Who were Adam and Eve? ?
Introduction: Questions about Adam and Eve
“Adam and Eve bring up lots of questions since I am an atheist,” said a young woman scientist. Here they are:
These are the questions, both intelligent and naïve, of a young scientist at the beginning of the 21st century. To these may be added many other questions from young people.
In addition, one needs to ask a great ethical question: Who is innocent of evil in the world? What is original sin?
In these few pages, written for the Internet, and also published in a brochure, we are going to suggest some “answers” to these questions. And we shall also direct you to some paths towards deeper reflection, such as: what is the sense of our existence” where is our desire for happiness taking us?
In “genesis” therefore, there are two accounts, which speak to us about the origins of the world and of humanity.
The first is an account of the creation in seven days. (Genesis, Chapter 1, verses 1-31, see the text in a separate box.) It is a very beautiful text, to the rhythmic cadence of “Evening came and morning came…”. It is amusing to note the light etc. was created before the “lights” of the sun and the moon, which were not present at the beginning of creation. This would be conformed to … the standard theory of the Big Bang!
This remark is of course humorous: the first account of the creation in Genesis is dated to around 700 years before Jesus Christ. The author was “inspired” by the Holy Spirit and tells us the essential things about the relations between man and God defined by creation. But is would be nothing for the Holy Spirit to inspire a treaty on fundamental physical sciences 2,630 years before Canon Lemaître, a Belgian intellectual, invented the theory of the Big Bang.
The inspired author expresses himself according to the conditions of his time. He reflected on the origins of the world and on the problem of evil. The Holy Spirit gave him magnificent light. This light he could only receive and express in the images of his culture, of his time and of the biblical Near East several centuries before our era.
And yet through his culture the light of Genesis on the origin of the world, the origin of humankind and the origin of evil can continue to illuminate us today.
In the literary genres used to speak about the origins of the world at that time, one easily finds some comparisons between the accounts in the Bible and the “Babylonian Cosmogonies (histories of the birth of the world)”. What are remarkable, are the differences found in the biblical account: instead of a kind of cosmic genealogy where gods and the cosmos are finally linked together, the Bible at the outset establishes a distinction between the divine and what is created, between God and creation.
The world is not created out of God, like an emanation that is more or less debased from the divinity, but “out of nothing” (“ex nihilo” in Latin). Man is not a piece of God dressed up in a second-rate form; he is called to be, when he did not exist before.
This is why, when one reads the first account of the creation in Genesis, one can say that for the first time in the history of ideas a true distinction is made between God and the cosmos, between God and man: this is the idea of creation.
One understands, without having to be a great philosopher, that if the idea of creation establishes a subordination of man to God, since man exists only through the gift of God, at the same time creation establishes man in a state of autonomy with regard to God : like a person facing God, a partner called to dialogue, and to love. Creation is freedom.
This aspect of dialogue in love and trust between man and God established through creation will be developed in the second account of the creation, which we will examine soon. But let us note an important passage in the “seven days of creation” (the first account):
“God created man in the image of himself,
In this it is explained that while human beings are created with the cosmos, in the cosmos and in solidarity with the material and animal world, they are also something “more”: they are in the image of God. Another point at the outset is that man and woman are established with equal dignity by the fact that both of them resemble God.
Thus, 2,700 years before the World Conference on Woman at Peking (organised by the United Nations Organization) Genesis had enunciated the bases of feminism in the equal dignity and equality of man and woman.
The second account of the creation, in an older style, talks of the creation of man in a beautiful way, a style one sometimes finds in old versions of provincial legends: “”Yahweh God shaped man from the soil of the ground and blew the breath of life into his nostrils, and man became a living being” (Genesis 2: 7).
Woman was created later, not out of clay, but out of man:
The names Adam and Eve translate the Hebrew words, which mean, according to the text, man and woman in general, or the names of people. These names of Adam and Eve have remained attached in ordinary literature as well as in religious vocabulary to signify the first man and the first woman. [We shall return to the question of the first man and the first woman in the perspective of evolution.]
God placed man and woman into a garden, “Paradise” (or the “Garden of Eden”). By forbidding them to eat of the fruit of one tree only, the “tree of knowledge of good an of evil”, it is explained that man cannot decide by himself what is good and what is bad: the sources of ethics and morals come from the creator and not from the creature.
Another way of saying this is that in order to attain happiness, man ought to trust in God, who created him our of love and therefore leads him to happiness.
The drama unfolds through temptation: the serpent “the most subtle of all animals” persuades the woman, Eve, and through her, the man, Adam, that God has lied to them and that to taste the forbidden fruit will make them “like gods, knowing (defining) good and evil” without dramatic consequences (death). The consequences are that Adam and Eve, who preferred to trust the serpent rather than God, are chased out of Paradise and have to experience suffering and death.
