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 - #29474

September 11th 2010

Dick,

“Do you really think all the scribes and chains of scribes could have cooperated in some gigantic hoax to invent non-existent kings?  And for what purpose?”

Hoax is probably not the right word, but the purpose seems pretty obvious: royal propaganda.  A connection to an illustrious mythological past adds legitimacy to the current dynasty.  In fact, I would assume this was the reason for the kinglist whether the pre-diluvian kings are mythological or not.


Dick Fischer - #29673

September 12th 2010

hashavyahu wrote:

“Hoax is probably not the right word, but the purpose seems pretty obvious: royal propaganda.  A connection to an illustrious mythological past adds legitimacy to the current dynasty.”.

A little skeptism in life is good, but in terms of likelihood, what are the odds?  Getting scribes in different cities to generate similar but totally erroneous kinglists for some hidden purpose is far less likely and far more difficult to do than to let them function autonomously and with self respect..  Do you think such a thing would be possible to coerce honorable scribes to cooperate in some dishonest scheme for some dubious purpose?  And then you would have Moses buy into it?

In accordance with Occam’s razor the simplest solution is probably right.  And the simplest is that scribes recorded an honest chain of kings and Moses recorded an homest chain of patriarchs,  especially in the absence of any evidence to the contrary.


Pete Enns - #29678

September 12th 2010

Dick,

“Royal propaganda” is not “dishonesty.”  And such a thing is quite common in an the ANE, even ubiquitous.


beaglelady - #29692

September 12th 2010

If we accept both Evolution & an Old Earth there is no scientific, logical, rational, philosophical or Biblical reason to deny the existence of a real Adam.

I have a Roman Catholic friend who holds a PhD and teaches religion in a high school in NYC.  I asked her if Roman Catholics had to believe in a literal Adam.  She replied, “No, we aren’t fundamentalists!”


BenYachov - #29732

September 13th 2010

beaglelady,
  Pius XII, the successor to St Peter the Apostle says we do & in the Catholic Faith that gives him the controlling vote since the Holy Spirit protects him from formally teaching error when he teaches the doctrines of the Faith to the Church.  Mere Catholic school teachers have no such protection.  Also Vatican One said even when the Pope isn’t teaching infallibly we must give assent to those teachings. 

I’ve also known “Catholics” who hold a PhD’s and teach religion who have claimed Abortion & birth control are moral if “your conscience says so” & those who disagree are “fundamentalists” which is pure Barbara Streisand!  One might as well deny the Trinity & be done with it.  If you can cite me a formal teaching document issued by the Church Authority or the Pope that would be convincing.  Argument from an anonymous “PhD” authority is not convincing especially to those of us who have studied Catholic Doctrine for 20 years.


BenYachov(jim Scott) - #29735

September 13th 2010

beaglelady,

Additionally the FUNDAMENTALS OF DOGMA by Ott says The first man was created by God. (De Fide) and Our first parents in Paradise sinned grievously through transgression of the Divine probationary commandment.(De Fide).  Of course anyone who has read Ott knows when he uses the label De Fide  at the end of a doctrinal formulation it is to be regarded as an Infallible statement of Faith.  Which he documents by citing the appropriate Magisterial ruling handed down formally by the church(in this case Trent & Lateran IV).  Thus we can conclude Adam literally existed otherwise God created nothing & nobody fell.


BenYachov - #29737

September 13th 2010

Finally beaglelady,

Even those who have tried to reconcile Polygenism with Catholicism speculate that evolution brought about not a single couple but many men, who constituted the primitive human population. One of these, considered the leader of mankind, rebelled against God and that this sin passed on to all men, even those alive who did not yet know sin(i.e. Roberto Masi, L’Osservatore Romano, 17 April 1969) and thus even in that scenario there is a need for a real Adam.

Enchiridion Symbolorum, Thirtieth Edition, 1954, paragraph 2280 states Adam & Eve did not have parents who proceeded them but as even Traditionalist Catholic Priests with Creationist sympathies like Fr. Brian Harrison admit if Adam & Eve came from souless biological Sires they wouldn’t really be their parents because they have no souls and Adam & Eve would not own them the honor divine law affords to parents.  God who created their souls would be their only true parent. 

Hope this clears this up.


hashavyahu - #29761

September 13th 2010

Dick,

I don’t think the various scribal schools “functioned autonomously” at all.  Where did you get that idea?  They relied on royal and temple support for their existence.  I don’t think occam’s razor or an appeal to the “honor” of ancient scribes helps you here.

And there is evidence against the kings list that i have already cited including the conclusions of archaeologists about the emergence of kings in the early dynastic period, but you have chosen to ignore this.


