Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Demolition of Adam

Did Adam really exist? Or is he just a metaphorical figure? (1)

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

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.

Theological Implications
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.


Newell Eastland said...

Very good! In complete agreement with your insistence on a BIBLICAL worldview.

Steve Drake said...

The demolition of Adam, indeed. The Church, following on the heels of enlightenment thinkers like Nicolas Desmarest, Jean Andre de Luc, Francois de Montlosier and others as 'savants' in the salons of Paris during the mid-1700's who argued for 'deep time' before the onset of Hutton and Lyell, capitulated to this notion of 'deep time', and accommodated Scripture, especially the early chapters of Genesis to fit. This prehuman history of geology, claiming the minds of intellectuals in the 18th century, and then the educated public of the 19th century, has become so ingrained into our collective consciousness today that people who question it are considered anti-intellectual and worthy of persecution.

I am so glad that you keep this issue in the forefront, Dr. Byl.

Anonymous said...

I fully agree with the previous two postings - PLEASE keep up the excellent work, Dr. Byl. Henrietta Klaasing

Anonymous said...

Me too, wants to chime in that this is a crisp cutting article and sound.

I would give citation to a couple of ideas from the Book of Deuteronomy.

The first one has irony in it in that what you have highlighted here with this article seems to be of the same approach as the Children of God's when establishing our Truth, but just from the demonic cosmic side when doing so.

Deu 7:22 The LORD your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you.
Deu 7:23 But the LORD your God will give them over to you and throw them into great confusion, until they are destroyed.

This whole idea of there being a "mainstream" scientific view that is taking root in the conscience of reason has been by historically slowly chipping away at Truth established by Biblical reason. They claim Adam historically being one big chief of a larger population and by so doing they are thrashing away at God's integrity as written down, "little by little". Make no mistake, the invisible side of this fight is to attack Truth subtly like a serpent, a little here, score some reason, a little there, score some more reason and over time what do you have evolving but the "mainstream" scientific view being espoused as the Truth so much so Ministers are buying it succumbing to the dark side!

The second idea for this comes from Moses' song and these words:

Deu 32:15 "But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked; you grew fat, stout, and sleek; then he forsook God who made him and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
Deu 32:16 They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominations they provoked him to anger.
Deu 32:17 They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded.
Deu 32:18 You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.
Deu 32:19 "The LORD saw it and spurned them, because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters.


Deu 32:30 How could one have chased a thousand, and two have put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had given them up?
Deu 32:31 For their rock is not as our Rock; our enemies are by themselves.
Deu 32:32 For their vine comes from the vine of Sodom and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison; their clusters are bitter;
Deu 32:33 their wine is the poison of serpents and the cruel venom of asps.
Deu 32:34 "'Is not this laid up in store with me, sealed up in my treasuries?
Deu 32:35 Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.'

If there was ever a time in history for us to take note of the Apostle Peter's words written at 1 Peter 5:5b-11, now is the time! What we can realize here and see from Moses' song is there are two rocks, one is the One True Rock, while the other is the rock that has its origins in Sodom and Gomorrah producing poisonous fruit!

Again, as another said to encourage you, I too chime in and say, keep up the good work as you, too, take your stand against the wiles of the enemy whose sole purpose is to pervert the Knowledge of the Truth, which, happily we who have His Faith agree, will not happen as it is His Faith at work in us that overcomes the world and its follies like mainstream scientific views being foisted upon us contrary to Truth!

Steve Drake said...

Dr. Byl,
Am reading through your book, 'God and Cosmos'. Have there been any significant changes or actual observations in cosmology to alter your conclusions in Chapter 3 concerning the problems with the expanding Big Bang cosmology, especially concerning the problem of the missing mass (the non-baryonic exotics like WIMPS, gravitons, photinos, axions)? Maybe you've posted on this elsewhere and I haven't seen it, and can direct me to those postings or articles? Thanks in advance for your reply.

John Byl said...

Hi Steve

That book was written more than 10 years ago now, during which many new astronomical observations have been made. Yet the main problems with big bang cosmology have not changed (e.g., accounting for inflation, galaxy formation, missing or “dark” matter, and dark energy or “Lamba”).

As to the missing mass, some new hypothetical candidates have been postulated but these, like the ones I mentioned above, have yet to be observed. The mystery of dark matter is still to be solved. See my post of a few months back:

Steve Drake said...

Dr. Byl,
Critics claim that you don't mention stellar parallax or the aberration of starlight in any of your posts, (see for example: (comments #117 and following in "The need for an informed worldview") yet I'm thinking you most likely have and I wonder if you might direct me to it? Note that I am being charged with expert-worship for referencing your works. Blessings.

John Byl said...


Your last two comments are rather off-topic, having nothing to do with Adam. Your last comment presumably refers to my post A Moving Earth? , hence that is where I shall copy your post and give my answer.

Anonymous said...

I've been away and not commenting for a while, Doc Byl. I won't ramble, but I've been rather busy.

Either way, great thoughts on the historical Adam. It's both amazing and ludicrous that so many reformed folks, folks who claim to take the scripture seriously, simply toss it out the window when enough unregenerate men come together and formulate an opinion to kick God's word out of the conversation about reality.

It's also bizarre how so many give away the farm to empirical naturalism in Genesis and somehow think that they can still hang on to the gospels.

The same faith in empirical naturalism that seeks disbelief in Genesis 1-11 seeks disbelief when it comes up against Matthew 1-11 or John 1-11 (and all the rest). No empirical naturalist believes in the deity of Christ, his miracles, or his resurrection...and without that there's absolutely NO gospel.

I don't know how someone like Tim Keller, who's apparently so smart and hangs out with other conservative Bible-believing men of God, gets away with his streaking inconsistency. How in the world does he consistently believe that Jesus was miraculously given life by God when he doesn't believe Adam was? What does he do with Romans 5?

And Tremper? OH MAN! I LIKE Tremper! His commentary on Proverbs is so great! Why? WHY?!