Fall: God Judges

May 21, 2010 — 12 Comments

[This post is part of the Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe series]

In some ways, this chapter of Doctrine picks up where Creation: God Makes left off, and rounds out a set of three chapters that mainly center on exposition from Genesis 1-3. This one of course, covers chapter 3 which is the narrative description of the fall, but certainly doesn’t confine itself to just what is found in Genesis. In many ways, the topic of original sin shouldn’t be all that controversial since as G.K. Chesterton is reported to have quipped, “It’s the only Christian doctrine that can be empirically proven.”

However, even with the prevalence of sin and the ease with which one can demonstrate its existence, most people are not keen on taking the Bible’s (i.e. God’s) interpretation of it. Psychology, just to pick a discipline that I’m familiar with, has no trouble identifying both sinful thoughts and behavior, but when conducted by non-Christians (and unfortunately sometimes by Christians) it refuses to call sin what it is. Diagnosing sinful actions and effects is easily done by most psychologists, but since the ultimate problem is misidentified, the solution never quite as effective as one would like. This is not to say every psychological problem is a sin problem, but in a way, every psychological problem stems from inherent sinfulness of either the person involved, or the people that have shaped that person’s life.

So in a way, every psychological problem exists because sin exists.  Malfunctioning brain chemicals are just as much a result of a world that is cursed, as a person who overtly exhibits psychotic (i.e. sinful) behavior is. The distinction to make is that not everyone person’s problem are directly a result of their own sinful actions, but most, if not all of the time, they do contribute to and compound the problem by how they respond. People tend to respond sinfully when sinned against, and when things simply don’t go their way (i.e. not being dealt the hormones or brain chemicals they would have liked). This is probably a topic for another post, but hopefully this illustrates the practical implications resulting from how one understands human sinfulness.

In order to help see more accurately the Bible’s teaching on the fall and sin, Driscoll and Breshears answer the following questions in this chapter:

  • What is the fall?
  • What is sin? (very thorough Biblical definitions here)
  • Where did sin originate?
  • What is total depravity?
  • What are Satan’s schemes against us? (Quick answer: the world, the flesh, and himself)
  • What are some sinful views of sin?
  • How does God’s sovereignty relate to sin?
  • What are some sinful responses to sin?
  • How does God respond to sin?

In the section on depravity, a very useful distinction is made that helps deflect some unwarranted criticism that some people level against the doctrine of depravity. Relying on J.C. Ryle, they note that really by “total depravity” we mean “pervasive depravity,” in that depravity (sinfulness) pervades our whole being leaving no facet unaffected. Some people tend to assume what is really meant is “utter depravity” which is simply not what is traditionally affirmed. To be utterly depraved would be to be as sinful as possible, and no one quite reaches that mark.

Lastly, a resource that is noted in the section on Satan’s schemes is Thomas Brooks’ Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, a classic on this topic. I would wholeheartedly recommend that book, and again would have to say that this chapter does a superb job in its treatment of the difficulties surrounding the doctrine of sin.


Posts Twitter Facebook

I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

12 responses to Fall: God Judges

  1. Nate,

    I don’t believe psychosis can always be equated with sin. For example, the 10th commandment calls for intense self-discipline and regulation of one’s jealously, but most psychologists would agree that pent-up envy is by no means healthy. What’s more, certain behaviors prescribed by the Bible (such as stoning one’s wife if she is an adulterer) would also raise a few red flags where psychology is concerned. I realize that you don’t interpret the Bible literally and so the second example probably doesn’t apply, but I think you see what I am getting at. You could redefine “sin” to mean behaviors that are unacceptable in terms of the Bible and psychology, but that creates something of a slippery slope because psychology’s understanding of what is acceptable is fluid, not fixed.

