Evolution and the Historical Fall: What Does Genesis 3 Tell Us about the Origin of Evil?

Another point I’ve noticed about the text in Genesis is that there is no mention of God directly telling Eve the prohibition of the forbidden fruit. I believe she was told about it by Adam (a third party) which made her more susceptible to the wiles of the serpent. And then Adam gave into the temptation to disobedience from additional influence by the woman

Well, there is yet another problem like the one you raise, @MerrillBarnesYouTube! So I’m glad you mentioned the first problem:

God’s warning was that just to touch the fruit it would kill you. But he didn’t explain How it kills, right?

So the snake holds the fruit in his hand… and yet he lives. So immediately this is going to put a doubt in Eve’s mind… God must be mistaken. The snake is still alive. So she tastes it.

Then when she goes to Adam… he can see that not only is she holding the fruit and living… but she has taken a bite … and she is still alive. So now even Adam is doubting that God has his facts right.

While such a story might be an amusing tidbit for a pagan cultus… is it really sensible enough to build an entire cosmic metaphysic upon?

If we are going to talk about the human reaction to seeing the snake handling the fruit without dying, we definitely should bring in the entirely strange problem of testing Adam and Eve’s morality Before they know the difference between Good and Evil. If we did something like this with our own children, the courts would probably take them away from us:

Example: Tim the Toddler and Betty the Baby … there is a highly dangerous fruit bush out in the yard, whatever you do … do Not eat the fruit. Hoo boy … what a stupid thing for any parent to do.

But for some reason, the YEC’s find this to be the paragon of virtuous parenting!

I had previously read your article on “Transmission at Generation.” It is certainly very interesting. Thanks so much for your work on this topic.

However, I find a more empirical/ communal account of how sin spread to all people to be more convincing than what seems to be a version of a genetic account, which you are proposing (though I may be wrong about that).

Put this down to my overarchingly empirical bent.

However, it may also be due to the fact that I am a Protestant, who does not need to agree with the Council of Trent.

You wrote in the article: ‘In accord with the Council of Trent we accept that original sin is a state which proceeds from the first sin, and is “transmitted by propagation and not by imitation” to all human persons since the first trespass, so that “the state of original sin is in everyone as his own” (Council of Trent 1546, and Catechism of the Catholic Church 1993, Nr. 404).’

For a variety of reasons (including, as I discussed in an earlier comment, that Romans 5:12 doesn’t require it), I don’t feel any theological need to affirm (as you do) that “we all sinned in the first sinner.”

By all means, let’s continue the conversation.

Antoine, perhaps another follow-up comment on your “Transmission by Generation” article is that I very much appreciate your anti-dualistic approach to the human person, including your affirmation of “natural” as “what God does.”

And yet I can’t follow you in your account of how sin is transmitted from the first humans to others.

If I am understanding your proposal rightly, “transmission by generation” is described by the following sentences from the article:

“According to this hypothesis the consequences of the first sin didn’t propagate laterally to other existing innocent persons at any moment. The lack of righteousness emerges in all persons coming into existence after the fall at the very moment of their generation. God didn’t take away his grace from persons who didn’t sin, but doesn’t give original grace to the persons He creates after the first sin.”

Perhaps I just can’t get my head around the idea of God not giving “original grace” to subsequent generations (I’m just not sure what that means).

But you have certainly made me think. And for that, I’m grateful.

Many thanks Richard for these stimulating comments.
I will certainly be pleased continuing this conversation with you, and hope to find time during the weekend to answer you.

With all due respect to the revered members of the Council of Trent, it was not by generation or imitation but by representation that all men are accountable due to Adam’s disobedience. This is a conclusion they might have reached had they recognized Genesis as Jewish history and not human history. Adam was God’s representative through whom all men could have become members of God’s Kingdom. Adam failed in fulfilling the mission, I believe, and the fulfillment was delayed until Christ. There is an evil presence in the world and it is manifested in the Genesis account. Adam proved that men are unreliable, something every woman knows.

I’m new to this and so may have missed some points
My history is degree in philosophy from Saint Vincent College/seminary and doctorate in astrophysics from Indiana Unoversoty
I am a member of the Los Alamos Faith and Science Forum. Los Alamos NM
My thoughts on original sin and the fall are based on our current knowledge of hominid development. As such we can infer knowledge of good and evil from behavior. This brings up the very real possibility that our evolutionary cousins the Neanderthals may have had that ability. We might even find some of them in heaven!
As such i have come to the conclusion that our tendency to “evil” is simply part of our evolutionary heritage. Thus chemical and biological drivers make it hard for us to live up to the goodness we know

This as Paul says body and soul struggle against each other
The Genesis story is simply not the ways things happened. Instead it is a “myth” in the constructive sense of the word that poeticslly tries to account for human sinfulness
Polkinghorne and Haught have come to similar conclusions. We understand our calling to be in relation with God, but our evolutionary under pinning drive us in more orimative directions
Thus Augustine was simply but understandably wrong. Science gives tha answer but not as a eathetically as we’d like

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This is an interesting contribution to discussion surrounding the fall and its effects. And I am sympathetic to some of what is being said. But despite that there are some things that bother me.

