Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

In which we discuss the ensoulment of a pre-existing hominid with the creation of Adam.

Andrew enjoyed my Six Day slideshow, but took issue with the claim that God chose a pre-existing hominid and breathed a soul into it to create Adam:

Genesis 2 describes a created man formed from dust that God subsequently breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living creature. As I read that, I understand that to say there was a man formed out of dust in order to be created for the specific purpose of making us in His image. I agree that our spiritual identity is truly what defines us as in His image, but I stop at the notion that there were physical human beings identical to Adam beforehand that he simply ‘utilized’. As Genesis 2 documents the account, God didn’t go looking around to select some pre-soul ‘animalized’ version of a man that had already been created and arbitrarily deemed him fit to put a soul (the image of God) into him.

For those who haven’t gone through it, my slideshow is based on Gerald Schroeder’s bestselling book, The Science of God. Schroeder does not claim that a man was ‘animalized’; that’s a misleading term. Animal is the initial state of man, followed by ensoulment, and it is ensoulment that transforms him from animal to human being.

Now, do we know for certain from the Genesis 2 account that God didn’t select a pre-soul version of a man for Adam? Schroeder explains that, according to the great Torah commentators and some leading Jewish theologians, there is room for that interpretation. It hinges on two things:

1. The distinction between “making” and “creating” in Genesis. The former means to form something out of preexisting material; the latter means to bring something into existence that did not exist before. From Chapter 9 of Schroeder’s The Science of God:

The fact that Adam was first “made” (Gen. 1:26) and only later “created” (Gen. 1:27) informs us unequivocally that some amount of time passed during which Adam was fashioned. The neshama was implanted only after that vessel was complete. Whether that time was measured in microseconds or millions of earth years is not certain from the text. What is certain is that the making of Adam’s body was not instantaneous and that its making preceded the introduction of the neshama. Making takes time. The ultimate change from the final form into human was instantaneous, the creation of the neshama.

2. A subtlety in the text that is overlooked in English translations of the Bible. From the same chapter:

The closing of Genesis 2:7 has a subtlety lost in the English. It is usually translated as: “… and [God] breathed into his nostrils the neshama of life and the adam became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7). The Hebrew text actually states “… and the adam became to a living soul.” Nahmanides, seven hundred years ago, wrote that the “to” (the Hebrew letter lamed prefixed to the word “soul” in the verse) is superfluous from a grammatical stance and so must be there to teach something. … He concludes his extensive commentary on the implications of this lamed as: “Or it may be that the verse is stating that [prior to receiving the neshama] it was transformed into another man.”

Another man! According to Nahmanides, who is the major kabalistic commentator on the Bible, the biblical text has told us that before the neshama there was something like a man that was not quite a human.

Maimonides also comments on the soulless man. In Part I, Chapter VII of his book, The Guide for the Perplexed — written over 800 years ago, long before he could have been influenced by modern science — he describes the sons of Adam who came after Cain and Abel, but before Seth:

Those sons of Adam who were born before that time were not human in the true sense of the word, they had not “the form of man.” With reference to Seth who had been instructed, enlightened and brought to human perfection, it could rightly be said, “he (adam) begat a son in his likeness, in his form.” It is acknowledged that a man who does not possess this “form” (the nature of which has just been explained*) is not human, but a mere animal in human shape and form.

* In Chapter I, Maimonides explains that “form” means “essence.” Adam’s essence was that which made him distinctly human — the neshama. In other words, the pre-Seth sons lacked a soul. These are the sorts of “mere animals” that would have preceded Adam, and into which God breathed a human soul to create the first human.

10 thoughts on “Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

  1. With all due respect Sarah, I still cannot comprehend why you put such faith in the Biblical interpretations of Jewish unbelievers who claim they—of all the Biblical scholars of all the ages past—they alone, have discovered these hidden meanings, but somehow missed their Messiah described therein.

  2. Because people can be wrong about one thing and still be right about many others.

    Are you free of error? Are you certain there aren’t important things to which you are blind — and would that make you wrong about everything else?

    It’s pretty clear we disagree, and I’m okay with that. What I’m not sure about is why it matters to you what I believe.

  3. I actually don’t see the necessity to go through all that reasoning.

    Evolutionary science is in such a shoddy state that I really don’t feel the need to defend my disbelief in it. However, I certainly understand that I run in a very different set of circles than somebody like Schroeder.

    I think that the day will come when Christians all agree that however man came to be, when we absolutely figure it out, it will be entirely consistent with what was revealed to us in God’s Word.

  4. “I think that the day will come when Christians all agree that however man came to be, when we absolutely figure it out, it will be entirely consistent with what was revealed to us in God’s Word.”


    It may not be necessary, but it is a fascinating topic.

  5. I actually don’t see the necessity to go through all that reasoning.

    It’s an important exercise, because it’s easy to become complacent in our understanding of God. By continually reconciling what we understand through the Book of Scripture and what we understand through the Book of Nature, we are forced to refine our understanding of God.

    Evolutionary science is in such a shoddy state that I really don’t feel the need to defend my disbelief in it.

