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Josh Swamidass in Christianity Today

March 16, 2020     Time: 22:08
Josh Swamidass in Christianity Today


Dr. Craig interacts with Christianity Today's interview with Josh Swamidass and the research on the historical Adam and Eve.

KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, we’ve been talking a whole lot about Adam and Eve and Josh – Josh Swamidass. He was interviewed in Christianity Today.[1] Let’s look at some highlights of his recent interview. Christianity Today begins by saying,

Christians have struggled to locate Adam and Eve within an evolutionary past. According to the traditional reading of the first chapters of Genesis, God created Adam and Eve directly and all human beings descended from that first couple.

DR. CRAIG: I just wanted to draw our attention to that phrase, “all human beings descended from that first couple.” That is part of the traditional view of Adam and Eve which would mean that there are no human beings outside the Garden, no human beings that are not descended from Adam and Eve.

KEVIN HARRIS: It continues,

Yet many Christians have discarded this belief on the basis of evolutionary science, which holds that human beings, having descended from animals, first appeared on earth as a population rather than a single, divinely created pair.

. . .

[The book] The Genealogical Adam and Eve carries a wide range of endorsements from theologians, atheist biologists, and believing scientists from across the origins-debate spectrum.

Here is this interview. By the way, USA Today did a great article as well. This has gotten the attention of even atheist biologists. I guess a conversation is kind of going on here.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. This Nathan Lents is a friend of Josh Swamidass’. He’s a secularist but he wants to defuse the conflict between science and Christianity in our day. So he's joining in these dialogues. He was part of the recent panel discussion that I was on at Reasons to Believe on the historical Adam. He and I were both responding to Fuz Rana.

KEVIN HARRIS: Josh is asked,

Who is your audience? Who are you trying to reach: young-Earth creationists or evolutionary creationists?

Josh says,

There are three main audiences to whom I’m speaking. One audience is my secular colleagues in science. Most of them aren’t Christians, but they want to effectively engage the public, including the religious public.

The second is nontraditionalists, such as evolutionary creationists at organizations like BioLogos.

Who have been pressing the scientific case against Adam and Eve for a long time.

DR. CRAIG: We need to make sure our listeners understand that by “evolutionary creationists” they are referring to theistic evolutionists.

KEVIN HARRIS: I wonder if there's some change going on in the . . .

DR. CRAIG: Well, there's a name change because rather than theistic evolution they can now claim to be creationists, too. We are evolutionary creationists. I think it's a euphemism for theistic evolution that is basically a PR move on their part.

KEVIN HARRIS: It may be a good time to interject because I've wanted to discuss with you . . . I've been going over a lot of YouTube videos and the writings of some of the new young apologists – some of the new apologists – who are out there today. They're young compared to, well, me and you. I'm excited. I am electrified and thrilled that they're out there. And they're so good at what they do. I have noticed it looks like the majority of them – now, it's anecdotal – seem to be evolutionary creationists.

DR. CRAIG: Very interesting. I think that that view is much more defensible than the view that things are just created by God without any sort of biological predecessors.

KEVIN HARRIS: The third group that Josh is reaching with this book is:

The last group is traditionalists: people who feel committed to a traditional interpretation of Scripture. I’m inviting them to engage with evolutionary science. I realize that many of them think that evolution is a myth. That’s okay. We can still recognize together that evolutionary science isn’t actually in conflict with their beliefs.

When I think about it, I think your work would reach these three as well: secular colleagues, traditionalists, non-traditionalists. You try to tie some threads together.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, I suppose so. I'm trying to reach Christians who are interested in the question of the historical Adam and how to interpret Genesis 1-11. I'm not targeting anybody in particular in the way that Josh is, but just anyone who's interested in these questions.


My book doesn’t exist to challenge the evolutionary science. The two starting points are: Humans share common ancestry with the great apes. It really looks like God created us through a providentially governed process of common descent. The second idea is: It seems like there’s no moment when our ancestors drop down to a single couple in the last few hundred thousand years.

