Author: Ian Taylor
Many people hold to the notion that man-like beings existed long before Adam and may even have been his contemporary. The idea is usually hazy and half-formed, while comfort is drawn from the fact that many of the spiritual giants of Christendom have given their approval to pre-Adamic or pre-Adamite man. Those seeking biblical support admit this is not explicit but point out that the Bible makes no claim to be a complete record of the history of the world. This argument from silence is cause for suspicion, so it will be as well to see where the idea of pre-Adamite man arose, who has sustained it and what effect it has had on our thinking.
When the Portuguese, the French, the Spanish and, lastly, the English sent expeditions to explore and settle the Americas, men skilled with pen and brush were included to accurately record what they saw in the New World. Upon return to the Old World, the water-color paintings, ink sketches and text were transcribed by engravers and typesetters to produce books and the information given a wide and popular circulation. Theodore de Bry (1528-1598), a Dutch publisher and engraver, produced dozens of plates showing Indians of Virginia and Florida in their daily activities. De Bry’s illustrations were very popular, especially as part three of the America series, issued in 1592, contained plate after plate showing scenes of Indians occupied with scalping their enemies and, more gruesome yet, engaged in their cannibal practices. Moreover, throughout the entire series every Indian, male and female, was completely naked. The genteel nobility at the courts of London and Paris were fascinated by these pictures of the Indian “savage.” They were always referred to as “savages,” even though it was admitted that they were gentle people and their laws and customs could be described as sophisticated. Further, some of their more gruesome customs were no worse than what was being practiced at that very time by the “Christians” of the Spanish Inquisition.
Following these early discoveries even more bizarre cases of purported humanity came to light with the discovery of the Flat-head Indians and the tattooed Maoris. Christians of civilized Europe began to question their Bible as they read travelers’ accounts and the pictures that accompanied many of them. The Bible maintained that all men were the descendants of one mating pair named Adam and Eve, but what color were they and how is it that humanity is so varied today? In fact, the racial differences were perceived to be too great to accept that all men derive from the same stock. This issue was at the root of the problem in the sixteenth century, and, as we shall see, the proposed solution downgraded the Genesis Flood from global to local, thus setting the stage for Lyell’s geology and Darwin’s evolution. But this was not all; Christian racists used the same argument to justify slavery.
Isaac de la Peyrére (1596-1676) was a Dutch ecclesiastic who might best be described as a propagandist geographer and would certainly have been familiar with the illustrations of de Bry. In 1655 Peyrére published his Systema Theologicum ex Prae-Adamitarum Hypothesi. He had difficulty accepting the miraculous, did not believe that sickness could be the result of sin and explained much of this and the racial differences by proposing that there had been a pre-Adamic race. He based his theory on a strained interpretation of Romans 5:12-14. To do this, he separated biblical history from world history, claiming that the Bible is only concerned with the history of the Jews. Peyrére argued that God separated one man from his pre-Adamite stock and he became Adam, the father of the Jewish nation. The Gentiles were said to be descended from the pre-Adamite race. Nevertheless, salvation was available to all men, including those before Adam. Of course, Peyrére had problems with original sin and required a local Genesis Flood to explain the existence of the pre-Adamite Gentile stock today. Recalling that there were only eight individuals on the ark, all of the same family and reasonably the same color, Peyrére had to admit that a global Flood would have drowned the pre-Adamite race.
The Church authorities saw that pre-Adamism was the making of a heresy and Peyrére was forced to recant before Pope Alexander VII. It was pointed out that a straightforward reading of the text not only demanded that the Genesis Flood be global, but far more serious, if the Flood was local, it would make God a covenant-breaker. God’s promise never again to destroy the earth by water was given to Noah in Genesis 9:11 and clearly refers to a global Flood, because there have since been many local floods. To stem the pre-Adamite heresy, three books appeared from Cambridge scholars in support of a global Flood: Thomas Burnet’s A Sacred Theology of the Earth in 1681, John Woodward’s Essay Towards a Natural Theory of the Earth in 1693 and William Whiston’s A New Theory of the Earth in 1696. These books effectively stopped all further notions of pre-Adamite man and a local Genesis Flood for almost a century. In 1774 the Scottish judge Lord Kames (1696-1782) took up his pen and produced a massive work titled Sketches of the History of Man, which ran into at least seven editions. Regarding the American Indians he concluded that, “we must unavoidably admit a local creation … the external characters of the Americans … reject the supposition of their being descended from any people of the old world.” Here Kames did not deny a global Flood but claimed a separate creation of the American Indians following the Flood.
The idea of a separate creation is known as polygenism. Theological arguments then carried over into the field of science as to whether the human race had a single origin (monogenism) or multiple origins (polygenism). Kames was charged with atheism for suggesting polygenism and was attacked on scientific grounds by Stanley Stanhope Smith, president of the College of New Jersey. Smith’s Essay of 1787 maintained that radical diversity was a post-Flood phenomenon caused by climate. The monogenetic v. polygenetic argument raged on, and as late as 1864 Paul Broca could still claim partial infertility between the white race and the black, speaking of their offspring as “hybrids.” It is now known that all races of mankind are fully interfertile. Currently, there are two schools of thought regarding man’s origin. One is known as Noah’s Ark Theory, that posits a single origin and diffusion throughout the earth; this is preferred by geneticists. The other is the Candelabra Theory, where multiple origins have merged into one interfertile human race.
