That question is currently heavily debated in evangelical circles. The feature article of the June 2011 issue of Christianity Today notes that the issue is no longer just whether Adam had animal ancestry—that much is almost taken for granted—but whether all humans could have descended from only one couple.
The mainstream scientific view, based on the genetic diversity of people now living, postulates that humans evolved, at least 100,000 years ago, from a population never smaller than 10,000. If so, Adam and Eve were either symbolic or, as the Christianity Today editor suggests, merely leaders among a larger human population.
Adam as Literary Symbol
As Christianity Today relates, much of the recent pressure for theistic evolution comes from the efforts of The Biologos Foundation. Founded in 2007 by a coalition of scientists and theologians, Biologos is dedicated to promoting theistic evolution, particularly among evangelicals. (It runs the blog http://biologos.org/blog)
In their recent book The Language of Science and Faith, Drs. Francis Collins and Karl Giberson, two Biologos scientists, fully endorse the current mainstream evolutionary view of origins. They find no scientific place for an historical Adam.Theologians associated with Biologos have followed up by re-interpreting the Bible accordingly. Dr. Peter Enns takes the early chapters of Genesis to be symbolic, an allegory concerning the origin of Israel rather than of all humanity. Similarly, Dr. Tremper Longman III (Westmont College) is also open to a metaphorical Adam.
The Bible, nevertheless, clearly takes Adam to be historical. First, the story of Adam & Eve occurs in Genesis, a Bible book focused on history. Also, the genealogies of Genesis 5, 1 Chronicles 1 and Luke 3 all find their first parent in Adam. Further, the historicity of Adam is presumed in Jesus’ teaching on marriage (Matt.19:4-6), Jude’s reference to Adam (Jude 14), and Paul’s assertion that Adam was formed first (1 Cor.11:8-9, 1 Tim.2:11-14). Most important, Paul links the historical Adam with redemption through Christ (Rom. 5:12-19; 1 Cor. 15:20-23, 42-49; and his speech in Acts 17).
Were Moses, Jesus, Luke, Jude and Paul all wrong? Can we no longer trust the Bible?
A purely symbolic Adam has deep theological implications. This is spelled out by Drs. Daniel Harlow and John Schneider, professors at Calvin College (see my post Evolution of Calvin College). If humans evolved, they could not have been originally upright. Our sinfulness and selfishness are then due, not to an historical fall, but, rather, to our evolutionary heritage. This undermines the doctrine of original sin, as well as the Reformed notion of Christ's atonement as a payment for human sin. Dr. Schneider thus favors a universalism where all humans will be saved.
Since such conclusions clearly contradict the Reformed confessions, the views of both professors are currently under investigation at Calvin College.
Adam as Evolved Tribal Chief
Happily, a number of theologians still insist on an historical Adam. Christianity Today refers, in particular, to three prominent PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) theologians: Dr. Timothy Keller (pastor in New York), Dr. C. John Collins (Covenant Seminary) and Dr. Bruce Waltke (Knox Theological Seminary).
Unhappily, all three take pains not to contradict mainstream science. Hence, the “historical “Adam that emerges from their writings has little in common with the Biblical Adam.
Dr. Collins, for example, places Adam and Eve somewhat before 40,000 BC, the first humans to receive God’s image. He dismisses the traditional view that Adam and Eve were the first humans, since these existed already 2 million years ago. Responding to genetic evidence, Collins suggests that Adam and Eve might be conceived as "the king and queen of a larger population.”
Similarly, Dr. Keller writes, “Even though… I argue for the importance of belief in a literal Adam and Eve, I have shown here that there are several ways to hold that and still believe in God using evolutionary biological processes.” Keller, too, is open to the possibility that Adam and Eve had animal ancestors and were part of a larger population of humans.In like manner, Dr. Waltke asserts, "We have to go with the scientific evidence…if Scripture has a collectivity represented as an individual, that doesn't bother me.”
Both Keller and Waltke have posted on Biologos in support of theistic evolution.
The Bible, however, flatly contradicts the dubious notion that Adam and Eve were chiefs of a tribe of 10,000 evolved humans. Genesis 2-3 states:
“when there was no man (5)…the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature (7)…Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone’(18)…And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman…(22)…The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (3:20).
Note that the text says: “the man became a living creature”, NOT: “the living creature became a man”. The Bible leaves no doubt that Adam was the first man, created from inanimate dust, dust to which he returns at death (Gen.3:19). Eve, too, was formed miraculously, from Adam’s side. And they were created alone: there were no other humans. According to the Bible, they were most definitely the first parents of all other humans.
We observe, en passant, that the demand of population genetics for a minimum of 10,000 ancestors at any past time opposes also the biblical account of Noah’s Flood, with its eight survivors from whom all humans today derive (Gen.6-11; 1 Peter 2:5).
Why Adam is at risk
Why are so many theologians compromising on Adam? Because they have already given in to mainstream science on other aspects of Gen.1-11, thereby painting themselves into an epistemic corner.
Remarkably, most of the appeasing theologians referred to by Christianity Today are Presbyterian: John Collins, Enns, Keller, Longman and Waltke, are all PCA members in good standing. All but Collins either studied or taught at Westminster Seminary. One might thus expect commitment to the Westminster Confession, which affirms the inerrancy of Scripture (I-4, 9) and six-day creation (IV-1). Yet, for some time, these theologians have all adopted a non-literal view of Genesis 1.
