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Was Adam a Real Person? Part 1

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September 2, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin

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

Was Adam a Real Person? Part 1

The historicity of Adam and Eve is a critically important topic in the discussion of Christianity and human origins. Although BioLogos takes a firm stand on the fact that Adam and Eve could not have been the sole biological progenitors of all humans (see here), science does not rule out the possibility of a historical Adam and Eve. Indeed, there is a wide range of Christian perspectives on this topic, several of which have been explored here on the BioLogos Forum in posts from Tom Wright (here and here), David Opderbeck, Pete Enns, Daniel Harrell, and Alister McGrath.

In the final chapter of Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution (2008), Christian scholar Denis O. Lamoureux presents another important perspective, stating, “My central conclusion in this book is clear: Adam never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.” Also summarized in a slide-audio web lecture with a two page handout A and B, today's post is the first of a three-part series taken from Lamoureux's I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution (2009), in which he argues forcefully against the historicity of Adam, primarily on biblical grounds.

Part 1: The De Novo Creation of Life

De novo creation is the ancient conceptualization of origins found in the Bible. This term is made up of the Latin words de meaning “from” and novus “new.” Stated more precisely, it is a view of origins that results in things and beings that are brand new. This type of creative activity is quick and complete. It appears in a majority of ancient creation accounts and it involves a divine being/s who act/s rapidly through a series of dramatic interventions, resulting in cosmological structures (sun, moon, stars) and living organisms (plants, animals, humans) that are mature and fully formed.

Considering the limited scientific evidence available to ancient peoples, this conceptualization of origins was perfectly logical. As with all origins accounts, including those held by us today, the ancients asked basic etiological questions (Greek aitia: the cause, the reason for this). These included: Where did these things or beings come from? Why are they this way? Who or what is responsible for their origin? There was no reason for ancient peoples to believe the universe was billions of years old, and they were unaware that living organisms changed over eons of time as reflected in the fossil record. Instead, the age of the world was limited to the lengths of their genealogies, many of which were held by memory, and therefore quite short. Biological evolution was not even a consideration because in the eyes of the ancients, hens laid eggs that always produced chicks, ewes only gave birth to lambs, and women were invariably the mothers of human infants. Living organisms were therefore immutable; they were static and never changed.

In conceptualizing origins, ancient people used these day-to-day experiences and retrojected them back to the beginning of creation (Latin retro: backward; jacere: to throw). Retrojection is the very same type of thinking used in crime scene investigations. Present evidence found at the scene is used to reconstruct past events. In this way, the ancients came to the reasonable conclusion that the universe and life must have been created quickly and completely formed not that long ago. And this was the best origins science-of-the-day.

Grasping the notion of de novo creation is one of the keys to understanding Genesis 1 and the origins debate. This creation account refers 10 times to living creatures reproducing “according to its/their kind/s.” Young earth creationists and progressive creationists argue that this phrase is incontestable biblical evidence against biological evolution, because God created separate groups of organisms. They term these groupings “created kinds” or “baramins” (Hebrew bārā’: to create; min: kind). However, this popular anti-evolutionist belief that the Creator intervened dramatically in the creation of individual groups of plants and animals fails to appreciate the ancient mindset and its intellectual categories. The phrase “according to its/their kind/s” reflects an ancient phenomenological perspective of living organisms (Note: this is not to be confused and conflated with our modern phenomenological perspective. What the ancients saw, they believed to be real and actual, such as the literal movement of the sun across the sky. In contrast, what we see today, we understand to be only apparent and a visual effect, such as the “movement” of the sun). Ancient people always saw that birds reproduce birds, which reproduce birds, which reproduce birds, etc. They retrojected this experience back into the past and came to the logical conclusion that there must have been some first or original birds that the Creator had made de novo. Thus, the de novo creation of living organisms, such as birds in Genesis 1, is based on the classification of life in static or immutable categories, as perceived by ancient peoples like the Hebrews. More specifically, it reflects an ancient biology; and in particular, an ancient understanding of taxonomy. This biblical fact has a very challenging implication.

