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Is There a Historical Adam?

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August 14, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin

Today's entry was written by Tremper Longman. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

In my previous post, I indicated that there is a lot of figurative language in Genesis 1. The same may be said for Genesis 2, the second creation account in which there is a focus on Adam and Eve. Also, as we saw in Genesis 1, there is an implicit polemic against ancient Near Eastern mythological ideas. Listen to the description of human beings in the Babylonian Atrahasis. The background to this passage is a strike on the part of the lesser gods who are tired of doing heavy labor on behalf of the major gods. They insist that they be replaced. Belet-ili, the mother god, takes clay and mixes it with the blood of the instigator of the strike, then the text says:

After she had mixed the clay,
She summoned the Anunna, the great gods,
The Igigi, the great gods, spat upon the clay.

From this mixture of clay from the earth and the spit of the gods Belit-ili creates human beings in order to do the heavy labor of the gods.

We should read the description of the creation of Adam with this as a background because the original audience certainly did. Adam too is created from the ground (dust) and a divine component (God’s breath). Is this a literal description of how God actually created the first human being? Hardly. Even without recourse to knowledge of ancient Near Eastern literature, this description is clearly not literal. God does not have a body with lungs so that he would literally breathe into dust. God is a spiritual being. The description has other purposes than telling us how God created human beings. It is, in the first place, saying God, and not any other god, created human beings. Second, it is, in contrast to the Atrahasis, presenting a picture of humanity’s creation which indicates that we are creatures with great dignity (created from God’s breath, not the spit of the gods).

Again, the point is that Genesis 1 and 2 are not interested in the question of how God ordered creation and human beings in particular. It is proclaiming that God is the creator of both.

The description of how Adam was created is certainly figurative. The question is open as to whether there was an actual person named Adam who was the first human being or not. Perhaps there was a first man, Adam, and a first woman, Eve, designated as such by God at the right time in his development of human beings. Or perhaps Adam, whose name after all means “Human,” is himself figurative of humanity in general. I have not resolved this issue in my own mind except to say that there is nothing that insists on a literal understanding of Adam in a passage so filled with obvious figurative description. The New Testament’s use of Adam (Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15) does not resolve the issue as some suggest because it is possible, even natural, to make an analogy between a literary figure and a historical one.

This issue is an important one. It is wrong to challenge people to choose between the Bible and the science of evolution as if you can only believe that one or the other is true. They are not in conflict. It is particularly damaging to insist that our young people make this kind of false choice as they are studying biology in secondary school or college. If we do so, we will force some to choose against the Bible and others to check their intelligence at the classroom door. This is a false dilemma created by a misuse of the biblical text.

Tremper Longman is the Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, as well as Visiting Professor of Old Testament at Mars Hill Graduate School and adjunct of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of over twenty books, including the upcoming Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins with physicist Richard F. Carlson.

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Jimpithecus - #26688

August 23rd 2010

Martin, a theory is a statement of broad relationships that describe a phenomenon of nature.  It is quite true that young earth creationists have theories.  If I implied that that they did not, I did not mean to.  That is just it.  They have the theories but then use bad hypothetical models to test them or, as in the case of the RATE conference, make incorrect conclusions based on the data because they are FORCED to view it in a particular way.  Creationist theories are, indeed, based on an ideological leaning.  As Kevin Henke wrote:

“The RATE committee even has a doctrinal monitor to look over their shoulders to make sure that their “science” does not conflict with the official party line.  That is, a Hebrew language scholar will participate ” ... to make sure the RATE Group stays on course” (Morris, 2000, p. viii). “

It is a little like “rule number 1: the boss is always right.  Rule number 2: if the boss is wrong, see Rule number 1.”  Creationist theories are theories in the sense that they predict what will be found but when something else is found that doesn’t fit a strict literal reading of the Bible, they throw it out.  That isn’t science.

