October 5, 2009
The Bible claims that Adam and Eve's "original sin" in the Garden of Eden resulted in an extensive punishment that affects all of humanity. Last month, we had quite an interesting discussion revolving around a comment of Ritchie's, originally left for me at Daylight Atheism:
..why should the sin of Adam and Eve pass on to their children, and by extension, to us? Why can't each person be born with a blank slate? God, apparently did not arrange things this way. Instead, He Himself introduced the taint of sin and then blames us for possessing that flaw.
[At this point I responded by saying I rejected Ritchie's claim that God introduced sin into the human race, and Ritchie responded with,]
Who made the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden (knowing in advance that Adam and Eve would eat from it)? Who gave instructions to Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit despite the fact that they had no concept of good or evil and were therefore unable to make moral decisions on their own? Who created the serpent (or Satan, whichever you prefer), knowing in advance the role he would play in man's downfall? Scripture says God, God, God. Whichever way you turn it, the entire episode in Eden is an almighty cock-up and it's all God's fault…
[Earlier in that thread, I had sad, "It's a reasonable argument that sin adversely effects the human apparatus; perhaps the original sin set something in motion genetically," to which Ritchie replied,]
You think sin gets passed on through your genes? Why? How could eating a piece of fruit affect Adam and Eve's DNA? Do other sins affect our DNA too? When we arrest people, should we take a blood sample and examine that for traces of 'guilt' or 'sin' to determine whether they are guilty? Should criminals be denied the right to have children, since their children will be born more genetically 'corrupted' by sin than the children of parents who have committed no crime?
Now, I thought for certain he was roasting me with his last two questions, but Ritchie assured me they were in fact sincere, so I promised him I would address them. We discussed some of these questions in rather excruciating detail in Pt. I, but I'd like to cover the rest of them, as well as add a thing or two to some of those we've already discussed.
First, I'd like to de-construct Ritchie's opening question somewhat. If you read it carefully again, you'll notice he uses the phrases, "pass on", and also "blank slate". To me, these phrases suggest the quantitative measure of sin mentioned briefly here. Hold that thought.
Let's clarify that when the question is, "Why does 'original sin' have to apply to us," what we're really discussing here are the ramifications of the fall of man as described in Genesis. If we're taking the story to be literal and not some sort of allegory, I believe there are at least two distinct categories of ramification that would naturally result from the fall of man: the first is spiritual, the second biological.
Perhaps the chief spiritual ramification was that God withdrew His presence from humanity. When we decided to pursue righteousness our own way, our spirit "became dead" as described in the citation from Watchman Nee (ibid.) Second, we were consigned to death (see below), so it is certainly 100% reasonable to suppose a genetic downgrade of some sort accompanied the fall of man. This would be one of the biological ramifications. According to the Bible, all of humanity since Adam inherits these conditions. Ritchie's position is that this is unwarranted; I'm going to argue that it's logically required. I have a feeling this will lead to another discussion of omnipotence, and "why couldn't God have done it this way" type questions, but we'll see.
(I should also note that I'm arguing from distinct presuppositions here, for example the premise that human existence was physical or fleshly in the same way it is today — back then. I've heard people argue from the premise that before the fall of man, our existence was spiritual, and that taking on a fleshly existence was part of the curse itself. I'm not too sure what I think of that. In the same vein, I've heard folks argue that the death which resulted from the fall was spiritual, and not fleshly — or that it was actually both)
Anyways, getting along here, the reason I say the punishment's applicability to all humanity is logically required is because in order for a selective application of the punishment to work, each new person being born would literally have to exist in a different world than their parents. Humans would require two mutually exclusive worlds at the same time: one where God's presence is universally manifest, and another where It is not. So, by saying original sin affects us all — although I also believe there's a genetic component to the claim, and I'll get to that — it affects us all because God withdrew His presence from all of us. I do not define omnipotence as the ability to do the logically impossible, and neither does the Bible, so that's why I believe it is logically impossible to selectively apply the spiritual ramifications of the curse.
This might be the part where somebody is tempted to ask, "Well then cl, why couldn't God have set it up a different way?" The short answer is that I don't know, but that something doesn't make sense to us doesn't make it false, so we'll have to do better.
