Suarez and Swamidass on Original Sin


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #1

Continuing the discussion from The Theological Signifance of Descent From Adam:

So here we go @AntoineSuarez. Go ahead and take a post to summarize your view and ask me some questions of my view.


Story Three: Recent Sole-Genealogical Progenitor Adam
(Antoine Suarez) #2

Thanks Josh!
I will do it within 2-3 days.
All the best


(Antoine Suarez) #3

First of all I would like to thank Josh for opening this thread and giving me opportunity to present my proposal.

1. Even if all humans were genetically descended from a single primeval couple “Adam and Eve” generations may have passed before the appearance of sin.

In the Summa Theologica Thomas Aquinas discusses a couple of questions that are significant in this respect:

Thomas definitely states that in the state of innocence, there would have been generation, and this would have happened through coition just like now. Adam and Eve would have generated children even if they had not sinned and kept the state of innocence. [Summa theologica I, q.98, a.1]

Subsequently Thomas states that in the state of innocence Adam’s and Eve’s children would have been born without original sin since “the children would have been assimilated to their parents as regards original righteousness”. [Summa theologica I, q.100, a.1]

Finally, Thomas states that, although born without original sin, such children would have been capable of sinning, or in other words “they would not have been born confirmed in righteousness”. [Summa theologica I, q.100, a.2]

This analysis has an important implication: Even if Humanity is genetically descended from a single couple (“Adam and Eve”), generations may have passed before the appearance of sin, and hence there is no requirement that the first sin in human history (the “originating original sin” or peccatum originale originans ) was committed by a single pair from which every human person is genetically descended. Or in other words, whether the first sinners were or were not the genetic common ancestors of all human persons is irrelevant for belief in the original sin.

This also means that Thomas considers it possible that, in the beginning, humanity could have consisted of two groups: one of people in the state of innocence and one of people who fell and lost this state. However Thomas does not address (at least in the Summa and to my knowledge nowhere else) the question of how such a population evolved in the following course of history.

In my view this “question that Thomas didn’t address” deserves to be discussed for it may help to illuminate the mystery of the transmission of the “state of original sin” ( originated original sin, “Erbsünde”). What is more, the “question” must be discussed if theology alleges to be serious knowledge.

2. A key Principle: Romans 11:32

Without entering details for the moment my answer to the question is:

Maintaining on earth people in a state of original grace and without need of Redemption together with people in state of original sin and need of Redemption would not be suitable for the sake of Redemption.

Accordingly, if one assumes that God creates humans to the aim of filling “the Banquet of His Kingdom”, He had to alternative ways to reach it after the first (“original”) sin:

  • Send immediately sinners to join “the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41), and let on earth only people in the state of original grace or righteousness, without need of Redemption.

  • Or, alternatively, take the righteous to heaven (as He took away Enoch and Elijah) and let on earth sinners in the state of lack of original grace and need of Redemption to give them opportunity to atone.

As we know, God decided for the second way in accord with the principle St. Paul enounces in Romans 11:32: “For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”

With relation to the question we are discussing this statement by St. Paul means that God has bound everyone over to the “state of original sin” so that he may redeem them all.

Accordingly we accept that after the first humans sinned, God’s plan for Redemption requires that any new human person is generated in the state of need of Redemption or lack of original grace.

This analysis fits also well with the Easter Liturgy calling the Original sin “felix culpa” : Felix was not the actual misdeed of the first human sinners but the decision of God to create their descendants without the state of innocence, in order to make it possible to redeem sinners of all times.

In order to avoid misunderstandings in this context, it is worth clarifying that God was entirely free to create humankind or not, and after the Fall God remained entirely free to redeem human beings or not. However, once God decided for Redemption He was no longer free to maintain people in the state of original righteousness along with people who had lost this state. This seems to be what St. Paul declares in Romans 11:32: God put His omnipotence and creativity at the service of mercy, and invented an amazing way to bringing good out of sin.

In this perspective the ‘fall’ bore the state of original sin because it was the first sin in the history of humanity, and not because it was the sin of the primeval human persons (“Adam and Eve”): If the primeval persons sinned, their sin bore the state of original sin; if generations passed before the first sin arrived, then this first sin was the ‘fall’ and bore the state of original sin even if it was not committed by the primeval human persons. The state of original sin is a product of both the pride of the first sinners and God’s will to redeem sinners. Thus ‘Adam’ is the symbol of the first sinner, who transgressed as if all people were subsumed into him. As soon as the first sin happened, in order to make it possible to redeem the sinners, God acted as if all humanity was in the state of sin and needed redemption.

Against the interpretation of Romans 11:32 we are proposing one could object that it leads to consider that God is the cause of the original sin.