Ancient biology profoundly impacts the conceptualization of the divine acts that created living organisms in Genesis 1. Stated precisely, God’s creative action in the origin of life is accommodated through ancient taxonomical categories. In the same way that Genesis 1 filters divine events regarding the origin of the heavens through a 3-tier astronomy and the ancient notion of de novo creation (i.e., God using the firmament to separate the waters above on creation day two, and His placing of the sun, moon, and stars in the firmament on day four), the common phenomenon of seeing living organisms reproduce “according to its/their kind/s” profoundly shapes the events regarding the origin of life. The writer of Genesis 1 attributes the origin of the basic kinds of plants and animals to de novo creative acts by the Creator. In other words, ancient science directs the Holy Spirit-inspired biblical author’s conceptualization of divine creative activity. Ancient peoples saw that the basic kinds of living organisms around them never changed, and that these reproduced only after their kinds. It was perfectly logical for them to connect these two observations and then come to the reasonable conclusion that creatures must have originally been created quickly and completely formed. We would have arrived at the same conclusion had we lived at that time. So here’s the bottom line: Genesis 1 does not reveal how God actually created life.

To be sure, this idea is challenging and even threatening to many Christians. But the Message-Incident Principle sheds light on the situation. Accordingly, the Holy Spirit descended to the level of the biblical author of Genesis 1 and used his incidental ancient science regarding biological origins in order to reveal the central Message of Faith that He was the Creator of life. Of course, some are quick to ask: Did God lie in the Bible? Absolutely not! Lying requires a malicious and deceptive intention. The God of the Bible is not a God of malice or deception. Rather, by grace the Holy Spirit came down to the level of the ancient Hebrews and employed their ancient understanding of origins—the de novo creation of life—in order to communicate as effectively as possible inerrant, life-changing, spiritual Truths. The ancient origins science is a vessel that delivers “living waters” (John 4:10) to nourish our thirsty souls. To conclude, God accommodates in the Bible and simply does not reveal how He made plants, animals... and humans.


Denis Lamoureux is the associate professor of science and religion at St. Joseph’s College in the University of Alberta. He holds a PhD in evangelical theology and a PhD in evolutionary biology. Lamoureux is the author of the books Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution (2008) and I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution (2009). More on his work can be found here.

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hashavyahu - #28582

September 7th 2010

Jeffery Vaughn,

What Sumerian word does the Hebrew “toledot” (“generations”) translate?  I assume you know Sumerian, right?


Denis O. Lamoureux - #28646

September 7th 2010

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #28575

Dear Jeffrey,
What in the world are you talking about?
Best,
Denis


Dick Fischer - #28726

September 8th 2010

Hi Denis:

What I would like to know is how a non-existent, mythological, imagined character can father flesh and blood human beings.  This is not a theological question, it’s a question about biology and genetics.  How do the presumed pseudo patriarchs starting with Adam dovetail into legitimate, procreating humans by the time we get to Abraham, or David, or even Christ?

Even if we concluded that the method of creation was impossible, or Eve’s appearance from Adam’s rib was illogical, or the events depicted in Adam’s life are unreasonable, or that snakes can’t talk, or that nothing that grows on trees will cause a person to live forever, or anything else we could list as a reason to doubt the Genesis narrative is true, there still is no reason to infer that Adam himself never existed as a person.

Think about it.  If your Mom came to you and said your grandfather never actually existed, how long would it take to ask, “Hey, how did Dad get here”?  No matter how you try to dance around it if you erase somebody at one end of a genealogical string it is going to have a deleterious effect at the other end.  And now your messin’ with Jesus!


hashavyahu - #28833

September 8th 2010

Dick,

Why is it so hard to imagine a fictional genealogy being merged with a real one?  I would cite the Sumerian kings list as a perfect example, but you probably think that all those pre-diluvian kings with absurdly long lives were historical, right?


Norm - #28845

September 8th 2010

hashavyahu - #28833

Just because the Kings list utilizes long lives for primeval divinity purposes doesn’t preclude them being historical individuals. Do you have anthropological or historical evidence besides the attribute of long lives why they would not be considered historical?


hashavyahu - #28856

September 8th 2010

Norm,

Sure.  Most archaeologists don’t find any evidence for kings prior to the Early Dynastic period (hence the name), and certainly not city-states, and even more certainly not empire, all of which the Sumerian king list projects into periods preceding the Early Dynastic.  Even if you adjust the reigns to realistic numbers, the Sumerian king list projects an anachronistic idea of kingship into periods which archaeology does not give support for the institution.  The Sumerian list, therefore, likely becomes “historical” in the Early Dynastic period (Gilgamesh), but is close to pure myth prior to that, especially the pre-diluvian kings who were listed as reigning for tens of thousands of years.

