C. S. Lewis and Others: Non-Literal Views of Adam and Eve | The BioLogos Forum

In his important book The Problem of Pain, the most influential Christian writer of the last century, scholar and novelist Clive Staples Lewis, called the story of Adam and Eve a “a ‘myth’ in the Socratic sense, a not unlikely tale.” In this excerpt, philosopher Robin Collins compares his “historical/ideal” view with several other non-literal views of early Genesis, including that of Lewis.

Introduction (by Ted Davis)

Original sin and the Fall of Adam and Eve pose major challenges to proponents of Evolutionary Creation, both at the level of theology and also at the level of biblical interpretation. BioLogos does not endorse any one response to those challenges: our view is that the church deserves a serious, pluralistic conversation about evolution and original sin. In an effort to help foster that conversation, we already provide numerous resources, among them these:

Further resources are being developed by some recipients of The BioLogos Foundation’s Evolution & Christian Faith program.

In the brief section on the Ideal Interpretation, which he does not hold, Collins says that it fits well with process theism and evolutionary optimism. I fully agree with his assessment, but I want to add something about process theism in relation to Evolutionary Creation, the view of origins promoted by BioLogos. As I explained in another column, process theism is a non-traditional view of God that developed in the last century. It has been influential on some important Christian proponents of evolution, including the late Ian Barbour, a singularly important scholar of science and religion. Process theologians typically hold that God lacks omnipotence, that the universe and God are co-eternal, that creatio ex nihilo is not a mode of divine action (partly because God just lacks the power to do it), and that God does not determine the future. Indeed, the God of process theism strongly resembles Demiurge, the god in Plato’s creation story, in response to which early Christian thinkers formulated a much more robust doctrine of creation.

I do not regard process theism as an appropriate way of understanding the Christian God for many reasons, especially because it is entirely unable to make sense of the bodily Resurrection of Jesus—a specific display of divine omnipotence without which Christianity simply would not exist at all. Robin Collins also rejects process theism, though he does not go into that here.

Because process theists assert that God doesn’t determine the future, the process God can’t know the future in anything remotely like the classical view of omniscience; it’s complicated, and I don’t want to oversimplify. For this reason, process theism is sometimes confused with open theism, another non-traditional view, according to which God knows all that can be known—but some things, such as the actions of free agents, are not actually knowable in advance even by God. Open theists hold that complete divine foreknowledge of all human actions contradicts free will, and they resolve this dilemma by re-conceiving divine omniscience. However, the common claim that open theism collapses into process theism is simply not true, as evangelical theologian Greg Boyd so neatly explains.

Some proponents of Evolutionary Creation, including John Polkinghorne, are open theists, while others, including Robert Russell, are not. Robin Collins thinks open theism makes the most sense, but he is also open to Molinism, a version of closed theism. Regardless, open theism is not central to the position he has been developing in this series—to which we now turn.

The Historical/Quasi-literal Interpretation

The next view we will look at is what I will call the historical/quasi-literal view. Like the HI view, this view denies the existence of a literal Adam and Eve, but unlike the HI view, it still retains the traditional idea that humans fell from some sort of state of moral, spiritual, and intellectual integrity through an act of disobedience to God. C. S. Lewis, for instance, expresses this sort of view in what he calls a “Socratic myth” that is, a likely story (see The Problem of Pain chapter 5, particularly pp. 77-85). According to Lewis, when hominids reached a certain state of development, God gave them the capacity for both self-consciousness and consciousness of God, while at the same time putting them in a paradisal state in which all their appetites were completely under their control, and in which they lived in complete harmony with one another and God. Eventually, however, one or more of these creatures decided to choose their own selves over God, to “call their selves their own” (p. 80). Once this happened, they fell, their minds and hearts becoming darkened and alienated from God, and in the process losing control over their own appetites.

Although Lewis’s view runs into fewer problems than the literal Adam and Eve view, it still runs into two of the same problems which the HI interpretation avoids. First, it runs into the problem of accounting for how human beings fell: if they were in such perfect relationship with God, how could they be tempted to turn away? Second, as explained in more detail when we critiqued the literal Adam and Eve view at the end of the last subsection, God’s bringing these first humans into such a paradisal state knowing that they would inevitably fall seems unmotivated, a sort of game that God plays. The only advantage I can see of Lewis’s interpretation over the HI view is that it is closer to the traditional view of Adam and Eve being created in a moral, spiritual, and intellectual rectitude.

Finally, although this is not necessarily a problem, Lewis’s account involves more of an act of special creation than he suggests. The reason is that a linguistic community seems to be essential to human self-consciousness and free will. But, since a particular language is something that one learns from one’s ancestors, either that language would have had to slowly evolve—which would imply a slow evolution of self-consciousness, contrary to what Lewis presupposes—or God would have had specially to teach the first humans some particular language, which would involve a major act of special creation.

