Untenable Theories on Adam and Eve

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”.

Untenable Theories

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

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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21 Responses to Untenable Theories on Adam and Eve

  1. So you would say this document on the Vatican website is heretical: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20040723_communion-stewardship_en.html

    You are therefore just like the critics of Pope Francis that you keep criticizing.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I don’t see any problems with that article. To what are you referring? The article clearly states that Adam and Eve were our first parents.

    • doctormaniax says:

      Dear Ron, I think entirelyuseless is referencing this precise point:
      “Catholic theology affirms that that the emergence of the first members of the human species (whether as individuals or in populations) represents an event that is not susceptible of a purely natural explanation and which can appropriately be attributed to divine intervention. Acting indirectly through causal chains operating from the beginning of cosmic history, God prepared the way for what Pope John Paul II has called “an ontological leap…the moment of transition to the spiritual.”

      The way it is written, it would seem to imply that the emergence of the “first members of the human species” may have happened “whether as individuals or in populations” and that it is up to theology to study, through science, where the “moment of transition to the spiritual” happened. If that be true, the ITC has been legitimately teaching under supervision of the CDF that Adam and Eve may stand for more than just 2 individuals – as a sort of “collective persona” where Adam stands for mankind and Eve for womankind at the time of God’s intervention in human evolution.

      As for me, I have this simple opinion. “Adam” may be replaced with a group of people, and the Church may be tolerating the theory, but we shouldn’t give it for granted. The official stand of the Tridentine Council is still holding unless more liberal interpretations of its canons on Original Sin are issued by the Magisterium itself, possibly in an infallible way. Until then, we should just take the Genesis narrative at face value in everything but those points that are clearly recognized as symbols (ie. the forbidden fruit, Satan in snake form, the rib, the dust of the ground, the fig leaves etc.).

      When asked about the issue of Original SIn and human origins, I just quote directly from Pope Francis in his interview with Andrea Tornielli, called “The name of God is mercy”. I copy-and-paste the Italian text, and translate it in English for a better understanding of the readers:

      Perché siamo peccatori?
      Perché c’è il peccato originale. Un dato del quale si può fare esperienza. La nostra
      umanità è ferita, sappiamo riconoscere il bene e il male, sappiamo che cosa è male,
      cerchiamo di seguire la via del bene, ma spesso cadiamo a motivo della nostra debolezza
      e scegliamo il male. È la conseguenza del peccato d’origine, del quale abbiamo piena
      coscienza grazie alla Rivelazione. Il racconto del peccato di Adamo ed Eva, la ribellione
      contro Dio che leggiamo nel Libro della Genesi, si serve di un linguaggio immaginifico
      per esporre qualcosa di realmente accaduto alle origini dell’umanità.

      Why are we sinners?
      Because of the original sin. This is a date everybody can experience. Our humanity is wounded, we can recognize good and evil, we know what is evil, we try and follow the way of evil, yet we often fall because of our weakness and choose evil. It is a consequence of the sin of origin, as we know it in fulness from Revelation. The narrative of Adam and Eve’s sin, the rebellion against God we read in the Book of Genesis, makes use of an imaginative language to express something that really happened at the beginnings of humankind.

    • Ron Conte says:

      “acting indirectly though causal chains” I would interpret as referring to the influence of providence on evolution, and then “an ontological leap” is the required divine intervention via a miracle to create Adam and Eve. But the teaching of Trent that Adam is an individual, who sinned in Paradise, and so began original sin, is infallible and cannot be revised by the infallible magisterium at a later time. The phrasing “whether as individuals or in populations” is an unacceptable claim by the ITC and indicates acceptance of an heretical idea, that of polygenism.

