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PaulS

Evolution and Original Sin

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I might not have much luck here, but I am just wondering if anybody has heard of a logical argument for original sin in the face of the science of evolution?  So much of traditional Christianity relies on 'sin', typically expressed through the myth of Adam & Eve.  But where was the 'sin' supposed to be when we were amoebas, or early mammals/apes/neanderthals?

Not that I believe in sin, but I am just curious if anybody has any Christian arguments to share which try to explain this conundrum now that most of us don't believe that God physically formed the first man out of clay, a fellow who then went on to eat an apple and curse all of mankind for all eternity.

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Well I do think the original sin was thinking in terms of good and evil. Genesis 3:22 counsels us not to think in terms of this particular duality. 

If we substitute morality for sin ... then evolutionary psychology can make some sense these kind of moral/sinful emotions. Whether it is accurate or not is open to some debate.

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Yes, from an evolutionary point of view 'sin' as morality makes perfect sense to me - if you weren't aiding the troupe then you were hindering its success and subsequently, you'd expect to be ostracised to whatever degree.  

What I'm really asking is for any known any explanation for the Christian view that sin was introduced by Adam & Eve (or even humankind in general) due to disobedience to God, in light of our knowledge that humans evolved and didn't just 'appear' as complete homo sapiens who then made a bad decision.

I wonder what Christian arguments may be used to support the theory that humans are still 'separate' to God and need saving.

I know very few people using this forum hold a 'needing to be saved' belief, but nonetheless I am curious if anybody has heard any justifications in light of understanding evolution.

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1 hour ago, PaulS said:

if you weren't aiding the troupe then you were hindering its success and subsequently, you'd expect to be ostracised to whatever degree.

This is a pointing to group selection Paul ... generally this is not accepted. by evolution scientists. These sort of things are more like conning the group by conning oneself.

If you are looking for a traditional Christian point of view that accepts an old Earth and Evolution, then I will stay out of your way. 😀

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Hi Paul
The story of Adam & Eve and its relation to sin has intrigued me, particularly since the idea of 'original sin' is not actually mentioned in Genesis at all.
 
Everyone focuses on the eating of the fruit, and as a catholic it was never clear to me what the 'original sin' was. Was it disobedience, eating the fruit, listening to the serpent, recognising their nakedness, being ashamed of nakedness or hiding from God? Below are some of my thoughts...
 
As far as I can see, the story of Adam & Eve marks that turning point in evolution when humans became humans instead of just another animal. In looking at the tree of 'the knowledge of good and evil', what did they gain in terms of knowledge by eating from it? Defining knowledge as 'an awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation', what Adam & Eve gained in particular was an awareness that they were naked. This is a deeper perception or awareness of the world - not of 'good' and 'evil', but of 'ourselves' as active participants in life. 
 
Being naked in front of someone else is the most vulnerable a person could ever be. No barriers, no shield, no interface, no pretence. And no weapons, either. Nakedness exposes us to every potential danger that we know: from cold and pain to assault, criticism and rejection. When we are naked, we have nothing to help us deflect or absorb the injury - we must bear it all, physically and emotionally.
 
In evolution, we know that humans are just like other animals in most respects. When an animal senses danger, it responds instinctively by preparing to fight or to flee. But an animal is aware of danger only as a stimulus. It has no concept of the participating self, so it cannot be afraid, and therefore it has no awareness of good or evil. Like the serpent, all it knows is what is seen, felt, tasted, heard, etc. in relation to the response of its physiology. So the serpent also encourages Eve to respond according to her physiology: her instincts to survive and to bring her specific biological system to dominance.
 
In eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve acquire the knowledge or awareness of themselves interacting with life. By knowing ourselves to be participating in each interaction, we are no longer confined to 'fight or flee' in response to threatening stimuli - we can also apply change to ourselves. Covering the body with fig leaves is different to a chameleon who changes colour to hide from predators. We are able to learn and adapt how we interact with life in a way that changes how life interacts with us. And even though it has so many other, much more productive applications, we mostly apply it to try and protect our vulnerable, naked selves from potential danger.
 
An awareness of ourselves participating in this interaction of life brings with it an awareness of our vulnerability, which results in fear of what could undermine our ability to survive, to procreate or to bring benefit to ourselves and our kin, our kind. This fear encourages us to create barriers and shields - to close ourselves off from interacting with life - and prevents us from seeking the awareness, knowledge and understanding we need to reach our potential.
 
Fear also encourages us to classify everything around us on a sliding scale of good and evil. This is for our own protection, of course.
 