    There seems to be another issue with this logic that you touch upon in your third paragraph: determinism. I can understand how you would attribute being dealt an unsatisfactory bunch of hormones to the Original Sin, but since you agree that the psychological explanations for behaviors are valid you are also indirectly agreeing to some form of behaviorism (after all, this is what you are implying by suggesting that hormones cause behaviors). There is nothing wrong with agreeing with behaviorism–I personally regard it as true–but it negates the Christian concept of free will since it rejects dualism as superfluous. If a person does not have an immaterial soul as behaviorism suggests, how can they have free will? Short answer: they can’t.

    Also, would you mind opening the comments on your “What the Atheist Knows” posts? As an atheist myself I have some input that you may be interested in.


    • Tet,

      A few things:

      (1) I do not think you understand “sin” in the way I am using the term (see more below)
      (2) You are misconstruing the 10th commandment, “not coveting” can involve that, but that is missing the point of the command itself, or of its later NT usage, much less how it is followed by Christians today.
      (3) The Bible does not universally prescribe stoning adulterers, however, the Israelites were commanded to do so under certain cultural conditions that no longer adhere.
      (4) I don’t think you understand what “literal interpretation” is and is not. I interpret the Bible literally, but that means something different than how you understand it, assuming you derive your understanding similarly to the article on rationalwiki. The literal interpretation you are reacting against is a woodenly literal interpretation, which is not what serious Biblical scholars do. The sensus literalus refers more to interpreting the Bible in its original context (in light of cultural background, language, grammar, etc) which is something I do, but which you do not. In this sense, based on your above comment about the Bible prescribed adulterers to be stoned, you are practicing literal interpretation.
      (5) I define “sin” singular as a condition and “sins” plural as referring to behaviors that are in violation of God’s person and authority, which are revealed in the Bible and are touched from a different vantage point in psychology.
      (6) I would disagree with behaviorism as hormones do not cause behaviors (correlation cannot equal causation), but I realize people in practice treat them as if they do. I did not mean to suggest that they do, maybe I was unclear about my position.
      (7) There are multiple Christian conceptions of “free will” it is something that cannot be referred to monolithically.
      (8) Interestingly, I don’t believe people have a free will, at least in the sense in which I think you are referring to it, from our psychological perspective we can make what seem to be free choices, but no choice is made outside of the plan of God, or at least that is what the Bible teaches.
      (9) Since this is a post aimed at Christian readers and is a discussion of Christian theology, if we are going to debate further, it would need to pertain to whether or not the post is accurately portraying what the Bible teaches or doesn’t teach about sin, not about whether or not you think the Bible’s account of sin is either plausible or true. The post is built on the assumption that the Bible’s account is true, which I realize you do not agree with. That point being considered, it would be superfluous for us to argue the merits of the Bible’s account since I am a priori committed to its truthfulness and you are a priori committed to the opposite position, and neither of us in the end are open to reconsidering.
      (10) If you’d like to discuss the input on the “What Every Atheist Knows” post, you can email me directly, but I’m leaving comments closed on older posts simply because I’m not mentally still digesting them after a certain period of time.

      I hope the different format does not come across to harshly, but I thought it might be helpful to outline it in that way.

      Hope you are well,


  2. Nate,

    You are probably right that I am not interpreting the idea of sin differently than you are. I’ll drop my complaint about psychosis, as we are definitely working from very different viewpoints and it would be almost impossible to reconcile the two.

    But let’s move on to the bit about free will. I’ll temporarily accept your premise that God ultimately determines everything for the purpose of this argument. Given that this is the case, how is it that people can be judged on the basis of their actions given that God is in control of everything? To me, this seems like a contradiction.

    There’s also the question of hormones and the brain in general. Your position seems to be that hormones appear to control our actions, but this correlation doesn’t imply causation. This sounds like a somewhat absurd statement to me, but I suppose it does not sound unusual to you because of your faith in God and the Bible. Since we are not discussing that here, I don’t really have much to add.


