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Adam & Eve

Jim Stump is joined by BioLogos president Deb Haarsma to talk about one of the perennial science and faith topics—Adam & Eve.


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Jim Stump is joined by BioLogos president Deb Haarsma to talk about one of the perennial science and faith topics—Adam & Eve.

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A podcast that shows the harmony between Christian faith and current scientific discoveries by sharing the stories of interesting people who have found a better way of understanding science and Christian faith.

Jim Stump is joined by BioLogos president Deb Haarsma to talk about one of the perennial science and faith topics—Adam & Eve. They lay out some of the different perspectives on Adam & Eve and also some of the problems that come along with each perspective, bringing in science where it’s appropriate but also finding that science won’t lead us to definitive answers on many of the questions that arise. 

Because this is a complex topic with many different perspectives, we asked several experts to join us in this episode and to respond to some of the different viewpoints on Adam and Eve. You’ll hear William Lane Craig, Ken Keathley, Anjeanette Roberts, Andrew Torrance and Dennis Venema who each provide their own take on some of these different Adam and Eve perspectives.


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Transcript

Stump:

Welcome to Language of God. I’m your host Jim Stump. And today we’re talking about Adam and Eve. They don’t appear in Genesis 1, but we meet them in Genesis 2, and in Genesis 3 they set in motion the rest of the story that defines the Christian faith. In their first sin, Adam and Eve found themselves divided from God. Ultimately that divide was bridged in the saving work of Jesus Christ, but unfortunately Adam and Eve continue to create divides among Christians today.  

At BioLogos we celebrate the ways Scripture and nature fit together—we uphold the authority of God’s word, and what God has revealed through his world. But on Adam and Eve we run into tensions. Because as science tells us more and more about the long history of the Earth, and the evolution of homo sapiens, and the existence of other hominin species that have been discovered, there arise tensions between this natural history and the narrative we have in Genesis. How do we resolve this? Do we have the right interpretation of Scripture? The right understanding of nature? 

There are a number of ways that people have attempted to make sense of this situation. We’re going to lay out some of those attempts. But here’s a spoiler alert…there’s no one obvious way to resolve the tension that everyone will agree on. So we won’t end with a definitive answer that wraps up every aspect of the science and theology of Adam and Eve. Instead, we explore the different perspectives, and in doing so we affirm there are multiple ways to take seriously both God’s Word and God’s world without sacrificing the deepest truths of the Christian faith.

For this episode, I’m joined by BioLogos president Deb Haarsma. 

Haarsma:

Glad to be here Jim. 

Stump:

Our conversation in the studio helps to organize the several different positions people take on the historical Adam and Eve. Then for each of these positions, we weave in conversations I had on the topic with five scholars. Let’s get to the conversation.

So we’re talking about Adam and Eve. So what we’re trying to sort out here, so like if you were to get in a time machine and go back to some certain date, we’ll talk about dates in a little bit, but if you were to go back, you’d actually bump into a couple of people named Adam and Eve. One of the things John Walton says is those words, those names, probably came along much later. Those are not actual Hebrew names that would have been around 6,000 BC. Right? Oh, but you would bump into a couple of real people that we can somehow identify with these characteristics of being Adam and Eve.

Haarsma:

Right. So were they real people or is the scriptural story representing a group or an every man’s story? These are kind of different ideas out there. And if what was the fall a real historical event that you can point to and set your video camera and like here it is, here’s Adam and Eve disobeying, and then when did it happen?

Stump:

Adam and Eve is one of those perennial topics that at least during our experience in this science and religion dialogue. Why is that do you think, to start with?

Haarsma:

Oh, well, it has the most theological implications.

Stump:

Why? What’s riding on this?

Haarsma:

Well, the new testament refers to Adam. Paul talks about Adam. In one man all sinned and one man all shall be made alive. So there’s so much theology tied to the fall of Adam and Eve. And just to the creation of Adam and Eve. So human identity, image of God, do we have souls, creation, fall, redemption and reformed thinking, uh, so many doctrines tied to this.

Stump:

So for many people, biblical authority seems to loom really large in this, right? Yeah. We read scripture. It sure seems like they’re talking about Adam as a real person. Yeah.So to have science just call that into question seems like it’s calling into question a bigger package about, you know, where is our, you know, faith in scripture ultimately going here if something like that’s up for grabs even? 

Haarsma:

Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s definitely it. So Biblical authority is a huge question behind it in addition to all of those theological issues. And it kind of depends which denomination you’re talking to of who is concerned more about which piece.

Stump:

So we’re after the truth of the matter, obviously we’d really like to know. 

Haarsma:

Oh, wouldn’t that be cool? I wish I could have been there. Can we get like a video? I would just, it would really help.

