Neo-orthodox theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once famously said that original sin is “the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith.” But what was once “empirically verifiable” is now questioned, and even science is being enlisted as its primary foe.
As the story goes, modern science indicates that it is impossible for the breadth of humanity today to have been derived from a single human pair. If there was no single human pair, there was no Adam and Eve, as the fountainhead of all of humanity. If there was no Adam and Eve, there was no cosmic Fall. Without a cosmic Fall, there was no original sin.1
The conclusion? If the core element of Christian teaching is that Jesus saves us from our sin, then without original sin, the entire Christian story regarding salvation falls flat. Therefore, science has made original sin obsolete. … To continue holding to an obsolete doctrine means that the Bible can not be trusted… The Christian story of sin and salvation implodes…. POOF!!
This is a narrative that has become increasingly popular in the West, as seen from different angles. Many former Christians and other agnostics/atheists point to this as one of the primary reasons why Christian faith must be rejected. Liberal-minded Christians will tend to look the other way and ignore such difficulties. Others from a Christian background will use this objection as a means of rewriting the whole of Christian theology to build a completely different worldview.
Has Science Undermined the Christian Doctrine of Original Sin?
For example, I recently had a lengthy email correspondence with a gentleman who passionately believes that science has proven the doctrine of original sin to be a “mistake,” that can now be corrected. The Bible got it wrong, and science gives us a better description of the truth. Who knew?!
In return, a concerted effort by a number of Christians is underway to defend the existence of an historical Adam and Eve, as the sole progenitors of humanity, the original bearers of the image of God, as well as the source for spreading original sin across the human population. Some are Old Earth Creationists; that is, those who believe in an historical Adam and Eve, specially created by God, but who also accept the great antiquity of the earth.
Most vocally, however, many of these defenders of Adam and Eve are young Earth Creationists, who go to great lengths to postulate that dinosaurs lived alongside Adam and Eve, roughly 6,000 years ago. If anyone raises an eyebrow about dinosaurs and humans living together as being incompatible with modern science, such defenders might double-down on their convictions.
You might have heard of these defenders. They built the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, in Kentucky, with the hopes of rejuvenating theological interest in a six 24-hour day version of Creation, to counter modern skepticism of the Bible, both outside and even within the church.
One of these (former) Young Earth Creationists was the late Glenn Morton, who died in the summer of 2020. Glenn Morton was a geophysicist, an expert in finding oil buried in the ground. During his career, he discovered 34 old fields, with billions of barrels of oil.
Glenn had grown up in a dysfunctional family, where the father was an atheist alcoholic and the mother a sociopath, a manipulator of people who at the same time called herself a Christian. Glenn’s journey to Christian faith was marked by obstacles going back to his childhood.
Nevertheless, Glenn had become a Christian in during the height of the Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. Part of Glenn’s conversion story is that he eventually came to be a vocal adherent to Young Earth Creationism, after initially being something like an Old Earth Creationist. Through his involvement in Campus Crusade for Christ (now known as “CRU”), Glenn became a writer, assisting Josh McDowell, the famed apologist and author of Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Specifically, Glenn Morton was the ghostwriter behind the anti-evolutionary apologetics in chapters of Josh McDowell’s 1981 book, Reasons Why Skeptics Ought to Consider Christianity (now out of print). Glenn wrote other technical and spirited defenses of Young Earth Creationism, until he became disillusioned with it, gradually during the 1980s and early 1990s.
Sadly, many disillusioned Young Earth Creationists end up abandoning the faith. The 2020 announcement by the YouTube comedy team of “Rhett and Link,” and otherwise known as the popular creators of Good Mythical Morning), were once college campus ministry staff workers with CRU. They shocked many of their viewers, when admitting that the loss of confidence in an historical Adam and Eve and a Young Earth was partly to blame, for their abandonment of Christianity.
