Joshua Swamidass asked me if I would like to offer my model of human origins for your evaluation. I offer a possible means by which an historical Adam and Eve (A&E) could exist while still affirming the basic tenants and findings of contemporary biological evolution and genetics. A very accomplished population geneticist, David Wilcox, has looked at the model I’m presenting and has offered no unanswered scientific objections. However, because I’m not a specialist in this field, I would like to offer it to others for critique as well. Swamidass mentioned to me that he thought the general idea is workable but thought that there would be problems in the detail. So I’m anxious to see what problems he or anyone else on this forum might notice in this model. The following is an abridged copy of an essay I have on my website, Adam & Eve and science, and errors in the Bible.. I was also asked to make as clear as possible just how much of the following is non-negotiable and what points I might be willing to give up. I’ll try to do so at the end of the paper.
The question of whether a first human couple existed from whom all other humans originated is in many people’s thinking the hardest scientific problem currently facing biblical Christianity. Many, like biologist and atheist apologist Jerry Coyne and Christian apologist and philosopher William Lane Craig, have stated as much. 1 Considering the many articles dealing with this question or some facet of this question in science and religion journals, it is difficult to ignore the seriousness of the problem. I would like to offer a relatively simple solution to this problem, claiming that there was a first couple but also that none of our presently most widely accepted scientific beliefs from population genetics and archeology are mistaken. 2 I would like to present this model to suggest that this might be the easiest way to resolve the “first human couple” problem.
A Scientifically Viable Argument for a First Human Couple
Let me start with some quotations, most of which are taken from Human Suffering and the Evil of Religion . 3 There I offer the following as a basic argument for a first couple without getting into some related moral problems we will look at later in this study.
Henri Blocher speaks of the first chapter of Genesis as something close to prose-poetry. 4 “[C.] John Collins calls it exalted prose. 5 This kind of assessment from such prominent biblical scholars should lead us to think it should be interpreted much as we would poetic literature. If we see this as poetic literature, this does not mean it can be made to say anything we want it to say. The creation story must in some important ways correspond with what actually happened.” 6
Kenneth Kitchen says that “the ancient Near East did not historicized myth (i.e., read it as imaginary ‘history’). In fact, exactly the reverse is true—there was, rather, a trend to ‘mythologize’ history, to celebrate actual historical events and people in mythological terms.” 7 Collins agrees that not only did the Mesopotamians recount their ancient histories “with a great deal of imagery and symbolism” but the Hebrews specifically appear to have done so as well. 8 So we see the need to distinguish an historical core from the embellishment of symbols and imagery not only in Genesis 1 but also in the full pre-Abrahamic history of Genesis 1–11.
“The Genesis account is given in an agrarian setting; Adam was to tend the garden in Eden. [One of his first two sons kept flocks, the other worked the soil.] Agriculture came into being around ten thousand years ago. The original events could have occurred in a gatherer culture with the story altered to eventually fit the agrarian culture when it came into being. God would have simply made sure that with the oral transmission of the story, the important truths he wanted remembered would remain.” 9
Whether little or much or all of the original story was lost to Abraham’s line after so many thousands of generations, God could have revealed to Abraham whatever information he wanted him to have. I would think it very unlikely that much accurate information was retained as it was passed on and altered to form the Near Eastern mythology Abraham grew up with. With this new revelation, however, Abraham himself may have altered and modified the oral tradition he had received. If any historic or spiritual information was lost between the time of Abraham and Moses which God wanted the Israelites to have, again, God may have revealed this to Moses. It is also possible that the Israelites had a functional written language while in Egypt thus allowing the mythologized history to be passed on with little change during these several hundred years.
“Population geneticists tell us that there never was a time that less than a few thousand of our species existed at once. I believe the currently accepted number is about ten thousand. If that is the case, how could there exist just two humans from whom all others originated?” 10
Consider one of the ways new species originate: “One individual has a mutation or the last of a number of mutations which has some survival benefit and that individual produces offspring some of whom carry on that beneficial mutation. The mutation produces a survival advantage. Sometimes the rest of the species perish since they lack that advantage and cannot compete for resources. . . .
