The Genealogical Adam and Eve is an unusual book in that it arises out of an ongoing civic practice of science (ch. 1). My goal is a better conversation in which we might understand each other. In aspiring to humility, tolerance, and patience, we might make space for our differences.
Personally, I am a Christian that affirms evolutionary science (CAES or CASE), an evangelical that affirms the Lausanne Covenant and understands common descent as a good, but partial, account of how God created us. I, however, am not an evolutionary creationist.
Instead, I write this book as a secular scientist.I am motivated by the values of mainstream science, as articulated in the AAAS guidelines, Scientists in Civic Dialogue. I do not press, or even reveal, my personal understanding of Adam and Eve. Rather, I want to engage the questions arising in the church with honesty and rigor. This is my civic practice of science.
The Fractured Monologue
As a scientist, I confirm that the scientific evidence appears to indicate we share common ancestors with the great apes. Even if it is ultimately false, common descent is the plain reading of genomes. The church must somehow reckon with this reality of the world that God created.
Nonetheless, I am concerned that, in response to evolutionary science, theology was welcome only to accommodate, adapt, and revise (Figure 1). As Richard Averbeck rightly notes, my book is a “pushback” on this “overreach” by evolutionists.
I am pushing back on Dennis Venema’s chapters in Adam and the Genome. He recounts a journalist’s question, “how likely it is that we all descend from Adam and Eve?” Venema replied, “That would be against all the genomic evidence that we’ve assembled over the last 20 years, so not likely at all.”
I am pushing back on BioLogos’s insistence that “the de novo creation of Adam and Eve is not compatible with what scientists have found in God’s creation.” Aligned with this insistence, Deborah Haarsma confronted pastor Tim Keller for his confession that Adam and Eve were specially created. She still warns he “risks driving away those who might otherwise be drawn to the faith.”
This also is not true. The de novo creation of Adam and Eve is compatible with what scientists have found in God’s creation. Even if common descent is true, Adam and Eve could have been created without parents.
This is not true either. Here, they overreach by forcing narrow scientific meanings on theological terms. As my book makes clear, depending on the theological meaning of “sole-progenitors” and “human,” Adam and Eve as recent sole-progenitors can be consistent with the scientific evidence.
In this overreach, they are not acting as secular scientists. “Certainly, some versions of [Adam and Eve] are in conflict with evolutionary science. Some versions, though, are not in conflict. Evolutionary creationists may continue to dismiss the traditional account, or perhaps they will adapt. Whatever they choose to do, as long as there are people outside the Garden, nothing in evolutionary science itself unsettles the traditional account” of Adam and Eve (p. 219).
Ending the Challenge of Evolution
Conversation benefits from the constructive resistance of good faith questions. Scientists, at our best, take questions seriously. As a scientist and in the spirt of science, I wanted to take the theological questions of human origins seriously, responding to them with honesty and rigor.
Historically, most Christians understood Adam and Eve as (1) created by God without parents, (2) ancestors of us all, and (3) living recently in the Middle East. This understanding of human origins, most everyone agreed—atheists, creationists, and evolutionary creationists alike—was in conflict with evolutionary science.
What if we were wrong?
What if, instead, the Genesis account is literally true, but taking place alongside an evolutionary account of our origins (Figure 2)? The Genesis tradition includes mystery outside the Garden, encouraging speculation among readers for thousands of years.The Genesis tradition includes mystery outside the Garden, encouraging speculation among readers for thousands of years. In the mystery outside, what if there was a reproductively compatible population, of “people,” that God had made a different way?
I attempt to falsify this scenario. Surprisingly, scientific evidence does not demonstrate this account true or false. Even if Adam and Eve lived as recently as 6,000 years ago, they could still be ancestors of everyone alive by the time the Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Depending on how we define human in theology, moreover, all humans in all history would arise from them by monogenesis.
