Metro New York Presbytery (PCA) hosts symposium on ‘Conversations Surrounding the Historicity of Adam

Dr. Collins sought to establish limits and freedoms for how a Christian may think about the historicity of Adam and Eve……Adam and Eve are at the headwaters of the human race, the ‘fall’ was historical and moral, if someone decides (say, through genomic studies) that there were more than two people, then Adam and Eve were the chieftains of that tribe…

On Friday, October 28 I attended the symposium which was hosted by the Metro New York Presbytery and called “Conversations Surrounding the Historicity of Adam.” Following is info from the invitation, followed by a brief summary of the day’s events:

Please Join Metro NY Presbytery for our annual fall symposium: “Conversations Surrounding the Historicity of Adam.”
- Did Adam really exist as a single historical human being?
- Are there fresh and insightful new readings of the biblical data?
- How do the sciences of Genetics and Paleontology contribute to our understanding of an historical Adam?

The Presenters will include:
Dr. Andrew Hill: ( http://www.yale.edu/anthro/anthropology/Andrew_Hill.html)
Dr. Harry Ostrer: ( http://www.einstein.yu.edu/home/news.asp?id=696)
Dr. Peter Enns: ( http://peterennsonline.com/about/)
Dr. C. John Collins: ( http://www.covenantseminary.edu/faculty/jack.collins/)

What: “Conversations Surrounding the Historicity of Adam”
Where: Redeemer Presbyterian Church Offices, 1359 Broadway , 4th Floor, New York, NY 10018
When: October 28th, 2011, 9am – 4pm

There were two sessions in the morning and two sessions in the afternoon.

In the morning, Dr. Harry Ostrer, a Reform Jew, MD and Geneticist working at the Einstein and Montefiore Medical Center, gave a presentation on the advances that have been made in genomic mapping. His main points were that through mapping of DNA, they have determined that hominids differentiated from chimpanzees approximately 5 million years ago, and modern humans originated in Africa approximately 200k years ago. Also, through genetic studies, scientists have been able to trace human ancestry back to a molecular Adam (~125k years ago) and a mitochondrial Eve (~175k years ago).

Dr. Andrew Hill, an atheist, who is a Professor of Anthropology at Yale University, gave a presentation on the history of the study of the evolution of humans in the last 160 years of paleo-anthropology, with a particular emphasis on the fossils of bipedal ancestors of present day humans. According to Dr. Hill, these fossil remains that have been unearthed show evolutionary development ranging from 7-8 million years ago to the present. Also, according to his presentation, human evolution from other species all occurred in Africa until we find the first homo sapiens in Africa, 200-260k years ago.

In the afternoon, PCA Teaching Elder Dr. C. John “Jack” Collins, Old Testament Professor from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, gave a presentation on the historicity of Adam and Eve and why it matters. He basically had five main subpoints:

(1) What is “history”? Under this heading, Dr. Collins tried to draw a distinction between a historic and a literalistic reading of a text, in favor of an historic reading.

(2) Preliminaries on Genesis 1-11: Gen 1-11 are a literary unit, has parallels in ANE literature, and sets the stage for Gen 12-50.

(3) The Biblical Storyline. The overarching storyline of the Bible presupposes Adam and Eve as is evidenced in places like Matt 19:3-9 and Revelation 22:1-5, 14-15.

(4) Is it credible? Under this heading, Dr. Collins sought to make the point that the Biblical presentation of Adam and Eve makes the most sense our present condition as we recognize our distinctiveness from other animals, as well as our ability to recognize both glory and shame.

(5) Boundaries and Freedoms. In this final section, Dr. Collins sought to establish limits and freedoms for how a Christian may think about the historicity of Adam and Eve; I noted four points: The origin of human beings is more than natural, Adam and Eve are at the headwaters of the human race, the ‘fall’ was historical and moral, if someone decides (say, through genomic studies) that there were more than two people, then Adam and Eve were the chieftains of that tribe (ala Derek Kidner’s proposal in his commentary on Genesis).

Finally, Dr. Peter Enns, former professor of Old Testament at Westminster Seminary, formerly a Senior Fellow of Biblical Studies for The BioLogos Foundation and an itinerant speaker, gave a presentation in which the main point was:

Since we must presume an evolutionary paradigm (otherwise there is no problem with believing in the historicity of Adam), then we need to find a better way to synthesize evolutionary theory and evangelical Christianity.

Here, Dr. Enns emphasized the point that one cannot just slap evolutionary theory on top of traditional evangelical thought, there has to be a complete reworking of evangelical Christian thought in order to properly synthesize the two. Based on the assumption that an evolutionary paradigm is assumed, Dr. Enns then provided a chart of various options concerning one’s understanding of Adam and Eve: If you believe in an historical Adam and Eve, then you may understand them as the first chosen pair, part of a hominid group, or there may be another option; if you do not believe in an historical Adam and Eve, then you may understand Adam as a literary figure, mythical (instantiation), or as proto-Israel (this last one seemed to be Dr. Enns’ favored view).

Then, he discussed the issues that arise when one seeks to understand “Genesis on Adam” within the three subcategories of the near literary context, the cultural context, and the OT canonical context. And, he did the same thing with “Paul on Adam” (issues that arise when you consider the near literary context, the cultural context, and the NT canonical context).

In all that I’ve written above, I’ve tried to give simply the facts of the presentation based on notes that I took during the various seminars. Personally, while the non-Christian scientists were somewhat engaging and certainly very studied and knowledgeable in their fields, I was struck by two things:

(1) the format of the day with the scientists giving the morning presentations, seemed to give priority to their findings (as if to say, “Look at all of the amazing things that have been discovered through modern scientific research and study, then let’s try and see how we can synthesize that with Scripture”);

(2) these two men, who are leading lights in their fields, clearly admitted the great limitations and continual changes of their theories (Dr. Ostrer stating that evolutionary theory (from a genetic standpoint) changed dramatically when a tooth was recently discovered in a cave in Siberia, and Dr. Hill continually emphasized how few skeletal fossils have actually been discovered and its unfortunate that we don’t have more).

I was more interested in the afternoon presentations, but was actually more disappointed in the afternoon presentations. There was no case made for the traditional understanding of the creation of the world, nor the non-evolutionary creation of an historic Adam and Eve. That, to me, was the major disappointment of the day.

The assumption was that we need to find a way to synthesize an evolutionary paradigm of the origin of humans with our interpretation of Scripture, and there was never any case made for how we ought to oppose an evolutionary paradigm of the origin of humans through our interpretation of Scripture as God’s final Word.

I came away from the morning sessions (with the scientists) thinking, “These are very engaging, nice, smart (even brilliant) men from whom I want to protect my children.”

Perhaps it was an off-hand comment, but during his presentation in the afternoon, Dr. Collins said, “I have no problem with what was presented this morning.” Truth be told, I think I would want to protect my children from the presentations made by the theologians in the afternoon session, even more.

Peter M. Dietsch is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, a member of Metro NY Presbytery, and currently serves as the Chaplain at Fellowship Conference Center in Liberty Corner, NJ.