“One individual of an interbreeding population of non-human bipedal primates had the mutation which made it human. Thus we start with one individual producing a new subspecies which further interbreeds with others of both the old and new subspecies but the new eventually displaces the old. This is how we can have one originating human within a large interbreeding population of non-humans.” 11
I should also add that this model is not claiming that one mutation of a simple gene necessarily produced humanness. A mutation of a regulator gene likely deactivated some genes and triggered a number of other genes to produce the needed change. Hereafter, I will simply speak of this as the “human gene mutation.” To make this model work more easily I would hypothesize that the human gene is a dominant rather than recessive gene. This is not to say that a model with the human gene mutation being a recessive gene or allele could not also work.
Since it is difficult to say what basic difference would distinguish humans from non-humans of their own species, it may be that very little genetic alteration was needed to bring about this change. The first humans may have been the same or almost the same as their non-human siblings and parents in behavior and intelligence, in their rationality, creativity, sociability, etc., but different only in their moral and spiritual awareness and abilities. We cannot even claim any certainty that language was a uniquely human characteristic. If they were so alike, it would be very likely that interbreeding would occur between these subspecies.
Nevertheless, it is also quite conceivable that the non-human subspecies did not possess the rationality, creativity, or linguistic abilities of the humans. Yet in this case it is still possible that given enough preparatory gene buildup over innumerable generations to a final just-right prehuman genome and given a precise regulator gene mutation, a human genome could result. Mating between these subspecies might have been proportionately less than if the two were more alike, yet given enough generations, there still could have been enough interbreeding to result in the human gene pool we see today.
C. John Collins says, “Some have suggested that perhaps, to make the first man, God used the body of a pre-existing hominid, adding a soul to it. We should observe that, in view of the embodied image of God [in humans] in Genesis, if this took place, then it involved some divine refurbishing of that body in order for it to work together with the soul to display God’s image.” 12 It is difficult to see that what Collins calls divine refurbishing could not be a natural end result of evolutionary processes, though in any case still intelligently guided processes. And as Collins points out, this certainly could also include the addition of a human soul.
Animal species vary considerably in their natural instincts as to their inclinations to harm others of their own species and other species. Some might exhibit very little aggressive or harmful behavior, especially if they had inhabited and had evolved in environments which required little predation and struggle for survival. The non-human species into which the first human was born may have had this more benign behavior. The first humans could have been given the added benefit of being able to freely choose against whatever harmful behavior would still be present in the wider non-human portion of the species, an ability which was removed in part after their first sin. Thus the fall could have to a degree returned humans to the prehuman state of their predecessors. The non-humans would have had what was almost equivalent to the sinful nature of the fallen humans. Fallen humans would still be able to freely choose not to commit some sins though the non-humans would not be free in that regard and would not be responsible for their actions. Still, both could have been enough alike, the humans and non-humans being sufficiently tolerant of each other that they would interbreed for many generations thus accounting for the genetic variation we see in our gene pool.
Notice that the human mutation could be kept to discrete individuals within the entire species. We know that genes are passed on, half of one’s genome from one parent, the other half from the other parent. In heterozygous individuals, one gene from one parent will be dominant and the other corresponding but different gene from the other parent recessive. The dominant gene will be expressed, it will cause certain characteristics (like brown eyes) to be present in the individual, and the recessive gene (like blue eyes) hidden. The recessive gene will be expressed only if both parents provide the same recessive gene making the individual homozygous with this gene. If the human mutation is a dominant gene or allele, the first human could be heterozygous with this allele. The allele producing humanness we may call H. The prior non-human gene we may call N. Mating with a non-human (NN), a heterozygous human (HN) would on average have one heterozygous human child (HN) for each non-human child (NN). Two mating heterozygous humans (HN) would on average have one non-human child (NN), two heterozygous human children (HN), and one homozygous human child (HH). Thus we could have the human mutation continue within the species with the non-humans being distinguished and eventually selected against. Likely after the non-human subspecies had largely disappeared after thousands of years, all humans became homozygous with this human gene mutation (HH).
The first humans may have had just enough survival advantage that the non-humans would eventually become extinct. If the human advantage was greater intelligence, it also may have increased with time which in turn also caused interbreeding with the non-human subspecies to eventually lessen even more. This second stage intelligence increase could occur by another regulator gene mutation or a number of normal gene mutations in the humans. Any such mutational changes, whether providing intelligence or any other advantages to the humans, might have also provided no advantages or harmful changes in any non-humans. If the latter, non-humans might then no longer be born of the humans or if born might not survive long. We see that there are numerous variations of our scenario for the continued interbreeding of humans and non-humans and the eventual extinction of the non-human subspecies. The simplest scenario variation—which I’ve mentioned—is that the first human mutation alone produced this condition.
