Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Who Was Adam?

"Collectively, the consensus that emerges from this work indicates that humanity originated recently (about 100,000 years ago) from East Africa (near the location theologians ascribed to the Garden of Eden) from a small population. Amazingly, studies using mitochondrial and Y chromosomal DNA markers trace humanity’s origin back to a single man and woman." ~ Dr. Fazale ("Fuz") Rana, "A Burgoo of Human Origin Discoveries"

Today I responded to a post on the blog of a friend of a friend: Reflections on God's Word. In this post the author, Maria, talks about the move by some Christians, Francis Collins in this case, to dismiss Adam and Eve as historical figures. Dr. Collins, of the Human Genome Project, has looked at the genetic data and concluded that he believes Adam and Eve were not historical. Maria proceeds to flesh out the biblical implications of this in her post and points out why a historical Adam and Eve are important to orthodox Christian doctrine. Here is a portion of what she said:
...Collins has concluded from this study, as reported in a book he recently co-authored (The Language of Science and Faith), that “Adam & Eve as the literal first couple and ancestors of all humans do not fit the evidence”.

This assumption is disturbing on two accounts: First of all, those who support the findings and support theistic evolution minimize the impact of their assertions.  Second and more fraught with potential harm, is the implication for much of Biblical Theology and directly the trustworthiness of the Bible.  I will address the second of these issues.

The author of the “Christianity Today” article, Richard Ostling, correctly articulates what is at stake:
  • Humans’ unique status as image bearers of God
  • The doctrine of original sin and the fall
  • The genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3
  • Jesus’ teaching that all of the Old Testament points to Him (Luke 24)
  • Paul’s teaching that links the historical Adam with redemption through Christ

This issue is different from the debate among evangelical Christians who argue Old Earth vs. Young Earth.  In that arena, it is clearer that there are at least two possible interpretations.  The Bible refers to days (yowm) spent in creating the world.  In Hebrew ‘yowm/Strongs H3117’ can mean 24 hours, a year or a long period of time.  So the creation account is open to discussion without raising the trustworthiness of the Bible as an issue.

But if there is not a literal and historical Adam, then here are the implications:
  • God did NOT decide as a Trinitarian unit to make man in His image, male and female (Gen 1:27)
  • God did NOT have a conversation with Adam in Gen 2:16-17
  • Eve did NOT talk with Satan as serpent in Gen 3:1-5
  • Eve did NOT sin in Gen 3:6
  • No sudden guilt, shame and cover-up happened in Gen 3:7
  • No face-to-face encounter between God and the first couple took place in Gen 3:8-9
  • Adam & Eve did not try to pass the buck, playing the blame game in Gen 3:11-13
  • Gospel Hope was not first preached in Gen 3:15
  • No penalty for sin was announced in Gen 3:16-19, thereby explaining what is wrong with our world
You should go read the rest of her post here. It is a good biblical and philosophical defense of the trustworthiness of God's Word and Adam as a historical figure. Go ahead, go read it and then come back here..........

Now that you are back, I would like to share with you how I responded to her post. I thought it appropriate and necessary to respond from the scientific side of things as well. I wanted Maria, and all her readers, to know that it is Dr. Collins' interpretation of the data that is against a historical Adam, but his interpretation is not the only valid interpretation (as my quote in the beginning points out). Here is what I said:
Great article, I was directed here by a mutual friend–Adam Powers. I do not want to minimize the great points you made above but I also wanted to give a little perspective on Dr. Collins’ statement/opinion. I hope that this will encourage you in that you not only make a good Biblical and philosophical argument but that the scientific data are not against you.

Dr. Collins is truly a Christian, I believe, though I disagree with him about theistic evolution. One thing we must keep in mind with people like Collins who look at the genetic evidence is that they are looking at it with evolutionary presuppositions already in mind.

