Christianity Today interview with Joshua Swamidass about his new book, the Genealogical Adam and Eve

Christianity Today just posted their interview with Joshua Swamidass about his new book, the Genealogical Adam and Eve:

Here are some quotes from Dr. Swamidass:

"There are three main audiences to whom I’m speaking.
One audience is my secular colleagues in science. Most of them aren’t Christians, but they want to effectively engage the public, including the religious public.

The second is nontraditionalists, such as evolutionary creationists at organizations like BioLogos who have been pressing the scientific case against Adam and Eve for a long time. I’m really trying to encourage them to take a more welcoming approach to traditional theology.

The last group is traditionalists: people who feel committed to a traditional interpretation of Scripture. I’m inviting them to engage with evolutionary science. I realize that many of them think that evolution is a myth. That’s okay. We can still recognize together that evolutionary science isn’t actually in conflict with their beliefs."

"There’s been a lot of conflict about how science expresses its understanding of Adam and Eve. It has to do with misunderstanding the word ancestor . We can understand it in the genetic sense, meaning someone we get our DNA from. Or we can mean it in a genealogical sense, meaning someone whose lineage we descend from.

Why is that important? Scripture doesn’t tell us about genetic ancestry. It does , however, tell us about genealogical ancestry. … Well, Scripture can’t possibly be talking about genetic ancestry. It has to be talking about genealogical ancestry.

That recognition really opens up an immense amount of space for theology. As Christians, we’ve had a lot of anxiety over what science is telling us about Adam and Eve. But these conflicts are based on what science says about our genetic ancestors. If we focus on genealogical ancestors instead, there might be far less conflict than we first imagined."

" My book doesn’t exist to challenge the evolutionary science. The two starting points are: Humans share common ancestry with the great apes. It really looks like God created us through a providentially governed process of common descent. The second idea is: It seems like there’s no moment when our ancestors drop down to a single couple in the last few hundred thousand years.

People have taken those starting points and concluded, first, that the human population never gets down to a single couple; and second, that Adam and Eve, if they existed, must have shown common ancestry with the great apes…

… the story of Genesis could be true as literally as you could imagine it, with Adam being created by dust and God breathing into his nostrils and Eve being created from his rib. But evolution is happening outside the Garden, and there are people out there who God created in a different way and who end up intermingling with Adam and Eve’s descendants. It’s not actually in conflict with evolutionary science."

Have any of you read his book?
Do you find this GAE hypothesis helpful for science/faith dialogue?

I have a lot of church friends who cannot accept the idea of human evolution, so I am interested to see how conversations might develop around this GAE hypothesis, and if it will help people be able to embrace both a traditional view of the scriptures, while accepting evolutionary science. I am particularly intrigued, because the book has been endorsed by a wide variety of people: atheist scientists, theologians and old earth creationists (Reasons to Believe), as well as BioLogos’ Darrel Falk

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It’s a crazed mish mash that insults science and faith. And WHAT is that apostrophe doing there?!

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Thanks for pointing out my typo. I just corrected it.

His term “Providentially Governed” evolution is an accurate yet respectful term for the (hypothetical) process of God in heaven divinely intervening into evolution on earth, becoming part of the “selection” of the variations present upon this planet

I have not read the book, just a lot of discussion surrounding it at Peaceful Science. I am sure some people may find it helpful, namely Old Earth Creationists who already accept the scientific evidence for ancient earth and maybe some common descent or “microevolution,” but are hung up on human origins and want a special creation event for humanity. Obviously people are listening and reading and talking about it. I have not personally met many people who like it for themselves and their own theology. More a bunch of people who see it as a tool for other people to have their theological cake and eat it scientifically too. A bridge-building tool, so to speak.

I don’t see how it appeals to YECs, since it still requires evolution of “biological humans” outside the Garden who then interbreed with “theological humans” to become “descended from” Adam. I will set aside for a moment that it is theologically problematic for me that evidently “theological humanity” is spread far and wide, as far as I can tell, by lots of rape and conquest, not necessarily happy marriages. I have a hard time attributing that to God’s beautiful plan for redemption and meshing it with the overall picture of the missio dei found in the rest of Scripture. And I’m still confused about what the “biological humans” get when they become connected to “theological humans” via genealogy. Original sin? A need for a Savior? Some aspect of the image of God?

