Essentials of Creation: A Response to The Gospel Coalition

Certain beliefs about creation are essential to Christian faith, but evolutionary science should be something about which Christians can legitimately disagree.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Thank you for starting this important discussion. Everyone should read the blog post in its entirety, but I wanted to mention a few things regarding this crucial point:

The third essential belief proposed in this video is the supernatural, “de novo” creation of Adam and Eve as the first humans and sole progenitors of the entire human race. Keller, along with the other participants, believes this to be not only the clear message of Genesis but an essential part of the overall biblical message. … We appeal to the Gospel Coalition to not frame the essentials of creation around the method God used to create humans, but around God’s purpose and intent for humans. God made us to know him, love him, and to bear his image in this world.

You are generous in calling it “essential,” because TGC itself labels the video “Non-negotiable beliefs” … By saying the special creation of Adam & Eve is a non-negotiable belief, TGC draws a line in the sand no different from those who equate evolution and atheism. In essence, Keller forces the same choice as Ken Ham – the Bible, or evolution. As long as evangelicals keep insisting upon this false either/or, our children will keep slipping out the back door and disappearing into the night. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. “Ready, Fire, Aim” seems to be the motto of the evangelical church these days.

The special creation of Adam suffers from the same logical problems as the young earth. In truth, though, the special creation of Adam creates even greater difficulties, because now we are dealing with a human being instead of inanimate matter. How did Adam learn to speak? How did he learn to behave in social situations? How did he know what “death” was? How did he learn to obey a rule? How did Eve learn to nurse a baby? How did Adam know to cut the umbilical cord? All of the things that we take for granted in the story must be learned between birth and maturity. We literally learn how to be human during that time, and the way that we learn is by observation, inference, and imitation. The special creation of Adam requires that all of the basic knowledge that makes us “human” be implanted in Adam and Eve’s heads directly by God. It is the omphalos hypothesis all over again.


I watched the video and I’d encourage anyone reading here to do so first before commenting. In fact, I’ve watched the relevant part of the video three times just to make sure I got a proper handle on what Tim Keller is saying.

The first thing I noticed was that it isn’t as confrontational as its title makes it out to be. In actual fact, he’s quite gracious about the matter. There are no snide remarks about “putting your trust in science” or “secular science” or “compromise” or any of the incendiary stuff of that ilk that you get from the likes of Answers in Genesis. He speaks of having been advised on the matter by scientists who are Christians, who have told him what the scientific consensus is, but he does not seem to be questioning the genuineness of their faith.

The second thing I noticed was that he’s completely up-front and honest about his position. He knows what the scientific consensus is but says that he believes he has to reject it in order to remain faithful to his understanding of the Bible. But he isn’t asking anyone to tell lies, or to misrepresent science, or to claim that they have scientific evidence when they don’t. For me, that’s the most important thing of the lot. If there’s one thing that needs to be a non-negotiable in discussions about creation, it’s honesty.


In looking for the origins of humankind, one should separate the genetic components from the behavioral. There is a long evolutionary (genetic) history of Homo sapiens use of warning calls to indicate danger, for example, but the use of language to express abstract thought is a huge step in the direction of becoming Truly Human (TH). Other mammals prior to Homo sapiens evolved to form limited societies based on kin recognition that improved survivability (but not nearly to the extent that the gene based societies of ants or bees), and it was through language that Homo sapiens could expand cooperative societies beyond obvious kinship to become TH. Knowledge of inevitable death seems likely in some animal species, such as elephants and perhaps the Neanderthals, but it is only in the case of Homo sapiens burials with valuable objects suited for an afterlife that supports the origins of their TH. Of course the ‘mechanics’ of animal survival, such as breast feeding and disposal of the umbilical cord, fits seamlessly with evolution and obviates the need for instruction if instantaneous creation is to be believed.

