Did Adam and Eve really exist? Of all the things that are in the Bible, does this one really matter? After all, it is a huge barrier to people coming to faith, particularly for people living in a culture heavily influenced by our culture continues to become increasingly pluralistic. Christian scientists who advocate for a sort of theistic evolution such as Francis Collins would content that traditional beliefs about Adam and Eve are no longer viable. So, really, what’s the big deal? Would we lose anything if we decided that Genesis 1-11 was mythological rather than historical?
Yes, argues C. John Collins in Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care. Collins aims “to show why I believe we should retain a version of the traditional view, in spite of any pressures to abandon it” and argues that “the traditional position on Adam and Eve, or some variation of it, does the best job of accounting not only or the Biblical materials but also for our everyday experience as human beings” (p. 13). Collins makes his argument in four parts, dealing first with the shape of the biblical story and particular texts that speak of Adam and Eve before moving to human uniqueness and dignity and the question of whether or not science can help us “pinpoint” Adam and Eve.
Perhaps what I appreciate most about this book is its commitment to good critical thinking. For those of us who do hold to the traditional view (including this reviewer—which is fitting, I suppose, given that I grew up strictly learning evolution in school and had no background in Christianity to speak of), it can be really easy to give a simple “yes” to the question that the book asks and leave it at that. So I really appreciated Collins not wanting to fall into that trap but being willing to thoughtfully examine what the Scriptures have to say, as well as arguments that are counter to the traditional view. As he puts it himself, if we examine the position and find difficulties, it “may mean that we should try to make some adjustments to the traditional view, but it does not of itself mean that we ought to junk [it] altogether” (p. 15).
And Collins does do an excellent job critically examining the issue. He carefully looks at the biblical storyline, noting that while some would suggest that Genesis 1-11 in particular offer “an ancient, premodern, prescientific way of addressing questions of ultimate origins and meaning in the form of stories,” Genesis itself doesn’t allow for that. It is written as “history” meaning that its author intended it to be read as actually having happened, arguing that “we might do best if we think of ‘history’ less as a literary genre . . . and more as a way of referring to events” (p. 35). This is particularly important when we look at the issue of sin. The alternative views all wind up “telling a very different story from the one we find in the Bible,” if for no other reason that sin ends up being “natural.” Yet the Bible and its authors consistently “portray sin as an alien intruder in God’s good creation. The story of Adam and Eve, and their first disobedience, explains how this intruder first came into human experience, though it hardly pretends to explain how it is that rebellion against God . . . came about in the first place” (p. 49). Continue Reading…