What does "historical Adam" mean? And why is it important?


In addition to the Catholic Church, as you rightly note, the doctrines of the Orthodox Church and many mainstream & evangelical Protestant churches also support historical A&E. E.g. see this resolution from the SBC - “we affirm our belief specifically in the direct creation and historicity of Adam and Eve and in a literal, space-time fall of mankind into sin”.

You seem to think that just because you “can imagine a doctrine of universal ‘fallenness’ that is not historically explained” means you are justified to personally “hold no rigid position”. Does this mean you don’t hold a position at all about historical A&E, rigidly or not? In this case, such a non-position no more excuses you from “setting aside Scripture plus 1800+ years of tradition lightly” either.

Aren’t you, by personally ‘fence sitting’ about historical A&E, actually promoting being just a ‘pick and choose’ kind of ‘Christian’ here at BioLogos? Iow, you don’t seem to actually respect with obedience the teachings of the church you (may or may not) belong to or the traditional theology that church has taught.

I can sympathise with Jim Stump on the question of heresy and heterodoxy, especially given what he has recently gone through. But in your case of ambivalence regarding historical A&E while claiming to be a (presumably) Christian theologian (who claims to have more experience and read more relevant books than almost any TE/EC in the world), Eddie, the situation is rather perplexing.

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In the spirit of intellectual engagement, I suggest that your characterisation of biological vs historical versions of humanity as this relates to Adam and Eve is theologically flawed. Simply put, Adam and Eve were the original couple who were involved with God - and this included the fact that God created them in His image and breathed into them the breath of life - in doing this, Paul shows us how this is universally true, just as saved in Christ is universally true. These are central facts - to somehow put these to one side, and instead make them appear opposed to some type of biological theory, is to “loose the plot” as we say down here.

The term historical Adam has a far wider implication than a biological theory of origins - unless the English language has undergone profound changes, historical means something we have a history of, or is evidenced from historical sources. Perhaps the Hebrew teachings of Adam may also be considered historical because the Hebrews went to a great deal of trouble to preserve their history, faith and culture. But the central point is God involved in creating what the Catholic Church states as true humans. The orthodox traditions agree with this.

If we are determined to argue any and every point on proposed origins, biological and historical, we can find lots of material for such arguments - but this would amount to ignoring the central theme, and leads to futile exchanges.

Just how we can locate the biological parents of all humans from looking at genetic population modelling is a question that has yet to be answered - but whatever belief is proposed on this, it is another question.

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It appears to be just as much theological, economic, linguistic or sociological fence sitting ‘in intent.’ Please don’t think you hold the ‘only definition’ possible, Eddie. Your claim of inevitable ‘implications’ are rather mere ‘suggestions’ that intelligent people should openly question. Remember: most Christians reject the IDism that you embrace.

You are currently choosing actively to ‘fence sit’ and express no conviction about historical Adam and Eve, Eddie, aren’t you? Even today you actually reject (or simply ‘take no opinion about’) the Orthodox and Catholic teachings about historical A&E, don’t you?

Please don’t play rhetorical tricks based on the political field you are trained in that is aimed at making people believe you have answered a question, when in fact you haven’t. Orthodox, Catholic & mainstream Christians who know the catechism and teaching most likely see through your theological ‘relativism’ regarding A&E.

It is not too much to ask for an honest answer, especially from someone who claims to be a ‘Christian theologian’ as Eddie. I asked a simple, clear, straight-forward question regarding ‘theological monogenesis.’ To establish this, I referenced Ken Kemp’s article “Science, Theology and Monogenesis”. Neither IDists nor BioLogos people have yet responded.

No, I asked Jim Stump first. What you typed came afterwards.

Have you read Ken Kemp’s paper “Science, Theology and Monogenism”, Eddie? He gives a coherent answer to your “two contradictory beliefs” and supposedly “direct and clear” questions to me. Rather blunt threats to leave (“if you don’t”, “if I get”, etc.) the conversation are not needed and I don’t consider such talk ‘gracious dialogue.’

