Over the past few months I have started to accept evolution, as I’ve discovered that scientific evidence definitely points to it, and that anti-evolution arguments are easily refuted by evolutionary scientists, However, from a theological standpoint, can evolution be reconciled with Christian doctrines such as original sin? Does original sin fit with evolution?
A good question, as a lot of doctrines require rethought in light of scientific advances. I have to remind myself that doctrines, while representing important thought are still human constructs, and are not scripture itself. Here is a podcast discussing a fairly recent book that may be helpful. I admit that I have not read the book itself. Loren Haarsma | Four Approaches to Original Sin - Podcast-episodes - BioLogos
My personal take is that evolution can be accurate, and original sin still reflective of the sin of the first partner or the first population to be be morally culpable. However, I really downplay the importance of original sin, as I concentrate more on the scripture emphasizing that our personal sin is that which condemns us, not some historical sin in the distant past. I think that is supported throughout the Bible, where Adam is virtually ignored outside of the first chapters of Genesis, and his his sin is not a factor in the failures of later characters or of Israel. If it was important, it would have been a prominent part of the story. Instead, David was held personally accountable for his conduct with Bathsheba, Sodom was accountable for its hospitality and conduct, and so forth.
As someone here pointed out, evolution can actually help us understand how sin and our sin nature developed out of selfish traits beneficial to survival, rather than being created as a fault within Adam by God.
Condemns? To what?
To separation from God, If you are worried about such, Martin.
Jay’s review gives a good overview of the book and the issues addressed, thanks for reminding us of it, Jay!
There are multiple views of that in that in here. But these are my personal thoughts.
- First I would have to define what is original sin? If we have different views on what is OS , we will talk past one another and won’t even be in the same concept. So when I think of original sin, I think of what it originally meant, and still means to this day by those that created the concept and that’s the Catholics. To Catholics original sin is the belief that everyone born post Adam is guilty of the sin of Adam through a sort of genetic defect. That we are biologically evil and trash. That we were “born to sin and born as sinners” which is why a unbaptized baby who has never committed a sin, is still guilty of sin and will be sent to purgatory to suffer until the “fire cleanses the gold of trash “. So I completely reject that idea. I think it’s evil. I don’t think baby’s need to spend a moment in hell, or in purgatory ( which is a doctrine that I don’t accept anyways ).
But if we cut away from some of that we get closer to the way Protestants have relatively recently altered it. We got rid of purgatory, and we got rid of babies in hell , and so what’s left behind is this view of we are somehow born already with evil in our hearts and a desire to sin. But I would argue that’s silly. Babies are not inherently evil. Even the tanakh mentions “ before he is old enough to eat honey or choose good or bad”.
Instead what it sounds like is simply personal choice. All things are born with the ability to make choices. We can choose righteousness or sin. We can choose love or hate. We can choose kindness or meanness. All of this seems to also have a role in evolution. Emotions are not magic. They evolved as well. We see emotion as in animals. We see dogs that know when they are disobeying.
So many also drag in death. Adam’s choices brought in death. I agree, but I think that death was spiritual. Adam was never immortal. Human souls are not immortal. The Bible says only god is immortal. Angels, humans, and ect… are all mortal. We are all kept alive through the power of Yahweh. ( spiritually ). Otherwise, why would Yahweh have placed a tree that grants life in the garden of the garden was for immortals and if the immortals sinned they would be cast out? Makes no sense.
So we have Adam and Eve in this sort of promise land that Yahweh brought them too and they had conditional immortality by consuming the fruit. On the day that Adam ate Of the fruit sin entered the world and death. But what is sin? Sin is disobeying god. So the only way to sin is to disobey God and in order to disobey god you have to have been told what to do and what to not do. The death that happened was spiritual. Sin causes Yahweh to look away. Think of Christ on the cross. When he felt abandoned “ cut away from “ his father and god. So sin could never have happened until Yahweh reached out and he reached out to Adam and Eve gave them some rules and when they broke those rules, they sinned.
But this is another interesting aspect of it. It says Adam’s choices brought in sin. But before Adam sinned Eve sinned. Before Eve sinned the serpent sinned. So why did their sins not bring in death?
We’re all that Phil. Looks like that’s original.
