,000 to 500,000 years ago) is sheer fantasy; you can’t demonstrate the reliability of the Biblical timeline by stretching the timeline into non-Biblical proportions!



As for your question:

I think you have become confused between what Swamidass considers a possible scenario, and one which he thinks is scientifically demonstrated. Would you care to make a list of the “facts” he has wrong?

I already noted a bunch of them. He could start by retracting the claim that Pugach 2006 “settles” the question of isolation. Nagle et al. 2017 is enough to disprove that claim on its face, and it was easy to find even for an amateur like me.

Honestly, I need to work on the next podcast episode, and I have to write my review of GAE and original sin for next week. I’ve said all there is to say on Tasmania. Stay tuned.


I think you mean Pugach 2013?

I’ll look at Nagle et al. 2017, but as I’ve said before, if God arranged for a living member of the Adam lineage to be washed ashore on a Tasmanian beach, I would hardly expect any science to be able to document or detect that.

NOTE: Nagle et al 2017 deals with genetic information. And this is exactly the “stuff of dreams” - - if a single person enters a lineage, in a short period of time their genetic “stamp” will have been completely decimated.

I am curious regarding the stochastic modelling that simply shows the present human population can be shown to be genealogically derived at about 10 thousand year - have you or anyone who seems to oppose this simulation, carried out another model to show the conclusions are invalid?

"What do you call a theory that can’t be falsified? The word that comes to my mind is ‘untrue.’ "

Two problems with this. First a logical contradiction: what you can say about an unfalsifiable theory is precisely not that it is untrue. That is what unfalsifiable means. But second, perhaps there is still something wrong with an unfalsifiable theory, i.e., maybe it isn’t untrue but just useless? No to this also. God’s existence is unfalsifiable, but surely not useless. What we can legitimately say about an unfalsifiable theory is simply that it has no scientific utility. But I don’t think it that was Swaimidass’s intent to begin with. Finally, maybe it doesn’t advance science, but it contradicts it, i.e., it makes demonstrably false claims in light of science? If so, then it isn’t unfalsifiable.


Special pleading, once again. Let’s just go straight to the Omphalos hypothesis and be done with it.

Your boy deleted my thread. Go ahead and try to defend that. You realize there is such a thing as the wayback machine, right?

Hi Chemistry George,

Hope all is going well for you! I’m not sure I understand your question. By “genealogically derivedat about 10 thousand year,” are you referring to the idea that the most recent common genealogical ancestor is thought to have lived 10kya? The reason I ask is that the smallest population bottleneck in H. Sapiens population in the past 500kya is thought to be 10,000, so I want to make sure we’re answering the question about the 10,000 you are thinking of.


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