Does it matter if Adam is literal?

Continuing the discussion from [Paul and the Fall: What’s It Really About?

| The BioLogos Forum](Paul and the Fall: What’s It Really About? | The BioLogos Forum - #4 by Larry_Bunce):

In response to @Larry_Bunce

You’re absolutely right that it shouldn’t matter as we know it proves the greater point of man’s sinfulness. However, it becomes important in defense of the faith as a whole. In some circles, Christians who are able to merge faith with science are ridiculed by those who hold a more literalist view of scripture. Writings like this are helpful in having discussions and defending a more reasoned faith.

I am entering the discussion rather late, so this may be redundant, but it seems to me that the NT presents us with an “either/or” imperative if one considers himself a believer in Christ. I am not a fundamentalist, but I believe that one can only spread the Bible text so thin before it becomes meaningless. I have in mind these words (among others):
:small_red_triangle:"…just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men…[etc.] Rom. 5:12.
:small_red_triangle:"…the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God " Luke 3:38.
:small_red_triangle:"…Enoch, the seventh in line from Adam." Jude14
:small_red_triangle:"…‘The first man, Adam became a living being.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.“1 Cor. 1:45.”

It seems to me that today’s evolutionary science is diametrically opposed to the Bible’s doctrine of the fall & God’s provision for redemption. I firmly believe that God is the Great Scientist and Life-Giver. I love & appreciate science. I am willing to agree that the Bible is shaped by the cultures in which it was written and can only be understood within certain constraints and not taken in wholly literal terms, but when we find science negating the law, situation or circumstance by which redemption is necessary, we must choose which to believe or change the definition of the word “Christian”. Please tell me where my logic fails.

@Charity I would not say that your logic fails. In fact, you raise some very challenging points. A plain reading of the Bible should leave someone feeling comforted and hopeful. Not angsty about trying to understand all of the ‘supplemental’ reading that would be required to understand those passages alongside a fictional Adam…or an archetypal Adam…or Adam as tribal chief. Personally, I don’t need an historical Adam to see the evil in the world. I don’t need the Pauline proof for the necessity of the resurrection. But some might, that is okay, and thus we are left with the problem of an historical Adam. Plus, I do enjoy hashing over the issue. :slight_smile:

Having said all of that, I would like to challenge you a little bit. You mentioned that “…when we find science negating the law…we must choose which to believe or change the definition of the word ‘Christian.’” How do we respond when Creation appears to negate the law? In other words, how do we respond when the scientific community finds increasingly convincing evidence that the world is billions of years old and mankind evolved from single-celled organisms over that time? Our understanding of Adam as a supernaturally creating ‘1st’ is increasingly called into question and our understanding of Pauline law is challenged. In an effort to bring this full circle, that is why is matters. Because a literal Adam can create a stumbling block whereby our faith is in the 1st couple’s existence as opposed to power of reconciliation found in Jesus Christ and the Resurrection.

Finally, it is also worth noting that evolution and an historical Adam and Eve are not necessarily exclusive of each other. While I still do not fully understand it, John Walton’s view of Adam and Eve as historical individuals representing all of mankind is particularly intriguing to me.

Very Respectfully,
Jim Lock


After 276 days … I see value in this thread.

Jim, you write:
". . . a literal Adam can create a stumbling block whereby our faith is in the 1st couple’s
existence as opposed to power of reconciliation found in Jesus Christ and the Resurrection."

And THIS is the Pro-Evangelical side of BioLogos!

If a skeptic reads in the Bible that Jonah lived in a FISH, UNDERWATER, for three days
… he might throw the book at the wall across the room.

But if the Minister teaches the congregation that Jonah’s 3 day sojourn in the Fish is a poetic
reference to the Netherworld … to Purgatory … to the ancient primordial waters of Chaos …
all of a sudden the Book of Jonah takes on a new, more poignant significance.

It’s not just a fabulous tale based on a preposterous idea … now it’s a slice of ancient
metaphysics that can be appreciated from a spiritual viewpoint.

