Historical Adam: Moving ahead in faith, not fear

Editor’s note: This is the final installment in a Think Christian series. Look for previous posts by Dennis Venema, Alvin Plantinga and Daniel Harrell, as well as an introductory piece by Deborah Haarsma.

So where do we go from here? Biologist Dennis Venema has told of us of the genetic evidence that humans share a common ancestor with animals, and that the first humans numbered in the thousands. While cutting-edge scientific discoveries need to be taken with a grain of salt (as philosopher Alvin Plantinga reminded us), this genetic evidence is being confirmed repeatedly as more studies are done.   

This scientific picture of a group of early humans raises many questions, including particularly difficult ones related to the Fall. Plantinga and pastor Daniel Harrell both suggest a possible solution: perhaps Adam and Eve were two individuals within the group of early humans. This would preserve Adam as a real historical figure and the Fall as a real historical event. However, the spread of sin to the rest of the group is problematic, since it would take many generations to spread genetically through a population of thousands. What was the spiritual status of humanity if some humans were image bearers and sinners while others were not? Harrell goes on to speculate that our will to sin could be related to our evolutionary past. This resonates with the Biblical idea of our sinful nature infecting everything we do, but it challenges the view of the first sin as a choice made by innocent humans. Did Adam and Eve have a real possibility of success in obeying God?

I don’t have good answers to these questions. Every view I’ve heard on Adam and Eve has significant issues, whether scientific, Biblical or theological. I am reassured, however, when I remember that the foundations of our faith need not be shaken when thinking about evolution or considering different views on Adam. While debating how sin got started, Christians can still agree that all people have sinned and need the saving work of Christ. Though we wonder about humanity’s similarities with animals, we can agree that ultimate human significance is based on God’s love and the incarnation of Christ. When disagreeing about how to interpret Genesis 3 and Romans 5, we can still share a passionate commitment to the inspiration and authority of Scripture.

This debate is not something to fear, but part of what God calls the church to do. The conversation will require insights from scientists, philosophers and theologians, as well as from pastors, parents and students. These questions will not be resolved quickly, for individuals or the church, so we can take the time to listen and talk. Pick two books from authors with two different positions and read what they have to say. If a Christian advocates a view you disagree with, consider that they are likely working in good faith to deal with the scientific, Biblical and theological issues, but are weighing them differently than you would. Conflicts will surely happen, but they don’t need to be nasty. If we remember our unity in Christ, we can debate the pros and cons of different views rather than attacking each other as stupid or faithless.

By remembering our shared respect for both of God’s revelations, we can explore these questions with graciousness and hope. May the world know we are Christians by the way we speak the truth in love.

Comments (3)

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Thank-you Deborah for supporting a dialogue on this topic. For Christians, these issues can only be resolved, we don't have the right to ignore them (that would be failing to love our neighbor) or the option to ignore what God shows us through His Word, His creation, and His creatures (that would be failing to love God with heart, mind, and will).
A few weeks ago I noted Alvin Plantinga's ability to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end whenever he wades into murks waters of discussion around the relations between something called religion and something called science. The biblical texts seems to suggest that humanity descends from an original pair. Evolutionary theory holds that evolution occurs across communities of organisms. It makes utter nonsense of both the biblical texts and the neo-Darwinian evolutionary synthesis try to "read" the two accounts together. An individual pair is not a large enough community for evolution to occur. When you only have an individual pair, it's called inbreeding. That's right: inbreeding. Despite a few difficulties with matching up historical narratives up against the law texts (see 'Cain's Wife' and some good questions here about what Noah's children got up to), the Bible also condemns inbreeding. The Book of Leviticus has some rather harsh things to say about men who 'approach', 'lie with', or 'know' immediate female relations.

(More: http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca/2013/03/the-historical-adam-redux.html)
"While debating how sin got started...."
Debates are not settled until someone is right. Christians are commanded to believe God when He says, "Sin got started with Adam." But if evolution is a fact, humans are just glorified beasts, and sin could be a holdover from our evolutionary past.
Biblically though, there is an inextricable link between the one man Adam - our representative or "federal head" - as the source of sin, and the one man Jesus Christ as the only One sufficient to atone for our iniquities by the sacrifice of Himself. If animals are the ultimate source of sin in the world, then the blood of animals would suffice. But "it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin." (Hebrews 10:4)
Furthermore, God is the One who subjected the creation to frustration (Romans 8:20). But why? "Because of [Adam]" (Genesis 3:17). And the "whole creation has been groaning", waiting to "be liberated from its bondage to decay" (Romans 8:21-22).
If Theistic Evolution is true, suffering, disease, pain, decay and death were "built into" creation from the start. Adam's sin had nothing to do with it. The cosmos was accursed from its inception. Contra Scripture, God, not mankind, is the reason death and decay are in the world. The "problem of evil" is laid at God's feet.
What God is this? Not the One described in Genesis as declaring everything "very good". Death is not "very good". It is "the last enemy" (1 Corinthians 15:26), and will ultimately be cast into the lake of fire, along with the Devil and all who follow his lies (Revelation 20:10,14;21:8).
So, yes, we are indeed called to "speak the truth in love". So let's make sure what we are speaking is true. If evolution is true, then the biblical descriptions of the origins of life, of sin, and of death and decay in the world are not. How long before the soteriology of the Cross also falls under the weight of this syncretistic compromise?

 

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