Religious anti-evolution rhetoric poses a hollow argument against the development of God- consciousness in primates (as opposed to the spontaneous creation of full physically and spiritually complete humanity in Adam and Eve) by claiming that death came into the world through sin which did not exist before Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit. On the surface, the argument sounds good but there are some very simple, though subtle, problems that undermine the argument.
First, God told Adam that the very day he should eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he (Adam) would surely die. The Hebrew term for die is muth which is commonly understood to be physical death throughout the Old Testament so the doctrine of the introduction of physical death by this act of sin would appear to have at least one leg to stand on. The first problem is, if physical death had never occurred before Adam sinned, and obviously before God announced this particular penalty in Genesis 2:17, Adam would have had absolutely no understanding of the concept and God’s proclamation would have been meaningless without such a point of reference in Adam’s experience or knowledge. We have no indication whatsoever from the text that God supernaturally explained or infused a knowledge of death into Adam’s understanding.
The second problem is the bigger one and comes in God’s judgment in Genesis 3:14-24a. The direct result of Adam’s sin was numerous curses placed on Eve, Adam, and the ground, then Adam’s banishment from the Garden in 3:23. The problem is not explicit here but is implied if we take God’s original commandment in 2:17 to mean physical death (as an argument against physical death before the Fall). After he sinned, Adam did not die physically. If we adhere to a literal interpretation, that would mean 1) God lied and 2) the serpent was the purveyor of truth. But we know from the rest of Scripture and by the witness of the Holy Spirit that 1) God does not lie and 2) Lucifer misleads by means of deception.
The solution to this seeming inconsistency on God’s part is to realize that what made Adam and Eve human as divine image-bearers, was not their physicality, that is, we easily assume that our physical nature is not reflective of the image of God since God is Spirit and has no physical nature. What made them human was god-consciousness which allowed for communion with God. It is relatively easy to understand that I can have no overt relationship, and especially an intimate one, with someone or something of which I have no knowledge of its existence. When God breathed life into humanity, he breathed into a pre-existing body which was created before god-consciousness was possible, even according to the order of operations in the text itself in Genesis 2:7. In this sense, becoming a “living being” takes on a very different meaning than simply drawing breath of oxygen. It means drawing a different kind of vitality from the realized, inspired (or “in breathed”), notion of the divine.
When we speak of death, we most often think in physical terms but we do not consider the extended etymology of the term itself. The Hebrew term, muth, carries both a figurative and a literal sense. Adam did not die literally, that is, physically, from God’s judgment on his sin. Rather, Adam died figuratively, spiritually. As he was displaced literally from God’s presence in the Garden, he was also displaced figuratively from God’s presence spiritually, from intimate communion. We do not die in a literal sense when we sin but our sin separates us from communion with God because our unholiness cannot abide with the holiness of God.
If we die unrepentant and unforgiven in our sin, we ultimately suffer twice in the loss of physical communion with the world and our loved ones and also in the loss of spiritual communion with God. We can attest to humankind’s fallen nature and the struggles of life – according to the laborious nature of Adam’s work after the fall and even the resistance he meets in his enduring interactions with the rest of creation (the coming forth of the thorns and thistles from the accursed ground) – due to our spiritual isolation from God.
While our species likely evolved physically very much along the lines science suggests, god-consciousness was the spontaneous act of God’s grace – the infusion of divine breath – that made Adam, and us, aware of the reality of God and called into being response-abled humanity.