Taking stock of man >>back home

The threads of the biblical and scientific accounts of the origin of the human race are drawn together, and an attempt is made to relate them. The biblical account of Adam and Eve, and of their sin bringing death to all the race, and the view of established science (as opposed to speculative metaphysics) are compatible. Further, what follows specifically from the Bible's account points a rational way through some tormenting problems for thought, though it means acknowledging that the methodology of science will eventually discover a limit.

Up to this point we have been taking a fresh look at the more prominent features of the biblical record of origins to see if the interpretation we have inherited and have more‑or‑less taken for granted is still justified. We have been re‑examining the text with the help of what we have learned from the scientific study of things to see if the latter throws any light on our traditional views. We recall that the Bible teaches that the phenomena of physical nature are visible manifestations of divine activity; and that what we see there acts as a sort of illustrative background to our understanding of revelation given verbally (Isa.55.10; Matt.16.lff; Ga1.6.7f). The vivid story of Elijah in 1Kings 19.11ff shows us how these two avenues of instruction are related: the revelation of the divine power in the wind, earthquake and fire was a backdrop to the vital message of the 'still, small voice'. This it was which communicated the will of God plainly to His servant, how he was to act. All the manifestations were from God; but finality belonged to the Word. So in pursuance of our objective of removing stumbling blocks to faith we will consider those elements of the biblical record which loom largest in our dispute with the world of secular scientific thought.

First comes the question of the 'six days' of Genesis 1, recalled in the Sabbath commandment of the Decalogue (Exodus 20.8) in a way which must often have puzzled sophisticated congregations. We have seen reasons for maintaining that the problem here is that the Creator God of the Bible is infinitely greater than the domesticated deity most objectors have at the back of their minds, for the Bible's Creator more than fills the most exalted conceptual framework we can ever devise for Him. In making Himself known to men He has had therefore to stoop to enter the doors of their understanding, and this is one chief cause of the problem. As John Calvin, the great commentator of the Reformation, wrote centuries ago, the Spirit of God, speaking in Scripture 1"chose rather after a sort of stammer than to shut up the way of learning from the vulgar and unlearned sort" 2. That God's own phased, progressive establishment of the vast universe is spoken of in terms of 'six days' followed by a 'seventh, of rest' is thus not difficult to understand. Such language prepared the way for the strongly‑worded imposition 3 of a weekly routine (unrecognised perhaps as a great blessing) on an enslaved and harshly‑used people, poorly rewarded for work and correspondingly suspicious and ready to react sourly. Was there not wisdom in making the 'imposition' look as welcoming as possible? something to be eagerly snatched up, rather than sullenly resented? How better than to say that it was the way God lived His own life? God's fatherly concern for 'the vulgar and unlearned sort' 4 explains, I believe, why the command was presented in this homely dress, rather than in one to be later scientifically approved. Then the evening came and morning came related to the repetitive pattern of so much in man's life 5 (such as its wake‑up vitality and its bedtime weariness) to the tireless eternity of God. These contrasts would have been lost if the Bible's 'six days' had been instead 'six phases' or 'six aeons' as later scientific thought might have preferred. Human life's briefness will brook no delay, for there are great lessons it must learn; short days are man's lot, and rest won after work done is the reward. God is here teaching His people, and the lessons are (and always will be) more important than the science 6.

