Comparing Contemporary Evangelical Models Regarding Human Origins
Formed from dust. The most obvious statement about Adam—and the one most important to this discussion—is the statement that God formed (yaṣar) him from the dust (‘apar) of the earth. Is this intended to be a statement about the material origins of the first human being? Traditionally, it has been common to think about this statement as describing a material process of special creation characterized by discontinuity with any previously existing creature.
The Christian view of creation that Darwinism rivaled was not monolithic, even if the popular belief among Christians was that God created the cosmos approximately 4000 years before the coming of the Christ. This belief preceded the publication of The Annals of the World by James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh, who attempted to identify the time of creation’s beginning with precision. For example, both leading church Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin believed that creation was not yet 6000 years old and that God created all things within six twenty-four-hour days. Calvin is thoroughly conversant with Augustine, agreeing with him at several points, but also rejecting his belief that God created all things instantaneously.
2.1. Classical Theistic Evolution/Evolutionary Creationist Model
The greatest problem with evolutionary creation is that it does not embrace the traditional literal interpretation of the opening chapters of the Bible. Church history shows that nearly all Christians have understood Gen 1–3 to be a basic record of actual events in the past. Specifically, most have believed that Gen 2 reveals that human history began with Adam and Eve.
[W]e can be confident that finding evidence that we were created independently of other animals or that we descend from only two people just isn’t going to happen. Some ideas in science are so well supported that it is highly unlikely new evidence will substantially modify them, and these are among them. The sun is at the center of our solar system, humans evolved, and we evolved as a population.
While the story is still unfolding, we conclude that the genomes of humans and other complex organisms are not full of junk but rather are highly compact information suites that are largely devoted to the specification of regulatory RNAs. These RNAs drive the trajectories of differentiation and development, underpin brain function and convey transgenerational memory of experience, much of it contrary to long-held conceptions of genetic programming and the dogmas of evolutionary theory.
2.2. Homo Divinus Model of Denis Alexander
2.3. Genealogical Adam and Eve Model of S. Joshua Swamidass
No additional miracles allowed. No appeals to divine action are permitted to explain the data or increase confidence in the hypothesis. Yes, one direct act of God is included in the hypothesis itself, but the evidential evaluation of the hypothesis cannot infer or rely upon divine action in any way.
The two findings of evolutionary science. The people outside the Garden would share common descent with the great apes, and the size of their population would never dip down to a single couple.
Swamidass’ view would seem to suggest logically that those individuals who were biological (but not textual) humans are qualitatively indistinct from other animals. However, in that case it makes no sense to call their deeds evil, or to postulate that they had a sense of right and wrong. Moreover, if they, as Swamidass suggests, “do wrong at times”, then does this not suggest that Adam’s fall is but one of many falls that have occurred in human history? The theological ramifications that accompany this scenario are too severe for me to entertain Swamidass’ proposal.
Swamidass zealously distances his position from earlier racist polygenetic theories. According to those accounts, racial groups that (allegedly) didn’t descend from Adam weren’t full human beings. I agree that his position is a vast improvement. However, the genealogical hypothesis remains polygenetic, at least to some degree. Swamidass defines all those outside the garden as biologically but not textually human.
This move, however, raises a host of questions: for example, in what sense are non-Adamic biological humans fully human? If these biological humans have a different origin from Adam and Eve, do they participate in original sin and salvation? Did Christ live and die for them, and were they able to experience justification by faith? And, if human beings are natural kinds—as Christians have always believed—then how is interbreeding even possible? In chapter 14, Swamidass speculates that these biological humans are made in God’s image, with minds and souls, but “they are not yet affected by Adam’s fall. They have a sense of right and wrong, written on their hearts (Rom. 2:15), but they are not morally perfect. They do wrong at times. They are subject to physical death, which prevents their wrongdoing from growing into true evil (Gen. 6:3)” (175). Although Swamidass is only speculating here, the notion of other people outside the garden, in my view, is nowhere in Scripture. In traditional Christianity, being human and being a descendant of Adam are co-extensive. As far as I can see, Swamidass’s revisionism lacks a convincing exegetical or theological basis.
