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

It is therefore plausible to think that the rise of moral consciousness was a decisive development among anatomically modern Homo sapiens, which resulted from a developing awareness of God’s call to a certain (moral) form of life.[5] 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 (and both moral consciousness and sinful resistance then spread to all Homo sapiens). While this may not be the Fall as a punctiliar event perpetrated by an original couple, it would still be a temporal event (and thus a historical Fall), which took place among early humans. This is a faithful interpretation of Scripture, and fully consistent with evolutionary science. - See more at: http://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/evolution-and-the-historical-fall-what-does-genesis-3-tell-us-about-the-origin-of-evil#sthash.QtjZrAHY.dpuf

Believe it or not I mostly agree with this conclusion, even though I am a very conservative Christian. I wonder if it’s really that far from a more YEC reading. Could I rewrite it just a bit to illustrate? (MY REWRITES IN BOLD)

It is therefore plausible to think that the rise of moral consciousness was a decisive development among anatomically modern Homo sapiens, which resulted from an immediate awareness of God’s call to a certain (moral) form of life, conferred upon early homosapiens by God.[5] 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 (and both moral consciousness and sinful resistance then spread to all Homo sapiens). This describes the Fall as a punctiliar event perpetrated by an original couple, it would still be a temporal event (and thus a historical Fall), which took place among early humans. This is a faithful interpretation of Scripture, and fully consistent with evolutionary science.

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So much of this Forum is dedicated to asking the question: “Is Science compatible with Scripture?” Reputable scientists now propose that Modern Humans entered the historical record in a Great Leap Forward. Am I the only respondent to this Forum that sees how this agrees with the highlighted portion of the above quotation? Yes, the Fall was a Fall Forward. When the Brain of even one (or a couple) of Homo sapiens was (somehow) programmed to operate as Mind, that couple could invent language and spread the Gift of Conscience epigenetically and extremely rapidly to other contemporaneous H.s. The gift of being able to rise above instinctive behavior, to become, potentially, imago Dei. also implied that refusing the Gift allowed moral Sin to enter the historical record.

Teilhard de Chardin and Mathew Fox were chastised for suggesting we replace Original Sin with Original Blessing, but neither offered evidence that science supported their position. Isn’t anyone at BioLogos willing to at least consider the possibility that it clarifies the conundrum that Christianity has faced since Augustine and before?

Al Leo

Patrick, thanks for your comments. As to your question (point 2), although I haven’t read a lot in this area it seems to be quite compatible with what I am proposing. In fact, your description of emergence in point 2 is a perfectly acceptable way to rephrase my claim. As to the point about death, disease, violence, in your “final thought,” this is what I plan to address in my next BioLogos post.

Thanks Richard. I’m looking forward to your final post. Each one has been very helpful.

I think it was your mention of the Jeeves book in one of the posts that made me think of emergence.

Blessings . . .

@nobodyyouknow

What is this “contagion” you are describing? God makes angels; angels oppose God’s will.

God makes humans of flesh, human oppose God’s will, and don’t even have the benefit of Angel-like divine substance.

The Eastern Orthodox communion says Adam & Eve are the first sinners … they do not attempt to say that all humanity sins because of Adam & Eve. All humanity sins because flesh is weak.

Yes?

Good question; it gives me a chance to clarify what I was trying (perhaps unsuccessfully) to say.

Part of the problem is what “contagion” means. I don’t envision the spread of a “disease,” but rather the cultural and empirical spread of behavior and attitudes through communal interaction among Homo sapiens.

What I was trying (speculatively) to describe is very different from Augustine’s notion of “original sin” and is much closer to Eastern Orthodoxy. I am a Wesleyan in theological orientation, and John Wesley was significantly influenced by the Eastern Fathers on a number of points.

Part of the problem with Augustine’s notion of original sin (which assumes that everyone is born with a “sin nature”) is that he misunderstood Paul’s point in Romans 5:12.

Augustine rightly saw that “sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin”; fair enough—this fits Genesis an it is compatible with my notion of the cultural and communal spread of sin through the human community.

But Augustine used an Old Latin translation of the New Testament (which shows up later in the Latin Vulgate); this translation goes on to say “and so death spread to all, in whom all have sinned” (where “in whom” means in Adam).

Augustine thought that because we (somehow mysteriously) sinned “in Adam” we genetically inherit a sinful nature from our parents. And many Western Christians since Augustine have followed his lead in thinking that everyone born after Adam is automatically a sinner, which often leads to very pessimistic view of human nature.

This is not my view; nor is it Paul’s.

The NRSV better represents the original Greek of Paul’s formulation when it translates the contested phrase as “because all have sinned.” (Rom 5:12).

The point is not that all humanity mysteriously sinned in Adam, but simply that we have all sinned, which is an empirical fact.

What I tried to show in my blog post was that instead of an immediate change in human nature, the narrative of Genesis portrays a process by which humans come more and more under the sway of sin.

And I tried to think of what that might have been like among early Homo sapiens.

