Published by IVP Academic on June 1, 2021
Genres: Academic, Non-Fiction
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Evolutionary science teaches that humans arose as a population, sharing common ancestors with other animals. Most readers of the book of Genesis in the past understood all humans descended from Adam and Eve, a couple specially created by God. These two teachings seem contradictory, but is that necessarily so? In the fractured conversation of human origins, can new insight guide us to solid ground in both science and theology? In The Genealogical Adam and Eve, S. Joshua Swamidass tests a scientific hypothesis: What if the traditional account is somehow true, with the origins of Adam and Eve taking place alongside evolution? Building on well-established but overlooked science, Swamidass explains how it's possible for Adam and Eve to be rightly identified as the ancestors of everyone. His analysis opens up new possibilities for understanding Adam and Eve, consistent both with current scientific consensus and with traditional readings of Scripture. These new possibilities open a conversation about what it means to be human. In this book, Swamidass
untangles several misunderstandings about the words human and ancestry, in both science and theology explains how genetic and genealogical ancestry are different, and how universal genealogical ancestry creates a new opportunity for rapprochement explores implications of genealogical ancestry for the theology of the image of God, the fall, and people outside the garden Some think Adam and Eve are a myth. Some think evolution is a myth. Either way, the best available science opens up space to engage larger questions together. In this bold exploration, Swamidass charts a new way forward for peace between mainstream science and the Christian faith.
I grew up as a young earth creationist. Ken Ham came and talked to my homeschool group level of young earth creationist. My first Bible was a KJV Defender’s Study Bible with study notes by Henry Morris level of young earth creationist. Went to a university that had a mandatory class on “creation studies” level of young earth creationist. But as I got older, I began to notice some holes in the theory. Not scientifically, because I wasn’t a scientist, but theologically. I began to realize that several conservative evangelical thinkers were much less dogmatic on the nature of origins—or even (gasp!) dogmatic about alternative views of creation. As I moved into seminary, I began to see more and more evidence for an old earth but evolution…EVOLUTION? I had a harder time with that. Eventually, I settled for contentment in the mystery. God created. That’s what the Genesis account is really saying. How did God create? Well…it’s much less clear.
The Genealogical Adam and Eve presents a case for theistic evolution that remains true to a literal Adam and Eve created as recently as six thousand years ago. As such, he pulls together two incredibly disparate streams of thought and attempts to tie them together. Can the anthropology of young earth creationism be reconciled with evolutionary biology? Computational biologist S. Joshua Swamidass gives it his best effort and the result is surprisingly compelling.
Undergirding The Genealogical Adam and Eve and Swamidass’s hypothesis that there is no scientific evidence against universal ancestry is an irenic tone and a compassionate spirit. Swamidass, having grown up as a young earth creationist, is sensitive to the desires of many YECs to faithfully interpret Scripture. His hypothesis is not dissimilar to YEC in many ways, as it holds to de novo creation, a recent Adam and Eve, and a universal ancestor. At very least, Swamidass offers readers a theological corrective, encouraging progressive theologians to not be so quick to reinterpret their theology in light of science. Where once science closed the doors to a universal creator, it now seems more amenable to least considering the possibility. (Conversely, it’s also worth noting that Swamidass is the leading scholar promoting this theory and the science behind it is still relatively new, so the caution against adjusting theological interpretation to fit scientific theory applies in this direction as well.)
The Genealogical Hypothesis
Simply stated, the hypothesis has six premises:
- They lived recently in the Middle East. Perhaps as recently as 6,000 years ago (the earliest promoted by YEC), but the precise date is not necessary. “Recently” is a relative term when considering billions of years.
- They are genealogical ancestors of everyone. By 1 AD, Adam and Eve are a couple from whom all humans then living descend. It’s unclear (to me) why Swamidass chooses this rather arbitrary date. If there’s a reason for it, I read over it.
- They are de novo That is, God created Adam and Eve via a direct act. Swamidass believes that humanity existed outside the Garden of Eden, created through evolution, but God creates Adam and Eve as a specially created couple.
- Interbreeding between their lineage and others. Because of the genetic difficulties with tracing human population back to a single pair and scientific evidence that humanity evolved as a population, Swamidass holds that, post-Fall, the descendants of Adam and Eve interbreed with humanity outside the Garden.
- No additional miracles. The de novo creation of Adam and Eve is God’s only intervention.
- The two findings of evolutionary science. The people outside the Garden share common descent with the great apes and the size of their population would never dip down to a single couple.
A Theological Perspective
When The Genealogical Adam and Eve ventures to build a theological narrative around its hypothesis, it separates Genesis 1 and 2 into two distinct creations: Genesis 1 represents a poetic account of the creation of the universe; Genesis 2 represents a much later account of the de novo creation of Adam and Eve. In this theory, millions of years of evolution pass to the point that humans—however they might be defined—have evolved. In the middle of this, God supernaturally creates a Garden and two humans. After the expulsion from Eden, into the world outside the Garden, the children of Adam and Eve interbreed with the humans outside the Garden. (Swamidass suggests that the problem of where Cain got a wife and what in the world Nephilim are find some resolution in this model.) By the time of Jesus, all humans alive are genealogical descendants of Adam and Eve.
In terms of theology, Swamidass goes to great lengths to connect some major claims of young earth creationism with current scientific evidence. However, YECs will still be disappointed that The Genealogical Adam and Eve clings firmly to evolutionary theory, an old earth, and a regional (not global) flood. The weakest theological element is Swamidass’s separation of Genesis 1 and 2 into two distinct creation events. This is not the overall consensus of biblical scholars and would be a very minority position. More work needs to be done in this area for Swamidass’s hypothesis to have theological merit. Nonetheless, Swamidass offers a unique perspective that forces the three main positions (young earth, old earth, and theistic evolution) to reevaluate their positions.
A Scientific Perspective
From a scientific perspective, the genealogical evidence appears convincing. Swamidass references his own peer-reviewed academic work often and notes how various organizations and scientists have taken note of his work. It seems clear that, from a genealogical perspective, a relatively recent Adam and Eve is not only scientifically possible, but probable. However, I’m also not a scientist, so I may be more easily swayed than someone with experience in the area. At very least, The Genealogical Adam and Eve presents a compelling case in terms of universal humanity and the next decade will see if his work is corroborated.
The Genealogical Adam and Eve is a seminal work on universal humanity that strengthens the relationship between Christian theology and science, making the case Scripture and evolution do not need to held in contradiction. It’s a thoughtful, compassionate work that breaks new ground in what, frankly, had become a tired argument among entrenched groups. Swamidass also reminds us that, regardless of Adam’s historicity or place in history, our faith is ultimately in the Second Adam—Jesus Christ.