Do Adam and Eve Fit into the Evolutionary Story?

Do Adam and Eve Fit into the Evolutionary Story?

The common male and female ancestors of human beings are popularly known as “Genetic Adam” and “Genetic Eve.” A study conducted by researchers at the University of Sheffield claims all men can trace their origins to one male ancestor, ‘Adam’, who lived approximately 209,000 years ago. This places ‘Adam’ within the same time frame as ‘Eve’ - the ‘mother of all women’ – and provides evidence for the existence of a prehistoric ‘Adam and Eve.’

Dr. Eran Elhaik and Dr. Dan Graur used conventional biological models to discover the period when a common male ancestor, 'Adam,' lived. Their results place his lifetime in a period much earlier than previously believed - previous research determined that ‘Adam’ lived 135,000 years ago.

  • Genetic ‘Adam and Eve’: All Humans are Descendants of One Man and Woman Who Lived Over 100,000 Years Ago
  • Pandora: The Tale of a Good Girl Gone Bad?
  • The awesome, terrible, and unknowable creator gods through history

Painting from Manafi al-Hayawan (The Useful Animals), depicting Adam and Eve. From Maragh in Mongolian Iran.

Adam’s identity was discovered through the analysis of the Y chromosome. This is a set of genes passed down nearly intact from father to son, meaning mutations present in the chromosome can be used to trace back the male lineage to the father of all men. David Poznik has explained that the term ‘Genetic Adam’ is misleading, however, because this ancestral man was not solitary – other men also existed during his time, their Y chromosomes were just lost over time as their male lineages died out.

The results of this study also contradict claims that the human Y chromosome originated in a different species which came about through interbreeding. The findings show that 'Adam's’ existence was in the same timeframe as 'Eve's.’ As Dr. Elhaik said,

“It is obvious that modern humans did not interbreed with hominins living over 500,000 years ago. It is also clear that there was no single 'Adam' and 'Eve' but rather groups of 'Adams and Eves' living side by side and wandering together in our world.”

  • Neanderthals Mated with Modern Humans Much Earlier than Previously Thought, Study Finds
  • Eve was Created from Adam’s Rib, but What About the Other Women? Where did the First Women of Ancient Creation Come From?
  • Can you Believe these Gorgeous Globes are Painstakingly Hand-made and Illustrated?

The X and Y chromosomes, also known as the sex chromosomes. ( NIH Image Gallery )

It is worth noting that the genetic ‘Adam and Eve’ are not the same as the biblical Adam and Eve. Genetic studies show there was a common ancestor for all men and a common ancestor for women – but these were not the first humans to walk the earth. Really, they were just two out of thousands of people, but they are set apart because their unbroken male or female lineages continue until today. It’s also worth mentioning that it is extremely unlikely the genetic Adam and Eve ever met, let alone mated.

The study was published in the European Journal of Human Genetics.

‘Adam and Eve in paradise (The Fall)’ (1533) by Lucas Cranach the elder.


    Do Adam and Eve Fit into the Evolutionary Story? - History

    The following points are taken from chapter 10 of my book: Noah’s Flood: Literal or Figurative?

    We are obliged by faith to hold that Adam and Eve are two real historical persons. If there was no Adam, then:

    a. there would be no original sin
    b. we would not be in a fallen state
    c. we would not need Baptism
    d. we would not need to be reconciled to God by Christ
    e. the Immaculate Conception, which preserved Mary from original sin, would be meaningless, null, and void.

    Therefore, we must hold that both Adam and Eve existed as real historical persons, regardless of the assertions of any field of science. Furthermore, the dogmas taught by the Council of Trent explicitly require belief in Adam as the source of original sin, which we all inherit from him. So a denial of the historical existence of Adam and Eve implies a denial of several dogmas, indirectly.

    How, then, can we reconcile the existence of Adam and Eve, as the progenitors of the whole human race, with the scientific information on our origins? My suggestion follows.

    Anatomically modern humans began about 200 thousand years before the present (200 ka BP). But these archaic homo sapiens had modern or nearly modern human bodies, but they did not have modern human behavior. Modern homo sapiens, i.e. having modern human behavior and not merely modern bodies, began about 70 to 50 thousand years ago (70 – 50 ka BP). About that time, modern homo sapiens spread out from Africa to the whole world (the ‘Out of Africa’ theory).

    We cannot place Adam and Eve any later than 50 ka, because behaviorally modern humans would already have spread out to many regions of the world after 50 ka. Since we are all descendants of Adam and Eve, they must have lived when the human race was in only one location: in Africa, prior to 50 ka. It is then possible to reconcile science and faith on this question.

    The anatomically modern humans evolved from the lower primates they did not have reason, or free will, or an immortal soul. Behaviorally modern humans were created by God, beginning with Adam and Eve. Modern human behaviors, especially the use of language to express the workings of reason and free will, indicate an immortal soul. Evolution produced the human body, but it took a miraculous intervention from God to create “behaviorally modern humans”, i.e. having reason, free will, and an immortal soul, beginning with Adam and Eve.

    Animals with the type of soul that is not immortal, lacking reason and free will, cannot evolve into a being that has the type of souls that is immortal, having reason and free will, because the difference is not a matter of degree, but a matter of type. God intervened within His creation on earth to accomplish something discontinuous.

