Excursus: Evil, Part 1

The time before last, I said,

Nasty things–evils–existed long before humans came on the scene.  Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, droughts, tornadoes, predators, disease, pestilence, cancer, and so on have been around for eons.  Thus, any system that posits their existence as coming after the Fall of Man is not going to work.  There are a few subtleties here that I will save for a later post, but right now let’s just say that evils or Evil can’t be blamed on Eve’s apple.

It has generally been held by Christian theologians that the Fall affected not only humans but the whole world itself.  Some examples, with my emphases added and with sources:

Man was now destined to toil and work for a living for, “by the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat” (Genesis 3:19). Women received the pains of child birth and where placed under the dominion of man, “I will intensify the pang of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children. Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master (Genesis 3:16).” Finally, nature turned against man, “Cursed be the ground because of you! In toil shall you eat its yield all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you, as you eat of the plants of the field” (Genesis 3:17-18).  (from here)

The effects of original sin are twofold in kind: exterior and interior. Sickness, suffering, and death entered the world with sin.   (from here)

Others have suggested that, somehow, the Fall had literal biological implications (see Genesis 3: there weren’t “thorns and thistles” before the Fall; human parturition was relatively easy), which might explain the “problem of evil” part of the issue (God didn’t make the world with bad things in it; human sin somehow caused the bad things in nature) but now poses the temporal problem of all the apparent suffering before the Fall. (from here)

The Augustinian theodicy supports the notion of original sin. All versions of the theodicy accept a literal interpretation of the Genesis creation narrative, including the belief that God created man and woman without sin or suffering. Evil is believed to be a just punishment for the Fall of Man, which occurred when Adam and Eve first disobeyed God and were exiled from the Garden of Eden….   Both moral and natural evil occurs, Augustine argued, owing to an evil use of free will, which could be traced back to Adam and Eve’s original sin. (from here)

[John] Wesley unequivocally believed in the total goodness of creation and that the sum of its goodness was greater than the goodness of its individual parts. He said, for instance: “as every creature was ‘good’ in its primeval state, so, when all were compacted in on general system, ‘behold, they were very good.’ ” In the “very good” creation before the fall, Wesley was convinced that all was “the most perfect order and harmony,” no “volcanoes or burning mountains,” “no putrid lakes, no turbid or stagnating waters,” “no unwholesome vapors, no poisonous exhalations,” “no violent winter or sultry summer, no extreme either of heat or cold.” All this left Wesley to exclaim:

“Such was the state of the creation, according to the scanty ideas that we can now form concerning it, when its great Author, surveying the whole system at one view, pronounced it “very good”! It was good in the highest degree whereof it was capable, and without any mixture of evil.” (from here)

Examples, as they say, could be multiplied.

What I think is clear is that before the advent of modern science, the majority of Western theologians, Catholic and Protestant, believed that Original Sin resulted not only in the Fall and subsequent imperfection and evil tendencies of mankind, but also in a corruption of the very Earth itself, in which formerly there were no natural disasters, disease, death, and so on.  What is equally obvious, based on what we have learned from geology, biology, and so on, is that natural disasters of all kinds, diseases, predation, and so forth existed prior to the existence of mankind, let alone its fall.  Therefore, the existence of physical evils cannot be blamed on the Fall of humanity.

The reason I dwell on this at length is that I recently got into a rather long discussion (still ongoing) at the Catholic blog Vox Nova.  One aspect of the discussion was the issue of evil and Original Sin.  My interlocutor, A. Sinner, in disagreeing with my take on the matter, responded with a perspective that I must say I had neither heard of nor considered in the past, my emphasis:

If Man had not sinned, there would have been no “evil” in the world. Earthquakes and animal bodies decaying and all the “chaos” you see in the world…are only evil inasmuch as Man constructs it as evil, only inasmuch as Man fears it, only inasmuch as Man has defined himself as self-contained and therefore mortal. “Death,” like all of reality meaningfully conceived, is only a construct. And, in some sense, Original Sin is the fact that the first human subjects constructed humanity this way, or at least made a choice regarding their meaning which had the construction of “death” as the immediate logical corollary of their existential choice.

Let me say I was floored.

I disagree with this vehemently–after prolonged discussion, while I respect A. Sinner’s intelligence, sincerity, and commitment and right to his opinions, I have to say I disagree with many of them vehemently.  Still, this is a novel, interesting, and provocative point, and I think it bears careful analysis before I move on with my study of the Fall.  Since my last post was extremely long, and I’m almost halfway to its length right now, I think I will resume this in the next post–the next two, if needed–so I can give this idea the consideration it deserves without going to obnoxious length.  To be continued!

Part of the series Legends of the Fall.

Posted on 18/05/2012, in Bible, Christianity, ethics, metaphysics, philosophy, religion, theology and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

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