I don’t believe in Adam, and I’m OK

Many of us are comfortable with a literal reading of Genesis, finding its account of human origins more plausible than anything else we’ve heard.  If that’s you, this post will either bore or offend you.  But if you’re like me—unable to swallow a literal reading of Genesis—this post’s for you.

I’ve believed in evolution for a couple decades now, and I spent much of that time in the closet, afraid to talk to anyone about it.  I spent a couple of those years not believing in God, because I’d grown convinced that my science and my religion were incompatible. It’s been a long and fruitful journey for me, and today I can’t imagine doing theology without evolutionary science by my side. My science provides my theology with fantastic depth, fruitfulness, and beauty that it couldn’t have any other way. I love where I’m at with it.

But a friend recently brought up a question about this, and it’s relevant to our theological project here in the Trinity and Humanity blog community, so I thought I’d post about it here.

Many Christian evolutionists believe in a historical pair of Homo Sapiens named Adam & Eve.  I do not, for a variety of reasons.  Does this fundamentally conflict with Saint Paul’s “Adam Theology” (expressed in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15), which is a really important piece of the Trinity-and-Humanity vision of God?

In these passages, Paul uses Adam to illustrate the universality of Jesus’ saving work.  The basic idea is expressed succinctly in Romans 5.18:

Just as [Adam’s] one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also [Jesus’s] one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.

Here are two quick reasons why my belief in Paul’s theology doesn’t conflict with my non-belief in a historical Adam:

1.  Divinely-inspired ancient people don’t know quantum mechanics.
Or Newton’s laws of motion. Or that the Earth orbits the Sun.  Or that all life on Earth is related by birth.  As far as I can tell, Paul believes in an Earth-centered cosmos and a historical Adam & Eve, and that’s okay by me.  My trust in Paul as a divinely-inspired messenger of the Gospel does not compel me to agree with his notions about the natural world.

2.  Paul’s argument rests on Jesus, not Adam.
In these passages, Paul wants us to know that Jesus affects all of humankind, and he uses his understanding of human origins to illustrate how that can happen.  Similarly, Hosea says that God is as trustworthy as the sun’s movement around the earth (Hosea 6.3). The truth of his theology does not rest on the accuracy of his science.  New Testament scholar N.T. Wright backs me up on this:

If you’re interested in learning more about the interface between biblical Christian faith and evolutionary science, Peter Enn’s Biologos is a pretty good place to start.


I understand that some of my friends might not like what I have said here.  If that’s the case for you, please know:  I don’t need you to agree with me, but I do hope I can continue being welcome at your table.  I think our theological project here is big enough for us to continue working side-by-side.

42 comments so far

  1. Jonathan Stepp on

    Well said, John!

  2. dbdweeb on

    “Dear God, I believe in you. I believe you created all things. I believe you are the source of all life. Now let me tell you how you did it.”

    That’s the sense I get when people are dogmatic about how Genesis MUST be understood. They fail to understand that the original language was very poetic. When the story includes a talking snake why do they insist on the literal only?

    Consider Genesis 1:24a:
    “Let the land produce living creatures…” (NIV)
    “Earth, generate life!” (The Message)

    What does that sound like? Where’s the literal reading now?

    It’s not science versus religion, it’s physics, biology, cosmology AND theology. Within their separate realms, science and theology can be reconciled, God is good at science. The biggest part of the problem is the Christian who promulgates both bad theology and bad science and thus becomes a bad witness to thinking people. IMHO.

    • “Earth, generate life!” – Holy cow, that is gorgeous. My friends who can’t bring themselves to believe in evolution — Their overriding concern is to be faithful to the Bible and ultimately faithful to the Word of God, and I can totally respect that. My hope is that we can all give one another space to think, while at the same time challenging and sharpening one another.

      • dbdweeb on

        Thanks John. Of course the reply will be that “The Message” is not a translation, but an interpretation, which is why I also included the reputable NIV translation. If nothing else, this can be used to open up healthy, respectful discussion and avoid having the dogmatic insistence of a literal reading shut down all dialog.

