Evolution, Adam and Eve, and the Image of God
Can the biblical story of Adam and Eve be reconciled with the findings of modern science? Evolutionary and old-earth creationists disagree on this point.
What happens when evolutionary creationists (represented by BioLogos), old-earth creationists (represented by Reasons to Believe), and Southern Baptist theologians sit down publicly and talk about origins? At the 2014 meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, these three groups decided to find out. This four-part series is adapted from the three-hour dialogue, entitled “A Conversation on Origins.” 2017 UPDATE: This dialogue has been published in greatly expanded form by InterVarsity Press in the book Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation?.
Participants in the dialogue:
- Jim Stump (JS)—BioLogos Content Manager, Philosopher
- John Walton (JW)—BioLogos Advisory Board Member, Old Testament Scholar
- Fazale “Fuz” Rana (FR)—Vice President of Research & Apologetics at Reasons to Believe, Biochemist
- Robert Stewart (not identified in transcript)—Professor of Philosophy and Theology at New Orleans Baptist Seminary
- Deborah Haarsma (DH)—BioLogos President, Astrophysicist
- Ken Keathley (KK)—Professor of Theology and Director of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
- Darrel Falk (DF)—BioLogos Senior Advisor for Dialogue, Geneticist
- Ken Samples (KS)—Senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe, Philosopher and Theologian
- James K. Dew (not identified in transcript)—Associate professor of the history of ideas and philosophy and dean of the College at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
- Hugh Ross (HR)—President of Reasons to Believe, Astrophysicist
Ken Keathley—This is our elephant in the room: the issue about the historicity of Adam and Eve, the nature and historicity of the Fall, its impact on the created order. Let me first ask Reasons to Believe: Fuz and Hugh, you have the book called Who Was Adam? First, let’s hear the Reasons to Believe understanding of the historicity of Adam, when you understand Adam and Eve to have been, and what you understand of the evidence.
Fazale Rana—We would take the view that Adam and Eve were historical individuals, that they were the first human beings created in a direct and personal way by God—in his image—and that all humanity emanates from the primordial pair. We would argue that there is not an evolutionary connection between Adam and Eve and the other hominins like Neanderthals, Homo erectus, and so forth.
KK—You said there’s not…?
FR—In our view, there’s no evolutionary connection between the hominins and modern humans. We would argue that the biblical text is largely silent—there’s a little internal disagreement at RTB on this issue—as to when Adam and Eve were created. We think that the best scientific dates place the creation of Adam and Eve in the neighborhood of 100,000 years ago, keeping in mind that there’s a fair degree of uncertainty associated with the scientific measurements for when humanity originates.
Hugh Ross—We also take the position that there were divine reasons why God created the different hominid species.
FR—Yes, a primordial pair, just two. They were the first and the only humans at the time of creation.
Ken Samples—One brief theological comment here: I think the reason this issue is so very important—when you think about what is absolutely essential to historic Christianity. When I think about Adam and I think about places like Acts 17, “from one man,” and I think about Romans 5, Jesus and Adam, I think in my mind: could you have historic Christianity if there was no historical Adam? What would that do—would that change historical Christianity into something that it’s not? Is it essential? I think that we strongly feel that there’s two ways of responding to issues. Is this an issue that needs further study so we could disagree about it? Or is this an issue that we have to fight and die on that particular hill?
I think what’s been good about dialoguing with BioLogos is that I’ve realized that they’ve stretched me a little bit. They’ve challenged some of my particular categories. But this is a very critical issue, and I think all of us have had some soul-searching ideas about how critical is a historical view of Adam. It remains a controversy for the two groups, I think, to some degree, although I would also say that BioLogos has laid out a couple of scenarios how they might have a historical Adam with their evolutionary creationism, and I want to hear them. I don’t want to reject them prior to hearing how all of this cashes out.
KK—Why don’t you talk about, Deborah, the various models within BioLogos about Adam and Eve?
