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Focus on Adam and Eve

September 09, 2018
Focus on Adam and Eve


Dr. Craig's next focus of study is on Adam and Eve. What are the biblical and scientific grounds of the Genesis account?

KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, you are a lot braver than I am taking on this topic! This is something that I don’t think we need to fear, and I think all of us need to be well-versed in this topic, but it is certainly one that people have asked from time immemorial and it seems like it is increasing these days, and that is Adam and Eve. What does the Bible teach? Who were they? How does that relate to some of the newest scientific evidence that has been discovered and things like that? Do we need to revise our understanding? There's so many questions. After spending some time on the atonement, am I to understand that you're going to make this your next area of study?

DR. CRAIG: Yes, that's right. As I prepare for writing a philosophical theology some day I'm trying to bone up on areas where I'm weak, and this is one of those areas. I've read in creation/evolution literature over the years and have some familiarity with this topic, but no in-depth knowledge of it. So I've decided to tackle this. I think you're right – this does require bravery to do because the first eleven chapters of Genesis are troubling for everybody. Someone recently said to me the only way that I've managed to sort of deal with the first eleven chapters of Genesis (about Adam and Eve, the Fall, Noah and the ark, the Tower of Babel) is just sort of by sweeping them under the rug and ignoring them and refusing to ask the hard questions like was there really a universal flood that submerged the world? Was the origin of human languages really because of this tower that was built in Mesopotamia? And when did this happen? Was there really a talking snake that tempted man into sin and is the reason that snakes crawl on the ground because they were cursed by God? These questions make everyone uncomfortable. So I've decided to tackle this now and try to weigh just how do we assess the reality or the historicity of Adam and Eve in particular, but in order to do that you need to look at them within the context of Genesis 1 to 11 – the whole primeval history of the world that Genesis gives prior to the call of Abraham. Then you have to ask how does that primeval history fit into the whole of the book of Genesis, and that's not the end of the story. How does the book of Genesis fit into the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Old Testament which is a composite unified work? So Adam and Eve is contextualized within Genesis 1 to 11 which is contextualized within Genesis which is contextualized within the Pentateuch. And understanding all of these is necessary if we're to grasp what the Bible really teaches about Adam and Eve.

KEVIN HARRIS: What spurred this for you? Has it been kind of bubbling under the surface? Was it the Debar Conference?

DR. CRAIG: Well, it's always been troubling to me to understand this. I think the question of the antiquity of man has always troubled me. That is to say, Adam as described in Genesis, appears to be very recent – just a few thousand years ago. The descriptions of Adam and his sons and descendants include things like farming, sheep herding, musical instruments, even smelting of metals like iron. These are very recent developments in civilization. These are not descriptions of the culture of a caveman. So I've come to appreciate that when Bishop Ussher added up the ages of the genealogies and said the world was created around four thousand four years ago he was no fool. There could be some gaps – there are gaps – in the genealogies, but it's not as though Ussher was doing something outrageous. It does seem like Genesis 1 to 11 describes events that are very recent in human history, not Stone Age cavemen type of events. And yet that runs very counter to what paleoanthropology tells us about human origins. Anatomically modern human beings like you and me originated somewhere around 200,000 years ago and they obviously didn't have the kind of culture that is described in Genesis 1 to 11. In addition to that you've got these Neanderthals and Denisovans who are other types of archaic human beings who, though not anatomically identical to us, nevertheless had comparable brain size, used tools that required intentional activity. It appears that Neanderthals may have buried their dead. There was a Neanderthal grave discovered that was strewn with flowers. They buried the dead person apparently on a bed of flowers which seemed to show some sort of belief in afterlife or at least some sort of aesthetic sensibility that doesn't look like this is some kind of ape man. This looks like a human being. So, for example, in the recent book, Theistic Evolution, which is an attack – a broadside – against theistic evolution, the authors in there defend the humanity of Neanderthals and Denisovans as well as Homo sapiens – anatomically modern men. Well, that would put human origins back around 500,000 years or so. And that just doesn't gel with a sort of factual interpretation of Genesis 1 to 11. That was the issue that has always bothered me that, frankly, I've kind of swept under the rug not knowing how to deal with it. But what's catapulted this now into the forefront of my thinking is a conversation I had a few years ago with Dennis Venema, who is a biology professor at Trinity Western out in Vancouver, where he explained to me that on the basis of contemporary genetic population studies, in his words the genetic diversity in the human population today on Earth could not have originated from just two people – from a human pair – some point in the distant past. There had to be a minimum population of around 10,000 evolving people that gave us our genetic diversity today. That was very troubling because what that meant was even if somehow you pushed the origins of Adam and Eve back 500,000 years that didn't solve the problem. Venema says you still wouldn't be able to explain the genetic diversity of human beings. So Adam and Eve go out the window. What I have discovered since then, gratefully, is that Venema was in fact, misinformed. He was wrong about this claim. What the data shows is that the mutational diversity or distance that is exhibited among human beings today couldn't have originated from a human pair as recently as say 50,000 years ago. But if you go back 500,000 years ago, 400,000 years ago, then his claim is false. He was mistaken. Joshua Swamidass at Washington University in St. Louis has run models on this showing that you certainly can have a universal human progenitor that is around 500,000 years ago. Now you're left, again, with the problem of the antiquity of man and the factuality of Genesis. How do you put it all together?

KEVIN HARRIS: I was going to mention to you – you've probably heard some of the newest research that Neanderthals and Denisovans dated one another. They had a dating thing, or something. [laughter] We see interbreeding.

