We have come full circle in our investigation into the historicity of Adam and Eve. We have seen how the biblical account was taken as factual by persons in Christian history as important as St. Paul. And indeed, it is probably true to say that all Christians until the nineteenth century, with the possible exception of a few enlightenment theists, such as Voltaire and Jefferson, believed in the historicity of the original pair.
Therefore, in questioning whether such a belief is still rational, in light of what science now tells us, I am raising the issue: what has science disclosed since 1800 that would make a Christian have to question whether Adam and Eve actually existed?
I have gone through the science and the theology in the previous posts. I will not summarize those here, in order to save space -- I simply ask of anyone who wants to challenge this post to do me the courtesy of reading the previous installments, linked in the first lines above. For I expect, given that in this post I am going to lay out a scenario for the historical Adam and Eve, there will be a fair number of challenges to my thesis -- which is fine, because that is how it will be tested against what others believe to be the case.
The scenario has been tested somewhat already -- as I will show below, I believe it squarely meets the four criteria for a theologically acceptable Genesis scenario laid out by Prof. C. John Collins in this article cited earlier (at pp. 159-60) and restated in his recent book on Adam and Eve (pp. 120-21):
1. To begin with, we should see that the origin of the human race goes beyond a merely natural process. This follows from how hard it is to get a human being, or, more theologically, how distinctive the image of God is.
2. We should see Adam and Eve at the headwaters of the human race. This follows from the unified experience of humankind, as discussed earlier (pp. 155–8). How else could all human beings come to bear God’s image?
3. The Fall, in whatever form it took, was both historical (it happened) and moral (it involved disobeying God), and occurred at the beginning of the human race. The universal sense of loss described earlier (pp. 155–8) makes no sense without this. Where else could this universality have come from?
. . .
4. If someone should decide that there were, in fact, more human beings than just Adam and Eve at the beginning of humankind, then, in order to maintain good sense, he or she should envision these humans as a single tribe. Adam would then be the chieftain of this tribe (preferably produced before the others), and Eve would be his wife. This tribe “fell” under the leadership of Adam and Eve. This follows from the notion of solidarity in a representative. Some may call this a form of “polygenesis,” but this is quite distinct from the more conventional, and unacceptable, kind.
Let us now proceed to see how this could be so.
Begin with this very astute observation centuries ago by the French philosopher Blaise Pascal (quoted also in Dr. Collins' article [text at n. 58], which should be read from start to finish), in his deservedly famous Pensées (see n. 58 in Collins for the full references):
Man’s greatness is so obvious that it can even be deduced from his wretchedness, for what is nature in animals we call wretchedness in man, thus recognizing that, if his nature is today like that of the animals, he must have fallen from some better state which was once his own.
Precisely -- what we call "sin" in man is regarded as natural in animals. This insight is key to the understanding of Genesis' account of the Fall. For it leads to the natural question which all pure evolutionists should have to answer: At what precise point in your scenario of hominid evolution resulting in Homo sapiens did the lights go on? When did hominids become aware of their own moral culpability, and why, and how?
There will be as many answers to that question as there are pure evolutionists, and that is just the problem -- from a purely evolutionary standpoint, it is impossible to say. There will be speculation about brain size, the evolution of consciousness, and so forth, but without a written diary or record (and writing came long afterward), the "evolution" of Moral Man will be forever enshrouded in the prehistoric mists.
The scenario I wish to propose, however, gives a precise answer to that question -- that is, precise in the sense of we may know what happened and why; the details of just when and where are less clear. We begin by satisfying Dr. Collins' very first criterion, and posit that God created two unique individuals whom the Bible calls Adam and Eve, and placed them in an earthly paradise where all their needs could readily be met without effort. (The physical location of the "Garden in Eden" [Gen. 2:8] is not as important as is the fact that, as Creator, God could create any kind of earthly paradise He wanted, at any location, and at any time. Having created it, He could just as easily have removed all earthly traces of it, although there are some who think they know just where it was.)
Adam and Eve thus did not evolve from any primeval ancestor in the Darwinian sense; they were unique and one-time special creations of the Creator -- let us call them Homo praecipuus (from the Latin for "extraordinary, distinguished"). (They nonetheless shared enough of the Homo sapiens DNA to be able to interbreed with them, as we shall see.) Without any evolutionary experience or ancestry, and brought into the world as fully formed adults (as one wit remarked, "they were the only humans without tummy buttons"), they were unaware of sin at first -- and probably, as Genesis describes them, incapable of discerning right from wrong, or good from evil (which is why they were such easy targets for Satan, who in the Genesis version approached them as a talking serpent).
