Coyne, Craig and Swamidass

Well this is a first. Coyne’s first reference to me. I’m glad to report it was not negative (or necessarily positive).

The article is mainly Coyne’s analysis of Craig. He writes:

I’m both amused and bemused by William Lane Craig’s latest “Monthly Report” on his Reasonable Doubts website, a report that deals with a “Creation Project” conference he attended.

It is an interesting read. Honestly, Coyne is not unkind to William Lane Craig, but he also can’t really understand what is going on here. The part relevant to us is here:

Maybe the population-genetic calculations were wrong. To obviate this, Craig claims that extra genetic diversity which hides the real bottleneck of Adam and Eve came from —get this—hybridization of Homo sapiens sapiens with our Neanderthal subspecies:

As I shared in our last Report, some scientific popularizers have claimed that the genetic diversity of the present human population could not have arisen from an isolated primordial pair. Joshua Swamidass, a geneticist from Washington University, who was at the conference, helped me to understand that this claim is completely wrong-headed. Rather what is at issue is the genetic divergence in the present population, that is to say, the mutational distance between alleles (= the variants in our genes that are responsible for various traits like eye color). These data present a severe challenge for a historical Adam and Eve more recent than 500,000 years ago. (But here’s a new wrinkle: Swamidass says he neglected to take account of the genetic contribution of Neanderthals and other archaic humans who interbred with homo [sic] sapiens and so have contributed to the human genome. He’s going to run new calculations to see if that makes a difference to the date.)

Given that the genetic variation in our own species contributed by Neanderthals is only about 2-3%, and none in Africans, I wouldn’t hold my breath to see if the “new calculations” reduce the bottleneck from 12,000 to 2!

Jerry Coyne might be right. It is great to have him on record with his guess. It will be interesting to see what the data ends up showing. @AJRoberts, I hope you take a look at this. A lot of people may be watching our conversations this Fall. This could bring some positive attention to Reasons to Believe.

@Patrick, what do you make of this?

I am a little worried about your reputation as a real practicing scientist in all this. Coyne is watching this carefully. So is Dawkins and Nathan Lents. (I told you that months ago) You are walking a very thin line here now as you are talking with Gauger, Marks, and ID crowd and want to talk with YEC Jeanson. You are already being distanced from the Biologos crowd. I hope you know what you are doing as your playing in the big leagues now and I hope you have your big boy pants on as you are at a secular institution and have very powerful secular research funding and lobby.

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On the whole, Coyne’s blog post is less hostile to Craig than I expected. I just found it striking that as someone who’s been critiquing religion for many years, Coyne still misunderstands some basic theological concepts:

Here he’s simply making up stuff, picking and choosing the parts of the Bible he likes (universal sin, but not obviously inherited “original sin”, as well as “God’s saving grace”) and rejecting the parts he doesn’t like (Adam and Eve). And if that’s the case, what is the “authority” of the Bible? For if the Bible be but “inspiration” and not truth, how are we to be Christians? What are we to believe? The answer to his last question is clearly “no”. Evolution itself tells us we can’t trust what the Bible teaches…In the end, if we interpret the Bible by how we’re “inspired” by it, then each person has their own dogma and there is no one way to be a Christian. After all, why couldn’t “God’s saving grace” be metaphorical, or even the existence and story of Jesus himself? Who gets to be the arbiter of Biblical truth? In the end, it can be only science.

Here Coyne seems to miss that Craig is referring to the divine inspiration of the Bible, not the Bible being inspiring to believers.

Next, in response to Craig emphasizing the need to interpret Scripture according to its original meaning, not constrained by science:

…Indeed he does, for he’s trying to understand what the Bible says by ignoring from the outset the empirical facts. First you figure out what the authors of these texts meant (note: here he’s almost admitting that the Bible was a human production not guided by God), filter that through the “inspiration” that you get from the metaphors that you discern, and then somehow twist the science into that interpretation.

