Legitimate science can never assert that Adam and Eve are impossible. It might claim that they are improbable, but never impossible. God’s omnipotence can always make short work of long odds.
Is the Genesis story of a literal Adam and Eve a tale that is no longer rationally defensible in the first half of our 21st century? 1
Do the findings of contemporary science exclude Catholic belief in a literal Adam and Eve?
What is the actual teaching of the Catholic Magisterium on this subject today?
While the texts of Genesis begin by referring to “man” in Genesis 1:26, by Genesis 5:3, we are told that Adam begot his son, Seth. Since generic “man” cannot generate an individual son, this latter text clearly refers to an actual individual man named Adam. 2
Informed Catholics know that Pius XII’s 1950 encyclical, Humani generis, insisted upon an actual Adam and Eve, and warned the faithful against embracing the conjectural opinion of polygenism, “which maintains that, either, after Adam, there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him, as from the first parent of all, or, that Adam represents a certain number of first parents.” 3 That same encyclical clearly stated that if scientific opinions “are directly or indirectly opposed to the doctrine revealed by God, then the demand that they be recognized can, in no way, be admitted.” 4
Still, Humani generis was promulgated more than half a century ago. In light of scientific views emerging since that time, particularly claims made on behalf of paleoanthropology and genetics, many academics—including priests who deal with evolutionary thought—now consider that belief in a literal Adam and Eve to be a form of archaic mythology. In addition, some allege a certain tentativeness in Humani generis, because, instead of saying that polygenism is simply false, Pius XII allegedly hedged his expression by merely affirming that “it is by no means apparent how … (polygenism) … can be reconciled with” the dogma of Original Sin. 5
Today, the “standard story” of human evolution appears to preclude a literal Adam and Eve. Paleoanthropology accepts evolution of biological species leading to modern man as a gradual progression through time. Earlier primates of the genus Australopithecus, some four million years ago, are replaced by the genus Homo some two million years ago, from which the lineage of modern Homo sapiens descends. Scientists speak of gradual emergence of the consciousness and self-reflection that we find in modern man. There is no first “true” human being which is qualitatively superior to his forebears. 6 Large numbers of earlier hominins (members of the lineage leading to modern man) are seen as slowly evolving over time. No bottleneck (reduced population), smaller than several thousand hominins, is envisaged since the time of the split in the lineages leading to modern chimpanzees and modern man, some seven million years ago. This conventional evolutionary scenario appears to exclude any founding pair of true humans, such as Genesis has traditionally depicted. 7
For example, a widely-cited 1995 study by geneticist Francisco J. Ayala concluded that 32 ancient allelic lineages of the HLA-DRB1 gene existed at the time of the Homo (human)/Pan (chimpanzee) split. Since this is far more than the merely four allelic lineages of the HLA-DRB1 gene that can pass through a single mating pair, Ayala claimed that a literal Adam and Eve was scientifically impossible. 8 Moreover, he also claimed that the population never fell below four thousand, which would again render impossible a bottleneck of a single mating pair of first true human beings. 9
In light of these sorts of scientific claims, many professors of religious studies and theology in Catholic colleges and universities now argue that scientific developments require that polygenism be accepted. For example, a priest-theologian was given national media attention to make claims such as, “(I)f science shows that there is no evidence of monogenism, and there is lots of evidence for polygenism, then a Catholic need have no problem accepting that.” 10 Some also allege that legitimate methods of reconciling Original Sin with polygenism have been found, such as viewing Adam as a primitive tribal leader who rebelled against God or, perhaps, that Original Sin may be viewed as simply mankind’s developing consciousness of its own sinfulness.
This evident subordination of theology to the latest findings of natural science is the same error rejected by Pius X in his 1907 encyclical, Pascendi, when he condemned the errors of Modernism. 11 Since sacred theology was, and still is, the queen of sciences, it remains regulative of truth in its own right, and is not subject to dogmatic revision by novel claims of natural science. 12
Close examination of Pius XII’s teaching in Humani generis makes clear that he judged that both “revealed truth and … the magisterium” dictate that a proper reading of Original Sin entails a sin committed “by one Adam (ab uno Adamo)” that is transmitted to all true human beings through “generation.” 13 That is to say, theological monogenism is the only proper way to read Genesis and the Council of Trent—and monogenism logically excludes polygenism. To this day, the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of Adam and Eve as two individuals who “committed a personal sin.” 14
Clearly, innovations that refer to Adam as a leader in an evolving ancient population, or that speak of a growing human “sin consciousness,” fail to meet the dogmatic requirement of transmission through generation. Nor is the nature of Original Sin subject to revision in terms of its requirement of transmission to all of Adam’s posterity, not by imitation, but by descent—and that it dwells in every single human being. This teaching was solemnly defined at the Council of Trent (Session V) in 1546 in exactly the same terms that Pius XII offers in Humani generis, and also is taken verbatim from the Synods of Carthage and of Orange. 15
A literal Adam and Eve remains perennial Catholic doctrine.