Stump:

So what about the importance of this theologically? Sometimes we talk about importance of doctrines and whether they should cause splits in fellowship or whether it paints you outside of orthodoxy in some sense. I mean different parts of our audience and community might see that differently, right? Yeah. How important of a doctrine is this?

Haarsma:

Oh, so I think we all agree on the core doctrines that are essential to the Christian faith. All people have sinned and salvation is found only in Jesus Christ. We’re all made in the image of God. And some people feel in addition to those, to protect those, we also say Adam and Eve were miraculously created as the only two individuals about 10,000 years ago. And so sometimes you see different institutions, they’ll have faith statements that, you know, say we must believe in this. And I get the feeling that it’s to protect those, those bigger doctrines.

Stump:

So it’s not exactly that they’re saying Adam and Eve is one of those bigger doctrines. But our approach to Adam and Eve might affect the way we approach these others. If we don’t hold to Adam and Eve were starting to undermine biblical authority and then we’re, how are we really gonna uphold being created in the image of God? Something like that?

Haarsma:

How do we uphold that. How do we take any of that passage seriously? We have Genesis 2 and 3. They’re pretty cut and dry. So it, you know, and it’s, this is meant something to each of us personally as well. It’s not like it’s been an easy journey for us thinking through these issues. It took me years to think through the Adam issues. In fact, I didn’t even want…

Stump:

Are you done thinking through them?

Haarsma:

No, I’m not. And I mean, I’m still torn between different points of view and none of them is entirely satisfying to me. So it’s, it’s a matter of weighing what we find in God’s word and in God’s world, both as revelations from him that we take seriously. You said we want to get to the truth of the matter. There’s truth in scripture, there’s truth in the natural world, but we see both of them imperfectly in our interpretations. So that’s where the rub comes down.

Stump:

So in trying to sort out the answers to those questions you just brought up. We have the biblical record, we have church tradition, which counts for something in this regard too. We have science, right? And other kinds of historiography. Where does that fit into the, are we going to let science answer this question for us or decided it ultimately?

Haarsma:

Yeah. Well science is just not good at theological questions. It’s really bad at it. But it is good at questions in the natural world. So science can tell us things about our species as a whole. But anything about particular individuals in the past it gets, there’s really not much you can say. So, basically that’s what we have. We know the history of the Homo sapien species. When our species gained the image of God, when we first began to relate to God, received a command to disobey—those are all things that are beyond science.

But I think the two books metaphor helps us and thinking of God’s Word and God’s world, there’s evidence in both and, but both are interpreted. We need a good understanding. We need to dig into them. The scientific evidence that we’ve, that has come in in the last hundred and fifty years is prompting us to take a new look at scripture, to look at it more carefully, but it’s not dictating the answers.

Stump:

So we’re not going to relegate this question to the science labs at a major university somewhere to tell us, but what they’re doing might somehow be relevant to the conversation because neither are we going to say, if we just look at our Bibles more carefully, we’ll figure out the answer to this.

Haarsma:

Yeah, exactly. Because there are times when, well, the Church, Christians often disagree about how to interpret certain passages. So sometimes science can be part of informing which of those interpretations might sit better, but that’s the most it could do.

I think people are afraid that some atheist scientist in a lab somewhere is going to come and disprove their Bible. That’s really what it feels like. And it feels that way even to trained theologians, they’re like, okay, no, no, no. You’re not realizing the expertise we have here in our area and we don’t think science is doing that. Science is providing some information. It’s narrowing down some options, but there’s still so much theological discussion to have. So many options to consider.

Stump:

So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to lay out a variety of these perspectives on Adam and Eve and how they fit alongside scientific knowledge. But along the way we’re going to be hearing from some other voices too.

Guest Voices:

Hey, wait a minute (Ann Jeanette Roberts)–Here’s my concern (William Lane Craig)–I am confronted by this problem and this is a very difficult problem (Andrew Torrence)–It’s not as easy is it (Ken Keathley). 

Stump:

This is not an easy topic. And as you can already tell, some of our guests have some objections to certain perspectives, and for good reasons. But we hope that they will help us to understand at least some of the complexity and depth of this topic. Here’s a few introductions. 

Roberts:

My name is Ann Jeanette Roberts. I go by AJ and I am a research scholar in molecular biology with Reasons to Believe.

Craig:

I’m William Lane Craig. I’m a professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and Houston Baptist University.

Torrence:

My name is Dr. Andrew Torrence and I’m a lecturer in theology at the University of St Andrews and currently the acting director of the Logos Institute for Analytic and Exegetical Theology.

Keathly:

My name is Ken Keathley and I am a senior professor of theology at Southeastern Baptist theological seminary located in Wake Forest, North Carolina. I also direct the L. Russ Bush Center for faith and culture.

Stump:

You’ll also be hearing Dennis Venema, a professor of biology at Trinity Western University and a long time contributor to the BioLogos website. 

