Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor

Adam and Fossil Man.

Many thoughtful Christian people find themselves somewhat confused by the statements of anthropologists who, while professing an evangelical faith, hold views regarding the origin of man which play havoc with the traditional biblical picture of early human history. Since this picture has always formed an essential part of the theological basis of the Plan of Redemption, it is disturbing to see it being undermined without the provision of a well defined alternative.

Christian anthropologists often have little hesitation in attributing to fossil remains which are held to be geologically ancient, a status that to all intents and purposes places them so nearly within the family of man that it becomes difficult to see exactly how Adam's remains would be distinguished from them if they were ever found. For while it is true that they are usually said only to anticipate man, the implication is that a real continuity exists between them all and that this continuity bears witness to an evolutionary trend that led ultimately to the emergence of an individual corresponding to the biblical Adam. Some hold that the continuity was genetic up to, but not necessarily including, him. At this point it is allowed that there may have been a discontinuity. But one cannot escape the feeling that very few will be fully satisfied until even this discontinuity has been removed. The goal is to complete the series with as small an increment of change between each candidate as is possible, so that to any hominoid living at the time the sudden appearance of Adam would have caused little stir since he must have differed so little in appearance from the rest of the community.

Thus Adam as the progenitor of an entirely new order ceases to be the sharply defined figurehead of the human race whose initial innocence and subsequent fall is a matter of such vital importance in evangelical theology. He seems merely to have appeared on the scene by physiologically normal processes and thenceforth to have slowly displaced all competitors. Maybe he had a far superior intelligence, but otherwise it would at first have been hard to single him out from among his contemporaries.

No one is willing at the present time to state precisely when the biblical Adam first showed up, nor even in what geographical location. His nature is similarly  ill-defined. We do not know whether be was in fact a fully developed and highly intelligent adult male of modern type, or merely a slightly more advanced "primitive" who showed promise. And the idea that Eve was derived directly out of him, as Genesis says, is not seriously considered since it would make the original Adam so completely unlike his predecessors, physiologically speaking.

When we try to relate to Scripture this hazy picture of the past with its enormously expanded time frame,
we run into difficulty because as we pass back in time

from Abraham towards Adam in the biblical record, we find no obvious break at which we might say, Be
yond this point we are entering prehistory. Much has, of course, been made of the gaps in the biblical genealogies as though they were capable of accommodating these tremendous stretches of time-far exceeding the
total span of human history since it began in the Middle East. But this overlooks the fact that these "gaps" are
not really gaps at all since they are filled in elsewhere in Scripture. Were this not the case, we could never
have known of their existence in the earlier portions of the record. We only discover them when we observe
the data provided subsequently which reveals the previous omissions by supplying the names to fill out the
record. There may be gaps elsewhere, but the writers of the Old Testament certainly reveal no awareness of
them as they have done in the known examples.

Meanwhile, it is somewhat frustrating to be told that we have quite misunderstood the Old Testament in its earliest portions when at the same time we are not being provided with even the suggestion of a new interpretative key. Even if such a key were very tentative, it would be welcome as serving for a basis of discussion. Failing this provision, rapport between the more conservative among us and the Christian avant garde becomes more and more tenuous. We reach a point where we are barely on speaking terms . . .

The situation has, however, clarified itself to this extent that the two alternative views (the older and the more recent) can at least be set forth with a sufficient measure of logical precision that their implications may thus be examined.

First of all, certain simple assumptions have to be made. Of any particular fossil one must assume either
that it is human (i.e., truly belonging within the family of Adam), or that it is NOT. If it is, it must be since
Adam for he was the first human being. If the fossil is deemed very old, then either Adam was very, very
long ago and the biblical chronology for the period before Abraham's time is being entirely misinterpreted,
or the method of dating the fossil is somewhat at fault.

If it is NOT in Adam's line but is much more ancient, then one must allow a long period of time prior
to Adam's appearance. This can be provided for either by treating the "days" of Genesis as geological ages,
or by interposing a break between the first and second verses of Genesis 1.

According to Genesis, Adam came into being by a direct creative act of God, bringing into the world a creature who was later to be restored to view in Christ, the Second Adam. He was therefore uniquely related to God and possessed a physical constitution which was of such a nature that God could indwell.him with propriety and express Himself through him with fitness and dignity. This is an absolute requirement in that the first Adam must be such that the Second Adam in the Person of Jesus Christ reflected him faithfully as true man. In that case, between Adam and his descendants on the one hand (no matter how degenerate they may at times have become-and Neandertbal could be one of these), and fossil hominoids
not of Adam's line on the other, there is an absolute discontinuity.

Then what is to be said of all the fossil forms which far antedated the appearance of true man and yet increasingly seem to have approached him in appearance?

Perhaps they can be considered as precursors of Adam in the sense that God may have worked towards the creation of Adam in a stepwise fashion. Their existence at each stage of the process may merely indictate that the total environment (climate, flora, and fauna) was more and more nearly what God intended it to be as a setting in which Adam was to undergo his "education". Animals capable of domestication, plants of potential use to him, a climate in which his body and his mind would function at their maximum effectiveness-these things were being prepared, each stage of preparation being occupied by such man-like forms as were best adapted to it, becoming more manlike as the environment was more nearly ready to receive the crown of creation who was to have dominion over it.

But whatever their appearance, there is no way of knowing whether they housed a human soul. A jaw bone or a cranium, a limb or even a hand that suggests refined articulation-tbese things cannot of themselves determine the precise relationship of their possessors to the family of Adam. Even evidence of some "Culture" would not be completely decisive since many animals show that they have the ability to learn patterns of behavior which are far from instinctive-and Culture is by definition just this. Possibly the only cultural "proof" of humanness is evidence of religious belief such as the making of fetishes or providing the dead with supplies for a life to come. In the final analysis it is still true that all fossils are foundlings. Even the burial together of an adult female and an infant would provide no absolute proof that they were related as I'mother"and "child". Genetic relationships cannot yet be established by the study of bones. It is an argument from analogy and its force depends very largely on the initial bias of the investigator. Physical anthropologists cannot at the present time state with certainty whether there are genetic relationships between any fossil hominoid and the first human being. But they could perhaps look for other reasons than evolutionary ones as to why these hominoids assumed more man-like forms as time went on.

In the meantime, the present situation can be summarized somewhat as follows. If fossils are positively identified as of truly human origin, they must be post-Adam because he was the first human being." And if they are very ancient, then so must Adam also be. In this case, either we are quite misunderstanding the biblical chronology-or the fossils are somewhat being dated erroneously.

On the other hand, if such fossils antedate Adam by hundreds of thousands of years, then the days of Genesis are not "days" but ages, or there is a hiatus in time between Genesis 1: 1 and the first day of the week of creation.

It seems to me these are the issues. We cannot simply leave the matter here, however. We have a responsibility not merely to show where the generally accepted interpretation of Genesis is at fault, but to provide a coherent and theologically valid alternative which, though of course tentative, will serve as a basis for further discussion and subsequent refinement. The issue is by no means a dead one.

*That Adam was the first man and Eve the first woman is born out (a) by I Cor. 15:45 (". . . the first man, Adam . . .") and Acts 17:26 (". . . hath made of one all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth. . ." so the Greek), and (b) by Gen. 3:20 ("Eve . . . became the mother of all living. . . ." so the Hebrew).

Arthur D. Custance, Ph.D, Head, Human Physiology Lab, Defence Res. l3d., Ottawa.

(Letters continued on p. 96)