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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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Jon Garvey - #29913

September 14th 2010

@Norm - #29881

I guess the reason to look for something more is that, in Biblical terms, three principal salvation covenants works as follows:

Adam has one command, and being innocent has no inherent reason to fail, yet he does.

Israel has a similar covenant, but with the gift of Torah to give them clear leading on God’s will, yet they fail.

The New Covenant differs not in its universality (that emerges only after Jesus is risen) but in that it provides in itself the will and ability to keep it (“I will put a new heart in you,”) etc, which is fulfilled in the full provision of Christ’s death and the gift of the Spirit.

So if Adam is just the first to enter into covenant, and his innate sinfulness causes him to fail, the covenant with Moses could be seen to be doomed from the start, and God’s wisdom called into question. The existence of the tree of life in the story presupposes either innocence or grace which were in Adam’s possession but not in Israel’s.


BenYachov - #29917

September 14th 2010

>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?

I reply: I would postulate they remained metaphysically “animals” for the rest of their natural lives.  I would also speculate Cain’s wife would not have had a soul and would be the same but their offspring would have had souls.  There is a tradition in Judaism that after the death of Able, Adam & Eve separated for a time and each mated with unsouled humanoids (i.e. demons) and produced offspring without a nefesh(i.e. soul).  However, I believe any offspring of Seth or Cain with an unsouled hominid would have a soul.  In time souled humanity spread & took over the human race.  Adam is our remote original ancestor when it comes to the soul.  Like y-chromosome “Adam” (not related to Biblical Adam) is in regard to our Y chromosome.

We need not accept a biological monogenism we can have a biological polygenism with a theological monogenism.  Thus with all due respect I call bullocks on Dr. Lamoureux’s rejection of a real Adam.  It is not necessary scientifically & it endangers the doctrine of original sin.


BenYachov - #29920

September 14th 2010

Oh & to answer your question Adam’s sires never become his parents.

Only God is Adam’s Father.


beaglelady - #29928

September 14th 2010

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?

She teaches religion in a Roman Catholic High School.  Sure, she could have a secret life where she worships Satan at night, but then you could, too.


beaglelady - #29929

September 14th 2010

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.

This was your response to me when I said, “If people are interested they can talk to Catholic teachers and clergy in their own communities.”  So now I’m really confused!  I can’t talk to a Catholic priest and expect him to know the Catholic faith reasonably well?  You are the only Catholic who is Catholic enough for you? 

btw, I’m infallible just like the pope, and that’s why I never make misteakes.


Note:  only a male can be a sire.  The term for a female parent is"dam.”  And I’ve never heard of anyone who has a problem with referring to animal mothers and fathers.  Strange!


Jon Garvey - #29931

September 14th 2010

BenYachov - #29917

So far so good ... how does one then account for isolated human populations (Australian aborigines, etc) without considering them subhuman?

The supposed continued existence of pre-Adamic and therefore non-spiritual humans was a very real basis for some of the worst racism from the 18th century on. If your pure-bred Plains Indian, Congolese or Aborigine has no soul, he’s fair game for slavery, shooting for sport or any other abuse one cares to hand out.


Norm - #29937

September 14th 2010

Jon,

It appears that Paul addresses the Adam situation in Rom 5:12-20, 7:1-24 and 1 Cor 15 in which he lays out that the covenant sin of “death” (separation from God) begin with this first commandment/law given to Adam. He then says in verse 20 that this transgression was increased through the law given Moses. Adam was in the Garden and according to Rom 7:9-10 was alive (in relationship with God until the commandment came) and if not for the Law he could have continued in the Garden. Paul is making the case that Garden life is restored through Christ the second Adam through the spirit but it was necessary for the Law to be removed from the covenant.

1Co 15:56 ESV The sting of death is sin, and the POWER OF SIN IS THE LAW. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

I believe if we keep in view that Adam was the first man established in covenant with God and was not primarily a biological story then Paul’s theology makes much better sense. Therefore the Law as Paul states was added to demonstrate the utter futility of living in a works oriented Garden with God.

