Sin before the Fall of Adam?
Published: 24 August 2020 (GMT+10)
Strange as this question might first appear, a logical consequence of ‘old earth’ and theistic evolutionary viewpoints is that the world was rife with sinful thoughts and actions for hundreds of thousands of years of ‘prehistory’, long before the biblical Adam and Eve existed. The following extract from Evolution and the Christian Faith explores this much-overlooked subject.1
Over the years, much of the theological debate between historic special creationists2 and believers in a billions-of-years-old earth has been over the issue of death. Was there death in the world before the Fall? And if so, what kind of death was it, and to which creatures did it apply? These are important questions, but there is a related question that seems to be neglected almost completely. If, as many theistic evolutionists argue, human beings are descended from hominid ancestors—which, going backwards in time, were progressively less human—when do they envisage that sin itself entered the world? For the New Testament is unambiguous: sin came into the world through the historical rebellion of Adam and Eve.
Many theologians accept the prevailing cultural view that, for tens of thousands of years before Adam (whether envisaged as an actual man or a metaphorical figure) there were races of sub-human ancestors (hominids). Although lacking souls and spiritual awareness, these are believed to have been just like us in most other respects. All who hold an evolutionary worldview implicitly believe that such hominids were committing the full range of acts which, today, we moral human beings acknowledge to be sinful—lust, rape, covetousness, theft, murder and much more.
Unlike creationist anthropologists (who believe that most of the fossils assigned to the genus Homo are descendants of Adam3), theistic evolutionists teach that there is a spiritual discontinuity between Homo sapiens and all the species that preceded it. Thus, Homo ergaster, H. erectus, H. heidelbergensis (archaic H. sapiens), H. antecessor, H. neanderthalensis, and H. floresiensis—to name just some of the common alleged ancestors or ancient relatives of man—were all soulless. That is to say, they lacked the moral and spiritual capacities with which people are endowed today. On the other hand, the majority of anthropologists who hold to the historical, special creation viewpoint regard those species of the genus Homo as fully human descendants of Adam. This is based on comparisons of their bony anatomy and even comparisons of DNA sequences in some cases (see Neandertal genome like ours).
Muddying the Image of God
Within a theistic evolutionary framework, and many other ‘old earth’ views too (e.g. progressive creationism and gap theory), all members of Homo sapiens (our own species) who were alive prior to the point when God made them like himself were also soulless. True humanity only ensued when God conferred his image and likeness upon chosen members of the species. After God breathed into these select proto-people, souls were imparted to them—they became ‘Homo divinus’. That being so, at what point in the fossil record do theistic evolutionists look for Adam? Their opinions are inevitably arbitrary and contrary to the biblical teaching of the image of God. Disbelieving in a historical Adam, Denis Lamoureux writes, “A landmark issue of Christianity Today in June 2011 featured a cover with a Neanderthal-looking male and the title ‘The Search for the Historical Adam.’ … This CT article is evidence that the historicity of Adam is not a settled issue.”4
With this example, it is legitimate to ask whether, according to theistic evolutionists, Neanderthals were sinners? Some might come back with the answer, ‘Of course not, they were just animals. Animals are not morally culpable as humans are.’ What, then, are we to make of the fact that the genome (DNA code) of Neanderthals is like our own?5 And what about the considerable evidence that people with classical Neanderthal features (e.g. a more robust skeleton, prominent brow ridges, a more forward projecting mid-face and a bony protuberance like a hair knot at the back of the head) interbred with people just like ourselves?6 In other words, the evidence shows that people with Neanderthal morphology and so-called ‘modern humans’ (who generally lacked those ‘Neanderthal’ features) intermarried.
Sin’s pollution before Eden?
Does not the concept of bipedal human ancestors of Adam (who looked little different from us and were reproductively compatible with modern people) committing incest, rape, murder and cannibalism sit rather uncomfortably? It makes perfect sense that such things followed the Fall. However, within a theistic evolutionary model, our soulless ancestors were supposedly doing these things for hundreds of thousands of years in God’s “very good” world (Genesis 1:31).
Staying with ‘Neanderthal Man’, decades ago, a growing realisation that he was much more human than had been believed hitherto, led two writers to comment that, “ … if he could be reincarnated and placed in a New York subway—provided that he were bathed, shaved, and dressed in modern clothing—it is doubtful whether he would attract any more attention than some of its other denizens.”7 If it was from this Neanderthal stock (or some related stock) that God brought us forth, it would indicate that we are of ‘the same kind’ biologically. Scripture teaches that men are of a different ‘flesh’—are different ‘in kind’—from various sorts of animals (1 Corinthians 15:39).8 Yet, according to theistic evolution, ancestors who very much appear to be of our kind, on the basis of both fossil and DNA evidence, were without souls. Presumably the argument would be that they were not culpable, therefore, for the gross and horrible acts that we consider morally reprehensible today.
Scripture is clear that sin of various sorts actually pollutes the land from God’s point of view (but, happily, all such pollution will be removed in the new earth). Examples are: sexual promiscuity (Jeremiah 3:2), adultery (Jeremiah 3:1), idolatry (Jeremiah 16:18, Acts 15:20), bloodshed (Numbers 35:33), and child sacrifice (Psalm 106:38). Yet, if we imagine going back in time as spectators, and viewing ‘our primitive ancestors’ in this hypothetical less-evolved world, we would observe all these things and more—actions which the Bible teaches are sinful and evil. In God’s “very good” creation, such things would have been a defilement of the land. Referring to, “sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness” and idolatry, Paul says, “because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:3, 6). God hates idolatry (Psalm 31:6), robbery, (Isaiah 61:8), falsehood (Psalm 119:104, 163), even evil thoughts and plans (Zechariah 8:17). These attitudes and acts are not merely sin when morally culpable human beings commit them, they are intrinsically wrong, things which God hates.