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Do you have a citation for this? I am curious and would like to read more. I suppose Augustine himself might be a good place to start, but I don’t have the time to go trudging through The City of God and Confessions and such right now. :slight_smile:

Augustine’s use of the Old Latin for Rom 5:12 is found in his On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sin, Book 1, chaps. 10 and 11.

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Al,
As someone who has been coming to these things after an upbringing that largely assumed YEC and denied evolution, these are really intriguing thoughts, especially your comment about "The Great Leap Forward". Is there anyone else that has influenced your thinking on this matter that you might refer me to? It definitely resonates with me and seems that it dose solve some significant issues. It’s also interesting to me that so much of the evolution/human origins/human sin/original sin goes back to Augustine. Thanks for your comment…

Hi Ben

The anthropologist, Jared Diamond, coined the phrase “The Great Leap Forward”, but for a more thorough discussion of the evidence, I suggest these two paleoanthropologists who are tops in their field: Ian Tattersall, “Becoming Human”, and “Masters of the Planet”; and Simon Conway Morris, " Life’s Solutions…"
Here are some quotes:
(1) Simon Conway Morris (widely quoted by BioLogos): "“(Darwin assumed) that humans
must have had a process of gradual emergence. But the archeological record doesn’t really show that. We know that modern humans only appear about 200,000 years ago. But they didn’t really do much for the first 100,000 years. Why not? They have the same brain size, but they seem rather stagnant. I’m deeply puzzled about the origins of the things that make us completely human, such as our ability to use language and engage in rational discourse, our ability to employ our imagination. I’m not persuaded those things can simply be extrapolated from Darwinian processes.”
(2) Ian Tattersall in “Becoming Human”: “Truly a new kind of being was on earth”.And
further: “Modern Homo sapiens is a totally unprecedented entity, not simply an improved
version of its ancestors.” Then: “Burials with grave goods indicate a belief in an afterlife…Incontrovertible evidence for existence of religious experience.”

Perhaps the most telling support for the GLF comes from the arch-atheist, Sir Richard Dawkins (author of “The God Delusion”). He firmly believes that Darwinian evolution must proceed in small steps with no direction. Yet, in his book, “The Ancestor’s Tale”, he affirms that humankind appeared on earth in a Great Leap Forward. His explanation? Perhaps the Homo sapiens brain (like a computer) was somehow programmed….!!! This sounds like a “God of the Gaps” excuse for an explanation. Someday a rational biological mechanism will certainly be found for the transition of Brain -> Mind. but that will not destroy the belief that God is responsible for it all.

So Pope Paul II, speaking from the knowledge derived from Faith, was ahead of Dawkins speaking for science, when he, the Pope, declared that it is OK for Christians to believe that evolution produced all other life on earth, but humankind is an exception.

May God bless you on your honest search for knowledge of His marvelous creation.
Al Leo

Thanks Richard for this inspiring post, which offers the opportunity for discussing in depth the question of “original sin”.

I fully share your claim in the Essay that “the rise of moral consciousness was a decisive development among anatomically modern Homo sapiens, which resulted from a developing awareness of God’s call to a certain (moral) form of life.” (In this respect see my Essay).

However I see a problem in your explanation about “original sin”:

In your Essay you state:

A:
“Sin is not inevitable for human beings”.
Accordingly it is in principle possible that at any time of history there are persons who didn’t sin.

By contrast in your Reply to gbrooks9 you state:

B:
“The point is not that all humanity mysteriously sinned in Adam, but simply that we have all sinned, which is an empirical fact.”

It seems that statements A and B contradict each other. How do you fix this problem?

Thanks in advance for your answer.

@JRM

You would do well to spread the news on Paul’s Romans 5:12 … and the translation that explains it.

There are plenty of folks who still think that Adam “infected” humanity with Original Sin!

I would have to disagree with the quote if @JRM really hopes to advance that thesis. Perhaps he meant it only in the “logical” sense… that the empirical sense.

Because I don['t know ANYONE willing to say that a human gets out alive without sinning somewhere!

Antoine, you raise an important issue.

On the one hand, I don’t think there is a logical contradiction between saying that sin is not an inevitability for humans and that all have sinned (as an empirical fact). I hope I am not being overly technical here, but a modal statement (about possibility) cannot contradict a statement of empirical fact. Here I am taking the statement about inevitability to be equivalent to logical necessity.

On the other hand, however, the force of your point may be that (despite the strictly logical issue) it is just about inevitable that everyone sins or will sin. I agree, of course, and I would attribute this to the deeply rooted nature of sin in the behavior of those from whom we learn how to act and also to the systemic evil in human culture and society. However, this is not genuine (logical) inevitability, but historical/ empirical likelihood that is so complete as to be practically indistinguishable from inevitability.

So, in one sense I actually agree with you.

The really interesting question is: Was sin an inevitability for Homo sapiens who experienced the Great Leap Forward (which I would correlate with God entering into a relationship with some early humans, resulting in the origin of conscience)? I don’t think it was; though it may have been highly likely.

