The Adam Quest

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Tim Stafford, The Adam Quest: Eleven Scientists Who Held on to a Strong Faith While Wrestling With the Mystery of Human Origins. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, December, 2013.  240 pp. Hardcover, $22.99.

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Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy!

I had intended to post this review yesterday, but given what day it was, I declined. Also, other things were more pressing than writing a book review. I just decided not posting on April Fool’s Day was ok.

Today then, I want to tell you about Tim Stafford’s book The Adam QuestThe book is in large part motivated by an experience Stafford’s son in his late teenage years. Having grown up in the church, Silas Stafford became enamored with geology. The more he learned about the field though, the more it clashed with views his friends had about what Genesis teaches. Ultimately, their insistence in arguing for young earth creationism drove Silas away from the faith (2). Stafford presents this story not in a way that vilifies the views of young earth creationists, but does drawn attention to how demanding people with a scientific background adhere to that reading of Genesis seems to do more harm than good. To help remedy this situation, Stafford wrote The Adam Quest.

The subtitle gives you the outline of the book. Each main chapter profiles a different scientist, who as a person of faith, had to come to terms with the worlds of science and Scripture. Tim Stafford went to interview them, and then tells their stories in the as a kind of mini intellectual biography. Each profile is around 20 pages long, and in that space, Stafford helps readers to have a clear picture of how that scientist wrestled with the issues related to creation and evolution. Specifically, as you can guess from the title, the focus is on the historicity of Adam. But, as you’ll see when we talk about Four Views on The Historical Adam, you can’t really discuss Adam without addressing larger concerns about creation and evolution.

The subtitle may give the substance of the book, but the internal structure is a different story. Here are the eleven scientists profiled:

  • Kurt Wise
  • Todd Wood
  • Georgia Purdom
  • Michael Behe
  • Fazale Rana
  • Mary Schweitzer
  • Darrel Falk
  • Ard Louis
  • Denis Alexander
  • Simon Conway Morris
  • John Polkinghorne

Of this list, I had only heard of 4 before reading the book (Behe, Falk, Alexander, Polkinghorne). Part of this, I think, is because I am more familiar with the other side of the debate (usually involving OT scholars and theologians). Though I’ve heard of 4, I haven’t read any of their writings. Not to say I’m not interested in the scientific aspects, but just to let you know I was able to approach the book somewhat objectively with only little background knowledge of the scientists profiled.

Of the 11 scientists profiled, there are (in order): 3 are young earth creationists, 2 are devoted to intelligent design, and the remaining 6 are different forms of either evolutionary creationism or theistic evolution (not identical I know). Stafford tells readers they are free to skip around from profile to profile (10). There isn’t an explicit narrative the ties the chapters together in a certain order. But, Stafford suggests that “you will get the most from this book if you take the chapters in the order presented.”

That is the last sentence of the introduction. At the beginning of the conclusion, Stafford explains how he alleviated the concerns of the scientists about his agenda (or lack thereof):

I told all of them the same thing: I was going to get out of the way and let them tell their own stories. I wasn’t going to try to referee who was right and who was wrong. My goal was for readers to get to know them and to understand their points of view.

I told them that I approached the subject of origins with well-deserved humility. I know I am no expert. I know what I don’t know – and it’s a great deal. The issues involved in creation and evolution are complicated and highly technical, and they involve many disciplines. (199)

He then goes on to offer commentary on the range of views and discloses where his sympathies lie. He gives the greatest strengths and weaknesses of each view. To it out, I’ll start with the strengths (203-205):

  • Young earth creationism’s fundamental commitment to the Bible
  • Intelligent design’s assault on the New Atheists and their assertion science disproves God
  • Evolutionary creationism’s offering a coherent scientific account that is attractive to many types

Then the weaknesses:

  • Young earth creationism’s lack of cohesion with the actual world we live in (specifically when it comes to geology)
  • Intelligent design’s wholesale rejection by mainstream science
  • Evolutionary creationism’s lack of harmony with Scripture

Now, keep in mind, these are strengths and weaknesses as Stafford sees them, so read them in light of the block quote above. I think that for the most part I would agree with him, though I don’t think being rejected by mainstream science is that big of a weakness (it’s a problem for sure, but the least problematic of the three weaknesses). It is certainly interesting that in Stafford’s analysis, evolutionary creationism and young earth creationism mirror one another. The strength of one is the weakness of the other, and vice versa.

When Stafford then explains why his sympathies ultimately lie with evolutionary creationism, the overall structure of the book makes more sense. As you can see from the above outline, we move progressively through the book from strong young earth creationism, on to intelligent design, and then to a wide spectrum of evolutionary creationists views, the latter of which is from the only theologian in the group. In this way Stafford unfolds his profiles, it parallels the intellectual journey many people take that were once young earth creationists, but now are not.

At the very least, it humanizes the different viewpoints so that readers will see those they disagree with as other thoughtful individuals who have wrestled (or are still wrestling) with the issues. Ultimately, I think that is the value of the book. Especially in reading through the Four Views on The Historical Adam, which is mostly focused on ideas and positions, one can easily lose sight that this debate involves flesh and blood people, who are also made in the image of God. The The Adam Quest helps avoid this by giving you an inside look at how those with the relevant scientific knowledge wrestle with the issues.

That being said, I don’t think this book will ultimately convince anyone who is confident in their position that they should reconsider. Whether or not Stafford structured the narrative to help young earth creationists along down the road toward evolutionary creationism is hard to know for sure. He doesn’t come out and say it, but I could see it being presented for that purpose (among others). I’m also not a mind-reader. Even if he did, I don’t think the overall purpose is to convince anyone to change their mind. The book is mainly written for people like Stafford’s son who are struggling with reconciling what they know from scientific studies, and what they’ve been told the Bible teaches. It could probably serve as a mini apologetic for evolutionary creationism, but the issues with Scripture aren’t only noted, not dealt with. In the end, I think people from all sides of the debate ought to read this book. It will help to reduce stereotypes, and mostly importantly, will remind us that even when we disagree, we are still interacting with real people, and not just pixels or pages.

Author: Nate

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!

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