Original Sin 5 – Evolution

As I began to record my thoughts for today’s post, it dawned on me that the route this series is taking might seem to be a strange and circuitous one to some of those reading it. In part, I believe that is due to the way I’ve chosen to develop it. I’m writing from the perspective of my own personal interaction with this idea as I journeyed into my present Christian faith. As such, even though I am compressing and abridging that interaction, the shape of the series necessarily follows something like the shape of my own journey. And that also means that the series will explore problems and questions first; answers come later for I began to discover them later. It also means the issues, problems, and questions I encountered may not necessarily be the same ones someone else encounters in their journey. Though I mentioned my approach at the outset, I thought I should clarify. I realized that yesterday’s post and today’s might seem like a strange detour to some reading.

Yesterday I briefly discussed karma to illustrate how I was unwilling to exchange a framework with which I was pretty comfortable for an inferior one. That was tinged by an early recognition on my part that I could not continue to hold both. At a very deep level, the narrative of Resurrection is very different from and incompatible with the narrative within which karma functions. I would not say I suddenly dropped one and embraced the other. It was a lengthier process than that. But it did become clear from an early point — St. John the Theologian’s Gospel had a lot to do with that illumination — that if I continued my journey into Christianity, at some point I would shift narrative frameworks. (Although it’s not exactly relevant to this series, I’m struck by the manner in which so many modern Christians don’t seem to realize just how revolutionary, transforming, and counter-intuitive the narrative of Resurrection is.)

I was shaped and formed within the context of an extended family of scientists and artists. (I’ll also point out those are not mutually exclusive categories. Many in my family are both scientists and artists of one sort or another.) While I’m neither, at least in any realized form, I’ve always lived and breathed within the framework of both. My father is a geneticist and spent his career doing research. While, as I outlined above, I foresaw the need and was not unwilling to exchange my narrative framework of the broader context of reality (some might call it a metaphysical framework, but I’m not entirely comfortable with that word as it means very different things to different people) for a Christian one, I was never willing to adopt a framework that sat in opposition to the scientific narrative of physical reality. (Nor is there anyone who reasonably should. The larger frameworks — Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Atheist, etc. — operate beyond the scope of the scientific narrative.) It’s an unfortunate reality that so many modern Christians have allowed their Christian narrative to shrink either to an alternative and opposing perspective or to one which is smaller than and fits inside the narrative of science rather than the other way around. But I was never tempted in either direction.

Why does that matter? Long before I found the root of the idea behind the notion of original sin as inherited guilt in ancient Greek philosophy, I recognized one key weakness in it from a natural perspective. If all human beings who presently or have ever lived have inherited the moral and juridical guilt of the first man who “sinned” against God, then that means that all human beings must be descended from a single pair of ancestors (or at least from the original “guilty” one). And we now know, with near certainty, that that is not the case. The science is beyond the scope of this series. Moreover, it’s not a field in which I can claim any sort of personal expertise and I don’t trust myself to communicate my understanding of it clearly. Nevertheless, the evidence is pretty convincing and I encourage anyone interested to explore it on your own.

I had ample reasons from my perspective to set aside the idea of inherited guilt without even considering this particular issue. Nevertheless, I did see this problem early and was unwilling to adopt a “faith” that stood in opposition to pretty clear natural evidence. I don’t particularly care myself whether or not humanity originated with a single couple nor do I know many scientists with a vested interest either way. But the evidence does not seem to support such an idea, and I’m not interested in making something so shaky a “linchpin” of my larger narrative framework. Mine already don’t tend to be as strongly held or constructed as they seem to be for many people. I’m not interested in deliberately weakening it with such comparatively fragile pieces.

As an aside, I will note that it’s my understanding that the Roman Catholic Church, which is the tradition within which the idea of original sin as inherited guilt originally flowered toward the end of the first millenium of Christianity, does in some way reconcile scientific evidence with the overarching idea of inherited guilt. Although I have had numerous interactions with Roman Catholicism over the course of my life and have Catholic family and friends, I wandered into Christianity myself in an evangelical Southern Baptist context. So I must confess I don’t know how the Roman Catholic Church reconciles this specific issue. If anyone does know, feel free to share that information in the comments.

Finally, though not really related to the topic of this series, I will note that I’m also not tied to the idea that within the context of created time, there was ever a specific point in time when creation was not disordered as a result of sin. According to Christian faith, human beings were created as eikons (icons or images) of the uncreated God for the purpose of reflecting God into creation and for communion with God. Time itself is a creation of God, not uncreated. If we were created, in part, to reflect the uncreated energies into creation, then it seems to me that normal perceptions of causal effect might not apply in this regard. I’m comfortable with the idea that creation has been disordered and groaning from the beginning as a result of our failure to fill our proper role within it. And I’m comfortable with the idea that even as we are born into a “fallen” creation, “inheriting” death, we also participate actively in the fall of Man and the disordering of creation when we each choose to abandon our eucharistic (thanksgiving) role. I tend to view being “in Adam” or “in Christ” in more active than passive or static terms.

