Reasonable Faith or Faithful Reason? Reflections on William Lane Craig and the Historical Adam

Scott Aniol


Over the past couple months, Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig has stirred up quite a bit of controversy surrounding the release of his book, In Quest of the Historical Adam: A Biblical and Scientific Exploration. This past week at the national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, I had the opportunity to hear Craig further explain and defend his views concerning what some claim to be a denying of the historical Adam.

To be fair, it is actually incorrect to claim that Craig is denying the historical Adam in this book—sort of. Rather, Craig is attempting to explain how belief in an actual historical Adam and Eve as parents of the human race is compatible with evolutionary science.

Yet therein lies Craig’s problem. Notice carefully the structure of Craig’s purpose statement in his book: “We need to consider how Scripture’s teaching that there was a historical Adam is or might be compatible with the scientific evidence.1William Lane Craig, In Quest of the Historical Adam: A Biblical and Scientific Exploration (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2021), 33.

The structure of Craig’s statement here reveals his primary authority: “scientific evidence.” Scripture’s claims, Craig assumes, must answer to science. Notice that Craig did not phrase the question the other way: “Are scientific conclusions compatible with biblical revelation?”

Craig’s answer to his question is a qualified “yes”—he argues that, submitting to “scientific evidence” as an unquestioned authority, Christians may still reasonably believe in a historical Adam. Yet in order to arrive at this conclusion, Craig has to make the following arguments:

First, Genesis 1–11 are “mytho-history.” Taken literally, Craig believes, what Genesis 1–11 claim would not be compatible with this standard of science; but interpreted metaphorically, a Christian can find an Adam that is reasonable to believe. I heard Craig claim in his ETS presentation, “The Pentateuchal author did not intend for his narrative to be taken literally.” As James White correctly noted when I quoted Craig on Twitter:

In other words, if Scripture were Craig’s ultimate authority, he would begin with the assumption (based on Scripture itself) that Moses is the author of Genesis and that his narrative in the first eleven chapters actually happened as written. He would then interpret the scientific evidence through that lens. But since “scientific evidence” is Craig’s authority, he must try to make sense of the biblical narrative within evolutionary presuppositions.

Second, Craig argues that a historical Adam and Eve could have existed, but at the earliest 500,000+ years ago (based on “scientific evidence”) and having evolved from “pre-human” hominins. In other words, evolution happened as science “proves,” and at some point, God appointed Adam and Eve as the progenitors of the human race. Here is a brief summary of his argument:

We may imagine an initial population of hominins—animals that were like human beings in many respects but lacked the capacity for rational thought. Out of this population, God selected two and furnished them with intellects by renovating their brains and endowing them with rational souls. One can envision a regulatory genetic mutation, which effected a change in the functioning of the brain, resulting in significantly greater cognitive capacity. Such a transformation could equip the individuals with the neurological ­structure to support a rational soul. Thus the radical transition effected in the founding pair that lifted them to the human level plausibly involved both biological and spiritual renovation. 2William Lane Craig, “The Historical Adam” (First Things),October 1, 2021).

We may “imagine” indeed.

Third, even though Craig attempts to “prove” that a historical Adam and Eve could fit with the “scientific evidence,” at the end of the day he is forced to admit that “Given the incompleteness of the data and the provisionality of science, the quest of the historical Adam will doubtless never be concluded in our lifetime—or in anyone’s lifetime, for that matter.”3Craig, Quest, 540.

Craig’s admission there illustrates the problem with assuming that science is “certain” and faith in what the Bible says is not. In reality, science can never be absolutely certain, especially when we’re talking about hundreds of thousands or millions of years. Scientists can predict, they can theorize, but they cannot prove with certainty.

The important reality we must acknowledge is that all knowledge begins with certain presuppositions that cannot be proven. Evolutionists begin with naturalist assumptions—the material world is all that exists. From that set of assumptions, evolutionists interpret data and arrive at certain conclusions.

Christians, however, begin with assumptions that God is real, he created all things, and he inspired sixty-six inerrant books of the Bible. From that set of assumptions, Christians interpret data and arrive at certain conclusions.

“That’s circular reasoning!” you might insist. Sure it is; all reasoning is in the end circular because we always have to presuppose our ultimate authority and interpret information from that starting point.

The question is, will we make our ultimate authority “scientific evidence” or divine Scripture?

Will we make our ultimate authority “scientific evidence” or divine Scripture?

Let’s take one example: the age of the earth. The “data” appears to show that the universe is very old—millions or billions of years old. If we assume naturalist assumptions, then we interpret that data to mean that the universe evolved over a long span of time.

But if we assume biblical assumptions, then we can interpret the same data and come to a very reasonable conclusion: God created all things a relatively short time ago with the appearance of age. The Bible said that God created Adam with appearance of age, for example. If Adam had been scientifically tested one day after he was created, the data would have likely indicated that Adam was an adult male a couple decades old. Yet it would have been incorrect to conclude that Adam was a couple decades old; he was not—he was only one day old.

The point is this: what you determine as your primary authority will determine how you interpret the information you encounter. If science and human reason are your authority, you will arrive at particular conclusions. But if Scripture is your primary authority, it will often lead you to entirely different conclusions.

What you determine as your primary authority will determine how you interpret the information you encounter.

William Lane Craig’s fundamental problem is that he assumes “scientific consensus” to be absolute truth—that is his ultimate authority, and he attempts to make Scripture “fit” with what is ultimate for him—science. As the title of one of his most well-known books illustrates, Craig is after a “Reasonable Faith,” placing human reason as the ultimate standard to which faith must answer.

But what we must be after is not a reasonable faith; we must strive for faithful reason—reason that is faithful to our ultimate standard, the inspired, inerrant, authoritative Word of God.

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1 William Lane Craig, In Quest of the Historical Adam: A Biblical and Scientific Exploration (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2021), 33.
2 William Lane Craig, “The Historical Adam” (First Things),October 1, 2021).
3 Craig, Quest, 540.
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Scott Aniol

Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief G3 Ministries

Scott Aniol, PhD, is Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of G3 Ministries. In addition to his role with G3, Scott is Professor of Pastoral Theology at Grace Bible Theological Seminary in Conway, Arkansas. He lectures around the world in churches, conferences, colleges, and seminaries, and he has authored several books and dozens of articles. You can find more, including publications and speaking itinerary, at Scott and his wife, Becky, have four children: Caleb, Kate, Christopher, and Caroline. You can listen to his podcast here.