    Evolution, adapted to a Christian point of view, prevailed to evolve the multiplicity of species on earth. But evolution did not suffice to create the human race. And so God intervened, not providentially, but miraculously, to create Adam and Eve. Their bodies were patterned after the highest form of the lower animals, the anatomically modern humans (prior to modern human behavior). The primates evolved into anatomically modern humans, but these early humans did not have reason, free will, and an immortal soul, as proven by the fact that they lacked the modern human behaviors that express reason and free will, especially language.

    God placed Adam and Eve in the Paradise of Eden, which is not a place in this life. It is a place that is like earth, but unfallen it is discontinuous with the material universe of this life (much like Heaven, and Purgatory). When Adam and Eve fell from grace, they were no longer fit for that unfallen place, so they were placed upon this fallen earth by God. Then, from Adam and Eve and their descendants, the human race spread out to the whole world.

    But how can we reconcile the genealogies of Genesis with this speculative theological opinion? My current thinking is that Cain and Abel and the other persons mentioned in that genealogy are only figuratively the immediate descendants of Adam and Eve. I think that they are later descendants of Adam and Eve, perhaps many generations later.

    The genealogy from Adam to Abraham in the Book of Genesis contains both literal and figurative elements. All the persons named were real historical persons, including Adam and Eve. But some, even many of the descendants of Adam and the ancestors of Abraham are not named. The genealogy from Noah to Abraham skips some generations, preferring to name only the more prominent persons. The genealogy from Adam to Noah skips many generation. The long lifespans attributed to persons before Abraham are a figure for the lengthy influence of these individuals’ lives and a clear indication of figurative elements in the genealogy.

    As Christians, we should not reject evolution wholesale, for the theory of evolution is well-supported by science and reason. The Catholic religion is not based solely on faith, but on faith and reason. If science proposes a reasonable theory, we should accept it, according to the degree of support that the theory has in reason and evidence. In so far as any theory or point within a theory conflicts with faith, we must modify or reject those aspects of the theory. But we should not reject whatever is reasonable within the same theory.

    I hold that God created the universe, not in 7 days, but over billions of years, according to the current scientific theories, especially the Big Bang theory (which offers a discrete starting point for creation). I also hold that God intervened in His Creation to initiate life on earth (either miraculously or providentially). Life on earth developed according to the theory of evolution. However, God guided this development, as He guides all things, by His Providence. Then, after anatomically modern humans were developed by evolution, guided by providence, God acted by miraculous intervention to produce the human person (behaviorally modern humans), by creating Adam and Eve. After the fall from grace, Adam and Eve lived upon the earth, had children, and their descendants gave rise to the whole human race.

    More on this topic in chapter 10 of my book: Noah’s Flood: Literal or Figurative?


    Q6: How do “Adam and Eve” fit in with evolution and the science of human origins?

    There are really several interrelated questions here.

    The first is whether it makes biological sense to speak of there having been “first members of the human race,” whom Scripture calls “Adam” and “Eve.” Generally speaking, there is no such thing as the “first member” or “first generation” of a biological species. For example, one cannot meaningfully speak of the “first horse” or the “first generation of horses.” Biological species typically arise through gradual changes over many generations, with no sharp boundaries between species along an evolutionary lineage.

    The key to answering this question is to recognize that what defines a “human” being in the theological sense is not only a set of biological characteristics, but also the possession of an immortal “spiritual soul,” which is the basis of the human powers of reason and free will. Biological characteristics change gradually, but an immortal soul is something one either has or doesn’t have. And so, logically, there had to be a definite point where beings with immortal spiritual souls first made an appearance.

    The Catholic view of human evolution, therefore, is that after a long and gradual process of biological evolution, which produced hominins who were highly advanced mentally, there was a sudden transition, in which God raised some of them to the “spiritual” level, i.e. to the level of rationality and freedom. Here is how the Vatican’s International Theological Commission described this in a 2004 document entitled Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God: 1

    “While the story of human origins is complex and subject to revision, physical anthropology and molecular biology combine to make a convincing case for the origin of the human species in Africa about 150,000 years ago in a humanoid population of common genetic lineage.” 2

    “Acting indirectly through causal chains [i.e. of cosmic evolution and biological evolution] operating from the beginning of cosmic history, God prepared the way for what Pope John Paul II has called ‘an ontological leap . the moment of transition to the spiritual … [i.e.] the special creation of the human soul … .’ ” 3

    The second question is whether the first generation of beings who were “human” in the theological sense consisted of many individuals (an idea called “polygenism”) or just one couple (”monogenism”). The genetic evidence shows that humans emerged within an interbreeding population of at least a few thousand individuals (which is why the Vatican document quoted above refers to a “humanoid population”). The question, therefore, is whether in the “transition to the spiritual” God gave the gift of rationality and freedom to many and perhaps all of the thousands of Homo sapiens alive at that time --- making them all theologically human --- or did he do this initially for just one pair. In 1950, Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical letter Humani generis, warned Catholics not to “embrace” polygenism, because it was “in no way apparent” how polygenism is consistent with Catholic doctrines on “original sin.” 4 However, it is generally agreed that Pope Pius XII did not intend to definitively rule out the idea of polygenism, so it is an unresolved issue. It is worth noting that some well-known scientists have argued that the neurological basis for the brain’s processing of human language (a precondition for rational thought) must have originated with just one or a very few individuals. (See the book Why Only Us : Language and Evolution, by Berwick and Chomsky, in the “Resources for further study.”)

