Hello friends –
This morning, USA Today ran my opinion piece in which I announce my endorsement of a new book that attempts to reconcile the Biblical story of Adam and Eve with science. I want to take a moment to explain why I have done this and to ask for your understanding and support.
I certainly do not believe in the Adam and Eve story. However, I also acknowledge that many people do, including many whom I care deeply about. This belief is as important to them as anything else in their lives, meaning that, up until now, they’ve had little choice but to deny and resist the scientific claim that Adam and Eve are impossible. Once someone starts down the road of denying scientific evidence that conflicts with their deeply held beliefs, it’s a short trip toward denying other scientific truths that are uncomfortable or inconvenient. This hurts us all. Profoundly. We are facing urgent problems, from climate change to vaccination, that only aggressive public policies guided by sound science can solve.
What Josh Swamidass has done in his new book on Adam and Eve is provide a way for people to reconcile dearly held Bible beliefs with what evolutionary biology has shown us unequivocally, that humans are descended from a long line of evolutionary ancestry going back billions of years. This effort has already sent ripples through the evangelical community. Theologians as prominent as William Lane Craig are watching closely. I see a real chance that we could be on the cusp of a cultural cease-fire on the matter of evolution, with science being the ultimate winner. (I’ll cover the scientific details of Swamidass’s argument in a future blog post, for those who are interested.)
Some in the secular community will not see the value of this effort and feel that the only way forward is to draw people out of religion altogether. I have no quarrel with that per se, but I also see mountains of evidence that that approach works with some (it did for me!), but not for most. For now, the threat that science denial poses to our shared existence is too great to be idealogical rigid. I feel that we should do everything we can, an all-of-the-above approach, to bring people together in support of science. That’s what the Genealogical Adam and Eve is all about. I support it because I’ve already seen it work in a community called Peaceful Science where former Young Earth Creationists are making peace with modern science, guided by professional scientists, philosophers, and even theologians who are committed to defending and explaining scientific principles and evidence. Most people don’t really WANT to be resistant to science. This new look at Adam and Eve helps them see that they don’t have to be. That is a win for science. (And a win for religion, too, if you ask me.)
I took the decision to endorse this book after a great deal of difficult reflection and I am feeling quite vulnerable (if you didn’t pick up on that). I am publicly “coming out” to my friends and family as non-religious, while simultaneously drawing fire from the non-religious community. I hope the latter isn’t actually the case. Some of you may disagree with what I am doing, but hopefully you can understand that I am doing it because I think it has real value, for all of us, in finding a way forward from the old battles that we simply cannot afford any longer. This may work or it may not, but, for now, I’m choosing to support the pursuit of common ground through… “Peaceful Science.”
If any of you want to join me in this “new way,” consider joining the Peaceful Science community and participating in the forum. Add you expertise, ask your questions, and probe the evidence with us. When it comes to the grand questions of life, we’ll never really know who is “right” anyway, but when we share our perspectives with mutual respect and understanding… we not only gain invaluable insight and find common ground, we have a lot of fun doing it. Join us!
12 thoughts on “A Skeptic Encounters Adam and Eve”
I will be reading this book when it comes out. It would appear that this is another presentation for theistic evolution, now called Evolutionary Creationism. So far, TE/EC has made little inroads into conservative religions. Francis Collins’ site Biologos since establishment in 2007 seems to have not made a dent with most other creationists. If history is right, the same will happen to this author. Yes, a pragmatic approach like this can certainly help science by toning down the attacks from the religious and the anti-intellectualism rampant in the conservative Abrahamic religions.
But there are several problems with TE/EC if that is what this author is embracing (which from reading the endorsements is probably true).
1. From the observations it appears evolution operates undirected. There is no God intervening.
2. Evolution is terribly wasteful. 99.9% of species extinct. Multiple mass extinctions. Why would the Great Designer continually wipe out His creations?
3. In order to produce the variation needed for natural selection to operate lots and lots of offspring are produced that never have a chance to survive and thrive. They are the collateral damage in order to get those wonderful adaptations. How many seeds does an Oak tree produce during it’s lifetime to get just one or two to grow in the forest? Before modern medicine, how many women died in childbirth. How many children never made it to age 10? This is a Great Plan?
4. So, if God used evolution to create, that makes Him/Her/It/them incompetent (45% of our genome viral dervived and full of pseudogenes? All the cancers and suffering – Malaria? Really? 450,000 dead per year and mostly children? Ebola?, indifferent to all the waste and suffering, or malevolent (He looks down and enjoys all the suffering and waste?) Thus TE/EC has incredible and IMO mortal flaws outside of the science.
5. This potentially solves only one issue for conservative Abrahamic religions (don’t Islam and orthodox Jews). We also know that there was no Exodus, Moses did not write the Pentateuch, donkeys and snakes don’t talk, women have pain in childbirth due to evolution and not a curse, the earth never stopped spinning suddenly, and you don’t get striped animals by mating them in front of fences.
In the end, IMO TE/EC does not solve the problem of theology and scientific origins. It just kicks a big can down the street a few meters/feet. It will seem to work for some of them only if they don’t follow with all the consequences. World views are built on a foundation of origins. And I have never seen a cogent theological explanation that actually fits science and logic.
