Three Reviews at BioLogos

Editorial Note on the Series: In recent years, Christian scholars have been actively discussing whether a “historical Adam” can fit with evolutionary science (for a sample of the diversity of positions, see this 2014 “scorecard” and BioLogos resources on Adam and Eve). While some say no, others say yes, proposing a variety of scenarios that view Adam and Eve as real historical people and accept the scientific evidence for human evolution. However, in the discussion, some have made premature claims (including some articles at BioLogos, recently updated) that evolutionary science and population genetics rule out scenarios with a recent universal human ancestor or with a de novo created ancestral pair.

Computational biologist Joshua Swamidass’s recent book, The Genealogical Adam and Eve: The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry , challenges these premature claims. Swamidass argues that when we think about ancestry genealogically rather than genetically, it is possible that all humans existing by the time of Jesus are descended from a pair existing only a few thousand years before. He also makes the case that this couple could have been created de novo and have descendants interbreeding with the surrounding population. Swamidass argues that this new approach allows us to retain many elements of the “traditional Christian view” concerning Adam.

BioLogos has invited three leading scholars to engage these arguments: a biologist, an Old Testament scholar, and a theologian, all working at the intersection of science and Christian theology. We hope their reviews will equip readers to engage the ongoing conversation about Adam and Eve.

Michael J. Murray
Series Editor
Philosopher and Senior Visiting Scholar, Franklin and Marshall College

Deborah Haarsma
President of BioLogos

The series includes three reviews. The first reviewer is the Chairman of the Board, but the theologians are not Evolutionary Creationists.

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What do you make of them @jongarvey, @Michelle, @dga471, and everyone else?

This seems to be opening up the sort of discussion you intended. That a win!

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It is. The timing is good too. It took us three years to get here, but I respect this:

Though they really should own up to the fact that the organization itself made these claims.

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Highly significant. Three positive reviews, commissioned by BioLogos and repositioning the organization, whether they admit the volte face or not.

I don’t think the individual caveats in the reviews matter at all - the book was designed to open up discussion, rather than end it. Hardin writes, positively, with a “cautious scientist” hat on: given his long association with BioLogos, his position is a massive shift. And of course he cites my book!

Jack Collins’s disagreements are the same ones he has raised here and in correspondence - but it is significant that he has shown support throughout the project and was even willing to endorse my book. He exemplifies the way GAE will bed down into the biblical studies discussion in future years, with a legitimate place at the high table.

McCall’s was the most interesting to me, since it speaks most to what has led my own work over the last decade, after I saw that theistic evolution had become, mainly in BioLogos but also in academic circles, the ASA, CiS etc, a back-door for thoroughly heterodox theology posing as “Evangelical.”

McCall calls this out quite scathingly, in remarks such as the suggestion that theistic evolution has almost always led directly to Pelagianism. It has led to more, of course, such Open Theism, Kenotic theology, semi-deism, etc, etc. In fact I concluded that very little apostolic doctrine was left untouched, a fact only relatively unnoticed because Evangelicals are, today, so doctrine-lite in general.

From the start I saw that this revisionism was unnecessary given simply the reality of evolution, so I’m pleased to see McCall use the term “Mere Theistic Evolution,” which I’ve not come across before, but which covers not only what I have long believed, but what many Evangelicals supported from Asa Gray and B B Warfield on, needing only sympathetic work to resolve the tensions between science and Scripture.

Josh talks of the need for BioLogos to admit its own past error frankly, rather than simply blaming “some articles” it happened to print. But McCall’s list of names associated with the “impossibility of Adam” includes virtually everyone prominent in leadership at BioLogos, or whose books were recommended as primers on TE.

The current tone, it’s true, somewhat resembles Arians finally submitting to Athanasian Nicaean orthodoxy by saying, “Well, maybe some of our people did overstate their case prematurely…” But the important thing is that Athanasius prevailed, and will never be in exile again.

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I’ll look forward to hearing your more detailed thoughts on McCall and Collins.

@jongarvey and @dga471
Sorry I’m swamped with the addition of homeschooling on top of my day job, so it could take me a few days to find time to read and comment.

While over at BioLogos, I noticed that they also opened up a Forum topic for discussion of those reviews. Very few comments posted yet.