Similarly, is Adam and Eve a crazy story about a talking snake? Or is it wonderfully complex
Hebrew telling of the kind of story that was common in Sumeria, Assyria and Babylon?
There is much to be learned from the spirituality of the Hebrew treatment of the Tree of Life
and the Tree of Good and Evil …

Trying to force a lyrical story into a literalistic view of the Cosmos is counter-productive,
and puts naïve Christians on the wrong side of history - - just like the naïve Christians who
impulsively attacked “round earth” theories - - because it offended their sense of what
was Biblical.


George Brooks

1 Like

George, I agree with you about making an overtly literalistic view of the Cosmos (a view that most likely wasn’t intended) is counter productive. But I’m just curious where you get the idea that Christians were in dispute over the shape of the earth on biblical grounds.

I think it’s pretty well established that most of the educated world believed the world was round well before Christianity even came along. The Columbus-narrative (his voyage to prove the earth was round) isn’t historically accurate… Though it does seem to get a lot of headway in history class rooms for some reason.



You said it yourself! You say that it’s pretty well established that most EDUCATED Christians accepted a round earth scenario.

And yet despite this, there were plenty of UNEDUCATED people who did not have the courage of
other people’s scientific convictions!

More discussion about what the lay people thought…

"However Tattersall shows that in many vernacular works in 12th- and 13th-century French texts the Earth was considered “round like a table” rather than “round like an apple”. “In virtually all the examples quoted…from epics and from non-‘historical’ romances (that is, works of a less learned character) the actual form of words used suggests strongly a circle rather than a sphere, though notes that even in these works the language is ambiguous.[110]”

“As late as 1674, Robert Hooke could argue “To one who has been conversant only with illiterate persons, or such as understand not the principles of Astronomy and Geometry,…who can scarce imagine the Earth is globous, but…imagine it to be a round plain covered with the Sky as with a Hemisphere”, suggesting that the opinion was not uncommon even then.[111]”

“Portuguese exploration of Africa and Asia, Columbus’s voyage to the Americas (1492) and finally Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation of the Earth (1519–21) provided the final, practical proofs for the global shape of the Earth.”

[110] Jill Tattersall (1981). “The Earth, Sphere or Disc?”. Modern Language Review 76: 31–46. doi:10.2307/3727009.

[111] Hooke, Robert (1674). An Attempt to prove the Motion of the Earth from Observations. London. p. 2.

George, you’ve shown that some uneducated people in the past didn’t have access to Ptolemaic and Copernican philosophy (or at least successfully posted a block of text from the internet).

All you have to do now is find some evidence that they got their ideas from reading the Bible literally, rather than from being illiterate.

For it’s a certainty that of all the literate Christians who ever wrote, only two early ones (4th & 6th century) believed in a flat earth, and for particular reasons (Lactantius in reaction to his pagan philsophical past, Cosmas from recognising temple imagery in Genesis and taking it too literally - though he was also a seasoned traveller).

Incidentally, the prevailing European mediaeval view seems to have been that, since the equatorial regions were possibly too hot for life (hence untravelled), the inhabited earth (Eurasia, North Africa) formed a single landmass on the north face of the globe known from science.

Ergo the world of travel and epic was roughly circular, just as a map of North America is flat, and nobody nowadays talks of travelling round the country from coast to coast, but acorss it. That may be why the language seems ambiguous: epics and romances don’t usually bother with specialised natural philosophy.

1 Like

Interesting also to chase the Hooke quote to its original source, which in context shows what Hooke’s rhetoric actually means: the first ellipsis in your post should read: “…and have had no true notion of the vastness of the universe, and the exceeding minuteness of the globe of the earth in comparison…”. They’re so ignorant, he mocks, that they can scarce imagine the Earth is a globe (ie they do know, but can’t get their heads round it) but… and the next ellipsis reads “rather like some of old…”.

