The Politics of the Fall: Original Sin and Modern History

| By on The Evolving Evangelical Featuring: William T. Cavanaugh

"Portrait of Thomas Hobbes" by John Michael Wright. Image taken from Wikipedia.

This post is part of a series of excerpts from the new book Evolution and the Fall. For an introduction to the book, click here.

I considered a number of options for this final excerpt—the book is filled with interesting passages, and it was a tough choice narrowing the list down to three. I decided on this section from William Cavanaugh, because it gets at an incredibly important aspect of the debates over Adam and evolution: namely, the cultural, political, and philosophical shifts that have coincided with the earthquake caused by Darwin’s theories. Our evaluation of Darwin, as Christians, is inescapably colored by the times in which we live, and the ways in which evolution has been appropriated by the culture warriors of the modern world. I am increasingly convinced that the origins debate is just as much about understanding the present as the past. And for this reason, I greatly appreciated the inclusion of essays on modern history and politics on a book about evolution and the Fall.

Excerpt from: William T. Cavanaugh, "The Fall of the Fall in Early Modern Political Theory" from Evolution and the Fall," ed. William T. Cavanaugh and James K. A. Smith (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing), 202-203.

The eclipse of the Fall in early modern political theory coincides with a new, unitary conception of nature. As we have seen, the Fall marks a division between two kinds of nature, the way we are and the way we are meant to be. The Fall is therefore crucial to an eschatological concept of nature; nature is not simply there, inert, its constant properties to be investigated and codified into constant laws. The Fall marks the fact that nature has a goal, a telos; there is nature as it is and nature as it will become, the latter of which is revealed by reflection on the original, prelapsarian condition in which God placed us, which in turn reveals God’s intention for us. Modern science rejects teleology, believing the nature of matter to include only the way things are, and not the way things ought to be. The new “science” of politics also collapses the two natures into one; the way things are is revealed by the state of nature, which politics can ameliorate but not essentially alter. The Fall is “naturalized,” and many of the features of fallenness now simply coincide with creaturehood.

In this chapter, however, I hope to have cast doubt on the inevitability of this process of naturalization. The eclipse of the biblical Fall story was not simply the putting away of childish stories in favor of hard data; the eclipse of the Fall was at least in part political, not scientific. The fall of the Fall is part of the secularization of politics, but secularization is neither inevitable nor the simple subtraction of a supernatural worldview from some more basic, natural residue. The “state of nature” upon which Hobbes and Locke built their political theories is based not on any empirical testing, but rather on prior political decisions about what kind of government and political economy needs justification. Marx was right to accuse Locke and others of substituting one original sin story for another. The state of nature replaced the Fall with a story of human origins that is no more empirically based and no less susceptible to being labeled “mythological” than the Genesis story. The claim to know “nature” and what is “natural” is, for Hobbes and Locke, a political move that, no less than medieval appeals to scripture, attempts to invest politics with authority that comes from a nonpolitical source.


In the long run, much of what comes to be called “science” will follow the path that “political science” followed: divorced from theology and from the church, and tasked with investigating a reduced nature that has been stripped of any eschatological or teleological reference, the Fall will be discarded as a quaint myth, and evolution will appear to be guided by purely immanent processes. I have suggested, however, that the divorce of science and theology in the West has been promoted, at least in part, by nonscientific factors. I have offered this examination of the politics of the Fall as a contribution to a political history of science in the West. If this history is correct, then perhaps antagonism between science and theology is not inevitable, and perhaps it is possible to give an account of evolution and the Fall that is true to both the scientific evidence and Christian revelation.




Kramer, Brad. "The Politics of the Fall: Original Sin and Modern History " N.p., 20 Apr. 2017. Web. 17 February 2019.


Kramer, B. (2017, April 20). The Politics of the Fall: Original Sin and Modern History
Retrieved February 17, 2019, from /blogs/brad-kramer-the-evolving-evangelical/the-politics-of-the-fall-original-sin-and-modern-history

References & Credits

Reprinted with permission of Eerdmans Publishing Company. 

About the Author

Brad Kramer

Brad Kramer completed his M.Div. at Biblical Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and earned a BA in politics, philosophy, and economics from The King’s College in New York City. His articles have appeared in The Daily BeastPatrol, and OnFaith. Brad served as Managing Editor at BioLogos for four years, from 2014 through 2018.

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