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Dr. Craig's Latest Work on the Historical Adam and Eve

March 24, 2019     Time: 23:14
Dr. Craig’s Latest Work on the Historical Adam and Eve


Dr. Craig updates us on his progress as he studies the historical Adam and Eve.

KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, we’ve known for some time now that your latest topic of study is going to be on the historical Adam and Eve. You’ve looked at so many topics and devoted time to them. I’m curious as to what launched you into this? How did you pick this as your next area?

DR. CRAIG: Jan wants me to write a philosophical systematic theology, and a number of other people have encouraged me to do this as well. In order to do this, I need to bone up on certain areas of systematic theology. One of those was the atonement. I felt a real deficit in that area, and so I studied that for two years and came to some wonderful insights about that doctrine and offering a defense of the Reformers’ view of the atonement. But another area that has been on the shelf for me for years and years and years is the question of the historical Adam. What do we do with the scientific challenges to the historicity of Adam and Eve that arise from paleo-archaeology (which seems to show that anatomically modern humans existed hundreds of thousands of years ago, not relatively recently as Genesis seems to describe) and the challenge of population genetics which some have asserted shows that the human population on Earth today could not have arisen from a smaller population than 10,000 individuals or so – certainly not a mere two individuals at some point in the past? So I've taken this issue off the shelf and begun to explore it now with a view toward having a better understanding of Adam and theological anthropology.

KEVIN HARRIS: So there would be two aspects to the study. One would be the biblical, and one would be the scientific.

DR. CRAIG: That's correct. I initially began to read some of the literature on population genetics and the problems this poses for a historical Adam, but it soon became evident to me that before dealing with the science I needed to settle what the Bible itself actually affirms about the historical Adam. So I set the scientific question to the side and decided to simply study the biblical texts in depth with a view toward understanding what the Bible commits us to with respect to the historical Adam. After I've completed that I will take the scientific question in hand and try to see how a biblical view of Adam and Eve can be reconciled with the findings of modern science. I think it's very important that we keep these two tasks separate because we don't want to be reading modern science into the text of Genesis. We want to let the text speak to us afresh as it would have been understood by its author and those to whom it was first read or written. We don't want to impose our scientific understanding of the world on Genesis. We want to let Genesis speak on its own terms. So I'm bracketing the science and just trying to exegete these early chapters of Genesis and then what the New Testament says about Adam.

KEVIN HARRIS: There's a lot of anxiety over this issue. Have you found that in your Sunday School class?

DR. CRAIG: Oh, yes! I've been teaching in Defenders on this lately, and you're absolutely right. This arouses strong feelings on the part of people who are partisans of different views. It has been a source of considerable anxiety to myself as well. This is a very difficult question to settle.

KEVIN HARRIS: Talk about the two conferences. They were the same conference but they met two different times on the historical Adam. You attended one of them.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. These conferences were organized by a scientist at Washington University in St. Louis named Joshua Swamidass. He is a computational biologist and also a Christian. He has proposed a model of the historical Adam that he claims will reconcile the findings of modern science that I alluded to with a literal reading of the biblical narrative. He calls his proposal “the genealogical Adam.” He's writing a book on the subject. With funding from the John Templeton Foundation, he held two conferences at Washington University which brought together biologists, other scientists, theologians, Old Testament scholars, philosophers, and so forth to read the first draft of his book and then to discuss it amongst themselves. He would then take consideration of these criticisms and rewrite for the final revision of his book. I recently returned from the second of these two conferences in St. Louis and had a really good time discussing his theories.

KEVIN HARRIS: You look so serious in this picture that I see of you attending! I guess most people don't think about that there are so many ways to perhaps interpret the text or theories as to who Adam was. What are some of the options?