        The emotional baggage in this thing is the humiliation of humans coming from apes. My response is that the King of Kings suffered a far greater humiliation, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

  3. Ted Johnston on

    Nicely done John. For a helpful discussion of several views related to the historicity of Adam & Eve and related issues concerning the when and how of life appearing and developing, I recommend the book “Four Views on the Historical Adam (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)” The view you embrace (one I personally happen to agree with) is sometimes referred to as “evolutionary creation” (and sometimes “theistic evolution”–though I agree with the author of that section of the book that “evolutionary creation” is better in that the noun, and thus the focus is “creation,” whereas in the other term the focus is on “evolution”). Anyway, it’s a helpful read in that it makes one aware that faithful, Bible-believing Christians hold to differing viewpoints on this issue. I’m glad you’ve found one that enhances your reverence of God in his creative majesty, and also one that helps you to marvel at the creativity/freedom which God in his grace and wisdom has granted to that creation.

  4. Nan Kuhlman on

    While I think the Bible is beautiful and sacred, I also think that too many folks make it the 4th member of the Trinity :). Though I am not one to get tied up in where we came from (I guess I really don’t care), I like how you’ve pointed out that the scientific “errors” made by those divinely inspired writers does not diminish what they offer us in encouragement and insight, revealing the heart of God for all people. I also have found certain aspects of science (like cymatics) to be faith-affirming, showing that God is revealing his beauty and order throughout creation in ways we cannot see. Thanks for this “confession!”

  5. Tony Marra on

    The problem with evolutionary theory is that much of it is explained away as fact when in “fact” it is theory. I know there are those who like yourself believe in both creationism and evolution. However, most evolutionists I encounter do not believe in a creator. They try to package evolution as a
    truth when there are many un-answered questions and un-observed occurrences. I believe much about evolution is factual and helps in our understanding the variety and progression of life. However, to say that all life evolved from a common ancestor is a big stretch..unless of course you mean Jesus….I think we are all in for a few surprises!

    • dbdweeb on

      It’s important not to confuse the word theory with common conversational usage. The “it’s only a theory” canard does not fly. A scientific theory is based on observable and reporduceable fact, like the theory of gravity, which surely is not in dispute. Just because it’s a scientific theory does not mean that it is unfactually, quite the opposite actually. In theology we have the Trinitarian Theory.

      To get informed on the proper definition of theory as it is used in science see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory

    • “It’s a fact!” can be a way to shut down conversation, and I am against that. All knowledge (including the scientific kind) is always tentative, open to being revised in the light of new data. Evolution is a theory, as is Relativity, the ‘laws’ of Gravity, and Newtonian Thermodynamics. The problem is, it’s been ‘branded’ as something that belongs to metaphysical naturalism (atheism).

  6. Boyd Merriman on

    I find your thoughts interesting and I am struggling with the idea of Adam and Eve (but not struggling with “you got to start somewhere”) while reading of ancient civilizations going back well over 12,0000 plus years ago.
    In Gen 1:1, I read “In the beginning, God….” and what I see is “way back when, could have been somewhere around, lets say, 13.5 billions years ago (give or take a month or two) God created the heavens (first) and earth (second)…..”
    I can see the Great Artist slinging his materials across the empty canvas and having fun watching the galaxies form and dance and move across the eons of empty space, moving in and out of each other. Watching starts grow, expand and blow out sending material to newly form (or forming new) planets. Probably giggling with glee!
    Then with His precise mathematical and geometric eye, aims planets around a star and cause them to crash, form new planets and a special moon around one of them, making sure that planet aligns perfectly for seasons and life.

    I can see God doing that. And did man and animal began to form by his creative genius and manipulation? Sure! Why not? And did God allow man freedom to learn his surroundings, making mistakes, watching them learn and grow? Sure!
    And could God have created a couple of beings that He decided would be special and ready for the next step in GOD’s Evolutionary design? And again, why not? After all, there was a place a short distance away that Cain was able to go to and marry someone….right? Where did that come from?

    I have a problem with people thinking that the literal seven days was when God created. The story was written for people who worshiped false gods and was not a scientific thesis on a literal creation. It was written for the purpose of redirecting people to the True God.