(Emphasis mine)

Coyne misunderstands Craig as departing from orthodoxy by trying to figure out the original meaning of the author. Of course, this is nothing new (Christians do it every single Bible study). That doesn’t negate the divine inspiration at all - in fact many Christians believe in the “dual authorship” model.

Finally, Coyne also seems to miss that the Resurrection of Jesus is more foundational than any other doctrine in Christianity, and it would be unthinkable for Craig to deny that:

Craig clearly is an odd duck (sorry for the insult to ducks) in so explicitly claiming that the Fall, and perhaps the Resurrection, aren’t so important at all.


I understand. It is a bit unnerving.

If they think I make any scientific errors, they should let me know. I will fix it. I’m not here to advocate for anything except good science, accurately presented to the public.

Talking with them is different than agreeing with bad science. I also do not think most these people are going to engage. If they do, come here, everything in my disclaimer still applies. If I do talk to them, everything applies there too. Kindness is not endorsement. I affirm evolutionary science. I play by the rules. You know this. My colleagues at WUSTL know this too.

Yes I know this. I am entering the big leagues it seems. I am here to do something different than many of those before. I am here to build bridges. I am seeking peace that does not depend on agreement. Peace that is not threatened by honesty. As you know, I am a different sort of Christian. I am not pursing political power. I am not looking for everyone to agree with me.

I agree. I take that as a good sign.



I’ve wondered about how significant the low Neanderthal representation is in estimating the extent of hybridisation. The whole point of hybridisation seems to be that as a biological “strategy” it’s both high risk and high gain - and highly unpredictable.

If hybrids occur, they are usually infertile, and in the more extreme cases one would expect quite a lot of genomic rearrangement, akin to what is said to happen in whole genome doubling events. In other words, certainly after a few generations, and maybe even in the initial hybrid, the contributions of each parent “species” could be very different - but the hybrid result significantly different from either parent lineage.

So does the low proportion of Neanderthal genes reflect that hybridisation was rare, or that something in the hybridization process and its subsequent history dis-favour the survival of the Neanderthal component? There are a lot of X and Y chromosomes that became “genetic ghosts” in human history, so might not there be more Neanderthal ghosts than is currently assumed?

As to the political question, who can predict outcomes? However, I doubt that Joshua ever got into this thinking “Jerry Coyne will probably never notice - and if he does he will say, ‘It’s jolly good to see religious people making a persuasive scientific case.’”

Jerry has his own fan-base to maintain, after all, and he didn’t grow it by preaching “accommodationism”. I’m reminded of when Martin Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo himself, just three years after his 95 theses appeared. His response ends:

As they excommunicated me for the sacrilege of heresy, so I excommunicate them in the name of the sacred truth of God. Christ will judge whose excommunication will stand. Amen.


It is insignificant. And the data suggests to me at least that most of the hybridization is an error that nature is in the process of correcting. I predict that when Joshua and RTB recalculate the figures taking the amount they can document into account it is not going to change his original findings much.

Both according to the research in the link below. That link got static because of my defining the term “human” as only our species, but the rest of it is just going right off the research. One of the studies even answers your question about genetic ghosts. Not regarding the admixture from 55K ago, there may be many dead ends. But among the living they detected no admixture from the 12,000 years humans and neanderthals were living side by side in Europe. They knew about genetic ghosts and calculated that in that period of time there could have been no more than 120 hybridization events that left survivors or else they could have detected it in living Europeans. Please see link below…

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What is the significance of the globular brain shape? Could it just be improved malleability for surviving the birth canal, rather than improving neuronal connections?

Randy it is beyond me to know. It would be speculation and sometimes my speculations can get pretty wild. If you want to talk about it maybe we should do so on the other thread rather than this one. Since human culture exploded at that time I have to think it meant more than ease of birth.


Thanks. So much to absorb, so little time.


16 posts were split to a new topic: Room for Discussing Design in Evolution?