Fox News reports on what sounds like a positive development for Christians and other theists. As the headline says, “Christians point to genetics breakthroughs to show Adam and Eve are not incompatible with evolution.” The article notes, “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.” The scientists and theologians include, most prominently, computational biologist Joshua Swamidass and Christian philosopher William Lane Craig, who cites Swamidass’s work in a new book that I’ve written about here before, In Quest of the Historical Adam.
Is Craig’s book good news for Christians? I’m not so sure, and here’s one reason why. Recently, Discovery Institute fellow Jonathan McLatchie started a new website, TalkAboutDoubts.com, for people with doubts about faith. Dr. McLatchie has collected experts from many fields to directly connect with people to help them. A couple of weeks ago I joined Jonathan on a call with a woman who was struggling with the issue of human origins. She raised the topic of Dr. Craig’s latest book.
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” (or, more precisely, Genesis 1-11 includes “fantastical elements” that are “palpably false.”) She noted that if she had read the book soon after converting to Christianity, it would have been very confusing and detrimental for her. After all, if parts of Genesis entail “myth,” what does that say about the rest of Scripture that takes the Bible’s first book as its basis? In my reading, Craig made a valiant effort and a good case that Adam and Eve may potentially have belonged to the hominids we call Homo heidelbergensis. Yet, overall there’s too much unclear and shallow analysis to recommend the book — especially to a new believer struggling with doubts. Many other people of faith, too, will be dissatisfied with Craig’s model of humans and apes sharing a common ancestor.
The Genealogical Adam and Eve
The Fox News story focuses primarily on the Genealogical Adam and Eve (GAE) model, proposed by Joshua Swamidass in his eponymous 2019 book, The Genealogical Adam and Eve. According to this model, Adam and Eve were historical persons whose offspring interbred with a population of hominids which evolved from apelike ancestors. The various models can be difficult to tell apart, especially when the theistic evolutionist group BioLogos comes into the picture. As Fox News reports:
Swamidass’ GAE model has already made waves in theological and scientific circles. The BioLogos Foundation, a Christian nonprofit founded by NIH Director Francis Collins that embraces the scientific theory of evolution, appears to have reversed its position on Adam and Eve, deleting articles claiming that genetics ruled out a historical Adam and Eve and posting articles that echo Swamidass’ model. 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 progenitors’: they were the first two humans, and they alone gave rise to all other humans.” BioLogos seems to still disfavor this traditional view, instead preferring that Adam and Eve did exist but their offspring interbred with a large population of humans that evolved naturally from ape-like creatures. Thus, today BioLogos seemingly proposes that we are descended from both Adam and Eve as well as evolved hominids — and we share a common ancestor with living apes. This “Genealogical Adam and Eve” model is definitely not the “common traditional” view.
Craig and the GAE Model: “Bestial” Relations
In his book In Quest of the Historical Adam, William Lane Craig has a strange relationship with Swamidass’s GAE model. Craig at times distances himself from this proposal because it implies “bestial” relations between the descendants of Adam and Eve with non-human hominins. However, in the final analysis he seems to be open to interbreeding between descendants of Adam and Eve and other hominids — what we might call a “limited GAE model.”*** For those who think that Craig is definitely adamantly opposed to the GAE model, consider what Craig writes in an article responding to Swamidass:
Although his [Swamidass’s] proposed hypothesis and mine appear to be worlds apart, we are actually working with the same model of a genealogical Adam, though his Adam is very recent and mine very ancient. His is a Neolithic Adam; mine is a Lower Palaeolithic Adam. Our proposals might therefore be differentiated as the ancient vs the recent genealogical Adam.
Craig further writes in response to Stephen Schaffner that interbreeding was possible, though “would not have been common”:
I suggest that interbreeding would not have been common because I think Adam and Eve were fully human persons with rationality, moral agency, and so forth, and so would naturally shun sexual relations with beasts and their community would tend to self-isolate. So eventually these non-human hominins would just die off and Adam and Eve’s lineage would then go on to become our contemporary population without significant interbreeding with these non-human hominins.
However, Craig’s “limited GAE” view is passive in allowing interbreeding — he does not argue strongly in favor of interbreeding between humans and non-human hominids. This contrasts with Joshua Swamidass who needs the GAE model to account for human genetic diversity. As Craig explains:
People like our friend Joshua Swamidass who believe in a very recent Adam, say just 10,000 years ago, explain how the great genetic divergence that our contemporary population exhibits could have come from just two people by saying that the descendants of Adam and Eve interbred with people outside the Garden. There was this wider population of people – thousands and thousands of them – who had evolved from lower primates according to the normal evolutionary biological scenario and that therefore our genome was filled with information from these people outside the Garden. And that’s how Josh explains the genetic divergence in our population. But as I explained in the book at some length, if you postulate that Adam and Eve lived more than 500,000 years ago there’s no need to appeal to interbreeding in order to explain the genetic divergence in the contemporary population. When they’re that far in the past there is plenty of time for the observed genetic divergence to arise from an original primordial pair of human beings. And so Schaffner’s quite mistaken about my appealing to admixture with other lineages.
Thus, Craig’s interaction with the GAE model seems to be that he does not prefer admixture between humans (i.e., Adam and Eve and their descendants) and other hominids, but he passively allows the possibility — and if it did occur then those non-human hominids probably did not have a major impact on the human race or modern human genetics. That’s very different from Swamidass’s position which says there definitely was lots and lots of frequent and regular interbreeding between the descendants of Adam and Eve and other hominids — and this interbreeding is a necessary aspect of how we account for modern human genetics — i.e., these other hominids played a major role in making you and I who we are today.
