Bret Lunn: Evolution and Original Sin

An excellent article published by our friend (by way of @Zachary_Ardern) Capturing Christianity. Here, Bret Lunn explores doctrine of original sin in an evolutionary context. Of note, he goes to great lengths to show how original sin could work without descent. As we know, that is not necessary. I hope he will take a look at

I’m curious the thoughts of @jongarvey, @deuteroKJ, and @Philosurfer.


It was a nice article and I’ve added the book he is working from to my never ending list of reads:

He rightly captures the freedom of thought within the Lutheran tradition concerning original sin. However, when looking at the meaning of “Because all sinned,” I’m pretty sure that LCMS theologians would align themselves with definition (1) with some overlap regarding sequential/causal readings.

Interestingly enough, it is definition (1) that Lunn thinks incompatible with mainstream science. Although, I think you @swamidass are right to suggest that Lunn has not considered what a geneological vs. genetic viewpoint might entail.

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Hey. I am the author of the article in question. I ran across your post linked to above a few months back, so it’s interesting to cross paths.

I suppose the biggest question is whether any of my comments need qualification in light of your post. I think it’s certainly possible as I cannot guarantee it is perfectly phrased. In saying that (1) is incompatible with mainstream science, it is because I am saying that all anatomically modern humans do not descend from a single primal pair. So by anatomically modern humans I mean to include humans that would have lived well before 10,000 years ago. That is, I take realist views like (1) as wanting to say that all humans, not simply all humans around today or at Paul’s time, are descended from Adam. Let me know if there is better verbiage to use to capture my meaning or if I have misunderstood something.

On the Lutheran view, I cannot claim to have done pretty much any primary source work on the issue. I think it’s easy to express one’s self in ways conducive to (1) without thereby committing one’s self to a realist view. So I think similar terminology could be used in the Reformed tradition. While someone like Bavinck would hold to natural headship, they would not ground original sin this way.

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Welcome @BrettLunn. Thanks for joining us! I have a few thoughts.

This seems to be a misunderstanding. We certainly do all descend from primal pairs. If you want all anatomically modern humans (Sapiens) to descend from a pair, that pair would be very ancient indeed, perhaps 150,00 years ago.

Why do you believe all Sapiens must descend from Scripture? To me, this sounds like eisogesis. Where does Scripture even include the words “anatomically modern”? Where does it even include the word “human”? Why would we read these modern terms into ancient Hebrew?

It all comes down to what we mean by “Human.” In the genealogical Adam, we are working hard to avoid concordism, so we give full autonomy to theology to use “human” in a manner consistent with Scripture. I suggest using a textual definition of human, the descendents of Adam that extend to the ends of the earth by the time fo Paul. By that definition, all humans around today stretching into the distant past, every single one of them descend from Adam.

You want to use a different definition of human, Sapiens. How do you derive this scientific definition from Scripture without falling into the eisegesis of concordism?

The issue is two fold:

  1. You are not justifying your definition of “human”, and this is leading to concordism.

  2. Even using your definition, then Adam would just be more ancient, and would still be ancestors of all Sapiens.

Either way, Adam could be ancestors of all humans. Thanks for joining us, and I am curious to hear how you avoid eisegesis in your definition of human.

That all being said, @BrettLunn, I really liked your article. I think you did an excellent job explaining a very complex topic. Many of your quotes are very helpful. I learned a lot. Now we just have to catch up on the science :smile:.

Huh? No we don’t.

Not again @patrick. You know what we mean. Anyone alive 200 kya is ancestor of everyone within a couple thousand years (or less) or ancestor of no one.

@swamidass, I think that much you have said here is highly unclear. The bible doesn’t use the word “human”, but it’s clear that it’s talking about people. One could ask what “people” would mean. But I don’t see how that meaning could be theological. That would mean that if there was a human population at the time of Adam, none of them except Adam and Eve would be people, and I don’t see a way that could make sense. Also, you haven’t manage to define what makes Adam and Eve people and the others not, except that it can’t be anything biological. But what is it?

