As always, let me preface this blog post by saying that it’s me thinking aloud.  I haven’t come to any conclusions in this matter, but some of my recent reading has got to me thinking about “sin”, or perhaps better stated the “concept” of sin.

As I read science blogs (especially the great “Not Exactly Rocket Science” by Ed Yong) I am increasingly subjected to exquisitely explained behaviors exhibited by animals that were originally believed to be uniquely human.  Many of these behaviors are the same as or at least mimic those in humans that are deemed “sinful” by Christians.  In addition to the usual blog posts on science and religion, I have also been reading as of late the book Science and Wisdom by Jurgen Moltmann.  Given the animal behaviors mentioned above, a long paragraph from this book caught my attention.  I’ll reproduce most of it below but let me first state that it’s not the easiest read (at least for me).

“… Theological language relates salvation to sin and sickness, and redemption to enslavement.  But what are sin and enslavement?  Having called creation in the beginning a system open for time and potentiality, we can understand sin and enslavement as the the self-closing of open systems against their own time and their own potentialities.  If people close themselves against their own potentialities, they tie themselves down to their present reality; they are trying to endorse their present, and to keep hold of it in the face of possible changes.  The person who does this turns into Homo incurvatus in se; he will be turned in on himself, and become the image of Narcissus in the myth… Natural history demonstrates from other living things as well that closing up against the future, self-immunization against change, and the breaking-off of communication with other living things leads to self-destruction and death.  Although isolation in individuals and human society can hardly be compared with other phenomena (since human being snad societies have their own special destinies), analagous phenomena can be shown in other living things too.  Whereas the word ‘sin’ only means human misdemeanor, the concept of deadly self-isolation can lead to the fuller understanding of the ‘subjection of the whole creation to futility’ which Paul talks about in Rom. 8:19.”

Moltmann’s definition of sin doesn’t necessarily jive with the Evangelical one that I’m familiar, and this may turn out to be important.  Putting that aside though, what struck me the most was the latter portion of the paragraph in which our sinfulness was being compared to animals.  Again, many sinful behaviors that we exhibit are also observed in animals.  Do the animal behavioral evidence and Moltmann’s observations contribute anything to the concept of sin?

Comparing with animals, we see that they exhibit some of these behaviors but I don’t think that we would call them “sinful.”  But yet when we exhibit them, it’s sinful.  The Evangelical answer would be that it’s because we are created in the image of God, and the animals are not.  But I have already written about my concerns about the image and how much of that “image of God” should be attributed to “image of man” (

All of this makes me wonder whether humans, in fact, do sin, in the Evangelical sense of the word.  Are we actually offending or displeasing God?  Put another way, are we missing the mark that we were created to hit?  Or are we as a species realizing that many of our behaviors are not good and perhaps, instead of missing God’s mark, that we’re letting ourselves down?  Have we evolved to a point where our consciences realize our depravity (let’s call it partial depravity) and thus turn us towards something outside of ourselves that gives us a hope in a perfection to come?

My thought experiment leads me to posit whether a better way to explain humanity and sin is not that we’re sinful, but that we’ve invented the concept of sin. I know this has a profound impact on our theology and that is why this post is described as a thought experiment.  I am in no way denying the importance of Christ, his life, his crucifixion, or his resurrection, but I know that I would be altering the interpretation of these events (coming from Evangelicalism).  But does the notion that we have created the idea of sin help to better explain what it means to be a human and better correlate with the scientific data?

What do you think?  Have you thought about this before?  Since this is a thought experiment, I am VERY interested to hear from others on this…