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It may end up a ghost town. Too bad. The reviews are pretty good.

His article is pretty good, but I’m not sure he called people out so badly, though he does hit the nail on the head.

What the defenders and detractors alike share is the conviction that one cannot hold with consistency to belief in both evolution and a de novo historical Adam who becomes the ancestor of all people. For all their important differences, they have this much in common. Thus Grudem concludes that evolution is incompatible with orthodox Christian theology, and many of his fellow contributors to the recent anti-theistic evolution book Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique make similar claims. For instance, John Currid claims that “Pelagianism is almost an inevitable result of the denial of the historical Adam and Eve”.[5] And Guy Waters says that Semi-Pelagian and Pelagian conclusions “follow directly” from a denial of the historical Adam.[6] Meanwhile, the evolutionary philosopher of biology Michael Ruse says that “according to modern science, there was no unique Adam and Eve…”[7] Denis Lamoureux says that “Adam never existed.”[8] And Karl Giberson says that “Adam and Eve, as described in Genesis, cannot have been historical figures. Recent work in genetics has established this unsettling conclusion beyond any reasonable doubt.”[9]

[5]John Currid, “Theistic Evolution is Incompatible with the Teachings of the Old Testament,” in Theistic Evolution , p. 878 n115.

[6]Guy Prentice Waters, “Theistic Evolution is Incompatible with the Teachings of the New Testament,” in Theistic Evolution, p. 915.

[7]Michael Ruse, “Human Evolution: Some Tough Questions for the Christian,” in Human Origins and the Image of God: Essays in Honor of J. Wentzl van Huysteen , eds. Christopher Lilley and Daniel J. Pedersen (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017), p. 158.

[8]Denis O. Lamoureux, “No Historical Adam: Evolutionary Creation View,” in Four Views on the Historical Adam , eds. Matthew Barrett and Ardel B. Caneday (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2013), pp. 37-38.

[9]Karl Giberson, Saving the Original Sinner: How Christians Have Used the Bible’s First Man to Oppress, Inspire, and Make Sense of the World (Boston: Beacon, 2015), p. 173.

So, he only notes Giberson and Lamoureux, who are both fairly far outside the BioLogos orbit now days.

He is explains it correctly here:

Within this context, GAE unsettles the conclusions of both those who wield Grudem-style arguments against evolution and the theistic evolutionists who accept (1) but then try to block the conclusion of Grudem-style arguments by arguing against (2). For Swamidass’s argument stands as a direct challenge to (1). It counters the notion – shared by many defenders and many detractors of theistic evolution alike – that a historical Adam created de novo is ruled out by contemporary evolutionary science.

The numbers in the sentence make this otherwise lucid paragraph confusing out of context. By (1), he means "the premise that evolution is incompatible with traditional and orthodoxy theological anthropology.

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@jongarvey

Perfect assessment!

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@swamidass, I am puzzled by your last sentence here. In the BL column you linked, Haarsma says, " We revised the Common Question to clarify that a model of two Homo sapiens as recent sole progenitors is inconsistent with scientific evidence (Adam and Eve could have been miraculously created within a larger population— de novo but not sole progenitor). We also added links to recent scholarship on genealogical science, which shows that a relatively recent pair could be genealogical ancestors of us all. The scholarship of biologists Josh Swamidass, Douglas Rhode, and others was helpful in improving this piece."

What am I missing? Everyone knows that the Common Questions state opinions of “the organization itself.” When the president of the organization writes, “We revised the Common Question,” and explicitly cites your work in the same paragraph, that’s a clearly, unambiguous statement that “the organization itself made these [erroneous] claims.”

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@TedDavis I was referring to this phrase specifically:

Yes the article they link notes the organization itself made false claims, but that isn’t what that phrase says.

I also am concern about several false it misleading scientific claims that they continue to make, that the book points out. One striking example of a misleading claim is one that you yourself just quoted:

First off, the CQ page does not actually explain that AE could have been created de novo. It does not explain that some versions of ancient and recent sole-progenitorship, de novo creation, and traditional readings can be consistent with the evidence. Instead it is written to present the false conflict that all versions of these theological ideas are in conflict with evolution.