So, how did some Homo sapiens some 50K years ago make the 'jump’ from being merely genetically human to being truly human? Prominent archeologists have labelled this as the Great Leap Forward. While acknowledging the evidence for the GLF, supporters of neo-Darwinian theory (e.g. Richard Dawkins) readily admit they have no answers beyond the proposal that the brains of one or more Homo sapiens were programmed to operate as minds. A miracle!! But hold on. In not too long a biological mechanism will be discovered that will explain how the brain of an infant, although starting out somewhat as a “blank slate”, can have its neural networks ‘programmed’ via teaching and experience, to operate as a Mind, just as the IBM Watson must be programmed to operate as a super computer. Just like, as is the case with so many other scientific discoveries, it has taken our human minds quite a while to discover HOW the Mind of a ‘subtle’ God chose to create.

The BioLogos team have been very kind (some might say ‘duped’) to let me expound this proposition in previous posts. It helps me reconcile my Christian Faith with the science I have learned during my lifetime. I can only hope that it may help some others in the BioLogos community reach the same results. It may not be Truth with a capital T, but I sincerely hope it is not heresy with a capital H.
Al Leo


Yes, everything you’ve said is true. But the organization chooses the title, and Keller is a VP of that organization. Neither Keller nor Duncan are to be confused with Ken Ham. They are thoughtful, well-spoken men. Nevertheless, both are doing what Ham does, which is to make the special creation of Adam essential to the gospel, or as Keller calls it, “the Pauline understanding of salvation.”

The question that both responded to comes around 4:30. Here is my rough transcript:

Russell Moore: When you’re working together … We’re in a church, or we’re in a ministry … What are the essentials, in terms of, these are the boundaries we all have to agree on when we’re talking about creation in order to recognize one another as orthodox, and as teachers within the church?

Keller’s response comes around 8:00, and by referencing “With the Christian,” he shows that he still has the original question in mind and agrees with Duncan, who earlier emphasized the de novo creation of Adam as an essential…

With the Christian I do go to Adam and Eve, too. There are a lot of understandings of how old the earth is, and there’s a lot of different understandings of what the days are in Genesis 1, and to what degree evolution was part of how God created things … And I would say there are several gradations. There are four or five or six approaches … There are. But I say where I would stop is with Adam and Eve. And I would say not only was there an actual Adam and Eve, but otherwise I do not understand how the Pauline understanding of salvation works….

It seems a fairly inescapable conclusion that the video portrays belief in a literal Adam & Eve as a boundary marker for orthodoxy. Like @DeborahHaarsma, I would hope that The Gospel Coalition is not making that their official position.

Edit: Added the portion “and agrees with Duncan … as an essential.”

The third essential belief proposed in this video is the supernatural, “de novo” creation of Adam and Eve as the first humans and sole progenitors of the entire human race.

To make this claim requires a very strong Biblical basis, which does not exist.

It is generally accepted that there are two creation stories, one found in Gen 1 and the other found in Gen 2. They are not necessarily contradictory, but they are different. Neither of them say that humans were created de novo and Gen 2 suggests a relationship between Adam and other creatures.

I would say that there is no evidence in the Bible that substantiates the de nova claim and much evidence outside the Bible that denies it. It might be nice and convenient if true, but it is not from all evidence.

I would say that John 1:1 - 5 says that the Logos Who is the Image of God is found in the creation of all of creation, so nothing was done completely de novo.


This seems like an exciting area where I personally would be more tentative in any claims either way. One recent storyline begins with evidence supporting an intentional Neandertal burial at La Chapelle-aux-Saints, and then a follow up paper, a critical look at evidence from La Chapelle-aux-Saints supporting an intentional Neandertal burial, challenging the original claims. Granted the critical paper was written by Richard Klein who is an advocate for the hypothesis you are proposing as well. Any additional insights are of course appreciated as this is the first I’m learning about such ideas.

Do you have some more references for this particular event? I found a few references but am presently checking references of references:

:cry: I don’t think this is a very good argument personally. My reasoning is that ‘so what if there currently exists no natural explanation to something, does that mean that it had to be a miracle? I would think definitely not and would strongly caution anybody against arguing for God from the gaps of natural models.’

While I agree with Albert on the GLF in general I am not sure how fast the change was made. It may be like punctuated equilibrium where it appears to have happened “rapidly” but was actually quite a bit slower. Miracle or not doesn’t matter to me.

