This is a timely issue for the church that affects both our witness to those outside our communities whom we long to reach with the gospel, and for those among us who have come to accept the evidence for evolution. In both cases, the all too common narrative is that robust science and robust faith are at odds—and I hope that this conversation has helped some see past this false dichotomy. Of course, given the proscribed brevity of our reply, I cannot interact with all that the reviewers have said, choosing rather to interact with what I found most interesting and compelling. I hope that many readers will pick up the book itself, for that is perhaps the most detailed reply that I can offer.
Concerns with Swamidass’s Model
The model that my colleague Joshua Swamidass offers is, as far as I am aware, unique in the Christian conversation on origins. Swamidass affirms consensus science for both evolution and the evidence for human ancestral population sizes. Within this setting, Swamidass sees the opportunity for a genealogical Adam and Eve as common ancestors of all living humans. This pair, specially created by God from dust 6,000 years ago (with or without the markers of common ancestry in their genomes, one wonders?) and biologically compatible with the humans living around them, interbred with them. Over time, this pair becomes genealogical ancestors to all living humans, though they make no genetic contribution to the present day. As such, we can have evolution, a large ancestral population size, and yet make no significant adjustments to our (largely Augustinian) theology on these matters.
I can certainly understand that these ideas may have appeal for some seeking to reconcile science and particular interpretations of the Genesis narratives. I do not, however, think this is a viable way forward, for several reasons.
The primary concern I have with this idea is that in its attempt to preserve a particular reading of Genesis, it must draw a line, in some way, between the descendants of Adam and Eve and the rest of humanity. Swamidass hints that one possible dividing line might be the Imago Dei, since there is no scientific way to detect whether a person has the image:
Specifically, science focuses on anatomically modern humans. This is a matter of practicality because there is no way of detecting the breath of God and His Image on us. Therefore, we cannot locate Adam in history, let alone determine who descends from him. Science can, however, ask if ancient bones look like those of modern humans. Alongside anatomy, paleoanthropologists identify several milestones. Roughly speaking, 200,000 years ago we appear, 80,000 years ago we leave Africa and spread across the globe, 10,000 years ago we discover agriculture, and 6,000 years ago began recorded history. At which point did we become the “mankind” of Scripture? And when and how did we receive God’s Image? (“A Genealogical Adam and Eve in Evolution“)
If only those who descend from Adam and Eve have the Imago Dei, as Swamidass seems to be suggesting here, then there are a few hundred thousand years of human history where everyone else is not made in God’s image—and they only become made in God’s image once they interbreed with Adam’s descendants. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I find this idea horrific. Humans are widely dispersed on the planet at 6,000 years ago—in the Americas, in Australia and Tasmania, and so on. Do we really want a theology that names them all as subhuman animals until their lineage happens to encounter and interbreed with Adam’s (Eurasian) offspring? God forbid. Likely this was not Swamidass’s intent, of course, but it seems to me that models like these lead to this decidedly unsavory conclusion.
A second concern I have is that this idea is ad hoc. Yes, God performing a special act of creation to make Adam and Eve 6,000 years ago who then become genealogical ancestors of all living humans without contributing any of their DNA to the present day is compatible with mainstream evolutionary biology, but so are many other scenarios that invoke miracles. Mainstream evolutionary biology is also fully compatible with the possibility that God miraculously created every species individually, but with all the genomic evidence for common ancestry in place as we observe it, and as I discuss at length in the book. Even most Christians don’t find these sorts of apologetics approaches helpful, to say nothing of the impact these sorts of arguments have on those we seek to reach with the gospel.
Naturalistic or Miraculous? … Yes
What then of miracles? A common theme in several of the reviews is that Scot and I do not give proper place for them, seeking rather “natural” explanations. Fuz Rana faults us for this, and points to the resurrection as the prime example. The irony here is that the scientific preference for methodological naturalism—seeking natural explanations for natural phenomena—in large part grew out of a scientific culture that expected such regularity because the natural world was assumed to be under God’s order and control. As such, it was expected to be amenable to scientific investigation. To be a scientist dedicated to the very best science possible has historically not been viewed as in conflict with affirming miracles. To follow this highly productive course of thinking for several centuries only to discard it in light of its perceived threats to theology is deeply ironic. To be a scientist dedicated to the very best science possible has historically not been viewed as in conflict with affirming miracles. Christ is risen indeed, and when I go to the lab I expect to find order and regularity in creation. Anything that is not ordered and regular in this way—such as miracles—will simply be outside my ability to study with the tools of science. This only becomes a problem if one sees science as the only arbiter of truth—which, of course, no Christian does. Rather than viewing science and faith as in competition with one another, it is much more in keeping with Christian history to view them as complementary sources of insight into the created order—a view that we would do well to robustly recover for our present day.