We’ve divided the perspectives on Adam and Eve into three chapters. The first is the de novo sole progenitor position—don’t worry, we’ll define our terms as we go—next will be the representative perspective, and finally the non-historical perspective. Let’s jump into these. 

Chapter 1: De Novo, Sole Progenitor

Stump:

Some of the terminology we use here, we need to try to sort out to see what we mean by it. And theologically, what is often deemed as important in talking about a historical Adam and Eve is that they are the sole progenitors of the human race and that they were created de novo. So what do we mean by that? And particularly with the traditional view of Adam and Eve that most of us inherited through Sunday school and growing up in the Church of what our assumptions were then about who Adam and Eve were.

Haarsma:

All right. So de novo means miraculously created, not from other creatures. So that’s God said, and then there were Adam and Eve.

Keathly:

De novo would be in contrast to something ex nihilo. 

Stump:

This is Ken Keathley, from Southeastern Baptist Seminary

Keathly:

Ex nihilo is the idea of  creation out of nothing. And I don’t know anyone that argues that concerning Adam and Eve. De novo on the other hand has the idea that God has done something miraculous and new out of pre-existing materials.

Haarsma:

And that’s part of the traditional picture I learned in Sunday School. And then the other part is sole progenitor, meaning that there were no other people around either. So it’s just descendants of Adam and Eve. They were the only parents of all of humanity.

Stump:

They weren’t interbreeding say with anything else that was around. Yeah.

Haarsma:

Right. It was only them. So that is the de novo sole progenitor view. 

Stump:

Okay. So that traditional view then if we get into some of the dating of that, and if you add up all the genealogies and the numbers in scripture, we have a view of, of putting Adam and Eve around 4,000 BC. Maybe you say there were some gaps in the genealogy. So maybe 6,000 BC. Some will say somewhere in four to six to ten thousand BC, sole progenitor, de novo creation. That’s that traditional view that we’re now suggesting might not hold up to more careful scrutiny.

Haarsma:

Yes. So it actually, there’s been questions raised about it for a long time just from scripture because everybody’s wondered who was Cain afraid of and who did he marry and who was he going to kill and where it was, who lived in the city that he built. So there is those hints that there were other people around. So this traditional view has some scriptural challenges. 

But then yes, scientific issues. So there are remains of human activity, human bodies and settlements all over the planet, so it’s pretty clear that if there were, whoever our first ancestors were, they went back much further in time.

Stump:

Let’s hear what some of our guests have to say about this position. Here’s Ken Keathley again. 

Keathly:

So each of these positions have their relative strengths and weaknesses. Obviously if the, if you’re gonna argue for the young earth position then Adam being born or created in 4,004 BC, there, there is no dilemma there in terms of trying to understand theologically what’s going on. The dilemma comes, do you really want to say the Bible is relevant to the world, only if the world is less than 10,000 years old. And I think that, that’s something…that’s not a direction I want to go.

Stump:

Here’s AJ Roberts from Reasons To Believe.

Roberts:

I don’t think I’ve ever been comfortable with that dating to a couple called Adam and Eve. So, uh, I, I realized that that’s probably what the young earth creationist perspective is. That’s never been a perspective that I’ve seriously entertained. Although I’ve always sort of fallen back on the idea of, well, I could be totally wrong with the way that I understand the world and God could have done it anyway. But in my thinking, that’s never been a satisfactory position for me to hold.

Stump:

Why not?

Roberts:

Because I believe the geological data and the fossil record is the age of the earth. Uh, I believe that there are human, modern human fossils and remains that date back tens of thousands of years, if not even older than that. And I really believe that God has given us a clear and true revelation of himself in nature and not just in scripture, and that if we understand God’s revelation in nature rightly, and we understand God’s revelation in scripture, rightly because he’s the Creator and author, those two will always be able to be harmonized.

Stump:

And here’s William Lane Craig, from Talbot School of Theology

Craig:

I don’t think that that is a viable position scientifically. I think that that would be a perfectly plausible reading of the biblical text, but it would be one that is in serious conflict with modern science, which indicates that humanity is much older than that or else that Adam and Eve were not the progenitors of the entire human race, but were just a pair selected out of a wider population. Something’s got to give.

Stump:

So is it possible then for us to push that sole progenitor de novo, so traditional view of Adam and Eve, back a couple of hundred thousand years ago. So lots of scientists will tell us now that our species, Homo sapiens has been around for a couple of hundred thousand years and there’s some variability and ambiguity in just when you put those dates. But it is pretty clear that anatomically similar people to us have been around on the planet for a long time. Could we just say then that scripture is setting them, setting Adam and Eve in this a time period where we already have say agriculture that that’s up and going. And that’s, those are just some literary devices that were to tell the story. But theologically, if it’s important that we have sole progenitor de novo creation of Adam and Eve, we can put them back at the very beginning of Homo sapiens and still have all that we want theologically to come out of that?

