What does original sin actually mean and what are its consequences?

I plan on converting to one of the ‘Eastern’ Churches myself, since I tend to align myself more with their theology, that and the fact that I have middle eastern christian origins myself.

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I believe Origen taught universalism to the best of my knowledge, as did George McDonald and John Hick, so it hasn’t exactly been nonexistent in historic christian theology. That being said, the preponderance of Christian theologians, alongside the Bible itself, have taught a literal hell and final judgement, so I tend to reject universalism.

I’ll try:

  1. Assume that the immaterial soul exists (humans have an immaterial soul) and therefore must be created by God (this also assumes that God exists)
  2. At one point humans did not exist
  3. There must be a first point that humans exist, because they now exist.
  4. The first two beings who were ensouled became the first humans, or rational animals, capable of reason and right and wrong.
  5. We call these first two humans Adam and Eve.

I realize these aren’t proper syllogisms but hopefully the idea is clearer

If you believe in EC and affirm the moral innocence of our non-human ancestors, wouldn’t there have necessarily been a “fall” from innocence with the first transgression after humans became morally responsible?

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Another possibility is the entire population of the earth was ensouled at the same time. Antoine provides his Biblical support for this over in A.Suarez's Treatment on a Pope's Formulation for Original Sin's Transmission! if you want to wade through 696 posts. I would suggest starting at the bottom if you are interested.


The issue of Original Sin vs. Sin-Prone nature is tied to the question of whether or not one accepts Augustine’s view of human nature vs. the earlier, less extreme view (in particular, those of Irenaeus), that sin was more like a High Fever of the human soul, that could be treated and cured with experience.


Ancestral Versus Original Sin

Posted on Dec 22, 2008 in Blog | 3 comments

by Father Antony Hughes
St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts

East vs. West:
In simple terms, we can say that the Eastern Church tends towards a therapeutic model which sees sin as illness, while the Western Church tends towards a juridical model seeing sin as moral failure.

Eastern Views:
For the former the Church is the hospital of souls, the arena of salvation where, through the grace of God, the faithful ascend from “glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18) into union with God in a joining together of grace and human volition. The choice offered to Adam and Eve remains our choice: to ascend to life or descend into corruption.

Western Views:
For the latter, whether the Church is viewed as essential, important or arbitrary, the model of sin as moral failing rests on divine election and adherence to moral, ethical codes as both the cure for sin and guarantor of fidelity. Whether ecclesial authority or individual conscience imposes the code the result is the same.

East & West (“dramatically opposed”):
Admittedly, the idea of salvation as process is not absent in the West. (One can call to mind the Western mystics and the Wesleyan movement as examples.) However, the underlying theological foundations of Eastern Church and Western Church in regard to ancestral or original sin are dramatically opposed. The difference is apparent when looking at the understanding of ethics itself. For the Western Church ethics often seems to imply exclusively adherence to an external code; for the Eastern Church ethics implies “the restoration of life to the fullness of freedom and love” (Yannaras, 1984, p. 143).

Getting back to my personal experiences here at BioLogos:

The ultimate Irony? Or are there too many ironies? Below is my long chain of errors and surprises:

[1] East & West:
Early on in my volunteer-posting at BioLogos, I thought the distinction between the Eastern vs. Western views of Original Sin were well known. I was wrong about that. The distinctions were not well known.

[2] Real Differences between East & West:
So then I thought it would be an easy matter to explain the differences. I was wrong about that too. It was not easy. And lots of people accused me of being completely in error in my research.

[3] Original Sin is Disposable?:
Sooner or later, it became clear to me that BioLogos would inevitably have to lead the way in opposing the doctrine of Original Sin. Gosh, I was certainly wrong about that idea.

