The Historical Adam, Round 2: Denis O. Lamoureaux
Comments on Roundtable
I thoroughly agree with Karl Giberson's main conclusion in his paper: "There is no original sin and there was no original sinner." The doctrine of original sin has been a foundational belief of Christian tradition throughout most of church history. It is a complex doctrine that can be broken down into two basic concepts. First, original sin is the very first sin committed by the very first man created, whom the Bible identifies as Adam. Second, all humans descend from Adam, and Adam's sin has been passed on to everyone through natural reproduction.
Old Testament scholarship and evolutionary biology undermine the historicity of Adam, and so too the notion of original sin. If Adam did not exist, then he could never have committed the first sin. And if there was no Adam, then all of humanity did not descend from him and his sin could never have been transferred to every human being. As an evangelical theologian I certainly feel the weight of rejecting this historic doctrine.
However, my justification begins by recognizing that Scripture and Christian tradition are intimately connected to incidental scientific paradigms-of-the-day. Both include ancient conceptualizations of astronomy, geography, and biology. In particular, the Bible and tradition feature an incidental ancient understanding of human origins—the de novo creation of Adam. The implications are obvious. No one today believes in a firmament, a heavenly sea, a 3-tier universe, or a geocentric world. Nor should we believe in the historicity of Adam, and as a consequence, the doctrine of original sin.
I do have a few concerns regarding Giberson's paper. First, why bother keeping the term "original sinner" in the title of his new book Saving the Original Sinner? This only adds confusion to an already confusing situation. As a physicist, should Giberson ever write a book on cosmology, would he entitle it Saving the Firmament when in fact he does not accept the ancient astronomical belief of a solid structure overhead? (In my opinion, the title of his book Saving Darwin also muddied the waters).
Second, Giberson's grasp of biological evolution strikes me as somewhat dysteleological. He seems to assume that natural selection is the "magic bullet" that drives the evolutionary process. Famed philosopher of biology Ernst Mayr noted this common error of focusing on the sorting of variability at the expense of the production of variability. In fact, Darwin in Descent of Man confessed that he had "exaggerated its [natural selection's] power" for rhetorical purposes in order "to overthrow the dogma of separate creations." Only a few years before his death, he observed that "there is still considerable difference as to the means [mechanisms of evolution], such as how far natural selection has acted & how far external conditions, or whether there exists some mysterious innate tendency to perfectibility." The last mechanism is certainly amenable to a teleological view of evolution, and it aligns well with the belief that humans are an inevitability of the evolutionary process, as suggested by Simon Conway Morris.
Finally, Giberson's use of evolutionary psychology to explain sinful human behaviors strikes me once again as dysteleological, and even unbalanced. He seems to be unaware of the evolutionary survival value of behavioral inclinations like empathy and co-operation. In The Age of Empathy (2009), Frans de Waal argues that these evolutionary proclivities are "the glue that holds communities together," leading to the emergence of civilization. Viewing evolutionary psychology from my evangelical Christian perspective, I see the "conscience" and "law written on the heart" (Rom. 2:15) as being created in the brain through a teleological evolutionary process, and given by the Lord to guide our moral decisions. We are not as notoriously "programmed by natural selection" to behave sinfully as Giberson proclaims.
One of the most valuable comments in the round of papers comes from Peter Enns. He unapologetically confesses, "Since my greatest scientific achievement is doing puppet shows with dissected feral cats in high school biology, I feel I have no right to contest [biological evolution]—and I likely speak for many other evangelicals in that regard." How I wish my evangelical brothers and sisters would have the intellectual honesty and integrity of Enns. It is disturbing to read anti-evolutionists pontificate about evolutionary biology when in fact most have never held a fossil in their hands, or worked at an outcrop, or published a refereed paper on evolution. Responsible academics do not misappropriate their academic authority. And Christians should not bear false witness.