But a promise of salvation is made to Adam and Eve. This is what is called the “Proto-Gospel” or the “primitive Gospel”: among the descendants of the woman someone will crush the serpent (the devil). (Genesis 3: 15) This will be achieved by Jesus Christ, son of Mary, a descendant of Eve.
Therefore, when one speaks of Adam and Eve, one makes a more or less clear reference to the first man and the first woman, about whom the Book of Genesis speaks to us.
Many teachers at schools and colleges impose the idea – sometimes voluntarily and sometimes involuntarily – that the creation of man by God would be impossible. Why? Because evolution made man. This assertion is not scientific.
Evolution is the history of the cosmos: how from the Big Bang the stars and the nebula appeared, and how the different atoms were constituted. How the planets began to turn around the sun, how the living cells appeared and formed varied living beings. This is a long history, as the end of which human beings took their place.
At no moment can evolution, in scientific terms, pretend to explain “why” the world exists, “why” the Big Bang launched the cosmos into this fantastic history. And why humans appeared and transcended the other living beings, by their capacity to love and to be free and responsible.
Obviously, before the scientific age, it was not important whether the account of origins in the Bible was scientific or theological. For many thousands of years the science of children was not as scientific as that of their parents.
The first ideas about evolution, which we call “transformism”, come from Lamarck, a French biologist of the first half of the nineteenth century. Then came Darwin with the origin of the species, Mendel with the genetics of mutations, Morgan with the mutations applied to evolution, and finally the “synthetic theory of evolution”. Does Evolution mean Non-Creation? Certainly not, and we are going to explain that.
When science speaks of “evolution”, it only talks of links of succession between different elements of biology, among the offspring of living beings. Science seeks the “how” of things.
But man is not only “a scientist”; he also seeks the “why” of things. For example, “why am I on earth?” No science can answer that question. Philosophy can ask these questions and try to reply. In Genesis, and in many other parts of biblical Revelation, the God of the Christians (and of the Jews) replies: “I have called you into existence because I love you”, “I have created you”. It is the great idea of “creation” that gives sense to life.
But when someone wants to pretend that “evolution” is the cause of the existence of man, he is not making a scientific assertion, but he is making a metaphysical assertion. He asserts in some way that “evolution” is a quasi-divine cause, which is transcendental, of the existence of the world and of man. One needs therefore to write “Evolution” with a capital E. This is nonetheless what many so-called “atheists” (which means “without-God” or “denying that there is a God”) do. People also say that “there is no need for a God to create, it is Chance that does everything”.
Let us note that “Chance” does nothing at all in reality: chance is either our ignorance of causes or the unpredictable and independent meeting of two combinations of facts with their proper causes.
Position of the Catholic Church with regard to evolution
Being prudent, the Church has waited to see what is assured on the scientific level. One must say that certain theorists or “supporters of evolution” happily add to their scientific hypotheses metaphysical assertions, so that evolution for them becomes a proof of the non-existence of God. The scientific result is not necessarily improved: let us remember that Pasteur had to fight for many years against the theory of “spontaneous generation”, supported by most of the materialistic intellectuals of his day.
But in the middle of the twentieth century, Catholic intellectuals, detached from all materialist and religious prejudices, collaborated in the restatement of the “synthetic theory of evolution”. The distinction was made between the scientific aspects of the theories of evolution and the materialistic metaphysical interpretations.
Pope Pius XII, in 1950 in his encyclical “Humani generis”, affirmed that, “there was no opposition between evolution and the doctrine of the Catholic faith regarding man and his vocation, on condition that certain points are not lost sight of”. In 1996 John Paul II confirmed this position. This position is at the same time respectful of the scientific discoveries and respectful of human beings, in their intelligence and their dignity.
Who was the first man?
Is science capable of telling us who the first man was?
What makes the difference between an “evolved primate”, a big monkey, a hominid, and a man, a being, which can be said to be the bearer of the rights of man?
Even on a human level, that is, independently of faith and Revelation, the question must be asked: what is the being which can be said to be the bearer of the rights of man? Who is it that I should consider and respect as a human being, like myself?
Science cannot answer this question. There must have been a first man, who for the first time had human dignity, who was the object of the rights of man. The problem does not change at all, whether we call him Adam and Eve or not.
Who can say why this man was so much more respectable than the big monkeys? Can science? No, it can only notice a threshold and (again!) it cannot say why it was crossed. It can only say that is was crossed.
This happened, but it is lost in time, and one cannot say exactly when this happened. All one can say is that probably the pre-hominids, like the big monkeys, could not have been bearers of the rights of man. And then one day, a new being appeared, possibly only slightly different from the hominids. It was before all civilisation and culture, but civilisation and culture began with them. Love and hate, war and peace, responsibility and freedom entered the history of the world through them.