But unlike such persons who move away from Young Earth Creationism, Glenn Morton did not abandon his faith. Rather, Glenn Morton became an unabashed Old Earth Creationist / Evolutionary Creationist. However, Glenn was not won over by the sentiment of those Christians who lean this way, who have tended to pooh-pooh the historical claims laid out in Genesis 1-11. Glenn was convinced that there was (and is) a “liberalizing” tendency in the church to distrust the Bible as a genuine book of history, and simply look to the Bible solely for spiritual guidance. To put it bluntly, too many Christians, in Glenn Morton’s mind, have taken to pretending the Bible to be true, for the sake of maintaining their faith. But why believe in something, if you know it is not true?
Glenn Morton’s critique is worth thinking about, and he sets forth his case in his last book, Eden Was Here: New Evidence for the Historicity of Genesis. However, his perspective rubs against other perspectives within the church. The unique literary genre of Genesis 1-11, as well as the long cultural distance from, not only our day, but even from the era of the early church fathers, makes the dire urgency of Glenn’s concerns more complicated. It is very easy for modern readers to assume too much as to how ancient Israelites thought, when Genesis was originally written and read.
Like the common narrative that states that science has ruled out original sin, the alternative narrative that Glenn Morton proposes, that so-called “liberal” minded Christians have simply abandoned the historicity of the Bible, for the sake of salvaging their faith, is based on certain assumptions that are difficult to demonstrate with a high degree of confidence, as I will explain shortly. Glenn’s criticism is surely true with some scholars and scientists, but arguably not all.2 But let us set that dispute aside momentarily, and grapple with Glenn Morton’s alternative and give it a fair hearing, by initially investigating why reading the early chapters of Genesis is not as straight-forward, as is often claimed.
Metaphor vs. Non-Metaphor in the Early Chapters of Genesis
Where does one begin? First, let us briefly first consider that common narrative, that science has wiped out an historical Adam and Eve, and therefore, has demolished the Christian basis for original sin. Is there any substantial proof for this claim?
Joshua Swamidass has written a book that I am particularly impressed with, The Genealogical Adam and Eve: The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry, that suggests that the contemporary narrative of modern science does not contradict or rule out an historical Adam and Eve (See my earlier book review on the summary of Swamidass’ argument). Swamidass is not saying definitively, that there is an historical Adam and Eve. But what he is saying is that you can not simply dismiss Adam and Eve on the supposed basis of what “the science says.” Swamidass even claims, consistently with Young Earth Creationist thinking, that Adam and Eve could have lived 6,000 years ago, without compromising settled conclusions of modern science. Therefore, you can not simply dismiss original sin by claiming that science rules it out, on this basis alone.
In other words, science can neither prove nor disprove an historical Adam and Eve.
Furthermore, no matter how ultimately one reads Genesis 1-11, any honest reader has to acknowledge the presence of at least some metaphor, in something like Genesis 1. The Holy Spirit appears to possess the characteristics of an eagle, but this does not mean that the Holy Spirit was created by God. Rather, orthodox Christian theology teaches the Holy Spirit was involved in the act of creating, so when we read in Genesis 1:2 that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters,” this “hovering” is not describing the material characteristics of the Holy Spirit. Instead, Genesis is using a metaphor to describe the superintending character of the Spirit, overlooking Creation. And that is just from reading the first two verses of the book!
No one except the most conspiracy minded theorists reject the use of metaphor in Genesis 1:6-8 to describe the raqia that separates the waters above from the water below. Most modern translations translate this word as something like “expanse,” which is derived from the metaphorical meaning associated with the original Hebrew word. The King James Version actually uses the word “firmament,” which was a made-up word used by the KJV translators, which in the most non-metaphorical sense, comes across exactly as you would think: a solid, extended surface, as in like a steel vault that supports the heavens.
