epigenetics made me sinful

March 8, 2010 at 10:09 pm 15 comments

Conservative theologian Norman Geisler is a famed apologist and the author of the book, The Big Book of Biblical Difficulties (I always get the title mixed up with Gleason Archer’s book, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties). In this book he outlines various solutions to stories in the bible which are difficult to reconcile with a strict view of biblical inerrancy. He states in the preface that what might seem like inconsistencies are only “apparent contradictions,” meaning though they might appear to be errors, but really they are not, we just are not reading or understanding correctly.

Many of his solutions to these biblical difficulties contain valid arguments based on careful study of the languages, context, geographies, etc. of the biblical writers. Unfortunately, many of his solutions, while perhaps being logically possibilities, make a tangled mess of reasoning, or “pretzel logic.”

On his web site Geisler recently addressed a problem related to the virgin birth of Jesus. The dilemma, according to Geisler, is:

“Conservative theologians have long troubled by how the Virgin Conception of Jesus is related to his sinlessness. In short, if Mary was his actual mother, then why would not the inherited depravity from Adam be passed on to Jesus anyway. Why isn’t a sinful mother, which Mary was (Lk. 1:46), as much of a problem as a sinful father in channeling original sin?”

Leave it to a conservative theologian to be “long troubled” about something like that. As though the set of possible solutions to this vexing problem couldn’t involve the problem not existing in the first place.

Geisler’s goes on to relate how recent discoveries in genetic research may have finally resolved this “biblical difficulty.” Geisler believes that if we do not know of a way to resolve an apparent difficulty in the bible, it just means we haven’t figured it out yet, and so he writes:

“This is where epigenetics may solve this previous “mystery.” According to scientists, “the general mechanism for transmitting information about ancestral environment [is] down the male line”. If this is so, then perhaps a person born of a virgin mother would not inherit the epigenetic information resulting from Adam’s Fall. Whether this is so or not, we are not in a position to say. And, of course, there may be other factors. But certainly epigenetics has opened the door to a possible solution of this long-standing and vexing problem for evangelical theology.”

This is a fantasy world, where presuppositions cannot be challenged and people are more content with shoddy reasoning than they are with a healthy, “I don’t know.” Honestly, as a Christian I found this kind of reasoning made me very uncomfortable. It sounded so shaky, it made me wonder what else was shaky about my beliefs. I appreciate that Geisler admits this is only a possible solution and could be wrong, but it sounds more like grasping at straws then providing a reasonable basis for the beliefs he tries to support. It makes me question myself though, wondering where I hold on to tenuous solutions to maintain my beliefs, rather than dealing more directly with challenges.


Entry filed under: apologetics, evangelicalism. Tags: , , , .

break up with Jesus color spectrum

15 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Boz  |  March 9, 2010 at 12:07 am

    “This is where biology may solve this previous “mystery.” According to scientists, “It is impossible for humans to reproduce without the involvement of sperm”. If this is so, then perhaps a person said to be born of a virgin mother was not actually born of a virgin mother. Whether this is so or not, we are not in a position to say. And, of course, there may be other factors. But certainly biology has opened the door to a possible solution of this long-standing and vexing problem for evangelical theology.”

  • 2. Boz  |  March 9, 2010 at 12:07 am


  • 3. CBL  |  March 9, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    The contemporary version of counting how many angels might fit on the head of a pin.

  • 4. atimetorend  |  March 9, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    Boz, sounds like you have an interesting theory going on there. Wonder if Geisler has heard of that one… :^)

    Hi CBL, excellent, that is just right.

  • 5. Laughing Boy  |  March 9, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    Fantastic album!

    Does the bible say that sin is passed on biologically? Sin is a spiritual problem, with physical effects for sure, but not fundamentally a physical problem. Can sin, a spiritual problem, be transmitted through physical means? Perhaps passing on the sin nature has to do with Adam (not Eve) being the federal head of mankind. Perhaps in subsequent generations the sin nature has been transmitted through men (males) given their place in the order of things familial.

  • 6. Sabio Lantz  |  March 10, 2010 at 6:38 am

    Thanx for the Steely Dan link to “Pretzel Logic”. I love that phrase. It is yet another perversion of logic, a little more classy than “Fart Logic“.

