Interpreting Adam: Introduction

A few months ago Zondervan published the anthology Four Views on the Historical Adam. This valuable new resource addresses one of the most common questions Christians have about evolution: how does the Adam of the Bible fit with the scientific and historical evidence about early humans? Interest in the issue has been growing in recent years, including a June 2011 cover story in Christianity Today. The authors of the new volume, all Evangelicals with training in biblical scholarship, offer multiple answers to the question and engage each other’s positions. On an issue that can be divisive and painful, this book provides an excellent springboard for thoughtful discussion.

Over the next few weeks on the blog, we’ll be interviewing three of the contributors to the book – Denis Lamoureux, John Walton, and C. John (Jack) Collins. None of them speaks for BioLogos, but all articulate positions that can be seriously considered alongside the scientific evidence.At BioLogos, we are passionately committed to taking the Bible seriously and to seeking the truths God has revealed in the natural world. We also respect the rich theology the church has developed over the centuries on themes like creation, the image of God, and sin. How do the Bible, scientific evidence, and theology come together on Adam?The scientific evidence has grown rapidly in recent years. Fossil discoveries show a progression of hominin species of increasing brain size from archaic hominins likeAustralopithecus to the various Homo species including Neanderthals, Denisovans, and humans. Archaeological evidence has been found for human artwork as early as 80,000 years ago and humans arriving on the major continents no later than 10,000 years ago.

The anatomical similarities between humans and other primates have long been known, suggesting common biological ancestry. Following the mapping of the human genome (led by BioLogos founder Francis Collins), shared ancestry has been dramatically confirmed in thedetailed analysis of the genomes of humans and other primates. The genetic evidence also shows that humans are one family, and even share a common male ancestor and a common female ancestor (known as Y Chromosome Adam and Mitochondrial Eve, although those two individuals may have not lived at the same time). Perhaps most challenging has been the genetic diversity of the human population, which shows that the number of early humans could never have been only two and was more likely several thousand.

At BioLogos, we believe that God created humans in biological continuity with all life on earth, but also as spiritual beings. God established a unique relationship with humanity by endowing us with his image and calling us to an elevated position within the created order (read more about “What We Believe”). However, we do not hold a single position on the historical Adam. There have always been multiple views on this in the BioLogos community, including views not presented in the Zondervan book. You can browse the thoughts of Pastor Tim Keller (blog,PDF), Pastor Dan Harrell (video), biologist Denis Alexander (PDF), theologian Alister McGrath (video), and biblical scholar N. T. Wright (video). The reading list below gives other books and articles that review multiple views on Adam. Beware that the various positions do not always use standard nomenclature. For example, Denis Lamoureux’s view is labeled “evolutionary creation” in the Zondervan book, but is called a “symbolic” or “retelling” view by other scholars.

While BioLogos has not adopted a single position on the question of Adam, we are actively promoting dialogue and scholarship on this issue. Several of our Evolution and Christian Faith grants went to scholars investigating the historical Adam, including interdisciplinary teams of scientists, theologians, and philosophers. Some early results of that scholarship emphasize the importance of considering multiple views while holding to core Christian beliefs , including multiple theories of original sin. BioLogos also provides introductions to the questions of theimage of God and death before the fall.

Four Views on the Historical Adam shows that evangelical Christians are far from agreeing on the particulars of Adam and Eve. But this book also makes clear that there is strong agreement among evangelical Christians on the fundamentals of the Christian faith. We agree that all Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative, even while disagreeing on the interpretation of some passages. We agree that the evidence in God’s creation should be taken seriously, while disagreeing on how best to reconcile it with Scripture. We agree that God created humanity in his image, while disagreeing on how that fits with evidence for common ancestry with animals. We agree that all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, while disagreeing about how and when sin entered the world. Most importantly, we agree that salvation is found in Christ alone, and on that there is no disagreement.

We hope you’ll join us as we host a discussion on this important topic, beginning with John Walton.

Notes & References