One of the questions raised by the evolutionary view of human origins is where, exactly to place Adam and the origin of the human race created in the image of God. Were there pre-Adamic humans? Are or were some “humans” (however we define human evolutionarily) not created in the image of God? However, this isn’t only a problem for evolutionary biology. It cropped up before evolution came into the picture, although it is clear that evolution muddies the waters even more. What are we to make of Neanderthals? Denisovans? Other populations we have yet to discover? Modern genetics tells us that these populations of hominids have contributed to the genetic make-up of segments of modern humans, but not all humans.
Several years ago I read and posted on David Livingstone’s book Adam’s Ancestors: Race, Religion, and the Politics of Human Origins. This is a book I enjoyed reading, so it was a real pleasure to meet David Livingstone at the Evolution and Christian Faith Workshop last month, and to have an opportunity to talk about the book among other things. Given our recent focus on the question of Adam, Adam’s Ancestors is a book that warrants another look and some edited reposts and today we have the second installment.
The history of the discussion of Adam and pre-adamic man has several major streams – from skeptical undermining of the Christian narrative to Christian apologetic; monogenism (a single origin for all of humanity), polygenism (multiple origins for humankind), and racial superiority. These threads are present in the early 1600’s and are active even now, some four hundred plus years later.
Apologetics: Pre-adamism and the Harmony of Science and Religion. Livingstone sketches a variety of approaches taken in the nineteenth century to find ways to synthesize what was being learned from investigation of the world with the accounts of origins found in scripture. Darwin’s The Origin Of Species did not start this activity – it was well underway before Darwin published. But Darwin’s theory did contribute to the mix. The key factors early on were the issues of geological age, the fossil record, and the discovery of tools and artifacts (and eventually human fossils) that predated any reasonable date for a literal Adam as calculated from the biblical genealogies. Another consideration – one we often don’t consider much today, but should – was the history of language and the evolution of language.
Livingstone gives a fascinating discussion of the kinds of issues confronting Christians in the 1800’s – and the responses they devised. Two hermeneutical approaches were generally used to reconcile science and scripture; a gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 or a distinction between the creation narratives of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2-3.
The “gap” … In the early 1800’s Scottish evangelical intellectual Thomas Chalmers and Oxford geologist William Buckland among others popularized the idea of a gap of unspecified length between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2.
John Harris, Congregationalist clergyman and later principle of New College, London published The Pre-Adamite Earth in 1846 and Man Primeval in 1849 both of which had unoccupied geological ages and a six day Adamic creation.
Where Harris went beyond these standard concordist schemes was in his attempt to craft a metaphysic capable of mounting a robust defense of the idea that pre-adamite earth history was orchestrated by the Creator to be the theatre for human occupancy. (p. 83)
Herbert William Morris writing ca. 1870-1890:
Here then is a Hiatus – a vast gap – in the Mosaic narrative which it is important to observe. Between the creation of the earth, as stated in the first verse, and the condition in which it was found and described, in the second verse, there must have elapsed a long and indefinite period of time. (p. 85)
Two creations – successive human races. As evidence of human artifacts and later human remains in strata with long extinct animals came to light these narratives came to include pre-adamic people. Isabelle Duncan writing in 1860 suggested that the two Genesis stories reflect two creation narratives – the first, Genesis 1 is a pre-adamic creation. The six days are long ages and “the events of Creation must have passed in six successive visions before the mind of Moses.” Duncan’s pre-adamic world was populated by animals and by humans. The presence of “pre-adamic” human artifacts, but absence of “pre-adamic” human remains was explained by bodily resurrection to become the Angelic Host. James Gall, on the other hand saw “a botched humanity under the influence of satanic forces” in the pre-adamic artifacts and remains. George Hawkins Pember speculated that demons might be “the spirits of those who trod this earth in the flesh before the ruin described in the second verse of Genesis. (p. 93)”
The approach in all three cases – Duncan, Gall and Pember – was concordist, a direct attempt to reconcile new discoveries in archaeology and paleontology with the Biblical account.