Haarsma:

Oh, I so wanted this view to be true. And then I started hearing more from Christian geneticists and they explained how the evidence in our genome shows that there was actually a large population of humans around that time. The first population of humans was thousands, not two. And then there’s all the fossil evidence of how similar these prehuman creatures were of these different hominids and neanderthals and Denisovans and all these other creatures around that suggest there was a whole evolutionary progression that I believe God used to bring about our species, but in a way that was group oriented rather than individuals.

Stump:

Let’s hear from one of those geneticists. Here is Dennis Venema explaining why it is very clear now to geneticists that since the emergence of Homo sapiens, the population of our species has never dipped below several thousand individuals. And even before the emergence of Homo sapiens, our ancestral line did not have a population that low for as far back as we can measure it.

Venema:

We can exclude that sort of event, a bottle neck down to two individuals, we can exclude that back to 500,000 years ago. 

Now that’s just at the point of our limit of detection. That’s not to say that there’s any positive evidence that any event like this ever took place, but we can confidently exclude that it took place in the last 500,000 years. That also nicely fits in with what’s called allele frequency spectrum data, which is another line of evidence that just looks at how frequent different variants are in present day people. In order for the variants that we have in present day people and the sort of distribution of how frequent they are in order for that data to work, starting from a single ancestral couple, it, they would have to be further back than 500,000 years as well. But again that’s just the point where things sort of fall apart and you can’t be confident back behind that, past that point. 

The next thing that comes in is the evidence that we have for inter species crossbreeding between humans and neanderthals. So we have very good evidence that neanderthals contributed to the genetic variation that we have in present day people. So if you’re going to make this work from a single couple starting point, then in order to make that work, neanderthals have to be part of that picture and then that pushes us further back to 700,000 years ago because that’s where we last shared common ancestors with neanderthals.

Now from the biological and paleoanthropological local record, 700,000 years ago is very, very different than what from what we would consider normal human activity. We’re talking about controlled use of fire and that’s about it, you know.  

I mean in, in Genesis you have agriculture, you’ve got pastoral care of animals, you’ve got musical instruments not too long after you know, so you’ve got this portrayal of what’s going on in genesis. To try to make that work at 700,000 years ago is going to require a fair bit of exegetical maneuvering in order for that to work.

Stump:

Yeah. So the sole progenitor part of that doesn’t seem to work so well. Yeah. And the de novo part, our common ancestry with other animals seems to undermine that as well.

Haarsma:

Yeah. So the, the de novo part, God created us, God intended to create us and did in his image, but seems to have used natural mechanisms to do it. And if you think of it, God creates new humans today using natural mechanisms.

Stump:

Don’t think about it too carefully.

Haarsma:

Not too carefully. But you know, that happens. So it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care or isn’t involved, but it does point to God using a natural mechanism of evolution to bring us about. 

Stump:

It seems pretty clear to us and to our guests that the de novo, sole progenitor view of Adam and Eve–that two humans were miraculously created as the first and only Homo sapiens between 6000 and 10000 years ago–isn’t a position one can hold up alongside what science has learned about the world. But, if we move Adam and Eve move further back in time, there is a point where science can no longer rule out the possibility of two individuals. As Dennis Venema points out though, we have to go back pretty far, and they couldn’t be Homo sapiens at that point. While science may not be able to rule it out, we have to stretch and twist that story to make it fit with Genesis.  

After a short break, we’ll explore another perspective.  

[musical interlude]

BioLogos:

Hi Language of God listeners. Here at BioLogos we think that asking questions is a worthwhile part of any faith journey. We hope this podcast helps you to think through long held questions and consider new ones but you probably have other questions we haven’t covered yet. That’s why we want to take this quick break to tell you about the common questions page on our website. You’ll find questions like “How could humans have evolved and still be in the image of god,” “how should we interpret the Genesis flood account?” and “What created God?” Each with thoughtful and in depth answers written in collaboration by scientists, biblical scholars and other experts. Just go to biologos.org and click the common questions tab at the top of the page. Back to the show!

Chapter 2: Representatives

Stump:

So let’s move to a different possibility then. If not sole progenitor de novo creation, perhaps there was still this literal historical Adam and Eve as real people in a real past that you could bump into. But that they were representatives of the rest of us humanity in this theological sense that we think is important. How would that work?

Haarsma:

So there’s some interesting ways to do this. It could be that Adam and Eve were leaders of their tribe that represented the larger group. And maybe it even had a covenant nature to it that’s not explicit in scripture, but we see that pattern and how God related to Noah and Abraham and David makes a covenant with a leader, but then that becomes affects all of their descendants and a whole group of people. So perhaps Adam and Eve’s choice to sin was something that they did that impacted everyone else around them. You do have to think though about the size of groups at that time. They lived in hunter gatherer tribes.