    Interestingly, one is considered Jewish if their mother is Jewish.

    May I ask: What sort of beliefs are you hanging on to that you worry are tenuous and that you are not giving the objections enough consideration?

  • 7. FSRT  |  March 10, 2010 at 10:18 am

    I thought Eve was just as implicit in the so-called “Fall.” Who cares if whatever line is passed through males. Eve was just as much a part of the bad stuff and would pass that bad stuff on if it is possible to do so genetically. The most glaring problem here is that the doctrine of “The Fall” is itself in error.

  • 8. atimetorend  |  March 10, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Laughing Boy, that has long been a favorite album of mine.

    Your use of the term, “federal head” had me trying to remember for a moment where I had heard it before. And then I remembered, in Gleason Archer’s Encylopedia of Biblical Difficulties”! Similar to the point you are making, he is describing the consequences of inhereted sin What happens to babies who die, do they go to heaven? Archer concludes we can’t know for sure, because they all inheret sin and so are under the death penalty. But he says that since God foreordains who will be saved, the infants who die in the womb or early in childhood who were foreordained to go to heaven will go to heaven, but those who were not will go to Hell. So that is another issue theologians can wrestle over.

    If I were to believe in Genesis as God’s divinely inspired words, I would believe it in a metaphorical sense. It provides a story to teach lessons about the observation that all people do bad things, that they are all guilty for them, that it is people making a choice to do bad things (eg. Adam and Eve), that it separates people from God, etc. I do not see any need to literalize it, to seek spiritual or biological mechanisms for how that works. Genesis does not provide them anyway.

  • 9. atimetorend  |  March 10, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Sabio, yeah, that is more classy, isn’t it!

    I think one is considered Jewish if their mother is Jewish because it is a clear mark of Jewish ancestery. I have heard it came about in the times of the diaspora where Jewish women were treated as chattel and Jewish fatherhood of a child could often be unconfirmed. No DNA testing back then. I think the biblical conundrum might arise from people inferring a connection to the lack of traditional fatherhood in Jesus’ case and his lack of sin? I don’t know.

    Regarding specific tenuous explanations I might use to support beliefs, I honestly am having trouble thinking of one. I like to think that I remain agnostic when I am not aware of solid evidence. But I think it is important to ask that question of ourselves. How reasonable would my explanation sound to an outsider? OK, here is one. Belief: My level of health will remain high even if I do not do a better job of taking care of myself. Tenuous evidence for that — I will eventually start eating better and working out more because I always have in the past. And I have good genes anyway.

  • 10. atimetorend  |  March 10, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    The most glaring problem here is that the doctrine of “The Fall” is itself in error.

    I agree, and especially because the author cannot even ask that question. Before employing pretzel logic, ask the question why it seems necessary in the first place.

  • 11. Sabio Lantz  |  March 10, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    (1) Am I mistaken, but this says the epigenetic inheritance comes from the female whereas it is plain-ole genetic for the father?

    (2) And Lord Buddha, please tell, why are you reading his website?

  • 12. OneSmallStep  |  March 10, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    I think Augustine made an argument similar to this one … something about the whole sin-nature carried along in the sperm.

  • 13. atimetorend  |  March 11, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Sabio, 1) I don’t know, but the Time article referenced by Geisler is quite interesting: – link –

    OSS, Augustine was just way ahead of his time. Too bad we can’t spiritually get good things through the sperm, only filthy rags and shabby works leading to perdition.

  • 14. atimetorend  |  March 11, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Sabio, 2) Tell Buddha for me that I don’t remember if I followed a link somewhere or was googling for something.

  • 15. MattK  |  March 7, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    FYI, Offspring inherit only chromosomal genetic material from their fathers. Sons actually inherit more chromosomal DNA from their mothers (since the Y from the father is so much smaller and with many fewer genes than the X from the mother). The mitochondria, which have their own genome come from the mother as well. So does the inititial cytoplasm which can have effects on the embryo. Also, in terms of developmental environment, the mother provides the womb so that is controlled from her end as well.

    BTW – The Times article is interesting and seems fairly good (without going too deep) and the author included some important caveats. It is still pretty sensationalistic from my non-expert understanding of epigenetics.

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