Continuing the discussion from Ape to Human evolution:
@Shane1 asked a really important and interesting question about human origins.
This question concerns my book. You can read the free extended excerpt to get caught up on the basics. For the more technical readers, you can find scientific paper behind the book here. That should be enough to get everyone caught up enough to make sense of the conversation here.
In a nutshell, I propose the idea of an Adam and Eve, ancestors of us all, created relatively recent (say 6,000 years ago, or maybe 10,000 years ago) with a larger population of people whom God had created before him. In this case, a very literal reading of Genesis would be entirely compatible with evolutionary science. To be clear, this is just a thought experiment.
Scientifically, we know that we would likely all descend from AE by AD 1, before Jesus walks the earth and the NT is written. So humanity would all be “sons and daughters” of Adam and Eve, as CS Lewis might put it. We also know that there is evidence of moral behavior long before Adam and Eve in the archeological record.
Different people will have different opinions on it, and that is okay. What is important about this experiment is that it raises a lot of interesting questions for us to explore. Questions are a great way to continue the conversation, and that’s why @Shane1’s question is valuable.
This brings us to @Shane1’s excellent question.
The way I’d paraphrase his question: in this scenario, when would we become morally accountable?
My First Response
I’ll give a sketch of my answer here, summarizing some ideas from my book, but also leaving enough unsaid to explore this with you. Perhaps there is a better way to think through this than I’ve laid out. Exploring what could have been is part of the fun here.
First off, let’s recognize this is a theological question that science cannot resolve. Science can give us some information to consider, but it doesn’t give us answers to questions.
Second, Romans really helps us here. There are a few things we get from Romans.
There are several types of sin (“hamartia”). The word itself is used in the same sentence to mean different things. One example of this is Romans 5:12-14, which I will explain in a moment. Though there are several distinctions to make, I’d emphasize the difference between “transgression” and “ignorant wrongdoing.” Transgression always involves breaking a stated command, like walking onto a property that has a sign that says “no trespassing.” There are other distinctions and types of hamartia too, but we will leave that aside for now.
There are several levels of accountability. From Romans, and other passages, everyone has enough knowledge to justify God’s wrath for disobedience (Romans 1:20-22), but God seems to hold people to different levels of accountability, based on their maturity (see: age of accountability) and knowledge of God.
So let’s take a look at Romans 5:12-14,
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
One important historical interpretation of this passage is that:
The law being referred to here is not the Law of Moses, but God’s command to Adam in the Garden.
Consistent with several elements of the Genesis narrative (e.g. the Serpent and Eve’s sins), the passage is teaching that there was sin in the world before Adam and Eve sinned, but people were not held accountable for it in the same way as would be AE and their descendents. There was wrongdoing before Adam, but he was the first trespasser.
There were people sinning though they did not have a written law (except the law written on their conscience, see: Romans 1:20-22), but God did not hold them accountable in the same way as AE’s lineage.
This strongly implies, perhaps even directly teaches, that there were people outside the Garden that were doing wrong and subject to death, but not held to the same level accountability because they did not have the same knowledge of God’s law that would come to Adam, and then to Moses.
That interpretation is certainly subject to criticism, but it is also closely tied to the text of Scripture, and it arises at least 500 years ago in the Genesis tradition.
So, back to the original question. Here is one possible answer:
Perhaps there was moral accountability for sin, in some ways, and wrongdoing long before Adam, but he was the first to receive God’s direct command, and the first to trespass against Him. In doing so, he became the first trespasser, and faced higher accountability for his sin than anyone before him. With this in mind, evidence of moral codes or sinful behavior is evidence that God had written his law on our ancestors hearts, but it is not evidence of the same level of accountability that AE’s lineage would face.
A lot of new questions arise, and that is a good thing.
In what ways was accountability different before and after Adam and Eve? Why would descent from Adam and Eve be important? Why would God give a command to him in the first place?
So my response leaves important questions unanswered, but it provides a good starting point for conversation. Looking forward to seeing how it unfolds here.