I think it will still be a stretch to far for YECs to accept, because I don’t think their main issue is with evolution undermining the special creation of Adam and Eve or even the transmission of sin nature. I think it is with evolution not “matching” the record in the Bible. They see Adam and Eve as the first biological and theological humans on Earth. I don’t see how this model changes their mind about any of their main tenets, like creation being a literal six day event, species reproducing only after their kind (i.e. definitely not any other “biological humans” descended from ape-like ancestors), and all of humanity and biodiversity dying in the Flood except eight people and two of every “kind.”

BioLogos is planning to publish some articles interacting with the book in March, so it will be interesting to see what those say.

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It still absolutely requires an old earth, not to mention death before the fall. Some may be willing allow that, but few, I imagine.

In my opinion the best quality of the book is how it expresses the limits of science. Science tells us that God did not start humanity from a single couple 7000 years ago. But science cannot tell us whether or not God miraculously created a single couple, put them in a special location, made a special covenant with them, and then called them to proclaim His redemption to a wild and wonderful world that needs good news.

By expressing scientific findings with evident humility, it may help some. After all, our life-changing decisions are rarely made on a purely rational basis.

At the same time, science also tells us that the universe is 13.8 billion years old, the earth is 4.5 billion years old, and that life evolved over a period of ~3 billion years. This might be a bridge too far for most of today’s YEC crowd.

Best,
Chris

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a la John Walton’s Lost World of Adam & Eve, you could construe the “creation” of Adem & Eve to reflect some sort of “Theistic Evolutionary cultivation” of a specially spiritually chosen pair of “Priestly Prophets”

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The crazed mish mash is exactly what I believed of course for decades. This is nothing new.

That spiritual “priestly prophet” interpretation of Adam and Eve does not seem to be accepted by people I know who hold to Old Earth Creation, because it is still too figurative for them. If God wanted us to think of Adam and Eve as priests, why didn’t he call them priests already in Genesis 1-3, rather than waiting until later to introduce the idea of priests

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I agree with everyone’s impressions about this GAE theory not necessarily being helpful for YECs, but more for OECs.

Thank you for these thoughts, Chris,

I strongly agree!! I think humility is one of the biggest factors that will help in these science/faith dialogues.

Christy,
I also appreciate your very thoughtful response to this GAE theory. I’ve gotten through the first half of the book, so the scientific argument makes a lot of sense to me. I still need to work through the ideas in the second half of the book on the implications for what it means to be human, made in the image of God, and original sin. I’m also interested to hear what more theologians think about if it fits with Christian theology.

This idea that everyone who likes GAE likes it for someone else was brought up on another BioLogos Forum thred. However, I think that is an unfair characterization. If the GAE idea is true and theologically acceptable, I would like it for myself, AND one of the things I like about it is that it could be good for bridge building. Its just one of those theories that we would never be able to prove or disprove.

We’ll know the truth when we get to heaven. In reality, most people are not drawn into the Christian faith by scientific arguments, but rather by their personal relationship with Christ and understanding the power of the work of His death and resurrection for their salvation.

For now, it can be very reassuring that there are various different ways of thinking about how the truth we see in scientific evidence fits with the truths in the Bible. Keeping humility will help those of us with different viewpoints get along, and demonstrate positive influences of Christ’s work in our lives to people who are not (yet) believers. It has really been bothering me how contentious these arguments about different origins theories can get, because the way we argue increases (rather than diminishes) the impression that science and the Christian faith are in conflict.

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For what it’s worth, here’s the response from Dr Carter of CMI (Creation Ministries International) (this was before the book came out):

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Well, FYI, the Holy Koran refers to Adam as exactly that, the “first prophet” of The One True God in the heavens

Moreover, Adam & Eve “communicated with (the one true) God”, which is the definition of being a true “prophet”, and actions speak louder than words?

