Josh Swamidass on Adam and Eve | Part One
Dr. Swamidass discusses his recent book on the historical Adam and Eve.
KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, you had an opportunity to meet and work with Josh Swamidass who is really getting a lot of people talking these days especially when it comes to the historical Adam and Eve and the theology behind it.
DR. CRAIG: I met him first at the Dabar Conference at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School which is a conference of the so-called Creation Project investigating these origins questions. He was there. He's an information biologist from Washington University in St. Louis. He made quite an impression on me because during one of the sessions the speaker was talking about Darwinism, and Swamidass stood up from the floor (and he's a big fellow) and he says to this fellow, Why do you keep talking about Darwinism? Darwinism has been dead for over a hundred years. And the fellow says, Well, alright then, neo-Darwinism. And Swamidass wouldn't let go. He said, Neo-Darwinism has been dead since the late 1960s. Why do you keep attacking these obsolete views rather than the views that are current in evolutionary biology? Really challenging the speaker on his knowledge of what was going on in current evolutionary theory. So Josh is an expert in this area. He's very confrontational; not afraid to be controversial.
KEVIN HARRIS: Let's play some excerpts of his interview on the YouTube channel Capturing Christianity. By the way, we want to give a shout out to Cameron Bertuzzi who hosts Capturing Christianity and does a phenomenal job hosting and producing it. And Michael Jones known as Inspiring Philosophy. Both of them are knocking us out with their work on YouTube. Guys, keep up the good work. Capturing Christianity and Inspiring Philosophy – they recently got together and did a joint interview with Josh that Cameron titled “The Surprising Science of Adam and Eve.” Let's look at some of these clips, Bill, and get your comments.
DR. SWAMIDASS: My name is Josh Swamidass. I'm a Christian. I’m from The Lausanne Covenant, and I'm also a scientist. I was raised as a Young Earth Creationist, but I really came to see the evidence for myself and really found a faith that was really centered on Jesus rather than Adam. I came to really be slowly convinced that there was a lot of legitimacy to evolution. At the same token, through all that I never really saw the evidence against Adam and Eve that I kept on hearing about. I don't say that with ignorance. I talked to experts, and it really just seemed that there was something missing. That's really what this book ends up being about. Because I found out that not only that everyone was convinced that science really show that the Adam and Eve story really required major revisions from what people have historically believed about it, but also that a lot of people really hung up on this. Even though I kind of moved past that conflict myself, and in many ways didn't even see the conflict of Adam and Eve precisely, I realized that there would be really a lot of value in trying to clarify what the science actually did and didn't say. I found out in my book The Geological Adam and Eve, the case that I make, is the entirely traditional, historical understanding of Genesis is entirely consistent with Scripture. The way I frame it is entirely consumed with the genetic evidence. Adam and Eve are ancestors of us all, could have been de novo created out of the dust and of a rib as recently as 6,000 years ago, and the only way that evolutionary science presses on that traditional account is by suggesting alongside Scripture and the Genesis tradition that there were people outside the Garden. And that's not really a threat to theology. It just means that there's a larger story we're finding out about it. I think that's exciting. It just means that a lot of our sense of conflict just isn't there. I mean, you can still reject evolution if you want to, but you can't do it because you think it's in conflict with what a literal account of Genesis says.
KEVIN HARRIS: Let's stop right there because that's a lot.
DR. CRAIG: Yes. So what is Josh's proposal? This is not necessarily a view to which he is committed. Rather, he's saying this is a possible alternative. It's a viable alternative. But he's not committing himself to the truth of this hypothesis. What is his hypothesis? His hypothesis is that Adam and Eve were special creations of God a few thousand years ago in the Garden of Eden, but that outside the Garden the traditional story of biological evolution had been going on all the while, and these primates evolved into Australopithecines and then those evolved into various forms of archaic Homo species until finally people evolved who were capable of having sexual intercourse and interbreeding with the children that Adam and Eve sired. What happened then was after Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden and began to have progeny themselves the descendants of Adam and Eve interbred with this population that had evolved according to the evolutionary story from these primitive primates. And that's why, when geneticists look at the human genome, they see that we’re 95% similar to chimpanzees. We have vestiges of these hominid genomes in our genome today because we are the product not simply of the children of Adam and Eve but we are also the product of these evolved people outside the Garden. Josh claims that this view doesn't involve, as he puts it, any major revisions of the doctrine of Adam and Eve, but that it is, and I quote, “entirely traditional.” Well, this is where I really give pushback to Josh. This is not by any stretch of the imagination the traditional view of Adam and Eve. The traditional view of Adam and Eve is that they are universal common ancestors – that every single human being who has ever lived is a descendant of Adam and Eve. The entire human population goes back to this primordial pair. There weren't any people outside the Garden with whom their progeny could interbreed. So Josh is very misleading when he says that on this view that he's proposing Adam and Eve are the ancestors of us all. The ancestors of us all. Now, when someone uses a universal quantifier like that – “us all” – you immediately have to ask yourself what is the domain over which you're quantifying. For example, if I say, “There's nothing in the refrigerator” I'm quantifying over food stuffs (things good to eat). But I'm not saying there are no shelves in the refrigerator, or there's no air molecules in the refrigerator. So when Josh says they are ancestors of us all, what he means is all of us that exist today. We are all descended from Adam and Eve. They are among our ancestors. But at the time of Adam and Eve themselves during their own lifetime and thereafter for some time there were lots of people who were not descended from Adam and Eve of whom they were not the ancestors. And that is definitely a revision – a major revision – of the traditional view. And it is the reason I have not been enthusiastic about this proposal. I think that it's important to preserve the teaching of Genesis that Adam and Eve are truly the ancestors of every human being that has ever lived on this planet.