    • Tet,

      You’ve hit a rather perennial issue within Christian theology, that of reconciling the Bible’s teaching on divine sovereignty and human responsibility. I can direct you to literature to expand your understanding of the topic, but it’s not something that would be fruitful for us to discuss. I can’t speak for all Christians as a whole as there are multiple ways that have been attempted to reconcile the two ideas, the extremes being a denial of either one or the other. If you are seeking to grasp what Christians believe on the topic, I would suggest reading the available literature.

      I should have clarified regarding hormones that I had in mind brain chemicals (neurotransmitters). They do not cause actions in the sense that they are solely responsible for a persons actions. They contribute, along with circumstances and the person’s sin nature (the point that you and I disagree on) but they do not cause behavior. I am saying this, not as a Christian, but as person trained in psychology. There is no scientific/medical proof that brain chemicals cause certain behaviors. Any study that suggests it does, it doing just that, suggesting. There is no known test to establish which came first, the chemical issue or the behavior, so it is impossible to attribute causation conclusively to one or the other. Hopefully that clarifies.


  3. Nate,

    I won’t push the theological side of the issue, but I do object to your claim “[t]here is no scientific/medical proof that brain chemicals cause certain behaviors.” Are you suggesting that materialism does not adequately explain the mind?


    • Tet,

      I would suggest materialism doesn’t adequately explain the mind, the philosophical literature bears that out quite easily, although I am not saying that is a consensus among professional philosophers, but there are several devastating criticisms out there. Materialism can explain how the brain functions, certainly. But explaining the mind is different than describing how the brain functions. I realize you will disagree with some of that, but the claim I was making with “there is no scientific/medical proof that brain chemicals cause certain behaviors,” is that there is no medical test or brain scan that can be run to prove that a person’s condition was caused either by an overabundance of certain chemicals or a deficiency of certain chemicals. Regardless of whether or not you are a materialists, it is a claim about the limits of current medical science. At best, a scan done after a person arrives with a presenting condition can yield a correlation, and even that is not very solid.

      This is not to say we do not know, in general, the effect certain chemicals have (dopamine for instance yielding pleasure), only that specific behaviors cannot be proven to have specific chemical causes. Maybe one day that will be possible, but currently it is not, just like there is no drug that targets a single neurotransmitter.

      We can chat more about materialism if you’d like, but from what I’ve studied, it has rather huge philosophical hurdles to jump just to be viable, but I can see how it might flow from your presuppositions. Depending on how tenaciously you hold to that belief will determine how fruitful any discussion of it would be. No amount of evidence or logic would dissuade you if it is central enough to your belief system.


  4. Nate,

    I must admit I’m not entirely sure which of my supposed presuppositions you’re referring to. I certainly don’t presuppose materialism itself; rather, I am a materialist because the evidence has led me to believe that dualism is an outdated hypothesis. I don’t presuppose the existence of an objective reality, either, if that’s what you were referring to. Instead, I believe in the existence of some form of reality because I know that there is a difference between my empirical observations and my beliefs (if there wasn’t, I would never have a mistaken belief). It follows that a “true” belief is one that corresponds with my observations, regardless of the exact nature of reality. I see no presuppositions in this train of thought, but obviously it is possible that I have missed something.

    To get back on topic: It seems that most of your argument against materialism is based upon your claim that “there is no medical test or brain scan that can be run to prove that a person’s condition was caused either by an overabundance of certain chemicals or a deficiency of certain chemicals,” which is almost entirely false. Two techniques that have developed from neuroscience–drugs and brain surgery–thoroughly demonstrate that the properties of the mind arise from the interactions of neurons, as interfering with said neurons causes consistent and repeatable changes to behavior. I can cite a number of examples of this if you would like, but for now I’ll focus on just one, split-brain syndrome. The basic idea is this: if a patient’s corpus callosum (the “gateway” between the two halves of the brain) is removed, the patient will exhibit different responses to a stimulus depending upon which eye they see the stimulus through. Furthermore, technologies such as fMRI, pet, and EP have shown in amazing detail how different areas of the brain interact, and they have even shown how a complex idea such as the concept of the “self” can arise from brain activity (link: http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1162593.1162595). To summarize, the materialist viewpoint, while not completely definitive (keep in mind that nothing ever is), more than adequately explains the workings of the brain and how it creates the mind.