2.4. Homo Heidelbergensis Model of William Lane Craig
Adam and Eve may therefore be plausibly identified as members of Homo heidelbergensis and as the founding pair at the root of all human species. Challenges to this hypothesis from population genetics fail principally because we cannot rule out on the basis of the genetic divergence exhibited by contemporary humans that our most recent common ancestors, situated more than 500 kya, are the sole genetic progenitors of the entire human race, whether past or present. The challenge of the wide geographic distribution of humanity is similarly met by situating Adam and Eve far in the past, prior to the divergence of Homo sapiens, Neanderthals, and other species, and allowing multispecies cultural evolution to proceed thereafter in response to environmental changes to produce modern human behaviors wherever their descendants are to be found.
One can … postulate instead a de novo creation of Adam and Eve. But then one faces a difficult dilemma. One must explain our genetic similarity to chimps either on the basis of repetitive divine use of a similar design plan or on the basis of considerable interbreeding with nonhumans. The first has difficulty explaining broken pseudogenes that we share with chimps … The second looks as if God condones bestiality for our forebears.
No such appeal to interbreeding [between humans and non-human hominids] is necessary if we envision Adam and Eve as emerging from a hominin population that shared common ancestry with chimpanzees and other great apes. Indeed, on the view proposed here, Adam and Eve could be our sole genetic progenitors, whose descendants never fell into bestial relations with nonhuman hominins or at least produced no descendants from such liaisons.
2.5. Unique Origins Design Model of Ann Gauger and Other Intelligent Design Advocates
2.6. Classical Old Earth Creationist Model of Reasons to Believe
2.7. Classical Young Earth Creationist Model
2.8. Old Earth/Recent Humans Hybrid Model
Comparison of the Models
- If one cares very little about traditional theological beliefs regarding human origins and is convinced that mainstream evolutionary biology is correct, then the TE/EC model may be appealing.
- Conversely, if one places the highest priority upon traditional theological beliefs about Adam and Eve, then the YEC or Hybrid models may be most attractive.
- If one finds evolutionary science persuasive but desires a form of historical Adam and Eve, then the Homo heidelbergensis, GAE, or Homo divinus models may be persuasive.
- If one finds evolutionary claims to be scientifically weak but accepts standard dating methods, then the Unique Origins Design or OEC models seem most viable. The Hybrid model is also available to those who accept an old Earth, though it requires rejecting dating methods as regards many hominid fossils.
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Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
The intent of this section is not to discuss or critique all aspects of modern evolutionary biology, but simply to provide scientific commentary on specific common arguments from evolutionary creationists on the specific topic of human origins.
Swamidass’s (2019) descriptions of the GAE model contains various other statements which indicate the close association of his GAE model with an attempt to retain a standard evolutionary viewpoint:
Schaffner (2021) stated: “we eventually learn that his [Craig’s] model allows for an unspecified amount of admixture from other hominin lineages into the descendants of Adam, eliminating the need for such a tight bottleneck. A more clearly stated hypothesis in this section would have saved the reader time and frustration.”
The concept of intelligent design entails an infusion of information that came from an intelligent mind. In the context of this model, intelligent design could inolve de novo origin/special creation, but it could also include taking the body plan of a pre-existing organism and infusing information into the genome such that a new type of organism suddenly emerged. Thus, at the very minimum, intelligent design requires some input of information which changes the genotype and phenotype of an organism. Again, this could mean de novo origin/special creation, but it does not necessarily require this. However, even in the case that design does not involve de novo origin/special creation, something special is still happening—namely the infusion of information into the genome which produces an informational discontinuity that is beyond the abilities of natural mechanisms to produce.
For example, the Scofield Refererence Bible, highly influential in American Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism, advocated the gap theory and day/age theory, which accept an ancient age of the earth. However, the Scofield Bible did not place a date on Adam and Eve, and seemingly allowed or assumed a recent Adam and Eve. Its theology of origins would probably be most compatible with the Hybrid model (Section 2.8).
