In the discussions over evolution and Adam, many of the folks at BioLogos, and elsewhere, say that a belief in evolution is compatible with a belief in an historical Adam. It’s important to note, however, that the versions of Adam that are compatible with evolution are very different from Adam as described in Scripture. (See my previous post on the subject.) Not all of the scholars at BioLogos agree that there was an historical Adam.
Dr. Denis Lamoureux, associate professor of science and religion at St. Joseph’s College in the University of Alberta and a leading figure representing the BioLogos view on origins, wrote the following in his book, Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution:
My central conclusion in this book is clear: Adam never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.
In a series of articles (available here, here, and here) at BioLogos, Dr. Lamoureux expands on this thesis. First he explains that the commonly held belief that God created de novo , or from nothing, is simply ancient biology:
Considering the limited scientific evidence available to ancient peoples, this conceptualization of origins was perfectly logical. As with all origins accounts, including those held by us today, the ancients asked basic etiological questions (Greek aitia: the cause, the reason for this). These included: Where did these things or beings come from? Why are they this way? Who or what is responsible for their origin? There was no reason for ancient peoples to believe the universe was billions of years old, and they were unaware that living organisms changed over eons of time as reflected in the fossil record. Instead, the age of the world was limited to the lengths of their genealogies, many of which were held by memory, and therefore quite short. Biological evolution was not even a consideration because in the eyes of the ancients, hens laid eggs that always produced chicks, ewes only gave birth to lambs, and women were invariably the mothers of human infants. Living organisms were therefore immutable; they were static and never changed.
In conceptualizing origins, ancient people used these day-to-day experiences and retrojected them back to the beginning of creation (Latin retro: backward; jacere: to throw). Retrojection is the very same type of thinking used in crime scene investigations. Present evidence found at the scene is used to reconstruct past events. In this way, the ancients came to the reasonable conclusion that the universe and life must have been created quickly and completely formed not that long ago. And this was the best origins science-of-the-day.
Dr. Lamoureux states that it is a misunderstanding to teach that God created species de novo and “according to their kind:”
Grasping the notion of de novo creation is one of the keys to understanding Genesis 1 and the origins debate. This creation account refers 10 times to living creatures reproducing “according to its/their kind/s.” Young earth creationists and progressive creationists argue that this phrase is incontestable biblical evidence against biological evolution, because God created separate groups of organisms. They term these groupings “created kinds” or “baramins” (Hebrew bārā’: to create; min: kind). However, this popular anti-evolutionist belief that the Creator intervened dramatically in the creation of individual groups of plants and animals fails to appreciate the ancient mindset and its intellectual categories. The phrase “according to its/their kind/s” reflects an ancient phenomenological perspective of living organisms. …
Ancient people always saw that birds reproduce birds, which reproduce birds, which reproduce birds, etc. They retrojected this experience back into the past and came to the logical conclusion that there must have been some first or original birds that the Creator had made de novo. Thus, the de novo creation of living organisms, such as birds in Genesis 1, is based on the classification of life in static or immutable categories, as perceived by ancient peoples like the Hebrews. More specifically, it reflects an ancient biology; and in particular, an ancient understanding of taxonomy.
According to Dr. Lamoureux, the creation account in Genesis does not explain how God actually created, rather it is an example of God accommodating himself to the understanding of those ancient people:
The writer of Genesis 1 attributes the origin of the basic kinds of plants and animals to de novo creative acts by the Creator. In other words, ancient science directs the Holy Spirit-inspired biblical author’s conceptualization of divine creative activity. Ancient peoples saw that the basic kinds of living organisms around them never changed, and that these reproduced only after their kinds. It was perfectly logical for them to connect these two observations and then come to the reasonable conclusion that creatures must have originally been created quickly and completely formed. We would have arrived at the same conclusion had we lived at that time. So here’s the bottom line: Genesis 1 does not reveal how God actually created life.