Alienation from God is another way to put it. I was reminded of this quote from Merton:
I agree with “first population to be morally culpable.” Another way to describe that would be “first population to reach moral maturity.” Biological (globularity), social (cooperation), and cultural (language, morality) evolution played equal parts in that process. The same is true of every individual person who develops “normally.” Childhood development includes brain, social, linguistic, and moral development. No one is born “guilty” of sin; everyone eventually becomes guilty of sin. The question is why? Eve, representing all of us, shows mature moral reasoning. “Is the rule right/fair? Can I trust the rulemaker? Can I rationalize a selfish choice?” Every child eventually reaches that point, usually in early adolescence. So did humanity as a whole.
I get your urge to downplay the personal sins of a distant “original” pair as the historical explanation for humanity’s alienation from God. It’s irrational and obviously unjust. Not up to God’s usual standards. haha. Mostly agree with this:
I say “mostly” because creating a moral being requires that creature to make “tough” choices. As Wittgenstein pointed out, a child learns language through a process more akin to training than anything else. Morality is the same.
There is both personal sin and corporate (systemic) sin. The prophets condemn Israel, Judah, and all the surrounding societies for their collective evils.
Why is Adam virtually ignored in the rest of the Hebrew Bible? The OT isn’t arranged in the order of its composition. Here’s a thought: What if Gen. 1-11 was written/edited into final form during the Exile? That would make it roughly in the lifespan of Ezekiel and later books. It also explains why Adam is virtually ignored in books written earlier, and the parallels to Israel’s corporate experience of failure to keep the covenant and expulsion from the promised land of milk and honey.
I’ve gone on too long. Thanks all for spurring my thoughts, even though I only replied directly to Phil.
Edit: The later composition of Gen. 2-3 also explains the many echoes of the priests, tabernacle and temple in the Eden narrative.
Would’ve been easier to kill those two and start over with another pair, rather than condemn billions of their descendants to hell. It’s the trolley problem on steroids.
I’m school when they made us do a section on justice and brought up the trolley situation such as would you guide the trolley to crash killing 4 people but saving 20 on the tracks? What if those four were new moms and the 20 was convicts and ect…. I told them which one has my friends or family on it? That’s the one I save. They were even like what if it was just 1 friend vs a thousand strangers, and half those strangers were kids, I said I would save my friend and tell him we need to quickly buy up all the coffins around us and sell them 3x. The answer was not appreciated xd .
Good points, and I also feel that most of Genesis was not written until the Exile, though it may have existed as oral stories before being compiled. However, that is something a lot of people have trouble with, so sort of ignored it. It does explain a lot, however.
Especially given that he was completely willing to do
It with the flood story and with Moses and the hebrews Moses interceded with. Though given that Adam and the flood both falls within the myth section I dont really try to develop to much doctrine or theological positions
Off it that’s not supported elsewhere.
I think it’s high time original sin is dropped as it is not Biblical and an accidental slight on God’s character. Christian’s have been reading Romans wrong and through anti-Jewish lenses for almost two millennia now. Not to mention Adam and Eve are mythological and Augustine based his views on a mistranslation of the Latin Vulgate. Read Romans 5:12 in the NRSV. Pete Emma has a great article on this.
Romans doesn’t actually teach what most Christian’s think it does.
Why are we blaming ourselves for anything? Like abused children? Why do we still go with ANE metaphors? What in the evolution of human behavioural variability that ended up to a hundred times further back explains shame? Because that’s what this is all about. As the peerless (Casandra) Brené Brown found. If only her first name were Pandora!
Our intelligentsia have been emerging from neotenous child-parent to adult for only a tenth of the time since the metaphors emerged. Mass education is only a century old and rudimentary at that. Liberal studies are still the province of the elite. With politics as they are that cannot improve, even in the full democracies, first class, as Norway shows.
A forum like this is held back on the cusp of adulthood, by the vertical and overhanging final ascent, of the first peak in the Dunning-Kruger range. Will we ever cut the strings from below?
What impact does Original Sin have on Christian theology with the assumption that everyone has sinned since they were born? Is this more a matter of babies and children going to heaven? If Original Sin were thrown out, what impact would it have on Christian theology?
What understanding of original sin do you have that you see a conflict with evolution?
It is inevitable that with an acceptance of evolution that people revisit the first chapters of Genesis to consider how they are to be understood. There is definitely support in the Bible for the earth already being filled with other people at the time of Adam and Eve. But what of the story that has Adam being shaped out of dust and Eve from bone? How does that fit in with the evolution narrative?
