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Coming Attraction: My Review of William Lane Craig’s In Quest of the Historical Adam

Photo: William Lane Craig, by TMDrew, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

Editor’s note: In a multipart series, Casey Luskin is reviewing a new book by philosopher William Lane Craig. Look here for the full review so far.

William Lane Craig is a well-respected Christian philosopher who has made important contributions to the case for cosmic design from fine-tuning and from the need for a first cause to explain the origin of the universe. His important books in both scholarly and popular venues include The Kalam Cosmological ArgumentTheism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology, co-written with Quentin Smith and published by Oxford University Press; Time and the Metaphysics of Relativity, published by Kluwer Academic; and The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology from Wiley-Blackwell, co-edited with J. P. Moreland. His work has had a profound and positive impact on many people. 

In recent years Dr. Craig has explored new intellectual territory: the origin of humans. His study has culminated in a new book, In Quest of the Historical Adam, which I will be reviewing here in a multipart series. Craig convincingly argues that mainstream science can be reconciled with a traditional view of Adam and Eve — a historical couple who were specially created as the sole progenitors of humanity. I applaud his careful scholarship which plausibly argues that Adam and Eve were real people who could have been members of Homo heidelbergensis (criticisms of this taxon aside). His specific thesis doesn’t necessarily have to be true, but it could be true, and this shows that it’s not scientifically problematic to take a truly “traditional” view of Adam and Eve. This effectively answers many other evangelicals who have argued that Adam and Eve are scientifically impossible. 

But More Needs to Be Said

Many readers will also be interested in Craig’s analysis of Genesis, which represents the first 200 pages — over 50 percent of the book’s body! These sections are devoted to exploring the nature of “myths” and identifying the literary genre of Genesis 1-11, which he concludes is “mytho-history.” Although Craig is careful to emphasize that “myth” does not necessarily mean “false,” his arguments entail the conclusion that Genesis 1-11 contains myth-like “fantastical elements” that are “palpably false.” Many readers will feel that his perspective fails to adequately engage with major models that are advanced by people of faith to reconcile Genesis with science, including both young and old earth creationist models. As an old earther myself, I was concerned that Craig did not adequately engage with old earth interpretations. Though I am not a young earther, from my understanding of what they propose, I believe that young earth creationists will feel that Craig badly misrepresents the scientific claims of their models. I will explore this in Part 2.

Craig’s book provides highly informed discussions of the paleoanthropological, archaeological, neurological, and genetic evidence regarding human origins, but his arguments often incorporate evolutionary assumptions which are doubtful. For example, Craig is too credulous towards evolutionary explanations of the origin of the human mind which amount to miracle mutations, as well as common evolutionary notions that pseudogenes are “junk DNA” that support common ancestry. He misses a key deficiency in evolutionary explanations: a conspicuous gap between the genus Homo and our supposed ape-like australopithecine ancestors in the hominid fossil record. Although Craig does not recognize it, key neurogenetic evidence raised in his book actually suggests a potent mathematical challenge to the Darwinian evolution of humans. I also believe he sells Homo erectus short as a potential candidate for Adam and Eve. These issues will be the focus of Parts 3 and 4. 

A Lesson for Evangelical Intellectuals

Most importantly, there is a valuable lesson to be learned from the backstory surrounding Craig’s book: Evangelical intellectuals often assume that challenging evolution is what brings disrepute upon the church. Even some evangelical leaders push this view, hoping to bully evangelicals into staying silent about doubts about Darwin. But recent debates over Adam and Eve have turned this stereotype on its head. Over the past decade it has been evangelical scientists who embraced mainstream evolutionary ideas and told the church that they must reject 2,000-year-old doctrines on Adam and Eve, that got the science wrong. This led to nearly a decade of leading theistic evolutionists wrongly pushing the idea that Adam and Eve as historical individuals are false. Only after Darwin-doubting scientists in the intelligent design camp were willing to challenge the status quo did the truth become clear that science has not refuted Adam and Eve. 

Evangelical Christians who continue to embrace evolutionary ideas in the absence of confirming evidence continue to bet on the wrong horse, and threaten to repeat these mistakes. This is the moral of the story over recent debates over Adam and Eve — and it isn’t emphasized by Craig because he still thinks it is unwise to challenge biological evolution. Indeed, Craig continues to rely upon BioLogos arguments that pseudogenes are “broken” and non-functional junk DNA that we share with apes, thereby demonstrating our common ancestry. Those arguments are increasingly contradicted by evidence presented in highly authoritative scientific papers which find that pseudogenes are commonly functional, and they ought not be assumed to be genetic “junk.” In relying upon dubious evolutionary arguments that are increasingly refuted by the technical literature, Craig may be repeating the very mistake that led previous evangelicals to think Adam and Eve did not exist. This story will be told in Parts 5 and 6 of this review.