Following the pattern of Alvin Plantinga’s free will defense,It appears that a good God’s sovereignty over all things is in direct logical contradiction with the existence of evil and human free will. Plantinga expounds one particular understanding of reality, which may or may not be ultimately true. This understanding shows that divine sovereignty, free will, and evil can all be held in the same reality without contradiction. Even if Plantinga’s solution is not ultimately correct, we now know that these things are not in contradiction. I am not arguing that this specific scenario, or any specific detail, is necessarily true. My point is, instead, that recent monogenesis and de novo creation are not in conflict with evolutionary science. All could be true at the same time.
Theological questions certainly arise about people outside the Garden. More difficult theological questions, however, are raised by historical speculation about Genesis, speculation that is widely embraced by creationists today (pp. 114–16, 201–03). Thus, rather than an intractable challenge, we find a large range of deep questions that return us to theology, a “strength . . . not a weakness.” (p. 208).
Some of us reject common descent. Others reject a historical reading of Genesis. Maybe Adam and Eve were more ancient, or they were not created without parents. Maybe they were just fictional characters in a myth. Whatever we personally believe, evolutionary science is not in conflict with even a very literal reading of Genesis.
Thus, the challenge of evolutionary science to Adam and Eve is put to rest. Whatever we think of evolutionary science, the conflict can now fade into the past.
Rigorous and Honest Science
Over the last three years, this case was refined by intense peer review. Now, even atheist biologists agree that my scientific argument is sound. Going forward, I am committed to quickly and publicly correcting any mistakes that are uncovered. I already publicly corrected one important error in the book: misuse of the term “monophyletic.” If other errors are found, I want to know so I can correct them. For this reason, I will answer Dr. Marcus Ross’s scientific objections first.
First, Ross objects that my hypothesis is “unfalsifiable,” in his estimation, and therefore it is not good science.This objection, moreover, is already addressed in ch. 7. Independent of science, however, Scripture reveals information to which science does not speak. Most this information is consistent with, but not indicated by, the scientific evidence. Still, no one should dismiss the resurrection and the virgin birth of Christ as speculative nonsense merely because the genetic evidence does not tell us either way (ch. 7). In the same way, Adam and Eve might be consistent with, but not indicated by, the scientific evidence.
Moreover, “falsifiability” was never a hallmark of scientific work.According to The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Popper’s final position is that he acknowledges that it is impossible to discriminate science from non-science on the basis of the falsifiability of the scientific statements alone . . . This is itself clearly a major alteration in his position, and arguably represents a substantial retraction on his part. Science is, instead, characterized by systematic effort to test one’s hypotheses.In stark contrast, young earth creationists (e.g., Nelson and Ross) take young earth creationism as an unquestioned presupposition, and do not try to falsify it with Scripture or science. This is just inconsistent with mainstream science, but it is also inconsistent with literalism as defined by the Chicago Statements, which encourages us to come to Scripture to question our presuppositions. Following this practice, I systematically tried to falsify the hypothesis and failed. Others also tried and failed. Reaching this point, scientists do not, then, declare the hypothesis “unfalsifiable” and unscientific. Nor do we falsely assert it is in conflict with the evidence. Rather, as did I, we report that the hypothesis is unfalsified, which means consistent with the evidence.
Second, Ross objects that Kelleher et al. (2016) “directly contradicts” my scientific conclusions. Ironically, this second objection undermines the first, clarifying that my scientific claims are falsifiable, at least in principle.It seems he has misidentified an “unfalsified” idea as an “unfalsifiable” idea. Though any model of Adam and Eve extends beyond science alone, if a scientific component of my argument is falsified, so is any model of Adam and Eve that depends on that scientific component.
Moreover, I explained this study’s findings at length, citing it five times (pp. 45, 48, 51, 53, and 59). This study considers a counterfactual world in which our ancestors travel only a few kilometers over the course of their entire lifetimes. In this imaginary world, I agree that universal ancestors take more than 100,000 years to arise. But in the real world, we easily transverse a few kilometers in merely a thirty-minute stroll. Moreover, the genetic evidence demonstrates unequivocally that our real history includes very long-range migration across oceans and between continents (ch. 6), causing universal ancestors to arise in just a few thousand years.