Next we recall that the tendentious concept of 'special creation' (or the 'fixity of species') cannot be laid unequivocally at the door of Scripture. The biblical language is in fact, extremely general in its description of how life‑forms actually came into being. The earth 'vegetated vegetation'; the waters 'swarmed with swarmers'; the earth 'brought forth living creatures' 7. Further, the most obvious meaning of the first statements containing the key phrase according to (or after) its kind (Gen.1.11,12) is that each kind of plant was to bear seeds reproducing others like itself, and this is indeed no triviality. It asserts a very fundamental matter: the contingency on the Will of the Creator of a simple fact of biology we take for granted. It would be quite reasonable to take this first occurrence of the phrase as giving it a definitive meaning in this whole context. It also has an eye of course to the great variety in plant life; this emphasis is even more evident with the marine and land animals (Gen.1.20,24), where the Jerusalem Bible renders the text 'God created every kind of living creature, every kind of wild beast, and so on 8. It cannot be maintained that either of the two renderings (AV, JB) of the critical phrase positively supports 'the fixity of species' or 'special creation'. Rather they affirm first, that living creatures in all their many varieties came from the Creator; and second, that He gave to each the power to reproduce its own kind and in this way 'to be fruitful and multiply'. These two affirmations are both more theologically and biologically fundamental than one of permanent temporal fixity; and they are surely of wider interest too. (Suggesting that 'kind' is a different thing from 'species' simply to preserve 'special creation' is, I believe, merely fiddling).

We go on to recall that the biblical data give us strong reasons for believing that the primal creation was not (as is often imagined) idyllically perfect. It contained fierce animals; death and predation were among its features. For man was to subdue and civilize it; his was to be a Messianic role. The coming of man, a creature 'made in the image of God' to have fellowship with God, was accordingly associated with the culture of plants in a selected environment; and one of his tasks, it seems reasonable to believe, was ultimately to bring about a vegetarian basis for animal nutrition as well as for his own; but it nevertheless seems consistent with the biblical data to believe that even he himself began as an eater of meat as well (see chap.VII).

The first man of whom the Bible speaks, Adam, was formed of dust from the ground, as were the land animals and birds 9. But in the case of man alone a further detail is added: God breathed into his nostrils the breath (nesama) of life. This seems to indicate for man a unique relationship with the Spirit of God, not shared with the animals. It recalls the incident recorded in John 20.22, when Jesus breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit", an incident which seems undoubtedly to look back to Gen.2.7 10. This is significant, for the New Testament speaks there of a new creation (2Cor.5.17) differentiated from the old in just this way, i.e. in its relationship to the Spirit of God. This point will be taken up again very shortly; but for the moment we note that the Bible does not positively imply that this creative act constituted Adam the biological ancestor of the entire human race. Rather, it established him as the racial head, the 'type' of Jesus Christ. This is an interpretation which has been argued at length in chapter X. Living nearby, the Bible gives us reason to believe were other members of the race from which Adam had been taken (as millennia later Abraham was to be taken from his compatriots and removed to a new land). From among these one was brought to Adam in the Garden, to the accompaniment of a profound dream, to be his wife (as later Rebekah was to be brought to Isaac). The purpose of Adam's segregation, we may surmise, was to equip him for leadership in fulfilling man's role of 'subduing the earth ...and having dominion'. Certainly at some time he or his descendants would have had to leave the confines of the Garden if man was to populate the whole earth; the residence there was only a temporary expedient. There are biblical parallels for all these suggestions therefore11.

Adam failed in his calling, as later the nation of Israel failed in its 12. What was the result? Sin came into the world and death through sin 13. Adam and Eve, having chosen moral autonomy instead of obedience to the Creator as their principle of conduct 14 were expelled from the Garden. They lost the privilege of familiarity with God symbolized by the Tree of Life; they were cast forth as a branch and withered (cf. John 15.5,6). This death of the spirit in alienation from God constituted the 'sting', that which now makes the prospect of an end to our physical life so sad and oppressive 15.

Much of this we have expressed in theological terms. The question must now be faced: how can it be made to tie‑up plausibly with events which may have happened visibly on the plane of human history? This is a legitimate and pressing question, and to answer it we must undertake somewhat of a digression. To begin, suppose an infant a day or two old were to be abandoned on a desert island and to be almost miraculously saved from death by an animal mother who reared it with her own litter. Twenty years later such an individual could not rank as fully human. Its personality would be quite undeveloped; its ability to communicate rudimentary 16; its self‑consciousness quite questionable 17; its moral awareness limited to what was, in an animal way, merely anti-social. It could hardly be blamed if it walked off with a visitor's watch! It would have all the genes; but what the genes were capable of mediating in the way of truly human personality would remain largely unrealized. The case, in fact, illustrates what we mean by human solidarity: men and women cannot be fully human apart from contact with other men and women. When Charles Darwin first encountered the natives of Tierra del Fuego he was much impressed with their low development:

"The Fuegians are in a more miserable state of barbarism than I had expected ever to have seen a human being. In this inclement country, they are absolutely naked, and their temporary houses are like what children make in summer, with boughs of trees... I shall never forget, when entering Good Success Bay, the yell with which a party received us. They were seated on a rocky point, surrounded by the dark forest of beech; as they threw their arms wildly round their heads and their long hair streaming they seemed the troubled spirits of another world" 18.

