Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Finding Adam

The Dutch scholar Dr. Willem J. Ouweneel defends the traditional Biblical Adam, against attempts to combine Adam with human evolution, in his recent book Adam, Where Are You? And Why This Matters: A Theological Evaluation of the Evolutionist Hermeneutic (Jordan Station, Canada: Paideia Press, 2018, 480 pages).

This book addresses the question: if we believe human evolution, can we still retain the biblical message of Genesis 1-3? can we still salvage orthodox Christianity? Ouweneel shows that the answer is NO.



Dr. Ouweneel relates how, back in the 1970s, he was an active creationist in the Netherlands. At that time he helped to set up a creationist magazine Bijbel en Wetenschap and an educational institution the Evangelische Hogeschool. I first met with Ouweneel in 1984, when I visited the EH in Amersfoort, the Netherlands; I contributed a couple of articles to his magazine.


Yet, over the years, Ouweneel’s interests shifted, and he became less sure of origins. In his book De Schepping van God (2008) he wrote that, since science made it no longer possible to believe in a 6-day creation, he now opted for a figurative (literary-framework) view of Genesis 1. As to the age of the earth, and the extent that evolution was involved, he became a self-described “origins agnostic.” 

I noticed his changing views on Genesis myself in subsequent meetings with him and attributed this to his coming under the influence of Dooyeweerdian philosophy, which tends to limit biblical authority to the "faith" sphere, rather than applying to all academic disciplines. 

Over time, the magazine (renamed Ellips in 2001, and Sophie in 2011) and the institution he helped to found both left creationism behind, becoming open to theistic evolution. Indeed, over the last 40 years creationism has not fared well in the Netherlands. Ouweneel notes that he currently knows of only 6 Dutch people with doctorates in the natural sciences who remain critical of the general theory of evolution.


Happily, he relates how his eyes were re-opened upon reading recent books by theistic evolutionists (particularly the formerly conservative Dutch Reformed theologian Dr. Gijsbert van den Brink), and noting the huge cost to orthodox Christianity. His prime concern is that theistic evolutionists are no longer reading the Bible on its own terms but are applying a new hermeneutic, where evolutionary science dictates how we should read Genesis.  Scripture is made to say the opposite of what it actually says.


Dr. Ouweneel contends that Scripture should be allowed to speak for itself, and that Scripture should interpret Scripture. Doing that, we find that Genesis 1-3 tells us about events that really happened, and about how they happened. This is seen most clearly by the way that the New Testament treats the events of creation and the Fall. Paul and Jesus, in particular, refer to a recent creation, the direct creation of Adam and Eve, in a righteous state as the image of God, and an historical Fall that greatly affected all humans, as well as the rest of creation. 

For example, Jesus placed Adam at the “beginning of creation” (Mark 10:6; cf Matt. 19:8), Satan was “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44, referring to the time of the Fall), Abel’s blood was shed “at the foundation of the world” (Luke 11:50-51). Ouweneel concludes,

"Apparently, for Jesus this was self-evident; there were not billions of years between Genesis 1 and Genesis 3, i.e., between the creation of the world and the Fall of humanity—not even a few years.... This is a well-known argument of young-earth creationists, the power of which is hard to evade…“ (p.351)

Ouweneel asks advocates of Adam as an evolved hominid: if God selected some hominids from a much larger population in order to enter into a covenant relationship with them, why did he not simply tells us, like he told us of his selection of Noah and Abram. Why, instead, did he speak in Genesis as though he had created Adam and Eve directly, without any other humans around?

Further problems with an evolved Adam are how to account for the acquisition of an eternal soul and the features of God's image (e.g., uprightness) via evolution, how Adam's fallen image was passed on to his contemporaries, why death is a punishment for sin if death is needed by evolution to create man, etc. Ouweneel shows that many theological issues pertaining to the gospel are at stake


Some Concerns

Dr. Ouweneel rightly claims that it is inconsistent to let the Bible trump mainstream science regarding Christ’s resurrection but not on origins. Yet Ouweneel seems to be inconsistent himself in a few places. 

1. First, he chides Dutch Reformed churches for making an issue of women ordination, arguing that this involves no new hermeneutic. Yet, in the churches in question, both women ordination and theistic evolution are clearly driven by the same drive to re-interpret the Bible in terms of contemporary culture.


2. Second, Ouweneel’s prime target throughout the book is the notion that Adam was an evolved hominid. He claims that his arguments leave room for old earth creationism, although he prefers young earth creationism. Yet, since he cites Jesus in support of a recent creation, this must more than merely a personal preference.

Many of his other arguments apply as much to old earth creationism (OEC) as to an evolved Adam (EA). OEC and EA both accept mainstream geology and paleontology, with its millions-of-years chronology and fossil dates, as basically correct. Both agree that (soul-less) human look-a-likes existed before, and along with, Adam. They differ primarily in that EA posits that Adam was a God-chosen or transformed hominid, whereas OEC posits that God made Adam from dust. Both agree that Adam's Fall resulted in no physical changes in nature, other than to Adam's spiritual condition; fallen Adam was physically and genetically similar to his pre-Fall hominid contemporaries.

Hence both face the same theological problems of death before the Fall, transferring God's image and original sin to Adam's contemporaries, etc. OEC may perhaps take Genesis 1-3 somewhat less figuratively than EA, but only marginally so.

3. Finally, Dr. Ouweneel thinks highly of Herman Dooyeweerd and his philosophical system (sometimes called Reformational philosophy). Although Dooyeweerd had many perceptive philosophical insights, unfortunately he did not believe that the Bible contained any useful information for history or science. He rejected the view that the creation days happened in real time, and was open to the possibility of evolution. Most of his followers have bought into theistic evolution (see my post Dooyeweerd's Legacy). In North America, in the Christian Reformed Church (and to a lesser extent in the Canadian Reformed Church) Reformational philosophy has been a pertinent factor in promoting theistic evolution, and eroding confidence in the traditional reading of Scripture. Yet Ouweneel overlooks this negative aspect of Reformational philosophy.

In conclusion, this book makes a very good case for treating the Bible as Gods' Word, letting it speak for itself, and upholding the traditional reading of Genesis against evolutionary distortions.



Hermonta M Godwin said...

How does this book compare to Cornelius van dam's book In The Beginning? Are they complementary or can they substitute for each other etc?

john byl said...

Hi Hermonta

Thanks for your question.

Prof. van Dam's forthcoming book "In the Beginning: Listening to Genesis 1 and 2" is an in-depth study of Gen.1 and 2. It includes a discussion of the creation of Adam, but not of his fall.

Ouweneel's book deals specifically with Adam. Much of it deals with issues related to Adam's fall, such as the origin of natural evil, death, original sin, the distortion of man's image of God, the atonement, etc.

So, while there is some overlap, these books are largely complementary.