Generally speaking, BioLogos supporters seemed to be all over the map with their view on Original Sin. And so (or “additionally”, rather than because of…) BioLogos apparently embraced the idea (implicitly) that Creationists could be convinced that Original Sin could still be valid even without a literal Adam and Eve! And I thought I could assist with a campaign along those lines. No. I’ve never been more wrong about something in my life.

[4] Adam & Eve Could be Figures of Evolution:
After a while, it seemed clear that Creationists rejected Evolution because they felt a real live Adam and a real live Eve were inextricably linked to Original Sin. I was optimistic that Original Sin could still be valid without an historical Adam and Eve. I was really, really wrong about that!

As I examined the theological trends regarding Creationist views towards Original Sin, it was reinforced, frequently and without any generational wavering, that Western churches and denominations anchored their views on the importance of an historical Adam and Eve with their views regarding Original Sin. Without a real person named Adam and a real person named Eve, Paul’s foundational comments about Original Sin made no sense - - and the whole foundation of human redemption became questionable.

[5] Adam & Eve could be Created, In Order to Embrace Evolution:
Then, just when things seemed to be getting pretty boring, @Swamidass constructed a brand new approach - - replacing “Either vs. Or” with the idea that Christians can embrace another exceptional miracle (the special creation of Adam & Eve), in order to render the rest of Evolutionary Evidence as a surmountable problem, rather than an immovable barrier! The scenario would be labeled: “Genealogical Adam”.

Since Creationists frequently emphasized the historical importance of a real Adam & Eve, it struck me that Joshua’s “Genealogical Adam” approach would help create a middle ground … a more moderate view where Special Creation wasn’t simply DENIED or SOLELY EMBRACED… but a middle ground where God is still seen as interested in a few more miracles… while at the same time God leaves convincing evidence that he did use Evolutionary principles to develop the rest of Earth’s animal and plant life.

I thought for sure BioLogos would love to include this new “instrument of debate” in their quiver of logic.

And apparently this was my most recent egregious error of expectations!

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Mr Brooks, Brother, let us remember that a discourse is a population of many different people with as many different valid points of view. Does all of Peaceful Science accept GA? Does PS represent Swamidass exactly? There are many valid points out there.

If I were to approach PS with Lamoureux" ideas and, getting only a few to agree with me ,should I report that all of PS and Dr Swamidass reject my point of view? Doesn’t this mean rather that I have taken a poll of a few nonrepresentative foks on one discourse and deemed that PS, an unrelated entity to Dr Swamidass (and Biologos is even less connected to its discourse), rejects my idea? If i want to say that some disagree with me in this area, that is fine. However, from what I have seen, there is no more disagreement than with any other group. To paraphrase Philippians 1:15, there isn’t any jealousy…but what matters is that Christ is preached. A better observation seems that there are many valid option to interpret, isn’t it? Paul planted, Apollos watered, and God gives the increase. Best wishes to Brother George and those who agree with GA, but I am not insisting on any interpretation to be right. And I fully affirm that GA is ok in the sight of God to use (while you eventually work to see the light and come to my side)

The problem with syllogisms and logic in general is that people don’t have to accept your premises. In fact, one of the bigger problems is that they don’t have to accept your premises even when they agree with your conclusions. For example I agree with 2, 3, 5, and half of 4 but not 1, or half of 4, nor do I agree with your principle claim that the existence of Adam and Eve follows from the existence of an immortal soul.

The biggest problem for me is 1 and this belief from the Greeks, Egyptians and Babylonians in an immortal soul. I believe we have a imperishable spiritual existence as described by Paul in 1 Cor 15, but according to him this derives from the physical body coming after not before. The fact that the Greeks, Egyptians, and Babylonians came up with idea doesn’t make it wrong. But it was connected with a number of other beliefs rather alien to Judeo-Christianity such as the belief in an evil Creator who trapped these souls in a corrupt physical existence or the idea of transmigration where the soul would move from one body and life to another. So perhaps some Christians thought they could just rearrange these ideas and make it something created by God associating it with Genesis 2:7, but I think it wrong and go with Paul’s teaching instead.