"But, I have seen nothing, which more completely astonished me, than the first sight of a Savage; it was a naked Fuegian his long hair blowing about, his face besmeared with paint. There is in their countenances, an expression, which I believe to those who have not seen it, must be inconceivably wild. Standing on a rock he uttered tones and made gesticulations than which, the cries of domestic animals are far more intelligible" 19.

Many years later (1870) Darwin heard of the work done by Christian missionaries in Tierra del Fuego. He was amazed at the change brought about in the natives. Darwin wrote to a fellow shipmate of the Beagle days, then Admiral James Sullivan of the South American Missionary Society:

"...the success of the T. del Fuego mission. It is most wonderful, and shames me, as I always prophesied utter failure. It is a grand success. I shall feel proud if your Committee think fit to elect me an honorary member of your Society" 20.

Darwin, as missionary work later showed, had been mistaken about the Fuegians. They were far more 'human' than he had imagined, with a complex language and involved religious beliefs. No matter; they still serve as illustration of an important point. The unevangelized Fuegians, like the infant reared by an animal mother, had potentialities which for different reasons had (conceivably) never been realized. So far as we know, their condition had never been higher than it was when Darwin saw them. What transformed them was contact with men and women who taught them enobling things. No doubt outside contact taught them also undesirable things ‑ how to be sinners as well as saints. That goes without saying; but it reinforces the point being made: the profound effect of what the secular historian would call 'culture'. The matter can be applied in this way.

Imagine a stock of primates living together in a primitive society, never having known anything higher. Among them settle two missionaries, a man and his wife. What will happen? There might, on the one hand, be a dramatic rise in the level of their culture, materially and spiritually. Darwin learnt and acknowledged this in the case of the Fuegians. On the other hand, nothing might happen. The primitive society might prove incapable of elevation, like a society of the great apes. Why the difference? It might be said to lie in a latent potentiality, present in the Fuegians (but never before realised), absent in the apes. Now, it might be urged, doesn't the presence or absence of this potentiality constitute a difference so distinct and discontinuous that we must regard it as a matter not of degree but of kind and rule out any continuous developmental connection between the two? Not at all; and we can demonstrate this by an elementary argument.

 Consider a simple system ‑ very simple indeed, a mere mixture of the two gases nitrogen and hydrogen 21. Suppose this mixture to grow progressively richer in hydrogen. There comes a point, more or less suddenly, when it acquires a striking new property ‑ the ability of a jet of the mixed gases to sustain a flame. Before this point, expose it to a spark and nothing happens; after it, the thing is alight. This easily comprehended example shows that there should be no difficulty in supposing that the progressive enrichment of the material system mediating life can result in the acquisition, more or less suddenly, of a completely new possibility never dreamed of before. For 'flame' read 'spirit', and the case we are arguing, if not explained, is rendered more comprehensible.

