How do we explain the entry of sin into the world (i.e. fall of man) in a theistic evolutionary perspective? If the human race evolved from a common ancestor (i.e. denying the special creation of Adam), how can we explain our fall from God’s presence?
For longer or more detailed answers you can peruse Biologos.org and find blogs such as this one by Lutheran Pastor, George Murphy, or this one by Ted Davis which is a great gateway with lots of other links on this topic at the beginning of his post.
For a short answer just from one commenter here and now, I’ll offer this:
One “answer” often given to this is not an answer at all but more of a deferral (or a “dodge” to those won’t rest until it gets explained). Some ECs don’t see this so much as something that must be explained as they do see it as a reality that had to be addressed. Detractors have a conviction that failure to explain the origin of something is ostensibly a denial of it. ECs retort “not at all! --just because I can’t identify a first day that I could read doesn’t mean I can’t read now!” So the present reality of sin is all some need to see. Explaining who the first sinner is may (on the EC view) be about as necessary as trying to nail down at what age you became accountable for your sins. Failure to nail down which day that was in no ways means you aren’t sinful. And you can rest assured that if you are old enough to be even be asking such questions, then you are most certainly accountable.
All that “dodge” aside, one could postulate about the symbolisms involved in Genesis 3 and how knowledge of good and evil led to selfish choices and rebellion. But any such speculation will be viewed as a lot of hand-waving by those who want to maintain a death-grip on certainty in every detail.
Mervin’s answer and links pretty well covers it. I will just add that as I am convicted of my sin and need for salvation, what Adam did pales in comparison.
Perhaps if you look at Adam and Eve as the first humans God invited to live in His presence, and who then promptly ran amok, and had to be separated from God as a consequence, that might help?
I also think it’s not at all necessary to assume that sin had to be passed down genetically, any more than Christ’s redeeming work is passed between humans only by direct descent from parent to child!
I can’t agree very much with the other postings. If you read the words of God at the close of the Eden cycle, God doesn’t say that Adam created human sin. The Greek Orthodox tradition says Adam and Eve were the First to have sinned… rather than the idea that Adam’s sin has been “locked into” all humanity.
And the reason they had to leave Eden was not because sin wouldn’t be tolerated, but because God was not going to let Adam and Eve “be as Gods” eating from the Tree of Life and knowing Good from Evil. It’s right there in Genesis 3!:
And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life
God made humans to be mortal… not as Gods. And with mortality is imperfection. The one thing God would not tolerate is allowing imperfection to become immortal !
I am inclined to think how poorly we understand God’s view of what “sin” is.
Do you know the very first time the word “sin” appears in the Hebrew writings? It doesn’t appear in the chapter where Adam and Eve supposedly gave birth to sin. It appears in the next chapter, when God is explaining to a saddened Cain what “sin” is:
And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain [the farming son] brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.
And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
And so the first thing called Sin by God is not an immoral choice… but a flawed choice. The choice of bringing plant offerings to God instead of blood offerings. And as you will see below, the Hebrew term for Sin is used almost as much for the “sin atonement” as for the thing that triggers the need for atonement!
Strong’s Hebrew word #2403: chatta’ath
Pronunciation: khat·tä·ä’ (Key)
Root Word (Etymology) From חָטָא (H2398)
KJV Translation Count — Total: 296 times in the Old Testament.
The KJV translates Strong’s H2403 in the following manner:
sin offering (116x),
purification for sin (2x),
Thank you for the answer! I really appreciate it!
I have recently finished reading Francis Collins book “The Language of God”. I have been trying to reconcile my religious views with what I study (I am currently studying as an agricultural biotechnology student). I will definitely look more into it. I am an evangelical Christian and many of the leading pastors in our movement see this as a theological concern. Thank you again!
Yes I am with you on that!
I think that is an interesting view. But how about what Paul wrote in Romans 12:5 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—.
Thank you! That helps
I can see, @jhmulig, that you are being most patient with my views…
The usual Greek Orthodox position on this suffices for me … it represents centuries of tradition and millions of congregants:
Adam and Eve were the First sinners. And it is through their humanity that all other sinful flesh has propagated on the Earth.
Any other interpretation tends to propose some sort of magical contamination. Is the Sin of Adam in his “Y” chromosome? How are millions of people not faced with his decision (that day in Eden) somehow Also guilty of Adam’s sin? That would be some kind of operation of magic.
However, if we say that all are mortal flesh … and are sinners by that … such a description is just a natural notice of the weakness of mortality and the imperfections of flesh.
How would you explain the idea that everyone is guilty of their own sin if you are going to say Adam and Eve’s sin has somehow been carried forward to all generations… by what means?
An Immoral Choice is Genetic?
An immoral choice is obtained by Drinking the water?
An Immoral Choice hangs in the air like a magical miasma and is contracted through inhalation?
thank you @gbrooks9. I will definitely read more on that to gain a perspective on the matter!
this discussions pump me up!