    I should also add that the non-materialist viewpoint does not measure up from a methodology standpoint. It offers almost no testable predictions, and there is no evidence whatsoever in support of it. To a scientist, this is immediately suspicious, as absence of evidence is, according to statistics, evidence of absence. (This is because a hypothesis that makes not predictions is useless; for a better explanation, you may be interested in this link: http://lesswrong.com/lw/ih/absence_of_evidence_is_evidence_of_absence/)

    Lastly, I’m not sure what “philosophical hurdles” materialism has to jump, but naturally you are more more well-versed in philosophical literature than I am. As you know by now, I prefer to look at tangible evidence rather than philosophical proofs.

    Hopefully this makes my argument a bit clearer.


    • Tet,

      I feel I need to stress again that my degree is in psychology, and from studies in neuroscience and physiological psychology, I know about things like split brain syndrome (and even more disorders), fMRI, and the other available brain scans. In other words, I’ve seen and am familiar with the evidence that you think supports your claim. So, when I say there is no way to prove a person’s condition was caused by an overabundance or deficiency of certain brain chemicals, I am speaking as someone thoroughly familiar with what can and can’t be proven by brain scans, when a person presents a problem. I would imagine you would take issue with my statement because your world-view makes it necessary that such a causal connection could be established (between chemical levels and behavior), but unfortunately, science hasn’t advanced that far. I think you are putting too much freight into the evidence because of your materialism, and frankly the evidence alone can hardly support your claim. I’m talking in the end about individual cases, and that there is no brain scan available to validate that a chemical imbalance is causing the problem a person has.

      I’d like to propose a different issue though in response to your third paragraph. When you say the non-materialist viewpoint does not measure up methodologically, I would like to respond that the empiricist’s viewpoint does not hold water either. You may be familiar with this problem, but taking the idea that everything must be validated by the scientific method, how do you validate the initial idea, “everything must be validated by the scientific method” by the scientific method? Or we could use what you just said and ask, via scientific investigation, how did you come to the conclusion that a viewpoint must offer testable predictions? I recall we have talked about this somewhat before, and I am not questioning the reliability of the scientific method, but rather I am questioning whether or not the scientific method can prove itself to the exclusion of other methods of acquiring knowledge, and whether or not it is the scientific method that dictates that a viewpoint must offer testable predictions, or whether that is reliant on a philosophical argument.

      Another way to ask this is to say, what tangible evidence did you discover via your 5 senses that led you to the conclusion that the scientific method was the only valid way to discover truth? Is your reliance on the scientific method based on tangible evidence, or is based on philosophical proofs? You have never come right out and said you were an empiricist, so forgive me if this is misguided, but I just wonder how you deal with the self-defeating nature of empiricism as an approach to reality. In other words, how do you justify empiricism, empirically? Forgive me as well if I am equivocating on “empiricism” and “scientific method,” but most individuals who are empiricists will rely almost exclusively on the scientific method as the means of acquiring knowledge, and will say things like “I prefer to look at tangible evidence rather than philosophical proofs,” not realizing that any argument at all is an attempt at philosophical proofs.

      In a sense, continuing to comment illustrates trying to rationalize your point of view, or we could say trying to philosophically prove your point. We could argue further, philosophically, that you cannot present tangible evidence in an internet comment thread. You can present interpretations of evidence, which are then included in a philosophical proof, but you can’t actually present tangible evidence. If I buy your argument, I would not be convinced by the evidence, but by your argument, thus relying on philosophical proofs to come to a different understanding of the truth of the matter. This is rather inconsistent, given what you are arguing for.

