2

As I understand, many Christians nowadays accept evolution. There are such Christians in most major denominations and inside these denominations exist different traditions and groups of believers, so I understand that there may be different theories in those traditions for how to combine evolution with Christianity. Those theories may broadly be called Theistic Evolution. There may also be individual ideas which are not part of the teaching of a specific denomination, but are plausible theories in which some of the Christians believe, which I am also ready to explore.

Do those who are Christians and accept evolution at the same time, think that there was no Adam and Eve? If so, does this mean that there was no original sin?

What are the main modern theories how to understand Original Sin (The idea that the humankind changed after the first sin and that people as children of Adam and Eve bear the consequences of this first sin) when believing in evolution at the same time?

  • Hi @MindYB, I rephrased the final paragraph just to use our normal terminology of an "overview question", so that everyone knows what sort of answers should be posted here. – curiousdannii Jul 11 at 13:27
  • Whether Adam refers to one single individual, or to early humans in general, is ultimately irrelevant, because, in both cases, current humans are his or their descendants. – Lucian Jul 11 at 13:35
  • @curiousdannii Hi, thank you for your effort, but I do not like your edit. I'm interested in a Christian viewpoint, not in some "theistic evolutionists". I think that your terminology is too narrow. Besides, you use the word "doctrine" which is also too narrow and refers to developed standard church teaching, while I am ready to accept even personal theories which belong to christians. – MindYB Jul 11 at 14:43
  • @curiousdannii Could you change the last sentence back? I do not know how to see the previous version. – MindYB Jul 11 at 14:47
  • 1
    By looking for 'personal theories which belong to christians' the question becomes as broad as the number of people (everywhere) who identify as 'christian;. And the question becomes both impossibly broad to answer and, thus, pointlessly broad to be of any useful information.. – Nigel J Jul 11 at 18:53
3

How do Christians who believe in evolution understand Original Sin?

Before getting into the crux of this question, it should simply be noted that not all Christian denominations believe in Original Sin or evolution for that matter.

If we as Christians are to believe in evolution and original sin, there has to be a logical and theological manner to join these two thoughts within a philosophical logical thought.

If the creationist holds to a literal interpretation of creation and with it, the belief that Adam was responsible for our original sin; then those who hold to the theory of evolution and Original Sin must hold that our first parents of the human race also committed the original sin.

In order that original sin and evolution be reconciled, it would be necessary that at a certain time in evolution, God infused into a certain natural creature an immortal soul and the gift of intelligence and knowledge of God. This being would be our first parent: Adam. This is what evolutionists accept in order to make original sin understood within a Christian belief system.

For example, Pope Pius XII's teaching in Catholicism can be summarized as follows:

  • The question of the origin of man's body from pre-existing and living matter is a legitimate matter of inquiry for natural science. Catholics are free to form their own opinions, but they should do so cautiously; they should not confuse fact with conjecture, and they should respect the Church's right to define matters touching on Revelation.

  • Catholics must believe, however, that humans have souls created immediately by God. Since the soul is a spiritual substance it is not brought into being through transformation of matter, but directly by God, whence the special uniqueness of each person.

  • All men have descended from an individual, Adam, who has transmitted original sin to all mankind. Catholics may not, therefore, believe in "polygenism", the scientific hypothesis that mankind descended from a group of original humans (that there were many Adams and Eves). - Evolution and the Catholic Church

St. Paul’s words can not be altered and will always remain a strong testimony of Divine truth:

11Not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. 12Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, so also death was passed on to all men, because all sinned. 13For sin was in the world before the law was given; but sin is not taken into account when there is no law. - Romans 5:11-13

Evolution contradicts a literalistic interpretation of Genesis; however, according to Catholicism and most contemporary Protestant denominations, biblical literalism in the creation account is not mandatory. Christians have considered allegorical interpretations of Genesis since long before the development of Darwin's theory of evolution, or Hutton's principle of uniformitarianism. A notable example is St. Augustine (4th century), who, on theological grounds, argued that everything in the universe was created by God in the same instant, and not in six days as a plain reading of Genesis would require.