Martin Rizley - #26701

August 23rd 2010

Jimpithecus,  I disagree that creationists simply ignore findings that don’t agree with their prior expectations.  Consider, for example, the way that creationists have incorporated, not denied, natural selection into creationist theory as a mechanism of biological diversification and change.  Perhaps in the past, creationists believed in ‘fixity of the species’ based on a particular understanding of Genesis 1.  That is no longer the case.  Creationist biologists now widely recognize that the biblical term “kind” is not identical to our modern category of species, and that natural selection and other mechanisms, have played an important role in bringing about speciation in the natural world.  Certain philosophical presuppositions provide a philosophical framework for continuing investigation into the natural world, just as they do in evolutionary theory.  The difference is, for creationists, those presuppositions are explicitly biblical, based on a literal reading of Genesis 1-11 as historically true, whereas in evolutionary theory, the presuppositions are more deistic, based on the assumption that God does not intervene in the realm of nature to produce changes by extraordinary means.

Jon Garvey - #26735

August 24th 2010

@Martin Rizley - #26701

Martin - the dishonesty, it seems to me, is that “extraordinary means” are invoked not as the best explanation of evidence, but as a cop-out at any and every point where the evidence contradicts the hypothesis.

It would be legitimate to explain a sudden appearance of rocks with a uniform age of 6000 years as evidence of miraculous intervention. It is less so to explain an apparent age of 4.5 billion years achieved by varying methods as a miraculous appearance of age.

It would be legitimate to explain a sudden appearance of carnivores in the fossil record as a result of the fall. It is less so to claim that it happened miraculously despite the evidence (not to mention the lack of Biblical evidence).

It reminds me of when Guru Maharaj Ji was found to have undeclared diamonds in his luggage at the airport and said, “It’s a miracle!” The customs did not prosecute him because they were Deists, but because they decided his claim had dishonest motivations. Sad to say dishonesty can be motivated by piety as well as avarice.

Martin Rizley - #26747

August 24th 2010

Jon,  As long as the Bible itself is considered PART of the evidence of what took place in the ancient past—indeed the main evidence, since it represents God’s own inspired testimony regarding the ancient past—then it can never be said that ‘all’ the evidence points away from the creationist position.  The fundamental difference between creationism and mainstream science is that mainstream scientists do not look to the Bible as “testamentary evidence” of what took place in the past.  Many scientists who are theists regard Genesis 1-11 as inspired myth, without any historical foundation whatsoever.  Therefore, the only evidence they consider in determining what took place in the ancient past is the evidence found in the natural world, interpreted on uniformitarian principles.  They assume that God made, but does not intervene miraculously, in the realm studied by the geologist, the biologists, the cosmologist, etc.  That is why they are as ‘closed’ to the possibility that God intervened miraculously at any point in the natural world in the same way that many YEC’s are closed to the idea that some things may be older than 6000 years.

Martin Rizley - #26748

August 24th 2010

Jon,  Because I do not hold dogmatically to the earth and universe being 6000 years old, I do not hold to the view that ALL appearances of great age in the cosmos are necessarily illusory.  But unlike yourself, I am open to the possibility that God may have created at least SOME things with an appearance of age, and therefore, I do not see the creationist position as problematic to the degree that you see it.  For example, it seems possible to me that the fossil layers—at least in part— may well represent the order in which different creatures living in different ecological zones were buried by the rising waters of the flood, and that some of the features which would seem to mitigate against that hypothesis—such as thick layers of igneous rock ‘sandwiched’ between sedimentary layers—may have solidified at an accelerated rate due to supernatural divine action that we cannot fathom.  That way of thinking is ‘unacceptable’ to scientists who assume that God would not intervene in that way, since it would confuse later generations of geologists trying to figure out His works, but I remain open to the possibility that such sort of interventions did occur.

Jimpithecus - #26750

August 24th 2010

Martin writes: “Consider, for example, the way that creationists have incorporated, not denied, natural selection into creationist theory as a mechanism of biological diversification and change.”

They have indeed started to incorporate natural selection into their thinking but only as it applies to small-scale change or something called “rapid speciation.”  And every time they get ahold of the fossil record, or the geological record, they make a complete hash of it and, worse, when the errors are pointed out, they don’t seem to care. 

I just watched the “rapid speciation” video on AIG (as much of it as I could stand, anyway) and it was filled with an amazing number of half-truths, striking omissions or downright fabrications.  It made me so mad to watch it, I was spitting nails.  This is the kind of garbage that passes for “science” on their site.