Having added scathing fancies about what such simpletons in the old days would have believed, about the sun being the size of a sieve, etc, he then shows who he’s digging at in reality - those “geometricians, astronomers and philosophers” who hold such “childish opinions” because they were taught the Ptolemaic system. Since the actual treatise is to prove Copernican cosmology over that of Tycho Brahae (still geocentric), his meaning is plain.

It’s just great satire - “any of my learned readers out there who believe in Brahae are peasant Flat Earthers”.

To use that as historical evidence for 17th century flat-earth belief amongst the masses is just crass - but Wikipedia did. The edited quote shows that Wikipedia, your impeccable source, and the welter of other websites that cut and paste those 3 quotes, are doing classic quote mining to serve an agenda other than truthful history.

Presumably, that agenda is to maintain the “Christian Flat Earth” myth of Irving, Draper and Dixon White in the 19th century, though to be fair there is also an article debunking it.

1 Like

Jon… come on, don’t kid a kidder!

Prior to Columbus (and for yet another century at least), 99.9% of the faithful got their information from Priests.
Bibles were not available to the common man.

Let’s see what your next post says…

George Brooks

Jon, I’m not getting your point here. Somewhere in this specific discussion of Hooke’s, there is clearly an acknowledgment
that SOMEONE thinks the earth is Flat. Just because he doesn’t think the earth is flat doesn’t really change the relevance
of his discussion.

I don’t believe I was being specific about the time period in my original post. You reference the 17th century… I didn’t.

George Brooks

George - Hooke is 17th century. That’s the “then” of the suggestion that “the opinion was not uncommon even then.”

The context is the polemic style of 17th century scientists inveighing against their learned opponents, belittling them as simpletons ignorant of “proper” science - and especially Hooke himself, whom the Fount of All Wisdom describes thus: “Hooke was irascible, at least in later life, proud, and prone to take umbrage with intellectual competitors.”

The fact that he can harness to that end a cartoon image of ignorant bumpkins thinking the sun is a sieve says absolutely nothing about the actual existence of such in his own age - or even in the primitive past he evokes as their “true” home. He’s a scientist, not a historian - or even a sociologist. It’s the 17th century equivalent of the cartoon caveman dragging his wife home by the hair - it’s a bad JOKE, as reading the whole piece up to page 3 demonstrates clearly.

Even if it were, in fact, a serious lament about the ignorance of the masses rather than Hooke denigrating his competitors, it would say something about taking a superficial phenomenological view of the world around, and nothing whatsoever about your claim that they got the idea from biblical literalism, which is what needs to be demonstrated.

You seem QUITE skeptical that there could be an uneducated peasantry that differed from the brightest
lights of the Christian world. But even in the Priestly order, there was a considerable variance in education
between the Bishops and a rural valley priest.

I will concur with you that the government officials that Columbus worked with certainly knew the world was
round. But I do not think this was uniformly true throughout Christendom.


I’m just skeptical that you’ve given any evidence whatsoever for your suggestion that biblical literalism leading to flat-earth cosmology was widespread in mediaeval times, or even that it existed at all.

I’m not at all skeptical that there may have been peasants who neither knew nor cared the world was round, but they in all likelihood neither knew nor cared if there was a particularly biblical cosmology either. The Reformers’ complaint against the commo0n priesthood was that they couldn’t even read the Bible, let alone interpret it too literally.

And I like to understand original sources, rather than take partial quotes literalistically to prove a point as Wikipedia did with Hooke’s. That’s, after all, what the Creationists do (also with their roots in nineteenth century America).

And as for Columbus Columbus - come on, let’s not shift the goalposts quite so obviously: the 19th century myth (easily traced to a popular biography) is that Columbus had to prove the world was round against an opposing flat-earth Church heirarchy. That is hardly the same as saying some people somewhere may have existed who didn’t believe the world was round.

Even Columbus’s ignorant sailors knew it was round - they mutinied because they were starving, not because they were afraid of sailing off a cliff, as the records show. And I doubt they’d have signed up for a near-suicidal voyage to prove a few country priests or peasants wrong.

