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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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Dick Fischer - #30031

September 14th 2010

BenYachov wrote:

‘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.’.

Why have you not considered that the idea mankind sprang from a particular person whom Genesis places in Mesopotamia in the Neolithic Period is wrong?

What forces you to align Adam with the beginning of our species in Africa 200,000 years ago?

That’s the only idea I can see that cannot possibly work.  A real Adam at about 7,000 years ago will work.  A non-existant Adam will work even though I don’t like it.  But a flesh and blood Adam at the junction of Homo hiedelbergensis and Homo sapiens doesn’t work by the Bible’s own description of Adam’s Neolithic surroundings.

In order to believe Genesis you have to disbelieve Genesis?  Where does that get you?


Bill Hromada - #30040

September 14th 2010

because you cannot comprhend the great power of God and all He created you are trying to add your non proven theories to the bible. The Bible is literal and true. Jesus acknowleged and believed the old testament as true. The more you dabble in the art of science which God created you see the truth and veer away looking for something else. Realiz and accept His lordship in your life and the Spirit will guide you..


Bill Hromada - #30043

September 14th 2010

Trevor,
Amen!!!!!


BenYachov - #30064

September 14th 2010

>In order to believe Genesis you have to disbelieve Genesis?  Where does that get you?

I reply: Rather I believe Pope Pius XII who has a correct understanding of what it means to take the Bible “literally”.

Quote “What is the literal sense of a passage is not always as obvious in the speeches and writings of the ancient authors of the East, as it is in the works of our own time. For what they wished to express is not to be determined by the rules of grammar and philology alone, nor solely by the context; the interpreter must, as it were, go back wholly in spirit to those remote centuries of the East and with the aid of history, archaeology, ethnology, and other sciences, accurately determine what modes of writing, so to speak, the authors of that ancient period would be likely to use, and in fact did use. For the ancient peoples of the East, in order to express their ideas, did not always employ those forms or kinds of speech which we use today; but rather those used by the men of their times and countries. What those exactly were the commentator cannot determine as it were in advance, but only after a careful examination of the ancient literature of the East” (Divino Afflante Spiritu 35–36).  End Quote


BenYachov - #30065

September 14th 2010

I believe Genesis.  I just don’t believe in Sola Scriptura, denial of Tradition (which contradicts 2 Thes 2:15, 3:6) or denial of the Church Authority (1 Tim 3:15, Matt 18) to interpret Scripture or the so called Perspecuity of Scripture.  I’m Catholic.  Your criticism might be a problem for a person who believes the so called doctrines of the so called Reformation.  But not to me.


BenYachov - #30066

September 15th 2010

>Why have you not considered that the idea mankind sprang from a particular person whom Genesis places in Mesopotamia in the Neolithic Period is wrong?

I reply: With all due respect you haven’t given me any reason to believe there was no Adam and you have given me no reason to accept that any interpretation that says he didn’t exist is true.  Jesus, Paul & the universal Tradition of the Church say he existed.  The doctrine of original sin presuposes him and there is no science that shows that he didn’t or couldn’t exist (even if we accept evolution).  Thus I see no reason to consider there was no Adam.

>What forces you to align Adam with the beginning of our species in Africa 200,000 years ago?

I reply: He can in fact be at any very early time period as long as he is the universal remote anciestor of all presently living people & we realize he was in fact the first true human with a soul created by God who fell & transmited original sin.


BenYachov - #30069

September 15th 2010

>That’s the only idea I can see that cannot possibly work.  A real Adam at about 7,000 years ago will work.  A non-existant Adam will work even though I don’t like it.

I reply:How can a non-existent Adam work?  Can a none existent ancestor transmit a hereditary desease? Can a non-existent Second Adam die for my sins & original sin transmited to me by an a non-existent Adam?  That is not rational and I must charge in order for you to believe in Adam you have to disbelieve in Adam.  That is not consistant.  I at least believe in Genesis.  I just don’t believe it is a straight forward perspicous modern conventional literal historical narritive.  To paraphraise Chesterton it is a Myth that happens to be true.


BenYachov - #30071

September 15th 2010

Dick Fischer writes:
>But a flesh and blood Adam at the junction of Homo hiedelbergensis and Homo sapiens doesn’t work by the Bible’s own description of Adam’s Neolithic surroundings.

I reply: I’ve seen Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet which takes place in Florence 16th century retold in 20th century L.A.  I’ve see Richard III portrayed as a 1930’s Fascist dictator.  All this is done so the audience may relate to it in their own experience.  I see no reason why God wouldn’t have told the true story of Adam & Eve which happened as a primordial event by adapting it to the experience of the Ancient Near Eastern persons who received the original Divine Revelation from God.  I guess those who claim to believe in Divine Accommodation Theory are somewhat Ad Hoc in how they apply it.
Some are all about the Divine Accommidation at the expense of the Divine truth.  Why either/or?  Why not both and?

Thus I find the whole “You can’t believe in a literal Adam & Evolution” enterprise to be an epic fail.  Evolution is compatible with Christianity & Adam was real.  It’s really not hard unless you are hell bend in making it so.

PS if beaglelady reads this I’ll catch her later.


BenYachov - #30072

September 15th 2010

BTW @Rich - #29968

I second that my brother.  I’ll let that be my response too.

Cheers to you all.


Dick Fischer - #30076

September 15th 2010

Bill wrote:

“The Bible is literal and true.”

No argument.  A little mistranslated and misunderstood but true nontheless.

BenYachov wrote:

“I believe Pope Pius XII who has a correct understanding of what it means to take the Bible “literally”.