    A third question concerns the sin committed by the first human beings (CCC 387-390), by which, according to Catholic doctrine, the human race became alienated from God and also subject to bodily death. How can human mortality be a consequence of that original sin, when we know that all animals are by nature mortal and that animals had been dying for hundreds of millions of years prior to the appearance of human beings? (As Ecclesiastes 3:19 says, “Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other.”) There is no contradiction, however, for the traditional Catholic doctrine is that the first humans were offered bodily immortality for themselves and their descendants as a “preternatural gift” 5 (i.e. a gift that goes beyond what is natural) on the condition that they would not transgress the commandment God had given them. As that condition was not fulfilled, however, man became again subject to the bodily death that is the fate of all animals. In the view of St. Thomas Aquinas and other medieval Scholastic theologians, human nature in its present “fallen” state, is simply what human nature would have been if left to its own resources without the “preternatural gifts” and supernatural grace.

    2.. Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God, section 63.

    3.. Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God, section 70.

    5.. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Part I, question 97. https://www3.nd.edu/

    Resources for further study

    St. John Paul II, Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, October 22, 1996, “Magisterium is Concerned with the Question of Evolution for It Involves the Conception of Man." http://inters.org/John-Paul-II-Academy-Sciences-October-1996

    Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God, International Theological Commission (chaired by Cardinal Ratzinger), July 23, 2004, sections. 62-69. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20040723_communion-stewardship_en.html

    Thomistic Evolution: A Catholic Approach to Understanding Evolution in the Light of Faith, Nicanor Austriaco, James Brent, Thomas Davenport and John Baptist Ku (Tacoma, WA: Cluny Media LLC, 2016), Chapters 25-28.

    Faith, Science, and Reason: Theology on the Cutting Edge (2nd edition), Christopher T. Baglow (Midwest Theological Forum, 2019), Chapters 9-11.


    Lucy vs. Adam and Eve: The theory of evolution in Africa

    Did God create mankind, or did we evolve from apes? Some particularly religious Africans find it difficult to reconcile the theory of evolution with their faith. But what do theologians think?

    Racist depiction? For some Lucy, the Australopithecus afarensis, does not look like a humanin

    Lefranc Nguirobel from Cameroon was clearly angry: "Bring a monkey into your home and we'll see if it turns human," he wrote on DW's French Facebook page. He had just watched the first episode of DW's new series, African Roots, which explores the lives of 25 notable African historical figures. The subject of the first episode was Lucy — also known as Dinknesh — whose skeleton was discovered by American researchers in Ethiopia in 1974. According to scientific estimates, Lucy is approximately 3.2 million years old and has been identified by researchers as one of the earliest ancestors of modern-day humans, lending weight to the theory of evolution.

    Like Lefranc, many other Facebook commenters did not seem to support this idea. "God created the first man and that was a perfect man, not a monkey!" Sheha Ibrahim wrote on the DW Kiswahili page. Users like Sheba were particularly troubled by the artistic representation of Lucy in the web comic, where she looks more like a monkey than a hominid. "God created Adam first, then his wife Hawa, and if white people want to teach us that we're apes, then they're wrong," protested Abdirahman Ali from Nairobi.

    Many Africans were critical of the theory of evolution on DW's Facebook page

    The Catholic Church's struggle with evolution

    Opinions like these seem to be common, at least on Facebook. The monkey-like depiction evokes memories of colonial racial theories and denigrations that are still not overcome. But the theory of evolution is not about white or black. Lucy is regarded as the ancestor of all human beings and Africa among researchers today undoubtedly as the cradle of humankind.

    Religious people everywhere struggled with Darwin's findings. And some still do.

    Catholic priest Friedrich Stenger has lived in Africa for decades — most recently he taught at the Catholic Tangaza College in Kenya's capital, Nairobi. "Once a biology teacher in Ethiopia told me that [evolution] was in conflict with the church because on Sundays the pastor would say that the world was created 4,000 years ago," Stenger told DW. "The teacher said to me: As a scientist, I know this cannot be true. How can I bring science and religion together?"

    For a long time, the Catholic Church would not budge on the issue. It was not until the 1950s that it slowly began opening up to the theory of evolution. In 1986, Pope John Paul II commented that a belief in evolution and having faith in God need not be mutually exclusive. His successors have taken the same position and an increasing number of theologians have claimed that the Bible's account of the creation of the world in seven days does not have to be taken literally.

    Many Christians in Africa find it difficult to accept the theory of evolution

    "What the story of creation means to tell us is that God is at the beginning of creation," says Stenger. "Science is able to tell us this in more detail, which is why the theory of evolution is very important." However, not all Christian churches share this view. Stenger says many popular churches in Africa, which combine Christianity and traditional African beliefs, are sometimes hostile towards evolutionary theory.

    Evolution 'compromises' idea of creation

    Abdulkader Tayob, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Cape Town, has also thought a lot about how faith and evolution can be reconciled. "The belief of many Muslims, like many Jews and Christians, is that God created everything out of an absolute will and that man is, so to speak, the pinnacle of creation," he told DW. "Many people believe that this idea is compromised by evolutionary theory."