The Ideal Interpretation

As in the HI view, this interpretation sees the Genesis story as representative of an ideal for which we ought to strive. However, our “fallen state” is more the result of our evolutionary heritage than the result of free choice. The evolutionary process left humans in a state of incompleteness, with various impulses—such as aggression—that we must learn to transcend or control.

This view fits the best with process theology and traditional liberal theology, which typically embraced some sort of evolutionary optimism. Taken as a complete interpretation of the doctrine of original sin, this view, I believe, fails both to take sufficiently seriously the depth of our bondage to sin as assumed in Scripture and to include the social, communal, and historical dimension of sin as part of the doctrine.

Existential Interpretation

Under this interpretation, Adam and Eve are symbolic figures that represent every man and woman. (Indeed, as mentioned previously, the Hebrew word for Adam simply means human being, thus rendering plausible the idea that Adam and Eve represent “everyperson.”) The Genesis story and the doctrine of original sin are about the existential choice each of us faces of God over self as we come to self-consciousness. As Langdon Gilkey explains, this is the view adopted within much contemporary theology. Original sin—which is defined as our estrangement and alienation from God—is seen as what inevitably happens to each of us when our “self forms itself, when the self, through its own freedom and choice of itself, constitutes its own existence” (Gilkey, “Protestant Views of Sin,” in The Human Condition in the Jewish and Christian Traditions, p. 159). This choice, which we continually make each day of our lives, is one in which we ultimately place ourselves at the center of existence, in which we depend on ourselves instead of God. This is the Fall, and is something that happens again and again everyday as we constitute our own self-existence.

Although this view is certainly insightful, as is existential philosophy which provides a large part of its philosophical underpinnings, as a complete account of original sin, it runs into the same problem as the last interpretation, in that it fails explicitly to include the historical and social dimension of sin as part of the doctrine. Further, as explained above, I do not believe it fits as well as the HI interpretation with the Biblical texts pertaining to original sin, such as Romans 1, Romans 5, and Genesis 2-3.

This cartoon from the creationist ministry Answers in Genesis illustrates the belief that there was no animal death prior to the Fall. A central tenet of young-earth creationism; it’s one of the driving forces behind the rejection of evidence for an “old” earth.

The first version is highly implausible on two grounds. To begin with, it is committed to young-Earth creationism, since if one believes in an old earth then clearly death and suffering have been around long before Adam and Eve. Second, this version runs into problems when we consider animal death and suffering. Much of the death and suffering in the world is a result of the way creatures are constructed. It is not the result of some corruption of the creature’s original design. The tiger, for instance, has instincts, teeth, and a digestive system intricately well designed to catch and eat prey; various bacteria and viruses are well constructed to cause illness and sickness; and grass is constructed to grow and then die in order to make room for other grass. Thus, this version implies that the Fall somehow reconstructed, or redesigned various organisms on earth. But, the only way this could have happened is through some intelligence. One is thus left with claiming either: (1) that some evil power reconstructed the organisms, in which case God would no longer be the creator of present-day animals and plants; (2) that God redesigned the organisms; or (3) that God created some “redesign program” that got activated by the fall.

Clearly the claim (1) is unacceptable. Thus, one is left with the claim (2) or (3), which, however, are not much better than (1) since they end up hypothesizing a second re-creation, either by God or through the redesign program, of animals and plants after the creation recounted in Genesis 1 and 2. Such a hypothesis has no basis in Scripture and runs contrary to any natural reading of Genesis 1 and 2: Genesis 1, for instance, clearly indicates that God created the creatures we have today before the Fall, not in response to the Fall.

To avoid these problems, advocates of a literal Adam and Eve often claim that the Fall affected only Adam and Eve and their descendants and did not directly affect the rest of creation. According to one version of this view, Adam and Eve were supernaturally protected from illness, suffering, and death by their perfect relationship with God. Because of the Fall, however, they and their descendants became subject to these things.

Even though this second version is more plausible than the first, it also runs into severe problems insofar as it ascribes to a literal reading of Genesis 2-4, which is what typically motivates its advocates. Besides the textual implausibilities in interpreting Genesis 2-4 literally, as recounted above, there are serious scientific problems with taking this approach. The major problem is that the anthropological evidence we have overwhelmingly points to the worldwide existence of modern humans for at least 40,000 years. Further, these “humans” were culturally fairly advanced, as advanced as many tribal societies throughout the world: as Davis Young remarks, “they buried their dead in ritualistic ways indicative of religious impulses and possibly some conception of an afterlife, engaged in toolmaking, and produced cave art and a variety of beautiful art objects.” They also used fire, produced ornamentation, and made simple musical instruments, such as a bone flutes (see pp. 390 & 395 in the article listed below).