We can now return to our previous train of thought. Can the biblical story of Adam and Eve be woven‑in to the fabric of an evolutionary origin of the human race? Possibly in this way: a sub‑human stock had evolved to the point where the potentiality for true humanity had appeared. The members were doubtless more primitive than the Fuegians Darwin saw, but they may have had a rudimentary language, some powers of conceptualisation, musical and artistic sense, tool‑making ability, the ability to plan ahead, a recognition of and an elementary response to death 22. But the sub‑humans were still not truly human; they were not yet ready for the flame to be applied. Then one of their members began to act unusually. He took to walking by himself, seeking solitude. This culminated in a transforming religious experience, perhaps something like Moses' (Exod.3.1ff), Samuel's (1Sam.3.3ff), or Paul's (Acts 9.3ff), except that the recipient was, until then, not truly human. But it can be believed (surely without violating biblical principles), that such an experience made him a 'new creation', at last in God's image (2Cor.5.17) 23. Things may not have occurred as I have sketched, but it is at least one possible scenario. Then, as happened later to Abraham, came removal to a new land, perhaps this time from Africa to the Middle East. Instruction in agriculture followed (Gen.2.8; Isa.28.23‑29). Meanwhile, or a little later, God dealt similarly with a female sub‑human; she too came to the same region, and God revealed His purpose in this to the man in a vivid dream. He awoke to find a woman by his side, and with his growing understanding of the providences of God he took her to be his lifelong companion, as Isaac was later to take Rebekah and Jacob, Rachel.

Where are we to think the story might go from here? At this point it is relevant to note that the Bible does leave us with suggestions that Adam was a member of a race already fairly numerous on the earth, for Cain's complaint in Gen.4.14 was that his punishment meant that "anyone who finds me will kill me", and it is hard to interpret this of mere longsight into the distant future.

On a more general level and speaking tentatively and speculatively, we may imagine that God's intended purpose was to prepare Adam (as we will now call him) to lead his not‑quite‑human relatives into the good life of authentic humanity (as much later He sent Christian missionaries to the Fuegians); but that alas! the first man and his wife fell through the unbelief of pride, as Genesis 3 records in its famous account. Man and woman turned from the creaturely principle, obedience to their Maker, to the notion that they had the wisdom and power to decide for themselves how they should live: that is, to the devilish mastery of the self‑centred principle. Their relationship with God instantly withered, the Spirit left them, and they died. In solidarity with those who now looked up to him as their leader, Adam could not but communicate all this to them all. That and how God had expressed His will for men and women had now become common knowledge, and experience became for each of them what later it was for the apostle Paul: 'Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandant came, sin sprang to life and I died'24. The mere overstepping of the social code of an animal existence had now found a wholly new and burdensome theological dimension: it was sin, an offence to God. The innocence and bliss of ignorance had gone forever 25. Simultaneously, physical decease had acquired a deadly sting; it was the painful anticipation of judgement to some 26. The solidarity of the race (as defined earlier) had seen to it that the penalty extended to all. I don't think this is a far‑fetched scenario; it constitutes of course a suggestion outside the sphere of physical science. It is, I believe, consistent with Scripture; and it faces squarely and interprets realistically the inner experience of everyone ‑ of 'falling short' of what he or she ought to be. It makes at once comprehensible Paul's assertions that 'by one man's disobedience many were made sinners'; that 'one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men'; and that 'death spread to all men because all men sinned', even if their sin was not, like Adam's, the disobeying of a direct command, individually received 27.

No doubt at this point (if not before) an objection will be raised. "Isn't this going far beyond what the Scriptures tell us ‑ particularly what the Old Testament does? Isn't there too much speculation here to be acceptable?" I admit the force of this objection, but I think it can be overestimated. I would be much more cautious of speculation were it intended as the foundation for any considerable dogmatic edifice, like the speculations of Peter Atkins for instance. We can be sure the Holy Spirit would have given us something much firmer for that. The purpose here is something far less ambitious. It is simply to remove difficulties ‑ to show that the data of revelation and of science are not irreconcilable. There is surely a legitimate place for speculation in this. Further, the speculation has been guided and controlled by explicitly biblical principles ‑ the well‑known Pauline analogy of Adam and Christ, and the parallel between Adam and Abraham, each of whom was the father of a 'multitude of nations'. Finally, there is the general recognition that it is part of the practical genius of the Bible to tell its story very selectively, even in what might be called a fragmentary fashion. Of none of its great characters (even of Jesus Christ) are we given a biography anywhere near complete by modern standards. Its history is more‑or‑less confined to Israel, and even then is extremely sketchy. It passes over in almost complete silence the outstanding problem of the origin of evil; and so on. The Preacher refuses to be side‑tracked; his one purpose is to teach men and women how to live in accordance with the will of God, and he never deviates from it 28.

