The Creation of Adam

One of the points made by Michael Chabarek in the book I reviewed in the last post  – perfectly valid as far as I can see in the primary sources – is that to Thomas Aquinas, the special creation of Adam (and of Eve from him) was an essential truth of the faith. Apart from his understanding of Scripture, this had to do with the immutability of fundamental natures (substances), as I mentioned briefly in my post, but also with the special nature of man as both a spiritual and an animal being, whose immaterial aspect (aka soul) cannot even in principle be formed by material secondary causes. On the other hand, since to Aquinas the soul is not an “add-on” to man (as it seems to be to Descartes), but the “hylemorphic” formative principle of the whole man, it was necessary for body and soul to be created together in the beginning.

Thus to Aquinas, although the human body, once created directly, could be reproduced by generation, each (immaterial) soul must be created immediately by God. This remains Catholic doctrine. As someone with a great deal of respect for Aquinas, I was given pause for thought by this. But after all, I am not a Catholic and maybe there are good arguments that would allow biological evolution at least some role in the affair.

At that point I came across a nice little Evangelical video clip here on what is non-negotiable about creation doctrine. Some good stuff there, and I was not too surprised to see belief in an historical Adam apparently endorsed by all three speakers. But what struck me was the part in which Ligon Duncan says he considers the special creation of Adam and Eve to be one of those non-negotiables. In itself that does not surprise me either, because Duncan is, it seems, a Young Earth Creationist.

But the next to reply is Tim Keller, who is not only sympathetic towards theistic evolution, but has written for BioLogos (and is held up by them as an example of a conservative Evangelical Evolutionary Creationist). Here’s a link to a “white paper” he did for BioLogos, to which I shall refer again. Keller says that the question of Adam’s historicity is one he’d discuss more with Christians than with unbelievers, but unexpectedly (to me) he goes on to endorse Duncan’s view that Adam, and Eve, were specially created. I précis:

Not only was there an Adam and Eve… it sure seems like the text says that God created Adam and Eve, and didn’t just adapt a human-like being; it says he created him out of the dust of the ground.

Keller’s writing show that he’s not simply taking Genesis 2 naively as historically literal, being fully aware, and happily accommodating within the faith, all the available views. In his white paper, he gives much space to the tentative hypothesis proposed by Derek Kidner, my erstwile neighbour in Cambridge, in his Genesis commentary, which was also the first Bible commentary I ever bought, probably in 1971. As Keller quotes him, Kidner wrote:

Man in Scripture is much more than homo faber, the maker of tools: he is constituted man by God’s image and breath, nothing less….The intelligent beings of a remote past, whose bodily and cultural remains give them the clear status of ‘modern man’ to the anthropologist, may yet have been decisively below the plane of life which was established in the creation of Adam….Nothing requires that the creature into which God breathed human life should not have been of a species prepared in every way for humanity…

If this…alternative implied any doubt of the unity of mankind it would be of course quite untenable. God…has made all nations ‘from one’ (Acts 17:26)….Yet it is at least conceivable that after the special creation of Eve, which established the first human pair as God’s vice-regents (Gen 1:27,28) and clinched the fact that there is no natural bridge from animal to man, God may have now conferred his image on Adam’s collaterals, to bring them into the same realm of being. Adam’s ‘federal’ headship of humanity extended, if that was the case, outwards to his contemporaries as well as onwards to his offspring, and his disobedience disinherited both

Keller adds:

Here Kidner gets creative. He proposes that the being who became Adam under the hand of God first evolved but Eve did not. Then they were put into the garden of Eden as representatives of the whole human race. Their creation in God’s image and their fall affected not only their offspring, but all other contemporaries. In this telling, Kidner accounts for both the continuity between animals and humans that scientists see, and the discontinuity that the Bible describes. Only human beings are in God’s image, have fallen into sin, and will be saved by grace.

Kidner seems to suggest an evolved Adam “upgraded” (as it were) in order to maintain mankind’s solidarity with the earth and the animal kingdom, yet in order to preserve the “heavenly” aspect, Adam’s wife is created directly from him, rather than being recruited from Kidner’s “pre-adamites” to whom, incidentally, he allows all the intellectual and cultural attributes known to archaeologists.

Kidner offered his ideas (way back in 1967, I might add) for others to improve. Like our own James Penman here, he proposes Adam’s legacy as federal head to be mediated to the rest of mankind in some kind of immediate supernatural way. I suggest that the “genealogical model” we’ve been discussing recently does the job equally well, and in a less mysterious way.