    What’s interesting is that there is a big difference between what’s really being discovered in evolutionary science and what’s being taught in schools or reported to the general public. If you want to be astonished by this, you ought to read some of the more recent findings. For instance, Sean B. Carroll’s book about evolutionary development (“evo devo”), Endless Forms Most Beautiful is a devastating blow to Darwinism, in spite of the fact that Carroll is an outspoken Darwinist. You just have to look past the usual spin and read what these people are actually saying.

  6. One of the problems with relying on surviving Christian texts only is that even the most learned of them were a) not native masters of Hebrew b) reliant in the primary on Greek translations of Hebrew and c) not typically focused on man’s origins.

    Thus, if you only rely on the very occasional Christian theologian viewpoint on origins, you may very end up short of even the limits of Ussher.

  7. Of course I’m not free of error, Sarah, but then I don’t have a website seen by hundreds of people teaching my opinions. What you believe is important because you DO have such a website. While you may be getting frustrated with me, I am not your adversary. I am a great admirer of your work and I do not want to be seen by you as someone seeking to invalidate your intellectual accomplishments. I’ve enjoyed some of your articles that I’ve had a chance to read (e.g. Alien Life, Global Warming, Encounters with anti-theists, Evolution, the Moon landings, Scientific Myths, Steven Hawking…) and in most cases I don’t remember too much with which I would disagree. In addition, I’d like to see your website introduce thousands of people to the Savior but, as Paul warned Timothy in 1 Tim 6:20-21, whenever “Science” (human knowledge) is held up as superior or more reliable than Scripture people become vulnerable to being, intentionally or unintentionally, led astray. I’m sure you would want to guard against that. So when unique interpretations of scripture are promoted as fact, and when unfounded theories are proposed (such as whole societies of intelligent hominids before Adam, death, and disease before the Fall, or that ONLY spiritual death was the result of Adam’s sin) people can be led astray. Why? Because these theories taken to their logical conclusion make all the symbolism of Gen. 3:21, Gen. 22 and of the entire old testament sacrificial system meaningless. These theories invalidate key teachings such as Romans 5:12-18 thus rendering Christ’s death purposeless. As such anyone who stands as a teacher should be concerned (James 3:1.) You can have theories about the nature of time at the edges of the universe, or the mechanics of what happened at THE Beginning, but when any “scientific” theory causes the repudiation of essential Christian doctrine, then it’s not Scripture that needs to be redefined.

    That is why I care, and why it matters what you, or I, believe.

  8. I do not see these theories taken to their logical conclusion making all the symbolism of Gen. 3:21, Gen. 22 and of the entire OT sacrificial system meaningless, nor do I see that these theories invalidate key teachings in the NT. You and I simply disagree on this, and it is extremely unlikely you will convince me otherwise.

    I am not frustrated with you, Ken, I am merely perplexed. For one thing, I cannot square your claim for admiration of my work with the claim that I am mistaken about key aspects of both the OT and NT, including the meaning of Christ’s death. If I thought Schroeder, Ross, Craig, or any of the other men whose work I admire were wrong about so much of the Bible, I would be forced to disregard their entire bodies of work.

  9. I’m always intrigued by reconciliation of Biblical apologetics and humanistic scientific discovery as much as the next intellectual believer. What I’ve noticed in recent years is that, contrary to what most people hear or read, more and more atheistic scientists are becoming believers in some sort of intelligent designer/creator after spending years and years in their respective fields and realizing that there are either (a) gaping holes in modern scientific theory, (b) too much emphasis placed on unprovable theories yet still accepting them as fact, (c) that scientific advancements and discoveries are mere confirmations of what is already declared in scripture, and/or (d) the shallow goal of modern science is to come up with as much evidence as possible to explain away any notion of a deity so that they feel better about rejecting truth and legitimizing their living whatever way they want without judgment. Too often the idea of science and religion being at odds is a pointless notion when one considers that our very existence is a real world scientific one. Science is merely observation of the universe in all its various forms and structures (God is a god of structure and order); and too often the idea of those in the scientific field lose legitimacy when they’re known to be believers is nonsense. What is the point of science then without purpose to its findings and discoveries? So often have the most brilliant scientists in history been believers in God. They realized the truth that we’re merely peeling back the veil of the greatness and majesty of the Creator. Scientific discovery without real-world application is in vain.
    That being said, I feel we shouldn’t spend so much of our time, energy, and resources debating the perceivably minor details and nuances of these scientific discoveries and whether they’re congruent with scripture. We’re looking at these things superficially and missing the point of it all. There’s a reason the Bible doesn’t focus on technical explanations of how or why things are the way they are, because God is more focused on redeeming our souls and restoring relationship with Man. Explaining scientific ambiguities is rubbish in God’s eyes. The point of God’s telling the creation of the universe and of mankind (regardless of which interpretation you cling to) is to merely state that fact that God created us. That’s all we need to know, that’s all we need to cling to. Scientific confirmation of that account makes us feel better about what we believe to be true not just in faith but also in man’s eyes, sure, but even then those facts don’t make the majority of non-believers believers, because the Bible isn’t a technical manual to the universe’s existence, it’s a manual to the redemption of mankind’s souls. Knowledge is one thing (physical), but what to do with that knowledge is what God is more worried about (metaphysical/wisdom):
    All mankind observes the same universe (knowledge). Some choose to reject, while some choose to accept the Lord (wisdom). Yet both were chosen with the same knowledge.

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