    Individual Islamic scholars have already commented on these issues, but a genuine debate on ways to unite faith and evolution does not yet exist in the Islamic world, says Tayob. But beyond the religious dimension, he can identify another reason why many Africans reject the theory of evolution: "Many people feel that these theories do not belong to them, that they came from outside of Africa, and so they cannot participate in their development."

    British naturalist Charles Darwin was the originator of the theory of evolution

    Evolution not taught in schools

    Pentecoastal churches from Kenya to Mozambique openly oppose the evolution theory. In religious schools, evolution is often not taught at all. In state-run schools, it is not always included in the syllabus. In South Africa, for example, the teaching of evolution was only introduced in 2008. The limited amount of resources and training available also means that youngsters often do not get the chance to engage with the subject. During the apartheid era in South Africa, training opportunities for aspiring black teachers were severely restricted in comparison to white teachers. A survey carried out at the time showed that many of the teachers who did receive training did not have sufficient knowledge of the theory of evolution. Other studies have ranked the education systems of other African countries at even lower standards.

    But how can creation and evolution be reconciled in Islam? Tayob suggests approaching the creation story found in the Koran from a different perspective. "The history of the Koran when it comes to human origins, when it comes to the history of human society, is told in so many different ways in so many different parts of the Koran," he says. "There is no one definite narrative, and so it raises the question over whether one should really endorse or accept one narrative." Eventually, every believer would have to find his own way of dealing with the scientific facts — because a central authority in matters of faith is unknown to Islam.


    How Do Cavemen Fit Into The Timeline With Adam And Eve?

    Thanks for your answer. It was actually my daughter who posed the question and since I couldn't answer it, I sought out others who I thought could answer the question--a friend at church--but she came up blank too.

    I agree with your answer. I don't think all the atoms and molecules that went into The Big Band were brought together by coincidence, either. My vision is of God gathering all the necessary chemicals in his huge, monstrous hands and claping all those atoms and molecules against each other to cause The Big Bang. I believe Jesus Christ is our savior and we should worship Him, but that doesn't discount the science.

    Well, from what we read, Adam and Eve had no technology, not even clothing. Cave people, on the other hand were endowed already with stone-age technology . . .had even developed a tinting industry, with a modicum of fine arts mastery. They also had the intellectual werewithal to ascend to caves, an environment generally hostile to serpents and snakes alike. Therefore it is logical to assume that Adam and Eve were progenitors of cave persons.

    For those concerned about "evolution" versus "creation," the cave people did not evolve - they only descended - from Eve and Adam albeit that cave technology and culture could have evolved, and apparently did evolve, from that mating pair. And, the same could be said today, of mankind and our progenitors.

    So let us not revert to pre-civility. It's no wonder that it was the tree of knowledge of good and evil that leads to so much anguish.

    Tree of Live and Let Live

    Adam and Eve were not real.

    I have issues with this as well. My own solution is yes, dinosaurs roamed the planet MILLIONS or BILLIONS of years ago. Then came evidence that "human beings" began climbing up the evolution ladder . through thousands and thousands of years, we lost our tails (we still have tailbones).

    We evolved from creatures like chimpanze's. Slowly learning what we needed to do daily to forage, hunt, seek shelter, and to avoid getting eaten by the other creatures.

    My own belief, evolution and religious, is that as homosapiens had reached a certain point, our God breathed the ability of His plan into us, and He laid out His plan for mankind . I know that replies will say if we evolved from the "ape-like man/woman, then why are there still "apes" that haven't evoled. as God had placed mankind (the "new and improved" version)..He placed mankind above all creatures of the earth..

    I could go on further, but that's my abbreviated belief .. for what it's worth.

    Myself. My idea of this is very different from what a lot of other people think. I think that modern man (scientist) claim these fossils to be of millions or billions of years ago, they use what they call (carbon dating) to determine the age. The process is lengthy.
    I think these carbon dates are wrong! I think science has been pulling towels over our heads for hundreds of years. Science knows things that could/would affect every human on the planet, but will never come clean for fear of loss of money and power.

    I don't think that (cavemen) ever lived on Earth the way stories tells us, or the way science tells us. Myself. I believe what we have known as cavemen were more likely to be more like small groups of people who chose to live differently than other humans.
    In my time I have seen many small camps/groups of people who choose to live outside the everyday life that most of us live in. They live in small hut like homes, heated by small fires in the cold seasons, and aired by lack of walls in the warmer seasons. They also make all their own tools from stones and collected wood.
    These people make their own cloths from hides and do a great job from what I have seen. Living without electric, without all the cells phones and cable t.v. If these people were to all suddenly die from some illness or something else, the remains a few years later would be very similar to what "scientist" dig up and call cavemen today.
    Now I don't doubt at all that these cavemen remain are thousands of years old, but Id be willing to bet that one day this "carbon dating" thing will be debunked and proved to be the most inaccurate thing mankind has ever done.

    Adam and Eve? First humans on the planet!

