Thursday, 17 June 2010

Was Adam the First Human?

The Biblical Adam is one of the most iconic religious figures, widely known as the first man in Abrahamic religious belief. The question is, was he the first human? If you are scientifically minded then the answer is an automatic no. If you happen to be a young earth creationist then you will say yes without hesitation. However, it seems that the answer is not that cut and dry.

For those who wish to reconcile Scripture with modern science there have been many answers to this. It is an important question for Christians due to Paul's writings which would make it appear necessary for Adam to have been the first. The key solution seems to be that man sinned and needs a saviour regardless of the reality of Adam, so Adam is a prototype or an archetype (see here for more on this view). Concordists generally do not like this view too much and instead see Adam as the first to commune with God, sometimes labelling him Homo divinus and declaring that he was likely a Neolithic farmer, making the genealogies more accurate. Although I have no issue with the archetype reading, I want to explore a similar idea to the concordist view.

So was Adam the first human? Yes. And no. It depends entirely on definitions. Our modern mindset would tell us that for Adam to be the first human he must be the first Homo sapiens sapiens which is impossible to pinpoint as evolution takes place in a population; it makes no sense for this to be Adam. However, we should remember that the authors of Genesis did not have our modern mindset and so their understanding of human is very different to ours. This scientific concept of human conflicts with Adam being the first human and so this is the no part of my answer. But I also said yes.

The authors had truth in mind, but not scientific truth. Theological and spiritual truth were very important and were expressed through mythic writing. Genesis itself gives hints at how we may understand this. God used the dirt to create Adam, suggesting that he is part of nature, which in our modern framework sits comfortably with the idea of Adam being a product of evolution. But it also describes God as working on Adam personally, making him a living soul. This suggests that Adam is not a mere product of evolution, but that God was involved somehow. A dualist might suggest that God endowed Adam with a soul, but that raises many other issues. Under theistic monism (which I subscribe to) Adam becoming a living soul would require communion with God, something which requires God's participation; the breath of life was now in Adam (Christ, after all, is life).  Theologically then, Adam is the first human, if we use a theological definition such as "one who is able to commune with God" (this may raise issues concerning disabilities, but the ability to commune with God comes in part directly from God, so we cannot say that the disabled cannot commune with God in their own way).

So scientifically Adam cannot be the first human, whereas theologically he can. At some point in history God changed His mode of action and communed fully with humans, going on to set up a covenant. To claim that the scientific answer trumps the theological answer is to elevate science beyond theology, it is tantamount to heresy. It imposes a modernist mindset on an ancient text in a perverse manner and should be avoided at all costs.

The issue of Adam has more depth than this, there are more facets. This is, however, one piece of the puzzle and one we should not ignore.

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