First there is heavy reliance on what the account doesn’t say, and at the same time perhaps a too detailed analysis of word choices in what it does say. For example, Eve says that God commanded them not to touch the fruit, whereas when God is quoted directly by the author the part about not touching isn’t there. Did Eve embellish or not? No way of knowing, the fact that the earlier account doesn’t mention it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t said. That Eve is embellishing is a very common interpretation, but I think it has to be pure speculation. God probably said a lot more to Adam than the few words captured here. With a word picture we have to be careful not to fall into the trap of over literalizing which YEC is so prone to. Even if the account were strictly literal we couldn’t assume Eve isn’t telling the truth.

But the bigger issue is that the interpretation fails to deal with the interpretation presented in the New Testament. Isolating a study of the fall to just the symbolic account in Genesis doesn’t yield much fruit that we can hang our hat on. Genesis isn’t a full theological explanation of the fall any more than it is a strictly literal historical account. We have to turn to the full range of New Testament interpretation for that. Any defense of a particular interpretation of the fall must take the whole of what the Bible says into account. All views of creation and the fall seem to center too much on Genesis 1-3 and mining the details for what may or may not be there.

I am not directly arguing against the theory presented. Just that it cannot be convincing without a more Biblically comprehensive analysis.


I just thought I’d mention that I object to the term “The Fall” from the get-go. The phrase The Fall carries with it such baggage as:

  1. That Adam changed from Immortal to Mortal; there would be no reason to have the Tree of Life if Adam wasn’t mortal from his very creation.

  2. That Adam’s sin keeps him from immortality; if that were true, then God would not have needed to put a guard on the Tree of Life. God says that Adam could eat of the Tree of Life and *still be immortal, despite his sin.

  3. That Adam’s sin applies to all subsequent generations. What is applied to all subsequent generations is the inherent weakness of Flesh, not the guilt of a sin that was never performed by these generations.

  4. Millions of Eastern Orthodox tell us that Adam was the first to sin, but not that his sin became ours.

However we humans choose to define evil, we need not askWho (or what) is ultimately responsible for its existence?” If we posit God with the attributes of omnipotence and omniscience, He is responsible! ! ANE religions considered evil forces contending against God, even personalizing them as, for example, Satan, the fallen angel, Lucifer. With the knowledge our forebears possessed some 3,000 years ago, this is very understandable. I believe that modern science, especially evolutionary science, has given us a ‘corrector lens’ that allows to see the problem more clearly. (But still needing much improvement.)

As the Cosmosphere “evolved” into a variety of material forms (quarks, atoms, stars, black holes), there were massive collisions that involved material bodies, but no action could rationally be called “evil”. As early life developed and became more complex through natural selection, it was essentially insensate, and could hardly be capable of either causing or experiencing “evil”. But natural selection rewarded the development of a sensory nervous system to provide sight, touch, hearing, and finally predation. It is important to note that cooperation could be encouraged as well as competition. Currently all (or is it most?) multicellular life depend upon mitochondria, which apparently began, early in the history of life, as one unicellular form being ‘swallowed’ by another and joining forces as a more competitive duo. But at some point in history, neurosensory systems had developed so that predation produced both acute pain and fear which, in the eyes of the prey, certainly appeared EVIL. But the predator, following its God-given role as natural selector, was not guilty of sin or evil.

So for many eons God permitted predation, and, if one defines it that way, evil. If you define ‘omniscience’ a certain way, then God knew from the beginning that evolution would produce this result. From a “detached point of view” evolution has produced a marvelous variety of beautiful life forms. But what about "from God’s point of view?’ (If that isn’t the ultimate chutzpah, what is?) Could God have wanted to share at least a little bit of his creative talents with one of his creatures? What we humans call Darwinian evolution has produced a primate with an "over designed ’ brain–enough neural circuits to operate as a fantastic computer–as a Mind, if ‘tweaked’ with the proper ‘program’. If given the freedom to use that Mind, this “hairless ape” suddenly possesses a conscience and can make moral choices. Sin is now a possibility on Earth, and so is the possibility of becoming an image of one’s Creator.
Al Leo

Keller again
I forgot my conclusion
So we are not “fallen”. We are just imperfect (evolution never gays to perfection–only to "good enough for now"
Thus we are pretty good but need to get better and that is what faith helps us do
This is similar to Haught’s “becoming”

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Unless one claims that the earliest available text was dictated to Moses by God, himself, then the subject under consideration is prehistorical. Technically, such a text is mythological, a story of beginnings which may or may not be historically correct.

God could have created a parallel (?) universe in which the “physics” of Genesis 1-3 applies but it isn’t this universe.

