Do we have to believe in Adam and Eve?

The title pretty much says it all. I am easily able to say that Genesis 1 was not intended to be a statement of ‘how’ God created but rather ‘that’ God created. But what of Genesis 2-3? Surely Adam and Eve must have been real people, otherwise what is the purpose of Christ? I agree with John Walton that forming out of dust is really just a statement of human nature, more than anything else, but how do we integrate this with the rest of the narrative, which seems to be recalling something real?

To those of us who see Adam and Eve as more figurative, the purpose of Christ is among other things to restore me into relationship with Him because I am a sinner. Adam and Eve is sort of irrelevant except as an example, as it my personal sin that ultimately has separated me from God, not something someone did thousands of years ago.
I think that the model of Genesis as foundational to the Gospel is all wrong. John 1 makes it clear the Jesus is the foundation of everything, including Genesis. Now, I cannot claim to fully understand that, but nonetheless believe it to be true.
As to Genesis 2-3, if I told you a story about wily talking animals, and magic fruit, what kind of story would that be? It may convey truth, without being literal.


Phil, I agree emphatically with what I have emphasized in your quote above–except that I would replace the name, Jesus, with the title, Christ, so that it would apply to the Creator’s purpose in the entire Universe, and not just to the origin of intelligent life on the earth. Like everyone who has preceded us, we struggle with this Truth but do not fully understand it. For me, personally, the most successful route has been to start with Revelations: “I am the Alpha and the Omega”, the beginning and the end-purpose of the Universe; or, in Sagan’s words, The Cosmos, which is all that IS or all that ever Will Be.

Following Teilhard de Chardin’s vision, we can see that the material Cosmos began with what is called the Big Bang, some 13.8 billion years ago. This initial burst of energy ‘evolved’, following precisely designed laws of physics, into various forms of matter, which gathered through the force of gravity into star-studded galaxies, and through stellar explosions formed the atoms that provided the building blocks for Life, the Biosphere that followed upon the Cosmosphere. So, from a theological point of view, we can consider this 10 billion year period as the creative power of God acting as the Cosmic Christ moving in time from Alpha towards Omega.

Currently science is at a loss the explain how the Biosphere began, but once given a start, it followed the ‘rules’ of what we now call Darwinian evolution to produce ‘a most wondrous and beautiful variety of life’ that proclaims the wisdom and power of its Creator.

But, until relatively recently, both the Cosmosphere and the Biosphere were absolutely AMORAL. As yet, no creature, no product of the Cosmic Christ, knew the difference between right and wrong. But there was one, the primate, Homo sapiens, who was on the verge–who had a greatly over-designed (exapted) brain, needing only ‘programming’ to become Mind–a mind that could conceive of and express abstract thought, express ideas vocally through a newly-equipped larynx, and thus issue in the Third Universal Sphere–the Noosphere. Darwinian evolution was capable of bringing Homo sapiens to the brink of Humanity, but it took an as-yet-unexplainable brain-programming event to push us ‘over the edge’.

Whether this humanity-birthing event–this Noosphere–occurred with one individual, or as a couple (Adam & Eve) and then spread epi-genetically through language to other Homo sapiens living at the time–this may never be determined. But it is really unimportant. The important Truth, in my opinion, is that it was the action of the Cosmic Christ that produced the potential in an earthly creature to know and to love its Creator. Following this logic, one must conclude, sadly, that this potential, which was gifted to the first humans, was rejected. This is recounted in Gen. 2 & 3 as Satan tempting early humans in the Garden of Eden. To put Creation back on course, the Cosmic Christ had to take human form as Jesus to lead us on the way the the Father; i.e.on the way from Alpha to Omega.
God bless,
Al Leo

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Thanks for expanding the thought, Albert. I value you and your comments.

