Latest Critique of Venema's Claims About Past Human Population Sizes

If genealogical science supports a historical Adam and Eve who were the universal ancestors of all humans while having no ancestors themselves, then that supports my statement that IDers are misguided in appealing to Bugg, since Bugg’s model does not support that.

But if genealogical science supports a historical Adam and Eve who were the universal ancestors of all humans while having no ancestors themselves, then genealogical science does not support universal common descent, and contradicts the conclusion that humans are the product of evolution. That’s certainly worth writing about, and I look forward to seeing all the papers.

It does “support” this.

This would be false. Turns out that both can be true at the same time. So claiming one denies the other is a logical error.

I already have done so. About four to five contributions out there so far.

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“Does not contradict” is not the same as “supports”. If evidence supports a model, it means it is more consistent with that model than with competing models. Otherwise, we’d be left saying that “water is wet” and “the sky is blue” also support an Adam and Eve model.


Genealogical science supports the idea that every human who has ever lived, was descended from an original couple who were the product of spontaneous creation and had no ancestors?

So it can be true that every human who ever lived, descended from an original couple who were not the product of evolution, while at the same time it can also be true that every human who ever lived, descended from a population which was the product of evolution?

I thought you were arguing for a genealogical Adam and Eve, not that they were the genetic universal ancestors of the entire human species. I don’t think your genealogical Adam and Eve is what IDers are arguing for. If they are, then I would be delighted to see it.

I agree (which is why it is quotes). That is a better way of saying it. I did not mean “support” as in “provides evidence for” but as in “provides allowance for.”

This is subtle however, because it is more than just saying “does not contradict.” For example we know that under plausible scientific assumptions recent universal ancestors are very likely. So we also know that Adam could be plausibly placed recently.

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It does show this is possible and does not contradict the evidence.

If we define theological humans as the descendents of Adam, and they interbred with a larger population that evolved, then all humans are both a product of evolution and descent from a original couple without parents.

“Human species” is a non-scientific term, about which science makes no precise statements. There is no such thing as a “human species.” Instead, there are, for example, Homo sapiens but this is not necessarily a theological “human”. The default “humans” to which refer when discussing the Adam and Eve of theology are theological humans.

This is a new observation. Give everyone time to process. It will take a couple years for the dust to settle.

So no humans existed before Adam and Eve?

How could humans who lived before Adam and Eve be described as descendants of Adam and Eve? There’s something I’m missing here. This doesn’t sound like the same argument I read in the article of yours to which I linked in my previous post.

So when you talk about Adam and Eve being the universal ancestors of all humans, you don’t mean the universal ancestors of homo sapiens (which is not a species?), you just mean Adam and Eve are the universal ancestors of all theological humans?

Yes I am sure it will, but the aim of IDers is to argue that evolution is fiction, and your argument does not do that. So unless they change their view on evolution, your argument won’t help them. What I do hope however is that your argument will encourage them to give up their resistance to evolution, since it provides support for a historical genealogical Adam and Eve.

They could be the ancestors of all Homo sapiens (which is a species), except the start date of Homo sapiens is not even well defined in science. We see smooth transition of forms in our past. The point at which Homo sapiens begins (as is with any chronospecies) is essentially arbitrary, and if we want it to do so, it can be defined by a single couples ancestors. They would become universal in a couple thousand years, a blink of time in the anthropological time.

However “human” is an ambiguous term in both theology and science in the distant past. For this reason, it is usually not possible to use the word “human” in negative scientific claims without artificially overstating the limits on theology. In Walton’s model, for example, theological humans arise a single couple and could do so very recently too.

So essentially yes, we are talking about theological humans. But that is all that matters in most theological claims, doctrine, and confessions.

It is the same argument. I always state that “human” in science and theology are different and ambiguous in the past. This is the reason why.

In dialogue with theology, we cannot legitimately say “science tells us humans do not arise from a single couple.” Instead, we should say “science tells us that our ancestors arise from a population that does not dip down to a single couple.” This is a consequential difference because it is possible that in theology (and consistent with the science) that “all humans arise from a single couple.” Not keeping the language straight creates avoidable confusion and conflict, and artificially restricts the autonomy of theology.

I know this seems like a subtle difference but it is foundationally important. The language of science and the language of theology are distinct. “Human” is almost always a problem term in making scientific claims.

Of course that is possible, given the right definition of human.

So you actually mean Adam and Eve are the universal ancestors of all theological humans. It’s probably unlikely that any scientist would claim the evidence points to Homo sapiens beginning only 10,000 years ago, correct?