Dr. Lamoureux recognizes that his conclusion will be challenging to many Christians. He points out that even though he believes that the creation account in Genesis does not tell us how God created life, this does not mean that God lies in the Bible:
To be sure, this idea is challenging and even threatening to many Christians. But the Message-Incident Principle sheds light on the situation. Accordingly, the Holy Spirit descended to the level of the biblical author of Genesis 1 and used his incidental ancient science regarding biological origins in order to reveal the central Message of Faith that He was the Creator of life. Of course, some are quick to ask: Did God lie in the Bible? Absolutely not! Lying requires a malicious and deceptive intention. The God of the Bible is not a God of malice or deception. Rather, by grace the Holy Spirit came down to the level of the ancient Hebrews and employed their ancient understanding of origins—the de novo creation of life—in order to communicate as effectively as possible inerrant, life-changing, spiritual Truths. The ancient origins science is a vessel that delivers “living waters” (John 4:10) to nourish our thirsty souls. To conclude, God accommodates in the Bible and simply does not reveal how He made plants, animals… and humans.
So what does his theory mean to his understanding of Adam?
Adam’s existence is based ultimately on ancient science, and his quick and complete creation from earth made perfect sense from an ancient phenomenological perspective. The ancients saw that humans never change into other kinds of creatures, and that humans give birth to humans, who give birth to humans, who give birth to humans, etc. It was reasonable for them to retroject (Latin retro: backward; jacere: to throw) these day-to-day experiences back to the beginning of creation and conclude that the Creator had made an original human or pair of humans. In addition, ancient peoples saw that after an organism died, it decomposed and became dust. This observation, coupled with their own activity in shaping clay into pottery, provided a conceptual framework for the fashioning of humans and other living organisms from earth. …
The de novo creation of Adam is example of the Holy Spirit accommodating, that is, descending, to the level of the ancient Hebrews in the biblical revelatory process. He takes their view of human origins, which is the best science-of-the-day, and employs it as a vessel to reveal that He is their Creator. And just like His use of ancient astronomy, when He separates the waters above from the waters below with the firmament in Genesis 1, His forming of Adam from the dust of ground never happened either. No doubt about it, this idea is shocking to most Christians. But the Message-Incident Principle offers perspective on this situation. How God made humans is incidental to the message that He made us. Adam is simply an ancient vessel that delivers inerrant, life-changing, spiritual Truths.
Lastly, Dr. Lamoureux explains how his understanding of de novo creation as a form of ancient biology affects what Paul wrote about Adam:
[T]he consistency argument states that since Paul refers to Jesus as a historical individual in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, then references to Adam in these chapters must also be to a real person in history. However, this common line of reasoning fails to distinguish real history (the existence of Jesus) from an ancient understanding of human origins (the de novo creation of Adam).
Dr. Lamoureux concludes that:
[I]t is necessary to underline that Jesus and His sacrifice on the Cross are not dependent on the existence of Adam. …
Of course, Paul believed that Adam existed, and mentions him later in 1 Corinthians 15. But Adam’s existence is based on de novo creation, the origins science-of-the-day for Paul and his readers. Therefore, in the same way that we must separate, and not conflate, the inerrant message that Jesus is Lord from the fact that the 3-tier world presented in Philippians 2 does not exist; we must also separate, and not conflate, the historical reality of Jesus and His death and bodily resurrection from the fact that Adam never existed, because Adam’s existence is rooted in an ancient biology of human origins. …
To be sure, this is a very challenging and counterintuitive way to read Scripture. Nevertheless, we must not conflate, but instead separate the inerrant, life-changing Messages of Faith from their incidental ancient vessel in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. These passages in the Word of God do not reveal how God actually made humans, but that He created us; and that we are sinners in need of a Savior, whom the Lord has graciously sent to die on the Cross for us—the latter is The Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, to summarize Dr. Lamoureux’s argument, Scripture doesn’t speak to how God created, de novo creation was simply the scientific understanding of ancient men, and the fact that Adam didn’t exist makes no difference to Dr. Lamoureux’s faith.