FoxNews reports on what appears to be a positive development for Christians and other theists. As the title suggests, “Christians point to genetic breakthroughs to show that Adam and Eve are not incompatible with evolution.” The article notes that “some scientists and theologians argue that recent breakthroughs in genetics make a historical Adam and Eve compatible with evolution, and that this development may help bridge what many see as a conflict between faith and science. “. Scientists and theologians include, most notably, computational biologist Joshua Swamidass and Christian philosopher William Lane Craig, who cites Swamidass’s work in a new book I’ve already discussed here, In search of the historical Adam.
Is Craig’s book good news for Christians? I’m not so sure, and here’s a reason why. Recently, Discovery Institute Fellow Jonathan McLatchie launched a new website, TalkAboutDoubts.com, for people with faith doubts. Dr. McLatchie has brought together experts from many fields to connect directly with people to help them. A few weeks ago, I joined Jonathan on a call with a woman struggling with the issue of human origins. The subject of Dr. Craig’s latest book has been touched upon.
This woman is a relatively recent convert to Christianity and she had read reviews of Craig’s book. She said she was very troubled by his conclusion that parts of Genesis represent “myth.” She noted that if she had read the book soon after her conversion to Christianity, it would have been very confusing and damaging to her. After all, if parts of Genesis involve “myth,” what does that say about the rest of Scripture that takes the first book of the Bible as its basis? In my reading, Craig made a valiant effort and a good case that Adam and Eve could potentially have belonged to the hominids we call Homo heidelbergensis. Yet overall there is too much unclear and superficial analysis to recommend the book – especially to a new believer struggling with doubts. Many other religious people will also be unhappy with Craig’s model that humans and apes share a common ancestor.
Scientific problems with Craig’s book
In search of the historical Adam, as I said, sometimes seems sympathetic to the views of Dr. Swamidass with his pedigree model of Adam and Eve (GAE). According to Swamidass, Adam and Eve were historical people whose offspring interbred with a hominid population that evolved from ape-like ancestors. The different patterns can be hard to tell apart, especially when the evolutionary theist group BioLogos comes into the picture. Like FoxNews reports:
Swamidass’ GAE model has already made waves in theological and scientific circles. The BioLogos Foundation, a Christian nonprofit organization founded by NIH director Francis Collins that embraces the scientific theory of evolution, appears to have reversed its stance on Adam and Eve, removing articles claiming genetics ruled out an Adam and Eve. Eve historical and publishing articles that echo Swamidass’ comp. BioLogos did not respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment on the matter.
Note, however, that BioLogos distinguishes this view from what it calls the “common traditional” view where “Adam and Eve were created de novo” as our “‘sole ancestors’: they were the first two humans , and they alone gave birth to all other humans.BioLogos always seems to skew against this traditional view, preferring instead that Adam and Eve existed but their offspring interbred with a large population of humans who evolved naturally from of ape-like creatures. So today, BioLogos apparently proposes that we are descended from both Adam and Eve as well as evolved hominids – and we share a common ancestor with living apes. Genealogical Adam and Eve” is certainly not the “common traditional” view.
The GAE model was elaborated by Swamidass in his 2019 book Genealogical Adam and Eve. Craig sometimes strays from this proposition because it involves “bestial” relations between the descendants of Adam and Eve with non-human hominids. However, in the final analysis, it seems to allow the GAE model.
As a Christian, I believe there are serious theological and scriptural issues with the GAE model. However, my main objections are scientific. Scientifically, the GAE model takes a standard evolutionary view of human origins and says that if Adam and Eve were specially created, then their offspring interbred and completely intermixed with a fully evolved hominid population. We are the descendants of this great population. Because GAE adopts a standard evolutionary account of human origins, any scientific issues with such an account are inherited by the GAE model. Is the scientific evidence so compelling that we have to accept this view?
In fact, the fossil evidence for human evolution from ape-like creatures is weak, and neo-Darwinian mechanisms face an overwhelming mathematical hurdle in explaining the origin of complex human characteristics such as our cognitive abilities. For these reasons, many aspects of the GAE model are scientifically problematic. If humans didn’t evolve from ape-like creatures via standard evolutionary mechanisms, I see no compelling reason to adopt the GAE hypothesis.
Additionally, Ann Gauger and Ola Hössjer’s research—as well as Swamidass’s own modeling—shows that if Adam and Eve lived far enough in the past, then modern human genetic diversity is consistent with an initial pair that was our Unique the ancestors. This eliminates any need to invoke thousands of evolutionary ancestors, which is a key feature of the GAE model.
So if the scientific evidence for human evolution is weak and the GAE model isn’t even necessarily supported by the evidence then why is it supported by BioLogos, Swamidass and (it seems ultimately) William Lane Craig? There are probably several reasons. But some of them are probably the same reasons that led people to wrongly dismiss a historical Adam and Eve in the first place.
A theoretical model
Don’t miss a key point here either: Professor Swamidass himself did a population genetics calculation to show that Adam and Eve could have been our Unique genetic ancestors if they lived around 500,000 years ago, according to the results of the study by Gauger and Hossjer published in BIO-Complexity. This means that, from a population genetics perspective, the GAE model where we evolve from a population of thousands is questionable and unnecessary.
Yet, ironically, Swamidass is the one who proposed and still promotes the GAE model – where we descend from thousands of individuals who evolved from ape-like ancestors. But why do this when we already know that population genetics no longer requires humanity to evolve from a population of thousands? Why not just follow the traditional Judeo-Christian view that Adam and Eve were our only ancestors? Paul Nelson believes that this strange disconnect stems from a misguided commitment to methodological naturalism and its common ancestry.
As noted, in reviewing Craig’s book, I declined to elaborate on the theological issues with the GAE model – but covered them in an article published last year in Salve Magazine. You might find it interesting to review what I co-wrote there with Terrell Clemmons. As we have concluded, “Swamidassa’s thought experiment raises enormous questions for Christian orthodoxy.”
Although these theological points are far from intelligent design, I would personally agree with the position of Fuz Rana from Reasons to Believe (RTB), who is also quoted by FoxNews:
Fazale Rana, vice president of research and apologetics at RTB, told Fox News Digital that Swamidass and Craig’s models “both suffer from theological issues, despite their agreement with mainstream science.” Rana said that since the models do not view Adam and Eve as the sole ancestors of mankind, they “potentially endanger major Christian doctrines (such as human exceptionalism, the fall, original sin and atonement ).”
It’s true. Even Nathan Lents – a non-religious biologist – points out that the GAE model does not provide the reconciliation that many seek between science and faith:
He noted that “there are important caveats” about the possibility of universal ancestors, such as isolated populations, and the impact of the GAE model – it does not imply “the only offspring of the race human from just two people.
Ultimately, the GAE model retains the belief in a version (albeit a non-traditional one) of a historical Adam and Eve while adopting a fully evolutionary model of human origins. This appeals to those who mistakenly believe that challenging evolution “brings the Christian faith into disrepute” and “unnecessary shame on the name of Jesus Christ.” As noted, Paul Nelson has argued persuasively that the driving philosophy behind the GAE model is a prior commitment to methodological naturalism, the idea that when studying science one is permitted to invoke only naturalistic forces and mechanisms. . Perhaps not all GAE proponents are very committed to methodological naturalism, but they certainly seem to be very committed to maintaining an evolutionary model.
I’m sure proponents of the GAE will claim that science supports the evolutionary aspects of their model. But as we’ve seen here, science doesn’t demand that we evolved from a population of thousands. So if we care more about science and truth than evolution, methodological naturalism, or mainstream acceptance, then maybe it’s the GAE model that’s “useless.”