Rom 5:20 ESV Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,


Norm - #29939

September 14th 2010

Jon Garvey - #29931

That is exactly the problem with this scenerio. The Jews only take their covenant history back to around 4000 BC with the establisment of those who called on YHWH’s name.

Gen 4:26 ESV To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. AT THAT TIME PEOPLE BEGAN TO CALL UPON THE NAME OF THE LORD.

These problem children issues disappear and simply become the greater Gentile world in need of God when it is recognized that the story is a covenental one and not biological.


BenYachov - #29942

September 14th 2010

>So far so good ... how does one then account for isolated human populations (Australian aborigines, etc) without considering them subhuman?

I reply: You have to go far enough back to when all humans originated in Africa before mitochondrial Eve before migration to to other continents.  The idea Adam came about 5,000 years ago is simply wrong you need to go back at least 150,000 years or more.  Do remember humans must be defined metaphysically not genetically.


BenYachov - #29944

September 14th 2010

>If your pure-bred Plains Indian, Congolese or Aborigine has no soul, he’s fair game for slavery, shooting for sport or any other abuse one cares to hand out.

I reply: Even they have mere mitochondrial Eve (not to be confused with biblical Eve who they are not at all likely the same woman.  biblical Eve must have been earlier) so why not Biblical Adam & Eve? 

All unsouled humans have clearly been superseded by Homo Sapens Sapens Divinitus tens of thousands of years ago.  Problem solved.  It’s still not hard.


Norm - #29945

September 14th 2010

@BenYachov - #29942 ... “The idea Adam came about 5,000 years ago is simply wrong you need to go back at least 150,000 years or more.”

It would have been wrong if the Jews were writing about biological mankind but they demonstrated in their writings that 4000BC was the time of their faith progenitor Adam.

I think we are letting our great 21st century learning get carried away here by trying to concord it with homo sapaiens sapiens origination. It may sound good to the science guy in us but it has no continuity with Hebrew messianic biblical theolgoy.


Jon Garvey - #29950

September 14th 2010

@BenYachov - #29944

“It’s not hard” - unless the Bible text from which the Holy See derives its doctrine is taken seriously. The Tigris and Euphrates are not in Africa, there was not a neolithic culture 150K years ago and stretching 7 generations of genealogy over that time makes them meaningless.

To consider the Genesis account as a mythic account of the way things are is worthy of consideration because of the genre. To treat it as theologised memory of actual events in the ANE is tantalising and solves some theological problems. To treat it literally is at least an attempt to be faithful to SCripture.

But to make it a fictionalised reconstruction of an event that occurred in the paleolithic, followed by 146K years of salvific inactivity on God’s part until the Flood seems to create more problems than it solves.


BenYachov - #29964

September 14th 2010

>It’s not hard” - unless the Bible text from which the Holy See derives its doctrine is taken seriously. The Tigris and Euphrates are not in Africa, there was not a neolithic culture 150K years ago and stretching 7 generations of genealogy over that time makes them meaningless.


I reply: “Taken Seriously” is often code for “interpret fundamentalistically”.  I don’t have to take the mention of the Tigris & Euphrates literally or even the snake and the Apple.  I’m Catholic not a fundamentalist.  I just have to believe our first parents Adam & Eve fell nothing more


BenYachov - #29966

September 14th 2010

>To consider the Genesis account as a mythic account of the way things are is worthy of consideration because of the genre. To treat it as theologised memory of actual events in the ANE is tantalising and solves some theological problems. To treat it literally is at least an attempt to be faithful to SCripture.


I reply: What we have here is an ad hoc false either or fallacy.  It doesn’t have to be figurative biblical language = no Adam vs literalistic interpretation only = real Adam.  As the Church teaches “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).  The Book of Revelation uses figurative language but we can conclude both Nero (as will the future anti-Christ)was a real person & we don’t have to believe he literally had 7 heads.


