Montreal Christian Thinker

The Genealogical Adam and Eve – Book Review Clarifications

On February 14, 2021, I published my book review of Dr. Swamidass’ excellent and peaceful book The Genealogical Adam and Eve (2019). As I was writing some other blog posts yesterday, on the 20th of February, I was surprised when Dr. Swamidass’ name appeared in the comments of my WordPress site Dashboard. I read his comments and I responded to the best of my ability at that moment as it appears in the comments at the bottom of my book review blog post. I also suggested in my response to email me if desired. Later that same day, he emailed me and questioned me on some points I made under “Final thoughts” in my book review. We had a few email exchanges clarifying these points and I now decided to summarize or recapitulate some clarifications on some of my concluding thoughts.

First, I agreed with Dr. Swamidass that the issues on original sin were peripheral questions on his part and did not make part of the essential scientific and theological hypothesis he was presented throughout his book. We agreed that he is open to different interpretations and he accepted that my understanding might very well be correct in contradistinction to some traditional views of original sin (e.g., Adam’s sin is transferred to his descendants; therefore, humans are born as already sinners or guilty before God). We left it at that.

Second, he questioned my gravitation towards Dr. John H. Walton’s views. Here is what I typed towards the end of my book review on this point:

For these reasons, I align my currently limited and partial view on Adam and Eve more with Dr. John H. Walton’s books. But I do not agree, nor do I accept, everything that Walton articulates in all of his works. However, I do recognize Walton for having a good grasp on how the Bible should be interpreted overall.

But when I originally typed the above, I did not find it necessary to elaborate how I truly align my understanding with Walton’s books nor did I unpack how exactly I disagree, or reject, or doubt some of Walton’s interpretations. I was thinking of his overall understanding that the Old Testament (OT) must be firstly interpreted in light of its original ancient Near Eastern (ANE) contexts before we consider also interpreting it through other distant or foreign lenses (e.g., Church Fathers and modern science). I was not thinking specifically of Walton’s The Lost World of Adam and Eve (2015), which I have not yet read and which evidently should already have been part of the list of books I have finished reading. But as an independent researcher, I do not only read different kinds of books (textbooks, monographs, commentaries, introductions, counterpoints, etc.) and peer-reviewed journal articles (historical, archeological, exegetical, reviews, rejoinders, etc.) but I also use a considerable number of audio-based interviews and podcasts as well as video-based interviews, presentations, and debates. I have already watched dozens of videos from Dr. Walton for the past decade on his books and he has already repeated some of the points he makes in his books on numerous occasions. What I had in mind, then, was the fact that Walton has produced a considerable number of academic resources that show how the Bible does not reflect our modern scientific concerns. In light of this, this is the reason why I responded to what I typed in the comments. Furthermore, Dr. Swamidass pointed out that Walton does argue in his The Lost World of Adam and Eve that there is no way that we could all descend from Adam and Eve and that Walton said that the New Testament (NT) demands that Adam and Eve were real, historical individuals. I trust Swamidass that this is correct since I have not read that book. Swamidass equally pointed out that Walton has been criticized in the past on his view that Genesis 1-2 describes “functional origins” and not “material origins.” Other scholars who disagreed with Walton on this interpretative framework have formulated critiques against Walton. But I have noticed that some of them have misunderstood and misrepresented him. Walton does not argue that the creation account does not implicitly involve material origins; he has argued that it is about functions and not about materials (esp. not from a modern scientific perspective). In other words, Walton has not completely denied material origins in Genesis 1-2, and the creation account specifically, but he has argued that material origins are not “front-loaded” in the texts. (see for example Walton’s Genesis: NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 2001) and, more accessible, his online article, “Material or Function in Genesis 1? John Walton Responds,” BioLogos, April 2015).

