Science in Christian Perspective
The Bible and Science
Chronology of The Fall
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The doctrine of the Fall is interpreted in many different ways in the Christian world. These interpretations are categorized in this article by the time scale in which natural and moral evil are believed to have come into the world. They are linked to different ideas of the creation of the world. Those interpretations that involve substantive changes in the physical world are difficult to reconcile with observational data. Those that involve no physical changes challenge our notions of the causal relationship between moral and natural evil. Though no interpretation is entirely satisfactory, each teaches some aspect of the truth.
The chronology of the creation of the world and the origin of life continues to be the focus of interest and controversy in theological and scientific circles. Techniques of scientific analysis and ridicule have been used in books, debates, classrooms, and courtrooms to support a creation time scale from six days to twenty billion years. The unfortunate consequence of this controversy has been the tendency to shift our attention away from the Creator and the fact of creation to the mechanics of creation. A positive effect has been a closer examination of the relevant scientific data and of our interpretation of the biblical text referring to our origins.
A closely related issue that has received much less attention is the chronology of the Fall. The problem of the introduction of evil into the world has generally been left to the philosophers and theologians except for an occasional chapter in books dealing with creation. However, our view of the origin of the world and of mankind is closely related to our understanding of the Fall. The immediate objective of this paper is to discuss various interpretations of the Fall and to note how they relate to different concepts of creation.1 A longer range objective is to stimulate more interest and research into the problem of evil in the natural world.
There are several underlying assumptions in this paper. First, a theistic position is taken and atheistic interpretations of the Fall are not considered here. Second, the Bible is the Word of God revealed to men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write it. All Scripture must therefore be taken seriously and interpreted with care. Finally, the terms "natural evil" and "moral evil" are considered in a broad operational sense rather than a particular philosophical definition. In this paper, the term "moral evil" refers to human disobedience to God and its direct consequence. "Natural evil" refers to any physical phenomena leading to death and destruction that are not directly attributable to human activity. Different views of the relationship between moral and natural evil lead to differing interpretations of the Fall.
The various interpretations of the Fall
can be broadly categorized by their view of the time scale and the scope of the
curse. In this paper we will consider five possible time scales: (1)
instantaneous, (2) double, (3) retroactive, (4) gradual, and (5) atemporal. Four
ideas of the scope of the curse will be discussed for the instantaneous case:
(a) physical, (b) physiological, (c) anthropological, and (d) spiritual and
The Instantaneous Time Scale
A chronological interpretation of Genesis 3 could lead to the view that original sin and the resulting curse occurred in a very short time sequence. Eve ate the forbidden fruit and persuaded Adam to do likewise. God found them, possibly that very evening, and told them of the consequences of their disobedience. They were immediately driven out of the Garden of Eden and in the following years began to experience the pain of childbirth and the toil of the land. The implication is that until a well-defined point of time the world was without sin and evil. Then sin entered the world through a single act of disobedience. Moral evil caused the introduction of natural evil into the world.
This "before and after" picture of the good, created world and the fallen world appeals to us because it has a simple cause and effect. It allows us to trace present-day evil back to an initial cause. It implies that evil is extraneous to this world and will someday be removed after the second coming of Christ. Attempts to specify in more detail what the world was like before this initial sin and how the world changed under the curse have led to many ideas about the scope of the curse. We will now consider four main categories of these ideas.
The most radical of all ideas is that the laws of physics were changed because of the Fall. The impact was universal and devastating in every aspect- not just human life but animal life, plant life, and even inanimate matter were dramatically and irrevocably altered under the curse. This idea follows if natural evil is considered to include disorder, randomness, chaos, decay, and increasing entropy. Since the Second Law of Thermodynamics describes the universal tendency for entropy to increase in a closed system, then at least this law of physics denotes natural evil. If natural evil is the result of moral evil, then this law and all related laws of physics must have been introduced as part of the Fall. The effect is a radical, detrimental change in all that exists, both inanimate and animate. In the inanimate realm, the result is entropy while in the animate world, it is disease, suffering, and death.
