Book Reviews: The Genealogical Adam and Eve

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.

What part is “untrue”?

And yet, @Jay313, the horse still lives and breathes.

I find it odd that you are so eager to bury a topic. By definition, a single shipwrecked survivor on a Tasmanian beach would be undetectable genetically and probably historically.

And the GAE scenario certainly doesnt require any specific theory for the transmission of sin.

Anything and everything that is in the excluded middle. Any attempt to make a dead, ancient and yes, inspired myth a false, untouchable, sacrosanct item of faith.

@Klax

The GAE scenarios are not intended to prove anything, especially not to those who are not already Christians.

These scenarios are intended to demonstrate the limits of science when dealing with one-off events of the miraculous.

Nobody talks about the “excluded middle” when a Christian who devoutly believes in the virgin birth ALSO embraces millions of years of fossil evidence for Evolution.

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.

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Yes, I like the GAE theory.

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.”

I thank Josh Swamidass for what he has offered!

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George.

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.

Michelle

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?

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@Klax

Why does engaging in literary criticism have to be disinterested?

I dont accept Original Sin as a valid theology… but I certainly encourage KEEPING original sin if (!) - - in the process - - Evolution is easier to embrace!

I sincerely believe the six days of Creation should not be interpreted literally… and any analysis that helps with that is worth discussing.

Hi Marshall,
Thank you for sharing your interpretations, which must be helpful to many people.

It seems it might also be helpful to share some of my background with this group, because @Klax seems to be harshly judging my motivations.

I was raised without religion, always loved science and didn’t become a Christian until after I had decided to get my PhD (~20 years ago now). Perhaps because I was a biologist before I was a Christian, the first time I heard about the idea of theistic evolution [at an American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) conference], I really liked it. Of course God could use evolution to achieve his purposes: Why wouldn’t that be possible? I wrote some more about my thinking and motivations in this BioLogos blogpost from last summer: https://biologos.org/post/what-in-the-world-distrusting-science

It is only more recently that I have found time to read and think about this more. Last year I was able to attend the 2019 BioLogos conference in Baltimore. While there, I attended a session on Adam and Eve, which is where my eyes were first really opened to the depth of the Biblical interpretation challenge that people can have in accepting evolution if scientists say that evolutionary science would mean that there cannot be a literal Adam and Eve. Since then, I have been trying to read and understand more about this challenge. What has become clear to me now is that it was an oversimplification for me to think that it would be easy to just believe that Adam and Eve were symbolic figures. Because I’m a scientist, I am comfortable with evolution, but I’m starting to see that there really might need to be a historical Adam and Eve for the theology in the context of evolution to make sense. That idea is also affirmed when speaking to and reading opinions from pastors and theologians, such as the essay I posted by Tim Keller above (post # 6; BTW: I like the federal headship model presented there). Also in conversations with laypeople in my church, I hear that their strongest aversion to accepting evolutionary science is the idea of human evolution. They seem to think that human evolution would conflict with scripture and would somehow detract from the specialness of humans or take away from the image of God in them. When I heard Jeff Schloss speak at the 2018 ASA conference about humanity evolving to a point where they have complex language, recursive thinking, moral sensibility and second-order theory of mind, I could see how God might have endowed those characteristics into an evolving population, or how God could have directed evolution to humanity to that point. However, there is still the Biblical interpretation problem of how Paul and Jesus speak about Adam as a historical person. So, @Jay313, the reason why I like GAE is because it opens up more options for solutions. I am okay with not knowing for sure which option is true, but I do like the idea that there could be options for how a literal couple could fit with evolution. I also enjoy the conversation and like that there are different possibilities for solutions to discuss with my friends who currently reject evolution. @Klax, the motivation is the dialogue.

We are all on our own personal journeys. Let’s be respectful of each other while on our paths. These are all topics that are worthy of discussion. So let’s do our best not to judge motives, but rather to understand each other.

Also, as I stated up in post #6, and which Tim Keller nicely says in his essay. We all agree that what makes a Christian is our faith in Jesus:

I would like everyone here at BioLogos to know how much I appreciate your ministry. I think that you have set a wonderful example of dialogue through your website, your Podcast and your books, such as “The Fool and the Heretic,” “How I Changed my Mind on Evolution” and "Four Views On Creation, Evolution, And Intelligent Design." I aspire to follow the good example that you have given us.

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Nice George. Sorry if this is obvious (and sorry if I was at all flesh tearing - sarcastic, to you and Michelle), but by disinterested I mean not have an agenda beyond open, rational, and yes, faithful inquiry. Where the faith is true faith. Faith in the face of nihilist, absolutely meaningless, purposeless existence. Where history is a series of disconnected events. Where there are no becauses. Faith in God who sustains the material as if He didn’t. As if He weren’t.

And I agree. We MUST keep original sin as a metaphor for the innocent human condition. Of course we must. It was more than metaphor to Jesus from beginning to end. I’m genuinely, openly intrigued at how keeping the ancient literary trope helps us fully embrace evolution from the ground of being, for you. It does for me because it evolved. Original sin is a brilliant concept, a brilliant meme and must be treated with respect. It was so powerful for maybe a thousand years and more that it compelled Jesus to see His Father’s will for Himself in it. Jesus is the excluded middle. He divinely AND humanly faithfully, and humanly ignorantly, fully embraced it, clothed Himself with Second Temple Messianism and more. How old is the protevangelium? One has to be conservative I realise and go with the consensus that it is highly refined by the C6th BCE. But the mesorah - the whole chain of Jewish tradition - must go back centuries earlier, to Solomon and beyond, Samuel, Judges and more.

I want … in tears now … I want God to be real. But reality is so uncaringly purposeless. And yes I occupy the excluded middle too. The void between nihilism and faith. I expect you and Michelle to fight your corner hard, unfairly, with every trick in the book. Without mercy. THAT analytically! No quarter. You’ll get none from me : ) but yes, ‘in love’. Hold me to that. It’s the only rule in the fight.

@Klax

So you think Jesus believed in what we now refer to as the Augustinian interpretation of sin?

I do not. But the reason I help promote the value of G.A.E. is because it makes it less important to dispute Original Sin as many Evangelicals envision that idea.

In my view, it is obvious that God used Evolution. So any modifications in the understanding of Adam and Eve that allows greater acceptance of the fossil evidence of Evolution is a worthy endeavor.

@Klax

There have been millions of conscientious and devout Christians who have lived and died without once embracing Original Sin as a sensible theology: they were the Eastern Orthodox Christians for about the last 10 centuries.

If you, yourself, say you embrace the Excluded Middle, I don’t understand your objections.

A person’s state of Faith should not depend on a literal interpretation of the 6 days of creation.

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Aye George. Jesus obviously, explicitly took on the mantle of PSA to me. The West went with that to this day.

GAE is only valid if it’s properly understood as fiction. I have no idea what it could be and how it could help if it weren’t. Apart from bizarre scenarios like it being true in confluence with full or theistic evolution.

God uses evolution the same way he uses quantum mechanics, by grounding being.

I’m too much of a self righteous Puritan to allow blurred approximations involving A&E I guess.

Aye George, I’m perfectly aware that Orthodox Catholics don’t do original sin. But Jesus did. Which is what the West sees. I’m intrigued how the Big O doesn’t. But more intrigued how we progress from Jesus’ own excluded middle. My embrace is of Him there without embracing His epistemology.

Hi Martin,
I do not see people here on this forum (and especially not myself) as “fighting” and especially not “unfairly, with every trick in the book.” That is an unfair characterization.

As you can see from my previous posts, I see myself as on a journey, asking questions and hoping to engage in dialogue. I know that I do not have all the answers, which is why I like to hear other people’s opinions.

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You misunderstand Michelle. I say that rarely. I’m not characterizing anyone that way. It’s metaphoric. There is nothing actually negative in what I said there. Nothing at all. But we all come loaded, predisposed I realise. What a minefield eh?

Thank you, Martin

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