And the barefaced lie I was sold as a kid by my mediaeval history book wasn’t that in Columbus’ time some people weren’t up to speed on long-established astronomy, but that everybody in those primitive days believed the world was flat - the picture was of ship with a cross on its sail plummeting over the edge (I remember it well 57 years later).

1 Like

You are quite the skeptic!

Later today I’ll see if I can come up with something definitive - - to soften your anxiety over the matter.



The Draper-White Thesis is what’s been popularized (and I would say “propagandiz-ed”) in our school system. The idea that Christianity has been historically linked to the suppression of scientific knowledge — the premise goes “Christians who reject Evolution shouldn’t come off as a surprise. It’s no different than Medieval Christians who insisted the earth was flat because of the Bible.” <<< the burden of proof is to demonstrate the evidence for widespread Christian beliefs in a Flat Earth BECAUSE of the Bible. The Columbus-narrative only existed in a single book by Washington Irving in the 19th Century, which depicts a fictional account of Columbus (not historical) …

Columbus says to the Priest, "The world is round and I will show it to you!"
The Priest replies, "Shhh! Don’t say that!"
Columbus responds, "No really, it is round! It’s not flat!"
The Priest say, “Don’t say that! It’s blasphemy!”

And hence the origin of “round earth = blasphemy”, which gets popularized in our school system to this day because it promotes the Draper-White Thesis, that is, “Christianity suppresses scientific advancement through out the ages.”

What actually happened was Columbus held an unpopular opinion of the BREADTH of the Earth. Not it’s SHAPE. His peers held that the earth’s circumference was around 24,000 miles (pretty close to modern day estimates). Columbus believed in a much smaller estimate: 16,000 miles. His peers advised against the trip because they believe the ocean was BIGGER than he thought it was, and Columbus would not likely survive. Not because of a fear of falling off the edge.


Tim - a story like Draper-White that’s been disproved for over half a century and is still in school textbooks ought to be a concern. Who gains from failing to correct it? It’s not unique though - have you seen Ted Davis’ excellent series on the Galileo controversy here? Newton’s “tinkering God error” is another such myth. The sidelining of Alfred Wallace’s belief in directed evolution is a third. As ever, getting back to primary sources busts a lot of myths, and is fortunately fairly easy to practise in these Internet days, with a bit of effort. Sadly, going to Wikipedia is easier.

Still, I am always amused whenever I get the chance to point out that Galileo’s mistake about the cause of the tides (in the face of attempted correction by seafarers, who pointed out there were 2 tides a day, not one as he thought) had been corrected 1000 years earlier by St Bede, who correctly surmised that the attraction of the moon was the cause. But admitting a mediaeval monk knew better than the Science Hero would never do for children, or in pop science documentaries!

It’s probably just the conspiracy theorist in me, but I think it’s part of an unmentioned secular agenda. The reason why people like Galileo are exalted (and often misrepresented) is to paint a picture of scientific observation standing up against the religious institutions of the day. Columbus seems to depict a similar scenario — a man testing whether or not his religious peers have it right.

There are many instances where history is obscured (and even shaped, distorted, like malleable clay) just to promote a modern day premise. We exalt Columbus’ “discovery” even though there was millions of people living in America already due to a multitude of Native American tribes, not including Incans, Mayans, Aztecs etc., even despite that the Vikings still beat him hundreds of years earlier.

We exalt the Civil War, even though many other countries solved the slavery dispute rather peaceably. (But that’s another topic).

As they say “History is written by the victor.”

P.S. No, I never studied up on Newton’s “tinkering God” or Wallace’s “God-guided evolution” myths. Where I got most of my information was from a video group called Voice of Light Productions. You can look up some of their videos on Google. One is called “The Earth Was Never Flat” another is called “The Sectarian Origins of Young Earth Creationism”

For some of their recommended literature (which I still aim to one day read) is The Myth of the Flat Earth and another that’s called Galileo Went to Jail & Other Myths.