Further, the evidence that the humans who did these things existed for at least 40,000 years does not rely on a single method of dating, but on a whole multiplicity of methods: for example, Carbon-14, potassium-argon dating, Uranium track dating, amino acid racemization, paleomagnetic, electron spin, thermonuclesis, and methods involving looking at the plant and animal life contemporaneous with the fossils. Moreover, it is based on a large number of fossil finds. [In addition to the article by Davis Young, see James Hurd, “The Fossil Hominid Record,” in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation. Actual examples of this abundance of fossils and different dating methods can be obtained by a search of a general science index under “Dating of hominid fossils.”] The only way around this evidence seems to be to adopt a young-Earth creationist position. Yet, as even leading defenders of young-Earth creationism such as Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds admit, “Natural science at the moment seems to overwhelmingly point to an old cosmos” (Three Views of Creation and Evolution, p. 49).

If we interpret Genesis literally, however, then it would be very implausible to push the time of Adam and Eve to 40,000 years. Although even literalists accept that the genealogies in Genesis have gaps in them, few find it plausible to stretch them much beyond 10,000 B.C. For instance, Gleason Archer, who defends Genesis 2-4 as literal history, claims that “However the statistics of Genesis 5 [and the genealogies in general] may be handled, they can hardly end up with a date for Adam much before 10,000 B.C.” (The Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, p. 64). Taken literally, the genealogy of Genesis implies that Adam and Eve, and their descendants, were farmers and lived in settlements. Genesis 4:4, for instance, refers to Abel as tending a flock, and Genesis 4:17 refers to Cain as building a city. The extensive archeological and anthropological evidence we have, however, implies that humans did not start tending flocks and building settlements until around 10,000 B.C. (See Davis Young.) Thus, combined with this anthropological and archeological data, a historically literal interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis implies that Adam and Eve could not have existed much earlier than 10,000 B.C. This means they could not have been the first humans, contrary to what a literal historical interpretation seems to imply.

Davis Young presents an excellent review of the four major responses those who wish to defend a literal view of Genesis could give to the above problem, and concludes that they all face serious difficulties (though we do not have space to further discuss these issues). [Here Collins has a lengthy footnote: One such response is to deny that Adam and Eve were the first humans and instead claim that they were merely “representative” humans. Among other problems, this view seems to conflict with the “plain” literal-historical reading of Genesis that this response is being advanced to save, particularly Genesis 3:20 which says that Eve was the “mother of all the living.” (A related view in which Adam and Eve are seen as mythical humans that symbolically represent each human being is advanced by those who do not believe in a literal Adam and Eve, particularly by advocates of what I call the existential view—discussed in the next excerpt.)] In light of these difficulties, I think that we have very good, though not definitive, scientific reasons to reject an historically literal interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis. Notice, however, that these difficulties have nothing to do with the theory of evolution per se, but merely the evidence from archeology and anthropology.

Langdon Gilkey, a former student of the great neo-Orthodox theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, was (like Niebuhr) an astute critic of the liberal humanistic view of human nature—basically the same view that Collins refers to as “evolutionary optimism.” His father, Charles Whitney Gilkey, served as pastor of the Hyde Park Baptist Church (now Hyde Park Union Church) and Dean of Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago. The church and the university were both hotbeds of liberal Protestantism, places where the humanist view reigned supreme. During World War Two, Langdon was interned by the Japanese in China, where he found abundant evidence of a “fundamental bent of the total self in all of us,” leading him back to “the old idea of original sin.” Ultimately, he concluded that “the main article of faith of the humanist, the goodness of mankind and man’s consequent capacity to be moral, is refuted by any careful study of human nature,” and therefore “it is irrational to defend a humanistic faith that the evidence so universally contradicts” (quoting his memoir, Shantung Compound, pp. 115 and 230).

Biological Interpretation

The biological interpretation sees original sin as nothing more than biologically inherited propensities, such as aggression and selfishness, that help the individual or one’s kinship group survive, but typically do not promote the flourishing of the larger community. Essentially, under this view, the doctrine of original sin, the Genesis story, and the various statements in the epistles tell us nothing more than what science tells us. [Collins has a footnote here: This view of original sin is fairly common. For example, theologian Phil Hefner suggests a version of this view, suggesting that “concepts of the fall and original sin may well be considered to be mythic renditions of this biologically grounded sense of discrepancy” between the requirements of culture and our genes (The Human Factor: Evolution, Culture, and Religion, p. 132). For further examples of this view, see Patricia A. Williams, “Sociobiology and Original Sin,” Zygon 35 (December 2000): 783-812, and Michael Ruse, Can a Darwinian be a Christian? The Relationship Between Science and Religion.] Advocates of this view often assume that we are purely biological and physical beings. Hence science, not theology, becomes the primary place to look to understand the nature and origin of human beings.

There are at least four major objections to this view. First, I believe a strong case can be made for thinking that human beings are more than merely physical creatures. Such qualities as consciousness are difficult to explain on merely physical grounds. (Much has been written of the problem that consciousness presents for physicalism. One good recent book is David Chalmers,The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory.) Second, this view tends to reduce evil merely to our acting on biological impulses, ignoring the particularly serious forms of evil that our made possible by our own self-awareness and transcendence—evils such as idolatry of self, viewing other people as mere objects, and the like. Many present-day Christians and other religious believers agree with this criticism: they will argue that events of the twentieth century, such as the Holocaust, show that the roots of evil go very deep, well beyond our biological nature.

