Did God Create Us Sinful? (RJS)

This post is part 6 of a series The Fall and Sin After Darwin. We’ve been looking at the essays in a book Theology After Darwin centered around a simple question: What are the implications for Christian theology if Darwin was right? In conjunction with this we are also looking at three articles in the recent theme issue of the ASA Journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (v. 62 no. 3 2010) Reading Genesis: The Historicity of Adam and Eve, Genomics, and Evolutionary Science.

One of the important issues in any discussion of the Fall is the problem of theodicy –  the vindication of the divine attributes, particularly holiness and justice, in establishing or allowing the existence of physical and moral evil (Dictionary.Com) or the defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil (Merriam Webster). This issue comes up in John Schneider’s article and, less directly, in C. John Collins’s article as a significant contribution to the argument for a historical fall.

The traditional Augustinian view suggests that God originally created humans in an idyllic spiritual and moral condition with a plan for the world and his good creation. These humans fell from this initial state of purity so that they and their descendants became enslaved from birth to (un)natural desire, disobedience, disease and death. The doctrine of the fall explains the human state and, supposedly, answers the charge that God is responsible for our current state.  This answer, however, is far from the last word on the subject. It is hard to see how the fall absolves God of responsibility for sin and evil. The evidence for common descent and evolutionary biology also causes a problem for this traditional view and sets up the question for discussion today.

Did God create us – through evolution or otherwise – with sin inevitable?

John Schneider summarizes some of the reasons for the conflict between evolution, common descent, and the traditional view of sin and the fall as he sets up his main argument in his article in PSCF.

The main point is that recent phylogenetic or cladistic analysis convinces many genetic experts that these detailed similarities of self-serving behaviors can hardly be coincidental—they look like a genetic legacy that has been passed on from one species to the next, including to our own. Domning endorses this as, by far, the best explanation: “The selfish acts of humans are homologous; that is, similar because derived from a common source.” And in any event (so we add, lest one resist that explanation), the traits are genetically common to every individual in all animal species. As members of a species, we are programmed, as it were, or powerfully disposed, to engage in our own genetic self-interest and advantage. We need not endorse the theory of common ancestry in order to respect the force of all this evidence and to begin pondering its implications for theology.

The bottom line is that if the first human beings evolved genetically this way, then it is very hard to see how they could have originated in conditions of original righteousness, as required by Augustinian theology, for they would have inherited powerful natural dispositions toward selfish actions. Moral freedom and the will to resist or redirect those dispositions toward unselfish actions surely presupposes time for cultivating a nascent moral awareness, and for building character through a history of personal and social discipline. (p. 202)

The argument, as Dr. Schneider outlines, and as many others suggest, is that if God used evolutionary mechanisms to create humans in his image then it appears that much of our sinful nature is inherent in our very being. This is not a hermeneutical problem – a matter of interpretation, nor is it a scientific problem. It is a significant theological problem. The answer will not be found in a return to a simple “innocent” interpretation of Genesis, nor will the answer  be found in a rational or philosophical argument for free will (or not this alone).

Dr. Collins tackles the free will rationalization in his article when he brings up the issue of pain and suffering in connection with the historical nature of the Fall (p. 154-155). In a section where he is disagreeing with contemporary theologians who see evil as inherent in a creation involving rational beings with a free will he comments:

A number of theological motivations lie behind these contemporary efforts, and each scholar has his own subset of this group of motivations. One motive is to defend the reality of human freedom; another is to address the existence of pain and suffering in a world that God is supposed to have made.

No one can avoid these big questions, it is true, … If we say that being prone to sin is inherent in being human with a free will, then we must say the Bible writers were wrong in describing atonement as they did, and we must also say that Jesus was wrong to describe his own death in these terms (e.g.,Mark 10:45). Further, we have now made nonsense of the joyful expectation of Christians to live one day in a glorified world from which sin and death have been banished (Rev. 21:1–8). Do these theologians mean to imply that those who dwell in a glorified world will be less human because they no longer sin?

Nor do these attempts let God off the hook for pain and suffering; or if they succeed in doing so, then the price is sickeningly high. Did God know about evil before he made the world? Most believers would say yes, and they trust that he had his reasons for “allowing” it. But these recent efforts seem to imply that somehow God just could not help himself; the only world he could make was one in which people commit evil. At least in the traditional understanding, humans are to blame for the evil they do and the pain they inflict; here, we can only blame God. This is not the biblical view of God, whose very power and moral purity provokes such perplexity among his faithful (cf. Hab. 1:12–13). Neither does the modern approach give us any reason to hope that God will be able to succeed in achieving his final victory.

While free will is an important part of the understanding of human behavior, or so I think,  the argument here outlined by Dr. Collins has also entered into my thinking. God chose to create a world where humans, created in his image, are free to obey or to rebel. But to claim that this is a necessary component of the world, that God could do nothing else, seems to set the question up in the wrong fashion and to cut adrift any serious consideration of the age to come and the final victory or consummation.

There are two (or more) directions to go from this point – one is to address the implications for incarnation and atonement in God’s creation. The other is the issue of theodicy and the roles for divine and human responsibility for the mess we are in today.  I want to save the issue of atonement for a future post, and concentrate on the issues of sin, fall and theodicy today.

The world we see around us today is not plan B following some derailed plan A for God’s creation. This is an important point – however creation came about God’s plan for creation included both fall and redemption. Such a conclusion is required by all but the most naive view of God. Both Dr. Collins and Dr. Schneider agree on this count. God knew about evil before he made the world. He had his reasons for doing so – but all is part of his divine plan. Dr. Collins makes the argument that the biblical story of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation requires some form of a historical fall. While Genesis may not be a historical description of the fall it describes a historical fall. Humans of their own free will, at the very headwaters of the species, disobeyed God. This disobedience was not written into their biology, but it happened. God foreknew the sin, but he did not implant the sin or the sin nature, or allow it to be implanted.

Dr. Schneider takes a different approach. He looks at the book of Job, at Isaiah, at the Psalms, at Paul, and finds no logical rational easy answer explanation for the state of the world. The world is as it is because this is what God deems best, and God is in control. Looking at the book of Job and its unresolved questions:

Job does not get (nor do we get) an explanation for why God has done these unfair things to him. He also gets no explanation as to how God might put these evils right, “defeat” them, as it were, by integrating them in all their disorder and ugliness into a perfectly ordered and beautiful plan (although this eventual victory of God is still embedded in the tradition the poet shapes). What Job does “see” is that God is in complete command and  mastery—he sees in a “second-person” sense what cannot be explained to him in “third-person” terms, apparently. He is able to see now with his own eyes (as it were) that God has “rightfully,” or “justly,” and not immorally or amorally, decided to make and to shape the world (and in microcosm, his own life) in this unexpected, undeserved, and painful way, including inexplicably great violence, disorder, suffering, and injustice. He sees in this nondidactic way that God is the sort of Being who knows exactly what he is doing and why, and that despite appearances, God is completely in control of the otherwise uncontrollable, chaotic situation. Seeing things thus, Job requires no further explanation, he “repents,” and withdraws his bitter accusations, satisfied that they have been resolved.

Isaiah, Jeremiah,  and Romans 9 provide the same picture – not a double predestination where God has created some people for salvation and others for eternal damnation – but a picture of God as an artist who is executing a perfect plan and who are we to stand up and cry foul? The image of the potter and the clay from  Is 29:16; 45:9; 64:8; Jer 18:6, Rom 9:20-21 is part and parcel with the theology of Job. Schneider concludes:

Whatever all this comes to, it cannot very well be captured by the metaphysics embedded in the phrase, “not the way it’s supposed to be.” When all is said and done, our experience of God and the world is not “Plan B,” or “Plan C,” or some amended bureaucratic form of a botched original plan. Our experience of God and the world is on the whole exactly what God planned from the beginning. “Blessed is the Lamb, slain from the very foundations of the world” (Rev. 13:8). …

Paul offers no logical explanation of God’s actions. Instead, even if somewhat obscurely (Paul was no poet), Paul, like Isaiah (whose poetic instincts were better), turns instinctively to aesthetics and to the nature of art. God’s actions in history are better understood in the analogy of artistic or aesthetic preferences than in analogies of logical perfection (pace Leibniz) and the moral utility of a “best possible world.” In Paul’s terms, they are choices that simply pleased God. They pleased God in a manner compatible with perfect moral goodness, understood as universal grace to be extended to everyone. (p. 208)

The Fall – the reality of the rebelliousness of mankind – may be written into our being as the biology suggests. But this is not a call to question the way we have been made. The clay does not address the potter in such a fashion.

This is a long post – I do not purport to answer the deep questions that are raised. Nor do I fully agree with either Dr. Collins or Dr. Schneider. Dr. Schneider’s approach seems a little too fatalistic. Dr. Collins insistence on a historical fall altering the state of humanity does not put to rest any of the significant questions. A pristine utopia demolished by the sin of Adam and Eve does not absolve God or answer the question of theodicy, at least I’ve never understood how it can. Rather than answers, or any strong opinion, I put these ideas up for discussion as we consider the text of scripture – not just Genesis 2-3 but the entirety of scripture.

Did God create us – through evolution or otherwise – with sin inevitable?

What implication does this have for our understanding of creation, fall and the interaction between science and faith?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

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  • RJS, would you mind answering a question first? In this discussion, often someone will say God had to give us freewill in order to be loved freely, by our choice (which allows for sinfulness and suffering).

    What about heaven? If heaven is a God-created space that is without suffering or sin, does that mean people are not sincerely loving God in the afterlife? If it is possible to be rightly related to God in heaven without the possibility of sinning or suffering, then doesn’t that beg the question of why this earth has to be a place where sin and suffering exist? Heaven would be the ideal model.


  • Victoria

    You may find that answersingenesis.org has a plethora of good information to help you in your search.


  • rjs


    That is the point that Collins makes in his article – the suggestion that freewill and thus sin and suffereing is necessary is a real problem. What does this say about heaven and/or the age to come?

    I have some thoughts, but I don’t have an answer to the question – it is something I am putting up for discussion. Collins’s return to The Fall to resolve the paradox doesn’t make real sense to me – I don’t see how the Fall solves the real problem.

  • normbv

    I think it’s important to remember the setting of the Bible. It is about the creation (was it functional?) of a man around 4000 BC in the ancient middle east. It should be understandable that scriptures are very likely dealing with humanity in a mature state of evolution. We can verify this by examining the nature of the various civilizations from around the world that were isolated from the Middle East. The Americas had been isolated for over 15000 years from the Asian continent and we see men with the same biological characteristics here regarding religious tendencies. So the idea of a biological fall doesn’t seem to resonate with a spreading to all men 6000 years ago.

    The better understanding appears to be the biblical understanding of a covenant man in which God established His plan for humanity. The first encounter with man ends up illustrating the mortal nature of man is lacking to reach the plateau of spiritualness that God the Creator desired. This episode of struggling under the weakness of man’s nature was used by God to demonstrate the need for a higher plateau described as life through the Spirit of God. If the fall had been biological then why would the reversal of the fall necessitate a non biological going to the udder most parts of the world to spread the news for redemption? It seems that the evolutionary state of man was a sinful state in the mind of God without the fall.

    The bible gives us clues to this that God created the ANE Heavens and Earth out of chaos and darkness and we know that the scriptures use these descriptions to denote the pagan condition of man throughout the Bible (Think of the aboriginal conditions of religion in America 500 years ago). This is the condition that man was in when God established the first man to reside in the covenant Garden. The Garden is not physical it is a spiritual dwelling place with God yet the metaphors of working it relate to the original cursed works of Adam contrasted to Christ having performed the works of the Spirit.

