Adam exists, probably. He surely exists as an image, an icon of our failures, and our need for help. Am I sure Adam existed as an historical human person? No. That is my working hypothesis and I think it defensible. It is the most natural interpretation of the data we have gained from divine revelation, but has problems based on present scientific understandings.
Adam and Eve? I think so, but perhaps not. Christians can persist in belief in Adam and Eve given the theological gains and the state of the science, while simultaneously accepting that there are great difficulties. If “science” presents great difficulties to us, some would urge everyone who is not a scientist must adopt the present consensus from science or risk being unreasonable. After all, scientists like criticism and would be handsomely rewarded if they overthrew the consensus.
If only the world were this simple!
Science is practiced by scientists and so far as we know all scientists are human. Humans begin looking at the world and “data” helps them make judgments and begin to hypothesize about what those judgments mean. The further we get from immediate sensory impressions the more theory laden our judgments, theories, and ideas become. We start to hypothesize inside the metaphysical framework we have been given.
There is some evidence that this begins to impact our experience. We see what we expect to see. By the time one gets to very complex ideas, based on intricate theories, the possibility of problems is multiplied. “Anomalies” in the data are dismissed as unimportant. For all but the rare, world class genius, deviating too far from the generally accepted views may get a scientist cut off from the process before she has a chance to make a difference.
This is a very human thing and there is no reason to think either scientists or “science” has found any fool proof “self-correcting” mechanism. Indeed the very idea that there exists only one explanation for data at the highest level of abstraction is dubious, go read WV Quine.
Yet this is only to say that a scientific consensus is not determinative, not that it does not matter. Any decent scientist does his best (as we all should) to follow good rules that generally work and are often self-correcting. When science says: “No.” this should be taken very seriously, though not as final. The more “theory dependent” the conclusion the more the entire edifice may be called into question.
Best science, mathematics, philosophy, theology and every other field of human thought are in relationship to each other. They all must listen and respect boundaries and realize that surety is rare. Let’s not be hasty. People are too eager to be sure about everything. I am sure about very few things and those things are not very interesting. I am sure all unmarried men are bachelors, that things that have already happened happened, and that 2+2=4. That’s just not remarkable.
The minute an idea or an alleged fact gets interesting the certainty plummets. Does Hope (my beloved) love me? Probably. Am I sure? Who is that arrogant? So when I approach a question from M* I have all these things in mind:
41. Do you believe Adam & Eve were historical people? If so, when do you place them in history?
If I were just using what scientists now say, Adam and Eve were probably not historical people, though the fact that “best science” has now pushed human origins down to a very small group of people is interesting. If I were just looking at divine revelation, then I would say probably Adam and Eve were real people, though the Bible could be read as saying they are metaphorical.
I think the science (so far) is very theory laden, as is our reading of Scripture! Adam and Eve? They are surely the icon God used to describe our past. Were they a real primordial pair? My working hypothesis is that they were, because the theological knowledge seems less theory laden than the science. The exegesis is more straightforward than the interpretation of present data.
Where do I place them in history?
On a standard scientific view, Adam and Eve would exist when human-like creatures gained a rational soul. One problem with issues of “Adam and Eve” is that human-like creatures could exist in a community of couples (for purpose of physical intimacy) while only one pair passed on that splendid mental fire: consciousness. God gave the first pair a living soul, but this does not necessitate that nobody else was around.
I think the better explanation is Adam and Eve were the original pair and that science needs a deep revolution in terms of philosophical assumptions. As theologians, philosophers, and scientists discuss the issues raised by this idea, they explore all sorts of possibilities. My intellectual preference is for a relatively young creation and historical Adam and Eve. If this is true, then a new set of explanatory theories will have to be produced and to place Adam in Eve in history will have to wait for that to be done.
Maybe it will never be done and my friends like Hugh Ross will be correct.
The joy of intellectual discovery is that we get to wait and see.
*M is a non-Christian that sent me 55 questions earlier this year. He has asked that I not reveal his or her name. I will write as if “he” is a male, but this is for convenience. I do not know if I will get to all his questions. I try to limit my answers to hundreds and not thousands of words. Here are questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 44, 46, 47, 49, 51, 52, 53, 54, and 55.