DR. CRAIG: Let me focus on Josh’s view – the genealogical Adam – because that's what the conference was about. He points out that as you trace your ancestors back in time they multiply rapidly. You have two parents, but you have four grandparents. You have eight great-grandparents. So there's a sort of exponential increase as you go back in time. At the same time, the population is decreasing as you go back in time because the population grows over time. What that implies is that as one goes back in time one's ancestors begin to overlap with other peoples’ because there's a declining population. But a proliferation of ancestors means that the same people are ancestors of multiple persons who are alive today. If you go back into the past just a few thousand years, you will arrive at a person who is a genealogical ancestor of every person alive on the face of the Earth today, even in far-flung places like the Hawaiian Islands or Tasmania. Every person alive on Earth today will be descended from this person. Swamidass, running the numbers, calculates that in order for everyone who was alive at the time of Christ to be descended from a single human pair you would only need to go back into the past about 4,000 years. So Adam and Eve could have lived as recently as 4,000 BC and yet been the ancestors of every single person that was alive at the time of Christ. He would say you can place Adam and Eve anywhere in the recent past ten thousand years ago, six thousand years ago, whatever, and they would have been the ancestors of every person who was alive at the time of Christ, and of everybody alive today on Earth. The fly in the ointment is that they weren't universal ancestors of everybody who's ever lived. There are other people alive at the time that these universal genealogical ancestors existed. Similarly, he would say that at the time that Adam and Eve were created there were other people outside the Garden of Eden. Josh would say that it's possible that God created Adam and Eve de novo (out of the dust of the Earth, or Adam's rib) in the Garden and that every human being is descended from that original couple that were created de novo in the Garden of Eden. But outside the Garden there were other people who were evolved from more primitive primate forms – your Australopithecines and others. The descendants of Adam and Eve eventually interbred with people outside the Garden once Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden. So, for example, the old question “Where did Cain get his wife?” is answered by saying he married one of these women who existed in the population outside the Garden. Since that population had evolved from more primitive ancestors that we share with the great apes like chimpanzees and gorillas, and they interbred with the descendants of Adam and Eve, that's why our genome is so similar to the genome of chimpanzees and gorillas and other great apes – because these great apes are also descendants of these primate forms from which the people outside the Garden evolved. So when they interbred with the descendants of Adam and Eve their genetic material was shared and mixed. This would allow us to say that there is an original human couple that is uniquely created by God de novo from which all people alive today or at the time of Christ were descended, but it's fully compatible with the evidence of human evolution and a larger population of hominids than just two. That's his proposal in a nutshell.

KEVIN HARRIS: And that handles the biblical data and the scientific data?

DR. CRAIG: Well, that’s his claim. I think that it does handle the scientific data well, but my reservation would be how well it handles the biblical data. Here I have to confess to being skeptical that this represents the most plausible interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis.

KEVIN HARRIS: What would you say – are you halfway through your study here? Do you devote only so much time? Do you have to set a deadline for yourself?

DR. CRAIG: Well, given my age, I can't afford to devote a decade or more to a chosen research topic as I did with divine aseity or divine eternity. I completed my study of the atonement in about two years, and I would like to do the same with my study of the historical Adam. What I found even in those longer studies was that within a couple of years one is able to pretty much discern the outlines of the view that one will take, and the remaining time is spent mainly mastering the literature and mopping up to be sure you've read everything on the subject that's of major importance, interacting with objections and other points of view. In my work on the atonement, not having devoted that extensive time to it, I didn't master the literature, didn't read everything else that's written on the atonement. That would be virtually impossible. Nor did I interact with all the other views, but simply present the view that I think is most plausible and defend its coherence and justification. I would do something like that with the historical Adam. I couldn't hope to assess all of the other views, but what I could do would be to lay out what seems to me to be a plausible alternative and to defend its biblical consistency and its scientific plausibility. That's the project.

KEVIN HARRIS: It looks like that Professor Swamidass has a couple of projects that he's working on. One would be the historical Adam like we've discussed; and the other he says that the debate between faith and science has become so acrimonious, so poison, so volatile, that he wants to create a safe space. He wants to create some peace in this whole thing so that people can actually talk honestly and genuinely but yet be reasonable and charitable. He’s calling this “peaceful science.”

DR. CRAIG: Yes, he has established this website called Peaceful Science which emphasizes irenic, charitable dialog.

KEVIN HARRIS: As opposed to “rage science.”

DR. CRAIG: Right! Between persons of different views.

KEVIN HARRIS: This is another one of his projects, and apparently he's brought people together of varying views.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. In the conference in St. Louis that I attended we had people from different fields, people who disagreed with him. One of Josh's most admirable qualities, I think, is his non-defensiveness. He doesn’t get his back up when he’s criticized. He's genuinely open to criticism and objections and wants to learn from his critics. There are actually atheists that participate in these dialogues. He said it's been shocking to him how sympathetic the atheist biologists have been to his genealogical Adam proposal since they don't really care whether it coheres with biblical teaching or not. They weigh it purely scientifically, and they say it's unobjectionable to say that there was this human pair created 10,000 years ago de novo by God whose descendants interbred with other hominids, that had evolved and from whom every human being alive on Earth today is descended. They have no problem with it.