I invite Ross to clarify why he disagrees. His objections are a paradox. If either objection were valid, Ross’s own belief in young earth creationism would be challenged. Does he really think our ancestors were restricted to just a few kilometers of migration in their whole lifetimes?
That Better Way
My book does not address Intelligent Design (ID) directly. However, I am a critic of the ID movement. To their credit, I am humbled that many ID thought leaders looked past our disagreements to endorse or positively review my book.E.g., Sean McDowell and Walter Bradley. Though not technically members of the ID movement per se, I also refer to Richard Buggs, James Tour, and William Lane Craig.
An outlier among his colleagues, Nelson’s review is negative. He worries of a false dialogue, one limited to “the strict boundaries, or rules, set by mainstream science.” His worries are misplaced.
Yes, I am “hailing” from mainstream science, but the conversation is certainly not limited to science. To the contrary, having explained the limits of scientific findings, I am inviting a dialogue with theology that extends beyond these limits. Dialogue grants autonomy to science, but also moves us beyond a science-only understanding of the world.
With this invitation to dialogue, I am advocating C.S. Lewis’s vision from his essay “Is Theology Poetry?” (p. 174). Science is limited, but in theology we can make sense of everything together. Unlike a science-only monologue that excludes theology, dialogue makes space for theological claims about the physical world.
Why object to this invitation? Nelson’s objections are best understood in the context of ID’s quagmire in mainstream science, all but ignored by the vast majority of scientists. Nelson’s diagnosis is that methodological naturalism (MN), by demanding a science-only worldview, is responsible for this quagmire.
I am certain, however, that this is a misdiagnosis. I found space for a literal reading of Genesis, including the de novo creation of Adam and Eve. There was no need to challenge MN. If Nelson’s telling were correct, this should not be possible.
Where then did his diagnosis fail? Aside from superficial similarity, Nelson’s explication of MN is foreign to mainstream science and unrecognizable to me as a practicing scientist. Ironically, even Nelson himself declares that MN is “a false description of scientific practice, both historically and today.” So then, how could MN be the problem?
More to the point, MN is neither a premise nor a presupposition in my book. Most clearly demonstrating Nelson’s error, MN certainly does not influence the analysis as he supposes.
Supposedly because of MN, I do not invoke ad hoc miracles to explain difficult data away (p. 26).Nelson misidentifies text in ch. 2 as a reference to methodological naturalism. Of course, God can and did do miracles, such as the resurrection and the virgin birth of Jesus. But I am not invoking these miracles to explain away difficult data. ID and YEC scientists claim to reject MN, but neither ID nor YEC scientists appeal to ad hoc miracles in their population genetics work.Appeals to ad hoc miracles render any theory of origins (from evolutionary creation to young earth creation) consistent with otherwise contradictory evidence. So how could this be Nelson’s MN?
Supposedly because of MN, I hinged my argument on the truth of common descent. This is just false.I have explained in several places why I affirm common descent, and I do so without reference to MN. Rather, I changed my mind on common descent after I saw it was consistent with Scripture, and then later saw for myself the scientific evidence in our genomes. My reasoning and conclusion do not depend on the truth of common descent. Even if common descent is ultimately false, now we know that it would not have been in conflict with the de novo creation of Adam and Eve. Moreover, while rejecting MN, leading ID scientists also affirm common descent and an ancient earth alongside me.For example, Michael Behe and Michael Denton both affirm common descent, including the idea humans and the great apes share common ancestors. So how is MN to blame?
Supposedly because of MN, a genealogical Adam and Eve is undetectable to genetic science. However, undetectability is a finding that follows from understanding the limits of genetic evidence, not a starting presupposition. Seriously undermining this objection, even ID scientists who reject MN do not report positive evidence for an Adam and Eve of any sort. So how could MN be to blame?
