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The Genealogical Adam and Eve
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.
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.
A vital conversation unfolds between science and religion, engaging theologically-
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.
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.
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.