KEVIN HARRIS: As we conclude today, you're studying the biblical grounds right now. Are you reading Hebrew scholars? Old Testament scholars? Are you determining what you need to read? Are you putting your list together?

DR. CRAIG: I'm definitely reading Old Testament literature right now. I began with a series of commentaries, the most important commentaries on Genesis 1-11. I worked my way through those. Then I begun to read on specialty issues. For example, most Old Testament scholars think that we need to read Genesis 1-11 against the background of ancient Near Eastern creation myths. There are resemblances between, for example, the flood story in Genesis and the as-it's-called Atrahasis Epic which is an ancient Mesopotamian poem that describes the flood. And then in the so-called Epic of Gilgamesh, another Sumerian-Babylonian poem, that describes the flood and the building of a boat and a survivor with those he brought on board from this flood. I've been reading a lot of this ancient literature. Lately, I can't believe the stuff I've been reading! I've been reading ancient inscriptions from pyramid texts in Egypt and from the tombs of those buried in Egypt because a lot of these creation myths are inscribed in these tombs and pyramids. So I'm reading that sort of stuff. It's very, very different from the sort of philosophical work that I'm accustomed to doing.

KEVIN HARRIS: I'm curious – I wonder if this is an illustration, and you can help us with this. Suppose I were to write a true account of something that happened to me, and yet I used images and scripts from Star Wars, say, in order to illustrate to modern audiences what I'm trying to portray. Somebody thousands of years down the road may say he borrowed – this isn’t history. He borrowed from Star Wars. Star Wars is fiction. Do you think that that was some of the literary technique or genre that was being used that because there were these other myths and in texts that they were . . .

DR. CRAIG: This is sort of the $64,000 question, and there's been really an interesting reversal of scholarship on this issue. When these ancient texts were first unearthed by archaeologists in the late 1800s there arose a kind of school of thought among Old Testament scholars called pan-Babylonianism. The belief was very widespread among Old Testament scholars that the biblical stories were borrowed from these ancient Mesopotamian accounts. It is exactly what you described – a method of borrowing and then changing certain features, and these got written down in the Bible. That view has now been overthrown. It is now, I would say, the consensus that the Genesis accounts are not simply borrowed from these other ancient Mesopotamian myths. But what they do share with them is a similar interest in terms of their themes, in terms of their style of literature, so that it's not a matter of sort of just borrowing but it would be a matter of addressing the same sorts of issues – the creation of the world, the creation of man, a flood that wiped out the human race. These are common to ancient myths. There is a kind of literary commonality here between these stories and these ancient creation myths that you find in pagan religions. I think most Old Testament scholars wouldn't have a problem with saying that there can be a sharing of a literary genre or common themes that are addressed by Israel and these ancient pagan myths. Indeed, what you find in Genesis that is really, really startling – it's almost shocking – when you compare it to these pagan myths is the way in which ancient Israel transcended pagan polytheism and so decisively rejected all of the gods and their vile and immoral behavior in favor of this transcendent view of God as a creator of the entire universe – beyond the universe – and the creator of the sun and the moon and the stars and everything in the world, who is to be worshiped and adored alone, and who is the source of existence of all these things. When you read that against these ancient pagan polytheistic myths one is almost staggered that Israel could have come up with this stuff. This is so different that it's really, really shocking. I think for us moderns, because we're familiar with this view of a transcendent creator God, we don't share this pagan mythological worldview. I think we're sort of inured to the shock that these ancient Israelites in the teeth of this overwhelming pagan polytheism affirmed this remarkable view of the Lord God as transcendent creator of everything else. It's almost as though the Israelites said to their ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian neighbors, Oh! So you've got your creation myths, your primeval myths? All right. Well, we've got our own, and ours is better. And then they tell their creation story, I think, under divine inspiration of what they understand to be the true account. I’m attracted to the view that what you have in Genesis 1-11 is what the great Assyriologist Thorkild Jacobsen called mytho-history. These are historical narratives of things that really happened but they are clothed in the language of myth and therefore not to be interpreted in a sort of wooden and literalistic way.

KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, we will be keeping up with your progress on this and from time to time do some update podcasts.

DR. CRAIG: Absolutely.[1]


[1]                [1]Total Running Time: 23:14 (Copyright © 2019 William Lane Craig)