Henry Morris promotes such an interpretation when he says:
The universal validity of the second law of thermodynamics is demonstrated, but no one knows why it is true...the biblical explanation is that it is involved in the curse of God upon this world and its whole system, because of Adam's sin.¿8¿We conclude that the Bible teaches that, originally, there was no disorder, no decay, no aging process, no suffering, and above all, no death, in the world when the creation was completed....Eve sinned, and Adam sinned...and the perfect order of God's creation and purpose was disturbed by the entrance of disorder and rebellion into the world.2
A.E. Wilder-Smith believes that "the laws operating at the beginning were different from those operating now"3 and that "our ideas of entropy must be completely invalid during an act of creation¿8¿ where creation is concerned the laws of thermodynamics, as we know them, are turned upside down. Here the laws governing time do not function either."4
Several problems arise from this radical view. First, from a biblical perspective such a dramatic change because of the curse is neither explicit nor clearly implied. God's statement of the curse in Genesis 3:14-19 taken in the literal sense applies only to the serpent, pain in childbirth, sweat, toil, thistles in tilling the ground, and death. The rest of the world does not appear to have been touched in a direct sense. Romans 8:22 does speak of the whole creation groaning and travailing in pain, but it is not helpful in explaining which aspects of creation are groaning. The Bible implies that the world before Adam and Eve was similar to ours; and the language of Genesis 1 and 2 very clearly describes a world with stars, oceans, plants, and animals, just as we see them today. Because the Scriptures do not teach a radical physical change as a result of the Fall, they are difficult to reconcile with such a change.
From a scientific perspective, a change in the laws of physics is obviously difficult to accept. Scientific methodology assumes the invariance of the laws of physics. The specific notion that the Second Law of Thermodynamics didn't hold before the Fall fails to allow for the comprehensiveness of the laws of thermodynamics. Not only does the law of increasing entropy imply a tendency toward more disorder but it also describes nearly all physical phenomena. The temperatures at which water freezes and boils, the behavior of gases in the atmosphere, the biochemical processes in living cells, and the solubility of alloys are but a few examples of how the Second Law of Thermodynamics affects everything around us. Phase transitions are characterized by a change in entropy. Water molecules could not exist in a liquid state without the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The creation of water prior to the Fall implies the existence of the Second Law. Therefore, to say that the law did not hold before the Fall is to maintain that the world before the Fall bears virtually no physical resemblance to the modern world. Even if a continuous supernatural extraction of entropy is invoked to compensate for the effects of the law before the Fall, the result would be a world totally alien to us. Neither can a selective application of the Second Law be granted for there is no basis on which to judge that an entropy increase is evil in one case and good in another. The simplest interpretation of Genesis 1 is that a world like ours was created and existed before the Fall. It may have been possible for God to create a universe with significantly different laws of nature but that does not seem consistent with a basic literal interpretation of Genesis 1.
The effect [of
changing the laws of physics] is a
radical, detrimental change in all that exists, both
inanimate and animate. In the inanimate realm, the result is
entropy while in the animate world, it is disease, suffering, and death.
From a philosophical point of view, the idea of a change in the laws of physics may resolve the problem of natural evil but it now creates the problem of "good." One foundation of Christian thought has been that God's creation is not inherently evil because God pronounced it "good." That notion is in jeopardy if any law of physics changed because of the Fall, since the character of God's creation depends critically on those laws. The problem of the origin of natural evil becomes the problem of the existence of goodness in a fallen world.
A less radical view maintains that the scope of the Fall is essentially physiological. The central notion is that God's statement "Ye shall surely die" implies that death was introduced into the world by sin. This is also based on Romans 5:12a "...sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin..."5 The laws of physics are left untouched but biology is not. All living creatures lost their immortality. Carnivores appeared among the herbivores. Serpents began to crawl on the ground and thistles and weeds grew with the wheat. Men faced a life of toil, women the pain of childbirth, and together they faced death.
This view avoids some basic difficulties of the idea of radical physical change. The emphasis is shifted from inanimate matter to living creatures. The effect of sin is seen as death rather than disorder.
Biblical support for this view is not strong. The closest reference is Gen. 9:3 where God appears to sanction eating meat for the first time. The application of the term "death" to the animal kingdom is thus an extrapolation based on our own perception of animal death rather than clear biblical teaching.
It could also be argued that the notion of death must have existed before the Fall or else God's warning to Adam and Eve would have been unintelligible. Both the fact of death and its undesirability must have been known to Adam and Eve to understand the punishment for eating the forbidden fruit. Therefore, they must have observed death in the animal kingdom.
