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Four Views on the Historical Adam
By Matthew Barrett, Ardel B. Caneday, Denis O. Lamoureux, John H. Walton, C. John Collins, William D. Barrick, Gregory A. Boyd, Philip G. Ryken
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2013 Matthew Barrett and Ardel B. Caneday
All rights reserved.
NO HISTORICAL ADAM: EVOLUTIONARY CREATION VIEW
DENIS O. LAMOUREUX
Christians throughout history have steadfastly believed that Adam was a real person. Yet in light of the evolutionary sciences, some evangelical Christians are questioning his existence. This chapter embraces evolutionary creation—the belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created the universe and life, including humans, through an ordained, sustained, and intelligent design-reflecting natural process. Similar to the way that the Lord used embryological mechanisms to create each of us in our mother's womb, He also employed evolutionary processes to create humanity. This chapter rejects the assumption that God revealed scientific facts in the Bible thousands of years before their discovery by modern science. Instead, Holy Scripture features an ancient understanding of the physical world (e.g., the 3-tier universe with a flat earth). The Word of God also has an ancient conceptualization of biological origins, which asserts that living organizations were created quickly and completely into fully mature forms. The apostle Paul's references to Adam are rooted in this ancient biology. The chapter concludes that the biblical figure Adam is a vital, but incidental, ancient vessel that transports inerrant spiritual truths: only humans are created in the Image of God, only humans have fallen into sin, and our Creator judges us for our sinfulness.
In the last chapter of Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution (2008), I began with a provocative claim: "My central conclusion in this book is clear: Adam never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity." Needless to say, such a view of human origins is rarely heard within evangelical circles. If you are offended by my position on Adam, I apologize. My intention is not to upset any brother or sister in Christ. Rather, my hope and prayer is that we can open a conversation on human origins and ask how we are to read passages dealing with Adam in the Word of God. Some might be surprised to learn that my goal is not to win people over to my view. Instead, I simply want evangelicals to be aware that there are born-again Christians who love the Lord Jesus and who do not believe there ever was a first man named "Adam."
My calling as a Christian is driven by an unquenchable fire in my heart of hearts. It is a pastoral concern. Evangelical students attending public universities are leaving the church in alarming numbers. You might know a few, maybe someone in your family. One reason for this exodus is science, biological evolution in particular. So here is all that I am asking: I want young men and women to know that there is a Christian view of origins that accepts evolution and recognizes that our faith does not rest on the existence of Adam. Should they become convinced that humans evolved, they will be equipped never to lose a step in their Christian walk, because our faith is based only on Jesus Christ, His sacrifice on the Cross, and His bodily resurrection from the dead—and not on a historical Adam.
It is important to point out that I am not the only evangelical questioning the historicity of Adam. A landmark issue of Christianity Today in June 2011 featured a cover with a Neanderthal-looking male and the title "The Search for the Historical Adam." The cover commented, "Some scholars believe that genome science [i.e., genetics] casts doubt on the existence of the first man and first woman. Others say that the integrity of the faith requires it." Notably, the article not only assumed the universe is old, but that biological evolution is true. The debate is whether there really was an individual who corresponds to the biblical figure Adam. This CT article is evidence that the historicity of Adam is not a settled issue. And the fact that I am included in this book, published by the leading evangelical publisher, Zondervan, is more proof this is the case.
My Faith and My Science
A few years ago I was invited by an evangelical seminary to deliver a lecture on human origins. Just before entering the auditorium, I overheard a man complain, "Well, how can Lamoureux be a Christian? He doesn't believe in Adam, so there's no way he believes in Jesus and the Bible." Right then and there, I knew this was going to be a tough audience! So I think it is necessary to share a bit about my personal testimony and my understanding of biological evolution.
First and foremost, I am a thoroughly committed and unapologetic evangelical theologian trained to the PhD level. I'm a born-again Christian. By God's grace and in answer to my mother's prayers, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior in 1980 while serving as a United Nations peacekeeper on the island of Cyprus. It was through reading the gospel of John that the Holy Spirit convicted me of my sins and shameful lifestyle. If I had to pick a conversion day, it was on Good Friday that the Father revealed to me His unfathomable love for humanity. He sent His Son Jesus to die for us on the Cross. Think about that. The Creator of the world loves us so much that He willingly died for us. So I went to Cyprus to be a peacekeeper, and I met the Prince of Peace! I also believe that the Bible is the Holy Spirit–inspired Word of God. In my morning devotions I drink deeply from Scripture for my spiritual nourishment. The day I wrote this paragraph, I read the first six chapters of the wonderful book of Hebrews. Additionally, I believe in miracles and have experienced numerous signs and wonders. I also embrace intelligent design, because I believe it is consistent with what Scripture teaches about God being the designer of the universe. When I look at nature, I see that the beauty, complexity, and functionality "declare the glory of God" (Ps. 19:1). And for the last thirty-two years I have enjoyed fellowship in Baptist, Pentecostal, and Alliance churches.
