Eden Reconsidered

Great article from Ken Miller of the NCSE (@Glenn_Branch ) and Brown University reviewing The Genealogical Adam and Eve at AAR.


I agree that the article is well-written. Miller seems to write better when he is not writing about a position that irks him.

Regarding his four points of criticism, I don’t think the fourth one is particularly strong, but the other three have some force. The third one is the most interesting to me as a student of Genesis. He raises the question, what good would it do to overcome the apparent contradiction between Adam and Eve and evolution, when that would still leave a large number of other apparent contradictions still unresolved? Even if it’s possible to hold together a specially created Adam and Eve with the overall evolutionary narrative as given in modern biology, how does that help hold together the astronomy, the geology, the botany, etc. of Genesis with what modern science tells us?

Admittedly, the Adam and Eve story is perhaps the most important story in Genesis to deal with, because of the way it was read by Paul, Augustine, and the Catholic and Protestant churches, and made to anchor the notions of Fall, Original Sin, and Redemption. I therefore understand why Joshua and others think it’s important to focus on Adam and Eve and show that it can be compatible with evolutionary thinking. Nonetheless, the rest of the material about Creation in Genesis 1 and 2 is not negligible in theological importance, and it’s hard to justify insisting on the historicity of parts of Genesis 2 and 3, while not insisting on the historicity of the rest of Genesis 1-3.

Let’s suppose we have a smart and open-minded fundamentalist, who says, “OK, I’ll grant for the sake of argument that this Genealogical Adam scenario might work; now explain how to reconcile the appearance of light, before there are any heavenly bodies, with the narrative of origins provided by modern science.” So a new harmonization, regarding points in the Genesis narrative concerning other parts of nature, must be sought, if the goal is to win such a person over to the modern scientific consensus on origins.

It seems to me that the sort of Christian most likely to find Genealogical Adam to be a convincing harmonization that resolves the major difficulties for science and faith is the sort of Christian who is already inclined to take at least parts of Genesis non-historically. The person who insists on a rigid conception of Genesis as blow by blow description of the order of creation events is likely to find the Genealogical Adam scenario as a half-baked reconciliation that still leaves all kinds of tension between the “plain meaning” of Genesis and the teaching of modern science.

The question, then, is: how large is the “market” for the Genealogical Adam explanation? So far, the positive responses I’ve seen to it seem to come from highly educated people, scientists or theologians or clergymen or the like, who are somewhat elastic in their interpretation of ancient texts, and not inclined to fundamentalism or mechanical literalism. They seem to be either (a) agnostics or atheists who aren’t interested in religious faith as such, but are pleased to find a version of religious faith which leaves science alone and stops challenging scientists, or (b) Christians who have for quite a while been on a trajectory away from fundamentalism, or were never fundamentalists in the first place.

That’s not to say the idea has no value or that it won’t help some people, maybe many. But I suspect it’s not likely to make a huge dent in the number of people who tell pollsters that they think the earth was created less than ten thousand years ago. And I’m guessing that Joshua is aware of this, so the question is: does this idea (Genealogical Adam and Eve) hope to be a game-changer that will bring about an end to culture warring over Genesis, or does it have only more modest aims, i.e., to slightly soften opposition to modern origins science in the (relatively) small number of cases where such softening is possible?


I’ll publish a rejoinder soon :slight_smile:

We know now that market is pretty large. For an academic book, we passed “blockbuster” status a while ago, and our sales line is trending upwards. 2 years after publication, that’s strong indication of staying power, and that we aren’t even close to hitting our ceiling.

The primary limiter right now is exposure. Most people haven’t heard of us.

I disagree. Time will tell, but there is already some evidence in my favor.

I’d be happy with the more modest aim, and I think there is abundant evidence at this point it is also a game changer :slight_smile: .

I agree; we won’t know until more people have become familiar with the notion. We have to find out the reaction among not just people like William Lane Craig and Ken Miller but the great masses of Bible-based Christians. And I have no objection at all to offering the notion to the Christian (and non-Christian) world. As always, I’m in favor of open discussion, and I admire people who have the courage to offer a view that is off-beat, that crosses divisions of traditional factional loyalties, etc. (In this case, I admire you for standing up against bullying from some BioLogos quarters; BioLogos biologists used to claim that an original couple was ruled out by genetic science, and now they seem to be wavering a bit on that, presumably in large measure due to your presentation.)

