CT book review: Four ways of harmonizing Genesis and evolution

Friend of the Forum @Jay313 has an article in CT reviewing the book Loren Haarsma (husband to BioLogos president Deborah Haarsma) just released.

In his book When Did Sin Begin? Human Evolution and the Doctrine of Original Sin, Calvin University physics professor Loren Haarsma outlines various evangelical proposals for harmonizing human evolution and original sin. Drawing from a dozen recent books on the subject, Haarsma runs through the four main options:

  1. God selected Adam and Eve from an existing population to represent all of humanity. Since they represented everyone, the consequences of their failure immediately affected everyone.
  2. God selected Adam and Eve from an existing population to represent humanity, but after being expelled from the Garden, their sinfulness was spread to others by culture or genealogy.
  3. Adam and Eve aren’t literal individuals. Rather, Genesis 2–3 is a stylized retelling of many human events compressed into a single archetypal story. Although God occasionally revealed his will to individuals or groups, people persisted in disobedience.
  4. Adam and Eve are symbolic figures in an archetypal story. Over a long period of time, humans became morally accountable through general revelation (Rom. 1:18–20), yet they chose sin.

Sounds like a book that delves into many of the common questions people ask around here and lays out the options really clearly.


…the book ends on another high note: “God’s Answer Is Still Christ.” A common complaint of those who build Noah’s Ark theme parks is that an evolutionary view of creation removes the need for Christ’s atonement. As Haarsma thoroughly demonstrates, that charge is not true.

If a concern for evangelism is still one of the hallmarks of evangelicalism, pastors and lay leaders especially need to stop drawing needless lines in the sand on evolution and the interpretation of early Genesis. It only pushes people away from Christ.



Where’s the fifth?

1 Like

Top shelf in my pantry, behind the wine.


I would probably tend towards “I don’t know, and don’t put a strong emphasis on it, but 2 seems the most appealing option”.

1 Like

This is what I’m talking about on the Cultures thread. There’s an elephant in the room (that’s some shelf you have!) that harmonizes Genesis and evolution. It doesn’t involve, like the four ways, blaming us.

I read this a few days ago and loved it. I’m impressed CT published a review that basically takes evolution as given and reasons from there.

I especially liked how @Jay313 showed that a cultural transmission of sin fits the text far better than genetic or genealogical explanations:

Lines on a family tree don’t make a person a sinner. On the other hand, the method of cultural transfer is obvious. The fruit eaten in the Garden was from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Knowledge is learned, not inherited in the genes or by genealogy. Passing down knowledge from one generation to the next is virtually the definition of “culture.”

Great review, Jay!


By the spirits, Martin.

1 Like

If those are the four views, they are all wrong.

Thanks Christy, Dale, Marshall.

I had fun writing that line. Glad you liked it!

Kendel wins the thread. haha.

To answer Klax’s objection that the four views are all wrong, the options are for evangelicals. Not sure you qualify for (or want) that label. Beyond that, Haarsma notes that there are many other options and “blends” between the scenarios. He just focused on the main ones in a dozen recently published books.

As I pointed out in the article, such “harmony” isn’t concordism, a la Reasons to Believe (Old Earth Creationism).

The sort of “harmony” Haarsma seeks isn’t a one-to-one correspondence between the details of Scripture and science. Instead, he advocates “a harmony reminiscent of J. S. Bach’s counterpoint,” which employs two melodies played simultaneously. Each can be enjoyed independently, but “played together, they form a richer whole.”

“Blaming us” needs unpacking. The first two options involve a literal Adam & Eve whose sin is blamed on (imputed/passed along to) the rest of humanity. I don’t care for that explanation, but I understand why some people’s theology requires it. The last two options involve all of humanity. That’s not exactly blame-shifting. Who else is there to blame for the human predicament besides ourselves and the cultures we collectively create?


There is no blame. That’s for evangelicals too.

1 Like

Yes, I smell what the Klax is cooking. haha. But “original sin,” like salvation and atonement, can be understood by many metaphors, not just a judicial guilty/not guilty metaphor. The concept also is identical to the parable of the Prodigal Son. Humanity collectively (and each of us individually) said to Abba, “Give me my inheritance,” and promptly took it to “a far country” and wasted it. Upon the son’s return, the father didn’t blame the son for leaving. That was left to the elder son. You know the rest of the story, and it’s directly applicable to human history. We were given great gifts, and we threw them all away.


Thanks, Jay. I was pretty proud of that success.

1 Like

Bullet point views are great. Particularly, I have a great habit of explaining how there are only 3 possible statements to explain the universe.

There was a video from way back of Ravi doing a q&a with a couple other gentlemen. One of them made a great point about how communism in the early church was voluntary, and I think he was also the one who made a comment about how regardless of our understanding of original sin, we (Christians) all know our selves to be sinners.

That conviction of being a sinner is a self-evident work of the Spirit, and for me, it is taken as one type of evidence in the Acts 2:14-36 passage as forming the basis for the “therefore know for certain.”

Salvation and atonement are metaphors @Jay313. When did humanity say that to Abba? When did each frail little person? What gifts?

(And yeah, @Kendel wins).

1 Like

Thanks, Martin (@klax). I had worried I had said something offensive. In my circles that pun could lead to disunion.

1 Like

Metaphors are simply different perspectives of the same thing. Just as there are multiple metaphors of salvation (redemption from bondage, rescue from danger, taking up the cross and following Christ) and multiple metaphors of atonement (substitutionary, Christus Victor), there can be multiple metaphors for original sin.

