Since the advent of modern evolutionary theory, it’s become increasingly clear that the initial condition of “paradise” cannot have existed. The biggest problem is that death supposedly only entered into the world through sin, yet obviously evolution proceeds over successive generations of a struggle for survival, etc. Within this perspective, humanity as it currently exists isn’t the fallen version of a perfect antecedent humanity — this just is what humanity is like, for better or for worse. Pannenberg claims that because we can no longer believe in the original perfect state, we need to ditch the whole idea of the fall, even a modern “formalized” version of the fall that still logically presupposes that original state.
I disagree with Pannenberg. I obviously don’t care about “saving” the Garden of Eden story or the supposed infallibility of scripture, nor do I think that evolutionary theory as such inculcates something like Social Darwinism (though it has of course been used in that way from time to time). My problem with dispensing with the idea of some kind of historical “fall” is that it makes the specifically human forms of evil — the gratuitous malice that goes far beyond simple carnivorous behavior — seem to be something natural and inevitable, when I think they need to be understood as historical and therefore reversible.
So an idea that I have been kicking around is that early humans were basically like the bonobos. That was the Garden of Eden. The fall occurred when someone got it into his head to rule over and own everyone else, that is, had a desire for possession that goes beyond the simple needs of survival and acted on it. This moment does not at all have to coincide with the emergence of human consciousness as such or with the emergence of human activities detached from the imperative of survival (i.e., with some kind of rebellion against “natural law”) — the bonobos already appear to have sex for pleasure, etc.
The value of this theory is that it makes sin into something specific, something obviously undesirable, and something that does not seem to be simply “built-in” to human nature (as, for instance, sensuality is): the attempt to rule, to possess, to exploit, to oppress. It fits in neatly with the concept of han as a replacement for original sin. I think it also makes sense of what Agamben is doing in The Open and perhaps in the entire Homo Sacer saga, if we understand the act of the messiah as the suspension of “rule” as such.