The major difficulty for the physiological view is the fossil record. Independent of any theory of evolution, there is strong scientific evidence that animals (both carnivores and herbivores) were fossilized long before any hominid lived on the earth. Fossil dating techniques have been refined considerably during the last few decades and the record shows that animals lived and died before any human lived to eat of the forbidden fruit. The "young earth" creationists respond by refusing to believe the dating methods and by trying to show that all geologic strata and all fossils were formed during the flood in the days of Noah. Evangelical scientists point out in response that diluvial fossilization cannot be reconciled with the scientific evidence.6
There is also the difficulty of the discontinuity of biological processes. Although our understanding of the factors causing aging and death is still at an early stage, the aging process that leads to death appears to be a universal and inherent characteristic of living organisms. Life spans vary widely among animal populations, but death seems inevitable. If death did not occur before the Fall, biological processes such as cell replacement, digestive systems, etc., must have been dramatically altered after the Fall to the extent that we would not recognize pre-Fall creatures. The biblical teaching seems clear, however, that the animals created before the Fall are the same as those we see today.
[In this view] all living creatures lost their immortality.
It is also necessary to be more precise about the definition of death. If death in all forms was nonexistent before the Fall, then it must have been true at the cellular level as well. Macroscopic organisms grow and survive because of a continual sequence of cell multiplication and death. If cell death did not occur, all biological systems would be radically different. If cellular death occurred, however, then we lose the basis for distinguishing between organisms that died and those that didn't.
A related point is that the reproductive characteristics of animals are closely related to the survival probability of their offspring. Most fish, for example, produce large numbers of offspring but the probability of survival is very low. Orangutans have small numbers of offspring but have a very high survival rate. If no animal death occurred, the reproductive traits of nearly all animals would have to have been so drastically different that those animals would have no resemblance to the ones we see today.7 This is not consistent with the message of creation.
It might be considered that the Garden
of Eden had been an unusual refuge, an example of a pure state within a fallen
world. It would be hard to imagine, however, that two radically different
strains of animal life existed simultaneously in the world.
Finally, there is the philosophical question of whether animal death can really be considered as natural evil. The assumption that death in all its forms is evil is nebulous at best in a world where the life of many animals such as carnivores and the existence of nearly all ecosystems depend on the death of other organisms. Thus death, or at least animal death, may be part of the good created world and not a result of moral evil. The difficulty may be in our perception of evil rather than the reality of evil.8
Because of the problems with the idea of sweeping physiological changes, it could be viewed that the primary impact of the Fall is on humans alone except for the serpent. This notion is based on the observation that the statements in Genesis 2 and 3 taken literally are directed only to Adam and Eve except for the reference to the serpent. The anthropological view is typical in progressive creationism. It is granted that animals lived and died as we see them today for long periods of time before humans appeared. The creation of man was unique and so was his downfall. The warning was clear. If Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they would suffer death like the animals. Their habitat would no longer be the verdant Garden of Eden but the vast arena of the earth where the struggle for existence was in progress. The pain of childbirth would be unique to humans and a constant reminder of the Fall.
This is probably the widest-held viewpoint among evangelical scientists today. It stems from a direct and simple reading of the Scripture and upholds the basic beliefs in the uniqueness of man and in human death as a direct consequence of sin. It seems consistent with the fossil record and the ideas of progressive creationism. Fischer articulates a similar anthropological view in the context of existing human civilization before the creation of Adam and Eve.9
This view also has difficulties. It is
difficult to understand how the heavens and the earth itself contain natural
evil if only humans were affected by the Fall. It may be possible to define most
animal death, earthquakes, volcanoes, etc., as part of a "good" world rather
than natural evil but that becomes very difficult when these natural processes
lead to human pain, suffering, and death. If these processes occurred before the
Fall, then there is not a clear cause and effect relationship between them and
Adam and Eve's sin.
The difficulty with radical biological change is not avoided with this view either. The biological characteristics of man are now essentially the same as those in animals. If animal death is assumed to have occurred, it would be inconsistent to believe that human death did not occur unless there were significant biological differences. The man and woman created in Genesis 1 and 2 would be considerably different from the human beings we know today. Our relationship to the human being created in the image of God is not clear.
anthropological view,] the primary impact of the Fall
is on humans alone except for the serpent.