They are not alone. Consider, for example, two recent Presbyterian articles: "PCA Geologists on the Antiquity of the Earth" (2) and "Preachers in Lab Coats and Scientists in Geneva Gowns", by Dr. Bryan Estelle (3) (see my post Presbyterian Appeasement). Both articles assert that the overwhelming majority of geologists believe the earth to be very old; hence, we must re-interpret Genesis accordingly. Dr. Estelle (an OPC pastor) also teaches at Westminster Sem.
Over the last half century, Westminster Seminary has vigorously opposed six-day creation, thanks largely to the late Prof. Meredith Kline, zealous promoter of the Framework Hypothesis.
The Cost of an Old Earth
Do you think the age of the earth is unimportant?
Then consider the consequences. More than just Genesis 1 is at stake. See, for example, my post The Cost of an Old Earth.
Using mainstream dating, the fossil record implies that suffering, disease, death, thorns, and earthquakes all existed long before Adam’s fall. These must thus all belong to God’s initial “very good” creation. This means that Adam’s fall caused no physical change in the world. Yet a major Biblical theme is that the entire cosmos was adversely affected by sin (Gen.3:17-18; Rom.8:18-25), from which it must be cleansed (2 Peter 3, Rev.21). The Biblical terms of renewal, redemption, reconciliation all imply the restoration of the world to an original good state, full of joy and harmony.
Consider also the impact on Biblical human history. According to Genesis, Adam and Eve were created about 4000 BC (Gen.5 & 11), the parents of all humans (Gen.3:20); Adam was a gardener, his son Abel a shepherd, and his son Cain a farmer who founded a city; Cain’s offspring invented bronze and iron tools (Gen.4), before drowning in the Flood (Gen.6-9).
Mainstream science places plant cultivation, domesticated cattle, villages, and bronze tools all after 10,000 BC. If so, Adam could not have lived before 10,000 BC. However, according to mainstream science, aborigines have lived in Australia continuously since 40,000 BC. Thus, neither Adam nor Noah can be the ancestor of all humans living today... Unless the Biblical references to farming, tools, and genealogies are mistaken.
Further, human fossils supposedly two million years old are very similar to modern man. Placing Adam at around 40,000 BC, as many theologians suggest, thus entails that Adam had human-like ancestors. After all, if mainstream science is right about the age of things, why should it not also be right about the evolutionary origin of things? If we must listen to the overwhelming majority of geologists, why must we not similarly listen to the overwhelming majority of biologists?
The story of Adam--and his fall—is an integral part of Biblical history. Within the context of the origins myth of mainstream science, however, the Biblical Adam is a bizarre intruder. One cannot build an historical gospel on a non-historical Adam. Neither can one build an historical Adam on a largely non-historical Genesis 1-11.
In sum, the current pressure on the Biblical Adam is rooted in earlier concessions made regarding the age of the earth. This ushered in a new, flexible hermeneutic that takes its cue from mainstream science, thereby undermining Biblical authority.
The Quest for Credibility
Why should we accept what mainstream science claims about origins? After all, the issue concerns not scientific facts—such as fossils, genetic data and abundances of elements in rocks—but their interpretation. Historical sciences, such as evolutionary biology and geology, interpret the data in terms of hypothetical past events. Worldview presuppositions play a crucial role in deciding what alleged events are plausible. Mainstream science bans the supernatural. It presumes purely natural events, constant mutation rates, and the like. Mainline science’s population estimate from genetic diversity, for example, is based on statistical arguments that infer a minimum of 10,000 to be most probable; it does not deem an initial couple to be impossible…just very unlikely.
Christians, on the other hand, should insist that we interpret scientific data in harmony with revealed history. Surely, an inerrant Bible should trump fallible human speculation. To that end, creationists have constructed a number of possible biological and geological models within the framework of Biblical history.
Such alternative science has received much hostility from fellow Christians. The Christianity Today editorial sneers, “we don’t need another fundamentalist reaction against science”, as if mainstream science is the only game in town. Dr. Estelle contemptuously dismisses creationists as "preachers in lab coats", "charlatans", and "a caricature of religion" (2). He sharply contrasts creationists with real scientists, such as--incredibly!-- theistic evolutionist Howard van Till.
The PCA geologists go so far as to condemn creationists as obstacles to Christian faith:
"if the earth is old and Christians insist it is young, we risk becoming a tragic obstacle to faith for those both inside and outside the church…It is our prayer that no Christian would be such an obstacle!" (3)
This sounds very similar to Waltke's plea for embracing human evolution:
“if the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult… It would also be our spiritual death in witness to the world because we would not be seen as credible."
It is futile for Christians to solicit credibility by bowing to worldly science. Mainstream science denies miracles. Therefore, such a quest for respectability must culminate with the plight of liberal theologian Rudolph Bultmann. Bultmann, seeking to be credible to modern man, denied all Biblical miracles, including the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. Is that really where we want to go?
What undermines Christian faith is not Biblical consistency but, rather, unbiblical compromise. The wiser strategy is thus to boldly uphold the Sola Scriptura of the Reformation, proclaiming all that the Bible teaches.
And if that causes us to lose credibility in the eyes of the worldly intelligentsia, so be it.
1. This post first appeared as an article in the Christian Renewal of July 27, 2011, using some material from previous posts.
2. Modern Reformation May/June 2010
3. Ordained Servant Nov.2010, an OPC journal.