Quote “… the ancient peoples of the East ... did not always employ those forms or kinds of speech which we use today; but rather those used by the men of their times and countries. What those exactly were the commentator cannot determine as it were in advance, but only after a careful examination of the ancient literature of the East”

No argument from me.  It’s all about understanding.  You are preaching to the choir.

And you wrote:

“With all due respect you haven’t given me any reason to believe there was no Adam and you have given me no reason to accept that any interpretation that says he didn’t exist is true.”

And I won’t.  I believe there was a man living in the Near East called Adam or Adamu in Akkadian.  He was the first of the old covenant.  Is that so hard to understand?

“How can a non-existent Adam work?”

If Adam lived 7,000 years ago and if you lived10,000 years ago his existence or non-existence wouldn’t have impacted you at all.

Cont.


Dick Fischer - #30078

September 15th 2010

I guess new ideas take a while to sink in.

If you bought a book about the history of the Vikings and if you didn’t come from Norway you would know it wasn’t your history.  Yet when early Christians read the Old Testament Scriptures they didn’t know enough to appreciate it as Jewish history and instead thought it was human history.  Okay, their ignorance is excusable.  But that simple mistake perpetuates today.  And it no longer is excusable.  We should know better by now.

Today we know human history.  (At least some of us do.)  if you aren’t quite up to speed anthropologically speaking spend some time on http://www.humanorigins.si.edu

Yet Bible interpreters of a certain conservative bent haven’t caught on yet.  They are still living in the 17th Century.  So we are stuck between those who think Genesis is true human history and those who think Genesis is myth, whereas the truth lies in Genesis being true Jewish history.

Going to the beach tomorrow for a few days.  Please, just think about it for awhile.


BenYachov - #30083

September 15th 2010

>And I won’t.  I believe there was a man living in the Near East called Adam or Adamu in Akkadian.  He was the first of the old covenant.  Is that so hard to understand?

I reply:  I understand it but I must reject it since Pius XII said “For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parents of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now, it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the teaching authority of the Church proposed with regard to original sin which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam in which through generation is passed onto all and is in everyone as his own”.

Your Adam is one human among many and not the first human & not the Father of all existing humans.  At best Adam could have had souless contemporaries who where the same biological species as him with whom his ofspring mated with to produce the human race.  But he was both the first human & first of the Old Covenant.  With us Catholics it is not either/or it’s both and.


BenYachov - #30084

September 15th 2010

BTW Dick Fischer

>the truth lies in Genesis being true Jewish history.

Click on my name abvoe & read the article there for some real Jewish history.

Cheers.


BenYachov - #30085

September 15th 2010

>So we are stuck between those who think Genesis is true human history and those who think Genesis is myth, whereas the truth lies in Genesis being true Jewish history.

It’s not either/or it’s both and.  It’s real human history told in stylized near eastern myth as Divinely revealed first to the Jewish people by the God of their Fathers.

Why is that so hard?


Rich - #30103

September 15th 2010

Dick Fischer wrote:

“I guess new ideas take a while to sink in.”

Say rather that indefensible ideas will never sink in.

“Yet when early Christians read the Old Testament Scriptures they didn’t know enough to appreciate it as Jewish history and instead thought it was human history.  Okay, their ignorance is excusable.  But that simple mistake perpetuates today.”

New Testament 101, Dick:  the “early Christians” were *devout Jews*.  They certainly “knew enough” not to be confused about Jewish matters.  As a non-Jew, you’re not in a position to condescend to Jews who read Torah regularly in the synagogue and heard expositions of it by learned rabbis.

Any first-century Jews who thought Genesis 1-11 was “history” would have thought it was human history, not Jewish history, since that’s what the story plainly indicates.

More likely, however, most of them understood the mythical character of the text.  You have to be nearly brain-dead to miss the name “Adam” (mankind) as a giveaway.  And beyond that, the talking snake and the magic trees should suffice to alert even the slow-witted.  Only YECs and concordists bent on reconciling the Bible with science don’t get it.


Rich - #30105

September 15th 2010

Dick:

Upon rereading, I think my last post sounds a bit harsh.  Sorry if it sounded like a personal attack.  I’m impatient with you, because you appear to think you have a deeper understanding of Genesis than either the first-century rabbis or the greatest Biblical scholars of today.  Sometimes you even talk down to these interpreters as if you think they are clueless.  Yet it’s clear to me that you lack the scholarly training to make such judgments.  Why didn’t you get the appropriate education before setting yourself up as an authority?  Is that an impolite question to ask?


beaglelady - #30111

September 15th 2010

BenYachov,

Are you a traditionalist Catholic perhaps? Do you accept Vatican II? Is the current Pope, Benedict the 16th,  legit?

-Karen


BenYachov - #30119

September 15th 2010

>Are you a traditionalist Catholic perhaps?

I am a Traditionalist in terms of Thomism.  Most Trads & Radtrads cheese me off.  I would not weep if they did away with the Paul VI Mass & returned to the Pius V one but either way you get the Sacrament.

>Do you accept Vatican II?

Yes, absolutely.

>Is the current Pope, Benedict the 16th,  legit?

Double yes!  Those who deny he is the Pope are High Church Protestants nothing more.


beaglelady - #30135

September 15th 2010

Are you involved with the RC church in a professional capacity?  Have you been to seminary?


beaglelady - #30137

September 15th 2010

And no, you *cannot* count on all priests to be familiar with Catholic doctrine.

You would think most of them would know a bit.  What about bishops and cardinals?  Can folks count on anyone to be familiar with Catholic doctrine, besides you and BenYachov?  And if priests are so dumb why hasn’t the Pope caught on?


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