February 15, 2012

Do You Believe in an Historical Adam?

That's the question floating around the internet as of late. The issue has been brought to our attention once again with the publication of Peter Enns' new book, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn't Say about Human Origins, in which Enns argues that an evolutionary worldview doesn't allow for an historical Adam. As an interesting aside, I recall one of my seminary profs suggesting alternatively that theistic evolution was entirely compatible with an historical view of Adam, because there had to have been a first human being.

The discussion of the book and the debate over the historical Adam have, not surprisingly, begun to float around the blogosphere. Peter Leithart has questioned Enns' reading of  Genesis on the one hand and his reading of Paul on the other. Pastor and author Kevin DeYoung last week posted "Ten Reasons to Believe in a Historical Adam," a post in which he suggested this is a standing or falling gospel issue.

James McGrath has responded to DeYoung with his own post entitled, "Ten Really Bad Reasons to Believe in a Historical Adam," in which he comments on what he takes to be the problems with each of DeYoung's arguments. And to come full-circle, Enns himself has jumped in with his two cents on DeYoung's post.

What do you think? Do you believe in an historical Adam? Does an evolutionary worldview rule out any conception of an historical Adam? Or can you reconcile the two? Or does it matter? Must the Bible be reconciled with science? If so, how? How does this question affect the way you read Paul? What is at stake in this debate?

7 comments:

Craig L. Adams said...

It is ultimately self-defeating for Christians to take an anti-scientific view. All truth is God's truth. I have special no insight here. But, reconciling faith and science is a vital issue. I mean: as in life & death.

Matt O'Reilly said...

Well said, Craig. Thanks for your comment.

Isaac said...

I have absolutely no problem believing in an historic Adam and Eve. Evidence I have seen seems to support the idea of a single genetic origin for worldwide humanity, but frankly I see no compelling reason to seek to reconcile the Bible with science in every instance.

It does not make one anti-intellectual or anti-scientific to suggest that we don't know everything there is to know about the world from current scientific inquiry, and to appeal to the divine revelation of Scripture as a primary source for understanding the world.

Having said that, one also must be careful to recognize the intent of Scripture and not become such a literalist that one misses the whole point - that God is God; that he created all things; that only he knows exactly how that was done.

The Bible is not a scientific document, and should not be treated as such.

Shamby said...

I tend to think that Adam was the posthumous name of the first ensouled human being. I can't be brief and systematic, but I think this the most reasonable and harmonious position considering all the evidence among the various disciplines.

I think we need to give Scripture its interpretive due and read Genesis 1-11 in the way the authors intended. And Genesis 1-11, despite its roots in ancient lore, is at least intended to be historic in nature. At the same time, however, the events alluded to have been stylized and invested with theological meaning, so I think to read a literal Adam when the scripture was referring to our earliest venerated ancestor (and his relationship to God) is missing the point of Genesis 1-11's lore-like genre.

So I think form becomes important here, for how much historic value (in the modern sense) we give to Genesis 1-11. I do not see these interpretive steps as giving an inch to the Bible's truthfulness and trustworthiness. Instead, I think it protects Scripture from needless damage to its credibility.

Jay Arnold said...

Craig, you say that it is self-defeating for the Christians to take an anti-scientific view, and I agree, as long as you don't mean that every view that conflicts with contemporary scientific orthodoxy is anti-scientific. Scientists operate on the basis of presuppositions and assumptions just like everyone else, especially when it comes to imagining what took place in the remotest past. Science can only guess at this. It has no special authority in this respect, as much as it would like us to think that it does, for the past cannot be reproduced in a laboratory. And for evolutionists to dogmatize on this issue like they frequently do is the quintessence of anti-science.

ἐκκλησία said...

Isaac said "Having said that, one also must be careful to recognize the intent of Scripture and not become such a literalist that one misses the whole point ..." [ QFT ]

Well said Isaac!

The purpose of Genesis doesn’t necessarily seem to have been to record the historicity of Adam and Eve (whether or not they were historical figures), rather it’s purpose seems to have been to:

* point out why God is worthy of our worship (by denoting the creature/creator distinction);
* point out why man needs redemption (by recording the source of our rebellion against God);
* point out the consequence of that rebellion (death and rejection from paradise); and
* proscribe God’s way of grace despite our rebellion (Satan’s way of deception).

Essentially, affirming a historical ‘Adam’ seems to be incidental to the purpose of the book. I agree with Isaac.

Daniel McLain Hixon said...

I do tend to believe in an historic Adam along the lines Lewis suggests in his magnificent work The Problem of Pain. Adam would have been the pinnacle of theistic evolution, from which he also fell into a more corrupt state.

However, I am also aware of the universal and symbolic elements built into the Genesis story itself. "Adam" after all can be taken to mean "man" as in "mankind" so that he is sort of "everyone." This opens up a whole new way to read the story.