There are many studies that have emerged recently (like these:, that indicate the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of all humans can be traced back to one single sequence on the order of about 100,000 years ago. (We all get our mtDNA from our mothers only so even though I am a male my mtDNA still came from only my mother.) Other work done on the Y chromosome (Y-c) shows that all males can be traced back to a single Y-c (studies like this one: on the order of about 60,000 years ago.

Collins looks at this data and, because of his evolutionary presuppositions, thinks that this one sequence was just the “one lucky mother” whose DNA was passed on, while all the other DNA from the first “evolved” females died out. He interprets the Y-c data the same way. However, there is no evidence to favor this interpretation over one that looks at the data and says, “All humanity can be traced back to a single man and a single woman.” The second interpretation is simply much more difficult for Collins to fit into his evolutionary presuppositions, so he chooses the first. It is not the data that demands Christians throw out the idea of a historical Adam, it is Collins’ interpretation of it based on his presuppositions. The data equally support a historical Adam and Eve interpretation.

One might look at the dates and think, “Wait, how could the historical Eve be 100,000 years ago and the historical Adam be 60,000 years ago?” Scientists have asked a similar question. You might hear a geneticist say, “Did Adam know Eve?” and by that he means, “Did the woman who we get our mtDNA from know the man we get our Y-c from?” I think the Bible can easily fit well with this data. For us men, biblically who is the oldest male ancestor we could possibly trace our lineage back to? You might be tempted to say, “Adam” but is that really right? Actually, the oldest male we could possibly trace the Y-c back to is Noah. Why? Because of what is called a “population bottle neck”–the world’s population dropped to 8 people and then started over again. Noah and his three sons all had the same Y-c so there is no way to trace the Y-c beyond Noah farther back to anyone else. However, since it is reasonable to assume that Noah’s wife and his sons' three wives came from four different lineages, geneticists can trace the mtDNA beyond Noah. So, of course the dates would be different. In fact, the Bible (indirectly) predicts that these dates would be different!

Now, I am not trying to start an argument on your blog about the length of creation days (as you said, that can be debated without questioning the trustworthiness of the Bible) or whether or not the biblical genealogies are complete (which I also think can be debated without questioning the trustworthiness of the Bible). What I am trying to do is show that Collins’ interpretation of the data is not the only valid interpretation. It is equally valid, and I think more supportable, to say that human origins can be traced back to one man and one woman–Adam and Eve. So, far from ruling out a historical Adam, the genetic evidence supports it as one of the valid interpretations of the data.
I would like to suggest a book to those who would like to do more research on this topic: Who Was Adam? by Dr. Hugh Ross and Dr. Frazale Rana. It is an excellent resource by two men whose intellect far exceeds my own that dives deep into the scientific data and shows how modern discoveries do not discount and actually support a historical Adam (contra Dr. Collins).

By His Grace,

1 comment:

A. Taylor Rollo... said...

Everyone, recently I talked about this post on a forum with some seminary brethren. Below is an addition that I made on the forum. It highlights how I believe that my position is more supportable than Collins' on the basis of the generally accepted Ockham's razor:

No problem. We definitely do need to remember that our presuppositions can never be placed aside, which is something that scientists do not like to admit but it is nonetheless true. I will readily admit that my belief that Adam was a historical figure guides my interpretation of the data, but the point is that my interpretation (which of course it not really my own but one held by many men smarter than I) is an equally valid view of the data.

In fact, I think the historical Adam and Eve view is more supportable in light of the data. The "one lucky mother" view, supported by Collins and others in his camp, has to determine a mechanism by which all other genetic lines went extinct. In their view dozens, perhaps hundreds, of hominids evolved into humans separately and then, somewhere along the line, all of the separate females and their progeny died off except for one genetic line. It might be plausible to see only a small percentage of the original number surviving but all dying off except one? Then, the same thing has to happen again to the male line. So their mechanism has to not only account for the extinctions of all by one of the female line but the same for male lines as well. The view held by Collins and others like him way over complicates the interpretation of the data, which, if Ockham's razor applies at all anymore, should lead one to question the veracity of the theory.