  7. Boyd Merriman on

    Let me clear something up in my mind. I really don’t have a problem with an Adam and Eve. I don’t have a problem with God creating them, I don’t have a problem with them being created around 10,000 years ago (give or take a month or two). What i have a problem with is the denial that God could have (and most likely did) create the heavens and earth billions of years ago and have had dinosaurs and such around. Why not? Light has to travel for thousands and millions of years to reach earth. Why would God create all this just 10,000 years ago and make it LOOK like it was made billions of years ago? That would be deceptive, but then I think many Christians still think God has something up his sleeve that he is holding out on…like the serpent has suggested. When will we stop believing the serpent?
    Adam and Eve was probably a special project of God, to create them to be more like him, in “his image and likeness”. Was this in opposition to his other creative efforts the last few million years? Were the dinosaurs destroyed by a rogue (was it rogue or deliberate?) space rock to make room for mans’ growth? Something to think about.

    • I’d definitely agree that humanity has been a unique project for God. I do suppose all of his creatures are unique projects, but it’s worth noting that God never became incarnate as an otter.

  8. dbdweeb on

    How to simultaneously believe in a literal 6 days of creation and the 14 billion years of evolutionary creation without being a complete nut case…

    The problem of man’s limited perception goes much deeper than mere heliocentrism. Our personal experience of reality is woefully inaccurate because of our inability to understand the space-time continuum. In other words, like a selfish 2 year old, we think as if we are at the center of the universe. From this narrow perspective we act as if time is an absolute constant, which is contrary to the validated theory of relativity where the passage of time depends on your point of view.

    But Orthodox Jewish physicist Gerald Schroeder asks us to look at things from the Creator’s point of view, very near to the center of the big bang, an arms length of the Almighty if you will. And when you do the math using well proven scientific formulas, guess what? Our perspective of 14 billion years is roughly equivilent to the Creator’s perspective of 6 days. You can read about it here:

    The Creator is not bound by the space-time continuum. Theologian Karl Barth said that even though God stands outside of time, He can move and act in it. Even though the human agents who recorded their inspiration from the Holy Spirit didn’t have a clue about the science, Scripture coroborates that God is not bound by ephemeral time.

    Hebrews 4:3 And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world.

    Revelation 13:8 the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.

    John 8:58 Before Abraham was, I AM.

    Romans 8:29-30, Those whom God foreknew He predestined, those whom He predestined He called, those whom He called He justified, those whom He justified He glorified.

    Notice the past tense in Romans. Apparently God glorified them before they even died as Paul wrote this 7 years before they would be martyred under Nero.

    To me this means Christ’s sacrifice is not limited by time, it comes to us all in our appointed time. Like the Roman martyrs, our destiny has not yet caught up with us. This is a mystery beyond my reckoning. “The finite cannot grasp the Infinite.” While God is infinite beyond our imagination, He makes Himself known to us and we can have a very real relationship with Him. I am in awe!

    • Boyd Merriman on

      You may also want to add: “Before Abram was, I am”. I see a movement of time as space being performed right in front of their eyes. Also a speaking of who and what Jesus is “Before Abram was, I AM”. So Jesus is standing right in front of them being Who and What he is (I AM) before Abram existed at the same time (I am)!

      • Boyd Merriman on

        Time AND Space, not “time as space”. Sorry for the slip.

  9. Jeff S on

    While there is indesputably micro-evolution (progressive variation among species or kinds) happening in the timeline of the cosmos, the suggestion of macro-evolution (one species evolving into another) is a difficult one to swallow. As a former ‘young earth creationist’ it is hard to part with the idea of Adam, although there are many unanswered questions about him. I sometimes wonder about the amount of allegory in the creation accounts. How did the authors experience affect his perception. Things like Noah’s flood are hard to harmonize with the character of our Triune God. I must say I found some solace in studying the ‘pre-Adamic civilization theory’.

    • I suspect allegorical interpretation is not so bad as my seminary hermeneutics professor led me to believe. The Church Fathers were quite fond of it.

    • Boyd Merriman on

      I have a problem with macro evolution but no problem with micro evolution. There does seem to be several “humanoid” type species that branched into practically nowhere, a dead end. But one species seems to suddenly make a huge jump to “evolutionary” leaps. Could that be the time God put his spirit (breathed) into man and things begin to change?

      • I’m open to the idea that God might have done something unique to the human species at some point in our history. Thanks for wrestling through these ideas with me, guys!

  10. Mike Smith on

    Mr. Stonecypher,
    I really enjoy reading your stuff! Thank you!