      So, you are welcome to keep arguing for your position, but from my point of view, it only undermines what you are trying to prove. By continuing to comment and arguing (nicely of course) for your point, it makes it seem less dependent on evidence and more dependent on rationalizing and personal preference in the matter. I am already familiar with the hard evidence you tried to direct me to, if that is not convincing on its own, then you’ll have to resort to further philosophical proofs, which unfortunately are not favorable to your position.

      We can keep going back and forth, but I think at the end of the day, you’re still going to believe what you believe, and I’ll still believe what I believe. Evidence always tends to get absorbed into whatever paradigm you are currently using, and contrary evidence gets interpreted to fit. If too many pieces do not fit, and enough cognitive dissonance occurs, then a person might abandon a world-view they previously held strongly.

      In closing, I could just ask this, what ethical reason can you offer for why I should follow your argument? It seems very much that if what you are saying is true, I’m absolved of any ethical reason to believe its truthfulness. It just is, and the option is open for me to agree or disagree, but there is no ethical consequence for either decision, so its just a personal preference. In that case, I prefer to not be a materialist, and rather chose Christianity. Can you offer an ethical reason why I shouldn’t?


  5. Nate,

    I am rather busy so I’ll drop the materialist argument for now. But to answer your last paragraph: no, I can’t provide an ethical answer for your argument, but there is absolutely no reason why I should. This is not a question of “personal preference,” it is a question of which hypothesis is true. To use a rather unimaginative example, if I am trying to determine whether a box contains apples or oranges, the fact that I like the taste of apples better has no relevance to the problem at hand (nor does it make the problem into one of “personal preference”). In other words, the ethical consequences of either answer have no bearing on which hypothesis is true.

    I would also like to briefly touch upon the question of the scientific method. Empiricism is not “self-defeating”; it follow naturally from the idea that there is a difference between “beliefs” and ” empirical observations.” (The two are obviously two distinct things because my beliefs are not always in line with my observations.) Thus, a belief that corresponds with reality is “true” and one that does not is “false.” This, as far as I can tell, is not self-defeating at all. It certainly doesn’t have to “verify itself” because it is based upon the simple and axiomatic statement that beliefs are distinct from observations.


    • Tet,

      I think you misunderstood the last paragraph. Can you provide an ethical reason, given your materialist world-view, why I should care whether or not your argument is true. In other words, if materialism is true, why should I accept it? Further, if materialism is true, why would it matter? The point is not related to the ethical consequences of either materialism or non-materialism, but rather can materialism, using its own resources, provide an ethical reason why anyone should believe it to be true in the first place? Just because you feel it is true, is in this case, irrelevant, as in the grand scheme of things, your opinion on the matter weighs about as much as mine: little.

      I suppose the bottom line is that if you are correct in your world-view, the option is open to me to reply, “who cares?” and continue on believing mine to be true with absolutely no consequences, ethical or otherwise. If you are correct, it is ultimately irrelevant, unless you can provide an ethical reason why anyone should believe you, beyond just stating that you think it to be true.

      As to empiricism, I don’t think you understand the thrust of the argument. Your brief account here is very laden with presuppositions that empiricism itself cannot account for. In other words, you cannot, using empiricism, validate that beliefs are distinct from observations. That proposition is not something observable, so it must be a belief. And if it is a belief that cannot be verified from observation, then it must be verified by some other way than empirically so. When I say it is self-defeating, I mean it cannot account for its own basic principles.

      You would do well to read up on this in philosophical treatments, but then again that is just my opinion, you are welcome to take it or leave it.


  6. Nate,

    I think understand what you are getting at in your first paragraph. Can I provide a reason why it makes a difference if materialism is true? Yes, the development of medicines. If materialism is true, this gives us the ability to map out the brain and explore how various mental diseases and disorders are caused by certain brain activities, which in turn would allow us to better treat them. In more general terms, there are almost always benefits that come with knowing the truth, since it allows us to apply that knowledge and reap the rewards.

