After reading Joshua’s book to the end now, I think he adequately addressed the “Tasmania problem.” I believe his main points were:
While is it is likely that Tasmania has remained isolated for thousands of years, it is not scientifically possible to prove complete and total genealogical isolation. Even if Tasmania had been fully isolated for the past 6,000 years, moving the date of Adam and Eve back to 15,000 years ago would decrease the likelihood of isolation.
The Bible does not speak with such scientific precision. Even if a small number of people had remained genealogically isolated, they would be rare, undetectable exceptions. Thus, the genealogical hypothesis would satisfy the theological claim (which is not an absolutely precise scientific claim) that all people descend from Adam, and that sin and death spread to all people through Adam (Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:22).
Christian theology can (and would) give full human dignity and worth to people outside the Garden
I enjoyed reading Swamidass’ book, the Genealogical Adam and Eve (GAE), as well as these three reviews of the book. Thank you for setting up this thread for discussion.
Jeff Hardin’s essay makes some great points. I’d first off like to state that I fully affirm his statement that:
Some Christians who focus on popular headlines could draw the incorrect inference from this that “genetics” tells us nothing useful about human origins. This would be a major mistake. People alive today carry in their genomes an evolved history, something Swamidass affirms[iv]. Christian biologists will need to continue to help the church to grasp this impressive evidence[v].
It is also helpful, as Hardin states, that Swamidass’ book explains:
…the OT cannot be talking about modern genetics.[vi] The Bible’s focus is on genealogy , the connection by lineal descent of parents to their progeny.[vii] This is an important reminder for biblical studies, but Swamidass invites us to consider how genealogies work scientifically
This is a valuable clarification. Why? Because it opens up new possibilities for Christians committed to our lineal descent from an historical A&E who may have been told that science made this impossible[xvi].
Many Christians who accept the evidence for humans as an evolved species, as well as non-Christians such as biologist Nathan Lents, have expressed the hope that GAE will provide greater space for acceptance of evolutionary biology among such “traditional” Christians. I pray that this will be so. There are some Christians who accept evidence for an ancient earth and other scientific data but feel compelled to reject evolutionary science because they thought an historical A&E were impossible. GAE is new option for such believers.
Hardin also pointed to a helpful discussion by @dga471 on the Peaceful Science forum, explaining some of the tensions between evangelical Christians who reject evolutionary science and some theistic evolutionists (TE):
Daniel does a good job explaining some of what I have also observed in dialogues between Christians with different views on evolution.
I take it that Josh is making room for a middle road, for those who want to take a realist view of science (contra YECs), but also want to interpret Scripture in a slightly more realist way (contra some TEs), such that we preserve the historicity of Adam and also take his fatherhood of all of humanity by AD 1 to be true. In this moderate view, we accept all of what mainstream science has positively shown to be true, but we also accept many historical events that Scripture says happened, even if they are unlikely (though not completely ruled out) by the standards of science. And of course we accept several isolated miracles, which flatly contradict science.
Now, it is right to point out that many evangelical theologians have had a tendency to overemphasize Scripture without being aware of the science, as many TEs would like to say. But it is also right to point out that some TEs have had the tendency to not give sufficient thought to Scripture and unwittingly adopt all of the philosophical assumptions of non-Christian scientists, some of which are not necessitated by the scientific evidence itself.
In the second half of his book, Swamidass admits that he is not a theologian, such that his theological theories could certainly require some revisions. He offers an invitation to dialogue about theological implications of a specially created Adam and Eve within the context of an evolving population. I am looking forward to that dialogue, and have started having some of those conversations in my own church circles.
Thus, I pray with Jeff Hardin that GAE will help create space for acceptance of evolutionary science by some evangelicals.
The beauty of the genealogical Adam and Eve (GAE) theory is that it lets scientists like us (who accept the evidence of human evolution) hold to a tighter historical Biblical hermeneutic. By clearly explaining the limits of science, Joshua Swamidass’ opens up theological space for a historical Adam and Eve in the context of an evolving human population. Genealogical science has confirmed, that if a historical Adam and Eve actually existed, they would be the common ancestors of everyone living in the world today, and also the common ancestors of everyone living at the time of Christ. These results from genealogical science helpfully reduce one point of science/faith tension, because churches have historically believed that Adam and Eve are our common ancestors.
