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When Did Sin Begin?

Human Evolution and the Doctrine of Original Sin

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The topic of evolution and human origins is hotly debated in Christian academic and church circles. If God used evolution to create humanity, when did sin enter the picture, and how did it spread from a few individuals to all of us?

Physicist Loren Haarsma shows that it is possible both to affirm what science tells us about human evolution and to maintain belief in original sin. Haarsma has studied, written, and spoken on science and faith for decades. In this volume, he argues that there are several possible ways of harmonizing the science of human evolution and the doctrine of original sin, taking seriously both what the Bible teaches and what we learn from studying the natural world.

When Did Sin Begin? outlines the history of the doctrine of original sin, summarizes the scientific evidence for human evolution, and describes several approaches for bringing the two together in harmony. Without privileging one over the others, Haarsma presents a range of scenarios for how sin might have entered humanity's story and examines the strengths and challenges of each. Professors and students in courses discussing science and religion and theology, church study groups and adult education classes, and laypeople struggling to reconcile evolutionary science and the doctrine of original sin will all value this work.

Introduction: Theology and Science in Harmony and Counterpoint
1. Scripture, Science, and the Holy Spirit
2. Creation, Evolution, and Divine Action
3. Suffering and Death before Humans
4. Human Evolution
5. The Soul, the Imago Dei, and Special Divine Action
6. Adam and Eve in Scripture
7. The Doctrine of Original Sin through Church History
8. What Is Sin?
9. What Changed When Sin Began?
10. Whose Fault Is It?
11. Difficult Questions for Each Type of Scenario
Conclusion: God's Answer Is Still Christ


"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

"My own work as a sociologist shows that Christians need rigorous examples of deep theological debate that takes science and Christian doctrine seriously. When Did Sin Begin? is an accessible, lively, rich volume that is an excellent example of this kind of debate."

Elaine Howard Ecklund, Rice University; author of Why Science and Faith Need Each Other

"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

"When Did Sin Begin? presents a broad range of scholarship and viewpoints with civility and evenhandedness. Whether one is a theological novice or expert, timid or bold concerning the science, Professor Haarsma's work offers a hospitable welcome to this important topic."

Justin Barrett, president, Blueprint 1543

The Author

  1. Loren Haarsma

    Loren Haarsma

    Loren Haarsma (PhD, Harvard University) is associate professor of physics at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is a fellow of the American Scientific Affiliation and and a member of the BioLogos Voices network of scholars. Haarsma has studied,...

    Continue reading about Loren Haarsma


"[Haarsma] has been involved in faith-and-science dialogues for decades, and his expertise shows throughout. The sort of 'harmony' Haarsma seeks isn't a one-to-one correspondence between the details of Scripture and science. Instead, he advocates 'a harmony reminiscent of J. S. Bach's counterpoint,' which employs two melodies played simultaneously. Each can be enjoyed independently, but 'played together, they form a richer whole.'. . . Haarsma's chapter on sin . . . was worth the price of admission on its own. In particular, Haarsma's treatment of Romans 2 and general revelation was handled beautifully. . . . To his credit, Haarsma keeps Jesus in view throughout the book. . . . If anyone has serious questions whether a person can believe both Jesus and evolution, I recommend Haarsma's book."

Jay Johnson,

Christianity Today