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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BenYachov - #28966

September 9th 2010

edit:

Making people choose between Evolution & a non-existent Adam Vs Fiat Creationist anti-evolutionism with an orthodox view of Adam is a false choice.

I’m done.


Johan - #28977

September 9th 2010

//Adam never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.”//

Why end there? Why should Jesus exist? Adam is pretty central to core theological doctrines within Christian theology, to believe Adam did not exist is to fill one hole by digging much bigger holes.

It’s shocking to see how far people at Biologos are willing to go.


Trevor K. - #28981

September 9th 2010

In my opinion, people who do not want to accept what is written in Genesis 1 literally are basically saying they do not believe the Bible. They might as well then go and be complete atheists.
Let me see: Everyone accepts that Genesis was written by Moses - wherever he got that information from. Jesus said that if they do not believe Moses and the prophets they will never believe [implying in Him].
Hence the simple conclusion: [A]theistic evolutionists do not believe Genesis 1, hence they do not believe Moses, hence they do not believe in Jesus.
Without Genesis 1 there’s no need for Jesus. Period.
Some of you will now cry this is hurtful and insensitive etc. I say steel sharpens steel, so rather be confronted with the implications of what it is you believe and repent, then go to hell fully comforted by evolutionary thought.

Nowhere in the bible does it state that God used evolution to create us. God spoke and it was so. No delays, no death, no suffering before the fall. People learn from a certain science that the earth was old relative to our human time frame - which contradicts the biblical history, so now they use that scientific statement as reference and authority to question the bible - and get tangled in a knot. Repent.


Trevor K. - #28982

September 9th 2010

People harp on about the interpretation of Genesis being incorrect and should be seen as poetic speech. This to justify their belief in evolutionary time scales.

Perhaps they should do things the other way around - accept that their literal interpretation of Genesis 1 is correct and that the bible is the authority on how the earth got created and THEN go and question the interpretation they get from scientific experimentation.

Remember that the results obtained from those scientific measurements are subject to interpretation once you’ve gotten you values and calculated ratios. You have to start making assumptions. Forensic science does have this unfortunate side-car that you cannot be absolutely sure that what you’ve deduced is 100% correct. Eyewitness accounts generally overrides those conclusions. The bible is exactly such an eye witness account - given by God himself. So if you refuse to understand Genesis 1 as a literal eyewitness account, you are basically making God out to be an unreliable witness and hence not to be believed. Then you might as well kiss the whole bible goodbye because you don’t believe the foundations.

I’ll say it again - without a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 there is no need for Jesus.


Jon Garvey - #28985

September 9th 2010

Trevor K. - #28982

“I’ll say it again - without a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 there is no need for Jesus.”

You can say it as often as you like, but it won’t make it true.

If you stand on a soap-box for too long, there’s a danger of not realising how wrong you are on logic, theology, church history, science and the nature of those you’re failing to listen to. That makes it hard to grow, I’ve found.


Dick Fischer - #29013

September 9th 2010

Hi Denis, you wrote::

“Ancient genealogies do not function like our genealogies today.”

Granted, the named Sumerian kings are a list of kings, not necessarily father and son relationships.  Indeed, when one city is attacked and the kingship is moved to another city it would be highly unlikely that a son was warring against his own father.  Only when three kings in a row rule in one city does an ancestral relationship seem reasonable. - and such is the case at Shuruppak before the flood.

The only genealogies I can see that are important to this discussion are from Adam to Abraham.  No one is suggesting (I don’t think you do) that Abraham wasn’t a real person.  And nobody is suggesting that Abraham had no parents and no ancestry.  By eliminating the published patriarchs, however, the inference is that whatever the chain of ancestors might be leading up to Abraham it contains people unknown and unnamed.

What you are saying, Denis, is that whoever those people might be they are not the ones named in Genesis, Chronicles, Luke, Josephus, and Jubliees.  On what grounds can you say that the Bible writers had no knowledge of their predecessors and that they had the audacity to make up the entire chain of events and people?


Rich - #29028

September 9th 2010

Dick (29013):

You wrote:

“On what grounds can you say that the Bible writers had no knowledge of their predecessors and that they had the audacity to make up the entire chain of events and people?”

No one here is saying that a Biblical writer would have no knowledge of *his own personal ancestors*.  The point is that a Biblical writer living centuries, maybe a millennium, after Abraham was not very likely to have reliable information about *Abraham’s* ancestors.  Nor did he need such information to tell his story.  He could freely make up names, sculpt a list of ancestors with a certain conventional number of generations in it, etc.  The conventions of ancient writing allowed this, and readers expected it, and there is no “audacity” at all.  You are manufacturing a problem where none exists.

If you want to look for possible historical connections regarding some of the names in the genealogy from Adam to Abraham, I have nothing against that.  Such connections may exist, and may shed light on the prehistory of the text.  But it is unlikely that such external knowledge will be essential for interpreting *the text as it stands*.  The Biblical writers are economical and usually tell us all that we need to know.