I like that the GAE theory opens up new options. New options are good, because having more options could help the science/faith dialogue.
Some thoughts I posted about this theory on another thread included:
The GAE or GHE idea could be a nice way of explaining the differences in the creation stories described in Genesis 1 & 2, by saying that there actually were 2 different creation events. (However, Swamidass and Garvy have also stated that GAE does not necessitate a sequential view, but could also be applied with a re-capitulatory view of Genesis 1&2)
The GAE theory allows us to understand Jesus and Paul’s teachings as being clear and inerrant or infallible when they refer to Adam as a historical figure (e.g. in Romans 5), and state that all nations descended from Adam (Acts 17:26). Tim Keller nicely explains these hermeneutical challenges in his 2012 essay posted here on BioLogos. I like the priestly or federal headship model described in that article, which could nicely fit with the GAE theory, either with or without a ne novo creation, per se.
By allowing for a special (and possibly even de novo) creation of Adam and Eve, we can understand how Adam and Eve were able to commune with God so directly and personally in the Garden. After Adam and Eve fell into sin, they could no longer stay in God’s presence, because God is perfect (Matthew 5:48) and His perfection excludes sinners from His presence (Isaiah 59:2, Romans 6:23). This direct interaction of Adam and Eve with God in the Garden gives us a beautiful picture of what we have lost through our sin, and what has now been made possible for us in heaven due to Jesus’s death and resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Thus, a de novo creation could establish direct, clear, original righteousness of Adam. (Swamidass offers an interesting speculation towards the end of his book that this role of a de novo creation in the establishment of the original righteousness of Adam could be analogous to why Jesus came to earth through a virgin birth.)
Of course we each have different interpretation schemes with which we can be comfortable. We should be open minded about the spectrum of beliefs that could fit within Christian orthodoxy. Ultimately it is our faith in Jesus’s death and resurrection that brings us to salvation (John 3:16, Romans 10:9, 1 John 1:8-10).
Hi Michelle. Glad you made it to the end! You and I have different definitions of “adequate.” I think everyone has pretty much moved on from GAE, but I’d be glad to address your concerns.
It’s not just likely that Tasmania was isolated after 10,000 BC; it’s fairly close to certainty. Of course it’s not scientifically possible to prove a negative. That’s why scientists use the null hypothesis. Find one shred of evidence that Tasmanian isolation is not a fact of history. Otherwise, just claim an Adam and Eve at 15,000 years ago and the problem vanishes. I’ve said this many times. The problem is, GAE proponents can’t help themselves from wishing for and claiming 4000 BC, which fits the YEC timeline for Adam and Eve.
The small number of people wouldn’t be undetectable to themselves or to God. Don’t write them off so easily. Surely they matter in the scheme somehow. In any case, the genealogical hypothesis does not satisfy the theological claim that sin and death spread to all people through lines drawn on a family tree. Sin doesn’t spread by genealogy. That point is simply assumed, never demonstrated.
Christian theology gives full dignity and worth to all people, and it does so much more convincingly when Genesis 1 and Genesis 2-3 are read in unison as describing the creation of all humanity. As Hans Maudeme rightly pointed out in his review at The Gospel Coalition:
… the notion of other people outside the garden, in my view, is nowhere in Scripture. In traditional Christianity, being human and being a descendant of Adam are co-extensive. As far as I can see, Swamidass’s revisionism lacks a convincing exegetical or theological basis. … The idea of people outside the garden is only plausible if one interprets Scripture atomistically, focusing on ambiguities in the text."
GAE was targeted to YEC, but the reviews at TGC and creation.com (Sanders and Carter) were both negative.
As I read the book, I see at least two factors that are driving this choice of date. One is that it allows for the apostles’ arguments to be universally applicable; and the second is that it comports with a reading of Genesis 4 that sets those events in the Neolithic Era.
Collins rejected those factors because he reads the apostles’ arguments as depending heavily on their readings of the Hebrew Bible. He said,
I think the Hebrew texts assume a far earlier universality. Theologically, the “Fall” has been taken to apply, not simply to individual persons, but also to social structures and cultures, and these likewise stretch much further back. That is, we recognize that human cultures in general involve mixtures of good and bad; the bad elements include structures that promote idolatry and oppression, and it seems reasonable to attribute the rise of these features to something much earlier than historical times. In addition, I simply do not read Genesis 4 as indicating a Neolithic setting; I consider anachronism to be bound up with the style of these chapters in Genesis.
