Neo-orthodox theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once famously said that original sin is “the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith.” But what was once “empirically verifiable” is now questioned, and even science is being enlisted as its primary foe.
As the story goes, modern science indicates that it is impossible for the breadth of humanity today to have been derived from a single human pair. If there was no single human pair, there was no Adam and Eve, as the fountainhead of all of humanity. If there was no Adam and Eve, there was no cosmic Fall. Without a cosmic Fall, there was no original sin.1
The conclusion? If the core element of Christian teaching is that Jesus saves us from our sin, then without original sin, the entire Christian story regarding salvation falls flat. Therefore, science has made original sin obsolete. … To continue holding to an obsolete doctrine means that the Bible can not be trusted… The Christian story of sin and salvation implodes…. POOF!!
This is a narrative that has become increasingly popular in the West, as seen from different angles. Many former Christians and other agnostics/atheists point to this as one of the primary reasons why Christian faith must be rejected. Liberal-minded Christians will tend to look the other way and ignore such difficulties. Others from a Christian background will use this objection as a means of rewriting the whole of Christian theology to build a completely different worldview.
Glenn Morton (1950-2020). A maverick creationist(?), who defied labeling, finished his final book, Eden Was Here: New Evidence for the Historicity of Genesis, within days before his death. Morton makes the case for an historical Adam and Eve, thereby linking the Fall of humanity, and its association with original sin, to a specific event in the very ancient past.
The current scientific consensus, in the exploding discipline of genetics research, indicates that it would have been genetically impossible to account for today’s biological diversity, among humans, based on a solitary human couple, less than six thousand years ago.
A number of Christians see implications from this scientific pronouncement, but they differ on the specifics. For example, Canadian evangelical theologian and scientist, Denis Lamoureux, contends that science rules out the possibility of a single, Adam and Eve couple, since there had to have been an initial human population, of about 10,000 people, to produce the type of genetic diversity we see among humans today. For Lamoureux, without an Adam and Eve, you have no cosmic Fall event. Ironically, Lamoureux still believes that humans all sin; thereby, upholding historic Christian doctrine.
Lamoreux’s conclusion is therefore puzzling. For without a cosmic Fall event, where Adam and Eve were eating the forbidden fruit, it is difficult to determine a historical reason for exactly how sin entered the world, and corrupted the human race.
Rejecting an historical Adam and Eve bothers many Christians, and it is not that difficult to imagine why.
Where does this leave us? Does this impasse signal an irreconcilable conflict? Does the historical reliability of the Scriptures crumble under the weight of not having a “real” Adam and Eve? Is there a way that science and Christian faith can come together, and make peace with one another? Or should we expect the inevitable, with more and more “deconversion” stories coming to light?
Swamidass takes this idea of other humans, living alongside of Adam and Eve, outside of the Garden, and explores it, both in terms of its biblical and scientific possibilities. His conclusion? Pay close attention here: Neither the Bible, nor does science, indicate that all people today are genetically related to one another, as coming from a single human couple. Yet both the Bible and science can find room to agree, that all humans today are genealogically related to one another, from a single human couple, namely Adam and Eve, who lived about 6,000 years ago. Science, therefore, does not rule out the possibility of Adam and Eve being created de novo, by God, with no direct biological link to any other creatures.
In other words, Swamidass’ proposal seeks to build bridges across wide divides, but in doing so, he breaks all of the older molds. But perhaps the older molds all need breaking. Perhaps those who are less in entrenched in their particular silos might be open to what Swamidass has in mind.
This is the reason I am really excited by professor Swamidass’ peace proposal. We see all kinds of issues where Christians will divide from one another: separating churches, damaging friendships, and even causing tensions in family relationships. In an age when the church is divided about a number of issues (charismatic gifts, the EndTimes, women in ministry, etc.), it is really encouraging and refreshing to see how someone is creatively willing to try to get a number of Christians, with very different views of human origins, into a room, to try to hammer out a peace proposal, as a sincere attempt to try to build unity among believers, without compromising truth.
When it comes to Adam and Eve, the dispute is quite simple. The theologian or pastor insists on an historical Adam and Eve. The scientist insists that there is no way that a solitary Adam and Eve can account for the evidence, regarding today’s biogenetic diversity among humans. Swamidass frames the dilemma sharply: “This is the impasse. It has been the impasse for over a century. Pastor explains his honest understanding of Genesis. A scientist objects. The conversation ends. A fracture.” (Kindle location 171). Having been stuck in the middle of these type of conflicts before, I can feel the pain. But Joshua Swamidass’ peace proposal has helped me to re-read the first few chapters of Genesis with new eyes.
For digging deeper……The following YouTube videos explore the questions raised by The Genealogical Adam and Eve. First, there is an episode of the Unbelievable? podcast, where Dr. Swamidass, and an atheist colleague, explains the thesis of The Genealogical Adam and Eve. I would start with that video first. Second, with a greater amount of depth, there is an interview with Dr. Swamidass, by two of my favorite young Christian YouTube apologists, Cameron Bertuzzi, of Capturing Christianity, and Michael Jones, of Inspiring Philosophy. The third video dives into more of the nitty-gritty, as it is an engaging conversation between Dr. Swamidass and Dr. William Lane Craig, hosted by Capturing Christianity. Enjoy!!