Nelson’s misdiagnosis is a hopeful error.
He quotes the “most telling sentence” in the book: “As a scientist in the Church and a Christian in science, I see firsthand the strength of evolutionary science. What version of theistic evolution could be theologically sound?” Nelson truncates the quote; tellingly, he leaves out the next sentences:
This question, I hope, can be received with empathy by a new generation of theologians. Help us find a better way.P. 172. Nelson quotes the first sentence of this quote from an article. Tellingly leaves out the next two sentences.
Nelson does not receive my question with empathy. But those coming after him, the new generation, we want a better way.
Whether or not ID escapes the quagmire, there is a better way forward. Whether or not science follows MN, a cooperative exchange between theology and science is visible. This dialogue is that better way.
Recovering Scriptural Realism
Evolutionary science presses on Scripture in a very limited way, merely indicating there were people outside the Garden. A historical reading of Genesis, taken very literally, can be consistent with evolutionary science.
This finding makes space for “Scriptural Realism;” the impression of most Christians in history that Genesis 1–11 intends to teach a real history of real people in a real past. This is a central concern of the historical-grammatical approach to Genesis held by young earth creationists, like Marcus Ross and others.My book follows the Chicago Statements, which define “literal” as a historical-grammatical hermeneutic along with a historical reading of Genesis 1–11.
Overlooking this olive branch, Ross summarizes his theological objections to people outside the Garden: “The Bible does in fact proclaim that Adam and Eve were the ancestors of all people throughout all time.” I am concerned that Ross is reading his own words into Scripture. The text of Scripture does not include his words, let alone “proclaim” them. Nor do the passages cited by Ross force his interpretation.
To the contrary, there is mystery outside the Garden in both the text of Genesis itself and its interpretive tradition. Contemplating this mystery, creationists through history often wondered about people outside the Garden.
Even today, modern creationists boldly speculate about interbreeding between Adam and Eve’s lineage and angels (Figure 3). These angels are a population of reproductively compatible “people” outside the Garden, demonstrating that modern creationism includes this mystery still. Scripture just does not rule out interbreeding between Adam and Eve’s lineage and others.
Drawing from the Genesis tradition, one historical definition of human, grounded in Scripture, defines the people to whom Scripture refers as Adam, Eve and their descendants (chs. 9, 10, and 11). Recovering this traditional understanding of human seems to resolve all the scriptural objections raised by Ross. By this definition, Adam and Eve are the ancestors of all humans throughout all time.
The best of creationism is its commitment to Scripture. Even if evolution is false, we now know it is not in conflict with even a very literal reading of Scripture. This is good news for Scriptural realists and literalists alike. Even if we doubt evolution, maybe opposition to it is no longer necessary.
Peacemakers Take the Olive Branch
There really are peacemakers among the creationists. Dr. AJ Roberts is a biologist and was, until recently, at Reasons to Believe (RTB). She is one of the peacemakers.
I am offering an olive branch. Roberts is ready to take it.
Her response is guided by Scripture; “The emphasis on genealogical ancestry is so clearly biblical that its long-term absence in evangelical conversations about human origins is shocking.”Roberts and her colleagues at RTB are peacemakers. Though I am a heterodox that affirms evolution, I am welcomed as one of the faithful. Maybe now we can make space for their understanding of human origins too. She rightly recognizes this shift to genealogical ancestry “provides creationist models a clear release from the challenge of population genetics put forward by others.” Genetics is just not as important to the story of the Scripture as we once assumed.
Though I affirm evolution, these creationists welcomed me. In January of this year, RTB hosted a workshop on my book, inviting several scholars to explore it alongside their model of Adam and Eve. Among others, we wondered about a question that for 150 years loomed over theologians and scientists alike: Are Neanderthals in the image of God?