If theists wish to turn to TE/EC yes you can probably make the science work on one level, but your God is then incompetent, indifferent, or malevolent. Choose wisely.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Just another attempt to contort science to fit their fairy tales. A Zoroastrian making the same claims would be ridiculed,and so should this. So Yahweh sat around having a fag break during the Cretaceous/Paleogene extinction,then waited for 60 million years and then thought”its time to let hominins evolve”,then watches a few of them become extinct before he settles on Homo sapiens. 😂
LikeLiked by 1 person
Exactly…. So just so I can try to understand.. During the course of “500 Million Years” While Living in the same environment at the same time, while SOME Jellyfish were evolving into Humans, OTHER Jellyfish were evolving into.. Jellyfish.. (“Living Fossils”) And you believe I am being unreasonable for pointing out the silliness of such a religious belief?
“It would appear that this is another presentation for theistic evolution,” Indeed, Theistic Evolution (what I call Oval-Eartherism) might work for the FSM, Ra, Thor, or The Pagan Moon God, But is COMPLETELY incompatible with the Judeo Christian God of the Bible (For many reasons)
Wonderful idea for resolving the endless conflict between religion and science. About time.
Sent from my iPad
Science is based on the fact that the universe and ultimately man are due to the causation of a supernatural intelligence agent (God) The religion of Evolutionism (BB / Abiogenesis / S L O W microbe to man) is ANTI Science…. So when you say “Wonderful idea for resolving the endless conflict between religion and science.”
You are right but for the opposite reason you think!
So how does an Organless Microbe (By way of “small changes”) S L O W L Y evolve into a Microbiologist with 10 Interconnected Interlocked VITAL organs and their support systems? Which VITAL Organ Evolved 1st? The heart? Lungs? which VITAL organ evolved 2nd? The Stomach? the Brain? Which VITAL organ evolved 3rd? The skin? the Liver? Which VITAL organ evolved 4th? the Heart? The Pancreas? Which VITAL organ evolved 5th?
“Scientists who go about teaching that evolution is a fact of life are great con-men, and the story they are telling may be the greatest hoax ever! In explaining evolution we do not have one iota of fact.”
(Dr. Newton Tahmisian, Atomic Energy Commission.)
This is a “hot button” issue for me. I am a tour guide at the American Museum of Natural History where I am occasionally challenged by creationists. I am often taken aback by their anger, their determination to have a confrontation, and their unshakable position. I have a well rehearsed response which I have honed to cut off further arguments. The book you endorsed is not the first effort to draft a treaty. Stephen Jay Gould proposed “non-overlapping magesteria” as a conceptual framework in which science and religion could peacefully coexist. In the time since Dr. Gould’s death denial of science has only hardened because it has become a bedrock issue in our Identity wars. Bill Nye attempted to engage a leading creationist in public debate to no avail. I absolutely respect your efforts to make peace but I question whether it can have any effect.
You may certainly be right. 😦 Btw, I love the AMNH and take my students there a couple times a year! It’s the most wonderful place on earth. 🙂
One problem of telling them that Adam and Eve could have been real people is that it takes away from the earlier Sumerian story of Ninti, Lady of the Rib, where Rib also meant “to make live” which is a play on words since in some stories Ninti saved Enki and in other stories it is Ninhursag. Basically, there was a Goddess named Ninhursag who lived in a paradise-type garden with 8 plants that her ex-lover Enki ate, and she cursed him and made him leave the garden and the world. Enki becomes sick from eating all those plants and no one can heal him, so Ninhursag gives in and takes his pain away and expels the pain by giving birth to 8 deities. He had pain in his rib, and she took it away, creating the goddess, Ninti, Lady of the Rib a/k/a Lady who Makes Live. In Sumerian, “ti” of Ninti means both “rib” and “to make live.” Nin means lady. (Eve is also said to mean “lady who makes live.”) However, the two meanings, rib and “to make live” only are the same in Sumerian, not in Hebrew. Another interesting part is that this birth of deities coming from the pain taken away from Enti is why women have cramps and pain in childbirth, according to the legend!
You can see how “rib” makes more sense in this story and how lady who makes live and the rib and the garden and the angry god were absorbed into the newer Hebrew story.
We would have to ignore this fascinating history in order to try to get Christians to make peace with science. I think the truth is always better.
Thank you! I learned some thing in this post, and your final sentence is the real money shot here. 🙂
I have not read Swamidass’s book, so I hope I don’t grasp at strawmen in this comment.
It makes no sense for God to specially create Adam and Eve when anatomically modern humans were already present. This view (I think) is further contradicted by the commandment to “multiply and fill the earth”. That mass procreation order doesn’t make sense if anatomically modern humans were already present and migrating to other parts of the world.
Last time I checked, anatomically modern humans originated in Africa, but he posits (I think) that Adam and Eve were made in the Middle East. If so, are Africans excluded from his proposed common genealogical ancestry, since current population genetic research indicates this migration was away from Africa?
If modern science invalidated the geocentric beliefs of the Church, leading to almost complete abandonment of a literal interpretation of supposed scriptural proof texts for a geocentric universe, why can’t Christians do the same for the Adam and Eve story? Of course, adopting a revised, allegorical interpretation raises significant theological difficulties, and this has led to a rejection of evo-creationism/theistic evolution by most evangelical Christians. Swamidass’s attempt at providing a common ground is commendable, but it’s most likely doomed to failed.