But I really want to draw your attention to the way that, despite his sympathy for Kidner, the evolutionist Keller appears to go beyond him in affirming some kind of special creation for Adam (as well as for Eve) as fountainhead for the human race. I want briefly to explore why he might consider this supernaturalism, in the midst of an acceptance of evolutionary science, as necessary, apart from the obvious reason that he believes it is taught in Scripture. And secondly, I want to take a brief look at how this might appear in history.

As regards the first, much of Thomas Aquinas’s argumentation applies in Evangelical theology too. Man-in-Adam is more than an intelligent animal, bearing the image of Christ the eternal Logos, being capable of communion with God and of eternal life with him. Yet the biblical picture stresses the essential unity of man: he is not an animal with an added soul, or even an animal with an added mind, but (as Genesis puts it) “a living soul”, a created unity. That unity is expressed in the central hope of the gospel – the resurrection of the body on earth, rather than the ascension of the disembodied soul to heaven.

Likewise, in orthodox theology sin “came into the world by one man”, as Paul teaches in Romans 5, so that sin is a fall from the heavenly creation, not a residuum of the animal creation (even though its effect is often to make us more like “brute beasts”). As Keller points out, nobody seems to have managed to extricate Paul from teaching an historical Adam in Romans 5 without also implicating him in teaching fundamental error – a body blow to the doctrine of inspiration, despite the “so what?” attitude of those like Peter Enns.

No doubt Keller has other reasons too for, in effect, exempting adamic man from the evolutionary process, as he seems altogether to do by saying that God “didn’t just adapt a human-like being”. You’ll need to work out for yourself whether he’s being over-cautious as regards Adam’s “common descent”. But I’d point out here, as Joshua Swamidass has in his writing, that such a special creation poses no problems for the “genealogical Adam” hypothesis. A specially creted Adam and Eve would have been, we may conjecture, biologically-speaking identical with the existing race, as was fitting since Adam was to become their federal head. This makes the finding of a wife fby Cain and, arguably, the intermarriage of the “sons of God” with the “daughters of men” in Genesis 6 quite natural. Adam and Eve’s exact genotype is unknowable, but no doubt it was as comparable to their neighbours’ as the wine at the marriage of Cana was comparable to any good Galilean vintage.

Or perhaps, contra Aquinas, it’s still possible to see Keller’s special creation as a transformation – rather than a mere “adaptation” (which would be an “accidental” change in Thomist terminology) – of the whole nature of an existing “hominin”. I agree with Aquinas that creation is always, properly, an immediate act of God apart from means. “God uses evolution to create” is a bad misunderstanding of the biblical doctrine of creation. And yet Israel the nation was created (bara) by God from ordinary people (Isa 43.1), and every Christian is a “new creation” whilst remaining to all appearances thoroughly human. But those appearances mask a true change of nature, in the Aristotelian sense.

I want to add just one more thought, on the implications of the special creation of Adam and Eve for our understanding of biology. It’s true that both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 focus on human exceptionalism, that man is more than just another animal. And one often finds in the comments of some Evolutionary Creationists a sense that God did, indeed, intend the arrival of man in his entirety, bodily and spiritually, despite the “God would have been happy with an intelligent octopus” lobby.

Going along with that, though, there is usually some sense that the rest of the living creation could be left to the “natural forces” of biology: man was intended, but not necessarily kangaroos. In the context I have covered today, that is equivalent to the idea that Adam was specially created, but that “natural” evolution accounts for everything else that lives.

Yet although the Bible is specific about Adam’s unique attributes and role, his creation was not achieved in any unusual way (for God, that is). In Gen. 1, God proposes to “make” man, and “creates” male and female. But on the same day God also “made” the animals, and the day before he “created” the sea creatures. Likewise it’s true that in chapter 2 God creates Adam from the dust of the ground – but he goes on in v19 to form the animals and birds of Eden from the same medium. In ch7 the creatures saved from the flood are even said to have the breath of life, which Adam receives in 2.7.