KEVIN HARRIS: We'll get into it in some future podcasts as well – what it means, the image of God, various theology on that, as well this view that there were people outside. There were hominids outside of the Garden, outside of Adam and Eve. Do you reject that because there are various Scriptures like this that said there was not a helpmate, there was nobody.
DR. CRAIG: Very good, Kevin!
KEVIN HARRIS: Is that why you say that?
DR. CRAIG: That would be part of it. I give three reasons why I'm skeptical of this proposal. The first one is related to the purpose of the primeval history, that is to say, Genesis chapters 1 to 11. Old Testament commentators have often asked the question: Why doesn't Genesis just start with the call of Abraham in Chapter 12? Why not start the narrative there? God calls Abraham to be a people unto himself, to form Israel, and then the rest of the Old Testament is the story of God's dealing with Israel. Why prefix to the story of the call of Abraham and the call of Israel this primeval history? The answer that all commentators give is that the purpose of the primeval history is to express God's universal interest in mankind. He is not interested in just saving the elect few that are descended from Abraham. Rather, the primeval history and the origin of all humans from Adam and Eve show God's universal plan for human history. When Adam and Eve forfeited that by sinning, God found another way by calling Abraham and Israel to be his people in order to fulfill that universal intent. He says, Through you all the nations of the world will be blessed. So the view proposed by Josh misses out on that crucial universalizing emphasis of the author of Genesis – that God's intention is for the salvation of all mankind and not just an elect group of people like Adam and Eve and their descendants. That's reason number one.
The second reason is when you compare the Genesis account of the creation of humanity to ancient Mesopotamian creation myths (such as you find in Babylon and Sumer) you discover that these creation myths are stories about the origin of humanity. They're not just stories about the origin of select individuals; rather they are about how there were no people. In particular there was no one who could do the back-breaking work of digging the irrigation canals except for the gods, and these lower gods began to complain about this work that they were given to do. So the higher gods say, Alright, we'll create man, and we'll give to him your job of digging the irrigation canals.
KEVIN HARRIS: Yeah, thanks a lot.
DR. CRAIG: Yeah! Thanks a lot! Basically in these Mesopotamian myths human beings were created as slave labor for the gods. That, in itself, is another remarkable topic on how different the Hebrew view of human being is. But what is evident is, again, the universal interest. This is typical for myths. Myths all around the world typically will deal with the question of Where did humanity come from?, Where did human beings come from? And a myth will be told in a culture about the origin of humanity. This is very common, and I think it gives us to understand against these cultural backdrops that Genesis has a similar intention. It wants to tell us: Where did humanity come from?
Finally, the third point would be the one that you made. When you look closely at the text itself, the text is pretty clear that there weren't any other people around. Genesis 2 says there was no man to till the ground and therefore God created Adam out of the dust of the Earth. And when it comes to finding a suitable mate for Adam, God parades all these animals before Adam and there was no one found that would be a suitable partner until God created Eve. And what was she then given the name? She was called “the mother of all living.” So I think that the story itself says pretty clearly that Adam and Eve were the only human beings around.
KEVIN HARRIS: Let's continue with this interview.
DR. SWAMIDASS: You can still reject evolution if you want to, but you can't do it because you think it's in conflict with what a literal account of Genesis says. A literal account of Genesis is entirely consistent with the evidence. Likewise, you can still reject Adam and Eve if you want but you can't do it because science somehow tells us they don't exist. That's just not true.