Third, within this understanding, the voices of theology, Scripture, and Church tradition are practically ignored, becoming simply a sort of fifth wheel. Instead, it is the purported findings of science that are claimed to provide us with the correct understanding of human nature and the human condition. The only role theology plays is to give a name—original sin—to what science discovers. Specifically, this view ignores those scriptures on which the doctrine of original sin has been traditionally based, such as Romans 5 and Genesis 2-4, which provide a clear link between human bondage to sin and the free choice of our ancestors.

Finally, as theologian Langdon Gilkey has pointed out with regard to similar views held by liberal Protestantism (see “Protestant Views of Sin,” p. 163), this sort of view tends to minimize the necessity of atonement: if evil is simply the result of instincts and dispositions bred in us by the evolutionary process, human beings can be perfected through proper social or genetic engineering. A bloody death on the cross certainly does not seem as necessary. Of course, advocates of this interpretation could respond that Christ’s atonement and the related work of sanctification by the Holy Spirit give us the power to transcend, overcome, or transform these instincts and dispositions. Even with this response, however, Christianity will be put into a losing competition with science: wouldn’t neurology and related disciplines eventually offer a surer and better means of dealing with these otherwise negative instincts and dispositions, such as aggression? If our problem is biological, then a biological solution seems most appropriate, not a religious solution. The vitality of religions in general, not just Christianity, depends on the claim that the human problem is at least in part “spiritual,” not merely physical or cultural. (Nonetheless, the spiritual might very well be interwoven with both the cultural and physical, just as the cultural is interwoven with the physical.)

Despite these problems with the biological interpretation, it could plausibly be thought of as providing a component of original sin. My objection to the biological account is that it reduces original sin to certain inherited biological traits.

Looking Ahead

This series concludes next time with a lengthy “theological postlude” in which Collins explains his view of “theistically guided evolution,” an ID-friendly position that is motivated by his wish to place God “into a deeper relationship with creation while still leaving room for creation to act on its own.” For more than a few readers, that might prove to be the single most interesting part of this very interesting essay. I hope you will be part of the conversation once again.

References and Credits

Robin Collins’ chapter from Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, ed. Keith B. Miller (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), is reproduced by kind permission of the author and the Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. We gratefully acknowledge their cooperation in bringing this material to our readers.

All Scripture quotations in this paper are from the NRSV translation.

One of the sources cited by Collins is especially important for anyone interested in this topic: Davis Young, “The Antiquity and Unity of the Human Race Revisited,” Christian Scholars Review 24 (May 1995): 380-396. For more information about radioactive dating methods in general, see Roger C. Wiens, “Radiometric Dating: A Christian Perspective.”

Readers who study either article are invited to comment here.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blog/c.-s.-lewis-and-others-non-literal-views-of-adam-and-eve

To get the discussion started, why not state your own answer to the question I used as the title to the previous excerpt: Do We Need an Alternative to the Traditional View of the Fall?

If you accept the challenge, please articulate at least one argument in support of your answer.


In my view we need a new understanding of the Fall, not necessary a new view.

*The Genesis story and the doctrine of original sin are about the existential choice each of us faces of God over self as we come to self-consciousness. As Langdon Gilkey explains, this is the view adopted within much contemporary theology. Original sin—which is defined as our estrangement and alienation from God—is seen as what inevitably happens to each of us when our “self forms itself, when the self, through its own freedom and choice of itself, constitutes its own existence” (Gilkey

I agree with this understanding of Original Sin, it is “our estrangement and alienation from God.” The issue with that is this definition is relational, that is based on our relationship with God, rather than natural, that is humans have a sin nature. Traditional Western theology tends to think that the Fall created the Sin Nature of Humans which was transmitted biologically from generation to generation after Augustine. This why the literal Virgin Birth and the Immaculate Conception of Mary are theologically important to the Roman Church.

However looking at Genesis 2 we see that sin is indeed defined there are relational, that is Adam and Eve made the choice to listen to the serpent and follow its advice, rather than choose to follow the admonition of God not to eat of the Tree or suffer the consequences. It was the decision to follow the ways of the world, rather than the way of God that resulted in their estrangement from God, from Nature, and from each other or Sin.

When talking about Process Theology I think that you should note that in some sense there are two types of Process Theology, the first is more Process Philosophy which began with Alfred N. Whitehead and was adapted by others to be a theology. This is the kind of thinking you are discussing. Then there is the extension of Process Theology which has been called Relational Theology, which is much more personal, and has been developed by Thomas Jay Oord. While I call my theology Relational too, it is different Oord’s Relational Theology because mine is based on the relational nature of the Trinity and God, while Oord following Process Theology is not.

Thus it is my view that the Fall demonstrates the relational nature of humanity and God. The Fall created a lasting estrangement between God and humanity, because humans have failed, like Adam and Eve to take responsibility for their sin and insist on blaming God and others. The Fall also foreshadows salvation from sin when Jesus comes to die upon the Tree of Life so humans can be reconciled with God, others, and nature, and receive the gift of Eternal Life intended for them.