It is possible that humans did not suffer death before the Fall because, perhaps like Enoch, they walked with God and were taken to be with God without physical death. However, it is likely that the human body would still have been subject to pain, both physical and emotional, and would have suffered loss at the separation of a loved one. That death wouldn't have occurred by precisely the same mechanism then becomes academic.
Psychological and Spiritual Changes
A fourth idea is that the scope of the curse was essentially a spiritual and psychological effect. The basis for this is that biblical references to death often refer to spiritual death rather than physical death (e.g., John 11:25). The death referred to in Genesis 2 (and Romans 5:12-17) is considered to focus similarly on a separation from God and a lack of communion with him. The serpent's mocking challenge seems to point out that physical death is not a result of eating the forbidden fruit. Eve's action proved the validity of both statements: there was no immediate physical death but the communion with God disappeared. Spiritual death occurred and brought shame into the world. God covered their shame but drove them out of Eden to suffer the psychological impact of their sin. The pain of childbirth might imply the broader and deeper pain of raising children with sin and rebellion in their hearts. The "sweat of the brow" is more a psychological perspective on the struggle for existence than a change in the environment. Even the serpent's curse may be focused on his reputation rather than a change in locomotion. Physical death, though not a new occurrence, now becomes a dreaded event in the context of spiritual death. Awareness of physical death and its finality is the curse rather than the fact of death. This is consistent with Scriptures where redemption and the promise of everlasting life do not prevent physical death but remove the sting from death and the victory from the grave.
Such a viewpoint is consistent with all categories of creationism but is typically connected only with progressive creationism or theistic evolution. Its primary advantages are that it embodies the spiritual truths of the Scriptures and it does not contradict basic scientific data.
The biblical notion of death as the final enemy makes it difficult to exempt physical death from the curse. Most eschatological passages seem to point to a time when physical and spiritual death will be conquered. It is also difficult to understand how any pre-Fall being with an awareness of physical death could fail to view it as evil or at least as an undesirable event. Certainly spiritual death heightens apprehension about physical death but cannot easily explain all our fears and sadness.
Philosophically, the notion of natural evil as a consequence of moral evil can hardly be maintained. All natural phenomena that might be construed as evil existed before the Fall, since there were only psychological and spiritual changes. A possible solution is to consider natural evil to exist only in the eye of the beholder. In a sinless, unfallen state we might perceive these natural phenomena to be good rather than evil. If it is still maintained that moral evil is the cause of natural evil, then natural evil is little more than an illusion.
[If the scope of the
curse was essentially spiritual
and psychological, then] awareness of physical death
and its finality is the curse rather than the fact of death.
These ideas share the view that at one time the earth existed in a state without moral or natural evil. Due to a single act of disobedience, evil was introduced into the world. The four cases discussed above indicate that our understanding of "natural evil" influences our idea of the state of the world before the Fall. If disorder and entropy are considered natural evil, then a radical change must have occurred at the time of the Fall. At the other end of the spectrum, if natural evil is not true evil but apparent evil due to our finite perception, then the world may have changed little, if at all, at the time of the Fall. This depends on the notion that natural evil, however we define it, is the direct consequence of moral evil. By relaxing that constraint, other possibilities arise such as the following ideas.
The Double Time Scale
Another approach to the introduction of evil into the world is to consider two separate instances of sin and consequent evil. The first occasion is Lucifer`s rebellion against God. His fall is described in Is. 14:12 as the fall of the morning star. Gen. 1:2 is considered the physical effect of the action of Lucifer and the angels who joined him. The chaos and darkness represent radical upheaval and catastrophic changes in what was once a world free of evil. The six days of creation describe God's recreation of the heavens and the earth. Creation of man in the image of God presented the hope of a new creation living in the midst of natural evil. With the sin of Adam, a second curse came upon all humankind. Human beings in their sinful state began to struggle in their recreated world. Natural evil was the result of Lucifer's rebellion; moral evil was introduced through Adam's sin.
Such an approach is appealing because it neatly resolves the problem of natural evil occurring before Adam and Eve sinned. The world is the theater upon which the battle between Lucifer and God is fought. Lucifer is given a much larger role in the fallen world than merely the deceiver who suggested that Eve should disobey. Such a prominent role in the Fall correlates with the focus given in Scripture on Satan as the crucial enemy in redemption of both mankind and the heavens and the earth.
Natural evil was the
result of Lucifer's rebellion;
moral evil was introduced through Adam's sin.