For my part, I want to honor what we are learning from evolution and also take seriously the speculations about the GLF (and there is a great deal of speculation there, about how it happened).

However, I also want to honor the biblical witness both of the present ubiquity of sin and its character as an initial transgression that could be resisted (even in the second generation; Gen 4:7), but which infected society until “every inclination of the thoughts of [the human] heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5).

Finally, we come to your sentence: “Accordingly it is in principle possible that at any time of history there are persons who didn’t sin.” It may be in principle possible (this is an implication of the Eastern Orthodox understanding, since infants are not yet sinners). But it simply isn’t likely enough to be considered a genuine empirical possibility.

I’m certainly not fully settled about all of this. So, thanks for giving me the opportunity to think out loud about these matters.

And I will read your essay.

@JRM

Do you believe in Angels? I assume you do.

Are angels made of flesh? I assume you agree they are not.

They sinned.

So why would you think humans, made of flesh, could do better than angels?

Of course, not all angels have sinned. But angels weren’t derived from evolution either. Why would you think that hominids, with their mammalian ancestry, could avoid sin at all?

Thanks so much! I’m going to look both of these anthropologist authors up and do some more reading. I really appreciate your feedback.

Michael Heiser’s view of Romans 5:12 has been helpful: http://drmsh.com/romans-512/

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Very nice analysis!

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"What does the Scripture say?:

“therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man”

Adam’s was the first sin:
“and death through sin”

What did Adam’s sin bring? Death.:
“and so death spread to all men”

“Does the text say “so that ADAM’S GUILT” passed upon all humankind? NO, it does not. The ONLY thing that the text says passed on to all humankind was DEATH. It’s quite clear and explicit. To say “guilt” is to import the idea into the text. This is eisegesis.”

And this is a brilliant assessment regarding Jesus!.. defying the foolishness of Augustine’s assessment:

“This in turn is the answer to the Jesus dilemma. YES, Jesus inherited Adam’s fall – because all that means is that he inherited MORTALITY. And of course Jesus was mortal in the incarnation. He COULD and obviously DID die – like any other human, barring divine intervention (like Elijah and Enoch). Jesus didn’t inherit guilt from Adam because that isn’t the point of Romans 5:12. There is no dilemma.”

http://drmsh.com/more-on-romans-5/

Thanks to you Richard for continuing this fruitful conversation.

In my view, the empirical fact is that “many sinned”, and not that “all sinned”, and much less that “all will sin” (how could you have evidence for this?). As you very well remark Gen 4:6 explicitly states that even after the Fall everyone is free NOT to sin. Gen 6:5 certainly states that antediluvian humanity was infected by sin, but even then “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord… Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.” (Gen 6:8-9): Noah was not infected by his contemporaries’ sins. From Scripture one could also derive that others (Abel, Enoch, Melchizedek, Elijah, John the Baptist, Jesus’ Mother Mary and her husband Joseph, Simeon and Anna) did not transgress God’s commandments. Nonetheless we acknowledge according to Christian faith that “after the Fall everyone is in need of Redemption”, and this is the real meaning of the expression that every human person is generated in the state of original sin. (I think the cases of Melchizedek and Jesus’ Mother deserve particular analysis, but this a different question).

You also fittingly refer to the “Eastern Orthodox understanding”, according to which infants are baptized to be cleansed from sin although “infants are not yet sinners”. We find this understanding also in other Churches (Catholic, Anglican, etc.)

Theology, like other serious knowledge, has to be logically consistent. So, in my view, any correct explanation of original sin has to agree with the two following Principles:

  1. Everyone is free NOT to sin.
  2. Everyone after the Fall is generated in need of Redemption (or: is generated in state of original sin).

I fully agree with you that Principle 2) is not the consequence of genetic inheritance (original sin is not transmitted like a genetic disease). Notice that Augustine’s main intention is to grant the principles 1) and 2) above, although his formulations may sometimes convey the (erroneous) interpretation of “biological inheritance”.

By contrast I don’t agree to the view that Principle 2) is a consequence of sins other than the first sin in human history, and in particular sins of other contemporary human persons (sin does not propagate like sort of spiritual “contagion” from sinners to innocents). In other words: what matters for the need of Redemption in principle 2) is the first sin in human history (which is not necessarily the same as the sin of the first human person), and in this sense one can say that “all have sinned in the first sinner”.

So the crucial question seems to be: What is the reason for Principle 2)?

In my view the answer to this question is given in Romans 11:32. This point is discussed here and here (where by the way I extensively refer to your work The Liberating Image). But I think it would be highly useful if we could find a way for discussing this interpretation in this Blog with so knowledgeable people as well.

I found a legitimate application of the idea that some humans do not sin!: those humans who may have not sinned could very well be infants who died shortly after birth, and others who do not achieve any kind of moral responsibility before their lives prematurely end!

This would be very consistent with the Greek Orthodox view of human metaphysics… and their belief that infant baptism is done for reasons other than to mitigate sin in infants!