But, what of the scientific claims against our first parents? What of the paleontological evidence indicating a gradual development of human appearance and behavior, with the correlative gradual development of more perfect tools, and of learning to control fire? No sudden demarcation line appears to signal the instant presence of the first true human beings, of Adam and Eve, and their progeny. Here, Christian philosophy affirms that the rational powers of true man are not susceptible to gradual development, since they attend the presence of a spiritual soul. Man either possesses a spiritual soul, or he does not: there is no such thing as a “half-spirit” or an “emerging spirit.” While it may be difficult to discern the exact moment at which purely intellective behavior first appears, some such point in time must exist. Subhuman sentient powers enable sophisticated animals to act in ways that may mimic human behavior, but the essential difference between mere sense and true intellect still prevails. True intellectual activity decisively announces the first presence of true man. 16 Moreover, true man’s actual antiquity must be at least as ancient as the first unequivocal signs of true intellect which appear in the paleontological record.
In my book, Origin of the Human Species, I point out that the making of congruent, three-dimensionally symmetrical, Acheulean stone hand axes constitute what might be the first unequivocal sign of true human presence, since such artistically designed tools manifest true intellectual activity. 17 We now know that such artifacts, as well as possible evidence of the controlled use of fire, date back to the early Middle Pleistocene period—some 750,000 years ago—indicating the presence of true humans at least that far back in time. 18 Philosopher Vincent J. Torley, offering persuasive scientific arguments, as well as philosophical analysis of paleoanthropological evidence evincing rationality, argues in favor of “Adam and Eve being at least one million years old,” and that they “were the first members of the species Homo heidelbergensis” 19 Both of our claims follow the same principle, namely, that intellective activity manifests the presence of true human beings, and that the population, in which such signs first appear, would be founded by Adam and Eve. Naturally, speculations about the exact time at which clear signs of true human presence first appear remain somewhat tentative pending further discoveries.
Should such an immense time as a million or so years between Adam and Abraham seem difficult to comprehend and accept, recall that for anyone born in the midst of that period, it is no worse than for a person born midway in the much shorter two-thousand-year time span that biblical fundamentalists calculate for that period. Both individuals would be born long after Adam, and die long before Abraham, with no direct access to either, save in primeval memory and distant anticipation.
As for the genetic evidence, Ayala’s claim of 32 ancient lineages of the HLA-DRB1 gene has been corrected in a 1998 study led by Tomas Bergström, which found that only seven such lineages existed at the time of the Homo/Pan divergence. 20 This was followed by yet another study from the Bergström group in 2007 that concluded to only four allelic lineages of the HLA-DRB1 gene prior to five million years ago, with a few more appearing shortly thereafter. 21 While just two mating hominins can pass on four, ancient allelic lineages, the other lineages of the HLA-DRB1 gene, appearing later on, require further study.
While the downward progression in ancient lineages observed in these studies is fascinating, and deeply undercuts the claims of Ayala and others against Adam and Eve’s possibility, they do not tell us anything definitive about human origins. Still, this downward progression in ancient lineages underlines the radical tentativeness of such studies—a tentativeness rooted in their very nature. Such studies entail retrospective calculations aimed deep into primeval times, but based on present-day data. They entail mathematical models, which are based on assumptions about mutation rates, stability of population dynamics, random breeding among individuals, and so forth. 22 Because such assumptions may not reflect actual populations, some geneticists conclude that these methods alone may not allow realistic estimates of “effective population size” (an idealized size of a breeding population). 23
The nature of the scientific method itself entails the impossibility of ever saying that Adam and Eve are “scientifically impossible.” Natural science’s inherent inductive method is logically impotent to produce a genuinely universal inference—much less one that is a negative universal. Once it was thought that all swans were white, until a black swan was encountered in Australia. Legitimate science can never assert that Adam and Eve are impossible. It might claim that they are improbable, but never impossible. God’s omnipotence can always make short work of long odds.
Still, some may yet doubt that natural science will ever clearly account for present genetic diversity arising from a single pair of first true humans. For them, a simple alternative explanation remains available: interbreeding. Interbreeding would entail a rare mating between a true human being, and a subhuman primate, from a population with similar biological anatomy. (This is not to be confused with the incest required for Adam and Eve’s immediate descendants, temporarily needed to propagate the human species.) Even rare instances of such interbreeding would easily suffice to enrich the genetic pool enough to account for presently observed genetic diversity.
