Why I Think Adam was a Real Person in History

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/kathryn-applegate-endless-forms-most-beautiful/why-i-think-adam-was-a-real-person-in-history

Thank you for sharing this. My thoughts on the subject are somewhat fluid, and while I tend towards the more literary model, do not discount some of the other models as perhaps being correct. Whatever the case, however, I fully agree that it is my sin that is the problem, and Jesus died to put things right.

It would be easy to reject all but the most literal view, but the easy path is not usually the right path to follow, and I agree that in order to maintain integrity, we have to follow the evidence where it leads regarding the science. Truth denied is not something to embrace, and if we do so, we tend to cast God into the role of deceiver.



I’ve been doing some theological debating with @Swamidass, and he heard about this article.

He posted his response at his discourse group called “PeacefulScience.org”:

He thanked you for your “kindly and encouragingly references” to him.
But he also thought that some subtle theological point was being misunderstood. You know
… it’s always something… right?

Good article, Ms. Applegate!

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Thank you @gbrooks9 - both for the levity and the invitation to engage on Peaceful Science. Josh sent me an email earlier. We’ll correspond that way for now to get to the bottom of his concerns.



Generally I like this article. Your Reformed roots are showing, and it’s healthy, in my view. I remember a time when prominent ECs were saying that no competent biblical scholar could believe in a historical Adam… I suspect that Joshua Swamidass’s work has been part of the shift.

I know his model well, having been a proponent since David Opderbeck first proposed it back in 2010, and I’ve thought and written a lot on it, latterly in dialogue with Joshua.

There seem two points at issue with regard to Genealogical Adam in your article, and I can see why Joshua would object to the first - your definition of “sole progenitorship,” which is based on a biological definition of man that is at odds with his, and so misrepresents him. He has explained it fully in a number of places, so I don’t think the misunderstanding was necessary.

If Adam is, by creation, by call, or by anything else a special kind of man - call him Homo divinus for a familiar category - then he is the sole progenitor of H. divinus, even if (as you, Joshua and I believe) there were other H sapiens around, and (as Joshua and I believe) he became the a common ancestor of all alive today.

This is relevant to the other disagreement with his model, on the special creation of Adam. I’m not sure how wedded Josh is personally to this as theological necessity, but he is correct to say there is nothing against it scientifically, and it demonstrates that there is no need to jettison traditional views held to be important by figures as disparate as the Pope and B B Warfield.

I’m certainly not personally convinced of the need for a special creation from dust or ribs (I’ve read Walton too!), but the formation of the “package” [Homo divinus] through divine covenant, dwelling in God’s presence, access to eternal life and divine knowledge (albeit illicitly gained) which corrupts the world “cannot for less be told” than a new creation. Creation does not entail only, or necessarily at all, the physical body.

To take biblical parallels alone, Isaiah describes the formation of nation of Israel as an act of creation (bara) - remember from your article, “Adam is Israel.” And Christ, the New Adam and the True Israel, inaugurates a new creation of which each new believer becomes a forerunner by faith. Our special creation in Christ is real, not allegorical, though we remain biological humans and even (oh horrors!:wink:) frequently interbreed. Bara is a special word, but as John Walton has comprehensively shown, it should not be restricted to the Big Bang or even biological evolution.

Finally, a reponse of my own, not really linked to the Swamidass model of Genealogical Adam. To see Adam as our “representative” is straight federal headship talk, but as I discussed long and hard with erstwile Reformed contributor Penman here and on the Hump of the Camel years ago, there needs to be some justification for his being my representative.

Adam was not democratically elected, nor did he conquer the human race by the sword, nor do I profess faith in his Lordship. So if representation is not by descent (as Paul clearly seems to be saying in Romans and 1 Corinthians), then it seems a rather empty concept - one which Genealogical Adam responds to, congruent with both scientific knowledge and longstanding theological reflection. Why, therefore, need it be doubted?


I would have to think about that, as the true meaning to me seems to be the representation Adam is valid, regardless of physical or genealogical descent. It is highly unlikely I would share his genetic material in any scenerio other than as sole progenitor, and quite frankly, to suggest genetic inheritance is a factor in our sin leads to a real can of worms with the possibility of gene editing etc.
We are children of Abraham by faith, not by bloodline, after all.


I see a historical Adam as the only coherent option, especially in light of what Kitchen said. That said, I don’t believe in magic trees or a talking snake.


