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A Genetic or Genealogical Adam and Eve? (… An Alternative to “Deconstruction”)

In the era of social media, we find out about a number of (relatively) well-known Christians walking away from their faith, commonly described as a process of “deconstruction.” In 2020, we have heard of Jon Steingard, lead singer and guitarist for the Christian band Hawk Nelson, and his “deconstruction” (for an excellent dialogue with Steingard, watch this conversation between him and Sean McDowell). We also have heard of Rhett and Link, former staff workers with Cru, a Christian ministry focused on outreach to college students. Rhett and Link are originators of the popular YouTube channel, Ear Biscuits, where Rhett describes in a video how doubts regarding Darwinian evolution led to his faith “deconstruction.

What do we make of all of this?

Readers of Veracity will know that I write a lot about the creation vs. evolution controversy on the blog. To date, I have authored over 100 posts on the topic, in nearly 8 years. While many Christians display little interest in scientific matters like this, the polling data shows that a loss of confidence in what the Bible says about human origins, is one of the number one reasons why kids from Christian homes walk away from the faith, when they grow up.

One of the biggest concerns is about the existence of a historical Adam and Eve: Did Adam and Eve really exist, or is this simply a biblical fairy tale? (See this video segment from Rhett’s deconversion story).

S. Joshua Swamidass’ The Genealogical Adam & Eve: The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry, aspires to build bridges between Bible-believing Christians and scientists

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.

Many evangelicals remain blissfully unaware, but even C.S. Lewis, the Oxford don and great Christian apologist of the 20th century, did not believe that an historical Adam and Eve is required by a faithful reading of Scripture. However, the picture painted by a number of mainstream scientists today, including many Christians, goes beyond Lewis in insisting that the scientific data makes an historical Adam and Eve impossible.  What makes this situation all the more striking, and perplexing, is that the vast majority of prominent Bible teachers, over the past fifty years, all believe that Adam and Eve, as historical persons, are central to the biblical story. A massive array of essays, published as Theistic Evolution, in 2017, by Crossway publishers, slams Neo-Darwinian formulations for evolution, for having denied the existence of an historical Adam and Eve. Furthermore, some of the greatest preachers in the past fifty years, like J. I. Packer, John R.W. Stott and Tim Keller, have all believed in an historical Adam and Eve. My late pastor/teacher, Dick Woodward, thought the same.

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?

Enter S. Joshua Swamidass, a doctor and scientist teaching at Washington University, who runs a website at PeacefulScience.org.  Unlike those who favor the deconversion narrative, Swamidass is optimistic. He has proposed a very interesting answer to these questions, an answer that might resolve the difficulty. In short, to quote from his new book, “Evolution fractured the origin story of Adam and Eve, but we can recover it now” (The Genealogical Adam and Eve, ch. 14).

Dr. Swamidass grew up in a home where Young Earth Creationism was taught, and interestingly, he even shares the same birthday as Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis, the world’s leading Young Earth Creationist ministry. However, Swamidass suffered a crisis in his faith as a young person, as is the case with a number of young people today, who have his type of background. Yet in 2019, Swamidass published a book that he believes will help to bridge the divide between the church and science, regarding the historicity of Adam and Eve. The Genealogical Adam and Eve: The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry is Swamidass’ proposal to try resolve this perplexing problem, and it deserves serious attention from thoughtful Christians, and skeptics and seekers alike… as well as those who might be prone to faith “deconstruction.”

Over the past few years, Swamidass has been bringing Young Earth Creationists, Old Earth Creationists, Evolutionary Creationists, and even atheists together, to try to find a solution to this question about Adam and Eve. Scholars from across spectrum, including veteran apologist William Lane Craig, Reasons to Believe’s A. J. Roberts, the Discovery Institute’s Ann Gauger, and atheist and molecular biologist Nathan H. Lents, have joined in these discussions, which form the thesis behind Swamidass’ book. The atheist here, Nathan H. Lents, actually wrote an endorsement of Swamidass’ book, as found in USA Today!! Lents is not planning to run forward for an evangelical altar call, anytime soon, but he does believe that the science behind Swamidass’ book is perfectly sound. Therefore, mainstream scientific critics of Christianity should take notice of what is being said here.

As I wrote about a few months ago, some post-Reformation era scholars, several hundred of years ago, began to reexamine the Bible, and noticed that there is evidence in the Scriptures that there were humans living on earth, as created by God, prior to and concurrent with the arrival of Adam and Eve. The exploration of this  idea helps to answer the age-old question of “where did Cain get his wife? This was the infamous question that Clarence Darrow asked William Jennings Bryan, while Bryan was on the witness stand, at the 1920s’ Scope Monkey Trial, the turning point moment in both the classic play and movie, “Inherit the Wind,” which were based on that trial.

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.

Though Swamidass hopes his proposal will have a wide appeal, there are those at various extremes of the debate, who probably will not be convinced by what Swamidass lays out. For example, it is highly unlikely that Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis, will be persuaded to change his mind, by Swamidass’ thesis. The idea of people existing outside of the Garden of Eden could be a bridge too far for those fully committed to Young Earth Creationism. A variety of creationists, Young Earth and Old Earth, have their doubts about Swamidass’ thesis. Furthermore, the folks at the Discovery Institute, who pioneer thought about Intelligent Design, are less than enthusiastic. Veteran apologist William Lane Craig critically interacts with Swamidass’ proposal in several videos (#1 and #2), applauding Swamidass for his peaceful efforts, but ultimately remains unconvinced.

But on the other side, those several contributors (but NOT all!) to Biologos, the Evolutionary Creationism think tank, founded by NIH director, Francis Collins, who are convinced that Adam and Eve never really existed, will be reticent as well (for a compilation of reviews at Biologos: #1, #2, and #3). Then, of course, there are atheists, like Jerry Coyne, who are quite dismissive of any proposal, suggested by a Christian.

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.

That is a pretty tall order.

But it is necessary, if we really believe that Jesus meant business when he prayed for his people to be united as one, in John 17. It is also necessary, if we really want to stem the tide against the increase of deconversions. In an age where it seems like Christians (myself included) can easily get caught up in debates, that can so easily divide us, in a world that is already dividing at an accelerated rate, such peace attempts are worth the effort.

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.

Will Swamidass win over the critics? Who knows, but this does stand as a possible way forward. For readers of the book, you should know about the errata page that Dr. Swamidass has, where he is making updates, whenever readers find errors in the book itself. I have read a good chunk of the book, and it is totally refreshing and different, and I would encourage everyone who is interested in this topic to check it out, or at least start with one of the videos below.

The Genealogical Adam and Eve is also a good response book to the Biologos book project, Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science, by Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight, which I have only had only a small amount of time to dabble in. You can find some very interesting discussion at PeacefulScience.org.

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!!


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