Christian-cum-evolutionary theory of the fall

Intelligence arising by nature is so complex that it takes ages to assemble and so will always arise as adapted to the conditions of those ages. We’ll be healthiest feeding on the amounts that we got over the ages of development, we’ll be naturally social with the sorts of groups that we spent ages being social with or hostile to the groups we were hostile to, and, most of all, we’ll be adapted to a world that isn’t changed all that much by our presence. But (practical) intelligence is by definition the power to adapt the world to your presence, which means that the exercise of our existence is now potentially in conflict with the conditions of our existence. The two need not conflict, but recognizing where they will conflict requires an extraordinary amount of prudence, and since even a perfect human intelligences cannot anticipate all that might arise from their actions, this prudence requires the even more difficult willingness to change what we are doing as soon as we recognize it threatens us.

One dimension of original justice was just this increased foresight (which probably required some direct communication with the divine) and the willingness to correct the course when unforeseeable evils arose.* The fall, considered from this angle, is nothing beyond the absence of such foresight or willingness to correct course. As fallen natural intelligence increases, therefore, the probability that it will contradict the conditions for its existence approaches 1. Notice I’m not pointing to the efficiency that technology gives us in killing or controlling others- it does give us this, but this is a superficial and specialized manifestation of the contradiction that arises from intelligence being adapted to a world without it. Intelligence means that the exercise of a natural power is not necessarily adapted to the conditions in which it exists, and because of this even good intentions and noble aspirations can be in conflict with the conditions of our existence. The human tendency to violence might well be an evolutionary accident arising from splitting off from a proto-chimp as opposed to some more peaceful ape, but seeking goods or striving for noble existence would be with us no matter how we existed, and we have problems even here. A fallen bonobo-evolved intelligence would kill itself off as surely as a fallen chimp one.

In other words, “the fall” is simply being an intelligence alone in the world.  We’ve described it in big-picture terms that point toward a species-level self-caused extinction (and this is part of being fallen), but this reality is fractal and plays itself out in smaller societies and in each individual life. No individual natural intelligence could anticipate all the consequences of its search for goods, and it must be willing to abandon its efforts in the face of new information.  Original justice was only the help we got to do this; the fall only its absence.

The fall thus does not make sin a logical necessity but a moral necessity. Pelagianism is not the failure to recognize an intrinsic corruption or birth defect but the naive belief that an undirected finite intelligence suffices to direct and correct itself, even in its first and most simple actions. If an Evolutionary psychologist wants to say that our tendency to evil is not an ancient curse but simply the character of intelligence in the world then we say that he’s missing that the curse consists in intelligence being alone in the world. The study of intelligence in the world is a branch of theology.

*I’m assuming that such a correction is a sort of human perfection, and so God would allow some unforeseen evils even in the state of original justice so far as they were perfective.



  1. July 12, 2017 at 6:44 am

    “In other words, ‘the fall’ is simply being an intelligence alone in the world.”

    I have to object to the word “only.” Where does concupiscence enter into this account? Or alienation from supernatural grace after having been called to it? This seems to be a very naturalistic account of the fall, and also a very intellectualist one.

    • July 12, 2017 at 8:39 am

      Where does concupiscence enter into this account?

      When I said that the problem would arise from any intelligence desiring any good. Concupiscence is not some desire for bad stuff.

      Or alienation from supernatural grace

      The correct term is “original justice”. It was mentioned.

  2. July 12, 2017 at 6:59 am

    “Intelligence arising by nature is so complex that it takes ages to assemble and so will always arise as adapted to the conditions of those ages.”

    Also, my primary philosophical objection to the theory of biological evolution is that intelligence, by which I assume you mean human rationality, can only “arise” (a word that allows for much fudging) in one generation. The physical organs involved in imagination and common sense might, for the sake of argument, allow for gradual evolution by mutation and natural selection.