We should not expect settled answers. This indeterminacy makes the exchange dynamic (p. 209). There are many ways to fit everything together. Roberts rightly emphasizes that there is uncertainty in Scripture and in science. Neither account gives us the whole story.
Let us embrace, therefore, a lavish diversity of faithful views of Genesis. Some are rejected as false, but many are a faithful heterodox, not heresy.
For their part, Roberts and her RTB colleagues agree that I presented a faithful understanding of Genesis, consistent with science and with Scripture. Even though I affirm evolution, they welcome me. I am a faithful heterodox.
For my part, I worked with RTB to refine their model of human origins. They believe that our species, Homo sapiens, begins with a single couple 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. Neanderthals, in their view, are not humans. With some modifications, this understanding of Adam and Eve can become consistent with the evidence.
Roberts and her colleagues at RTB are peacemakers. Though I am a heterodox that affirms evolution, I am welcomed as one of the faithful. Maybe now we can make space for their understanding of human origins too.
“Blessed be the peacemakers.”
Untamed Diversity and Mystery
Far from demanding monotonic agreement, I am intent on exposing the untamed beauty of our differences. Our diversity pushes to look more closely at Scripture. Richard Averbeck is an exegete, an expert in understanding the original context and meaning of Genesis.
Along with Roberts and others, Averbeck agrees that the shift from genetics to genealogical ancestry “makes good biblical sense. Genesis 1–11 develops genealogical descent, not genetics, and this runs through the entire Bible.”
Applying his expertise, he argues that the strongest positive evidence for people outside the Garden is the Genesis 6 discourse on Nephilim. Averbeck also observesI am but a lowly scientist. I cannot resolve these grand debates about the image of God and other mysteries. that Genesis 1 and 2 describe, respectively, “pastoralists” and “agriculturalists.” I look forward to seeing how he develops this analysis in future work.
I caution, however, against moving the goal posts. My case does not require positive scriptural evidence for people outside the Garden. Instead, all I need is space for people outside the Garden. Scripture need not directly teach them.
Averbeck faults me for marking out too large a range of possible interpretations. I agree we should read Scripture as closely as possible, guarding against an individualistic “smorgasbord” approach to interpretation. He may, however, have a mistaken articulation of the range of possibilities consistent with Scripture as interpretive claims about its direct teaching. A close reading of Scripture leaves much unsaid. These lacunae invite speculation. So long as it is not mistaken for the teaching of Scripture, speculation is a recovery of the Genesis tradition itself, rightly affirming the silence of Scripture on matters left unsaid.
The Genesis tradition, moreover, includes a large range of interpretations and quite a bit of speculation. Averbeck compliments my “creativity,” but almost everything I presented was first explored by others, often long before Darwin. This diversity extends into ongoing disagreement between denominations, exegetes and theologians. As I join the Genesis tradition, I am thrown headlong into untamed diversity and disagreement.
I am but a lowly scientist. I cannot resolve these grand debates about the image of God and other mysteries.
Instead, my aim is to give an honest account of science, with empathy to good faith questions. Guarding against the individualistic smorgasbord, I invite us all into a conversation about our differences. Echoing the Lausanne Covenant, “In this larger conversation, in place of conflict and division, the many-colored wisdom of God might become visible to us all” (p. 220).
What Does it Mean to be Anthropos?
What of Ross’s warning of “thickets in [the] theology?”
“Theological questions arise, but [they] are no more challenging than historical speculation about Genesis” (pp. 13, 173, and 175). How do we understand these people outside the Garden? Were they in the image of God? How do we make sense of humanness outside the Garden?
These questions are a strength, not a weakness. We are renewing the long conversation of theology. This interdisciplinary exchange is the beginning on which my book ends (ch. 17).
