Adventures in New Places —Ann Gauger on the Dabar Conference

(Dr. Patrick Trischitta) #1

Dabar Postscript
(S. Joshua Swamidass) #2

This is an article by @Agauger about the Dabar Conference. This is a closed conference. I was pleased to personally endorse her invitation. I’m thankful for the attention she is drawing to our work. I want to clarify some of the points she has raised here.

Dabar Does Not Promote Evolution

Ann mistakenly claims…

The stated purpose is pretty accurate. They want to orient theologians and pastors toward theistic evolution, or evolutionary creationism as they prefer to call it.

This is not the purpose of the Dabar Conference. The Creation Project have a different purpose, which is why, in fact, they even invited her.

I’m sure it is just a misunderstanding of the event. I’ve heard nothing but positive things about @agauger’s presence. She describes her work as “orthogonal” to the organizer’s goals, but this does not seem true. The organizers have worked hard to include as broad a range of theologians and scientists as possible, including young earth creationists, old earth creationists, and more.

Far from being an outlier as an ID advocate, @pnelson has been a regular at the conference. It might even be accurate to say the majority of participants lean towards ID, if are out right supporters. This was an audience very friendly to her point of view.

The reason The Creation Project is important, is because they are bringing people from across the spectrum to the table. They are definitively not about promoting "evolutionary creation, a position I personally oppose:

The Creation Project has been working to include as many perspectives as possible. They are not promoting evolutionary creation, or I would not likely be working with them.

Most Scientists Not From BioLogos

Ann implies just about every scientist was from BioLogos.

This year there were a handful of scientists, mainly from BioLogos, one paleontologist from I don’t know where, and me.

This implication is false.

There were not many scientists there, but several were not with BioLogos. There was @AJRoberts (OEC) and Fazale Rana (OEC) were there from Reasons to Believe, and John Bloom (OEC) from Biola. I am with Peaceful Science, certainly outside the BioLogos tent. There are certainly more examples, but that right there (including Ann and her paleontologist) is SIX non-BioLogos scientists. The scientists from BioLogos, once again from memory, were just Jeff Schloss, Jeff Hardin, and Deb Haarsma. Three out of nine is definitively notmainly” from BioLogos. To be clear, I am not a BioLogos scientist either. Frankly, we are not even on good terms right now.

There is some additional information here too. I personally suggested two other scientists (both old earth creationists, and one is with ID). As surprising as this may sound, I also suggested a young earth creationist scientist. The organizers enthusiastically invited them all, but none could come this year. If The Creation Project had gotten its way here, BioLogos scientists would have been even more of a minority than they were. As mentioned before, I also enthusiastically endorsed Ann Gauger’s invitation to the event. We were all glad she could join us. Moreover, I observed Jeff Schloss and Jeff Hardin (two BioLogos scientists) enthusiastically endorse Ann Gauger’s invitation too.

I hope that Ann puts high priority on correcting the record here. Our hosts were very kind to us, and these mistakes undermine their reputations. I’m sure this was merely a misunderstanding, but it important to get this correct. Most the scientists, it seems, were not affiliated with BioLogos.

Surprising, Not Idiosyncratic

Regarding the Genealogical Adam, she writes…

I was one of two scientists there who openly allowed for the possibility of a historical Adam and Eve. Dr. Joshua Swamidass was the other. He has an idiosyncratic model of a de novo created, genealogical Adam and Eve, combined with a large evolved population of humans.

I appreciate Ann’s acknowledgement of the Genealogical Adam model, but want to clarify a few things. I’d not call it “idiosyncratic”, because this is merely a traditional reading of Genesis. In this model there are no theological “humans” outside the garden. Moreover, this is a sole-genealogical progenitorship model too, as we recently discussed: Story Three: Recent Sole-Genealogical Progenitor Adam. A key reason this is is possible is because of a distinction between genetic and genealogical ancestry. This is one of the most interesting and important points we have brought forward, whatever one might believe about Adam and Eve.

There remain some really interesting theological questions on the table. What do we make of the biological “humans” outside the garden? What makes them different than Adam and Eve’s lineage? That is the interesting conversation that is arising right now. I have some ideas about it, but these questions are far from settled.

Adam and Eve 200,000 Years Ago Requires Interbreeding

My response was the very last one of the conference, as it happened. I will tell the basics of what I said another time, but the take-home message was (and is) that a historical first pair is possible at 500,000 years, and perhaps as recently as 200,000 years.

Here, she might be describing something similar to the current Reasons to Believe model, which includes interbreeding between “humans” (Homo sapiens) and “beasts” (Neanderthals).This is not a sole-genetic progenitorship model (Engaging the Zoo of RTB Models). It is a Genetic-Interbreeding model, recently discussed here: Story Two: Genetic-Interbreeding Adam. To be clear, however, it is not clear yet if this model can work. It is going to take time to be sure.

We have already shown, with interbreeding, we can reduce the timeline to just 6,000 years ago. It Is clear that an Adam and Eve 200,000 years ago also requires interbreeding between Adam’s line and others. I hope that @Agauger clarifies that this date would require interbreeding between Adam’s offspring and others.

