Evolved human nature - Sinful urges and innate morality

I have seen people frame the relationship between sin and evolution in a variety of ways. Here I categorize my impressions in three ways:

Neoplatonic way
Some frame it as if mankind has to struggle against the sinful urges installed through the need for survival. It would then be equated with the earthly nature that Paul speaks of in Colossians 3:

5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.

I call this interpretation of the relationship between sin and evolution Neoplatonic because it revives the allegory of the horse chariots that “reason” has to restrain “desires”. Then evolutionarily installed urges would be associated with the wild horse and reason / intellect with the noble horse.

Innate morality
However, it seems there’s at least as much (or even much more) to say for evolution being the driver of moral behavior.

  • Cooperation, sacrificial love, faithfulness, honesty, and purity, all contribute to healthy communities. Basic emotions such as joy, sadness, disgust, anger, and fear can serve wholesome purposes (despite their potential for abuse). Given that evolution favors more stable configurations on the long term, God’s path to eternity would be a favored outcome.
  • There are biblical texts indicating that morality is innate. For example, Romans 2:

Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.

Transformed Morality?
One kind of middle way would be the idea that human beings have evolved beyond the old, animal-like tendencies. The development of higher forms of morality would constitute a renewal of our nature. Then the sinfulness would have resulted from the human being rejecting this kind of higher morality in favor of the more primitive urges. This position seems to resolve some tensions. However, I have some serious problems with these ideas. In the Bible, an important teaching is that simplicity is favorable in God’s eyes… For example,

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

1 Corinthians 1:

27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.

A very destructive kind of sinfulness is that of human arrogance towards God, showing itself in human “wisdom”, “power”, et cetera (see Tower of Babel). Here, God seems to push towards a return to simplicity, return to being like a child. Children are usually considered to be more “primitive” than adults, more susceptible to their emotions et cetera. That seems to contradict the idea of human sinfulness of being only a return to more primitive tendencies. God prefers humility, simplicity, and childlikeness.

I still can’t accept any of these options wholeheartedly. What are your thoughts on all of this? Can you think of significant other possibilities? I probably missed out on some things. All perspectives are welcome, feel free to add some resources that you found helpful yourself.

I think Jesus singled out children because they were powerless. Unlike adults who reasonably expect to exert a certain amount of autonomy over their own lives and power over others and use love and loyalty as currency to manipulate others, children expect lordship and parenting to a certain degree. They are more likely to give unconditional allegiance. They are naturally dependent and they are naturally followers. Kind of like sheep. :sheep:

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Here’s a question for you: Do you think there is any difference between immorality, unethical behavior, and sin? Can something be immoral or unethical and not sinful?

I mull these things over a lot and I keep coming back to the idea that sin is directly tied into the context of relationship with God and God’s directly communicated expectations and his asserted right of dominion over his creation.

Morality and ethics I see as more tied to a person’s or a society’s ranking of values. so I think there can be immorality and unethical behavior without reference to God, but we can only sin with relation to God.

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Good question, thanks for bringing it up! I’ll think about it and I’ll share some of my thoughts tomorrow. Now I have to sleep since it’s a bit later over here :sleeping: :crescent_moon:.

The questions can be framed within a given context - if we believe (as the Christian faith teaches) that God created true humans, than all questions regarding sin must deal with how humanity responds to God’s revelation of Himself and His law. I cannot see how animals would be given a nature that is sinful or otherwise.

If we believe that animals were transformed into humans over millions of years, than any question of sinful human nature (or any version of this) becomes irrelevant, or perhaps a way of justifying evil acts by human beings.

Since sin is ultimately a choice by human beings to not believe in God (and thus live without faith), we may regard human activity and societal matters as derived from human experience, which is filled with actions that can be considered as good and evil.

I have been thinking about your question. For me, immorality, unethical behavior and sin are always corresponding with each other. But the standards of a person or a society may differ from God’s standard, assuming unethical behavior to be acceptable or prohibiting ethical behavior. For example, Jesus healing the lame person on the Sabbath. Or the Greek who were expected to join in all kinds of idolatry.

Or modern examples are that in some countries some forms of corruption (e.g., bribing) are considered ethical. Or, for example, euthanasia of psychologically distressed people is accepted in the Netherlands. In some countries it is considered unethical to openly express anything reminiscent of a negative attitude towards homosexual behavior.

But despite the standards of individual persons and societies, it seems to me that immoral behavior is always unethical and sinful. Unethical behavior is always immoral and sinful. Sin is always unethical and immoral. For me, all those things are defined in our relationship to God. All of us carry His image and have some notion of righteousness because of that, I suppose.

Maybe some things are “impolite” in certain cultures but not sinful. But as soon as something is unethical… I would say it is also sinful and immoral. If not, could you name me a few examples?

In the branch of linguistics called phonology the reigning theory of the day is optimality theory. It says that every language’s system of sounds and word formation can be described and predicted by ranking different “constraints” that are based on universal preferences of what should and should not happen in the production of speech. However, many constraints directly violate other constraints and cannot both be satisfied at the same time in a given word. Languages allow different sound combinations and syllable structures because the constraints are ranked differently in different languages. We speak a foreign language with an accent because it can be very difficult to re-rank the constraints of our native language when we are producing a foreign one.

