It has been 164 years since Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace jointly announced their theory of descent with modification, or what we understand today as evolution by natural selection. Despite the near-unanimous agreement of the scientific community that the theory of evolution is true, according to the Pew Research Center, “about one in five American adults reject the basic idea that life on Earth evolved at all.” Opposition comes primarily from adherents of Abrahamic religions, for whom evolution conflicts with belief in biblical creation.
Over the past century there have been many attempts to reconcile the theory of evolution with religious teachings, and in this arena, computational biologist S. Joshua Swamidass with his 2019 book, The genealogical Adam and Eve: the startling science of universal ancestry. Swamidass specifies its objective from the first page:
“[T]o make room for our differences, even if we maintain our own beliefs and practices. We all come from different starting points. Some are certain that Adam and Eve are a myth. Some are certain that evolution is a myth. Whatever the truth of the matter, let’s travel together for a moment, in search of a common good.
In other words, Swamidass thinks that scientists who believe in evolution and Christians who believe in creation should get along and respect each other. A pleasant enough sentiment, but he insists that there is more than good will to motivate the search for mutual understanding. Ultimately, what Swamidass is proposing is that the Genesis creation story, as it relates to Adam and Even, is perfectly consistent with the theory of evolution. How can this be?
According to Swamidass, whom I must thank for acknowledging this claim may or may not be true:
“[I]It is possible that Adam was created from dust and Eve from his rib less than ten thousand years ago. Upon leaving the Garden, their offspring would have mixed with those outside, biologically identical neighbors from the surrounding area. In a few thousand years, they would become everyone’s genealogical ancestors.
This “genealogical hypothesis” posits that all of humanity shares the ancestry of Adam and Eve, but the DNA of our ancestors comes from the pre-Adamite humanoids with whom Seth and Cain intermingled. In this way, supposedly, one can simultaneously believe both the Genesis creation account while believing that Homo sapiens share a common ancestry with primates.
What is genealogical ancestry and how does it differ from genetic ancestry? Understanding this is crucial to Swamidass’ argument. According to Mathieson and Scally, genealogical ancestry “is defined in terms of identifiable ancestors in your family tree or pedigree”, and as such “reflects the most common and intuitive understanding of the term ancestry”. In contrast, genetic ancestry “does not refer to your pedigree but to the subset of pathways by which your genome material was inherited. Because parents only pass on half of their DNA to their offspring in each generation, an individual’s genetic ancestry relates to only a small proportion of all their genealogical ancestors.
There are most recent common ancestors (MRCA) that we all share genetically. It’s not controversial; it is a fact, and understanding why this is so will help us understand why our MRCAs were nothing like the biblical Adam and Eve that Swamidass stands for.
We all have mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in our cells, which could only have been passed down to us from our mother, and from our maternal grandmother, etc. Likewise, you could only have received a Y chromosome from your father, and your paternal grandfather, and so on. Going far enough up the unbroken chain of mtDNA within a given population, we come to the mitochondrial MRCA, or if you prefer, the mitochondrial Eve. Similarly, if you trace the chain of Y chromosomes, you find the most recent common ancestor of the Y chromosome, or Adam of the Y chromosome.
So yes, it’s true that we all share the same male and female ancestor, but there’s a catch. As evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins explains, “they never met and were separated from each other by probably many thousands of years.” There seems to be some debate as to when mt-Eve and Y-Adam were able to live, and whether or not those timelines overlapped. Like Michael Hammer, a population geneticist at the University of Arizona in Tucson Explain“Due to the random nature of genealogy, it is unlikely that two different genetic lines would have common ancestors who lived in the same population at the same time.”
Ultimately, the designations of mt-Eve and Y-Adam are purely conceptual and in no way suggest the biblical Adam and Eve of the Creation story. There is another problem in Genealogical Adam and Eve that Swamidass readily admits that “there is no scientific evidence for or against them (Adam and Eve)”. Swamidass dismisses this lack of evidence by stating:
“Adam and Eve could have been de novo created or chosen from a larger population. They could have been in the Middle East or in another part of the world. They could have been in a supernaturally created garden, free from death, or in an environment very similar to ours. Those outside the Garden might or might not be in the image of God.
Sure, and maybe Adam and Eve were extraterrestrials, as ancient astronaut proponents claim. This list of possibilities covers all potential objections to a lack of evidence and the believer is free to choose among them. In this way, proponents of the genealogical hypothesis could claim that Adam and Eve are not incompatible with evolution without having to worry about producing any real evidence that Adam and Eve ever existed.
The question is not whether the biblical Adam and Eve are impossible, but is the biblical Adam and Eve probable? Is it reasonable believe in the existence of the biblical Adam and Eve? Our beliefs should always be provisional, subject to revision and commensurate with the best available evidence. There is no genetic or archaeological evidence that Adam and Eve, or any place such as the Garden of Eden, ever existed.
If someone wants to argue, “Of course not, they’re supernatural,” then it doesn’t work to say, “Science doesn’t say they can’t exist,” or, “Science doesn’t say they can’t exist.” ‘they cannot exist’. incompatible with evolution”, because you have already moved the question beyond the scope of scientific inquiry. The supernatural, by definition, is that which is beyond the scope of science to understand or explain.
Biologist Ken Miller also points out that the genealogical hypothesis is unnecessarily complex. If the natural process of evolution can give rise to human beings, why would God need to specially create Adam and Eve, de novo? How did pre-Adamite humans fit into the divine plan? The hypothesis of pre-Adamite humans is a theologically controversial idea in itself, which is not scripturally supported by the Torah or the Bible, although it is implied. After all, who else could Seth and Cain have mate with?
The genealogical hypothesis is unnecessarily complex.
While it is true that science cannot disprove the existence of Adam and Eve, it is difficult to prove a negative in most cases. The burden of proof is usually on the claimant, and saying something can’t be refuted isn’t such a smart way to move that. Genealogical Adam and Eve is not the apologetic triumph it sets out to be, although it certainly tries. It’s neither a “better way forward” nor a “better story to tell,” and no, evolutionary science isn’t.”make way for Adam and Eve.”
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