Remember, if we allow for interbreeding, we can go all the way down to the “idiosyncratic” date of 6,000 years ago. Maybe there is a better way of thinking about interbreeding too, that does not resort to “beastaility.” Why not, right?

Genetic or Genealogical Ancestry?

This is the crux of the theological questions. Which ancestry is more important?

Though it is certainly scientifically interesting, is the quest for a genetic sole-progenitors a distraction in theology? Maybe. It all depends what type of ancestry is important, genetic or genealogical. Scripture, however, does not speak of DNA, so it does not speak of genetic ancestry. With that in mind, perhaps the default position is to question the relevance of genetic sole-progenitorship. As Ken Keathley writes:

I’m inclined to agree. Doctrine on Adam, like monogenesis, depends on genealogical ancestry, not genetic ancestry.

Genealogical Adam Affirms Monogenesis Too!

The good news is that, @Agauger’s definition of a monogenesis clarifies some of these points…

I had been asked to respond to the topic of monogenism, which is the idea that we are all descended from a first pair, Adam and Eve, from whom we inherit original sin. This Catholic doctrine is articulated specifically to preserve the unity of the human race: We are all descended from the same original father and mother.

This doctrine is exactly satisfied in the Genealogical Adam model. So if this is the key doctrine, all the work on genetic progenitorship is a distraction. That is good news. It is unfortunate that she did not link to my work, where this explained. However, by @Agauger’s own definition, the Genealogical Adam affirms the Catholic doctrine of monogenesis. A Genealogical Adam is the “first pair” from whom we all descend, our same “original father and mother.” This is really good news for those who care about traditional doctrine.

High Interest in a Genealogical Adam

Ann gives most a muted description of the response at the conference.

He presented his model midway through the week. From my point of view, responses were cautious.

I do not doubt that was her personal perception. I know, for example, she strongly prefers a sole-genetic progenitor model: Story One: Ancient Sole-Genetic Progenitor Adam. She is not on board with a Genealgoical Adam, and that is fine. On her preferred model, she has had a large impact with excellent engagement with theologians ( We are very proud to have been able to support and highlight her effort recently at the ASA workshop:

Her response, however, did not match most of the other people at Dabar. For example, this is what one leading OEC theologian writes:

And a historian/theologian:

This is not merely a “cautious” reception, but also something more. I could comb through the forum here to find even more quotes from scholars, but that is beside the point in the end. There was high energy and engagement around these findings.

Welcome to Dabar

All things together, I am thankful Ann is bringing greater attention to our work. Next time around, I hope she can help the ENV readers understand what we are proposing here. We will certainly do the best we can to clarify and draw attention to her important work in this space too.

I look forward to seeing her again next year, assuming I am invited. I hope I am!

(Jack Collins) #7

Thanks, Josh, for this, which agrees quite well with my perceptions of the Dabar Conference.

Sorry I’m absent these days; medical matters (and some other responsibilities) keep me more than fully occupied. Cheers, everyone.

Jack Collins

(Dr. Patrick Trischitta) #11

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #12

Great follow up by @Agauger . I think she does what she needed to do to clear things up.

(Dr. Patrick Trischitta) #13

As far as I can tell, she added nothing to the discussion at Dabar. Why was she there?

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #14

We cannot talk about the details of that conference. Though I can speak generally.

She did add a valuable perspective on several things. Of note, she is a strong advocate of an ancient sole-genetic progenitor model 2 million years ago to 700 thousand years ago.

This is, interestingly enough, a stronger position than the Reasons to Believe model, with which most theologians are more familiar. First, there is less evidence against Ann’s model. Second, it is more inline with the fields definition of “human”. This provided some important breathing space, to realize that Ross’s view is not the only one in the OEC camp. The fact that Jeff Hardin (BioLogos) and myself (Peaceful Science) could be kind to her in public, legitimizing the parts we agree with in her model was a big win. It built trust, demonstrating that we are not trying to box people into a single solution. We, to be clear, are not boxing people in. We are just trying to give an honest account of the evidence.

Many theologians trust ID, and they trust Gauger, much more than they trust us. The fact we treat her kindly, are honest about the strengths of her position, all these things encourage trust. Hardin is a true professional. We are just trying to give them an honest account of the science, with as many possible options as possible. In the end, my perception is that they really appreciated the Genealogical Adam. It was surprising, and made some important clarifications about the nature of ancestry. Scientifically, also, it is more robust.

Remember though @Patrick, it is not enough to be right. We have to be trusted. We are trusted when we treat others, especially our opponents, with kindness and fairness.

(Dr. Patrick Trischitta) #15

Yes, top secret stuff. Yet, everybody talks about it. :rofl:

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #16

Everyone is allowed to talk about their own impressions. However the papers are confidential and identifying any specific comments with specific people would be a problem. One of the unique things about this conference is that we were seeing leading scholars openly reconsidering their public positions with real honesty. Such transparency is very rare and partly might be due to the confidentiality of the conversation. If you notice I’m following those rules carefully, even though I’m talking about my own impressions openly. On reason we’ve had several dialogues here, also, is to give others a platform to put out their impressions, and I refer to those as well.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #17

15 posts were split to a new topic: The Dabar Plot to Overthrow the Government