I haven't really decided what to think about the creation of the world. I'm very familiar with the concept of evolution, scientifically, and if I didn't believe in God I'd certainly believe in evolution.

However I'm not sure about the theological aspects of evolution. I consider the Fall of Man to be very important in Christianity. If man didn't fall, the "sinful" behavior would have actually been built into us by God (or God's mechanism). It would be difficult to explain how we're responsible for our actions, then. At least that's the way it feels to me.

Now, I'd like to know a few things from a theistic evolutionism point of view. If there are many different views, please tell all that fit with the assumption of evolution.

  1. Was the Fall of Man a historical event?
  2. Is the description of the Fall in Genesis 3 literal?
  3. (*) How come we are accountable for our deeds?
  4. (*) Where did original sin come from? (or does it not fit with theistic evolution)

(*) If you think the Fall wasn't historical

EDIT: question number 4 was added afterwards.

  • I don't have an answer to your questions, but I would suggest the book Case for a Creator to help in researching creation and evolution
    – Cameron
    Sep 27 '11 at 16:45
  • Even if a propensity for sin was "built" in to us (before Adam's sin), why would Adam not be responsible for his actions? Even now, with original sin (for those who hold it), people are still held accountable when they choose to sin.
    – Andrew
    Aug 8 '15 at 18:30

My view is 1) in a way, 2) no, 3) read on!

Consider two snapshots in time.

  1. No humans around yet, just plants, animals and so forth. Lacking free will, they have no moral responsibility, and the concept of "sin" makes no sense.
  2. Humans exist. We have free will, moral responsibility, and conflicting tendencies: we are born to trouble (as sure as sparks fly upward, Job 5:7), but we are also loved by God and are drawn to him, since we are formed in his image.

The creationist viewpoint is that between 1 and 2 came the events of Genesis 1:26 through 3:24, as literally described. Evolutionarily, what took place is that humans evolved from our animal ancestors, gaining self-awareness and the ability to make moral choices. Unfortunately for us, that means that we can choose poorly. I read the story of Eden as a narrative exposition of this basic problem of the human condition.

So for your question 1, I think of the Fall as historical in that between step 1 and step 2, we fell; but not strictly as described in the Genesis story.

Our tendency to be tempted (Genesis 3:1), the resulting disobedience to God's will (3:3) and the desire to take his place (3:6) have resulted in our shame (3:7), alienation from God (3:10, "I was afraid"), from his creation (3:17-19), and from one another (3:12, Adam blames Eve). We had to wait for the promised seed, Christ, to defeat sin (3:15). By following him, we can regain the eternal paradise that had been denied (3:22-24).

These facts do not depend on there being a specific couple, Adam and Eve. Now, it's possible to counter this by pointing to passages like 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, which in the NIV reads

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

How can we view Christ as the new Adam, if there was never an old Adam? Actually, the literal interpretation has a problem in that Genesis 3 doesn't pin all the blame on Adam: Eve was tempted first, and they both ate the fruit. So I think that Paul has to be speaking figuratively in any case, using Adam as the stand-in for all of humanity. In the same way, there is Romans 5:12-21, saying that after the first sin of the first man, we are all sinners, but now we can all be redeemed through Christ. This redemption doesn't come about through physical descent, so I don't see a reason to say that we sin only because we are descended from a sinner. To me, it makes more sense to believe that Paul was speaking in a midrashic way about Adam, and that sinfulness is inherent to our (present) human nature, than to impose a literalist view on the text.

But whether or not the Genesis account is taken literally, from step 2 onwards, we are in the same spiritual and moral position. As Don Marquis put it in archy hears from mars,

[earth] is in charge of a
two legged animal called
man who is genuinely
puzzled as to whether
his grandfather was a god
or a monkey
i should think said mars
that what he is himself
would make more difference
than what his grandfather was
not to this animal i replied
he is the great alibi ike of
the cosmos when he raises hell
just because he feels like
raising hell
he wants somebody to blame it on

  • 6
    Good answer, though I'm not sure I follow the point of the poem. I can understand it, but it's not easy to parse. :) Sep 21 '11 at 1:28
  • Thanks for the good answer! This makes me think about original sin, which I believe in. Does it fit into the picture? It seems to me like self-awareness == original sin would fit the TE view, am I wrong? Sep 21 '11 at 20:52
  • Edited the question, as I think this fourth question is interesting and important, too. Sorry for the extra trouble. Sep 21 '11 at 20:58
  • 2
    Your answer is the best defense of theistic evolution I have read. But I feel like its lacking something, though I don't know what. Maybe the idea that Adam and Eve didn't exist is just too shocking for me to accept with so few words.
    – user23
    Apr 28 '12 at 18:13
  • Adam received the prohibition from God prior to Eve's creation. This is why Eve was deceived but Adam was not and why sin entered through one man. His was the disobedient act and this is exactly Paul's point. Aug 18 at 13:40

I can't speak for all theistic evolutionists, but I can give my own perspective.

