Human Origins Workshop with Peaceful Science and Reasons to Believe

Human Origins Workshop with Peaceful Science and Reasons to Believe

On January 18, scientists, theologians, scholar community members, and friends joined us, virtually and on site in Covina, CA, for a workshop on RTB’s human origins model. This was the first of many RTB creation model workshops that will address different aspects of RTB’s creation model at the interface of mainstream science, theology, and biblical studies.

January’s workshop on human origins was held in partnership with Peaceful Science, an organization that promotes civil scientific engagement with faith and culture. Dr. S. Joshua Swamidass, computational biologist, medical doctor, and founder of Peaceful Science, presented his perspective on harmonizing traditional, biblical views of Adam and Eve with mainstream evolutionary science. He invited those present to consider his genealogical progenitor model, published in The Genealogical Adam and Eve (GAE), and its possible interface with RTB’s day-age, old-earth (or progressive) creation model. In the afternoon session, my colleague Fazale Rana provided an overview of the human origin component of the RTB model, also inviting interaction with panelists and participants.

Swamidass said that one of his goals in writing the GAE, was to counter false claims made by many from mainstream (evolutionary) science who state that genomic analyses rule out the possibility of a recent Adam and Eve and/or discredit a traditional biblical account of Adam and Eve as ancestors of us all. As he introduced himself and his motivation for writing the GAE, he shared that tolerance and diversity and commitments to honest inquiry, as well as to core scientific values, need to be brought to the issue of Adam and Eve and human origins. He expressed his passionate commitment to seeing this happen. He also identified a singular point where he sees evolutionary science pressing on a recent (as recent as 6,000 years ago) de novo creation of Adam and Eve: the presence of people outside the garden.

For readers unfamiliar with Swamidass’s book, here are some highlights: Dr. Swamidass proposes that the existence of people outside the garden, at the time of the creation of Adam and Eve, present no problem from an inerrantist perspective of Scripture. He argues that Scripture and the Christian tradition have always allowed the possibility of others outside Adam and Eve’s lineage. Scriptural examples he offered include references to the Nephilim, as well as Cain’s wife and those whom Cain feared when he was exiled. Swamidass frames the scarcity of references to these people as indicators that they are not the subject of the biblical narrative. In other words, those outside the garden are not part of the spotlight of the biblical narrative; they appear in the peripheral vision and are one of Scripture’s persistent mysteries. Swamidass commented that mystery permeates Scripture as it fails to fully address things we often wonder about, for example its silence in regard to dinosaurs or the origins of Cain’s wife.

In an effort to potentially broaden the range of biblically faithful views (i.e., those views holding to the inerrancy of Scripture), Swamidass emphasized that his genealogical model holds promise to remove significant tensions with mainstream science that arise in some old-earth and young-earth creationist models. During the workshop Swamidass raised other issues for consideration, inviting extended dialogue among the RTB scholar community and others present who hold differing perspectives and come from both mainstream science and various science/faith organizations.

A panel consisting of scientists and theologians (Drs. Kenneth Keathley, Southeastern Seminary; Andrew Ter Ern Loke, Hong Kong Baptist University; and Jeffrey Schloss, BioLogos/Westmont College) engaged Swamidass’s presentation and explored issues of tension between the GAE and RTB models.1 The issues raised and discussed included whether Adam and Eve were created without parents (or de novo), perhaps even fewer than 10,ooo years ago, and are genealogical ancestors of us all; whether we share common ancestors with the great apes; and, whether at least within the last hundreds of thousands of years, our ancestors ever dipped down to a single couple. Swamidass cast these last two claims in the framework of mainstream evolutionary theory, one of common descent and neutral theory (i.e., not Darwinism).