    • Mark P. says:

      Scripture does not seem to offer any evidence for a purely naturalistic rise of a primordial life form to a human being. (it also seems to more fully support the creation of all life forms as kinds, however else they may have developed afterwards). Now, if the only reference to the creation of man was the first two chapters of Genesis, there could be somewhat of a case made (albeit still quite a stretch) for a view of theistic evolution – which honestly sounds like natural evolution but just saying “God did it.” But coupled with other books and passages such as Romans, 2 Maccabees 7:28, and the genealogy of Jesus in St. Luke’s gospel, not to mention the view of the vast majority of Church Fathers, the most reasonable view is that man was created immediately and directly. The view of God just “infusing” a soul into a human body can be severely misinterpreted and seems to present the God who creates souls as separate from some other deity who made our bodies; to me, it is a confusing view. It seems absurd almost to the point of comedic to envision the pre-human Adam and Eve meandering about, grunting as they forage for food, and then all of the sudden being “infused” with souls giving them rationality, intellect, free will and a relationship with God in an instant. I think this view really lessens a person’s desire for a relationship with God, because it presents just a “spiritual” notion of God rather than one who acts directly throughout history for His creatures and creation.

    • doctormaniax says:

      Dear Ron, I don’t think the word heretical can easily apply in this case. The text has been approved by Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the CDF and later Vicar of Christ, a person of great theological standing and sure orthodoxy, chosen by one of the holiest popes. As for me, I firmly believe in the historical existence of Adam and Eve, who appeared somewhere about 12,000 BC. They were the first humans who had a specific ASPM-gene mutation that makes language possible and distinguishes all humans from the other hominids. That was the Creator’s last touch to perfect the human body, introducing what makes us unique in the whole creation. Through language we can dialogue with each other and with God, we can study the world, catalogue all creatures, develop an organized society, write laws and even make use of philosophy to deepen our understanding of God and his mysteries. Presently, humans have only two alleles of this gene: an older form, dated c. 14,000 BP, and surviving prevailingly in the people speaking tonal languages (like the Chinese, and the Old Sumerians) and a more recent allele typical of the non-tonal languages (such as Indo-European) that is presumed to appear about 5,000 BP. Curiously, 5,000 BP is the approximate date of the Genesis flood (like you, I believe it coincides with the Burckle crater impact). It is not a case that 14,000 BP is the time when agriculture, domestication and complex architecture appeared. The traces of Neanderthal genes would derive from interbreeding preceding the creation of Adam and Eve, and might be a case of vestigiality (not unlike wisdom teeth, the appendix or the tail bone) as God took the hominins of the time and perfected them rather than starting from scratch. If there was any case of interbreeding (bestiality) between ensouled humans and hominids, that was just an occurence on the part of the fallen men of the Cainite line and their offspring (the nephilim) were still humans as they had a soul.

    • Ron Conte says:

      “I don’t think the word heretical can easily apply in this case. The text has been approved by Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the CDF and later Vicar of Christ, a person of great theological standing and sure orthodoxy, chosen by one of the holiest popes.” — That’s not how heresy and protection from grave error works. Magisterial teachings are protected from heresy and any other grave error. Infallible magisterial teachings are protected from all error. The ITC documents are not of the Magisterium, so it doesn’t matter who “approved” them.

      The idea that humans are different due to a single gene for language is not compatible with Church teaching. We have free will, reason, and immortal souls. And Trent is clear that Adam and Eve had original innocence from the beginning, which would not be the case if they were conceived and born of hominids, and that they sinned in Paradise, not on earth. If humanity were based on a single gene, then a certain percentage of persons would have a mutation in that gene, making it a non-working allele, and making them not human. But we don’t find that to be the case. Humanness and even merely our language ability is not the result of a single gene.

      Anthropologists place the beginning of behavioral modernity 50 to 80 thousand years ago, not 14k.

  2. Tom Mazanec says:

    From your linked article:
    Reflecting classical Christian thought, St. Thomas Aquinas demonstrates that true man is distinguished essentially from lower animals by possession of an intellectual and immortal soul, which possesses spiritual powers of understanding, judgment, and reasoning (Summa theologiae I, 75).
    That’s a list of three powers. Please define each, showing how it is distinct from the other two.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I think you can look that up yourself.

