Re: [asa] biological evolution and a literal Adam- logically inconsistent?

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Mon Sep 01 2008 - 08:21:21 EDT

Ah ok -- so your question is simply, is the "dust" a figure of speech or was
there literal "dust"? If there was literal "dust," that is inconsistent
with human evolution -- at this point, God would have intervened in the
processes of nature and made Adam directly.

Personally, I'm not sure we can know whether the dust is literal or
figurative. "Dust" is used figuratively in some other places in the OT (see
1 Kings 16:2, Ecl. 3:20; Zeph. 1:17). More often it's used in a way I would
consider both literal and figurative. For example, Ps. 90:3 says "you turn
men back to dust, saying, "'Return to dust, O sons of men," and verses 5 and
6 say "you sweep away men in the sleep of death; they are like new grass in
the morning." It seems to me that the Psalmist here is using the
phenomenological understanding of what happens to our bodies when we die --
dust -- in combination with other literary expressions. So, I wouldn't call
the use of "dust" here part of an "ancience science" -- it's rather a way of
describing an everyday observation in a literary fashion.

Let's say you take "dust" literally, BTW -- if "dust" is what happens to
bodies when they die, then the "dust" from which God created Adam would have
included decomposed bodies containing DNA.

On Sun, Aug 31, 2008 at 11:45 PM, Dehler, Bernie <>wrote:

> ------------------------------
> *From:* David Opderbeck []
> *Sent:* Sunday, August 31, 2008 7:12 PM
> *To:* Dehler, Bernie
> *Cc:*
> *Subject:* Re: [asa] biological evolution and a literal Adam- logically
> inconsistent?
> Bernie, as we've discussed before, "literal versus figurative" is just too
> simplistic a way to look at these passages. There's no reason at all, for
> example, that the story couldn't refer to a real man named Adam and yet that
> some of the elements in the story (e.g., the serpent) couldn't at the same
> time be figurative. As a better example, even the most "literalist"
> interpreters of Gen. 1-4 acknowledge that God didn't literally "walk" in the
> garden (Gen. 3:8). Gen. 3:8 alone clearly shows that these aren't simply
> "literal" narratives, but non-literal does not necessarily equal
> "figurative."
> (Here's a contemporary example of figures of speech in narratives with a
> historical referent: "the defense tore the offensive line to pieces and
> swarmed the quarterback like a pack of ravenous lions."
> . . . . . . . . . .
> Hi David-
> In your example those are all figurative expressions, not a mix of literal
> and figurative.
> In Gen 2, we all agree that God made a guy named Adam (regardless of
> whether Adam was the first human or if pre-Adamite's existed prior). The
> question is how: by forming dust from the ground literally or figuratively.
> Literally means he took real dust. Figuratively means the dust is
> symbolic. See my question? If I'm oversimplifying, please explain.
> …Bernie

David W. Opderbeck
Associate Professor of Law
Seton Hall University Law School
Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology
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Received on Mon Sep 1 08:21:41 2008

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