There are several theories on Adam and Eve, held and promoted by various Catholics (mostly online), which are contrary to, or substantially incompatible with, definitive magisterial teaching. But let’s begin with what we must believe, as faithful Catholic Christians, about Adam and Eve.
The Council of Trent infallibly taught on the subject of original sin and Adam:
“1. If anyone does not confess that the first man, Adam, when he had transgressed the commandment of God in Paradise, immediately lost the sanctity and justice in which he had been constituted, and incurred, through the offense of that type of prevarication, the wrath and indignation of God, and therefore also the death with which God had threatened him beforehand, and with death, captivity under the power of him who thereafter held the empire of death, that is, the Devil; and the whole Adam, through that offense of prevarication, was changed for the worse in body and soul: let him be anathema.” [Trent, Decree on Original Sin, n. 1]
So we must hold that a first man existed, commonly called Adam, and that he transgressed the commandment of God in Paradise. As a result of that sin, he then incurred the consequences due from God, in body and soul.
“2. If anyone asserts that the prevarication of Adam harmed himself alone, and not his posterity; and that the sanctification and justice, received from God, which he lost, he lost for himself alone, and not also for us; or that his defilement, through the sin of disobedience, has transfused only death and the punishment of the body into the whole human race, but not also sin, which is the death of the soul: let him be anathema.”
We must hold that the sin of Adam harmed “his posterity”, and that his posterity is nothing other than “the whole human race”. We must hold that this harm applies to us in body and soul.
“3. If anyone asserts that this sin of Adam — which is one in its origin and has been transfused into all by propagation, not imitation, that is, to each one as his own — is taken away either by the powers of human nature or by any remedy, except through the merit of the one mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ, who has reconciled us to God in his blood, which became for us justice, sanctification, and redemption; or if he denies that the same merit of Jesus Christ is applied, as much to adults as to infants, through the Sacrament of Baptism, duly administered in the form of the Church: let him be anathema.”
And how did Adam pass on this harm, commonly called original sin, to the whole human race? He conceived children of his wife, Eve. Thus, even though Eve is not mentioned by Trent by name, her existence as a real historical person, along with Adam, is essential to this dogma of the faith. For it was by propagation (the conception of children) that original sin is passed on from Adam and Eve to the whole human race, other than Jesus and Mary (as is taught in other dogmas). And this point is made all the more clear in the Decree on Justification, by the phrasing: “born propagated of the seed of Adam”.
Proposition 1: At some point in time, human persons existed who were not descendants of Adam and Eve, but eventually, they all passed away, so that the humans left would finally consist only of their posterity.
This theory directly contradicts the teaching of Trent that the whole human race is descended from Adam and Eve. Therefore, any theory containing that proposition is heresy, as it is incompatible with the dogmas of an Ecumenical Council.
Proposition 2: At some point in time, there were no true humans on earth, only hominids — our precursors who had no immortal souls. Then God gifted two of those hominids with immortal intellective souls, making them the first true humans. Their children then married non-human hominids, but the resultant next generation were given immortal souls, and eventually the hominids died out.
What a faithfulness theory! It contradicts the dogmas of Trent, in that Adam and Eve were not created with original innocence, and were never in Paradise, and did not sin in Paradise, to be sent to live on earth. Also, unions between human persons and non-human animals (even if they resemble humans) would be gravely immoral. So this theory claims that God’s plan depends on grave immorality.
Proposition 3: Adam and Eve figuratively represent a group of early humans, who evolved from earlier hominids.
This theory rejects the teaching of Trent on Paradise, on the individual sin of Adam as the cause of original sin, and the teaching on original innocence: “all men had lost [their] innocence in the prevarication of Adam.” [Trent, Justification, Chapter 1]. The idea that the human race began from a group of more than two original parents is incompatible with the dogma of original sin.
Proposition 4: Science definitively proves that the human race evolved from lower species; therefore, Adam and Eve can only be a fictional teaching story, not an account of historical persons and events.
This theory completely abandons Catholic teaching, including the existence of Paradise, the existence of Adam and Eve, the sin of Adam as the cause of original sin. Moreover, the theory implies that original sin does not exist, which then implies a denial of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. For Mary cannot have been preserved from original sin, if Adam and Eve did not exist to commit the first sin and to pass on its effects as original sin.
How can we reconcile evolution with Catholic teaching on Adam and Eve?
The answer is found in my book: Adam and Eve versus Evolution.
In short, the human body evolved from lower life forms, to reach the form anthropologists call anatomically modern humans (AMH). These creatures had a body like modern humans (behaviorally modern humans), but without the ability to reason abstractly. The AMH did not have free will, abstract reason, nor an immortal soul. Then God created Adam and Eve, based on the highest form of life on earth, the AMH. But they were created with free will, reason, and an immortal soul. They were placed in Paradise, a place as real as Purgatory or Heaven, but also a place discontinuous with the rest of the created universe. When they sinned, they were expelled to earth. They were fit to live there, since their bodies were patterned by God after the AMH. The whole human race then descended from Adam and Eve.
The human race is what anthropologists call behaviorally modern humans (BMH). The BMH began about 50 to 80 thousand years ago. So the length of each generation, in the first 11 chapters of Genesis, and the number of generations, is figurative, not literal. But Adam and Eve were the first parents of humanity. And they have genetics continuous with the lower life forms, since God patterned their bodies after the AMH, who had evolved over the course of a very long time.
Evolution does not contradict the existence of Adam and Eve. Evolution was guided by God. And at a certain point in time, God intervened to create Adam and Eve miraculously.
Edited to add: The problem of an apparent conflict between evolution and the Biblical story of Adam and Eve is solved by proposing that God miraculously created Adam and Eve, patterned after the AMH, as the first two BMH, at a point in time about 50 to 80 thousand years ago.
Further Reading: Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? by Dennis Bonnette
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