The difference between our knowledge of good and evil, and this idea of God's knowledge, is one of perspective. God sees His creation in its entirety, is aware of every tiny part of it and the role each part plays in perpetuating the whole and maintaining a perfect balance. Everything He sees is 'good', because He knows exactly how everything works and interacts with each other to benefit the whole, not just at this moment but into eternity. There is nothing here that has the potential to destroy life when viewed as a universal whole.
 
Adam's perspective of God's creation is significantly limited in comparison. He has no idea how anything works. All he knows are the names he has given to everything, and what he has experienced so far - and that isn't much. He has barely grasped the concept of a day and night, let alone a million years. So the knowledge of good and evil that he acquires is equally limited. What Adam sees as 'good' is anything that is pleasing to him, such as beauty and taste, or that offers direct or indirect benefit to him-self. What he sees as 'not good' or 'evil', therefore, would be anything that is potentially harmful to himself. So natural disasters would be evil, as are any animals that are dangerous to humans, such as snakes, sharks and spiders. 
 
The first to make Adam's list of evil, however, is the first thing he notices with this new awareness: his own nakedness. After all, what could potentially be more harmful to Adam than a recognition of his own vulnerability? And the most evil of all beings is the serpent, without whom he would still be in the Garden of Eden. Women, other humans and animals are potentially evil, too - but they can also be beneficial.
 
Even now, with many thousands of years experiencing life and the universe, we classify 'evil' or 'wickedness' as anything that intentionally sets out to be harmful towards, or else indirectly or potentially threatens the 'protected' status of, me or mine  - depending on how we happen to define 'me or mine' at the time. Paedophiles and serial killers are considered increasingly more wicked or evil the closer they get to those we seek to protect, and so are weapons in the hands of strangers, devastating earthquakes or tsunamis, illicit drugs and anyone with a strong ideology that is different to our own.

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2 hours ago, romansh said:

This is a pointing to group selection Paul ... generally this is not accepted. by evolution scientists. These sort of things are more like conning the group by conning oneself.

In that sense maybe I am using evolution in the wrong term.  It just seems to me that as a species that lives in tribes we have adopted various moralities that best serves the tribe's purposes (usually).

2 hours ago, romansh said:

If you are looking for a traditional Christian point of view that accepts an old Earth and Evolution, then I will stay out of your way. 😀

No drama.  But yes, more specifically I am curious how a Christian who believes in sin/disconnection from God thinks this can be explained against evolution, taking into account that our species wasn't always our species, so when exactly do they think this sin came about that people needing saving from.

Like I said, i don't expect many takers personally here, but I'm interested if anybody has heard any such explanation.

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Thanks Possibility.  An interesting take on the myth.  But I'm guessing you don't see sin as 'evil' per se and something that 'each individual human shall pay for in an afterlife unless making certain faith statements and beliefs.  Certainly taking the story as symbolism and myth allows plenty of interpretation (and your seems pretty valid).

I guess what I'm trying to ask is if one was a Christian who believed that because of sin a person was doomed to hell unless they accepted the blood sacrifice of Jesus as a requirement for their entry to heaven, then where do they think this eternal 'curse' came from and when.  The garden of eden story, if read literally, has a specific time and place, but even if they were to relax their view a bit and see it as myth, where/when do they think sin 'began'?  Was it present when we were actually amoebas?  Did it start when we started walking upright?  Did it not eventuate until we were our present day species?  Was Satan responsible for it?

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Fair enough, Paul.

I hope you get some interest, although it seems to me as if you're hoping for someone who takes Genesis 1 and 2 as figurative, but then Genesis 3 as literal...?

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Well, let me preface this by saying I am not a theist, I don't take the bible literally, so that includes a literal understanding of A&E and the sin brought into the world by their specific action. Also, I believe in the theory of evolution and do not believe we were created perfect and then fell. Nor do I believe we are 'separate' from God, theistically understood (ala A&E and sin) or that in the same vein, we need saving from sin - again understood theistically - which, to me, it seems, you are referring. Let me add, I am (non formal religious) Christian, believe GodIs (again not a supreme being in his heaven, judging actions and keeping score, etc.,) and, to your point, I believe we can speak intelligibly about ‘sin.

Some contemporary theologians use the conception of the Greek Fathers, such as Irenaeus (200 years before Augustine), concerning the gradual movement of the human being from an 'initial site of immaturity" which contrasts with Augustine's fall from the original state of righteousness (perfection). So, there were different views early on. Sadly, the Western, Roman expression and Augustine prevailed.

