Did Adam and Eve Exist? (Part II)

[Note: This is the third post in a multipart series. The Introduction is at this link, and Part I is at this link.]

In the previous post, we surveyed all the principal facts concerning the origins of the universe, sun, earth, life and mankind itself -- as science currently claims them to be. We contrasted them to the core religious facts of the Christian faith, and then asked the question whether the description of our origins in the early chapters of Genesis was factual, allegorical, or a blend of the two.

The core facts of the Christian faith include that Jesus was born, crucified to death, buried, and then resurrected from the dead. This last fact supposedly puts Christianity at odds with science, since the latter currently knows of no way that such a resurrection could happen. (We are not talking about just any "near-death" experience here, for which science might be able to blur the boundaries. Jesus was taken down from the cross on the basis that he was already dead -- as verified by veteran Roman soldiers, who had stabbed him in the side with a spear. He was laid in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb, and enshrouded as one who was dead, to await the day after the Sabbath for further anointment. Some thirty to thirty-six hours later, his corpse vanished from under the shroud, the stone sealing the tomb was rolled away [to the consternation of the Roman troops keeping watch], and he was almost immediately experienced again as a living person, with no deleterious effects from his brutal scourging and crucifixion just a day and a half before. Science has no possible explanation for such facts.)

But science, fortunately, is not the final judge of Christianity. If the core facts of Christianity are not true, we have St. Paul himself to tell us that "our faith is then in vain" (1 Cor. 15:14) -- and this reassurance is from a man who had actually met the risen Christ a few years before. Nota bene, John Shelby Spong, et al.: one cannot be a follower of the Christian religion without believing its core facts -- otherwise, an eyewitness to the resurrected Christ testifies that without belief in the physical resurrection of Our Lord, one's faith is in vain.

Science is in no position to judge the truth of the core facts of Christianity, because the idea of God's incarnation as the Son, and the Son's subsequent resurrection, are events outside the realm of science. That does not mean they never happened, but only that science lacks the ability to deal with them. (And please do not misunderstand -- that is not a criticism of science, any more than saying that a screwdriver lacks the ability to deal with a rivet is a criticism of the screwdriver.)

Nevertheless, Christians must be on guard that in seeking to bring accounts in the Bible into harmony with the currently known facts of science, they do not abandon, betray or undermine the core religious facts of their faith. Christ's resurrection was the entire point and goal of creation: as he himself made clear, he came to fulfill the law -- and to save sinners by doing so. Any reading of Scripture which diminishes that core truth is unhelpful at best, and possibly much worse.

The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and their subsequent fall, is one of the key pieces that gives Christ's death and resurrection a purpose, and thereby helps to explicate what he meant by coming "to fulfill the law." As St. Paul explains again, in chapter 5 of his Epistle to the Romans:

5:12 So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned – 5:13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world, but there is no accounting for sin when there is no law. 5:14 Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam (who is a type of the coming one) transgressed.5:15 But the gracious gift is not like the transgression. . . .

5:18 Consequently, just as condemnation for all people came through one transgression, so too through the one righteous act came righteousness leading to life for all people. 5:19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man many will be made righteous.

Note that Paul continuously speaks here of Adam as "one man", and contrasts him with another unique individual, Jesus. Paul identifies Adam as the vehicle by which sin entered into the world, and in doing so verifies Adam's historical, not mythological, status. He thus authenticates the Genesis story -- however it may have actually happened, Paul firmly believed, from the revelation he had received, that it was through a single, God-created individual that sin first entered the human world.

There are many other analytical reasons for regarding the Adam of Genesis as an historical person, but this is the chief theological one. Through Adam sin became universal among men, so that Christ Jesus could later come to save sinners. It will thus be necessary, in evaluating the various treatments of Genesis which I shall now discuss, to keep this point uppermost in mind.

As biology, anthropology and the science of genetics have all made their advances, those who try to apply their findings to the Genesis story have encountered what they view as increasing difficulties. Consider the case of Francis Collins, the well-known Christian geneticist who headed up the Human Genome Project. After the human genes had been fully mapped, Dr. Collins published The Language of God, in which he explained how the accumulated genetic evidence pointed to the emergence of "Anatomically Modern Humans" (in today's PC terminology) some 100,000 years ago, in a species whose population was on the order of 10,000 individuals. He noted that these findings cast some doubt on the miraculous story narrated in the first two chapters of Genesis, and suggested that the latter's account might rather be a "poetic and powerful allegory of God's plan for the entrance of the spiritual nature (the soul) and the Moral Law into humanity" (p. 207).