If it’s true for you Michelle, fine. By what epistemology? There was a Russian doctor going in to a packed church in Moscow today, a scientist like yourself. She knew that it is impossible to catch corona virus there. Because it was sacred. At least 1% of the people in that congregation will be dead in three weeks (if we’re lucky and the ratio of mild, unreported cases is 10:1). It won’t touch their faith of course, only to strengthen it. I envy them. Even when it’s 5%.
[I’m sure because faith and rationality are two entirely separate things, the former is necessary because of the latter. The latter utterly excludes folk faith claims. Faith has to stare nihilistic fact in the face. Believing somebody else’s creation myths is not a matter of faith. Believing something that is rationally utterly impossible that is a counter claim to the rigorously, repeatably observable, testable on a huge scale, is not faith. The claim of incarnation is not in the same category as the claim of Adam and Eve. Incarnation does not overturn evolution, does not make any other claim but itself. It’s a different kind of rational impossibility, because, despite that, it could be true. One of Ian M. Banks’ acts of excession. Adam and Eve can’t be. They are utterly, completely, scientifically, rationally impossible, unnecessary, meaningless. They aren’t required for anything at all. Incarnation is. It is the only possible ‘evidence’ for God and His love. It may be the reason for the Church’s existence. Adam and Eve aren’t. And yes, I can see the Holy Spirit yearning down and back up in their story.]
I think we need to dispense with some of the lies here. This is not holding on to anything of Christianity because genetics never had anything whatsoever to do with the contents of the Bible. The Bible, written long before any work in the science of genetics, itself makes it clear that Adam and Eve are not the genetic progenitors of the human species. So what this is really about is clinging to a much more recent transformation of Christianity into something quite different.
It is certainly difficult for me to see any merit in this half-way house between reality and fantasy. What possible value can there be in a Christianity which clings such magical thinking with so little contact with reality as we experience it by making excuses such as dispensationalism? It is almost beyond my comprehension… except perhaps to underline my observation that reality is more subjective than most people realize. It doesn’t take Christianity for people to insist on living in a reality filled with magic because I know people who do plenty of that with Wicca, Reiki, homeopathy, psychics, and healing crystals. Perhaps we should step back and let people have whatever magic and imaginary friends they need to believe in… as long as they understand that we who do not see these invisible things will at the very least abstain from comment. After all there are invisible things many of us believe in too.
The GAE theory helpfully exposed the anachronism of expecting biblical statements about descent to have something to say about genes. It shifted the discussion from genetics to genealogies. However, as @dga471 recently pointed out, it seems to get stuck in a new anachronism by conflating the genealogies of the Bible with modern “genealogical science”:
Modern genealogies are family trees showing mothers and fathers. The Bible’s genealogies are chains of males. Even in Matthew’s genealogy that mentions some women, the descent always follows the men (e.g. “Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse”). The Bible’s genealogies are straight arrows to the past, not tangled trees with expanding branches that soon encompass everyone. So, the GAE theory depends on viewing genealogies in modern terms instead of in biblical terms. It corrects the anachronism of genes but substitutes the anachronism of family trees.
This matters quite a lot, because both biblical genealogies and Augustine’s version of original sin are highly dependent on an ancient, male-seed understanding of procreation. In other threads I’ve written some about what this could mean for how we read the genealogies and how we read Augustine. But it took Daniel’s thread for me to see the connection to the GAE theory.
Paul doesn’t refer to Adam as a historical figure in Romans 5, and much of his language there and in 1 Corinthians 15 makes more sense if Adam is a symbol of humanity rather than an individual. Acts 17:26 doesn’t mention Adam or even one man. It only mentions “one,” so the answer to “One what?” has to be supplied by context. Both “from one nation he made all nations” (letting the end of the expression clarify its beginning) or “from one blood he made all nations” (following the reading of some manuscripts) seems more justified than suggesting “one man.”