Many define sin as self-centeredness or selfishness (also depicted in the Eden story) and further that the original, actually the only sin is self-centeredness. And it shows itself in numerous ways: simply, I lie for me, I lust for me, I kill for me, I dishonor another for me, I am envious of another for me and on and on. And, it seems evident that selfishness is the act of man and so it can be said that selfishness entersthe world when 'man' steps forward in the process of evolution (which could dovetail with possibilitystake). Now, Spong, among others, notes that early man, of necessity was self-centered: it was survival and he had to look out for and protect #1. Makes sense! However, as man progressed, it can be asked if the circumstances have changed and looking out for # 1 has taken on a life beyond survival (difficult subjects include slavery, colonization, western expansion, re-settling native populations, Nazism, Henry VIII, Trump, or simply Cain and Abel). Others speak of individual and communal self-centeredness (both are witnessed in the examples cited) that all newborns are born into. 

Leaving religion to the side for a moment, there is something to the idea that we are born into self-centeredness: it marks' all men and women. And, at its worst, it destroys life, community and is devoid of humanity.There seems to be an awareness of this reality: of a killer, a terrorist, or someone who rapes a child, we say, "what a monster" or "he's inhuman" or she is an animalor  "he is evil incarnate." And of the cop or fireman on 911 or a soldier who saved his buddy, a woman who dies giving birth, knowing the risk, we often hear: "the finest human being I've ever known" or the best of usor what an incredible person" or "this guy is someone to live up to."  The truly self-centered, the most selfish among us, who care nothing for others, we strip of humanity (the monster) and those who give to others, who have concern for others, the most loving among us, we heap humanity on then (the best of us). 

One definition of sin is 'missing the mark' and the mark is to become (truly) human, understood/defined as self-less, compassionate or loving. And to the degree we are selfish, to that degree we miss the mark, we 'fail' to (self-) actualize, we fail to become (truly) human. Obviously, the term human here connotes more than species.

So, can self-centeredness be called sin? From the Christian perspective, the answer is yes!  And if we talk of being saved from sin, we start with Baptism: properly understood, is an orientation away from self-centered behavior and toward self-less-ness. There is no magic washing of sin; it is symbol and the human community (parents, godparents, community) is the essential element in the nurturing of a child away from self-centeredness and toward selflessness (compassionate concern or, apologies, love). This locus of love is essential for a truly human life.

Is sin separation from God? Well, self-centeredness or sin is seen as separation from the possibility of our best self: we are off the mark. Then, before we get to God, the question is how can this separation be overcome? Simple, as shown, by becoming less and less selfish - or to put it in a positive light: by becoming more and more self-less, by becoming more loving. 

Finally, Christianity believes that God is Love. So, are we separated from God and is God necessary for salvation; do we need to be saved? If God is Love and if love or loving is what enables us to be truly human, then until we love, it could be said that self-centeredness is the textbook opposite of and separation from love. From the Christian perspective, self-centeredness (sin) is separation from love (God). It can be said we need to be saved from sin, which, in this scenario simply means, we need to be healed of selfishness, and, thereby, made whole, i.e. human. What is a whole human being? The fireman on 911, the mother who gives here all on a daily basis, the man who tries to be compassionate and concerned for those in his life, even the stranger, the kid who decides not to be a bully: all are on the way to wholeness (in the Christian understanding). BTW, it is not a consistent process and sometimes we simply do a lousy job of being human: two steps forward, one back, one step forward, four back and on and on.  

So, is God necessary for salvation? To become whole or human, one becomes selfless, one loves (and, thereby, selfishness, the only sin, is overcome). One must 'embody' love, one must 'become love;' one must allow love to become flesh, which simply means to reside, to be expressed in their flesh, in their lives. This is the 'incarnation' of Love; this is the incarnation of God. Man cannot be human without love; man cannot be human without God. God/Love is necessary for man to be whole (i.e. salvation although I actually never use this terminology anymore because it gets in the way, given its historical baggage).

In Christianity, even if there were no sin, God would still be one with man (and this too is captured in the story of Eden). The Lover always wants to be one with the Beloved: even when man was not separatedfrom God in Eden, God is with/for man: it is what love is; it is what love does. 

I always thought the very best reason to have a child is simply love. It is pure gift, so another, yet to be, might be and have life. We, hopefully, or the best of humanity, do not create life so it worships us, to obey us, to be a little us, so we can bask in our glory; we love, we create so the beloved may have life and the desire is always to be with/for the beloved as it moves to and lives fully. In the Christian perspective, properly understood, this is the reason for creation. It is Letting Be (which is God). 

Please note, you asked for a Christian explanation and what I have tried to do is give you an explanation based on a more contemporary take on Christianity. 

