The following very large post is a paper on the historical Adam and Eve which I recently submitted for my THE540 Systematic Theology class at GRTS. In it I review the problem of science vs. theology, what is at stake for the Church, and some possible solutions followed by my own opinion.

It is by no means comprehensive on the topic. It is by no means my final word forever on the topic.

It is a brief introduction to what I have come to believe thus far in my life, and I lean pretty heavily on the book ‘Did Adam And Eve Really Exist? Who They Were And Why You Should Care’ by C. John Collins. It was a great book and any Christian looking to dialogue on how science and faith interact should read it.

did-adam-and-eve-really-exist

The Problems

Adam and Eve may not have been real flesh and blood individuals; there are theological and scientific reasons to believe so. There are also reasons to believe the more traditional view, that they existed as God’s first two humans beings from which all humanity is descended. The issues surrounding a historical Adam and Eve demand the two fields of theology and science reconcile in some manner. Before Western society put such great faith in science, Adam and Eve were hardly challenged as the progenitors of the human race. Ignorance is bliss, but foolish, and for Christians to continue on as if the world has not developed, ruins the churches witness. New questions demand new answers, and the Bible is not as forth giving as some might have hoped. This paper will give a rough picture of the problems surrounding Adam and Eve, analyze what is at stake in the debate, and offer a few different solutions. The Christian faith stands to lose intellectual and spiritual ground in the minds of all if good science and good theology are not somehow reconciled by the Church.

Regarding Adam and Eve, the first problem encountered is whether they existed at all in any form or if they were simply made-up characters: are they reality or myth? The second problem, regardless of the first, is if Genesis is somehow divinely inspired or totally man-made.[1] So, before going any further, there are now four options regarding the problem of Adam and Eve: are they a God-inspired reality, God-inspired myth, man-made reality, or man-made myth.

Ignoring the man-made half of the problem for now and assuming the Christian faith in Scripture, problems still abound.  Discoveries in biology, archeology, and geology have uncovered certain things regarding human origins which quickly cast doubt on the validity of a simple literal belief that Adam and Eve were the first (and only) two people created from dust and lived in a garden called Eden. Genetic proofs indicate it would be impossible for the original community of human beings to number less than around one thousand individuals. [2]  Findings in archeology demonstrate that human beings have been in Australia around forty thousand B.C., at least indicating Adam and Eve were created long before then.[3]  These things begin to stretch a belief in Adam and Eve as “de novo creations”[4] and require some mental effort in order to piece back together a logical system of belief. The easiest solution is to assume that Adam and Eve are only a God-inspired myth. For reasons that will be explained later, this answer is unacceptable.[5]

In order to maintain the story of Adam and Eve as a God-inspired reality, the problem develops into which logical system makes best sense of all the facts. How do the science and the works of God connect? One answer is that Adam and Eve were only two members of a larger group and God did something to them which affected the entire group, perhaps because they were the leaders of the group.[6]  Within this evolution-leaning-view there dwells another problem: were Adam and Eve humans in a human community when God did something to them or were they some sort of ‘animal forbearers,’ as Collins coins. Did God make them into humans from some sort of pre-human animals?[7]  Or, getting away from an evolution-friendly view, perhaps God created only the two them and worked upon their DNA miraculously in order to by-pass the natural inhibition of there not being enough humans to propagate an entire species.[8] Ultimately the problem comes down to how much room is allowed for God’s miraculous work in balance with the natural methods present in creation, i.e., evolution and uniformitarianism.[9]

What Is At Stake?

            Regarding the historical Adam and Eve, and many other topics, the intellectual and spiritual integrity of the Church is at risk when good science is poorly integrated with the Christian faith. To ignore, or worse, deny the discoveries of science do much harm to the image of the Church. Such Christians seem foolish and ignorant, the remnant of a bygone age. More commonly, Christians hold a naively innocent understanding of the sciences, incompetent on the subject and yet believe they know enough. Keeping a copy of Answers in Genesis on the shelf and making the occasional weekend trip to the Creation Museum are steps in the right direction, they are often only enough to make Christians dangerously opinionated.[10] The average Christian entrances into the sciences is typically burdened by laziness and ventured upon only to attain the quick and easy answer for a complex problem. Instead of approaching the sciences as God’s good creation for our benefit, they are treated as quasi-sinful to even study- a tool of atheists and Darwinists. This approach to science will get the Church left behind as people search for a faith more logically consistent and honest with all the facts.

Collins offers four reasons why reconciling a historical Adam and Eve is theologically important.[11]

1) It makes sense of the world, both scientifically and theologically.

2) The doctrine of sin and how it affects everyone depend on an original family and their original disobedience.