When we see God and Reality as relational the story of the Fall makes excellent sense. When we keep the old natural theological and philosophical view, it does not. The formation of “self” does not result necessarily in sin, but because we grow as part of an estranged fallen world, it does. However Jesus shows us a better the way of faith in His Covenant, which enables us to be independent of the world and interdependent with God and breaks the power of canceled sin.

With all due respect, the biological interpretation which views original sin as our biological propensity to selfishness has more going for it than it’s being given credit for for in the article. I would like to address in some detail objections #2 and #4: objection #2 claims that the biological interpretation ignores “the particularly serious forms of evil that are made possible by our own self-awareness and transcendence-evils such as idolatry of self, viewing other people as mere objects, and the like.” I would argue that these are still forms of selfishness; idolatry of self is almost a textbook definition of “selfishness” - putting oneself and one’s needs above all else. Treating others as objects falls in the same category - they are to serve our needs and pleasures, rather than being treated as fellow image-bearers. Objection #4 states that “this sort of view [the biological interpretation] tends to minimize the necessity of atonement: if evil is simply the result of instincts and dispositions bred in us by the evolutionary process, human beings can be perfected through proper social or genetic engineering. A bloody death on a cross certainly doesn’t seem as necessary.” Speaking as a professional biologist (although not a geneticist), I am convinced that human nature cannot be changed by “social or genetic engineering”. We know very little about the specific pathways by which genes influence behavior (witness the fruitless search for the “gay gene”), and even if we did, it is very unlikely that that knowledge would give us the ability to modify behavior. By way of analogy, we have known for over 25 years exactly which single gene causes cystic fibrosis, but we are no closer to a cure than we were 25 years ago. Genetic influence on behavior is likely to be infinitely more complicated than a single-gene autosomal disease - there is no escaping the need for atonement. The “original selfishness” argument has been ably advocated by Daryl Domning in his book by the same title - I find it very helpful in reconciling the Genesis narrative with the discoveries of modern evolutionary biology.


The biggest problem with the claim that humans have a biological propensity for selfishness is that it is untrue. Instead of looking at the abstract biological theory of Darwin we need to look at the actual biological history of the human species.

I note the recent Evolution Special Issue of the Scientific American, Sept, 2014. On p. 69 the subtitle for the article entitled “All for One” says, “Our ability to cooperate in large societies has deep evolutionary roots in the animal kingdom.” It also says, “We probably owe our success as a species more to our cooperativeness than our capacity for violence.” It then goes on to explain and document how the cooperative nature of humans gives them an evolutionary advantage over other species.

In another article about marriage it explains that the mostly monogamous nature of humans again gives them an evolutionary advantage and promotes harmony and cooperation in human society. So much for the selfish gene and the desire to reproduce one’s genes.

Darwin took an idea, survival of the fittest which was popular, maybe because since we are survivors, we must be winner, we must be fittest. However it does not stand up to scrutiny as these scientific articles clearly illustrate. How long are people going to ignore the holes in natural selection just because it sounds right and is called scientific?

I moved 3 posts to a new topic: Natural Selection vs. Ecology: What drives evolution?

Daniel, except if we are selfish by evolutionary nature, then selfishness could be good as well as bad, and salvation is not required. It has been postulated that selfishness is necessary for survival, and thus is to be desired. Even cooperation with others becomes a fulfillment of selfish motives, how can we argue it is sinful? For it to be original sin, it would have to be original, or different from what came previously. Ancestors would have had to be unselfish. Otherwise it is not original, but merely derived. And again, perfectly natural and desireable. ?

In my view, we definitely need a different way of looking at the fall.

It is common to wonder where Cain went after he killed his brother Abel. Some people believe that there were already a few children of Adam and Eve that were spread out in the land, but this view seems to not hold up in light of Genesis 4:14, when Cain is talking to God, which says “My punishment is greater than I can bear!..I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me.” I get the impression that the “anyone” he is talking about would not be his family. There is not necessarily scriptural support for that conclusion, but it seems logical to me that he wouldn’t refer to his family as being able to “find” him, since they could not have gone too far from the rest of their family, and would know Cain’s basic location.

The idea of the existence of a human civilization outside of the garden during the time of Adam and Eve is given further credibility in Romans 5:13: “For until the law, sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” It is not completely clear in this verse which law it is referring to, but I think it is safe to assume that it means the first law, which would have been the commandment to Adam and Eve to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This law was likely given to Adam and Eve early on in their time in the garden, so it seems like the sin that Paul is saying was in the world before the law was not any sin of Adam or Eve. Since it is widely agreed upon that animals do not have the ability to necessarily “sin” – since they have not been given a law and they cannot communicate with God – it seems to follow that there were some humans existing before Adam and Eve that did not have contact with God. If they did have contact with God, it appears to be that God would have given them a law, in which case it probably would have been included instead of just implied in the Bible.

