Let me try to tie together some aspects of this important issue. To
avoid undue length I omit most biblical & other references & detailed
arguments but will supply them if needed.
John W Burgeson wrote:
> Adrian Teo wrote: "I fail to see how the doctrine of original sin can be
> reconciled with a purely evolutionary framework that denies the special
> creation of humans."
> To which John Burgeson replied: Then maybe the "doctrine of original sin"
> is what needs to be challenged?
Those of us interested in creation-evolution issues tend to focus on
the question "How did sin get started?" but there's a basic aspect of the
issue that's independent of such questions. The "doctrine of original sin"
was originally formulated in response to the idea that human beings are
basically OK & are capable of doing God's will by their own powers
(Pelagius). Against this the church said "No" - that all human beings are
sinners from their origin & are in need of God's grace in order to be saved.
Not only is this the case today, but it always has been so.
There are differences between theological traditions here having to
do with the degree of seriousness of this sinful state. The naive idea that
Adam simply is a bad example & that we are able to follow Christ's good
example has been generally rejected by both east & west. God's grace is
needed but there are significant differences about the ability of human
beings to cooperate with grace.
But then the question arises, "Why is this the case - especially
since human beings are created by God & therefore good?" That requires us to
reflect on the origins of the human race, which in the biblical tradition
means reflection on Genesis 1-3.
Since humanity is God's good creation, human beings were understood
to have been created with the possibility of not sinning - i.e., in
possession of "original righteousness. But that can be understood in 2
ways. Here (& in other ways) the point made by Robert Schneider comes in:
> I agree, Burgy. It might be worthwhile mentioning that the doctrine of
original sin is a western >Christian conception and not part of the body of
doctrine of eastern Christianity. The concept of >the Fall is not
inextricably connected with the doctrine of original sin in the eyes of
eastern >theologians. And there have always been western Christians (myself
included) who have thought >that O.S. is neither an adequate theological
explanation for human sinfulness nor a prerequisite for >God's act of
salvation in Christ.
Augustine, & most of the western tradition, understood humanity as
having been created in already mature & perfect state. The "fall" then was
an abrupt change from from a righteousness that was already in possession to
a state in which that righteousness was completely lost. (Here there are
significant differences between views of Roman Catholics OTOH & Lutherans &
Reformed OTOH which I pass over now.) In the Augustinian tradition there is
also the idea that original sin is _hereditary_, than we actually inherit it
from our parents in a chain that goes back to Adam & Eve.
The eastern tradition, represented by Irenaeus, sees humanity as
having been created without sin but in an immature & childlike state.
Humanity was intended to grow, to develop toward a final state of righteous
maturity in union with God. The first sin then was not so much a matter of
an abrupt "fall" but of getting off the proper road.
To this point I've just been reviewing traditional beliefs. But no
the question is, can we make sense of the basic ideas of the church's
tradition here if human beings are the result of evolution. (& of course I
mean there evolution through which God has been acting.) If so, how?
First, the basic idea that all human beings are sinners & in need of
salvation by Christ is not touched by concerns about how we originated many
generations ago. In my view the western emphasis on the seriousness of the
sinful condition of humanity is appropriate.
But then the idea of an "original righteousness" of the first humans
comes into question. Especially the ideas often held in the west, that the
first humans had tremendous wisdom & other special attributes that we have
lost is very implausible with an evolutionary scenario. The eastern view,
that humanity began in an immature state, seems closer to the mark.
But we can't simply think of the first humans as moral or
intellectual blank slates who could just
as well have avoided sin as sinned. What we know of evolution suggests that
the first humans (however we choose to define them) would have inherited a
heavy genetic &/or behavioral load inclining them toward behaviors that we
would consider sinful - aggression, sexual promiscuity, theft, &c. These
behaviors would not have been sin in their ancestors who were not moral
agents, but would have been sinful in moral agents. & with those inherited
tendencies it's very hard to see how those first moral agents could have
We can still say that sin is not part of what constitutes proper
human nature, but in the course of real evolutionary history sin could not be
avoided. Sin is not "necessary" but it was "inevitable."
In brief, I think an eastern metaphor of "taking the wrong road"
(with the consequence of all humanity getting "lost in the woods") is better
than the western metaphor of "the fall," especially if we are concerned to
make theological sense of human evolution.
George L. Murphy
"The Science-Theology Interface"
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