This idea is essentially the gap theory of creation that was popular toward the beginning of this century. The death of animals before Adam and Eve existed, recorded in the fossil record, is seen as natural evil resulting from Lucifer's sin. Natural evil is inherent in the universe and manifests itself in both animate and inanimate forms. C. I. Scofield considered all the geologic strata and the fossils to have been formed in the chaos described in Gen. 1:2.10 The subsequent verses describe the recreation of the world. A variation of this idea is that natural evil was introduced into an inanimate world in Gen. 1:2 and that the life whose creation is described in the rest of the chapter was subject to death, fossilization, and the basic laws of physics and biology as we know them today. This is a combination of the gap theory and the day-age theory of creation.
This idea lacks a clear biblical mandate. To draw such broad conclusions from a single obscure text in Gen. 1:2 may not be warranted. To consider the Genesis 1 account as a recreation rather than an initial creation goes well beyond the direct implication of the text. God's pronouncement of the creation as "good" must then be considered to mean "the best possible under the circumstances." Furthermore, Romans 5 seems to indicate that death came to all mankind through one man, not through Lucifer.
From a scientific point of view the double fall approach presents no major difficulties. Since natural evil is in the world from the beginning, any scientific theory of origins can be accommodated by some variation of the basic theme.
Philosophically, however, there is an important distinction from the instantaneous time scale. Natural evil is no longer the result of moral evil. Eve's temptation is a direct result of the serpent's taunt that could be considered part of Satan's injection of natural evil in the world. Moral evil is then, in a sense, a result of natural evil.
The Retroactive Time
The contradiction between the notion that natural evil is the result of moral sin and the evidence that death existed in the world before man was created can also be addressed by a retroactive idea. God in his infinite foreknowledge foresaw man's rebellion when he created the world. The result of human sin is natural evil but the result preceded the act of sin itself. Jewitt says:
To say that natural evil is a curse or judgment of God upon man for his sin is not to say that sin causes natural evil, as scientists speak of cause and effect... cause is always prior in time to an effect, whereas we know that death was in the world as a universal law, long before man was created, much less fell. Man's fall into sin is the reason, not the cause, of natural evil, including death... God, then, created this world as the theater of fallen human history, a world marked by death from the beginning, a world, to use scientific terms, in which there is a universal reign of entropy.11
According to the theological notion called lapsadarianism, this can all be seen as part of God's salvation purpose in creating the world. God's motive in creating the world is to carry out redemption- both in the natural and supernatural realm. Consequently, natural evil was a necessary part of creation. This comes dangerously close to making God the ultimate author of evil.
God in his infinite
foreknowledge foresaw man's rebellion
when he created the world. The result of human sin is natural evil
but the result preceded the act of sin itself.
According to these ideas, the scope of the changes occurring after Adam and Eve's sin is primarily psychological and spiritual. The physical and biological effects were incorporated as part of the natural evil. The awareness of God and the rebellion against him can be considered either as a well-defined point in history or as an evolutionary development. In either case the issue of prior natural evil is addressed by a type of retroactivity.
The problem with this view biblically is that Genesis 1 speaks so strongly of a "good" creation that it is difficult to concede that it was already soiled by natural evil. The Bible also gives the clear impression that Adam and Eve were not predisposed to sin as might be supposed in a world already tainted by natural evil.
Philosophically, the whole conflict of
free will and determinism is reopened, not so much for us but for Adam and Eve.
If God created a fallen world for humankind, wouldn't humankind be bound to sin?
Only the example of Jesus living sinlessly in a fallen world suggests that the
problem may not be intractable.
The Gradual Time Scale
A significantly different approach is to consider a long time scale spanning many generations and possibly millions of years. The driving force is the scientific data used to support evolutionary theories. The best description of this view is presented by an atheistic evolutionist, Carl Sagan, although the idea is consistent with theistic evolutionary ideas and some versions of progressive creationism. Sagan points out in Dragons of Eden that there is a remarkable correlation between the evolutionary development of man and the Genesis account of the Fall. A key observation in the fossil record is that there occurred a rapid (i.e., hundreds of thousands of years) increase in the cranial capacity of hominids. This increase represents the development of that portion of the brain used for abstract and analytical thought. For the first time, hominids could grasp the concept of a God and of right and wrong. A simple clear way of describing it is that man ate the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. The consequences are direct: the increased cranial capacity led to a skull too large for the female pelvic structure and, therefore, inevitable pain at childbirth. No other mammal experiences such a pain. With the analytical mind, the struggle for survival meant a switch from brute-force food gathering to cunning and skill in cultivating food- the sweat of the brow. Above all, abstract thought led to the awareness of death and its inevitability and finality. Here, too, came the recognition of God and the beginning notions of what it meant to communicate with him. Some of the earliest signs of civilization are burial grounds with crude items of worship12
There is a remarkable
correlation between the evolutionary
development of man and the Genesis account of the Fall.