Modern Catholicism points to a unique special creation applies to humans and not other species:

The position of the Roman Catholic Church on the theory of evolution has changed over the last two centuries from a large period of no official mention, to a statement of neutrality in the early-1950s, to limited guarded acceptance in recent years, rejecting the materialistic and reductionist philosophies behind it, and insisting that the human soul was immediately infused by God, and the reality of a single human ancestor (commonly called monogenism) for all of mankind. The Church does not argue with scientists on matters such as the age of the earth and the authenticity of the fossil record, seeing such matters as outside its area of expertise. Papal pronouncements, along with commentaries by cardinals, indicate that the Church is aware of the general findings of scientists on the gradual appearance of life. Indeed, Belgian priest Georges Lemaître, astronomer and physics professor at the Catholic University of Louvain, was the first to propose the theory of expansion of the universe, often incorrectly credited to Edwin Hubble. In the 1950 encyclical Humani generis, Pope Pius XII confirmed that there is no intrinsic conflict between Christianity and the theory of evolution, provided that Christians believe that the individual soul is a direct creation by God and not the product of purely material forces. Today, many members of the Church support theistic evolution, also known as evolutionary creation. Under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the International Theological Commission published a paper accepting the big bang of 15 billion years ago and the evolution of all life including humans from the microorganisms that formed approximately 4 billion years ago. The Vatican has no official teaching on this matter except for the special creation of the human soul. The Pontifical Biblical Commission issued a decree ratified by Pope Pius X on June 30, 1909, stating that special creation applies to humans and not other species. - Acceptance of evolution by religious groups

Without the sin of Adam, our first parent there is no original sin.

| improve this answer | |
2

The only compelling theological reason to postulate a literal Adam was in order to account for the universality of sin — because, in a static universe, there is no other way to account for it.

The preceding is from a 90 page paper from the Washington Theological Consortium: Evolution and Original Sin: Accounting for Evil in the World by Dr. Daryl P. Domning and Dr. Joseph F. Wimm The rest of what is below is mere summary of the large content in this paper.

If I have summarized any of it incorrectly it is probably because I fundamentally disagree with what is being propounded in both methodology and content.

The most fundamental method of reconciling original sin with Darwinian evolution seems to involve two preparatory steps. Both steps appear to proceed from a belief that the insights provided by Darwinian evolution have given us a rational means to finally abandon the necessity of two original human parents while hanging onto the notion that something isn't quite right with us humans:

First, there must be a rejection of the creation account as literal history. There doesn't seem to be a need to utterly devoid the story of metaphysical, moral, or ethical truth or even to reject the idea of a creator God or the notion that God desires us to improve in every way.

Second, original sin as a Christian doctrine must be understood to have always been undergoing a sort of evolution within Christian thought. Some sort of universal shortfall between human nature and divine desire is acknowledged but the definition of it continuously develops as our intellect and reasoning abilities evolve.

With these two conditions in place 'original sin' is most commonly seen as that selfish, self-preservationist instinct that the process of natural selection requires. A creature seeks it's own needs first because that is what survival requires. As can be seen among higher life forms (and especially among humans) these selfish advantages to survival often take the form of cooperation and other forms of 'altruistic' social interaction. This 'original sin' is reinforced and resisted differently in the particular social constructs within which we are reared.

The more complex human society becomes, the more necessary it is to partake in 'altruistic' self-preservation rather than individual self preservation. This change represents the shift from purely biological evolution to a paradigm of spiritual evolution.

The grace of God comes into play more and more as our evolutionary development transitions from natural to spiritual. At just the right time Jesus came and lived out the perfect natural and spiritual altruism toward which our evolution was aimed by creative intent. We possess the ability to appreciate the way that Christ lived because that is part of the 'evolutionary draw' towards perfection created in us but we cannot achieve that perfection without the grace of God because the physical and social affinity towards the selfishness of natural selection is too strong. In essence, the paradigm is changing from natural to spiritual evolution and we need a 'leg up' from God to shift over.

