Swamidass on how Tasmania affects universal ancestry from the Genealogical Adam and Eve

Hi everyone,
I’m new to the Biologos forum, although I’m quite familiar with Biologos and their work - I’m currently a graduate student in physics at Harvard who’s also interested in the intersection of faith and science and also a Christian. I think if not for reading The Language of God back in high school, I could have been a Christian or scientist, but certainly not both. The ministry of Biologos has provided lots of useful material and books that help me navigate these issues.

Just as a disclaimer, before this I have been participating in the forum Peaceful Science for a while, and I know there is some overlap between the two, so some of the people here might have interacted with me before. It’s time-consuming enough as a full-time grad student to participate in more than one faith-science forum! But anyway, what brings me here this time is because of the recent series of exchanges regarding Joshua Swamidass’ new book, The Genealogical Adam and Eve (GAE). In particular, @Jay313 wrote a review of the book, which people have discussed here: Becoming Adam: GAE book review.

Johnson’s review was particularly focused on the “Tasmanian problem,” which is probably the main scientific criticism regarding the GAE model. (I think other than this, most criticisms of the model have been theological and philosophical.) Jay Johnson argues that from the extant scientific evidence, it is likely that the Tasmanians have been genealogically isolated since at least 10,000 BCE (due to the Bass Strait separating them from Australia), making it impossible for an Adam and Eve living 6 kya to be the genealogical ancestors of everyone by the time the Bible was written.

In the latest blog post on Peaceful Science, Swamidass replies directly to this criticism. He repeats his contention that science cannot completely rule out that there were zero crossings of the Bass Strait (allowing for intermarriage and spread of genealogical ancestry). His more interesting reply (in my opinion), is that even if they were genealogically isolated and not descended from Adam and Eve, nearly universal ancestry could still be useful. After all, Scripture doesn’t always speak in precise terms. (This reply was first suggested by Jon Garvey.) In addition, Swamidass tends to speak of a multivalent view of the image of God, where one’s humanity, dignity, and worth is not derived from only genealogical descent from Adam, but from a combination of factors. Thus (he argues), this doesn’t deny the worth and dignity of the Tasmanian peoples.

I wonder what people here think about this move? Personally, I don’t feel tied to a 6 kya A&E, and am more comfortable to push A&E back to 10k BCE or even before. But perhaps nearly-universal ancestry is good enough even for those who are more “literalist” in interpreting Genesis.

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Christians who believe in providence will have no reason to think God wouldn’t bring at least one or two of Adam’s descendants to Tasmania.

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Yeah, as I said in my initial reply to Jay, I think believing that a few people did manage to make the crossings in those few thousand years is far, far more scientifically respectable than rejecting evolution wholesale I think. Is it really that much different from say, theoretical physicists still believing in the existence of WIMP dark matter particles in some parameter space somewhere despite many searches turning up nothing?

It is things like this that made me push Adam way, way back. the average age of a gene in humans is around 1 million years, and the oldest genes are in the neighborhood of 5 million years old (based on the number of mutations found in various human societies. Take a look at When did Adam Live? Part 3-Genetics

Worship among the ancient hominids goes way back in time as well. I figure if they are worshiping anything, then they are like us–made in the image of God. Look for when did Adam live part 1 for that information.

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I could be on board with a model where all beings who have a sufficient level of consciousness and intellect to understand the basic concept of God (and thus worship him) to be made in the image. They don’t have to descend from Adam directly. After all, the GAE book does talk about Adam and Eve being a “blessing” to the rest of the (evolved) world of hominids, just like Jews would be to Gentiles (starting in Genesis 12). Descent from A&E is not necessary to make one possess the image.

I see you are a physicist, I am as well and it troubled me that every solution to the science issues led us to treat the Bible as if it was absolutely false but still worthy of belief. YECs and OEC’s here both make the bible false. I can’t figure out why I should believe something false. I don’t believe in the luminiferous ether in spite of it being false so why should I do that with the Bible.