For example, sole-progenitor is a theological term with many meanings. It is true that some versions of recent sole-progenitorship are ruled out by the evidence, but some understandings (see Loke, Opderbeck, Kemp and Feser) are not ruled out. It is misleading and exclusionary to make scientific claims like this by pressing narrow scientific definitions on theological terms.

Likewise, then CQ still uses strawman logic to rule out all “traditional readings” of Genesis, because one anachronistically and narrowly defined version of the traditional de novo account is ruled out. It is true that some tradition readings, some traditional de novo accounts, are ruled out, but some are not.

In this series, Hardin’s review works to justify this narrow use of the terms. He expresses his discomfort with allowing autonomy to theologians to define theological terms, appealing to what might be described as populist and scientific meanings of words. The effect of using language this way is to make deeply misleading scientific claims, the sort of claims that Collins and McCall, in their reviews, commend me for avoiding.

In contrast with Hardin and the CQ page sentence you quoted, I maintain that scholars such as Opderbeck, Kemp, Feser, and Loke have autonomy to define theological terms (such as sole-progenitor, monogenesis, human) in ways that make sense to theology. Respecting and acknowledging their legitimate autonomy here, scientists play an important mediating role in clarifying how their use of the terms interacts with the evidence: (Three Stories on Adam). What scientists cannot legitimately do, however, is press narrow scientific meanings onto theological terms. We do not have that right.

This one example, there are other places where their statements are false or misleading, perhaps in even more clear ways.

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That would depend on whether they are interested in communicating only among themselves or with a wider group.

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For an organization like BioLogos and like Peaceful Science, we intend to communicate with a wide and diverse audience that includes people with different definitions of these terms.

At Peaceful Science, we have sought to explain these differences and create space for different uses of these terminology. Our goal is avoid making illegitimate pronouncements on theological categories by enforcing narrow definitions of theological terms. As I just explained to @TedDavis, BioLogos’s claim is only true if enforcing a narrow definition of words,

I do not believe this is legitimate. Whatever the intentions, the text itself is misleading and exclusionary. Instead, it is correct to say,

a model of two Homo sapiens as recent sole progenitors can be consistent with scientific evidence, depending what precisely we mean by sole progenitor.

An organization such as Peaceful Science or BioLogos should also explain what possible meanings could be, and what would or would not be consistent with the evidence.

What organizations devoted to educating the public cannot do is appeal to a populist definition as normative. To do this would be equivalent to a teacher polling the classroom to determine the answer key for a multiple choice test.

3 posts were split to a new topic: Comments on Three Reviews at BioLogos

I agree. I read Deb Haarsma’s statement as being very conciliatory, conceding that the BioLogos organization had made erroneous claims in their Common Questions articles, and has now corrected them. I applaud the organization for that concession and for those corrections.

@swamidass, I found your discussion of monogenesis versus polygenesis in your book, The Genealogical Adam and Eve to be extremely helpful.

You actually did not use the term sole progenitor very much in your book at all, so being new to this terminology it was only a few days ago and after reading Hardin’s review, that I realized that sole progenitor and monogenesis are theological terms and that they are synonyms.

In his review, Hardin wrote:

GAE’s use of “monogenesis” and “sole progenitor” is more challenging. In my experience when most non-specialists are asked to define “monogenesis”, they have in their mind’s eye a situation in which A&E are the single node by which all people arise, as opposed to one of many possible universal ancestors who are inserted into an interbreeding population. In contrast, “monogenesis” in GAE means “origin by genealogical descent from one couple” (p. 119). While there may be ways to consider a reduction of an evolved population to two breeding individuals, this is not what GAE means by “monogenesis”. Similarly, “sole progenitors” for Swamidass means “the one theologically special pair from whom everyone today is genealogically descended”, whereas to most non-specialists (and most biologists) “sole progenitors” means “the one and only couple from whom everyone is descended without predecessors”. While GAE clearly defines how it uses these terms, I wondered in this section if there were ways to use adjectival modifiers as GAE does for “human” to clarify the nuances.

I am not familiar with Loke, Opderbeck, Kemp and Feser’s understandings of sole progenitorship. I guess I should do more reading on that.

