A Christianity Today magazine cover story in June 2011 reported on modern science’s challenge (agreed to by a greatly expanding number of conservative evangelical theologians) that it likely was not physically possible for a literal Adam and Eve to exist. Influential Presbyterian minister, best selling author and theologian, Tim Keller, said in the article, “If Adam doesn’t exist, Paul’s whole argument — that both sin and grace work ‘covenantally’—falls apart.” If no literal Adam, then no humans made perfect from the beginning and therefore no “fall” into an irreversible sinful nature that babies are born with from then on. Instead God must have created us, or intended us through evolution, to be the way we currently are. Yet people have always possessed significant, though limited, moral capabilities and freedom to make their spiritual/physical state better or worse through healthy or unhealthy choices. Death is nothing new. In contrast to what the Bible teaches, humans did not cause death to suddenly enter into cosmic existence. In this case, it is plausible to say that humans still need salvation/rescue/guidance/healing for specific situations/conditions (such as the Jews’ emancipation from slavery in Egypt or a blind person being given sight by Jesus), but that a systematic and intrinsic impurity within humans, to whatever degree this is present at birth, is not the fault of any human decision, but by design. I believe that, even if this is true, human sin still is real and exacerbates problems and sicknesses (spiritual or physical), but not in a form of such profound internal/external disarray that requires a punishment of hell if completely upright ethical performance (or even repentance) is not put forth. In another one of my posts, I explore this related question: If physical death entered the world because of human sin, why does science demonstrate that death always existed?
The bulk (if not all) of the responsibility for human nature at birth and in the basic mechanics/abilities of human beings (no matter what this entails) must be God’s, since He/She created us and placed us in this earthly context. When humans are held accountable for sin, by God, nature or fellow humans, the punishment or consequence must accurately “fit the crime” and not be disproportionate, such as in condemnation to hell and separation from God and the loss of potential happiness for eternity (all due to a rebellious life lasting an extremely short time period compared to the immense temporal length of the afterlife). For example, if a person committed horrendous atrocities for much of their seventy year existence, an appropriate imprisonment in a purgatorial location/circumstance could be applied for a thousand years or something like that, with the constantly available opportunity for repentance/penance (without need for a sacrificial atonement) which would effectively petition God for relief from punitive sufferings in duration and/or amount.
The confusion, frustration, absurdity, pain, ignorance and apparent futility endemic to human existence must be taken into account when administering judgment upon a person. As Jesus cried out, people know not what they do. This does not excuse acts of evil carried out with full or partial knowledge of what it meant or the terrible devastation that it may cause (regardless of the person’s intention/attitude) to other people, animals, the ecosystem and/or the person herself/himself . I remember a sermon preached by a prominent evangelical pastor, Erwin Lutzer, in which he said that fair judgment for sin is levied in correspondence to both what knowledge the person had of what they were doing and what opportunity/capacity they had to resist the negative choices. Jesus taught similar things, like when he explained that to whom much is given, much is required. Or we could reference the tradition of Socrates and Plato by assessing the virtue or deplorability of a person’s actions based on what the person understood of the true, the good and the beautiful and what they chose to do with this knowledge.