Your wrote:

I could be on board with a model where all beings who have a sufficient level of consciousness and intellect to understand the basic concept of God (and thus worship him) to be made in the image.

I will point out that the modern human, with the smallest brain and normal intelligence was Daniel Lyon–look him up in Guiness book of records. He had the brain size of an Australopithecus. I posted info on that here at
https://discourse.biologos.org/t/does-a-small-brain-make-you-dumb/40747

My stuff is probably not for you–no one here likes it–they prefer their bible to be false scientifically. I don’t. I have put all my views on Genesis out on my blog at http://www.themigrantmind.blogspot.com

Should you go there, start way down at the bottom of the menu with Days of Proclamation interpretation of Genesis 1. But as I said, my stuff probably isn’t for you–people don’t want an ancient Adam. They don’t like where I place the flood, but I am a physicist who went into geophysics and traveled the world learning its geology. Geologically the Mesopotamian basis is as bad as YEC at matching facts. It requires water to flow uphill in order for the ark to land in Turkey rather than being washed into the Persian Gulf and then into the Indian Ocean. But that is where everyone wants the flood to be and they all want a Neolithic Adam when the scientific data says that is impossible.

I do believe, as Augustine did, that descent from Adam is necessary for having the image. Otherwise there is no explanation for why Jesus’ genealogy goes back to Adam. What would be the point if descent wasn’t important. Of course, we can again say Scripture is misleading/false etc. but if it is all that misleading why should we believe the bible? The Bahai Kiti-I-'iqan says that copper left int he ground 70 years becomes gold. Should I believe or reject Bahai on that belief? Is that statement evidence that God inspired the Bahai writer?

I nearly became an atheist over these issues until I found scientifically workable solutions. A god who knows nothing about what happened in geologic, biologic and physical history is no God to me. Yeah, they say God accommodated his message to those dumb ancients, but if accommodation means God lies, then I, for one, can’t trust a lying god. Good luck in your search–I will take leave of this thread,(assuming I can resist the temptation. I am old, terminally sick and very tired of debating with people who have no desire to have a true Bible–that includes YECs (with whom I spent about 20 years showing them geologic data only to have them say they didn’t care about the data) and now with OEC’s who also want a false bible. The OEC are simply more honest in their belief in a false bible. Enjoy that false Bible! (of course they will say it is true philosophically/theologically in spite of being observationally false, so those of you who want to whack me for not saying that, skip it!) That is like saying the Ptolemaic system is deeply meaningful and full of theological meaning–sheesh, the Vienna Circle would really hate the general OEC view! bye.

Stop it with the constant misrepresentations of what people around here believe.

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@gbob

The GAE scenarios are not designed to impress evolutionists or atheists.

They are designed to help Christians who already believe in miracles (like the resurrection of Jesus) to have Adam/Eve as well as accept evolution of humanity from primates.

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So we don’t need this geneological Adam in the first place then.

Sure, we can always make the Bible say what we need it to so we can be right.

Also, thanks for the post @dga471. I enjoyed it despite my grumbling in this post.

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Not for getting the image. Most understandings of the image of God don’t require descent from Adam anyway. It’s usually about some structural component of humanity (e.g. a human as a “rational soul”) or a functional activity (humans as royal representatives of God). Perhaps in the past, descent from Adam was viewed as necessary to obtain that structural/functional component. But if it turns out that the component can be obtained using a different “method” (e.g. natural processes), the descent from Adam is no longer necessary anymore.

For me, I see the need for a historical Adam in the following things:

  1. Getting a clear demarcation of the Fall and the moment of imputation of original sin.
  2. Preserving the parallel between Adam and Christ in Romans 5:12-21.

Just as a personal disclaimer, my concerns are influenced by own background in the Reformed theological tradition. I understand that people from different backgrounds may have different priorities on what a historical Adam is “useful” for.

