Explore the grand questions with us.
What does it mean to be human?
Adam & Eve
S. Joshua Swamidass
What if the traditional account is somehow true, with the origins of Adam and Eve taking place alongside evolution?
Swamidass opens up new ways of understanding Adam and Eve, consistent both with current scientific consensus and with traditional readings of Scripture.
I am one of the many scientists who have maintained that the existence of Adam and Eve as ancestors of all people on earth is incompatible with the scientific data. In this book, Joshua Swamidass effectively demonstrates that people like me, stuck in a specific genetic paradigm, were wrong. Ironically, it was Richard Dawkins who first pointed to the key calculation fifteen years ago in The Ancestor's Tale. In explaining the results, Dawkins wrote, "I don't know about you, but I find these dates [for the last common ancestor] astonishingly recent." I read Dawkins's book soon after it came out but failed to appreciate its biblical ramifications. However, in writing this book Swamidass helps us remove our blinders. He shows in a clearly written, highly accessible style how a traditional understanding of the Genesis narrative, including the sudden creation of Adam and Eve, is fully compatible with science. Although creation through the evolutionary process is still central to the story, the existence of two individuals—ancestors of us all—is now freed from what seemed like scientific inconsistency and placed, once again, purely into the realm of theology where it belongs.
As a secular scientist, I was seriously skeptical of this book. Nevertheless, Swamidass has ably shown that the current evidence in genetics and ancestry is compatible with a recently de novo–created couple as among our universal common ancestors who then interbred with the rest of humanity that descended through the established evolutionary processes. In doing so, Swamidass aims to bridge a centuries-old divide between faith and science. In a world at war with itself, the need for such common ground is most urgent.
The Genealogical Adam and Eve is a meticulously researched, fascinating, and timely book. I am personally grateful to Dr. Swamidass for his honest and thoughtful approach to the question of the historical Adam. Whether we agree or disagree with him on evolution or Adam and Eve, everyone can deeply appreciate the spirit in which he writes this book. It is a model for how to approach hard questions at the intersection of science and faith. May this book get the wide readership it deserves.
This is one of those rare books that changes the conversation. With equal parts candor, humility, passion, and precision, Swamidass engages an incredibly controversial topic at the junction of biology and theology: the origin of human beings. Through the effective use of two key distinctions—the difference between genealogical and genetic ancestry, and the multiple meanings of “human” across divergent areas of inquiry—he reorients and expands the space of possibilities while maintaining faithfulness and rigor with respect to traditional exegesis and contemporary scientific knowledge. The book’s primary virtue is not that it offers the strongest version of a particular position or provides answers to every question. Instead, its strength lies in how Swamidass demonstrates that there is more to talk about in conceptualizing what counts as a position or an answer in the first place, and that the tenor of those conversations should be peaceful rather than fractious. A definitive achievement. Tolle lege.
It is unusual to find a professional scientist with a keen interest in theology, but Joshua Swamidass, a computational biologist, is just such a person. The Genealogical Adam and Eve is a scientifically informed and biblically engaged study of human origins. Many will find shocking its claims concerning universal common ancestors in the relatively recent past. Agree or disagree, the reader will find this to be a stimulating and thought-provoking book.
Although Dr. Swamidass and I disagree over the data and reach different conclusions about hominid evolution and the creation of humanity, The Genealogical Adam and Eve is a critical, timely, and beneficial contribution that will facilitate science/faith dialogue and help many see that faithful biblical interpretations do not conflict with evolutionary science. Everyone who thinks science and Christian faith must necessarily be at odds should read Swamidass's work with an open mind. I value and applaud Swamidass's contribution and heart in bringing an informed, scholarly understanding and voice to bear on these extremely important issues.
Dr. Swamidass's contribution is extremely significant, reshaping our understanding of the theological implications of evolution and population genetics. There is a recurring pattern in the history of science and religion. First, a scientific discovery and its seeming implications are treated as settled science and demands are made for a radical departure from recognizable Christian theology. Second, a sober corrective recognizes the legitimacy of the discovery but clarifies the real implications, and in so doing provides breathing room for real theological reflection, development, and genuine intellectual progress. Dr Swamidass, in this book, offers just such a sober corrective.
In Judaism there is a blessing for almost everything. There is a blessing one should say upon encountering a religious scholar and a different blessing for encountering a secular scholar, as both types of scholarship are valued. In this book Dr. S. Joshua Swamidass earns both blessings. Dr. Swamidass is a scientist by profession and a devout Christian who thinks deeply about theological questions. He uses cutting-edge theory from population genetics concerning the difference between genealogical ancestors versus genetic ancestors (a small subset of the former) and applies it accurately and with rigorous scientific logic to the theological issues surrounding the biblical account of Adam and Eve. Many theological issues arise from Adam and Eve, such as race and racism, and Dr. Swamidass approaches these issues in a manner that values and incorporates both science and religion. Books dealing with science and religion often emphasize conflicts while others present them as non-overlapping methods of knowledge that are largely irrelevant to one another. Dr. Swamidass shows in this book how science and religion are both valuable methods of scholarship that can display a positive synergism in which neither discipline has to retreat from its fundamental principles in order to deepen our insight into the science/religion interface. Both scientists and people of faith should read this book to learn that conflict and irrelevancy are not the only ways in which science and religion can interact.
A vital conversation unfolds between science and religion, engaging theologically-
Swamidass proposes a genealogical Adam as a way to help resolve conflict among the competing creation and evolution models for human origins. He is to be commended for exhorting us all to 'find that better way together' to resolve our differences with patience and humility.
Entirely consistent with the genetic and archeological evidence, it is possible that Adam was created out of dust, and Eve out of his rib, less than ten thousand years ago. Leaving the Garden, their offspring would have blended with those outside it, reproductively compatible neighbors from the surrounding area. In a few thousand years, they would become genealogical ancestors of everyone by AD 1 at latest.