Jonathan McLatchie: The Search for Adam and Eve, Human Origins According to Scripture and Science

McLatchie is now with his PhD in biology, and a professor at Sattler (Sattler College and the Anabaptist Voice).

His objections are of the theological sort.

An innovative and provocative attempt to harmonize evolutionary theory with an historical Adam and Eve has recently been proposed by computational biologist Joshua Swamidass of Washington University in St. Louis. [9] Swamidass proposes that Adam and Eve lived approximately six thousand years ago, in accordance with the traditional creationist understanding. He argues that Adam and Eve did not have parents and were in fact created de novo , as described in Genesis 2. Consistent with a face-value reading of Genesis, Swamidass proposes that Adam was formed from the dust of the earth and Eve from Adam’s side. However, Swamidass argues that Adam and Eve were not the first humans. Rather, their genomes became ‘mixed’ with the rest of the human population outside of the garden through interbreeding (that is, humans who, unlike Adam and Eve, arose naturally through evolutionary processes), such that all extant humans can be said to trace their genealogical ancestry back to Adam and Eve, even though their genetic ancestry includes other lineages, unrelated to Adam, as well. Swamidass points out that universal genealogical ancestors (that is, individuals to whom all modern humans can trace their ancestry) are common, arising often throughout human history. Swamidass proposes that “Adam and Eve are to work as priestly rulers alongside Yahweh Elohim, to expand the Garden across the earth. Civilization is rising, and a new era is coming. Their purpose is to welcome everyone into their family, in a new kingdom of God.” [10] Swamidass distinguishes between what he calls “biological humans” and “textual humans.” [11] For Swamidass, “Biological humans are defined taxonomically, from a biological and scientific point of view. From at least AD 1 onward, they are coextensive with textual humans.” [12] On the other hand, “Textual humans are the group of people to whom Scripture refers. I argue that this group is defined by Scripture to be Adam, Eve, and their genealogical descendants, including everyone alive across the globe by, at latest AD 1. They are a chronological subset of biological humans, meaning that some biological humans in the past are not textual humans, but all textual humans are biological humans.” [13]

While Swamidass’ model is superficially attractive in that it does not require positing thousands of gaps in the Genesis genealogies, the problems that it raises are too intolerably great for me to commend Swamidass’ solution. For one thing, in what sense, if any, can non-Adamic biological humans be considered to be fully human? Are they affected by original sin, and did Jesus die to save them? Swamidass conjectures that these biological humans bear God’s image but “are not yet affected by Adam’s fall. They have a sense of right and wrong, written on their hearts (Rom. 2:15), but they are not morally perfect. They do wrong at times. They are subject to physical death, which prevents their wrongdoing from growing into true evil (Gen. 6:3).” [14] The Scriptures, however, make no such distinction between biological humans and textual humans. Swamidass’ view would seem to suggest logically that those individuals who were biological (but not textual) humans are qualitatively indistinct from other animals. But in that case it makes no sense to call their deeds evil, or to postulate that they had a sense of right and wrong. Moreover, if they, as Swamidass suggests, “do wrong at times”, then does this not suggest that Adam’s fall is but one of many falls that have occurred in human history? The theological ramifications that accompany this scenario are too severe for me to entertain Swamidass’ proposal.


What are your thoughts @dga471 and @jongarvey?

There is no historical and biblical doctrine of the fall. There is only a theological doctrine. It does not come from history and it does not come from the Bible. That’s why there are Christian denominations who do not accept the doctrine.

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He’s made the mistake of fixing on the details of your “possible scenario” rather than on the bones of the proposal. In any but a YEC literalist scenario, there are some of the same problems with “hominins” outside the garden, and even in a YEC setting those hominis must have lived at the same time.

For myself, I spent a lot of effort answering such objections in my own book, particularly with regard to assumptions about what the Bible does and does not say about the uniqueness of Adam. So he should get me on his show to talk about Generations of Heaven and Earth!

Contrary to @nwrickert, though, the doctrine of the Fall is historical because it goes back throughout Christian history, and is also clearly taught in the New Testament, and in Jewish sources from a similar period. Wisdom of Solomon taught the entrance of death into the world through Adam in the 1st century BCE. That’s historical.

Whether that fall issues into ancestral sin is contested now, but was pretty solidly taught in one form or another from Irenaeus onwards, not to mention the Jewish source 2 Esdras 3.20-22, even before Irenaeus.


I’m just going to copy here what I wrote to you earlier regarding this article:

I think the article contains a lot of information and content, indicating he’s read widely about this topic, but I see a lot of tensions and a lack of connecting the dots which indicate that he may not have thought deeply about all these different models that he’s assessing, or it’s just that the article should have been edited better. Or maybe due to my experience with PS, I just tend to conceive the conversation through a very different framework.

Example 1: It’s odd that initially, he dismisses your recent A&E model because of the uncertain status of the people outside the Garden, saying curtly that “The Scriptures, however, make no such distinction between biological humans and textual humans”, but later (in the section “Were Adam and Eve alone”) speculates about people outside the Garden using the same passages which hint at people outside the Garden (e.g. where did Cain’s wife come from). Either McLatchie hasn’t sufficiently understood the GAE model to connect the dots in a wider sense (instead of just the specific scenario of Chapter 14), or he changed his mind later and didn’t bother to edit the article to reflect that. (In the end, he still rejects the idea of people outside the Garden, but does so in a more measured manner instead of the abrupt dismissal when discussing your recent A&E model.)

Example 2:

He is OK giving up genealogical monogenesis as long as other humans existing were part of A&E’s tribe (which is one of Jack Collins’ stipulations for such scenarios):

We can call this the ‘tribal representative’ view. I think this view allows one to retain a robust view of original sin. On such a view, Adam and Eve, as the first priest and priestess of mankind, would be the representatives of their fellow humans, both present and future. I would argue that it is theologically acceptable to suggest that Adam and Eve were among the first human beings that were created, but not /acceptable to suggest that Adam and Eve were preceded in time by other humans who lived before them.

Now, this is odd, since earlier, he rejects Kidner and Alexander’s views as very implausible, because they don’t posit de novo creation. Well, the reality is that Kidner, Alexander, and the “tribal representative” view above are really the same with the exception of de novo creation (which can easily be fixed in the first two models). It’s odd that he doesn’t see this connection. I think this is why framing the A&E debate around certain key questions (esp. separating the issue of people outside the Garden and de novo ) is important and will hopefully help people to navigate the space of many different A&E models in a more informed manner, realizing certain key connections.

Ultimately, it seems that McLatchie’s position is driven by the fundamental commitment that A&E must sit at the headwaters of [biological] humanness (and their theological status represents all other humans), so there must be no people outside the Garden (although there could be more than Adam and Eve in the Garden). In that sense he seems similar to WLC’s view.

Finally, one redeeming feature of the article is that it is fairly self-aware and admits that the price for an ancient Adam is that it is harder to square with the biblical genealogies.


@jongarvey and @dga471, I pointed out your comments to Jonathan McLatchie. He is a descent guy. Perhaps he will respond.

Or basically the whole Old Testament, if you see the strong connection between Exile and the Fall, and between Eden and Revelations.

Id’ say there is certainly massive debate about precisely how to understand the Fall (e.g. does it impute us with guilt?). But the key idea behind a historical fall might just be “Mere” Christianity.


Yes indeed, Josh, as I should have pointed out, it being the theme of my entire book!

The very function of Adam in the Pentateuch is, at the least, to warn Israel that the same judgement will fall on them if they are unfaithful - and Deuteronomy ends with that being foreshadowed.