Yes it is. But when theological claims are made using non-theological terms with non-theological meanings which are different to the theological meaning which is actually in mind, then there’s massive potential for confusion.

In dialogue with theology, we cannot legitimately say “science tells us that humans arise from a single couple”, and I think that should be made very clear. I agree we should say “science tells us that our ancestors arise from a population that does not dip down to a single couple”.

This is why I think you need to be absolutely clear about how you’re using the term “human”, or people will think your argument is just warmed up YEC. Because when you use that language, that’s what it sounds like.

I think you are leaving yourself way open to charges of being disingenuous with your language. If you say “Science does not contradict the idea that Adam and Eve were the universal ancestors of every human who ever lived, where “human” has a special theological meaning rather than a meaning common in science, and does not mean Homo sapiens”, it’s a lot clearer than something like “Science supports the idea that Adam and Eve were the first humans who ever existed, and that every human who has ever existed is a direct descendant of Adam and Eve”.

I speak as someone who actually accepts your proposal for genealogical Adam and Eve and finds it immensely useful.


For them to be ancestors of all Homo sapiens, we would have to place them back about 150 kya or 300 kya, depending on how exactly we define Homo sapien. Remember chronospecies are inherently ambiguous.

Yes there is a massive potential for confusion. More honestly, much of that potential has been realized. There is currently a great deal of confusion on this.

In general, the word “human” should be avoided when trying to limit options, but might more safely be included when trying to expand options. However, this is far from settled. Most people in the conversation (including friends of mine here at BioLogos) are only now learning about this. RIght now, it is most important to always keep in mind that there is near total autonomy in how we map between science and theology. For this reason, avoid “human” when making statements about what science has ruled out.

I cannot over emphasize how much that shift in language will help the conversation. There is a great deal of confusion about this now. I encourage you to repeat this whenever you can.

I do usually qualify all this very carefully. That is why I have put so much out there on this and always point out that the meaning of “human” is ambiguous. It is critical to remember that there is no common meaning of science for the term “human”. It is hotly debated. Moreover, I always emphasize that interbreeding with those “outside the garden” is required.

The critical point is that theology has nearly full autonomy in its use of the term "human’ in its own discourse. When we are discussing the plausibility of theological claims, theology is not restricted by scientific definitions of “human.”

As you know, I have been accused of this many times over the last six months.

However, the opposite is true. Using imprecise language to overstate the claims of science, thereby artificially restricting theological discourse, this creates a massive amount of avoidable conflict. For those who do this with agenda, that is the definition of disingenuous.

Moving forward, a lot of work needs to be done to rework our language into a theologically neutral discourse. Right now, the language itself presumes a specific theological conclusion. That needs to change if we care to accurately represent science, including its silence on many theological concerns.

I would argue that theology has autonomy to use “human” however it wants, and science has its own autonomy to use “human” however it wants in their own discourse. In dialogue, however, responsible efforts to accurately describe scientific findings will do so in theologically neutral language. “Human” is almost never theologically neutral.


Theological discussions on “what is a human” have occurred. A great example is by Gregory of Nyssa, “On the Making of Man” which is instructive on a theological understanding of what is to be human.

I will not try and summarise his treatise, but to point out that it is available; Gregory shows that “made in the image of God” goes beyond form, and points to attributes we would comprehend in their fullness as divine attributes. He also shows, albeit in a quaint manner, why humans are perhaps deficient in attributes found in animals, and yet humanity (we would say nowadays) dominates nature, and perhaps has the capacity to destroy the nature of this planet. Gregory also notes that:

“For he truly (man) was made like the beasts, who received in his nature the present mode of transient generation, on account of his inclination to material things. For I think that from this beginning all our passions issue as from a spring, and pour their flood over man’s life; and an evidence of my words is the kinship of passions which appears alike in ourselves and in the brutes; for it is not allowable to ascribe the first beginnings of our constitutional liability to passion to that human nature which was fashioned in the Divine likeness; but as brute life first entered into the world, and man, for the reason already mentioned, took something of their nature ……. These attributes, then, human nature took to itself from the side of the brutes; for those qualities with which brute life was armed for self-preservation, when transferred to human life, became passions…”

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Yeah that is precisely my point. This is not where YECs and IDers want Adam and Eve to be, so this is a non-trivial consideration.

Right. This is another non-trivial consideration, since “human” is an absolutely key word in the theological discussion.


Yes, the article of yours to which I linked was very clear about this, but some of your comments on the forum here (less formal and more off the cuff), have been so unqualified that they looked like they were actually saying something different, as if your model was universally supportive of evolution without God, evolutionary creationism, Intelligent Design, and Young Earth Creationism.