    Evolution may take place in small ways. But I find myself wondering why it is that we have known dogs for at least four thousand years, but they have not changed at all? Why did dogs not grow fingers when man started feeding them all the time? Why did dogs not evolve to talk? They have spent the last four thousand years barking to and at us? Seems to me that if evolution would ever take place, it would surly take place with dogs since man has changed everything a dog knew as a structured wild life.

    In the two thousand years of history since the crucifixion of Christ, no animals has evolved. So I'm to believe that evolution stopped when man started keeping notes?

    Evolution never happened, Its just another way to further educate a mass society to trust and believe everything they are told. "to have total control over a population, you must first control what they think! To control what they think, you must first control what they are told, to control what they are told, you use people the population trust."


    Where do Adam and Eve fit in evolution? Is it OK for a Christian to believe in evolution?

    There are two legitimate possible Christian views on the origin of Adam and Eve. Both are consistent with the information in Genesis 1 and 2. One possibility is that the two of them were created from nothing (the fancy term is ex nihilo). The other possibility is that God took a pair of evolved, intelligent hominids and put in them the image of God. He made them human in the sense that they became like God in certain ways.

    Of the two explanations, I prefer the first one. It seems the most obvious way to think about Genesis 1 and 2, but we need to bear in mind that the Genesis creation account is not a scientific one. It is first and foremost a theological one, so exactly how “historical” or “scientific” the biblical description of creation is will be something that legitimate, faithful, spiritual believers can differ on.

    Either way, there is clear fossil evidence that there were precursor species around before Adam and Eve, such as australopithecus and homo habilis. These species certainly were not modern humans. Adam and Eve were not of these species. The evidence that nearly human species were in existence between three million and five hundred thousand years ago is fairly strong, and any description of the history of the world must involve these apparent facts. Let me put it this way. It is NOT unreasonable to propose that human beings evolved from a common ancestor to the great apes. Genetic data is also consistent with this possibility.

    In my opinion, evolution, including evolution of hominids is supported by scientific evidence. However, I do not believe that Adam and Eve evolved. I believe that they were created ex nihilo. Nevertheless, I accept as equally faithful and spiritual believers who accept description #2 above.

    On your second question, it is absolutely okay for a Christian to believe that the theory of evolution is a perfectly good scientific theory for the simple reason that is it a perfectly good scientific theory. For any priest to tell you that it is wrong to believe that the theory of evolution is a good theory is to speak where he probably ought not to speak. Science deals with empirical evidence and competing explanations of that evidence. The fact is that the theory of evolution is the only successful model that exists for the genetic and fossil evidence we have at hand. No other model works. Period. To deny the scientific community the right to come up with reasonable explanations of empirical evidence is a very unwise path, and priests who say this ought to stop saying this. I do not know your religion, but if you are a Catholic, then your church has strongly supported the theory of evolution. If your priest is Orthodox, as far as I know, most Orthodox groups have also been supportive of the theory of evolution, so I am not sure where this priest is coming from.


    Challenge: Why Didn’t Adam and Eve Immediately Die?

    Yet another different challenge is an internal critique of Genesis. God promised Adam and Eve a certain judgment if they ate the forbidden fruit:

    How is one supposed to reconcile the fact that God promised a particular judgment for a particular sin with a judgment that was not fulfilled? Put another way, why didn’t Adam and Eve die immediately when they ate the fruit? Bodie Hodge addresses this supposed contradiction. . .

    The Hebrew is, literally, die-die (muwth-muwth) with two different verb tenses (dying and die), which can be translated as “surely die” or “dying you shall die.” This indicates the beginning of dying, an ingressive sense, which finally culminates with death.

    At that point, Adam and Eve began to die and would return to dust (Genesis 3:19). If they were meant to die right then, the text should have simply used muwth only once, which means “dead, died, or die” and not beginning to die or surely die (as muwth-muwth is used in Hebrew). Old Testament authors understood this and used it in such a fashion, but we must remember that English translations can miss some of the nuance.


    Christians who also believe in evolution, how do Adam and Eve fit in?

    In the ancient Jewish tradition (the world where the Genesis stories were first shared and referenced), a person's overall reading, understanding, interpretation, and application of the Torah was a living, breathing thing. - What does the text say to you? What does it do to your heart? What does it teach you about your relation to God in the world in which you live?

    So when you come across passages like the story of the Garden of Eden, or Adam and Eve, it's not always necessary to reconcile the historical or scientific accuracy ("Did this happen?") for it to be as true as it is meant to be. The people who were told this story in its earliest form wouldn't have needed to do that. In the same way, references to these stories later on - by people like the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Roman church - are used to make a comparison to something people are familiar with, to drive home the point.

    What resonates with me on the topic, is that Adam and Eve, and the garden, are illustrations of human nature.

    I think what Paul is talking about in Romans is more like.
    "We all have an understanding of sin because of the Adam and Eve story. Their human nature was made evident when they weren't able to maintain their standing with God because of their natural tendency to want to do things their way. They tried to do too much, they chose the law over God's natural order (the tree of knowledge of good and evil). As ya do.

    Well, that's what makes this Jesus guy so different. He shows us what being human was always supposed to look like. Taking care of one another, justice for people who are oppressed. Loving God and loving your neighbor. It looks that way because our intended role in the world is to be the image of God. We let the deepest reality of the universe work through us to arrange things, not the other way around."