The attack on the universality of the Genesis Flood came from several directions. Firstly there was pre-Adamism, based upon racial prejudice; secondly, there were commercial motives, and finally, there were the geologists who seemed to have scientific reasons. One of the more interesting polygenetic theories came from Francis Dobbs (1750-1811), an eccentric member of the Irish Parliament. Dobbs was perfectly sane until it came to Bible prophecy. In his Concise View from History (1800) he maintained that there was a race resulting from a clandestine affair of Eve with the Devil!
The commercial motives began during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I with the establishment of colonies and a lucrative slave trade. Slave traders would casually speak of “beating the jungle bushes” and “catching their booty in nets.” It was this kind of description and the obvious racial differences that made it difficult for the refined Englishman to believe that black slaves were anything other than members of the animal kingdom at worst or pre-Adamites at best. Of course, financial investments and huge profits were an added inducement for the Christian businessmen not to want to acknowledge the Negro’s descent from Adam. The abolition of slavery began by an Act of Parliament in England in 1807 but lingered on in America until 1861. Gradually, the arguments defending Negro slavery shifted from theological to scientific and eventually disappeared, but by the 1860s the geologists had firmly taken over the attack on the Genesis Flood.
Shortly after the French Revolution of 1789, George Cuvier’s theory of multiple floods began to become popular among geologists. Naturally, this required a great deal of time. Faced with this expanded time frame, Professor of theology, Thomas Chalmers, proposed to his students in 1814 that there had been a gap of indeterminate time between Genesis 1:2 and 1:3. All the previous flood deposits and their fossil remains were then ascribed to a pre-Adamite world. At first, the Flood of Chalmers’s theory was global, but under pressure from those who realized that a global Flood would erase all traces of the previous local floods, the Gap Theory Flood became local.
The idea of pre-Adamite man has always been considered useful by many Christians. For example, it seems to solve the problem of where Cain got his wife and who the parties were in the illegal unions described in Genesis chapters 4 to 6. Then again, the discoveries made by archaeologists throughout the nineteenth century, such as Neanderthal Man, could easily be ascribed to pre-Adamite man. The great ages claimed by Egyptian tomb records could also be explained away as part of the pre-Adamite race. Alexander Winchell (1824-1891), professor of geology at the University of Michigan, produced a masterful work in 1880 titled Pre-Adamites, in which he argued for a single origin of man from ape stock followed by diffusion and formation of the colored races. The Adamites split off from one of these races, the Dravidians found in India, and became the Caucasians, part of whom later became the Israelites. Winchell claimed that the Bible is only concerned with the history of the Israelites, including their descent from Adam. Although he believed he had written a tightly-argued Christian apologetic, the book is blatantly racist containing, for example, illustrations of Negro and ape heads in profile, suggesting descent.
As Darwin’s theory of evolution began to challenge the Genesis fixity of species, Christian apologists fell into two camps. On the one hand, there were those who maintained the traditional biblical account of a single origin for man and a global Flood. Racial differences were ascribed to adjustments to environment, which would include the effect of minor elements in the food and water. To this day, virtually no work has been done in this field, although it is known that significant differences can occur in only one generation by simply changing locale. These changes are nothing more than variations within the species, sometimes called micro-evolution. This is very close to the geneticist’s Noah’s Ark Theory. In the other camp, are those so confused and intimidated by evolution of any kind, even variation within the species, that they adopt the notion of pre-Adamite man and multiple origins. Adam becomes a special offshoot, or addition created relatively recently. Fossil remains said to be “millions of years old” are dismissed as pre-Adamite. When pressed, racial differences are explained away by appeal to polygenism, while all this needlessly subscribed to a local Flood. The consequences of this belief are often not thought through, but from their writings we find some of the great evangelicals of the twentieth century in this second camp. For example, Congregational evangelist R.A. Torrey (1856-1928) believed in the Gap Theory and that pre-Adamites had survived into the present day. He thus advocated a local Flood. More recently we find these ideas have been unwittingly promoted by Kathryn Kuhlman and Derek Prince among the Pentecostals, Dr. John Stott among the Anglicans and Dr. Hugh Ross among any who would listen, to name only a few. We should be reminded, however, that the idea of the pre-Adamite race was one born of ignorance and prejudice. The Scripture claims: “He has made of one blood every nation of men” (Acts 17:26).
Dobbs, Francis. 1800. A Concise View from History… Dublin: J. Jones.
Fleming, Sir John Ambrose. 1935. The Origin of Mankind viewed from the standpoint of revelation & research. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott.
Kames, Lord (Henry Home). 18