Saturday, June 11, 2011

Did Adam and Eve Exist? (Part I)

[Note: This is a multi-part series, of which this post is the Introduction.]

In this second post in a new series, dealing with the question of the historical Adam and Eve, I want to examine closely the supposed discrepancies between what science teaches and what the Bible says.

Let us start with the givens of cosmology, geology, biology and anthropology:
So much for science. Now let us assemble the unassailable truths taught by our Christian religion:

These are the core facts of Christianity. They are facts for Christians, because as St. Paul said just a few years after Christ's death and resurrection:
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. . . . If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)
What difficulties do the facts of science create for the facts of the Bible? First and most important, let us recognize that the Bible is not a book of science. One does not use the Bible to calculate the value of pi (although the calculation in 1 Kings is not as far off as most people summarily conclude). The Bible is first and foremost a book of revelation, not of science as such.

That said, revelation implies a revealing of truth - God's truth, which is eternal, unchanging and unassailable. The difficulties begin when we try to discern the nature of the revelation through the eyes and minds of ancient Hebrews, in words that predate our own language by thousands of years, and so must be understood through the filters of philology and translation.

A prime example of the difficulties in doing so is provided by the opening chapters of Genesis, the very first book of the Bible. Is the creation as there described factual, or allegorical, or somewhere in between?

If the Genesis account of creation is taken as factual, a number of difficulties immediately arise -- for example, how is the Hebrew word yôm, which we translate as "day", to be understood? How could there be a "day" of twenty-four hours even before there was a sun, and why would God create the earth before he created the sun? (Wouldn't the water all freeze, for instance?)

This is not to suggest that these difficulties cannot be surmounted -- there is an entire contingent of "Young-Earth Christians" who have no problem in doing so.

Others take the position that there is no need to read the Bible in the light of modern science, which was unknown to the ancients. For such people, science and religion are two separate and independent worlds ("non-overlapping magisteria", in the words of Stephen Jay Gould), which do not conflict because they contain nothing in common. In that way, each world can have its own beliefs without fear of contradiction by the other.

My own background and nature do not let me use such an escape. For me, Christianity teaches that the Bible is the record of God's revelations. And in the Bible, Psalm 19 tells us:
19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
Stated in another way, there are two books of God's revelations: the Bible, and the book of nature. And they have to be revealing one and the same truth. For the truth, as noted above, is eternal, unchanging and unassailable.

This desire to integrate the two books into a single truth is not what most people refer to as "concordism". It is rather, as Randy Isaac puts it, seeking "to understand the meaning and purpose of nature and science through the eyes of faith on the basis of the revelation of our incarnate, crucified, resurrected Savior."

With all of the above as background, we are now in a position to assess the latest responses by theologians to the scientific data that we have all descended not from a single human couple, but instead from a pool of between 7-10,000 individuals. That will be the task of the next post in this series.


  1. I've spent 35 years studying Genesis and I'm convinced that it isn't really about the origins of life as much as it is about the origins of Messianic expectation among Abraham's ancestors who lived in Eden, beginning with God's first promise in Gen. 3:15 that "the Woman" (not Eve since she isn't named until verse 20) would bring forth "the Seed" who would crush the serpent's head and restore Paradise/communion with God.

    You might find this interesting:

  2. Thank you, Alice Linsley, for that link. Denis Alexander, whom you quote, also wrote this article at the Biologos site, and I will be examining its theses in the next post.

    I do not presume to approach your long-standing study of, and intimate familiarity with, the book of Genesis -- and I heartily commend your blog to all thinking Christians. What I am examining in this series of posts is the claimed incompatibility between evolutionary descriptions of human origins and those set forth in Genesis.

    In the post you referenced (linked in my first paragraph), you state: "There is a great difficulty here since the very notion of evolution is contradictory to understanding of creation held by those who gave us the Genesis material. They viewed the creation as having a fixed geometry, exhibiting a fixed order, with fixed boundaries between species."

    In this current series, I will not tackle the debates over macro- versus micro-evolution. What I hope to do is to uncover an exegesis of Genesis which will make the arguments of the evolutionists by and large secondary, or perhaps even superfluous. The "conflict" between Darwinian evolution and Christianity is a false one, and is based on claiming too much for Darwinism and too little for Christianity. Because God can do anything in this world, the Darwinians are wrong in trying to limit him to their evolutionary box. But Christians also go down the wrong path when they assume the primacy of Darwinism based on the claims of science, and hence the need of theology to accommodate itself to science.

    Thus when you write that "Genesis . . . isn't really about the origins of life as much as it is about the origins of Messianic expectation among Abraham's ancestors who lived in Eden," I really have no quarrel with that interpretation, and indeed, I can support it. I am not examining Genesis to learn how humans came in to the world and fell into sin; Genesis already tells me how that happened. My only concern is to give Christians even more ammunition against the Darwinian materialists.

  3. I'm delighted that you are running this series! I look forward to reading Part II.

    Thanks for recommending Just Genesis. I ask your prayers that I can remain focused to finish the first manuscript- 10 Myths About Abraham - this summer before I return to teaching in the fall.

    The fixed order in creation has been demonstrated in many areas of science: genetics, astronomy, and physics and in the social sciences as well. "Fixed" means that there are boundaries within which there is what the ancients called "flux." This worldview is contrary to the materialist claim that there is a gender continuum or a lower species-human continuuum. This is a source of confusion and delusion.

    The biblical worldview allows for metaphysical tension between binary opposites (binary sets): male-female, night-day, heaven-earth, east-west. Not all opposites are binary sets, only those objectively and universally known. These were believed to be God's fixed order in creation, the boundaries which are not to be trespassed. Thus homosex and bestiality are regarded as serious violations of the divine order.

    Your readers might find this helpful:

    Keep up the good work!

    My verification word is "soresimi" - a hurting ape? :)