My disagreement with half of 4 is what made the difference between human and animals. In this I go with the conclusions of science that the one solid difference between man and the animals is that we have an abstract capable language. This can also be associated with Genesis 2:7, where God speaks with Adam and gives birth to the human mind, while a spiritual existence is something which all living things can have, not just people.

So… does this mean we can simply change soul to mind and the syllogism still works for me? No. While I believe that God played a key role in the creation of the human mind, there is no objective evidence of this, anymore than there is objective evidence of your immortal soul (and I don’t think proof either way is possible). Therefore there can be no reasonable expectation that other people accept either your premise number 1 or my alteration of number 4 which has God contributing to the creation of the human mind.

Furthermore, as @Bill_II objected even this idea that homo sapiens were ensouled to become humans doesn’t mean that one man and woman were ensouled first. My thinking partially goes along with this since human mind as an meme organisms (i.e. constructed from ideas communicated by God) could therefore spread to the rest of the species by communication and not require genetic descent.

Not quite. The Eastern view is that both the medical and juridical are valid Biblical metaphors, while the West has made the juridical into a literal thing in defiance of all reason which would never accept that a criminal should go free just because an innocent person was punished in their place (like a medieval “whipping boy”). So it would be correct that this is a relative difference because the West has gone to a strange extreme and somewhat neglects the therapeutic approach.

I can certainly sympathize since I take the Eastern view on this issue as well.

But there is no reason for this. Evolution does not preclude an historical Adam and Eve, only the idea of them as magical golems of dust and flesh, or as being the sole genetic ancestors of mankind.

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Oh, absolutely. However, I think you would not be surprised by the suggestion that there is much more diversity amongst Creationists than there are amongst Evolutionists, even Christian Evolutionists!

To sum up my Byzantine trail of comments above (pun intended), what i see is this:

  1. If a Pro-Evolution group wants to succeed in replacing historical Adam & Eve with figurative examples of Adam & Eve - - then they have to come out against the doctrine of Original Sin to accomplish it.

  2. If a Pro-Evolution group wants to avoid having to challenge Original Sin head-on, then allowing for a little bit more of the miraculous (the de novo creation of Adam & Eve), in exchange for accepting the preponderance of natural evidence in favor of Evolution for the life forms that have no bearing on Original Sin!

At PeacefulScience.Org you have stubborn people who won’t give up any ground on Evolution, even if God Himself is using Evolution for his creation. And at BioLogos.Org you have perfectly nice folks who want Creationists to observe all of the Bible in more figurative perspective . . . but refuse to take aim at the doctrine of Original Sin.

Perhaps this refusal is the wisest of all positions… it would seem to be the least mobile aspect of all Western Evangelical thinking. And, indeed, I have reached that very conclusion! There is no practical or reasonable way to assail the doctrine of Original Sin in our “anticipated life times”!

So where does that leave us? It means, I believe, that we have to give the Special Creation of Adam and Eve a pragmatic location in the center of our dinner tables! And Dr. Joshua @Swamidass has some pretty good recipes to go with that dinner table and its center piece.

One might suppose that anything that gives @gbrooks9 one less thing to argue about is a miraculous development in its very own right!

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Oh… how exciting! Another buyer!

As you peruse the substantial catalog of articles, essays and papers on all the different ways of looking at Evolution, have you identified a particular one that seems especially suitable to your views regarding “historical adam and historical eve” … but evolving out of a population of humanity, rather than being specially created?

I should think you must.

But you have already revealed your Achilles’ Heel, I’m afraid. You have declared your inclination towards the Eastern view of sin. I too have this inclination. But for the purpose of engaging Western Evangelicals with a workable compromise, I have had to adopt the view that Original Sin is not important enough for me to insist it isn’t real. Are you able to be equally accepting of the Western prejudice towards Original Sin?