As far as ecological zonation goes, one problem with that is that if you follow a stratigraphic layer horizontally, you find a variety of known biomes, including deserts, forests, and savannas.  You also find dessication cracks, footprints, hatched egg nests and other things of this nature.  None of those would be possible in that arrangement given a world-wide flood.

Jimpithecus - #26752

August 24th 2010

One great challenge that I have always wanted to put out publicly (a la Kent Hovind) is this: 

I want someone to find me a person who is absolutely convinced that the earth was created in the last six to ten thousand years, that there was a world-wide flood and that evolution has not proceeded the way mainstream science believes that it has…and yet is either an atheist or a complete agnostic.  I don’t have any money to put on the table but I doubt that such a person exists. 

Also, as far as appearance of age goes, why would God create some things with the appearance of age and not others?  How would you know what was and what wasn’t?  That strikes me as remarkably deceptive and mendacious.

gingoro - #26753

August 24th 2010


Martin writes: “Consider, for example, the way that creationists have incorporated, not denied, natural selection into creationist theory as a mechanism of biological diversification and change.”

One YEC that I correspond with says that all the modern species have resulted by evolution from the original pairs that Noah took on the ark.  For example Noah might have had one pair of cats on the ark but today we have house cats, lions, tigers, hyenas, panthers and on an on.  Remarkable how fast evolution can produce new species from the original kinds and I still wonder if time is deep enough at 4.7 Billion years, let alone a few thousand since Noah’s flood. 
Dave W

nedbrek - #26754

August 24th 2010

gingoro, that’s what the evidence shows us.  How many different sorts of dogs are there?  How many have come about just in the last hundred years (all the toy breeds).

Natural selection produces species by _deleting_ information.  After the Flood, the Ice Age (singular) put on enormous selection pressure.

1) Mutations are overwhelmingly negative or neutral.
2) Noise cannot introduce new information.

These principles should void any belief in (macro)evolution.  But atheists cannot admit God created life.

beaglelady - #26755

August 24th 2010

Also, as far as appearance of age goes, why would God create some things with the appearance of age and not others?  How would you know what was and what wasn’t?  That strikes me as remarkably deceptive and mendacious.

Yes, only a trickster charlatan of a god would do things like that. And there is no reason to worship such a god.  Of course you’d have no way to know what was old and what wasn’t.  For all they know, their charlatan of a god could have created them 20 minutes ago and implanted false memories. 
A trickster god on the loose would throw our universities, science labs, and courts of law into chaos. Has this deity really put away his magic wand?  There is no way to know that either.

nedbrek - #26756

August 24th 2010

The “appearance of age” is really a misnomer.  Things only appear old because of our assumptions.  In this case, the obvious thing to do is throw out our assumptions (uniformitarianism).

Jimpithecus - #26765

August 24th 2010

Nedbrek, the reason we have the assumption of uniformitarianism in the first place is because of hundreds of years of observations.  Read Davis Young’s The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church’s Response to Extrabiblical Evidencehttp://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=sciandrelavie-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0802807194.  Almost all of the 19th and 18th century geologists believed in a literal biblical flood.  It was only after a mountain of evidence to the contrary, did they abandon their ideas.  If you have an assumption that there was a world-wide flood and you start digging down into the earth and you continually find evidence that doesn’t fit that assumption, you start coming up with different assumptions.  That is what they did.  Uniformitarianism didn’t come about in a vacuum.

I just added a bunch of strange HTML code to this.  We will see if it works.

Jimpithecus - #26766

August 24th 2010

Nope.  Didn’t.

Jon Garvey - #26768

August 24th 2010

“... and that some of the features which would seem to mitigate against that hypothesis—such as thick layers of igneous rock ‘sandwiched’ between sedimentary layers—may have solidified at an accelerated rate due to supernatural divine action that we cannot fathom.”

You’re doing it again Martin! Such a finding in the column can’t even be explained on the “appearance of age” argument. Scripture says the flood waters went down and life went on as usual. There was enough soil left for live olive leaves to remain once the water receded, vegetation enough to feed all the animals and the same mountains reappeared again (having not been eroded away to form thousands of feet of sediment.)

