Sin in the light of biology

One theological question I find often gets overlooked is how we are to understand sin in the light of biology. Knowing, as we do, that we share many behavioral tendencies with our animal brethren, how can we present a sound case for the reality of sin?

For instance, acts of aggression, such as bullying, closely mirror the instinctual establishment of a “pecking order” in many animal species. Or take the inclination towards lust and infidelity that is now seen as a byproduct of an evolutionary drive to spread one’s genes. How do we hold one another responsible for these behaviors if they are the product, not of a fall from grace, but of our very origins?

The answer is implied by the words “many”, “tendencies” and “inclination”! :slight_smile:

Humans are evil by nature. Nature is evil and we have to surpass it.

Ah, tonyrey! I’m disappointed! That’s an awfully pat answer from someone as eloquent as yourself. :wink:

I don’t believe that’s correct. It should be that humans are sinful by nature.

Are you a die-hard calvanist?

We are not evil by nature, but by failure in nature. otherwise were we evil by nature if I were to beat up and rob a helpless granny, then murder her, then do in a bus load of nuns and then torch a kindergarden you wouldn’t bad an eyelid, thats just human nature you would say. Acting in accordance with nature is normal and normative. Acting against it is not.

Your statement is contrary to Catholic teaching!
As for the basic question-I am not going to argue or debate you just for the sake of argument. Your basic premise is also contrary to Catholic teaching, which from the words of Christ affirms our Godly nature to overcome such primal urges. G*d endowed human beings with the ability to use ones brains for rational thought. This is what differentiates us from base animals, such as apes, bears, and wolves…and even dogs and cats!
It is incumbant upon any properly catechised Christian to develope enough self control not to succumb to animalistic urges.
Secularists would call this civilized behavior. Contrary to Playboy magazine and its ilk, civilized people do not pointlessly have random sexual contact with anyone they want, nor do they physically assault them, nor commit murder. All of them primal bestial urges. Yes, the ancient Romans and Greeks did those acts, but they were pagans, and did not have the cultural benefits the Chinese or Indian civilizations of their time, which proscribed such behavior, and definately did not have the ethos and mores of modern Western (Christian) or Moslem civilization. So your basic premise about biological urges is adolescent, pointless, and inane.

If we are evil by nature, then there is nothing in us by which to overcome evil.

Furthermore, our LORD, in becoming human would have become evil. That’s just wrong.

I’d say that while we share most of our behaviors with the animal kingdom (and we must, since our human “natural body” is in effect a glorified animal), we are equipped by mind and will to overcome those propensities, which no other critter can do.

ICXC NIKA

Sin as we understand it is only knowable from a theological perspective, failure in human nature is knowable but not necessarily explainable IMO by philosophy alone.

We can know that we are not always as we were ment to be by virtue of the fact we recognise when behaviour is falling short. If this behaviour were natural to us as a species or as individuals then it wouldn’t be shocking when we fail. Just as on a physical level we are not supprised when we meet someone who can’t naturally flap their arms and fly, but we are taken aback when we meet someone who can’t naturally see.

On the level of choice and action we know that actions like murder, to use an extreme example, is unnatural to us as we find it unnatural intuitively.

Now comparing our behaviour to that of animals only gets us so far as since they lack rationality they can’t be held accountable for their actions. As rational animals we must think before we act.

Actually, acts such as murder are not “unnatural”. Animals kill others of their species all the time, for alpha-male or other reasons.

It is human life that finds such killing to be wrong, and that is because of our higher mind, which includes what we call “conscience”. This would seem to be uniquely human, and it doesn’t work all the time.

ICXC NIKA

Nowhere in my premise did I state anything that would deny our possession of the faculty of reason. Nor did I say that a Christian was not required to practice self-control. If you go back and reread my original post, you might notice that the question was how one would explain this to a skeptic/nonbeliever.

Secularists would call this civilized behavior. Contrary to Playboy magazine and its ilk, civilized people do not pointlessly have random sexual contact with anyone they want, nor do they physically assault them, nor commit murder. All of them primal bestial urges. Yes, the ancient Romans and Greeks did those acts, but they were pagans, and did not have the cultural benefits the Chinese or Indian civilizations of their time, which proscribed such behavior, and definately did not have the ethos and mores of modern Western (Christian) or Moslem civilization. So your basic premise about biological urges is adolescent, pointless, and inane.

I never said everyone did. I certainly don’t. The fact is, though, that many “civilized people” DO do these things, especially nowadays, and will justify it with the reasons given in my question. You mistake the argument presented as my own perspective, which is not the case. The problem I’m posing is how you would explain man’s need for redemption if his sinful inclinations are a result of pure biology and not a fall from grace/disobedience to God. I, personally, can think of a few possible solutions, but I am curious to get others’ opinions and ideas.

It is a serious theological question and worthy of discussion. Writing it off as “adolescent, pointless, and inane” is, first of all, a cop-out and secondly, such a hostile tone is absolutely unbecoming of a Christian. Our job is to draw others towards Christ, not drive them away by calling them names. And honestly, that kind of ad hominem mudslinging makes you sound threatened and unsure of your own position, so I would suggest dropping it if you were to get into a debate with someone who actually does disagree with you. Just saying.