So several lines of evidence can be brought together to conclude the legendary/mythic character of the first part of the Sumerian list: 1) absurd life-spans; 2) reference to a mythological event, the flood; 3) contradiction of archeological evidence.  This means that combining the mythic with the historical is not at all uncommon in genealogy.


hashavyahu - #28859

September 8th 2010

I just thought of another example.  The Hittite story of the Queen of Kanesh and the Tale of Zalpa (COS 1:71) begins with a mythological explanation of the origins of the Hittites in Nesha and ends with what appears to be a historical account of a siege of the city Zalpa.  While not including genealogy per se, this tale combines historiography with an mythological account of the origins of a people.  The argument that the historicity of the siege of Zalpa implies the historicity of the story of the Queen of Kanesh and her 30 sons and 30 daughters is no more valid than the argument that the historicity of David or Jesus implies the historicity of Adam.


Norm - #28877

September 8th 2010

hashavyahu,

Of course there is mythology in the Kings list but my point stands that this does not preclude them being historic but embelished figures. Embellishment goes with the territory and the ancient ages are divine ages typicaly denoting Kingship and not actual mortality. Even with out evidence found for all the Kings on the list does not mean they were not rooted in a history that has simply been lost. The point is that the answer could go either way but to catagorically state that there was no historical person is an overstatement which may prove incorrect.


hashavyahu - #28881

September 8th 2010

Norm,

You’re right; it is possible that those early “kings” were actual tribal ancestors, later mythologically magnified with long ages and anachronistically installed as kings.  Of course there is no evidence that this is the case, but it is in the realm of possibility.  Gilgamesh is a good example of this combination of history and myth; he is probably a historical person, but that doesn’t mean he slayed the Bull of Heaven.  Your admission that there is mythology in the Sumerian king list is precisely my point.  Just because the later kings are obviously non-mythological doesn’t mean that the earlier kings are non-mythological as well.  In other words, history at the end of a story, or genealogy, does not imply history at the beginning of the story, or genealogy.  Thus Dick’s objection that mythological/non-historical characters (the patriarchs) could not dovetail genealogically with later historical figures like David fails to convince.  Myth and history are often combined in ANE literature, the Sumerian king list and the Hittite Zalpa tale are two good examples. 

Can anyone think of other examples from the ANE or elsewhere?


Norm - #28883

September 8th 2010

hashavyahu

I think we have some basic agreements. I realize that when we are dealing with myth from the ancient world we are dealing with areas of gray to us. You will not find me agreeing with everything that Dick presents yet I think we can go too far in the other direction also. It is a delicate balance that may be impossible to pin down with levels of exactness.

The main premise for my adherence to the historicity of the genealogies is the theological implications that can arise but hey that may just be a personal problem for me that I need to work through better. However when Luke takes us all the way back to Adam through the guidance of the Holy Spirit my natural inclination is this is very important to the fabric and understanding of the total story and I’m not willing to give up that historicity without overwhelming proof. I would rather err on the conservative side until given enough proof otherwise.


hashavyahu - #28890

September 8th 2010

Norm,

I guess I can understand that, but I honestly don’t see what the big deal is if part of Jesus’ genealogy is mythological.  Luke simply connects Jesus to the WHOLE story of the OT, mythological beginnings and all.


Norm - #28894

September 8th 2010

hashavyahu

Again you may be correct but the good thing about all of this is I get to answer to my consience for better or worse.

enjoyed the discussion

Blessings

Norm


Dick Fischer - #28900

September 8th 2010

hashavyahu - #28833

“Why is it so hard to imagine a fictional genealogy being merged with a real one?  I would cite the Sumerian kings list as a perfect example, but you probably think that all those pre-diluvian kings with absurdly long lives were historical, right?”

How many fictional fathers do you have in your genealogy?  Remember, they don’t procreate well.

There is no external means to validate the list of Sumerian kings except the last three and maybe four (on some of the king lists) do appear to correspond with the last three or four pre-flood Genesis 5 patriarchs.  Noah is a lock with Ziusudra, Lamech looks to link up with Su-Kur-Lam from some external evidence.  And Ziusudra’s father (Suruppak/Su-Kur-Lam) links Ubartutu with Ziusudra, so the last three kings do appear to be synonymous with Methuselah, Lamech and Noah.  Enoch could possibly be Enmenduranki.

The Sumerians used a sexagesimal system.  As a result, the years recorded for the ten kings ending with Ziusudra were all in multiples of 60 or 60 squared.  Some have tackled the Sumerian numbers trying to reconclie them with what we would expect as normal years of reign but I haven’t seen one solution that works all that well in my estimation.


hashavyahu - #28908

September 8th 2010

Dick,

“How many fictional fathers do you have in your genealogy?  Remember, they don’t procreate well.”