When did humanity say “give me my inheritance” and declare moral independence from Abba God? When did each frail little person say to him/herself, “My conscience says one thing, but I’m doing what’s best for me and justifying it afterward”?

First, I don’t believe special revelation from God is necessary for an individual or a group to choose sinful/selfish behavior. Going back to Haarsma’s book, the first three options require that God revealed himself and his moral requirements to Adam & Eve or an early, small population of humans. As for my opinion, I think the fourth option makes the most sense, and it doesn’t require divine intervention. General revelation, which is what humans can deduce from the natural order of things (and our intuitions of something more), is enough to explain our separation from God. That, at least, should appeal to you.

What gifts? The fact that we’re even capable of asking the question is your answer. The gifts were given gradually through the process of evolution. I have no problem seeing every form of life as a gift, and we were given the extraordinary gift of beholding the beauty of it all.


Well dis-bar’ing you obviously wouldnt’t do any good with a cabinet as loaded as yours. :wink:


@Jay313, unfortunately for you I’ve always liked you as you’re easy to like. Being decent, civilized, kind, tolerant. You that is. I’d rather be right of course ; )

There are multiple metaphors of the metaphor of salvation and multiple metaphors of the metaphor of atonement. Necessarily. As they are not absolutes. The best conclusion on atonement is that nobody knows what it means (apart from its etymology), but that there was=is one.

When did humanity say “give me my inheritance” and declare moral independence from Abba God?

A rhetorical question or one somehow answered in the next:

When did each frail little person say to him/herself, “My conscience says one thing, but I’m doing what’s best for me and justifying it afterward”?

That is called being human. Not ‘fallen’. That is how our minds work. It is the first law of morality. As Putin demonstrates. It is perfectly normal, natural, has survival value (evolution) and is good (creation). There is no condemnation in it, no blame. No choice:

  1. Adam and Eve are symbolic figures in an archetypal story. Over a long period of time, humans became morally accountable through general revelation (Rom. 1:18–20), yet they chose sin.

We are morally accountable therefore to each other in so far as we know that. And we all know that: what will people think? Why should I care?

Our separation from God is absolutely nothing to do with us. That is part of evolution’s gift. Our separation - alienation - from each other is, according to privilege.

1 Like

Flattery will get you nowhere. Unless you’re bearing gifts like that fifth @Kendel had on the shelf. haha. You’re a good man.

We resort to metaphor to describe complex, typically abstract ideas by comparing them to concrete things from everyday experience. (Christy knows more about the subject than I do, if she wants to jump in or correct me.) No single metaphor is “absolute,” as you say, because none of them by themselves are adequate to convey the whole reality. Jesus spoke to the crowd in parables.

Yes, I’ve already said I don’t care for the terms “fall” or “fallen.” I think “moral maturity” is a better descriptor, but I sometimes use them interchangeably for simplicity’s sake. They’re all metaphors for the same concept. At a certain point in human evolution, brain-culture coevolution reached a “tipping point” when our species became capable of the sort of mature moral reasoning “the woman” shows in Gen. 3. As I said in the article on the Lutheran website linked above:

The temptation the snake represents is threefold: First, it questions the “rightness” of the command; second, it denies the consequences of disobedience; third, it questions the motives of the lawgiver. As the man and the woman are archetypes, so is their temptation and fall.

In his 1932 classic, The Moral Development of the Child, Jean Piaget studied children of various ages playing games and concluded that the younger ones regarded rules “as sacred and untouchable, emanating from adults and lasting forever. Every suggested alteration strikes the child as a transgression.” This matches quite well the attitude of many interpreters toward the command not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. The first humans should have accepted it without question, obeyed it and, presumably, lived forever in paradise. But is unquestioned acceptance of the rule truly a mature moral choice? I’d suggest that condition belongs to the state of childhood.

Updating Piaget’s work, developmental psychologist William Kay observed, “A young child is clearly controlled by authoritarian considerations, while an adolescent is capable of applying personal moral principles. The two moralities are not only clearly distinct but can be located one at the beginning and the other at the end of a process of moral maturation.” In what could be called the first instance of peer pressure, the serpent introduced doubt from the outside, and the woman determined her personal moral principles vis-à-vis the command. She applied her own moral judgment, a phenomenon that begins in adolescence and continues throughout the rest of life, and weighed whether the rule was hypothetically non-binding and contrary to her own self-interest (the fruit was “good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom”). The universal nature of temptation and sin appears at the end of a process of moral maturation that all children undergo. In the end, the adolescent applies her own moral principles, considers her self-interest, and declares her independence, albeit prematurely.

As for being human, I’ve called it “Becoming Adam,” meaning adam as in “becoming humanity” (Gen. 1:26-28). If God desired to create a flesh-and-blood creature capable of loving and communing with both fellow creatures and God, certain “costs” were involved, such as a challenging environment and the experience of making good and bad moral choices. The evolutionary pathway makes the most sense, and it also makes the “fall” an inevitability. Moral knowledge wasn’t forbidden. It was just grasped too soon by immature creatures.

That’s why I said the father didn’t blame the Prodigal Son. The elder brother did. This is even more obvious in an honor-shame culture. The younger brother has shamed his entire family. The father, as patriarch, should be more outraged than anyone else. Yet he honors the profligate?

Speak for yourself! Haha. Good talking to ya.


“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.