    As for the immaterial soul that can abstract universals, either we’re dealing with an ape (*not* an “ape-man”) lacking such a soul, or we’re dealing with man (*not* a “man-ape”) possessing such a soul. The leap is made in a single generation, and the metaphysical gap is greater than that between an amoeba and the ape.

    Now, once one concedes that two brute apes are supposed to mate and conceive Adam, the theory of theistic evolution becomes a lot less satisfactory, both for the evolutionary theorist and for the Christian. Evolutionary theory is supposed to remove the need for such acts of discrete special creation; there aren’t supposed to be such gaps, either physical or metaphysical. For the Christian, the idea of two brute apes with mortal souls mating in the animal way and conceiving a perfect human being endowed with grace—the ape “mother” effectively serving as an incubator for a superior, God-graced being of an altogether different and better species/nature—should be pretty unsettling. It’s so much better to build a very obscure black box into which apes walk, which “ape-men” inhabit, and from which fully formed men exit. But then Darwinism is obscurantist.

    • July 12, 2017 at 9:43 am

      Also, my primary philosophical objection to the theory of biological evolution is that intelligence, by which I assume you mean human rationality, can only “arise” (a word that allows for much fudging) in one generation.

      Not as embodied. Our intelligence works best with a tremendous amount of help from subconscious processes. Get rid of these and you loose not just sense data but emotion and personality and even gender as you now use the terms. Calling St Teresa and my daughters in the other room females or extraverts or angry or joyful requires shifting definitions across the board. We can still think after death but only, again, if we shift the sense of thought.

      The embodied character of human intelligence makes it a subject of natural science and natural history but perhaps not all the details have been worked out in a way that could provide a more acceptable picture to the one you find absurd. But we have good evidence for, say, a species that walked upright and used simple tools but made no complex tools. What about a species that you could have reproduced with but who had only very primitive language use? That you could reproduce with it counts as making you the same species for certain uses of the term, but perhaps the mean IQ of such a being would be 50. Still, do this often enough and you might get a few 100’s that could mate with each other. I’m not trying to argue that IQ makes humanity but that nature could creep up on human nature even though ensoulment really is an ontological break. To return again to the stuff I said in the first paragraph: embodied cognition is not just phantasms but (unconsciously done) processing speed relative to your population (IQ) or, most generally, any activity proceeding from that which is actual before it acts. The human soul is spirit precisely because, unlike the brain or the central nervous system, it is nothing actual before it acts. For the angels and us this means we are something potential, for God it means there is no actuality before operation at all. When I say we have embodied cognition I mean that we need all those systems that are actual before they act, not in a sense of “need” that makes for possibility but for fluidity of operation.

      While you point to universals as a distinguishing mark, imagination needs to creep up on these gradually as well, again, to provide embodied human cognition with adequate tools to work with. Species can get better and better at modeling things or creating “common images” as the Catholic Encyclopedia calls them. Along with these will comes the other developments of the central nervous system mentioned above.

  3. Natasha said,

    July 13, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    So it sounds like Father Zosima’s counsel: “Above all do not lie to yourself” is a response to this effect of the Fall. A person perfectly honest with himself would be entirely capable of adapting his intelligence to every new situation (probably because pre-Fall man walked with God meaning he could truthfully refer to God in every encounter). Post-Fall man has to continually stop lying to himself. By lying we refuse to acknowledge that we have no idea how to deal with a particular situation, and we don’t want to go to God so we make something up on our own to deal insufficiently with the situation.

    • July 14, 2017 at 9:59 am

      The good is whatever one wants and so the evils are sorts of undesires.

      Being good, the world can’t be adapted to an undesire and so maintaining of a possession to one requires consent to the sub-rational creation of an illusory world. The consent is not to illusion is the choice to cease thinking, which we can never do when trying not to think about pink elephants but are pretty good at doing for undesires. This is why Zosima sees the evil of lying to oneself as consisting in being unable to hear his own voice, whether within or as exteriorized in the world. Both thought and desire flicker out and leave life more and more on a purely subconscious level. Calling sin death is not a metaphor.

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