Tyler Dean reviews the GAE for The Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry:
S. Joshua Swamidass is an associate professor of pathology and immunology and associate professor of biomedical engineering at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He earned a PhD and MD from the University of California, Irvine and completed his clinical pathology residency at Washington University. Swamidass identifies himself as “a scientist in the Church and a Christian in science” whose goal is to make room for differing viewpoints within both science and the church (5). In his book, The Genealogical Adam & Eve, Swamidass brings his scientific expertise and thorough research to bear on a question that has implications for both the scientific community and the church.
The question that Swamidass seeks to answer is whether or not it is true, as many atheistic biologists and evolutionary creationists affirm, that modern genetics has disproven a literal Adam and Eve from whom all people are descended (6). In addressing the apparent conflict between science and the church, Swamidass, a scientist at a secular university, steps out in courage in order to uphold the traditional Christian affirmation of an historical Adam and Eve. He is motivated by both, empathy for Christians who affirm the historicity of Adam and Eve and scientific curiosity. Like a seasoned scientist, Swamidass develops a hypothesis that tests the claims made by those who affirm a historical Adam and Eve to determine whether modern science falsifies their claim.
Swamidass’s book is divided into five sections, with one appendix, a bibliography, and general and scriptural indices. The first section establishes the fracture over the issue of an actual Adam and Eve. In the second section, Swamidass proposes and tests his Genealogical Hypothesis. The first three propositions are that Adam and Eve 1) “lived recently in the Middle East,” 2) “are genealogical ancestors of everyone,” and 3) “are de novo created” (26). These three propositions affirm the traditional understanding of Adam and Eve in Genesis by most Christians throughout history. The last three propositions of the hypothesis have not traditionally been included in the popular Christian understanding of Genesis and are thus more controversial. These propositions are that 4) the descendants of Adam and Eve interbred with other people outside of the garden, 5) no additional miracles other than the de novo creation by God are allowed, and 6) “the people outside the garden would share common descent with the great apes, and the size of their population would never dip down to a single couple” (26). The third section contains a conversation between science and theology about what it means to be human. In the fourth section, Swamidass attempts to demonstrate that the ecclesiastical view and scientific view of Adam and Even are not mutually exclusive, but can both be simultaneously true. In the fifth section, he urges “tolerance, humility, and patience” in the conversation between those who hold differing opinions about Adam and Eve, considering many questions remain unanswered.
The most evident strength of Swamidass’s work is the way in which he is able to use his scientific expertise and methodology in answering questions from both biology and theology. In chapter three, Swamidass makes an important distinction between genetics and genealogy. He compares genetics, which analyzes the DNA passed from one generation to the next within a population, to a streetlight and a telescope (35). Genetic ancestry can clearly illuminate recent ancestral relations, but is diluted relatively quickly, with each succeeding generation only inheriting a fraction of the genetic material from previous generations; half from parents, one fourth from grandparents, one eighth from great-grandparents, etc.1 On the other hand, genetics as a telescope can show patterns of inheritance in the distant past among populations, but provides no evidence for genealogical ancestry. The important conclusion from this distinction is that, despite the claims to the contrary, modern genetics does not disprove genealogical descent from a historical Adam and Eve. Thus, premise two is not falsified by modern genetics. Furthermore, genealogical analyses, using computer simulations, show that universal human ancestors could have arisen within the last two to three thousand years (45). Swamidass’s expertise and knowledge in his field strengthens the faith of Christians who believe what the Bible says about human descent from a historical Adam and Eve. Many Christians will find The Genealogical Adam and Eve to be a useful tool in defending the biblical account of human origins.
There are, however, several pieces of evidence that Swamidass uses to support his hypothesis to which some Christians would object. First, he posits that there were biological humans outside of the garden that arose through an evolutionary process on which the biblical account is silent. Swamidass believes, however, that there are hints to the existence of these humans using the wife of Cain and the Nephilim as examples. Second, he holds that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are separate creation accounts, an idea that is rejected by many Old Testament scholars, including C. John Collins in his recent book Reading Genesis Well.2 Swamidass is not unaware of these objections and deals with them throughout the book. He holds that there is room for speculation and that many theologians have debated the above issues throughout history up to the present. Many Christians, however, are not willing to speculate in order to accommodate the witness of scripture to modern scientific findings. Furthermore, positing people outside of the garden raises several theological questions concerning their status. Were they in the image of God? Did they have fallen natures? Did they have a spirit that lived on after their death? Swamidass is aware of these questions and explores possible solutions in the second section of the book. He does not offer definitive answers, but leaves room for theological speculation concerning the mystery of the people outside of the garden, which is one of his stated goals.
Several aspects of Swamidass’s work are to be commended. He holds to a high view of the Bible, affirming the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy and Hermeneutics. Swamidass fairly presents perspectives from many sides of contentious issues, following his call for tolerance, humility, and patience. He provides an example of civility for those who follow in his footsteps. The four free online appendices which include responses to Swamidass’s work by such notable scholars as Andrew Torrance, C. John Collins, William Lane Craig, and John Hilbur further exemplify the positive outcomes when Christians work together in conversation, even when there is disagreement.3 Swamidass helps lead the way for further amicable conversation between the fields of science and theology. His meticulous research is a valuable resource for those who want to further pursue the topic of human origins from a scientific and theological perspective.