After I posted the Argument From Evolution, some discussion ensued. Most comments offered that if one denies the concept of original sin, one need not accept the argument. This suggestion has a problem however. How would a Christian reject original sin, especially given Romans 5:12-21 (i.e. “sin came into the world through one man”) and 1 Corinthians 15:45? It isn’t enough to say that sin entered the world at some point since that begs the question. I agree, however, that if one wants to defeat the argument, P1 should be the target. Let’s revisit the argument.
P1 If evolution is true, there was no original sinner.
P2 Evolution is true.
P3/C1 Therefore, there was no original sinner.
P4 If there was no original sinner, there was no original sin.
P5 There was no original sinner.
P6/C2 Therefore, there was no original sin.
P7 If there was no original sin, there was no continuing sin.
P8 There was no original sin.
P9/C3 Therefore, there was no continuing sin.
P10 If there was no continuing sin, there was no reason for Christ to die.
P11 There was no continuing sin.
C Therefore, there was no reason for Christ to die.
What feature of evolution disqualifies the notion of an original or first sinner? It may seem enough to state that populations and not individuals evolve. This is what Dawkins illustrates. However, like the difference between semantic and methodological instrumentalism in the philosophy of science1, there’s a difference between semantic evolution and actual evolution. Richard Dawkins’ illustration is a semantic presentation and gives us the gist of evolution; it doesn’t, however, give us the details or actual evolution. That’s all well and good, but if intended to serve as support for the Argument from Evolution, the presentation isn’t enough.
Of the contentions raised, perhaps the most interesting was raised by A.J. Doherty over at icrappoetry. We had extended discussions in private centering around the argument. He isn’t a creationist or an ID advocate, so he didn’t approach the argument with any pretenses of challenging P2 of the argument. He went after P1. He pointed out that Dawkins’ illustration is challenged by predicate vagueness. One would show this by using a sorites paradox.2 In brief, it looks as follows:
P1 One grain of sand doesn’t form a dune.
P2 If one grain of sand doesn’t form a dune then two grains don’t.
P3 If two grains don’t form a dune then three grains don’t.
Pu If 7,000,000,000 grains don’t form a dune then an infinite amount of grains don’t. (u means undefined since no one knows how many premises were necessary to arrive at that conclusion).
This is a variation of the heap. It’s to be noted that one grain can make the difference between a dune and a non-dune. Therefore, we could see this as a line between a dune and non-dune. If we accept this logic, then there’s some difference between a sinner and a non-sinner; in other words, there’s a line dividing sinner from non-sinner. As A.J. offered, for this claim to be approximately true, it doesn’t matter what the species of the sinner was. Given evolution, this species was related to humans; thus, it need not be a homo sapien. I would contend that given what the Bible says, this isn’t theologically sound; however, I’ll set that issue aside. The issue is that predicate vagueness addresses semantics. If anything, it calls into question our use of language. It doesn’t call actual cases into question since we generally agree we know a dune when we see one. This may seem like splitting hairs, but the contention is worth fielding.
Predicate vagueness no doubt works against semantic evolution. Dawkins’ illustration presents a smooth continuum flowing from one ancestor to the next. Actual evolution, when the details are considered, doesn’t work this way. There are three things to consider: anatomy, structure, and function. For the sake of brevity, I’ll simply agree that evolution implies anatomical and structural similarity from one ancestor to the next (e.g. if homo antercessor was the most recent ancestor of homo sapien, it was anatomically similar to homo sapien). What it doesn’t imply is functional similarity and since we’re talking of a first sinner—in other words, of an individual who knew right from wrong, felt guilt after doing wrong, and was thus, liable for his/her actions—the structure we should focus on is the brain.
I agree that the brains of neanderthals were structurally similar to human brains. But were they functionally similar? Were they capable of understanding right from wrong? It has been suggested that they had the capacity for language,3 which is probably good reason to conclude that they did understand right from wrong. Whether or not language is necessary for this understanding is not of interest for our purposes. One can continue to push the buck back and offer that homo antercessor and homo erectus understood right from wrong. One will eventually arrive at a population that didn’t understand right from wrong. Granted. But how about the notion of a first sinner? Since predicate vagueness only applies semantically and not actually, there was no first individual capable of this understanding—especially since vagueness would not apply to function. Brain function is of central importance when speaking of the capacity to understand right from wrong and feel guilt after doing wrong.4 Brain structure also plays a part.5
Ultimately, the contention deserves careful attention. It is, however, addressed by the fact that there’s nothing vague about function and (probably) structure. In other words, 99% of, for example, an amygdala isn’t the difference between someone who understands right from wrong and someone who doesn’t. Evolution doesn’t work grain to grain like semantic dunes do. Even if we grant that it does, function wouldn’t work this way. We can’t argue that one neuron or one synapse makes the difference between someone who feels guilt for doing wrong and someone who doesn’t. Brain function isn’t linear; it isn’t a smooth continuum. One could offer this semantically, but it is indefensible in actuality. So while the contention is interesting and at first sight seems to threaten the Argument from Evolution, a careful consideration shows that that isn’t the case.