    That's the way I generally try to approach texts like these. Ask deeper questions, just like you are. Let it speak to you and move you and do something to you. I believe the great mind of the universe must delight, in some way, when we care that much.


    What questions remain?

    The four key questions we have covered help to illuminate the many possible understandings of Adam and Eve. However, they hardly exhaust the range of questions and issues that are raised in these discussions. Different models may answer certain questions more clearly while raising others. Here are some examples:

    1. In recent Adam and Eve models, how are we to understand the theological status of people outside the Garden? Do they possess the image of God?[26]
    2. How do different understandings of the image of God interact with different models of Adam and Eve?[27]
    3. How does an ancient Adam fit with biblical genealogies which may establish a connection between Adam and Israel?[28]
    4. How do we understand original sin and the Fall in each of these models?

    Many of these questions do not yet have definite answers. They remain an open invitation for theologians, scientists, and anyone else interested in the conversation. We should know not to expect easy solutions. Nor should we prematurely leap to simplistic narratives of “conflict” or “harmony” between science, Scripture, and theology. In the end we are all approaching a grand question that makes this conversation captivating and important: what does it mean to be human?


    Evolution and the Historical Fall: What Does Genesis 3 Tell Us about the Origin of Evil?

    Unlike some BioLogos bloggers who had to be convinced of the validity of biological evolution later in life, I have no memory of ever dismissing evolution as fundamentally incompatible with biblical faith. Having become a Christian at a very young age, I not only accepted, in my teenage years, that the earth was very old (based on what seemed to be reasonable scientific research), but as a young adult I avidly read books on human evolution—including the discovery of Australopithecus afarensis (nicknamed Lucy) by Donald Johanson.

    However, I was somewhat troubled that evolution didn’t seem compatible with the biblical notion of the “Fall,” the origin of evil recounted in Genesis 3. I had always been taught that this text portrays Adam and Eve (an original couple) forfeiting a primal paradise through a single act of disobedience, which led to the introduction of death for both humans and the natural world. I couldn’t get my head around how this might fit with what scientists claimed about human evolution. So I did what many Christians do when confronted with cognitive dissonance—I put it out of my mind and concentrated on other things.

    It is time to take a closer look at what Genesis 3 actually says, to see how we might address perceived tensions between an evolutionary account of humanity and the biblical story of the origin of evil. 1 There are two primary sets of tensions. The first has to do with the historicity of the Fall—whether it really happened (and in what sense). The second has to do with the consequences of the Fall, the so-called “curse” that affected both humans and the earth. In my next BioLogos post I will address the second issue, whether “nature” was changed because of human sin this will take us into questions of death, predation, and randomness in the natural order, and their relation to the providence and goodness of God. In this post I will focus on what we might mean by the Fall as an event in history.

    In What Sense was the Fall “Historical”?

    It has always been important to me that the Bible claimed that the world God created was good (indeed, “very good” Gen. 1:31), and that evil was later introduced into this world by human disobedience. This notion of a historical Fall, which denies a pre-existing principle of evil and lays the origin of evil clearly at the feet of humanity, distinguishes the biblical version of creation from other accounts of origins. 2 Yet it has become de rigueur among many Christian proponents of evolutionary creation to deny the classical doctrine of a historical Fall and to claim that Homo sapiens emerged in a sinful state. However, I don’t think this is a necessary move for those who want to affirm the truth of the Bible and an evolutionary account of human origins. 3

    Part of the problem has to do with what we mean by calling the Fall “historical.” For some this means a punctiliar event perpetrated by an original couple that automatically changed human nature, such that every person born after comes into the world with a sin nature (this is sometimes thought of as a genetic inheritance). But this interpretation of the Fall (a version of “original sin” as formulated by Augustine) is not the only plausible way to read the Garden story.

    In my previous BioLogos post (on humanity as imago Dei), I addressed the initial problem that many Christians perceive between human evolution and the idea of a historical Fall, namely, the contradiction between two individuals (Adam and Eve) and the larger population group postulated by the modern scientific picture. After all, if there wasn’t an original couple, how could we attribute the origin of sin to them? Here I’m going to assume what I previously argued, namely that Genesis isn’t incontrovertibly committed to the idea of two original humans, but allows us to think either of a larger population group (in Genesis 1) or of ha’adam / “the human” (in Genesis 2) as archetypal of all people everywhere.

    This might mean that the narrative of disobedience in Genesis 3 is not simply about a single event in the past (though that is not thereby excluded), but describes what is typical in the process of temptation and sin in human experience. Indeed, when preachers expound the Garden story they tend to emphasize how this is true for all of us, rather than locating it in a singular event long ago.

    Once we are open to viewing the Garden narrative in this manner, the dialogue between the woman and the snake in Genesis can be seen as a profound study in the phenomenology of temptation and sin, which may be applied not only to our own present experience of temptation, but also to the experience of early Homo sapiens.

    A Phenomenology of Temptation and Sin

    The temptation begins with a question from the snake about whether eating from all the trees of the Garden really was prohibited (Gen. 3:1). This question accurately depicts the way temptation comes to a person, in that it seems to arise from an external source. In both the snake’s question and in the woman’s response there are a number of cases of slippage from what the narrator says—all of which ring true to the experience of temptation.