Rich - #29968

September 14th 2010

beaglelady:

The fact that someone teaches religion in a Catholic school proves nothing.  How do you know that the religion she taught was in fact Catholic?  A classmate of mine once reported some of the rank heresies he was taught in Catholic schools.  The problem is that individual teachers in these schools allow themselves freedom to teach things contrary to the position of their Church.

And no, you *cannot* count on all priests to be familiar with Catholic doctrine.  Most priests are just like most Protestant clergy; the moment they leave seminary, most of them never undertake the serious study of theology again, and they forget a good part of what they learned as they get caught up in the day-to-day duties of running a parish and helping their congregants with real-life problems.  Plus, many of them considered theology “academic” and irrelevant in the first place, and those who became priests after Vatican II are often extremely liberal and have a dislike both of Catholic tradition and of papal authority.  If you get lucky, you’ll meet a priest who studies and reveres Catholic tradition and enforces the doctrines of the Church.  But you’re more likely to get a vapid liberal or one who finds theology irrelevant.


BenYachov - #29970

September 14th 2010

>But to make it a fictionalised reconstruction of an event that occurred in the paleolithic, followed by 146K years of salvific inactivity on God’s part until the Flood seems to create more problems than it solves.


I reply: First it’s no more “fiction” than the Song AMERICAN PIE is a fiction.  Granted Buddy Holly, Richie V & the Big Bopper are not members of the Trinity(Father Son & Holy Ghost) and they traveled on a plane not a train but that doesn’t mean the Song isn’t in fact a figurative story about the real history of rock and roll since their deaths.  Also I reject your claim there would have been 146K years of salvific inactivity.  How could you know that?  At best you can say there is no revelation or human record of any salvific activity that might have taken place but you can’t claim there was none.


BenYachov - #29972

September 14th 2010

beaglelady:

I will answer you tonight & explain your misunderstanding of what i am saying.


BenYachov - #29977

September 14th 2010

Norm wrote:
>It would have been wrong if the Jews were writing about biological mankind but they demonstrated in their writings that 4000BC was the time of their faith progenitor Adam.


I reply: Actually Jewish Tradition teaches “one of God’s days is 1,000 years long then how long are His years?”.  JT teaches “God created & destroyed worlds before ours”.  JT also teaches “6,000 years will be the time of the world then 1,000 years of rest before the end”.  It also teaches reflecting the Jubilee the world will be created & destroyed about 7 times or 7 X 7 times.  Either way God’s year could be 365,000 years long & depending on which creation cycle we are in the Universe could be anywhere from 2 billion to 15 to 36 billion years old according to Rabbi Kaplan(his original argument was faulty but IMHO there is enough to salvage.).  BTW I reject concordance as well but I believe in sacred metaphor & I believe in the harmony between dogmatic truth & other truths.  The Dogma of original sin demands a real Adam & there is no logical, biblical, philosophical or scientific reason to deny it.


Norm - #29981

September 14th 2010

BenYachov - #29977

The Jewish book of Jubilees gives us a running time table on their antiquity and so do other writings. The aprx 4000 year date can be verified from Jubilees or working through the genealogies. You are correct about the 1000 years and that is indeed metaphorical. Jubilees equates the Day that Adam died with an alegorical “Day of a 1000 years in Jub 4:29-30. The 1000 years are also equated by some early Christian writers as corresponding to the days of Gen 1. This is where the early church mistakenly assumed their 1000 years were literarl when it was allegorical.  Augustine followed these early Christans as did other early church fathers and applied the 6000 years to the six ages from Adam to Christ. So some figured out the 4000 years was accurate while others took the extreme literal approach and turned it into 6000. Next we have the Greek age of the church setting in in which much understanding of Hebrew allegorical literature was gradually lost and that’s were we are at today. The 1000 years were typically much less than an actual 1000 years and sometimes as short as 40 years. There is much more to 10X10X10=1000 than meets the eye as it is an indicator of eternal completion.


BenYachov - #29987

September 14th 2010

I should clarify Norm I tend to side with Stephen Barr & the late Fr. Jaki on matters related to concordance but I will accept some light concordance in relation to dogma..


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