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My post must have been misleading in this spot. Of course I don’t believe the GLF was a miracle in the Biblical sense–only in the sense that the whole universe seems miraculous, even after we discover the mechanics involved. The GLF is not a gap that is meant to prove the existence of God. It’s just a gap in human knowledge that He is waiting for us to fill.[quote=“pevaquark, post:7, topic:36663”]
a follow up paper, a critical look at evidence from La Chapelle-aux-Saints supporting an intentional Neandertal burial

The key point here is that the burial may have been intentional, but was it reverential or symbolic? Hard to tell. The reasons for burial might have been merely hygienic. Support for the GLF can be found: 1) Dawkins “The Ancestor’s Tale” p. 35; 2) Tattersall “Becoming Human” see index; “Masters of the Planet”, also index; 3) de Duve, “Genetics of Original Sin”, p. 114.
Al Leo

We must keep in mind that the word, Leap, in GLF can only be taken in a comparative sense that it is much faster than any evolutionary change that works through sexual reproduction and changes in the gene pool. I believe it will turn out to be quite different than the Punctuated Equilibrium that Gould et al have proposed. But even so, I don’t see it as a Miracle in the Biblical sense. It is merely a Gap in human knowledge that God fully expects us to fill.
Al Leo

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And I need to expand my overly terse (my usual mode) reply.

My comparison to Gould’s punctuated equilibrium was just that PE was initially thought to have happened “rapidly” but later was found to have happened at the same rate as evolution in general. That is the only comparison I meant to make.

As for the GLF, you are talking about paleoanthropologists that are trying to date usually a cave site when early homo sapiens lived and these dates are usually on the outer limit of C-14 dating so to me the dating becomes quite iffy, in a relative sense (there may be other dating methods used but I haven’t followed the latest work). And throw in there is no bright line that lets you know when behavior becomes “modern”. So the period of time required for the GLF could vary widely for a date in the comparatively recent past. Think a 20% error band on 50,000 years vs a 20% error band on 300,000 years. Same percentage but a big difference in the number of years.

Frankly, I’m a little disappointed by what are purportedly, or at least implicitly presented as, the “leading minds” of the discussion.

These folks are face-palm-worthy in the extreme limits of their parochial understanding of global Christianity. There wasn’t any comparable discussion of how the Eastern Orthodox tradition (providing salvation for millions of Christians over 2,000 years) handles some of these issues.

I’ve always found it paradoxical that Western Protestantism totally over-turned society’s understanding of the Roman Catholic Church and Roman Catholic theology … but when it comes to interpreting a Jewish document like Genesis, Evangelical protestants are quick to toe the Roman Catholic line - - and completely ignore what Jewish sages have to say.

I suppose it’s at least understandable why we ignore the Jewish thoughts about a Jewish document. But to also ignore half the geographic Christian world’s view is just justifiable. Science is a human-wide endeavor - - we should at least be able to pick up the pieces from our broken Christian past and integrate the valid and authentic voices of the Christian world as we face the future together.

We need to get a few more “leading Orthodox” thinkers into the highest levels of BioLogos, don’t you think?

@BradKramer, do think something like that could be possible? Americans are inherently fair-minded … and I think having a 2000 year tradition that wants its own views regarding the history of humanity heard would strongly influence a broad spectrum of our English-speaking audience.


I’ve benefited a lot from Eastern Orthodox perspectives. But it’s important to keep in mind that our primary target audience is American Evangelical Protestants, because these are the folks who struggle more with evolution than almost any other religious group. I do agree that American Christians would benefit greatly from a more global perspective.

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Yep… understood.

But intentionally keeping the Eastern Orthodox view hidden from the Evangelicals would seem to be at cross-purposes.

Many Evangelicals don’t believe Evolutionists can be Christians, so that’s how they explain why we don’t believe in original sin. What are they doing to say about the Orthodox? They don’t agree with the Roman Catholics on Original Sin, so millions of them have and will “Not Pass Go” and proceed directly to damnation?

If we can enlist atheist scientists to help convince them of Evolution, I would think enlisting Christians who don’t generally adhere to The Fall or Original Sin would be at least as helpful as scientists with no faith staatement.

One of the speakers repeats for emphasis that without his traditional (i.e. Roman Catholic / Augustine/ Pauline/ Western ) interpretation of Adam (i.e., federal headship ), how could he understand the New Testament!?

