Sarah was recently invited, along with two other scientists, to take part in a panel discussion for a group of mostly Christian students. After the main discussion, students were invited to submit questions via text message; there was very little time to address them, so only a few were answered. The questions were quite good, so over the next few weeks, Surak and Sarah will answer most of them here. All of the questions are listed in the Intro to this series; Part 1 is here.
Was Adam the first man created or was he chosen from an already existing population?
The answers to this two-part question are ‘yes’ and ‘yes.’
There is indisputable archeological evidence for the existence of what are popularly known as Cro-Magnon people (scientists prefer the label ‘European early modern humans’) dating back at least 43,000 years. Christians cannot ignore or deny the evidence for these biological ancestors of humankind without appearing hopelessly un- or even anti-scientific. If Christians take this unscientific route in defense of the Bible, they will lose the hearts and minds of more and more young people. Fortunately there is no need to do that.
There is a false conflict between scripture and science implied in the wording of the question. It occurs because people often read the Bible hastily and fail to notice important clues. Israeli physicist and theologian, Gerald Schroeder, points out something that is almost always missed even by serious students of scripture. Genesis informs us that man was first ‘made’ (Gen. 1:26). After that, man was ‘created’ (Gen. 1:27). The difference between the two words is crucial to understanding what the Bible is telling us (unless you think God would be clumsy or haphazard with words).
A thing is made by taking something else that already exists and fashioning it into a different form. That is what happened in the making of the biological life form we think of as the human species. Genesis lists the major categories of life forms as they emerged; vegetation, animal life in the oceans, flying creatures (winged insects), great sea creatures, life forms that crawl on land, every species of winged creature, land animals which became livestock (mammals), and finally man. There is absolutely no conflict here between scripture and the basic notion of evolution. As a result, as Darwin pointed out, a person can believe in evolution and be a devout Christian.
But, the Bible does not repeat the word ‘make’ in Gen 1:27, because something very different and non-biological happened after the human body was formed. Man was then ‘created’ in the image of God. Since God is not of this world, the human soul is not ‘made’ of anything material, it is not made of anything that already existed in this world, it was brought into this world out of ‘nothing.’ This was as much an act of creation as the beginning of the universe out of nothing (a singularity, in science-speak) with the big bang.
The New Testament agrees with this view of the origins of humankind. In Corinthians 1 we learn:
15:46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.
15:47 The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven.
15:48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.
15:49 And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.
On the scientific side of the hypothesis of a two-stage development of human beings, psychologist Julian Jaynes provided some important evidence of an amazing transformation in the human species that he believed took place relatively recently. In his remarkable book, The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Jaynes argued that for most of their existence, humans were not conscious and functioned not as we do but as very smart animals. This change from smart animals to fully human evidently occurred only a few thousand years ago.
According to Jaynes, the sudden and mysterious emergence of the Hebrews and Greeks—two people remarkably different from all the other peoples who existed before them—marks the point when full-blown consciousness first flourishes enough to come to the attention of history. That consciousness, expressed in the human pursuit of philosophy, mathematics, science, the arts, spirituality, and human rights, quickly spread across the world and became dominant in the human domain. It is reasonable to conclude that consciousness may be just the most obvious result of people being endowed with a soul. There can be no doubt that conscious people have done what God told descendants of Adam to do:
Genesis 1:28: God said to them, ‘Be fertile and become many. Fill the land and conquer it. Dominate the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every beast that walks the land.’
In any case, it is telling that ancient and medieval Jewish scholars of the Old Testament decoded the clues in Genesis and had no problem with the existence of other biological human beings at the time of Adam and Eve. The great Jewish scholar and authority, Maimonides, called these beings “mere animal(s) in human shape and form” [The Guide for the Perplexed, Part I: Chapter VII]. If true, this would solve many mysteries, such as questions about who the children of Adam and Eve mated with. Once the two-stage development of Man described in Genesis 1 is understood, the original question posed above can be answered. Yes, Adam was the first man created, and yes, his biological life form was chosen from an already existing population.