I think something similar applies to ethics. (I think of ethics as applied morality). We have certain moral constraints based on positive and negative moral absolutes or values. Don’t lie. Don’t kill. Be kind. Help the weak and powerless. Don’t judge. Confront injustice, etc. Life is full of situations where one or more moral constraints are in direct conflict, and you are forced to rank them and favor the value or absolute that ranks higher when you are making your decision about what to do, about what is ethical. I believe the Holy Spirit can lead different people to rank values differently, so that opposing decisions can both be just and moral. I have a hard time seeing how it is sinful or rebellion against God to say you value one good absolute over another good absolute when both cannot be satisfied. I think the pacifist and the soldier can both be in God’s will if they are basing their choices on pursuing some righteous value, even if it is at the expense of another righteous value.

There isn’t one right ranking of absolute moral values that Christians have access to. That is why I think whether or not something is unethical is relative (and often personal or cultural), and not absolute (or universal).

I see morality as tied to absolute values. A moral person is one who respects those values and applies them by making ethical choices in light of their ranked values. I think people who have never heard of God or Jesus can ascertain absolute moral values and be moral or immoral people who behave ethically or unethically.

I see sin as tied to disobedience to God not moral values. Granted, many of the things God commands involve upholding moral values, but some of his commands don’t really seem that related to morality. They are related to accepting or rejecting God’s authority. There is nothing immoral about wearing cloth woven with two kinds of cloth, or planting two kinds of seed in the same field, or cross-breeding animals, but for the Israelites, to do so was sin, because it was a rejection of God’s explicit claim to rule over them. (There is nothing immoral about eating fruit from a tree for that matter - the issue was disobedience.)

All this to say, for me it is a moot point when humanity developed a moral consciousness. I don’t think morality and immorality are the same thing as sin. I think sin only can happen in the context of God initiating relationship, asserting his rule and reign over humanity, and giving the choice to accept or reject God as ruler. I don’t think it is a given that God was required somehow to initiate a relationship with humanity just because they were morally capable of obedience.

Or to look at the issue from another angle, even very young children are capable of moral and immoral behavior. Two-year-olds can be consciously generous or deceptive. But that doesn’t mean that (at least in most strands of Christianity) we think two-year-olds are accountable to God for disobedience (held accountable for sin). We think God’s grace covers them somehow, and even though they are ‘sinful’ they are not held guilty of sin.

I still don’t see any disconnect there between unethical and sinful. The pacifist and the soldier can both be making an ethical choice, despite their outcomes being different. So it can be that both their choices are acceptable to God (i.e., not sinful).

There is an acceptable range of “ethical choices”. It often depends on the motivations underlying a choice whether something is ethical or not. For example, if one man decides to be a pacifist because of laziness and another man decides to be a soldier because of hatred, both choices become unethical. This makes such choices unacceptable to God (i.e., sinful).

For me, immorality only has meaning within the context of accountability. So very young children (or animals, for that matter) who behave in manipulative ways are still not behaving immorally, although projecting our own accountability on them can give us the impression of immorality. Without accountability, there is no sinful, immoral or unethical behavior.

I think that all of humanity has been accountable before God ever since they could rightfully be called “human” (whenever that was). Bearing the image of God, no human being can behave immoral without it being sinful or unethical without being sinful. God holds a person accountable for their deeds. Truly unethical and immoral deeds are always sinful, as far as I can see.

I honestly don’t see how morality or ethics can be separated from our personal accountability before God. I believe in true morality and true ethics, even though there are ranges of choices and motivations that are acceptable.

Human beings have inevitably formed communities and within these they have arrived at norms and rules of behaviour they consider acceptable amongst themselves, and also unacceptable. These norms and rules may in some ways conform to rules of morality (e.g. do not kill, do not steal, do not lie), but usually some type of system is set up to ensure conformity by the members of the community. It is this that has resulted in civilisations and the rule of law, and this has been a uniquely human enterprise - and at times has been a means to perpetuate great evils.

History has shown us that all civilisations we know of included some type of religious outlook and practices. These have often differed from the three Abrahamic faiths. It is in this area that great differences can be observed, especially between pagan beliefs and the Judea-Christian faith.

We know that without faith we cannot please God, and that faith can be counted as righteousness. We also know that we must obey the ten commandments -and even then, no man is without sin. Thus Christianity has brought the notion of morality, ethics and goodness to a unique level, in that we must turn to God to find a way of doing right and rejecting wrong.

Men and women have often faced great moral dilemmas in matters such as war and rejecting social norms that are wrong (eg slavery) - we all face this type of difficulty. The world in filled with chance, unpredictable outcomes, so that at times we may believe we are doing what is right and ethical, but the outcomes may prove otherwise.

I honestly believe that our accountability before God is as much dependent on our faith in Him as our actions - and our capacity for understanding the difference between right and wrong.

The BEGINNING of sin in the course of Evolution was the first human family that qualified, from God’s viewpoint, as MORAL AGENTS.

