Doing without Adam and Eve: Sociobiology and Original Sin

Doing without Adam and Eve: Sociobiology and Original Sin

Doing without Adam and Eve: Sociobiology and Original Sin

Doing without Adam and Eve: Sociobiology and Original Sin


In this provocative new addition to the Theology and the Sciences series, Patricia Williams assays the original sin doctrine with a scientific lens and, based on sociobiology, offers an alternative Christian account of human nature's foibles and future.

Focusing on the Genesis 2 and 3 account, Williams shows how its "historical" interpretation in early Christianity not only misread the text but derived an idea of being human profoundly at odds with experience and contemporary science. After gauging Christianity's several competing notions of human nature -- Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox -- against contemporary biology, Williams turns to sociobiological accounts of the evolution of human dispositions toward reciprocity and limited cooperation as a source of human good and evil. From this vantage point she offers new interpretations of evil, sin, and the Christian doctrine of atonement.

Williams's work, frank in its assessment of traditional misunderstandings, challenges theologians and all Christians to reassess the roots and branches of this linchpin doctrine.


Who are Adam and Eve? Christians everywhere know them as the primordial pair who ate the forbidden fruit and caused the corruption of human nature from which we all suffer, even though Jesus redeemed us. Adam and Eve brought evil into the world.

But suppose, as many Christians now do, that Adam and Eve are simply symbolic figures in an imaginary garden rather than the cause of all our woe. Suppose further that the idea of “the fall” from grace is not in Scripture? Does this destroy Christian theology? This book says no. This book says that doing without Adam and Eve while drawing on sociobiology improves Christian theology and helps us understand the origin and persistence of our own sinfulness.

My curiosity about Christianity and sin began early. By the age of five, I had reached the confused conclusion that the members of the church I attended hated people, and I was afraid of them. Why I thought so is a mystery, although my fears probably had something to do with my parents' unhappiness with the church. Soon my religious life brightened, for my parents joined the Episcopal Church. the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer is filled with human humility and joy and God's forgiveness and charity. the church also has a lot of music and pageantry. I fell in love.

I entered high school at eighth grade, with a new library to explore. Almost immediately I read up on world religions. Right then I decided I would never know which religion was the true one, if there were a true one. Conservatively I decided to remain an Episcopalian unless I saw reason to change. I continued as an Episcopalian for another thirty years.

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