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, interbreeding with us – with modern humans. One of the things that I remember Venema saying to me – he looked me in the eye and he says, You have Neanderthal DNA in you. He says a certain percentage of your DNA is from Neanderthals. That really shook me. I was stunned to discover that. And yet this is true. Actually this is one of the things that also impacts these estimates of when Adam and Eve existed. Because if there is genetic input into the human race from Neanderthals and other archaic humans then that means you don't need to explain the genetic diversity of the present population based on one human couple alone because you've got outside sources interbreeding with the descendants of Adam and Eve introducing additional genetic material into the human genome. Therefore that needs to be taken into account, and nobody has done that yet.

KEVIN HARRIS: I say at the beginning of this podcast that you're awful brave to be taking on this study and for us to be talking about it because it's such an emotional topic, isn't it? I mean people are really emotional.

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, I read an article recently by Old Testament scholar Richard Averbeck where he says anyone who chooses to speak or write about the early chapters of Genesis is going to be in a lot of trouble with a lot of people. So I am anticipating a good deal of pushback on these things especially from our young creationist brethren, but I've just got to do this. I've got to come to some kind of intellectual peace about this issue. I don't know where it's going to end. That’s what makes it scary for me. I am not sure where it's going to end. But what I'm doing now is I am doing intensive study of commentaries on the book of Genesis. I've set the scientific material on the backburner for the time being. I want to go to the biblical text and to understand it as an ancient reader would have understood it. What did the author and his audience understand this text to mean? That's the first question that needs to be settled. Once that is settled then one can turn to the questions posed by paleoanthropology and population genetics.

KEVIN HARRIS: There's a lot of work being done on this area, too, don’t you think? Hugh Ross has always addressed this. They're working really hard on this. It seems like they're really starting to kind of up it.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, and they've revised their own views about Adam which I think is commendable that Reasons To Believe would have the objectivity to say, Our earlier model didn't work. They're revising their views. At the conference at Trinity I spoke about I talked with Anne Gauger who is one of their biologists working on this problem, and she actually thinks that Adam and Eve may have been Homo erectus which would put them like a million years ago – very, very early. How that's to be reconciled with Genesis 1 to 11, well that's going to be a huge question.

KEVIN HARRIS: That's going to be part of this study. Bill, what's the bottom line? I'm not too troubled in that I'm confident that what was intended for the original readers I think will come to bear in your study and will give us insight on what is being taught there. It could be that there came a point in time that these two were designated. I mean, what are our options here?

DR. CRAIG: There are quite a number of different options for understanding the Adam and Eve question, and a lot will depend on what kind of literature you think Genesis 1 to 11 is. Although young earth creationists take this to be a straightforward factual report, I must say very few (if any, frankly) commentators believe that. I think the average pastor or Christian layman would be shocked at how non-literal most evangelical Bible-believing commentators take Genesis 1 to 11 to be. They don't think that there was a talking snake or magical trees to eat from in the garden. They don't think that there was this universal deluge that drowned every living thing on the Earth and that Noah took on board the ark elephants and giraffes and polar bears and things from all around the globe. They don't think that human languages originated because of the confusion of tongues at a Babylonian tower that people tried to build. The first eleven chapters of Genesis are variously characterized as proto-history or mytho-history where these have historical elements but they are not taken to be straightforward factual reports. That question will need to be decided first. Then there are different models that one might adopt for trying to put science and the Bible together. For example, a person might maintain that Adam and Eve are the progenitors of the entire human race that have ever lived on the face of this planet but push them very far back in history – a few hundred thousand years ago – and then interpret much of Genesis 1 to 11 as just anachronistic, portraying these ancient peoples and events in ways that reflected the culture of the author and his readers rather than historical reality. Or, another view might be to try to move Adam and Eve forward in history so as to preserve that cultural context without anachronism, but then maintain that they are not the universal progenitors of the human race – they're just two people that lived around 10,000 years ago that God picked out to be specially elected by him and through whom he would then bring about the nation of Israel and his plan for human history. But there were lots and lots of other people already in the world at that time living in Australia and in the New World and throughout Africa and Asia. Adam and Eve were not the universal progenitors of the human race. One other wrinkle would be to say they were the only truly human people that existed at the time. The others somehow weren't invested with a human soul or they weren't spiritually equipped in such a way as to know God, that they weren't truly human. In that way you could say, yes, Adam and Eve are the progenitors of all human beings that have ever lived but they were anatomically similar creatures if you will (hominids) with whom Adam and Eve lived and with whom their children had sexual intercourse and sired descendants and so forth. So those are some of the options that are on the table out there.

KEVIN HARRIS: One more thing, as we wrap up today, and it occurs to me that we've been really influenced by medieval art on these things. They show a big boa constrictor that's talking and things like that. I've never thought that that was the case – that there's this boa constrictor with vocal cords that could talk. But that's what you see in some of these famous paintings and things like that. Well, that could have been some kind of a creature that is no longer extant that somehow perhaps Satan inhabited or used for this particular purpose. There’s all these things like that, but my point is that we don't have to look at those paintings by medieval artists as necessarily the way it was.

DR. CRAIG: That's the issue. These sorts of paintings provide literal images of the descriptions in, say, Genesis 2 and 3, but are we really meant to take them literally as these medieval artists thought? Most evangelical Bible-believing commentators would say no.

KEVIN HARRIS: Let's talk some more about this in some upcoming podcasts as you progress in this study. In the meantime, I'll hire a couple of bodyguards so we can go to lunch.[1]


[1]          Total Running Time: 19:28 (Copyright © 2018 William Lane Craig)