God's plan for them is not laid out in Genesis, but we can conceive that He may eventually have wanted them to grow to full maturity and then, with their offspring, take dominion over the earth. They would not suffer death as long as they could continue their connection with God and the Garden of Eden. However, the fact that Satan could also enter the Garden, and tempt the first pair as he did, implies that God must have foreseen that His creations would thus fall short of His plans for them, due to their gift of a free will to choose as they chose. Try viewing salvation in that light, whereby -- if God knew that Adam and Eve would succumb to Satan's temptations, He had determined ultimately to send His own Son to redeem their fallen state.
Note that Adam and Eve, again as portrayed in Genesis, were given from the outset the gift of language and speech, so that they could communicate with each other and with their Maker. (Soon after leaving Eden, they quickly acquired other skills: husbandry, farming and the manufacture and use of tools -- another fact which indicates the degree to which their genes were more advanced than that of other humans at the time.) But their Maker endowed them also with a gift far more precious than mere language -- as Genesis 2:7 relates, he breathed life into them, and they each became a "living soul." With the Catholics and the Orthodox, then, I posit that Adam and Eve were the first creatures on earth to have souls -- and further, that their ability to procreate would result in any of their lineage having souls, as well. It is the human soul, in my view, which gives meaning to the phrase "made them in His own image", and which gave them their capacity to become morally responsible individuals.
It is useless for evolutionists to ask the question: "What part of the human genome codes for souls?" Not being physical or corporeal, souls are not subject to the biochemistry of DNA, and not a subject for scientific investigation. But the irreducible fact for Christians is that we do have souls, and that they constitute most of what we mean when we say we are made in God's image. The consequence is that Christians do not have to be concerned that their core faith might be undermined by some future advance in evolutionary science.
When did the Fall take place? At this date, we cannot be precise, but we know something of what was going on elsewhere in the world. Genesis chapter 1 tells us that God created all the plants and animals before he created the first human pair, and even evolutionists agree with that timeline. (Genesis also says that God created all of the plants and animals, "each according to its own kind". I do not take a position here on the accuracy of the Darwinian hypothesis which goes by the name of "macroevolution"; it may be so, or it may not; either possibility fits into the scheme. God equally well could have created the genetic forerunners of each species [or family, or phylum] and then allowed evolution by natural selection to do its work. Until more evidence of macroevolution accumulates, it is not necessary to decide that point.)
In another of his books on Genesis (pp. 121-29), Dr. Collins shows us how the timeline of Genesis 1 may be fit together with the events narrated in Genesis 2-4, and I will not go over that here. Suffice it to say that, when Adam and Eve were first created, the earth was already teeming with plants and animals -- including the first "anthropologically modern humans" (who were not, however [and by design], inhabitants of Eden). Unlike Adam and Eve, those specimens of early humans had not yet acquired the capabilities of higher language -- and they did not, I posit, have "souls" as Christians understand that term.
The scenarios that I discussed in this earlier post, as well as still others described by Dr. Collins in discussing his four criteria, all have in common that they try to account for the acquisition of these defining human characteristics by the species Homo sapiens through some sort of evolutionary means. And that is where they break down logically, it seems to me. An earlier comment on this series cogently argues the problems with such scenarios:
Now, I'm not sure what you're going to argue here exactly: let's say that somehow 10,000 early humans "evolved". (Logically, you've got the problem of where those 10,000 came from, exactly -- why start there, after all? Did 20,000 almost Homo sapiens suddenly reach the same evolutionary point at the same time and mate to produce 10,000 Homo sapiens? Shouldn't there be an easier explanation?)
But leaving that aside, let's say two of those 10,000 named Adam and Eve ate the apple and created Original Sin. What of the [9,998] who didn't? Why didn't they convoke some prelapsarian version of an ecumenical council (especially since they were still perfect and unfallen) and correct Adam and Eve? Or are you arguing that 5,000 of that group were Adam and 5,000 Eve, and 5,000 serpents chatted them up, and they had an apple-ducking contest all at once? That seems less credible than Genesis, frankly.
These difficulties stem from getting the logic backward, in my opinion. We modern humans cannot see ourselves as like Adam and Eve, who are so remote from our world; we identify our origins instead with Cro-Magnon man, the cave painters, and all the early humans whom we resemble. So when we ask how and at what point sin and death came into the world, we tend to start from our own viewpoint, which is the wrong starting point.
It was Adam and Eve who were originally without any awareness of sin, and who had the ability to live as long as they wished without suffering death. Although sin as we term it was not yet in the world when Adam and Eve were created, the animal behaviors which -- in morally responsible humans -- we regard as sin (see the quote from Pascal above) were certainly in the world, as was suffering and death. So we do not have to account for the "entry" of sin and death into the world outside of Eden -- they were already there. It is just that there were not yet any morally responsible humans with souls in God's image, who could be held accountable for sinning.
God, in this scenario, created just two such humans -- and he gave them (in the Genesis account) simple instructions, which at some point they proceeded on their own (with the serpent's [Satan's] prodding) to disobey. Once they disobeyed God, they acquired moral culpability for their acts -- they knew they had done wrong, and they tried to hide from God in the Garden.