Second, I am a thoroughly committed and unapologetic evolutionary biologist, also trained to the PhD level. I find that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming. Every science that deals with origins fits tightly together and comes to only one conclusion: the universe and life evolved. I have experienced the fruitfulness and predictability of the theory of evolution. Every time a new fossil is discovered, it always fits exactly where it should. I have yet to see evidence that falsifies biological evolution. In fact, evolution is the easiest theory to disprove. Find just one human tooth near the bottom of the geological record and you could destroy evolutionary science. That's no exaggeration, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for it to happen. I also recognize the explanatory power of evolutionary theory. As many have said, biology makes sense in the light of evolution. Although my career focuses on the relationship between science and religion, at the University of Alberta I have the privilege of collaborating with one of the world's foremost paleontology groups.
It is important to add that for a good part of my life I have struggled with the relationship between Christianity and evolution. As a freshman university student in 1972, I lost my boyhood faith because of one introductory course on evolutionary biology. By my senior year, I became an atheist. So yes, it is completely reasonable for Christians to be worried about the destructive impact of evolution on faith.
Upon returning from Cyprus, I began to fellowship at an evangelical church and soon met some young-earth creationists. They convinced me that evolution was Satan's primary weapon for attacking the faith of university students. These anti-evolutionists also introduced me to so-called "theistic evolution." It was dismissed as a view of origins held by liberal Christians, because they really weren't committed to Jesus and didn't trust the Bible or take God at His word. For me, true Christians were young-earth creationists. How convinced was I of this? In 1983 I walked out of first year medical school with the intention of becoming a creation scientist in order to declare war on evolutionists in universities. If that isn't a commitment to young-earth creation, then I don't know what is.
To equip myself for the battle, I went to graduate school for thirteen straight years. Beginning in theology, I discovered what seminarians before me have experienced—that is, biblical interpretation is much more complicated than what we learn in Sunday school. It became evident that when the Holy Spirit inspired the biblical authors, He allowed them to use some of their ancient ideas about nature (i.e., ancient science). In other words, God accommodated in the revelatory process and came down to the level of ancient people in order to communicate inerrant, life-changing, spiritual truths.
A professor I will never forget is Dr. Loren Wilkinson at Regent College, one of the best evangelical schools of theology. During his science-religion course, I asked him what he thought about young-earth creation. He responded tersely, "It is error." I can still remember how the word "error" shook my soul. In Wilkinson's closing remarks to the class, he looked at me and said, "Denis, I have a serious concern. Should you ever give up your belief in young-earth creation, would you also give up your faith in Christ?" Ouch!
That wasn't Wilkinson talking. The Holy Spirit was flowing through his words and casting a light on my understanding of Christianity. I mumbled and stumbled and really didn't answer. Deep in my heart of hearts I knew that my relationship with Jesus was more important than any position on origins. And if I may make a bit of a Pauline boast (2 Cor. 11:21–28), I won the Evangelism Prize at Regent. No one should doubt that I am an evangelical Christian.
After seven years of theology, the Holy Spirit challenged me during a morning devotion: "I have called you to study the origins debate, but how much do you really know about evolutionary biology?" Ouch again! Sometimes the Lord points out things we don't want to hear. I had taken only one first-year university course on evolution. Even more bluntly, the Holy Spirit then admonished, "Since you know so little, if you criticize evolution, you would be bearing false witness ... and that's sinful." Triple ouch!
So in 1991 I entered a PhD program on the evolution of teeth and jaws. I was still a zealous anti-evolutionist, and my plan was to "fly under the radar" and collect scientific evidence to disprove evolution that I would publish after graduation. However, dealing with the fossil evidence firsthand day in and day out, I started to see an evolutionary pattern. After three years of attempting with all my energy to fit the scientific data into an anti-evolutionary theory, I gave up and accepted biological evolution.
I knew immediately that I would be marginalized by the evangelical community. Indeed, that has happened. I have been blocked from teaching at my denominational college and seminary, and evangelical publishers have rejected my book proposals. Nevertheless, I believe we should follow the biblical and scientific evidence no matter where it leads.
So that's a very condensed version of my story. Let me close by underlining that I embrace the time-honored complementary relationship between Scripture and science—the Two Divine Books Model. Together the Book of God's Words and the Book of God's Works offer us a revelation of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In my Christian walk I have held a wide variety of interpretations of both Books. Yet despite all these, my faith has always been set solidly upon the never-changing Rock, our Lord and Savior Jesus. As Hebrews 13:8 states, " Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." And I hope you are saying a hardy "Amen!"