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|Model||Adam and Eve Were Real Historical People Who Fell into Sin.||Adam and Eve Were Ancestral to All Living Humans.||Adam and Eve Were the Sole Initial Progenitors of All Humans.||Adam and Eve Were Specially and Miraculously Created “de novo.”||Adam and Eve Lived Recently (<10,000 Years) as Genealogies Typically Suggest.||No Physical Death before the Fall of Adam and Eve||Humans Only Interbreed with Imago Dei Humans (i.e., Bestiality Not Required).|
|Classical Theistic Evolution/Evolutionary Creation Model|
|Homo divinus Model||X||X|
|Genealogical Adam and Eve Model||X||X||Possible, if not favored, but not required.||Quite possible, but not required.|
|Homo heidelbergensis Model||X||X||Strongly preferred, but not required.||Probably not.||Strongly preferred, but not required.|
|Unique Origins Design Model||X||X||X||Allowed, if not favored.||X|
|Classical Old Earth Creationist Model||X||X||X||X||This was initially strongly preferred, but was rejected after evidence of human–Neanderthal interbreeding.|
|Classical Young Earth Creationist Model||X||X||X||X||X||X||X|
|Old Earth/Recent Origin Hybrid Model||X||X||X||X||X||Possible, but not required.||X|
|Model||Humans Evolved via Standard/Unguided Evolutionary Mechanisms from Apelike Species.||Humans Share a Common Ancestor with Apes.||Humans Had Thousands of Primordial Ancestors and Never a Bottleneck of Two.||Humans (Homo sapiens) Are Related to Neanderthals and Denisovans.||Human Body Plan Appears before Human Intelligence.||Dating (Old Age) of Hominid Fossils Is Accurate.||Dating (Old Age) of Earth and Universe Is Accurate.|
|Classical Theistic Evolution/Evolutionary Creation Model||X||X||X||X||X||X||X|
|Homo divinus Model||X||X||X||X||X||X||X|
|Genealogical Adam and Eve Model||X||X||X||X||X||X||X|
|Homo heidelbergensis Model||Not clear, but seems to be possible.||X||X||X||X||X|
|Unique Origins Design Model||X||X||X|
|Classical Old Earth Creationist Model||X||X||X|
|Classical Young Earth Creationist Model||X|
|Old Earth/Recent Origin Hybrid Model||X||X|
|Model||Acknowledges Waiting Times Problem for Evolving Complex Traits and the Possibility of Design.||Incorporates Population Genetics Modeling Showing Humans Can Come from an Initial Pair.||Incorporates Evidence of Pseudogene Function.||Accepts Evidence of Full Humanity of Neanderthals/Denisovans.||Acknowledges Fossil Gap between Human and Apelike Species.||Adam and Eve Aligned with First Appearance of Fossil Evidence of Humanlike Body Plan.||Adam and Eve Aligned with First Appearance of Archaeological Evidence of Humanlike Intelligence.|
|Classical Theistic Evolution/Evolutionary Creation Model|
|Homo divinus Model|
|Genealogical Adam and Eve Model|
|Homo heidelbergensis Model||X||X|
|Unique Origins Design Model||X||X||X||X||X||Possible.|
|Classical Old Earth Creationist Model||X||X||X||X||X|
|Classical Young Earth Creationist Model||X||X||X||X||X||Not if standard dating methods are adopted.||Not if standard dating methods are adopted.|
|Old Earth/Recent Origin Hybrid Model||X||X||X||X||X||Not if standard dating methods are adopted.||Not if standard dating methods are adopted.|
|Model||Theological Points (7)||Mainstream Scientific Points (7)||Subtotal (14) of Table 1 and Table 2||Other Scientific Points (7)||Grand Total (21)|
|Classical Theistic Evolution/Evolutionary Creation Model||0||7||7||0||7|
|Homo divinus Model||2||7||9||0||9|
|Genealogical Adam and Eve Model||4||7||11||0||11|
|Homo heidelbergensis model||4||6||10||2||12|
|Unique Origins Design Model||5||3||8||6||14|
|Classical Old Earth Creationist Model||4||3||7||5||12|
|Classical Young Earth Creationist Model||7||1||8||5||13|
|Old Earth/Recent Origin Hybrid Model||7||2||9||5||14|
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Luskin, C. Comparing Contemporary Evangelical Models Regarding Human Origins. Religions 2023, 14, 748. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14060748
Luskin C. Comparing Contemporary Evangelical Models Regarding Human Origins. Religions. 2023; 14(6):748. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14060748Chicago/Turabian Style
Luskin, Casey. 2023. "Comparing Contemporary Evangelical Models Regarding Human Origins" Religions 14, no. 6: 748. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14060748