Read Joshua’s articles, or read mine (“Genealogical Adam” category on the Hump), and you’ll see that our model specificcaly rejects genetic inheritance. That, indeed, is what it is about. The genetic mindset is almost the whole problem.

We are children of Abraham by faith indeed, and not simply because he “represents” us, as I pointed out above. So how are we children of Adam?


Fortunately for us all, @Swamidass does not include magic trees/snakes in his scenario/model! :smiley:

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@Jon_Garvey, just as an assist, for people other than Phil reading your statement, let me add this clarifying comment if I may:

In other words, Garvey and Joshua both believe “mitochondrial Eve” and “Y-Adam” are of very limited value, because short of a miracle in each generation, most descendants of any given pair (including an Adam/Eve pairing) would have virtually none of the pairs chromosomes (nor mitochondrial DNA) after around 7 generations.

So the genetic connection evaporates… but the ancestral relationship (the so-called Genealogical Relationship) never, ever vanishes. Parenthood, when documented, is more powerful than any of the genetic factors!

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I really do not follow. You state that "So if representation is not by descent… then it seems a rather empty concept " yet feel a genealogical but not genetic descent has some greater intrinsic meaning? Is that correct?


Yes, there are a number of things that genealogical descent confers. Joshua has an interesting argument about the contingency of each of our lives upon every person in the family tree.

Our queen inherited the crown of England by genealogy despite sharing few, if any, genes with William the Conqueror.

The countries asked to return art stolen from Jews in the war did not steal them, but their ancestors, and those who receive them back never owned them, but their grandparents.

A Jew is counted within the Covenant, even now, by descent from Israel 3,500 years ago.

My own focus is on the spiritual nature of Adam, which not being material is not genetic, but is still part of his essential nature (and who showed that all that we inherit is physical?).

The Catholics might include the immortal soul as part of that immaterial inheritance.

And never forget that genealogy is, in most cases, closesly tied to the enculturation that forms our humanity: I am my father’s son and my mother’s daughter because I grew up with them - and that’s true whether I model them or rebel against them.

There are probably more ways of considering it, but remember this too - all branches of the Christian church, Orthodox, Roman and Protestant, have taught ancestral sin through descent from Adam, including those who were doubtful about Augustine. To criticise an origins position simply because it is consistent with 2000 years of Christianity is going to get you the reply, “First answer Irenaeus, Augustine, Calvin, Wesley, Whitefield, Spurgeon, etc, etc, and then come back to me.”

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Hm I thought orthodox, Jews and Muslims do/did not?Same Genesis story for the first two. And what about Ezekiel 18? Thanks! Good questions.

I can agree with that, though I tend to see “descended from Adam” to be better understood as “being human.”

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Are you just not clear he means that? Or do you challenge the interpretation?

Genetic descent (vis a vis a specific founder pair), ends when you no longer detect genetic information unique to the founding pair. Naturally, if there is ONLY one pair in the whole world (when reproduction started), then everything must be from them… or a mutation.

But if there is a founding pair in the midst of thousands of other reproductive sources… then genealogy inevitably outstrips genetic status:

Charlemagne could have theoretically fathered more descendants than there are people in Europe… because that is the power of Geneaological “status”.

Well, my point was try to nail down really what it is about genealogy that is significant (as do not think it is significant in and of itself, but the term is meaningful as describing the common human condition, not any metaphysical connection to Adam.


“Federal headship” is, in practical terms, the same as Genealogical origin.

Unless, I suppose, you have contention between rival “Universal Ancestors”… and only ONE can be allowed to represent the ALL.


Then, even if the Highlander and Sean Connery are both part of a mating pair that equally enjoys the status of “Universal Ancestor” of all those alive today… the federal headship would go to the person with the most “authority” - - as defined by God, or as defined by God via Trial by Combat, or some other “Trial By: ______________”.

If it was Trial by Cinematic Magnificence… well, we know it would go to Sean Connery, right!

Could Federal Headship go to someone OTHER than a Universal Common Ancestor? I suppose, if the Bible set up some specific criteria. For example, Noah might be considered by some denominations to have more authority over the rest of Humanity - - because he saved the fate of humanity from total extinction … or whatever funny rule you think would qualify.