All of that is to say that if Adam and Eve were not the first humans, we must adjust the traditional view of the fall. The sin of Adam and Eve did not bring sin nature into the world; that was already in existence. Instead, when Paul says earlier in Romans 5 that “through one man sin entered the world”, he meant the pattern of deliberately disobeying God, which the people before Adam and Eve would not have done, since there was nothing to disobey.

Intresting, Connor. I would speculate the opposite of you, that when Cain says anyone who finds him, it is most likely to be members of his family who may attempt to punish him for what he did to their brother (uncle, etc), or simply to treat him as he treated Abel because of Cain’s example. If he is a vagabond and fugitive, it would imply they would not find him easily or automatically.

The existence of humans before Adam and Eve, or besides Adam and Eve and their descendants, really has no scriptural basis.

Romans 5 clearly indicates that before the law, sin was in the world. The law generally refers to the decalogue and associated laws, but sometimes in the new testament it refers to ceremonial law. In this case, it refers to the general laws given such as the decalogue. What it means is that the law revealed sin, not that it created sin. So this cannot apply the way you are suggesting. When the law was given, people understood their sin and their guilt more completely. And so they understood their need for grace as well.

John, perhaps I did not make myself clear; biological selfishness is not morally wrong until and unless an organism has self-awareness, moral judgement, the intelligence requisite to anticipate future consequences of present actions, etc. All living things have to be “selfish” in order for life to survive and diversify; only when hominids achieved a certain level of intellectual and moral development did selfishness become “sinful”. One could still legitimately ask why God would design a process (evolution by natural selection) that relies on selfishness as its principal engine. Daryl Domning has argued persuasively that this was the only way to create a process that would generate the wonderful diversity of biological life, and, in the fullness of time, morally free beings that could respond to their Creator in genuine love. If you don’t feel like tackling his lengthy book, I recommend this summary article: Evolution, Evil and Original Sin


Thank you for the link to the very well written article by Daryl P. Domning.


I thank you also for the link to an interesting article.

While there is much can be agreed upon, I disagree on one important issue.

God can and does use aspects of the Creation, namely suffering, pain, and even death to accomplish God’s will, but God did not use evil, namely sin and selfishness to create the universe. God the Father used God the Logos (Jesus) to create the universe.

Jesus suffered, Jesus experienced deep pain, which was not only physical pain, but also deep spiritual pain and mental anguish. Jesus died. So we can say that these experiences are not evil in themselves, although they often are the consequences directly and indirectly of sin.

Yes, the universe from its beginning has been imperfect, but that does not mean that it was not good, as the Bible says. Evil and sin came into the world through human beings. Only humans made in the Image of God can know and experience sin and this is what we choose to do.

Our relational make up has been corrupted by conscious selfishness and sin. We can not blame it on biology or our environment. We are primarily responsible for who we are, and God tells us through Jesus Christ we can change our life by simply taking responsibility for it and turning away from our selfish ways and turning toward God in Jesus Christ, Who gives us the Holy Spirit of Love.

Dan, I did scan the article. Although it was a reasonable summary, for me it did not provide anything particularly new. Unless I scanned too quickly. But as I was playing “the devil’s advocate” in my previous questions, I will continue to do so. Maybe elaboration is required.

You see, the whole idea of sin, why should it be connected to intellectual development? What is moral development? Is it not merely an attribution of sin? How could you say that selfishness is immoral? Perhaps even that statement is a result of human selfishness, wishing to preserve security and peace. Moralism is just a term used by lazy selfish people so they do not have to compete with others. (remember, I’m defending an amoral view on behalf of others). I was just reading an article in National Geographic about some people in the jungles of India, who extract levys at point of death from miners and others. They do see their actions as immoral, while obviously those who are being harassed and killed would see their actions as immoral. Both are being selfish.

From the point of view of the article, selfishness is inherited biologically from animal ancestors. If this is true, then it would be absurd to say that it is sinful. It would be like saying the eyes and hair and arms you inherited from your ancestors are sinful. Self awareness merely makes you realize how important selfishness is, and how necessary it is for societal cooperation, family survival, and defending your particular brand of origins theory.


You wrote: > From the point of view of the article, selfishness is inherited biologically from animal ancestors. If this is true, then it would be absurd to say that it is sinful. It would be like saying the eyes and hair and arms you inherited from your ancestors are sinful.

I think you are making the concept of selfishness too monolithic. There are many natural (i.e. created) things that we do inherit but that we can also use sinfully. Our sex drive is an obvious example. Is sex evil? Obviously not. Can it be evil? Obviously so. But the drive towards it is inherited, and we Theists would say God-given every bit as much as your eyes and hair and arms.

Selfishness is the same. Not only is it inherited; it has an implicated mandate from Scriptures themselves. We are called to love others as we love ourselves. This command makes no sense if we are not supposed to love ourselves. But as with sex, we take self-love and run amok with that --making a good thing sinful.

