S. Joshua Swamidass, IVP Academic, 2019
This has been a bittersweet reading. From the outset, I do want to state that I am perhaps the kind of people Swamidass is trying to pursue. A Reformed Confessional Christian. At the same time, my medical background allows me to appreciate most of the science behind it. For the sake of charity, and in accordance to his call to empathy (ch. 1), I will list the positives first. For the sake of courage and truth, which he also encourage his readers to show, I will least the negatives as well.
Positively, I need to honor the author’s intention of trying to uphold biblical inerrancy. Someone with his scientific qualifications could very easily dismiss Scripture altogether and just ‘go with the flow’ of scientificism. He wants to prove that mainstream science is not against a de novo (miraculous) creation of a specific pair of human being called Adam and Eve. I believe his intent is loable. Furthermore, he provides good insight and category distinctions we all should come to know if we are seriously thinking about this issue. In that sense, his explanation of the what Genealogical Ancestry is is perhaps the most valuable gem in this volume. His scientific research is rigorous. Everything he explains regarding science is well documented, even if, at the end there’s room for disagreement. I also appreciate the care with which he reaches scientific conclusions by using terms as «highly probable,» «unlikely,» etcetera.
It is also very good, that this volume will make you go back to Scripture to assess if what the author is claiming is right. Any time something make you read you Bible, that’s a positive for me.
I would only wish that biblical-theological issues would have been dealt with with the same academic rigor as the scientific facts were. First, I believe there is an error of methodology. He presupposes «people out of Eden before Adam and Eve» from the start. Then assumes that Scripture is only silent about those (although, suggestive). Finally his hermeneutical method includes using scientific research to fill-in-the gaps.
Here’s the tricky thing, this is the question to answer: which gaps? There seems to be a conflation between general gaps of things not mentioned by Scripture regarding creation and the historicity of Adam and Eve (which is the central theme, as suggested by the title of the book), and the gaps created by Swamidass’ presupposition that ‘there were people leaving outside the garden’. He deals only with the second set.
Thus, his theory is build up to dovetail perfectly with the gaps that his own presuppositions have created. This is key: if you can demonstrate biblically that those presupposition do not fit the proper interpretation of the Scripture, or even that there are not required by the text, then the whole argument falls. It becomes a house of cards. It turns out being a very complex science, fascinating, yet biblically unnecessary.
All the science presented is subservient to the fact that there was indeed a group of people outside Eden before Adam and Eve, and that these were human beings.
However, is he able to demonstrate this assertion from Scripture? No. At most, it is an argument from silence. In my opinion, a weak one. It does not deal with the most pressing questions on interpretation and theology. Regarding interpretation, «silence» is his claim. Scripture does not say there weren’t, and science is compatible with the possibility of people being there, therefore, it must ‘probably’ be true. Regarding theology, the most important questions such as that of common dignity are not even raised. There are discussions regarding the «openness» of historical and even confessional theology. Again, for Swamidass, tradition almost never denies the possibility of men outside Eden, therefore, «it fits within Orthodox Theology.»
Sadly the most important biblical and theological claims are not as well exegeted or documented as the scientific data is (i.e. compare his treatment of scientific computational data with his treatment of Genesis 1-2). Thus, there is a huge disparity with the way he deals with science and Scripture. In the aim of trying to uphold Scripture with science, (surely unintentionally), he has make Scripture subservient to scientific research.
Still, again, I believe the first section is worthy of our most serious attention. And because of that, this resource might be a good addition to your library, especially if you are interested with the modern trends of theistic evolution.