Stump:

And what time are you referring to here specifically?

Haarsma:

Yeah. Okay. 

Stump:

It seems like there are a couple of options and there are pros and cons of each that we could put them more recently so that it coincides with some of the timeline that we find in scripture, but that has some issues.

Haarsma:

Yeah, so you could put it recently and you would have Adam and Eve living in the Middle East with agriculture just as you read in early chapters of Genesis. But you also have homo sapiens living for a couple of hundred thousand years prior to that and living and dying and killing each other and doing all sorts of things during that whole time. So that raises a bunch of theological questions about the spiritual status of all of those people. There are also questions about how sin spread from the Adam and Eve who first sinned to all of the others. Now what we are sure of from scripture is that we know that all people sin, but how did that first sin happen and how did that then get applied and how that transmitted through people. There’s a lot of theological debate. Yeah.

Stump:

So that might lead some people to put this representative Adam and Eve further back in time, closer to what we would say would be the the origin of our species

Haarsma:

And that would be the cost then of not aligning as well with scripture and that sort of cultural depiction of Adam and Eve because now we’re back to no agriculture or hunter gatherer tribes in Africa and those lived in pretty small groups, but there were a lot of groups. It was still a population of thousands. So there’s still questions there of how the sin would spread within a group to apply to the other groups. But it does feel a little more plausible as a much smaller population contained more geographically. You could spin tales where sin spread socially, you know, sin spreads socially now really easily. You see somebody else sin, everybody just starts copying it. So it maybe there’s something like that going on. Some people also talk about, you know, it was a historical event but it wasn’t in a timeframe of an hour, maybe it was over a generation. And to kind of give time for a communication to happen among these groups, for the whole community to be making this sort of choice to rebel against God. And that allows you to preserve some certain theological things more easily than a recent representative.

Craig:

While that viewpoint is defensible, scientifically, oddly enough, my reservations about it are biblical, I think there are three good reasons to think that Adam and Eve are not simply selected out of a wider population.

Stump:

Here’s William Lane Craig. His first reason points to the role of Genesis 1-11 as a whole, which is sometimes called the primeval history. 

Craig:

Scholars often ask themselves, why doesn’t the book of Genesis begin with the call of Abraham in chapter 12 the origins of the nation of Israel? And the answer that commentators always give is that the primeval history is interested in universalizing God’s concern for humanity. He’s not concerned with just a select group of people. Rather he is concerned with all of mankind and therefore the primordial history is prefix to the call of Abraham to show that right from the beginning, God’s concern with humanity is universal and the call of Abraham is simply going to be the means by which God will fulfill his original intention to bless all of humanity. And so that universal interest is incompatible I think with this view that God has just selected two special people and their descendants to be the object of his concern.

The second reason would be when you compare genesis two and the creation of humanity to other ancient near eastern stories about how mankind was created, you find that this is a common interest in ancient near eastern mythology stories about how mankind came to be. It’s not about specific people. It’s about how the human race created by the gods and how they came to exist. And so Genesis would fit into that general interest. It gives a very different answer to the question. In the ancient near eastern myths, humanity is usually created as slave labor for the gods. But in the Bible, humanity is created as the image of God on earth. His special co-reagents on this planet. And he loves us and calls us into relationship with him. But the interest is the same explaining where humanity comes from and that’s a universal interest.

Stump:

OK, so Bill is saying that Genesis does not portray the creation of Adam and Eve as just a couple of individuals among a wider population, but rather it is presented as the origin story of the entire human race.

Craig:

And finally, the third factor would be the story itself. When you read it suggests that there isn’t anybody else on earth at that time. It begins in Genesis two, when there was as yet no man to till the soil, then God created Adam to work the ground and there just doesn’t seem to be anybody else on earth until he creates Adam. And there is no companion found for Adam on Earth until Eve is specially created. So for those three reasons, I think that despite the scientific defensibility of this view that it just doesn’t fit with the biblical narratives.

Stump:

Here’s AJ Roberts with her concerns about the representative model.

Roberts:

For me, the issue of what does it mean to be in the image of God, uh, what does it mean to be called as co-regents of creation. That’s the biggest issue for me. And I find that that gets a little muddied if we start to talk about Adam and Eve just being selected out of a population. It raises all these questions about, well what about all the rest of the people that they were selected out of? Are they in the image of God? And where in the course of if evolution is true in human evolution, which is why we would have the population to begin with because we’re thinking about in terms of evolutionary theory where in the course of evolution do the image of God take place and what does it mean? Those are, those are really big questions that have to be wrestled with.

Stump:

Andrew Torrence is also uncomfortable with the view that Adam and Eve were two representatives in a larger population of humans. But his concern isn’t about Adam and Eve as merely representatives, but that in taking them as individual humans in the first place is misreading the kind of literature that Genesis is.