People have written lots of stuff on this already. I would recommend perusing the BioLogos database for blog articles on these matters. I also consider myself Evangelical although the church that I’m currently attending is officially Reformed. It is characterized by an interesting mix of recent converts and Christians from very different denominations.
My own perspective is much like Merv’s in that there is not really extra explanation needed in evolutionary creation compared to other approaches. We all know that sin entered the world because we clearly see its consequences today (e.g., wars, domestic abuse, and not to forget, my own soul). From the Bible we know why sin entered the world: because of man’s disobedience damaging the relationship with God. This point is valid no matter whether the first “image bearers” were a group, a single couple, or a representative couple within a group. We also know what has been done to offer us full restoration of that relationship: the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Is mortality in the process of evolution problematic for a biblical understanding of the effects of sin? I don’t think so. The Bible encourages us to have a deeper vision of death than merely physical decay. As Paul said, sin is the sting of death (1 Corinthians 15:56). Without sin, death has no “sting”. Animals cannot die in that sense, so there is no problem with animal mortality in Creation before the Fall. Jesus talked about alive sinful people as if they were already dead (Matthew 8:22), and about dead righteous people as if they were merely asleep (John 11:11). Jesus said God is the God of the living, not of the dead (Mark 12:27). God said to Adam he would die on the day that he ate from the Tree (Genesis 2:17). Yet he lived for hundreds of years more.
There also is precedence in the Scriptures for the idea that life in the Garden of Eden was “merely” a crucial step towards the New Creation in Jesus Christ. His redeeming work was already laid out from the beginning of Creation. It was not merely a “back-up plan” in case Adam made the wrong choice. Adam didn’t trigger animal predation by eating a piece of fruit. That would make God’s Creation look like some kind of mousetrap of cosmic proportions! Instead, the whole of Creation has been going towards its completion in the New Creation as described in the Book of Revelation. The entry of sin into the world is the necessary cost for allowing human beings the freedom to choose… Humans are completely culpable for abusing that freedom, but God willingly paid the cost for that with the life of His own Son.
Hope this all makes sense somehow :).
I find my own view being shaped more and more as I think about it. I tend to think that while Adam and Eve were not the first humans created by God, they were certainly chosen by him to be in a special covenant relationship with him. They were given a test of sorts, and failed. Their fall separated themselves and the rest of humanity from God. Not so much a physical reality as a spiritual one (George, for example, asked if Adam’s sin nature was in his “Y” chromosome; I don’t think the sin nature is passed down genetically, but is a fact of life for all who are born on earth; we are all born spiritually dead because of Adam’s sin, cf. Romans 5:12, Eph. 2:1-2). Our separation from God inevitably leads to our sin.
The only remedy, of course, is Jesus Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice on behalf of all who believe. We are put in right relationship with God (and his creation) when we have faith (Romans 4-5 and Galatians 3:6-15 mention this). We receive adoption as God’s own sons and daughters, ending our separation (Romans 8:14-23 speaks to this). We are given new hearts and minds (see, for example, Ezekiel 36:26-27), ones that desire to do what God wants, rather than what we want (Phil. 2:12-13).
So to sum up, I believe the fall was a historical event; that sin entered the world through one man, and with it, separation from God for all of humanity, because all sinned. We are freed from slavery to sin by Christ’s work on the cross and our faith in that work.
Does that help, a little?
This is something that remains a mystery to me. Long after I had wholeheartedly embraced evolutionary creationism, this question, more than others, still bugged me.
On the one hand, it was easy to think of some representative Adam among the early homo sapiens population as having made that first choice to disobey God, some time after the Great Leap Forward when humans started to have more elaborate culture and perhaps developed some consciousness of God’s presence.
What bothered me, though, was the evidence of warfare and violence, for instance, in our great ape cousins. Could we, I wondered, have evolved in such a way that we are predisposed to various kinds of sin? This is, of course, a common sort of line of thinking in certain circles. (Ask your stereotypical frat-boy party hound, or evolutionary psychologist for that matter. ) But such reasoning pegs blame on the creator God for sinfulness, which is anathema to most orthodox thought. “No one should say, when he is tempted,” and all that.
I still don’t have a fully satisfying answer, but here are some thoughts.
As Polkinghorne points out in a Q&A here, instinct is not all bad. We also have good, pro-social instincts that encourage us to do the right thing and favor altruism, etc. This could also be seen as part of our God-given genetic endowment. Perhaps God built in enough of both good and bad instincts that free will would be a real thing.
In some E. Orthodox thinking — you may want to read up on Irenaeus if this tickles your fancy — Adam was not created perfect in the same way that God is perfect, but that He created good and innocent yet childlike, with the expectation that he would grow up into maturity. (Here’s one link that treats this, found by Google search just now; see pp. 112ff of this dissertation, and again especially around the Hick quote on p. 137.) If growing into maturity was always supposed to be part of the package of what it meant to be human, then maybe God ordained some of these conflicting instincts to be part of what would train Adam and Eve in the free exercise of willful obedience toward Him.
