Josh Swamidass on Adam and Eve | Part Two
Dr. Swamidass discusses his recent book on the historical Adam and Eve.
KEVIN HARRIS: Welcome back to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. We are going to continue this interview with Josh Swamidass being conducted by the guys at Capturing Christianity.
DR. SWAMIDASS: Scientists can be very evidence-driven and sometimes that slips into a kind of positivism where if they don’t have evidence for it they don’t believe it happened. I think that is one area where I think careful and respectful engagement from philosophers on science can actually help. There is actually a lesson in the history of science in this, too – it’s a fairly recent one, too – looking at how ancient DNA has really reshaped our understanding of human history. Ancient DNA is you can take all these fossils and remains we are digging up out of the ground and – not like Jurassic Park; you can't go back 65 million years ago, but – you can go back about 400,000 years and get DNA out of hominid fossils. Going back, like I said, about 400,000 years. You get that DNA, you sequence it, and you can start understanding things about human history you couldn't see before. And over and over again . . . there's a really beautiful article. It said that ancient DNA is sparring with Occam's razor. If you take the simplest explanation of the DNA that we have and people walking around today, you get one story. But then it's a simple story. But if you add in all this information from ancient DNA you find out the story is much more complex – that there's actually mixing in a lot more places than you expect. That’s kind of what the current pattern is. So when you look at the DNA there you might say isolation but we don't know actually what the future holds because ancient DNA could tell us something different. We know for a fact that human history is far more complex than our simplest models. That is an argument that I would say is relatively provocative that I'm making in the book, but I think it has to do with just the fact that science is very evidentially-driven and sometimes that accidentally steps into a type of positivism where we think the only things that happen are the ones we have evidence for rather than the fact that we actually know for a fact the majority of things that happen in the past we just have no evidence for.
KEVIN HARRIS: Positivism?
DR. CRAIG: Yes. He's making a good point philosophically. This is one of the things I appreciate about Josh – is that he is not simply interested in science but also philosophy and theology and the integration of these disciplines. That's a real talent and a positive feature in his work. With respect to the Neanderthal DNA, what he's referring to there is the discovery that in the genome of contemporary human beings people carry a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA. It has persisted down to the present day. Also this other early species of archaic humans called Denisovans (especially in the South Pacific like Fiji Islands) they carry maybe two or three percent of their DNA from these Denisovans. So there is indication here – I mean positive evidence now, we're talking about – that early Homo sapiens (anatomically modern people) interbred with other archaic human species like Neanderthals and Denisovans. It is heavy, isn’t it! My son – his mother-in-law is very proud of her Neanderthal DNA! She really boasts about this!
KEVIN HARRIS: It helps keep you warm when it gets cold, I guess. [laughter] Continuing the interview.
DR. SWAMIDASS: You can say that, for example, if you take a vocational view of the image of God which it's merely a calling but it's not rational souls and things like that, then there can be people outside the Garden that are from our point of view entirely human. From a scientific point of view, from a human point of view, entirely human. You wouldn't see any difference. But they just don't have the same calling on their life, in much as the distinction maybe between Jews and Gentiles. It might be a similar distinction between the people from outside the Garden and people within. As long as, again, and once again I show several ways how to do this. One time explaining Gregory of Nyssa – his argument against slavery and how he really formulates that as a way to give dignity to people outside the Garden – dignity and worth to them. I think you can avoid all of the critiques of that, even if it is that .001% of people a few hundred years ago didn't descend from Adam and Eve even though the vast majority of people did.