Animal violence toward people
The brutality that we observe in animals today can be at once fascinating and macabre. Of course, pre-Fall animal death poses questions of its own. When a troop of normally vegetarian chimpanzees catch and tear apart a colobus monkey, or a male lion kills a lioness’ cubs9 (to bring her into oestrus so that he can mate with her), these are aberrations. As such, they would not have been occurring before the Fall. While not morally culpable creatures, animals can still commit acts which make them defiled. Under the Mosaic Law, a person convicted of bestiality was put to death, but so was the animal. Both were deemed guilty of an abominable act: “they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them” (Leviticus 20:16). Also, if an ox gored a person to death, it was itself to be killed (Exodus 21:28, 31–32). Animals were held culpable for such things under the Mosaic law.
In our own societies today it is normal for a dog that has viciously maimed or killed someone to be put down. Obviously, we do not believe that animals possess a sense of good and evil. Nevertheless, euthanasia in such instances is seen as a sensible measure to prevent further harm to people by an animal that has proven dangerous. For some people at least, it is also ‘the right thing to do’, especially as animals are not people. It seems reasonable that animals which have caused great disfigurement or have deprived people of life should forfeit the right to continued life themselves.
Therefore, even if our ‘primitive’ human ancestors are deemed to have been soulless animals, their loathsome and gross acts are incompatible with the goodness and holiness of the Creator God.
Actually, there is irrefutable evidence that human ancestors of the genus Homo—allegedly soulless ones, according to advocates of theistic evolution—were spiritually aware beings, that they had a concept of an after-life. For instance, numerous deliberate burials of Neanderthals have been documented at sites across Europe and western Asia; one was even buried with flowers.10 There is good evidence that they made jewellery, cooked with herbs, played musical instruments, cared for the disabled and much more.11 Neanderthals have also been found buried alongside anatomically modern humans. And since an appreciation of morality goes hand in hand with spiritual perception, it would be futile to argue that Neanderthals were not culpable for what we recognise as sinful acts.
Yet, by holding to theistic evolution, actions which God hates—brutality, theft, deliberate deception, incest, rape, murder, and more—would have gone on for hundreds of thousands of years before Adam. And, during the last tens of millennia, these things would have been ‘performed’ by people who looked just like us. Evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem concurs. He highlights the following key tenet of theistic evolution (which he believes conflicts with biblical teaching) as follows:
“Adam and Eve did not commit the first human sins, for human beings were doing morally evil things long before Adam and Eve.”12
Does not the very proposition, spelt out in this manner, sound ridiculous? More seriously, if God really did set up the world in this way, it sends out a very confusing message regarding his disposition towards sin. Within the teaching of theistic evolution, God’s entire stance regarding sin would seem to have arbitrarily altered when he ‘created’ Adam. No wonder that the doctrine of sin in contemporary theology is far less prominent than it used to be.
This is far from being merely a point of theoretical interest. Today, many people are rejecting traditional Christian moral and ethical standards precisely because they have embraced an evolutionary philosophy. If we are evolved animals and we were not specially created as the Bible teaches, what justifiable reason can be given for arguing that certain things are sinful or that there should be such restraints on our behaviour?
References and notes
- Extracted (with a few modifications) from chapter 7 of: Bell, P., Evolution and the Christian Faith: Theistic evolution in the light of scripture, Day One Publications, Leominster, 2018. Return to text.
- Another name for biblical creationists. Return to text.
- A probable exception, according to most creationist anthropologists, is Homo habilis. Some fossils assigned to H. ergaster have also been questioned in this regard. Return to text.
- Lamoureux, D.O., chapter 1, in: Barrett M. & Caneday, A.B. (Eds.), Four Views on the Historical Adam, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2013, p. 39. Return to text.
- Carter, R.W., Neandertal genome like ours, 1 June 2010. Recently, Dr Johannes Kraus at University of Tübingen (Germany) stated emphatically, “Neanderthals interbred with H. sapiens”; Barras, C., Losing the plot, New Scientist 3140:28–33, 26 August 2017. Return to text.
- See, Butler, F., Neanderthal-Human Hybrids: Old earth apologetics gone real bad, 19 July 2016. Return to text.
- Strauss, W. & Cave, A.J.E., Pathology and posture of Neanderthal Man, Quarterly Review of Biology 32:348–363, December 1957. Return to text.
- This is developed in detail in chapter 6 (Human flesh or animal flesh?) of: Evolution and the Christian Faith; see ref. 1, pp. 118–144. Return to text.
- That is, cubs which this lion has not sired. Return to text.
- Solecki, R.S., Shanidar: the first Flower People, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1971. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., One Human Family: The Bible, science, race & culture, Creation Book Publishers, Atlanta, GA, 2011, p. 166. Return to text.
- Grudem, W., Theistic evolution undermines twelve creation events and several crucial Christian doctrines, chapter 27 in: Moreland, J.P., Meyer, S.C., Shaw, C., Gauger A.K. & Grudem, W. (Eds.), Theistic Evolution: A scientific, philosophical, and theological critique, Crossway, Wheaton, IL, 2017, p. 806. Return to text.