The argument can, however, be defeated but perhaps at a hefty price. If one is to defeat the argument, one would have to reject the doctrine of original sin on theological grounds. To do this, perhaps the best route is to adopt some of the earliest interpretations of the idea expressed in 1 Corinthians 15:45. The earliest idea can be traced to Philo of Alexandria though the idea likely predated him.6 Furthermore, the idea resembles Plato’s forms or ideas. This lends strong credence to the notion that the earliest versions of Christianity were actually versions of Judaism that included hellenic elements, which would thus make for a mystery religion. Also, Philo’s idea—and by extension, Paul’s adaptation of the idea—can be considered gnostic, which in the modern day is considered a heretical view. So to defeat the argument, one would have to adopt an unorthodox theological view that would probably be labelled heretical by modern Christians. One would have to regress to an earlier version of Christianity and admit that what is taught today is false. In essence, this is a hefty price to pay: to avoid the conclusion of an argument, one is then willing to throw Christian theology into disarray. A detailed consideration of Christianity’s history already accomplishes this, but if one wants to pay that price for the sake of defeating the argument, so be it.
1 Sober, Elliot. "Instrumentalism Revisited." Crítica: Revista Hispanoamericana de Filosofía Vol. 31: 3-39. Web. 26 July 2014.
2 ”Sorites Paradox.” . Stanford University, 17 Jan. 1997. Web. 26 July 2014. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/sorites-paradox/>.
3 Frayer, David. "Who’re You’re Calling a Neanderthal." The New York Times. 2 May 2013. Web.
4 Fumagalli, Manuela , and Alberto Priori. "Functional and clinical neuroanatomy of morality." Brain 2012: 1-16. Web. 26 July 2014.
5 Wood, Janice. "Scans Show Psychopaths Have Brain Abnormalities." Psych Central. 11 May 2012. Web.
6 In Philo’s scheme, the first Adam was an invisible perfect man, having no gender and being immortal and imperishable, and this is what explains there being two creation accounts in Genesis (Gen. 1-2.3 vs. Gen. 2.4-25): the first related to the creation of the true man, and the second related to the creation of his mortal copy. Although Philo thinks a lot of the creation account is allegorical (for him there was no Paradise and no Serpent, for example), it is clear other Jewish theologians disagreed with him…And as we saw, even Philo clearly imagines a real cosmos with a real heaven with perfect versions of things, of which the things below are imperfect copies—and the things in heaven can be seen only by higher, spiritual senses (the pure intellect), unlike ordinary ‘material’ things that are seen by our ‘external’ (material) sense.
In response to the question of why God put the ‘material’ Adam in Paradise but didn’t do the same for the perfect heavenly Adam, Philo answers that ‘some persons have said, when they imagined Paradise was a garden, that because the man who was created was endowed with senses, therefore he naturally and properly proceeded into a sensible place’, whereas ‘the other man, who is made after God’s own image, being appreciable only by the intellect, and invisible, had all the incorporeal species for his share’; but Philo thinks rather that all this Paradise stuff is allegorical and not literally meant. However, it’s clear that Philo was dissenting from a view other Jews held, and the view of those others was that there were two Paradises, the material one and the heavenly one, or possibly more than two, many levels or ‘emanations,’ from the perfect Paradise on high, to the more material Paradise in the third heaven, to the many gardens on earth, which are all copies of those.
Of the two Adams, Philo says, ‘there are two kinds of men, the one made according to the image of God, the other fashioned out of the earth’, because ‘the image of God is the mold for all other things, and every imitation aims at this, of which it is an imitation.’ And, therefore, ‘the races of men are twofold: for one is the heavenly man, and the other the early man; and ‘the heavenly man, as being born in the image of God, has no participation in any corruptible or earthlike essence’, whereas ‘the earthly man is made of loose material…a lump of clay.’
The doctrine obviously predates Philo, and Philo has simply made his own modifications to it, because the same tradition was also shared by Paul and thus evidently influenced the earliest Christian theology. Philo’s language of ‘the heavenly man’ and ‘the earthly man’, ‘the first man; and ‘the second man’, and the idea of there being two Adams, is paralleled in (but adapted differently by) Paul. We see this, for example, in 1 Cor. 15.45-49 (to be read with 15.21-24). Philo says the heavenly man is imperishable and immortal and the earthly man is ‘by nature’ mortal and perishable, exactly in agreement with Paul. Both also call the earthly Adam the ‘first man’. Paul then calls Jesus the ‘last Adam’, but describes him in terms identical to Philo’s ‘second’ man (who in order of creation was really the first). Notably, Philo’s ‘celestial’ Adam can be seen only by the eye of the intellect, just as Origen says the body of the resurrected Jesus was invisible to the external senses and could be seen only with spiritual vision. Origen also says that this invisible resurrection body was the original ‘mold’ for the body of flesh that Jesus had previously worn, and thus his fleshly body was only an earthly copy of his true, original (and final) body. Paul describes similar notions in 2 Corinthians 5, where it appears our true bodies (of which our present bodies are copies) already await us in heaven.
Carrier, Richard. On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt, p.197-199. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Phoenix Press Ltd, 2014. Print.