Deb Haarsma—At BioLogos, it’s true, we have multiple models of Adam and Eve. Fuz already introduced the idea of Adam and Eve being placed a long time ago. There’s abundant archaeological evidence that the first humans originated at least 100,000 years ago, not just 6,000 or 10,000 years ago. By 10,000 years ago, humans had spread all over the Earth. A difference, though, is what we see in the genetics. At BioLogos, we see that the genetic evidence is very strong that humans are genetically related to hominids like Neanderthals, and we believe that God created human beings through an evolutionary process. We are still God’s creation.
We would also disagree with Reasons to Believe on the number of humans. The evidence coming from population genetics points to large numbers of humans, several thousand in the smallest population at the headwaters of humanity.
We still, though, have models in our community that do allow for a historical Adam and Eve. One of those models would be to say that in the early population of humans, when there were several thousand individuals, there could have been two particular historical people—at a real time and a real place. These two people were, perhaps, leaders of their community, people that God approached, that God endowed with his image, that God called to live rightly. They chose to rebel and fall into sin. There would have been a historical Fall in this model. Adam and Eve would have been two among many humans at that time.
As I said in the first session, at BioLogos, we do believe in the authority of Scripture. We believe that all people have sinned and that all people are in need of salvation. What we’re talking about is exactly how and when sin entered the world and how did sin get transmitted over time, and those are questions theologians have debated for centuries, even before modern genetics.. So that’s one model: to place Adam and Eve as two individuals among a larger group, say 100,000-some years ago.
Another view is to place Adam and Eve recently, to fit more with the description of the biblical text which describes a Near Eastern culture, a farming culture—these things did not exist 100,000 years ago. This model would place Adam and Eve as individuals who lived in the Near East about 10,000 years ago. God called them out from among their peers, perhaps in a similar way that God called out Abraham. This model raises issues of the spiritual status of humans before that time, and, again, issues of sin transmission. But that’s another model being talked about in the BioLogos community. For more on that one, you can see Denis Alexander’s recent book, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? A new edition is out.
A third view that I’ll put in front of you is a non-historic view, where Adam and Eve are seen as symbolic characters, where the story is seen as more of an everyman story or retelling. Denis Lamoureux presents a non-historic view. Tomorrow afternoon, there’s a session on the recent Zondervan book Four Views on the Historical Adam including John Walton on this panel, Denis Lamoureux who’s here in the audience, and Jack Collins. Denis Lamoureux’s view and John Walton’s view are within the BioLogos tent. Jack Collins is on the edge of the tent, looking in; we’ve had lots of conversations with Jack Collins. He’s also been in conversations with Reasons to Believe. So if you’re wanting to know size-of-tent things, that’s about where we’re at. Hopefully that was clear enough.
KK—The companion question that goes along with that is the nature of the Fall. Both organizations understand animal death to have occurred—predation, suffering, and death —prior to any type of Fall, regardless of which understanding of Adam you have. Is that correct? Do you want to speak to that in terms of how you understand those things to occur, because that’s not a minor issue among a sizable part of our evangelical community?
HR—Okay, we believe that there’s a “two creation” model to Christianity, that God created this universe as a vehicle to eliminate evil and suffering, once and for all, and to bring redemption to the maximal number of human, free-willed beings. But this is not the end purpose. The end purpose is that there’s a new creation that will follow this creation, and in the new creation, the redeemed will be only those individuals that “pass the test.” They’ve been tested by the influence of evil. Through God’s help, they passed that test, and their free will actually enhanced in the new creation. Because they passed that test with God’s help, never again will evil and suffering creep into God’s creation.
The physics of the new creation are radically different from the physics of this creation. Because God created this universe with the intent that it would be a vehicle of his hand, to eliminate evil and suffering, it has certain physical consequences on purpose. God built this universe with gravity, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, the weak and strong nuclear forces, and designed it in such a way that they would motivate us human beings to avoid evil and pursue virtue and realize we’re going to need God’s help to make movement in that direction. What you notice in Revelation in the new creation, there is no gravity, there is no electromagnetism, there is no thermodynamics; there is no need for it, because evil is no longer a possibility in that context. That explains why we presently have hurricanes and earthquakes.