    Even so, I don’t see why an ethical consequence is necessary to accept a proposition. For me, at least, the fact that a hypothesis is true is grounds to accept it regardless of the consequences. It seems to me that choosing which hypothesis to believe in based upon “ethical consequences” is the same as choosing which hypothesis to believe in based upon which one makes you happier.
    You could, of course, argue that it could make you happier to believe in a hypothesis that isn’t true, a statement that certainly has some validity. But I find this view unsatisfactory mostly because (to quote from somewhere else), “You can’t know the consequences of being biased, until you have already debiased yourself. And then it is too late for self-deception. The other alternative is to choose blindly to remain biased, without any clear idea of the consequences. This is not second-order rationality. It is willful stupidity.” This is why I disagree with the idea of choosing an argument based upon “ethical consequences”: it is the essentially the same (unless I am misinterpreting you) as self-deception.

    I will certainly read up on empiricism, but I am still not sure if I follow your argument that it is inconsistent. The crux of your argument seems to be that “you cannot, using empiricism, validate that beliefs are distinct from observations.” The problem I have with this statement is the simple and observable fact that my beliefs are not always in correspondence with reality. If only beliefs (and not empirical observations) existed, this should never be the case. If this is not an observable, empirical validation of empiricism, then what is?

    I will take your advice and do some reading; in general I don’t shy away from knowledge.


    • Tet,

      Two briefs things (actually, not that brief)

      (1) If Christianity is true, then what you have said about the benefits for medicine would still apply. What is interesting about your point though, is that it brings up another issue. If materialism is true, why treat sick people? Why not just let them die? It is certainly preferable, from a materialistic perspective to let material objects such as people, who have become compromised in their physical structure, to be disposed of rather than rehabilitated. Having proving that they do not have the fitness to survive, why offer a helping hand?

      Christianity though furnishes both reason to advance medicine and reason to care for sick people. I am certainly all for the advance of medicine, and am all for caring for the sick and dying. As a materialist though, it seems to conflict with your underlying philosophy to care for other material objects (since let’s be honest, if materialism is true that is all we are) On the other hand, even if materialism is totally false, we can still map out the brain and understand it better. The only thing materialism offers is a purely chemical explanation for behavior, but as we ran into with our discussions elsewhere, it could never be fully proven to actually be true.

      (2) The other thing, and as you read more this will make more sense, is that there is a huge difference between perception and observation. When I say observe, I mean gather with your 5 senses (and when philosophers say observe, that’s what they mean too, generally speaking). Perceiving is something that takes place mentally, and beyond mapping the effects of perception on the brain, is one of those things that is hard to account for materialistically. When you say, “the simple and observable fact that my beliefs are not always in correspondence with reality,” it is not something you have observed, but rather something you perceived. It is a second order perception you had about your own mental states and their incongruence with things that you observed (in the sense above) or other things you perceived. The bottom would be that you have never empirically observed your own beliefs. What’s further, you have never empirically observed your own personal identity (i.e. the fact that you have stayed, so far as you know, the same individual over the course of time you’ve been alive). You have perceived those things, but you have never observed them (i.e. gathered that data through one of your 5 senses).

      So in answer to your question, no, that’s not an observable, empirical validation of empiricism. To compound the issue further, even if it was, it is not something I can observe myself, to be true of you. I cannot observe your mental states. I can see the results of brain scan while you tell me what you are thinking, but from the brain scan alone, I couldn’t tell you what you’re thinking. Given that, if you could validate it personally, that does not make it true for everyone out there. You would be universalizing something that, given the actual data you have, cannot be applied to anyone other than yourself.

      That’s maybe just something to keep in mind. Many of the justifications you have offered have been less than convincing, and in all of the cases, it wasn’t the fact I’m a Christian that has made them implausible.

      Good luck with your reading,


Want To Add Your Thoughts?