"For on the day you eat of that fruit, you shall surely die" -- not die on the spot, but become certain to die at some future point, just like any other mortal creature. The punishment for eating the forbidden fruit, and thereby acquiring moral culpability, was Adam and Eve's banishment from the paradise of Eden, where they could have remained free of death (and all moral responsibility). And so this scenario satisfies the third of Dr. Collins' criteria quoted above -- under it the Fall literally happened, due to Adam and Eve's disobedience of God's command.
And not only does this scenario satisfy Dr. Collins' third criterion, but it also furnishes a natural basis for the universal longing that man still experiences for a state in the distant past which is now "lost", or "fallen". As well expressed by G. K. Chesterton (again, quoted in the excellent article by Professor Collins [text at n. 60, which see for source]):
The Fall is a view of life. It is not only the only enlightening, but the only encouraging view of life. It holds, as against the only real alternative philosophies, those of the Buddhist or the Pessimist or the Promethean, that we have misused a good world, and not merely been entrapped into a bad one. It refers evil back to the wrong use of the will, and thus declares that it can eventually be righted by the right use of the will. Every other creed except that one is some form of surrender to fate.
A man who holds this view of life will find it giving light on a thousand things; on which mere evolutionary ethics have not a word to say. For instance, on the colossal contrast between the completeness of man’s machines and the continued corruption of his motives; on the fact that no social progress really seems to leave self behind; … on that proverb that says “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance,” which is only what the theologians say of every other virtue, and is itself only a way of stating the truth of original sin; on those extremes of good and evil by which man exceeds all the animals by the measure of heaven and hell; on that sublime sense of loss that is in the very sound of all great poetry, and nowhere more than in the poetry of pagans and sceptics: “We look before and after, and pine for what is not”; which cries against all prigs and progressives out of the very depths and abysses of the broken heart of man, that happiness is not only a hope, but also in some strange manner a memory; and that we are all kings in exile.We are, in Chesterton's magnificent language, "kings in exile". How can that be, under an evolutionary scenario? The very idea of "the Fall" implies a reverse kind of evolution -- the opposite of progress. We (our precursors) were at some point in a more evolved state, and then we fell to a worse one, due to our precursors' own grievous fault. That is the point of the story in Genesis chapters 2-3, and there is no reconciling of that point with a purely evolutionary theory -- according to which "progress" is in only one direction, i.e., forward, to ever more advanced states of existence. Therein (in that insight, in other words) lies the key to resolving the apparent conflict between purely evolutionary and Christian "fundamentalist" viewpoints -- if, by the latter term, we describe a belief that Adam and Eve were actual humans, as described in Genesis.
Thus we now come to the hinge-point on which this scenario depends: Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden, and forever prevented from returning (Gen. 3:24). Where could they go?
Precisely -- into the world outside of Eden, with its population of plants and animals -- and a small (3,000 or so) group of anatomically modern humans, according to the genetic evidence discussed in this earlier post. Adam and Eve gave birth to Cain and Abel. Their sons grew up, and being morally culpable (with souls of their own), they became subject to sin, like their parents. As God warned Cain, in Genesis 4:6-7:
“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”
Cain was unable to do so, and slew his brother Abel out of jealousy. He had to leave Adam and Eve, and go into the world with a mark of some kind to keep him from being killed -- by other early humans, who as yet, we posit, had little in the way of speech, language, or moral conscience. But Cain took a wife, also from among these other early humans (no, he did not marry his sister and have to begin the human race with an act of incest) -- and then we are told he went and began to build an entire city -- of other early humans, again (Gen. 4:17). Being able to found and build a city is a further indication of the skills with tools which distinguished Homo praecipuus from ordinary members of Homo sapiens at that time.
Cain himself had the Homo praecipuus genes of his mother and father. But once he married an early Homo sapiens, his genes recombined with that species in all his offspring, and passed on to their descendants. Cain would have taught his wife and family the rudiments of speech and communication, husbandry, and the manufacture and use of tools -- which they in turn passed on to others in the city he started. Cain's branch of the family may have been responsible for all the people of Africa -- if so, the group which Cain joined after leaving his parents was the small pool of 7,000 or so individuals which, according to the latest data from population genetics, made up the strain which originated in Africa. (Or it may have been one of the descendants of Adam through Noah who did so -- see below.)
Cain's children -- but not his wife (!) -- would also have been born with immortal souls. (Perhaps God's grace intervened even then -- at least, we may hope so.) As each of those in turn married still others, the number of descendants with souls would have multiplied geometrically. (Speaking from an evolutionary standpoint, Cain's tool and language skills, passed on to his descendants, would have given them each a selective advantage over other early humans, meaning that natural selection would eventually take care of the phasing out of any Homo sapiens without souls. It would be mischievous to ask whether there may be any such specimens still around. N.B.: It appears after all that we may hope there are not.)
