Reasons to Believe

Adam, Eve, and Changing Tradition

We humans like tradition. For example, whenever my husband’s family gets together the evening always ends with a game of Tripoley (a combination of Hearts, Poker, and Rummy). Yet sometimes we also like to change tradition—hence why my husband and I have been subtly attempting to introduce some of our new favorite table top games at family get-togethers.

Changing tradition can be as simple as altering family activities or (in my family’s case) holiday menus. Or, it can be paradigm-altering—like Copernicus and Galileo questioning the geocentric model of the solar system or the big bang theory challenging the Aristotelian view of an infinite universe.

Within the Christian family, there’s a growing tendency to question the traditional view of Adam and Eve (as historical individuals created directly by God) in light of pervasive human evolution theories. In a recent issue of Theology, News & Notes, a semiannual magazine from Fuller Seminary, New Testament professor J. R. Daniel Kirk suggests that we can accept an evolutionary view of Adam without damaging the Christology (study of the person and nature of Christ) outlined by the apostle Paul, primarily in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. Kirk writes,

Where, then, are we left, if the pressures of scientific inquiry lead us to take down the spire of a literal, historical Adam?...For many, the cognitive dissonance between the sciences and a historical Adam has already become too great to continue holding both. We therefore have to carefully determine whether the cause of Christ, and of truth, is better served by indicating that choice must be made between the two, or by retelling the narrative about the origins of humanity as we now understand it in light of the death and resurrection of Christ.

This is a tricky topic and I appreciate Kirk’s thoughtful approach to it. Still, the thought of “retelling” the biblical origins story makes me a little uneasy. Would we be retelling the story in order to accommodate modern views, or because scientific data or theological understanding actually warrant a change? If the first reason, there’s a lot of stuff in the Bible that people would like to change to suit modern philosophies and tastes—how much, then, should we alter to accommodate them? If the second reason, what if the scientific foundation for human evolution is not as solid as is generally believed?

RTB biochemist Fuz Rana lays out several lines of evidence that buttress the traditional view of Adam and Eve while showing that it’s reasonable to question the evolutionary view.

  • Molecular anthropology – Genetic studies suggest that humanity had a recent origin in East Africa from a small population that expanded rapidly and migrated. These findings integrate well with the origins explanations in Genesis. Just this week Fuz posted an update to this research.
  • Differences between humans and hominids – More and more research, including genetic studies, indicates that hominids are dead ends and side branches, rather than humanity’s evolutionary predecessors.
  • Cultural big bang – Archaeological discoveries reveal tools and pseudo-cultural practices among hominids remained static for tens of thousands of years. But when modern humans appeared, the sophistication of tools and tool manufacturing increased dramatically, and religious and artistic expression appeared for the first time. These findings line up with biblical view of humans uniquely as God’s image bearers.

From the theological side of things, rejecting an historical Adam and Eve does raise legitimate concerns. How does the evolutionary view of humanity impact the genre of Genesis? How does it influence our understanding of God’s role as Creator and Redeemer? What about the doctrine of original sin? RTB philosopher and theologian Kenneth Samples discusses some of these concerns with Dr. Vern Poythress of Westminster Theological Seminary on an episode of Straight Thinking.

It’s a lot to think about. Clearly, the historical Adam and Eve is a tradition that not only warrants careful handling and thoughtful dialogue but also may be worth keeping.

— Maureen

Resources: For more on RTB's human origins model, check out these resources.

Subjects: Adam and Eve