    I believe that examining Paul carefully in Romans 5-8 and 1 Cor 15 will illustrate that there was natural mortal sin before God established Adam in the Garden. The fall and sin of Adam was the fall of the covenant man back into a state of original sinfulness thus the need of a new Covenant second Adam Christ. This covenant establishment is why there was always an exclusion of those outside and still is. We seem to forget to factor into our discussions the Covenant nature of the Heavens and Earth which spread to all men now, contrasted to the first one original man or one original nation. There are still those who are outside and it has nothing to do with evolution or biology.

  • Taylor G

    What about Clark Pinnock, Greg Boyd (open theism) and the idea that God chooses not to know parts of the future? And Why is Augustine always the “traditional view” he’s just one saint afterall.

  • Thx RJS. I appreciate knowing where you are coming from and seeking solutions too. (Btw, great job with your entries on JC. It’s a pleasure to read them!)

    Taylor, Open Theism was a crack in a tightly shut door for me about 10 years ago. Pinnock especially. Not sure what I think about it now. I’m wondering if our cosmology (21st century understanding of science, the universe, psychology, etc.) precludes importing an ancient world theology based on their ancient cosmology. In other words, their theology answered differently framed questions about the universe and our place in it which is why it doesn’t fit as snugly any more.

  • rjs


    There is a difference between God God had to do it this way and chose to do it this way. Many times the argument becomes a rationalization that this is the way it had to be. Without a potential for sin and suffering there can be no true freedom.

    Schneider’s approach (while he is not an open theist by any means) is more along the lines of the argument that God chose to do it this way for reasons we can not (currently) comprehend. I have not looked in detail into the views of either Pinnock or Boyd – but I don’t think that God chose not to know the future in broad strokes, or that he simply stepped back and let go to see what would happen. I do think that we have true freedom to respond and God does not choose to know or choose to control all of the little twists and turns.

  • Lance

    I have been wrestling with this myself lately. Here’s a conjecture, could it be that as our species developed and a certain level of awareness was reached, that we became accountable for this but have continued to resort to the primal instincts rather than the better way God intended?

    So is there a somewhat disturbing and mysterious intended role of millions of years of natural selection through pain & physical death that at a certain point of developed awareness becomes wrong for the human species to practice against one another? Could it be that our evolving to the point of self-awareness and divine awareness be the trajectory that God intended to culminate toward a better way that has been in process for billions of years? Could that therefore explain why Paul, for example, speaks of doing what he doesn’t want to do (primal urges that are so instinctively present)? That we are now responsible of how to appropriate these urges responsibly? Wouldn’t this be consistent with “sin” being defined as “missing the mark” (indiscriminate sexual prowess as opposed to a committed love relationship)?

    Further, I wonder if this trajectory/evolutionary awareness process is continuing and every generation is responsible for responding appropriately. I think here of NT Wright’s five-act hermeneutic of Scripture in that if viewed as a play- creation, fall, Israel, Jesus are the first four acts, ours (the church) is the fifth. We should be consistent with the acts that proceed but we are free (I would say responsible) to improvise and write our own fifth act as the Spirit guides.

    One other thought, I remember hearing someone in speaking of the fall say something to the effect, “It’s not so much that it happened, but that it happens.” There is a certain gravity of trying to pin down the historicity of the fall and I think it is an extremely important discussion. At the same time, even if took solely metaphorically, the story of the “fall” is a good descriptor of the reality that we all face of daily struggling against a way of being that we understand as sinful, harmful and evil. So however one fleshes it out, whether it is rooted in a historical event or whether it simply is a metaphor in describing a reality in each of our lives, it happens.

  • I read Dr. Schneider’s article some weeks back, and it is masterful – particularly his analysis of Job. His basic point is that God has always used suffering to perfect creation, which makes perfect sense:

    “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered. And by being perfected in this way, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…” Hebrews 5:8,9

  • Phil Atley

    The Fall as freely chosen rebellion against God is not just “Augustine’s view.” It is the Jewish understanding, held up against all the surrounding deterministic cultures. It was defended by ALL the Church Fathers, every single one of them. Origen, the first real theologian after the NT, affirms it–as did Paul–in the face of a generally deterministic Graeco-Roman philosophical and religious environment.

    You cannot read an answer to sin and free will out of evolutionary biology. The Jewish belief in free will (and hence accountability for wrongdoing) is, by definition, a matter of the non-sense-observable human soul/spirit/mind.

    This is an elementary philosophy of science issue. Science (as we use the word today) cannot speak one way or the other on issues of the immaterial, non-measurable soul.

    To decide that one can use the genetic or fossil or any other empirical data to reach any conclusion about the nature of the human soul/mind is to make a philosophical judgment that no non-empirical, non-material realities exist, therefore, whatever understanding we might have of the mind/soul will be limited to what genetics or fossils or other empirical data reveal. That would be a faith statement. One is free to hold such a belief in the ability of empirical data to tell us about the (non)existence of non-sense-measurable realities (free will). But it is a philosophical choice and not an empirical-science choice.

    Christians, as did Jews before them, believe on religious grounds in a non-material, real human faculty of free will that can defy God the Creator. Biology, paleontology, genetics simply cannot speak to this and any attempt to make genetics etc. speak to this is to choose sides already on the materialist/non-materialist religious/philosophy issues.

  • Glenn Sunshine

    I think the idea that free will necessitates sin and suffering is badly stated, so much so as to be a carricature of the position. The argument as I understand it is that free will necessitates the possibility of sin, not sin itself. It is possible in principle to have free will and not sin, as Jesus shows. Further, the free will argument continues by following Aristotle: it is impossible to have virtue without the possibility of vice. You cannot be courageous, for example, without danger and the potential for cowardice. If God wants us to be virtuous, He has to allow for the possibility that we will be vicious instead. And if He wants us to love Him, He has to allow for the possibility that we will reject Him. This isn’t a Yin-Yang argument that says to have good you must have evil; rather, it says that to have goodness or virtue, you have to have the potential for its opposite. Thus free will does not make sin necessary, only requires it as a possibility.

    God’s omniscience and sovereignty does mean that He knew we would not use our freedom rightly, and thus planned for the atonement before the foundations of the world. How you understand that gets into issues like supra- and infralapsarianism, which I don’t think we need to do here.

    As far as Heaven goes, if the Fall has so tainted us that we in practice can’t avoid sin in this world, I suspect that the overwhelming love of God and His presence in Heaven will so shape our desires that we will freely choose not to sin in Heaven, following the Augustinian notion that our [free] will is conditioned by “the weight of our love.” So I don’t see a contradiction there either. The problem with Heaven is created by a faulty explanation of the relationship between free will and sin that says that free will necessitates sin. It doesn’t.

  • smcknight

    Glenn, good one. Said better than I could have — yes, the heaven/not sin issue to me is clarified by God being both free and in that freedom always choosing the good and holy and loving.

  • Taylor G

    @Julie #6 Do you feel open theism is beyond the bounds of orthodox Christianity, or just doesnt’t seem logical any longer?

  • DRT

    So many tangents on this one.

    This is where the atheist has an easier time than the theist. Like the atheist, I have a tendency to first say that it is this way because it is this way. But I get to add, and it is obvious that God wanted it this way for some reason. The downside of that is obvious; I then have to answer why god wants it this way.

    Camus wrote: “There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that.” It is much like the predicament that Job found himself in. If this is so horrible, bad and sinful, then do you commit suicide?

    We have all answered that question, at least temporarily with a resounding No. We have bought into the game and therefore, at least on the surface, agree with the validity of desire to live this gift.

    I still feel this is a glass half empty versus glass half full type of argument. As started in the other thread, I feel there is an eternal component to life, specifically our lives, so this physical life is one part of the existence we share. I have the sincere feeling that this life is a gift and there is a purpose beyond suicide in this life. Like Glenn, I buy the free will argument and there is no free will if you have no choice. We cannot love God unless we choose to love God. We cannot choose unless we have choice. Sin, is missing the mark. It is all about choice. There are some things that you cannot know unless it is real to you.

    Finally, as Wyatt says, there is a relationship between holiness and suffering via sanctification. The purifying fires in the last days, the passion of Jesus, the overcoming of the evil of man all illuminate the choice and in the end make the sanctification possible. We cannot be perfect as our God is perfect without the choice to follow. Suffering may be required…

  • Derek

    I think RJS errs in the way she frames this question and hence the reason for Taylor G asking why Augustine is seen as the “traditional view.”

    The depravity of humans was not a novel idea that Augustine coined but rather he was just saying what Paul said. The depravity of humans is a Biblical idea that reading the narrative gives us the impetus for the need of a Savior, Redeemer, and one who could Reconcile broken people to God.

  • dopderbeck

    Schneider makes some excellent points and his pointing towards Job on the theodicy question is exactly right.

    However, he is fundamentally and I think dangerously mistaken about the reduction of “sin” to biology.

    “Sin” is not merely a natural inclination, and “selfishness,” or better, “self-regard,” is not in itself sin.

    When my dog takes food off the kitchen table, she is being a “bad dog,” but that is not “sin.” She’s just doing what dogs do. If I were to steal food from my neighbor’s table, that would be “sin,” even though I’m inclined by my “selfish” instincts to hoard food. Why is it “sin” for me and not my dog? Because I possess a capacity of “will” or “agency” or, if you will, “soul,” that my dog does not possess.

    In fact, Augustine noted this distinction well before the challenge of biological evolution. It was the “soul” that, for Augustine, allowed human beings to regulate their impulses in ways animals cannot. This is very important: Augustine and the other Fathers wrestled with this problem of “natural” inclinations, free will, and moral culpability long before evolutionary biology. Contra Schneider, this is NOT a new problem at all, and there are rich resources in the tradition for thinking about it.

    The only way in which it could be a new problem is if hard-core sociobiology is right: that is, if human beings have no free will or agency at all — if all our actions could be traced entirely to “hard wired” evolutionary causes. Very few scientists actually think this is true. In any event, I doubt it’s ultimately a “scientific” question rather than a “meaphysical” one.

    Christian theology asserts that human beings possess agency such that we are morally accountable for our actions. Christian theology also asserts that God is not the author of evil. IMHO, these are fundamental truths that cannot, and need not, be compromised.

  • John I.

    I, for one, don’t agree that a plan A/B view is naive or not tenable.
    The Bible consistently teaches that there is a non-material reality, and that God exists in that realm. The Bible also teaches that humans have both a material and a non-material component and differentiates between the spirit that is in animals, and that which is in humans.

    Consequently, there is at some point a break, or rather an “in-breaking”, in evolution wherein God gives a hominid that non-material aspect that makes it human.

    I do not see any physical or genetic evidence of some slow development of moral awareness or slow development of material organization until we have sufficient organization that we get some sort of supervenience. No theory of supervenience has yet worked, and none deal with the Biblical teaching of the existence of the non-material.
    There is, though, an awareness in the Bible, and particularly in Paul and James, that our human physicality presents us with desires that can lead to sin and certainly causes great struggle for us. It also appears that the resurrection body will in some way deal with this aspect of our physicality.
    God continually presents his people with choice for or against obedience to Him, and he also presents the choice as one that is not impossible to do. Moreover, moral culpability is presented as something that results from a non-determined choice. Hence it does seem that the first people to have a spirit of humankind within them were not sinning when that happened. Pre-spirit, as animals, they were not able to resist their physical animal desires but were created to engage in and follow such desires. Post-spirit, that is no longer true.
    We must also remember that evil existed before humans, before Adam. Adam is the begining of God’s direct attempt to set things right–not just humans, but the world and entire universe (well, in so far as the greater universe is affected by sin; perhaps sin and evil has a limited extent, per C.S. Lewis’ novels). The culmination of God’s attempts comes in the second Adam, Christ, who when his kingdom fully comes will set all things right and end the “groaning of the world.”
    When we are dealing with Adam, we are dealing with a situation that has already gone to plan B, and a situation in which evil exists and must be dealt with.

    It seems that humans were always created with the purpose of being united with Christ by way of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and that this unity with Christ is crucial in setting all things right. Did this plan require that humans sin? I’m not sure .