It also isn’t clear when you’re talking about genetic descent and when you’re talking about strictly genealogical descent, and when you’re talking about exclusive descent and when you’re talking about non-exculsive descent.

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Fine, I got it, you said primal pairs. Yes, millions of pairs.

In this case I’m talking about genealogical descent. Yes, there would be interbreeding wiht, for example, Neanderthals.

It does not teach that Adam was the first person.

As always, it comes down to precisely what we mean by “human” in this context. In Genesis, “human” is not defined as “persons” or “Sapiens”. Rather it appears to be defined as the descendents of Adam, without denying the personhood of people who do not descend from him. It is about the rise of the lineage of Adam, or at least that is one valid reading.

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Yes, GA was a Homo Erectus. I am fine with that. Homo Erectus, 700,000 years ago was the most cognitively advanced human. He had language, culture, tool industry, was seafaring and was all over the world -Africa, Asia, Europe, and as far as Flores. Sounds like image of God to me.

That is even more unclear. Genesis doesn’t refer to “human” and so doesn’t define it. You really shouldn’t use that word, because now you are saying that other people of Adam’s time were not human, and that sounds bad. And you still need to clarify what Adam’s descendants have that all those non-human (urk) people don’t.

Probably not. Remember that the ancestors of that time would be a fraction of the population of the time, as many lineages would end before reaching the present. And the population of the time probably wasn’t in the millions.

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There is an interesting interaction with theology here that will take some time to develop. I also am definitively not saying that those outside Adam’s lineage are not philosophical or biological humans. They are fully human in that sense. I am instead using a multilingual or multivalent definition of human.

Another way to put it is that theology is not about all humans in the distant past. Adam is the first human that the Genesis story is about, but this does not mean there were no other biological humans. Adam is the first textual human.

And that’s what makes it both unclear and an unfortunate choice of words. “Human” has connotations (as does “non-human”) that you can’t avoid just by saying you’re avoiding them.

Whatever does “textual human” mean? It seems both a bad and an unnecessary term. It gives me the impression that you’re uncomfortable with the subject and are trying to avoid clarity.

Yes yes, I know your view on this. Give me some time to get you a draft of the book for you to pick apart then :smile:.

Then there is great asymmetry, because I don’t really know your view.

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So what I was attempting to do in my post is discuss how realists would think about the topic, not my own views. My initial thought is that we need a better definition of human than a descendant of Adam. After all, that would mean Adam is not a human. As to what a proper definition would be, I’m not so sure. But I guess I read Romans 5 such that original sin would include all people like us. Again, that can be hard to cash out because what does that say of non-Sapiens, so I’m not saying it gives clear demarcations.

I do have a question about your (2) at the end of your post, “Even using your definition, then Adam would just be more ancient, and would still be ancestors of all Sapiens.” I assume by this you don’t mean that all sapiens would be descended from Adam (assuming Adam is a sapien too). For instance, there would be sapiens around at the time of Adam that would not be descended from him, correct?

Finally, thanks for the kind words on the post. I appreciate it.


Sure. I get that. What are your view then?

As for “realists”, does the Homo divinus view count as realist? They would not agree with your take, it seems.

That I suppose is my point. It begs the question. What is “like us”? Perhaps “like us” is the descendents of Adam, which would be everyone to the ends of the earth at the time Romans is written. There is nothing I see in Scripture that extends this back “to the beginning of time.”

A better way to put it would be approximately Adam and Eve and their descendants. Of course it would include Jesus. This would be similar to the definition used by Keneth Kemp and Andrew Loke.

Sapiens is a fuzzy term in biology. There would surely be debate about who is and is not Sapiens at the origin of the species. Science does not really determine a line with enough resolution here.

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Only in the Hebrew bible textual sense. There were a lot of written texts before the bible with stories about heroes in them. Tales of Gilgamesh, for example, a lot older than the Genesis story.

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