Terms and Definitions
Evolutionary creation asserts that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created the universe and life, including humans, through an ordained, sustained, and intelligent design-reflecting evolutionary process. The world did not arise through blind chance, and our existence is not a fluke or mistake. It was the Lord's primary plan from the very beginning to create men and women, and for us to enjoy a loving personal relationship with Him. This Christian approach to evolution vehemently rejects the atheistic interpretation of evolution preached by the notorious Richard Dawkins.
Evolutionary creationists believe that the Creator established and maintains the laws of nature, including the mechanisms of a teleological evolution (Greek telos implies "planned, purposeful"). In other words, the evolution of life is a purpose-driven natural process. Evolutionary creation also claims that humans descended from pre-human ancestors and that the Image of God and human sin were mysteriously manifested. These Christian evolutionists experience the Father's love and presence in their lives. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, they read the Bible as the living Word of God. And evolutionary creationists enjoy a personal relationship with Jesus who graciously blesses them and answers their prayers.
The term "evolutionary creation" seems like a contradiction in terms. However, the most important word in this category is the noun "creation." Evolutionary creationists are first and foremost creationists. They believe in a Creator and that the world is His creation. The qualifying term is the adjective "evolutionary," which simply indicates the method that the Lord used to make the universe and life. This view of origins is often called "theistic evolution." But that word arrangement places the process of evolution as the primary term and makes our Creator secondary and merely a qualifying adjective. I find such an inversion in priority completely unacceptable.
Another reason for employing the category of evolutionary creation is that it distinguishes evangelical Christians who love Jesus and accept evolution from the evolutionary interpretations of deists (who believe in an impersonal, never-present god-of-the-philosophers) and liberal Christians (who believe that Jesus was merely an enlightened human who never rose physically from the dead).
To introduce evolutionary creation to my evangelical brothers and sisters, I have found it helpful to draw a parallel between our own creation in our mother's womb and the evolution of all living organisms. I have yet to meet a Christian who believes that while in the womb the Lord came out of heaven and literally attached an arm or a leg to their developing body. Instead, we all believe that embryological development is a natural process that God providentially maintains during pregnancy. As Psalm 139:13–14 proclaims, "You [God] knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made."
Our creation in the womb is proof that the Creator uses physical mechanisms to create life. Similarly, evolutionary creationists believe that biological evolution is an ordained natural process that God has sustained throughout eons of time. It is the Lord's "knitting" process that produces every living organism, each crying out that they are "fearfully and wonderfully made." From my experience in science, embryological development and biological evolution reflect intelligent design and "proclaim the work of his [God's] hands" (Ps. 19:1).
Of course, the burning question every evangelical Christian must be asking is, "How does Lamoureux interpret biblical passages dealing with origins?" I will attempt to offer an answer in this chapter. But at this point it is necessary to reveal my position regarding the historical events in Scripture: Real history in the Bible begins roughly around Genesis 12 with Abraham. Like many other evangelical theologians, I view Genesis 1–11 as a unique type of literature (literary genre) that is distinct from the rest of the Bible. So from my perspective, was Abraham a real person? Yes. Was there a King David in the tenth century bc? Yes. Were the Jews deported to Babylon in the sixth century bc? Yes. Was there really a man named Jesus in the first century ad? Yes. Do the Gospels report eyewitness accounts of actual historical events, including the Lord's teaching and miracles, and especially His physical resurrection from the dead? Absolutely yes! Even though I do not believe that Adam was historical, I thoroughly believe in the historicity of Jesus and the biblical testimonies of His life.
Another term we need to define is "scientific concordism." Most evangelical Christians are not familiar with this category, yet nearly all of them embrace this view of the relationship between science and Scripture. Scientific concordism is the assumption that the facts of science align with the Bible. Stated another way, it is the assumption that God revealed scientific facts to the biblical writers thousands of years before their discovery by modern scientists. A 2004 survey reveals the extent of this assumption within American evangelicalism. Respondents were asked about the creation of the world in six days (Gen. 1) and the flood of Noah (Gen. 6–9): "Do you think that's literally true, meaning it happened that way word-for-word; or do you think it's meant as a lesson, but not to be taken literally?" Unsurprisingly, 87 percent of American evangelicals believe that the entire world was actually created in six literal days and that there really was a global flood.
Excerpted from Four Views on the Historical Adam by Matthew Barrett, Ardel B. Caneday, Denis O. Lamoureux, John H. Walton, C. John Collins, William D. Barrick, Gregory A. Boyd, Philip G. Ryken. Copyright © 2013 Matthew Barrett and Ardel B. Caneday. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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