Christians often use the term "The Fall" to describe the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the garden and their subsequent punishment. Not only does this punishment effect Adam and Eve but all of humanity. Augustine and subsequently Calvin (Protestants) viewed this state of fallenness as total depravity. Aquinas (Roman Catholic) was not as severe. For Aquinas, the image of God in humanity was tarnished but not shattered.
For both Catholics and Protestants, a great deal of theological weight is placed on this little narrative in Genesis chapters 2 and 3. But when we simply read the narrative without Augustine's theology imprinted upon it, it really says nothing about a "Fall," certainly not to the extent that the church has emphasized it.
The RC church (officially) still reads this narrative as historical. Conservative protestants do likewise. Liberal protestants have read this as mythical but containing psychological truth about the state of estrangement between humanity and God.
There is no need to read it that way. In fact, to do so does a disservice to the text, to an understanding of humanity, and to a clearer understanding of Jesus. A plain sense reading of the text shows that it is a myth or story for entertainment. Why do snakes bite? Why are there weeds? Why is there pain in childbirth? Why is life a struggle? Why is God so distant? Why are we different from the animals? These are some of a variety of questions along the same lines as myths such as how the camel got his hump etc. It is a coming of age story from human innocence to maturity and the ambiguity of that. It is a fine tale, but nothing to build a theology upon.
Dr. Patricia Williams (a theologian and philosopher of science) in her book Doing Without Adam and Eve: Sociobiology and Original Sin, finds that a common intersecting point between theology and science is anthropology. What is a human being? Why is there evil? She suggests that Genesis 2 and 3 does not give us a true picture of humanity from either an historical perspective or a psychological one. Or for that matter, a theological one.
Human beings from a scientific perspective were not created perfect, but have evolved from other life forms. There was no single act of disobedience that messed us all up. We constantly have choices. Further, there is no need for Jesus to die on the cross to atone for the sin of Adam and Eve, since they never existed!
From a theological perspective, it is time to say so long to Adam and Eve as a defining event for humanity, for the problem of sin and evil, and as the reason for the incarnation of Jesus.
Check out Dr. Williams' book. It is a keeper. If in you're in the neighborhood, come to the conference on May 19th!