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#693 The Historical Adam: What’s at Stake?

August 02, 2020

Hello Dr. Craig, I have a few questions regarding the interview you did with Dr. Joshua Swamidass on his Peaceful Science channel titled ‘William Lane Craig Ends His Search For Adam and Eve’. Between 0:54-1:01 in the interview you said certain things that I find a bit puzzling. I would like to hear your clarification and thoughts on the followings:

1. Dr. Swamidass asked you what you thought was at stake at the beginning of your research, you said that “…as crazy as it sounds…it’s the deity of Christ”. If I understood you correctly, you thought that it was important to show that Adam & Eve were historical figures because Jesus (and the other NT writings) seems to affirm this position. And Jesus would’ve held false belief regarding Adam & Eve had they been found not to be historical. My question is: had your research led you to conclude that A&E were not historical figures, would you have been compelled to question the deity of Christ on this issue alone? Or, did you mean that you would still have believed in his deity (to know subjectively), but you would have difficulty defending (to show objectively) this position?

2. You agreed with Dr. Swamidass that the foundation of our faith is the resurrection of Christ. But ‘mere Christianity’ does not contribute to the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, which you thought were also at stake at the beginning of your research. You said you would hate to give up this doctrine. My question is: according to your response to question of the week #626, you said “…When we see how Jesus regarded the Old Testament, we perceive that he taught it to be the inspired and wholly reliable Word of God…We believe in the Bible because we believe in him”. Do you still hold to the position that the deity of Christ can be affirmed on the historical evidence of the resurrection alone? And if so, we can still wholeheartedly believe the inerrancy of the OT and so this doctrine is not at stake?

I thank God for your ministry. It’s been such a blessing to me in so many ways. I recommend your ministry to others whenever I have the opportunity. It’s a bit sad that growing up as an evangelical believer I’ve never been encouraged to love God with my mind until I found your ministry. May God continue to use your ministry to bless others.


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Dr. craig’s response


I appreciate your question, Sam, because my remarks on this head have been misunderstood by an atheist podcaster, who makes it sound as though I see no recourse but to abandon the deity of Christ should it turn out that there was no historical Adam. That’s not at all my position.

In fact, as those who know my work can tell you, when confronted with an objection to Christian faith, I typically like to begin by assuming the worst case scenario: “Suppose the objection is true; then what?” Often it turns out that even the worst case scenario isn’t unsalvageable. There are often plausible moves the Christian can make to handle the situation, even given the truth of the objection.

(1) So with respect to your first question, I’m saying, “Suppose the objector is right. Suppose the scientific evidence shows that there was no historical Adam. What is the consequence for the Christian faith?” Many people have pointed out that if there was no historical Adam, then the classic doctrine of Original Sin, according to which Adam’s sin is imputed to all his descendants, goes down the drain. I agree; but since, as I explain in my Defenders 3 lectures on Original Sin, I don’t take this doctrine to be essential to Christian faith, that’s no big deal in my opinion. If that’s the only consequence of Adam’s non-existence, then the worst case scenario isn’t so bad after all.

Rather I argue that the more serious consequence of the non-existence of Adam would be its impact upon the doctrines of the inspiration of Scripture and the incarnation of Christ. For if the Scriptures clearly teach that there was a historical Adam, then the falsity of that doctrine would have a reverberatory effect upon the doctrine of Scripture with regard to Scripture’s truthfulness and reliability. The Scriptures would then seem to be convicted of teaching falsehoods. Worse still, if, as seems plausible, Jesus himself believed in the historicity of Adam and Eve (Matt 19.4-6), then he would have held false beliefs concerning Adam and Eve, which is incompatible with his omniscience. Since omniscience is an essential property of God, the denial of the historical Adam threatens to undo the deity of Christ and thus to destroy orthodox Christian faith.

So here are our options, it seems to me:


If the existence of the historical Adam is, in fact, compatible with the scientific evidence, properly interpreted, as indicated on the right-hand side of the diagram, then there’s no problem. This is the position I maintain.

But suppose that the worst case scenario, depicted on the left-hand side, is true. If the historical Adam did not exist, one option is to affirm that the Scriptures do teach, however erroneously, the existence of a historical Adam but—on the assumption that inspiration guarantees truth—to restrict inspiration and, hence, the guarantee of truthfulness, to the spiritual or theological content of Scripture. On this view, God has accommodated Himself to speaking through the often erroneous thought forms of a culture, embedding theological truths within the husks of scientific and historical errors taught by Scripture. A good many contemporary theologians have taken this option.