    • Guest says:

      understanding – the apprehension of the essence of things
      judgment – predicating propositions
      reasoning – deductive reasoning

      Consider the following logical argument:

      Apples are fruit.
      Chicken wings are not fruit
      Apples are not chicken wings

      Understanding means knowing what “apples”, “chicken wings” and “fruits” are. Judging means knowing that “apples are fruit” and “chicken wings are not fruits”. Reasoning means using your judgments to deduce a conclusion: “Apples are not chicken wings”.

    • Tom Mazanec says:

      Coincidentally, here is The Catholic Thing entry for today, on the human mind:

  3. Mark P. says:

    I have read Ron’s book “Adam and Eve versus evolution” and highly recommend it, along with “Catholicism and Evolution: A History from Darwin to Pope Francis” by Fr. Michael Chaberek, O.P. Some form of God-guided evolution to a type of biological human body seems possible by the Genesis description of God forming man from the dust of the earth. Eve being formed from the side of Adam is a more explicit miraculous act by God that does not leave as much room for a biological descent from lower life forms. But despite many attempts to shoehorn traditional Catholic theology into secular evolutionist theories, it seems that both Sacred Scripture and Tradition most fully support the direct creation of Adam and Eve by God, with their human bodies sharing some similarities to other mammals so as to share in life provided on earth. Ultimately, since God is eternal and outside of time, I think we must keep in mind that the millions and billions of years calculated by scientists to account for the evolution of life up until today are inconsequential to God. Our curiosity and pride as humans often work together paradoxically; we recognize and want to explore the beauty of creation, yet at the same time many people demand fully testable and provable results to life’s most interesting questions. It is also quite ironic that the pride of our first parents led to their eviction from Eden, and it is most often pride today which leads to many people dismissing the opening chapters of Genesis.

  4. Guest says:

    Reasoning just means logical inference.

    • Dora says:

      Perhaps, if one was trying to explain this to teenagers…:
      understanding – grasping a fundamental concept
      judgment – comparison and assessment
      reasoning – making connections for more sophisticated conceptualizations (thinking like God thinks, since after all, we are made in his image)

  5. Mark P. says:

    Ron, a question on this topic: do you feel that St. Thomas is too heavily relied upon when discussing any topic of Creation and / or evolution? In most of what I have read on the topic, it seems that both those who advocate strictly for intelligent design and those who propose theistic evolution both claim Thomistic philosophy to support their positions. Now, I understand that he may have written some of the most comprehensive theological and philosophical works which have been rightly referenced by the Church throughout the last several centuries, but surely there must be other Saints who can offer views on this topic. Too often, any articles or reflections on evolution by either side of this debate eventually seem to become exercises in how the thoughts of St. Thomas can be used to fully support one’s own position.

    • Ron Conte says:

      St. Thomas is too heavily relied on by conservative Catholics in general. I haven’t read much from a Thomistic point of view on evolution. We don’t need to find a Saint with a particular answer to every question. The faithful have the state of grace, the virtues, and the ability to use faith and reason to seek truth.

  6. In number 63, the article says:

    “Since it has been demonstrated that all living organisms on earth are genetically related, it is virtually certain that all living organisms have descended from this first organism. Converging evidence from many studies in the physical and biological sciences furnishes mounting support for some theory of evolution to account for the development and diversification of life on earth, while controversy continues over the pace and mechanisms of evolution. While the story of human origins is complex and subject to revision, physical anthropology and molecular biology combine to make a convincing case for the origin of the human species in Africa about 150,000 years ago in a humanoid population of common genetic lineage. However it is to be explained, the decisive factor in human origins was a continually increasing brain size, culminating in that of homo sapiens. With the development of the human brain, the nature and rate of evolution were permanently altered: with the introduction of the uniquely human factors of consciousness, intentionality, freedom and creativity, biological evolution was recast as social and cultural evolution.”

    You say that Adam and Eve were created based on something before, but did not descend from them. The article clearly says that they do descend from other things (“all living organisms have descended from the first organism”), and furthermore, it directly suggests some of the theories you claim are heretical, by suggesting an original population rather than a pair (“the origin of the human species in Africa about 150,000 years ago in a humanoid population of common genetic lineage.”)

