Will the Real Adam & Eve Please Come Forth

Image by George Smith (1840 – 1876) – The Chaldean Account of Genesis, pp. 90-91, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78384365

Historical or Genealogical: Adam & Eve and why they still matter?

I finished reading, “The Genealogical Adam & Eve: The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry,” (GAE) by S. Joshua Swamidass (IVP Academic, 2019). The title caught my attention because I am somewhat interested in genetics and genealogy.

But I am even more interested in how church leaders throughout church history have turned to interpretations about Adam and Eve — the first married couple who sinned — in order to define how men and women are to function in the world, and especially how arguments in favor of heirarchy in marriage and the church have evolved over time.

Will Swamidass’s research in GAE clear up the problem of an historical couple who popped into history without parents to become parents of all humanity or will it merely muddy the theological waters and deepen the ditch more so than it already is? Will young earth proponents reach out to embrace old earth proponents? Will fundamental Christians embrace their progressive brothers and sisters? Only time will tell. It will depend on how each responds to the ideas presented in The Genealogical Adam & Eve.

According to Joshua Swamidass,

“Whatever one believes about Adam and Eve, evolutionary science does not require us to reject the Genesis narrative. Adam and Eve, ancestors of us all, could have lived as recently as six thousand years ago in the Middle east. They could have been de novo created, the first “humans” of Scripture, free of death in a sinless environment. Ripped from the comforting clarity of conflict, we will see that evolutionary science could be true, even as our loyalties remain with Scripture”.

The Genealogical Adam & Eve, p 7.

What is the “genealogical hypothesis”?

Swamidass is testing what he calls, a genealogical hypothesis in which Adam and Eve are created without parents who were recently created (6000 or so years ago) and that Adam and Eve are ancestors of all today. He says this view is “very close to a young earth creationist understanding of Adam and Eve” (p. 11).

This should please many who believe in a young earth, such as those who follow Ken Ham.

Why is Swamidass’s work so remarkable if it aligns with Young Earth theories?

It is this: His hypothesis rests upon the idea that, “two accounts, that of evolutionary science and of Scripture … [are] taking place alongside one another [but are] outside each other’s view” (p. 10). Take some time to let that soak in.

Here then is the stickler: the evolution of humanity was already taking place tens of thousands of years before Adam and Eve are de novo created and placed in the Garden of Eden approximately 6000 years ago.

  • “In this book, I [Swamidass] hypothesize that God created everyone outside the Garden through a providentially governed process of common descent, a process legitimately described by evolutionary science” (p. 10).
  • “Evolution would be progressing in the mystery outside the Garden, outside the view of most theological discourse over the centuries. The two accounts, that of evolutionary science and of Scripture, would be taking place alongside one another, outside each other’s view” (p. 10).

One might think that those who take a literal approach to Scriptures will be pleased to find scientific support for an historical Adam and Eve, just as they are when archaeological finds give proof to historical persons, places, and events in the Bible. But I doubt they will.

The Bible (Word of God) is accepted by faith, not by any scientific proofs. Besides, the genealogical Adam and Eve, arising 6000 years ago from a populated community, is nothing akin to the Adam and Eve formed from the dust in the Genesis narrative in chapter two.

The Genealogical Adam and Eve (GAE)

Swamidass’s work is indeed extremely important. I highly recommend GAE to anyone interested in the ways science can inform our faith.

But I warn you, if you are inclined to think his hypothesis has validity (which I do at this time) you will be faced with many other questions. A few of my questions off the top of my head are listed below, randomly, with some missing, and obviously more important than others. 

  • Who were the humans existing outside Eden?
  • What does it mean to be human? 
  • What does it mean to be gendered humans?
  • What does Imago Dei mean? 
  • Are humans genetically-wired to be leaders and followers? If so, which humans?
  • Are humans who abuse power structures, who dominate and oppress other humans genetically designed to be so?
  • Are there humans who are more ‘human’ than others?
  • If so, sid humans outside of Eden have a sinful nature? 
  • What is the source of sin?
  • What is the source of death?
  • Did the age of the earth matter to the Genesis author/s?
  • How would theology regarding the first Adam, and Jesus the last Adam, need to be reimagined?
  • Did the Genesis author/s intend to give a scientific explanation for the cosmos and human origins or was this an attempt to correct the mythological origin stories of that day, as Paul Kissling suggests?

Paul J. Kissling, author of the NIV College Press Commentary on Genesis, offers several helpful ways to at least begin to thing through this:

“Throughout history many well-meaning Christians have read the Bible, and Genesis in particular, as though it was intended to give scientific information about the how and when of creation. Whatever the reigning cosmology of the day, Genesis has been read to support it (or contest it!) — from flat earth and geocentric universe to the earth, air, wind, and fire of Greek cosmology to the Big Bang and evolution of contemporary scientific theology. In general these readings have been unsuccessful and problematic and have sometimes brought disrepute on the Bible and the church. Genesis is concerned with the who and why of creation.” 1.

“Every generation is tempted to think that its cosmological theories are the final word. Every generation so far in human history has evidently been wrong about that! I borders on hubris to assume that our generation is any different.” 2

“We must keep in mind that Genesis was primarily written to instruct Israel as they faced the challenges of living in faithfulness to Yahweh in the midst of the polytheistic temptations of Canaan. It was the creation myths of the Canaanites which it attacks, not contemporary theories about the origin of the universe” and I might add, humanity. 3

Why Adam and Eve Matter

If Swamidass’s view is accepted, each of the questions above may need reexamination. That my friend will be a long and arduous journey for the church.

  • “Both de novo creation and evolution could be true at the same time. Affirming one does not entail rejecting the other. With such a large shift in understanding, it is expected that there will be objections” (p. 87).

Why does it matter? Why bother with this at all?

Maybe it’s best to just leave things as they are! It is too easy to be indifferent and apathetic when it comes to certain subjects. Why rustle up more conflict in an already conflicted church? Let science stay in its place and religion in its place. Why not be satisfied to love Jesus, believe he loved us so much to die for us, and be content to move someday into our mansion in the skies.

But, what if, in ignoring the matter, in “sweeping it under the rug” so to speak, as Craig claims he did for years, and by telling the story as we’ve always told it, we participate in perpetuating a theology that actually misses the message intended in Genesis? Who knows? But it’s going to be interesting to watch as premier apologists, Biblical scholars and theologians work it out.

Kissling points out, that “to read the words as some sort of disguised scientific account is to read in a forced and perhaps question-begging way. Worse, it is a reading that brings our questions to the forefront before it has humbly asked of this marvelous text what questions are important!” He goes on to say, that “We miss it’s teaching when our questions drown out the questions and answers of the text in its original setting.” 4.

So, would the real Adam and Eve please step forward!

The image above is a drawing of the so-called Adam and Eve cylinder seal impression, a 22nd century BCE post-Akkadian cylinder seal, once though to depict, from left to right: the Eden serpent, Eve, the tree of Knowledge, and Adam. The modern interpretation rather suggests that to be a worshiping scene with a god (horned, right), a worshiper (left) and a symbolic date palm and snake. The original seal, made from greenstone, is now in the British Museum.

  1. Paul J. Kissling, Genesis, Vol 1 in College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin: College Press Publishing Company, 2004), 34.
  2. Kissling, Genesis Vol 1, p. 35.
  3. Kissling, Genesis Vol 1, p. 41.
  4. Kissling, Genesis V. 1, p. 42.

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