To be very honest: I suspect that for many of us who are navigating how faith and science fits together, in practice we really do shop around different schools of thought and interpretation of Scripture (hopefully prayerfully and carefully) until we find one which feels right.

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@pevaquark

Well yes… if by “we” you mean your fellow Atheists, you are right.

But if we want to provide a way to reconcile the evidence for Evolution with Evangelical fervor for Romans 5, the GAE scenarios are quite helpful.

“… til we find one which feels right.” … which ought always be subject to reality (truth), of course! I think we all agree on that, at least in principle. Science prides itself on its malleability - its provisional nature, ideally proportional to confluence of evidence. And I believe Christian theology, in its best lights, has always been the same - and in fact may have helped birth that very scientific mindset that helps science achieve what it does. In both cases, the ‘provisionality’ is part of an attendant humility, while the enduring permanence is part of the aimed-for glory.

All that is a wordy way of saying that those of us who feel they are further along on a quest toward truth, too often disdain things that they have left behind, and now are tempted to look back (down) with unfortunate smugness on their former intellectual residence. In a slightly less condescending frame of mind, they may think of those former, hotly defended residences as stepping stones toward where they are now. Humility compels them also to reflect then that their present stronghold is unlikely to be their final destination either - so that those “behind them” may rightly inquire what that destination is. And there all of us are humbled on a level playing field of faith.

The genealogical Adam may be just such a necessary station for many as they wrestle with these issues - and as such it may as well be well-stocked as if for long-term residence. But along with that, we’re compelled to remember that reality rarely lets any of us rest long undisturbed. And that is a rather enduring quest that motivates so many of us here at Biologos and, I hope, in the wider Kingdom of God.

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My fellow who? It is a serious problem if the image of God is spread through geneology. And then some humans don’t have it and others do (like those detestable polygenesis models we all hate). Glad to see it’s not necessary.

I think one of the best things to do is help Christians stop reading modern science into the text and to stop lying to our congregations about the theory of evolution/geology/physics/etc.

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Christy, I clearly said you think large parts of early Genesis are philosophically/theologically true while being observationally/scientifically false. I believe that is your position as I understand it. If it is wrong, then please, by all means clarify. in our previous discussion you never gave a coherent explanation for how you distinguish what is historical from what is figurative. Until I see such nonsubjective set of criteria for that discrimination, I see your view exactly the way I described it. So what is the objective criteria by which you distinguish a historical/scientifically correct passage from a figurative passage? Pray tell please explain.

This is my view of your position. You are not required to like it, but I am allowed to have and express my opinions of what your view constitutes. As a moderator I suppose you can suppress my opinion by either kicking me out of here or deleting this post, but that would mean you have no answer to my questions.

@pevaquark (cc @swamidass):

Ill try to remember to avoid responses to you that use a double negative! You very quickly forget what YOU said (see above).

We need the Genealogical component of G.A.E. to satisfy some of the requirements of most Western fundamentalists.

The Fundamentalist view that most closely mimics genealogy (rather than supporting genetics) is the Federal Headship of Adam. “Headship” works perfectly with the GAE.

And while some “concrete atheists” insist that Tasmania and/or Australia show no contact with post-A/E humanity, each land is washed by the same ocean.

And all it takes is a providential visit to each shore by one storm-tossed boat (with just a few Adam descendants)!

It doesnt require super-natural forces to get washed up on shore - - this appears to be how a species or 2 of placental rats found their way to Australia a few million years ago.

Atheists, and rather rigid-minded Christians, go way out of their way to dismiss the solution that any first year Christian would never even worry about.

No you didn’t clearly say that. You said people here prefer to believe the Bible is scientifically false, which isn’t true. No believer I have ever interacted with here prefers a false Bible. Plus, as has been explained to you on numerous occasions, what you “prefer” when it comes to interpretation is a certain intended (true) meaning. Saying, “well, there are other possible intended meanings, and if one of those were the intended meaning, you think it would be false,” is completely irrelevant.

