Advocates of this hypothesis are known as "preadamites", as are the human-like creatures believed by them to have existed before Adam.
The most serious early challenge to biblical Adamism came from the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate who, on his rejection of Christianity and conversion to Theurgy, a late form of Neoplatonism, accepted the idea that many pairs of original people had been created, a belief termed co-Adamism or multiple-Adamism.
St Augustine’s book The City of God contains two chapters indicating a debate between Christians and pagans over human origins: Book XII, chapter 10 is called "Of the falseness of the history that the world hath continued many thousand years", while that of book XVIII, chapter 40 is "The Egyptians’ abominable lyings, to claim their wisdom the age of 100,000 years". As the titles indicate, Augustine clearly believed pagan ideas concerning the history and chronology of the world and the human race to be completely absurd and incompatible with the revealed truth that man's existence on the earth was not yet six thousand years old. Augustine’s position on this matter was supported by most rabbis and the church fathers, who generally dismissed views on the antiquity of the world as myths and fables not requiring any considered refutation.
In 1591 Giordano Bruno argued that because no one could imagine that the Jews and the Ethiopians had the same ancestry that God must have either created separate Adams or that Africans were the descendants of pre-Adamite races.
The claims in Nabatean Agriculture mentioned above were also discussed by Maimonides in his Guide for the Perplexed through which they became known to the seventeenth century French Millenarian Isaac La Peyrère who, because of his influence on subsequent thinkers and movements, is usually attributed with formulating Pre-Adamite theory. In his Prae-Adamitae, published in Latin in 1655 La Peyrère argued that Paul's words in Chapter 5, verses 12-14 of his Epistle to the Romans should be interpreted such that "if Adam sinned in a morally meaningful sense there must have been an Adamic law according to which he sinned. If law began with Adam, there must have been a lawless world before Adam, containing people". Thus, according to La Peyrère there must have been two creations: first the creation of the Gentiles and then that of Adam, who was father of the Jews. The existence of pre-Adamites, La Peyrère argued, explained Cain's life after Abel's murder which, in the Genesis account, involved the taking of a wife and the building of a city. This account of human origins became the basis for 19th century theories of polygenism and modern racism.
Some date the origins of racial theory precisely to 24 April, 1684 when François Bernier distinguished four or five races (with no hierarchichal distinction between them) in an article (‘A new division of the Earth, according to the different species or races of men who inhabit it') published in the Journal des sçavans. Because of widespread theological opposition to the pre-Adamite theories of his friend, La Peyrère, Bernier published his paper anonymously.
In 1843 Samuel A. Cartwright (see Drapetomania), a Louisiana physician and proslavery writer, published a book called Essays, Being Inductions Drawn from the Baconian Philosophy "to show how the anatomical evidence of Negro inferiority could be correlated with the Biblical description of ‘the curse of Canaan’ – God’s condemnation of Canaan and his allegedly black descendants to be ‘servants unto servants’. Science and religion came together perfectly, Cartwright concluded, to make a case for the servile inferiority of the blacks". Cartwright later came to endorse the idea of separate origins and believed that the Negroes and Indians had been created before Adam and Eve and were among the "living creatures" over which Adam had been given dominion. Curiously, Cartwright also claimed that the serpent or "Nachash" was actually a "negro gardener", based on his contention that the Hebrew word meant not only snake but also "to be or to become black".
Following the American Civil War Southerners were increasingly receptive to arguments supportive of black inferiority. In 1867 Buckner H Payne wrote a pamphlet under the pen name Ariel entitled The Negro: What is His Ethnological Status?, in which he argued that the Negro is a pre-Adamic beast of the field (specifically, a higher order of monkey) which was preserved on the Ark. In 1891 William Campbell under the pen name "Caucasian" wrote in Anthropology for the People: A Refutation of the Theory of the Adamic Origin of All Races that the nonwhite peoples were not descendants of Adam and therefore "not brothers in any proper sense of the term, but inferior creations" and that polygenism was the "only theory reconcilable with scripture". Following Payne, Campbell viewed the great flood as a consequence of intermarriage between the white (Adamic) and nonwhite (pre-Adamic) peoples "the only union we can think of that is reasonable and sufficient to account for the corruption of the world and the consequent judgement".
In an unusual blend of contemporary evolutionary thinking and pre-Adamism the Vanderbilt University theistic evolutionist and geologist Alexander Winchell argued in his 1878 tract Adamites and Preadamites for the pre-Adamic origins of the human race on the basis that the Negroes were too racially inferior to have developed from the Biblical Adam. Winchell also believed that the laws of evolution operated according to the will of God.
The Irish lawyer Dominick McCausland, a Biblical literalist and anti-Darwinian polemicist, maintained the theory as a means of upholding the Mosaic timescale. He held that the Chinese were descended from Cain, and that the "Caucasian" race would eventually exterminate all others. He maintained that only the "Caucasian" descendants of Adam were capable of creating civilisation, and tried to explain away the numerous non-"Caucasian" civilisations by attributing them all to a vanished "Caucasian", race, the Hamites.
The ideologies of British Israelism, which developed in England in the nineteenth century, also sometimes involved a pre-Adamic worldview, though this was a minority position. According to this model the pre-Adamites were viewed as a race of inferior bestial creatures apart from Adam, who was the first white man and son of God. In this narrative Satan seduces Eve and the resulting offspring is a hybrid creature called Cain. Later Cain flees to East Turkestan to establish a colony of followers intent on realizing the Devil’s plan for domination of the earth. Further elaboration of this myth involved the identification of the Jews with Canaanites, the putative descendants of Cain (although the eponymous ancestor of Canaanites is not Cain but Canaan). It followed that, if the tribes of Judah were supposed to have intermarried with Cain’s descendants, then the Jews were the offspring of Satan as well as sundry nonwhite pre-Adamic races.
In the United States British Israelism developed into the aggressively anti-Semitic Christian Identity movement in which the Jews were increasingly seen as outside the domain of humanity. However, most proponents of Christian Identity do not embrace pre-Adamite claims.