This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Dear Dr Craig,
Thank you, first of all, for this wonderful treasure trove of Christian philosophy that you have compiled here on your website. Having recently rediscovered my faith after sixteen years of atheism, your articles and videos have been immensely helpful to me in ensuring that my beliefs have a solid and consistent philosophical framework. I would like to revisit the question of original sin from a perspective that was not addressed in questions #549 and #560, which were on the same topic, and focus on your argument in favor of Adam's "apt representation" of us based on God's middle knowledge.
You write in #549: "Lest anyone complain that Adam was a bad representative, we can say that God via His middle knowledge knew that, had we been in Adam’s place, we would have done the same thing. So Adam does not fail to represent us accurately before God and so serves as an apt representative on our behalf." I find this answer problematic for the following reason: Adam's choice was made in the context of a world before the fall of man. Therefore, Adam's nature was not yet tainted by original sin, and with his untainted free will, he truly, genuinely could have chosen otherwise. This untainted freedom is, indeed, the basis for his culpability.
To say that every human being on Earth would have made the same choice as Adam (according to God's middle knowledge) either (a) anachronistically ascribes post-fall corruption to one's free will regarding a choice actually made pre-fall, or (b) denies genuine free will altogether. It seems to me that (b) is an unavoidable conclusion from the following: (1) The guilt of original sin necessarily applies to all human beings after Adam. (2) If genuine free will is presupposed, then neither the truth nor the falsity of the counterfactual statement "If I had been in place of Adam, I would have made the same choice" can be necessary. However, if (1) is true, then it is necessarily true that all humans – including all future humans not even born yet – would have made the same choice as Adam. Otherwise it remains possible that he was not an apt representative for all humans, which would remove the justification for the universal guilt caused by original sin. Therefore, in this scenario, there was no free will even before the fall.
I would very much appreciate your thoughts on this to see where I went wrong in my reasoning, if I did. Thank you!
Dr. William Lane Craig's Response
You’re right, of course, Antti, that Adam’s choice was made in a state of innocence without the corrupting influence of sin that we experience. But you need to understand that when in discussions of middle knowledge, we imagine a person being in different circumstances and asked to choose, we emphatically are not imagining what would happen if a person, say, went back in a time machine, bringing with him all his present baggage, and made the choice. Rather we are imagining that you (instead of Adam) were the first man created in a state of innocence, never having known sin. What would you have done? Of course, you don’t know, but according to the doctrine of middle knowledge, God knows. And my suggestion is that He chose to create only persons who He knew would make the same choice as Adam. Therefore His appointing Adam to act as your representative is not unfair of God. Adam ably represents you: he did exactly what you would have done.
So the scenario does not (a) anachronistically ascribe post-fall corruption to one's free will regarding a choice actually made pre-fall. Does it (b) deny genuine free will altogether? Not at all! The whole point of middle knowledge is that God knows what people would freely do in any circumstances in which they might find themselves. You are correct in asserting
(2) If genuine free will is presupposed, then neither the truth nor the falsity of the counterfactual statement "If I had been in place of Adam, I would have made the same choice" can be necessary.
Counterfactuals of freedom are contingently true, not necessarily true. But when you assert
(1) The guilt of original sin necessarily applies to all human beings after Adam.
you seem to be confusing the fact that after Adam’s fall all his natural descendants inherit a corrupted nature, so that they cannot avoid sin, with what they would have freely done if they had never been corrupted in the first place but had been in Adam’s place instead. In that situation they need not sin but may freely choose what to do, as Adam did. It is correct to say that it is possible that Adam should fail to be an apt representative, but given His middle knowledge, God knew that that possibility would not be actualized.
This Q&A and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website.