Obviously you have not read my comments and questions to Dennis Venema in this thread, to continue to ask such questions.

You are nevertheless choosing to ‘fence sit’ theologically, Eddie, personally ignoring the Church traditions on historical A&E. That is both ‘nice’ and ‘relevant’ to the conversation.

If you want a direct question: yes or no - do you accept theological monogenism? I accept it.

Gregory, you addressed this question to Eddie, but I hope you won’t mind if I answer it, too.
For the purposes of theology, the first true humans began with one (or just a few; or just a couple) of Homo sapiens. This can be seen as ‘theological monogenism’. From the viewpoint of biology, they were part of a population of Homo sapiens from whom we are all descended. The ‘true humanity’ we prize today was not passed down to us through DNA or genes, but through ideas, products of the Mind that Teilhard called the Noosphere.

The basis for most of the arguments made in the previous blog responses would disappear if both sides accepted the reality of there being two legitimate definitions of ‘humanity’. I am relying heavily on the findings of possibly the most distinguished investigator of human origins, Ian Tattersall, who writes (in Masters of the Planet): “Our Ancestors made an almost unimaginable transition from a non-symbolic, nonlinguistic way of processing and communicating information about the world to the symbolic and linguistic condition we enjoy today. It is a qualitative leap in cognitive state unparalleled in history. Indeed, as I’ve said, the only reason we have for believing that such a leap could ever have been made, is that it was made. And it seems to have been made well after the acquisition by our species of its distinctive biological form.” (emphasis his). In “Becoming Human” he states: “Truly a new kind of being was on earth.” Shouldn’t this scenario satisfy both sides of the Adam & Eve argument–the theologians and the molecular geneticists?
Al Leo

Eddie, the Church of Rome and I do NOT see eye-to-eye on a number of things! As I interpret the latest catechism and later pronouncements, Rome is wrong to insist on a dogma that states that we all are biological descendants of a single couple. Rome has competent scientists to advise it in matters of faith/science interaction, but they are not always listened to. I have the “Walter Mitty” dream that if the Vatican (and the BioLogos responders) would just accept my proposal of allowing two definitions for humanity, most of the problems would disappear. Fat chance!

I do not hide the fact that I am a ‘maverick’ Catholic. I do not view Jesus so much as a savior from the wrath of God, but much more in the role of an exemplar, a true human who shows us how to rise above the chains of evolutionary nature (selfish genes, for lack of a better word) and become co-creators along with a loving Father. It appears that Rome believes it is safer to depend on ‘fear of the wrath of God’ to keep us mere mortals on the ‘straight and narrow’ path. Perhaps Rome is right.
Al Leo

Good point.

It seems to me that the Walton approach of Adam and Eve as historical but more importantly archetypal representatives of humanity doesn’t insist on biological or theological monogenesis.

Hi Christy, A quick response: Walton’s approach is undoubtedly one of theological monogenesis.

Scripture doesn’t really speak to when people got eternal souls. It speaks of “the breath of life,” and the “image of God” which are concepts fairly open to interpretation.

Your Kemp article says, “The theological species is, extensionally, the collection of individuals that have an eternal destiny.”

I may be misunderstanding, so correct me if I’m wrong, but theological monogenesis would claim that Adam and Eve were the first humans with souls/eternal genesis, and this soul/eternal destiny was passed on to their descendants, right? What in Scripture insists that only Adam and Eve and their descendants had souls/eternal destinies?

I think there is plenty of room for admitting uncertainty on that point, and it seems to me that Walton’s focus on Adam and Eve as priestly representatives of a community that was fairly advanced (agriculture, animal husbandry) does not imply that he insists Adam and Eve were the first homo sapiens to arrive at some prerequisite level of rationality and spiritual capacity.