Yes. This is absolutely critical. Theology must stay within its lane, and not co-opt the language of science when discussing non-scientific concepts.

I agree with this.

This is why theologians have to be a lot more careful in their language than scientists.



I’m glad I wasn’t around during the messy part of this thread… just reading through the exchanges was killing me …
If I were to briefly explain this concept in 30 second “Elevator Pitch”, it would go something like this:

"Very early in the history of the church, Church Fathers started to think that there must have been a larger population of humans on the Earth before Adam and Eve were created. Theologians disputed pro and con, mostly because there was no way to prove the matter either way. Today, Evolutonary science is able to persuasively show that around 4,000 BCE, when Adam & Eve were created, the Earth’s population of humans not related to Adam & Eve was somewhere between 35 million and 40 million people. In today’s world, if put the whole Earth’s human population into one country, it would be about the 40th most populous country:

Spain is 30th with 46 million people.
Canada is 38th with 37 million people.
Afghanistan is 40th with 36 million people.
Peru would be 42nd with 32 million people.

The world might have not been a crowded place yet, but parts of the Earth were starting to get noisey and violent. God had a plan to bring a sense of morality to humanity, and a plan for redeeming all humanity. As part of that plan, God created Adam and Eve, whose offspring would bring the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of Good and Evil all around the world. Experts in genealogy have demonstrated many times that with the slightest amount of human travel between isolated regions like Australia and Siberia and even the Andes in South America, in any given generation, a single mating pair of humans can become the common ancestor of the world’s entire human population in about 2000 years (or roughly a single mating pair in any given generation. At 20 years per generation, that is about 100 generations.

**In this kind of scenario, while Adam and Eve become the universal ancestral pair (along with other pairs outside of Adam’s lineage). At the same time, this scenario explains where current human genetic diversity came from. It came from the larger population of humans that evolved … but without “God’s Image” that was contributed to humanity by Adam and Eve. **

**Some religious people object to this approach, because they don’t like the idea that any humans existed before Adam. **

And some scientists object, because genetic regressions put “primordeal Adam & Eve” well before Adam & Eve. And of course they would, since the Homo sapiens are estimated to have lived and evolved for some 7500 generations or about 150,000 years. Genetically, we know that the odds of any of Adams or Eve’s genes still existing in the human genome is quite small. But, genealogically (not genetically), it can be shown that in 100 generations, a single mating pair can be the Great[98] Grand[99] Parents[100] of the entire human race.

God didn’t create Adam and Eve to perpetuate their genes. He created them to provide moral inspiration, moral guidance and the connection to God and God’s plan for redemption. Let me know if you are interested in learning more about the evolution of humanity, and the role of Adam’s family in saving humans from their own vices."
. . . . #30#
Naturally, this is a rough draft. It is coarse. Some numbers need revising. And quite certainly there are those who can make a more elegant case for what The Swami has in mind.

But i wanted to put together a very short summation of what I think @Swamidass has in mind. And this provides him (and others) the chance to provide correction and refinements that nobody quite yet has had much time to consider. The one thing I most tried to resist is the tendency to load an initial presentation with every qualification and disclaimer known to theologians around the world! But sometimes you just have lead with the strong ideas, and let the weaker ones take care of themselves later.


Estimates for Adam’s Birth Year
James Ussher (4004 BC)
Johannes Kepler (3992 BC)
Gerhard Hasel (4178 BC)
Isaac Newton (4000 BC)

Plus 2017 years AD

It doesn’t support it. “Support” would be offering evidence that it actually happened. “Genealogical science” simply says that it is theoretically possible, however unlikely.

No, even if the “could be” is correct, “plausibly” is a big leap of faith that doesn’t even come close to describing the situation of a de novo Adam dropped like a “sin bomb” into recent history. Everything about it is implausible in the extreme.

When did science draw a line between H. sapiens and “theological humans”? When did science define “theological humans”? I don’t find it in Scripture or in theological dictionaries, either. Baker’s Evangelic Dictionary of Biblical Theology doesn’t seem to include it. This is a distinction that exists only in recent Adam hypotheses, so it is unreasonable to expect anyone else to recognize or adopt the term that neither science nor theology recognizes.

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@Jay313 have you had a chance to read the preprint yet? Much of what you say here has been countered ad naseum.

I’ve read your Henry Center piece reviewing Adam & the Genome, your article on your blog, and your statements here. Is there more?

As far as it having been countered ad naseum, I haven’t seen it. The recent Adam makes a mess of what it means to be human, since de novo Adam would have nothing in common with any human being before or since, and the theory makes a mess of the concepts of sin and original sin. The genealogical thing is just a needless complication. It doesn’t solve the real problems of a recent Adam.