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Thanks Thormas.  I don't have any issues with what you argue for/lay out.  I am sceptical about 'love' being some sort of goal/driving force, but that's me.

What I am interested in is the fundamentalist's argument for sin when stacked up against the science of evolution.  When do they think sin was 'introduced' to the world, how do they think it came to be, who is responsible, when do they think this happened, etc.

It's only just occurred to me that apart from denial of evolution, I've never heard a 'believer's argument concerning the fall which explains it against an evolutionary background.

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I'm not sure there is such a fundamentalist argument??

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Paul,

To me sin was introduced when man starting judging and creating laws and opposites Essentially identifying himself as separate from the rest of creation . ( forming an ego identification) . When we make a law, whether written or unwritten for others, we are essentially judging ourselves ( because in reality we are not separate). And then when we do the same thing we sin. That is why Christinity teaches that before the law sin was in the world but without the law sin was not imputed. But when the law came sin revived. Christianity teaches us not to be under the law but rather dead to the law and alive to the spirit. That is to be free from the law of sin and death.

As you are aware,  no single person was responsible. Adam and Eve are figurative characters as in myths to make a point. The Bible never said apple tree. It said they did eat from the tree of good and evil. It's applicable today. We constantly measure and judge others and then because we have the same human frailties , we do the same thing and are judged of ourself and guilt and condemnation follow. Jesus is recorded teaching as you measure others you are measured, as you judge others you are judged. As you forgive you are forgiven. 

The argument you want to hear might come from a strong fundamentalist who accepts the Bible literally as superior to science. As you know You probably won't find too many here. Some of my relatives just won't hear anything contrary to their teachings. I understand and am okay with that as blindness seems to affect us all. 😀

 

 

 

 

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I think, in a real way, sin was inevitable. I too agree that there is (what we have referred to as) absolute reality (what some call God). However, while man may not be all he seems, and reality may be more than it seems to him - nonetheless, this is how he functions, how he comes to know reality. And this includes the recognition and naming of that which is experienced as separate or other. In his beginning, man was self-centered, it was about him, it was about survival. And, as he 'matured' he created laws so he could live in community and 'survival' extended in organized ways to his community and beyond. The judging of others, the setting of boundaries was both inevitable and necessary: for survival (at minimum) and for life, to be alive in the spirit (at maximum). 

In Reality there is no separation but it seems to us (which is our reality), that there is separation; and, there is the need to navigate and survive and then thrive. And some believe this thriving is when man begins to understand Reality as it is, and overcome separation, or better, seeks to bring unity (Oneness) to diversity.

If there is Absolute Reality and it is changeless, it is by definition, all that is. What would be the reason for 'It' to to create or manifest itself; what would be the reason for It to even 'throw itself out from itself" to know itself (for such would suggest becoming and, therefore, change)? And if the Absolute (the big I) does not know itself, but sees itself only as it seems but not is - how can this be considered Reality?  If Reality is Absolute, changeless, without separation and 'knows' itself - then what is absolute and changeless cannot change and is Real; Absolute Reality is, in itself, not illusory.

However,  Reality creates what is not absolute in itself:  we have allowed that the (small) i is, even though it understands/sees reality only as it seems because that is the only way it can. If there is illusion or delusion, it cannot be the Absolute Reality's illusion (above): if it were then the Absolute is not Absolute but only seems to be - even in Itself??. Therefore, any  illusion, that is, any understanding of Reality only 'as it seems' must on the part of that which is not Absolute Reality (in itself) but, nonetheless is, and is 'other' than Reality or God.

It 'seems' -paradoxically - that there is that which is not absolute (in itself), that which is changing (as it moves from potentiality to actuality) and which "sees' Reality only as it is capable of seeing, as it 'makes its way.' I still like the poetry of 'waking to the wonder of Being' in our first moments, then, of necessity, being on our way to 'know'' Reality as it is, so that all becomes One. The paradox: that in the One there is multiplicity, that in changelessness there is change, that in 'as it is' there is 'as it seems' and that in diversity there is Unity.  And, in this there is setback (sin) to be overcome.

For the Christian, for the person, who 'understands' or who 'is on the way,' the law falls away (it is dead) because we live the spirit that is Reality. This is freedom from sin (self-centeredness) which is the only thing that brings 'death' to being Human: If the only thing we can be is Human, and the only way this is done is by being self-less, if it is not accomplished, there is nothing else to be; there is nothing, i.e. death.

Just some thoughts, prompted by Joseph's comments here and in other threads, which I have been thinking about. 

 

Edited by thormas

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