Denis has a PhD in evangelical theology and a PhD in evolutionary biology, and he is a veteran of the origins controversy. He has written several books on the topic, which can be found in his author bio, and has developed a host of online materials that can be freely accessed on his homepage.
Lamoureux presents an Evolutionary Creation position in the Four Views book, and he contends that science has shown that there never was a historical Adam and Eve or a literal Garden of Eden as described in Genesis 2. These were just the “incidental vessels” for conveying the inerrant spiritual truths that God wished to communicate through these ancient cultures.
Denis summarizes his position immediately below, then we give the first part of his interview.
Christians throughout history have steadfastly believed that Adam was a real person. Yet in the light of evolutionary sciences, some evangelical Christians are questioning his existence. This chapter embraces evolutionary creation—the belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created the universe and life, including humans, through an ordained, sustained, and intelligent design-reflecting natural process. Similar to the way that the Lord used embryological mechanisms to create each of us in our mother’s womb, He also employed evolutionary processes to create humanity. This chapter rejects the assumption that God revealed scientific facts in the Bible thousands of years before their discovery by modern science. Instead, Holy Scripture features an ancient understanding of the physical world (e.g., the 3-tier universe with a flat earth). The Word of God also has an ancient conceptualization of biological origins, which asserts that living [organisms] were created quickly and completely into fully mature forms. The apostle Paul’s references to Adam are rooted in this ancient biology. The chapter concludes that the biblical figure Adam is a vital, but incidental, ancient vessel that transports inerrant spiritual truths: only humans are created in the Image of God, only humans have fallen into sin, and our Creator judges us for our sinfulness. (p. 37)
Jim Stump: How important is the question of a historical Adam for Christians today?
Denis Lamoureux: I think that the historicity of Adam is quite an important question because many evangelical Christians are currently wrestling with this issue.
For example, a landmark issue ofChristianity Today in June 2011 featured a cover with a Neanderthal-looking male and the title “The Search for the Historical Adam: The State of the Debate.” The cover blurb commented, “Some scholars believe that genome science [i.e., genetics] casts doubt on the existence of the first man and first woman. Others say that the integrity of the faith requires it.” Remarkably, this article not only assumed that biological evolution was a fact, but it contended that the debate today is whether or not there really was a human being who corresponds to the biblical figure Adam.
More evidence that the historicity of Adam is not a settled issue comes from the book on which this series of interviews is based. This past November at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, the four contributors of this book outlined their positions to a packed room of evangelical theologians. And this coming November these contributors will present their views in more detail at this same conference.
And we must not forget the remarkable work of BioLogos. In recent years this organization has been instrumental in assisting Christian in coming to terms with biological evolution and to consider the various approaches to the historicity of Adam.
Though I find the topic of Adam to be fascinating, my central motivation for being part of this discussion ispastoral.
There is no doubt in my mind that biological evolution is a fact. It is also clear to me that human evolution is a fact. And in light of the recent genetic evidence, it is a fact that humans did not descend from only one pair of humans. Though many evangelicals will disagree with me, these three statements are embraced by the BioLogos Foundation and the evangelical Christian tradition needs to come to terms with these scientific facts.
Here is my pastoral concern. If evangelical young men and women attend a public university, they will simply not be equipped to face the scientific facts supporting human evolution. I see this all the time in my classes at the University of Alberta. The best that evangelical students can do is compartmentalize what they hear on Sunday at church (Adam exists and he is foundational to Christianity) from what they learn Monday to Friday at university (the evidence for human evolution and the fact and humans never descended from a single pair of humans). However, intuitively these Christian students know that compartmentalization is not the solution. They all want a way to integrate their faith and their science.
It is the calling of the church to equip young men and women for the future. But regrettably, within evangelical circles, this is rarely being done with this issue of origins. Instead, we continue to entrench the minds of young people with young earth creationism and tell them that this is the only Christian view of origins. We are packaging our young people for a pastoral disaster and the potential loss of their faith.
This is why I think organizations like BioLogos and the American Scientific Affiliation are so very important. They offer credible options for young people to integrate their faith and the science they learn at university. It is also this pastoral concern that moves me to focus much of my work in developing popular online lectures for both young adults and high school students.
JS: Many people in the church have been conditioned to respond to questions about evolution with "scientific" objections like "there are gaps in the fossil record" or "we've never observed macro-evolutionary change", etc. Most such people have very little understanding of the actual scientific evidence for evolution, and instead their deeper concerns stem from their view of Scripture (thinking evolution to be inconsistent with it). Your position that Adam is not a historical person demands a different view of Scripture. Can you describe this view?
DL: You are absolutely correct that the central problem that Christians have with evolution involves Scripture. All the anti-evolutionary arguments we hear in churches today are a symptom of a deeper problem. Within my evangelical tradition, most embrace concordism (or better “scientific concordism”). This is the assumption that the Bible aligns with the facts of science. Or stated another way, it is the assumption that God revealed scientific facts to the biblical writers thousands of years before their discovery by modern scientists.
It is important to note that scientific concordism is a reasonable assumption. After all, God created the world and He inspired the Bible, and to assume an alignment between the Lord’s Book of Nature and His Book of Scripture is a logical expectation. But here is the question: Is scientific concordism true and an inerrant feature of the Word of God?
My answer is “no.” The best evidence to support my answer is to consider the structure of the universe found in the Bible. As Figure 1 reveals, Scripture features a 3-tier universe. In other words, the Bible has an ancient understanding of nature which could be termed an “ancient science.” For example, we can appreciate why ancient people believed the sun moved across the sky every day. From an ancient phenomenological perspective, that is exactly what it looks like to the naked eye. In fact, people believed in the literal movement of the sun right up to the 1600s.
In the light of this ancient science in Scripture, some Christians are quick to ask me, “Did God lie in the Bible?” My response is as quick, “God does NOT lie!!!” As Hebrews 6:18 states, “It is impossible for God to lie.” Rather, it is by grace that the Holy Spirit descended to the level of the ancient biblical writers and used their ancient understanding of nature in order to reveal as effectively as possible inerrant spiritual truths. In other words, the Lord accommodated in the same way He comes down to our level when He speaks to us in prayer.
Figure 2 depicts the Message-Incident Principle and my approach to statements in Scripture dealing with the physical world. I suspect many Christians hold this interpretative principle in some sort of implicit way. Most would agree that the primary purpose of the Bible is to reveal inerrant Messages of Faith; and whether birds were created before humans (Genesis 1) or after the man and before the woman (Genesis 2) is ultimately incidental and not essential to our faith.
Let’s now deal directly with human origins in Scripture. If the astronomy and geography/geology reflect an ancient science, then it is only logical to argue that the Bible also has an ancient biology, and in particular, an ancient understanding of human origins. This is exactly what we find in Scripture. Humans and living organisms are created de novo (quickly and completely). De novo creation is the understanding of origins held by ancient Near East peoples, including the Hebrews and inspired authors of Genesis 1 and 2.
In applying the Message-Incident Principle to passages dealing with human origins in Genesis, we can draw these inerrant spiritual truths: God created humans, humans were created in the Image of God, humans are sinful, and God judges humans for their sins. In the revelatory process, the Holy Spirit accommodated and allowed the ancient origins science of the de novo creation of humans to be used as a vessel to deliver these life-changing Messages of Faith.
For those who have never been introduced to the idea that there is an ancient science in the Bible, I have prepared a series of audio-slide lectures with handouts for them to examine.
The next post in this series concludes the interview.