If no Adam or Eve, Wherefor Original Sin?


I suppose one may look at the Genesis story in one of three ways:  1) literal truth as to the origin of the world and of mankind; 2) a religious allegory with basic theologically-accepted judgmental truths; or 3) another of numerous religion-inspired creation myths having no more than casual and curious relevance to modern humanity.  As you might expect, I am of the latter persuasion.

Nevertheless, I’ve found fascinating recent news discussions of the Genesis myth running smack up against the realities of genomic studies, and in particular inevitable conclusions from decoding of the human genome.  So very much depends upon whether Christian theology can somehow transcend scientific reality, and it’s no longer just a question of the “theory” of evolution coming up against faith and religious dogma.  For example, so much of Christian theology depends on the concept of original sin, but that depends in turn on a literal or at least allegorical acceptance of Adam’s sin when succumbing to Eve’s provocations after the serpent’s temptation.  Women’s subordinate position in history and many cultures today stems from Eve’s subordination to Adam.  The ills of the world stem from expulsion from the Garden of Eden.  And on, and on.  (And, of course, there is the question of the following generations, some of whom become lesser races as Biblical interpretations consigned non-Caucasian races to lesser status as the First Couple’s descendants.)

It doesn’t stop with Old Testament truths.  The core Christian New Testament belief in the necessity of Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection depends on the existence of the First Couple’s original sin, for which Christ’s death and ascension to Heaven are crucial for the forgiveness of mankind’s state of sin.

Now comes the Human Genome Project, and decoding of genomes of a variety of human samples from across the globe, from descendants of Anglo-Saxon Puritans to Fijian aboriginals to descendants of the Incas.  From these studies, scientists have concluded that it is impossible — not just questionable, but impossible — for the diversity of mankind (and the diversity of their genetic makeup) to have stemmed from a First Couple.

The best coverage has been on National Public Radio, and on our own local Minnesota Public Radio.  Consider first NPR’s Barbara Bradley Hagerty and her excellent August 9 report, “Evangelicals Question The Existence Of Adam And Eve” (follow the link to either read the piece or listen to the Morning Edition segment):

[One biologist, Dennis Venema] says there is no way we can be traced back to a single couple. He says with the mapping of the human genome, it’s clear that modern humans emerged from other primates as a large population — long before the Genesis time frame of a few thousand years ago. And given the genetic variation of people today, he says scientists can’t get that population size below 10,000 people at any time in our evolutionary history.

To get down to just two ancestors, Venema says, “You would have to postulate that there’s been this absolutely astronomical mutation rate that has produced all these new variants in an incredibly short period of time. Those types of mutation rates are just not possible. It would mutate us out of existence.”  [Emphasis added]

For additional excellent coverage, listen to MPR’s Kerri Miller’s excellent Wednesday call-in segment, “Christians, scientists debate the existence of Adam and Eve,” and then yesterday’s similar Talk of the Nation discussion, “Christians Divided Over Science Of Human Origins.”

All of this changes my own world-view not one whit, of course, except to buttress my conclusion that — despite the zillions of hours devoted to theological study and millions of lives lost as a consequence — religion is bunk.  For the True Believers, however, as science pushes them farther and farther into a corner of impossibility, we can expect them to become more strident and more irrational.

… Christians can no longer afford to ignore the evidence from the human genome and fossils just to maintain a literal view of Genesis. “This stuff is unavoidable,” says Dan Harlow at Calvin College. “Evangelicals have to either face up to it or they have to stick their head in the sand. And if they do that, they will lose whatever intellectual currency or respectability they have.”

“If so, that’s simply the price we’ll have to pay,” says Southern Baptist seminary’s Albert Mohler. “The moment you say ‘We have to abandon this theology in order to have the respect of the world,’ you end up with neither biblical orthodoxy nor the respect of the world.”

Mohler and others say if other Protestants want to accommodate science, fine. But they shouldn’t be surprised if their faith unravels.


We Just Don’t Write Like They Used To Department

Opening paragraph of my great grandfather’s letter dated February 12, 1915:

Your lively and most acceptable epistles of date the 6th inst came in quick time and were as stimulating as Mountain air and the bellowing of hounds in the chase of the elusive bob-cat.

Compare to a hypothetical modern text message:  “Jst red ur txt …  :-) .”

The letter’s author is held in near saint-like reverence in my family, so a letter actually penned (or, in this case, penciled) by him acquires the status of sacred relic.  Having scanned the entire letter for my family’s delectation, however, I intend to destroy the original.  I’ll forewarn my relatives and will then await their horrified reaction.  Or not.

Late-breaking news.  Email received from a cousin:  “Postage is paid for delivery here.”


End of the World as We Know It Department

Something might travel faster than the speed of light.  Read about it here.  (I couldn’t repeat here the equation that establishes Einstein’s famous conclusion to save my life, but as I recall it has something to do with a particle growing to infinite mass while at the same time shrinking to zero length when traveling as fast as light.  I seem to recall it’s a derivative of the famous E=mc², but getting there is a lot more complicated than the USA Today article seems to suggest.)

An even more comprehensive article in this morning’s NY Times.


Blessed Relief Department

Just a brief note to finish this morning:  my leg pain due to back nerve problems has diminished significantly.  Whether the relief comes from natural reduction in the ruptured disk’s protrusion or strengthening of back muscles after over a month’s physical therapy is immaterial — simply having the pain diminished is very, very welcome.  No Vicodin recently, and I’ve also cut back dramatically on use of ice to assure comfort.


During our Colorado shoot. What a wonderful trove of photos!

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3 Responses to If no Adam or Eve, Wherefor Original Sin?

  1. Mark says:

    I think the religious issue is rather simple. If Jesus is God (general Christian belief), and if God inspired the books of the Bible, and if Jesus taught in parables, why wouldn’t one expect that parables are found throughout the Bible including the creations stories? Perhaps the amazing thing is that so much of the Bible can be verified by archeology.

    • Stephen says:

      Thanks, Mark. An interesting syllogism. The powerful differences between Old and New Testaments, including supposedly historical renderings of the various Hebrew Kings and their exploits, is a basis for evangelicals’ literal readings of that portion of the Bible. Sure, the same argument may be made regarding Job, and Noah, etc., but the story of Moses and the plagues and the Red Sea is clearly written as historical verismo. How are we to know when something is presented as literal truth and when as parable or allegory?

  2. Mark says:

    For many in the early church it didn’t matter whether or not the story was historical or not. What was important was the meaning behind it. Two things changed that as I understand it. First, the Gnostics came along and took the issue of finding meaning in the stories to extremes that many ordinary Christians were uncomfortable with. Then, after Christianity became legal and then favored the people in power set about enforcing a very narrow view that included a much more literal view of the stories. That has tended to carry down even when Protestants were rejecting Roman Catholicism and later when certain Evangelical and/or fundamentalist groups were claiming to be like the early church (which they clearly had no concept of what it was really like). It’s quite possible that there was some sort of historical Exodus. It probably didn’t look much like the movie “The Ten Commandments” and some of the events in the Bible may not have happened or happened rather differently. It’s actually possible to explain all of the plagues that happen through the explosion of Thera. That presents some problems with the traditional timeline though changing the timing to that period could put that group to Jericho at the right time. My own opinion is that there were actually several migrations and that the stories and timelines were later merged by someone who thought that it all happened at once. Regardless, if you assume that God inspired that document to be used or even compiled the actual history is less important than what the text is teaching. Some of the books are proabably fairly factual while others, such as Job, may have no basis in reality at all. It does make the whole thing a lot more work which is probably why so many prefer just to believe it as literal because that requires no work.

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