So I ask whether the Bible leads us to regard the creation of man, as an act of creation, as being exceptional, or as being typical? I would argue for the latter. If, therefore, it is felt that the Bible allows for man to have evolved “naturally“, then it allows for the evolution of animals by the same means. But if Keller’s and Duncan’s interpretive instincts are right, and Adam and Eve were specially created in some way, then does that not suggest the same to be true of the rest of the living world? To return to where I started, could it be that Aquinas was correct in saying that substantial forms (ie species) cannot be changed by accidental means? If so, we’d be looking at “macroevolution” in the scientific data as a series of immediate creative acts of God.

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
This entry was posted in Adam, Creation, Genealogical Adam, Science, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Creation of Adam

  1. swamidass says:

    Jon, I wanted to request you to articulate briefly the “requirements” that Keller has made regarding Adam. Obviously, we know “specially created.” Is there anything else?

    Also, I foresee your work here, will be receiving much more attention. I would request that you start posting short summaries and engaging people on the Forums about it. You have done more theological work on this than anyone, and it deserves proper consideration. Because you are not a recognized theologian, it is important that you put these posts into the BioLogos domain.

    In particular, this post on Keller, and the one about racism, need to be addressed on the forums. Thank you.

    • Jon Garvey says:


      The video is short, and is a three-way conversation… that makes it hard to be sure of one individual’s view, or even his full agreement with the others on all points.

      But from that and the “white paper” at BioLogos I think Keller would only insist on a historical Adam who, as per the Genesis account, was the root of original sin. I have no idea whether he would favour a “chalcolithic Mesopotamian” Adam or a palaeolithic one, because I think the main driver would be the New Testament handling of Adam – Scot McKnight’s de-historicisation in his book, in the view of all three speakers on the video, just doesn’t wash (and I agree).

      In a way that “minimalistic literalism” was why I was surprised at Keller’s insiustence on “special creation”, apparently distinguished from “special augmentation of an existing human”. It would be good to hear him explain that reasoning further.

      As for my blowing my Mego-egophone on forums, we’ll have to see what kind of welcome I get elsewhere 🙂

  2. Levi Fetter says:

    I’m glad I’ve now gone through these old posts, Jon. I think you’ve got the big idea here (this is an understatement) about the apparent “mechanism” being macro-evolution, changes in forms (and ends) prior to material appearances, and you’re in good company with Aristotle and Aquinas. As in Schopenhauer’s philosophy, we can know the metaphysical “inside” of the world because it is the inner-nature of our own objectified selves perceived uniquely by human subjectivity (the Will, as he called it), so we can understand the proper relation of the transcendental “inside” of all created things, if we look at ourselves, applying the revealed knowledge of our origin and nature in Adam, recapitulated in Christ.

    You have a solid basis for proposing an alternative and fully scientific (or logical) explanation for the existence and nature of things, to the theory of evolution.

    • Jon Garvey says:

      Thanks Levi. I’ve toyed with the idea of drawing all that work together into a book on a theology of nature, but it’s a mammoth task, and maybe one best fulfilled by some acknowledged academic giant.

      But we’ll see – in the past it has always become obvious when a book needs writing, and what it will be about.

      • Levi Fetter says:

        Well, Charlie Darwin was hardly better than a stowaway on the Beagle before giving his remaining life’s effort and name to the most prominent theory in 200 years, Spinoza was a mere refugee lens-grinder (although apparently he was the best in all Europe) who wrote the Ethics in the evenings, and Einstein was a patent worker at the Postmaster’s… And for every Darwin, there was a Wallace, or a Lamarck – or perhaps I should cite the Newton-Leibniz calculus controversy. But if neither glory nor fear of being beaten inspires, perhaps a short reflection on the damage done to man by Modernism, whose intellectual triumph is Darwinism, might, and the hope of a restoring the unity of truth and Christianity, whose triumph is Aristotelean-Thomism, as the intellectual conditio sine qua non of civilization.

        In any case, it is already a great luck, honour and boon to have the benefit of your thoughts and writings on these and other matters as I develop my own work, and perhaps if and when I have a more substantial draft we might more intimately discuss the ideas. Until then, I will respect your having, for the time being, “closed this chapter”, and will make no further nuisance here on your blog re: genealogical Adam/hylermorphism/Girard.

        As my personal website is down for maintenance, if for whatever reason you wish to contact me, I can be reached at

        • Jon Garvey says:

          A pleasure talking to you! We’ll see about the large-scale writing – there always seems to be the right nudge at the right time (and not from the government’s behavioural scientists, unless their nudging prompts me to denounce them!).

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