Given the evolutionary background we have described, seeing the "Jesus event" as a watershed in human ethical history implies that it was also a turning point in organic evolution on this planet. Previously (and to a shameful extent, subsequently!), human culture developed according to Darwinian rules, in clear continuity with the whole sweep of evolution: The highest priority of each individual has been his or her own self-perpetuation. Beginning with Abraham, however, and culminating most clearly in Jesus, it was progressively revealed to us that God wants us now to live by different rules. According to these new rules, our highest priority should be the Kingdom of God, a state in which we seek above all the good of the other. The difficulty we have in doing this - the tension we experience between the old rules and the new - is what Christians have tried to explain by the doctrine of Original Sin.

| improve this answer | |
  • So in this theory Adam and Eve are theoretical concepts in order to explain what sin is, and there is no fall from grace, and there is no serpent and no Satan, no garden of Eden and humans have always been sinners? – MindYB Jul 11 at 16:23
  • @MindYB As I understand from the paper, the Genesis account of creation and the fall are myth; that is they express metaphysical truth against a fictional background. The biblical account of the fall of man and the traditional Christian views of original sin, in this thesis, were the best we could come up with to explain the obvious realities of suffering, death, and human wickedness until Darwinian evolution came along. – Mike Borden Jul 11 at 18:20
  • The problem with all of this is that it makes Genesis sound like philosophical speculation and theological 'modelling'. Which Genesis - most clearly - is nothing of the kind. But up-voted for an objective setting out of the views expressed. +1. – Nigel J Jul 12 at 8:16
  • "altruism becomes more necessary as human societies become more complex" is not what several scientific disciplines have observed. In addition, certainly for primates, selfish behavior can lead to being expelled from the group, which means certain death. Altruism and social behavior is observed within, and crucial for the survival of, our closest relatives in the evolutionary tree, like chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas. Primatologists have concluded that the building blocks of morality clearly predate humanity. – Codosaur Jul 12 at 10:29
-1

The overwhelming majority of scientists accept evolution by natural selection according to the latest Darwin Day Pew research from 2019:

enter image description here

According to Pew research, 1/3rd of scientist is religious. So if you do the math, only a very small percentage of Christian scientists - those most likely to understand all aspects of the subject - actually reject evolution by natural selection.

enter image description here

Second, as is pointed out in the comments to the question, acceptance of evolution varies by denomination:

enter image description here

Interestingly, the official body or prominent figures of several denominations have actually accepted evolution as a possible guided explanation for the origins of mankind. These include:

  • Catholicism (1950 under Pope Pius XII)
  • Orthodox Christianity
  • Anglican
  • Episcopalian
  • Methodist
  • Church of the Nazarene

However, of these, only Orthodox Christianity, rejects the concept of original sin - which of course is a paradox: if you accept a form of guided evolution, this de facto nullifies the possibility of mankind originating from a single pair of ancestors.

Now to the crux of your question: many Christians think that the view on original sin has been the same for the last 2000 years, and that the arrival of the scientific theory of evolution was the first time in history this concept was challenged. This is not the case.

Early Christians first claimed that humans have fallen from grace: because of the actions of the Biblical first parents, Adam and Eve, we are now in a state of sin. Later Christians began to differ on what the condition of sin amounted to: is this a lack of a state once possessed, or something more? Christian theologians, started to wonder whether we could actually be considered guilty of being born with original sin, based on the Biblical texts.

The Biblical basis for original sin is not as substantial as you might think. Genesis 2-3 includes an account of a human fall in the Garden of Eden but doesn’t say anything about original sin. It only speaks of a curse and of unclear consequences for having eaten of the forbidden fruit.

And the LORD God commanded him, “You may eat freely from every tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; for in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die. _ Gen 2:16-17

and:

And to Adam He said: “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat, cursed is the ground because of you; through toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it will yield for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread, until you return to the ground— because out of it were you taken. For dust you are, and to dust you shall return. - Gen 3:17-19

This does not explicitly state that we are guilty of Adam’s sin because we are Adam’s heirs. The whole concept is mostly based on interpretation of the texts, but not explicitly mentioned in there.

