There is little doubt that an enormous amount of ink has been spilled over the question of the historicity of Adam and Eve given an evolutionary account. Often, the charge against theistic evolutionists is that they cannot or do not affirm what is thought to be required of biblical theology related to Adam and Eve. At other times, appeal to Adam and Eve is looked down upon as a quaint, outdated, and clearly mistaken view. Into that fray steps S. Joshua Swamidass with the book The Genealogical Adam & Eve: The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry. Swamidass argues that there is a way past these seemingly endless debates.
The genealogical hypothesis is central to Swamidass’s argument. Swamidass’s thesis is genealogical, not genetic. Genetics can be used to provide a “tunnel vision” for ancestry (31), but genealogical ancestry is a broader, common language way of looking at ancestry. The hypothesis has 6 main components: 1. Adam and Eve lived recently in the Middle East; 2. they are the genealogical ancestors of everyone (specifically by AD 1); 3. They are specially, or de novo created; 4. interbreeding occurred between the lineage of Adam and Eve and others; 5. no additional miracles apart from special creation of Adam and Eve are allowed (for the purpose of the hypothesis); 6. assume two findings of evolutionary science: human descent common with the great apes and that the size of the human population never dipped to a single couple (p. 26-27).
Swamidass argues that rather than looking at trying to tie all humans together genetically, we may be able to do so genealogically. Once one traces ancestry back by a certain number of generations, one will effectively have so many ancestors that the number would exceed the number of humans who were alive at the time. That’s an absurd conclusion, of course, but it doesn’t account for the way that family trees intermingle and mesh together in many different ways. Nevertheless, due to the exponential way that tracing one’s family history back, Swamidass argues that it’s likely that we can argue that all humans have common ancestors as recently as several thousand years ago.
Swamidass takes this extrapolation and notes that because of this, one can affirm most of the major tenets of traditional Christian belief regarding Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve could have been specially created–science cannot test for this either way–a few thousand years ago, and still be the common ancestors of all living humans. What his thesis does have, of course, is humans outside the garden. But Swamidass notes that even traditional readings of the text have struggled with that due to questions of who Adam and Eve’s children married, or who Cain was afraid of, etc.
One could easily see how Swamidass’s hypothesis could be tweaked in different ways depending upon one’s own conclusions about the data or theological presuppositions. Some theistic evolutionists would likely dispute thesis 3, while creationists would dispute several theses. But what Swamidass has done is effectively offered a possible solution to the many, many science-faith controversies related to Adam and Eve. One can, on Swamidass’s thesis, affirm both the findings of evolutionary biology as well as virtually every aspect of the traditional view of Adam and Eve. The extraordinary import of this should not be understated: Swamidass has offered a defense of a hypothesis that virtually anyone who has written on the topic will need to contend with.
The Genealogical Adam & Eve is sure to be a controversial book. Yet hopefully, within that controversy, there can be a discussion of coming to agreement on specific doctrinal topics, and a broadening of areas where unity can be found. Swamidass has done serious, scholarly work here that anyone who wants to deal with the topic of Adam and Eve will need to address.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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J.W. thanks the excellent review. I found your reviews of the TE Crossway book to be insightful too.