Torrence:

I think the ways in which we do history today providing a directly representative record of the events that took place across the history of the world is not something that they were doing the authors of Genesis would have been doing at the time. They were really…they were telling stories that sought to represent what they thought was going on in the world in ways that were not always going to be informed by eyewitness reports. I mean the idea that there’s going to be an eyewitness record of what’s taking place at the beginning of creation is incredibly difficult to fathom. And the idea, for example, that God might’ve been eyewitness that implanted this report of what was going on in the beginning into the authors of Genesis is also very strange thing to think about.

This is not how we see scripture being written. I think what we need to recognize is that God inspired the story that really speaks to really important foundational theological truths about the nature of God’s relationship to the world, about the goodness of creation, about the purposes for which human beings have been created, and also about what it means to recognize that we are living in a disordered world in a world that is not all that it was created to be, that we have fallen away from the purposes for which God has created us. 

Chapter 3: Non-Historical

Stump:

We have other people that are not so convinced that the authority of scripture demands a historical Adam and Eve, that somehow the gospel doesn’t fall apart if you don’t have these first two people doing this. But rather that scripture is using Adam and Eve in a more literary sense in some, in some way. Right?

Haarsma:

Yeah. And there’s some basis for that in both the Old and New Testament, you know, hearing from these different biblical scholars. And you mentioned earlier about the names of Adam and Eve, and Adam means the earth and Eve means mother. It points to this archetypal representation that rather than requiring it maybe to be historical people. And in the New Testament there’s all this literature around the time of when Paul was writing that was all playing off of Adam. And so you have to take into account in  that sort of context as well. So based on those sorts of things, some people say, well, it was, scripture does not require Adam and Eve to be historical. And instead the story is about how we all fall into sin.

Stump:

And that’s easier to reconcile with the science…

Haarsma:

Actually, science can’t really tell us the answer to this question whether there were two individuals who sinned before God and when that happened, science just cannot answer that. What it can tell us was how many homo sapiens were living at what times, a little bit about what kind of behavior they were involved in and um, when, how they spread around the earth. And that’s about it. So,

Stump:

And for that point too then, isn’t it fair to say that science also couldn’t tell us whether God created two people de novo and put them in the middle of a population of other homo sapiens?

Haarsma:

Could, could be. Yeah. That could have happened too. So I think we don’t have to force science to make this decision for us. We should definitely be thinking more broadly, theologically and biblically and let those things be driving our choice among these models.

Stump:

So one reason I think some people might be comfortable defending that non-historical view of Adam and Eve while claiming that it doesn’t undermine scriptural authority. is that scripture itself, the human authors of Scripture are writing in a specific time and context. You already alluded to the fact that there were lots of Adam stories going on during the time that Paul was writing. And so some people would want to say, people of that day, just like they would have understood the cosmos in a way relative to their own day and age, understood some of history in their day and age. And Paul is setting the Gospel in those terms that were relevant to their culture. Does that have any purchase for a legitimacy of a non-historical Adam view?

Haarsma:

Yeah. I mean it’s a way of taking Paul’s teaching on Christ seriously while saying that his teaching on Adam is more a product of his time and his understanding and his culture, just as he believed the earth was flat and the heavens were above the earth. What is it… the three tier universe. So yeah, that is a viable option.

Stump:

Here’s Andrew torrence. 

Torrence:

So I think there are ways in which contemporary science makes me think that it’s perhaps less likely that the story of Adam and Eve took place in the way that it did. Again, I don’t think contemporary science can rule out that possibility. But I think that there’s ways in which at least suggests that human beings emerged in a much more gradual way, through the process of evolution, in ways that makes it very hard to make sense of there just being this original pair of persons that were created out of nothing in a way that was completely discontinuous with everything that had taken place before. This seems to be much more gradual emergence of these two human beings. At the same time, I can’t know that for sure. There’s limits to what science can tell us. And again, I think my reading of the second creation story is much more informed by my understanding of what the genre of the text is, but what the text is trying to do. So yes, there’s ways in which my assessment of the text is informed by science, but not in a way that leads me to read it in the way that I do.

Stump:

Ken Keathley is not persuaded by Andrew’s reasoning.

Keathly:

I am someone who holds a fairly strongly for the necessity of a historical Adam and Eve for a number of reasons, not the least of which, we have where the Bible both in the old and new testaments connects Adam with all of salvation history and human history. We see that obviously in the Genesis text, but also in First Kings. And then, you know, you have it in the Gospel of Luke where Luke takes it backwards starting with Christ and goes all the way back to Adam. That’s not insignificant. And so I think that any approach to understanding Adam and Eve needs to affirm fairly strongly an actual man and woman. 

Stump:

Here’s Bill Craig again.

