Books and Culture is running a symposium that asks if Adam is a historical person. The initiators were Karl Giberson, Scholar-in-Residence in science and religion at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, and Peter Enns, Abram S. Clemens Professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania.
The first round featured eight scholars setting out their positions on the question. Here is a recap of those positions:
Peter Enns concentrates on the purpose of the story in Genesis 1 and declares it was not to convey scientific understanding to people living in the twenty-first century. Rather he says,
“Israel’s story was written to say something about their place in the world and the God they worshipped. To think that the Israelites, alone among all other ancient peoples, were interested in (or capable of) giving some definitive quasi-scientific account of human origins is absurd.”
Karl Giberson starts with a clever quote from GK Chesterton:
“Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”
Giberson’s essay focuses on the idea that there is something wrong with people and this something is sin. He is willing to ascribe this to our evolutional development that rewarded generally bad behavior with survival rather than to a historical Adam. Genesis 1 is a recognition of the sinfulness of man and the story to account for it. To Giberson, however, the important thing is our sinfulness not Adam’s. He says,
“The original sinner has indeed gone extinct, but he didn’t take original sin with him.”
Denis Lamoureux, Associate Professor of Science and Religion at St. Joseph’s College in the University of Alberta, Canada calls himself an “Evolutionary Creationist.” He starts out by repeating a quote from his book Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution by claiming,
“My central conclusion in this book is clear: Adam never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.”
His appeal for this, he says, is scriptural rather than scientific. He says that the science of the Bible is consistent with ancient Near East views of cosmology and origins and thus is not intended to convey modern scientific principles or understanding to us. He says the message of Genesis 1 is that God intended us to be and we are not a fluke of nature. And more than that we owe God our obedience. But he believes these ideas do not require a belief in Adam and a piece of fruit.
Hans Madueme is Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, and makes the case that the existence of Adam is required theologically. He says,
“Without Adam’s fall, evil is part of the fabric of creation, and the holiness of God—the Creator—is thus poisoned, incurably.”
He admits that science does not support the view of a historical Adam, but talks about the theological problems of methodological naturalism (the view that nature is all there is) and how this “truncated” view of reality “does not appeal to the full evidence base” that includes divine revelation. Adam’s existence and fall is a requirement for all the rest of the story of Christianity. He writes,
“The tapestry of salvation history extends between Adam and Christ; take away Adam and the whole thing unravels.”
Harry Lee “Hal” Poe is the Charles Colson Professor of Faith and Culture at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. He takes on the scientific efforts to trace DNA back to the original “parents” and to call these parents Adam and Eve. Poe argues with this notion by questioning when “ancestral pairs” were actual human beings . He writes,
“Science does not yet have a definition for humanity that allows us to know when our ancestors became human.”
He also takes several paragraphs to show that a generation is not a standard measurement. That is, a fifth generation descendant from someone who fought in the American Revolution could conceivably be the same age as a seventh-generation descendant. So tracing back DNA will not lead to a set of parents. At the end of the essay, however, he also takes on theologians who stack too many conclusions based on unsupported premises. You might subscribe to some of these premises yourself.
John Schnieder teaches philosophy at Grand Valley State University but was a long time professor at Calvin College. Schnieder makes no bones about his belief that Genesis 1 is myth, and he assumes you believe this too (because even a middle-schooler could see it’s not intended to be factual). Despite his somewhat blunt and presumptuous start, his discussion about inerrancy deserves reading. He cautions against “hermeneutical assumptions” that can lead us astray. Push past his insulting beginning and see what you think about his arguments.
William Vandoodewaard, Professor of Church History at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, takes the stance that it seriously matters whether you take a young earth or old earth position and he is fully on board with the “literal tradition, including the creation of Adam and Eve, from dirt and a rib on the sixth day, a day of ordinary duration. ”
He believes that our understanding of Genesis 1 does affect our view of the gospel and our view of the Word of God. And he believes that there are alternative scientific views that can reconcile a young earth with the geologic record.
Finally John Walton, a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College in Illinois, explains how Genesis 1 fits into the genre of ancient Near East origins stories and how it is extraordinarily different from the other stories. He acknowledges that ancient readers of the Scripture believed that Adam had actually existed, but he asks are we expected to believe this? Is this belief cultural or theological? Because the fall of Adam figures so prominently in the explanations for the sacrifice of Christ, he believes that a proper reading of Scripture requires a real Adam.
As you can see, the range of opinions about this subject are vast, even within a small group that basically ascribes to an Evangelical paradigm. Where do you fall in this range?