Third, Swamidass questioned a part of my paragraph, which I will now reproduce here to clarify some of my sentences:

Swamidass convinced me that his scientific correction (i.e., that genetic ancestry is not genealogical ancestry) is correct due to his elaborated exposition on the scientific data of both genetic and genealogical ancestry, and also due to well-known secular evolutionists—and theistic evolutionists—who have read and endorsed all, or parts of, the science of this book (see p. 247, “Praise for The Genealogical Adam and Eve”). However, Swamidass’ genealogical hypothesis that evolutionary science and Genesis 2-4 are not really in conflict did not persuade me. The specific conflict that I am referencing in my mind at this moment is the one that is portrayed as evolutionary science (more pointedly, common descent) not corresponding with the text of Genesis 1-11, overall, and Genesis 2-4 more specifically. In other words, lest I be misunderstood, if evolutionary science does not correspond to anything at all in Genesis, then there is a “conflict” between science and the Bible. (Continue reading to see what I actually mean by “conflict”). In this sense, this book did not convince me thus far that some parts of evolutionary science (common descent) can fill in the holes found in Genesis 3-4 (i.e., where did Cain get his wife outside the perimeters of Eden? What about the people “outside the Garden?”). Nevertheless, in my limited view, even though I do not see evolutionary science being yet able to match up the text anywhere in Genesis (nor the rest of the Bible) in any shape or form, I would still not claim that there is an actual conflict between evolutionary science and the Bible. Why? The Bible is not addressing science (as Swamidass knows and acknowledges) and it overwhelmingly reflects the contexts of the ancient Near East (Old Testament) and the Greco-Roman (New Testament) period, but especially as it is seen in the Jewish-Hellenistic—and a bit more narrowly, the Judeo-Christian—literature.

I typed that, “In other words, lest I be misunderstood, if evolutionary science does not correspond to anything at all in Genesis, then there is a “conflict” between science and the Bible.” Swamidass argued in his book that there is no conflict between science and the Bible, but of course, his entire discussion only focused on the potential historicity of Adam and Eve and the reality of common descent and evolutionary science which, by the way, is taken as a given in his manuscript since the book is not about defending mainstream evolutionary science against modern creationists. He was not pointing to other difficulties in the rest of the Bible where there might be some potential, but not necessarily real, conflicts with history, metaphysics, physiology, and other issues that concern us in the modern sciences but that were not concerning to ancient people. But is there a real conflict? Well, it depends on what I was thinking when I typed “conflict” and this is the reason why the very next sentence reads, “(Continue reading to see what I actually mean by ‘conflict’).” About a sentence later, I typed, “Nevertheless, in my limited view, even though I do not see evolutionary science being yet able to match up the text anywhere in Genesis (nor the rest of the Bible) in any shape or form, I would still not claim that there is an actual conflict between evolutionary science and the Bible.” So, in reality, I do not see a conflict between science and the Bible, but not necessarily because they match or correspond together (and therefore, there is no conflict); rather it is because they do not match nor correspond together (as far as I have been able to see in academic Biblical Studies). Science is science and the Bible is theological, etiological, and prophetical. Yes, the Bible contains history and historiography; yes, it contains some geography and topography that can be confirmed in some places in archaeology; yes, it contains place-names and it references objects that can be confirmed to have existed in those contexts in modern research. However, there are still some debatable problems in the Bible with its cosmology, the use of numbers, the synoptic books in the OT, and the synoptic Gospels in the NT. Some difficulties in the Bible continue to be hotly debated: the prophecies and historical difficulties in Daniel 7-12; all the hotly debated difficulties with the historical reliability and the genre of the synoptic Gospels amongst each other and also when compared with the Gospel of John; and there exists similar difficulties with the synoptic books in the OT such as Chronicles (I and II) in comparison with the books of Samuel and Kings (I and II). There is also the book of Jonah. Did Johan historically exist, and even if he did, was he really swallowed by a marine animal? How does this impact the usage of Jonah by Jesus about his burial and resurrection? I have not reached a conclusion on this, but I bring it up because I have read counterpoints in biblical scholarship that show us that none of this is evident nor quickly proved. Even if Jonah did not exist (I currently believe that he did, but subject to change) and even if Jonah did exist but was not swallowed by a sea animal (I currently assume that he was), it would not affect Jesus’ usage of Jonah. I do not see Jesus’ usage of Jonah as necessitating the historical reality of Jonah and a marine animal swallowing him and then regurgitating him about 3 days later.

In conclusion, Swamidass says that there is no conflict between science and the Bible or, at least, he has not seen convincing evidence that there is an actual conflict. I agree with him…there is no conflict between the two. I confirmed this by email with him yesterday. But I agree in a different way, I agree by taking a different route or different routes. This is why my language seemed contradictory in my original review because I agree that there is no conflict but for different reasons that are not related to the points Swamidass made in his book about evolutionary science potentially fitting into the textual difficulty in Genesis 4 that prompts readers question: where did Cain obtain his wife and where did the people that built a city with him came from?