Dick Fischer - #29771

September 13th 2010

Hi Pete, you wrote:

“Royal propaganda” is not “dishonesty.”  And such a thing is quite common in an the ANE, even ubiquitous.”

In the dedication of temples you see boasting and stories about Gilgamesh and Dumuzi are genuine flights of fancy, but lists of kings as a practical measure would be extremely difficult to falsify.  Everybody in your city and the country would know the king and the line of kings.  It would be like Obama trying to change our list of past presidents.  Who would buy it?

Hi hashavyahu, you wrote:

“And there is evidence against the kings list that i have already cited including the conclusions of archaeologists about the emergence of kings in the early dynastic period, but you have chosen to ignore this.”

ED1 is post flood.  The list of kings I was referring to are the pre-flood kings who lived concurrently with the Genesis 5 patriarchs.  Indeed, some of the kings were patriarchs.


Rich - #29777

September 13th 2010

Dick:

Everyone would know the line of kings for a certain number of generations back.  But quite often the origins of ancient civilizations were unknown, or very unclearly known, to those ancient civilizations themselves.  The verifiable lists of monarchs usually went back only so far.  After that, legend and the imagination of poets often took over.  Thus, the reliable list of names was often supplemented by completely unreliable names of the remotest ancestors.  It happened in Athens, and it could happen anywhere.  For all your library research, you have missed this.

Your choice of autodidacticism has not served you well.  Learned professors of ancient history and religion are not dogmatists conspiring to crush your theories.  They are well-trained people who could help you to refine them, eliminating confusions and armchair speculations and making them better.  But so far, you have been unwilling to submit to the discipline of formal study, learning the necessary ancient languages, history, literary hermeneutics, etc. in a controlled environment where your progress can be verified.  If you want to be taken seriously, why don’t you bite the bullet and go back to school for a proper apprenticeship in the field?


Ariel - #29779

September 13th 2010

Dick:

How would you reconcile your assertion that Adam was the first of the Semites with the Fall? Would you argue that Semites didn’t eat the meat of animals until the injunction in Genesis 9, or that similarly animals didn’t fear human predation, until ch. 9 also?


Norm - #29788

September 13th 2010

Rich,

I really appreciate your desire for confirmation of Dick’s ideas as I do as well. However I think you overstate the usefulness to a degree. Any of us that are involved in Biblical studies as we dig deeper already understand that scholars are of such divergent opinions on so many subjects that one has to become an expert in the divergent opinions in order to have scholars recognize ones disagreement with them. It often becomes an amusing dog chasing its own tail in the academic world.  As an example if one wants to determine when Genesis was written you will have no problem finding every variation imaginable amongst scholars as they are still trying to weed out the Documentary Hypothesis Theory approach that has been with us for well over a century. So which group of scholars is going to be the ones we currently listen to only to find out there are better ideas discovered as we go forward? 

The American way is that anyone can compete in the arena of ideas and many a well trained amateur has brought worthy ideas to the forefront and made contributions. I expect the desire to determine Adam’s historicity will eventually lead scholars to deal with Dick’s issues in some manner.


Dick Fischer - #29790

September 13th 2010

Hi Rich:

Some would think that a 71 year-old man with a master’s degree in theology who has spent over a quarter century researching in the Library of Congress and has had numerous articles published in Christian publications and written two books on the subject would be qualified.  If that somehow falls short of your expectations of what you think qualifies someone to develop a data-resplendant theory that serves to reconcile some of the thorniest Bible vs. science difficulties that have remained unsolved for 2,000 years, then find someone else.

I can think of lots of scholars and theologians better qualified than me.  I sent over two thousand emails to theology professors all over the country and got nothing in response.  Apparently they have better things to do, courses to teach, exams to grade, you know, important stuff.  But if you know of some theologian willing to humble himself or herself and analyze my evidence, by all means, give him or her my web site: http://www.historicalgenesis.com


Dick Fischer - #29792

September 13th 2010

Hi Ariel, you wrote:
:
“How would you reconcile your assertion that Adam was the first of the Semites with the Fall? Would you argue that Semites didn’t eat the meat of animals until the injunction in Genesis 9, or that similarly animals didn’t fear human predation, until ch. 9 also?”

God’s plan for salvation is not carefully spelled out on the basis of what if Adam had remained obedient and resisted temptation.  So we really are in the dark about that.  I have an idea of how it might have worked but there is no way to validate exactly how non-Adamic civilizations would have been led to God.

The “fall” is Adam’s failure to live up to what God expected from him.  I presume meat was part of the diet of all living in Mesopotamia including Adam’s generations as Abel was raising flocks, some of which were for sacrifice, but there is no reason to think meat wasn’t eaten.


