Culture At Large

Historical Adam: Moving ahead in faith, not fear

Deborah Haarsma

Editor’s note: This is the final installment in a Think Christian series. Look for previous posts by Dennis Venema, Alvin Plantinga and Daniel Harrell, as well as an introductory piece by Deborah Haarsma.

So where do we go from here? Biologist Dennis Venema has told of us of the genetic evidence that humans share a common ancestor with animals, and that the first humans numbered in the thousands. While cutting-edge scientific discoveries need to be taken with a grain of salt (as philosopher Alvin Plantinga reminded us), this genetic evidence is being confirmed repeatedly as more studies are done.   

This scientific picture of a group of early humans raises many questions, including particularly difficult ones related to the Fall. Plantinga and pastor Daniel Harrell both suggest a possible solution: perhaps Adam and Eve were two individuals within the group of early humans. This would preserve Adam as a real historical figure and the Fall as a real historical event. However, the spread of sin to the rest of the group is problematic, since it would take many generations to spread genetically through a population of thousands. What was the spiritual status of humanity if some humans were image bearers and sinners while others were not? Harrell goes on to speculate that our will to sin could be related to our evolutionary past. This resonates with the Biblical idea of our sinful nature infecting everything we do, but it challenges the view of the first sin as a choice made by innocent humans. Did Adam and Eve have a real possibility of success in obeying God?

This debate is not something to fear, but part of what God calls the church to do.

I don’t have good answers to these questions. Every view I’ve heard on Adam and Eve has significant issues, whether scientific, Biblical or theological. I am reassured, however, when I remember that the foundations of our faith need not be shaken when thinking about evolution or considering different views on Adam. While debating how sin got started, Christians can still agree that all people have sinned and need the saving work of Christ. Though we wonder about humanity’s similarities with animals, we can agree that ultimate human significance is based on God’s love and the incarnation of Christ. When disagreeing about how to interpret Genesis 3 and Romans 5, we can still share a passionate commitment to the inspiration and authority of Scripture.

This debate is not something to fear, but part of what God calls the church to do. The conversation will require insights from scientists, philosophers and theologians, as well as from pastors, parents and students. These questions will not be resolved quickly, for individuals or the church, so we can take the time to listen and talk. Pick two books from authors with two different positions and read what they have to say. If a Christian advocates a view you disagree with, consider that they are likely working in good faith to deal with the scientific, Biblical and theological issues, but are weighing them differently than you would. Conflicts will surely happen, but they don’t need to be nasty. If we remember our unity in Christ, we can debate the pros and cons of different views rather than attacking each other as stupid or faithless.

By remembering our shared respect for both of God’s revelations, we can explore these questions with graciousness and hope. May the world know we are Christians by the way we speak the truth in love.

Topics: Culture At Large, Science & Technology, Science, Theology & The Church, Theology