Does Adam’s historicity matter?
The overarching theme running through all 66 books of the Bible is the story of God’s creative work, of humanity’s rebellion against God, and of God’s work to redeem fallen humanity.
The straightforward way of reading the Bible is that Adam was a historical person. It also seems clear that Scripture teaches that all humanity descended from Adam and Eve. This view has come under criticism in recent years — but not just from skeptics.
Doubts about Adam’s historicity are hardly surprising in a secular society that largely rejects the authority of the Bible. But there also is debate among Bible-believing Christians. In this blog post we’ll look at just four evangelical views of Adam, each defended by a noted professor of religion. Then we’ll look at what science has to say about Adam and Eve existing as real people.
Four Views of Adam
The four views of Adam, featured in the book Four Views on the Historical Adam by pastor Matthew Barrett, are as follows. Perhaps you hold one of these views yourself:
>>No Historical Adam: Theistic Evolution/Evolutionary Creation View
Denis Lamoureux, professor of science and religion, argues that Adam did not exist as a person, but that his story remains “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.”
>>Historical Adam: Archetypal Creation View
John Walton, professor of Old Testament, asserts that “Adam and Eve are real people in a real past. Nevertheless, I am persuaded that the biblical text is more interested in them as archetypal figures who represent all of humanity. … If this is true, Adam and Eve also may or may not be the first humans or the parents of the entire human race. Such an archetypal focus is theologically viable and is well-represented in the ancient Near East.”
>>Historical Adam: Old-Earth View
C. John Collins, professor of Old Testament, argues “that the best way to account for the biblical presentation of human life is to understand that Adam and Eve were both real persons at the headwaters of humankind.” In other words, Collins believes that the Fall was both moral and historical.
>>Historical Adam: Young-Earth View
William Barrick, professor of Old Testament, states, “Adam’s historicity is foundational to a number of biblical doctrines and is related to the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. … The biblical account represents Adam as a single individual rather than an archetype or the product of biological evolution, and a number of New Testament texts rely on Adam’s historicity.”
As you can see, it’s possible for Christians to vary widely in their views on whether Adam and Eve were real people. Let’s allow science to weigh in as well.
Scientific Proof for Adam?
Has science proved or disproved the existence of Adam and Eve? No. At least not yet. But what researchers have discovered might still blow your mind.
While DNA profiling helps to resolve criminal cases and paternity suits, the sequencing of the full human genome by the Human Genome Project provides so much more: a genetic “fingerprint” of 3.2 billion base pairs (“letters” making up the genetic code) in human DNA. This has opened the door for molecular anthropology, which searches for links between ancient and modern human populations around the world.
Genetic information that has been uncovered in the past few decades has shed considerable light on human origins. Evolutionary biologists compare the human genome with those of primates to build evolutionary relationships. Skeptics of Darwinism maintain that genetic similarities between humans and other species are better understood as the result of common design rather than common ancestry. One technique for studying human ancestry is to compare the base-pair sequences of a specified segment of DNA between individuals from different people groups.
Interestingly, such comparisons show that human beings display much less genetic diversity than any other species. Several studies, for example, report a much more extensive genetic diversity for chimps, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans than for people. And the human similarity is observed worldwide, regardless of race or ethnicity!
Molecular anthropologists pose what they sometimes call the “Garden of Eden hypothesis” to explain the limited genetic diversity. This model maintains that humanity had a recent origin in a single location and the original population size must have been quite small. Comparisons using much longer data sequences from the Human Genome Project confirm the “very limited genetic diversity among human populations,” as well as the conclusion “that the African population groups are the oldest.”
One of the most widely used techniques in molecular anthropology is the study of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is inherited only from our mothers.
Molecular anthropologists have used it to trace humanity’s maternal line. A landmark study carried out on mtDNA samples from 147 people from five geographic populations was reported in 1987. The study’s authors concluded that all of the mtDNA stemmed from one woman who lived in Africa roughly 200,000 years ago.
Additional studies confirmed the conclusion that humanity can trace its maternal lineage back to one woman in a single location (probably east Africa). The science community named her “mitochondrial Eve.” Does this mean this woman was Eve? Not necessarily. From an evolutionary view, this means only that this female’s mitochondrial DNA is the only lineage not to become extinct and is now ubiquitous throughout the entire human race. However, this viewpoint is compatible with the view that there was an original mother and father who were the first parents of the entire human race.
Since Y-chromosomal DNA passes from father to son, molecular anthropologists study it to trace humanity’s paternal line. The consensus of a number of studies carried out no Y-chromosomal DNA from men representing different races and regions of the world is that humanity can trace its paternal lineage to a single man in a single location in Africa. Again, this does not prove that this man was Adam, but that this man’s Y-chromosomal lineage is the only one that now runs ubiquitous throughout the entire human race.
Many of us have seen the standard March of Progress diagram depicting the evolution of man, right? The sequence of images starts with a hunchbacked ape and ends with an upright-walking modern human. This iconic diagram summarizes the message that humans evolved. Yet many paleoanthropologists doubt the validity of Darwinism, including the authors of the book, Science & Human Origins.
A 2015 review of human evolution by two leading paleoanthropologists admitted “[t]he dearth of unambiguous evidence for ancestor-descendant lineages,” and states “the evolutionary sequence for the majority of hominin lineages is unknown. Most hominin taxa, particularly early hominins, have no obvious ancestors, and in most cases ancestor-descendent sequences (fossil time series) cannot be reliably constructed.”
And a number of paleoanthropologists have admitted a distinct gap in the fossil record between humanlike members of the genus Homo and apelike species such as the Australopithecines. As the great evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr stated, “The earliest fossils of Homo … are separated from Australopithecus by a large, unbridged gap.”
Science, in many ways, actually points to a Creator!
Trusting God as Creator
Within the last 30 years, scientific evidence for Adam has emerged from the study of human genetics. The once-dominant multiregional model of human origins has been replaced with a model of humans spreading around the world from a small founding population in one location, possibly east Africa. The identification of single ancestral maternal and paternal DNA sequences, while not proof of an ancestral pair, is evidence one would expect from the biblical account of origins.
Paleontology and archaeology reveal at least three discontinuities in human history: the abrupt appearance of the genus Homo about two million years ago, the appearance of anatomically modern humans at around 130,000 BC, and the appearance of physical capability underwriting modern human behavior at around 40,000 BC. Physicist John Bloom argues that the two recent, abrupt discontinuities are evidence against a smooth, naturalistic transition and for the special creation of humanity.
Bloom notes that the Bible reveals some things to us that are “hard to understand.” Science, of course, would have us believe that it, alone, is our key to understanding the universe and our place in it. “Interestingly enough, though,” adds Bloom, “the deeper scientists have delved into the nature of nature — in an effort to comprehend how physical reality works at its fundamental levels — they too have found themselves utterly perplexed.”
Bloom also notes that we tend to forget that God’s intelligence, power, and complexity “so far exceeds our comprehension that we have no metaphor or superlative that can even remotely do Him justice.” We should expect perplexing conundrums, even as new scientific discoveries develop, because God will always be mega strides ahead of us.
Was Adam the first human? Only God knows. Let’s take God at His Word: that He, alone, created humanity, and did so as part of His overall plan for creation.
This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!
If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.