Vern S. Poythress. Did Adam Exist? (Christian Answers to Hard Questions). Philllipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2014. 32 pp. $4.99.
There are several issues that are perennial sources of objection from non-Christians as well as constant sources of difficulty for Christians. Theodicy immediately comes to mind. Cosmology and the historical Adam is another. Last year P&R launched a booklet series in conjunction with Westminster Theological Seminary entitled “Christian Answers to Hard Questions.” Ranging from 32-48 pages, these booklets are designed to equip lay Christians to defend the most common objections to the Christian faith. They are obviously not meant to be exhaustive since they are small and short; but these books are great introductions to the issues at hand with concise answers that provide a good launching point for further study. I have previously read and reviewed Beale’s booklet, The Morality of God in the Old Testament.
The latest addition to the series addresses the historical Adam, a topic that has been the focus of several recent books. This booklet doesn’t introduce the topic in a general way, but rather focuses on the claims that genetic analyses demonstrate our ape ancestry (and, by extension, that a historical Adam could not have existed). Much of the booklet evaluates the commonly cited statistic of 99% identity between human DNA and chimp DNA. Dr. Poythress points out the challenges of this claim and how the figure of 99% comes about, showing that overall our genetic makeup is not as similar to chimp genetic makeup as naturalistic scientists would have us believe. However, Poythress points out that regardless of the degree of similarity, what really matters is the significance of the similarities. The genetic data needs to be interpreted, whether from the Darwinist framework or the Christian one.
Several times in this booklet, Poythress points out that even if the naturalistic assertions are completely true (e.g. 99% genetic similarity with chimps, gradualism, etc), those pictures are still entirely compatible with God’s having done it all for his purposes. Even if human DNA matched chimp DNA in 99% of all cases all along the DNA strands, this would not destroy the case for a historical Adam. While the Darwinian framework would interpret the evidence as indicating that human beings are just another primate, for the Christian “the essential character of human nature is not to be found in quantitative comparisons in the chemistry of DNA…the question of genetic similarity remains of interest to scientists, but it is entirely secondary to the question of human significance” (18).
After this somewhat extended treatment of similarity between human DNA and chimp DNA, the rest of the booklet briefly addresses the minimum-population bottleneck and how long ago Adam and Eve lived. Regarding the latter topic, Poythress acknowledges the possibility of gaps in biblical genealogies and therefore the realty that the Bible simply does not tell us how long ago Adam and Eve lived. The booklet concludes with a look at why the question of Adam and Eve is challenging (because it has a scientific side, a hermeneutical side, and a theological side) and the ultimate anthropological (concerning man), theological (concerning God), and soteriological (concerning salvation) implications of this discussion.
The scope of this booklet is narrower than I had expected. Most of the content addresses the genetic similarity between humans and chimpanzees, and makes a case for the historical Adam by showing how the argument from genetic similarity fails. I was expecting a broader scope of treatment as well as presentation of positive arguments, but the information that is presented is very good. Poythress shows scientifically how the 99% statistic we often hear is actually not an accurate portrayal of genetic similarity; perhaps even more importantly, he helps us see that even if humans and chimps are that similar genetically, it does not do away with God’s work and His purpose. This booklet is a good introduction to the issue of the historical Adam from the perspective of genetic analysis.
Many thanks to my friends at P&R for sending a free copy in exchange for an unbiased review!