DR. CRAIG: I find this idea of interpreting the image of God vocationally as really anathema. I've discussed this recently in my Defenders class – in our lectures on doctrine of man in Defenders 3. What I argue there is that these sorts of functional views of the image of God are actually rooted in ontology; that is to say, in what man is (namely a personal agent). Because it's only by being a personal agent that he can fulfill his vocation. I attempt to show that ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian texts that supposedly support a functional interpretation in fact do not. They support a quite different interpretation of the idea of being an image of a god, and it's an interpretation that's incompatible with Genesis 1. So to me this is a terrible view. What it would imply is that there are people who are just like me and you in every way (rational, self-conscious, self-reflective, trying to do right and wrong, loving their children, having an aesthetic appreciation of beauty and ugliness, of right and wrong) and yet they are not in the image of God and therefore are not truly human and therefore are not recipients of God's grace or beneficiaries of Christ's atoning death. And I find that unconscionable – that there could be people like that. It seems to me that the better view is to say that all human beings share in this vocation given to Adam and Eve to steward and rule the Earth and that they have this vocation to fulfill because they are personal agents and therefore resemble God in that respect. Trying to discriminate between people without this vocation and people with this vocation (like Jews and Gentiles) falls into the trap that I mentioned earlier of denying that universalizing interest of the author of Genesis who doesn't want to show that it's some elect group that is the recipient of God's calling and grace, but it's all humanity. That universal interest goes directly against this vocational understanding of the image of God as restricted to Adam’s descendants while these other persons do not have this vocation. Now, again, I want to emphasize – Josh is not committing himself to this view. I think he remains open-minded. He leaves it an open question as to whether those outside the Garden are human or not.
KEVIN HARRIS: Yeah, he's just mentioning it.
DR. CRAIG: Yeah, he is just floating alternatives for discussion, and that's fine. And so I'm discussing one such alternative, and rejecting it.
KEVIN HARRIS: It is kind of depressing, too, in that some who hold that view would hold that those people who in every sense human it seems but they wouldn't have the image of God and they would have no afterlife. They're just annihilated.
DR. CRAIG: Well, unless you think maybe that animals will be there. That's a possibility. But the logical implication – when you take this view to the logical limit – that would mean that there could be people walking around today with whom we have relations, maybe to whom we're married even, who don't have this vocation and therefore not really in the image of God. And they would be indiscernible from the rest of us.
KEVIN HARRIS: And witnessing to them or trying to evangelize to them would do no good.
DR. CRAIG: Futile.
KEVIN HARRIS: Oh my goodness. I don't know. I see YouTube videos sometimes that makes me think that that is true. [laughter] Let’s continued here with this interview.
DR. SWAMIDASS: One of the other surprising things in dialogue with theologians through this . . . one of the key things that I wrote was a chapter explaining how the term “human” has no precision in science to the point that really there's really no claim that scientists have to be normative in that discussion. Theologians really have the right to define “human” on their own terms. Right? But the problem is you go talk to theologians and they can't define “human” in an agreement with one another! They have a broad, broad range of views. One way to do it, which I actually don't think is a most helpful way, is by equating human with the image of God – saying if someone's in the image of God then they are human, and if they're not in the image of God then they aren't. I think that that's a problem actually. I don't think that that makes sense, but given that is how so many people think about it, what you find out actually is that there's a ton of different ways to think about the image of God. . . . probably most to the relational view, but the more dominant views are the vocational view (which is the idea that there's a special calling that Adam and his descendants have, a special calling to a good dominion over the Earth), and that doesn't imply anything about the attributes or substance of anyone else. So you can have people who are fully human but they just have a different calling. Other people like predominantly Catholics but also a lot of philosophers (Bill Craig as well) take a more structuralist or substantialist view where they locate the image of God not in a calling or not in relationships with one another but with our intrinsic attributes. So they commonly think about it from using Catholic language would be if a person has a rational soul then they are human and therefore they must have descended from Adam and Eve. So that's another way to think about it. I think there is just such a broad range of how to put that all together that I think we're going to see different ways of overlaying the theological concept of human on top of this model. I give a couple ways, but I think that's actually where the fun is going to happen. I mean I think it's one of the grand questions to wonder what it means to be human. And right now I think what this really does is it brings to the surface that conversation where there's been a lot of really interesting tensions and questions. I’m really curious to see how the theologians work with it from here. Like I said, I think we can even separate the question of how theologians define human from the more narrow . . . I mean actually I think the more important question is at times of how we think about human dignity and worth. With that being said, I'll just add what I think is how Genesis describes human and not referencing the image of God. So ignoring the image of God for a moment, I think if you read Genesis given the word used for “mankind” that's translated “mankind” or “humankind” is actually the word “adam.” I think the best way to read Genesis – and I'm curious your thoughts on this to, Mike – is the way how Genesis defines human or anthropos is that it is Adam, Eve, and their descendents and it isn't really talking about anything else. That's kind of the case I make for the scriptural or the textual definition of human. Does that make sense to you?
