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

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.

@davidrandall.

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.

@Paul_Allen1,

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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@cfkellerSVS

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

@Edward_T_Babinski,

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

@Doug_Webber,

@Reggie_O_Donoghue also made a very good case for these old and popular stories being “Hebrew-ized” in order to swallow up other local traditions, while at the same time, removing elements that the Priestly scribes would find objectionable. What are described as deities in these stories have been down-graded.

For example, in Jonah, the fish represents a God of the underworld. In the Bible, the fish is just a fish… working at the bidding of Yahweh!

I don’t recall saying this

@Reggie_O_Donoghue,

I think you were more concerned with the idea that the Priestly scribes were presenting “pagan” elements negatively…

… and I was more concerned about the almost inevitable desire of a dominant priestly tradition to borrow and co-opt the legends and stories of other cultures, to speed assimilating other views into the one sponsored by the priests.

Do these points ring a bell?

If you mean you never said anything about Jonah, that is probably correct. I brought in the Jonah story as an example of how a priestly “interest group” can change another group’s story to reflect their preferences.

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Everyone is free to believe what they like, but some of the ideas expressed in this thread - eg, attributing evil to God - are far outside of Christian doctrine and the belief statements of BioLogos.

Within the framework of biblical theology, I don’t think we can so easily dismiss the fall as a vague moral drift of humanity as a whole, nor separate it so easily from physical death. Paul’s whole argument in 1 Cor 15 is about Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead as the source of Christians’ confidence that we will likewise be physically raised. It is in that context that he says:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Cor 15:20-23)

When Paul says “by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead”, he’s very clearly saying that by one single, literal, historical man, Jesus, the physical resurrection of the dead has been brought for those who trust Christ, such that their bodily resurrection follows and results from his. The whole narrative of the chapter confirms that physical death and resurrection of believers is in view; he starts out talking about Christ’s physical burial and resurrection, and moves eventually to saying that believers will be given imperishable bodies in place of mortal ones.

And Paul says that the resurrection comes through Jesus in the same way that death came through Adam. If the sin of a single, literal, historical Adam did not cause physical death for humans, doesn’t that make nonsense of Paul’s argument?

Those of you who believe that 1 Corinthians is inerrant Scripture, how do you understand this passage?


Update: This post mentions a possible answer I find interesting: Adam’s sin has effects that go both forward and back in time, just as Christ’s atonement does: https://biologos.org/blogs/archive/evolutionary-creationism-and-atonement-theology-part-1-why-we-need-a-histor

This suggestion has several interesting implications:

  • It makes the parallel between Christ and Adam even stronger than it is in YEC theology
  • It allows one to affirm that physical death is the evil result of The Fall – that creation groans (Rom 8:22) with good reason, that Jesus wept by Lazarus’ tomb because his death was not solely a natural and good process, but an enemy that Jesus came to destroy (1 Cor 15:26). Even at an emotional level, it allows one to affirm that when we see creatures suffering and dying in the natural world, that it is right to feel a measure of sadness.
  • It allows one to still anticipate a new heavens and earth in which death has been destroyed and is no more

In this view, one could see physical death as a part of God’s plan, yet as a consequence of sin - similar to how Christians see the spiritual death of unbelievers. In both cases, God hates death, but in both cases, it fits within his larger, good plan.

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We do not find the origin of evil in Genesis at all. As in Genesis 1:6-8 says, in the beginning existed evil outside of Heaven, those waters below the firmament.

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

The founders of science recognized the ruler of the waters below Heaven as Poseidon - the ruler of the bitter sea of fallen angels. To find the origin of evil, you have to back before the God cast the angels into the bitter sea. This happened when Lucifer became the adversary and rose up as the dragon in Revelations 11 & 12. It was before the battle of Armageddon that evil took root in Heaven and had to be purged.

The second fall in Genesis 3 was the failed attempt for the fallen Elders - Adam and Eve - to regain their virtues. They we two of the ten elders that sided with the dragon (Rev 12:3).

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Yes they would do that. In Akkadian “Babylon” means “the gate of God” but in Hebrew it is turned into a word meaning confusion. Was not aware of Jonah’s fish being related to a god of the underworld. I consider Jonah as historically true but is prophetic as well - the sea representing the underworld. There is an actual case of a whaling fisherman that fell overboard and was swallowed whole by a whale. They captured the whale and recovered it, and after disemboweling the whale they recovered the fisherman. But at that point he was almost insane from utter fear.

Perhaps you could explain why you think physical, not spiritual death is what Paul had in view in that passage. Doesn’t the fact that humans still die physically post-Christ make Paul’s argument nonsense if he is talking about Adam’s sin causing physical death?