Population geneticist David Wilcox, in private correspondence has expressed misgivings about the approach I offer here. However, after some discussion, his concerns seem to me to mostly involve certain moral issues, which I will bring up shortly. Though he does not accept the model I am offering, I do not see that he has offered any insurmountable scientific objections to this model. 13 Indeed, Dr. Wilcox has offered his own model for the evolutionary creation of humans, one variation of which allows for a first human couple from whom all other humans descended. 14
I would think that the scenario outlined above would be able to account for the origin of humans from a single human within a wider interbreeding population of non-humans. But the biblical account tells us more, it tells us there were two first humans, a male and female couple. Another point the Genesis account brings up is that the first woman somehow came from the first man. This is where the model I am about to present gets into some of the “grimy” moral problems which Wilcox finds discomforting. We could ignore these points in the Genesis account and just assume Adam mated with some non-human of his wider species and that was that. But wouldn’t this make this scenario just so alien to the biblical account that it would appear to be an entirely different story? What we would call a poetic or semi-poetic interpretation of the creation narratives maintains something of an “historical core,” as Collins puts it. It allows some metaphorical as well as some literal interpretation to understand the full account. 15 Martin Emmrich argues that the text requires at least an historical core of an actual garden and two occupants. 16 So let me suggest the following:
Adam, the first to have the human gene mutation, first mates with a non-human female of his species to produce a human female child. God causes Adam to be isolated from his mate before his daughter’s birth and all others of his wider non-human species until his daughter has grown. Genesis 2:8 speaks of Adam being moved to or placed in Eden; possibly God causes Adam to migrate to this location. His human daughter, Eve, is then brought to Adam, probably after she had become sexually mature, and she becomes his wife. This scenario would explain how we could begin with a human couple and also how the Genesis account could speak of Eve coming from Adam. The story of God taking a rib or portion of Adam’s body to produce Eve is a symbolic way of saying that she was his daughter. After the expulsion from Eden after the fall, Adam and Eve’s human descendants could for some time interbreed with the non-human subspecies as well as with each other.
But what about the messy moral problems the scenario I offer puts us in? Is Adam guilty of bestiality and parent-child incest? It is difficult to think of Adam’s mating with a non-human “Lilith,” as it were, as bestiality since they are both of the same species. So I have yet to see how we should take this as a serious accusation. As for the incest problem, we should first be aware that today almost half of the children who are born from incest with first degree relatives are completely healthy (The Problem With Incest | Psychology Today) (accessed April 2019). First degree relatives are those who share 50% of their genes, that is, siblings or parents and children. So this would not have been a genetically related moral problem for Adam and Eve because God could have simply arranged that the right sperm fertilize the right ovum to produce a healthy child. God made sure that there was no chance of deformities or infertility or other problems resulting from genetic mutations. Incidentally, the old “Where did Cain get his wife?” problem is also easily resolved if we accept that there was a wider non-human population of his species to choose from. We have no need for any further divine intervention to prevent incest mutations since many individuals of the human generations following Adam and Eve interbred with the large non-human populations. Indeed, the first human generations following Adam and Eve may have interbred exclusively with non-humans. If this was the case, parent-child incest need not have occurred more than once and sibling incest need not have occurred at all. At any rate, we have no reason to censor Adam for taking Eve as his wife because of genetic issues.
However, parent-child incest is not morally harmful for genetic reasons alone. It is also morally wrong because of the social harm it produces. A mother’s and father’s and child’s relationship with each other is disrupted and damaged resulting in psychological and emotional upheaval and distress for all involved. It also affects the extended family and other children in the family. If we lack certain features of a normal interrelationship of family members, the same harm will not result. Adam and Eve were not aware of any normal parent-child relationship a child raised by her parents or a parent raising a child would know. Likewise, Adam’s non-human mate may not have been aware of any loss or social disruption at all.
I know that many readers find any idea of God endorsing parent-child incest difficult to take. But for Adam and Eve this is such a special situation that I think it is not that problematic. If we think carefully about why we find parent-child incest so distasteful, I think we discover that the thought of social harm, of betrayal of a loved one, of psychological harm to an innocent child and parent—all of these notions first come to mind. Without a normal social context, none of these problems arise. If those of us from old or young earth creationist backgrounds have long ago gotten used to the old idea of Cain and Seth and others marrying their sisters, why should Adam and Eve’s socially unique situation not allow for the possibility of Adam marrying his daughter?