Whereas Sagan sees Genesis as a myth with amazing correlation to human development, the theistic evolutionist sees it as the inspired explanation of why humankind evolved in such a way. The Bible is not clear about the scientific details of our origin but is very clear as to the significance and meaning of our coming into being. Two concepts of initial sin are possible in this context. The first retains the notion of a historical Adam and Eve. They are the first to recognize the existence of God and that he expects us to obey him. They knowingly violated that code and by that action initiated the long evolutionary curse. The second concept sees Adam and Eve as representative of those generations of hominids who came to recognize that God was their Maker and was to be obeyed. The initial sin in this view is as evolutionary as the curse. The rebellion to God grows as the knowledge of good and evil grows. The curse develops in proportion to the rebellion.
Though somewhat foreign to traditional evangelical thought, this notion of an evolutionary development of the curse is intriguing. It is consistent with the spiritual truths of Scripture but challenges us to reconsider our long-held idea of an instantaneous Fall. Genesis does not explicitly give a time scale; the tenor of the story of the Fall is the only suggestion of an immediate action. Such an evolutionary concept of initial sin and the curse also allows a plausible correlation between the Genesis account and the prehistorical records of man's origins. Progressive creationists are constrained to draw a sharp distinction between a novel human race and very human-like ancestors whose fossils abound. Increasing evidence of continuity from hominids to humans makes those distinctions arbitrary.
Difficulties are immediately apparent. Not only does the biblical account in Genesis imply a sharp and sudden change in Adam's relationship to God but the Bible states that ... "as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men..."13 To interpret these passages in a context of long evolutionary development while respecting the entire Bible as the inspired Word of God implies a significant change in orthodox interpretations of these passages.
Scientifically, there seems to be no
difficulty with this view but the philosophical problem of natural evil
preceding moral evil still remains. An additional issue arises because the
evolutionary enhancement of cranial capacity and knowledge of good and evil was
scarcely a voluntary and willful choice as Eve seemed to make. The various cause
and effect relationships between knowledge and disobedience are not clear.
The Atemporal Time Scale
In the final category of perspectives on the Fall, the Genesis account is not considered to teach a temporal "before and after" sequence but a philosophical "ought to and is" relationship. Bube explains the concept most clearly:
The Biblical record tells us that the evil around us is something outside of, contrary to, different from, and an aberration on that kind of world which would correspond to the creation purpose of God. How can such a truth be set forth in a language and form acceptable and understandable to all people of all times, regardless of their cultural sophistication or their scientific knowledge?...One way such revelation can be accomplished is to take what is an abstract philosophical concept and cast it into the form of a chronological account. Take the idea of goodness vs. evil as problems in ontology and reduce them to "before" and "after" in the framework of chronology...Replace the goodness of God's creation purpose with a good creation before the Fall; replace the characteristics of evil as extraneous to God's creation purpose with a fallen creation after the Fall. Then the nature of God's good creation and the origin of evil are clearly distinguished.14
The central idea is that although evil in all its forms is extraneous to God's good creation, there does not exist a point in time when that evil was introduced. Goodness and evil coexist in a good creation in such a manner that they cannot be sharply distinguished. The same laws of physics that describe natural disasters also describe the processes that give us food and life. The same minds that sometimes make morally sinful choices also make morally good decisions. Although many situations can be seen as primarily evil or predominantly good, most circumstances cannot be neatly categorized. The ultimate good came out of the ultimate evil on the cross of Christ. Just as evil and goodness cannot be spatially separated, neither can they be separated temporally. The story of the Fall is not temporal but philosophical in its teaching.
Although evil in all
its forms is extraneous to God's good creation,
there does not exist a point in time when that evil was introduced.
