Over at the Templeton-funded BioLogos website there has been a lot of discussion about the historicity of Adam and Eve. This is a problem because scripture claims these two were the progenitors of humanity, but genetics says otherwise. It’s simply not true that all of humanity’s DNA traces back to a pair of individuals who lived no more than 10,000 years ago; indeed, the different bits of our DNA trace back to different ancestors who lived at different times. What’s clear is that our ancestors were in a population of humans, some of whom left Africa around 60,000 years ago, and virtually all of modern human DNA comes from that population, which itself descended from African ancestors who split off about 6 million years ago from the ancestors of modern chimps.
For some reason the biological data have caused a kerfuffle at BioLogos. One would think that if these folks are really devoted to reconciling science and Christianity, they’d do for Adam and Eve what they did for Genesis: claim that this is just a metaphor rather than the literal truth, and the literal interpretation is theologically misguided. Adam and Eve simply stood for our ancestors, just as Smokey the Bear stands for all wild bears. (No matter that for centuries Christians wrongly assumed what the Bible says plainly: Adam and Eve were the two God-created ancestors of all humanity.)
But the kerfuffle goes on, because some Christians, despite the biological data, want to see Adam and Eve as real people. The latest attempt to reconcile genetics with Genesis comes from Daniel Harrell, described at BioLogos as
the Senior Minister of Colonial Church in Edina, Minnesota. Before stepping into this role, Harrell served as associate minister at Park Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts for over twenty years. He is the author of the book Nature’s Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith, and is author of the forthcoming book How To Be Perfect: One Church’s Experiment with Living the Book of Leviticus.
Introducing Harrell’s essay, “Adam and Eve: Literal or Literary?”, BioLogos states its own position:
As many of our readers know, the historicity of Adam and Eve is a critically important topic in the discussion of Christianity and human origins. Although BioLogos takes a firm stand on the fact that Adam and Eve could not have been the sole biological progenitors of all humans (see here), science does not rule out the possibility of a historical Adam and Eve, which opens this interesting discussion.
Here’s why Harrell sees the question of Adam and Eve as crucial:
If they are literary people, then that raises questions about the rest of the Biblical cast. Are Moses and Jesus fictional characters too?
Well, yes, but this is exactly what happens when you see parts of the Bible (like Genesis) as metaphorical, and other parts as literal, with no good way (except for post facto attempts to harmonize them with science) to tell which is which.
Harrell goes on:
If they are literal people, then the trove of evolutionary and DNA evidence can’t be right. It’s impossible for the human race to trace back to a single pair of parents (and this without mentioning a talking snake and God creating Adam out of the dirt and Eve from his rib). For the serious student of Scripture and science, making a choice between literal and literary is impossible too. Can’t there be a middle option?
But if the talking snake is obviously metaphorical, why isn’t the talking Moses? Anyway, Harrell offers two solutions. The first involves apparent age: God created Adam and Eve with DNA that made them look older than they really were:
The first is that God created them supernaturally, midstream in evolution’s flow. To create in such a way would require that God also put in place a DNA history, since human origins genetically trace back to earlier, common ancestors. Conceptually, this presents the same problems as creating the universe with apparent age. Apparent age is how some square a literal Genesis with scientific evidence. Stars that appear to be billions of years old (according to cosmological measurements) are in reality only a few thousand years old (according to literal biblical reckoning). God created the stars with age.
Now I know what you’re saying: Harrell will reject this hypothesis because it’s simply silly. Such a proposition violates all the methodological naturalism that underpins the progress of science. And it makes God look duplicitous, which Harrell recognizes:
The problem is that creating with age makes God seem to be tricking us into thinking things are older than they are with no clear reason for doing so.
But he doesn‘t reject this! Harrell leaves it as an open possibility for Christian believers:
Nevertheless, given that Adam and Eve are both introduced in Genesis, presumably as adults rather than children (even if they acted like children), it could be that in their case, creating with age (and a history) would apply. While we might not necessarily understand why God would do that, he could do that (being God and all).