As I said from the very beginning, the problem that Genealogical Adam “solves” was never a problem for me, since I never read Genesis in the way that fundamentalist opponents of evolution read Genesis. I feel no personal religious or academic theological need for a historical Garden of Eden, and such critiques as I have of certain aspects (not all) of evolutionary theory are not objections to common descent. So, while I have absolutely nothing against the idea being put out there for discussion among Christians, it doesn’t alter the way I read Genesis. If it helps some people, great; it’s just not something that answers any intellectual or theological need of mine. That’s why you haven’t seen me weighing in for or against it. It’s not my business, really, how people who read Genesis in a way completely different from my own react to Genealogical Adam. I have no dog in the fight, so to speak. It’s the followers of Ham and Ross etc. that you have to convince.

Setting my views aside, however, from a sociological point of view, the Genealogical Adam notion may prove very interesting, depending on how Bible-based Christians react. I’m predicting that most of them will reject the idea, but I could be wrong, and if I am, we may see a major shift in Bible-based American Christian theology. As you say, time will tell.


What do you think of Ken Keathley’s article? Note that he is an influential OEC in the SBC:

It’s a feather in your cap to get such an open-minded response from him. If we compare his response to your own ideas with his response on BioLogos, a few years ago, to its doctrinaire approach to the genetics of Adam and Eve, we see that his response to you is much more encouraging.

I suspect that at least in the near future he will not persuade the majority in the SBC of the validity of the notion, but from your point of view, it’s a start, which is better than the slammed-shut door you’re likely to get from the likes of Ham. (And maybe even from Ross.)

I like his cautious, balanced conclusion:

“It’s worth noting that Swamidass himself presents the GAE model simply as a possible solution, and that he does not commit himself to GAE. Therefore I see no reason to commit myself more strongly that he does. But I do believe it deserves recognition as a viable hypothesis, worthy of further research. Let the conversation continue.”

I think you can be pleased with this.

1 Like

I’d say his response is typical of a very large number of scholars and members of the Church, including the SBC.

Have you read these yet?

From an OEC:

And also this:

I don’t have time to read them carefully at the moment; the second article, in the Biblical section, has some good textual analysis on Genesis 4 and related questions. My point would be that these are academics and theologians, and that we don’t yet know how the idea will go over with the rank and file in the pews, especially in churches where evolution in any form has long been thought of as an evil or at least highly suspect doctrine.

You’re looking at the notion from the point of view of someone who regards evolution as a demonstrated scientific fact and not an offense to faith, and you had already decided on those two things before you came up with the idea of Genealogical Adam. But the conservative Bible-based churches are filled with people who don’t concede that evolution is a demonstrated scientific fact and do find it, or some of its apparent implications, offensive to faith. The line of thought, “If we adopt this interpretation of Genesis, we can hold onto the truth of evolution,” is not going to be a very common line of thought in the Bible-based churches. For most people in those churches, the fact that a particular reading of the Bible allows for compatibility with evolution is not a plus, and is likely to raise suspicions about the religious orthodoxy of the person who is so concerned to validate evolution. It will take more than a few open-minded theologians and academics to alter this attitude among the general body of believers in such churches. A long-established religious culture doesn’t abandon its core premises very easily or very quickly.

Of course, I’m speaking purely sociologically here, not commenting on either the science or the theology put forward in the Genealogical Adam notion. I’m simply predicting that most members of heavily Bible-based, congregational-style churches won’t go for it, i.e., I’m agreeing with Ken Miller’s assessment of the mindset of most people from those sorts of churches. Whether they should go for it is another question entirely, which I’m not addressing.

In any case, you should be pleased to have made the inroads you’ve already made with SBC leaders and so on. And the conversation about origins seems to have shifted away from anything anyone at BioLogos is saying, and more to what you have been saying. I think part of the reason for this is that you have showed up some faulty genetics arguments of the BioLogos crew, and another part is that you at least engage with traditional theological readings of Genesis, whereas the BioLogos folks have tended to just ignore 2000 years of Christian tradition and postulate ad hoc private readings of Genesis, virtually any old ad hoc reading as long as it clears the way for evolution. It thus always looked as if the BioLogos crew were committed to evolution for professional scientific reasons, and then went about looking, after the fact, for Biblical passages and Biblical methods that could justify the acceptance. That prioritizing of science over theology rubbed both Bible-based and traditional credal-confessional Christians the wrong way. If you succeed in making more inroads, it will be partly due to not making Biblical exegesis into a mere tool to win Bible-based Christians over to evolution, but instead showing respect for exegesis and theology as having value in themselves.

I will watch the developments with interest.

1 Like

Except we do :slight_smile: . That evidence just looks different.

As I said though, just give it time.

I’m in no hurry, if you’re not. :smile:

1 Like

I think this is very true.

Also, I think my book opens up far more questions than it answers, and that’s an attractive invitation to scholars. I already know of many grad-student dissertations cooking that respond with enthusiasm to the questions here. This phase of the conversation is really just beginning.

Grad students in biology?

This topic was automatically closed 7 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.