If Evolution is Right… Then What About Adam? (Option 3: My Option – "Agnostic" about Adam) [3 of 3]

This series wrestles with the questions of the compatibility of Biblical theology and biological evolution.  To understand my view of Genesis 1, you may read here as that chapter will not be discussed in this series.  Also, check out this series by RJS at Jesus Creed.  The rest of this series, go here (in the first post, I present an option of Adam being historical) (in the second post I explore the idea of Adam being a parable).

Question Vanishing

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Of the two options that we explored in this series, it is honestly difficult for me to choose a perspective.  Could Adam be historical? Yes!  Could Adam and Eve be more parabolic? Yes!  I think that both of these options are indeed consistent with historical Christian orthodoxy.

The comfortable option for me is the first of the two.  Believing that Adam is indeed historical and being able to dialogue with integrity about science is quite appealing.  This is also a view that will not raise as many evangelical brows and cause me to be the object of wrath by committed traditionalists.  And, to be quite honest, it is not that far fetched a view for someone who is committed to biblical authority.

On the other hand, the myth/parable view seems like an intellectually honest approach to these early chapters of Genesis.  Could it be that the story of Adam is a story that represents the reality of the human condition and perhaps retells Israel’s history in a primeval way?  I see plenty of credence in this latter option.  Not only so, but the idea of God accommodating sounds a lot like incarnation, which is central to my understanding of Jesus.

So, what will I choose?  I choose to be an agnostic on this issue.  I choose to not choose.  I choose to allow my lack of choice to persuade me to keep searching, to keep growing, and to live in the mysterious tension between two extremely helpful options.  Both aid in reading Scripture with integrity while having an open posture towards evolution.

Which of the 2 options we explored do you feel is best?  Why?

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  • http://www.theology21.com Eric McClellan

    I side more with Adam as a historical person, but not without hesitation. Like I posted in your last article in the series, I see Paul’s use of Adam in comparison with Jesus as more than merely a trivial part of the concept that he is trying to explain.

    The problem that I am having with Adam as an historical person is to properly understand the relationship between the sin of Man and the effects it has on the rest of creation. I lean toward the idea of sin bringing about only spiritual death, but then I am not sure of the residual effects on creation. I believe that there are real effects of our sin on creation because Jesus’ return will bring with it a final restoration of all of creation, not just our spiritual existence.

    Anyway, great job with the series. I really enjoyed thinking through your posts.

    • http://thepangeablog.com Kurt Willems

      @simwaves1:disqus , I wonder if you have read this article by Greg Boyd? He makes an interesting argument about evolution and the problems with creation prior to the Fall. I think he may be on to something. PS – he takes a more historical approach… http://www.gregboyd.org/essays/apologetics/problem-of-evil/satan-and-the-corruption-of-nature-seven-arguments/

      • http://www.theology21.com Eric McClellan

        I don’t know. Boyd’s arguments seem pretty weak and a bit strange too. He does addresses my concern with the historical Adam when he takes a detour from his arguments:

        “The second question that confronts us is how to reconcile the fact that Genesis 3 locates the origin of the curse within human rebellion with the evidence that the creation had been permeated with violence and suffering for millions of years before humans ever came on the scene.”

        None of his proposed solutions are very satisfying. In fact, the fourth one that he holds to as the most convincing assumes an entire precreational story that we have little to no evidence for.

        • http://thepangeablog.com Kurt Willems

          If evil did not exist prior to the Fall in creation, where in the world did the serpent come from?

          • http://www.theology21.com Eric McClellan

            I’m not saying that evil did not yet exist, but the existence of evil in itself does not require the corruption of the creation. In Genesis 3 and Romans 5, it seems that it was the sin of Man that brought sin and corruption to the earth.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6DSBJ4ZB5CUXAWO6N4IMVRVUMQ James E

    I would conclude that there is not enough evidence within the story itself to take it as a historical narrative. Do I believe humans regularly lived to be 500 years + old? That a world-wide flood wiped out all but one family of humans, and nearly every last animal species on Earth? If something like this did happen, it was 100,000’s years ago, not 5 or 6 thousand.

    I feel that the purpose of those first few chapters is to descibe the relationship between Human’s and God before written history…before their was a “Bible” or “10 Commandments”. Certainly God is the author of creation, but has chosen how and when he will reveal himself among us.

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

    Kurt, I can’t take it anymore and I’ve got to jump in with a completely tangential rant on your use of the adjective “parabolic.”  In the inimitable words of Inigo Montoya, ” I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

    “Parabolic” is a mathematical term for a curve or arc that fits onto a type of curve called a “parabola.”  A parabola is a curve that never turns back on itself, and is defined as the intersection between a plane and a circular conical surface (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parabola).  It’s also the trajectory of an object traveling through space, that is affected by the gravity of another object but has sufficient velocity not to be pulled into orbit.

    A “parable,” a story that may or may not have happened but is told to illustrate a truth, has nothing to do with an endless curve of an object traveling through space (although some theology I’ve seen pulled from parables has some similarities to endless curves…lol).  I don’t think there actually exists a legitimate adjectival form of the noun, but “parabolic” is certainly not it.

    …end of rant…

    • http://www.theology21.com Eric McClellan

      parabolic 2
      – adjective
      of, pertaining to, or involving a parable.
      Also, par·a·bol·i·cal.
      Origin: 1650–60; < LL parabolicus metaphoric < LGk parabolikós figurative, equiv. to Gk parabol(ḗ) parable + -ikos -ic

    • http://thepangeablog.com Kurt Willems

      @dwmtractor:disqus , I stand VINDICATED!!!! hahaha. Point kurt.  Thanks Eric!

