Move over Hell, the historicity of Adam is back as the du jour controversy in evangelicalism. At least, I hope so. The next issue of Christianity Today features an excellent cover article by Richard Ostling, “The Search for the Historical Adam.” If you subscribe to CT, like I do, then you can read the article online; everyone else will have to wait until CT decides to post it for free, which usually doesn’t take too long. In the meantime, yours truly will provide an overview:
Ostling does a fine job summarizing the current state of the debate, which has shifted from geology, astronomy, and biology, to genetics. In the past, the debate over evolution was largely focused on the massive demonstrative evidence for an ancient and evolving creation. In particular, the age of the universe is settled in favor of an old earth. The details of evolution have been more difficult to assimilate, but many evangelicals have been happy to affirm some measure of evolution, so long as the historicity of Adam and Eve remains intact. Well, now that’s getting harder to do. With the huge advances in genetic research, including the complete map of the human genome, the historicity of Adam is on very shaky grounds, if there’s even any ground remaining. Ostling surveys the key players bringing this evidence to light within the evangelical community, including Dennis Venema’s articles published in the journal, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. In particular, you should check out this article by Venema on the genetic evidence for ancestral population sizes. The September 2010 issue of PSCF is dedicated to the topic. The second portion of Ostling’s article covers the exegetical debate: since the biblical authors assume a historical Adam, what are we to do as evangelicals committed to inerrancy or, at the least, infallibility of Scripture? Isn’t Romans 5 meaningless without a historical Adam? Ostling rightly recognizes that we need both players in this debate — the exegetes/theologians and the scientists — to come to the table and hear each other out.
As for myself, I don’t want to make a decisive judgment, one way or the other, at least not yet. The dogmatic questions and concerns are indeed important and not easily dismissible, yet we can’t take the position of Al Mohler, who judges empirical research altogether as inadmissible (as I discuss here and here). If the genetic evidence (against the historicity of Adam) is as strong as the astronomical and geological evidence (against a young earth), then we could see a rather large shift in evangelical intellectual opinion on the question of Adam. However, the age of the earth does not share in the importance of Adam to the biblical story line.