3) Morally, a common origin for mankind affirms common human dignity and the need for the solution to sin.

4) The authority of the Bible begins to wither as the different sources, such Paul, Jesus, and the author of Genesis, are questioned and discounted as historically inaccurate.

The two key points here are the problem of sin and the historical authority of the Bible.[12] The Christian faith simply unwinds if Adam and Eve are not true historical figures.[13] Both Paul and Jesus cite Genesis 1-3 as historical, and believed it themselves.[14] If they are wrong, or worse- dishonest, the foundation of the New Testament gospel crumbles; the need for the redemption from sin is nonexistent.[15] Richard Ostling, quoting Tim Keller, perfectly sums this up in one quick line: “If you don’t believe what he (Paul) believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul’s teaching.”[16] The story of Adam and Eve is not a God-inspired myth but, as mentioned before, a God-inspired reality.

Solving the Problems

            There are many wrong ways to apply science and theology to Adam and Eve. There are also quite a few acceptable answers as well. Collins has four criteria, which I agree with, forming a line-in-the-sand separating the bad scenarios from the plausibly theologically and scientifically valid ones. They are:

1) The origin of the human race goes beyond a merely natural process. Evolution is ultimately unable to explain human origins.

2) Adam and Eve are the headwaters of the human race; they originated something shared by all humanity.

3) The ‘fall’ was both historical and moral. It occurred at the beginning of the human race. Criteria (2) and (3) are related in that both are shared by all humanity and originated with Adam and Eve.

4) Any view which postulates more human beings than just Adam and Eve present in the beginning must state that Adam and Eve were somehow representatives of them all. The primacy of Adam and Eve must be maintained in order to sustain points (2) and (3). This potentially allows the necessary room for scientific discoveries in genetics and geology to jive with the historical claims of the Bible. [17]

A poor solution to the problem will fail to meet one or all of the requirements. The extreme is, of course, Darwinian Evolution which would deny the historicity of Adam and Eve right away. This fails to answer the problem of universal pain, the feeling that something is wrong with the world. It is also founded in pure science, which is every changing and unsure, i.e., evolution fails to fully explain the complexity of human beings and the many gaps present in the fossil record.[18]

Stepping away from the more atheistic perspectives, there are a few which fit under the description of ‘Old-Earth’ Creationism or ‘Theistic Evolution.’[19] Essentially, wherever pure Darwinian Evolution fails to account for something, this view holds God stepped in and worked a miracle to make up for it. Such views are defined by giving as much possible leeway to the sciences, while still attempting to hold to some kind of biblical worldview. Most proponents of such a view meet criteria (1) but often fail to meet (2) through (4) because they put the authority of properly understood science above the authority of properly understood Scripture, thereby undermining the Bible’s authority and truthfulness. Again, Old-Earth Creationist and Theistic Evolution proponents generally agree that science ultimately dictates what Scripture can do or say. I believe that such a distinction is wrongheaded, and unnecessary to uphold both science and the Bible.

Another mistaken view is that of mainstream ‘Young-Earth’ Creationism. The mistakes of a typical Young-Earth Creationist view include denying good science and failing to understand the Bible’s literary context. Genesis 1-3 is the work of a literary great.[20] To read it in strict literal sense, as if it were a science text book, is to read it wrong and abuse the text.[21] This view gets it right that the stories of Genesis are based in real events, but those events are couched with literary and theological significance.[22] Genesis was not written as a science text book, its goals are not to give a blow-by-blow analysis of how God created the world. It does use historical events to convey theological truths about how mankind is sinful and in need of redemption.[23] A strict Young-Earth view holds the core of historical truth, a literal Adam and Eve, and expands it to everything else in Genesis 1-3, thereby trampling the literary and theological purposes of the text.[24] It does so to the detriment of intellectual integrity and ruins the testimony of the Church in scientific communities. Literalism is the downfall of the Young-Earth Creationist view.[25]

A view that holds some weight, at least by maintaining good science and proper biblical theology, would be that of C.S. Lewis or Francis Collins, perhaps also Derek Kidner.[26] In this view God used evolution to build the human genome and form. At some point God worked a miracle upon the pre-hominids to make them fully human. There may have been many individuals created this way, but Adam and Eve were the head of the entire race. This view is able to maintain the biblical worldview (a common origin for fallen man and the need for redemption) and it accounts for the discoveries in science (genetics and the fossil record). This view also holds up to Collins four criteria, and he admits it is a viable option for those who prefer the ‘population size approaches.’[27]