So, when we sent a man to the moon in the 1960s, did the rocket bounce off the bottom of that steel vault? Mmmmmm….3
Therefore, yes, we do have the presence of metaphor in those early chapters of Genesis. The crucial question comes down to determining what is metaphorical and what is non-metaphorical in Genesis 1-11. I would contend that there are sure historical elements in Genesis 1-11, but that they are mixed in with metaphorical elements, too. In other words, Genesis 1-11 is grounded in history, but it is not self-evident regarding the extent of those historical elements. We have to dig in and hunt for that. So, how does one go about sorting out which is which?
Glenn Morton’s Last Stand: A Garden of Eden Rooted in History in Space & Time… In the Eastern Mediterranean
This is where Glenn Morton chimes in with his own answer. Glenn may have given up on the Young Earth Creationist story as scientifically indefensible, but he has championed a way to defend the historicity of much of Genesis 1-11, within an Old-Earth Creationist / Evolutionary Creationist paradigm, that meshes in well with the broad conclusions of modern science.
Glenn Morton was diagnosed with prostrate cancer in 2003, and he battled the disease for years before entering hospice most recently in 2020. Incredibly, within only a few days of his death, Glenn put the final touches on the Kindle version of his final book, Eden Was Here: New Evidence for the Historicity of Genesis. It is as though God preserved his life, just long enough, for him to complete this work.
Eden Was Here is really the culmination of Glenn Morton’s intellectual quest. I would recommend it for those who have grown up in a purely Young Earth Creationist background, who are nervous about other Christians who hold to Old Earth Creationism or Evolutionary Creationism. The concern a suspicion about “liberalizing” elements within those segments of evangelicalism, that wish to “de-historicize” the Scriptural text.
When Glenn Morton moved out of Young Earth Creationism, he was very intent on not being a spiritual stumbling block for struggling Young Earth Creationists. Some years ago, Glenn took down his Internet website that critiqued Young Earth Creationism, because he was learning that certain critics of Christianity were using his material to try to persuade Young Earth Creationists to give up their Christian faith altogether. Glenn wanted to show that there was a way to reconcile modern science with the historical narrative of Genesis 1-11, as he saw it. So, what does he have to say?
Glenn Morton is a contrarian in more ways that one. The traditional approach to Noah’s flood is to consider it a global event, but the scientific consensus has ruled that a global flood never happened. Local flood proponents have typically proposed the location of a large, yet non-global flood to be in Mesopotamia, somewhere in the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers’ basin, or even as far south as the Persian Gulf.
Alternatively, Glenn Morton proposes that the great flood of Noah was actually a massively catastrophic flooding of the Mediterranean Sea basin. Glenn has put forward the hypothesis, that at one time, the Mediterranean Sea was completely dry, except for some isolated, smaller lake beds, fed by a variety of rivers. Two of these rivers included the well-known Tigris and Euphrates rivers. He suggests that there was a great dam at Gibralter, the bottleneck at the western end of the Mediterranean Sea, that broke, that perfectly fits the Scriptural description of the great flood, in the days of Noah. Flood waters came rushing in from the Atlantic Ocean, and wiped out the early human population in that Mediterranean basin.
Glenn Morton documents his hypothesis in Eden Was Here, based on research of sedimentation layers found at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, that were published in the early months of 2020, while Glenn was living through his last few months of cancer. The scientific research, over the last decade, into the ancient Zanchean flood of the Mediterranean has sought explore this fascinating geological history mystery. So, while Glenn’s hypothesis that the Zanchean flood is identical to Noah’s flood is difficult to demonstrate, the science behind a Zanchean flood of “biblical proportions” is amazingly well established.
A Really Old Adam & Eve?
Furthermore, this story of a great Mediterranean flood also points to the location of the Garden of Eden, which Glenn believes is submerged at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. According to Glenn’s calculations, Adam and Eve date back to 5.3 millions years ago (Glenn’s flood for Noah happened within that same ancient time frame).
Now 5.3 million years is really a long time ago. The rough consensus among most scientists, as to the emergence of modern humanity, goes back to about 200,000 years ago. Even Day-Age (Old-Earth) Creationists, like Hugh Ross, put this in the ball park of about 100,000 years ago.