      • http://www.theology21.com Eric McClellan

        Hehe, no problem. In fairness, every time I read the term on your article it made me think of Adam being transformed into a parabola.

        • http://thepangeablog.com Kurt Willems

          I suppose I have been in theology books so it didn’t occur to me that their is a science term there as well :-)  Funny.

          • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

            OK, so me acknowledges mine own ignorance…now I’d love to know the etymology of the mathematical term…rant withdrawn!

            Thanks Eric, and Kurt, mea maxima culpa!

  • Anonymous

    I guess I don’t understand why you don’t choose both rather than neither.

    Biologically we all share the mitochondria of one mother ‘Eve’. I see no reason why we wouldn’t also share the same father.  The story of the creation of Eve fits very well with the biological reality that if you want the biological characteristics to be passed down to the next generation you mate the mother with the son or the father with the daughter.  Eve would have been the daughter of such a union.  The rib being a metaphorical way of describing the genetic material of Adam which made Adam Adam that was passed down to Eve so that both persons had the genetic material that differentiated them as a new species.

    I read Boyd’s essay, but I’m not particularly fond of his explanations.  Death is a result of entropy which is an intrinsic part of how creation exists at all. Without entropy we wouldn’t have life. If at some point God can bless creation and call it good, then I have a hard time calling death sin, or a result of sin.  I know that that view becomes sticky in the face of Romans 5, however, when you look in Hebrews the author refers to the same sin/death phenomena and talks about it in terms of fear of death.  There are other places where we are cautioned about letting our fear of death control us.  I like to think that the moment Adam sinned he became fearful of his mortality.  His guilt and his fear imprisoned him in sin and created the conditions whereby sin is perpetuated from generation to generation.

    There is a mathematical proof that says that if humans have free will, if they have choice, then so does the rest of creation right down to elementary particles.  We claim humans have choice to follow God or not.  Therefore all of creation down to elementary particles has a choice to follow God or not.  I don’t know if particles that don’t follow God are sinning or not.  I tend to think that the guilt of sin has a lot to do with our awareness of our actions.  I have a hard time understanding how an elementary particle would have that consciousness. It seems to me that only human have the kind of self awareness necessary to understand the consequences of their actions to become guilty of sinning. 

    The role that God gives humans over the rest of creation makes humans responsible for the actions of the rest of creation.  We are responsible for seeing to it that the rest of creation obeys or lives into the purposes God made for the rest of creation.  I believe that the perfection of mankind at the beginning was teleological in nature rather than a perfection of form or behavior.  We were made perfect to fulfill the purpose God designed for us.  With this kind of view, even those that are born with some kind of handicap -blindness, lameness, retardation, etc.- are still perfectly made because their purpose in the world is different than those of us who can see or walk or process complex thoughts.  It is when we move outside of the purposes that God has for us that we sin.

    I believe that the stories in the first 10-11 chapters of Genesis compress a lot of history.  If we believe that there was an original Adam and Eve a million years ago that had the characteristics that differentiated them as a separate species and our original parents then the first ten chapters cover at least 500k yrs.  I believe the telling of ancient history is done very similar to the way prophecies foretell the future.  Prophecies have an immediate (relatively) fulfillment and a more distant fulfillment.  Several similar events (separated by time) get merged into one prophecy.  Prophecy also uses patriachical names in the singular to connotate whole groups of people.  The genealogies seem to best fit if they are considered to be a lineage of people groups identified by an original progenitor.  Considering that the genealogies come from a different source than the stories, it would seem logical that the genealogy might use names in a different way than how it is used in the stories. It is also likely that the progenitor’s name is repeated through history so a story about Adam may be a story about the original Adam or one of Adam’s grandsons who is also named Adam.

    I agree that we should take the story of the fall as parabolic since the names of the trees are most clearly symbolic.  If we can understand what historical reality the form of the symbolic name represents then we might be able to understand the historical context better and symbolic references/meaning better.

    • http://www.theology21.com Eric McClellan


      “There is a mathematical proof that says that if humans have free will, if they have choice, then so does the rest of creation right down to elementary particles.  We claim humans have choice to follow God or not.  Therefore all of creation down to elementary particles has a choice to follow God or not.  I don’t know if particles that don’t follow God are sinning or not.  I tend to think that the guilt of sin has a lot to do with our awareness of our actions.  I have a hard time understanding how an elementary particle would have that consciousness. It seems to me that only human have the kind of self awareness necessary to understand the consequences of their actions to become guilty of sinning.”

      Wow, that is the first time I have seen anybody refer to John Conway’s free will theorum. I’ve never really thought of applying it the way that you have. I don’t think that we are talking about conscious choices of particles either. Interesting thought.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dkmiller62 David Miller
  • JenG

    I think you may have missed a few options – have you seen Pete enns latest posts on this topic?

  • Jeff

    I like this approach. 

  • Pngarrison

    I like this series. I got here because Denyse O’Leary stooped to sneer at you (sneering is her main thing.) I think an important thing to realize is that, although we scientists (I’m a biochemist) created this problem for the theologians, it is very unlikely that we will help solve it. Science isn’t going to solve the problem of whether there was a real Adam, and I don’t see how the texts will solve it to all evangelicals’ satisfaction, so it is probably going to remain something where evangelicals will disagree, or, for some of us like you and me, remain agnostic. It doesn’t sit well with the evangelical impulse to have an answer for every question, but maybe it’s good for us to not know some things.