One of the less plausible attempts to ground the theory that we are guilty for Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden is based on the most literal understanding of seminal identity. This view rests on the idea that each of us is grown from a seed of our father, a view related to the mistaken belief that the mother is effectively a vessel for the developing child, contributing little to it herself.

According to this view, the seed from which each of us grew was in our father, and the seed from which he grew was in his father, and so on. The first man, Adam, therefore contained the whole human race within him. In a sense, we were all present in the Garden of Eden.

According to this rather common explanation, historically speaking, of our guilt for the Fall, there is no question of imputing someone else’s guilt to us. As we were all in Adam in Eden, we all sinned with Adam in Eden, and so as he became tainted with sin so we also became tainted with sin. To be clear: this is not because we are to blame for Adam’s sin, but because we all collectively sinned; we were all in the Fall together. This is why the Fall was not just Adam‘s, but the whole of humanity‘s, and why we face the consequences of and bear the guilt for it.

If a refutation of this view is necessary, then one way of developing it would go like this: Guilt is not a property of bodies, but a property of persons. This is why if I were to donate a lung to someone in need of one, there would be no question as to whether I or they are liable for my library fines. This is also why it is futile to exact posthumous retribution on the corpses of criminals: the person is no longer there. It is people, not bodies, that are liable for library fines, or subject to punishment for crimes.

The theory above, though, holds each of us accountable for the Fall because of the (alleged) presence of our bodies in Adam in Eden. Even if our bodies were present in Eden, though, we, as persons, were not. Our bodies were, at that time, incapable of making the free decisions that ground moral responsibility, and we therefore cannot have participated in (or be responsible for) Adam’s sin.