    John I.

  • dopderbeck

    John I — interesting — are you getting this from Eastern Orthodox theology? The problem here is that at the end of Gen. 1 God pronounces the creation “very good.” So Adam is not part of Plan B. It’s true that Gen. 4 suggests there is preexisting or at least co-existing evil in the form of the serpent. But whatever that means, it can’t mean that Adam was anything less than part of the “very good” of Gen. 1 (even given that these are different stories from different sources).

  • Taylor, I think open theism stopped answering enough of the questions for me (I’m not so worried about orthodoxy as it is typically defined).

    I do have Bonhoeffer on these topics, though, and he helps me a lot.

    Letters and Papers from Prison:
    “I’ve no sympathy with some wrong-headed attempts to explain away distress, because instead of being a comfort, they are the exact opposite. So I don’t try to explain it, and I think that is the right way to begin, although it’s only a beginning, and I very seldom get beyond it” (203).

    “God would have us know that we must live as men who manage our lives without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15:34). The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we continually stand. Before God and with God we live without God” (360).

    This God “wins power and space in the world by his weakness” (361).

  • @Phil Atley wrote: “The Fall as freely chosen rebellion against God is not just ‘Augustine’s view.’ It is the Jewish understanding, held up against all the surrounding deterministic cultures. It was defended by ALL the Church Fathers, every single one of them.”

    I beg to differ. Not only do most of the earliest church fathers (e.g. Ireneus, Athenagoras, Theophilus, Tatian, Mathetes, Justin Martyr, etc.) NOT affirm the doctrine of original sin, their writings often fly in the face of Augustine’s teaching. In fact, many of their arguments are identical to some of those apparently made by Pelagius in his dispute with Augustine.

  • rjs

    Derek (#15),

    While the Augustine formulation has roots back to Paul and Jewish views of creation, I do think (subject to demonstration otherwise) that he also expanded and turned the ideas in an ‘unhealthy’ direction with his emphasis on Original Sin. This is what Peter Bouteneff argues, successfully I think, in his book on Beginnings.

    Glenn (#11),

    Good point about Jesus as one who faithfully and freely obeys. This has to figure into our (my) thinking about free will and creation/heaven.

  • Taylor G

    @dopderbeck #16 “Christian theology asserts that human beings possess agency such that we are morally accountable for our actions. Christian theology also asserts that God is not the author of evil. IMHO, these are fundamental truths that cannot, and need not, be compromised.”

    C’mon man. You can do a little more heavy lifting than this, this morning.

  • Phil Atley

    I did not say that free will necessitates sin. It makes sin possible. Necessity is the very opposite of free.

  • normbv

    John I#17,

    Let me throw this into the mix as it seems the bible teaches that natural man is in the same mortal state as the animal.

    Ecc 3:18-21 ASV I said in my heart, It is because of the sons of men, that God may prove them, and that they may see that THEY THEMSELVES ARE BUT AS BEASTS. (19) For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: AS THE ONE DIETH, SO DIETH THE OTHER; yea, they have all one breath; and MAN HATH NO PREEMINENCE ABOVE THE BEASTS: for all is vanity. (20) All go unto one place; ALL ARE OF THE DUST, AND ALL TURN TO DUST AGAIN. (21) Who knoweth the spirit of man, whether it goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast, whether it goeth downward to the earth?

    Therefore the immortal state is the state without sin that Adam aspired to and lost. Basically returning to the mortal nature of the beast (return to the dust of the ground) was signifying a loss of immortality and exclusion from the Garden.

    Paul however says that those in Adam’s state of mortality when they put on Christ put off the mortal in exchange for immortality and are raised up from the dust of the ground from the realm of the beast.

    1Co 15:54 ASV But when this corruptible (in Adam) shall have put on incorruption (in Christ), and THIS MORTAL SHALL HAVE PUT ON IMMORTALITY, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. (Death being spiritual separation from God)

  • dopderbeck

    Wyatt (#20) – there is a difference between the Fall as a freely chosen rebellion and Augustine’s doctrine of original sin. Phil Atley is exactly right about the uniform view of the Fathers prior to Augustine — read Irenaus’ “Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching” and this cannot be missed. And Phil is also exactly right about science vs. metaphysics on the question of free will.

    Whether the Fall was such that all subsequent human beings are now incapable of not sinning, because of a ontological corruption of the human person passed on from Adam, is another question, which implicates Augustine’s view of original sin.

    But that sin was freely chosen by Adam, and that this choice resulted in death and corruption through the fault of Adam and not God, was certainly the view of the early Fathers.

  • dopderbeck

    Taylor (#22) — no, these principles for me are lines in the sand. The “heavy lifting” is the entire narrative thread of scripture; all of the early Fathers (again, read Irenaes’ “Apostolic Preaching”); the meaning and purpose of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ (read Athanasius’ “De Incarnatione”); and all Christian moral theology from Augustine’s “City of God” onward.

    Again, the question is not Augustine’s specific view on original sin. It is the basic principle that human beings are moral agents and therefore are not merely driven by animal passions.

  • Phil Atley

    Original sin has nothing to do with the free will of those born in original sin. The free will involved was Adam’s and nothing else. Augustine thought original sin condemned to hell (though to light punishment). He readily understood that infants could not make a free choice. He thought their punishment was necessitated not by their free will but by participation in Adam. He has been fully rejected on that point.

    But on free will and actual sin–which is the issue here, Augustine did not differ from the rest of the Fathers. God would be unjust to condemn people for unfree or necessary actions. To say that evolutionary biology suggests that God created us inevitably to sin would be anathema to Augustine, to the Eastern Fathers who utterly disagreed with him on original sin, to the entire Jewish and Christian tradition.

    It also is bad science because it is a claim that science (as understood today, empirical science) cannot make.

    It is a theological and philosophical belief and it is not a Christian belief. To go this direction is to abandon the very foundation of Christian belief: God created us innocent and good, sin is freely chosen. Otherwise God would be unjust to condemn us for our sin. That’s why Augustine’s position on original sin was repudiate even in the West–because it makes God unjust. It violated Augustine’s own principles: to the end of his life he insisted that without free will, there can be no condemnation by God, without God’s grace, there can be no escape from condemnation.

    Augustine was internally inconsistent on original sin because he thought he had to be, given Romans ch. 5. He was wrong on that. Original sin is really a rabbit hole in regard to the point of this thread.

  • Tim

    Great post RJS!

    I think John Schneider has laid out the point I’ve been trying to make this whole time on previous posts of yours, RJS, better than I ever could 🙂

    The evidence he is relying on to paint this picture of biological inheretence is to me so compelling, that if it came head to head with some very real unresolvable theological road block, then the theology, I guess, would have to take the hit. I can’t not believe the biological picture that Schneider lays out, as the evidence is just to robust not to.

    This begs the question, is there a real theological conflict here if what Schneider says is true (and I believe it is demonstrably true)? If the theological conflict is particularly severe, would this be an instance where science and faith truly do conflict?

    *Note to Dopderbeck, we all agree that sin has to involve volition, that sin cannot be a biologically inherited nature, that sin has to involve rebellion against God, etc. So when we are talking about biologically inherited selfish predispositions, we are not talking about selfish in a sinful way, but selfish in a “survival and propagation of one’s own genes and one’s kin with shared genes” definition” way. No one thinks anything becomes sinful until one acts on those biologically “selfish” proclivities in rebellion against God, whence they then become sinful. But surely you must realize that evolutionary inheritance of, say, powerful drives of our species to copulate with women non-monogamously (primarily for males), to engage in aggressively dominant behavior, to greedily compete for resources, etc. lead to the inevitability of sin once the soul, conscience, and knowledge of God and his directives are present (through the stamp of his image on our being).

  • normbv

    dopderbeck #18

    The problem with using the Good and very Good arguments of Gen 1 is that if Augustine’s premise about Gen 1 as prophetic of the ages of creation from Adam to Christ. Therefore the good was what occurred before the consummation of the coming messiah in the 6th Day as expounded by Augustine. The VERY GOOD appears to be the Temple enthronement of the fulfilling of the Image of God in man. Until it is conclusively proven otherwise then there is a strong possibility of applying the very Good to Adam’s creation and nature is very possibly misplaced. Augustine has Adam’s creation in the 1st Day not the 6th.

  • Phil Atley

    Wyatt (no. 20), I wrote nothing about original sin in my first comment. Original sin is irrelevant to this thread. No one thinks free will operates in the original condition, whether one calls it sin (Augustine) or not (East).

    All the Fathers affirmed free will in actual sin.
    Some of the Fathers affirmed that the original condition condemns to hell, others did not. The ones who did have been repudiated both by East and West. But original sin is irrelevant to this thread.

  • John I.

    Re Dopderbeck @ #18: ““very good.””

    It seems evident that God acts progressively, and certainly that is true in respect of the arc of salvation, of salvation history. We see a heilgeschicte, reading Scripture as the story of God’s redeeming acts in history.

    The creation of Adam is one of these redeeming acts in history.

    So, returning to “very good”, at each day of creation we see God pronuncing what is done as “good” even though it is incomplete and only an intermediate step in overall creation. We see nothing described as perfect, and certainly not in the sense of apocalyptic perfection.

    For man to be “good” or even “very good” does not necessitate that he is complete or perfect (both terms relating to and end times fully complete sense; something is perfect because there is no more completion left).
    I see Schneider as making some moves that are not only unorthodox, but unnecessary. He clearly views human development from pre-human hominids as being slow and progressive, without any gap, which also leaves it open for further biological evolution and upward progression not only in our physical biology but also in our moral sense and in our ability to act out our moral sense. However, the tenor of Bible as revelation gives no sense of such progression at all, and is inconsistent with such a view.

    Second, he makes the statement, “even if we imagine
    that God strangely broke his policy of nonintervention
    and interrupted the moral voice of nature with
    an explicit command,” But this is not only inaccurate, but untrue. God’s policy is one of intervention; his policy is heilgeschicte.

    Third, he anthropomorphs animal actions and projects human moral judgment and intentionality on them. Without human “aboutness” intentionality, animal actions are not and cannot be moral. There is no “deception” in the sense that there is an awareness of the act as a deception, but rather use of stimulus to obtain a desired response. There can be what seems like forethought prior to an action, but there is no evidence that animals think about their act. And in any event, we are not ants nor dolphins and cannot say definitively what, if anything, an animal “means” by its actions.

    Third, Scheider questions the existence of human altruism–“As for deliberative human altruism (if there really is such a thing)”. This takes him so far outside of a Christian understanding of humanness and the divine incarnation that it relegates his entire project to a distance that does not effectively challenge orthodox evangelical Christianity.

    John I.

  • John I.

    BTW, “beg the question” is a phrase with a specific meaning. That meaning is not “raise a question” but rather that “your argument assumes its conclusion in its premises”. If the former meaning is meant, then the conventional literary phrase should be used, i.e., “raises the question”.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim (#28) — that humans have all these “powerful urges,” and that some of them are rooted very deep in our evolutionary history, I do not doubt for a moment. But “powerful urges” are not, in themselves, “sin.” Schneider presents no scientific evidence at all that these powerful urges deprive us of free will. His efforts are mistaken because they assume the most hard-line sociobiological anthropology imaginable, which is neither empirically supportable nor ultimately “scientific.”

    BTW, whether Adam had some inclinations that facilitated his sin is also an issue that has long been debated in the tradition, well before the facts of evolutionary biology became known. The serpent, after all, was present in the Garden, and Adam listened to it. Obviously, Adam faced inclinations and temptations that had to be resisted. That Adam’s time in the Garden was a probationary trial is an important theme in much classical Reformed theology. Evolutionary biology places all of this in an new context and intensifies many of these concerns, but the basic underlying question is not at all new.

  • dopderbeck

    John I (#31) — good point about Schneider’s raised eyebrows about human “altruism.” This again shows that Schenider is buying hook, line and sinker into a reductionistic sociobiology.