Even though I no longer agree with the general YEC narrative, I still don’t quite understand what the purpose would be of assuming Adam and Eve were not real people (even though I can appreciate learning a broader sense of the word “truth”), since I can’t think of any other major Bible characters that we assume that of, other than those mentioned in parables. It’s true that there are some crazy things in the Eden story, such as a talking animal and a seemingly “magic” tree… but elsewhere in the Bible we have a talking donkey, people living 900+ years, God extending daylight during a battle, manna in the wilderness, men surviving being thrown into a furnace, people coming back to life, and all kinds of other unnatural, fantastical things. I don’t want to just fall back on the YEC “slippery slope” argument (or the “either everything in the Bible is true or nothing is”), but I don’t see a problem with assuming Adam and Eve were actual people, even if there is more, scientifically, to the story than we are told in the Bible.

Hi Elle,

I don’t think anyone here just assumed that Adam and Eve are fictional characters (for those of who believe that, which is not everyone). I believed in a, “literal” Adam and Eve for most of my Christian life. It’s because the teachings in 3 scientific fields challenge the notion of an historic Adam and Eve.


The biblical Adam and Eve must have existed no more than 10 thousand years ago, since they were farmers, and we know agriculture popped up suddenly ~10,000 years ago.

Also, the genealogy of Genesis 5 and others put Adam and Eve at 6-10 thousand years ago, depending on how many generations you’re comfortable adding to the genealogies of Genesis 5 and others, under the knowledge that ancient peoples skipped generations in their genealogies and focused on the more important figures.


We know that modern homo sapiens have existed for at least 300,000 years.


There have never been less than ~10,000 humans on the world at one time.

So, this combined knowledge makes it difficult to hold to the biblical Adam and Eve, who are the progenitors of the human race and live 6-10,000 years ago.

NOTE: One of the Biologos scientists who posts here often, Dr. Joshua Swamidass, holds to a historic Adam and Eve, but not as our genetic ancestors, but as one of many genealogical ancestors, who lived in modern day Iraq 6-10,000 years ago.


Richard, in a previous post to @jpm above (3/6 July 31 and on several previous posts) I have proposed a scenario that the origin of true humans can be assigned to an epigenetic change in the wiring of one (or just a few Homo sapien) brain(s) to operate as Minds, knowing right from wrong. I would be very much interested in the objections you may have to this scenario. It does seem to reconcile your three requirements I have quoted above.
Al Leo

  1. Epigenetic changes usually only last a handful of generations.

  2. Almost all epigenetic markers are removed in sperm and egg cells.

  3. Epigenetic changes that occur in someone’s brain will not be inherited by their offspring since brain cells are not used to reproduce (insert jokes here ;)).

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Hi Al,

I’ll certainly read that post (I’ve read other similar posts from you), but I doubt I’ll be convinced - for the same reason that I’m not convinced of Dr. Swamidass’ view of historical Adam and Eve being genealogical ancestors of us. That view also meets the 3 criteria, but isn’t within the spirit of the biblical Adam and Eve as progenitors of the human race. These 2 views are attempts at concordance, trying to create a history of something that wasn’t meant to be historical.

True to some degree. And that is what underlies my argument: Even though Darwinian evolution was sufficient to produce the species, Homo sapiens, which was on the verge of being human, the ultimate test of becoming Truly Human (in my opinion) is the ability to transmit abstract thoughts by means of language and, for the Christian, the ability to conceive of a Creator with whom a relationship is desired. Once even one H.s. brain had been ‘programmed’ and language invented, I’m suggesting that the ‘brain programming gene’ could be passed on non-sexually and could contain new knowledge accumulated through that individual’s life experience. Using Teilhard’s terminology, evolution in the Noosphere: 1) Is more rapid than in the Biosphere, because it can be transmitted within a generation (even from younger to older); 2) Is Lamarkian, rather than Darwinian; 3) I teleological (purposeful) rather than seemingly random. [Note that it is a huge extension over the teaching by parent to child of a learned skill; i.e. Japanese monkey teaching offspring how to wash sand away when mixed with grain.]