Craig:

I think that it’s plausible to think that the type of literature that Genesis two and three is, in particular, is a sort that does not need to be taken literally. And that if there is a historical interest in these stories, it be most plausibly carried by the genealogies that connect Adam to Abraham via Noah, in unbroken succession. And given that these genealogies melt seamlessly into persons like Abraham who are indisputably intended to be historical, it’s plausible to think that his ancestors were also intended to be historical figures. So while I think it’s a defensible position, I think that it does occasion difficulties with regard to how the genealogies function.

When you bring the new testament into the discussion, it seems pretty clear that both Paul and significantly Jesus regarded Adam and Eve as real people that actually lived. And so the person who takes a purely mythological or symbolic approach to these narratives is going to be in a very awkward position of correcting the Apostle Paul and even the Lord Jesus himself on matters of doctrine. And that I think is an extremely uncomfortable position to be in.

Haarsma:

Oh, well I have not made up my own mind for sure on Adam. I have leanings. It’s kind of like every other day it’s like, oh, maybe this, maybe that. This isn’t an easy question. There’s so much deep theology tied to this that we need to be thinking about. So it’s not a question to enter into lightly. My hope for the church, for pastors, for Christians everywhere, is to have a better understanding of the different options and the different implications of them to read more about the pros and cons. I know when I first was beginning to explore this, I’m like, oh, I don’t even want to look, like, oh no, my faith could be damaged by this. But I actually started reading more about it and went, oh, there are ways to preserve a doctrine of the image of God, really robust ways, even if humans evolved and oh, there are ways to talk about the fact that we have all sinned and need Christ even if we evolved. Okay. You know, and it actually can be less scary once you dig into it a little bit.

Stump:

So it turns out that there are actually quite a few issues that not all of us in the church agree about, right. Especially those of us in the Protestant tradition where we have our own views on lots of different things and we’re happy to start our own denominations over it. Right? Can Adam and Eve be one of those things that Christians of good will and of commitment to scripture and of commitment to exploring scientific findings, can Adam and Eve be one of those things that we agree to disagree on?

Haarsma:

I think so. I think it has to be. If you think of baptism, infant baptism and adult baptism, that’s a pretty serious theological point. People used to split denominations go to wars over that. And now I know quite a few churches that’ll happily do both. So it, that’s a helpful reminder that some of these things are the culture of our time. If the Adam and Eve question is used as a litmus test for orthodoxy for how one’s view of the authority of scripture, then it really becomes a dividing point. But I’d rather the discussion then be about those orthodox theological points and about the authority of scripture, than about Adam and Eve as a proxy for that. Science allows Adam and Eve to be historical or non-historical, recent or late. So there are options there and it’s gonna take theological discussion to work out what the best one is.

Stump:

Let’s hear one more time from each of our guests

Roberts:

I take the word of God very seriously and what I see there, although I don’t interpret the word of God literalistically most of the time, I still see that Adam and Eve seem to be very real and relevant historical entities throughout scripture and not just in the Genesis account. And so I think there’s really good reason to believe that they were real people, real historical figures and not just literary reference.

Craig:

Many people think that the historicity of Adam and Eve is vital because the doctrine of original sin seems to stand or fall with this doctrine. If there wasn’t a literal Adam and Eve, then obviously there wasn’t a literal fall. I’m not persuaded that that’s a very good argument. The doctrine of original sin, by which I mean that Adam’s sin was imputed to humanity so that we are guilty for what Adam did is very weakly attested in scripture. It’s not in the curses pronounced upon man in Genesis three . You don’t get it anywhere else except for Romans chapter five. And even there it’s not clear because what Paul says is that sin spread to all men because all men sinned. It requires the free choice of every person.

So while the universality of sin I think is essential to Christian faith—no one can be saved apart from the atoning death of Christ—I don’t see that the doctrine of original sin and the fall is all that important.  

Rather, here’s my concern. It’s what we’ve already alluded to. Both Jesus and Paul seem to have believed that these were really historical people and therefore if they were not, we’re in a position of having to say that Paul and Jesus held false beliefs about important theological matters. And that’s hugely significant because Jesus is supposed to be divine and therefore omniscient and incapable of holding false beliefs. So how do you deal with the deity of Christ? The deity of Christ in one sense could be the casualty of the ripple effect of denying the historicity of Adam and Eve. So there’s a kind of knock on or domino effect of this that I think does make it a pretty significant issue.

Torrence:

So if the doctrine doctrine of Adam and Eve is the belief that there are two historical persons, Adam and Eve that really existed in history, then I don’t think that’s foundational to the Christian faith. But at the same time, I do think we need to see this as a true story. And in certain ways it’s a true historical story because this is representative of the very history that we participate in— the history of disorder, a history that has been created for something that’s so much greater than we are, we currently know from observing the world as it is today. You know, we do exist in a world that has fallen away from God, that is not embodying the goodness that, yeah, again for which it has been created. That’s true, that’s historical and that’s foundational. And we learn this from the story of Adam and Eve. And so if that’s what we mean by the doctrine of Adam and Eve, yes, I do think this is a fundamental doctrine for the church to recognize, but not if were going to see this as a historical report of something that took place however many years ago.