You have picked your preferred intended meanings which force you to do your own gymnastics to make them true. You can’t impose your preferred meanings on everyone and say that because they reject your gymnastics, they prefer a false Bible. That’s ridiculous. The only meanings believers have to defend as true are the ones they believe are actually there. If I read, “she is pregnant,” and in the context decide the intended meaning is referring to my sister-in-law, it is true. I believe the sentence communicates something true. You can’t come along and say that you take the sentence to be referring to Michelle Obama, offer some “proof,” and then say I prefer believing the proposition itself is false. What I believe is false is the meaning you have attributed. So stop saying people believe the Bible is false when what you really mean is they think you attribute meaning to the Bible that they don’t believe is there and they don’t believe is true.

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Which atheists are suggesting this? @Jay313 wrote a post, as a Christian, with very strong evidence against this. But apparently it doesn’t even matter anyways as it doesn’t matter if they get geneological ancestry with Adam until much later because the Bible only needs most of humanity to be descendents of Adam for Jesus to come save us all. That’s the deal since the Bible isn’t that precise anyways when describing this stuff so we can make it say whatever we want it to.

The whole scenario with Tasmania is frankly absurd to just say we need a few of those Adam descendents to get tossed via a violent storm and not die and then have children with one of the native islanders which (phew) gets this geneological thing away. But the point is, for me, and I don’t care what atheists or Christians or whoever you are imagining is talking about this, there is strong evidence against this Tasmanian geneology within the past 6 kya and no evidence in favor of it besides imagined possibilities.

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@pevaquark

I score you VERY low marks for what seems to be a complete lack of comprehension for what I wrote.

Any Christian who believes in providential miracles, and knows that ships sometimes go off-course (from the perspective of their human owners) knows that Tasmania (and Australia) are not hermetically sealed from the rest of the world.

Why would a Christian evolutionist, and someone familiar with the power of genealogical progression (as opposed to the limits of genetics) stay so fixated on the lack of genetic evidence of contact with the rest of the world?

As I have said many times, both in BioLogos and in PeacefulScience.Org, GAE is a theological discussion that includes science - - it is not a scientific discussion about the Bible.

So - - you tell me, @pevaquark, which kind of person are you?

Are you an atheist who endorses evolution? Or:
Are you a Christian who doesn’t believe in providential miracles?

If there is some other category that explains your rejection of GAE (as a plausible scenario for Christians), please let me know, because I am only familiar with these 2 categories!

NOTE: It goes without saying that there are Atheists (scientists and lay people) who, nevertheless, AGREE that GAE is a plausible scenario for Christians. So when a non-YEC Christian rejects the plausibility of GAE, that is a pretty notable occurrence!

And if this sounds plausible to them, they haven’t looked at a map or a timeline to see where “ships” were in the time period in question. You have to posit a straight-up miracle. That is the issue Jay raised. According to lots of positive evidence,Tasmania was indeed hermetically sealed from the rest of the world for thousands of years because of geography and sea-faring technology.

Also, from my admittedly non-expert take on history, it seems like a good deal of this “contact” that results in genealogical spreading of Adam’s lineage, which involves some “valence” or whatever of God’s image, is through conquest, rape, and slave-taking? Doesn’t that pose a whole new theodicy problem?

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@Christy,

I think full-blown one-off miracles are acceptable too. But let’s not even digress that far.

I’m going to assume that you have been unintentionally misguided by some BioLogos participants.

There is nothing miraculous about getting from the Indonesian islands to Australia, or to get from Australia to Tasmania:

And just in case we need a comparison… this is LESS than the miles traversed by
the Jutes or other “proto-Danes” to get to England:

As I mentioned before, even mammals WITHOUT BOATS somehow made it to Australia a few millions of years ago: one or two species of placental rats were the newest arrivals in Australia before Humans brought themselves and, presumably, their dogs.

“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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