As the theory of evolution was first expounded, the co-discoverers, Darwin & Wallace, were at odds over how it applied to humankind. As more and more biological mechanisms were discovered, they seemed to support Darwin’s paradigm that natural selection acting on (seemingly) random mutations was sufficient to explain how all life on earth had developed the complexity and variety we now observe. A paradigm shift would be required to justify what Christians take as a matter of Faith: We humans are an exception. I am not suggestion that there is presently enough evidence to support such a paradigm shift. But our Christian Faith suggests where such evidence may lie hidden and that it is worth the time and effort to look.
Al Leo

Hi Richard

I was almost certain that you would not be convinced. In fact I think you may have (kindly) stated as much in a previous response, but I could not find it.

To be honest, I think that, from the Christian Faith point of view, there may be a serious ‘flaw’ in my world view [that no one has yet pointed out] that implies that the Selfish Gene component of Darwinian evolution may actually be what so many scholars have seen as the Original Sin implied in Genesis. My view is that there was not really a Fall into Sin, but rather a refusal to accept the Original Blessing–the gift of mind and conscience that could enable humans to become truly co-creators with God.

However, if the Selfish Gene component of evolution is real (and @Relates certainly disagrees) and evolution is God’s method of creation, then some folks are sure to maintain that their sin is actually God’s fault. As a child, I was convinced of the logic that a Perfect God had to create a perfect world right from the start, and of course it was we humans, exercising our Freedom, that screwed things up. But John has God stating: “I am the Alpha and the Omega” implying that what is important is the Journey that the Universe embarked upon that is important–not its initial condition.
Al Leo

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I would agree that there are genetic and memetic features for being human. On the genetics side, the new buzzword is epigenetics, and many people who use the word don’t understand it.

However, it is interesting that children who are not exposed to language or human interaction at a young age have cognitive disabilities later in life. So called “feral children” are sometimes never able to fully grasp language. The human brain needs exposure to language during development to reach its full potential. The reason that exposure to language increases cognitive function in humans but not other apes is due to the DNA in our genome that we pass on to our offspring.

I have no problem with people professing their faith based beliefs, and appreciate your humility in describing them.



This just isn’t true, in two important ways with important implications.

First, if your goal is to educate people, you can’t credibly call anything that has to do with mutations or randomness “Darwin’s paradigm.” Darwin mentioned neither in his writing and didn’t know of either. Please stop; you are helping people whose goal is deceiving others by plastering Darwin with “random mutations.”

Second, Darwin’s paradigm was actually that natural selection acts on heritable variation, which anyone can observe and some of us can objectively measure, and that remains true today. It’s the fundamental basis of paternity testing, for example. You’re leaving all of this out when you write, “natural selection acting on (seemingly) random mutations was sufficient,” and it’s really critical in the context of diploids like us (the context in which you made the claim), as the existing, measurable heritable variation between us swamps the new mutations by a factor of 100,000 to 1,000,000!

You’re promoting the myth that populations are not evolving, and nothing happens until a new mutation happens. This is how most laypeople who haven’t read Darwin have been misinformed, and evolution denialists capitalize on this misunderstanding. You are working for them.

Roger Sawtelle does have a point in that people don’t acknowledge the importance of the environment. I’m willing to bet that any diploid population is going to change more quickly in response to environmental changes than it does in response to new mutations.

You even went further and claimed that this was “sufficient.” This is really, really misleading to laypeople, as populations that lose their reservoir of existing genetic variation are never going to be rescued by new mutations. Thus, all the evidence indicates that for diploids, mutation is not sufficient.

