This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/original-sin-and-human-origins
I’ve considered the doctrine of original sin to reflect God’s creation of all species with the common genetic trait of self preservation. We are created with the overarching imperative toward “self worship,” which itself is not sinful until we reach a level of maturity where we choose self worship over worship of God. This will come not in the form of the selfishness of a baby who isn’t rationally making a decision to choose himself over God, but will come eventually for all of us when we do make that choice.
Original sin then is the natural and not demonstrably evil trait of self preservation that will lead eventually to sinful behavior. This is how I rationalize that sin as a concept can spring from a sinless God and also how I understand a loving God would not condemn babies and young children to hell before they’ve had a chance to come to faith.
Thank you for this post (and your prior one too). A fascinating topic and, to me, at the heart of who we are as humans. I very much like your definition of original sin as a ‘moral corruption’ that ‘will inevitably give rise to actual sins’. You then ask ‘how did human beings come by this condition’. I agree that it’s hard to accept original sin being due to a single sin of Adam and Eve in the context of evolution. But your proposal of ‘acts of dereliction’ by early humans seems essentially the same to me except that the early humans remain unnamed.
My problem with both is that they involve a perfect, multi-billion year plan of an all powerful Being somehow being derailed by a single species at a certain moment in time. Science tells us that the universe is perfectly suited for life. It tells us how rare earth is in terms of its abilities to sustain life. It tells us that life evolved over billions of years somehow avoiding all the likely scenarios that should have destroyed life on earth (i.e. a continuously warming sun, asteroid impacts, etc). God could do and sustain all this but then, humans came along and quickly messed things up. Hard to believe!
Perhaps the concept of ‘Original Sin’ needs to be understood in the context of something else from Genesis: ‘Let us make mankind in our image’ — ‘Imago Dei’. Perhaps original sin is the inevitable outcome if the creation is to include beings who evolve to include the ability to understand right from wrong, have free will and the ability to understand and choose Love. Perhaps both were always part of the plan as was the need for a Savior because, unlike God, we humans aren’t perfect.
Thank you Dr. Crisp for this thoughtful, and thought-provoking, post. It can seem inviting to simply equate original sin with some aspect (certainly not the entirety) of our evolutionary inheritance. Presumably, evolutionary psychologists will be especially attracted to this “move.” What are the obstacles to it? Do you take the view you present here to be at least consistent with it?
“Nevertheless, possession of original sin renders us unfit for the presence of God, much as possession of leprosy used to render those who had the disease unfit to enter normal human society. Someone bearing original sin may be disbarred from enjoying the delights of heaven, say, because they are morally unfit to be in the nearer presence of God.”
Unless I am reading this wrong, babies will be condemned due to, “possession of original sin”, even though in the next verse Oliver says that we are accountable (“culpable”) only for actual sins.
I don’t like Oliver’s conception of original sin - I don’t think it’s something we possess. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—”. (Romans 5:12) One, Paul makes clear that death (condemnation) comes from actual sins, which is supported by, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22).
My conceptualization of original sin is like what other bloggers here have said, that it represents when homo sapiens developed a conscience and violated it, probably by their own acts of selfishness, which is the root of almost all sin. It spreads not through inheritance but through the fact that once even one person sins, he/she sets an example for others around to do wrong and it spreads like wildfire so that by the time the next generation is born sin is apart of everyone’s life on a daily basis which is immediately notice by their progeny and followed, both in attitude and in acts. The temptation came through the choice, being made available by the developed conscience.
I also find part of this argument, at least without the clarification you request, potentially challenging. Jesus himself was born of flesh, from a human mother. If original sin is by itself enough to separate us from God, and is inherited from our parents, then we may be in trouble indeed. However, if original sin only belies our propensity to choose sin, then we are probably still safe. Albeit Jesus is a special case, I find it intriguing to consider that any concept we may come up with has further implications beyond you and me.
Both Teilhard de Chardin and Mathew Fox thought so much of this approach that they suggested we replace ‘Original Sin’ with ‘Original Blessing’. Both priests were chastised by their church for such a bold proposal. But is it so bad? God waited patiently for billions of years before his evolutionary plan developed a creature with a brain capable of becoming Mind and wanting to know its Creator, wanting to please Him–but often failing, and thus sinning.
“they suggested we replace ‘Original Sin’ with ‘Original Blessing’” - I like it!
So life didn’t really change after the Fall (except for the fact that humans would now unavoidably deserve damnation)? Adam and Eve would just go back to how things were last week. Most other humans around the world would have no idea they’d been infected with original sin.
But if God had let Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Life … they would be as gods… It doesn’t sound like much of a FALL…
This “invention” of a Fall is not really a good description. It was an eviction.
Well I’d be curious to hear more about the eviction. Evicted from where?
No doubt Christian theology has created the Fall to be much more than the original authors intended. But still, the text does say that pain in child birth was greatly multiplied, farming got way harder, and women would henceforth be ruled by their husbands. Snakes didn’t fare well either.
That’s a particularly good point. I wonder if people who try to take some kind of concordist approach really believe that the fall of man and the loss of snake limbs literally occurred concurrently. It looks like the prevailing scientific theory (see interesting articles here and here) is that snakes lost their limbs when they became adept at burrowing, as far back as 150 mya. Or do they believe that the fall of man was real historical stuff while the loss of snake limbs part of the story was just Ancient Near Eastern folk etiology?
I find it helpful not to apply a rigid definition to “concordist” interpretations. Some concordist interpretations should treat the discussion of humanity AND snakes as equally figurative.
As to your comments about “The Fall” vs. “The Eviction”:
“Well I’d be curious to hear more about the eviction. Evicted from where? No doubt Christian theology has created the Fall to be much more than the original authors intended. But still, the text does say that pain in child birth was greatly multiplied, farming got way harder, and women would henceforth be ruled by their husbands. Snakes didn’t fare well either.”
A “Fall” is something that describes what humans did to themselves.
And “Eviction” is what God did to humanity.
Genesis describes God saying what would happen if humanity STAYED in Eden … they would enjoy immortality.
That doesn’t sound like a FALL. It sounds like God PUNISHED humanity. A Fall would have made it IMPOSSIBLE for God to help humanity.