On Original Sin and Inherent Doubt
In this essay, I shall take the tale of Genesis at face value; yet I myself do not take that tale literally. This is logician’s jujitsu; refutation by reduction to the absurd. I propose to prove that preaching the Doctrine of Original Sin is itself either sinful, or hypocritical. The proof is as follows:
1) The Doctrine of Original Sin states that gaining knowledge of good and evil was itself a sin, because it negated the alibi of ignorance.
2) This doctrine is either true or false.
3) If the doctrine is false, then it is an error, specifically a moral error - hence a sin to preach.
4) If the doctrine is true, then it constitutes knowledge, specifically knowledge about good and evil, hence is itself an instance of what it calls a sin. To commit a sin in the very act of denouncing it is hypocrisy.
5) Therefore to preach the doctrine of original sin is either sinful or hypocritical. QED.
1) The doctrine of original sin is tenditious; it tells only half the tale. If Eve brought sin into the world, then she also brought virtue; for before knowledge, there is neither sin nor virtue nor choice nor freedom. The Apple of Knowledge of Good and Evil is the fruit of the Liberty Tree.
2) For a Bronze-Age myth like Genesis, no wavering, no grey areas, no paradoxes, no decadent modern doubts, just straight-up black-and-white dualism! That’s part of the reductio ad absurdum.
3) The doctrine of original sin, if false, is no minor moral error; indeed it makes a mockery of all morality. Why should it be wrong to know right from wrong? Especially if the rationale is; if we didn’t know right from wrong, then the difference wouldn’t trouble us! That’s not morality, it’s nihilism. If a prisoner facing trial testified that it’s wrong to know right from wrong, then the defense attorney would win with an insanity plea, and the prisoner would then go to an institute for the criminally insane, and there be treated like a specimen.
4) The doctrine of original sin claims to be knowledge about good and evil, yet it denounces such knowledge; hence its inherent hypocrisy.
5) If original sin is false, then to preach it is the sin of nihilism; if it is true, then to preach it is the sin of hypocrisy. Either way it is a sin to preach original sin; and we are urged to abjure sin.
What specifically did the doctrine do wrong? Just this; it’s a doctrine. The doctrine of original sin claims to know that it’s wrong to know right from wrong. It pretends to certainty; but in matters that deep, certainty itself is an error.
I therefore counter-propose, not a rival doctrine, but an heuristic; a question, not an answer. I call it the Conjecture of Inherent Doubt, and you can phrase it these ways:
It may be wrong to know right from wrong;
No-one can prove that it is right to know right from wrong;
You don’t know if it is right to know right from wrong.
In short, the human moral sense may be erronious! This isn’t nihilism; it denies nothing; but it is skepticism and relativism and agnosticism. If original sin is the self-accusation of a scolding moralist, then inherent doubt is the self-querying of a perplexed philosopher.
If the conjecture of inherent doubt is false, then you can prove that it is right to know right from wrong; so the conjecture would be a correctable error; so as sins go, it would be venial, not mortal. A vice, not a crime.
And if the conjecture of inherent doubt is true, then you could not prove it, for it would be one of the moral truths that it declares mysterious. An unprovable moral truth is a revelation.
Therefore the conjecture of inherent doubt is at worst a forgiveable vice, and is perhaps a mystic revelation.
I understand that some fundamentalists have a lot invested into the doctrine of original sin; they claim that without it, the crucifixion is meaningless, and with it Christianity. I do not see how this follows. Surely the Beatitudes count to a Christian, and the Golden Rule, and various other stories and parables; what bearing does the crucifixion, let alone Eve, have on those?