MIKE JONES: It makes sense. I see where you’re going with that. I tend to take the view that Adam is called “man” sort of like as a proper name later on. Kind of in Genesis 2, it just kind of refers to the man and like Adam is sort of like a proper name, that sort of comes out of like a title for him. I guess you could think of it like as Genghis Khan is not really his name. His name is Temujin but we call him Genghis Khan by his title. So you could take that kind of view, but I definitely see where you're coming through. “Man” definitely does refer to Adam and his descendants in terms of the story of Scripture because that's where the story is sort of taking off.
DR. SWAMIDASS: Yeah. Think about Scripture, like the redemption story, and what Genesis is telling us, what the New Testament writers like Paul and the Gospel writers referring to Jesus are referring to. What they're really getting at is the story of Scripture which is really bound contextually to Adam and Eve and their descendants which we know both from church tradition and from the scriptural arguments and also from science that means everyone across the globe right now.
DR. CRAIG: I think this attempt to drive a wedge between the image of God and human is unacceptable. Listen to the words of Genesis 1:26 and following: “and God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion . . .” Then it says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” That's clearly not just referring to Adam. That's referring to man generically. I think Mike was quite right in his comments. “Adam” is not used as a proper name in Genesis until later in the story, but here we're talking about adam meaning “man,” and it's used with regard to a plurality – male and female, them. So we mustn't, I think, try to drive this wedge between being in the image of God and being human. On the contrary, what makes us human is that we are in the image of God unlike all the rest of animal creation. No other animal in Genesis 1 is created in the image and after the likeness of God. That's what makes us human. Now, Josh says to be human is simply to be a descendant of Adam and Eve. In this way he can approximate the traditional view of Adam and Eve that in fact they are the parents of every human being that has ever lived but only at the expense of having these folks outside the Garden who look like human beings, act like human beings, but they're really not human. And that just gives me the chills frankly.
KEVIN HARRIS: It does me, too.
DR. CRAIG: It gives me the creeps! So I'm not ready to go this route.
KEVIN HARRIS: Even science fiction explores this, with the androids and are they really human? And can you advance to the point of making an artificial human that is in every way human? All those good questions. Josh here says that he's pressing theologians and in fact talking to you a lot as well, as we will hear in just a moment, about getting a good definition of “human.” He says it seems to be all over the place.
