Yesterday, we resumed the series review of Four Views on The Historical Adam. C. John Collins provided an alternate old-earth perspective on a historical Adam to go alongside John Walton’s. Today, we’ll look at the final view, which is William Barrick’s young earth creationist perspective on the historical Adam.
Barrick opens with a section on the importance of a historical Adam for Christian thought. He says that “without Adam’s historicity many of the teachings of Scripture will look very different from common evangelical theological concepts or fail the test of logical consistency” (198). He goes on to affirm what all is at stake for maintaining the traditional view, and in doing so explains that young earth creationism and the historical Adam are “integrally related” (199).
This relationship is made plain by Barrick’s explanation of four assumptions the traditional view holds:
- God gave the Genesis account of creation to Moses by special revelation (199)
- The declarations of Genesis bear the stamp of divine truth, historical fact, and historiographical accuracy (200)
- The Genesis record does not limit its scope to one ethnic or national group (201)
- The biblical writers in both testaments appear to take for granted a common origin of all human beings in Adam whenever they touch on topics related to Genesis 1-11 (201)
Barrick then unpacks the biblical evidence for the traditional view. He starts with Genesis 1:1-25, and asks why it is structured the way it is. He then quotes David Cotter’s insights on the “orderly sequence of days”:
This storyteller must convince the reader that this account can be trusted; to achieve this, the storyteller creates the impression that everything is being told, that nothing is being held back. Therefore the narrator has to be omniscient. (202)
Barrick then makes an unwarranted jump and concludes, “In other words, by taking a detailed, step-by-step, objective tone the author reveals everything just as it actually happened.” Unfortunately, this is not what Cotter says. Note, Cotter says the storyteller “creates the impression that everything is being told,” which is quite different than revealing “everything just as it actually happened.” Accordingly, Barrick has a hard time with anyone pointing out similarities with other ancient Near East accounts. If we all agree those accounts are mythological, we shouldn’t use them to inform our understanding of Genesis. Especially if Genesis is recording events in exact detail.
As he transitions from Genesis 1:1-25 to 1:26-2:3, he mistakenly calls the entire story a metanarrative (206). He does it twice within the span of 4 sentences, and then again when referring to the fall in Genesis 3 (213). I could see why he might refer to Genesis 1-3 as a metanarrative. But it is a common word in philosophical discourse, so a consistent misuse is concerning. I don’t want to make too big of a deal out of it, but then again, he keeps using a word when I’m not quite sure he knows what it means. This doesn’t inspire confidence in trusting his presentation.
The rest of Barrick’s survey covers Genesis 4-5, the rest of the OT, and the NT). Ultimately, he concludes, that a historical Adam is a gospel issue (222). As he says, “Denial of the historicity of Adam, like denial of the historicity of Christ’s resurrection, destroys the foundations of the Christian faith” (223). When you look at the argument from this point of view, some of Barrick’s rhetoric makes more sense.
In his concluding thoughts, Barrick drives the point home by looking at interpretation itself. Here, he asserts that the reasons for re-thinking the historical Adam are first, evolution, and second, seeing ancient Near East myths as prototypes for the Genesis account (223). On the latter, he suggests a possible reverse flow (Genesis 1-3 is the original that has been corrupted in other culture). While plausible, there isn’t any evidence for this.
More problematic is Barrick’s understanding of interpretation itself. We can this in the first two of the four assumptions he presents for the traditional interpretation. If God dictated to Moses the events of Genesis 1, and it is also pure historical fact (with something similar to modern notions of historiographical accuracy), then it is by definition unlike any other ancient Near East creation account. Even if it looks very much like all of Israel’s neighbor’s creation stories (from a perspective of genre), it is still sui generis. This understanding of what the text is goes hand in hand with how we understand what the text means. Barrick says that “we should assume that the Scriptures are accurate until proven otherwise by equally accurate, equally authentic, and equally ancient evidence” (226). This is clearly impossible. But it is also conflating the Scriptures themselves with our interpretations of them.
Interpretations can be accurate until proven otherwise, and that is exactly what the debate is here. Barrick recognizes this with respect to science when he says “we must remember that declarations by scientists represent their interpretation of the evidence, not the evidence itself. Science changes, the Scriptures do not” (227). He should also recognize that declarations by biblical interpreters represent their interpretation of the Scripture, not Scripture itself. Interpretations change, the Scriptures do not.
Since I’ve somewhat embedded my response within the exposition, I’ll be briefer here with the other responses within the book. Lamoureux notes that he himself once used “roughly 90 percent of his [Barrick’s] arguments” (228). He then critiques young earth creationism itself, and then points out that while Scripture is inerrant, Christian tradition is not.
Walton’s critique is more devastating, and focuses on Barrick’s method and his rhetoric. Though he gives 10 specific points, the most damaging were Barrick’s slippery slope tactic, logical non sequiturs, frequent hermeneutical missteps, unnuanced readings of his areas of investigation, and treating his conclusions in places as the only possiblity and obvious to anyone. The result was an itemized list of problems that felt like a professor grading an underdeveloped undergraduate paper.
Collins is less brutal in his critique. But, interestingly, he notes that Lamoureux and Barrick essentially read Genesis with the same (overly) literal hermeneutic. He concedes Barrick has a point about the misuse of ancient Near East evidence. But points out that abuse does not negate proper use, and in Barrick’s formulation, there is no proper use.
In Barrick’s rejoinder, he doubles down and asserts that “only God witnessed the six days of creation, so no man can claim to speak of that series of events unless he has received revelation directly from the Creator himself” (254). When it comes to interpreting Genesis 1, this is clearly begging the question. He then concludes by further suggesting that any old-earth viewpoint “relies on human scientific authority to arrive at adherence to partial biblical inerrancy.” Or, to put it another way, the only way you can get to an old earth viewpoint is to reinterpret the “plain” reading of Genesis in light of modern science.
In the end, I agree with Barrick that a historical Adam is important for Christian theology. However, I don’t agree with his insistence that it is integrally related to a young earth perspective, and I don’t think he provides a convincing case for that perspective either. His rhetoric makes it hard to be sympathetic to his position, even if I once held it myself. Overall, his argumentation wasn’t very well developed and he seems to lack of a sophisticated understanding of the literary genre of Genesis 1-11 as well as the nature of interpretation. These aren’t necessarily decisive points against the young earth view, but to the extent that the view depends on these presuppositions, I don’t think it’s viable. We can have a historical Adam (important) without arguing a young earth (not important and not clearly in Genesis) and still believe in a fully inerrant Bible.