What complicates matters, along with the genetic difficulties associated with having a single human couple populate the entire modern human race, is the evidence that shows interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans. This has forced even someone like a William Lane Craig to postulate an historical Adam at 750,000 years ago, on the assumption that Neanderthals are in some sense inclusive within modern humanity. But Glenn Morton’s hypothesis pushes that even farther back, at 5.3 million years ago, to make and Adam and Eve the parents of other hominids as well. As he put it, “Adam was likely a small-brained hominid or an H[omo] erectus” (Eden, p. 157).
It is not merely genetics that forces Glenn to push Adam back this far. There are also cultural factors, such as the research that indicates Neanderthals had to have worn clothing, just as early humans had to have done, in cold climates. Glenn concedes that his solution is very unconventional, but he insists that it does work, with both the scientific and Scriptural data in hand.
This is a far cry from the standard Young Earth Creationist model, of an earth only 6,000 years old, with Adam showing up shortly after the initial event of Creation, with a global sized flood to follow during the days of Noah. As a result, I do not see hard-core, committed Young Earth Creationists taking a liking to Glenn Morton’s thesis. Glenn does not want to casually dismiss any significant historicity of the early chapters in Genesis, but he is not willing to dismiss the findings of modern science in the process. This leads him in making conclusions in some rather unconventional, but very interesting ways.
Joshua Swamidass’ Genealogical Adam vs. Glenn Morton’s Really Ancient Adam
Interestingly, Glenn Morton rejects Joshua Swamidass’ thesis, expounded in the latter’s The Genealogical Adam and Eve. Granted, Swamidass has a big problem, in that it leaves untold millions (perhaps) of humans out of the picture, prior to the time of Christ, who do not have a genealogical connection to Adam and Eve, as pointed out by a Biologos thinker, Jay Johnson. For Morton and Johnson, Swamidass’ thesis is a halfway attempt geared to engage Young Earth Creationists, and not a convincing one at that. (Some Young Earth Creationists are simply not convinced either by Swamidass).
But an often difficult portion of Romans 5:12-14 obscures a subtle clue that there might have been humans prior to Adam and Eve. Here is the passage in full:
- 12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come (ESV).”
First, there is a good case to be made that, in this particular passage, Paul is not talking about Adam’s sin bringing about physical death into the world. For when God gave the command to Adam about not eating of the fruit of the tree, the consequence would be death on the day that the commandment was disobeyed. That much is clear. Since Adam and Eve did not die physically on the very day that they disobeyed God, it is reasonable to conclude that Paul was talking about spiritual death, as in separation from God, as opposed to physical death.4
Going with that, we can say that spiritual death surely entered the world through Adam, but Paul also states that “for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. ” What is the “law” mentioned here? The standard interpretation is that this is a reference to the future Law of Moses. But could it be a reference instead to the law given by God in the Garden, to not eat the forbidden fruit?
If so, this would imply that there was sin in the world prior to Adam, and yet sin was not counted (“imputed“: see NASB) against these humans, that would entail spiritual death. Other humans prior to Adam sinned and eventually died physically, but their sin was not like the sin of Adam, where God gave a specific command to Adam, which was not obeyed. Adam’s disobedience had more far reaching effects, as compared to that of other humans, to whom no specific command was given. In other words, original sin, specifically in the sense of sin being imputed to others, did not come into the story until Adam and Eve came along.