Maybe they were just chosen out of a group of similarly capable humans, and maybe even more advanced humans existed in other parts of the world. We have the history we have, but why would we assume that a sufficient history means an exhaustive history? If we are honest, we admit we don’t know how God dealt with early humans and their potential souls, and it isn’t really necessary for our salvation or kingdom work to know.

“Maybe they were just chosen out of a group…”

Chosen by Whom, Christy? That’s the whole point.

“…maybe even more advanced humans existed in other parts of the world.”

That’s dangerous talk. It’s polygenism of the variety (multi-regionalism) that even Dennis Venema rejects.

“If we are honest, we admit we don’t know how God dealt with early humans and their potential souls, and it isn’t really necessary for our salvation or kingdom work to know.”

I agree we don’t know how. The point is: we believe that God was involved. That’s a theological belief, not a genetic hypothesis. Are you saying you doubt this?

“If you agree with me that population genetics calculations are incompatible with the Roman Catholic position on Adam and Eve…” – Eddie

Well, I don’t agree with you and neither do many (likely most) Catholic thinkers, e.g. Feser, Kemp, Flynn and Bonnette. Bonnette wrote: “A literal Adam and Eve remains rationally, scientifically credible.” See “Must Human Evolution Contradict Genesis? in which population genetics is discussed.

My position on the question of historical Adam and Eve is plain and simple: I accept the Church’s teachings, which means that I accept historical Adam and Eve. To do this I have had to reconcile modern evolutionary theories in cosmology, biology and palaeontology with classical views of the origins of mankind and original sin. I do not think that Christians (or Muslims or Jews or Baha’is) should jettison historical A&E simply because pop geneticists (or anyone else) say they must.

The catechism of the Catholic Church is quite clear about this (Eddie even admits: “the Catholic position is very exact”). Likewise so is Orthodox catechism. However, the SBC’s statement about historical A&E quoted above, is just as clear and exact. I agree with all of them.

As far as I understand, Jews, Muslims and Baha’is hold the same official position regarding historical A&E. We are all “children of Adam” or of the “Tribe of Adam” or as C.S. Lewis wrote “sons and daughters of Adam”. It’s not as if ‘theologically liberal verging on heretical’ evangelical Christians will erase this tradition with the ‘magic of genomics’ that they learned from others. If one were to include Hindu or Buddhist or Indigenous origins stories that speak against (or rather, just not for) historical A&E, then that would be a different conversation. But this conversation is one in which some evangelical Christians seem to think there is no orthodoxy in their churches’ teachings about historical A&E and that therefore they are ‘free/welcome’ to embrace heterodoxy.

If Eddie wants to try to ‘understand’ my position, then he should read Ken Kemp’s article, “Science, Theology and Monogenism”. It is the closest ‘text’ to my view and Kemp says it better than I do, taking into account modern genetics. Kemp takes an actual ‘orthodox’ position, which Eddie himself appears to lack, perhaps from lack of awareness or what seems to him like a false contradiction. So does Mike Flynn.

I agree with GJDS, who also questions whether Eddie’s position is “theologically flawed”, in saying “The term historical Adam has a far wider implication than a biological theory of origins”. At the end of the day, the point is that that one’s position and belief is not simply an ‘academic exercise’, but rather a personal commitment. If Eddie has academically ‘misunderstood’ the Catholic Church’s teachings, that is one thing; but to actively deny historical A&E in his heart (and all the implications that follow from that) is quite another.

“As far as I can tell, this conclusions contradicts the teaching of the Church of Rome. If someone can show me that I have misinterpreted the teaching of the Church of Rome, I will gladly retract my statements.” – Eddie

Kemp, Flynn and Bonnette, all Roman Catholics, can show you your misinterpretation better than I can. I posted Kemp’s article 3 years ago on BioLogos, likewise on a thread where BioLogos folks were making anti-historical A&E claims as if genetics overturned/trumped Church teaching. Yet they surprisingly hadn’t come into contact with thinkers who accept traditional teaching re: theological monogenism in dialogue with contemporary genetics. I wondered why they hadn’t found such writings yet and still wonder.

