First, let me outline my approach to Scripture and science briefly. In seeking to integrate Scripture and science as the “two books” of God, I allow each to critique the other.
This makes many people uncomfortable: some would allow science to critique the Bible, but never the other way around (the “eager-to-please” position), while others would allow the Bible to critique science, but never vice versa (the “fundamentalist” position).
Since I hold both, properly interpreted, to be God’s truth, when I find something that convinces me strongly from science (which is never “consensus,” but always the merit of the argument itself) and on which the Bible speaks less clearly, this can cause me to be open to new interpretations of the Bible; when I find something especially clear and central in the Bible and less clear in science, this can make me open to alternative interpretations of science. For example, modern scientific consensus has no place for the ontology of “sin,” but this lies at the center of the narrative of the whole Bible, so this leads me to question the underlying assumptions among scientists who deny the existence of sin. And in fact I find plenty of reason to believe in it; as G.K. Chesterton said, “Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved!”
The Historical Human Pair
I find the story of Adam and Eve and their fall to be a central narrative in the Scriptures, not just a peripheral one, and in every case where it appears it is the story of real individuals, not symbols. This is especially driven home by the placement of Adam in genealogies. Whatever we may think about missing links or symbolism in the genealogies of the Bible, it is clear that genealogies gave the very clear message to readers at the time that these people were real, not fictional.I find the story of Adam and Eve and their fall to be a central narrative in the Scriptures, not just a peripheral one, and in every case where it appears it is the story of real individuals, not symbols. They linked the people in the stories to real people known to the readers. Furthermore, in the New Testament, Adam and Jesus play symmetrical roles as “federal heads” of humanity. Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 drive this home, e.g., “The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45). If Jesus was not a collective group or a symbol, then neither was Adam. There is also symmetry in the highly special origin of each: a virgin birth, and creation from dust. In each case, a fresh start. Jack Collins has ably addressed these and other arguments for the historicity of Adam and Eve in his book Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?
Thus, given a strong motivation from Scripture to expect a historical human pair, I look at science not just to fall in with some numerical consensus, but to ask what is really known and what is really ruled out by the evidence we have. There are some results from science that make it attractive to believe in a single historical couple at the head of the modern human race. First, there is the “cultural Big Bang”See, e.g., M.R. Leary and N.R. Buttermore, “The Evolution of the Human Self: Tracing the Natural History of Self‐Awareness,” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 33.4 (2003): 365-404, and S. Mithen, The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origins of Art, Religion and Science (New York: Thames & Hudson, 1999). at 50,000 BC, give or take 10,000 years, during which all kinds of human culture appeared all around the world. There are of course debates and uncertainties about this, as in all science, but it does appear in the data that what we would call culture appeared suddenly, consistent with what one might expect if a new spirit of insight had entered the world. At the same time, the work on genetic clocks has supported the notion of a single Adam and an Eve at some time in the past. The genetic clocks allow that the population may have been as large as a few thousand, but are compatible with a population as small as two. The dates for Adam and Eve used to be far apart, but in my conversations with Fuz Rana of Reasons to Believe, he has argued that the two dates are moving closer together, consistent with a single date less than 100,000 BC. This is also consistent with the fact that all humans are remarkably genetically similar.See, e.g., L.B. Jorde and S.P. Wooding, “Genetic Variation, Classification and ‘Race,’” Nature Genetics 36.11 (2004): S28–33.
Those who don’t believe the Bible have no reason to believe the initial modern human population was as small as two, but nothing in the data says that it could not have been that small. Given the strength of the biblical argument for a single pair, I see no scientific reason not to believe this, and several suggestive scientific evidences for it.
What About the Hominids?
Of course, we also see evidence of many hominids at dates long before this, as far back as millions of years. Some of these, such as Neanderthals, evidence some behavior we might call cultural, such as hunting with pointed sticks.I have no trouble with saying that these early hominids were non-human. But we have a long history of saying that certain behaviors are uniquely human, only to find some animal or bird species that does them; various creatures use tools, mourn their dead, collect pretty things, etc. I have no trouble with saying that these early hominids were non-human.
Does that mean that modern humans share no DNA with them? Here I find the symmetry of Jesus and Adam helpful again. Jesus was born of a virgin. If we had been able to do a DNA test back them, would one half of his DNA have been utterly different from any human? I doubt it. In fact, the fact that his blood stood in for ours gives us a strong presumption that his DNA was as fully human as the rest of him. In the same way, Adam had a unique origin; sacramental, so to speak. Must his DNA have been utterly different from all non-human hominids? I see no reason to expect that. In fact, the book of Ecclesiastes seems to drive home the point that physically, we are no different from animals: “I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts” (Eccl. 3:18). In the Bible, people are distinguished from animals by the image of God, by the role given to them by God, and by the eternal life they can inherit, not by any specific physical difference.
To sum up, I don’t choose my views based on “consensus” in science on any matter. I look carefully at the merits of the arguments that have convinced many of my colleagues, and if I find them convincing, I give that great weight. On the issue of a historical Adam and Eve, I see no evidence that rules out a single Adam and Eve, and plenty of evidence for a very small, relatively recent population at the head of a single human race. This, coupled with the strong biblical evidence, which I also examine seriously without just following the latest consensus of theologians, leads me to affirm the historicity of Adam and Eve.
Areopagite: Old but Not Evolving