Unlike some others who advocate an “interbreeding solution,” I maintain that such sexual unions must have been very rare and incidental—assuming any were needed at all. God would certainly have excluded the perverse act of bestiality in any directly intended part of his plan for human origins. 24 True humans might not even be responsible for such perverse acts, since subhuman males might have attacked true human females.
In light of the greatly reduced number of ancient genetic lineages needed to be explained, once Ayala’s large overestimation has been corrected for, rare and incidental instances of interbreeding, if required, can easily explain the genetic diversity found in today’s human population.
We know from Divine Revelation that Original Sin is a “primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.” 25 The preceding explanation demonstrates that this essential Catholic doctrine of Adam and Eve’s literal reality is also rationally credible—even in the face of contemporary skepticism based upon misleading scientific claims. Wide dissemination of this realistic defense of our first parents’ literal reality is critically important because it clearly demonstrates that the very foundations of Christian revelation remain secure, even in this age of secular unbelief.
- I am indebted to Mary Helen Klinge-Drucker for many helpful suggestions and for editing of this article. I wish to acknowledge that the same central theme and some of the same sources are treated by me in a somewhat longer chapter, “The Myth of the ‘Myth’ of Adam and Eve,” which appears in the volume, Sztuka i realizm (Art and Reality), published in Poland (2014), by Polskie Towarzystwo Tomasza z Akwinu. That same chapter appears in an appendix to the third edition of my book, Origin of the Human Species (Ave Maria, FL: Sapientia Press, 2014). ↩
- Gen 1-5, Douay-Rheims. ↩
- Humani generis, n. 37. ↩
- Ibid., n. 35. ↩
- Humani generis, n. 37. ↩
- Dennis Bonnette, Origin of the Human Species (Naples, FL: Sapientia Press, second edition, 2003), 139-143. ↩
- I am indebted to Dr. Ann Gauger, Senior Research Scientist at the Biologic Institute, for her extensive discussions with me on current genetic research into our origins. Still, all views expressed are my own. See Dr. Gauger’s chapter, “The Science of Adam and Eve,” in Science and Human Origins, by Ann Gauger, Douglas Axe, and Casey Luskin (Seattle, WA: Discovery Institute Press, 2012), 105-122. ↩
- Francisco J. Ayala, “The Myth of Eve: Molecular Biology and Human Origins,” Science 270 (1995): 1930-1936. ↩
- F.J. Ayala, “Response to H.A. Erlich et al.: HLA sequence polymorphism and human origins,” Science 274 (1996): 1554. ↩
- http://www.catholicreview.org/article/work/catholic-church-has-evolving-answer-on-reality-of-adam-and-eve ↩
- Pascendi dominici gregis (Sept. 8, 1907). ↩
- Ibid., n. 17. ↩
- Humani generis, n. 37. ↩
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, 404. ↩
- Denzinger-Hünermann 43rd ed. (2010), 1511-1514; See also, Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, trans. Patrick Lynch (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., sixth edition,1964), 108. ↩
- Bonnette, Origin of the Human Species, 155.; See also, Dennis Bonnette, “Monogenism and Polygenism,” in New Catholic Encyclopedia Supplement 2012-2013: Ethics and Philosophy, Ed. Robert L. Fastiggi, Vol. 3, (Detroit: Gale, 2013), 1014. ↩
- Bonnette, Origin of the Human Species, 163-164; See also: http://www.cope.co.za/Archaeo/masterhandaxe.htm ↩
- Thomas Wynn, “Archeology and Cognitive Evolution,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 25 (2002), 389-438, especially 398; Naama Goren-Inbar et al., Evidence of Hominin Control of Fire at Gesher Benot Ya’agov, Israel,” Science 304 (2004): 725-727. ↩
- http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/who-was-adam-and-when-did-he-live-twelve-theses-and-a-caveat/ ↩
- Tomas Bergström et al., “Recent Origin of HLA-DRB1 Alleles and Implications for Human Evolution,” Nature Genetics 18 (1998): 237-242. ↩
- Jenny von Salomé et al., “Full-length sequence analysis of the HLA-DRB1 locus suggests a recent origin of alleles,” Immunogenetics (2007) 59: 261–271. ↩
- Gauger, “The Science of Adam and Eve,” in Science and Human Origins, 111-112. ↩
- P. Sjödin, I. Kaj, S. Krone, ‡M. Lascoux and M. Nordborg, “On the Meaning and Existence of an Effective Population Size,” Genetics 169 (February 2005): 1061–1070. ↩
- Dennis Bonnette, “Monogenism and Polygenism,” in New Catholic Encyclopedia Supplement 2012-2013: Ethics and Philosophy, Vol. 3, 1014. ↩
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, 390. ↩