Evangelical Christians and Human Origins

Evaluating Proposed Models

One of the cornerstones of the Christian faith is the tenet that all of humanity is descended from a single couple, Adam and Eve. But scientific advances have led to quite a diverse range of views among Christians about how the human species emerged. In a new study, Dr. Casey Luskin evaluates the prevailing models and scores them based on the best available scientific evidence and how well they comport with traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs derived from Scripture.

How the Models Stack Up against the Evidence

Theistic Evolution: The first model, known as theistic evolution or evolutionary creation and promoted by BioLogos and biologists such as Dennis Venema, denies that there was a historical Adam & Eve. This model holds that humanity must have been derived from a population of at least 10,000 pre-human hominins. Theistic evolutionists have traditionally cited such lines of evidence as genetic similarity to chimpanzees, junk DNA, and conserved pseudogenes as relics of the evolutionary process. But as Luskin points out, both in his paper and more recently in this article, most of those findings have now been refuted. Moreover, the genetic similarity of humans and chimps could well be evidence of common design and not common descent.

Homo Divinus: A related model, known as Homo divinus, first proposed by theologian John Stott and later adopted by theistic evolutionist Denis Alexander, accepts the standard evolutionary paradigm but conjectures that God chose to reveal himself to a pair of Neolithic humans based in the Middle East after the last Ice Age. Thus, in this model, all hominins were evolved species but were not spiritual beings. Only after God created Adam and Eve from pre-existing, non-sentient humanity did we become spiritual beings. But the Homo divinus model suffers the same problems as the standard theistic evolutionary scenario, and moreover, this model raises serious theological issues. For example, if God impressed his image on just a single couple from a larger pool of humans, how could Adam’s sin be passed on to all of humanity?

Genealogical Adam & Eve: The third model, known as the Genealogical Adam & Eve, first proposed by biologist Joshua Swamidass, also advances a standard evolutionary narrative, but suggests that God isolated two individuals in the Garden of Eden and imparted his image on them, while the rest of humanity, outside the garden, evolved by standard evolutionary mechanisms and was not endowed with his image. Luskin identifies several profound problems with Swamidass’s model. For one thing, humanity is divided into image-bearing “haves” and “have nots.” In a scathing rebuttal of Swamidass’s model, evolutionary biologist and Christian apologist Jonathan McLatchie writes:

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.

Luskin and Terrell Clemmons also addressed Swamidass’s methods and model in Salvo 57.

Homo Heidelbergensis: The next model, advanced by the distinguished philosopher William Lane Craig, asserts that Adam and Eve were members of Homo Heidelbergensis, who lived about 750,000 years ago. This makes them ancestral to other hominins such as Neanderthals and Denisovans. This model conveniently accounts for the genetic diversity seen in modern humans and is compatible both with the de novo creation of Adam and Eve by God and common descent from ape-like ancestors. The main problem with this model is that it also relies on the standard evolutionary paradigm, when the best research has cast severe doubt on some of the evidence it cites. Furthermore, placing humanity so far back in history raises an obvious question: if Adam and Eve were fully modern in a cognitive sense, then why haven’t archaeologists uncovered evidence of advanced cognitive behavior that far back in time? All the evidence points to a sudden, big bang-like event whereby modern humans arrived on the scene only around 100,000 years ago.

Unique Origins: The next theory under consideration is the Unique Origins model proposed by biologist Ann Gauger and mathematician Ola Hössjer, who together published a genetics paper showing that all of humanity could have descended from a single couple who lived about 500,000 years ago. The assumption in their model is that this initial couple had “designed variants” of genes representing “primordial diversity” built into their genomes and so did not require descent via natural processes from previous hominids to supply the requisite genetic diversity. Like the objections raised against Craig’s model, the date of the first human pair in this model goes back half a million years, which leaves it at odds with the paleontological record of a modern human big bang event beginning about 100,000 years.

Old Earth Creationism (OEC): Moving now to the classical Old Earth Creationism model proposed by Hugh Ross and Fazale Rana of Reasons to Believe, OEC sees humanity as the product of a separate divine creation event that took place between 55,000 and 130,000 years ago. Unlike the Homo Heidelbergensis and Unique Origins models, Ross and Rana do not consider other hominin species such as Neanderthals and Denisovans to have been imparted with God’s image, but sees them only as species that existed for a time before going extinct. This model considers species like Neanderthals to have been culturally and cognitively inferior to modern humans, and so it readily disputes the work of many paleoanthropologists who attribute advanced cognitive skills to other hominin species.

Young Earth Creationism (YEC): The Young Earth Creationism model holds that the earth is only about 6,000 years old. This makes humanity a very recent arrival. Influential YEC scientists such as John Sanford have suggested that if Adam and Eve possessed enough variation within their gametes, it could account for the observed genetic diversity of the modern human population in just 6,000 years. In this perspective, all hominins with human-like anatomy are viewed as fully modern and thus are descendants of Adam. Critics of the YEC model emphasize that those who adhere to it ignore modern dating techniques that place other hominins much further back in time and that it also fails to account for key scientific findings about the age of the earth and the broader universe.

Old Earth, Recent Human Hybrid: Finally, some theologians have proposed an Old Earth/ Recent Human Hybrid model, which is similar to classical OEC, except that it says humans were created as recently as 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. It regards all hominin fossils as evidence of subraces within our species but, just like YEC, it does not necessarily adhere to the dates provided by paleoanthropologists of these fossil remains.

Scoring the Models

In Tables 1, 2, 3, and 4, Luskin’s paper summarizes how well each model adheres to traditional Christian beliefs regarding Adam and Eve, as well as how each one comports with the best available mainstream science. Intriguingly, those models aligning themselves with theistic evolutionary ideas emerged as the lowest scoring, while classic OEC, Unique Origins, and the Old Earth/Recent Human hybrid emerged as the most plausible. Even the YEC models score nearly twice as high as those models based on standard evolutionary theory, even though they ranked lower in terms of scientific merit.

That said, it’s very encouraging to see that there are now a number of very robust models that firmly root Adam and Eve in geological history as figures who gave rise to all of the human family. Luskin concludes:

Although some models appear more successful than others at achieving a reconciliation, one need not jettison traditional beliefs about Adam and Eve in light of the findings of science.

is that author of eight books on amateur and professional astronomy. His latest book is Choosing & Using Binoculars, a Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts (Springer Publishing, 2023).

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