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Vern Poythress: Did Adam Exist?

Vern S. Poythress, Did Adam Exist?, Christian Answers to Hard Questions series (Westminster Seminary Press/P & R Publishing, 2014), 39 pages.

Today, Christians are under increasing pressure to “justify” their belief in the Biblical account of creation. Geneticists claim that their research has undermined the viability of the historic Christian account of human origins. So how should Christians respond?

Dr. Poythress begins by analyzing the often quoted statement that humans share 99% of their DNA with chimps. With remarkable clarity and brevity, he deconstructs this claim by noting how it only pertains to those segments of DNA that match chimpanzees. He explains that only 77% of our DNA is shared with chimpanzees and that in contrast our DNA more closely matches other primates. But should this new fact bother Christians?

Vern S. Poythress

Poythress seems to answer “No.” He smartly explains how assumptions influence the interpretation of evidence. For example, a Darwinist would say that the DNA evidence shows our familiarity with primates and therefore supports evolution. On the other hand, a theist might think that the shared DNA shows a common designer or our solidarity with our fellow creatures, the animals. His point is not to suggest that truth is relative or just in the eye of the beholder, but that our assumptions regarding what is possible in a large way determine how we will understand the implications of the data we have collected.

While correctly pointing out the biases of contemporary science which is dominated by a Darwinian worldview, Poythress, subtlety and respectfully, shows that Christians need to evaluate the assumptions in their interpretations too. He notes that some of our readings may in fact cause conflicts with science that are more illusory than real. Though Poythress does not directly answer the question of whether Adam existed or not, his instruction provides readers with tools to answer the question for themselves.

This booklet is must reading for Christians seeking to wade into the creation/evolution debate.

I think this booklet is must reading for Christians seeking to wade into the creation/evolution debate. The beauty in Poythress’ approach is that the reader is taught not just facts about DNA evidence and its impact on our understanding of human origins, but about how evidence is interpreted and disseminated. In this way, readers develop critical reading skills sufficient to at least ask the question, “Is this data actually forcing us to this conclusion or is it simply being interpreted according to the interpreter’s worldview?

Evidentialists will be disappointed, however, as Poythress spends only glancing moments on the data supporting or contradicting Darwinian evolution. I suspect the reason for this neglect stems from Poythress’ belief that supporters of Darwinianism will never admit the contrary data as a defeater of their theory. Nevertheless, I think Poythress could have discussed the role that data plays in confirming and disconfirming theories as the public is not always as intellectually committed to a theory as the major proponents.

The substance and tone of Poythress’s treatment exemplifies a proper approach to this highly controversial and emotional topic. Small group leaders should consider this booklet for a course of study. The questions found at the end of each section encourage readers to recall important concepts and to think more deeply about the implications of those concepts.

Reviewed by Stephen M. Vantassel

 

Publisher’s page: https://www.prpbooks.com/book/did-adam-exist

 

At the time of publication, the full booklet was available digitally at this address: http://frame-poythress.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/DidAdamExist.pdf

 

More from the Christian Answers to Hard Questions series (Peter A. Lillback and Steven T. Huff, series editors): https://www.prpbooks.com/series/christian-answers-to-hard-questions

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Category: Biblical Studies, Spring 2017

About the Author: Stephen M. Vantassel, Ph.D. theology (Trinity Theological Seminary), M.A.T.S. Old Testament (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), B.S. Biblical Studies (Gordon College), is a tutor of theology at King’s Evangelical Divinity School in Broadstairs, U.K. and Assistant Editor for the Evangelical Review of Theology and Politics. His dissertation on the role of animals in Christian theology was published in expanded form in Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009). He lives with his wife in Lewistown, Montana. He regularly posts articles at kingsdivinity.academia.edu/StephenMVantassel.

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