This idea implies that natural evil is an inherent part of creation itself. Any physical universe that contains beings having moral freedom to do either good or evil must have a nature capable of either good or evil. Nature itself is not good or evil but has potential for either good or evil consequences as we perceive them. Only in such a world could humans have free moral choices. Natural evil is then not a result of moral sin but a precondition for sin. As Bube points out, natural evil might then be considered as original sin. Adam's sin would then be the representative embodiment of original sin and its impact on humankind.
The idea that the Fall is not a temporal occurrence avoids many of the "before and after" problems encountered so far. This idea makes the biblical account of the Fall an allegory rather than a historical event. Several phrases used in the story seem to support such an idea. The specification of a tree of knowledge of good and evil and a tree of life could mean that the story is allegorical. Although supernaturally possible, the serpent speaking to Eve is also a typical construct of allegorical tales. Jesus and Paul's allusion to Adam's sin is then part of the allegorical concept. The validity and spiritual truths of these statements are maintained and only the time scale of the Fall is changed.
Orthodox views of Scripture have maintained that Genesis 3 must be a historical account due to the New Testament references to that story. Such a change in interpretation must be undertaken with care and deserves the attention of Bible scholars before it can be accepted.
Philosophically, many questions must be addressed to maintain this view. Moral evil and natural evil are no longer in a causal relationship of any kind but become intrinsically enmeshed together. If original sin is natural evil and inherent in this world, then it is not clear what is meant by Jesus being sinless in a fallen world.
Summary and Conclusions
Many ideas discussed in this paper involve some type of physical change in the universe at the time of the Fall. These views face grave difficulty in reconciling considerable scientific evidence of uniformity. The remaining ideas are consistent with scientific knowledge but not necessarily with our ideas of good and evil.
This discussion of the various interpretations of the Fall is intended to point out some merits and difficulties of each view. None of the views is without problems. My hope is that this paper will stimulate further discussion. It is important to recognize that it may work out that no logical framework can express how evil was introduced into the world. The relationship between the physical and the spiritual has never lent itself to simple logical explanation. Just as we find it difficult to explain the deity of Jesus, we cannot explain the chronology of how evil came into the world. Many different perspectives are required to emphasize the various truths that the Scripture teaches but we cannot expect any of them to express the truth in totality. Each view expressed in this article has been built on some aspect of truth found in the Bible or in scientific data. We err when we expect one concept to explain all other aspects as well.
The difficulty in discovering the
chronology of the Fall suggests that the Bible does not teach us how evil
came into the world. It only recognizes that there is evil in the world.
The most important observation is that no matter which of these eight views is
believed, the spiritual truths of Scripture and the fact of man's fall are never
in question. Just as we are uncertain about how and when God created the world,
we may also disagree about how and when sin and evil entered the world. This
does not shake our firm belief that God created the world, that we are created
in his image, and that man has rebelled against his Maker and is in need of
redemption. This is the fundamental and paramount teaching of Scripture. We must
always assure that these truths are clear in any discussion of the chronology of
creation or of the Fall.
1R.H. Bube, "Creation (A) How Should Genesis be Interpreted?" Journal ASA 32, 34 (1980); "Creation (B) Understanding Creation and Evolution," Journal ASA 32, 174 (1980).
2H.M. Morris, The Twilight of Evolution, (Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, 1963) pp. 37-38.
3A.E. Wilder Smith, Man's Origin, Man's Destiny, (Harold Shaw Publishers: Wheaton, 1968) p. 74.
4Wilder Smith, ibid., p. 150.
5Romans 5:12a, New International Version, (Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, 1978).
6D.A. Young, Creation and the Flood, (Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, 1977).
7K.B. Miller, "Theological Implications of an Evolving Creation," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 45, 150 (1993).
8S. Rice, "On the Problem of Apparent Evil in the Natural World," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 39, 150 (1987).
9D. Fischer, "In Search of the Historical Adam: Part 1," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 45, 241 (1993).
10C.I. Scofield, The Scofield Reference Bible, (Oxford University Press: New York, 1917).
11Jewitt, as quoted in R.H. Bube, "Original Sin as Natural Evil," Journal ASA 27, 171 (1975).
12C. Sagan, The Dragons of Eden, (Random House: New York, 1977).
13Romans 5:12, op. cit.
14R.H. Bube, "Original Sin as Natural Evil," Journal ASA 27, 171 (1975).