DR. CRAIG: Now here I believe he's talking about the two starting points in evolutionary biology. First of all that we share a common ancestry with the great apes like chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas. If you trace the lineage of us and those beasts back in time somewhere around five to six million years ago you'll find that they fork or branch off from a common ancestor, and one of those lines evolves into the great apes of today and the other line evolves into us, Homo sapiens. Josh doesn't deny that in his model. He affirms that in the sense that he thinks outside the Garden of Eden there are these evolving hominids described by evolutionary biology like Homo erectus, Neanderthals, Denisovans, and finally Homo sapiens. These evolved outside the Garden, and then when Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden their descendants begin to interbreed with the descendants of these evolving hominids. That's why, when you look at our modern genome, it's so similar to the great apes like the chimps because we do share a common ancestry with them through the people outside the Garden. That's the first commitment. The second one he says is that there's no moment when our ancestors dropped down to a single couple in the last few hundred thousand years. This is one of the most important challenges to the historical Adam and Eve. It comes from the data of population genetics. When geneticists look at the mutational distances that exist in the contemporary human genome and they calculate these back in time with a standard mutation rate over time, what they find out is that you can't get down to fewer than several thousand people in a breeding population. So you never get to a single human pair and Adam and Eve within the last few hundred thousand years. You'll just get down to an evolving population of these hominids, say like Homo erectus or something of that sort. It is evolving forward, and there isn't any couple from whom all human beings are descended. Rather this whole population together gradually evolves into human beings. Josh is not denying that either because he thinks that in fact happened outside the Garden. But within the Garden – in the Garden of Eden – God specially created this particular couple who have no ancestors biologically but whose descendants then interbred with this evolving population of hominids. So, in fact, the population of our ancestors never gets down to just a single human pair. There's always those people outside the Garden who would number in the thousands. What Josh doesn't mention here, but I know he affirms because we've talked about this, is that if you push further back in time to between five hundred or seven hundred thousand years ago, there it is possible to get down to a single couple from whom the entire human race descended. So the challenge of population genetics concerns only an origin of all humanity from Adam and Eve within the last few hundred thousand years. If you go back further than that then the challenge of population genetics is met. What's significant about that is that even if we knew nothing about population genetics, I want to go back further than that on the basis of the archaeological evidence for human beings. We have archaeological evidence of modern human behaviors that go back three hundred, four hundred thousand years ago. On the basis of that archaeological evidence I would want to put Adam and Eve earlier. That has the happy consequence that the challenge of population genetics then just falls by the wayside.

KEVIN HARRIS: I want to mention real quick that people are very disturbed to this day that we share a common ancestor with the great apes. They'll say to this day, I didn't come from no ape! I didn’t come from a monkey. You're careful, and the book is careful, to say that if this is in fact the way God did it – that there's a common ancestor here – we didn't come from the great apes, but we share a common ancestry.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, that’s the theory.

KEVIN HARRIS: People even find that kind of disturbing.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, because this common ancestor – the so-called last common ancestor of modern great apes and human beings – probably would have been a lot more like the great apes than like us. It would have looked more like some sort of a chimp or ape thing than it would look like a human being. So even though both lineages have evolved from the common ancestor, obviously the human lineage has just evolved exponentially faster than the ape lineage.

KEVIN HARRIS: Christianity Today asks him next,

In the book, you write on what it means to be human according to science and what it means to be human according to theology. What are some of the possible answers to these questions?

We’ve discussed that. He says,

Scientists cannot agree on a precise definition of our species or our genus. As we look back into our past, our vision grows murky.

DR. CRAIG: We've talked about this before. I think this is a very interesting claim. What Josh is talking about here is not a definition of what it means to be human. He's talking about how to classify ancient hominid forms that we've discovered. He says scientists cannot agree on a precise definition of our species or our genus. So, for example, I was just reading recently in Roger Lewin and Robert Foley's book Principles of Human Evolution. In their 18th chapter on apes, hominids, and humans, they provide a figure that illustrates two contrasting ways to classify these hominid types-forms. The first classification would include three subgroups. The first would be gibbons. The second would be a group that includes orangutans, chimps, and gorillas. The third group would be human beings – Homo. That would be us. This traditional classification obscures the close connection between us and chimps. They report that the view that is adopted more today has two basic divisions. First there's the gibbons, and then under the second group there are three subgroups. These are the orangutans, the gorillas, and then a third group that includes both the chimpanzees and us. So hominids are classed along with chimpanzees as both belonging to this third group which is different from the orangutans and the gorillas. That's the classification system that they use in their book. But Lewin and Foley admit that this is controversial, and no one is certain how to classify these forms. So as Josh says, as we look back into the past our vision grows murky. It's hard to tell what belongs to what. In fact, I think this is why we should place very, very little weight on classificatory labels like Homo something else – Homo rudolfensis or Homo erectus or Homo helmei. There’s lots of different classifications. Ian Tattersall, who's with the Museum of Natural History, points out that these classifications are really adopted for the sake of convenience, just sort of lumping everything together under Homo. But it doesn't mean that because something is classified as a Homo type of being that it is therefore a human being. In order to determine humanity we need to look for these manifestations of modern human behavior like art, abstract thinking, language ability, and so on. That will tip us off as to where human beings first emerge in the historical process. But how you classify them I think is really almost immaterial. It's purely a matter of convenience and just a classificatory rubric. It's not really about whether these creatures are human or not.