First, I want to provide some background. As an Arminian Christian I believe God created everything in a state of goodness, but gave humans free will that enables us to turn away from his perfect will. It is this following of our own will rather than God's that makes us sinners.

Although I think Arminianism is compatible with theistic evolution, it does not require theistic evolution. My acceptance of evolution does not stem from my theology, but from my understanding of biological sciences.

The reason mention this is to clarify that "theistic evolution" is not a theological system in itself. It can inform our theology but cannot be the foundation of it.

Now, with that out of the way:

  1. Was the Fall of Man a historical event? No, "the fall" is a euphemism to explain the distance between the goodness of God's creation and the mess we've made of things.
  2. Is the description of the Fall in Genesis 3 literal? No, it is an archetypal story that illustrates how every one of us has turned from God's will at the first opportunity. By extension, this must go back as far as there were beings capable of knowing what was right and choosing instead to do something else. Whoever those beings were, they would be considered the first humans.
  3. How come we are accountable for our deeds? We are accountable because God created us to be in relationship with him, and it is only our willfulness that breaks that relationship. Or to put it another way, we are accountable because sin means choosing our own will over God's.
  4. Where did original sin come from? (or does it not fit with theistic evolution) In the Arminian tradition, "original sin" comes from the exercise of our free will to turn away from God. This is not incompatible with theistic evolution, except to the extent that evolutionary science may deny the existence of free will.

That's an excellent question. I myself have wondered how the two are reconciled. The Catholic Church has no opposition to evolution, only what's called evolutionism. Evolutionism is a metaphysical position about reality which is really what's at issue in the so-called "evolution debate". The Church is, of course, a religious institution and doesn't concern itself directly with scientific questions (unless we mean Church-run universities and institutions which do science, but we're focusing on the theological and religious dimension at this point). Michal Heller argues, for example, that the dichotomy we see today between science and religion, at least in the popular mind, is a result of the close integration between medieval science and religion. That is, as science changed and developed, people made the mistake of assuming that this integral science-religion whole was wrong because some of the theology used the science of the period in argumentation. Of course, that's a mistake because the proper theology remains the same, it was only the speculation surrounding it that was erroneous. Thus, Heller cautions, one must resist leaning too hard on theological speculation that makes use of scientific results because science is comparatively volatile.

However, it is legitimate to ask how evolution can be reconciled with the Fall of Man. The explanation given above (re: Arminianism) is a quite common one, but ultimately it undermines the purpose of Christ, at least as it is understood in the RCC. First, the RCC does not understand Genesis in literal terms. The primary reason is that there are two accounts of creation which contradict one another. Second, the Fall is not an allegory or a parable because that would undermine the notion of original sin for which Christ is the remedy. While we may turn away from God through our free choices, the RCC clearly states that the Fall did occur that that original sin is hereditary. It is not repeated each time we turn away from God for that would no longer be original sin. Original sin, once removed through baptism, does not undo the disorder brought into human nature through it. This explains why our desires can be out of place, why our lower appetites can get the best of us and why reason isn't always exercising its dominion over the whole of our beings. This points to a fragmentation of the soul and the body and this fragmentation is the result of the Fall. The seven deadly sins are rather descriptive about the kinds of irrational actions and states we assume because of this fragmentation. Grace is, ideally, something which moves a man into greater integration through an act of God, or, through the acceptance of the act of grace (of God). Because we are free, God cannot force grace onto us and thus only openness to and acceptance of God's grace will result in its effect.

Now if that's the case, how does evolution fit in? The best answer I've heard is that the Fall did indeed happen after human beings arose. It did not occur in the poetic way Genesis gives us, but rather through a turning away from God in some rather profound way. However, I don't understand why it is hereditary or how it is hereditary. It's hard for me to say what the nature of original sin is if it is hereditary and how it is transmitted exactly. However, it's clear that theologically, it cannot be the just turning away from God we all go through. The religious account points to a singular event that goes beyond the effects we experience following that event. The Arminian view is too naive and simplistic.

  1. Could be
  2. Could be - or sort of
  3. Because we know the difference between good and evil?
  4. Original sin is a concept I do not fully understand, though I don't reject it. I think of it as something we all fall into as soon as we can think.

I am inclined to believe in some sort of theistic evolution, although my doubt has been growing the past years. Anyway, my harmonization (of evolution and the Bible) goes like this:

  1. Man is simply an advanced ape
  2. At some point in time (could be 10000 years back) God decide to give us Spirit and to give us value. From that point on, even though no physical change occurs, we are humans. Before that, we were simply advanced animals.
  3. The Fall is most likely not literal, but depicts the process of humans now choosing actions which benefits themselves over others, as animals must - but humans shouldn't. It could perhaps be a literal story, but I doubt it was significant in the sense that it somehow caused every other human to change. Anyway - in that moment - the humans really did understand (at least in a new way) the difference of good and evil.
  4. Because of our Spirit, we understand the difference and can in a way choose to be accountable. If we reject to be accountable, we reject an offer to become a real person/human and slide back to the previous "animal state" (to phrase it poetically).

I think this harmonization does the best job of preserving the truth of the Bible and our best scientific knowledge.

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