    • Ron Conte says:

      Ah, I didn’t see that passage. First, according to the majority view of anthropologists, the BMH began only about 50 to 80 thousand years ago. So the article is speaking of the development of the AMH, that is to say, the evolution of the human body. So far, that’s fine. And I would say that God created Adam and Eve miraculously, patterned after the AHM, so that their genetics (as the first BMH) are continuous with that of the AMH, which evolved form the lower life forms.

      But this assertion — “However it is to be explained, the decisive factor in human origins was a continually increasing brain size, culminating in that of homo sapiens. With the development of the human brain, the nature and rate of evolution were permanently altered: with the introduction of the uniquely human factors of consciousness, intentionality, freedom and creativity, biological evolution was recast as social and cultural evolution.” — is heretical, as the authors speak as if the BMH evolved from the AMH, without divine intervention, as a gradual transition, without two first parents. They say “however it is to be explained”, but they don’t really expand on that point. Even so, I don’t see how they could shoehorn divine intervention into the rest of the explanation. So, as stated, it does suggest an heretical point of view, since the gradual development of the BMH is incompatible with the teaching of Trent.

      By the way, that article is not of the Magisterium, but is of the International Theological Commission. The fact that a single heretical suggestion is found on the Vatican website is symptomatic of the problems of the Church today, where a wide range of opinions is welcomed, regardless of definitive magisterial teaching.

      I should also point out that the majority of anthropologists do NOT agree with the ITC that the BMH developed gradually. The traditional theory, which is still the majority view, is that the BMH occurred as a sharp differentiation from the AMH. And only the BMH have the ability to reason abstractly.

  7. turnrod says:

    It is not clear how the general view of proposition 2 is precluded by divine revelation?

    Does devine revelation rule out the following?
    1) humans and hominids (no immortal soul) producing human offspring
    2) Adam and Eve having hominid parents

    I am not necessarily an advocate for this proposition, but I am not aware of devine revelation ruling this out.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Adam and Eve can’t have had hominid parents because then they would not have original innocence. The Virgin Mary’s conception was a “singular grace and privilege”, so Adam and Eve would be fallen, if they were conceived and born of fallen hominids. Without original innocence, you have no fall from grace and so no original sin. Also, Trent and Scripture teach that Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise due to their sin, but having hominid parents means that they were never in Paradise.

      Perhaps humans and hominids could produce offspring with human souls. Some interbreeding between BMHs and Neaderthals seems to have occurred. If those genes entered the human gene pool widely, then the offspring must have been human. So #1 in your comment is possible. My point was that God’s plan can’t be based on such unions as His plan for the origins of the human race, as these are not valid natural marriages.

  8. Mark P. says:

    It does seem very crucial that the Church makes a more formal, contemporary statement regarding Creation and the nature of man in light of the findings of natural science but within the truth of revelation and in continuity with past Church teachings. Many Catholics seem to be under the impression that past documents (even as recent as Humani Generis) are outdated or have been surpassed by modern theories. The problem becomes apparent even when reading many different editions of modern study bibles and catechism textbooks which offer different interpretations of Genesis, some of which even seem to trip over themselves to giddily proclaim that the Church accepts evolution as long as Catholics maintain that the soul is directly created by God. But that understanding of the soul is inadequate when studied against the backdrop of the history of the Church Fathers, Doctors, numerous saints, and past Magisterial documents. Also, there is not a “one size fits all” application of evolution to the biological sciences even among those professors and scientists who study it for a living. But unfortunately it does seem that the Church herself enrolls mainly naturalistic evolutionists among its ranks in the Pontifical Academy of Sciences – so the entire breadth of study and thought of evolutionary theory is not explained to the Magisterium. Therefore the Church is left trying to wedge her teachings within the framework of purely naturalistic evolution, which is how something like the 2004 ITC document was generated in the first place.

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