I guess the term “priest” is probably too tied up with the notion of a physical temple location, on second thought, I’d like to retract the term “priest” and simply suggest “prophet”

I think there is solid “pan-Abrahamic Religious” basis for considering A&E the “first prophet & prophetess” who communed directly with heaven

some other things to think about, the transition from a forest-like environment of fructivorous vegetarianism, to one wherein animal blood is spilled to provide humans animal-hide clothing, corresponds accurately to the transition from chimpanzee-like Australopithecines to the first stone-tool using, fire-wielding, meat-eating homo habilis 2-3 million years ago.

Then, the curse of Adam to “work the land by the sweat of your brow”, from a previous existence of (hunting and) gathering, resembles the Agricultural Revolution 10-20 thousand years ago

And, corroboratingly, the conflict between city-dwelling Cain and free-ranging Abel resembles the ensuing conflict between burgeoning farming populations with those “conservative” hunter-gatherers around them, 5-10 thousand years ago

The text easily aligns with the scientifically-accepted time-line of homonid-to-human development over the past 2-3 million years

although it does so according to an extremely non-linear (logarithmic???) notion of time, wherein scant words sweep us forward millions of years, and the next sentence or so thousands more

As Genesis unfolds further, the ratio of “Scriptural words to linear historic earth time” continues to increase, as more & more verses are devoted to the doings & deeds of Noah, Nimrod, Abraham & the Patriarchs, and so on…

Someone really “ought to” try to plot this out, I hypothesize that it traces out a nice logarithmic curve

Just want to offer, that JS’s argument is “stronger than necessary”

Heaven “forming & shaping” A&E on earth can be straight-forwardly construed as a Theistically-guided, Providentially-governed, cultivation of A&E. To wit, “artificial selection”. The God in heaven intervenes into the natural mutational variation on earth, and influences selection upon this planet, so as to “steer” or “guide” terrestrial evolution until A&E emerge

All the other humans around were (according to Scripture) not affected by this heavenly intervention into earth history. The God in heaven “left them alone” and “let earth nature take its natural course” with them.

But, with the lineage(s) leading to A&E, heaven did actively intervene, favoring some & disfavoring others, until A&E emerged, by this process of “heavenly cultivation (and culling)”.

Cp. the historically widespread acknowledgement, by the entire human species on earth as far back as any ancient aboriginal Dreamtime song-lines recall, that heavenly powers reward faithful followers & punish apostates. Uncritically accepted, at face value, heavenly powers have intervened into evolution (mutational variation & selection) on earth, cultivating (& culling) amongst chosen sub-populations of humanity, until A&E were (thereby) brought about.

One does not have to adopt JS’s notion of A&E being literally cobbled together out of dust & clay. Those words could well allegorize a Theistically-guided, Providentially-governed, evolutionary process.

Thank you Erik,
That is an interesting timeline you outlined for homonid/human development

Yes, I have made that same point to someone who used the “dust and clay” verse while trying to convince me that evolutionary creation could not be true.

However, there is the second, more challenging question, that I somewhat ironically first really understood during a workshop on the topic at last year’s BioLogos conference. Prior to that conference I simply claimed ignorant bliss, by avoiding thinking much about Adam and Eve.

That second question is: How do we understand the passages where Paul and Jesus refer to Adam and Eve as an actual, historical couple. I think that is why John Walton says that Adam and Eve must have been an actual (not just a figurative) couple, which leads to the priestly representative hypothesis.

While I like the priestly representative idea, somehow it hasn’t seemed to convince my old earth friends, so perhaps I shouldn’t fully cling to that idea either, but be open to others, as well. Thus, I also like that there just might be more options available, like the GAE idea.

As you can see, I’m still trying to figure things out for myself, here, too. :slightly_smiling_face:

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Well put! I am, too.
I appreciated Enns’ “Evolution of Adam” discussion of the Hebrew and Christian understandings of Adam and Eve, and their importance to the NT.

In my gut, I have a significant difficulty with any idea of God carrying responsibility from a progenitor (or any ancestor) on to current descendants; that is an ancient Near Eastern motif of corporate responsibility, and I don’t think translates to not just a Western, but a true, sense of responsibility. So, I don’t find GAE or even the Calvinist understanding of Adam congruent with a righteous God. Beverly Gaventa and Enns believe that Romans’ purpose is to rebuke Judaizers from giving restrictions to Gentiles, not to communicate a transference of responsibility. Also, Jesus referred to Jonah as a real person–and I am not sure that He opted to work outside the realm of what one would expect to know, or communicate, in his time. I’m not sure that his alluding to Jonah or Adam verifies their existence any more than their mention in the OT does.