I am intrigued by the underlying need for some Christians to create a narrative regarding original sin that is overlayed with what biologists and related sciences discuss regarding origins of life and that of various species. While I think it worthwhile for science to explore nature, I think any relevance to questions such as morals and virtues can ONLY be valid if the sciences can provide a quantifiable definition of “what is a human being” and “who is it that we call God”, and also why so many cultures have come and gone on earth, each with various notions of virtue and their often contradictory judgements of good and evil.

Thee present discussions do not ‘scratch the surface’ of what amounts to recorded history of humanity, and yet often begin with the question of “original sin” which then is seamlessly expand into the general area of theodicy – the latter questioning God, when we human beings are faced with evil and suffering.

The notion of original sin is often redefined to mean we seek to understand if we can identify a time when human beings “began to sin”. Yet it is difficult for me (and I think everyone) to discuss a time we can personally can show and state as a time “without sin”.

Often the notion of man beginning to sin is eventually redefined with the when and how mankind may have begun – by this I mean the biological narrative is superimposed on the theological question of human sin. If we define sin as anything we think a human being may do that we now would disapprove, or even if we decide that these are acts that would need to be atoned by the sacrifice of Christ, than a historical narrative may seem justified in these discussions within a Christian outlook (i.e. Christ crucified and resurrected). But sin, as something that is known, is extremely personal. I can well imagine Alexandra the Great (or any other conqueror) believing he has committed highly moral and “sinless” acts by destroying an opposing army and putting the conquered nation under his boot. History is filled with examples of cultures that extol acts that some of us would find repulsive.

Thus if we are inclined to produce a narrative based on Darwin’s outlook regarding the notion of sin (before we continue to the “original kind”), we need to show consistency – does theistic evolution differentiate between the notions of virtue proposed by pagan cultures, or does it require a different narrative that is proposed for the Christian doctrine of sin? Can we superimpose evolutionary outlooks with the recorded history of human activity and how this exemplifies our understanding of good and evil – and how do we view Theodicy in this universal context. From this we may arrive at a clear idea of what is meant by “all have sinned”, especially when we understand many of these believe otherwise.

Instead discussions are transferred to animal behaviour and the notions of self-preservation. If I took these seriously I would suffer from great intellectual confusion. We need to better understand what we mean by humanity, and if we do this, and understand what we mean by sin, perhaps we may be in a position to discuss other areas. Obviously if we assume human and animal are identical, we may rationalise the jump from Faith to biology - but this too would be debated.

I understand my comments may not directly contribute to a novel view of “original sin”, but I hope they would encourage questions on the broader areas concerning Faith and our understanding of good and evil.

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Selfishness is the same. Not only is it inherited; it has an implicated mandate from Scriptures themselves. We are called to love others as we love ourselves. This command makes no sense if we are not supposed to love ourselves.

I do not think that Christians are mandated to be selfish. On the contrary, we are not. You seem to equate love of self with selfishness, which it is not. Selfishness is love of self to the exclusion of God and others. This of course is contrary to the First Commandment and the Great Commandment of Jesus.

Jesus clearly tells us to love God first and foremost and the love of others and self flow and are dependent on this love relationship, because God loves everyone, even me.

The important thing about the Original Sin, as not just that Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree, but they DELIBERATELY chose to eat it. The serpent asked Eve if there was a food that that humans were forbidden to eat. She told it what it was and why God them not to eat, so there was no question in her mind that God said it was wrong.

The serpent gave its arguments against God, and Eve followed the reasoning of the serpent and Adam went along with Eve. The Fall was a deliberate act where humans chose to disregard the wisdom of God for their own thinking which suggested that God was lying to them to keep them in submission.

The sin was that they did not love God enough to trust God was tell them the truth. The serpent has done nothing for them, yet the trusted what it said more than God.

If they did have questions about what God told them, they should have talked to God to get a further explanation, before they made their decision. It appears that the words of the serpent planted seeds of doubt in the minds of the pair whose trust in God had never before been challenged.

Humans and other animals have a fear of death and desire for survival, which I would say is instinctual. I do not think that we can say it is inherited. Dawkins has invented the concept of “meme” to go along with gene-oriented existence. He wants to replace the concept of instinct for no good scientific reason.

The instinct for survival is not sinful in animals because it is not rational. However even in animals we see where individuals risk or sacrifice their lives for their offspring and for the group. This for the science of ecology is the rule, rather than the exception. For the Darwinian it is the exception, rather than the rule.

The truth is that we cannot survival in a society where most people put their own needs above their wants of the whole. There seems to be a myth of economics that prosperity is achieved by satisfying the selfish needs of the rich. There is a myth of politics that freedom and justice is achieved by satisfying the selfish needs of the God’s people.

The instinct for survival is not evil. However it is if we put it above all else. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save his life [at any cost] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will save it.” This is what I mean when I say that sin is relational, rather than absolute.