DR. CRAIG: That's the burden of his proposal. As I say, he's not necessarily saying that this is the truth, but he's saying that this just shows there is no inherent conflict between science and Christian theology or Genesis. And I think he admirably succeeds in his project. He provides a model according to which Adam and Eve can be special creations of God de novo as they say (without any progenitors) a few thousand years ago, and yet this will be consistent with all of the evidence of evolutionary biology.
KEVIN HARRIS: OK. Continuing with the interview.
DR. SWAMIDASS: De novo – I mean that in a very literal sense. Some people will take that term to mean God maybe took some existing people and then gave him a special calling or refurbished them. But the way I use it in this book is specifically meaning that God forms him out of the dust, reaches around, grab some dirt, and forms him, and then takes from his rib or side and makes Eve. I'm not saying that that's what happened, or what Scripture demands, though I do think that's how most people understood Genesis through the church's history over the last 2,000 years. So that creates a certain amount of default credibility even if we come to a different point of view.
DR. CRAIG: That illustrates the point I'm making. He's not committing himself to this sort of literalistic view which I think is extremely implausible. He’s not committing himself to that. He’s just saying that this is the traditional way it's been understood, and that's true, and that there's no conflict with evolutionary biology given his proposal that there were evolved people outside the Garden with whom the descendants of Adam and Eve interbred.
KEVIN HARRIS: Continuing.
DR. SWAMIDASS: And even if it's not true, that's fine. I'm saying if it was true there's no evidence against that.
DR. CRAIG: There you go. See? I'm not saying that it's true, but if it were true you can't refute it scientifically. There isn't any objection to it scientifically.
DR. SWAMIDASS: What I have to say, it's just been exciting to see the conversation grow around this. It's a pretty big change in our understanding. For 160 years we thought that the traditional understanding of Genesis was wrong because of science, or science is wrong because of Genesis. One of those two, and so it created a lot of conflict. I think we know now . . . you can think evolution’s a myth, or you can think that Adam and Eve are a myth, but either way there's just no conflict between them. Both can be true at the same time.
DR. CRAIG: That's if you make this major revision by saying there were people outside the Garden, which, as I say, is a revision that I'm not willing to make. So for me there is a conflict – an ostensible conflict, I mean.
DR. SWAMIDASS: My theology and my hermeneutics are really there for a very limited purpose. I'm not really trying to tell anyone that my view of this – and this isn't even my view per se – is correct, it's rather that there's some science here that makes clear some things. I just want to show that from a scriptural and a theological point of view it's not fatally flawed. I think the real judge of success, and I think we're already starting to see this, is how people other than me really pick it up and really fill in the details with their expertise. Before the show Mike and I were talking about this, too. He's been doing a lot of work on Genesis. I think this actually ends up aiding his work and showing that there's more ways to make sense of it and how it fits with orthodox Christianity. It even obviates or gets rid of some of the critiques that might be leveled against it.
DR. CRAIG: Certainly it is true that other people are picking up on this idea. People are, to my surprise, quite enthusiastic about this proposal. For example, my friend Andrew Lok who's been called “the William Lane Craig of Asia” – he lives in Hong Kong – has written a book on the historical Adam in which he defends the view that there are hominids outside the Garden with whom the descendants of Adam and Eve interbreed. But the wrinkle that Lok puts on it is that these creatures or hominids outside the Garden aren't truly human. He would say they're very advanced primates. Perhaps biologically they look just like us. They're anatomically modern. But because they're not made in the image of God, they're not truly human. So Lok wants to preserve in that way the fact that, yes, Adam and Eve are the universal ancestors of all human beings because these hominids outside the Garden with whom their descendants interbred weren't really human.
KEVIN HARRIS: Would these include Neanderthals, do you think?
DR. CRAIG: I don't know where Andrew Lok places Adam and Eve – whether it's a recent one like Josh Swamidass’ proposal. But if it's recent, it would exclude them from being human beings. This is part of, again, my scientific problem with this proposal. I mentioned a theological problem. My scientific problem with this proposal is I am not ready to write Neanderthals out of the human race. The more I study human origins, the more impressed I am with how much earlier in human history so-called modern behaviors emerged. Things like art, advanced tool-making, forethought and planning, cooperation, perhaps even language ability. Neanderthals had a brain capacity that was equal to or in excess of modern Homo sapiens. They were big game hunters. They cooperated together. I am not ready to write these people out in the human race. That's why I said in another podcast that I recently encouraged Fuz Rana of Reasons to Believe to locate Adam even further back in history so that he could be the ancestor not only of Homo sapiens but also of Neanderthals and Denisovans. So I'm inclined to try to locate Adam and Eve at the point of Homo heidelbergensis which is the immediate progenitor of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens.