As a Christian I believe there are severe theological and scriptural problems with the GAE model. However, my main objections are scientific. Scientifically, the GAE model was hypothesized to incorporate 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 population of hominids. We are the descendants of this large population. Because GAE adopts a standard evolutionary account of human origins, any scientific problems with such an account are inherited by the GAE model. Is the scientific evidence so compelling that we must accept this view?
In fact, the fossil evidence for human evolution from apelike creatures is weak, and neo-Darwinian mechanisms face an overwhelming mathematical obstacle to account for the origin of complex human features such as our cognitive abilities. For these reasons, many aspects of the GAE model are scientifically problematic. If humans did not evolve from apelike creatures via standard evolutionary mechanisms, I see no compelling reason to adopt the GAE hypothesis.
Further, Ann Gauger and Ola Hössjer’s research — as well as Swamidass’s own modelling — show that if Adam and Eve lived far enough in the past, then modern human genetic diversity is compatible with an initial pair who were our sole 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 not even necessarily required by the evidence, then why is it supported by BioLogos and Swamidass (and sometimes, even William Lane Craig)? There are probably many reasons. But some of them are likely the same reasons that led people to wrongly reject a historical Adam and Eve in the first place.
A Moot Model
Also, don’t miss a key point here: Professor Swamidass himself did a population genetics calculation to show that Adam and Eve could have been our sole genetic ancestors if they lived about 500,000 years ago, consistent with the results of the study by Gauger and Hossjer published in BIO-Complexity. What this means is that, from a population genetics standpoint, the GAE model where we evolve from a population of thousands is moot and unnecessary.
Yet ironically Swamidass is the one who proposed and still promotes the GAE model — where we are descended from thousands of individuals who evolved from apelike ancestors. But why do this when we already know that population genetics no longer demands that humanity must evolve from a population of thousands? Why not just go with the traditional Judeo-Christian view that Adam and Eve were our sole progenitors? Paul Nelson thinks this strange disconnect stems from a misguided commitment to methodological naturalism and common ancestry.
As noted, in reviewing Craig’s book I have declined to elaborate on theological problems with the GAE model — but I did cover these in an article published last year in Salvo Magazine. You may find it of interest to review what I co-wrote there with Terrell Clemmons. As we concluded, “Swamidass’s thought experiment raises enormous questions for Christian orthodoxy.”
Although these theological points are far afield from intelligent design, I personally would agree with some of the points made by Fuz Rana of Reasons to Believe (RTB), who is also quoted by Fox News:
Fazale Rana, vice president of research and apologetics at RTB, told Fox News Digital that the models of Swamidass and Craig “both suffer from theological problems, despite their agreement with mainstream science.” Rana said that since the models do not consider Adam and Eve the sole progenitors of humanity, they “potentially put key Christian doctrines (such as human exceptionalism, the Fall, Original Sin and the Atonement) in harm’s way.”
I’m not sure if Fuz Rana’s critiques apply to William Lane Craig’s model of Adam and Eve,*** but Fuz Rana’s critique as applied to the GAE model is right on.
(*** My best understanding of William Lane Craig’s model is that, unlike the GAE model, it allows and even prefers that Adam and Eve were our sole progenitors. Thus, Fuz Rana’s critique should not necessarily be applied to Dr. Craig’s model, although Rana is right in applying it to GAE. Please note, however, that Dr. Craig’s book is not always entirely clear on the question of whether Adam and Eve were our sole progenitors. I provided a very detailed analysis of Dr. Craig’s model here, and while his model is sometimes ambiguous, I have done my best to represent it accurately. I believe that generally he proposes that Adam and Eve shared a common ancestor with apes, but they lived far enough in the past to nonetheless potentially be our sole progenitors — a bottleneck of two, if you will. That said, at times he seems open to allowing limited interbreeding or admixture between Adam and Eve’s descendants and other hominids as in the GAE model. This would mean that Adam and Eve would not be our “sole progenitors” — but this “admixture hypothesis” is not his preferred view and it’s not necessary to his model. Overall he seems to want Adam and Eve to be our sole progenitors. Note that even the journal Science said Craig’s view on this point was not entirely clear: “we eventually learn that his [Craig’s] model allows for an unspecified amount of admixture from other hominin lineages into the descendants of Adam, eliminating the need for such a tight bottleneck. A more clearly stated hypothesis in this section would have saved the reader time and frustration.” In conclusion: if there was such admixture then Adam and Eve would not be our “sole progenitors.” But because this admixture is not a necessary or preferred part of Dr. Craig’s model, I conclude that his model does not necessarily deny that Adam and Eve could have been our sole progenitors.)
Even Nathan Lents — a non-religious biologist — points out that the GAE model doesn’t provide the reconciliation many seek between science and faith:
He noted that “there are important caveats” about the possibility of universal ancestors, such as isolated populations, and about the impact of the GAE model — it does not involve “sole progenitorship of the human race from just two people.”
In the end, the GAE model allows one to retain belief in a version (albeit a non-traditional one) of a historical Adam and Eve while still adopting a fully evolutionary model of human origins. This appeals to those who mistakenly believe that challenging evolution “brings disrepute on the Christian faith” and “unnecessary shame upon the name of Jesus Christ.” As noted, Paul Nelson has convincingly argued that the driving philosophy behind the GAE model is a prior commitment to methodological naturalism, the idea that when studying science, one is allowed to invoke only naturalistic forces and mechanisms. Perhaps not all GAE-proponents feel strongly about methodological naturalism, but they certainly seem to feel strongly about retaining an evolutionary model.
I’m sure GAE proponents will claim science supports the evolutionary aspects of their model. But as we’ve seen here, science does not require that we evolved from a population of thousands. So if we care more about science and truth than about evolution, methodological naturalism, or mainstream acceptance, then perhaps it is the GAE model that is “unnecessary.”
This post has been updated.