Answering the invitation, Jon Garvey engages these questions in his book, The Generations of Heaven and Earth. He goes one step furtherThese questions are a strength, not a weakness. We are renewing the long conversation of theology. than me. I argue people outside the Garden are allowable. Garvey argues they are helpful to theology, plausibly recovering the original understanding of Genesis in a real history.
Dr. Andrew Loke is a philosopher whose excellent work on a genealogical Adam and Eve predates mine. His book, yet to be published, contrasts with Garvey’s, showing a different way of making sense of everything together.
Loke argues that Scripture rules out any notion of the image of God outside the Garden. At the same time, Loke is open to a vocational understanding of the image of God, and therefore he does not object to “humanness” outside the Garden.
Perhaps Loke is correct. Maybe the people outside the Garden are not in the image of God. We can still build a strong theological case for their worth and dignity (pp. 205–07). As Loke agrees, this debate does not undermine my thesis.
His objections hinge on rejecting a sequential reading of Genesis 1 and 2.There is a debate among exegetes on this, but in objecting to a sequential reading of Genesis 1 and 2, Loke is in good company. C. John Collins would certainly agree with him. Loke notes that 1 Corinthians 15:45 states that Adam was the first anthropos, and he combines this with the Septuagint’s rendering of Genesis 1:26-27 using the word anthropos. For Loke, with global scope, Adam is the first anthropos, which must mean he was the first ever in the image of God.
Loke has some good points, but this argument needs refinement. Most obviously, the speculative narrative (ch. 14) explicitly does not require a sequential reading of Genesis 1 and 2 (p. 176).From ch. 14: “Alternatively, Genesis 2 is a zoomed-in account of what happens in one area, within the geographically and temporally broader account of Genesis 1” (p. 176), and “The sequential reading is not necessary” (p. 176 n.7). Moreover, I do not understand his rationale that links the image of God exclusively, and with global scope, to anthropos. I am unclear, also, how Loke rules out an anachronistic or archetypal use of anthropos in Genesis 1:26–27, which would then diverge significantly in meaning from his reading in 1 Corinthians 15:45.
Perhaps other scholars can help us sort this out. Whether Loke is ultimately correct or not, his objection rightly presses us to wrestle with the meaning of anthropos.
A Crossroad at the Fracture
The one-way monologues fractured dialogue. “A pastor explains his honest reading of Genesis. His scientist friends object, sometimes incorrectly. The conversation ends. A fracture” (p. 215).
My goal in The Genealogical Adam and Eve was a better conversation, and it is beginning to emerge.
I thank Sapientia for inviting this exchange, along with the article three years ago that brought us here. I thank the respondents for reading my book and offering their thoughts. I wish there was more space and time to respond with even more detail. For now, the conversation must pause, but it will resume again soon.
Together, we are invigorating an ancient conversation. Alongside many before us, we are considering questions of ancestry.Origins, after all, brings us to grand questions. From where do we come? To where are we going? Who are we? What is our true nature? What will we become? We are wondering around the paradox of justice, mercy, and inheritance. We are considering the unity and diversity of humankind, along with the questions of race and racism. We are realizing that the world handed down to us is fallen, that it could have been better.
This is the long conversation of theology. It began thousands of years before us, and it will continue on long after us.
In our moment, we stand at a crossroad. Whether evolution is true or false, its challenge to theology could fade into the church’s past. Evolution splintered our account of human origins. In rebinding it now, we can leave behind 160 years of conflict (ch. 12). A better way is visible now.
In a renewed dialogue, many-colored wisdom might become visible to us all (Eph 3:10).“Many-colored” comes from a literal translation of Eph 3:10, which Stott references in the Lausanne Covenant. As Andy Crouch observes in his endorsement, this dialogue is “reanimating our pursuit of one of the most profound human questions: Can sacred and natural history combine to tell us something essential about who we are and why we are here?”
Origins, after all, brings us to grand questions. From where do we come? To where are we going? Who are we? What is our true nature? What will we become?
In these questions, we wonder together about what it means to be human. Origins could, once again, bring us here.