Why Adam wasn’t first

Stuart Elden mentions some reading he’s doing while on leave in Australia, including David Livingstone’s Adam’s Ancestors. Livingstone’s best known book is probably The Geographical Tradition which must count among the best books in geography of the last 30 years. I’ve read it several times and used it in classes. One one occasion in the late 1990s I asked David to partake in a kind of student interview forum I’d set up using my rudimentary programming skills on the Mac. He very kindly responded to a long series of questions posed by the students.

Adam’s Ancestor’s reflects his interest in the intersections of history, race and science. It refers to a belief, obscure even in its own time, that Adam was not the first man and Eve was not the first woman, contra the traditional reading of Genesis. This belief–Preadamism–is mentioned in The Geographical  Tradition and always stayed with me (partly because of its unusual name!).

Preadamites are also interesting however because they seek to reconcile science and religion. While they accept the Bible as true, during the 19th century a variety of evidence started to emerge from geology (fossils, archaeological remains) and biology (evolution) that challenged a reading of the Bible as evidence of a recent origin. This had results we are familiar with. Many writers and members of the public were uncomfortable with the challenge to religion that these findings appeared to make. Darwin himself held back in his Origin of Species (1859) from making the obvious connection of his model of descent with modification to humans, saying only that “light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history” (in later editions he ventured “much light”.)

Preadamites solved the dilemma of this evidence of an old earth and a Biblical tradition of a young earth by saying that there lived species of men prior to Adam and Eve (who were real and lived about 6,000 years ago). Hence “Preadamite.”

They did this in various ways but one way was to insert a gap between Genesis Chapters One and Two (the “gap theory”). Livingstone’s book is an account of Preadamism and its surprising continuing legacy.

I was able to play a very small role in the book by providing to David my very own Preadamite, a man who had cropped up in my own research in the history of cartography. This was a Scottish clergyman named James Gall Jnr (1808-1895). Although Livingstone has been writing about Preadamites since at least the early 1990s this was one he hadn’t come across. So I get my very own footnote in his work!

Gall is often cited unknowingly by cartographers eager to reject the Peters projection, which has some of the same properties as a map projection developed and published by Gall in the first issue of the Scottish Geographical Journal in 1885. He also presented them at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) in 1855. (The RGS also has a 16pp. manuscript in its archives from 1856 by Gall apparently submitted for its Proceedings.)

Such cartographers frequently point to Gall as the prior inventor of the projection developed by Peters in the late 1960s/early 1970s. But Gall was no more a cartographer than Peters, and he developed his projections out of his Preadamite beliefs and interests in astronomy. Gall added several twists to the story by postulating a physically risen Christ who now lived in the “heavens” and that the Preadamites were led by Satan (who was just a long-lived man) and became extinct due to living in sin.

I always find it amusing when cartographers promote Gall without knowing any of this! In any case if you want to know more about this fascinating man, you can read about him in (plug, plug!) my book, Mapping where I discuss this in more detail.

By the way, Gall also believed that people were living at the center of the moon, and even claimed to have seen their fires through his telescope.


One response to “Why Adam wasn’t first

  1. Pingback: Adam’s Ancestors | Progressive Geographies

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