“I’m asking Gregory to choose between the teaching of Rome and ‘consensus science’ as represented by BioLogos.” - Eddie

That is not an appreciated thing to ask; nor is being imputed as ‘indignant’ or ‘agonising.’

To be clear and specific: I accept theological monogenism and believe this can be reconciled with either scientific monogenism or scientific polygenism. But I reject theological polygenism as inconsistent with Church teachings. If people are not familiar with those terms, then imo they should familiarise themselves with them. Several links have been provided for this purpose. If people want to promote theological polygenism at BioLogos, then at least that will be more ‘frank’ than being uncommitted/fence sitting.

“You are using a technical term, ‘monogenism.’ I believe that Dennis already pointed out the historical ambiguity of the term, and I will not answer yes or no to a question based on a technical term whose meaning is ambiguous.” – Eddie

Dennis Venema first used the term ‘monogenism’ himself in the OP opposing W.L. Craig’s ‘genetic monogenism’ (apparently a combo term Dennis made up). I agree that ‘monogenism’ is the right technical term to use. Venema then questioned the meaning of ‘polygenesis’ when I asked if that that is what he believes and later gave a genetic/palaeontological definition of polygenesis that is distinct from theological polygenesis.

Let’s leave it up to Dennis to clear up the mess in the “Adam, Eve and Human Population Genetics” thread. It seems possible that Venema could even be a theological polygenist and a co-Adamist, but he should be free to speak for himself on the topic without someone putting words in his mouth.

Do I think a thread specifically on ‘monogenesis vs. polygenesis’ at BioLogos would be a good idea? Definitely, yes.

Chosen by God, of course. My main point being, we have a narrative of salvation history that starts with Adam and Eve, continues through Noah and the patriarchs, Moses and the nation of Israel, David and the Messianic line, all the way through the Church and the full inclusion of all the peoples of the world. God does a lot of choosing and it’s often fairly arbitrary, at least from our perspective. But we also catch glimpses of God interacting with people outside of the main narrative/chosen people we have in Scripture. We have Melchizadek the high priest. We have the Magi from the East. I don’t think the revelation we have is the exhaustive chronicle of all of God’s dealings with humanity. It is a sufficient revelation.

I do try really hard not to be a heretic, so I’m honestly interested in what is dangerous about it. If I believe that God will deal justly and lovingly with every human who has been spiritually capable of responding to his lordship, what is so bad about the conjecture that some of those humans may have existed before Adam and Eve or in different parts of the world. I don’t see theologically how it is any more sticky of a situation than how God is going to deal justly and lovingly with those who never have never heard the Christian gospel, or those who die in infancy, or the mentally disabled.

No, I don’t doubt that at all. But I find the whole discussion of when humans became humans or when humans were given immortal souls to be kind of irrelevant to interpreting Genesis.


Christy and Gregory,

The point of these discussions has been that this salvation history has been part of the central teachings of the Christian faith and remains orthodox to this day. We may speculate on peripheral issues and my objection is to using pop genetics as settled science - clearly this is wrong. I have stated at the start that involvement by God with Adam and Eve, and all of humanity, is included in the narrative, is central to these discussions.

Speculation and self-referential outlooks seems the flavour in these discussions - in past discussions I have objected to people deciding what is proven science and what is speculation. I continue to object to those (atheists, anti-theists, and theists) who seem to think they are the ones who decide when science is suited for theology (this approach is closer to using science for an ideology). The Church has taught us to be cautious and to examine new outlooks, first for their truth content, and afterwards for their relevance regarding the Faith. This is not a rejection of science as history clearly shows us, nor does it make a Christian ignorant while anti-theists are enlightened -far from it.

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