KEVIN HARRIS: He says next (a debate we talked about as well) – what does it mean to have God’s image?

But theologians and interpreters of Scripture can’t find exact agreement what that means either. There are three main views on what it means to bear God’s image: the substantive, which locates the image in our capacities, such as thinking and feeling; the relational, which locates the image in our relationships with one another and with God; and the vocational, which locates the image in our calling to rule over creation.

DR. CRAIG: Usually that third view is called “functional.” So you've got substantial, relational, and functional. I have discussed this just very recently in my Defenders lectures under doctrine of man, the subsection on the image of God. I'd really encourage people who are interested in this debate over the image of God to listen to those lectures. I look at a book by Richard Middleton called The Liberating Image which is probably the most important contemporary book on this subject. The key plank in Middleton's case for a functional or vocational interpretation of the image of God is his appeal to the ideology of ancient kings of Egypt and Mesopotamia where the kings were thought to be the images of the gods. The pharaoh, for example, was thought to be the image of Horus or he was the image of Re or he was the image of Amon Re. You wonder how in the world could the Egyptians who knew these people were mortal – who mummified and buried the pharaohs in tombs – how could they have thought they were divine? Well, as Middleton explains, to say that the pharaoh is the image of a god means that the god is incarnated in the pharaoh and so lives in his life and works through him. So the pharaoh is an incarnation of the god. But that's not a functional interpretation of the image of a god. That's what I would call an incarnational interpretation, and that's completely incompatible with Genesis 1. Adam and Eve are not regarded as incarnations of God by means of which God works and acts in the world. In fact, for Israel any image of God was prohibited. This was blasphemous to think you could make images of God, and so therefore they couldn't have been construed as being God's images in this incarnational sense. I think rather what Genesis is talking about is Adam and Eve resemble God in that just as God is personal so Adam and Eve are personal. They are personal, rational, moral agents who are able to carry out the vocation that he has entrusted to them. So the long and the short is that when you look at the most important evidence offered in support of the functional view (namely these ancient Egyptian texts) they turn out not to support a functional view at all but an incarnational view incompatible with Genesis 1.

KEVIN HARRIS: Josh does say one thing in answer to a question in this interview:

Scripture suggests they exist [outside of the Garden], but it’s like they appear in the peripheral vision. It’s a grand invitation for theologians to wonder together about who they could have been.

DR. CRAIG: I think that this is exaggerating the degree to which Scripture supports the notion that there are people outside the Garden. I think the drift of Scripture is really quite against that idea. You remember when Adam was created it says there was no man to till the ground until God created Adam, and there was no one that could be found to be a suitable mate for Adam until Eve was specially created. The only evidence in Genesis for people outside the Garden – this slim read on which this theory must rely – is where Cain found his wife. People have wondered: who was Cain's wife? Traditionalists have said he married his sister. But people who support the idea of humans outside the Garden would say, no, this is an indication that there were people outside the Garden and that's who Cain's wife was. I think that's a very slender read on which to base such a theory.

KEVIN HARRIS: In conclusion today, Josh has said that the two of you are considering writing a book together. Is this something that's in the works?

DR. CRAIG: Yes, indeed it is. We have decided to collaborate on producing a book on the historical Adam. I would write the part on the biblical material – Old and New Testament both. Then Josh would write the chapters on the scientific evidence pertinent to human origins. Together we would produce, I hope, a really first-rate volume that would examine both the biblical and scientific data on Adam and Eve.[2]


[2]           Total Running Time: 22:07 (Copyright © 2020 William Lane Craig)