Thanks for your reflections.

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well, the incredible lifespans of the antediluvians suggests (to my mind) that Scripture is using real, historic individuals as representatives of entire “tribes” which (say) they founded and which then continued on, as identifiable distinct groups, for hundreds & hundreds of years.

Something like the “Cain tribe” was founded by the historic “Cain”, and even after he met his end, his “Cain tribe” lived on for 900 years – during which time its population grew until it spawned another “Irad tribe” under another charismatic prophetic leader “Irad” – until eventually it (Cain tribe) was absorbed & dispersed into surrounding groups, losing its distinct identity.

If so, then “A&E” also represent both historic human individuals, as well as the “tribal groups” they founded. Both Gen 1 & Gen 2 (kinda like Matthew & Mark of the OT) synoptically describe creation, and both agree that man was created before woman.

Offer that implies that Heaven first “cultivated” Adam on earth, out of the surrounding population of people present…

and Adam founded a distinct “clan” or “tribe”…

and eventually Heaven “cultivated” Eve, on earth, from amongst that “Adam tribal group”…“from Adam’s side”…

this interpretation would make Eve some sort of daughter descendent of Adam as the historic individual founder of said “Adam tribe”…

and there wound up being some sort of “chain of command”:

God (YHWH) > Adam > Eve

which became inverted:

Adam < Eve < Snake (Nachash)

apparently picturing the proverbial “battle of the sexes” as manifesting the supernatural spiritual tension between YHWH vs. Nachash

I am not exactly sure what the idea is about Adam and Eve being spoken of. I don’t think he made a new pair of humans and stuck them in the garden. I think like he has repeatedly done throughout scripture, choosing a few out of many to be his, is what happened. Obviously this was before the Hebrew language was even around. So there name was probably not actually hebrew names.

As for them being prophets I think it was just not a necessary title to make. I think you can reason through scripture if really pushed to show they were priests.

In the Torah was it not only the priests who carried out the sacrifices? Yet Adam and Eve made sacrifices.

As for the prophets thing again in the Torah enoch is not called a prophet but Jude mentions the prophecies made by Enoch making him a prophet as well.

also even in the new testament it mentions a different standard of morality between Jewish and gentiles. It mentions gentiles judged by their heart. No reason to believe that Adam and Eve after being selected was taught by god. God wanted to teach them good vs bad. Yet they wanted to do it on their own and was kicked out. So I believe the others were judged by a standard god used until the stories he wanted shared all over.

I read the book and discussed it briefly with a YEC elder at my church (he did not read the book). He and I both didn’t really have any need for Adam and Eve to be ancestors of all humans. That wasn’t important to either of us.

When I think about the concerns of some other YEC friends and church leadership that I’ve talked to, I don’t think the book really addresses the reasons why they’re YEC. For example, some still have a problem with the order of creation in Genesis 1 - if that order isn’t correct, they think the Bible is false. And they expect physical creation on those 6 days, with A&E created on the 6th day. GAE doesn’t help them with that. There is also the flood, which my YEC friends believe was global. GAE doesn’t address that really, and it actually gave me new questions about the flood. I previously thought the regional flood was killing the line of Adam, but if Adam’s descendants are all over the world by that time, it’s only killing his descendants in that region, and then I have to ask what’s the point? I don’t really have a good answer for that. The flood has always bothered me more than A&E.

Prior to GAE hypothesis, I already believed that A&E were historical people, and I have for a long time said that they could have been born or specially created. I lean toward born. Genesis 2 and 3 are screaming figurative language at me. And even with GAE being specially created, there are things I can’t see being meant literally - like the serpent being a clever beast of the field, while the NT says it’s Satan. It can’t be just a clever beast AND Satan. That doesn’t make sense to me.

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I have not had much of a problem with the idea of a literal talking snake in the story, because I thought the idea was that Satan had spiritually possessed the serpent to use the serpent to speak to Eve.

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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