And thats one of the things that marks us out from non-rational animals the capacity for responsibility, and that we ‘should know better’

Having reread that post myself, I now see that, in editing the question, I removed the reference to evangelization. My apologies. But, skeptics or no, this is a question that has only been addressed, to my knowledge, by evolutionary theologians such as Jerry Korsmeyer, who attempt to eliminate the doctrine of original sin. I am hoping to find some more orthodox approaches to the issue.

It is commanded of us in the Bible that we must kill the old self and cloth the new self in righteousness. Not until one accomplishes this can they grow in the virtue of LOVE.

God question and good points.

There is a way to look at all this in terms that fit your wondering. Basically, it is more about awarenesss thatn biology, but the capacity for awareness goes with biology, so to speak. So while the story, very superficially, deals with what appears to be a “fall,” in
much greater likelyhood it is a symbolization of the fulcrum of awareness that was tipped on when we, as a race, became able to separate ourselves psychologically from our bodies and the world. We gained identity, somewhat in the way that we call 7 the “age of reason.” That means we are able to make distinctions that animals are considered not to be able to make.

But this calls for a ceratin mode of awareness, which is the ability to say “that’s not me; this is me.” And the feelingof self is then withdrawn from the wolrd and becomes associated with the locus and mind of the body of the perceiver. Thsi way of seeing is called "subject/object awareness. It depends on the ability to see contrast, difference, and opposition. It is not reactive in the same way that instinct is. It has more dimensions and is value and priority based, survival still being first. But in adition to basic drives, there are greater possibilities inherent in it.

The price of that awareness is the loss of the feeling of unity with what surrounds you. It’s “me against the world.” but also inherent in that awareness is the ability to step outside itself and see reflexively. It is the least used talent we have. At its best, one can actually stop the incessant narative that makes up what is the construct of person. The identification, or investment of the feeling of self with the construct is “the knowledge of good and evil,” or difference. Stopping that nartrrative experientially demonstrates that ther is something behind the “normal” kind of awareness we experience. It is pure awareness, unqualified, unmitigated, and without other attributes than being.

All of that is kind of common knowledge in some circles and philosophies, but has become heavily symbolized, almost to the point of uselessnes, in some paradigms. but while this is very simplistically put forth here as a scetch, it points to something of exceptional an foundational importance in understanding human nature. So in other words, I’m saying that you are on the right scent.

The post above states what must be done, but while asserting the end, includes no technique. And that is the part that gets couded and tends to go awry.

I appreciate your input, Gaber, but if I’m not mistaken, on some of the other threads we’ve co-occupied, you’ve expressed that your spiritual views are more in the vein of Buddhism. I’m interested in addressing this issue from the perspective of orthodox Catholic theology.

Perhaps it would help to foster conversation if I were to elaborate the dilemma inherent in this question:

  1. Jesus came to offer mankind salvation

  2. In order for mankind to need salvation, he must bear the responsibility for his sinful nature.

  3. In order for man to bear the responsibility for his sinful nature, he must have, at one time, been free from concupisence and disordered inclinations. (This is the view taught by the Genesis creation narrative of Adam and Eve, and is why, to this day, the Church maintains that monogenism [the descent of all people from a single pair of parents] to be a theological necessity.)

  4. If the disordered inclinations of man were simply the product of evolutionary inheritance from earlier ancestors, man does not bear any responsibility for his condition, and can thus not be in need of salvation.

For my part, I would maintain the only orthodox resolution to this problem would be to assert that at the point God separated man from his predecessors by granting him a rational soul, part of the preternatural gifts bestowed upon him was a reprieve from these animalistic urges.

Anybody else have any thoughts?

It is interesting you say that, because I don’t identify as a Buddhist. In fact, in my opinion about the most accurate contemplative in terms of conclsions is a staunch Roman Catholic. And her views concur as best I can tell with many other such. Wat mystifies me is that most RC don’t get that ours is an Eastern religion, and that once past a cetain point in practice, there really isn’t a lot of distinction between contemplatives, whatever thei bacground, faithful or not. Given that we are all made in the image and likeness of God, that ought not come as too big a surpries, right?

As for “orthodox” theology, I’m pretty sure that a literal interpretation of the Garden stories is not required as faith.

Hmm. Well, there are obviously a few important differences. Jesus Christ, for instance. The Buddhists focus on the dissolution of the self and desire, whereas Christians are called to perfect the self through selfless love and to realize that our desires all point to one ultimate desire: God.

Sorry if I was being presumptuous, I just seem to remember reading a post of yours that spoke of meditating with the intent of realizing that one is not a person. Am I mistaken?

And you are right that an entirely literal interpretation of the Genesis stories is not essential to Catholic theology. However, certain elements of them are:

  1. the descent of man from a single pair of parents
  2. the original state of sinlessness of those parents, which conferred upon them certain graces
  3. the fall of humanity through an act of willful disobedience to God (we’re not required to believe it was actually the eating of fruit, though)

The question of the OP was about biological nature, I did not talk about the nature of our soul.
So I talked about the “nature” in an animal like sense, so just put primal urges in for my nature and you see that you just said the same as I did.

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