Genesis 2-3 tells the story of Adam and Eve with a focus on their ‘fall’ from innocence by the disobedience of eating the forbidden fruit. We discussed last time why we should not take this story as an historical narrative; but rather that it seems to be an excellent reflection on the human condition.
However, there are many who insist that the story is historical, that Adam and Eve actually lived and were our first parents, and that the details of the story are true. They further claim that Adam’s act of disobedience caused all of humanity to be born with ‘Original Sin’, which means that every baby is born sinful and depraved.
The Genesis Eden Story and Original Sin
The Eden story tells how God instructed Adam to not eat of the Tree of Knowledge. Genesis 2 reads:
The Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
However, a serpent tempted Eve to eat the fruit God had forbidden. She then caused Adam to eat the fruit as well.
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
Because of that God told Eve she now would have pain in childbirth, and to Adam he said that from now on providing food for his family would become very difficult and laborious; both of these statements reflect on our human condition. However, you will notice that there is no mention that, in addition, all their progeny will be born with original sin; it is not there.
I contend that the concept of original sin is not valid, and I am not at all alone in this. In fact, Adam and Eve never existed, and even the story about them does not suggest that humans are born with ‘original sin’ from Adam. However, without original sin other aspects of some theologies are in deep trouble!
John Calvin’s Emphasis on Original Sin
The idea of original sin does not come from the Eden story but from remarks Paul made in Romans 5:
If, by the trespass of the one man [Adam], death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!…
For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
During the Reformation John Calvin put great emphasis on original sin; it was essential to his construct of how salvation works. English speakers capture his main points in the TULIP:
- Total Depravity: everyone is born sinful and depraved
- Unconditional Election: God arbitrarily chose some be saved
- Limited Atonement: Atonement applies ONLY to those God elected
- Irresistible Grace: those God elected cannot resist salvation
- Perseverance of the Saints: the elected will persevere to the end
To soften the appearance of arbitrariness and unfairness some Calvinists suggest that this simply communicates God’s sovereignty; but I think the entire construct is severely mistaken. But the point is that Calvin’s concept requires that Adam be an historical figure, the ancestor to all of us, and the source of original sin.
Without original sin, Calvin’s construct falls apart like a house of cards; and without an historical Adam there is no original sin. In addition, Calvin’s theory of salvation, Penal Substitutionary Atonement, also falls if there is no Adam and no original sin.
Evolution – The Real Source of ‘Sin’
Sin—what is sin? Legalists often define sin as transgressing God’s many rules, but others see sin as our tendency to hurt other people—and even ourselves. Sometimes this sin against other people is very clear and severe, such as in murder, rape, and theft; but it also includes taking advantage of people, manipulating them, and causing psychological damage. We hurt each other in all sorts of ways.
Why do we do this? Why do we treat each other so badly? I suggest that we are not alone in this; if we look at the animal world it is easy to see the constant hostility and violence. This is driven by the need for food, survival, and the protection of family and territory; and those who succeed embody survival traits like self-centeredness, preservation, and favoring one’s group over others. In evolution, those who survive tend to pass their survival traits to their descendants, so the animal world is a very dangerous place; rarely do animals in the wild die of old age.
Well, it is nice to think we are far above the animals—and we are; we have developed a large measure of empathy, compassion, and care for others. But our human history and current experience still includes a lot of violence and oppression due to our perceived need for survival and security and to our self-centered survival traits of power, greed, and violence. We acquired these traits by evolution.
Because of evolution are we then nothing more than animals? No!; this is not the case. We are more than animals in very significant ways, and the creation story itself suggests this very point. We will talk about that next time.
Articles in this series: Evolution and Fundamentalism
- Evolution and Inerrancy: Confusing Other Genres with History in Genesis (part 1)
- Evolution, Eden, and the Flood: Confusing Other Genres with History in Genesis (part 2)
- Evolution and Original Sin: How Calvin’s TULIP Falls Apart
- Evolution and Imago Dei: What, Whence, and When the Image of God?
- Evolution and Homophobia: How We Are ‘Created’ LGBT and Straight