Chance and Natural Selection

This chapter concludes with a brief return to a point discussed before. The inherited variations which are the raw material exploited by natural selection are almost universally held to be 'random', unrelated to any predetermined end. The point that Darwinian enthusiasts who take this view miss disastrously is that this conclusion may be unexceptionable, entirely justified, proof against all contrary arguments ‑ provided only that the 'predetermination' refers to causes within the order of nature itself, i.e. coextensive with what supplies scientific evidence. The analogy of an author and his creative work surely demonstrates this. Dostoevsky introduces a chance meeting into one of his novels ‑ and it is a case of chance, pure and simple, unchallengeably so, and no one can deny it! But step outside the novel, and Dostoevsky has deliberately chosen it, and then woven it into his story. The force of this argument can only be met by showing that the author analogy is invalid; Darwinian fundamentalists must give reasons for doing so.


1     Heb.3.7; 10.15ff

2     COMMENTARY ON PSALMS Ps.136.7; quoted by R. Hooykaas in CHRISTIAN FAITH AND THE FREEDOM OF SCIENCE (Tyndale Press, 1957)

3     Exod.20.8‑11

4     Isa.66.1, 2b; Matt.11.25‑28; Mark 2.27

5     cf. Eccles.1.1‑11; 3.15. Ecclesiastes draws some important lessons from this cyclicity (3.20; 11.9,10; 12.14); see also Heb.9.27

6     Pss.90; 102.22‑27 (compare the force of 'days' and 'years' in vv.23,24).

7     Derek Kidner, op.cit. pp.48ff on Gen.1.11,20,24

8     Cf. the REB rendering of Gen.1.21 ('every kind of bird') and the GNB rendering of 11,12,20,21,24.

9     Gen.2.7,19

10   cf. C. K. Barrett, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST JOHN (SPCK, 1978) p. 570 The Creed refers to the Holy Spirit as the 'Lord and giver of life'; cf.Job 33.4; John 6.63; Rom.8.2,11

11   For the last, see Luke 1.80; Acts 7.23,34).

12   Ezek.36.22f

13   Rom.5.12

14   For the meaning of the primal sin see Appendix V.

15   1Cor.15.55,56

16   Language can be learned only from others who already know it.

17   cf. H. Blocher, op. cit., p.96 ". . it is our encounter with another which allows our inner life to become aware of itself".

18   Letter to J. S. Henslow, 11 April 1833 (THE CORRESPONDENCE OF CHARLES DARWIN Vol.1, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985)

19   Letter to Charles Whitley, 23 July 1834 ibid.

20   LIFE AND LETTERS OF CHARLES DARWIN vo1.III ed. Francis Darwin (John Murray, 1887)

21   I owe this illustration to Prof. D. M. MacKay, who spoke however of a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen. A phenomenon formally similar occurs with the 'critical mass' of fissile materials.

22   All of these characteristics can be traced in the lower animals ‑ see W. H. Thorpe ANIMAL NATURE AND HUMAN NATURE (Methuen, 1974); J. Z. Young, INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF MAN (Oxford Univ.Press 1971).

23   See also Co1.3.10. There is no suggestion that any morphological or physiological changes necessarily occurred at the same time.

24   Rom.7.9,10 NIV; Rom.4.15; and C. E. B. Cranfield, ROMANS Vo1.I p.351 (T&T Clark, 1980)

25   Cf. John 9.41; 2Pet.2.21; Rom.3.20. John 15.21b‑25 bears strongly on the same theme. It explains the strong antipathy ('hates', v.23) commonly felt to God as Lawgiver (note the frequent reference to 'commandments' in this chapter), arising from ignorance of Him (v.21b), and quite 'without cause'.

26   Heb.9.27; cf.lCor.15.56

27   Rom.5.19,18,12,14 (RSV and NIV)

28   Eccles.12.13,14; Deut.29.29; Rom.15.4‑6