    I agree with you that “good” or “very good” don’t mean “perfect” or “Platonically ideal.” I don’t think, however, that the narratives are consistent with the introduction of Adam as an agent of redemption into an already fallen creation. However, I’d agree that the introduction of Adam is part of the process by which God brings order out chaos — which is part of the purpose of the cultural mandate. And it’s true that the serpent is in the Garden prior to the fall.

    So that Adam must resist the forces of chaos inherent even in the “good” creation and represented by the serpent in the Garden — that I agree with.

  • Tim

    Dopderbeck (33),

    “But “powerful urges” are not, in themselves, “sin.””

    Do you not see I’ve gone out of my way, in post after post after post to try to drive home the point that I agree with you on this. Do you no see that come through in my post #28 when I say “we all agree that sin has to involve volition, that sin cannot be a biologically inherited nature, that sin has to involve rebellion against God, etc.” & “No one thinks anything becomes sinful until one acts on those biologically “selfish” proclivities in rebellion against God, whence they then become sinful.”?

    “Schneider presents no scientific evidence at all that these powerful urges deprive us of free will.”

    Um, that’s because they don’t deprive us of free will. Are you deprived of free will now Dopderbeck? Do you have the free will to not sin, though you inevitably will at some point given your base impulses? Let me know.

    “His efforts are mistaken because they assume the most hard-line sociobiological anthropology imaginable, which is neither empirically supportable nor ultimately “scientific.””

    I think you need to flesh that argument out a little bit. For one, I don’t know exactly what you are claiming precisely that Schneider is asserting, so you might want to flesh out what you think he is claiming that is unsupported by the evidence. As I read him, it seems his claims are quite basic and modest, and that they are well supported by the evidence. Perhaps you are reading him as saying more than I walk away with reading him. Again, fleshing out this argument would be a good thing.

  • @Phil,@dopderbeck – I’m not sure, but we may agree.

    I was not referring to all the implications of Augustine’s doctrine, which certainly wasn’t limited to infant damnation, only to the notion that humans are born with a “sin nature” passed down seminally from Adam. This seems to be part of the question Scot is raising here, and it is that idea that seems foreign to the earliest church fathers.

  • John I.

    Re Normbv @ #24 and Ecc 3:18-21

    That conclusion (respecting the equivalence of humans and animals) fails because it ignores the thrust of the argument in Ecclesiates and because it overgeneralizes a very specific argument that is being made. Solomon is drawing attention to the fact that all things die, and to meaningless and purposelessness of life without God. But the fact that all things share the same fate and die does not mean that humans and and animals are alike in all other respects. Man’s spirit our soul gives him no advantage over animals in this life because he too dies.

    Note also, that elsewhere in Ecclesiates he writes, Ecclesiastes 12:7 “The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it”.

    Further, In Luke we read that Jesus and the criminal hanging beside him were both in paradise that day, even though their dead physical bodies were on the cross and then in graves. Luke 23:43 “And Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” . . . 23:46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

    It must also be acknowledged that, and worked into subsequent reasoning, God recognizes and provides for unintentional sin. See, for example, in Leviticus 4:2, the KJV has ’If a soul sin through ignorance against any of the commandments of the LORD …’, and the ESV has ‘If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the LORD’s commandments …’.

    There is a sense in which humans, and all creations, must be cleaned of a stain and defect which is not their culpable fault. God is gracious to do this, and redeems, and will not send to eternal destruction for that alone.

    John I.

  • John I.

    My BTW comment in 32 was not directed at Dopderbeck, but was a general comment.

  • Tim

    Per John I, #28 should have read, “raises the question,” not “begs the question.”

  • Tim

    Note to RJS and John I, responses are up on the previous post, “How Much History in Gen 1-3?” if you want to take a look at them.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim (#35) — one of us is not really understanding where Schneider is coming from, and I think it’s you. If you agree with all the stuff you mention in this comment, then I think ultimately you’ll have to disagree with Schneider.

    Schneider’s overriding concern is that evolution seems to deprive us of free will with respect to sin. He isn’t really arguing about whether there was a literal, individual “Adam” at some point in history. One could understand the Biblical “Adam” as completely metaphorical and still disagree with what Schneider is going on about.

    Do I have free will as I’m stitting here eating my soup and typing this blog comment? Believe it or not, many sociobioligists and neurobiologists would say “no, not really.” My belief that I’m freely expressing myself right now is merely an ephiphenomenon of many deep seated survival mechanisms. The countless historical accidents that led to this particular homo sapiens sitting in this office with this particular brain chemistry effectively determined that I’d be sitting here thinking as I do and saying these things. It’s basically no different than my dog “choosing” to swipe a bagel from the breakfast table. Agency is a sophisticated evolutionary illusion and nothing more.

    I think the foregoing sorts of arguments are what Schneider is trying to accomodate. Maybe I’m over-reading him, but I don’t think so.

  • Tim

    Dopderbeck (41),

    My expressions of agreement with Schneider center only on the excerpt that RJS quoted. Perhaps that is where the miscommunication lies. Is there anything in the excerpt RJS quoted of Schneider that you find objectionable? I want to limit my own arguments to really just that.

  • John I.

    Re desire and sin (Dopderbeck #33, et al.)

    We agree that the Bible distinguishes between desire and actual culpable sin. For example, we read

    James 1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil,15 and he himself tempts no one. 1:14 But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. 1:15 Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death.

    Schneider’s approach to this issue is not, as alleged, modest, but rather at significant and irreconcilable variance with orthodox faith. Schneider, when discussing animal desires and humans being animals also having these desires, writes, “The bottom line is that if the first human beings evolved genetically this way, then it is very hard to see how they could have originated in conditions of original righteousness” [emphasis added].

    Schneider not only misconstrues the relationship of desire to sin in God’s economy, but also the reality of spiritual resources to deal with sin.

    Schneider presupposes from the get go in his argument that humans are not spiritually distinct from their animal-hominid forebears and that they do not have any moral resources other than their physical brain and associated consciousness. He writes, “Moral freedom and the will to resist or redirect those dispositions toward unselfish actions surely presupposes time for cultivating a nascent moral awareness, and for building character through a history of personal and social discipline.”

    “Nascent moral awareness”? “building character through a history of personal and social discipline”? The Biblical picture is one of complete moral awareness from the get go, and that there is more to overcoming sin than just one’s human efforts.

    Schneider rejects any intervention by God in transforming a hominid into a human, but provides no reasoning why we should follow him there rather than continuing in a belief in special intervention.

    John I.

  • Tim

    John (43),

    I might part ways with Schneider on “nascent moral awareness.” Our moral awareness could have come all at once with the image of God, or maybe not. But the point is it could have come all at once. However, Id don’t see a problem so much with the “building character through a history of personal and social discipline.” I see no fault with that latter part.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim — in the parts RJS quoted, he uses the language of “genetic legacy” and “programming” in relation to the will and sin, all of which says much more than merely the inheritance of some traits or dispositions that the will can direct. You have to read the whole article and also be aware of the context to which it is responding. It’s all about trying to accommodate hard sociobiological determinism.

    John — yes, on the relationship of “desire” and “sin.” I’d also suggest that he doesn’t appreciate what Augustine means be “desire” — which is more than some emotional inclination, but is the bending of the whole person towards or away from God.

    But, I don’t think you need to make that move with respect to “intervention.” Augustine also gives us resources on this with respect to primary and secondary causation. In fact, Augustine makes this move precisely at the point we are adressing, when in City of God he refutes the arguments of the Stoics that all human actions are deterministic (i.e. that we lack free will). In City of God Book V, Augustine argues:

    If there is a certain order of causes according to which everything happens which does happen, then by fate, says he, all things happen which do happen. But if this be so, then is there nothing in our own power, and there is no such thing as freedom of will; and if we grant that, says he, the whole economy of human life is subverted. In vain are laws enacted. In vain are reproaches, praises, chidings, exhortations had recourse to; and there is no justice whatever in the appointment of rewards for the good, and punishments for the wicked.

    It does not follow that, though there is for God a certain order of all causes, there must therefore be nothing depending on the free exercise of our own wills, for our wills themselves are included in that order of causes which is certain to God, and is embraced by His foreknowledge, for human wills are also causes of human actions; and He who foreknew all the causes of things would certainly among those causes not have been ignorant of our wills.

    Similarly, if the preconditions for human “will” are “natural” — if human agency is in fact an emergent property of biochemistry (an argument I think you too quickly dismiss) — that is no problem for the belief that human agency is also something willed and conferred by God’s creative act.

    Maybe God “intervened” to implant the human soul, or maybe the soul is an emergent property of the complexity of human biochemistry — it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we do in deed have “soul” or “will” and therefore are accountable moral agents, not merely deterministic products of our inclinations.

  • John I.

    Schneider, p. 203, “It is fitting, is it not, for the God who subjected all human beings to sin in the first place,”

    The word “subjected” could be interpreted in more than one way, but from the thread of his article it appears that Schneider means that God created man to sin and made his sin inevitable, and that he is not merely referring to foresight (man as gradually emerging from animalness was mired in sin all the way through his evolution). The Bible is clear that God tempts no one with sin, so I’m not clear how Schneider escapes his heterodoxy.

    Every time I read Schneider I find more to disagree with, and more poor theological and logical thinking. I don’t see that his paper deals adequately with either the physical evidence or the theological evidence nor that it provides any way forward for the evangelical orthodox believer. Indeed, it seems that Schneider puts human reasoning about spiritual matters all on par, and that the Biblical writers are but creatively imaginative and no better at theologizing than we are in the 20th century. Schneider effectively eviscerates divine revelation from the Bible and replaces it with a Bultmannian approach.

    Really, why do we need a historical Jesus when a personal experience with the Jesus of myth is sufficient to address the needs of our nacsent–but ever growing and evolving–moral awareness?

    Fundamentally Schneider falls into his own concordist pit and engages in catch-up theology. More on this last point in a later post, I’ve got a late lunch at a beer bistro to attend.

    John I.

  • John I.

    Good points, dopderbeck. I shall have to reread some Augustine before I comment further.

  • dopderbeck

    On “nascent moral awareness” and the need for social conditioning — I don’t see this as a problem either. It is much like what Irenaeus said about Adam:

    Now, having made man lord of the earth and all things in it, He secretly appointed him lord also of those who were servants in it. They however were in their perfection; but the lord, that is, man, was (but) small; for he was a child; and it was necessary that he should grow, and so come to (his) perfection. And, that he might have his nourishment and growth with festive and dainty meats, He prepared him a place better than this world, excelling in air, beauty, light, food, plants, fruit, water, and all other necessaries of life, and its name is Paradise. And so fair and good was this Paradise, that the Word of God continually resorted thither, and walked and talked with the man, figuring beforehand the things that should be in the future, (namely) that He should dwell with him and talk with him, and should be with men, teaching them righteousness. But man was a child, not yet having his understanding perfected; wherefore also he was easily led astray by the deceiver.”

    In fact, the notion that primordial (pre-fall) humanity was supposed to grow in moral awareness and self control through the exercise of proper community with God, neighbor, and all creation, seems to me exactly right. I like Stanely Grenz’s take on the “fall” here as a breach of community. The Fall deprived us of ready access to the “Temple” — the presence of God as symbolized in Gen. 1’s cosmic temple cosmology — and it is the loss of that community that disables us from becoming properly morally formed human beings.

  • normbv

    John I #37,

    What Ecclesiates 3 reflects is a Jewish perspective of the fallen nature of man. Actually the word man is “adam” which connotes the expulsed Garden predicament of the Jews. The contrast with the beast has underlying metaphoric application to the Gentile man without God. The beast terminology is often used to contrast those who range outside God especially as used by Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation. However it is instructive to note that the Jews put the Gentiles into the mortal animal symbolism because they were deemed outside of God and no better off than a mortal creature in relation to YHWY. The Idea of the Image of God indwelling all man is reserved only for the “adams” and that term is used most often to denote the seeker of YHWH. The spirit of the beast going down is reflective of their lack of immortality and the questionable Jews spirit going up reflects their quest for redemption as questionable at this juncture.

