I came across this article by Alvin Plantinga on the ‘historical Adam.’ He suggests a possible way to reconcile evolutionary theory with the idea that there were an original pair as Genesis claims. Whether you find his ‘possible scenario’ convincing or not, is beside the point. Plantinga at least seems to recognize that orthodox Christianity requires a historical Fall:
“It seems that Paul, in more than one place, teaches that there was an original human pair who fell into sin. Another constraint: the effect on major Christian doctrine. Suppose you reject Adam and Eve and a literal Fall. How then do you construe the doctrine of original sin? More important: how do you understand the necessity for incarnation and atonement, the very center of the Christian faith?”
Good questions indeed. I would agree with Plantinga that the Christian scriptures seem to require at least a historical Fall (if not an original pair) otherwise the doctrines of original sin and atonement fall apart. But I disagree with him insofar as I think there is real, and not just apparent, conflict between evolution and Christian doctrine on this point. For example, the Bible teaches that sin and death (at least human death) entered into the world through the transgression of Adam and Eve. However, evolution tells us that ‘sin’ — i.e. the selfishness required for survival — and death have always been around.
Some Christians, however, deny that there’s real conflict here. They admit that there’s no evidence for a historical Adam; quite the contrary. Genetics tells us that the human population never fell below 10,000 individuals. Common descent is also well-established. At what point in this evolutionary history is the Fall supposed to happen? But Christians like Francis Collins don’t see any problem here. According to BioLogos:
“One option is to view Adam and Eve as a historical pair living among many 10,000 years ago, chosen to represent the rest of humanity before God. Another option is to view Genesis 2-4 as an allegory in which Adam and Eve symbolize the large group of ancestors who lived 150,000 years ago. Yet another option is to view Genesis 2-4 as an “everyman” story, a parable of each person’s individual rejection of God.”
Now it isn’t often that I side with fundamentalist Christians, but c’mon. This clearly isn’t what Genesis teaches, especially when interpreted in light of Paul’s teaching in the New Testament. Even moderate evangelicals, like Tim Keller in Christianity Today concur:
“[Paul] most definitely wanted to teach us that Adam and Eve were real historical figures. When you refuse to take a biblical author literally when he clearly wants you to do so, you have moved away from the traditional understanding of the biblical authority,” Keller wrote. “If Adam doesn’t exist, Paul’s whole argument—that both sin and grace work ‘covenantally’—falls apart. You can’t say that ‘Paul was a man of his time’ but we can accept his basic teaching about Adam. If you don’t believe what he believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul’s teaching.”
But the genetic evidence is tough to deny. This leads me to wonder whether this tenet of Christianity has been empirically falsified. Of course, it’s possible to move the goalposts as liberal Christians do, but that strikes me as a dodge. It’s no different, to my mind, than what some Mormons do when confronted with genetic evidence that Native Americans are not descended from ancient Israelites: they simply deny that their scriptures teach this. Well, sorry, but they clearly do. Christianity Today quotes Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke saying “if the data is overwhelming in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult.” But perhaps it’s a cult-like practice to constantly reinterpret your own scriptures such that they can never be falsified. So which is it? Does the Bible make claims that can be empirically tested or not?