    Whereas the narrator consistently uses the compound name “YHWH God” to designate the Creator (throughout Gen. 2:4–3:24), the snake speaks about “God” only, and the woman follows suit in her response. The covenantal name YHWH is not used anywhere in their conversation (Gen. 3:1-5), which may well be a distancing tactic, which serves to disassociate the prohibition from YHWH, the God of Israel’s covenant (see Exod. 3:13–15). Beyond that, the narrator’s reference to YHWH God commanding (Gen. 2:16) has been softened to God saying in the snake’s question (Gen. 3:1) here again the woman follows the snake’s lead (Gen. 3:3).

    But in contrast to this distancing and softening, we find that the woman adds to the prohibition against eating from the tree, when she claims that God also said, “nor shall you touch it, or you shall die” (Gen. 3:2-3). Yet the Creator never prohibited touching the tree, according to the narrator.

    Then comes further slippage in the woman’s answer to the snake, when she modifies the warning YHWH God had given concerning the consequences of disobedience. The original warning was that in the day you eat of the forbidden tree you will surely die (Gen. 2:17). But the woman omits reference to in the day (which suggested immediate consequences) and describes the consequence simply as “you will die” (omitting a Hebrew grammatical construction that indicated the certainty or seriousness of the consequence).

    From initially questioning the woman about whether eating of any of the trees in the garden was permitted (Gen. 3:1), the snake finally denies outright that they will die, while trying to make the Creator seem stingy, “for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5).

    This entire conversation is a profound representation of the inner dialogue of conscience, first questioning God’s word, then softening the prohibition, then overstating it (perhaps in compensation for the softening), then toning down the consequences, and finally questioning God’s motives. The conversation ends up sowing the seeds of doubt in the woman’s mind concerning God’s generosity, resulting in a lack of trust in God’s intentions for humanity. Then both she and the man (who was with her) eat of the forbidden fruit.

    The entire conversation realistically depicts the way temptation works, either as an intra-human, psychological process or as an inter-human, communal process. And this could be applicable either to each person throughout history wrestling with the demands of conscience or to an “original” fall among early Homo sapiens.

    Was There a Primal Paradise?

    But it leaves very little time, if any, between the origins of conscience and the beginning of sin. Yet many Christians assume that the Garden of Eden story includes a period prior to sin, when the first humans lived innocently in a paradise-like state, fulfilling their initial calling from God, working and protecting the Garden (Gen. 2:15).

    Yet it turns out that there is no actual narration of such a period in the book of Genesis. At the end of Genesis 2, the woman is created to be a helper to the man, which presumably means sharing in the task of working and protecting the garden. But instead of portraying the first humans fulfilling their explicit raison d’être, the Genesis narrative rushes to tell of their disobedience. The notion of a paradise period in Eden is much more a function of Christian theological assumptions read back into the text, rather than anything clearly narrated.

    Could the almost immediate transition from the creation of the first humans in Genesis 2 to the primal transgression in Genesis 3 be significant for thinking about the possibly limited time frame between the rise of moral and religious consciousness in Homo sapiens and the onset of sin in the human population?

    The Growth and Development of Sin according to Genesis

    Not only is there no paradisiacal period in Genesis 2–3, but human nature does not suffer any sort of immediate and radical corruption, as the classical doctrine of “original sin” might suggest (such that all people born afterwards inherit a sin nature). This does not mean there are no changes narrated in Genesis 3, but these are existential and behavioral. Humans acquire a sense of shame at their nakedness and a fear of God, which leads to their hiding (Gen. 3:7–10). And God announces certain consequences for sin, including new difficulties in the relationships between people and the ground, between women and childbearing, and between women and men (Gen. 3:16–19). Finally, God announces that the humans have become “like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:22), in an inappropriate way—which will not be good for them.

    Here it is helpful to counterbalance the classical notion of original sin (which assumes that all post-Fall humans come into the world enslaved to sin, by a quasi-genetic inheritance) with the actual narration of the development of sin in Genesis 4, and later in Genesis 6. The initial transgression by the parents develops in the next generation into murder (Cain kills Abel). But this is not a necessary progression the narrative portrays Cain’s struggle with anger and even depression (Gen. 4:5) leading up to the murder, including God’s claim that he can “do well” and that although “sin is lurking at the door” he “must master it” (Gen. 4:7). God’s words to Cain suggest that sin (the first use of this word in Genesis) is not inevitable for human beings it can (initially, at least) be resisted.

    Rather than an immediate change in human nature, the narrative of Genesis portrays a process by which humans come more and more under the sway of sin. After Cain’s murder, we find Lamech’s revenge killing of a young man who injured him, a killing that he boasts about to his wives (Gen. 4:23). Yet even here the growth of sin is intertwined with positive cultural innovation, such as the building of cities, the invention of new forms of livestock tending, musical instruments, and metal tools (Gen. 4:17, 20–22). But sin continues to infect the human race, until every “inclination of the thoughts of [the human heart] was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5), and the earth was destroyed or ruined (shachat) by the violence with which humans had filled it (Gen. 6:11).

    Here we finally have something as pervasive as “original sin” in the later theological sense of the term—that is, a situation of communal and systemic evil we are all born into (but this is a historical progression and not a genetic inheritance). Such a developmental and communal view of sin as narrated in Genesis is true to human experience and is quite compatible with the evolution of religious and moral consciousness among Homo sapiens.