Pretty interesting!



Just because one is paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you…

It’s rather fascinating reading the editors’ “talk” about the Wikipedia “Flat Earth” page - which one would have thought would be relatively straightforward. There are reams of protests of reasonable guys with full profiles against dubious (and persistent) edits by atheist skeptics with names like “zzz” and closed profiles.

There’s lots of discussion about the quote saying St Augustine believed in a flat earth, which turns out to be by a genuine Augustine scholar who, however, disagrees with everybody else on that point… but the really amazing thing is that said scholar also started the Canadian Flat Earth Society as a kind of enormous joke, which you’d have thought would exclude him as the major source on an article for general reference.

There’s also another skeptic who erased the entire reference to debunking the Draper-White myth on the grounds that the quote linked to the ASA, “an Intelligent Design Organisation”. A few people here would have something to say about that!

I promised one of my correspondents that I would pull together some definitive evidence that Christianity’s status quo was once “flat-earth” theory. I was surprised by something. Not that the status quo was something else… but that the Middle Ages was not the peak period for flat earth! In fact, the peak was in the 500’s AD/CE. And then, amazingly enough, devout Christians once again returned to Flat Earth thinking in the 1800s! As we know, Creationists ardently try to disprove that Christianity ever held such a backward view. I say, let them have the middle ages!

But it did happen that Christians zealously opposed the world’s scientists - - and it happened twice: in the 6th century and the 19th century.

Below is the full story. Great reading …

Worlds of Their Own: A Brief History of Misguided Ideas
Creationism, Flat-Earthism, Energy Scams, and the Velikovsky Affair
By Robert J. Schadewald (2008)

Page 93-97


“If the commonly believed history of the flat-earth concept is wrong, the true history is much more interesting. [Modern day flat-earther, ] … Charles Johnson is carrying on a tradition, which goes back to Moses, though the particular flat-earth model he defends was only developed in the mid-1800s. It was first set forth by a British fundamentalist . . . Samuel Birley Rowbotham. Think of the Earth as a phonograph record, with the North Pole at the center and the “southern limit,” an impassible region of ice, at the outer edge. Halfway between is the circle of the equator. The sun and moon circle above the Earth every day, with the sun spiraling north or south of the equator to suit the season. Sunrise and sunset are only tricks of perspective combined with atmospheric refraction. Above all is the dome of heaven, perhaps 4,000 miles up. No one knows what lies above it, nor what lies beyond the ice barrier at the southern limit. That is the essence of “Zetetic Astronomy”, the system defended by every English-speaking flat-earther from Rowbotham to Charles Johnson. . . . “

“Rowbotham based his system firmly on the Bible, and he worked it out in great detail. The second edition of his ‘Earth Not a Globe’, the foundation work of zetetic astronomy, runs 430 pages. . . . “


“The Babylonians believed that the universe consists of a reasonably flat Earth surrounded by water, with the whole covered by a huge dome. According to their cosmology, there is water above the dome and also below the Earth. The celestial bodies are gods and goddesses, and their movements and positions with respect to one another have profound effects on mundane affairs. This cosmology and its associated astrology were common to much of the ancient Middle East. The essence of the Babylonian cosmology was adopted by the ancient Hebrews, and it underlies the text of the Bible.”

“Nowhere does the Bible explicitly mention the Earth’s shape, but it is a flat-earth book from beginning to end. Thus in Genesis 1:6, “God said, ‘Let there be a vault between the waters, to separate water from water.’

So God made the vault, and separated the water under the vault from the water above it, and so it was; and God called the vault heaven.’ Also, the order Genesis ascribes to creation - - Earth on the first day and the sun, moon, planets and stars on the fourth - - makes no sense in the light of our present cosmology. But it’s PERFECTLY REASONABLE to a flat-earther.