Here I would like to suggest that for those who consider the idea of Adam marrying his daughter simply unacceptable, it is not essential to the model that they be father and daughter. The important point of this model is that it is possible for there to be a first human couple from whom all other humans descended while the interbreeding population of our species never reached less than several thousand individuals. If the human gene mutation, the human allele, is recessive, then only individuals with both human alleles would be human and they could have parents who are not human though those parents each possess a human allele. The two first humans could be born of completely different parents. So there are ways to keep this model without having the first couple be a parent and child or even be siblings—they could be distantly related. (I should also mention that if we assume the human gene mutation is a recessive allele, it is still possible for the model to be developed in such a way that Adam and Eve were father and daughter.)
I offer this variation of this model for those who simply cannot consider any possibility that Adam married his daughter. It does not go so far as to affirm that Adam had no human mate at all, which, as I pointed out earlier, I would think would be so different from the Genesis account as to make it an entirely different story. Also it could maintain that the creation-from-Adam’s-rib story has a definite but different symbolic meaning. Perhaps it has some unique spiritual meaning.
My own preferred model variation is that they are parent and child since this seems to me to fit so much more easily the biblical account, the mythical language which speaks of Eve coming from or being created from Adam. The incest problem does not bother me since I see the first couple’s social and historical situation as being so utterly unique. I will assume this latter model variation for the rest of this paper.
This scenario removes the sticky problem of having a moral decision, a fall, of a representative couple affect the sinfulness and guilt of their contemporaries and others not descended from that couple. Is it even conceivable that Adam may so represent others as to make them guilty of his moral choice if they do not have the ability to accept or reject Adam as their representative? (This is the same problem many of us have with the federal view of original sin.)
This scenario also frees us of the questionable attempts some have made to rid us of a historical fall entirely. If all people inevitably sin just because this is how God created us, then despite claims to the contrary, God is responsible for creating sin. God is absolutely good and can have no part with sin except to allow its possibility. Human free choice, not God, was the source of this sinful nature. God consigned all to disobedience, to sin, so that he might have mercy on all (Rom. 11:32) but he consigned us to sin only by the originating decision of a free human choice. Without that choice God would never have consigned us to disobedience. If someone might claim that we do not possess a sin nature at all, they would not be able to explain how it is that all people do inevitably sin. Without some kind of fall, it would have to be possible that someone other than Jesus could live a sinless life. Since we know that no one is without sin, an historic fall is the most feasible explanation. 17
Jerry Coyne’s article(Adam and Eve: the ultimate standoff between science and faith (and a contest!) « Why Evolution Is True) and William Lane Craig’s early response and comments (http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-historical-adam-and-eve) (both accessed April 2019). As of the time of this writing, this problem also appears to be one of Dr. Craig’s latest areas of focus.
In my thinking it is beyond question that the physical human organism is the product of ages of evolutionary processes and common ancestry under at least an evolutionary creationist model. I have found Dennis R. Venema and Scot McKnight’s Adam and the Genome, Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2017) to be particularly persuasive in arguing for this view. However, though his arguments for evolution and against some intelligent design (ID) arguments are very strong, I do not find all of Dr. Venema’s arguments against ID persuasive. Belief in evolution does not require that there could never be any intelligent intervention in the process. Venema does show that some biological systems are not irreducibly complex (IC) which have been purported to be IC; it does not follow that all are unlikely to be IC.
Dennis Jensen, Human Suffering and the Evil of Religion, The Greatest Problems for Belief in God (Human Suffering and the Evil of Religion: The Greatest Problems for Belief in God - Kindle edition by Dennis Jensen. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.) (Eugene, OR: Resource, 2018). Most of this book deals with other apologetic issues such as the problem of evil and the social harm or benefit of Christianity, religion in general, and secularism. Quotations used with permission.
Henri Blocher, In the Beginning, The Opening Chapters of Genesis (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity, 1984), 32. Blocher did not use the term “prose-poetry” though in my original quotation I mistakenly stated that he did. Blocher did, however, write of the two together and assume this concept.
C. John Collins, Genesis 1–4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub, 2006), 44.
Jensen, Human Suffering , 21.
Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 262. See also 300, 425–26.
C. John Collins, “A Historical Adam: Old Earth Creation View,” in Four Views on the Historical Adam, gen. eds. Matthew Barrett and Ardel B. Caneday, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 151.