He followed this statement with the observation: "Since a supernatural God can carry out supernatural acts, both options [miraculous creation and poetic allegory] are intellectually tenable" (ibid.). Just four years later, however, he published his most recent book, The Language of Science and Faith (co-auhored with Karl Giberson), in which he asserted (p. 208; italics in original):
Literalist readings of Genesis imply that God specially created Adam and Eve, and that all humans are descended from these original parents. Such readings, unfortunately, do not fit the evidence, for several reasons. . . .
Perhaps the shift in emphasis here, from a belief in "supernatural acts" being "equally tenable" to a claim that any such acts "do not fit the evidence", is unintentional. Nevertheless, the dominance of (preference for) a science-based account over a faith-based account is inescapable, and may be observed elsewhere among scientists in these days who profess the Christian faith.

Francis Collins established the BioLogos Foundation in November 2007, and served as its president until being tapped by President Obama to head up the National Institutes of Health in August 2009. Other members joining the Foundation included Collins' co-author Karl Giberson, who earlier had written Saving Darwin, a book about how to be a Darwinian and a Christian at the same time; and Darrel Falk, a long-time professor of biology at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, and co-author (with Francis Collins) of Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology. (When Collins left to head up the NIH, Falk succeeded him as president of the BioLogos Foundation.)

With a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, BioLogos operates The BioLogos Forum, which "highlights the compatibility between modern science and traditional Christian beliefs." Though BioLogos takes no official position on whether or not Adam and Eve were historical persons, many articles published on the BioLogos Forum have entertained an allegorical, or at least "representative", view of the first couple. One such article is this one, written by Denis Alexander, who is Director of the Faraday Institute, an interdisciplinary enterprise under the aegis of St. Edmund's College, Cambridge. In it, he posits two models which are current among scientists who are professing Christians, and which may be used to harmonize the story told in Genesis with the latest genetic findings (as summarized in this article).

Dr. Alexander names the first view "the Retelling Model," and describes it in these words (footnotes are omitted; italics added):
The Retelling Model represents a gradualist protohistorical view, meaning that it is not historical in the usual sense of that word, but does refer to events that took place in particular times and locations. The model suggests that as anatomically modern humans evolved in Africa from 200,000 years ago, or during some period of linguistic and cultural development since then, there was a gradual growing awareness of God’s presence and calling upon their lives to which they responded in obedience and worship. The earliest spiritual stirrings of the human spirit were in the context of monotheism, and it was natural at the beginning for humans to turn to their Creator, in the same way that children today seem readily to believe in God almost as soon as they can speak. In this model, the early chapters of Genesis represent a re-telling of this early episode, or series of episodes, in our human history in a form that could be understood within the Middle Eastern culture of the Jewish people of that time. The model therefore presents the Genesis account of Adam and Eve as a myth in the technical sense of that word - a story or parable having the main purpose of teaching eternal truths - albeit one that refers to real putative events that took place over a prolonged period of time during the early history of humanity in Africa.
Under this view, the entry of sin into the world came as a result of a communal, and not individual, betrayal (italics again added):
In favor of the Retelling Model is the way in which the doctrine of Adam made in the image of God can be applied to a focused community of anatomically modern humans, all of whose descendants – the whole of humanity since that time – share in this privileged status in the sight of God. Likewise as this putative early human community turned their backs on the spiritual light that God had graciously bestowed upon them, so sin entered the world for the first time, and has contaminated humanity ever since. Such an interpretation is made possible by the fact that the very early human community within Africa would have been no more than a few hundred breeding pairs. If the Retelling Model is taken as applying to this very early stage of human evolution, prior to the time at which different human populations began to spread throughout different areas of Africa, then these putative events could have happened to the whole of humanity alive at that time.
In other words, we cannot say, on the basis of Genesis alone, that sin was introduced into the world through the act of just one or two chosen individuals. The story of Adam and Eve is a myth which is used to impart "eternal truths" -- but it probably is not factual.