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Hello Mitchell,

A few things in response:

  1. I don’t think logic is the problem, I think that particular arguments can be problematic. As you pointed out, if the premises are not true, then the syllogism would not follow
  2. there are many philosophers who attempt to show that the intellect is immaterial. This thread isn’t devoted to whether or not their arguments succeed, but I was wondering what would be the consequence if they did

Hm, interesting. Given the many chemical impairments of intellect I have seen in learning medicine, I really think that intellect, awareness and all of what we can quantify as awareness of self and the soul can be explained by chemical and protein/structural and electrical phenomena. I have faith there’s spirit, soul, God, judgement and reward, as well as mercy;, but I don’t know what that is exactly. I’m interested in hearing what you both discuss.

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The flaw in the syllogism was pointed out by @Bill_II. But yes the problem of dependence on the premises is the ubiquitous problem with using logic to prove anything. This is not to say that logic is of no value. Logical coherence is a requirement for meaningful belief and it is useful finding out the consequences of your beliefs.

Both of these are definitely off topic, so I will not follow either of these. You presented an argument to support the claim that the existence of an immortal or immaterial soul would mean that Adam and Eve would have to exist. The argument does not work. Equating the soul with intellect leads us down another rabbit hole incompatible with the findings of science. A non-physical (i.e. outside the laws of nature) puppet master doesn’t agree with the scientific evidence. This is why I believe in a mostly epiphenomenal relationship between the body and spirit (while I am a physicalist with regards to the usual mind-body problem). You may object that the God who is spirit interacts with the physical universe, and I would agree. But what God can accomplish via an extremely limited back door in the laws of nature defines the miraculous, which is a very very different thing than the everyday operation of the human mind and body. Science cannot rule out the exceptional events but it will disprove claims about the general rules which do not agree with the objective evidence.

Not likely. I don’t buy packages.

I am talking about the scientific theory of evolution and I reject the treatment of scientific papers with the textual methods of theology or methods of philosophy such as deconstruction. That is not how science works so such tactics are irrelevant.

An historical Adam and Eve has no inconsistency with the scientific evidence for the simple reason that the evidence can say nothing about the existence of two particular individuals who existed over 6000 years ago. The only thing the evidence can tell us is that it is impossible that we all descended exclusively from only two individuals existing earlier than 150,000 +/- 50,000 years ago. And even then a special creation of such individuals is inconsistent with the fact that we have the genes for tails and other animal features unused and dormant in our DNA.

I am struggling with understanding what you seek to achieve with compromise? Why should anyone compromise what they believe to be true? …so in my struggle to understand this I cover the following…

I am accepting of a diversity of belief provided three conditions are met.

  1. Logical coherence, which is a requirement for beliefs to be meaningful.
  2. Consistency with the objective (scientific) evidence, which is a requirement for beliefs to be reasonable.
  3. Compatibility with the ideals of a free society (such as tolerance and religious liberty), which is a requirement for beliefs to be moral in the only society I will be a part of.

So provided these very broad conditions are met, then I will leave different beliefs at an agreement to disagree, but that is no different than I would give to atheism, and beliefs in such things as fairies, ghosts, psychics, and UFOs. The spectrum of Christian belief is certainly an intersecting set, and I am sure most versions of a belief in original sin falls in this intersection. Of course there is the question of what defines the word “Christianity,” for which I give the very first Nicean creed of 325 AD and the authority of the Bible. But as a mere issue of semantics these are a much softer and personal criterion – the most I could say of things failing such criterion is that I don’t see how you can be consistent in calling them Christian while excluding Muslims from that same category.

But if the objective of this forum is simply the compatibility with the scientific theory of evolution, then I believe to the incompatibilities regarding Adam and Eve which I mention above, I would add YEC which is incompatible with a huge body of evidence in many different fields of science.

