Accounts of in terms of inherited corruption hold that although we cannot be held guilty for Adam’s sin, we nevertheless suffer the consequences of it. Adam’s sin led to our corruption, and this is the sense in which we inherit his sin.
One way of cashing out this account of the Fall is in terms of physical hereditary. On this view, the first sin brought about a change in the first man, corrupting his nature, and this corruption is then passed on through the generations. What is worse, this corruption predisposes each of its recipients to sin, leading Adam’s rebellion to be repeated time after time.
On some versions of this theory, the corruption itself justifies God’s wrath towards us; on others, God’s wrath is justified only by the sins that this corruption leads us to commit. On this latter view, Adam’s sin is seen as the cause of our sinfulness, but God’s wrath is seen as directed at our own individual sinfulness, rather than that of Adam. It therefore avoids the problems associated with the idea of .
The main problem with this account is that sinfulness is an acquired characteristic, but that acquired characteristics are not inherited. Inheritance is a genetic process, but sin is not in the genes and so cannot be passed on by this means.
On an alternative account, social rather than physical heredity is the means by which Adam’s sin is transmitted to us. On this view, Adam’s sin merely set a trend, a bad example. Each of us who follows this example does so on his own head. Again, this account holds that Adam’s sin is a cause of our sinfulness, but that we too play an active role in original sin by choosing to commit the sins for which we are condemned; Adam is a bad influence, but nothing more.
The main difficulty with this view is that social heredity appears to be too weak a process to explain the widespread nature of sin. Although children do imitate their parents to some degree, not all children imitate their parents in every degree. There is no guarantee that an example such as Adam’s will be emulated by all, and so this form of the doctrine of original sin fails to explain universal sinfulness, and so fails to ground the universal need for salvation that is so central to Christianity.