Yes, of course, God could do anything, including creating the light from stars in transit to Earth. We just know that God is omnipotent and loving and forgiving, but as for why he does stuff, well, ours is not to reason why.
That is all Harrell says about this possibility. The other option is to see Adam and Eve as real people, but only as two members of the human species specially anointed by God:
Another option might be to have Adam and Eve exist as first among Homo sapiens, specially chosen by God as representatives for a relationship with him. We often speak of Adam theologically as serving as representative of humanity in matters of original sin (his sin affects us all; Romans 5:12), so the idea of Adam as representative already exists in Christian theology. . . .
An advantage of this interpretation is that God’s natural processes marvelously work without the need for any ancestral or genetic fabrication. Also, you’d finally be able to explain where it is that Cain found his wife (answer: from the other humans walking the earth east of Eden; Genesis 4:16-17).
But why do we need to see Cain as a literal person too?
This second option, however, also requires a bit of exegetical fiddling:
However, this view would require a reinterpretation of words like “formed” and “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7 KJV). Can we use “formed” and “breathed” to mean created through the long and continuous history of biological evolution (as were the other living creatures in Genesis 1)? If so, then perhaps “the Lord God formed the man” could be read emphasizing the novelty and uniqueness which humans inhabit.
Similarly, the “breath of life” would not signify simply oxygenated animation (surely Genesis isn’t simply speaking in that sense), but that breath which set humans apart as inspired by God (the Hebrew word for breath here is different than the word used for oxygen-intake by living creatures as a whole).
And it requires that God (who presumably wrote the Bible) knew that He was giving a poetic description of evolution:
There are those who would object to such a reading since the Biblical author would not have had knowledge of evolutionary biology. And yet just because the author of Genesis wasn’t a scientist doesn’t mean that evolution wasn’t happening. We still describe babies’ births as “miracles” even though they’re among the most natural occurrences in nature.
But if we evolved, then we’re just like chimps, tigers, and sunflowers, right? And that can’t be the case, because the Bible says we’re the special objects of God’s creation. Harrell’s answer:
Whether specially created or specially selected, humans constitute an interruption in the evolutionary process. Before people showed up, evolution’s potential pathways were invisible. But once humans appear, human volition entered with it. The human capacity to choose replaced randomness with intentionality. We have developed enough mastery over our environment (Genesis 1:28) that natural selection, in the strict Darwinian sense, no longer really applies to us.
Never mind the insupportable statement that natural selection no longer applies to us—a silly assertion that is instantly refuted by the case of sickle-cell anemia in Africa. What is ridiculous here is the tortuous lengths to which Harrell—and other writers at BioLogos—go to preserve the historicity of Adam and Eve. If God dictated the Bible, and gave the Genesis account as simply a metaphor for evolution (presumably an idea that was beyond the ken of Middle Eastern goatherds two millennia ago), then why couldn’t he have made up Adam and Eve as a metaphor for the human branch of the evolutionary tree?
And what about Harrell’s suggested “apparent age” theory—that Adam and Eve were poofed into being with DNA that made them look as if they descended from a far older population? Does that not violate any notion of scientific methodology and truth? And why would God do that, anyway? To fool modern scientists? And if we buy apparent age for Adam and Eve, why not for fossils? After all, God could have created a proportion of radiometric elements in the soil that would make nearby fossils look old even if they were really put in the earth a few thousand years ago. If you accept apparent age to save the Bible, where does it stop?
More important: isn’t BioLogos embarrassed to have this kind of stuff on its website, which purports to accept the findings of science?
BioLogos doesn’t realize that this kind of desperate apologetics makes believers look pretty bad, at least to those who have any respect for truth. It’s far simpler to just see Adam and Eve as metaphors, since there’s not a scintilla of evidence that they ever existed. But of course if you start rejecting silly notions because there’s no evidence for them, most of scripture goes down the drain.