Elsewhere, the Bible comes closer to explicitly describing the Earth’s shape. Thus Isaiah 40:21-22 says, “Do you not know . . . that God sits throned on the vaulted roof of Earth, whose inhabitants are like grasshoppers? He stretches out the skies like a curtain, he spreads them out like a tent to live in . . . “

Numerous passages state that the Earth is immovable and others treat the sun and moon as minor bodies. In the New Testament, the presumed shape of the earth is evident in the story of the temptation of Jesus. According to Matthew 4:8, “Once again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their glory.” The word translated as “world” is the Greek kosmo, meaning the whole universe. From a sufficiently high mountain, one COULD see all the kingdoms of a flat world of limited extent, but the passage is nonsense when applied to a spherical Earth. The same is true of Revelation 1:6 “Behold, he is coming with the clouds! Every eye shall see him … “


But the flat-earth theory was already passé when the New Testament was written. The Greeks are usually credited with proposing that the Earth is a globe. Pythagoras and some of his followers suggested that it rotates around the sun rather than the other way round. By the fourth century BC, the globular opinion dominated Greece. Aristotle offered three proofs that the Earth is a globe: (a) ships sailing out of port seem to disappear over the horizon, (b) sailors voyaging far to the south see stars above the southern horizon that aren’t visible from more northern latitudes, and (c) at a lunar eclipse, the shadow of the Earth on the moon is curved.

[Cosmas’ book “CHRISTIAN TOPOGRAPHY” & Tertulian and Lactantius]

The concept of a spherical Earth found favor in the Hellenic world and even among some of the early Jews. But then, as now, many were determined to cut science to fit their Bibles. The Fathers of the church were not unanimous about the shape of the Earth. Tertullian and Lactantius roundly insisted that the Earth is flat; Clement of Alexandria and Origen said flatly [< hey, the author made a joke!] that it is round. . . For a couple of centuries, these worthies tried to stamp out the spherical heresy among the faithful, bombarding them with verses like those already quoted.

This first phase of the Christian flat-earth movement peaked early in the sixth century when the Egyptian merchant and monk Cosmas Indicopleustes wrote his CHRISTIAN TOPOGRAPHY. Cosmas argued that the Earth’s surface is a flat rectangle, surrounded by seas, and covered by a vaulted roof. Indeed, the Cosmas cosmos looked essentially like a steamer trunk. It measured four hundred days journey east and west by two hundred north and south. Far in the north lay a great conical mountain behind which the sun disappeared at sunset. Rain fell from windows in the vaulted roof, and angels propelled the heavenly bodies on their ways.

Cosmas got many of his arguments (and perhaps some of his odium theologicum) from the Fathers of the church, notably Lactantius and Theodore of Mopsuestia. Cosmas took the shew-bread table in the Jewish tabernacle as his model of the Earth, flat and twice as long as it was broad. He argued from scripture that the sun must be near and small, since it moved backward for Hezekiah. According to the Bible, everyone on Earth will see Jesus coming through the clouds when he returns in glory. Obviously that’s impossible if the Earth is a sphere.

Near the end of CHRISTIAN TOPOGRAPHY, Cosmas wrote:
“We say therefore,
‘with Isaiah’ that the heaven embracing the universe is a vault,
‘with Job’ that it is joined to the earth, and
‘with Moses’ that the length of the earth is greater than its breadth.”

But despite his powerful allies, Cosmas was fighting a losing battle. The geographical and astronomical/astrological works of the spherical Ptolemy were taking over even as he wrote. A century later, the great churchman Isidore of Seville sided with Ptolemy in his DE NATURA RERUM. In the eighth century, the Venerable Bede adopted the sphere. Later, Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Roger Bacon all rejected the CHRISTIAN TOPOGRAPHY. The revolution was quiet but thorough, and within a few centuries, the flat opinion died out among the educated. By the late Middle Ages, the question was considered settled, and theologians had to content themselves with wrangling over whether the antipodes - - lands on the other side of the globe - - were inhabited.”