S. Joshua Swamidass of WUSTL recently received a 1-year grant from the Templeton Foundation for a hypothesis that he calls “the genealogical Adam” and to build his website “Peaceful Science,” which he likes to call a ‘fifth voice’ alongside Answers in Genesis, BioLogos, the Discovery Institute and Reasons to Believe. https://www.templeton.org/grant/the-genealogical-adam-and-peaceful-science.
In this thread I show how Swamidass’ ‘genealogical Adam’ approach is both non-scientific and unoriginal, that is, the notion is already available in the literature. Swamidass cites only 2 scholars (one a retired physician and the other a professor of law) as precursors to his work in the article he wrote (2018) in an evangelical Christian journal for scientists (PSCF). He then added the name of another person who is actually a biologist in a blog comment as a possible precursor to his work. Yet a quick internet search reveals over 8,000 prior uses of “Adam’s genealogy”. Even further if one types in ‘Adam & Eve Genealogy’ (without quotes), one gets almost 5 million hits! It thus does not seem that Swamidass’ ‘genealogical Adam’ is anything new, but rather just recycled.
The duo of “Adam’s genealogy” is only slightly different than Swamidass’ “genealogical Adam.” Is Swamidass trying to do the same thing that Charles Darwin and Alfred R. Wallace seem to have done by not citing their precursor Patrick Matthew, who had already used the term ‘natural process of selection’ (1831), and instead claiming to have produced an original new theory of the ‘origin of species’ on their own? Does Swamidass think that simply coining a new concept duo alone is sufficient to claim precedent as a new ‘scientific’ theory about human origins?
Swamidass writes: “A question about ‘descent’ can be a question about genealogies, and genealogical questions should be answered with genealogical science.” (PSCF) ‘Can be’ indeed, yet the ‘scientificity’ of (the field of) genealogy is openly questionable and is instead commonly referred to not as a ‘science,’ but rather simply as ‘family history.’ One doesn’t study genealogy at universities (http://www.senecacollege.ca/ce/humanities/genealogy.html) and natural science programs do not exist in which to acquire a degree in the field.
Nevertheless, Swamidass currently persists in trying to redefine natural science to include genealogy within it, stating that, “[w]ithout contradicting the findings of genetic science, genealogical science gives a different answer to the question [of human origins].” (PSCF) Why is he insisting to try to to turn genealogy into a ‘natural science’ when he is not a ‘genealogical scientist’? And is he next going to start applying what he calls ‘genealogical science’ to other species too, in his bid to seek ‘peace IN natural science’, but not beyond it? My guess is that Swamidass is aiming for some kind social and cultural legitimacy for an ideological position that he won’t openly name, yet which superficially underwrites his recent emergence on the scene in science, philosophy and theology/worldview conversations after joining and then noisily exiting from the BioLogos Foundation after a public spat with then Biology Fellow Dennis Venema.
Swamidass recently responded to a critic of his approach at PS titled “The Theological Hypothesis of Adam in Science?”, by stating: “Of course, the hypothesis of Adam and Eve is a theological hypothesis. No one disputes this, or at least they shouldn’t.” https://discourse.peacefulscience.org/t/the-theological-hypothesis-of-adam-in-science/4437/14 Yet Swamidass himself has spoken about what he calls “the Science of Adam,” saying, “This last year, 2017 till now, we have been reworking the science of Adam,” which seems to put him in a dispute with … himself. http://peacefulscience.org/reworking-adam/ How can he hold this rather apparent contradiction in his own mind and at the same time pretend to others that there is no contradiction in what he writes? Swamidass appears to want to have his cake and eat it too in framing his particular non-mainstream evangelical brand of ‘natural science & religion’ discourse, perhaps as a result of having been raised in a YECist atmosphere.
As anyone who has followed my comments about ‘Peaceful Science’ knows, aside from his thread manipulations in the Discourse system and sometimes bullying behaviour (confirmed at TSZ through his recent rule-violating actions here), I have major concerns with Swamidass’ seemingly contradictory and oftentimes confusing approach as a form of reactionary appeasement to the YECist community he represents religiously, if not scientifically. And it’s not like people didn’t already know that “Genetics is not Genealogy,” as he writes in the PSCF paper. The lack of a coherent philosophical basis for his project appears to lead Dr. Swamidass into making over-generalised and/or fuzzy statements that simply do not stand up under closer scrutiny. Unfortunately, to such legitimate criticism he usually just responds with a ‘nobody here but us natural scientists’ refrain, as if that supposedly solves the problem automatically by appeal to authority.
Swamidass states in the Templeton announcement: “We see an opportunity to restructure the [sic] conversation on origins, to be more inclusive and grounded in science.” Yet by categorically avoiding philosophy as a bridging discipline that seeks wisdom beyond empirical research alone and by trying to turn conversations about origins into a ‘natural science-first’ affair, Swamidass instead displays what appears as ideological natural scientism, the view that natural scientific knowledge ‘counts’ as more important than other types of knowledge. This, combined with his sometimes bombastic evangelical zeal, means that Swamidass comes across as belittling toward non-scientists (cf. ‘non-methodological naturalists’ in his awkward usage of the term) and thus runs the risk of actually distorting and harming conversations about origins, rather than enriching them.
While there is surely something positive to say about Swamidass’ attempt to make ‘peace’ between non-mainstream evangelicals and natural scientists on the topic of ‘origins’, which I find refreshing and much needed especially in its oftentimes toxic US variant of discourse, there is much still misleading, unexplained or just not yet openly admitted in Swamidass’ ambitious neo-creationist partially-scientific project. We’ll have to see what happens over the next 10 months of the project and if he eventually comes around to drop his stubborn ideological insistence upon ‘methodological naturalism’ as if it is a ‘strictly scientific’ approach, rather than a misnamed ideology to be avoided for important and valid reasons.
- Is there anything new in so-called ‘genealogical Adam’?
- How much ‘science’ is there in Swamidass’ ‘genealogical science’ and how much is actually just ideology or worldview parading as natural science?
- Will genealogical approaches to other species be considered?