Doctrine of Original Sin – A Matter of Genetics?
As we examine the Christian doctrine of original sin, I am sure you will disagree with Paul’s statement, since you limit your view of morality to those actions that promote happiness or ease human suffering. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion asks “What kind of ethical philosophy is it that condemns every child, even before it is born, to inherit the sin of a remote ancestor?”27 I suspect you’d ask much the same question. What I find interesting about Dawkins’ query is his apparent incognizance of the concepts it entails. Notice his use of the word “inherit.” While primarily applied to the field of genetics, I don’t find its use inappropriate here. We are not all born with the burden of Adam’s specific sin pressing down upon us. Rather, we are each born with an inherent tendency toward sinful behavior; a sense of selfishness that yields a desire to promote our own personal happiness. Contrary to always being morally virtuous, most of us would categorize such behavior as sinful at times, even if only in the sense that, in the process, we may cause suffering to others. From the moment of our birth, we exhibit selfish behavior. But, you may argue, don’t all babies disturb their mothers by crying in order to be fed? Isn’t this behavior morally neutral? Isn’t this simply a necessity that assures our survival? Yes, yet this same tendency toward selfishness, that assures our survival past infancy, causes one child to hurt another simply to obtain a coveted toy. Suddenly, what originally simply promoted our personal happiness has become a means by which we promote human suffering.
Does this mean we have original sin built into our genetic makeup? I’d suggest that since the time of Adam’s fall, it has been. Remember, almost 98% of the DNA in the human genome geneticists still classify as “junk DNA,”28 which may imply a purely structural function or an encoding function that has not yet been identified. Does this mean that we may eventually isolate a single “sin gene”? Perhaps, but for theological reasons, I suspect not. More likely, the “sin trait” has been encrypted within the entire genome, more complex than even a supergene. However, what would better fit the definition of Richard Dawkins’ “selfish gene”29 than a gene for selfishness? A gene that causes an organism to seek its own best interests (i.e. selfishness), even to the point of causing other humans to suffer (i.e. sin), would certainly qualify as a “fit” gene. According to natural selection, such a gene will never be eradicated from the human gene pool.
Doctrine of Original Sin – Morality
Richard Dawkins suggests that morality has a Darwinian origin. While evolution has endowed us all with selfish genes, this does not imply a selfish organism, selfish group, or selfish species.30 He suggests that four types of altruism have evolved via natural selection. Reciprocal altruism he defines as the 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours' type. Kin altruism causes related individuals to 'care for their own.' Third, he presents the altruism that arises when one individual desires to attain a reputation for kindness and generosity. And finally, there is the authentic advertising an individual gains from being conspicuously generous. Of course, Dawkins fails to recognize that none of these examples of "morality" represent classical selfless altruism. In each case, the altruist has a vested self-interest in the action, a self-serving motive. While both you and Dawkins claim that Christians only do good because they believe God is watching everything they do, the atheist version of morality implies that we only do good when there is something "in it for us." Goodness for “goodness' sake” seems a rare commodity in the human species. It’s a wonder Santa ever delivers anything but coal!
Promoting one’s own happiness and easing human suffering do not always overlap. Granted, if we act altruistically and ease human suffering by helping hurricane victims, this action will likely bring us a sense of personal happiness and accomplishment. However, often times we promote our own happiness at the expense of others. Let’s look at another statement you made: “Consider the ratio of salaries paid to top-tier CEOs and those paid to the same firms’ average employees: in Britain it is 24:1; in France, 15:1; in Sweden, 13:1; in the United States, where 80 percent of the population expects to be called before God on Judgment Day, it is 475:1.” Once again you’ve adopted the logical fallacy of equivocation and used statistics to your own ends. The New York Review of Books article you cited leaves out the adjectival phrase “where 80 percent of the population expects to be called before God on Judgment Day.” The religious affiliations of the American population had nothing whatsoever to do with top-tier CEOs’ elections to those positions. Christian values may help someone get elected to political office, but they will have little effect on a CEO making it up the corporate ladder. The number of individuals who comprise that small, select group of CEOs of major companies in America is likely so small that it represents merely a fraction of one percent of even American atheists. The amount of time and energy one has to spend to achieve such a high level position often leaves little time for anything else, like, for instance, religious observance, and frequently causes a bit of human suffering along the way. Do we all inherit original sin? Absolutely. Does this mean that we have no capacity to do good? No, only that we do not have the capacity to only do good; we must also sin.