    1. You quoted … “Note also, that elsewhere in Ecclesiates he writes, Ecclesiastes 12:7 “The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it”.
    The return to dust is the allegorical indication of the natural mortal nature of man. That is what Adam was created from metaphorically and after the fall is what he returned to because of the loss of immortality until redemption. The Spirit of man or beast returning to God is because the Eccl author is illustrating the plight of both the mortal Gentile and the problematic status of the fallen Jew at this juncture in redemptive history. This is simply the plight or status of Israel (sons of adam) awaiting redemption.
    The thief on the cross is an example of his faith in Christ bringing him out of the Pit or Sheol into the Garden Paradise of the Lord. He will attain the spirit going up as all the faithful in Christ do from that point onward. The case for the other thief going upward seems to be relegated to a negative outcome.

    Yes indeed God through the redemptive act of Christ on the Cross and his resurrection frees all men who look upon him. However John tells us outside are the Dogs (Rev 22:15) which sound appalling but it reflects Jewish theological realm of the those lacking immortality.

  • Tim


    OK, I have read through the article in full.

    I want to highlight that I am not wanting to defend or repeat Schneider’s argument in full as articulated in the linked article. For instance, if I was to do this, I would have to defend his exegesis of Job. Now, I find that exegesis interesting, and perhaps it is one that should be recommended. But having just read it, I’m not ready to take up a position on that yet, and it’s not where I want to focus my argument right now.

    Nor do I feel the need to defend Schneider’s concept of nascent morality, or evolutionarily inherited altrustic inclinations. Perhaps morality was instilled divinely all at once, through the sudden implantation of soul, conscience, stamp of God, etc., or perhaps it wasn’t, but it’s not what where I want to direct my argument right now. Perhaps God used evolutionarily inherited altruistic predispositions (and a case could certainly be made for that), but it’s not what where I want to direct my argument right now.

    Concerning free will, I think perhaps you are reading into language like “programming” a little too far. Or perhaps you’re not. If Schneider is arguing against free will, I have no wish to defend him.

    What I do want to draw on is, essentially, what Schneider laid out in terms of biological inheritance of self-serving dispositions (and I am inserting here the presumption that free will can resist such dispositions on a case by case basis, while acknowledging at the same time that, over time, eventual capitulation is at some point was as likely inevitable for the first humans with morality/soul as it is for you or I) – such that when God’s stamp was placed on us and we knew right from wrong, the deck was so far stacked against us that a “fall” was inevitable for each and every human being (some likely within mere seconds). As a species, we were in no way equipped, essentially, not to “fall.”

    That is the argument I am making. Self-serving behaviors were biologically inherited. God’s stamp on our heart was not. Combine the two together, and we have a conflict of God’s stamp urging us to go one way, and our evolutionarily inherited nature urging us at times to go the other way, and when we follow the baser urges away from God, through our free will of course, we sin.

  • gingoro


    I have some sympathy for the point Norm was making although I am not ready to embrace the position he suggests. As I recall the gospel of John talks about eternal life coming as part of salvation. I wonder if we have gotten our thinking wrong.
    Dave W

  • John I.

    Re Tim at 50

    Now that you’ve explained things in that manner, I get more of what you mean and where you are coming from. We’re not as far apart as I thought.

    Re Nascent

    The difference between Schneider and the eastern fathers is that Schneider means a movement from no moral awareness and no moral faculties to a little bit, then a bit more, etc. The eastern fathers, on the otherhand, believed that Adamhad full moral faculties, but that he was innocent in the sense of not having faced evil before.

    John I.

  • John I.

    Schneider has such a low view of revelation that he has no problem pitting one part of it against another. He writes, “It seems to me that Job (and Wisdom teaching
    generally) purposefully corrects the simplistic theodicy
    of Genesis 2–3 . . .” He follows this with a comment about Augustine, but it is clear from the paragraph and what precedes and follows that he believes that the Genesis passages inherently have a simplistic and inaccurate and thus wrong theodicy. There is little or no revelatory value in them, at least for anyone much past the time of their composition, and to get the real, accurate, true goods we have to turn to the later reflections of the Wisdom literature composers.

    Schneiders caricature of western theology, and shallow analysis of the work by philosophers such as Plantinga, pervades the entire article and severely undercuts the the points he tries to make.

    Though he accuses western theology of being complicit in making God the author of since for the wrong reasons, he feels no such compunction when he makes God the author of sin via creating animals whose very nature is to sin in accordance with selfish desires and who, as they gradually became human and aware of morality, gradually became aware that they were sinning.

    I still see no reason not to believe in an intervention of God, and in an original sinless state of humans, and do not see that an evolutionary approach to human development necessitates belief in the inevitability of sin. Whether or not sin was inevitable, a fortuitous fall (or a fortuitous sin from the get go), is a matter of some dispute and one that can only be resolved Biblically and theologically. Not scientifically. And I still do not see a role for science to play in resolving the matter.

    John I.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim (#50) — if the deck was stacked against us so much that the probability of sinning was 1 or close to it, then I don’t see how that’s any different than determinism.

    The narrative of social evolution is much more complex than I think you’re crediting. We didn’t only inherit competitive behaviors. We also inherited cooperation, altruism, social cohesion, care for offspring, propensity for religious belief, and lots of other primate behaviors that we might anhtropomorphically link to “love.”

    Even the question of sexual monogamy is complex — while it might benefit males to spread their genes broadly, it might benefit females and the social group as a whole to limit the number of sexual partners, and so there is an evolutionary basis for a norm of monogamy. And, in fact, norms of monogamy among humans seem to be deep and longstanding across time and cultures, which suggests that our rich social-evolutionary inheritance isn’t all and only about sleeping around.

    So, I don’t see evidence for the deck being stacked to the extent you do. God walked in the Garden, and so did the Serpent. The rich and fascinating science of human social complexity seems to me to add another layer of depth to this poetic ANE picture of the human condition: capable of the good but turning to evil.

  • dopderbeck

    John I re: nascience, the Eastern Fathers, and “full moral awareness” — I think Irenaeus says otherwise: “But man was a child, not yet having his understanding perfected; wherefore also he was easily led astray by the deceiver.”

  • Tim

    Dopderbeck (#54),

    “if the deck was stacked against us so much that the probability of sinning was 1 or close to it, then I don’t see how that’s any different than determinism.”

    Well Dopderbeck, isn’t the deck stacked against you and I? Doesn’t the Bible say that we are all accountable for our sin, even though we are bound in the chains of sin? I don’t consider that deterministic, do you? How would you define determinism then?

    “Even the question of sexual monogamy is complex — while it might benefit males to spread their genes broadly, it might benefit females and the social group as a whole to limit the number of sexual partners, and so there is an evolutionary basis for a norm of monogamy.”

    Yes, that is why humans are what is called a “semi-monogamous” species. The proclivity to engage in extra-monogamous sex is there, particularly in males where there is not fitness cost for doing so, but we do have the disposition to maintain a family-based unit of functioning (whether that family includes multiple wives or not).

    “So, I don’t see evidence for the deck being stacked to the extent you do”

    Frankly then Dopderbeck, I don’t think you’re looking. Anthropological evidence and evolutionary evidence for the continuity between modern human self-serving proclivities and ancestral proclivities is overwhelming.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim — sigh.

    We are bound to sin now, which is the mystery and riddle of “original sin,” and not the question whether humanity “in Adam” was bound to sin.

    And yes, we have inherited proclivities for “selfishness” — as well as for “altruism.” But you’re entirely missing the point about this “overwhleming” evidence. The evidence does not in any way support the very strong claim that the sum total of our “proclivities” must produce “sin” with a probability of something like 1. The “overwhelming evidence” in fact is that human social structures reflect an incredibly complex sociobiological heritage, which has interacted in equally incredibly complex ways with our apparently unique capacities for agency.

    And we’ve been through this before but the cultural explosion of 40kya seems to have been a very real phenomenon — the social structures of homo sapiens sapiens are far, far more complex than those of our immediate and distant forebears.

    So, it seems to me that we have layer upon layer upon layer of subtlety and complexity beginning 40-150kya — not a simple story of violent and brutish cavemen inevitably staying violent and brutish.

  • Tim

    “The evidence does not in any way support the very strong claim that the sum total of our “proclivities” must produce “sin” with a probability of something like 1.”

    Um, OK. Let’s just ignore then, for instance, the neurophysiological mechanisms that are common between high functioning mammals such as Chimpanzees and humans that mediate urges such as lust, aggression, etc. I’m sure a horny early human at the time of receiving God’s stamp was completely well equipped to not ever “burn with lust” over a woman who was not his wife. Yep, the probability of him not ever doing that wasn’t anywhere near 1 was it. Well, maybe if you unmanned him, but that would be about it.

  • Tim

    continued response to Dopderbeck (from #58 above),

    “We are bound to sin now”

    OK, so what is your definition of determinism then? Not being bound to sin? As in the exercise of free will was given by Adam but we are without free will now? I don’t understand what it is you’re trying to say. If we have free will now, then so did our earliest human ancestors with souls. The only way what you seem to be getting at would make sense would be if we didn’t have free will now. Is this what you are saying?

  • John I.

    Re 55 and nascent morality

    Note that I used “moral faculties”. The eastern fathers believed that Adam was fully able to make the range of moral choices and to be culpable for them, but he had no experience in making them. That is, nothing changed in Adam physically as he made moral choices (especially the first one). He had the tools, just no experience in using them.

    This is very different from Schneider who sees the transforming hominids as initially having very little in the way of a moral faculty, and then gradually developing an ability to respond morally to their biological desires.

    For Schneider there never was a state of innocence, and this lack of innocence was part and parcel of how God created the world, to develop as it did via evolution into creatures that became more and more morally accountable over time. There was no fall, because we start fallen. How this perspective in any way exculpates God, is not clear, nor is it clear how someone who takes this position can fault western theologians.


    The Schneider project appears to be very similar to the Bultmannian, in that he beleives that it is possible to strip away the incorrect and unnecessary (as he sees them) metaphysical doctrines of the church and the mythological stories of the Jews and first Christians to reach a God and a Jesus behind the scriptures. Like Bultmann, Schneider attempts to demythologize scripture so that we can proclaim the saving act of God in Christ without providing unnecessary stumbling blocks to the modern believer in evolution.

    Bultmann, like (seemingly) Schneider, believed that he had to follow what science told him about the world: that supernatural powers do not and cannot interrupt the laws of cause and effect. Bultmann described a mistaken belief in miracles as a mistaken objectification of the transcendent into the immanent. Bultman sought the “true intention of the myth” in which one translates the biblical accounts into language that reveals the human existential problem and its solution in transcendance but without violating our scientific worldview.

    Bultman also rejected the doctrine of the fall, and so for him the Christian gospel was not the traditional one, but one in which God liberates humanity from “our factual fallenness in the world” so that we can live authentically.

    Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose.
    John I.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim (#58) — but we also have evolved mechanisms that, in fact, do the mediating! Chimps don’t walk around slobbering in murderous lust all the time. Nor do people. The very reason our ancestors evolved the complex social structures we inherited is to mediate these inclinations! The possibility of slobbering murderous lust is there; so is the possibility of restraint.

    and (#59) — the will we live with now is corrupted. Without Chirst, we indeed are not really “free.” In fact, we are in “bondage” to sin. Luther went so far as to say there is such thing any more as free will (in The Bondage of the Will). Before the Fall — however you conceive of it — humanity, “Adam,” was not in bondage to sin. After “Adam’s” primoridal “fall,” we all subsequently are in bondage to sin.