I haven’t seen this line of thinking developed fully elsewhere, but on first blush it seems to me that a lot of impulses that tend to lead toward sin have a positive purpose, being twisted into sin within specific circumstances. In other words, just to give example, without physical desire, we couldn’t make babies, right? Perhaps one couldn’t make physical desire in such a way that it could ONLY be used within the holy confines of marriage. Perhaps lust is an inevitable flip-side of healthy marital desire — take away extramarital lust, you lose godly procreation, too. Again, it would take an extraordinary amount of interdisciplinary footwork (mustering analytical tools from hamartiology, philosophy, and evolutionary psychology, to name a few) to mount this sort of defense for every unsavory urge humans are said to have. But to me it sounds promising enough.
I hope maybe some of these meandering reflections are helpful, once you separate the wheat from the chaff.
That’s a very interesting position. And certainly part of the confusing interplay of factors in the Genesis story.
If you recall, God said two things would be intolerable about humans:
- Knowing Good and Evil, combined with
- Immortality (if Adam and Eve were allowed to eat from the Tree of life).
Isn’t there really a tinge of the dramatic here? If God didn’t want Adam and Eve to be immortal, why didn’t he just set up the tree and a guardian angel with flaming sword somewhere else? Why would he condemn all of Adam’s grand children to roughing it outside of Eden?
If Adam were to do it all over again, I think we can pretty much see that he would have rather had immortality via the Tree of Life in exchange for not knowing Good and Evil !
So of the two factors, God was most troubled by Adam and Eve knowing good from evil. But if you were a parent, would you Expect obedience from a child who doesn’t know good from evil?
I think the Bible is clear that Adam was a real, historical person. He was in the lineage of Christ, among other things.
But I think we make some assumptions that, when we peel them back, make this a much simpler problem to solve.
Biblically, Adam was NOT necessarily the first homo-sapien. The Bible does NOT say there were not soul-less homo-sapiens before Adam. It says God breathed into Adam, and he became a living soul. It MAY BE, that is, it would not contradict scripture, to say that Adam was the first man to be imparted with a soul. If this was true, then the garden story could be literal history and fit literally with science. Before Adam, the “men” were not made in the image of God, but were simply another type of animal evolving on the earth. They were made in the image of God when God gave them souls and separated their consciousness from that of animals.
Biblically, Adam was NOT the one who brought evil into the world. He brought SIN into the world of MEN. It would fit with scripture to say that while many humans were alive at the time of Adam, Adam was the only one given any command from God, meaning he was the only one for whom sin was even possible. Romans says “Without the knowledge of the law there is no sin.” “When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” “Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, slew me.” The rest of the men would be incapable of sin because they had no knowledge of good and evil. They “were naked and not ashamed.” When an animal kills another animal, it is not sin. When these natural brute beasts (homo-sapiens before Adam) killed and took multiple wives, they were not sinning any more than an animal sins when it kills and breeds with multiple wives. We only know it as sin because we have been made conscious toward good and evil. They did not.
If that’s the case and sin was not passed on to all men by being born from Adam, how was sin passed to all men? It’s possible, once again meaning within the realm of scripture, that Adam was not everyone’s FATHER, but rather everyone’s KING. God gave him dominion over everything. When the King sins, sentence is passed to his dominion, as proven over and over by the sinful kings of Israel.
So I see this as a scriptural scenario: There were all kinds of people around Africa that had evolved from earlier pre-humans. At a fairly recent point in time, God planted a garden, formed a single man, breathed a soul into him, and made him King over the earth. When he sinned, it was passed over the whole of the earth. They immediately knew they were naked, and were ashamed, and all men who were under their dominion (all men) did as well.
You can say this is “not fair” but it fits with the nature of God. When we get out from under the curse of sin, we do so NOT by being righteous ourselves, but by placing ourselves under the dominion and in the kingdom of the last Adam, Jesus Christ, who knew no sin. His righteousness is imputed to us.
@nobodyyouknow, I will personally vouch for you when you ask for your own desk with a laptop on it.
You, my dear sir, are thinking well outside the box! I’m a Unitarian Universalist, and even I’m drawn to the way you describe some of these issues !!!
Now don’t be getting spoiled. There are plenty of right-thinking BioLogos folks who aren’t brave enough to follow you into the snapping jowls of metaphysics… but I just have to walk along with you to see what it all looks like !!!
I’ve been examining the idea lately that the humans made “in the image of God” were not necessarily Adam and Eve, that two different events are being described in Genesis 1 and 2. My attempts to Google other people’s thoughts on it, however, run into a lot of people using it as a (poor) excuse to be horrifically racist. I’m curious if you think this could be a valid interpretation of the text? I think it’s problematic to draw a sharp line at Adam and say one day they were all beasts, and the next they became human.
I think your kingship idea is extremely interesting! I see already there’s a new thread about Genesis as well, I think it will provide a lot to mull over!
I think this might be the most asked question on BioLogos.
Here are some links for a rainy day:
That is John Walton’s position. (That Genesis 1 and 2 describe different creation events that is.)