I’m actually going to be speaking about the problem of natural evil tomorrow in a debate about the Fall, making the point that if you actually look at what we call “natural evil,” it’s optimized in the context of the laws of physics. We get the optimal number and intensity of hurricanes, and if we didn’t have any hurricanes at all, that would be far worse in the context of the laws of physics, and if we had more, it’d be worse. It’s optimized, and that’s true of every other thing. We have also argued that it’s true of carnivorous activity and of parasitic activity, that God designed the parasites, the carnivores, the detritivores that take care of dead material, that those are all optimized to minimize death and to minimize suffering in the context of these physical laws.
So where we would disagree with our young-earth [creationist] brethren, for example, we think that the death of animals and plants before the Fall is actually beneficial; it’s one of the benefits that God gave us. For example, we wouldn’t have 76-plus quadrillion tons of bio-deposits [e.g. limestone, coal, clathrates, oil] that we can exploit to launch civilization and take the Great Commission to all the people groups of the world quickly, rather than slowly, if it wasn’t for God’s carefully designed death of plants and animals for billions of years before he created human beings. In that sense, both organizations would see the death of plants and animals pre-Fall as something that is good and not bad.
John Walton—Certainly, we agree with the idea of death before the Fall and we don’t see that Paul is saying anything different in Romans 5. The idea that death comes to human beings because of sin is certainly acceptable with a concept of death before the Fall. I don’t know that I would see it quite the same way as fitting into the system. I tend to see the idea that God was involved in an ordering process, and that ordering process brought an optimal level of order—that’s what it means to be good. Good is not “perfect,” good refers to an optimal level of order and functionality. God brings that level of order, and then recruits, commandeers, creates human beings in his image, precisely to carry on that process of order-bringing. Therefore, we live in a world that has been partially ordered but also has been characterized by non-order. Then, worst of all, we added a mix of disorder. So we live in a world of non-order, order, and disorder.
I would talk about some phenomena, like hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes, as part of the non-ordered world; maybe the extent to which death is in the system and operating within the system could be seen as part of the non-ordered world. Order is in process. In that way, new creation—I agree, that’s the desired end. I don’t know the place where it says there won’t be gravity, but maybe you can have something to show me later on. But that will be a perfectly ordered situation, and there’ll be no sea, which is the place of non-order in the ancient world. There will be no sorrow or suffering or pain—issues of non-order. There will not even be a temple, which is an interesting observation, but that’s because there will not be a designated center of sacred space; but rather all of it will be equally sacred space, and that’s because of what that new creation will represent.
Again, these are a couple of different ways of seeing the issue of creation, our current state, our fallen state, and new creation. Those can be worked out in a variety of ways. BioLogos doesn’t stand for any of those particular ways. But when we try to understand what it is the Bible claims, one of the things that we try to do is sort out—I talk about it as “unbundling”—the issues of the theological aspects—sin and the Fall—which we all agree with entirely. The need for salvation, all such theological aspects have been attached to Adam. Some feel they can do that without a historical Adam. Myself, I feel like the need for a historical Adam for those kinds of theological situations, and those are differences that exist within the organization, options that exist within the organization. But the idea is that even once you accept the historical Adam, this doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily bundling in the scientific implications that come with Adam being the first or the only.
Again, for me, it’s not a scientific discussion; that’s an important discussion, but that’s not what I can manage, not being a scientist. I want to look at the biblical text and say, “What claims is the biblical text making? Is it making a claim that Adam was the first and the only?” and to try to work through those passages. As Ken mentioned, passages like Acts 17, Romans 5 are important passages to be dealt with, and also, of course, the information in the early chapters of Genesis. As someone who believes in authority, I’m always interested in the question of what the Bible actually claims. If it doesn’t make a claim, then I’ve got a lot of freedom to look at other alternatives.