    Whether the “fall” was “historical” or not, these are essential elements of the Christian story: humanity had the potential not to sin; but we are now bound by sin.

  • Tim


    That is true. We do have cognitive mechanisms that the Chimpanzees do not that allow us to mediate our expressions of our behavior. But how’s that working out for you? I mean, your cognitive mechanisms keeping things like lust, greed, aggression etc. from being problematic? The base neurophysiology is there that provides the urge, and it’s the same in a human as in an ape. But what we do with such impulses above that level is mediated. So that’s our situation today. What exactly are you proposing was the situation in earliest humankind bearing God’s stamp? Something different? What?

    Now, I read the second part of your response as denying that humanity as it exists modernly now has any free will. I find this view curious, as somehow I’m under the impression that if I give my wife a flowers, a kiss and a hug today, that it’s free will. Or if I say something mean or hurtful, that that’s also free will. But according to your view I suppose I have no such thing as free will, and this is all deterministic and I’m under some sort of delusion of agency. I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that.

  • DRT

    OK guys, I have spent most of the day in bed and don’t really get all the nuances of the conversation I just read in my medicated mind. How about if you answer the question.

    Did God create us sinful? One at a time, ok? 🙂

    My take, our nature could be an emergent property of the biological complexity, but I think there is more than that to it. The inherited biology does not account for everything.

    The image of God may very well be Love. And Love is meaningless without the choice of not-love, which may be equivalent to sin. God is Love. We are in the image of God.

    Perhaps I can read more tomorrow.

  • Phil Atley

    I don’t get it at all. By definition sin and free will cannot be read out of empirically observable scientific data.

    The book seems to have already presupposed that sense-perceptible data (genetics etc.) can give clues about what is, in Christian theology, a non-sense-perceptible reality.

    Yes, we can observe all sorts of complex human behavior that seems to correlate to brain chemistry and genetics.

    But the Christian free will and consequently sin claims are claims that something other than chemistry and genetics is the origin of wrong doing. If not, then, in Christian terms, there can be no wrong done.

    The authors in the book, based on the descriptions in the post, seem to have already made a philosophical/theological choice to deny real free will in order to be able to offer a biological/chemistry/genetic explanation of behavior.

    The minute one asserts a claim to genuine free will, one is thereby asserting that biology/chemistry/genetics cannot explain human behavior, though it can explain non-human behavior.

    And if we truly lack free will, then we cannot do moral evil and there can be no judgment of wrong doing and no God who commands right doing and punishes wrongdoing.

    There’s no Christianity left.

    Now, if the authors in this book think that they are merely offering a partial explanation of behavior by pointing to genetic/chemistry etc. data, fine. But if that’s all they are doing, then it’s nothing new. We would then be left with Christian theology of the fall into sin corrupting in a lasting way a world created good. We’d have more thoroughgoing explanations of the biology and brain chemistry associated with human behavior but we would not have anything theologically new to say about sin or evil that was not already said by Augustine or Origen or Athanasius.

    But I think these authors want to claim that biology and chemistry do have something theologically new to say. If so, then they don’t understand either theology or empirical science.

    To entertain the notion that God could have created us sinful is simply, from a Christian standpoint, incoherent. To think that contemporary biology or brain chemistry even raises this as a possible conclusion is poor science and poor theology.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim (#62) — what you’re not getting is that we humans as we are now are not as we were before the Fall. The degree of free will we continue to possess after the Fall has been a matter of significant debate across various Christian traditions. However, all Christian traditions agree that something is very wrong — that human nature has become corrupted from how it was originally created to be.

    So are my cognitive mechanisms sufficient to keep me from sinning? No, of course not, but I live after the Fall.

    Prior to the Fall — again, whether we think of the Fall as a “literal,” “historical” event or something else — humanity, “Adam,” had the capacity not to sin. I think this has to do with relationship and community — a perfect, immediate relationship with God through which all desires could be rightly oriented. That capacity, whenever and however and wherever it existed in our primordial past, was lost through the entrance of sin. It lies now behind the cherubim’s flaming sword of Gen. 3:24 — another fascinating metaphor.

    Except that, through Christ, the new Adam, that capacity has been restored. When we become united with Christ, we are able not to sin. Notice, by the way, that this doesn’t involve any empirically measureable change in physiology!

  • Tim


    Before I comment further on your most recent post, I want to request clarification on one point:

    “Except that, through Christ, the new Adam, that capacity has been restored. When we become united with Christ, we are able not to sin.”

    Are you then saying that you (I presume you see yourself as “alive in Christ”) have the same ability to resist sin as Adam? Or is this different? If it is different, how so exactly? And would the base inclinations (lust, greed, aggression, etc.) still have been present according to your view in the same degree as between yourself and Adam?

  • Linda

    I believe in the Bible, that God created Adam, that Adam was initially good and innocent and then he fell by disobeying God’s command to not eat the forbidden fruit. God allowed Adam to disobey, yet He could of prevented this from happening. God must of allowed it to happen, He has the power to prevent this, because the people in Heaven will be glorified, which means they cannot sin anymore. God had to allow Adam to sin, so He could send His Son to redeem sinners, this means we can know God is merciful. If God did not allow Adam to sin, we would not know the mercy and grace of God.

    God is the Creator and He can and will do what He wants with His creation. Many people do not like this, but there is nothing you can do about it. God is God, and we are not, it is really that simple. Read Romans chapter 9, and you will find some are created for honor (Heaven) and some for dishonor (Hell). This was all planned by God before He created the universe.

  • Darren King

    Oh, Linda. You really do miss it sometimes. I could almost get angry about your arrogance. But its clear your arrogance is grounded in your ignorance – of which you can only partially be blamed for. But please, please, try and think about the fact that maybe… just maybe, your way of believing the Bible is not the ONLY way to do so. And please try and conceive of the idea that if ten wise, thoughtful, committed Christians can come to different conclusions about a Biblical issue, that maybe (just maybe) that’s because its not as clear-cut as you think it is.

  • Tim


    Are you still following this thread? I’d love to get a response to #66 to better understand what it is you’re saying.

  • Wes

    #67 (Linda): Well said. Unpopular here, but still true.

    To Darren King: Linda’s not the only one out there who thinks this way!

    I think you ought to look at the tone of your post (especially your second sentence) before you start calling other people arrogant. At least as I read Linda’s post, she said nothing that deserved such an unkind personal response.

    I shouldn’t be, but I’m surprised at the frequent use of this type of tone from people who dismiss “traditional” thinking.

  • Darren King


    The difference is, I’m not claiming my way is the one RIGHT way. I’m saying I can understand that different Christians will come to different conclusions. To dismiss 6o something previous comments before coming in with the RIGHT interpretation is exactly what Linda did.

    And for Linda to come in so dismissively, tells me she IS missing the point. Which is what I said in my second sentence. My point being that if the Bible was SO clear on this issue, then why would RJS have to pose the question to begin with? Its worthy of conversation BECAUSE there are different perspectives to be heard.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim – sorry, I was out all day at a conference. Short answer for now: this is something of a debated issue in Christian theology, between perfectionism and not. Many Wesleyans and others in the holiness traditions would say yes, in Christ, we theoretically can live without sin. I would probably say the holiness traditions are wrong on this point. Our final sanctification will not come until the eschaton. However, we are able to progressively realize holiness as we become united with Christ in faith and in practice during this life. I think that’s a pretty typical view of sanctification.

  • Tim


    Thanks for getting back to me. In that case, what are you suggesting was the initial condition for “Adam” then, self-serving base inclinations biologically inherited via common descent, but with a personal relationship with God that would represent the holiness tradition’s highest ideal of what could be theoretically possible in not sinning via union with God? Would this be something like, yes you feel deep down the urge to look at another woman that is not your wife in a lusting way, but through “union” with God you can resist it effectively? I’m just trying to get a handle on what you think the original “pre-fall” condition of man was. Thanks!

  • DRT

    Come on dopderbeck. Are you able to resist looking at a woman other than your wife because of god?

  • dopderbeck

    Tim — I suppose that’s something like what I’m suggesting — and what the Christian tradition has always suggested. Remember also that “lust” is not just sexual desire. “Lust” is willfully pursuing sexual desire that can’t be fulfilled within its proper bounds. We may inherit powerful sexual drives that lead us towards polyamoury. However, we also have the capacity for self control and moral action — as well as powerful inherited drives towards the social stability afforded by sacramental monogamous unions.

    You’re skeptical that there could ever have been a time when humanity could have avoided what I’m describing as “lust.” It’s so outside our experience, and so outside what paleoanthropology seems to tell us, that it seems incredible. I understand that. A couple of thoughts here.

    First, there’s no suggestion in the Genesis 1-4 narrative that this ideal was ever fully realized. It was there had we chosen it — but we didn’t.

    Second, I think you can’t underestimate the importance of what union with God means. A person who is united with God is in a sense a different kind of creation than a person who is not (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). Being united with God reorients all our desires towards the good.

    Many Bible scholars understand “Eden” as a picture of the Temple — that is, it is a poetic representation of the place where God dwells. Let’s say Gen. 2-4 is basically allegorical and metaphorical, and represents a time when emerging humanity is first awakened to the reality of God and is offered the opportunity to live directly in God’s presence and rule with God over the creation. It’s like the numinous moments we all sometimes experience, maybe in a quiet church sanctuary, when God seems right there and the very notion of pursuing greed, lust and so on seems ludicrous. There is a sort of eternity in those moments. I suspect that Gen. 2-4 is grasping at a mystery something like this from our primordial memory. The Biblical story is all about the recovery of God’s dwelling with humans — from the Ark to the Temple to the Church and Pentecost to the New Jerusalem.

  • dopderbeck

    DRT (#74) — well, yes. Again, there is nothing wrong with looking at another woman and recognizing her beauty, and nothing wrong with feeling sexual desire towards other women — all of that is part of the God-given function of sexuality. But if I pursue that inclination, say by fantasizing about being sexually with a woman who is not my wife, then that is “lust” and is sinful.

    Do I always succeed in resisting this kind of temptation? Of course not. But is the sanctity of my marriage relationship with my wife characterized by progress towards the ideal of perfect fidelity, in thoughts as well as in actions? I hope so. To the extent that is true, and to the extent I can see progress towards this goal, I absolutely believe this is because of becoming united with God in Christ. Certainly, I have experienced that if I am practicing good spiritual disciplines — spending time in prayer, studying the scriptures, partaking in the Church’s life of worship, fellowshipping with other believers to whom I’m accountable — the good fruit of the Spirit becomes more evident (e.g. Gal. 5).

    The ongoing struggle against sin is a clear theme in scripture — see, e.g., Romans 7:14-24 — as is the theme that we become free from slavery to sin by becoming united with Christ (see Rom. 7 as well as, e.g., Col. 1, Phil. 5.)

  • Tim

    Dopderbeck (75),

    OK, I believe I get what you’re saying. Humanity had a biologically inherited physical nature via common descent, that ordinarily would predispose a person to engage or at least have urges to engage in non-monogamous sexual activity, aggression, greed, etc. However, via union with God, such inclinations are essentially mediated almost entirely out of the picture, with perhaps only a very weak remnant of the urge remaining and with no compelling reason to follow it given the far better and far more rewarding opportunity of following God.

    Do I have this right?

    A follow-up question I have then is, who experienced this union with God and how was it broken? Before, you posited this idea of Adam being spiritually connected to all humans such that when he fell, all of humanity was transformed through this link as well. In this case, were the rest of humanity at that time still beholden to their biological urges inherited via common descent, or were they in union with God as well? If they were in union, then why would it be right for their perfect union to be broken with God due to Adam’s actions? If they weren’t in union with God, then how could they have effectively “fallen” from where they were at? Unless if the “fall” for them was simply a loss of a potential they had not yet realized? If Adam hadn’t fallen, what would have been the outcome? Would the rest of humanity then (if they hadn’t already) joined in with God in perfect union without the free will to “fall” as well? In this alternate scenario, would the only one with free will be the representative of Adam? If the answer was no, and others could have fallen, would they have corrupted the whole of the human race, or would it have just been limited to them? Could you flesh out this picture for me?

