A Historical Adam: Old-Earth Creation View

April 22, 2014 — 2 Comments

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If you were anxiously waiting on the next post from the Four Views on The Historical Adam series last week, I apologize. I decided to take a mini-blogging break and didn’t post from any scheduled series. Because of that, we’ll actually finish the series this week with three posts in a row (today, tomorrow, Thursday). You can see the table contents for this series here.

Today, we’re looking at C. John Collins’ view, which is a more traditional old-earth creationist perspective. Some might object to my use of “traditional” in reference to old-earth positions. But, since there is no single traditional view, I think it is apt.

Collins, like Walton, has written a Genesis commentary. But, in his case, it was just on Genesis 1-4. I found it very insightful and I would highly recommend it to you if you’re interested in this subject. You can read more of my thoughts about that book and my appropriation of it in my Genesis series.

Here, Collins utilizes his work from that commentary, but also more importantly for this book, relies on his own Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Collins is particularly interested in making sure we understand that prose is not equivalent to history in the modern sense. Likewise, we should understand that historical does not mean “complete in detail,” or “told in exact chronological sequence” (unless the text claims that, 148).

With this understanding of history in mind, Collins then addresses the unity of Genesis 1-11. Unlike Lamoureux, he sees it as entirely historical and a unity on the literary level. According to Collins, “these chapters parallel basic worldview-shaping materials from Mesopotomia, it is no surprise to find that whoever put these chapters together did so in such a way that they display their unity at the literary and linguistic level” (157).

From here he moves to the biblical storyline as a whole. After his survey of the biblical material related to a historical Adam, Collins comments:

It is therefore quite a surprise to read in authors who think Adam and Eve are not historical the suggestions that the apostle Paul is really the only New Testament writer to make use of Genesis 3 and that the Gospels and Revelation do nothing with it! (163)

Next, Collins tackles some of the scientific questions, focusing on DNA. This leads to a discussion of what options he sees open to someone who wants to be faithful to Scripture. He is open to Adam being the chieftain of tribe of people who were all created together (172). This is not Collins’ actual position, but is similar to Walton’s hypothetical reconstruction. In his version, Adam and Eve are appointed to be the covenant representatives from a pre-existing group of humans or humanoids who had evolved. For both, these are options presented for someone who becomes convinced that there were more human beings than just Adam and Eve at the beginning.

When it comes to responses, Lamoureux can’t get over the concordism hump. So again, any attempt to “connect” Scripture to science is scientific concordism (177). If God had any involvement that is “special” or “supernatural” in the creation of Adam (or anything else), then that is “God-of-the-gaps” (178). He says this because “every time someone has proclaimed a point of divine intervention, it has later been shown to be not a gap in nature, but a gap in that individual’s knowledge of nature” (179). One wonders what Lamoureux would say about the virgin birth and the resurrection. If you are going to argue that the second Adam came about miraculously, I don’t see why it is so wrong-headed to argue that the first Adam did also. . It seems like Lamoureux’s ardent methodological naturalism is coloring the way he understands God’s providence and it’s not for the better.

As for other responses, Walton’s is brief and quibbles with some of Collins’ approach. This isn’t surprising since they are both arguing for a version of a historical Adam within an old-earth framework. For Walton, Collins takes too many tangents not relevant to the larger discussion. For Barrick, the differences between him and Collins fall more on dating creation (not that kind of dating). He sees any form of old creationism as a rejection of the traditional Judeo-Christian interpretation. Additionally, Barrick has a hard time with the nuance of Collins (and too Walton) about how we understand the creation stories of Israel’s neighbors. Somehow, the stories of Israel’s neighbors are pure myths, while Genesis 1-2 is pure history with no literary flourishes whatsoever. There are no similarities of genre in Barrick’s book. Genesis 1-11 records events “exactly as they happened,” (190) just the way we modern people would expect them to. When it comes to these historical details though, Barrick misses reading the events as they happened. At one point, he argues that “the first recorded animal death in Genesis comes with the description of Abel’s sacrifice” (190). The animals God slaughtered to provide clothing for Adam and Eve after the fall are forgotten. To me, this seems like a rudimentary mistake, but it’s a bit ironic coming from the one contributor most adamant about a plain reading of Genesis.

When it comes down to it for Barrick, there is no room for an old-earth interpretation of Genesis that isn’t scientifically motivated (i.e. evolution, 191). As he puts it, “the young-earth view does not accept reinterpreting the Scriptures to force it into the evolutionary mold.” He leaves no room to reinterpret a contested passage in light of better understandings of its cultural background, linguistic features, or literary style. This is unfortunate, especially when it comes to his own exposition. Collins is seeking to faithfully interpret the text of Scripture in light of many variables (go back up and click on his commentary and note the subtitle). He is scientifically astute, but does not seem to be scientifically motivated. In the end, I think that’s the best position to be in, and Collins’ view provides a helpful perspective from that vantage point.

Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

2 responses to A Historical Adam: Old-Earth Creation View

  1. Good summary. One thing about Collins from what I’ve read of him: he seems more interested in finding out the range of ways we could take Genesis than in arguing for ways we should take Genesis.

    For instance, suppose he or someone else went through the same exercises for passages on the deity of Christ or the resurrection. Surely such an exercise would tell us something… and one thing it would tell us is that it’s at least possible to read these texts in ways that have been condemned as heresy by the Church. But we would all be quick to realize that such an exercise does little to settle the debate for us. Some readings of the text, which may be grammatically possible and perfectly legitimate at that level (e.g., a god in John 1:1), may still end up being heresy once we’ve gone beyond asking “How could someone read this?”

    You say that Collins “does not seem to be scientifically motivated” but isn’t that exactly what his motivation is when carving out room for the tribal head view? Collins may not be motivated by science (or only science) in picking his own view, but he is clearly attempting to make a sort of exegetical-space for those convinced of the current scientific paradigm. That is motivated by science.

    • I would agree there is a focus on range of ways, and as you point out, that might not always be helpful (especially with doctrines connected to orthodox conclusions). As far as Collins’ scientific motivations, I should have added “entirely” since that seems to be what Barrick implies throughout in all his responses. To say there is some scientific motivations is probably true, but also is not hermeneutically a problem. To say he is entirely motivated by science is probably false and also not knowable to an outside observer.

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