There had to be a first. Humans might not be able to define this FIRST … but certainly God as moral judge would know the moment the first sinner was born… or more importantly … when this first moral agent FIRST SINNED.

It seems to me that this discussion has gotten of the expressed topic. I will address the new topic and then the original.

For me morality is based on rules and regulations, while sin is based on relationship. That means that the OT is based primarily on morality, the Decalogue, etc., while the NT is based on relationship, Love God and Love others as yourself.

One can be sinful, while being moral, that is obeying the letter of the law, as Jesus and Paul pointed out.

In terms of evolution and morality the best application that I have seen is to say that old natural man, has evolved based on survival of the fittest is governed by the selfish gene. Evolved selfish persons must be born again of the Spirit so they can be free of sin.

Evolution has little to do directly with a platonic dualistic anthropology. Plato’s anthropology was originally tripartite, body, mind, and spirit. Only later I think under the influence of Socrates did it become dualistic. The Greeks generally believed that the body was inferior to the spirit. Jews and Christians do not.

Despite our heritage of mind/body dualism, we do have a tripartite understanding of humans, id, ego, and super ego. Id represents the physical person, ego represents the rational person and super ego represents the moral person. Psychology was seen as a struggle between the id and the super ego for control of the ego. Freud sought to integrate these three, usually advising to suppress the superego to get rid of guilt and sin.

Evolution does not encourage selfishness. Selfishness leads to failure and extinction. Cooperation leads to survival and flourishing. Survival of the fittest as taught by Darwin, Dawkins, & Co is wrong. Symbiosis as taught by ecology is right.

Sin for Christianity is selfishness. Putting yourself first, others next, and God last. In a sense babies are born selfish. A newborns only need is to survive which means it must have its needs met by others. It is only later that they learn to share and be considerate of others, but of course many never really learn.

The problem is how to move from self, others, God to God, others and self. One cannot put God first for selfish reasons. Repenting and being born again means to give up your own way and seek God’s way first and foremost

On the other hand God’s way is not against you, but for everyone. God’s way unites love for God, others, and self. God’s way also unites body, mind, and spirit. Love YHWH with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.

This is just stuff you made up. There is no textual basis for these assertions, Roger. How do you explain that sin is such a big issue in the OT that an entire sacrificial system, priestly class, holiday calendar, etc, were proposed to deal with sin in the community? Sin and its consequences is one of the main topics of the OT. It wasn’t an “immorality offering” in Leviticus. The Day of Atonement was about atoning for sin. All of the NT imagery that hearkens back to the OT sacrificial system depends on sin being a big thing in the OT. How in the world would you exegete Hebrews if sin is just a NT concept? It sounds like you are saying the Israelites didn’t have a relationship with God. What the what?

I find it difficult to read such stuff without bursting into laughter - just how does this ramble address sin and morality? Evolution as God unites love for God, others, and self? Incredible stuff this::confounded::

I don’t want to be nitpicking here but I still don’t think there is a difference between true immorality and sin. If God Himself has commanded you personally not to eat pork, but you do it anyways, that is immoral and sinful. Jesus healing a blind man on the Sabbath showed that there is a certain priority for certain commands over others. The kind of “morality” of the Pharisees is actually self-righteousness, which comes down to immorality in God’s eyes.


I am glad you were amused. Laughter is good for the heart.

God created humans as body, mind, and spirit through evolution. Love of God (in response to God’s Love for us) unites us with God and with ourselves, and with others. That too is a given. .


Certainly there is a strong connection between love and true morality, but there is also a difference.

By tying morality to commandments, you indicate that morality is based on “works,” which is fine. However salvation, the fulfillment of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ is not based on works, as Paul makes very clear and so does the salvation of the thief on the cross. The New Covenant is relational, based on faith, love, and forgiveness, not works or morality per se.

We can at least agree on one thing - laughter is good.

Good job speaking for what’s in my mind and understanding my remarks.

I think the distinction matters, because in most of the attempts I have read on these boards to come up with some sort of hypothetical harmonization between humanity’s evolution, the dawn of moral consciousness, and the Fall, what seems to be put front and center in the logic of it all is some hypothetical point in time when a human or a group of humans developed moral capabilities. (And became capable of relating to God.) I think this is irrelevant to the discussion of sin. 1 John 3:4 ties sin to breaking God’s law. There is no sin aside from God’s revealed will. In 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, reconciliation is God not counting people’s sins against them in order that relationship with God can be restored. It is removing the relational barrier of humanity’s disobedience, not the innate human struggle to be moral creatures.

I don’t equate “image of God” with ability to tell right from wrong, but with a role given by God to be an ambassador of his lordship, submitted to his rule. The image of God speaks more to our calling in relationship to God, a role we accept or reject, than some intrinsic feature of our species that we arrived at via biological/sociological advancement. Sin is covenantal to a degree. God extends his covenants, not because he recognizes some merit or specialness, or capability in the other party, but because of his grace and his divine purposes. So I am unsatisfied by explanations that make God entering a relationship with humanity and humanity’s sin a direct result of something humanity achieved or arrived at by natural development. Humanity’s status as image bearers, as I understand it, is due to divine election, something independent of evolutionary success.