This is one the strangest book reviews I've ever read in Science or Nature. The book review is a lengthy (full page) one of William Lane Craig's latest book on Adam and Eve. According to the book title (see image below), it's both a Biblical and scientific exploration. Stephen Shaffner is a computational biologist from the Broad Institute of MIT. Although he has some issues with the book's content, he ends up praising it as a good example of how to approach philosophical questions with science. He hopes that other theologians will follow Craig's lead. Ouch! I am curious as to why this book was ever reviewed, considering its flaws and the possibility that there was a pre-human first human.
Click the image to read. If you don't see it, a judicious search will produce a pdf.
Schaffner describes Craig's goals in the book in a misleading manner:
Craig's Quest for the Historical Adam aims to combine academic and scientific rigor in his investigation of the first couple of Genesis. He attempts to answer two questions. First, whether Christian theology requires him to believe in historical Adam and Eve, and second, what science can reveal about that couple.
Craig apparently believes that Genesis' story of the First Couple is mythology. He doesn't believe there is a literal Adam or Eve. Schaffner points out that this view will not be popular with creationists. He believes in a literal Adam, and that he is the first human. This conclusion is based on statements in Paul's letter to the Romans about Adam. (Schaffner calls Craig out).
Craig then embarks on his quest for Adam, the original human. This is apparently the first human to have a soul. Craig must search for souls' correlates because souls don't fossilize. This is where the things get weird. Here is Schaffner's description of the message the sweating theologian wants to convey:
Craig decides that Adams exists and sets out to find him. Craig asks the question that is scientifically solvable: When did hominins develop the ability to abstract think, symbolise, and other cognitive abilities necessary for human beings? Although the subject matter is vast and includes evolutionary biology, paleontology and paleoneurology as well as archaeology and genetics, the data are often sparse and contentious. He does an admirable job of synthesising both the facts and uncertainties from these diverse fields. He often draws on primary scientific literature. Craig claims, for instance, that first humans couldn't have existed before the arrival of Homo heteroerectus and Homo heidelbergensis. A variety of facts about Neanderthals, including their ability to plan and cooperate, probable linguistic abilities, and possession of human-specific genetic modifications of brain development, convince him that they are human. According to him, humanness is a trait that Neanderthals and Denisovans inherited from their common ancestral population. Adam must therefore have lived around 700,000 years ago.
(Schaffer does mention the dubiousness of viewing human-ness as a binary: it is not here and thenpoof!it is!) Scheffer mentions the danger of viewing human-ness as a binary. It is not here and thenpoof! If Adam is the ancestor to us all, then his mate must have been the same. This means that there must have been an Eve. If she were from the same people as Adam, then she would also be human.
Shaffner's last two paragraphs in the review criticize the book, but ends up praising the latter on very strange grounds.
Craig's intention in writing this book is not scientific and cannot be based on scientific evidence. Many scientists, even religious ones, will find the exercise confusing or misguided. Biologists will be skeptical, even if they don't consider religious motives. Craig suggests that the only way to induce humanness is by changing one pair of ancestors. Craig doesn't believe that this would make the concept more attractive. Although my reaction is similar to Craig's, I welcome the book. It is a great thing that someone with Craig's theological credentials and commitments turns to science to answer scientific questions about the world. He takes evolution as a given and does the hard work of understanding scientific findings. I hope others working at the intersection between science and philosophy or religion will follow his example.
Shaffner overlooks an even more antiscientific aspect to the book. Craig, who read Paul's letter to Romans, convinced himself that Adam was real. Then he collects and manipulates scientific evidence to support this conclusion. Part of Craigs creditable synthesis is to obviate the bottleneck datapopulation-genetic analysis showing that the smallest bottleneck in our species in the last several hundred thousand years must have been at least twelve thousand individuals. This means that the human population never reached even one or two people, let alone Noah's eight-member band.
Craig's arguments were dispelled by me in his newsletter of 2018. Craig then claims that Adams descendents have more genetic diversity than he did. This is because Adams was a result of admixture with other hominin linesages. Craig makes up stuff to support his thesis. In fact, there is evidence against the admixture. What we have here is a preordained conclusion that relies on data that has been manipulated or confected in order to support it. This is not science. However, it is the way theology works when trying to use science.
Shaffner's last paragraph welcoming the book ignores the fact that such an endeavor is fundamentally nonscientific. This makes Craig's Science book review really strange. I for one don't believe that theologians will try to twist scientific (and Biblical!) findings in order to make them match up in the interest of Jesus-promotion. (Science-minded philosophers like Dan Dennett are okay.) A little science can be dangerous for a theologian.