Ken Samples—I’d like to ask a question, maybe to John or anybody on the BioLogos team. I think a fair reading of the New Testament is that Jesus and Paul believed that there was a historical Adam. I find it difficult to hold an evangelical view of inspiration and inerrancy that could say that Paul and Jesus could be wrong about that. John, do you think there is an evangelical view of inspiration and the authority of Scripture that would allow for that? Or is it my mistake that Jesus and Paul believed in a historical Adam?
JW—Again, my own personal position—I know you’re not asking that, but just to make it clear—from a personal position, that’s one of the reasons why I do adopt a historical Adam. Nevertheless, I have very good friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, who’ve not made that same decision. For them, I think I can represent them well enough to say that they believe that those are issues of the cultural viewpoint that Jesus and Paul have adopted. Not adopted by saying, “Well,” says Paul, “I already know it’s not that way, but I’m going to talk that way.” No, Paul’s just a product of his culture. We see that at various levels, and of course, that’s a big hermeneutical conversation, as we all know. Okay, what part of what Paul says is culturally determined and what part is universally mandated? That’s the big hermeneutical question. That’s as much the elephant in the room as Adam is. But the idea is clear that Jesus accommodates his audience when he talks about the size of the mustard seed. He accommodates his audience—you have to accommodate an audience in any effective act of communication. Jesus does so and Paul does so. How much of what they’re saying is reflecting how people thought in those days?
Accommodation is not a threat to inerrancy. Accommodation has been understood all the way back in church history as merely saying that you have to make concessions to any audience that you’re addressing. You have to use language that they’ll understand, ideas that they’ll understand. In accommodation, we see that affecting the incidental framework of communication, not the element of truth. Now, there’s where you have to raise the question: are Paul and Jesus hanging a theological point on the issue of there being a historical Adam? Or are they not? Is that just the framework, incidentals, of their communication? That’s where people who come to different conclusions will differ. Some will say, “They’re hanging theology on it.” Others will say, “No, they’re really not doing that.” Again, when someone says that, they take a different position than I do. I’ll ask the question, “Is this person trying to undermine biblical authority? Are they rejecting the Bible and what it says? Or are they using faithful interpretation and an acceptable approach to hermeneutics, even though they arrive at a different conclusion?” And that would be the question that I would be interested in during that kind of conversation.
Audience member—In a new book from Baker, the author, writing under a pen name, gives the idea that Adam can be about 1.8 million years ago, and is the forefather of all the species in the Homo genus. Is that something that you would accept?
FR—If you’re arguing that Adam was created 1.8 million years ago, you would be essentially arguing that Adam was a Homo erectus. I look at the image of God as being reflected in the archaeological record. Types of artifacts that creatures would produce, including modern humans, reflect behavioral and cognitive capacities. I would argue that the image of God is going to be manifested in a particular way in the archaeological record. When we look at the types of “culture” and tool-making Homo erectus was engaged in, it’s not that much more sophisticated than what’s been observed recently in the wild for chimpanzees and gorillas. So I just don’t see any way you could attribute Homo erectus to a creature that bears God’s image.
DH—We would agree with all that.
Audience member—When I get my results back from “23 and Me” that tell me that I’m 2.9 percent Neanderthal, and I think it’s my understanding that you don’t think that Neanderthals are modern humans. How am I to take that? Do I not believe that evidence? I understand there are statistical questions there. How do I understand that in terms of biblical history, the possibility of that kind of crossing?