None for me, but I don’t understand why you find it so implausible that a genealogy as a literary/cultural phenomenon can include fictional/mythical ancestors.  Here’s an example from Herodotus (2.143):

“Thus, when Hecataeus had traced his descent and claimed that his sixteenth forefather was a god, the priests too traced a line of descent according to the method of their counting; for they would not be persuaded by him that a man could be descended from a god; they traced descent through the whole line of three hundred and forty-five figures, not connecting it with any ancestral god or hero, but declaring each figure to be a “Piromis” the son of a “Piromis”; in Greek, one who is in all respects a good man.”

Surely Hacataeus had a real biological genealogy that lined up in some ways with his claimed genealogy, but I am just as certain that his 16th forefather was not a god.  Thus, he gives a genealogy that is at least partially “fictional.”

Oh, and I see no reason to equate those genesis characters with supposed kings of ancient Sumer!


Denis O. Lamoureux - #28949

September 8th 2010

Dick Fischer - #28726

Hello Dick,
Ancient genealogies do not function like our genealogies today.
Best,
Denis


BenYachov - #28953

September 8th 2010

Hi it me BenYachov I’ve been relaxing this summer.  But now I’m back.

I can’t believe we are still debating this & repeating the same old errors?  Adam was a real human being who was the Father of the human race from whom we inherit the stain of Original sin and there is no logical, theological, biblical, scientific or philosophical reason why any believer in Theistic Evolution should deny that important Divinely revealed fact.  Nor should we even entertain such an obviously false Fundamentalist Liberal view IMHO.

I’m going to repost some of my talking points.


BenYachov - #28956

September 8th 2010

“The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents” (CCC 390)

“no real disagreement can exist between the theologian and the scientist provided each keeps within his own limits. . . . If nevertheless there is a disagreement . .should be remembered that the sacred writers, or more truly ‘the Spirit of God who spoke through them, did not wish to teach men such truths (as the inner structure of visible objects) which do not help anyone to salvation’; and that, for this reason, rather than trying to provide a scientific exposition of nature, they sometimes describe and treat these matters either in a somewhat figurative language or as the common manner of speech those times required, and indeed still requires nowadays in everyday life, even amongst most learned people” (Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus 18).


BenYachov - #28957

September 8th 2010

The doctrine of evolution based on the theistic conception of the world, which traces matter and life to God’s causality and assumes that organic being, developed from originally created seed-powers (St. Augustine) or from stem-forms (doctrine of descent), according to God’s plan, is compatible with the doctrine of Revelation. However, as regards man, a special creation by God is demanded, which must extend at least to the spiritual soul [creatio hominis peculiaris Denz 2123]. Individual Fathers, especially St. Augustine, accepted a certain development of living creatures…..The question of the descent of the human body from the animal kingdom first appeared under the influence of the modern theory of evolution. The Biblical text does not exclude this theory. Just as in the account of the creation of the world, one can, in the account of the creation of man, distinguish between the per se inspired religious truth that man, both body and soul, was created by God, and the per accidens inspired, stark anthropomorphistic representation of the mode and manner of the Creation…..................


BenYachov - #28959

September 9th 2010

..................While the fact of the creation of man by God in the literal sense must be closely adhered to, in the question as to the mode and manner of the formation of the human body, an interpretation which diverges from the strict literal sense, is, on weighty grounds, permissible.” (Ott, pages 93-94, 95, emphasis added)-Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Ludwig Von Ott.

My thoughts…I agree with the CCC, Pope Leo & Ott.  But I would add pursuant to the teaching of the Holy Church, it is IMPOSSIBLE for an immortal human soul to come into existence by anything other than a direct supernatural creative act.  Thus all schemes that reduce the human soul as having “emerged” over time naturally threw the evolutionary process should be rejected IMHO by all serious Christians as nothing more than a base form of Pelagianism.  I believe it’s possible to believe in both a biological polygenesis coupled with a theological monogenesis.  We just need to accept Adam’s human offspring mated with un-souled hominids who where genetically like them but metaphysically different.  This view as precidence in Tradition.

http://www.aish.com/tp/i/moha/48931772.html


BenYachov - #28965

September 9th 2010

Denis O. Lamoureux,

You seem like a nice guy,  I have one of your papers on Genesis 1 & it’s very good & I wish you well as a human being but your view that Adam didn’t really exist IMHO, so completely wrong &  unnecessary.
Making people choose between Evolution & a non-existent Adam Vs Fiat Creationist snti-evolutionism with an orthodox view of Adam is a false choice.

Cheers.


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