I answer that any act requires God’s cooperation; otherwise the act could not take place (every action of a creature is brought into existence and sustained by God). God cannot withdraw his cooperation because this would contradict his decision to create man free. Nonetheless “He [God] is not the cause of sin, because he does not cause the act to have a defect” [Summa theologica I,IIae, q.79, a.2]. One could say that God acts like a pianist playing the melodies he wants; however, at intervals, God accepts to play what a human person wants. It is God who works in us, both to will and to work, but He is not the author of the sin in us. Similarly, mankind’s first fall “bounds” God (because of His mercy) to create human persons in the state of original sin, that is, lacking the state of innocence. But the reason that God has acted this way is not His will, but the humans who fell.

In summary, according to Romans 11:32 for the sake of Redemption after the Fall only people without the state of innocence and necessitating Redemption remained in this world.

3. Original sin could have happened at the time when modern human’s population already had a large size.

According to me the creation of the first humans with sense of law and accountability happened at about 3’500 BC at the appearance of writing. If you predate this date to about 6’000-10,000 BC the implications for the transmission of “original sin” would be basically the same.

At this time there were about 5-10 million creatures with anatomical modern human body. Let us assume that God endowed one couple of such creatures (“Adam and Eve”) with capability of freely loving God, and consequently accountability toward His law.

Let us assume that “Adam and Eve” or some of their genetic descendants committed the first sin in human history. Thereafter, in according our precedent analysis, all the genetic descendants of “Adam and Eve” on earth were in state of “original sin” that is in need of Redemption.

4. What happened to the million modern humans “outside the Garden”?

So the question arises: What happened to all the million creatures with human body that didn’t have Adam and Eve as genetic ancestors and were spread over the whole earth? (the population Josh calls “outside the garden”).

My explanation is as follows:

At some moment corresponding to God’s proclamation in Geneses 9:6 after the Flood, God endowed all these creatures with capability of freely loving him and accountability toward His law but lacking original grace, that is the same state as the genetic offspring of Adam and Eve after the first sin.

This population and their descendants shared biologically and theologically exactly the same status as the genetic descendants of “Adam and Eve”, and were accountable Image Bearers . This means that God’s commandment in Genesis 9:7 be fruitful and multiply on earth referred to and sanctified also marriage between genetic descendants of “Adam and Eve” and other people.

5. Swamidass explanation

(Please correct me if I misinterpret you)

It seems to me that regarding the question of where “original sin” comes from, Swamidass and Suarez share basically equivalent views:

Swamidass claims that “Adam’s sin is our sin”.

Suarez claims that “the sin of the first sinner is our sin”.

Incidentally, this view is also shared by @Kathryn_Applegate of BioLogos.

Where Swamidass and Suarez seem slightly to diverge is regarding the status of “those outside the garden”.

According to Swamidass the population “outside the garden” were possibly Image Bearers (since they possessed a human body) but NOT accountable toward God’s law, and consequently they were neither in state of original grace nor in state of original sin.

Those “outside the garden” interbreed with genetic descendants from “Adam and Eve” and produced a population of genealogical descendants of “Adam and Eve”. Any genealogical descendant acquired the state of original sin and after some generations (at latest of the time of Jesus) all human beings on earth shared the state of original sin.

According to Swamidass the transmission of original sin seems to be linked to genealogical ancestry from “Adam and Eve”, while according to me it is linked to the generation of any human person after the first sin even if she/he is not genealogically descended from “Adam and Eve”.

My objection to Swamidass’ view is that he assumes marriage between people who are accountable and people who are not accountable and therefore cannot freely decide to love God and the others. It seems to me that such an assumption does not fit with the sanctity of marriage, especially if one considers that it was the “original Sacrament”. This problem could be easily solved if one assumes that through the very contact with genetic descendants from Adam those “outside the garden” became accountable Image Bearers, that is, they were endowed by God with free will, sense of law, and accountability before marriage; and since this generation of adult human persons had happened after the first (“original”) sin, they would have been generated lacking original grace, i.e.: in “state of original sin”. If Josh could accept such a solution then our two models would coalesce to one.

I have also a minor objection regarding “creation of Adam and Eve de novo ”:

In my view my assumption that God endows with capability of freely loving Him and accountability an adult modern human in the Neolithic is as de novo creation as if He does this to a heap of clay.

Anyway, I see no reason why the assumption of creating Adam from a heap of clay may account better for the transmission of “original sin” than creating Adam from an adult modern human.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #4

Hmm, I should pick this up again.

Sorry I’m a bit delayed. So, are you hoping I’ll lay out how I am thinking about original sin? That might be helpful for me to work though.

Remind me again our goals @AntoineSuarez?

Also, this is an important point I’m anticipating here:


(Antoine Suarez) #5

Thanks Josh for this response.

In my view the motivation for a «genealogical Adam» cannot be other than ensuring that Adam’s sin («original sin») becomes the sin of all humans after a certain moment in history, at latest the moment of the Incarnation of God’s Son.

But then you have to reject the possibility of human Extraterrestrials.

Could you please clarify your position in this respect?