  • Tim

    *Continued from above:

    Add to the last sentence in my first paragraph:

    At least, that would represent the fully realized union of God, and pre-fall humanity would have been close to realizing such an ideal with God but not as yet fully (does this mean the “forbidden fruit” was the baser biologically inherited impulses in violation of God’s commandments, with a willful indulging of such baser impulses the equivalent of the eating of the fruit?).

  • Tim


    Disregard #78, should read:

    Add to the last sentence in my first paragraph of #77:

    At least, that would represent something closer akin to the fully realized union with God, and pre-fall humanity would have been on the precipice of realizing such an ideal union with God, but not as yet fully. Also, in this conceptualization of original sin, would the “forbidden fruit” represent the baser biologically inherited via common descent impulses, with a willful indulging of such baser impulses where such indulgence would entail a violation of God’s commands representing the equivalent of the eating of the fruit?

  • dopderbeck

    Tim — I feel like you’re importing a few things here that I didn’t say, like “with perhaps only a very weak remnant of the urge remaining and with no compelling reason to follow it….”

    I don’t want to be simplistic about the “urges” we inherited from biology. Let the sexual drive be as powerful as it is. Let “Adam” be a full-blooded, fully embodied human being. But let his perfect fellowship / union with God before sin direct all his desires towards their proper ends — in the case of his sexual desires, towards a deeply satisfying, passionately erotic relationship with Eve, whom God provided as his companion for life. Often we find notions of original righteousness and original sin difficult because we’re saddled with an incorrect Augustinian view of sexuality — that “concupiscence” or sexual desire itself is the result of corruption. Not at all, as the Song of Solomon attests.

    Re: “Adam’s” contemporaries: I don’t really know. It seems not unreasonable to me to think of “Adam” as symbolic head of the community of early humanity, which is gathered around the presence of God much like ancient Israel is gathered around the Tabernacle or Temple.

    Scientifically speaking, there certainly would have been some time during which a small, local population was undergoing the transitions that mark off anatomically and cultural modern humans from our predecessors. Populations would have been mixed and in flux, but there were differences — brain size, a language gene(?), etc. — through which those populations began to diverge, resulting in the presently remarkably homogenous population of anatomically modern humans.

    Even later in time, there was some admixture: it now seems clear that modern humans and Neanderthals interbred despite the fact that modern humans and Neanderthals were separate species with very different capacities for language and culture! To speak like C.S. Lewis for a moment, what were the spiritual implications of concourse between the “sons of Adam” and the Neanderthals, if indeed the Neanderthals were not adamah? I suspect we’ll never know.

    But these ultimately are not even the right kinds of questions to ask of the Biblical text. We’re bringining concerns to an ancient text that didn’t know anything about human evolution, population genetics, Neanderthals and so on. It’s like asking where Cain got his wife. The text isn’t concerned with that sort of question. What we can assert theologically based on the text(s) (both OT and NT) is that humanity at its root could have known perfect fellowship with God and resulting freedom from sin, but instead chose sin, and that we all consequently are separated from God and bound to sin, and that we all choose sin ourselves.

  • Tim


    I want to get this out there for hopefully a quick response on your part while I’m sifting through the rest of your comment and formulating my thoughts:

    I don’t think I’m importing notions, though perhaps my language could have been clearer. What I was trying to get at was the notion that baser evolutionarily inherited impulses, according to your model, would be mediated in their expression such that the “urge” in specifically how to express them is directed toward that which is compatible with God’s wishes rather than their typical (and biologically evolved) modus operandi such as what we see in the both the animal kingdom in high-functioning mammals as well as our own modern behavior as humans. So I wasn’t trying to sterilize human sexuality or anything in terms of importing that as an element of your model.

    So are we on the same page here? In this context, would my additional comments and question (presuming a yes) in #79 accurately reflect your conceptualization?

  • Tim

    *continued from #81,

    OK, after thinking through the rest of your post #81, I have the following thoughts:

    *First, I would note that my questions to you in post #81 above should be handled first, as without that we won’t even be on the same page*

    I am not actually asking these questions of how the original fall happened and what the original state of grace was like of the Bible. I am asking them of your model. You had earlier claimed to have an idea of how the doctrine of original sin (originating from the Genesis 2-3 story and Paul’s theology) might be compatible with the findings of modern science. You expressed that you were finding a solution, albeit a speculative one, that reconciled these two sources of information, scripture and science. So you have a hypothetical model resulting from such an endeavor. Or, at least that was my impression from reading your posts.

    But if questions on your model only lead to a big “who knows?” then you don’t really have a model. You instead have some fuzzy idea. That doesn’t even qualify as a hypothesis, and certainly wouldn’t be the sort of thing you would trot out to present to people wondering whether or not the doctrine of original sin remains compatible with the discoveries of modern science and scholarship.

    So, perhaps your model could cover a range of possibilities, as in “if you would assume such and such a parameter, you could have a fall that looked like this,” and “if you assumed such and such a different parameter, you could have a fall that looked like that.” Regardless of how you do it, you should be able to come up with at least one speculative possibility of how to flesh out the details of your model. Without such an operational description of what original grace and original sin could have looked like, all you have left is, again, a very fuzzy idea that doesn’t achieve its original goal of reconciling the doctrine of original sin with science (as, you know, the devil’s in the details).

  • Tim


    Should be: “OK, after thinking through the rest of your post #80…”

  • Tim

    You still out there Dopderbeck?

    Anyway, I re-read my post #82 and I hope it didn’t come across as a denigration of your model. I’m not at this stage calling your model a fuzzy idea (as you might still answer these questions). I was only making the case that the questions I asked of it were appropriate and the sort of things one might expect some kind of response in the way of answers. Hopefully this is something you will be able to do.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim — I don’t claim to have a scientific model of how original sin and the Fall happened, and I don’t think I need one or that it would be methodologically appropriate even to speak in terms of scientific models with respect to theological claims.

    At the same time, I think I’ve offered quite a bit more than only a “who knows.” And I have offered at least one speculative scenario, in the BioLogos post I’ve linked to a few times. If that’s not satisfying to you or to other readers, I’m not sure what else to say. What I’ve discussed so far works as a general framework for me, and I’m still studying and thinking about it. I hope it’s helpful for others, but I don’t claim to represent the only way to think about it.

    Re: your summary: “the notion that baser evolutionarily inherited impulses, according to your model, would be mediated in their expression such that the “urge” in specifically how to express them is directed toward that which is compatible with God’s wishes rather than their typical (and biologically evolved) modus operandi”

    I’m still stumbling on the language you’re using: “baser evolutionary inherited impulses” and “typical … modus operandi”. Again, it seems to me you’re assuming a bunch of behavioral models and assinging those to the “typical” category without any substantial empirical support, and then also assinging them to the “baser” category without any normative reason to do so.

    I’ve tried to say this a bunch of times: “altruism” is just as “typical” a human behavior as “selfishness.” The simplistic model of early anatomically modern humans (and their immediate forebears) as simply brute cavemen is false. And “selfishness” is not in itself “base” or sinful. You simply can’t account for human agency and moral responsibility solely from within a sociobiological / evolutionary framework. The normative judgment of whether something is “base” requires a framework outside the simple “is” of sociobiology.

    I also stumble on “compatible with God’s wishes,” as though God has arbitrary standards that He imposes on “typical” human behavior. Human behavior that is truly and genuinely human accords with the image of God in man and is fully compatible with and capable of being directed towards fellowship and union with God. Healthy self-regard, for example, is not sinfully “selfish” when it exists within the relational-ethical matrix of God’s design for human community.

    All of our naturally inherited characteristics, including those you’re calling “base,” are part of God’s design for humanity and are capable of being expressed in a setting of fellowship and flourishing. They are part of the “very good” of God’s creation. Our turning from God, however, distorted and distorts those characteristics such that they can be and are turned towards violence and sinful selfishness.

    We are not enslaved to biology. We are enslaved to “sin,” to a will that it is primordially, collectively, individually, and progresively turned against God.

  • Tim


    Let me break down what it is I’m trying to get at (and of course, I’ve read and reread your biologos post to try to find clarity on this issue).

    Your explanation that you offered at biologos and re-articulated on this board only deals with one objection to an original fall of man, and that is that modern science (largely evolutionary and anthropological) and scholarship (largely ANE) no longer permit a literal reading of Genesis 2-3, and furthermore, evolutionary genetics tells us that the human population likely never bottle-necked under a few thousand. So, your model aims to address these issues by positing that Adam was representative and that once the original fall happened, the rest of mankind inherited a sinful nature via some spiritual link/transference.

    Now this is great and all, but why would you think that only endeavoring to answer the above objections is sufficient? These are not the only objections that science and scholarship present to the doctrine of an original fall of man.

    The other main objection is the nature of sin as we witness it expressed today and throughout humanity’s history. So my main issue here is that you have not offered any real answer on this issue. Now, perhaps I really am missing something, but as you can see from my above posts, I am sincerely trying to get an answer from you on how you address this question.

    Here’s why I think it is essential that you address it for your model to have any credibility:

    Anthropological studies are fairly convincing in demonstrating a continuity between human behavior and that of both higher functioning mammals (with most similar behavior exhibited by the apes) and what we see in paleoanthropological and archeological records as well. Lust, aggression, greed, etc. all seem to have a common genetic base, and expressions of these behaviors seem to demonstrate continuity going back over 100,000 years. Sure there are discontinuities, such as cognitive advancements in creativity, culture, problem solving, etc., but the tendency to kill other humans in competitive situations seems to remain pretty much the same.

    So, I think this question of continuity in the evolutionary and anthropological records really does demand a response for your model to be credibly considered.

    So, what is the response?

    Is it, the apparent continuity is illusory, and that humanity’s sinful nature as acquired after the fall has no ties whatsoever to anything that came before? That our inability to suppress an active lust (at least for many of us) for women that aren’t our wives has absolutely no continuity whatsoever with caused our hominid ancestors to lust after those who were not their mates?

    If you say that there is absolutely no continuity here whatsoever, then that would be an answer, and your model would be deemed potentially satisfactory or unsatisfactory depending on how reasonable this response would seem to be. Personally, I would find this response to be unreasonable, but others might have a different view.

    Or, you could say that there is some continuity, and try to describe what sort, and how you would address such continuity in your model. Now, I had thought previously I had received from you an answer as to what that continuity might look like, but then when I followed up with questions, I received a response that implied that the notions I had concerning the nature of that continuity were resting on unfounded anthropological assumptions. So, if my impression of what you were saying is wrong, but you nonetheless did have some idea of continuity, I would very much like to here you describe it and highlight how your model deals with it.

    So, is there continuity or not as described above? This should be a binary question, even if the answer of continuity is only a very limited “yes,” but then you could describe what that is. An answer of “I don’t know” in this situation would then justify the objection that you don’t then “know” if your model would sink or float if the question was taken on.

    So, this is about as clear as I can get on what I am trying to ascertain in the way of credibility of your model. I hope you do endeavor to answer them, as not doing so would simply indicate a refusal to deal with a glaring and potentially discrediting objection to your model of an original fall of man.

    I hope you read my above comments and questions in a charitable light. This is not me attacking your model, but just seeking to understand it such that I can weigh it for worth.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim, I’m sorry, but you’re repeating arguments I’ve tried to answer several times, and you’re not accurately stating what I’ve said. You’re main point is that there is “continuity” between human conduct now and in the deep evolutionary past. I’ve responded to this numerous times:

    (1) “conduct” is not sinful absent “will”. “Will” or agency cannot be reduced to sociobiology. Therefore, continuity of conduct in the record of human evolution does not defeat the ideas of original righteousness and original sin — unless you want to say that humans lack any free will at all (a notion I reject).

