Saturday, January 4, 2020

The Genealogical Adam & Eve: The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry

In his book, The Genealogical Adam & Eve[1], Dr. S. Joshua Swamidass presents an intriguing hypothesis regarding Adam & Eve and how the Genesis account can fit with current science. What follows is a summary of Dr. Swamidass’ proposal. He does back up everything he says with data from nature and references to scripture; get the book if you want to follow the entire argument!

Long before Adam & Eve, through a providentially governed process of common descent, God creates biological humans in His image. These are the humans described in Genesis 1; they have minds and souls, a sense of right and wrong written on their hearts (according to Romans 2:15), but are not morally perfect. They are hunter/gatherers, live in small groups and have dominion over the earth, but not each other. They are subject to physical death, along with all of nature. After many thousands of years, civilization begins to rise through agriculture and permanent settlements; cities, written language, an explosion of new knowledge and new kinds of evil are all coming soon.

Genesis 2 reports God making himself known in a new way to change the destiny of everyone through Adam and Eve. The world of Genesis 1 is good, but God offers a new choice for something better: God creates Adam with a clean slate, de novo from the dust and places Adam (along with Eve) in a specially prepared Garden. Adam and Eve could have lived as recently as 6000 years ago and still could have been ancestors of everyone across the globe by AD 1. They would be “genetic ghosts” with no identifiable DNA; the genetic evidence has nothing to say about how they came about. 

Adam and Eve are sinless and are in a perfect environment in the Garden.  They are made righteous and are to work as priestly rulers alongside God to expand the Garden across the earth. Their purpose is to welcome everyone into their family, in a new kingdom with the offer of relationship with the Creator. They are given the choice between living obediently in the service of a good God or ruling the world on their own.  You know the choice they made, which results in exile from the Garden.

This … reconciles two conflicted understandings of Adam and Eve. Readers [of the Bible] for centuries have inferred people outside the Garden. However, universal descent from Adam and Eve is implicated in Paul’s teaching and the monogenesis tradition of the Church. The conflict is resolved with a temporal distinction. Adam and Eve start out in a larger population but becomeancestors of everyone.[2]

The Fall causes everyone to lose their chance at immortality and fractures the offering of a relationship with God.  Adam and Eve’s descendants infect the rise of civilization, corrupting it with injustice and the abuse of power.  The good dominion of Genesis 1 becomes a ferocious struggle where everyone attempts to dominate one another. God then continues his plan to bring everyone back into relationship with Him through Abraham, Moses, and eventually Jesus.

Dr. Swamidass summarizes his hypothesis:

Entirely consistent with the genetic and archeological evidence, it is possible that Adam was created out of dust, and Eve out of his rib, less than ten thousand years ago. Leaving the Garden, their offspring would have blended with those outside it, biologically identical neighbors from the surrounding area. In a few thousand years, they would become genealogical ancestors of everyone.[3]

More important than Dr. Swamidass’ hypothesis about Adam and Eve is his demonstration on how to deal with differences of opinion both within Christianity and also between the Christian and scientific communities. This book shows us how to, in his words, “Find a better way together.” 

This book arises from an ongoing ‘civic practice’ of science ‘rooted in three aspirations: tolerance, humility and patience.’ In humility, we recognize that we cannot convince everyone to agree with us. In tolerance, we make space for those with whom we disagree. In patience, we seek understanding, listening to the concerns of others taking their questions seriously. The common good is served as we put these virtues into public practice, making room for differences. These virtues also make room for science. Science is driven by the dynamic exchange of disagreement over questions.[4]

As Dr. Swamidass so aptly demonstrates, we would all benefit from a humble, tolerant and patient exchange of disagreement over the questions of Christianity as well.

[1] Swamidass, S. Joshua, The Genealogical Adam & Eve, Intervarsity Press, 2019
[2] ibid, page 148
[3] Ibid, page 10
[4] ibid, page 6