Jimpithecus - #29031

September 9th 2010

It is entirely possible that the people themselves were not made up but the details about their lives were.  The long life spans were usually used in Near Eastern records to give legitimacy to the people that came before so that their descendants would be treated with respect.  These ginormous numbers are characteristic of the Sumerians and Egyptians that I am aware of.  The numbers themselves are numerological and, likely, don’t represent real lifespans but rather families or lineages.  Even so, you have other peculiarities such as the case where the fifth name in the Sumerian king list, Enmeduranki, is taken up to heaven and given a tour.  Enoch is the fifth name in the Hebrew list.  Coincidence?  Maybe, maybe not.


Norm - #29032

September 9th 2010

Rich,

I think you make some valid points but here is my concern. It seems that Abraham who lived roughly 1000 years before David is considered historical and is important for theological purposes concerning teachings on faith. Adam lived roughly 2000 years before Abraham and was considered a forebear of Abraham and is considered by the Jews as the establishment of their relationship with YHWH.  Now the question becomes whether Adam or this particular man is indeed a progenitor of the first establishment in this world that didn’t know God.  There were already people all over the earth in 4000 BC and so Adam is not about the first humans but is about the beginnings of the first people of faith. The Jews were not interested in establishing a biological continuity as much as they were in establishing the roots of their particular type of faith.

continued


Norm - #29033

September 9th 2010

Therefore the Jews say there was this man they designate as Adam who is simply the historical start of this beginning. If Adam wasn’t a real historical man then when can we determine there actually was a true beginning of the Jews?  Is Abraham sufficient? There is a large amount of myth involved around him including the statement that he lived 175 years which we know was embellishment for theological purposes. How far up the ladder do we have to go to actually get a real live person? King David perhaps? I think we get too tied up with the specifics that are often embellished stories and forget that Adam is simply a man that the Jews identified as ONE WHO HAD CHARACTERISTICS OF FAITH THAT RESOUNDED WITH THEIR HERITAGE and they appropriated his historical reality to illustrate their problems in relationship to God.
Is it possible to conceive of this as a definite and practical possibility?


Jimpithecus - #29037

September 9th 2010

My understanding has always been that the first ten chapters of Genesis form a cohesive unit called the “Primeval History.”  Unlike the account of Abraham and those that follow, the stories that come in the PH read like myth.  They resemble the surrounding accounts in structure, language and general “fantastic” nature.  For example, after Cain leaves the garden and dwells in the land of Nod, he builds a city.  Who is he building it for?  According to the account, there is no one else around.

Going forward in the narrative, if the flood occurred around 2350 BC why are there no records outside of the Hebrew account?  Flood stories over the world do not corroborate the one in Genesis.  They all have their own survivors, some occur near rivers, some near lakes, all take place at different points in the past.  Why are there no monuments to Noah or his sons anywhere?  There seems to be a collective amnesia that this “historical event” ever took place.


Norm - #29042

September 9th 2010

Jimpithecus - #29037

I think that idea of the first few chapters of Genesis is basically correct however much of the rest of Genesis is also laced with mythical aspects as well.

Concerning the flood it seems that some OT scholars recognize that the Babylonian flood of around 2900 BC fits the bill for Noah’s and ANE flood stories as possibly the common historical event. If one notices in the aftermath of the Flood that there seems to be a common heritage understood with all the ANE peoples. In fact chapter 10-11 is a mythical creation account and division of the biblical nations and bonds the lineage of Abraham together with them.


Rich - #29043

September 9th 2010

Norm:

You’ve lost me.  We seem to be addressing two different questions.

I thought the question on the table was:  “Is it likely or at least possible that the writer(s) of Genesis 1-11 invented the genealogies running from Adam to Noah, and Noah to Abraham?”

I’m answering, “Yes.”

My understanding is that Dick is answering “No.”  I further understand that Dick thinks that most or all of the people named in the genealogies were (a) understood by the Biblical writer(s) to be real people, and (b) were in fact real people. 

I’m not an Egyptologist, Assyriologist, etc.  I’m a trained scholar with a great deal of familiarity with ancient literature, and ancient religious literature in particular, including the Greek myths and the Hebrew Bible.  And it’s clear to me that the ancients did not think it dishonest to invent genealogies and prehistories which suited their religious understanding.  If Dick thinks the Israelite writers would never have done such a thing for the period from Adam to Abraham, then I think he’s wrong, and that he doesn’t understand the ancient religious mind, or ancient literary conventions.


Norm - #29047

September 9th 2010

Rich,

And I agree that Dick and myself may very well not appreciate some nuance of the ANE mentality but from what I have read of Dick and his years of research he is not a novice in that realm either. He may be overstating things a bit and I surely have differences with some of his ideas and assumptions that I think he takes too literarly.

Rich I think the problem is that we simply do not have enough info one way or the other to make catagorical conclusions about the matter. As I stated above though that my gut insticnt is that there is a high likely hood of Adam being a historic individual who exhibited some characteristic of relationship with God that the Jews latched on to. It may not be much more than that. Sparse but historical perhaps.

I do leave myself open to being convinced otherwise.