In my own opinion, any view that holds up to Collins four criteria will maintain the biblical worldview and be scientifically plausible. The one reason I do not hold a population size approach, an Old-Earth perspective, or any view that emphasizes macro-evolution is because of Collins first criteria: “the origin of the human race goes beyond a merely natural process.”[28] As was pointed out, Genesis 1-3 is not primarily concerned with blow-by-blow history and is loaded with theological purposes conveyed by the literary styles of the day.[29] The literary framework view has its short-comings, for if the historicity of one particular portion is questioned to favor a literary purpose, then the entire thing may be questioned regardless of the clear historical purposes in the text.[30] There are historical and theological purposes to the text which are both conveyed through a particular literary style.[31] A major goal of this style was to record the background of Israel’s story, and some like to stop there,[32] but Israel’s story is the background of all humanities story.[33]

The point: the historicity present in the account of Adam and Eve does not lean toward a population size, Old-Earth approach but instead highlights God’s creative power to form Adam and Eve without any forbearers, such as pre-hominid creatures. Collins forth criteria, the addendum for those Christians who want to hold a population size approach, is unnecessary, although it does a lot of good to hopefully repair the damage present in our culture between the Church and science. Admitting that natural processes are not enough eliminates the need to account for everything in science, which ever changing and backtracking.[34] Science becomes secondary in importance. That is where it should be, the Bible should always come first.[35]

Particular challenges offered by Old-Earth theories can be dismissed on account of God’s miraculous work, clearly emphasized by Genesis 1-3. My view, leaning toward a Young-Earth perspective, does not “demolish Darwinism because such a brief chronology offers no time for evolutionary processes to occur.”[36] Starting with only one man and one woman does not upturn the discoveries in genetics for “it would have required God’s miraculous intervention to increase the genetic diversity to what is observable today.”[37] God need not act in accordance with the laws he placed upon his creation when working within it. God is fully capable of acting in accordance with them or without them, to do his will within and upon creation. Science is limited by the existence of the God-of-miracles, for its only tools are the natural world and what is perceivable within it. Science could never fully explain everything, and even in a perfect world it could not account for miracles. It is the nature of a miracle to be outside the natural process. What I desire, and what the entire debate surrounding Adam and Eve is about, is to establish a proper relationship between these two distinct fields of study. The first tenant of the relationship is establishing boundaries: good science does not take into consideration or conclude the unnatural, but good theology must do exactly that. Theology is capable of incorporating the findings of science but science is incapable of doing the same to theology, thus our starting point as Christian must always be our theology. If the science does not fit with our theology then

“the conflict must occur at the level of human interpretation: either a misunderstanding of what God is revealing in nature, or a misunderstanding of what God is revealing in scripture.  Conflicts motivate us to reevaluate both interpretations.”[38]

The solution which makes most sense to me: the world was created with apparent age. Adam and Eve were created mature, and so was everything else in the universe.[39] That means there were already fossils were in the ground[40] and the trees had rings marking past seasons and the light from distant stars was shining in the sky when Adam and Eve looked up at night. Adam and Eve were created with brains already trained to speak language and create names for the animals. Apparent age is why scientific discoveries indicate the world and universe are so old. This answer may sound anti-intellectual and anti-scientific, but it is no more so than a simple belief in a God who does miracles. To summarize, here are the three points leading me to this conclusion:

1) Regardless of anything else, a Christian worldview believes in a Creator who does miracles.

2) The literary, theological, and historical purposes of Genesis 1-3 indicate a historical Adam and Eve were created fully mature, and a world around them also created with apparent age.

3) Science works within the bounds of the natural and the event of creation was ultimately unnatural. The apparent age in place from the original act of miraculous creation leads to a false opposition between Scripture and science.

The complexities of Adam and Eve are not going to be solved over-night, nor do I think my conclusions in this paper are fully formed. In this paper I hoped to only give a rough sketch of the problems surrounding Adam and Eve, point out what the Church stands to lose on this topic, and review some possible solutions. When it comes down to it, the Church needs only to listen more and share opinions less. When the next court case or scientific discovery comes around, Christians need to keep level heads, do the work of becoming informed, and maintaining a civil tongue. The culture will ignore the Church as long as we are viewed as ignorant and backwards. Christians must immerse themselves in the sciences, to the glory of God. The Church cannot afford to create a genre of science known as “Christian Science” like what exists in music and literature. Instead of separating from the culture, the Church has the opportunity to lead the scientific world. Pastors must support and learn from the biologist and geologist in their congregations, giving them opportunities to teach in the church. I believe scientific exploration and inquiry are best achieved by Christian men and women working to understand God’s good creation.

Works Cited

Collins, C. John. Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who They Were And Why You Should Care, Wheaton:Crossway Books, 2011.

Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2001.

Horton, Michael. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

Ostling, Richard N. “The Search for the Historical Adam: the center of the evolution debate has shifted from asking whether we came from earlier animals to whether we could have come from one man and one woman.” Christianity Today (June 2011): 22+. Cited 25 July 2013. Online: Academic OneFile.

Richter, Sandra L. The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry Into the Old Testament, Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008.

The Biologos Foundation, “Can science and scripture be reconciled?.” No pages. Cited 31 July 2013. Online: http://biologos.org/questions/scientific-and-scriptural-truth.

The Biologos Foundation, “Were Adam and Eve historical figures?.” No pages. Cited 31 July 2013. Online: http://biologos.org/questions/evolution-and-the-fall.


[1] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2001), 540.

[2] C. John Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who They Were And Why You Should Care, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2011), 118.; The BioLogos Foundation, “Were Adam and Eve historical figures?,” n.p. [cited 31 July 2013]. Online: http://biologos.org/questions/evolution-and-the-fall.

[3] Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, 117.

[4] Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, 122.

[5] See page 4, middle paragraph.

[6] “One would need to imagine Adam as chieftain, or ‘king,’ whose task it is to… represent them.” Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, 125.

[7] Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, 125-126.

[8] “There could be a small population resulting from Adam and Eve themselves.” Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, 113.

[9] The BioLogos Foundation, “Can science and scripture be reconciled?,” n.p. [Cited 31 July 2013]. Online: http://biologos.org/questions/scientific-and-scriptural-truth.

[10] See answersingenesis.org.

[11] Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, 134-135.

[12] “If one does not take Adam seriously, two serious problems ensue: first, sin must be attributed to creation itself (and therefore ultimately to the Creator); second, there is no longer any historical basis for Christ’s work as the Last Adam, undoing the curse and fulfilling the terms of the covenant of creation.” Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 425.

[13] “We must affirm that what these chapters record did happen historically.” Feinberg, No One Like Him, 577.

[14] Matthew 19:4-8; John 8:44; Romans 5; 1 Timothy 2. Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, 76-90.

[15] “If Paul doesn’t really think Adam’s sin is a historical fact (or even that there was a first man named Adam), and if it isn’t, the doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin is fabricated on a fairy tale.” Feinberg, No One Like Him, 839.; Horton, The Christian Faith, 426.; Sandra L. Richter, The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament, (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008), 118.

[16] Richard N. Ostling, “The Search for the Historical Adam: the center of the evolution debate has shifted from asking whether we came from earlier animals to whether we could have come from one man and one woman.” Christianity Today (June 2011): 22+. Cited 25 July 2013. Online: Academic OneFile.

[17] Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, 120-21.

[18] “Perhaps the biggest embarrassment for evolution’s fossil record is the sudden explosion of all sorts of life-forms in the Cambrian period while no fossils appear in pre-Cambrian rocks.” Feinberg, No One Like Him, 590.; Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, 126.

[19] Feinberg, No One Like Him, 546.; Ostling, “The Search for the Historical Adam,” 22+.

[20] “Genesis 1-2 is the work of a first-rate literary artist.” Feinberg, No One Like Him, 577.

[21] Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, 33-34.

[22] Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, 58.

[23] Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, 66.

[24] Ostling, “The Search for the Historical Adam,” 22+.

[25] Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, 34-35.

[26] Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, 128-130.

[27] Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, 130.

[28] Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, 120.

[29] “It records history in the way OT writers composed it, and it uses these historical facts to teach significant truths about God, mankind, the world, and their relations.”  Feinberg, No One Like Him, 578.

[30] Feinberg, No One Like Him, 615-616.

[31] Feinberg, No One Like Him, 576.

[32] Ostling, “The Search for the Historical Adam,” 22+.

[33] Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, 59.

[34] “Scientific theories change.” Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, 106.

[35] Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, 134-35.

[36] Ostling, “The Search for the Historical Adam,” 22+.

[37] Ostling, “The Search for the Historical Adam,” 22+.

[38] The Biologos Foundation, “Can science and scripture be reconciled?” n.p.

[39] Feinberg also thinks this view is viable, but he cannot bring himself to hold it on account of its unverifiable nature. I think it is the most likely option when accounting for the literary, theological, and historical purposes of Genesis 1-3. Feinberg, No One Like Him, 619.

[40] On the possibility of pre-fall animal death: Whether animals died pre-fall or did not die pre-fall is not extremely important in Christian creation theology. Death may very well have been a part of good created order for animals, since they do not have souls or the image of God. Thus death could have occurred to pre-fall animals. However, I do not see any theological significance in this, nor does it seem to matter in the Genesis account.

Advertisements