In fact, it's not until Augustine the concept we today refer to as original sin takes form. He based this primarily on the following verses:

Paul, in Romans 5, which does not really explain original sin:

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, so also death was passed on to all men, because all sinned. For sin was in the world before the law was given; but sin is not taken into account when there is no law. - Romans 5:12-13

Corinthians 15:21-22, which only mentions death, not sin:

For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.

Psalms 5:15

Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

As you can see, his conclusion requires some combined interpretation of these verses. It is therefore not surprising the initial reaction to this conclusion was very hostile. After a long and bitter struggle of several councils, the Second Council of Orange in 529 confirmed the general principles of Augustine's teaching within Western Christianity.

However, even after Augustine's authority was accepted, he was interpreted in the light of writers such as Cassian. Some of the followers of Augustine identified original sin with concupiscence in the psychological sense, but Saint Anselm of Canterbury challenged this identification in the 11th-century, defining original sin as "privation of the righteousness that every man ought to possess", thus separating it from concupiscence.

In the 12th century the identification of original sin with concupiscence was supported by Peter Lombard and others, but was rejected by the leading theologians in the next century, most notably by Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas distinguished the supernatural gifts of Adam before the fall from what was merely natural, and said that it was the former that were lost, privileges that enabled man to keep his inferior powers in submission to reason and directed to his supernatural end. Even after the fall, man thus kept his natural abilities of reason, will and passions. Rigorous Augustine-inspired views persisted among the Franciscans, though the most prominent Franciscan theologians, such as Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, eliminated the element of concupiscence and identified original sin with the loss of sanctifying grace.

In addition, Eastern Orthodox theology has questioned Western Christianity's ideas on original sin from the outset and does not promote the idea of inherited guilt.

So as you can see, the concept is not, as many Christians think today, part of the original Christian theology, and has led to very different interpretations and disputes over the centuries.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    As an overview question, I'd expect answers to cover at least the positions of Adam and Eve being real people at some time who brought sin into humanity (just not the first people), the idea that at some stage the first "spiritual" people were created, although biologically human people existed before, the idea that original sin somehow spread defusely through humanity without biological descent, and yes, that some reject original sin. However saying that Original Sin is just not part of the original Christian theology is not appropriate for an overview question (nor have you proved it!) – curiousdannii Jul 11 at 13:33
  • 1
    There's also no need for the graphs about who believes in evolution - that's not relevant to the question at all. – curiousdannii Jul 11 at 13:33
  • @codosaur, thank you for the answer! Did you mean that the Orthodox theology goes well with the theory of evolution? I did not understand what it is exactly? Is there sin only after the Adam and Eve story in Orthodox theology? I suppose that their understanding is that there was no sin before agreeing to the serpent and after that sin came to the world. If so, I do not get the point how exactly it is combined with the evolution. Are Adam and Eve real people in this theory? – MindYB Jul 11 at 14:57
  • In Orthodox Christianity, guilt can only result from an act which one has committed. You can’t sin for another person. They believe a savior is needed to overcome death and separation from God, but not to be forgiven for Adam’s transgression. As to whether it "goes well" evolution by natural selection, there remain many other claims shared with western Christianity in conflict with multidisciplinary observations underpinning evolution. At most, Orthodox Christianity is compatible with what theologians call "guided evolution" or "evolutionary creationism", which are not scientific theories. – Codosaur Jul 11 at 20:32
  • 1
    Your statement: ”The official body or prominent figures of several denominations have actually accepted evolution as a possible guided explanation for the origins of mankind. These include: Catholicism (1950 under Pope Pius XII).” Actually under Pope pius XII, he permitted Catholics to believe in evolution under certain circumstances. How many of the faithful tend one theory over another is probably inknown. – Ken Graham Jul 12 at 11:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.