Jensen, Human Suffering , 21.
C. John Collins, “Adam and Eve as Historical People, and Why It Matters,” Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith 62, no. 3 (Sept. 2010): 156.
David Wilcox, email messages to the author, 19, 20 October 2015; 14, 18, 20, 21 April 2019.
Professor Wilcox has offered his own model in 2016: David Wilcox, “A Proposed Model for the Evolutionary Creation of Human Beings](https://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2016/PSCF3-16Wilcox.pdf),” Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith 68, no. 1 (March 2016): 22–43 (accessed June 2019). I question Dr. Wilcox’s view that it was necessary for Adam and Eve to be raised in a special social environment in order to have the moral awareness needed to choose to obey or disobey God and to be human. The social environment of the prehuman subspecies might have been sufficiently close to that of a human social environment that the human environment was not needed. But if it was needed, it is not inconceivable that God specially implanted that awareness into their psyches as they were growing by “intensively socializing a growing child” (as Wilcox puts it, 38). In any case he does offer a model, one variation of which does admit the possibility of the creation of a first human couple from whom all humans have descended. Humanness is transferred through human acculturation, in his view, though in this particular model variation it happens to be transferred only to Adam and Eve’s direct descendants. Also I see no reason to think that this model variation could not be made to allow the transfer of a sin nature only to the first couple’s human descendants. Dr. Wilcox has since looked at his wider model in the light of more recent scientific findings in “Updating Human Origins,” Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith 71, no. 1 (March 2019): 37–49 and has not substantially altered his view.
Collins, “Adam and Eve,” 159.
Martin Emmrich, “The Temptation Narrative of Genesis 3:1–6: A Prelude to the Pentateuch and the History of Israel,” Evangelical Quarterly 73, no. 1 (2001): 3–20.
I wanted to be careful not to say that “since we know that no one is without sin, an historic fall is the only possible explanation.” For example, Origen’s view of the preexistence of human (and other) souls could account for the universal sinful human nature. Only those who had sinned to a given degree in a pre-earthly state were given a human birth and a fallen nature. The major problem with Origen’s view is that there are no biblical events or teachings which suggest it whereas Adam and Eve’s choice to sin and other biblical teachings do suggest their act was the source of a fallen human nature. This is, of course, not sufficient evidence to decisively exclude Origen’s view.
Jensen, Human Suffering (21, 23–25) offers a view of original sin which I believe can be reasonably accepted. It also argues that if there had been no fall then there would still be some suffering in the world. From the book of Job we may infer that all must be tested as to their choices to affirm or reject God, and tested within the context of suffering. But mere suffering which will bring about a greater good should not be called evil. This argument is spelled out in greater detail in part one of Human Suffering .
One issue which might have some latitude of variation would involve the characteristics which constitute humanness as distinct from the most advanced animal nature. I have set some minimal characteristics but I do not want to say that the differences might be greater. The problem is that if the first humans interbred with these non-humans they must be sufficiently similar to humans that the prospect of mating would not be unattractive to either humans or non-humans while at the same time they must be sufficiently different such that one would be identifiable as human but not the other.
I would want humans to be interbreeding with non-humans of their species since this would be closer to the most likely naturalistic model. Also, to make them into some kind of humans would be too similar to Swamidass’ model and would incur all of the same problems I see in his model. He and I are having an ongoing discussion as to whether having Adamic humans interbreed with a prior human race or with non-humans has the least problems. (I hope that because I have not yet responded to your last email, Joshua, that you don’t think I have conceded any of your arguments. I’ll be responding after our discussion here is complete.) If we conclude that having an Adamic race interbreeding with another human race has the least problems, it may be better to simply fall back on a variation of Swamidass’ model.
It does not matter to me whether the human gene mutation is dominant or recessive. If it is dominant, some readers might think it is a problem that the recessive non-human gene might be hidden in a population–indeed, widespread interbreeding populations–over very many generations. If it is a recessive gene, it certainly should be able to glean the non-human gene out of the gene pool more easily and this may be more advantageous. Also, whether the gene is dominant or recessive will also determine whether or not Eve must be Adam’s daughter, which some may find very troubling. There may be quite a lot to discuss about this point.
I wouldn’t want to consider de novo creation of humans as a possibility, nor a late 6–10 kya date for their creation. I would like to consider a model which accepts the currently accepted dates for the origin of modern humans with all of the possible variations that entails.