The Orthodox communities actually have a Christ-based answer to this … and yet we make no effort to refer to their answer.

Assuming GOD and referring to the creation of two people as a miracle and any other process as not a miracle seems strange to me.

I’m glad to hear Deb cite Derek Kidner, John Scott, and Billy Graham as orthodox evangelicals open to some kind of evolutionary origin of humans. But it must be pointed out, I think, that all three would have distinguished between the origin of the human body (the biological human) and the origin of humans in the image of God and the first Truly Human (as Albert Leo has said). All three would have spoken of a miraculous (and quite dualistic) origin of Homo divinitatis (as Stott wrote) vs. Homo sapiens. And that this first human individual represented all humankind in that first covenant of works. Kidner speaks of the rest of Homo sapiens becoming image bearers concurrently and being represented by this “historical Adam”. Conservative/confessional Reformed thinkers (i.e. those who believe that the 16th and 17th century confessions still accurately portray Biblical teaching–no apologies for being somewhat parochial) will not give up the idea of a historical, federal/covenant head Adam. Keller and company are in this camp and are unlikely to move from it.

It is somewhat disingenuous to appeal to Kidner, Stott, and Graham without recognizing that they are closer to TGC than to Biologos. The issue for them is less a matter of biological evolution and more a matter of a first divine image bearer covenant head of the whole race. Of course, with that comes the giving up of the idea of all humans descending from Adam and Eve, but it doesn’t necessarily result in the giving up of the idea of a historical Adam. Much of the Biologos discussion seems to utilize and emphasize approaches that are not consonant with conservative/confessional Reformed thought (even if many of the voices come from within a Reformed tradition more broadly defined). It seems that Biologos has made its choice not to be on the conservative/confessional Reformed side of this divide. It should not surprise Deb and other Biologos leaders that there is resistance from these communities.


Interesting comments, and I mostly agree, but would say that my impression is that Biologos is a “big tent” organization, and I have seen many here express opinions and have read many articles that embrace a historical Adam as well as accept evolutionary beginnings, though not all of course. Walton is often quoted in his “Lost World” books, and he affirms a historical Adam, as well as many others.

There are often areas of common ground, and those are what are celebrated, though in an organization like this, there are also areas of disagreement.

These conversations are difficult and important, so I am glad that they are happening. Especially in light of the ongoing protests in STL, where I live, the Church needs a coherent voice on race and racism.

However, the article misrepresents Keller’s statements in this video. In addition to reading the article in entirety, it is important to watch the video.

The third essential belief proposed in this video is the supernatural, “de novo” creation of Adam and Eve as the first humans and sole progenitors of the entire human race. Keller, along with the other participants, believes this to be not only the clear message of Genesis but an essential part of the overall biblical message. … We appeal to the Gospel Coalition to not frame the essentials of creation around the method God used to create humans, but around God’s purpose and intent for humans. God made us to know him, love him, and to bear his image in this world. -@DeborahHaarsma

This written description of the video is not accurate. Tim Keller does not make this claim. He makes no reference to “first humans” or “sole progenitors”. All he says is that when he reads Scripture, he feels he must affirm de novo creation of Adam and Eve. In response to Keller’s exegesis, Russell Moore adds the importance of affirming de novo creation as a foundation for universal human rights.

I am an advocate of no-Adam theologians. This was an overriding reason why I chose to join the BioLogos speakers bureau in the first place. Regardless of my personal theology, they are full and dignified members of the Church. Most recently, I argued to a conservative group of theologians:

We do well, then, to remember that the traditional marker of orthodoxy is the historicity of Jesus and the Resurrection, not Adam, and a confession that He rose from the dead (Rom. 10:9).

In response to Moore, I would also add an additional defense of no-Adam theologians. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is among the foremost advocates of universal rights. His advocacy is brought forward with a coherent theological case, even though Dr. King himself rejected any notion of a historical Adam. Dr. King’s no-Adam theology did not limit his affirmation of human rights. At the same time, the historical Adam theology of Dr. King’s contemporaries did not stop them from justifying segregation on Scriptural grounds ( Is Segregation Scriptural? A Radio Address from Bob Jones on Easter of 1960 ). This last couple weeks, watching police mistreat non-violent protesters and bystanders ( ), mere hundreds of feet from my home, has a way of focusing the mind. If the de novo creation of Adam gives special resources to affirm universal rights, I would beseech Moore to deploy these resources on behalf of the non-violent protestors in the segregated city of Saint Louis right now.