Personally, I don’t think of an argument being “countered” just because an implausible work-around has been offered. Otherwise, one could say AiG has countered every argument for evolution and an old earth ad nauseum and leave it at that, as if their positions should be considered plausible.

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Quite a bit more.

I would once again urge caution in making pronouncements in what is or is not likely, especially when this is an underappreciated area of science. It seems most people (including you) have not even read the paper.

Under scientifically plausible assumptions, genealogical adams and eves are overwhelmingly likely to arise very rapidly, giving rise to recent universal ancestors everywhere. That is not a low probability claim, but a high likelihood result, given one plausible assumption, that I go to great lengths to justify this. I also show there is zero evidence against this, and we cannot expect to uncover evidence against this in the future.

If we place Adam farther back than 15,000, I do not know of anyone who thinks he would not be a universal ancestor. From a scientific point of view, it is hard to call all this, as you put it, “unlikely.”

Of course I’ll read it, but the “high likelihood result” that you claim applies just as much to every single one of Adam and Eve’s contemporaries, not just the two who had the correct biblical names. In effect, the “genealogical science” only amounts to saying that if you go back far enough, there is a high likelihood that anyone whose lineage didn’t come to an end is also our “universal ancestor.”

From a scientific point of view, pedigree collapse says something very limited, and it says nothing at all about how likely or unlikely it is that God created a de novo Adam and put him in the garden around 4000 B.C. (or 8000, or 10000, or 15000). That claim is not scientific and, in my judgment, is extremely unlikely on practical, logical, and theological grounds. Your calculations don’t have anything to say about those problems. I don’t think you should give people the impression that science somehow supports a recent, de novo Adam, because it doesn’t.

@Jay313 you have explained your goal to build a concordist account of a figurative Adam. I think that is a great idea to add to the mix. You should do this, and from a scientific point of view there is no difference between this an a recent de novo Adam.

As @DarrelFalk puts it:

“science is silent on the question of Adam and Eve being ancestors of us all. It is even silent on the issue of whether Adam and Eve were created de novo…One can’t pin the question of Adam and Eve on science anymore.”

Once again, it is critical to remind you to exercise restraint. Coming to premature conclusions is not helpful for anyone. It will take a few years to make sense of this. As a great example of this, you point to this as an objection…

This is not a valid objection. This is in fact the whole point. Because UGAs are everywhere, we can be certain the arise in the Middle East really any time we feel is required theologically, and we can be certain that there are paired couples. This contrasts entirely with genetic ancestry, which is constantly revised as new evidence is uncovered, and it would be astronomically unlikely for all common ancestry to converge on a single paired couple. This feature of genealogical ancestry gives total autonomy to theology. Which is my point. Science is silent on Adam and Eve.

And this is not unique to evolutionary models. We also see the same thing in, for example, the AIG and RTB models. If the ubiquity of UGAs is not a problem there, it is not a problem here.

There should be no need to repeat this. We have gone over this several times. Even atheists understand what I am saying (@T_aquaticus and @sfmatheson). Science is silent here. The fact that we have told people otherwise is a scientific error.

As we have discussed, this has nothing to do with your personal hangups. You already affirm mainstream science and have come to peace with it. I am not trying to change your mind about anything regarding your model of Adam. I am not trying to convince you that Adam is historical or de novo creation. There is no reason, therefore ,to address your objections. I would encourage you to go argue this with those who are making the claim that this is exactly what happened. Perhaps you can go argue, for example, with Keller. Leave me out of that, and do not pretend you have science on your side.

This is totally false. As just one example you should be familiar with, John Walton’s model makes this distinction. He call’s Adam the first “true human.” There is nothing new here. I suppose you also know this. Theological humans just means “human” as the theologian is using the term. In science, the term is so hotly debated as to be nearly totally ambiguous.

Right now, the problem is actually non-scientists falsely claiming the authority of science to overstate the claims of science. In their own discourse, both theology and science have autonomy. However in dialogue, the problem right now is with people overstating the claims of science.

Remember @Jay313 this has never been about your personal theological concerns and objections. It is about the empty chair.

There are many theologians historically excluded from the conversation who just disagree with you. As their voices rise, you can debate that with them.

@gbrooks9 you are having fun with this! That is great. Just keep in mind that there are a bazillion ways to approach this. It is effective to invite others you are trying to work with into the conversation to help figure it out and adjust details as they see fit.

You do not even affirm a historical Adam (as I understand it), so your effort to make sense of this is a gracious and kind thing to do. Thanks!

“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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