FR—The question is basically about human-Neanderthal interbreeding and the claim that there’s approximately two to three percent Neanderthal DNA in the human genome due to an interbreeding event that happened 50-60,000 years ago when humans began to migrate around the world. There were presumably limited encounters that introduced Neanderthal genes into the human genome. That idea is becoming pretty much orthodoxy in anthropology, and I think there is a case for interbreeding that’s reasonably strong, scientifically speaking. However, there are certain things I see in the data that haven’t convinced me 100 percent that this interbreeding actually happened. I’m not going to get into a lot of details. But there are alternate ways you could interpret the statistical details that people use to conclude interbreeding; there are alternate ways to interpret it that don’t involve interbreeding that are published in the scientific literature that just don’t seem to get the same type of exposure as the claims of interbreeding. In addition to that, there is growing evidence from Neanderthal genetics that Neanderthals form very small, insular populations. When humans were migrating into Europe, the populations of the people that were migrating, presumably, were rather small as well. Recent data says that there was about 3,000-5,000 years of overlap when humans and Neanderthals would have coexisted in Europe, but given the relatively small population size that you’re dealing with, the likelihood of encounters may have been very small, if not negligible. I’m not completely convinced that interbreeding happened. There are claims that we can directly detect Neanderthal alleles or genetic signatures in human genomes, but the distribution of how those alleles exist within European and Asian populations don’t fit the explanation for when and how the interbreeding happened. So I’m not completely convinced that that’s the case. Now, what are the implications if interbreeding did occur? At this point, I’m just going to say I’m a biochemist, and this is really a theological issue. Does a human-Neanderthal hybrid possess a soul? Does it bear the image of God? If that creature mated with a human, I don’t know. What’s going on there? I don’t know the answer to that question. It’s really a theological question. But it doesn’t seem to me that theologians have the whole idea of ensoulment worked out, that there are different views on how the soul was actually introduced or propagated, or how the image of God was actually propagated from a mechanistic standpoint. Until that’s worked out, we really can’t even address the question of what’s happening with the human-Neanderthal hybrid. To me, I see that as a theological issue.
HR—Let me weigh in on it, because, like Fuz, I’m skeptical about this claim that we actually have strong scientific evidence that the interbreeding did take place. Nevertheless, you’ll find an article on our website saying, “What if? What if that actually stands up?” One thing you’ll notice in the paper is that if this interbreeding did take place, it is at an extremely low level. In fact, they argue in the paper that it’s at a lower level than the incidence of bestiality that goes on today. If you’ll look at Levitical law, notice how strong the language is against bestiality. Maybe go back to Genesis 2. You see Satan try to attack the image of God. What better way to attack the image of God than to get this kind of interbreeding going? We would argue that even if it did take place, the effect on the image of God today would be negligible; therefore, basically we would say that if the effect is real—and again, we’re not conceding that it is real, but if it is real—it would be displaying this battle between God and Satan to attack the image of God and on God’s part to preserve the image of God. Therefore, I would look at this, regardless of how it plays out, we as Christians really need to take seriously what the Levitical law says about sexual immorality and the impact sexual immorality can have on broader issues of our spirituality.
DF—I’m going to be giving a talk on Friday evening—John Walton and I are in the same session—that goes into the evidence related to the Neanderthal genes that we have. What’s the evidence? I can’t go into the evidence now because it would take a while, but I can say, I do want to make the conclusions which are not as iffy as perhaps Hugh and Fuz believe. Now, we’ve not had a chance to sit down and talk about this with them. It’s very important, actually, that we sit down and talk about this. But the fact is that about 2.5 percent of DNA, exactly like you said, of a typical Homo sapiens from non-African origins is derived from Neanderthals. Furthermore, it’s not all just the same DNA. That is, it’s not all just the same genes. In other words, some people might have gene A from Neanderthals, other people may have gene C from Neanderthals, other people might have gene E, and if you look at the genome as a whole, it’s actually in the neighborhood of 20 percent, more than 20 percent of genes in a human population as a whole are Neanderthal-derived. The evidence for that, again, I’m going to talk about that on Friday evening, and I imagine most of you won’t be able to be there, but we got a lot to talk about at some point if you’d like me to, privately. But here’s one thing that I can say which is really, really important. Just recently, in the last month, the genome of a 45,000-year-old Homo sapiens specimen from Siberia has been totally sequenced, the whole genome. We’ve got the entire sequence of the Neanderthal, the entire sequence of even a Homo sapiens that died 45,000 years ago. Now the question is: does it have Neanderthal DNA, given that it’s 45,000 years old? The answer is yes, it has DNA, but the interesting thing is that the DNA that it has is in larger chunks. Now, genomes get jumbled up when mating takes place; there’s a recombination between chromosomes. So when there was a mating, at that point, the Neanderthal genes would be in larger stretches, but as time goes by, they get shorter and shorter as there’s more and more—the word is “crossing over,” recombination. A 45,000-year-old genome does indeed have Neanderthal DNA, but it’s in larger chunks than it is for our DNA. Very strong evidence like that, in a nutshell—there’s other evidence I could talk about if there were more time.
