Did humans originate by intelligent design or the process of evolution? This question has been debated by the scientific community and readers of Genesis for almost 200 years. In this episode, join Tim, Jon, and special guest Dr. S. Joshua Swamidass as they discuss human origins and a way to bridge the gap across such a significant debate.
The genealogical account does not prove [Adam and Eve’s existence], but it’s impossible to disprove the existence of such a couple 6,000 years ago. … Everyone has had a false presupposition that science will tell us about Adam and Eve. It just turns out to be a very reasonable supposition that’s false. This really alters the conversation because you can affirm all of evolutionary science and that doesn’t actually conflict with a literal reading of Genesis.
In part one (0-20:40), Tim and Jon introduce Dr. S. Joshua Swamidass, a physician, scientist, and researcher at Washington University in St. Louis.
As a student, Joshua struggled to reconcile what he was told Scripture said with what he was learning about the origins of the world. He began to research how the Bible’s original audience understood Genesis and how Christian theologians throughout history have varied in their interpretation of Genesis. Through this work, he came to realize the Bible itself is not in conflict with science but that some human interpretations of the Bible are.
The most prevalent interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 is that all humans descended from Adam and Eve. Evolutionary science suggests humans share ancestors with animals. These two views have produced significant debate for decades, including among followers of Jesus.
Joshua’s book, The Genealogical Adam and Eve: The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry, explores the idea that a literal interpretation of the Bible and evolutionary science could both be true at the same time. (His argument is neither in favor of nor opposed to evolutionary science. Instead, he wrote the book as a service to church communities seeking to clarify these polarizing viewpoints.)
In part two (20:40-35:00), Tim and Jon ask Joshua to share some of the research that reoriented his perspective on the human origins debate.
Among followers of Jesus, there is consensus that life did not begin randomly, by chance, or apart from intelligent design. However there is considerable difference in opinion as to how God orchestrated the origins of the universe and human life.
Genesis doesn’t answer all our questions. What was happening outside the garden? Were there other humans beyond the garden before Adam and Eve’s exile in Genesis 3? Genesis is silent on these and other questions, and that’s part of its beauty. It leaves space and silence for us to wonder.
Joshua’s research has led him to make a distinction between genealogical ancestry and genetic ancestry. For example, each of our parents is 100% our genealogical ancestor. But neither of our parents is 100% our genetic ancestor because they each contribute to only half of our DNA. If you go back to grandparents or great-grandparents, you’ll find people in your family tree who are still 100% connected to you genealogically, but only fractionally connected to you genetically. Go back a few hundred years, and that genetic connection decreases to zero.
Because of this, there’s ultimately no way to determine a person’s ancestry through genetics beyond a few generations. That certainly leaves a question mark as to the genetic origins of human life. Did all humans descend from Adam and Eve? Did some evolve by other means? Is there a third option?
In part three (35:00-47:30), the team discusses why these two approaches to thinking about ancestry are significant.
To answer the question, “Where did humans come from?” Joshua posits that we first have to agree on a definition of “human.” Scientists can’t agree on a scientific definition of human, and even if they did, how could it compare to a biblical definition of what a human is? If scientists and theologians are using the term human in different ways, this removes at least some of the seeming conflict between the Bible and science. They’re addressing two different things altogether.
The science of genealogical ancestry allows for the possibility that a single couple (Adam and Eve) could become the parents of an entire population of people in less than 4,000 years. And scientists would not expect to see DNA proof of that ancestry since genetic connections break down after just a few generations.
However, it’s also possible there were people outside the garden itself with whom Adam and Eve’s descendants intermarried—the Bible doesn’t tell us. If that were true, then both sides of the debate would hold: evolutionary science would be credible, and Adam and Eve would be the ancestors of all humanity.
So evolutionary science and a literal interpretation of Genesis are not necessarily in conflict.
In part four (47:30-59:00), Tim, Jon, and Joshua further explore the seeming conflict between evolutionary science and creationism.
Because of the way genetic connections disappear across generations, there’s no way to disprove either that Adam and Eve existed or that they were the first humans. This is significant because it shows you cannot invalidate a literal reading of Genesis. In short, rejecting either Christianity or evolution only on the basis of the apparent conflict between the two is a false dilemma. Genesis and evolutionary science each leave room for the other to be true.
To Joshua, the argument between the two viewpoints is irrelevant. Like the similar question, “How old is the earth?”, finding an answer doesn’t ultimately change anyone’s belief in biblical accuracy or their theological views.
In part five (59:00-end), the team addresses what genetic research means for doctrines of original sin, inherited by all of humanity from Adam and Eve.
The doctrine of original sin is not changed, as there’s nothing in the Bible that indicates sin is or has to be inherited genetically.
The main themes of the Bible fit into many church and theological traditions, and there’s intention to that. There’s something prophetic about the diversity of the church. God has many things to communicate to his people through a myriad of mediums.
Different views on human origins don’t have to lead to division among Christians. In fact, the differing views of various believers may lead to a fuller understanding of the truth.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz, Dan Gummel, and Zach McKinley. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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