Yet why would anyone think that, according to the Bible, there were any humans prior to Adam (much less sin)? Here is the argument: Many if not most interpreters suppose that Genesis 2 is a microscopic look at the events that took place on Day 6 of Genesis 1. However, if we understand the sequential nature of Genesis 1, followed by Genesis 2, it is possible to understand that certain unnamed humans were created before Adam (in Genesis 1), which would have been followed by Adam’s creation, in the Garden (Genesis 2). What Adam’s sin did was to bring about the curse against all humanity moving forward, leading to spiritual death. This would be the starting point of original sin, that entered the world, that Christ came to ultimately resolve and heal.5
Verse 14 (in Romans 5) carries the thought along: “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” This “death” is not simply physical, but most importantly, spiritual. Paul’s point would be that the impact of original sin, through Adam, infected the whole of the human race afterwards, even though there was no giving of the law by God, between the period of Adam and Moses (excepting certain specific commands given to those like Noah and Abraham). In other words, those humans prior to Moses but after Adam did not sin in the same way Adam sinned, but they all became spiritually corrupted all the same, due to Adam’s Fall.
Glenn Morton does not find such a reading to be convincing. Instead, he goes about reading Genesis in a more traditional, yet still non-Young Earth Creationist way. Glenn just requires a really, really,… really old Adam. Adam is not only the fountainhead of all human sin, as he is also the first biblical human. Though for Glenn Morton, this definition of “human” would presumably include other hominids, such as the Neanderthals.
Glenn Morton finds this solution necessary, for it establishes the basis for the Christian doctrine of original sin. For Glenn, “a Christianity without Adam and Eve has lost the reason for atonement” (Eden, p. 309).
Glenn Morton’s Last Stand: An Old-Earth, Evolutionary Concordist Approach to the Bible
Glenn assumes what is called a concordist view of the Bible and science, whereby Christians are to search the Bible and science, in order to find points of agreement. However, there are a number of Bible scholars, such as Wheaton College’s John Walton, who do not see the Bible supporting a concordist view. In Walton’s perspective, the Bible does not specifically address the question of material origins. For Walton, the Bible is concerned about functional origins and not material origins (see these older Veracity blog posts about John Walton, #1 and #2).
Nevertheless, it is worth considering Glenn Morton’s approach, even by those who reject concordist views of the Bible. Glenn Morton’s Mediterranean-hypothesis is a noble attempt to try to find that harmony between science and the Bible, without side-stepping the historicity/science issues (as is sometimes claimed against scholars like John Walton), AND without having to fallback on a Young Earth Creationism, that finds itself continually at odds with today’s scientific consensus.
Glenn Morton also provides an brief, helpful and incisive critique against what is generally associated with “theistic evolution,” in the debate with “Intelligent Design,” by suggesting that God can and has designed creation to use randomness in the process of creation (Eden, p. 38ff). Eden is Here is also a brief mini-history of the Young Earth Creationist movement, written by one the movement’s former insiders.
I have not always resonated with Glenn Morton’s rhetoric and argumentation, over the years that I have read him, before his death in the summer of 2020. Even in Eden Is Here, I am not totally convinced that Glenn successfully lines everything up, despite having 330 pages worth of text and diagrams, including footnotes, to support his thesis. But I could be missing some crucial details here, and so I would prefer to keep an open mind.
A MINOR POINT: The only other critique of Eden is Here, in Kindle form, is that the book is missing a table of contents, and it does not index at all, when searching for words.
I must acknowledge most importantly that Glenn Morton was a follower of Jesus, who sincerely desired to know the Truth, whatever it cost, and his passion comes out in Eden is Here. His example has been an inspiration for me, challenging me to pursue Truth just as passionately as Glenn Morton did.
Back to the original question: Does science rule out the Biblical doctrine of original sin? No. Glenn Morton shows you a bunch of reasons why.
How does a historical Adam and Eve exactly relate to original sin, and how does that sin impact humanity overall? Well, that is a topic that many will continue to debate. Conflicting proposals will abound, and even theological definitions of original sin tend to vary, in those proposals. Glenn Morton’s solution is but one among several. As Glenn even acknowledges in his conclusion, “My views might not be the only way to make Scripture concord with modern science, but it is a way forward” (Eden, p.313). So it is. Eden Is Here is a worthy and provocative attempt to reconcile science with the Bible, using a concordist interpretive model. It is a labor of love that is fitting as Glenn Morton’s last stand.