Keathly:

Right now I’m comfortable with admitting that I don’t have all of the answers at this time on how one exactly is to put together, to integrate salvation history and natural history as understood at this point. And I want to have the candor and honesty to say there’s some questions I don’t have a good answer for. In the interim, while I’m waiting, I will hold both in tension.

Stump:

So we used our hypothetical time machine to go back in time to see if we might bump into these two people. Let’s use it to go forward in time. In a hundred years from now, are we still going to be arguing about historical Adam and Eve

Haarsma:

It’s hard to say. A hundred years ago, certainly people were talking about evolution of humans and why it mattered. So we might. Or maybe we’ll be onto so many other questions. Science is advancing and there are questions–if we discovered intelligent life on another planet, for instance, we’d really be talking about that instead. What does that mean for who we are as humans? How does God really…

Stump:

That makes the sole progenitor problem a little more difficult, doesn’t it?

Haarsma:

It really changes, you know, puts it in a bigger context. And there are so many things around how we take care of the planet, how we take care of one another and medical care. There’s many things for Christians to be talking about at the intersection of faith and science. So I hope we don’t get so bogged down in the Adam and Eve question that we ignore these many other issues.

Stump:

So have we settled this issue and can we move on or is there a need to continue to work on this?

Haarsma:

Oh, definitely need to continue to work on it. My impression in the last few years is that a lot more people are learning about it, thinking about it, and we have a better basis for discussion. But there’s still a lot of room for more people to join the conversation. But people often get kind of depressed over this or discouraged or just like, oh no, this is, we’re headed into risky territory. But for a scientist, when there is an unanswered question, we get excited. We’re like, Ooh, hey, there’s something we don’t know. Let’s go learn more. Let’s go find out. Let’s think about it. Let’s talk to other people. Let’s get more evidence. And all those things we can do on this question so we can view it as an exciting opportunity to learn.

Stump:

At BioLogos, we’ll do our part to keep this conversation going.

Credits

BioLogos:

Language of God is produced by BioLogos. It has been funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation and more than 300 individuals who donated to our crowdfunding campaign. Language of God is produced and mixed by Colin Hoogerwerf (that’s me). Our theme song is by Breakmaster Cylinder.

Original music in this episode is  is by Tony Correlli of Steep Steps who composed two originals songs, The first is Adam, which uses the chord progression A — D — Am…written out that A D Am, and the second song, Eve which is an E chord and then the five chord (often denoted with a V) and then, you guessed it, back to E. Thanks Tony. 

We are produced out of the BioLogos offices in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have questions or want to join in a conversation about this episodes find a link in the show notes for the BioLogos forum. Find more episodes of Language of God on your favorite podcast app or at our website, biologos.org, where you’ll find tons of great articles and resources on faith and science. Thanks for listening!


Featured guests

William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University. Craig also estanblished and runs the website reasonablefaith.org

Kenneth Keathley

Kenneth Keathley is Director of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, Senior Professor of Theology, and Jesse Hendley Chair of Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

Anjeanette Roberts

Anjeanette “AJ” Roberts is a research scholar for Reasons to Believe. She holds a BS in chemistry at the University of Tulsa, a PhD in molecular and cell biology from the University of Pennsylvania, and an MA in Christian apologetics from Biola University.

Andrew Torrance

Andrew Torrance is Senior Lecturer in Theology at the University of St. Andrews and co-founder of the Logos Institute for Analytic and Exegetical Theology. He has published numerous essays on the relationship of theology to the sciences and, among his four books, he is co-editor (with Thomas McCall) of Knowing Creation: Perspectives from Theology, Philosophy, and Science and Christ and the Created Order: Perspectives from Theology, Philosophy, and Science.  He is currently a member of an interdisciplinary team of scholars, funded by the Templeton Religion Trust, for which he is writing a book on Accountability to God. Together with Eric Priest and Judith Wolfe, he also runs the prestigious James Gregory Lectures on Science, Religion, and Human Flourishing.
Dennis Venema

Dennis Venema

Dennis Venema is professor of biology at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. He holds a B.Sc. (with Honors) from the University of British Columbia (1996), and received his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia in 2003. His research is focused on the genetics of pattern formation and signaling using the common fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism. Dennis is a gifted thinker and writer on matters of science and faith, but also an award-winning biology teacher—he won the 2008 College Biology Teaching Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers. He and his family enjoy numerous outdoor activities that the Canadian Pacific coast region has to offer.

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