I did not understand, until seeing your article this week http://peacefulscience.org/three-stories-on-adam/, that you use the term sole genealogic progenitor. I had only thought of the term as sole genetic progenitor, from a single couple. So I thought the GAE theory stood in contrast to the sole progenitor (single couple) model, but still provided the helpful clarification that it would be possible to have a de novo creation of Adam and Eve, and that A&E would be universal ancestors, even if not sole progenitors.

Is it theologically important that we call Adam and Eve sole progenitors? Or is it more important that we say that they are a historical couple who are our universal ancestors (genealogically), that they are specially created and could possibly even be de novo created? Does difficulty arise, because some people tie the Image of God to sole progenitorship? Or are there other challenges?

@jongarvey and @dga471 would be interested to hear your opinion as well (and opinions of others here, too).

Perhaps you have all discussed this already at length elsewhere on this Forum, in which case you could just point me to that location.

Thanks,
Michelle

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It is a step in the right direction. Hopefully more to come.

Thanks.

GAE stands in contrast to sole-genetic progenitor models, but it is a sole-genealogical progenitor model. It stands in contrast with genetic monogenesis models, but it is a genealogical monogenesis model.

It is covered in the book. Two great articles to start with are here, and ironically one of them was published in 2010 at BioLogos. Kemp explains that Monogenesis does not preclude interbreeding between AE and others. Opderbeck explains the same regarding sole-progenitorship. Both of them are not scientists, approaching this from a theological point of view.

I made space for their definitions of these terms. Hardin’s discomfort cuts to the heart of the issue. He seems uncomfortable letting theologians use their own definitions of these terms, and that is the problem. Theologians have the right to define these terms how they like, and scientists don’t have the right to enforce a scientific meaning of these words.

It is important for many Christians. In my view and understanding, the term is linked tightly to monogenesis. My book does discuss sole-progenitors this way. The difficulty arises because of particular passages in Scripture (e.g. Acts 17:26) and from historical doctrine.

Of course, Hardin’s (and others’) scientific understanding of the term monogenesis is threatened by the evidence. But that shouldn’t matter much, because scientists misunderstood the theological meaning. That misunderstanding is not a valid reason to stick with it going forward.

We discussed at length over the last 2.5 years the many ways that sole-progenitorship can be understood. Most recently, we discovered that sole-genetic progenitorship does not preclude interbreeding as we had thought. At the moment, I am unaware of any old earth creationist that absolutely rules out interbreeding between AE’s lineage and others.

Let that sink in. None of the Old Earthers (e.g. @Agauger and other Catholics, @AJRoberts and RTB) rule out absolutely interbreeding between AE’s lineage and others. They may not like it and seek to minimize it, but they wouldn’t say it disproves their understanding of AE. At the same time, they say they hold to sole-genetic progenitorship.

Any how, some of the early discussions on this were here:

That was a long time ago, when I wasn’t even sure if I’d be writing a book. Since then a lot has clarified.

In this end this comes down to achieving what Collins commends me for here:

to sum it up, I would say that he has offered a way to state a scientific case without using that improperly to pronounce on important theological categories. I have no doubt that all relevant sources should be taken into consideration when formulating beliefs; the trick is to do it well, and carefully. (More on this below.)
Theological Response to Joshua Swamidass, The Geneological Adam and Eve - Articles - BioLogos

My concern is with illegitimate pronouncements about theology. A safeguard of highest importance in achieving this goal is resisting efforts to force narrow/scientific meanings of words into the theological discourse. That is an uncomfortable rule for scientists who want to force narrow/scientific meanings into theology, but they don’t have the right to do so.

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I was initially less than comfortable with this usage (“sole progenitor”) but it makes sense within the discussion of what it means to be “human” in the biblical, elective and salvific sense. In other words, if God started the ball rolling on the new creation through whatever endowment he gave Adam and Eve (over and above what they shared with “those outside the garden”) then in that important sense they are the sole progenitors of humanity (seen as Homo divinus, if you like, which is the status of all humanity now).

To give a sci-fi genetic comparison: in a laboratory accident Dr Yevrag acquires the mutation that makes him telepathic and telekinetic, and that gene gradually becomes fixed in the population through his offspring. He is the “sole progenitor” of Homo telepathicus, if that characteristic becomes the marker of a totally new kind of life for the human race.

That, at least, is how I give the term elbow room!

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