The greatest challenge presented by the panel to a recent Adam and Eve, as presented in the GAE, is the isolation of Tasmanian populations due to geographic isolation of Tasmania by the formidable Bass Strait. Dr. Swamidass explained his thinking on this challenge, suggesting the likelihood of total universal descent from Adam and Eve at various dates:2

  • 6,000 years ago = likely, under a disputed assumption
  • 10,000 years ago = likely, under plausible assumptions
  • 15,000 years ago = likely, under well-accepted assumptions

These represent just the most recent tenable dates. Adam and Eve would be genealogical ancestors of us all at any time more ancient. Even if Tasmanians did not descend from a recent Adam and Eve, Swamidass reported that theologians he had discussed this matter with were comfortable with the concept of nearly universal genealogical descent, as long as one has a basis for human dignity, in theological terms, for Tasmanians or other isolated populations. Theology need not, they agreed, speak with the precision by which science speaks.

Importantly, in regard to the interface with RTB’s model, a more ancient dating of Adam and Eve (>50,000 years ago) entirely alleviates the problem of periodically isolated populations. Furthermore, a more ancient Adam and Eve allows for the genetic information that makes us human to come exclusively by direct descent from Adam and Eve, even though there may be some limited genetic contributions from Neanderthals and Denisovans as well.

Swamidass rightly emphasized the importance of defining terms, especially when important terms have multiple definitions. He asked that we at RTB be especially careful in defining “human” in regard to Adam and Eve, their descendants, the image of God, and the possibility of others outside the garden. In the RTB model, human is well-aligned with the scientific classification of Homo sapiens but is more fundamentally an essentialist (rather than a taxonomical) category, entailing theological truths relevant to human uniqueness and the image of God (which, by the way, is the proposed topic for the next RTB creation model workshop). Swamidass reminded all engaged parties to recognize that when making scientific claims, we should not employ theological terms (e.g., human) that have multiple meanings or disputed meanings when doing so. He also asked scholars to stop making illegitimate claims while equivocating over words. For example, he deems it inappropriate to say that science rules out recent sole progenitorship because it’s forcing a scientific meaning (or popular definition) into a theological term. In no uncertain terms, he says, scientists do not have the right to tell theologians how to define theological terms.

We were, and still are, encouraged by the dialogue and the questions that came from Dr. Swamidass and others in attendance. The impetus for launching these creation model workshops is to retain and build on RTB’s reputation of openly addressing the data (scientific and biblical) and asking where the issues of tension with mainstream science exist and how best to address them in regard to the explanatory scope and power of our scientific model of creation.

Championing this objective, Dr. Fazale Rana presented the RTB human origins model (See Who Was Adam? or view Dr. Rana’s presentation here) following the Swamidass presentation and panel discussion. Rana’s presentation was also followed by a rigorous panel discussion, including questions from scientists Nathan Lents and Stephen Schaffner and philosopher William Lane Craig.3 The questions from the floor added much to the dialogue. Rana handled the questions skillfully. I thoroughly enjoyed my role as both facilitator and panelist, moderating and participating in Rana and Swamidass’s panels.

One thought Dr. Swamidass left us with is this: If genealogical descent is all that orthodoxy entails, Scripture makes room for evolution. He also left us with a question, “Is there room in RTB’s scholar community for those who hold a recent-creation view (circa 6,000–15,000 years ago) of Adam and Eve, one that embraces universal genealogical descent and a human population outside the garden?”

Even as the scholars at RTB continue to dialogue about the range of views among our scholar community and friends of RTB, we will move forward in engaging other aspects of our creation model, conducting future workshops that focus on human uniqueness and challenging issues in artificial intelligence (AI). We’ll also take deeper dives into issues involving harmonizing science and Scripture (via positive or moderate concordism) while maintaining biblical inerrancy. Overall the workshop has helped participants see the lens we bring to the rigorous and intellectually honest development of the RTB creation model.

  1. Responses to the Genealogical Adam and Eve Model, a panel discussion with Drs. S. Joshua Swamidass, Anjeanette Roberts, Kenneth Keathley, Andrew Ter Ern Loke, Jeffrey Schloss; January 18, 2020.
  2. Joshua Swamidass, “How Does the Isolation of Tasmania Impact Recent Universal Ancestry?,” Peaceful Science, December 13, 2019.
  3. Responses to the Reasons to Believe Human Origins Model, a panel discussion with Drs. Fazale Rana, Anjeanette Roberts, William Lane Craig, Stephen Schaffner, and Nathan Lents; January 18, 2020.