The symposium sponsored by Books and Culture asking eight scholars to answer the question, Did Adam exist? continues with Round 2. In this round each scholar responds to the arguments made by the others.
The No-Adam Crew
Peter Enns, Karl Giberson, and Denis Lamoureaux and go after William Vandoodewaard and Hans Madueme who take a traditional, literal view of Genesis. Enns says of them, “By choosing to ignore or minimize the prevailing scientific consensus on human origins and generations of biblical scholarship in ancient origins stories, they have also chosen to leave the conversation rather than contribute to it.”
Giberson piles on with, “Biblical literalists unfamiliar with contemporary science are like theologians with half the pages missing from their Bibles: their conclusions are bound to be suspect.”
Giberson also takes John Walton to task about using Paul to support a historical Adam view, by saying, “But I am not sure we can assume, as Walton does, that Paul would have developed his theology in exactly the same way if he had known that the Genesis story was not history.” And he ends his essay with a call to readers: “I encourage readers to trust the science that tells us Adam and Eve cannot have been the characters described in Genesis.”
Lamoureaux writes, “It is disturbing to read anti-evolutionists pontificate about evolutionary biology when in fact most have never held a fossil in their hands, or worked at an outcrop, or published a refereed paper on evolution.”
In turn Madueme and Vandoodewaard defend biblical authority and call attention to some of the theological dilemmas that result from accepting a “no-Adam” view. Vandoodewaard claims, “The first Adam and the second Adam are inseparably connected: when we lose the first, we will lose the second. ” And Madueme repeats his questions about discerning which Scriptures are to be kept and which discarded. He says that Lamoureaux “counsels us to break off the husk of ancient fallible concepts to uncover the kernel of infallible theological truth. That sounds reasonable in theory, but on what grounds can the reader discern what part of Scripture is husk vs. kernel?” And he connects this question to the central doctrine of Christianity:
“We’re told that we can’t affirm a historical Adam because it’s scientifically unbelievable, but why trust Paul on the resurrection when that, too, is scientifically unbelievable? “
A Mix of Views
Harry Poe takes issue with nearly everyone. He starts with Giberson’s view of Scripture as “received wisdom from the past,” and he discusses some of the singular aspects of the biblical story in comparison to other views of the ancient world—particularly a linear view of time instead of a cyclical view. He also maintains that there being no real Adam and Eve poses problems not for the truth of the Bible but for Augustinian theology.
John Schneider introduces a very big theological issue: namely the source of sin. He asserts that without Adam, the source of sin lies on God himself. But he goes on to explain:
“Are such suggestions theologically poisonous? Not if we consider that a morally perfect divine Being might well wish to create higher, second-order goods that are possible only via first-order evils.”
Finally John Walton closes out with a recap of what he liked in each essay and what he had concerns about. And in the end he calls for charity toward those with whom we disagree.
Which Way Lies Madness?
The scholars seem to fall into one of three groups, and one is not sure if any group offers the hope of preserving a high view of Scripture and a reasonable view of science.
The first group says that to preserve the integrity of the Bible and its message about Christ, it is imperative to stick with the plain meaning of Genesis 1, even if some of the Genesis 1 statements seem to contradict science. Otherwise, you will find yourself undermining the whole foundation of Biblical trustworthiness.
The second group says, oh, no, you can still believe the Bible is trustworthy without having to make Genesis 1 say things that flatly contradict scientific truth. You just must understand the context of the Scripture and interpret it the way it was meant to be interpreted. Genesis 1 is not intended to be read literally in many cases; though in those cases where doctrine rests upon a literal reading, it was meant to be taken so.
The third group says, actually the first group is correct in that they understand what Genesis 1 is saying; it’s just that Genesis 1 is not correct in what it describes. And thus many doctrines will have to be reevaluated in the light of what science tells us.
I tend to agree with the second group, but I sympathize with the first group and their fears of doctrinal decay. I could envision we finding ourselves following a leader of the third group as he convinces us to chuck Adam and the doctrine of original sin and Paul’s mistaken analogies about Adam and Christ. And as we trek with him to the sunny uplands of scientific truth, he urges us to cast aside our fears and to rest assured that all will be well. But eventually as the path becomes darker and narrower, he turns to us and reveals that science has made him doubt the physical resurrection of Christ and the need for a bloody sacrifice. And as we watch our leader plod on without us and we look dispiritedly for some shred of faith to hang on to, those in the first group say “I told you so.” At what point have you reevaluated so many doctrines that there is really nothing left of the original reason for belief?