What Are We to Make of Adam and Eve?

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March 31, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin

Today's video features Alister McGrath. 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.



One of the most important questions concerning the origins of life is about Adam and Eve, suggests theologian Alister McGrath.

Are Adam and Eve real historical figures that lived 6000 years ago, or are they metaphorical representations? It is an interesting question, says McGrath, because based on one’s response, the whole theory of evolution would shift the time frames back a very long way from what many evangelicals hold as true.

There are those who would say that Adam and Eve designate specific historical figures. That makes some sense, acknowledges McGrath, but it makes even more sense to say that Adam and Eve are stereotypical figures that encapsulate the human race as a whole. They represent the vast human potential as created by God, but also the capacity for going wrong.

The story of Adam and Eve is the story of all of us—people created with the greatest of intentions and great gifts—but still with the ability to fail. The Adam and Eve story tells us that this is not accidental—this is part of what it is to be human.

The real question is: is there anything to be done about this human quandary? Science doesn’t have a huge amount to say about how we understand Adam and Eve. Yet in Romans, Paul writes that Christ is the second Adam, who offers a second chance for humanity. This is our story, we have gone wrong but there is something to be done about it. And that something is the transformation that is brought about by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.


Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.


Alister McGrath is professor of theology, ministry, and education and head of the Centre for Theology, Religion, and Culture at King’s College, London. He is also involved in theological research and the professional development of clergy from a range of Christian denominations. McGrath has written many books on theology and history, including Luther’s Theology of the Cross and Surprised by Meaning. McGrath is an ordained minister in the Church of England and spends his Sundays pastoring and preaching in a group of rural churches in the beautiful Cotswolds, close to his home in West Oxfordshire.

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Chris Massey - #8207

April 1st 2010

...

From an imago Dei perspective, I haven’t a clue. It’s possible that God took an existing human population and breathed spiritual life into them. It’s possible he did that with 2 members of such a population, but there are countless problems with this notion. Personally, I am more inclined to think that moral and spiritual awareness was an emergent property of the evolving hominin rather than a specific act of God at a specific time.


Chris Massey - #8208

April 1st 2010

BenYachov,

Yes, I am a Christian.

You wrote,

“Tradition tells us Adam was a real person & naturally as a Catholic I accept Tradition.”

Perhaps where we differ is that I do not look to church tradition for answers to historic/scientific questions. Church tradition once held that the Aristotelian conception of the universe was the only permissible Christian view.


Gregory - #8209

April 1st 2010

Chris,

I should have just asked the simpler question: Do you at least agree that there logically must have been a ‘first human’? Those who deny a ‘first’ imo have a serious philosophical contradiction as anti-first thinkers.

“population genetics tells us that the population from which h. sapiens emerged never dropped below several thousand members.” - Chris

Yes, but I was asking about ‘first human’, not about ‘homo sapiens.’ Population genetics is limited in what it can say about this, wouldn’t you agree?

“I am more inclined to think that moral and spiritual awareness was an emergent property of the evolving hominin rather than a specific act of God at a specific time” - Chris

Why do you think this, Chris, & what does ‘emergence’ add that ‘evolution’ does not? I’ve read some emergence philosophy that at least accepts a ‘threshold’, which the ‘degree-ism’ of ‘evolutionary gradualism’ doesn’t.

I sense you under-value ‘specific moments’ in history, but perhaps we could flesh that out.

The Tradition BenYachov refers to engages historic/scientific questions as well as theological ones.


Gregory - #8211

April 1st 2010

BenYachov,

You wrote: “My spelling & Grammar are not evolved.  Indeed I’m famous across the internet for that.”

Though it may humble you a bit, it’s the first I’ve heard of it. And it made me smile too!

Have you been reading McLuhan & his Grammar battle with Dialectic & Rhetoric on this?

Once one says that ‘language evolves’ they’ve gone overboard & given away their creative soul. He or she might as well say they are inhuman & have no CHOICE in their lives. It’s all just a question of environmental determinism & evolutionary probability.

As it is, my words simply did *not* ‘evolve’ onto this page. & for those who think that saying this is mere idle chatter about something that does not matter much, you are *way behind* the times. We live in an information-electronic age. Chris is right to speak of ‘emergence,’ instead of (addition to) evolution. But he needs to go much further with this & also beyond evolution!

Save the Humans, Free the Humans, leave Adam & Eve in peace! They still live! In us.


Chris Massey - #8213

April 1st 2010

Gregory,

I don’t think I can answer your question about “firsts” until I know what you mean when you use the word “human”. I would have thought that it was synonymous with homo sapiens sapiens. How do you define “human”?