Rich - #29070

September 9th 2010

Norm:

I’m not addressing the question whether or not there was in reality a “first couple” from which all human beings have descended.  If you want to call that first couple, for convenience, Adam and Eve, then I’m saying nothing either for or against the existence of Adam and Eve.  I was replying to one very narrow point, i.e., Dick’s argument that it is inconceivable that any Israelite writer would have invented a genealogy from Adam to Abraham.  Far from inconceivable, it’s highly probable, given what we know of ancient literature and ancient religion.

I’m not asserting the thesis of invention as an incontrovertible fact; I’m merely saying that Dick’s arguments against it are weak and unpersuasive.

I find Martin Rizley’s position much clearer than Dick’s.  For Martin, God essentially wrote Genesis (albeit through Moses), and God intended Genesis to convey essentially historical information, i.e., an accurate report of past events, almost to the last detail.  I disagree with that, but it’s clear.  Dick, on the other hand, seems to be trying to “rescue” the truth of Genesis, while indicating that it’s really a jumble of half-remembered Near Eastern history.  What spiritual truth can we learn from a jumble?


Bev Mitchell - #29088

September 9th 2010

Time for a break for Bio 101
I can see why someone looking only at scripture for divine revelation will insist on a real Adam. If that same person completely denies the possibility of revelation from any source other than the Bible, his/her view is essentially fixed. This begs the question of what Paul meant when he says in Romans 1:20 “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” If for a moment we take Paul at his word, it seems that we are expected to see a revelation from God in nature as well. .....continued


Bev Mitchell - #29089

September 9th 2010

Recently (last 60 years or so) our knowledge of what God has made has increased beyond all expectations. There is no doubt, for instance, that all living things share the same genetic code based on the same molecules. These molecules are made from a sub-set (a handful actually) of the atoms that exist in the known universe. The sample of these molecules that exist in each of our bodies are constantly burned up and renewed so that our bodies contain little of the same matter that we were born with. At the level of the body we are entirely creatures of this earth - this universe. We share these same atoms with all other living creatures, because all life uses the same ones. Furthermore, some of the molecules that our bodies use for very basic cellular functions are identical to those used by bacteria. Even some of our genes have recognizable bacterial counterparts. We are related to all living things. The energy centres of each of our cells (mitochondria) so closely resemble bacteria that virtually all biologists consider them to have entered early cells around the time of the appearance of complex cells (complex cells are required to build multicellular organisms like people). What marvelous revelations of the work of God. cont’d.


Bev Mitchell - #29090

September 9th 2010

What mechanisms did the Creator use to accomplish all of this? How did it all start? He hasn’t told us. But He has told us, in Genesis and elsewhere, that it is all His idea, that He thinks it’s good and that He sustains it. For many, the biological facts and the Bible, together, tell a marvelous story. That is, the story of our physical history and the creative power behind it. New physical/chemical/biological evidence only makes the story better. Now, of course, this only speaks to our physical reality - but it is enough to make us want to praise the Lord! Our spiritual nature is another matter. Biology dismissed.

An outstanding reference for further reading, with some of the best illustrations of molecules in situ ever published: Goodsell, David “The Machinery of Life” 2ed. Springer ISBN 978-0-387-84924-9


Dick Fischer - #29153

September 10th 2010

Hi Rich, you wrote;

“Dick’s argument that it is inconceivable that any Israelite writer would have invented a genealogy from Adam to Abraham.  Far from inconceivable, it’s highly probable, given what we know of ancient literature and ancient religion.”

Genesis in some ways falls into the genre of ANE literature.  If we look closely at parallel literature we can find some clues.  From the pantheon of gods certain ones, especially the important deities such as Enlil and Ea/Enki, were included and the subject of many epic tales. 
On the other hand, when they wrote about kings such as Dumuzi/Tammuz, Ziusudra/Atrahasis, Enmerkar or any other king I can find no instance where they were not on a king list.  The kings were real.

Without exception persons and places appear to be reliable.  Events could be embellished and gods and goddesses could be added as desired to make a good saleable story.

Genesis is no exception in that persons and places are not the product of imagination.  Where there could be areas of embellishment are in the depiction of events.  Did the God of the universe walk in the Garden enjoying the coolness?  Those are areas we could genuinely question, but the persons named I believe are totally legitimate.


Dick Fischer - #29162

September 10th 2010

Hi Bev, you wrote:

“I can see why someone looking only at scripture for divine revelation will insist on a real Adam. If that same person completely denies the possibility of revelation from any source other than the Bible,”

“Divine revelation” in Genesis assumes a little too much.  These cats knew their history, although I can’t say they had an absolutely perfect picture of it.  Some of the parallel literature from the Near East corroborates Genesis.  And no one that I know of thinks parallel literature was inspired by God. 

Adam can be found as Atum in Egyptian pyramids, as Adapa in a myth copied in various Semitic languages, as the name “Adamu” carried by a Canaanite governor and an Assyrian king and among Akkadian names given to countless Akkadian generations.

Noah’s epic voyage in Genesis has parallels in the same words and phrases found in Ziusudra, Atrahasis, and in the eleventh tablet of Gilgamesh.

As Semitic history Genesis has credibility, as the history of God’s interaction with his chosen people it has great value, as the history of the beginning of the human race it is no value whatsoever.


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