But here you postulate an entirely gratuitous miracle simply to avoid the most obvious reason for igneous rock to be sandwiched between sedimentaries. If I had the temerity to ask exactly what purpose this unfathomable divine action served, would I be told it’s one of God’s secrets?

That certainly forecloses any possibility of doing further science on the matter, doesn’t it? Or any theology, come to that. BTW, what *is* the correct discipline for studying inexplicable acts of God in nature about which Scripture is silent?

nedbrek - #26769

August 24th 2010

It comes from an assumption of no miracles.  Read Darwin’s notes, or Lyell’s testimony.

Jon Garvey - #26772

August 24th 2010

@nedbrek - #26754

You have to run to keep up in this business don’t you? When I was reading YEC stuff just a few years ago one of the main objections to evolution was that Genesis “kinds” couldn’t possibly change into new species. If I didn’t believe that I was in flat denial of God’s word.

Now it seems they can form new species, so long as mutations aren’t involved. Presumably there’s been some new Biblical studies work to explain the change, and why one is OK and one isn’t.

But it couldn’t be true (could it?) that those books I read were *wrong*? I thought it was only science that keeps changing its mind.

The test for the hypothesis is this: name some species that have arisen from one species on the ark. Then we can get the geneticists to see if their genotypes differ only by different lost information or by different mutations. If it’s the latter, then presumably we must invoke supernatural divine action that we cannot fathom. But at least we’ll know.

Jimpithecus - #26774

August 24th 2010

Well, here’s the problem: science, ALL science, assumes that there are a set of natural laws (I use that word loosely) that govern the behavior of things in the universe.  The reason that we sit on chairs when we compute is that countless experiments were done to see if chairs did what they were supposed to—not collapse when you sit in them.  Implicit in this was an understanding of the laws of physics and materials.  Is it possible that God is keeping us all up by divine miracles every time we sit down?  Yes it is, but that is not exactly economy of miracles.  Both Darwin and Lyell (and others) reasoned that if the scientific enterprise was to make any sense at all, certain things had to be assumed.  Further, over the past 400 years, there have been no known examples in which a major physical law was found to have been violated.  Doesn’t mean it cannot happen, just that it hasn’t.  Such a violation would cause a major rethink and, perhaps a paradigm shift. 

Further, why is not possible for God to perform miracles using known processes?  Quail normally migrate over the southern coast of the Mediterranean.  An inopportune downdraft (for the quail, that is) and, *plunk*, there they are in front of the children of Israel.

Jon Garvey - #26775

August 24th 2010

@nedbrek - #26769

Conversely, Biblical catastrophism did not arise from a belief in miracles (or only inasmuch as the Flood was a divinely ordained event). It simply said that, since a worldwide flood occurred, it would be wrong to assume that only day-to-day processes had formed the earth. I read that in my old YEC sources too. That was a reasonable 19th c starting point.

Since then, catastrophism in general has been rehabilitated in science, and geological evidence for it found (as in Yucatan). But unfortunately evidence for a recent universal flood has not emerged.

The response of YEC, flood geology having not succeded in a persuasive account for the evidence, has been to multiply miracles apart from the flood itself (which is the Bible, at least) to all kinds of extra-biblical, purposeless, arbitrary or downright deceitful divine events. These are never the best explanation for the evidence, but are the only way left to explain the evidence if one wants to maintain ones theological presuppositions.

Yet such miracles actually deny two fundamental biblical principles: that God made an orderly creation for us, and that all Bible miracles are covenant signs. They are bad theology.

nedbrek - #26777

August 24th 2010

Jon Garvey (26768) “Scripture says the flood waters went down and life went on as usual.”

I wouldn’t assume that.  Life before the Flood was very different (huge insects, dinosaurs, ferns).  Afterward, these sorts of things could not get so big.  Something happened.  Also, the Ice Age came soon after the Flood.

Jimpithecus - #26784

August 24th 2010

If life was very different before the flood, how come there is no evidence of this?  If the ice age came soon after the flood, how is it that we have evidence that there have been four major ice ages in the last million years alone and evidence from a time that most of the planet was covered in ice (cryogenian period, between 640 and 740 million years ago)?  What does this evidence mean?

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