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The Historical Adam: Karl Giberson

Adam or No Adam, We're Still Original Sinners

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In the Middle East, ISIS slaughters innocent civilians and publically beheads non-combatants. The intensity of their campaign is rooted in the ancient tribalism that took up residence in our genes when defending one's tribe had survival value. We forget that Western Christians waged similar campaigns a few short centuries ago, and it was only in the last century that Hitler was murdering Jews. Setting aside tribal differences requires more effort than economic sanctions or high-brow political conversations at Camp David.

Jimmy Carter writes passionately in A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power about the global exploitation of women that occurs in every nation, a natural consequence of social structures where powerful men are in control. In the United States, young girls develop eating disorders as they strive to look like artificially enhanced versions of what men find attractive. Evolution has programmed men with unhealthy attitudes toward women; when not checked, these attitudes express themselves in tragic ways.

Climate scientists try in vain to awaken the world to gradual changes that are ruining the planet. Natural resources are getting used up. But we are programmed by natural selection to care only about the short term. Thinking about people who will be born in the next century seems like a fantasy. How can we possibly owe them anything? Why should we restrain our lifestyles to enhance theirs?

For centuries we understood ourselves as fallen, sinful creatures—an understanding that served as a caution by illuminating our dark behaviors. We still find ourselves in need of salvation, however, and yet strangely lost in our search for solutions. The original sinner has indeed gone extinct, but he didn't take original sin with him.

(Adapted from the conclusion to Saving the Original Sinner: How Christians Have Used the Bible's First Man to Oppress, Inspire, and Make Sense of the World, published by Beacon Press, June 2015)

This article is part of our Symposium on the Historical Adam:

Karl Giberson is Scholar-in-Residence in science and religion at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. He publishes broadly in science and religion and has authored or co-authored ten books, including Saving the Original Sinner: How Christians Have Used the Bible's First Man to Oppress, Inspire, and Make Sense of the World.

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