Alternatively, we might maintain that while the authors of Scripture may well have believed in a six day creation, a historical Adam, a worldwide Flood, and so on, they did not teach such facts. Since inspiration’s guarantee of truthfulness attaches only to what the Scriptures teach, we are not committed to the truthfulness of the authors’ personal beliefs. A good many contemporary scholars have embraced this option in order to deal with such elements in the Genesis narrative as the three-decker cosmos, the firmament and the waters above it, and a geocentric universe, and some have extended this approach to include belief in a historical Adam. Such beliefs are supposed to be adventitious to the teachings of Scripture, which are true and authoritative. This option differs from the first in that it denies that the Scriptures teach the objectionable doctrines. The challenge of this option is to make the distinction between what the author believed and what he taught a plausible one.

But there’s a deeper problem here. If there was no historical Adam, then along with the doctrine of inspiration we should also need an adjustment of the doctrine of the incarnation in order to allow Jesus to entertain false beliefs. Distinguishing between what he believed and what he taught isn’t going to solve the problem, since the problem posed by his deity is precisely his inability to believe falsehoods.

So how might the Christian theologian handle this problem?  Perhaps the best way of handling this problem is to distinguish between accepting a proposition p and believing a proposition p. This distinction plays an important role in the philosophy of mathematics with respect to the ontological commitments of mathematical language.  Some thinkers hold that belief in the truth of even simple arithmetic statements like 2+2=4 commits one to the reality of mind-independent Platonistic entities like the number 4. Belief in the axioms of Zermelo-Fraenkl set theory allegedly commits us to the reality of an infinite set, an extravagant metaphysical commitment. Most practicing mathematicians and scientists would probably not consider themselves to have made such metaphysical commitments by means of their assumptions or assertions. So it is common to distinguish between accepting a mathematical statement and believing a mathematical statement. Such a distinction does not imply any disingenuousness on the part of the mathematician or scientist; indeed, he may never have even thought about his ontological commitments. One may plausibly challenge the Platonist to prove that the majority of mathematicians and scientists, in giving verbal assent to and relying on mathematical existence statements, really believe that there are mathematical objects such as the Platonist asserts there are.

Similarly, perhaps we could distinguish between Jesus’ accepting p and his believing p. In his finite human consciousness perhaps Jesus accepted p, that is to say, verbally assented to p without conscious, silent reservations and relied on p in practical contexts, without believing p. For what the person of Christ believed is what the divine Logos, the second person of the Trinity, believed, since the Logos, not the human mind of Christ, is the person Christ is, and the Logos believes no falsehoods. Such a view might even seem to yield a more plausible view of the incarnation, not requiring silent reservations on Jesus’ part when he said of the mustard seed that “it is the smallest of all seeds” (Matt 13.22), or of the moon that “the moon will not give its light” (Matt 24.29) (thereby implying that the moon is luminous), or of the eye that it is “the lamp of the body” (Matt 6.22). Such a view might also yield a more realistic account of Jesus’ human experience. By way of illustration, did Jesus as a lad never hear a noise in the next room and think, “James has dropped a hammer,” when it was, in fact, Joses who made the noise? Or see someone in the distance and think, “Miriam is coming,” when it turned out to be Elizabeth? Would not Jesus have naturally thought that, say, the sun moves across the sky or that the moon is luminous? We could perhaps similarly maintain that Jesus, while not believing that Adam was a historical person, nevertheless as a condition of his incarnation accepted this and many other false beliefs of his countrymen.

The point is that even in the worst case scenario, according to which Adam did not exist, the situation is not hopeless. There are answers. Still, these options would involve us in pretty extensive theological revisions of the doctrines of Scripture and the incarnation. Fortunately, this is purely academic, since in my book I show that there is no incompatibility between the existence of the historical Adam and the scientific evidence concerning human origins. So we’re not obliged to embrace the worst case scenario options.

2. As for your second question, yes, the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection vindicates his divine claims, thereby implying his deity. The question is, how is his deity compatible with his holding false beliefs about Adam, assuming that Adam did not exist?  That’s my answer to your first question! As for Jesus’ attitude toward the Old Testament, if Adam did not exist, we could embrace either of the two worst case options above: either the Old Testament is inspired only in its theological teachings or else the Old Testament is fully authoritative in all that it teaches, even though the authors of the Old Testament held various false personal beliefs. The whole of Scripture is then inspired and therefore God’s Word to us, but the teaching of God’s Word does not include antique science.

- William Lane Craig