Rich - #29807

September 13th 2010

Dick:

My point is that if you had invested 6 to 9 of those 25 years getting proper training—a Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical Studies or Ancient Near Eastern Studies or even Classical Studies, followed by a Master’s and preferably a Ph.D. in Ancient Near Eastern or Biblical Studies— the fruits would have shown up in your final product, and you wouldn’t be ignored by all these professors.  Whatever possessed you to think that you could master a huge and complex field of study all on your own, without the guidance of teachers?  Would you have tried to teach yourself nuclear physics or macroeconomics by reading for 25 years in a library?  I cannot comprehend your learning strategy.


beaglelady - #29811

September 13th 2010

BenYachov,

I don’t want to argue Catholic doctrine with you.  I just want any lurkers out there to know that there are faithful Catholics out there, in good standing with their church, who don’t take things quite the way you do. If people are interested they can talk to Catholic teachers and clergy in their own communities.  For security reasons, obviously I can’t reveal my friend’s name. 


btw, what is this business you mention about Adam & Eve coming from souless biological Sires?


BenYachov - #29865

September 13th 2010

>I don’t want to argue Catholic doctrine with you.  I just want any lurkers out there to know that there are faithful Catholics out there, in good standing with their church, who don’t take things quite the way you do.

I reply:  But how do you know this person is a “faithful Catholic” (at least on the level of faithfulness to Sacred Doctrine)especially since you most likely don’t know enough Catholic doctrine to judge?

> If people are interested they can talk to Catholic teachers and clergy in their own communities.  For security reasons, obviously I can’t reveal my friend’s name. 

I reply: Rather they should read the Catachesm of the Catholic Church and writtings of the Popes not to mention good theology manuels like those by Ott or Dentzinger.  In my person experience “Catholic teachers” at best give a very dummed down understanding of the Faith.  OTOH in my personal experience most religous education stops for Catholics at age 13.  After confirmation.  So it is little wonder your average Catholic is a religous know-nothing.


BenYachov - #29867

September 14th 2010

beaglelady wrote:
>btw, what is this business you mention about Adam & Eve coming from souless biological Sires?

Well Christian/Catholic Tradition teaches us Adam & Eve had no human Father and Mother that is no human parents.  If one believes in a Creationist view that takes the forming of lets say Adam literally & directly from the “dust of the ground” that solves that rather neatly.  However if one is a Theistic Evolutionist then what is one to do?  Obviously any Adam you would have in fact had a “Father & Mother” by definition.  But not really, since in Catholic teaching & metaphysics a Father let say, is far more than the guy who donates the sperm cell.  A Father is a spiritual thing & that is primary. 
For example Abraham is the Father of all believers even of Gentiles who are in Christ even though they do not literally descend from him.  When God created Adam in the Theistic Evolutionist scheme he likely infused a hominid animal with a soul and made him man.  Of course the creatures who gave
Adam’s body birth are not his parents in the metaphysical religious sense.  Only God & humans (who have souls) can be parents.  Animals have sires not parents in the true sense.


Jon Garvey - #29880

September 14th 2010

@BenYachov - #29867

Whilst I’m not a Catholic, and so sit uncomfortably with Papal statements as binding for all time in a moving scientific situation, your last point has significant explanatory power.

Postulating some kind of “spiritual Adam” taken from “pre-spiritual” H. sapiens stock, for such a person to be given relationship with God, eternal life and whatever other endowments we may include would be every bit as much an act of “new creation” as inclusion into Christ is.

In the latter case, though we are called to honour our parents, win over our spouses etc there is still, in the NT, a sense of separation from the old life to the extent that the early Church was thought of as a separate race from “Jew” and “Greek”.

The silence of Genesis about other humans, apart from pointers like Cain’s wife, is then entirely understandable. “Man in God” is a fundamental disconnect with “Clever Hominid”. The same is even true for “Man fallen from God” as a fallen king is very different from a born peasant.

The difficult problem is that, notwithstanding the above, humans are dealt with as sinful, spiritual beings from Genesis on - do Adam’s sires become, after the fall, his parents, and if so how?


Norm - #29881

September 14th 2010

May I suggest since we are created as new creatures in Christ that it was not any different for Adam, since when we put on Christ we enter into a new relationship with God from the old man.  I don’t believe the story is meant to reflect a physical change in any way but was a covenant status being entered and the Fall was due to our mortal nature not being up to the task of sustaining the relationship. I think we need to be careful with the poetic language of Genesis and not read the physical into what is figurative describing a covenantal establishment and failure.


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