W.L. Craig’s ‘original’ views on original sin.
How compromise with evolution undermines foundational biblical doctrine
Vladimir S. from Poland wrote into CMI with a question about William Lane Craig’s errant position on original sin, specifically in relation to a recent episode aired on a leading British Christian podcast, Unbelievable, hosted by Justin Brierley of Premiere Christian Radio. CMI’s Gavin Cox responds.
Hello! Thank you for your ministry! I know that you have some articles where you respond to W.L. Craig’s arguments and mistakes. But I just wanted to let you know that 13.08 he was on YT channel Unbelievable? with Joshua Swamidass and they discussed Genesis. Knowing your response to Denis Alexander on original sin, I am sure, that you will want to respond to WLC statements on the original sin, because he says that he doesn’t see this doctrine in the Bible. He also makes comments on some other arguments, which you probably would like to respond to.1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2YBuypZfCY God bless!
Thanks for writing into CMI and for your encouraging remarks. Regarding W.L. Craig (WLC), yes we have discussed his errant views extensively before on creation.com, and the kind of compromises he has publicly made regarding the subject of Creation, the age of the earth, and also the Flood. For instance, see: William Lane Craig contra The Genesis Account: Did the Apostles believe “cleverly devised myths”?
Jonathan Sarfati concludes in his article:
As usual with Genesis compromisers, the compromise doesn’t end there—many other doctrines are affected as well.
As we shall see, further below, WLC does indeed compromise in other areas, and specifically to your question, on fundamental theology like original sin. WLC’s attitude to the historic Flood is unmasked in this article: William Lane Craig flubs on the Flood: Genesis compromiser again deceives about biblical creationist views.
Again, Jonathan Sarfati concludes in his article:
It’s a pity when a famous apologist like Craig switches from defending and proclaiming Christianity to appeasing uniformitarian science. It is no accident that the quality of his arguments has also gone badly downhill.
From the following exposé of W.L. Craig’s latest statements in this new podcast, we can certainly see that once biblical foundations are forsaken in favour of the ever-shifting thinking of humans, then dependable theology is no longer an option.
This new episode of Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable, was premiered on YouTube 13 Aug 2021, and as of the date of this writing, has already garnered over 15,000 views. The podcast features WLC in conversation with Joshua Swamidass, a computational biologist at Washington University. Interestingly, Swamidass was a speaker for BioLogos, (an online think-tank promoting theistic evolution to Christians, founded by Francis Collins (who praised LGBTQ pride month, although no real Evangelical would support pride in what God calls sin) and funded by the Templeton foundation). Swamidass was also active on the BioLogos message boards, but mysteriously disappeared from both. In the Unbelievable interview, he describes himself as a “whistle blower” against Biologos (08:23), a tacit admission of a falling out. According to Evolution News, this public falling-out had something to do with Dennis Venema, and his statements regarding the non-existence of Adam and Eve.2 The issue was that Swamidass realized that the Venema/BioLogos arguments did not disprove an Adam and Eve who were ancestors of all living people today. But Swamidass still rejects the biblical account that these were the first two people created, and believes wholeheartedly in evolution from goo to you via the zoo (see below). However, this is a digression, although we note that it’s not much of a discussion if both parties agree that evolution trumps Scripture, so on to your main question.
In the Unbelievable podcast, WLC is promoting his new book, outlining his position on the historical Adam and Eve (or not in his opinion), in: Craig, W.L., In Quest of the Historical Adam, A Biblical and Scientific Exploration (expected publishing date 29 Sep 2021). I am sure CMI will be at the front of the queue to review and suitably demolish this book.
You ask about WLCs’ position on original sin, and you also mention Denis Alexander, which CMI has, as you are aware, tackled regarding his rank heresy. For instance, see my article:
Denis Alexander’s hermeneutics: heretical, horrible, and harmful. In it I said of Alexander’s theology on original sin:
Alexander considers that humanity cannot be descended from one couple, Adam and Eve. This leads him to deny outright fundamental biblical doctrines, including original sin, which places him outside the evangelical camp. He states, “the idea of a single couple who somehow transmitted their sin by inheritance to the whole of humanity cannot be sustained …” Alexander thinks in terms of a founder-population, of around 10,000 individuals, to whom God revealed Himself, and these, in turn, rejected His revelation.
Alexander recognizes that Augustine, of all the Church Fathers, was most succinct in describing the doctrine of original sin. However, he thinks Augustine’s theology needs to be “adjust[ed] if it is to become consistent with both Scripture and science.” Alexander suggests correcting one of the greatest theological minds in history, and by extension 1700 years of church doctrine, in the light of evolutionary presuppositions. Alexander’s arrogance is astonishing. Furthermore, he considers the “overwhelming” genetic evidence for a “significant population already in existence” at the time of Cain and Abel “subvert[s] Augustine’s interpretation on this point [of original sin].” Alexander’s interpretation of Romans 5:12 is particularly spurious where he describes the death that resulted from Adam’s sin as merely “spiritual”. No, death is real and physical. It cannot be separated from sin, which represents spiritual death. Alexander’s attempt to separate both, rings hollow. The Apostle Paul is quite clear on this point—physical death spread to all people, through sin, which means spiritual death. Sin and death, really is a package-deal.
Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul compares the death brought by “the first man, Adam” with the resurrection of Jesus “the last Adam”. If the death brought by Adam wasn’t physical, then neither was Jesus’ resurrection. The Unbelievable interview on YouTube adds a little to what we already know of WLC’s compromising views. I’ve added the transcript below so everyone can see what they actually say. Brierley asks WLC the relevant question on original sin (37:37):
I suppose my next question is why then be concerned with there being a first couple in that sense? That does map on [to] Adam and Eve … could we … just be happy with it all being figurative…? Is there any need to establish this first couple scientifically, if you like, at that level?
Well, no, no, no, no! Not trying to establish it scientifically! I want to resist that! But you’re asking is the existence of a historical primeval couple theologically significant? Or is it something that’s dispensable? Why not regard the whole thing as myth, rather than say that there actually was such a pair? And I will have a couple of things to say in that regard. One would be—is that if you believe in the doctrine of original sin, then you’ve got to have a historical Adam, because otherwise the doctrine of original sin goes down the drain. We cannot be held culpable for the sins of a fictitious person who never existed! Nor can we be said to have a corrupted nature inherited from a fictional person that never existed. So if you believe in the doctrine of original sin, I think you are committed to [a] historical Adam.
I am reminded of a Richard Dawkins quote that is a favourite of mine, where he is very blunt about compromising church leaders and academics who compromise the doctrine of original sin and the historical existence of Adam and Eve as the first humans created especially by God:
‘Oh but of course the story of Adam and Eve was only ever symbolic, wasn’t it? Symbolic?! So Jesus had himself tortured and executed for a symbolic sin by a non-existent individual? Nobody not brought up in the faith could reach any verdict other than barking mad!’3
WLC is then quite explicit in his doubt about the doctrine of original sin, obviously, though not expressed here, because of prior-commitment to evolution and long ages. He continues:
Now I myself have severe doubts about the doctrine of original sin! I don’t find it in Genesis 3, or Romans 5. But what I do find in Romans 5 is the view that Adam was the ‘gateway’ through which sin entered the human race. He opened the floodgates to sin, which then spread throughout the entire human race—because as Paul says “all men sinned.” So I do think that Paul’s doctrine and the new testament commits you to the existence of a historical Adam, through whom sin entered the human race.
WLC, despite side-stepping the ‘science’ (at all costs!) admits the need of an historical Adam and Eve, so that Pauline doctrine is preserved intact, and therefore the gospel itself is not undermined. However, WLC does not even go where Paul goes with his argument that yes, sin entered the world through one man (Adam) and also, death by sin! Genesis not only teaches us the origins of sin, but death also, resulting from sin. In the theistic evolutionary (TE) world-view, there is no getting around the fact that death was always supposedly part-and-parcel of the natural order for millions of years before Adam and Eve evolved from the lower primates (via a Darwinian process of death of the unfit), or were de-novo created in Eden, depending on what flavour of TE/ or progressive creation one holds. And this single fact demolishes all compromising views when it comes to holding to an historical Adam and Eve. But in accepting evolution and millions of years as WLC does means he is forced to deny the verbal, plenary, inerrant doctrine of original sin!
The biblical world-view only makes sense when the biblical time-frame is upheld, of a recent (6,000 year-old), 6-day creation, described as “very good” by God (Genesis 1:31), without death, bloodshed, or suffering. Only through the sin of the first couple did sin, followed by death, enter the entire creation—this is the doctrine of original sin. Such fundamental theology is founded upon the historical foundations laid in Genesis 3 and built upon by Paul in Romans 5:12 ̶ 21, where he, by Divine inspiration clearly states that death came through the sin of Adam in the following abridged verses:
12 “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned… 14 Yet death reigned from Adam… 15 … For if many died through one man’s trespass… 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man… 18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men… 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners… 21 so that, as sin reigned in death …”
See also 1 Corinthians 15:22 “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
Scripture is very clear that sin and death affected the entire creation because of the Fall of Adam and Eve. There is no getting around these clear and repeated statements in Scripture that are directly contrasted with the person and work of Christ who brings life and forgiveness of sin.
Swamidass’s response to Brierely follows WLC’s and comes across as rather weak and apologetic for his apologetics! But Swamidass does disagree with WLC on scientific grounds, and points out a weakness in WLC’s arguments, that he doesn’t account for the “humanness” of those outside Eden, which to him is theologically and scientifically untenable. For a clearer understanding of Swamidass’s views (which mixes a quasi-historical understanding of Adam and Eve, along with supposed evolved human ancestors outside the garden of Eden). See CMI’s review of Swamidass’s 2020 book: The Genealogical Adam and Eve: The surprising science of universal ancestry by Robert Carter and John Sanford—who are two PhD scientists. John Sanford in particular, is a world-leading geneticist and speaks with some authority about the genetic implications of being decended from a founder couple.
Certainly, CMI, will most likely write a thorough review of WLC’s yet-to-be published book, as it will be, unfortunately, very influential. Thank you for pointing us towards this podcast. On a side note, it’s always interesting to read the comments on a controversial topic like this podcast. I see there are many atheists posting, attacking Christians, and also very many confused Christians looking for answers. Sadly, they won’t find the answers they are looking for on this podcast. That’s why CMI exists, to provide the right answers. I hope what I’ve written is of help in regard to your specific question on WLC’s views of original sin.
References and notes
- William Lane Craig & Joshua Swamidass, Was there a historical Adam & Eve? Unbelievable? Youtube.com, 13 Aug 2021. Return to text.
- See Klinghoffer, D. Trouble in Paradise? At BioLogos, Theistic Evolutionists fall out among themselves, October 4, 2017; evolutionnews.org. Return to text.
- The root of all evil? Broadcast on Channel 4, 16 Jan 2006. Return to text.