What's up with Adam and Eve?

At his blog Still Monkeys, Paul McBride has done yeoman work examining the shoddy claims of the latest book from the Disco. 'tute Press.  This book, barely more than a pamphlet, really, purports to show that the last century of research on the roots of the human race are wrong, that evolution can't explain where humans came from, that there was no common ancestry between humans and other primates, and to "debunk claims that the human race could not have started from an original couple."

Typically for the book's authors – Disco. 'tute staffers Casey Luskin, Douglas Axe, and Ann Gauger – the book delivers far less than it promises, a fact which McBride demonstrates as thoroughly as anyone should have to.  And as he notes, that last bit about "an original couple" is an intriguing statement, an apparent defense of the existence of a literal Adam and Eve which is at odds with the religiously-neutral image ID advocates like the Disco. 'tute generally try to present.  

McBride explains:

In a section called "Take home message", the second-last of the book Gauger shifts to suggest that perhaps "we began from two intelligently designed first parents" and that if this were the case "all this analysis of how many ancient haplotypes we share with chimps doesn’t really matter".

Set aside how weak her argument is – and McBride does a nice job of explaining that it is very weak indeed – what's noteworthy about this whole chapter is just how focused on that "original couple" she is, and how willing Gauger is to overtly identify that couple with Adam and Eve.  The introduction to the chapter emphasizes that her concern is research which "directly contradicts the traditional belief of many Christians that humanity started with an original couple, Adam and Eve." It takes shots at groups like BioLogos which argue that such belief is neither scientifically accurate nor theologically justified.  She then insists that her goal is not to engage the theology, but simply to assess the science.  Based on her faulty attacks on a single research paper, Gauger's concluding sentence asserts: "one thing is clear right now: Adam and Eve have not been dis-proven by science."

This, then, is the payoff of the book on Science and Human Origins.  That Adam and Eve may have been real.  

To make that claim requires: a) there was a population-genetic bottleneck in human ancestry, b) this bottleneck meant that only two individuals left descendants (other individuals may have been alive, but didn't have offspring), c) those two individuals were Adam and Eve.

Part a) is true, but it was probably a bottleneck of about 100,000 individuals.  Part b) is silly and implausible, though such bottlenecks exist in other species and populations can potentially recover from them, so at least could fit into a scientific research program.  Part c) simply doesn't follow, and isn't argued in the chapter.  Adam and Eve are not just convenient names for two individuals who sired all of humanity: they are characters in a story.  And they aren't even the names given to the progenitors of all humanity: the first human is simply called "the human," and after being split into male and female parts, they are known as Ish and Isha. There's a Talmudic tradition that other early humans were created, including Lilith (considered Adam's first wife in some traditions), and a common theme in old-earth creationism is the idea that Adam and Eve were not the first humans, merely the first humans in the biblically-relevant lineage.

Setting aside those venerable alternative exegeses within Jewish and Christian theology, Gauger's equation between a putative ancestral couple and Adam and Eve runs into serious Biblical problems.  Adam and Eve, after all, have properties beyond simply being the first humans.  For instance, Genesis tells us where they lived:

YHWH, God, planted a garden in Eden/Land-of-Pleasure, in the east,
and there he placed the human whom he had formed.

Now a river goes out from Eden, to water the garden,
and from there it divides and becomes four stream-heads.
The name of the first is Pishon/Spreader – that is the one that circles through all the land of Havila…
The name of the second river is Gihon/Gusher – that is the one that circles through all the land of Cush.
The name of the third river is Hiddekel/Tigris – that is the one that goes to the east of Assyria.
And the fourth river – that is Perat/Euphrates.

Adam and Eve lived in the Middle East.  Any population bottleneck that Gauger's case could possibly apply to would have taken place in Africa, far away from the Tigris and Euphrates, from Assyria to Cush and Havila.  If Gauger were somehow right that the human lineage passed through a two-person bottleneck sometime in its history, those two could not have been Adam and Eve.  More importantly, Adam and Eve lived in the Middle East in roughly the sense that Charles Darnay lived in France; the historical evidence that the French Revolution really happened no more proves the existence of Charles Darnay than the existence of a two-person population bottleneck in human history would prove the existence of Adam and Eve.

Despite Gauger's protestations, by claiming science justifies belief in Adam and Eve, she is making a theological argument.  And it's a bad one.  Pursuit of that theological argument leads her, along with Axe and Luskin, to abuse science and scientists, as McBride so ably summarizes:

I have been left wondering why the Discovery Institute, or intelligent design advocates in general, or biblical literalists feel a need to try and accommodate science when they have a belief in a supernatural entity capable of breaking natural laws. In the case of this book, it has left them needing to make all kinds of awkward criticisms of fields in which the authors clearly lack expertise. A lawyer [Luskin] is not the right guy to challenge the world's palaeoanthropologists, nor the world's geneticists [as he does in his two chapters of the book's five]. Certainly, he shouldn't be trying to take them all on at once. It will end with him trying to smear the reputation of scientists rather than engaging with their ideas. Accusations that the entire field of palaeoanthropology is driven by personal disputes and that Francis Collins is a bad Christian are simply not compelling reading in a book that is putatively about scientific argument. 

Such arguments would not even come up in the course of a genuinely scientific argument, of course.  Nor should such a scientific argument be presented in a self-published book/pamphlet.  You can't do science by trying to reach a theologically predetermined conclusion (i.e., that the human lineage went through a bottleneck in which effective population size = 2).

This book exists because of the lack of basic literacy among the authors and the book's intended audience.  The authors and the readers they hope to find are trapped in the absurd belief that the legitimacy of the Bible comes from how scientifically accurate it is.  They skip past the obvious literary flourishes: naming the first human simply "the human," naming the first couple "Woman" and "Man" and then "Soil" and "Life-giver," the talking serpent, naming all the beasts and fowl and fish in a matter of hours, and the extensive wordplay, rhymes, etc.  They're so focused on whether Adam had a bellybutton that they lose track of what the story means.  This impoverishes their theology, and makes a mockery of their attempts at science.

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Thanks for highlighting my review, Josh.

The book is in fact self-defeating. Even if we were to very generously/carelessly accept Gauger's evidence for an Adam and Eve bottleneck, she acknowledges the bottleneck had to have happened at least 4 million years ago. Yet, under the reasoning laid out by Luskin in the third chapter, this makes Adam and Eve not only African but thoroughly non-human, as he firmly classes the hominins from this period as ape-like and poor evidence of the transition to Homo.

By Paul McBride (not verified) on 02 Jul 2012 #permalink

I've always wondered when we got immortal souls and how God could have injected them in us. I guess God is, by definition, all powerful. So, I guess science can't touch that claim, although it is a bit barmy.

By Charles Sullivan (not verified) on 02 Jul 2012 #permalink

for charles sullivan,

if god is all powerfull, why cant he heal amputees?

Why did you presume an immortal soul, chuck?

@Darren P:

Seriously mate, this is like theology 101 stuff. Get your backside into a church this Sunday and ask that question. Even the primary kids will answer that one for you.

Darwinists have presuppositions and make theological arguments all the time. Darwinism is 1 part science and 1 part religion.