I will also note, however, that we see a marked increase in the disordering of creation as soon as man took an active hand in it. Even with very primitive tools, we hunted entire species to extinction and contributed (although mildly by modern standards) to climate change. And those are just examples that can be measured from a perspective that is millenia removed. Paul’s analogy of creation groaning is an apt one, indeed.

Tomorrow I’ll touch on some of the problems the idea of inherited guilt creates within the Christian scriptural narrative.

This entry was posted in Original Sin and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. Kay
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    “I don’t particularly care myself whether or not humanity originated with a single couple nor do I know many scientists with a vested interest either way. But the evidence does not seem to support such an idea, and I’m not interested in making something so shaky a “linchpin” of my larger narrative framework. Mine already don’t tend to be as strongly held or constructed as they seem to be for many people. I’m not interested in deliberately weakening it with”
    On that wise, I’d be interested to know your thoughts on Genesis 1-3. You’ve struck my curiosity.

  2. Posted February 26, 2010 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    Well, that would be an entirely different series in and of itself, as I hinted in the post. But there really isn’t a Genesis 1-3, per se. There is one creation narrative from Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:3. And then there is a second parallel creation narrative from Genesis 2:4 (which begins “This is the book of the genesis of heaven and earth”) through Genesis 2:25. It’s not even the same order of creation as the first narrative.

    Now, that’s not a problem. It’s common for ancient texts to have parallel narratives over the same event. We even see it elsewhere in our Scripture. But it should condition some aspects of the way you read the texts. The first one is concerned with the function or purpose of the different parts of creation. The second is more focused on the role of humanity.

    And it’s the second that more naturally leads into the story of Chapter 3. But overlaying all of that is the first creation narrative. So you kinda have to jump back and forth.

    Also, though it’s not clear in English translation, “Adam” and “Eve” don’t really begin to be used as proper names until chapter 4 and there is a lot of wordplay at work in the first three chapters that also doesn’t translated well into English.

    I believe in the truth of Genesis 1-3, but I don’t believe they are describing actual events in a modern documentary sort of way. It doesn’t bother if there did happen to be a particular couple who experienced exactly that sort of temptation, but it also doesn’t bother me if there wasn’t. True is a category that far transcends strictly factual and my sense is that the Genesis opening narratives are trying to convey truth that is difficult or even impossible to convey in strictly factual terms.

    And so I’m comfortable seeing each of us participating in our humanity in the decision to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. I see us all (obviously) barred from the tree of life as a result. I see us all cursing creation.

    It goes on from there. That’s the short version. As I said, the long version — assuming I could articulate it — would take multiple posts.

  3. Posted March 8, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Kay, I know this post is old and not sure if you’ll catch my follow-up comment or not. But I just read an article, Are Adam and Eve Real?, that exposes the weakness in our modern usage of “real”. I tend strongly toward the allegorical, typological, and mythic readings (as she describes them) as the most important — the most “real”, if you will — readings of the text. Within that context, I do believe they most likely were the heads or founders of the tribe within which the Genesis narrative begins. And as such, I do believe that the people mentioned were actual people in a historical sense. I just don’t believe they were the progenitors of all humanity or that that’s the important or significant reading of the text.

    When I read her article, I realized it probably better answered your question than my attempt to answer it did.

  4. Kay
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    Going to take a look – thanks.

  5. Shaswata Panja
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 4:30 am | Permalink

    Well Scott Once again thanks for you writing..I myself have done a lot of thinking on this subject and have reached a few conclusions of my own.One is you have to take into account the transition from Hunter Gatherers to Agricultural people..A profound change happened at that time which still reverbates irrevocably in the psyche of human beings that have come later..The Sense of Personal Ownership….Hunter Gatherer societies are distinct that they almost dont have this concept…When Human beings were undergoing this transformation in 10000-7000 B.C. I guess they had to take a few simple(in today’s terms) decisions on how to order communities..They could perhaps choose their own way or guided through Conscience God’s way..But I guess they chose their own way and ignored God’s plan on how to organize politics, economics and social issues as these extra responsibilities were bound to come with this mammoth civilizational changes….And if you see everything was kind of built up from there…The Bronze Age,The Iron Age, Industrial Revolution,Radio and Eöectronics Age,First Space Age and the present Digital Age…Many human caused ills of the modern world may perhaps be traceable to that first step to the sense of personal ownership. And since you cannot undo these changes that built up on each other you can somehow sense each generation inherited all the wrongs of the previous generation and then added their own…..The things that were happening outside of the human mind in societies were very much changing how human minds thought about interacting with outside world…You can see the influence was from the outside on the inside..When Christ came he not only died on the Cross but also proposed a radically different model on how human minds interacted with the world..And the influence was to be from inside on the outside directed by the Voice of God….And perhaps the earliest society/civilization with which we ourselves can directly map ourselves is Iron Age..That age perhaps underwent most far-reaching changes..The birth of the proto-nation state, Big kings with huge 24*7*365 standing professional armies, the importance of societal status, property and furthering of one’s own career, cause or one’s people’s cause…But then again that’s the age when you see also the emergence of a lot of Prophets saying something is not right with the contemporary system Just my own 2 cents

%d bloggers like this: