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.

1 Like

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!

4 Likes

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.

2 Likes

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.

3 Likes

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.

2 Likes

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.

1 Like

@jongarvey

Perfect assessment!

1 Like

@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.”

1 Like

@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.

1 Like

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

1 Like

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