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Randy, I’ve been meaning to thank you profusely (and I now do so here) for the link to George Macdonald’s sermon that you shared five days ago in this thread. It’s not a sermon that can be read quickly – must be digested slowly, and yields increasing fruits with the increased labors of the reader. It isn’t one that is for every Christian today (tough meat for chewing) as it plunges deeply into the heart of what is held doctrinally dear by so many. Nor is it even, (dare I say!), well-aligned with the mission of Biologos here where so many well-meaning Christians are understandably eager to bring out the treasures of their household, both new and old for display in all their orthodox glory. This sermon cuts deeply into all that, however, and necessarily so. The theme it does share with Christians here is in this: the removal of unnecessary stumbling blocks that would impose themselves between any downtrodden believer and Christ himself. Indeed this sermon is one way to expose the utter poverty (and yet total necessity) of the mockers’ objection that “God sacrificed himself to himself to save us from himself”. All this is brought out into the light and exposed for what it is … but at a price that may be deemed too great for a great many lovers of all received traditional doctrine today.

But even apart from such challenge as that, this sermon is rich with wisdom. Here are a couple quotes I can’t resist sharing here.

No soul is saved that would not prefer hell to sin. Jesus did not die to save us from punishment; he was called Jesus because he should save his people from their sins.

Having yanked the above from out of a larger text providing rich context, one could fairly capture Macdonald’s meaning above by inserting the word yet: No soul is saved yet that would not prefer…

The below longer excerpt below also reveals much of the spirit of this message:

I have no desire to change the opinion of man or woman. Let everyone for me hold what he pleases. But I would do my utmost to disable such as think correct opinion essential to salvation from laying any other burden on the shoulders of true men and women than the yoke of their Master; and such burden, if already oppressing any, I would gladly lift. Let the Lord himself teach them, I say. A man who has not the mind of Christ–and no man has the mind of Christ except him who makes it his business to obey him–cannot have correct opinions concerning him; neither, if he could, would they be of any value to him: he would be nothing the better, he would be the worse for having them. Our business is not to think correctly, but to live truly; then first will there be a possibility of our thinking correctly. One chief cause of the amount of unbelief in the world is, that those who have seen something of the glory of Christ, set themselves to theorize concerning him rather than to obey him. In teaching men, they have not taught them Christ, but taught them about Christ. More eager after credible theory than after doing the truth, they have speculated in a condition of heart in which it was impossible they should understand; they have presumed to explain a Christ whom years and years of obedience could alone have made them able to comprehend. Their teaching of him, therefore, has been repugnant to the common sense of many who had not half their privileges, but in whom, as in Nathanael, there was no guile. Such, naturally, press their theories, in general derived from them of old time, upon others, insisting on their thinking about Christ as they think, instead of urging them to go to Christ to be taught by him whatever he chooses to teach them.

[added eduit]
I should mention all this comes from Macdonald’s actual full sermon, “Justice”. Randy’s link above goes to commentary about that sermon, which is an excellent gateway toward easily finding the actual sermon itself online.

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Hello! I won’t comment at length but I’d suggest reading Dr. Michael Heiser’s series on Romans 5, wherein he deals with this topic. Here’s the link to part 1!

Romans 5:12 - What It Says and What It Doesn’t Say Part 1

This is where I think I see myself landing. I hope you find this helpful!

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Well, that’s exactly what is stated in the scenario called “Genealogical Adam”!!!

Since science is not overturned just because of the special creation of a couple 6000 years ago, the scenario allows for that occurrence. And requires the acknowledgement that a significant population of evolved hominids, Homo sapiens, was already in existence by the time Adam and Eve were created!

But assuming that is too “inconsistent” for you … does that mean you reject the notion that Jesus was resurrected? That would certainly not be consistent with the usual repercussions of death in the ancient world.

I’m confused, what exactly is you philosophical/religious stance?

I learn so much from George Macdonald. I would really like to learn more about those who originally made him tick. Thank you for your deep comments.