As far as Ritchie's claim that God "introduced sin" into the human race, well… he explained what he meant in Pt. I, but I just didn't find it persuasive. From my perspective, Adam and Eve introduced sin into the human race when they made the decision to go beyond clear parameters with full knowledge that they weren't supposed to. Ritchie feels they lacked sufficient moral compass to make a proper decision, thus making God's punishment unwarranted. He agreed to my statement that, "..anyone who understands the parameters yet willfully offends them merits consequence," with the additional proviso that, "..anyone who understands the parameters — and that they must not cross them, yet still crosses them — merits consequences." I believe that Eve fulfills Ritchie's requirements in Genesis 3:2, where she says to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die." Clearly, Eve knew she "must not" eat it, as she used Ritchie's qualifying phrase verbatim — twice.
I'd go on here, but each of the questions from Ritchie's second paragraph were thoroughly addressed in Pt. I, so let's move on.
Sin does not change a person's DNA. We cannot find any 'guilt' or 'sin' or any trace of wrongdoing by examining the DNA of criminals. I'm sorry, I appreciate you may not have meant this literally, but I don't really see what you DID mean by it… (to Karla)
Okay. Bare with me here, this is likely to get confusing, but I'm going to try my best. First, the claim that sin does not change a person's DNA. A simple example comes to mind: if you'll grant that excessive cigarette smoking is sin, such adversely changes human DNA. If you'll grant that blowing people up with nuclear bombs is sin, such can adversely change human DNA, specifically by damaging bonds between oxygen (O) and phosphate groups (P). These are empirically observable phenomena, and the underlying principle here is that aside from being offense to God, sin also has objective consequences in the here and now. We misunderstand the scope of sin if we frame it exclusively in its moral context.
When indulged, it's reasonable that even 'mental' sins such as hatred either directly or indirectly change our DNA. To quote organic chemist David Hamilton, "There is a whole branch of medicine called psycho-neuro-immunology, which studies the effect of thoughts and emotions on our biochemistry. The biochemistry is intimately connected with the DNA, so if these biologichemical components are affected by thoughts and emotions then thoughts and emotions must also affect our DNA." (It's The Thought That Counts, Hamilton Press, 2005)
Let me be clear: sin simply means missing God's mark, and that can occur any number of ways. I am not saying each and every instance of sin from murder to gluttony to hatred changes our DNA, though it's certainly possible. Either way, it follows that if the Genesis story is true in the literal sense we've just discussed, and if we grant that excessive cigarette smoking and blowing people up with nuclear bombs and indulging in hatred are sins, then the idea that sin can change human DNA seems not only consistent with the Bible, but empirically corroborated. So in this sense, we can say yes, sin would change our DNA, and these changes would pass on through our genes — quite literally.
Sins carry their punishment with them by the order of nature and by virtue of the mechanical structure of things itself; and in the same way, noble actions will attract their rewards by ways which are mechanical as far as bodies are concerned… -Gottfried Leibniz
So when Ritchie asks how Adam and Eve eating a piece of fruit changed their DNA, I submit that I've not claimed it would. Rather, the biological ramifications of being consigned to death is what would have changed our DNA — the genetic downgrade — not the simple act of eating the fruit.
Turning to the first of Ritchie's final two questions, the ability to identify guilt in blood samples isn't a logical ramification of my argument. Per the argument I've just made here, it is certainly reasonable that guilt might produce observable, empirical effects on the human body, but guilt itself is actually a psychological mindset, not something a blood test would reveal. Yes, I did say that in a sense sin gets "passed on" through genetics, and that it can change our DNA, but that doesn't entail that we should be able to "find" sin or guilt in blood samples. In and of themselves, sins — both individual and original — change things; they are not things.
Likewise, asking whether criminals should be prevented from breeding also becomes a non-sequitur, because it's not just the people modern society thinks of as criminal who have compromised DNA as a result of sin — it's the entire human race — because we're all biologically related, and we're all under the affects of the fall. We're all a family. What affects one member affects us all, and we can't live in two mutually exclusive worlds at once.
I don't see anything logically inconsistent about it.