There are many choices in dealing with this. I choose an historical Adam and Eve whose story has been told with a great deal of symbolism and metaphor. So for example, I read “God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” And it means God formed mankind of the stuff of the earth and spoke to Adam giving Him the inspiration (divine breath) which gave birth to the human mind.
In any case, how you deal with questions like this will obviously affect your choices with regards to other teachings like original sin. If you think Adam and Eve are just metaphors then “original sin” is likely to be a metaphor as well. But even with an historical Adam and Eve, like I believe in, there are lots of other questions about what you think “original sin” is all about. I pretty much think it is the beginning of self-destructive human habits and the bad examples we have in other human beings while we grow and learn how to live our own lives.
I come from a Christian tradition (anabaptism) where the doctrine of original sin never was “a thing”, so getting rid of it would not change my theology or practice at all. I think once Augustine formalized the concept in the 300s, it necessitated the performance of infant baptisms…because then the Roman Catholic tradition and magisterial protestants after them thought that all newborns/children would go to hell if they died because they were contaminated by “original sin” and had to get baptised to get rid of it. But that belief also ascribes a rather “magical” effect of baptism which I don’t hold to either…
Could the same be said of Trinitarianism?
Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Eastern Orthodoxy, Enns, and others do just fine without original sin. But “original blessing” and “original righteousness” are more incoherent. My view draws more from Irenaeus than Augustine, and the scientific narrative that I lay out is accurate. Maybe take a minute to read some things I’ve written rather than shoot from the hip in reflexive disagreement?
I draw from Haidt, Tomasello, and many others to explain the evolution of language and morality. The evolutionary story that I tell is factual. Humanity had to progress from an animal-like state of innocence/ignorance to “the knowledge of good and evil.” This wasn’t achieved in a sudden leap. It involved several million years. “Original sin” was nothing more than the end of an evolutionary process that resulted in moral maturity.
Speak for yourself.
Augustine said unbaptized babies are sent to hell. In my view, the Bible is ambiguous about the fate of infants and children. As far as I’m concerned, they aren’t capable of morally culpable “sin,” so they certainly aren’t condemned. (Not saying I agree with “eternal conscious torment” or any other construct of hell.)
“If original sin were thrown out…”
It depends how you define “original sin.” As I said, Orthodoxy and some Protestants (like Enns and Lamoureux @DOL) reject a historical “first sin” by an original pair of humans. Rightly so. Fundamentalists/Literalists say that without that first sin by a literal A&E, Christ’s redemption is unnecessary. Nonsense.
Here’s how original sin impacts theology: It’s the great equalizer. We’re all born into the same situation, from king to peasant. The “forbidden fruit” was the knowledge of good and evil. Knowledge passed down from generation to generation is “culture” by definition. It’s not biological or magical. The story is scientific.
I agree. This might be helpful.
Beyond Original Sin: Is a Theological Paradigm Shift Inevitable? (2015)
All Christian doctrines are in need of re-evaluation with what we now know about the Bible. I’ve never been a fan of the trinity. I think Jesus was God incarnate. Anything beyond that and I get uncomfortable especially since I don’t believe in force-fitting all
Scripture together. The only reason to accept a trinity is church doctrine. Who denies the Holy Spirit is God? Do I need to view Holy Spirit as completely separate yet also as one and the same as the Father? Can’t I just say it’s the spirit of God? What is wrong with that? Why do I need to resort to a Trinity here?
I read your link. Didn’t seem to be a theological reflection or exegesis of scripture in favor of original sin. 1-2 just assume the garden account represents a fall (which I think is incorrect) and 3-4 don’t describe original sin which is the topic under consideration here.
This is not original sin. You are redefining it to mean something entirely different. Come up with your own name. I think we do have a proclivity to sin and that it is pretty much universal. The deck even seems stacked against us. For me it is a by-product of million of years of evolution. I also believe we have libertarian free will and we have to overcome our human nature.
The garden story has no interest in millions of years of development from ignorance/animal like states to “knowledge of good and evil.” It knows nothing about evolution but I agree if there was a fall, it was a fall upwards, not downwards—if that is what you are saying.
If J or these stories took their final form after the exile then Adam and Eve use mythological elements to represent Jewish people being exiled from the land. If it dates from before then it is etiological and tries to explain the problems and nature of the world (relation of man and animals, women and men, pain and suffering etc. it doesn’t look at some past event but tries to explain the complexities of life in the here and now.