Science cannot say what did or did not happen. Genesis calls them Adam and Eve. That is all.
In the naïve and magnificent history of Adam and Eve, God tells us that he has called us to an existence of love, and that we are made in his image. It was he who made us “win the competition of evolution”, and he calls us to go further than biological evolution, to go right up to him for eternal happiness beyond time and space. Science, timidly tracing some of the pages of nature’s history before the appearance of humans, does not contradict creation in any way: this history forms part of creation.
As for humans, they are not “wanted” by evolution: evolution doesn’t want anything. “Chance” doesn’t want anything. But humans are wanted by love, by the one who created the world. And he who created the world calls them to be his friends, members of his family. We are not on the earth by chance, we are not on the earth by error. Someone loves us and wanted us even before we came into existence, and he has called us through a marvellous history.
“Original Sin” is a great idea that one usually links to the story of Adam and Eve. Why do we do not do the good we would like to do, and do the evil we do not wish to do? This is a question one asks, and many cultures have tried to understand. The legend of “Pandora’s Box” is the most well-known example of this. The history of the Adam and Eve has marked all western cultures.
As for the religions and cultures of India and South-East Asia, there are theories of Reincarnation which predominate in Hinduism, Buddhism of the Great and Little Way, the Buddhism of the Lamas, etc …
The question is this: the problem of evil in the world.
The response of those who believe in Reincarnation
During different existences on earth we could gradually detach ourselves from evil. And in some way in our present existence we are paying for the faults of a former existence.
For those who believe in New Age, the problem is simpler: evil does not exist. We are becoming better and better in our successive existences. It is not sure that that will be successful in always masking the problem of evil in the world and answering the questions: “Am I good? Am I innocent? Am I responsible for something of the evil in the world?”
The response of the Christians
The response of the Christians is the following: Yes there has been evil in the world since the beginning. And I myself, I am not innocent of all evil.
But pay attention, our responsibility is attenuated; it is not that of Adam and Eve. Evil first came into the world through the Demon (the Serpent in the story of Adam and Eve). This Demon, which tempted Adam and Eve, wanted the death of man through jealousy. It pushed the first people to reject trust in their creator. This is “Original Sin”.
The Book of Genesis in chapter 3 tells us about it at the end of the second account of the creation. But also Saint Paul, one of the first converts to Christianity, speaks to us about the sin of Adam. In addition the Book of Wisdom says that God did not want man to die, that he had made man in his own image, but that death entered the world through the malice of the demon (Wisdom, 2: 24).
Adam and Eve had received from God a much greater freedom than we have. But, the colourful account (in Genesis 3) tells us that, by taking the fruit from the forbidden tree (“the apple”) they rejected trust in God and wanted to decide for themselves, without reference to their creator, what was good and what was evil. They wanted to be their creator (like a Peugeot car wanting to explain to its engineer inventor how it ought to run). God warned them, but the demon presented a lying version to them: “You will be like gods”. This was not the case.
This was a mysterious drama, which we know in a symbolic way through the imaginative account of Genesis: at the instigation of the demon Adam and Eve, instead of trusting in the goodness of God, wanted to “pick the forbidden fruit” and thereby lost their original innocence. They were stripped of their grace, of their innocence, and with them all their descendants, to whom they transmitted a wounded human nature. Since then “an immense wretchedness has oppressed humankind, giving them an inclination to evil”.
How can we get out of it?
God, revelation tells us, did not become resigned to the fall of man, whom he had created through love and whom he wanted to guide to happiness. And what man by himself could not make amends for, God himself would come and do for him: Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man at Christmas, would come in our human condition. He would love perfectly on behalf of Adam and Eve. Jesus Christ is, Saint Paul tells us, “the new Adam”:
Illustration: an excellent illustration of salvation, given freely by God to those he loves, is the story of the “God thief”. Jesus was dying on the Cross; beside him, there were two bandits, the “thieves” who had also been crucified. One abused him, the other said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. And Jesus told him: “In truth I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise”.
The forgiveness of sins
As opposed to Reincarnation, which supposes that the efforts of man through generations can get rid of evil, in Christianity, it is God himself who comes to our aid to take away our faults: he pardons our sins. He does it first of all in a great way at Baptism. Then, when we come to regret having “sinned” again against love, we can go to confession, to the “sacrament of reconciliation between us and God”.
As a Protestant Pastor says correctly, “We are not responsible for being in the dirty lubricating oil, but we are responsible for remaining there”.
It is significant to see, in the Book of Genesis, after the creation, the Holy Spirit breathes on the world. And then after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, he breathes on his disciples saying to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven…”
To deliver us from evil, the Lord God pardons us, and as it were makes us a new creation. Jesus Christ is the new Adam.