I use the term “emergent” because I don’t believe that moral/spiritual awareness can be reduced simply to the sum of its parts. That is, I don’t think it’s just the firing of synapses. It may be somewhat analogous to the emergence of consciousness and self-awareness. Evolution may explain how our brains got incrementally bigger and bigger, but the resulting mind as a whole has properties that the component parts do not.

I don’t mean to be dismissive of the tradition that BenYachov appeals to. But I don’t accept that appeals to authority are valid arguments in and of themselves.


Dennis Venema - #8214

April 1st 2010

Just a quick note to say that Darrel Falk and I have co-written a blog post about using genomics to estimate population sizes during human evolution. The post will run next week, on Monday. The short answer is that several estimates using independent methodologies agree that our species has maintained a population size on the order of several thousand individuals over the last 200,000 years (or more).


Gregory - #8215

April 1st 2010

For those who haven’t seen it, Tout Rien (All or Nothing) by the Canadian animator Frederick Back is simply a treasure.

http://idaadi.multiply.com/video/item/8

It has much to say about ‘Adam and Eve’ but also about the Fall, sin, rebellion, environment, creatures, striving, unsatisfaction, children, peace and many other things that are especially resonant during a period such as this, during Holy Week.

Many Catholic countries are on an entire week vacation right now!

May this video offer something to you, friends, and also to Rev. Dr. Alistair McGrath, on the theme of what we ‘make of’ Adam and Eve.


BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #8217

April 1st 2010

Dear Chris,

Well I’m a strict Catholics so I reject Sola Scriptura & embrace Tradition so that is likely why we can not come to an accord.  As far as I’m concerned Catholic Tradition mandates a real Adam.  Plus I am a Thomist and an Aristotelian. 

Nobody is advocated biological monogenesis (i.e. that we all descend from one couple & ONLY one couple and not a population)but merely theological and metaphysical monogenesis.  What I’m advocating is the first human(i.e. hominids with souls) began to interbreed with the population & over time only souled hominids became the sole members of the human race.  Why would that be impossible?  Genetics have little to do with it (though God might have made home sapient imago Deus slightly different) but metaphysics are all of it.


Chris Massey - #8220

April 1st 2010

BenYachov,

What happens when a souled human mates with a non-souled human? Do their offspring have souls? Half-souls? Is the soul passed on through the sperm or egg? Does it make sense to think of two otherwise identical populations co-existing, one with souls and one without? I’d be pretty cheesed off if I was one of the unlucky ones without a soul. And does it make sense to think of the soul as an actual entity? I’m told that the Hebrew word means “breath”. Was it merely an ancient way of describing the breath of life? Do we need things called souls in order to have the eternal life promised by Christ?

I can’t rule your proposal out. But I think it creates as many problems as it solves.


Chris Massey - #8221

April 1st 2010

BenYachov,

You mentioned earlier that maybe the Nephilim were the offspring of the souled and the unsouled. But other Jewish literature makes it quite clear that the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 were understood to be angels, not unsouled humans. In 1 Enoch, for example, we find the story of 200 angels called “Watchers” who looked down from heaven and began to lust after the daughters of men. They bound themselves by an oath to take wives from the daughters of men and to have children by them. The children that resulted from these unions were a race of giants. These giants began to kill one another and to commit all manner of sins against God. They were responsible for bringing depravity to mankind and corruption to the earth and were responsible for earthquakes, disease, famines and storms.

Curiously, this notion seems to have been present even in the early church. Remember Paul advising women to cover their heads “because of the angels”?

In my humble opinion, the Nephilim is another example of non-historical oral legend in Genesis.


beaglelady - #8236

April 1st 2010

In my humble opinion, the Nephilim is another example of non-historical oral legend in Genesis.

I think you’re right.  If I remember correctly,  there are other instances in ANE literature where rambunctious angels cross boundaries and go after human females. (Perhaps it’s their version of spring break.)


beaglelady - #8237

April 1st 2010

If anyone is interested, there is a short biography of Alister McGrath here.


Bob R. - #8244

April 1st 2010

As they say, if you want to understand things, follow the money. That might work for some of the rest of life, but if you want to understand the religious framework of the Creationist/Evolutionist debate, follow the hermeneutics.

The arguments advanced for or against a historical Adam & Eve are a subset of the greater hermeneutical conflict. Theistic Evolutionism, rises or falls on the amount of literalism that is admitted to the interpretation of Genesis 1-3. Of course, the other side of the coin is that strict creationism falls apart at the seams if too much metaphor is admitted to the story.

More important questions to me are:
1.What drives hermeneutics?
2.Why is the exegesis of Genesis changing in proportion to scientific discoveries?
3.Is the “plain reading of scripture” a faulty supposition?
4.Is it possible that there is no such thing as a plain reading of scripture?
5.What is the proper interpretive framework for the average individual interpreter?
6.Is there a higher interpretive authority than one’s own interpretive biases?