I am also an advocate of historical Adam theologians. There is absolutely zero evidence against Keller’s confession of the de novo creation of Adam and Eve “from the dust.” Entirely consistent with the genetic and archaeological evidence, Adam and Eve could have been specially created in a Garden and be ancestors of us all. This unequivocal scientific fact is an open secret among many BioLogos biologists, including many of those on the Board. Though he misrepresents my views, even @DennisVenema himself has endorsed this scientific fact in print ( ). As Tom McCall of The Creation Project summarizes our exchange:

So is belief in a historical Adam inconsistent with belief in the Common Ancestry Thesis and the Large Initial Population Thesis? Actually, it is not inconsistent; these are neither contrary nor contradictory…Swamidass offers one possible way of holding to both, and it is interesting to note that Venema admits that this is indeed possible; it is even more interesting to note that Venema’s rejoinder to it is distinctly theological.

The evidence does show that our ancestors arise as a large population, and share ancestry with the great apes. However, nothing in science unsettles the confession that God specially created a single couple, Adam and Eve, from whom we all descend.

For those who wish to discuss the science or theology further in my absense, I would direct you to @Jon_Garvey and @Sy_Garte, who have both written extensively on this: Hump articles on “Genealogical Adam” hypothesis | The Hump of the Camel. Regarding Dr King, as we approach the 50th anniversary of his assassination, I encourage us all to read MLK and the Image of God ( ). Peace.

EDIT: An important error was made in this post that has been retracted. It said that the science error was “to” (in order to) push Keller out. This is an error, as I doubt this is Deb’s intention. What is at issue here is a scientific error on a material fact. Intentions and tone are all entirely beside the point, if it is that scientific facts matter.



I think your quoted transcript from Keller is accurate. But Keller also says his scientist friends tell him that “all human being were not genetically related to a human couple”. If his “scientist friends” are actually telling him that, then he is correct to reject that advice. Keller does not state that Adam and Eve were the first people, or that they were the only people, which would be an error.

What @Swamidass has eloquently argued for, with undeniable scientific authority, is that there is no scientific reason to doubt that all modern humans are genealogically descended from all humans who were alive between 6 and 10 thousand years ago. There is also no scientific evidence against the idea that among those human couples there could have been an Adam created miraculously from dust, and an Eve created from Adam;s rib.

This result is based on solid genealogical modeling, which does not include actual genetic evidence (such as mtDNA or orther genetic markers) and is related to the well known phenomenon of pedigree collapse, wherein its clear that as we go back in time, more and more of those alive then are ancestors to more and more of us alive today. As Joshua also points out, the Bible speaks of genealogy, not genetics. So in fact, Keller’s position is not really at odds scientifically with the Biologos position, unless he also includes the idea that Adam and Eve were the only people alive at that time, which is of course, not even Biblical (Cain’s wife, etc).

So I do agree with Joshua that the video taken by itself is not really a sign of any serious disagreement with the science of ancestry to determine the position of Adam and Eve as progenitors of the human race. I cannot speak to the theological implications of these views, since I don’t have the background or understanding to do so.

On the other hand, Keller does say that his scientist friends tell him there was a small group of people in Africa from whom humanity sprung, which is accurate of course, and it is possible that Keller rejects this view, as well as the mistaken view that Adam was not (one of) the progenitors of the single human race.

If that is true, then I believe that the @DeborahHaarsma letter could be a starting point to open a dialogue on this issue with Keller and others at the TGC, to reassure them that some of their positions are not in fact opposed to the scientific consensus, and others could be modified without any danger of affecting the theological rationale for believing in a real Adam and Eve as the common ancestors of all of humanity.

This is not a trivial point of philosophy, but as Joshua and others (in the video and in the Church in general) have said, is a crucial matter today as we face racial strife and injustice. Science and scripture agree - we are one family of man, related by heritage and ancestry, and as Christians united in love for each other and our Lord, Jesus Christ.