That being said, there is much more to the story, that we have yet to uncover. We have much more to learn about how the ancient Israelites understood Genesis, and how science ties in with all of this.
Therefore, rumors of the absolute demise of Adam and Eve, and the sin problem that they gave to the world, are greatly exaggerated.
The great flooding event that Glenn Morton identifies as Noah’s flood in the Bible is known to scientists as the Zanchean Flood of 5.3 million years ago. The flood was preceded by the Strait of Gilbralter closing up, due to tectonic shifts that dammed up the Mediterranean, stopping the water flow into the Mediterranean Sea, and leaving behind incredibly thick salt layer deposits, that are observable today. An animation of the Zanchean Flood shows how it might just match up with Noah’s flood. Pretty cool stuff:
… for something for you music lovers…..
… a theologian (N.T. Wright) and a scientist (Francis Collins) team up to play a new hymn about “Evolutionary Creationism,” with a tip reference to original sin (thank you), sung to the tune of the Beatles “Yesterday”…… Collins takes the lead guitar line…. Amazingly in-sync with one another, considering that Wright is in the U.K. and Collins is near Washington, D.C….all from technology brought to you by the advances of….. drumroll….. science!!:
1. In this blog article, I am purposefully not trying to define “original sin,” as the question of definition by itself is just such huge topic, that I better save for a later post. But in brief, there has been a long and ongoing dispute regarding what “original sin” really is, going back all of the way to the period of the early church. For example, in the West, most Christians have inherited the idea from Saint Augustine, that original sin is really the guilt of Adam’s sin that has been spread to all of humanity. The problem with Augustine’s interpretation is that Romans 5:12ff nowhere says that guilt was spread to all men. Rather it was death that was spread to all men. For the Eastern Orthodox, this has generally meant that Adam’s sin caused human mortality, as in physical death. Fast forwarding to contemporary times, Young Earth Creationists believe that is was not just human death that was spread to all, stemming from Adam’s sin, but rather this also included animal death, despite the fact that nowhere does Paul say this in Romans 5:12ff. Most Young Earth Creationists base their view on an interpretation of Romans 8:19-23. Other views abound. I will just save that debate for a later time. ↩
2. A discouraging example of a Christian scholar/scientist who has concluded that Adam and Eve did not exist, which therefore requires a complete re-theologizing of the Christian story is Karl Giberson. Giberson helped Francis Collins to found Biologos, an evangelical Christian think tank geared towards helping Christians reconcile science with the Bible, back in 2008. However, Giberson eventually drifted away from the Biologos mission and his former evangelical faith, calling for an overhaul of the Christian doctrine of original sin, in his 2015 Saving the Original Sinner: How Christians Have Used the Bible’s First Man to Oppress, Inspire, and Make Sense of the World. See this review by William VanDoodeward. Like VanDoodewaard, I also pray that Giberson comes back . ↩
3. In the book Eden Was Here, that I am reviewing in this blog post, the author Glenn Morton disputes that raqia had an original non-metaphorical meaning, from the ancient Hebrew (Eden, p. 21-22). Ben Stanhope interacts with that argument in this YouTube video. ↩
4. One might still insist original sin leads to physical death, as well as spiritual death. But that is worth exploring at later time. I have recently started to read Original Sin and the Fall: Five Views, to get me better up to speed on the debate. If there is any one particular polemical position that Glenn Morton seeks to refute, it would most likely be Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture After Genetic Science, by Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight, also on my “to be read” list. ↩
5. For more details supporting this argument, consult Dr. James Tour’s YouTube video with Dr. Joshua Swamidass . To consider other objections to there being any humans living prior to Adam and Eve, consult this previous Veracity blog post. There are two other Veracity blog posts addressing the question of whether or not God created the world as “perfect” or “good” in Genesis 1 (post #1 and post #2). There is also the question of interbreeding between humans and Neanderthals, which might suggest a complex intermingling of such creatures. Would be possible to say that Cain married a Neanderthal wife? ↩