Back with Adam and Eve, matters progressed similarly, but with a smaller starting population. Adam and Eve had Seth, and perhaps still others, all of whom would have spread the Homo praecipuus genes among the Homo sapiens population, and conferred thereby an evolutionary advantage on their descendants. In this way, the scenario satisfies the second and the fourth of Dr. Collins' criteria.
With the onset of the Flood, Genesis says that all other strains of human and animal life with the exception of Noah, his family and the animals saved on the ark were destroyed. (And if so, that event alone would account for the extinction of humans without souls, apart from the inexorable mechanism of natural selection.) The scenario sketched above does not have to go that far to make the point that all the current humans on earth stem from a "tribe" originally begun by Adam and Eve and their children. From the third generation of that tribe onward, the genes of Homo sapiens recombined again and again with those of Homo praecipuus, with the result that the latter became dispersed throughout the gene pool of the group, and are now lost to scientific study as such.
When the logic is viewed from Adam's perspective, then, and not from our own, he was responsible for the introduction of sin and death into his world -- which then necessarily became ours, as the generations after Adam increased. He and his progeny all had souls, which in turn gave them moral capability. From the first commingled generation onward (the generation after Adam and Eve's children), humans became aware, for the first time, of the fact that their animal instincts and origins (from the non-Adam side), when combined with a soul and a conscience (the heritage from Adam and his children), made them subject to sin --i.e., to "miss the mark" set for them by God (and later, by the laws He gave them). Thus the human dilemma of the Fall: man is made in God's image (he has an immortal soul, and knows right from wrong), but he has an innate tendency ("corrupted nature") to fall constantly short of the standard which being made in God's image sets for him.
We thus come to the conclusion of the scenario, but not to the end of the story. For man is still, many thousands of years later, trying to be Godlike in himself, while at the same time denying any need for God. The beliefs that there is no God at all, or that everything alive on earth today resulted solely from random mutations and natural selection over many billions of years, are just a few current-day examples of such long-standing, and apparently ingrown, attempts to do without God. Isn't it ironic, in consequence, that one could accurately define "man" as "that species which, made in God's image, spends nearly all of his time and effort trying to deny it"?
1. Adam and Eve, far from being two "specially selected Neolithic farmers", were a one-time and unique creation of their Maker, Homo praecipuus, who made them body and soul, breathed life into them, and gave them dominion over an earthly paradise in the Garden of Eden.
2. But they disobeyed God's simple command, became through that disobedience morally culpable and aware, and were banished from their paradise to the world outside -- this was what Christians mean by "the Fall." "Original sin" thus refers solely to the act which caused God to expel Adam and Eve from paradise -- it does not, in the Augustinian sense, refer to Adam and Eve's conduct as having made all subsequent humans accountable for their sin (and so is fully reconcilable, as best as I am able to determine, with the concept of "original sin" as understood by the Orthodox Church).
3. Once outside, Adam and Eve gave birth to their children, who in turn had no alternative when it came time to procreate but to interbreed with the existing small pool of Homo sapiens into which they had come from Eden. Over time, the evolutionary advantages conferred by the Homo praecipuus genes made their descendants -- each of whom had souls -- dominant, until today there is not a single human whose genetic origin cannot be traced back to the original tribe headed by Adam and Eve (or perhaps the larger, African one joined either by Cain, or by one or more of Noah's descendants).
4. The instinct to "sin" has always been in the genetic makeup of Homo sapiens, inherited from their evolutionary ancestors in the animal kingdom. But until individuals were born with souls, and thus made in God's image, they were not capable of moral awareness of their sins, any more than animals are. The birth of humans with souls was the unique inheritance bestowed upon the human race by their equally unique ancestors -- Adam and Eve.
5. Our inbuilt genetic longing for the world as it was before the Fall -- i.e., in the Garden -- is an inherent remnant expression of the Homo praecipuus genes which our ancestors, Adam and Eve, bequeathed to us through Cain, Seth, and their other descendants.
The version of the Genesis story presented here has been inspired by the firm belief that God's revelation to us in the Bible is not in vain -- that God, all-powerful as He is, has the full capability to convey to us mortals that which we need for our salvation. "Salvation" is a Christian term for -- there is no avoiding it, if one is truly a Christian -- deliverance from Hell. Because we are all fallen humans, by reason of the events narrated in Genesis as explained above, we require the salvation of Christ, if we are not to be left to our own devices. Our "own devices" promise us nothing beyond eternal darkness or worse, because mankind is not divine, and has no power over death. Only Christianity promises us life eternal with our Savior, with our Creator, and with the Holy Spirit -- one God in three persons, for ever and ever, world without end.
[Note: see also the Postscript to this series here.]