Since sin as defined by the Bible is relational and based of thinking, only thinking humans can be guilty of sin. Just because genetically home sapiens presumably could think rationally, but this does not mean that they did. Sin entered the universe when humans began to think and selfishly used this gift against God and others,


I referred to “selfishness” in a broader sense of including self-love or you could refer to it as basic self-care if ‘self-love’ bothers you. But if you more strictly define selfishness as referring only to the sinful sort, as you have done --and indeed we usually refer to it that way; then sure … it is a sin.

Maybe you will find it more agreeable if I don’t refer to it as an “implied Biblical mandate” so much as a shared cultural assumption that the Bible uses affirmingly when Jesus teaches us to love others as we love ourselves. He assumes that self-love is robustly in place, and urges us that we should show that at least that same ardor on behalf of others.

Thinking of self is not always wrong, Roger. As airline stewardesses used to instruct us when I last flew (maybe they do still?) … you put on your own oxygen mask first and then attend to your child’s mask. You have the best chance of saving your child only if you retain the lucidity and resources to do so. A well-intentioned, but misguided parent who did otherwise jeopardizes their child’s life as well as their own. Another softer, (and more directly Biblical) way to put this is … you don’t muzzle the ox that is treading out the grain.

But as with sex, we take self-love and run amok with that --making a good thing sinful.

Merv, the point is however, that we have no basis for arguing that running amok is sinful, unless we use scripture as our guide. If we ignore scripture, and base our morality on evolution, then “running amok” is not sinful. It is simply a natural variation within the population which is displeasing to others.


I quite agree. In fact I would say that there are many who do not really know how to love themselves, because their self esteem has been damaged by abuse, so they cannot love others also.

That really is why we need to put God first in our love, and others and ourselves, or ourselves and others secondarily but still important and necessary. That is why Christianity is relational. Our relationships to ourselves, God and others are all related. Now of course we can add nature and the biosphere as other interdependent creations of God.

Still for the sake of moral clarity, I would insist that selfish mean self-centered as opposed to God centered and other centered. Other-centered people have their own problems of course.

Here is my response Dr. Davis’ opening challenge:

Do We Need an Alternative to the Traditional View of the Fall?


Not if, by “traditional” you refer to the acceptance that Christians have always had through our long history that we are all sinful and in need of salvation from God. The mechanisms by which all this happens have always been (I think) peripheral to the central faith-axiom that we are all sinful; (the “most empirically verified of all Christian propositions” I believe this has been called?) Paul’s expanding on the “who’s who” of Adam and Christ and their roles with regard to sin, has been compellingly suggested to be drawing on the obviously accepted cultural knowledge of the day to help people know Christ’s place; not an intended affirmation that all such cultural knowledge must be correct in its technical detail by 21st century standards to address 21st century interests.

But if by “traditional” view of the fall we mean recently tradtional in which the mechanical details are elevated to primary importance over the theology, then yes --a change from that view would seem to be in order.

So I think you and many others are being quite gracious with these kinds of concessions, Dr. Davis, such as this one that you open with:

Original sin and the Fall of Adam and Eve pose major challenges to proponents of Evolutionary Creation, both at the level of theology and also at the level of biblical interpretation.

I’m not yet convinced that it is the ECs who are staggering underneath the weight of this problem --at least no more than any other theists always have been stymied from Job on down through history. So it seems to me that the problem has only been lent its recently peculiar urgency by the fact that evolutionary science (and deep time before that) has challenged the assumptions of those mired in mechanical literalist approaches to Scripture. They do have a real problem to worry about here. And ECs should probably be concerned on behalf of the brothers and sisters to hammer out that (for-them) changed view of Adam and Eve and the fall so as to remove a substantial stumbling block for so many. But I just don’t (yet) see how ECs who are already trying to read both God’s books for all their worth, are in any way behind the curve on this --not that they have successfully answered suffering and evil; far from it. But in that they enter into the same provocative questioning --and sometimes eventual acceptance, trust, and faith that has accompanied all theists through the ages.

So while I did find Daniel’s link very educational, I confess to being provoked to puzzlement over all the initial angst that Domning (and so many like him here, I guess) expresses over this “mounting problem”.

He wrote:

While this problem has always been with us, its urgency only grows. It is of vital concern to every thinking person.

His latter sentence above is of particular concern to me, given where I’ve been going in this post. But that aside for the moment, I think he does flesh out good observations and answers, though I don’t match his understandable scientific ardor in wanting to track the observeable, mechanical origins of sin through animal history --a task that I think will prove ultimately hopeless, though much other insights might be gleaned along the way.

He [Domning] writes a little later:

Descent of all humans from a single couple—monogenism—is not essential to the doctrine; the Catholic magisterium has continued to insist on it simply in order to explain why all humans need to be saved.

That is an interesting explanation for what motivates a [the] position of the Catholic church on this. If somebody has not already arrived independently at the conclusion that they are under sin, then being told that they and we all are descended from one couple who did something that made us all sinful would hardly be a compelling argument to add. But if accepting something like the HI view above helps remove barriers that so many have against reading and studying God’s Word in earnest again, then the holy wrestling may begin with a fresh dose of light.