Continuing the discussion from William Lane Craig on Peaceful Science:
I see WLC as an example of a wise an honest leader, doing courageous and humble work to make sense of our moment for the Church. Thanks to @AllenWitmerMiller for pointing out William Lain Craig’s latest newsletter (July Monthly Report - 2018). I’m including some key excerpts below (not quoted) with emphasis and links added at times.
His comments add to those from @kkeathley and @rcohlers last week: Ken Keathley: Notes from Dabar and a Baptist's Hope.
William Lane Craig on Historical Adam
The Creation Project conference on the historical Adam, which I described in our last Update, turned out to be time very well spent, indeed! The question of the historical Adam is a multi-faceted problem, and so the conference brought together by invitation only biblical scholars, scientists, theologians, and philosophers for frank, off-the-record discussions of this question. Hosted by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School [TEDS] and funded by the Templeton Foundation, this conference gave me opportunity not only to hear and interact with presentations by scholars in various disciplines, but also for extended one-on-one discussions of the topic with biologists and geneticists.
Vital to this question is understanding exactly what the Bible requires us to believe about the historical Adam, and so the contribution of Old Testament and New Testament scholars is absolutely vital. This question is not so cut-and-dried as most of us imagine. For example, one of the Old Testament scholars discussed the genre of literature represented by Genesis 1-11. Comparing these accounts to creation stories in ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian mythology, he finds in the biblical stories the same interest in what is called etiology (explaining something in the author’s present by telling a story about past prehistoric events) which is an earmark of myth. For example, we keep the Sabbath because God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. He argued that Genesis 1-11 is of the genre of what he called “mytho-historical” writing—the stories are mythological but there is an underlay of historical events beneath the myth. If this is correct, then one cannot press the details of the stories (e.g., Eve’s creation from Adam’s rib, a walking, talking snake, etc.). Rather, it would be like seeing the motion of people behind a curtain: you can tell there are people back there, but you don’t really know what they’re doing.
But what about the New Testament? Paul surely believed in a historical Adam, didn’t he? That seems right, but does Paul’s argument in Romans 5 or I Corinthians 15 commit us to that belief? Some scholars think that Paul’s references to Adam are merely to the literary Adam of Genesis 1-3. For example, I might tell someone, “Jan is my man Friday.” Does that commit me to the reality of Robinson Crusoe and his man Friday? Obviously not! Lest you think this a far-fetched analysis, look at Jude 14-15, which refers to Enoch “in the seventh generation from Adam“ and quotes the pseudepigraphal book I Enoch 1.9. The most plausible explanation is that the author is referring to the literary Enoch (and Adam!); otherwise we’d have to say that this intertestamental Jewish forgery somehow preserved the words of Enoch down through the millennia from the seventh generation after Adam!
The scientific aspects of this question bring to the forefront the recently developing field of population genetics. As I shared in our last Report, some scientific popularizers have claimed that the [allelic diversity] of the present human population could not have arisen from an isolated primordial pair. Joshua @Swamidass, a [computational biologist] from Washington University, who was at the conference, helped me to understand that this claim is completely wrong-headed. Rather what is at issue is the genetic divergence in the present population, that is to say, the mutational distance between alleles (the variants in our genes that are responsible for various traits like eye color). These data present a severe challenge for a historical Adam and Eve more recent than 500,000 years ago (Heliocentric Certainty Against a Bottleneck of Two?). (But here’s a new wrinkle: @Swamidass says he neglected to take account of the genetic contribution of Neanderthals and other archaic humans who interbred with homo sapiens and so have contributed to the human genome. He’s going to run new calculations to see if that makes a difference to the date.)
But even if we locate Adam prior to 500,000 years ago, is that really so bad? I notice that in the recent book Theistic Evolution (Crossway, 2017), which is a wide-ranging critique of evolutionary theory, the authors regard Adam as the ancestor of not only modern homo sapiens but also Neanderthals and other archaic humans (@agauger). One of the authors notes that Neanderthals exhibited culture, art, care for their dead, and complex tool-making. Another contributor concludes that “Neanderthals and Denisovans are descendants of the originating pair and hence are our fully human relatives” (p. 519).
That early date is in tension with the biblical genealogies and descriptions of Adam as living in a Neolithic culture. But in a fascinating discussion group composed of @Swamidass, OT scholars Richard Schultz, Dick Averbeck, Jack Collins (@jack.collins) , theologian Ken Keathley (@kkeathley), and me (what a group!), the OT scholars pointed out that the Genesis narratives are full of anachronisms on any account. For example, the pun “she shall be called woman (isha), for she was taken out of man (ish)” involves Hebrew words that did not develop until the time of Israel’s monarchy and so could not have been uttered by Adam. Even more obviously, Adam couldn’t have spoken Hebrew at all, since that language did not yet exist. I opined that the Genesis narratives could be like those Renaissance paintings of Bible scenes in which, for example, the Roman guards are arrayed in medieval armor—an analogy which elicited Collins’ enthusiastic approval.
Theologians at the conference were mainly concerned with the fallout of these discussions for the doctrines of the Fall and original sin. If there was no historical Adam, then obviously we cannot be held accountable for his sin, nor did sin and death enter the human race through Adam. To a large extent, I think, the importance of this issue is going to depend on how committed you are to Catholic/Reformed theology. The doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin to us is not one that is clearly attested biblically. What is essential, I think, is affirming the universality of sin and the need of every human being of God’s saving grace. That doesn’t require a historical Adam. For me, then, the central theological issue raised by the historical Adam will be, not original sin or the Fall, but rather biblical inspiration and authority. Can we in a scientific age trust what the Bible teaches?
The above are just some scattered impressions of the conference—you can imagine how fascinating it was! Handling this issue will involve two components for me: biblical exegesis and scientific findings. What’s important is not to let the science guide one’s exegesis. One must set that aside and try honestly to understand these texts as their original authors and audiences would have understood them. Once that is done, then the challenge will be integrating them systematically with a scientifically informed view of the world. I’ve got my work cut out for me!
Join the Conversation
What are your thoughts on all this? This touches on the grand questions of origins. Who are we and were did we come from?