    (2) There is both continuity and discontinuity in the paleoanthropological record. I’ve referred a couple of times to the Upper Paleolithic Revolution and to theological reflections on that such as Van Huyssteen’s “Alone in the World.”

    I don’t want to make too much of this — obviously I’m not looking for a “God of the Gaps” kind of thing — but it appears to be a real phenomenon in the anthropological record and is widely commented on in the scientific literature.

    Just about everyone agrees that there is, in fact, something unique about homo sapiens sapiens in comparison to all our hominid forebears — that modern humans possess capabilities and social structures that are significantly more complex than our ancestors. Many scientists speculate that some genetic mutation of set of mutations might be involved, perhaps involving conceptual language abilities (such as variations in the FOXP2 gene), though this is a hotly contested area. In short, if you think there is strong, simple, linear behavioural and sociological “continuity” between modern humans and our hominid forebears, you’re mistaken about what the anthropological record actually shows.

  • Tim


    I really am trying to follow your argument here. I’m not trying to be difficult. But you just seem to acknowledge some type of continuity but don’t really articulate what exactly that is. I really need you to articulate what you think that continuity is. Now, I of course recognize that Homo Sapiens are unique. No one is arguing that, but it is the continuity that you seem to be acknowledging but not articulating that deserves a response from you.

    As far as positing any “simple” or “linear” continuity, nothing in anthropology is “simple” or “linear,” so I am doing no such thing. I am merely saying that the anthropological record shows continuity, though obviously cognitively mediated continuity for humanity with all the complexities that entails with language, culture, awareness, conceptual abilities, greater executive function, etc., but strong continuity nonetheless. For instance the continuity in hostile aggression appears to be there, though mediated via a number of “unique” aspects of humanity today such as our culture, our empathetic awareness, our laws, etc.

    In any event, I think for your model to have the opportunity to even be deemed credible, you have to explain what this continuity seems to be, and how your notion of inheritance of a sinful nature following the fall incorporates it. The reason it might appear that we are going around in circles is that you have yet to answer this very basic and very central question of the nature of our modern sinful nature as pertains (in whatever partial degree) to our evolutionary heritage.

  • Tim

    To condense the above into three sentences, it would go something like:

    1) You have addressed discontinuity between modern humans and humanity’s ancestors and evolutionary cousins, but you have not addressed that which is continuous.

    2) It is the dominant anthropological view (which has no small amount of empirical support) that there is some significant degree of continuity between modern human nature and the nature of earlier hominids as well as our close evolutionary cousins.

    3) By not addressing this continuity, and only focusing on the discontinuity (which also has its own support as you have noted) side of the coin, you may be obfuscating (perhaps unintentionally) a potential weakness in your model of original sin.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim, I haven’t focused only on “discontinuity!”

    As to “continuity,” I agree with you, we’ve inherited from our forebears all of the stuff from which our minds emerge. These include the mental structures that support culture making and morality. They also include the mental structures that support behaviors we may deem “immoral”.

    I reject any view, however, that reduces what it means to be “human” merely to those inherited structures. I reject strong versions of neurobiological determinism. I believe human beings possess genuine agency. I believe the human mind, with its apparently unique capacities for agency, is an emergent phenomena that exerts downward causality, and therefore that human agency isn’t reducible to biology.

    I also reject any view that reduces what it means to be “human” even to biology plus the emergent phenomena of mind. Humans are “spiritual” and “soulish” in ways that other creatures apparently are not. The “mind” and the “soul” are not exactly the same thing. This is a datum, I believe, of revelation, but it also accords with the experience of self-consciousness and God-consciousness.

    Finally, I reject any view in which these various aspects of what it means to be “human” — (1) our biological and nuerobiological and sociobiological inheritance, (2) our capacity for true agency through the downward causality exercised by the emergent phenomena of “mind”, and (3) our spiritual and soulish nature — are conceived of as divisible. Sort of like the Trinity, the layers of our being interpenetrate and coinhere with each other. We are not dualities or trialities — “body and soul” or “body, mind and soul”. We are integrated creatures though our ontology involves multiple layers.

    As to “sin,” that begins not in layer (1), but rather is a product of the wilfull misuse of human capacities at layers (3) and (2) — and thereby it affects layer (1) (e.g., in the stress and anxiety that are produced when we intentionally harm others and break relationships). Certainly the structures of layer (1) make “sin” possible, but they do not dictate that “sin” must happen. A bodily behavior is only “sin” when the “soul” and “mind” have wilfully directed the person to improper ends.

    I think it comes down to this: are you a materialist and a determinist, or not? If you are, then it is not possible to make a convincing case for “sin”. If you’re not, then it’s not difficult to see that evolutionary “continuity” does not and cannot compel “sin.”

  • Tim


    Thank you for your detailed post. Let me try to work through what it is you are saying such that you can see where my frustration might lie in soliciting an answer of describing the continuity between evolutionarily inherited dispositions of humanity’s ancestors and those dispositions of modern humans.

    Let me break your description into “positive” and “negative” descriptions. Positive will simply refer to saying what this continuity is and negative will refer to saying what this continuity is not.


    “I agree with you, we’ve inherited from our forebears all of the stuff from which our minds emerge. These include the mental structures that support culture making and morality. They also include the mental structures that support behaviors we may deem ‘immoral'”

    How am I to read this? You are saying we’ve inherited mental structures, but stop there. No description of what that looks like, what is included. Are we just talking about base neurophysiology? Are we talking about acquired behavioral and cognitive characteristics? Are we talking about some subset of behaviors that include drives for procreation, competition, survival, social cooperation, etc.? What exactly is the nature of the “inheritance” here?

    “Certainly the structures of layer (1) make “sin” possible, but they do not dictate that “sin” must happen. A bodily behavior is only “sin” when the “soul” and “mind” have willfully directed the person to improper ends.”

    How so exactly? This is just a statement of “biology makes sin possible, but doesn’t mean sin has to happen.” This isn’t a very articulated view, and so I have no idea of how you conceptualize biology affording the possibility of sin, both in the first humans as well as our modern selves.


    “I reject any view, however, that reduces what it means to be “human” merely to those inherited structures.”

    OK, so do I.

    “I reject strong versions of neurobiological determinism. I believe human beings possess genuine agency. I believe the human mind, with its apparently unique capacities for agency, is an emergent phenomena that exerts downward causality, and therefore that human agency isn’t reducible to biology.”

    OK, I agree. I do think human agency isn’t reducible to biology, though obviously is related to biology (we can see this in reductions in agency due to injuries in certain portions of the brain).

    “I also reject any view that reduces what it means to be “human” even to biology plus the emergent phenomena of mind. Humans are “spiritual” and “soulish” in ways that other creatures apparently are not. The “mind” and the “soul” are not exactly the same thing. This is a datum, I believe, of revelation, but it also accords with the experience of self-consciousness and God-consciousness.”

    Yes, I agree. I think humans have a soul and it comes from God, not genetics. But I think the soul interfaces with the mind that interfaces with biology. So effects permeate all ways, thus the soul can influence the mind, and biology via the mind can have an influence on what urges are directed upon the soul to act upon.

    “I reject any view in which these various aspects of what it means to be “human” — (1) our biological and nuerobiological and sociobiological inheritance, (2) our capacity for true agency through the downward causality exercised by the emergent phenomena of “mind”, and (3) our spiritual and soulish nature — are conceived of as divisible. We are integrated creatures though our ontology involves multiple layers.”

    I don’t know that I agree with this, or disagree with it either. One could posit discrete neurobiological and sociobiological inheritance if teleologically guided by God, with later modifications in the way of both Soul and Mind – all taking place to create a final, unified whole.

    “As to “sin,” that begins not in layer (1), but rather is a product of the wilfull misuse of human capacities at layers (3) and (2)”

    In the sense that sin requires agency and is a “soulish” act, sure. In the sense that sin operates upon a stratum of biological dispositions, not so much. Of course, you note this later.

    “— and thereby it affects layer (1) (e.g., in the stress and anxiety that are produced when we intentionally harm others and break relationships).”

    Yes, our biology can be influenced by mental and “soulish” acts.

    OK, this wraps up the positive and the negative.

    To answer your question:

    I think it comes down to this: are you a materialist and a determinist, or not?

    I am not a materialist as I believe in the supernatural. I am not a determinist as I believe in free will.

    “If you’re not, then it’s not difficult to see that evolutionary “continuity” does not and cannot compel ‘sin.’”

    False. I don’t believe evolutionary continuity can compel any single act of sin. But over multiple opportunities to sin, even if you weigh the probability at far more likely than not that a very virtuously inclined individual rejects capitulating into sin for each single event, over the course of their life capitulating into sin at least once starts to look like a certainty. I don’t see why anyone would find such a view deterministic.

    In any event, what you have in your description of the continuity between evolutionarily inherited dispositions and sin is almost entirely negative statements, what it is not, and only 2 positive statements, both incredibly vague. So I have to repeat again, could you please add some real definition to what this continuity is, as opposed to continually saying what it is not.

    It also might be worthwhile to move this discussion over to RJS’s new thread on the subject of the nature of sin. Let me know.

  • The only answer to the above question(s), in my thinking, is evolution. God set in motion a physical universe and let it ‘evolve’ in ways that he knew it would. God then spoke into this universe as intelligent life forms developed, promising – at some undisclosed point in time – ‘something better’, a new ‘perfect’ re-creation. There isn’t any literal rebellion against God, but there is a need for ‘deliverance’ from the ‘natural’ into the realization and appreciation of the ‘spiritual’. The scriptures record mankind wrestling with ‘explanations’. God himself enters the ‘natural’ in Christ showing the ‘way’. Yet, the evolution of human culture and mindfulness hasn’t yet reached its fullness. We ‘see’ the goal in Jesus, yet we can’t grasp it fully yet. Maybe in another millennium….

  • The context of this question exists under the assumption that religion is true and that theological exegesis has accurately understood God’s plan for humanity. History would strongly suggest this not to be the case as the very purpose of the incarnation, the overthrow of evil has not been accomplished, even in part, via any traditional teaching. And while many point to the ‘theodicy’ question to question reality of God, however uncomfortable it may be, the finger should rightly be pointed at religion.

    But start the question from a different perspective. Evolution! As products of this natural process, we are by nature limited in our moral and ethical understanding. Within that limitation, so self evident in the modern world, as history records, our species is capable of great evil. So long as war exists among people, and the potential for grave moral error exists within human nature, we are ‘sinners’ by ‘nature’. For within evolution, there is no moral foundation within our nature. We are or the ‘world’.

    To then speak of ‘creation’ is to speak of a moral exodus from the ‘world’ and into the Kingdom of God. This would require the means to transcend or correct human nature itself and into a moral paradigm not of human intellectual origin, but of the God’s own ‘creation’. A perfect good, to act as a new foundation of moral insight and perception to guide reason, a holy spirit. Built upon an absolute fidelity to a newly created reality.

    Such a teaching and path of faith now exists.

    Using a synthesis of scriptural material drawn from the Old and New Testaments, the Apocrypha , The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Nag Hammadi Library, and some of the world’s great poetry, as in the beginning, it describes and teaches a single moral Law, a single moral principle, a single test of faith, and delivers on the Promise of its own proof; one in which the reality and will of God responds directly to an act of perfect faith with a demonstration of his omnipotence, an individual intervention into the natural world, ‘raising’ up the man, correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries. Intended to be understood metaphorically, where ‘death’ and darkness are ignorance and ‘Life’ and light are knowledge,  this personal experience of omnipotent transcendent power and moral purpose is our ‘Resurrection’, and justification for faith. From here, on a perfectly objective foundation of moral principle, conduct and virtue, true morality and ‘Life’ begins.

    Revolutionary for those able to get their head and heart around it? More info at http://www.energon.org.uk