In the comments to my post on Flesh and Sprit II: Original Sin, a couple readers asked questions about the historicity of Adam:
1) A reader who goes by the pseudonym i like pizza asks:
i don't want to get too off-topic here, but i'm curious about your thoughts on whether or not adam was a historical person. and if you believe that he was not, what are your thoughts on paul apparently believing (and teaching?) that he was (rom 5:12-20; 1 cor 15:45-49)?
What counts as believing and teaching that Adam was historical? I know a lot of conservative Christians use this argument: person or event X is mentioned by Jesus or an apostle in the New Testament and therefore X must have been historical. Well that doesn't follow. As an example, I don't believe Adam and Eve were necessarily historical individuals, and yet I still referred to their story in Genesis.
Suppose for the sake of argument that the Adam story was a mythical story, inspired by God, which illustrates a point about the human condition, and that St. Paul knew this. Would it follow from this that St. Paul would never refer to that story in his own writings? Not unless we think that St. Paul couldn't have found any value in the story unless it was historical. But the rabbinic use of midrashim (fictional stories to tell a point, often about biblical characters) shows that they did not in fact think this way.
Basically the argument is circular: you should take Genesis literally because St. Paul did, and we know St. Paul was, because no reasonable person could get meaning out of the Adam story unless they themselves took it literally. But that is exactly the question which is at stake.
Did St. Paul in fact believe that Adam was a historical person? I doubt he ever considered the issue explicitly, but very likely he assumed he was (Acts 17:26 is probably better evidence for this than his epistles). Did he teach that he was historical? Well, we have to decide what do we mean by this...?
If the question is, does St. Paul's teaching collapse as meaningless if Adam was not historical, I think the answer is clearly no. The point of the references to Adam in Romans and 1 Corinthians is to establish the existence of a sinful human nature to illustrate by comparison the new human nature which comes from Christ. But this purpose is served just as well by a mythical Adam representing some pre-historical rebellion against God with unknown details; since the resulting Old Human Nature is in any case a real thing that exists in the present and needs redemption. In any case, St. Paul also emphasizes the differences between the two figures:
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if by the one man’s trespass the many died, how much more have the grace of God and the gift overflowed to the many by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ. And the gift is not like the one man’s sin, because from one sin came the judgment, resulting in condemnation, but from many trespasses came the gift, resulting in justification. (Roms 5:15-16)
We could also ask, did St. Paul make it explicit that one could not disbelieve in a historical Adam and still be a Christian? This is not a silly thing to ask, because earlier in the 1 Cor 15 passage he did do exactly this, when it comes to the question of whether Christ really rose from the dead.
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (15:12-9)
There is no similar statement that the Christian preaching and faith are useless unless Adam was really historical. St. Paul's teaching is relentlessly Christological. Everything, including Old Testament stories, is important only for the light it sheds on the Christ-event. Christ is the center, so it matters whether he was historical. Adam is peripheral; his story is there to teach us more about the meaning of Jesus and the Church (who is the new Eve, the spouse which was formed from his pierced side after he had fallen into the temporary sleep of death).
If Adam's story is of great and irreplaceable value in explaining the true meaning of Christ's sacrifice, then for that very reason, the Holy Spirit was justified in putting that story in our Bible, regardless of whether it happened literally.
2) St. Declan writes:
I've been reflecting on my belief in evolution and Christianity as a whole and realized that there are many questions to think about that I can't appropriately answer.
You mentioned evolutionary psychology as an explanation of why we have sinful inclinations. Yet some advanced mammals like chimpanzees seem to demonstrate an ability to go against their evolutionary instincts by demonstrating kindness to a wounded chimp when other chimps don't. Does this demonstrate that animals too, can sin?
And if animals can sin, then it would seem that Pauline soteriology is pretty false: Sin didn't enter the world through one man. What do you think Dr Aron?
About a year ago I read a very interesting book about The Moral Lives of Animals, by a zoological writer named Dale Peterson. It had a bunch of very interesting examples of moral-like (and immoral-like) animal behaviors.
One could quibble whether many of the examples should really qualify as ethics: if an animal mistreats another animal and the other animals get annoyed, so the first one stops, is this really ethics or just obvious social behavior? Granted that chimps engage in e.g. rape, do they actually feel guilty about it?
But it seems clear enough that there exist social instincts in animals which could at least be called proto-ethics. I don't think Christians have any need to deny this. Why shouldn't God provide the early animals with some moral-like instincts, especially if he intended one of them to evolve into a species capable of bearing his Son. It would be a much worse world if no animals ever felt affection for each other or for us. But recall what I said in my previous post:
Or if we were still just animals, who had never known better, we would still have the innocence of animals. A cat is morally innocent when it plays with a mouse, not because that is morally wonderful but because it doesn't know any better. But now we know better (or else ought to know better but are in denial), and it pains us to experience our own worst impulses.
Do animals sin? A sin is an offense against God (Psalm 51:4). For something to rise to the level of sin, the organism in question needs to be high enough to potentially be in relationship with God and feel guilty for disobeying. (Or to deny the possibility of any such higher authority in order to avoid feeling guilty, which is a different manifestation of the same issue.) I don't see any evidence that any animals are sinners in this sense.
An animal may loosely be said to commit an ethical (or more accurately social) violation against another animal, but human beings don't usually morally condemn them for this because we don't consider them morally responsible because they are animals. So presumably God doesn't either. No animal is smarter than a 4 year old human, and we barely consider 4 year-olds to be morally responsible (we treat them as if they were in order so that they grow up to be morally responsible, but we don't consider them e.g. criminally or spiritually responsible). We have Reason, a qualitatively greater capacity for abstraction, which allows us to recognize a Law which comes from somthing above us. (Even if not all of us humans conceptualize that Law as being related to a divine Lawgiver, we still tend to act as if it did.)
So far as I can tell, animals are not capable of belief in God. I would be extremely interested in whether humans could teach chimps about the existence of God, but I doubt the type of scientists who currently do chimpanzee-learning experiments would countenance that one.
The closest an animal ever comes to sinning, is if they are domestic pets, and they rebel against a human being in authority over them. Cats and dogs are both capable of adoring human beings as a higher order of creature, though cats are rather weak on the concept of obedience. So let's consider a bad dog who disobeys and then feels shame after being scolded by his master. Since human beings are created in the image of God and are his priests to the animals, this is like sin. But it is only an analogy, since sin, properly speaking, is a spiritual offense against God, not a social offense against Man.
(Of course, for us humans, who have been raised to the divine image and can recognize consciously the value of human beings in the abstract, for us to sin against other human beings is to sin against the God who made them.)
So understood in this theological sense, the first sin must, almost by definition, have come after the first moment that a being recognized their Creator as being in authority over them. There could have been plenty of affection, cooperation, violence, or theft before that time, but this was the moment that human beings in a spiritual sense came to be.
Of course, my speculations about the actual course of pre-historic events are just that: speculations. But if there is going to be a speculative field of secular evolutionary psychology, I don't see why Christians shouldn't join in the fun.