Audience member—Each group has referenced the Imago Dei, and I was hoping you could better clarify what you understand the Imago Dei to mean.
Ken Samples—I would say first of all, I’m reluctant to say exactly what it is. But I think there have been some theories that carry a great deal of weight. Maybe the oldest original view is some kind of resemblance view, that we have qualities and characteristics—of course, finite and in this case fallen. We’re volitional creatures, moral creatures, spiritual creatures. We have certain qualities and characteristics. Probably more popular views today are the relational view, that we’re most like God when we relate, one to another, maybe even most like God when we relate to God himself. A third view would be a representative view, that we are God’s vice-regents, that we represent the Lord. My take, and we talk a lot about views—there is a diversity of opinion at Reasons to Believe, probably less than there is at BioLogos—I tend to think that the relational view and the representative view are true because of the resemblance view. I think that view holds a very strong element. However, sometimes people ask me who have Down syndrome children, “What is it about this child that they are in the image of God? If you talk about all these qualities and characteristics, how would you explain that?” I would say that I think there is a certain life that is reflected. But those are some of the ideas, and we kick them around at Reasons to Believe.
JW—Again, I think at BioLogos, you find a variety of different ways to talk about the image of God. I tend to break it down in some of the same categories that Ken does. At the top of my list—which will be no surprise to those of you who have read my stuff—is that the image of God is functional in nature. By that, I mean that God has assigned humanity a function in the world. Humanity as a whole; therefore we can’t ask the question, “What about this person? What about that person? What about an older person? What about a baby? What about a disabled person?” That’s out of the question—it’s humanity, corporately, and therefore throughout, pervasively, individually, in the image of God. That is, we are given this function; it says that we are representatives of God, and therefore we should subdue and rule—functions being designated. Those functions talk about how we are helping in God’s process of bringing order to the world. The world is not entirely ordered; there was an “outside the garden.” The sea was still there. Remember, there is no sea in the new creation; that’s the ordered situation we’re moving toward. There’s still non-order that is supposed to be our task. I put that at the top of the list. But I also believe that the image has to do with our identity. God has given us this identity of being his images. For all that entails, it’s something that God has given. As a result, we can be his representatives, and we have some resemblance.
The point that I would like to make is that the image of God is not something that, in any evolutionary model, could have evolved. It’s something God gives. It’s not something that I believe would be neurological or psychological; it’s not something that we develop or grow into. It’s something that God gives. Therefore, I don’t expect to find it in the fossil record, though we may find places where we say, “These people, by virtue of what they’re doing, would seem to be in that category of image of God.” But I don’t believe that it’s anatomical, and I don’t believe that it’s neurological. Now, I think also that if you are in an evolutionary model, you can say that the human brain evolved to such an extent that it was then ready to act in the image of God and therefore God endowed people with it. There you can talk about self-awareness and God-awareness. But I don’t think that those things are the image of God; rather, they serve as a platform by which the image of God can be carried out.
HR—We would argue that, at a minimum, the image of God means that we human beings are spiritual; that once created, we’re eternal, unlike the animals; and unlike the animals, we can form a relationship with this higher being that we call God.
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