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Hi Ben

It is NOT my goal to educate people–certainly not in the area of biological evolution as seen by the most up-to-date geneticist. @DennisVenema and other contributors have done an excellent job of that. I am trying to address an audience having an average level of educational who has been raised in a sola scriptura environment and who has been swayed by the argument that religion and science are in mortal conflict. It is my experience as a scientist speaking to an educated ‘layman’ that in trying to be completely up-to-date and exact in explaining your scientific position, you risk losing the attention of your audience. Evolution is NOT my field of expertise, but obviously I realize that Darwin had no knowledge of genes, DNA, or mutations. His status as genius should be based on the fact that his observations were so meticulous that even without this later knowledge his theory successfully predicted so many later discoveries. Admittedly, I should have referred to the current work as neo-Darwinian theory or some such.

But giving Darwin his due recognition does not mean that the science in this field is anywhere near complete. Neuroscience is proceeding at a very rapid pace, but psychology has a ways to go to be considered ‘hard science’ in the same way that physics and chemistry can be. The study of Human behavior, especially aberrant behavior, is still in its infancy. I hold to the belief that humans have been given the role as co-creators with God. But we will not progress very far in that role until we understand more of the Body/Spirit dualism. Or how humans should behave as occupants of both the Biosphere and the Noosphere.
Al Leo

I think the importance of this has been largely ignored. Also that a group of deaf children in Central America devised a sign language of their own, because the urge to communicate was so pressing. Finally, the case of Helen Keller should be examined more closely by experts.

I’m pleased that some of our interests seem to run in parallel.
Al Leo

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[quote=“aleo, post:14, topic:36368”]
It is my experience as a scientist speaking to an educated ‘layman’ that in trying to be completely up-to-date and exact in explaining your scientific position, you risk losing the attention of your audience.[/quote]
There’s nothing “up-to-date” about it. In fact, by plastering Darwin with the far more modern “random mutation,” you are the one being incorrectly up-to-date.

But your audience doesn’t, so please don’t mislead them.

No, you could just be correct and write, “Darwin’s paradigm of natural selection acting on heritable (or genetic) variation,” as I suggested. It’s not that complicated.

That has nothing to do with what I wrote.

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Ben, you surely have a great knack at twisting everything I write into a position you can attack. I’ve met very few people in my life who are as good at it as you. I have found that any interaction with them is futile. So….so long and God Bless.
Al Leo

What did I twist, exactly and specifically?

Thank you, Ben.

I recently had the good fortune to meet Joshua @Swamidass at the American Scientific Affiliation conference. I heard his talk, and then had some extensive conversations with him. His arguments, in my view, are clearly scientifically sound and convincing. In fact, assuming that there were other human beings (Image of God bearers, Genesis 1) outside of the Garden, then it is extremely likely, and cannot be scientifically contradicted, that a single couple living 6000 years ago are the genealogical ancestors of all living people.

The account of Genesis 2 of the creation of Adam, is not the creation of the FIRST man (The text never says this) but of a man from dust. The AiG interpretation of Genesis 2 as a retelling of the Day 6 creation of humanity with more detail is not warranted by the actual text, and is simply an interpretation that is far from literal. (I wrote an article in “God and Nature” on this several years ago).

Getting back to Swamidass’ ideas, while there can be no valid scientific argument against the idea of a single couple being the biological ancestors of all modern humans, some theological arguments related to possible (racist) differences between the early descendants of Adam, and those “non-Adamites” in a relatively brief period after the creation of Adam and Eve have been raised. Joshua is aware of this and has convincingly countered these arguments with Biblical hermeneutics in a way that is consistent with Christian belief.

I do not agree that this is a concordist viewpoint, but rather it allows for the acceptance of Adam and Eve as real people, and removes issues often raised by creationist Christians who want to take Paul seriously, by agreeing that we are all descended from this couple. The only argument remaining to fight over then becomes whether there were other people living outside the garden, and the Bible is pretty clear that there must have been.

I think it is likely that Joshua will be publishing his arguments in detail in the near future, and that this will be a seminal contribution to Christian theology in the light of science. I also believe this effort (unlike so many of our best attempts) will quickly have an important, wide ranging positive effect on the internal debate among Christians related to the acceptance of evolution as God’s tool in biology and the emergence of humanity.