KEVIN HARRIS: Maybe the Neanderthals are better looking than we thought because some of the times I see the picture I'm thinking there's no way I would have wanted to make out with one of them. [laughter]
DR. CRAIG: These artist recreations can be very misleading, I think. Neanderthals were a little bit different anatomically and structurally than human beings, but a lot of this is because they lived during the Ice Age. So these were very robust people who had to live in horrible climates so they tended to have shorter legs, they were squattier, their ribcage was different. But, as I say, in terms of the behaviors that they manifested, they had a lot of modern behaviors associated with them.
KEVIN HARRIS: OK. Continuing this interview.
DR. SWAMIDASS: If you're not a Christian or you think this Bible thing is nuts, that's fine. The book is written actually for you. The hypothesis is kind of how science works. We kind of start by proposing something – and it can even be something fictional. So, an example of a functional entity that science has considered a lot is something called Maxwell's Demon which is this fake fictional identity that no one thinks is real but a chemist – Maxwell – proposed it to think about the limits of the second law of thermodynamics. It is interesting because that gives you insight. It becomes a probe to think about what we do know and what we don't know and what the meaning of things are in physics. That's really what I'm doing here. You can still think that Adam and Eve are a myth but we can still kind of propose them as a fictional entity if you want. Some people maybe don't think it's fictional, and that's okay, too, and ask if that's true do we actually have any evidence against it? The key point that I make is that there were people outside the Garden in this hypothesis. Now, as the story develops in the book, the way how I make sense of this is that both Scripture and science are talking in legitimate ways about the same physical reality. However, they're giving different perspectives or periscopes or views on that same reality. Scripture is telling us the theologically important part of that physical story which is Adam and Eve and how we all arise from them by genealogical descent. There's a mystery outside the Garden in historical theology, and there's a mystery outside the Garden that arises from looking in Scripture. So it doesn't tell us what it is, but there's a big question mark. And a big part of my book is recovering that question mark in Scripture.
KEVIN HARRIS: That's a lot right there.
DR. CRAIG: Yes. He's certainly right that the use of fictions in science is very common. Highly theoretical models which may not be realistic descriptions of the universe are proposed by scientists which enable us to make predictions that are verifiable. But that doesn't mean that the model is a literal description of the way the world is. Here we again see how modest Josh's proposal is. He's even allowing that it could be fictional, but he's just saying that this fiction would not be refuted by any scientific evidence that we have. I do agree with him – theology and science give us different perspectives on reality. I think that's so important to understand. Genesis and the Bible are not a science book. It isn't there to teach us modern science. It's there to teach us theological lessons about these things. So we shouldn't read it as though it were a scientific treatise. This is a hermeneutic that is called concordism, where you try to read modern science into the text. I think it's generally agreed that that is a hermeneutic mistake because every generation then can read its science into the text which would mean that once that science is obsolete (say, Newtonian physics) well there goes your Bible interpretation out the window because now it's been superseded by a new scientific paradigm. So we have to be, I think, careful to read the text in the way that the original author and his audience would have understood it.
DR. SWAMIDASS: Now on the scientific side, it tells us the story of genetics which is different than genealogy. I know there's a lot of work to explain that. It's telling us the true story of how we share common descent with the great apes, and that's part of how God created us. But it doesn't tell us about Adam and Eve because they just fall into big massive blind spots. So we have this nice symmetry where Scripture is telling us one story and evolution is happening in the peripheral vision of that story and the people outside the Garden. And evolution could be happening in the scientific story, and the story of Genesis and Adam and Eve is just [in the blind eye] of science.
DR. CRAIG: Here he makes this crucial distinction between a genealogical ancestor and a genetic ancestor. Let's talk first about the idea of a genetic ancestor. You have millions of ancestors who are genetically invisible because over the course of time their genes drop out and so there's no trace of them in your present genome. You don't have probably any genes that have been transmitted from, say, Adam and Eve. Nevertheless, they are still your genealogical ancestor in the sense that you were begotten by parents, the parents were begotten by their parents, they were begotten by their parents, and it goes all the way back. Most of this genetic material or traces will fall out in the course of the generations begetting each other, but some can be preserved. You may have genetic traces of say a Neanderthal that once upon a time interbred with one of your ancestors. But there will be lots of people back there from whom you no longer have any genetic traces. They've just fallen out.
KEVIN HARRIS: So that's the difference between a genealogical ancestor and a genetic ancestry.
DR. CRAIG: And Josh is not claiming that Adam and Eve are our genetic ancestors, but they are our genealogical ancestors. They are the persons from whom all of us today are begotten.
KEVIN HARRIS: OK. We are out of time. Let’s pick it up right there next time and continue this interview and listen to some more clips from Josh Swamidass on Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig.