A while ago, I recorded an episode of the podcast discussing some of the thoughts offered by Bill Craig (WLC) in his study on the historical Adam.
It’s been a while since I weighed in on that, so I thought I would offer a thought or two here.
He has not yet concluded his study, and yet, he has produced a plethora of information his work has revealed to this point.
There are two main points that I think readers need to be aware of at this point.
1. Craig’s Work with Joshua Swamidass
Although my understanding is that the deal is not yet finalized, things are nevertheless in the works for WLC to co-write a book with Swamidass concerning the biblical, theological, and scientific considerations of this question.
Swamidass is a computational biologist who has recently written a book called The Genealogical Adam and Eve. In sum, the book attempts to chart a path forward for those wishing to remain fully committed to a biblical worldview while accepting the primary claims of evolutionary biology.1
He does this by making a distinction between genealogical Adam and genetic Adam. The claim is that one can accept that evolutionary history has carried on without interruption because the Bible merely asserts that Adam (even ~6-10,000 years ago) is the genealogical ancestor of all mankind; at least, from around the time Jesus walked the earth, which, for Swamidass, is scientifically plausible.
Swamidass is a theistic evolutionist, and his book makes a modest claim. He’s not saying this is the way history went down, merely that it’s possible and that there is therefore no necessary conflict between a literal interpretation of early Genesis and the evolutionary history espoused by most biologists today. He claims this could be accomplished by God’s de novo humans interbreeding with other humans (or at least hominids) living outside of the garden.
The point here is not to critique his supposition, but rather, to discuss Craig’s involvement. Interestingly, there is some considerable disagreement between Craig and Swamidass. Folks who look no deeper than merely seeing their names together run the risk of thinking that Craig and Swamidass’ collaboration is the result of their agreement and presentation of a unified hypothesis, but this is not necessarily the case.
Instead, the future book is poised to be a sort of collaboration answering different questions. Craig is not a scientist, and Swamidass is not a theologian, so they will each be speaking to the question of the historical Adam from within their respective fields and contexts.
One difficulty here is that both of their theses are, at many points, vague. In interviews, people always want to ask the $64,000 questions like, “How much of Genesis can we know is truly historical?” “When did Adam really live?”
Of course, their answers are intentionally vague, because by their very nature these are extremely difficult questions to answer when so much of the view is shrouded in speculation. Although they would not put it quite that bluntly, they seem to agree here when pressed for an answer.
Thus, Swamidass claims we could read Genesis literally and still believe in evolution, but he is not willing to claim that is the proper way to interpret the Bible. Craig is quite convinced that Genesis is “mytho-history” (since he’s determined the only other viable interpretation is the literal, young age creationist view), which means we can know the events are historical to an extent, but to what extent is very difficult to determine.
The book, when it is finally out, will surely be a fascinating look into what contemporary scholarship has to say on the issue. As leaders in their fields, eyes are watching these two, and they are no doubt trendsetting as we speak. It will be important to follow their work so we can understand it and represent it accurately.
2. The Neanderthal Problem
The second important concept is understanding when Adam lived. Recall that, above, I pointed out that many questions in need of answering (or at least, that most people wonder) are characteristically difficult to answer when you land on the bigger picture answers they seem to be giving.
One of these questions is, undoubtedly, when did Adam actually live in history according to the science. In recent decades, there has been considerable young age creationist work on this question; sadly, it’s been largely ignored by others.
In spite of the limited number of credentialed creationary biologists available to dedicate their lives to such questions, we have made a surprising amount of headway given recent research that is cropping up.
For example, creationist research has long shown that natural selection and random mutation are unable to accomplish any meaningful change beyond the Linnaean classification level of Family (and in some cases, Order). This has recently been confirmed by studies in molecular biology, as shown by Dr. Michael Behe (who is not a young age creationist).
Another area where a similar result seems to be coming to fruition is the identity of Neanderthal Man. For a long time, creationists have maintained that the evidence is clear: Neanderthal was merely human. Here’s Henry Morris writing in his latest updated version of Scientific Creationism—in 1985:
The most famous of all the so-called missing links is Homo neanderthalensis, pictured for more than a hundred years as a stooped, brutish character with heavy brow ridges and the crudest of habits. Many skeletal remains of these people are available now, however, and there is no longer any doubt that Neanderthal Man was truly human, Homo sapiens, no more different from modern men than the various tribes of modern men are from each other.2
Although I cannot directly cite the source, my understanding is that as recent as 2015, progressive creationist organization Reasons to Believe has maintained that Neanderthal are not a part of the human family. Since we have definitive proof that Neanderthals and humans interbred, however, they are forced to maintain that we are the product of bestiality.
Here’s where it gets interesting: Craig, of course, wishes to deny that notion due to its obvious theological problems, but he is persuaded by the mounting scientific evidence that Neanderthals were human. In fact, he is willing to place humans, made in the image of God, in the category of homo heidelbergensis.
This means Craig is willing to put Adam as far back as 750,000+ years ago.
To say this is a claim with staggering implications and, perhaps, a line of questions behind it much longer than the line of answers, would be an understatement. One wonders how such a fantastic proposal can be reconciled with the biblical data, especially with regard to the genealogical data.3 Furthermore, as was discussed by Dr. Stephen Lloyd in our interview a few months ago, this would seem to cause massive problems for our understanding of absolute and relative chronology in the Bible.
As always, I want to be very careful to strike the balance between zeal for biblical authority and love for my Christian brothers.
I consider both Drs. Craig and Swamidass to be passionate followers of Christ, seeking to follow the evidence where it leads. I am not willing to ascribe any malicious intent or motive to these gentlemen, despite the fact that many who come from a similar theological feel as myself will disagree with me.
Craig has publicly admitted how much he wrestles with these questions. He knows they are not easy, but he is persuaded he is heading in the right direction. While I disagree with him, I do so in Christian love, and am reporting on his progress not to “refute” him or even to “warn” others about him; rather to be able to think carefully about the claims people make.
No one is above scrutiny, including Dr. Craig, but that does not mean we should throw the baby out with the bathwater, and that certainly does not give us the right to pontificate on his motives and/or misrepresent his position.
So let’s do our best to learn what others are thinking and carefully think through the implications of their beliefs; eat the meat and spit out the bones. I’m looking forward to seeing where his continued study leads.
If nothing else, maybe he’ll keep agreeing with young age creationist views, even if he disagrees with their conclusions 🙂 Finally, I should submit that the best way to hear this information is from the horse’s mouth. Craig’s Reasonable Faith podcast is not only a great resource for learning to defend your faith, but often he will present information in a summative form that will help understand where he is coming from. I highly recommend you make it one of your regulars!
- My friend Dr. Robert Carter and his colleague Dr. John Sanford have already written a thorough critique of this position. You would be advised to give it a read.
- Morris, Henry M.. Scientific Creationism . Master Books. Kindle Edition.
- Of course, Craig claims this can be alleviated without a need to press Genesis for a literal chronology due to its genre. Suffice it to say, that’s a huge topic for another time.
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