Thanks, Kathryn, for going out on a limb to present your view. And you’re right that it will draw fire from both sides, but you should be used to that by now. :wink:

Since you indicated an openness to changing your mind, rather than engaging in debate about ad hoc Adam, I’d actually like to discuss your views.

“All Evolutionary Creationists agree that the scientific evidence indicates that the human population has never dipped below a few thousand within the last 200,000 years.”

I think you can extend that to 500-700,000 years, unless what you’re saying is that the population of H. sapiens has never dipped below a few thousand, in which case you can probably extend it to at least 300,000 years to correspond to the date of the Jebel Irhoud fossil.

I prefer to believe that Adam and Eve were a real couple in history who lived in Mesopotamia, among a larger population of people, perhaps around 6,000 B.C. … Thriving cities existed when Adam and Eve lived. Art, trade, tools, language, and farming were familiar to their contemporaries. … In the fullness of time, God called two people, Adam and Eve, into a special covenantal relationship with himself, and into a one-flesh unity with each other.

Let’s take these one by one. Around 6000 B.C., Mesopotamia was likely the most populous place on Earth. You mention a thriving culture already in existence when Adam and Eve were called into covenantal relationship with God. However, this misses the point of Gen. 4.17-25, which is to show ordinary people as imago Dei founding cities and advancing culture. This is a deliberate contrast with Mesopotamian ideology, which gave the king, as imago Dei, the sole credit and responsibility for cultural advancement. (See Middleton, The Liberating Image.) Furthermore, by 6000 B.C. people already had been living in tents, raising livestock, and playing stringed instruments and pipes (4.20-21) for thousands of years, although working bronze and iron were still a few thousand years away. If you want to consider this portion of Genesis as historical narrative, then the history is wrong whether you date it 200,000 years ago or 6,000 years ago.

On the “special covenantal relationship,” where do you see evidence of a covenant in Gen. 2-3? Honestly, I am (mostly) Reformed in my theology, but if there is a covenant between God and “the man” in the garden, I see no evidence of it. Personally, I think covenant theologians wished it into existence just to make everything nice and symmetrical. haha.

On the “one-flesh unity,” this creates even bigger historical headaches than the cultural advances of Genesis 4. Marriage, as a social contract, existed long before 6000 B.C. In fact, Terrence Deacon proposes in The Symbolic Species that “marriage” – understood as a social contract regulating sex in multi-male/multi-female groups – was one of the driving forces in the evolution of human sociality and symbolic reference. Another way of putting this is that “marriage” has been a feature of human culture since the dawn of mankind, which is where Genesis 2 locates it. Marriage was not instituted by God in 6000 B.C.

They were selves, free to obey or rebel. He gave them rules and consequences for breaking those rules. And they chose, in their freedom, to rebel. Whether or not there was an actual piece of fruit involved is interesting but beside the point: they were after what it represented—knowledge of good and evil.

How do you define “knowledge of good and evil”? What knowledge did Adam and Eve gain that their contemporaries in 6000 B.C. did not possess, other than knowledge of God?

One reason I don’t believe Adam and Eve were the sole progenitors of all humanity is because the Bible itself gives hints that there were other people around when Adam and Eve lived.

Try this one on for size: If ha’adam is a literary archetype, then “the man” represents both the individual and all of mankind, so of course there were other people around! All of humanity is taken up in the symbol.


Well, Jews and Muslims don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God either, so I accept differences there, but don’t feel bound to agree - though there is at least one 2nd temple Jewish source that attributes our sin to Adam:

For though it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours alone, but ours also who are your descendants" (2 Esd 7:48).

As for Orthodox, it depends where and when - in the middle of the last century the Greeks (not the Russians) started to attribute their longstanding doctrine of ancestral sin (as a doctrine) to Augustine, who was “Western” (although accepted as a doctor of the Orthodox church since whenever). In fact, though, it was taught by Irenaeus long before Augustine and even before him - there may be some mention of that at the Dabar conference, I think.

@Jon_Garvey, I think you will find that most theologians acknowledge that Augustine added a formulation to Original Sin that was not present in Irenaeus. I think you are satisfied with the Irenaeus position, because you have rather looser restrictions than the average Roman Catholic. But it was not simply a vague sensation the Greeks were describing when they pointed to Augustine… his contribution was novel in its discipline.

I will see if I can identify a concise description of where Augustine ventured that Irenaeus would not go.