Dr. Alexander names his second view of Genesis as "the Homo divinus model." According to this version,
God in his grace chose a couple of Neolithic farmers in the Near East, or maybe a community of farmers, to whom he chose to reveal himself in a special way, calling them into fellowship with himself – so that they might know Him as the one true personal God. From now on there would be a community who would know that they were called to a holy enterprise, called to be stewards of God’s creation, called to know God personally. It is for this reason that this first couple, or community, have been termed Homo divinus, the divine humans, those who know the one true God, the Adam and Eve of the Genesis account. Being an anatomically modern human was necessary but not sufficient for being spiritually alive; as remains the case today. Homo divinus were the first humans who were truly spiritually alive in fellowship with God, providing the spiritual roots of the Jewish faith. Certainly religious beliefs existed before this time, as people sought after God or gods in different parts of the world, offering their own explanations for the meaning of their lives, but Homo divinus marked the time at which God chose to reveal himself and his purposes for humankind for the first time.

The Homo divinus model also draws attention to the representative nature of ‘the Adam’, ‘the man’, as suggested by the use of the definite article in the Genesis text as mentioned above. ‘The man’ is therefore viewed as the federal head of the whole of humanity alive at that time. This was the moment at which God decided to start his new spiritual family on earth, consisting of all those who put their trust in God by faith, expressed in obedience to his will. Adam and Eve, in this view, were real people, living in a particular historical era and geographical location, chosen by God to be the representatives of his new humanity on earth, not by virtue of anything that they had done, but simply by God’s grace. When Adam recognised Eve as ‘bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’, he was not just recognising a fellow Homo sapiens – there were plenty of those around – but a fellow believer, one like him who had been called to share in the very life of God in obedience to his commands. The world population in Neolithic times is estimated to lie in the range 1–10 million, genetically just like Adam and Eve, but in this model it was these two farmers out of all those millions to whom God chose to reveal himself.

Just as I can go out on the streets of New York today and have no idea just by looking at people, all of them members of the species Homo sapiens, which ones are spiritually alive, so in this model there was no physical way of distinguishing between Adam and Eve and their contemporaries. It is a model about spiritual life and revealed commands and responsibilities, not about genetics.
The reader may find some rational basis on which to distinguish between these two models of Genesis; for the life of me, I cannot. While the Homo divinus model asserts that God first revealed himself to "two Neolithic farmers" (among many), it also allows for the revelation to have taken place with respect to "a community of farmers" -- it cannot say which version is correct. Instead of being isolated in the Garden of Eden, Adam is "the federal head of the whole of humanity alive at that time." (Italics added.) In other words, just as in the "Retelling" model, the events of Genesis causing the introduction of "original sin" happened for an entire community of people, all at the same time. And insofar as it holds that such a scenario explains the account in Genesis, I find it indistinguishable from the "Retelling model" sketched earlier. Both models seem to imply that sin (however defined) need not have entered the human race through a single primeval couple, but that Adam and Eve are symbolically representative of the first humans who strayed from God's path.

It is relatively easy, even for a non-scientist, to see just what is the stumbling-block here. The problem lies in the statistical DNA evidence which says that modern-day humans are all descended from an ancestor population which at its smallest comprised no less than about 7,000 individuals. Among such a population, what role is left for an individual couple? When, exactly, in human history did God choose to make Adam and Eve his candidates for eternal life in the Garden of Eden? And once they failed the test, how did it happen that all of the other evolved hominids at that point became corrupted with the sin of the original pair?

These are knotty questions, deserving of much thought. I, in the company (I am sure) of many like-minded Christians, have been pondering them for a long time. In doing so, I have always sought answers which did not require me to abandon altogether, or to mythologize out of historical reality, the account in Genesis chapters 2-4, for the reasons initially given by St. Paul. Communities of individuals do not arrive all at the same instant at a resolution to disobey God's command -- even in the Genesis account, Eve went first, followed shortly thereafter by Adam, by virtue of his intimate relationship with her.

(Somehow, I cannot envision a primitive Adam, rushing through the camp of his Homo divinus community, yelling: "Hey! You have got to taste this! Never mind that He said we must not taste it -- I tell you, I have done so, and you all have to, too!" Is the story of Genesis really as prosaic a stand-in for what happened as that? I don't think so.)

But before we can take on the questions directly, I think it best if we first try to understand the genetic science that is taking us in the direction of a relatively large initial community (of the species Homo divinus, if you will), as opposed to a single initial couple. And that topic will be the subject of the next post in this series.

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