Adam & Eve: Real or No Real?

Yesterday NPR got in on the Adam act, publishing a piece on the current evangelical debate over the existence of a literal Adam and Eve.

This is fascinating to me because I do think it may be something of a “Galileo moment” in church history.  But I don’t feel threatened by it.  Not in the least.

Perhaps I feel relatively safe in this debate because I’ve never been compelled to hold strictly to a literal Adam and Eve as a first couple of all creation.  There are simply too many gaps in the Genesis proto-history (chapters 1-11) to read it as a be all, end all on early human history, or, still greater, created history.  What of the dinosaurs or the ice age?  I suspect the early Genesis narratives are answering different questions than we’re asking.

I also resolved early on that since our God is the Creator, true science and true interpretation of Scripture would never fundamentally contradict.  There may be seasons when our scientific understanding needs adjusting; there may be times when we need to reinterpret the Bible.  So the human genome project is forcing us to reevaluate our assumptions about the Adam and Eve story?  That’s not so bad.

Christians believe that their God is a God of truth.  When we’ve given up searching for truth, we’ve given up searching for God.  We’ll remain content with whatever picture of a deity I’ve imagined in my head.  That deity will be pretty paltry, I suspect, when compared to the real thing.

Anyway, what are your reactions to the NPR story, to the debate at large?  Do Adam and Eve have to have been literal people?  Are there ways to conceive of them as literal, but not necessarily the ultimate progenitors?  Does this wreck your faith?  Does it aid for your faith?


6 thoughts on “Adam & Eve: Real or No Real?

  1. I’m a Christian and I don’t see any conflict between faith and science. An ancient and evolving world is the reality that we live in.

    For me, understanding the immense scale of time involved in the Earth’s formation and the incredible interrelatedness of all living creatures is far more awe inspiring than a so called literal account. As Darwin said in the last paragraph of his book:

    “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

  2. What a great post. I am cheering “AMEN!!!” to all of your comments, Mike! I have always believed that TRUE science reveals God’s masterful creation, it does not dispute it. Early on in my walk, I studied the question of Adam and Eve because it always came up in my conversations. When my college roommate began seeking, she asked me if she had to believe in Adam and Eve to be a Christian. It was a major obstacle for her. I ultimately gave up on the topic because I recognized that you could study it for a lifetime and still be confused… I’ve resolved the issue in my mind by accepting the foundational tenets taught in Genesis as truth, whether Adam and Eve are literal or not. It would not be unreasonable for God to give us a simple but powerful allegory rather than a detailed account of the complex truth because He knew it was the best way to teach us. If we think we have to understand everything about scripture and creation, than yes, this debate puts our faith at risk of unraveling. But if we address the topic humbly with the realization that creation is complex and way beyond our limited understanding than we can rest in the fundamental truths taught in Genesis without fear and intimidation. This humble approach won’t satisfy the pundits, but seriously…what will? I encouraged my roommate to accept God as creator without getting hung up on the details…simple child-like faith that stands firm despite the Genesis question.

  3. Rather than answers, let me give more food for thought.

    1) Are there any evolutionary biologists who claim that the mutation that resulted in homo sapiens happened more than once? That is, does anybody seriously think there was more than one original human (who did not have a human parent)?

    2) Let’s discuss the authorship of pre-flood Genesis. Did Noah’s family bring any writings with them? How about pre-day-six Genesis? Obviously, there was no human witness to these events. Did God explain these things to pre-Fall Adam and Eve and they passed down the knowledge to Noah’s family? Note, that since Methuselah died in the year of the flood (possibly in the flood), Adam died when Methuselah was 113 and Noah was born when Methuselah was 369 then on the one hand Noah never met Adam, but on the other hand, the oral tradition would only have needed to pass through a single person to get from Adam to Noah.

    1. 1) I don’t know.

      2) Traditionally, Moses is credited with compiling Genesis. In the last 60-70 years, though, critical scholars have posited a hypothesis that suggests that the Pentateuch, at least, was compiled and edited during the exilic or post-exilic periods some thousand years later. Whatever, I think that’s junk. See Duane Garrett’s Rethinking Genesis. Anyway, the genealogies in ancient literature aren’t exhaustive. They often skip generations for editorial reasons. See, for example, Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. There were far more than 42 generations between he and Abraham. Matthew deliberately cuts out certain people. Regardless, I think you’re right, Andrew, to wonder about the oral tradition. Oral traditions in “primitive” cultures tend to be highly reliable from generation to generation. My question, though, wouldn’t be on the accuracy of the tradition, but the purpose of the proto-history tradition. Just what were the earliest Hebrews trying to communicate to one another as they recited Gen 1-6?

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