DR. CRAIG: Oh. I wanted to say something else about that. I think it's somewhat misleading to say that scientists don't have a good idea of what it means to be human. I think that's misleading. What they don't have a good idea of is when humans first appear in the historical record. Was Homo erectus human? Was Homo heidelbergensis human? Were Neanderthals human? Or is it only Homo sapiens who are human? There is dispute as to when you begin to call these hominid forms human, but that doesn't mean that scientists don't have a good idea of what humans are. Just look around us – we are humans! We are paradigmatic humans. What scientists are looking for – archaeologists in particular – are signs of modern human behavior in the ancient record. For example, one of the most evident signs would be cave art. Cave and rock art shows a symbolic consciousness where these people can use colors and shapes to represent antelope and rhinoceroses and lions and things of that sort so that by the time you see cave art everybody recognizes that these are the product of human beings. There's no ambiguity there. By contrast, primitive tools like from the first era of tool-making called the Oldowan era consist of very primitive rocks that have chips out of them and may not be indicative of a high level of intelligence because primatologists have taught chimpanzees how to make Oldowan tools in order to cut a fiber and thereby open a box and get their fruit that has been put into the box. Fascinating experiments on how even chimps have learned Oldowan tool-making. But when you get to later tools and weapons like these spears that were found in Schöningen in Germany which date 300 to 400 thousand years old, these spears are wooden spears. They are sculpted. They're not just a tree branch. They're sculpted so that they taper to a sharp point in the beginning and then they taper to a long tail in the end. Most of the weight of the spear is in the front third of the spear because the circumference is bigger near the front. So the weight of the spear is in the first third so that when it's thrown it's an effective weapon. These things are over six feet, seven feet long. Experts – get a load of this – experts have made reproductions of these Schöningen Spears, and they've found them to be equivalent to Olympic javelins. Now, I maintain this is a modern behavior that betokens real human consciousness and intelligence. Moreover, these spears were used in big game hunting which requires cooperation, forethought, planning. Those are universally recognized to be traits of modern human consciousness, maybe even language ability. So I think it's misleading to say that scientists don't have a good idea of what humans are. What is true to say is they're not clear when humans first appear in the record. That is disputed, and it's a very, very interesting subject which I am reading enthusiastically about at the present time.
KEVIN HARRIS: A couple of more clips from Josh and the boys.
MIKE JONES: Do you think there are any views of Genesis that are incompatible with what you lay out in the book? You try to make it compatible with a multitude of views.
DR. SWAMIDASS: Yeah, there are definitely views that are incompatible. What I would say is if you take the standard, most widely known Young Earth Creationist accounts, it's not compatible with science. However, the model that I do put forward in the genealogy of Adam and Eve, you could call it a young Adam creation account. I think it actually accommodates the Young Earth Creationist’s reading of Scripture where we say in the same way . . . dialogue is a beautiful thing, I have to say, because you learn about things you don't know about people. In the Young Earth Creationist camp, there's a whole group of people that don't think the Earth is young. They're called Young Life Creationists. They think the Earth is old but they think life was created recently (about 6,000 years ago). What's going on is they're kind of saying there's a contextual boundedness of Scripture that allows them to let go of the age of the cosmos and the age of the Earth. Following that logic one step further you get to the model that I put forward in the book which is you could call a young Adam creation which is the idea that Adam’s world – the Garden – was created recently (within the last ten thousand years) and he could have even de novo created in a very literal reading that is entirely consistent with Young Earth Creationism – from a reading point of view, a scriptural point of view – but it's also consistent with mainstream science. I think that's a little bit surprising. There's also a set of views that some of the structuralists are going to care about for a more and more ancient Adam and Eve where also his genetic descendants that I don't really cover here. I allude to it a little bit. Right now I'm writing a book with William Lane Craig where we're really exploring that in far more detail. I mean, the scientific questions are really interesting. I do think in my view from the point of view of church tradition and Scripture and science that the most untroubled position would be a young Adam creation. But I do think that there are interesting questions that are going to be important for some traditions in the church which I'm really looking forward to exploring with a more ancient Adam.
DR. CRAIG: I think that Josh is right that the traditional Young Earth Creation account is incompatible with science. So you've got to make some kind of major revision. He does it by having people evolve outside the Garden and then interbreed with the descendants of Adam and Eve. That's a revision I don't want to make. My revision is to not take the chronology of Genesis 1 to 11 literally but to push Adam all the way back to make him ancestral to Neanderthals and Homo sapiens somewhere between 550 or 700 thousand years ago. I find it attractive to identify him with Homo heidelbergensis which is an archaic human being that looks very much like us today and had a brain capacity comparable to ours and who had the sort of tools like the Schöningen Spears that we talked about that they employed in their big game hunts. So we're all needing to make revisions, I think. I think creation science (Young Earth Creationism) is hopeless, but I'm not ready to go Josh's route with what he calls the “young Adam,” or I would prefer maybe “later Adam.” I want to have an early Adam, rather than a later Adam, and that involves major revisions as well.