When Did Sin Begin?

Human Evolution and the Doctrine of Original Sin

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Pub Date 17 Aug 2021 | Archive Date 17 Oct 2021

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The question of the "historical Adam" is a flashpoint for many evangelical readers and churches. Science-and-theology scholar Loren Haarsma--who has studied, written, and spoken on science and faith for decades--shows it is possible both to affirm what science tells us about human evolution and to maintain belief in the doctrine of original sin. Haarsma argues that there are several possible ways of harmonizing evolution and original sin, taking seriously both Scripture and science. He presents a range of approaches without privileging one over the others, examining the strengths and challenges of each.

The question of the "historical Adam" is a flashpoint for many evangelical readers and churches. Science-and-theology scholar Loren Haarsma--who has studied, written, and spoken on science and faith...

Advance Praise

“The question of the ‘historical Adam’ in the light of the teaching of the Bible in dialogue with evolutionary theory is one of the most pressing theological questions facing the church today. Loren Haarsma, a scientist with an excellent grasp of theology, guides the reader through different possible scenarios of understanding that help the reader navigate the issues surrounding this important question. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to the church as we think through the question of the relationship between the Bible and science.”—Tremper Longman III, distinguished scholar and professor emeritus of biblical studies, Westmont College

“In When Did Sin Begin? Haarsma does not provide any one definitive answer, but only because, as this book makes clear, this question opens up a number of other important queries, each of which elicits a range of viable theological responses. Skeptics of religion who don’t think that Christian faith has the capacity to engage with an evolutionary world are thus uninformed: rather than a shortage, we have an overabundance of theological resources that can help us interact with and even anticipate the dynamic spectrum of scientific scenarios regarding human origins.”—Amos Yong, professor of theology and mission, Fuller Theological Seminary
“The subject of evolution and human origins continues to be a hot topic for Christians wrestling with the evidence and with the implications for their faith. Of the many books on the market, most focus on the truth or falsehood of scientific claims or on the proper understanding of the biblical texts. Few have focused on the potential impact of human evolution on a particular theological doctrine. Loran Haarsma does just that with his book When Did Sin Begin?, exploring an array of possible scenarios of human origins and assessing the implications for the timing and nature of sin entering the world, the historicity of Adam and Eve, and our understanding of original sin. While taking a high view of the truth and authority of Scripture, Haarsma does not strive to convince readers of a favored understanding of science or interpretation of Scripture. Rather, he takes readers on a deep dive into the various ways the scientific evidence may be understood, and the biblical questions grappled with, in each scenario. I anticipate this will become a frequently cited work.”—Gregg Davidson, professor and chair, geology and geological engineering, University of Mississippi
“Loren Haarsma’s When Did Sin Begin? explores an important issue in the current discussions about Scripture and science. The book models integration at its best, with serious and well-researched work on both the science side and the Scripture side of this discussion. Even when I disagreed with some points along the way (as one inevitably does), I could not fault the author for any failure to treat Scripture or the theological tradition with anything less than full seriousness. I recommend the book as a well-informed entry into many of the current debates among Christians about creation and human origins.”—Douglas J. Moo, Wessner Chair of Biblical Studies, Wheaton College Graduate School
“In this timely book, Loren Haarsma deals with the apparent dissonance between the doctrine of original sin and the biological evolution of humanity. Throughout the text, he systematically works through a variety of scenarios related to the origin of sin within an evolutionary context, clearly delineating the subtle differences between each approach and carefully working out the theological ramifications as well. Rather than narrowing in and promoting one particular point of view, Haarsma has laid out the parameters for a multitude of options, setting the stage for the reader to consider various possibilities. This book offers much food for thought and serves as a model for how we can wrestle well with difficult questions like this in the church.”—Ryan Bebej, associate professor of biology, Calvin University
“This book embodies and enhances the effort to ‘integrate faith and learning.’ Here a theologically-engaged scientist lays out—reverently and methodically, from several angles—the key points at which human evolution intersects with the doctrine of sin. The result is a valuable update on the contemporary discussion, helping theological traditionalists like me to encounter the various alternatives and reflect on their respective implications.”—Daniel J. Treier, Knoedler Professor of Theology, Wheaton College Graduate School

“The question of the ‘historical Adam’ in the light of the teaching of the Bible in dialogue with evolutionary theory is one of the most pressing theological questions facing the church today...

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Featured Reviews

Loren Haarsma’s “When Did Sin Begin” is an astute and thought-provoking work that helps Christians navigate their faith with the cutting-edge science of today. I appreciate its openness and fair reading of many theories out there and instead of being dogmatic, offers us the grace to think for ourselves on the matter. Stunning work!

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Intriguing Academic Examination. Let's make this very clear up front: This is a book for academic types. This is FAR from casual reading. And yet, its premise is interesting enough that many may want to slog through it anyway - as I did. :D Just know up front that this *is* a very dense, very logically-detailed examination of its subject. That noted, this text does a phenomenal job of showing what the historical and current academic thinking is on its dual subjects of human evolution and Original Sin, and it does a similarly superb job of explaining in detail, in many cases point by point, exactly how the two might be reconciled. Indeed, particularly for the casual reader that Just. Wants. An. Answer!!!!!... this book probably won't be what you're looking for. It never really proffers one, instead acknowledging that there is still more research and thinking to do in both arenas before a definitive conclusion can truly be reached. Still, for what it actually is and for how it is actually written, this is truly a strong work of scholarship and contemplation, and within the space it is meant to occupy it could indeed be quite a standout. Very much recommended.

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