The doctrine of original sin is central to Augustine’s understanding of both grace and free will. Original sin makes grace necessary. Original sin defines the bondage of the will. One’s view of grace and free will is inseparably related to one’s understanding of original sin. He who embraces Augustine’s view of original sin is compelled to probe his understanding of grace and the fallen will.


So what happens to those sections of the Eastern Orthodox communion who have not, or do not, embrace Augustine’s understanding of Original Sin?

Is their Salvation impaired?

One way to look at ideas like Original Sin is to recognize what scientists do. They have data that is “true” from which they make “models” to explain it. Theologians don’t seem to recognize that they doc the SAME thing. Do people seem to have a propensity for sin? Make a model to explain it. This is exactly what Augustine did. OriginalcSin is not the truth. It is a model that seeks to explain our behavior. Given what Augustine knew of the history of human kind, Augustine did the. Eat he. Could but science has shown us much more now and the John Haught model to me explains our sinfulness much better and more simply than the originalcsin model.

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Is that a typo in the middle of your last sentence? Please confirm. Thanks!

yup. darned spell checker

Augustine did the best that he could

Dr. Middleton wrote, “It is also plausible to think that it was not long before these humans began to go against the new revelations of conscience, and thus sin was introduced into the world.”

“New revelations of conscience?”

Instead of introducing “new revelations” how about spending a bit more time examining “moral” decision making in light of what we know about decision making in general? It is a complex process. Decisions can be based on multiple factors, and not necessarily “new revelations.” In fact the word “morality” might represent an enormous generalization that humans now take for granted, and that theologians take for granted as “revelatory.” But are morality/ethics “revelatory,” or enormous generalizations based on multiple factors such as shared wishes as to how we would like to see others act toward us, and we extend such wishes to everyone else for obvious reasons, but such wishes appear to be based on our evolution as a large-brained mammalian species socially connected (compare how elephants, apes and dolphins act as large-brained mammalian species that are socially connected–they have their complex societies and conflicts just as humans do). Another factor going into the mix of what we later came to call “morality/ethics” includes behavior patterns our parents drummed into us as children (“don’t do that, do this” “that’s not yours” “play nice, don’t get hurt” etc.), and factors involving the use of foresight among other rational considerations, and factors involving shared recognition of pain that may be either physical or psychological along with the difficulty of ignoring the evidence that others feel similarly. For more on moral decision making as a sub-set of decision making in general see https://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-moral-question.html

In short, the attempt to explain the existence of “conscience” as due to “revelation” isn’t really needed in order to explain how humans came upon the grand idea of treating each other better rather than worse. Allegedly “revelatory” laws were spread by tribal/national rulers in the ancient world who claimed such laws were sent down from on high to provide harmony. But it was humans who recognized via their daily interactions with each other the benefits of harmony and obeying certain rules for the good of family, tribe or nation.

And speaking of what part a creator, designer or tinkerer may have played in the rise of the human species, and what blame may be placed on humans for acting “sinfully,” consider that the evolutionary process this creator used to bring about humans doesn’t seem geared toward eliminating aggression, not at all, so the chances of humans acting “sinfully” probably can’t be blamed on humans alone. In fact, the more one accepts what scientists have come to learn about the biological world and its lengthy history, the more one recognizes that neither humans nor any of the species that preceded them were overly “tame” species, and our species evolved quick reflexes for defense and counter attack, bio-physiological behaviors in our bones and even in our brains that one can even see occurring even in purely intellectual discussions. So who or what exactly is responsible for “sin?” A creator, designer, tinkerer, whatever the case, bears some of the blame. We are far from being a purely rational species, gaining knowledge and learning to recognize what makes sense, what doesn’t, requires effort, nobody is born intelligent or rational, we are each limited linguistically, culturally, educationally, hence many tensions naturally arise. So should all the blame be placed on humanity and its “sinfulness?” On difficult questions that arise at the intersection of Christianity and evolution (as admitted by Christians) see https://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2017/08/christians-admit-that-difficult.html


Absolutely! And how do we know this?

Because natural evil of humongous proportion is inflicted on innocent non-human life by God, and the Bible documents this as so!

It’s one thing to blame a murdering hurricane on Original Sin. . . but it’s pretty much out of the question when it is God doing the smiting of innocents when it is completely unnecessary:

Incomplete Catalog of Natural Evil Unleased by Yahweh

[1] God skins animals to cloth Adam and Eve before they go on their first Day Trip.

[2] God drowns millions of non-human animals in a massive flood.

[3] God sends the Destroyer to kill the first born of all the non-human animals in Egypt; but compared to the big flood, maybe this wasn’t so bad?

[4] Don’t even start with me about a herd of pigs in the New Testament.

The first 11 chapters of Genesis are symbolic, and has precursors found in ancient Mesopotomian myths. Although the tablets of these myths were discovered in the 19th century, Emanuel Swedenborg wrote about this in the 18 century. See Is Genesis Historical? A Revelation from Heaven