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

(Antoine Suarez) #21

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.

(George Brooks) #22

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!

(Richard Wright) #23


Excellent treatment on this subject! Agree that humans sinned when we violated our consciences.

(J Richard Middleton) #24

Antoine, your thoughtful and detailed post deserves a response. Given my writing commitments at the moment, I will need to delay a response. My apologies.

(Antoine Suarez) #25

Richard, thanks for this. I will appreciate your response.

(Neal Pixley ) #26

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

(George Brooks) #27

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!

(J Richard Middleton) #28

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.

(J Richard Middleton) #29

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.

(Antoine Suarez) #30

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.

(Dick Fischer) #31

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.

A.Suarez's Treatment on a Pope's Formulation for Original Sin's Transmission!
(Charles Keller) #32

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

(David Randall) #33

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.

(George Brooks) #34


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.

(Albert Leo) #35

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

(Charles Keller) #36

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”

(Bill Wald) #37

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.

(Paul Allen) #38

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.

A.Suarez's Treatment on a Pope's Formulation for Original Sin's Transmission!
(George Brooks) #39


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?

(Charles Keller) #40

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.