Regardless, the problem isn’t that Jesus and Paul speak of a historical Adam. The problem is that a historical Adam is a longstanding theological tradition that many hold tightly and read into the text wherever possible. And certainly, the GAE is one of several ways to maintain that tradition while accepting mainstream science. There are also alternatives and tweaks to that tradition, some of which can also make good sense of the biblical texts. I think we also need to keep those options on the table, and the best way to do so is not to overstate what the Bible claims.
I think having evolved and imperfect humanity portrayed as communing with God in the garden would only be problematic for those who would doubt Jesus’ divinity due to his closeness to sinners. Sin is not God’s kryptonite, so I don’t see any such problem to be solved in Eden.
At the end of his book, Swamidass states that his intent is to open up this discussion about genealogical descent to theologians. It appears he has succeeded in getting some good discussion going. Clearly different people have different opinions about how best to resolve the Bible with evolutionary science and people land in very different places. Some willing to give up on the idea of a historical Adam and Eve, others not. Some willing to interpret much of the first 11 chapters of Genesis as myth or legend, others not. Some looking for a sole progenitor far back in history, others OK with a historical Adam more recent in the context of a larger population. Thinking about the various options is interesting. I do not think that it is possible for any of us to definitively know which solution is the correct one, but it will all become clear when we get to heaven.
As you point out, Jack Collin raised some interesting questions that arise from the GAE attempt to resolve evolutionary science and traditional theology. Other approaches raise similar questions. None of the solutions is without its open questions. Your theory raises questions, too, Jay.
Collins also endorsed the book and speaks very highly of Swamidass’ approach:
I must finish, leaving much unsaid. But I will not leave unsaid my appreciation for what Swamidass has done, and its potential contribution to good thinking about science, faith, and the good human life.
In a previous essay of mine, in a book supported by a BioLogos grant, I mentioned the value of scenarios. I acknowledged that what I had outlined is “just a scenario, an illustration of one way to imagine the events. Other ways may occur to those with enough imagination.” 15 In another place I wrote:16
I once heard Peter Harrison say that if certain theological views are well-founded, and fundamentally important to a well-grounded system of belief, it can be rationally responsible to maintain those views, even if, for the time being, the science seems to call them into question. I believe he was right, at least for these basic beliefs about the origin of humankind and of sin. These are too well-connected to the kind of experiences that are universally accessible and all-but-universally recognized. Sometimes, if we wait, new light will come in the scientific thinking. And sometimes, as well, someone with enough imagination will propose a workable scenario that helps us past the apparent hump. It looks like Dr Swamidass has indeed provided an imaginative and serviceable tool for our toolkits, to promote “peaceful science.”
So the GAE stories are intended to prove something to half way fundamentalists, such as I until 10 years ago without realising it, that there are limits to science that you can drive an A&E truck through. But not a Flood truck, and certainly not a YEC road train truck. A Babel truck? A Nephilim Demon Spawn truck? What other Myth trucks that deny the scientific, geological, paleontological, evolutionary and genetic truth? Roman and Orthodox Catholics are of course a tad more baroque and Byzantine about it.
Incarnation - from Annunciation to Ascension - is in a completely different category of claim. It’s a guy off road on a Deliveroo bike. It - alone - is not in the excluded middle.
It’s all a question of where one draws one’s fundamentalist line in the myths because one has to believe in original sin, the Fall, in human guilt and damnation for Jesus’ death to mean what He thought it meant: Penal Substitutionary Atonement. The answer is obvious. But not one that many Catholics can look at.
I like it Marshall. The new anachronism of genealogy. The Biblical use of begots and sons of is just to make a culturally appropriate claim, like an ancient legal or court document. That’s always been understood and would have been at the time by sophisticates.
See my last sentence above. As long as the genealogical claims in the Bible are just ersatz window dressing, a nice, gilt, papier-mâché, once-upon-a-time, framing story, as that’s what you had to do then to make a greater claim, that’s OK. The greatest claim of all. Incarnation. The trouble is we, the Church, the writers and even the main protagonist, the painting itself, painted after and within the massive, ancient, sacred frame were all overwhelmed by it.
Or have I got it risibly wrong? Are you and Swamidass et al laughing at my utter, fundamentalist rationalist [Dawkinsesque (tho’ he ent wrong)] lack of sophistication in realising that of course you understand that, it’s a given? That you are not trying to establish a middle half way house between fundamentalism and nihilism? You are only engaged in a perfectly valid exercise in disinterested literary criticism?