  11. Brian on

    I don’t believe in Noah, and I’m OK too!

    • Yeah, maybe my next post should be about Noah! I think the popularity of global flood stories in the ancient world has parallels to the popularity of zombie apocalypse stories in our culture.

  12. Brian on

    I’d like to read that post. Like you said about not believing in a historical Adam, I was saying I don’t believe the biblical persons Adam or Noah are historical persons, and I’m OK like you!

  13. Brian on

    Yes, I think we’re on the same page. And when all is said and done, why stop with Noah? I mean the whole idea of an historical Abraham is difficult to wrap my mind around. What do you think?
    I agree with you that the only important thing is to believe in Jesus. Perhaps the Old Testament is a fine fictional story to represent the reality that God loves people and is patient with them.

    • I’m not able to go that far with it. I see Jesus as the culmination of a long bloody process of God entering into relationship with humanity, with the people of Israel as his kind of “entry point.” And I see the Old Testament as an indispensable witness to that whole process. That said, I think the stories are important in themselves, regardless of how well they fit into the modern category we call “history.”

      The big idea I get from the OT is that Yahweh is not like the other gods. There are many voices in the OT that try to argue that no, Yahweh IS like the other gods — tribal, racist, violent, genocidal, etc. But the trajectory of the OT moves toward the revelation in Christ that Yahweh is indeed very different.

  14. Brian on

    You said, “That said, I think the stories are important in themselves, regardless of how well they fit into the modern category we call “history.””

    I think I’m with you. So just to clarify, you’re saying that the stories in the Old Testament would still be important even if they did not actually reflect what really happened in the past. Is that your view? If so, then you are indeed able to go as far as I go right?

    • Is that my view? Yes, but I still want to emphasize that I think there is a real connection between the stories and the way things actually happened. Just how much connection is the question for me. I think there probably was a dude named Abraham, though I don’t necessarily believe his niece-in-law turned into salt (It’s possible — God is capable of such things — but it sounds fairytale-ish to me). I think there really was a group of slaves in Egypt who escaped and eventually settled in Palestine. I think there really was a David and a Solomon, though many the stories about them smack of royal propaganda to me. I mean, if Solomon is so good and wise, why does he do all the foolish and tyrannical things that are recorded about him? Thoughts still evolving here.

  15. Brian on

    But it seems to me you’ll have to bite the bullet if you do agree with me that the stories in the Old Testament do not reflect what actually happened in the past. Once you lift those stories away from the realm of history and make them into a tale or myth you can’t go back and say, “I think the person Abraham was historical but his niece-in-law did not really turn into salt” without being arbitrary. Picking and choosing what is and what is not historical is, in a sense, making up a new historical narrative yourself.

  16. Brian on

    Indeed they can, but there is a problem which you’re resisting. We must not fool ourselves in thinking, all things being equal, that we could ever know which are the real people and events and which are not.

  17. I find the tools of historical research to be quite useful and capable of a high degree of rigor.

  18. Brian on

    I am not saying that history is an impossible discipline. What historical research and investigation has led to the discovery of Abraham? (Since you think there probably was a dude named Abraham)

    • The simple fact that realistic (not obvious fairy tales) stories about him exist. Your insistence on such a strong separation between fact and myth is baffling to me.

  19. Brian on

    Right! Where are the oldest written stories about Abraham found? (I am going somewhere with this)

  20. Brian on

    Yes, and Genesis is in the Old Testament. So no other history reveals Abraham outside Biblical “history.” What I’m saying is the historicity of the Old Testament is what’s being called into question by you and me. You can’t point to any historical investigation which would reveal that Abraham was a real person outside the Bible itself.
    I’m just saying, for one to think Abraham was historical, when one thinks other people in the Old Testament aren’t historical, (like Noah) is to be arbitrary. Noah, too, is mentioned no other place other than the Old Testament. Can you see now that the project of picking and choosing certain OT characters to be historical can’t be anything other than re-writing an account of what happened in the past?

    • Let’s say I have a pile of ancient documents. One document tells a story about a talking raccoon who flies to the moon. Another tells about a guy named Jim who took a trip to the store. I would be willing to accept the possibility that Jim might have been real person, even if I won’t give the raccoon the same benefit of the doubt.

  21. Brian on

    Me too. So your point is??

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