These questions are often considered ancillary, but, in my view, they are at the heart of every discussion on this blog.


BenYachov - #8245

April 1st 2010

Hey Chris,
These are my talking point responses to your questions.

Point One, As a Thomist I believe in Hylomorphic Dualism & as such reject Cartesian Dualism, Property Dualism, Monism and Materialism as false views regarding the human soul.
Point Two, I also believe in the success of philosophical arguments against Cartesian Dualism & further believe they also defeat Property Dualism(See Philosophy of Mind, Revised Edition: A Beginner’s Guide by Edward Feser fore details).
Point Three, In regards to the process of en-soulment as it pertains to Creationism vs Traducianism; I favor Creationism in line with the historic majority of Catholic Theologians & it seems to be favored by the Magisterium but I might be open to a Traducian view if it had Creationist elements.
Point Four, All the Children of Adam received souls.  I fail to see the significance of having one “parent” without a soul since neither of Adam’s “parents” had souls & look how He turned out.  There is no such thing as a half-soul. I will take that as harmless good natured flippancy.
Point Five, I reject Sola Scriptura & as such I don’t need to justify all I believe from the Bible alone.


BenYachov - #8247

April 1st 2010

Point Six, In regards to the Nephilim I am open to the possibility fallen angels possessed un-souled hominids(who where animals like the swine possessed by Legon) & mated with the human offspring of Adam but that is off topic.
Point Seven, I believe verses in the Bible can & do have multiple meanings (i.e. Polyvalent symbolism) like the Rock in Matt 16:18 or the seven heads of the beast in Rev 17 which are both seven mountains & seven kings.
Point Eight, this might apply to the Nephilim verses in Genesis.
Point Nine, in reference to Jewish Tradition according to orthodox Jewish Physicist Gerald L. Schroeder in his book THE SCIENCE OF GOD pg 146-149 in Talmudic legend there where nonhuman creatures with a human morphology that where contemporary with Adam.  After the death of Able, Adam & Eve separated for a time & Adam mated with these beings that had no “neshama”( Divine moral soul). 
Point Ten,  As a Catholic I don’t endorse all of Schroeder’s views but would subordinate & interpret them threw Catholic Tradition since the New Covenant is superior & the fulfillment of the Old.


BenYachov - #8248

April 1st 2010

Point Eleven, If you had been born one of the “unlucky” not having a soul, that would mean as per the correct teachings of Aquinas that you would have no “rational principle”
& therefore you could no more be “cheesed off” about it then my pet cat is who is in the same boat.
Point Twelve, Pursuant to 11, if you had been born one of the “unlucky” you would not be a human person & as such there would be no “you” to be cheesed anymore than my cat is a person and cheesed over being a cat.
Point Thirteen, For more on the Catholic view of the soul & a overall history of the topic I recommend the online Catholic Encylopedia’s article on the soul.
Point Fourteen, Cheers man!


Bob R. - #8252

April 2nd 2010

I don’t always agree with Ben Yachov, but at least he knows where he’s coming from. Now, after the above post, so do we all. I would like to nail down my hermeneutical frame as well as he has with his own.


beaglelady - #8255

April 2nd 2010

Nobody is advocated biological monogenesis (i.e. that we all descend from one couple & ONLY one couple and not a population)but merely theological and metaphysical monogenesis.  What I’m advocating is the first human(i.e. hominids with souls) began to interbreed with the population & over time only souled hominids became the sole members of the human race.  Why would that be impossible?  Genetics have little to do with it (though God might have made home sapient imago Deus slightly different) but metaphysics are all of it.


BenYachov,

So if you’re alive today, you must be a descendant of someone with a soul?


BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #8258

April 2nd 2010

>So if you’re alive today, you must be a descendant of someone with a soul?

I reply: Rather we are all descendant from Adam who was a MRCA in regards to the soul & original sin.  Un-souled near-human Hominids no longer exist these days.


Gregory - #8262

April 2nd 2010

“I would have thought that it was synonymous with homo sapiens sapiens. How do you define “human”?” - Chris

Yes, I agree with the importance you suggest of defining human. But I’m afraid I’m not qualified to give a comprehensive definition. At least, I’ve never seen one. I can only say that as a relative expert on ‘human beings’ because I’ve been studying us/them for 15 or so years, in university coursework and also in professional projects.

What is your background professional angle to ‘defining human’, Chris?

As an Adamic human-social scientist, let me offer the following:

Person = human being with a soul.

Is this also agreeable with you, beaglelady? E.g. dogs are not humans.

The rest of #8213 I can accept. Especially the part about consciousness and self-awareness. It means you’re open to new discoveries and new language, Chris, as I am also.


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