    A Possible Evolutionary Scenario for a Historical Fall

    Although we can’t know exactly when Homo sapiens first became aware of the prodding of conscience, we can speculate that at some point God entered into a relationship with some representative population of early humans, calling them to live as his image in the world (for more on the imago Dei as a calling or vocation, see The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1). This new relationship (with its concomitant ethical call) would have engendered a significant change in the consciousness of Homo sapiens and then in their behavior.

    We know from experience that relationships change us, sometimes decisively. No one who enters into marriage or becomes a parent is the same after (at least, if we take the relationship seriously). Even our pets change us and evolutionists have discussed how various human-animal relationships may have led to significant adaptations in human behavior. 4

    Being in relationship thus puts certain (explicit or implicit) demands on us and as we respond to the other we begin to change, not only in our actions, but also in our thinking and our values. We now know that behavioral changes begin to lay down new neural pathways in the brain we quite literally become different people over time.

    It is therefore plausible to think that the rise of moral consciousness was a decisive development among anatomically modern Homo sapiens, which resulted from a developing awareness of God’s call to a certain (moral) form of life. 5 It is also plausible to think that it was not long before these humans began to go against the new revelations of conscience, and thus sin was introduced into the world (and both moral consciousness and sinful resistance then spread to all Homo sapiens). While this may not be the Fall as a punctiliar event perpetrated by an original couple, it would still be a temporal event (and thus a historical Fall), which took place among early humans. This is a faithful interpretation of Scripture, and fully consistent with evolutionary science.

    Notes & References

    Editor’s note: This article is part of our 2016 Theology Fellows series.

    1. I began this closer look a few years ago when I joined a group of scholars working on the topic of Evolution and the Fall (the title of the book of essays we produced, ed. by William T. Cavanaugh and James K. A. Smith [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017]). My reflections in this blog post are based on my essay (chap. 4) in that book, entitled “Reading Genesis 3 Attentive to Human Evolution: Beyond Concordism and Non-Overlapping Magisteria,” and also on another essay, “From Primal Harmony to a Broken World: Distinguishing God’s Intent for Life from the Encroachment of Death in Genesis 2–3,” chap. 7 in Earnest: An Interdisciplinary Work Inspired by the Life and Teachings of Benjamin Titus Roberts, ed. Andrew Koehl et al. (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, forthcoming).

    2. Paul Ricoeur has noted that the emphasis of Genesis 3 on human choice as the origin of evil is unique among myths of origins see Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil (New York: Beacon Press, 1969), esp. the chap. on “The Adamic Myth.”

    3. Here I agree with James K. A. Smith, “What Stands on the Fall? A Philosophical Exploration,” chap. 3 in Evolution and the Fall.

    4. See Celia Deane-Drummond, “In Adam All Die? Questions at the Boundary of Niche Construction, Community Evolution, and Original Sin,” chap. 2 in Evolution and the Fall.

    5. See the excellent multi-disciplinary essays on the development and transformation of Homo sapiens in The Emergence of Personhood: A Quantum Leap.


    What does the Bible say about cavemen, prehistoric men, neanderthals?

    The Bible does not use the term caveman or Neanderthals. So, according to the Bible there is no such thing as “prehistoric” man, in that sense. The Bible gives no indication that Adam and Eve accidentally evolved from lower life forms. Nor does it give any explicit indication that there were human-like beings prior to man.

    With that said, the Bible does describe a period of traumatic upheaval upon the earth&mdashthe flood (Genesis 6&ndash9), during which time civilization was utterly destroyed except for eight people. Humanity was forced to start over. It is in this historical context that some scholars believe men lived in caves and made use of stone tools. These men were not primitive they were simply destitute. And they certainly were not half ape. The fossil evidence is quite clear: cavemen were human men who lived in caves.

    Fossilized ape remains have occasionally been interpreted as a transition between ape and men. Most people think of these interpretations when they imagine cavemen. They picture furry half-men, half-ape creatures crouched in a cave next to a fire, drawing on the walls with their newly developed stone tools. This is a common misconception. And, as far as Darwinian paleo-anthropology goes, we should keep in mind that these interpretations reflect a peculiar worldview and are not the result of the evidence. In fact, not only is there major opposition to these interpretations within the academic community, but the Darwinists themselves do not entirely agree among themselves on the details.

    Unfortunately, the popular mainstream view promotes this idea that man and ape both evolved from the same ancestor, but this is certainly not the only plausible interpretation of the available evidence. In fact, there is no evidence in favor of this particular interpretation.

    When God created Adam and Eve, they were fully developed human beings, capable of communication, society, and development (Genesis 2:19&ndash25 3:1&ndash20 4:1&ndash12). It is almost entertaining to consider the lengths evolutionary scientists go to “prove” the existence of prehistoric cavemen. They find a misshapen tooth in a cave and from that create a misshapen human being who lived in a cave, hunched over like an ape. There is no way that science can prove the existence of cavemen by a fossil. Evolutionary scientists simply have a theory, and then they force the evidence to fit the theory. Adam and Eve were the first human beings ever created and were fully formed, intelligent, and upright.