Adam and Eve and Genetics Difficulty

Hi everyone,

So, I’ve been a bit obsessed with this question the last few days, namely, how to reconcile Catholic doctrine on monogenism with the genetic evidence. In 1909, the Pontifical Biblical Commission declared that it is not permissible to deny the historical nature of the Genesis 1-3, which I fully agree with and accept. Pope Pius XII declared the same thing in his encyclical Humani Generis. I do not see how one can seriously deny the historicity of Adam and Eve without straining the texts of Scripture beyond their limits (Even if Gen. 1-3 can be dealt with, how about Gen. 4 which says Adam knew his wife, and she conceived?, or how about the beginning of the books of the Chronicles?, never mind the doctrine of the New Testament).

On the other hand, genetic evidence seems to indicate that the human race cannot possibly come from just two human beings who mated; the mutation rate would simply be too high, and if that mutation rate continued, the human race would have mutated itself out existence. It should be noted here that Y-chromosomal Adam and Mitochondrial Eve do not satisfy the problem, since there is no necessity that they lived at the same time (although they may have, according to scientific evidence).

Now, of course, this presents us with a difficulty. To defend the view that humans descend from 10000 primal ancestors does not seem to be able to be reconciled with Sacred Scripture, or Catholic dogma regarding original sin. However, the theories that I’ve been thinking of to reconcile it may not do justice to the science, of which, I admit I am grossly ignorant of (biology is the one subject I’ve never really found interesting).

My attempt at solution to the dilemma is this: It is of the faith that physical death is a result of the Original Sin committed by the first man, and it is also certain that all physical and emotional and moral sufferings result from this as well (afterall, Eden means, or sounds like the word that means, “pleasure” in Hebrew), so, having fallen from this state, a fast mutation rate would be expected for some time, which then slowed down by God’s Providence. This could explain what is meant by the long ages given in Sacred Scripture. I realize that the arch-skeptic is not going to be convinced by such a theory, given that it invokes supernatural intervention, but of course, this objection is of no merit to the Catholic.

My question for all of you is this (thank you to those of you who have read all of this! :)): Is this explanation possible? Would it sufficiently account for the scientific evidence? Are there any other theories that are proposed to reconcile the two?

I’d prefer it if those who had a background in genetics could answer this question, however,I am not interested in this question being answered by skeptics, rationalists, and the like who simply deny monogenism flat out.

Also, if you could say a prayer for me to regain a little more peace of mind about this, I’d appreciate it.

Benedicat Deus,

Accept what the Church teaches in spite of the difficulty.

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

Belief is a choice. Once you accept, everything else will fall into place, and you will be at peace.


I do believe it - I, with St. Augustine, say: These words of Scripture have more authority than the most exalted human intellect.

Thank you, however. It’s very consoling to see people willing to accept difficulties without doubting.

Benedicat Deus,

I am not a student of genetics and so am not familiar enough with this issue for it to become a faith crisis for me.

However, the argument as presented seems to assume that mutation rates have always been the same, something that has not been established IIUC.

ISTM that genetic mutations increased in frequency over time, possibly coinciding with “Noah’s flood” and the collapse of human life-lengths as listed in Gn.


I think that this question has cropped up a few times before on the forum, so unless anyone has any objections I’m just going to copy/paste what I wrote in a different thread:

I always understood the teaching as Adam and Eve being the first animals with immortal souls. Thus, there would be a difference between a human as the church defines it (a created, material being with an immortal soul) and a homo sapien (a specific animal species, as defined by science).

Thus, it would be possible that Adam and Eve were the first “true men” in that they had immortal souls, not that they were necessarily the first homo sapiens (a belief that I don’t think contradicts church teaching). This would get around the problem of the species not being able to descend completely from two people. Adam and Eve’s children would have bred with other homo sapiens (ones that, while biologically similar to them, lacked an immortal soul). Any of their offspring, however, would have a soul.

I have to admit that my knowledge on this topic is amateur at best, but as I understand it, isn’t there someone called Mitochondrial Eve, that is someone who all living humans can trace their lineage in an unbroken line back to?

“Unlike her biblical namesake, she was not the only living human female of her time. However, her female contemporaries, excluding her mother, failed to produce a direct unbroken female line to any living person in the present day.”

While she may not have been the only living human female, it is possible that she was the only living human with an immortal soul (or, as the church would call her, a ‘true human’). Any of her offspring (and their offspring, including us) would have soul. Thus “true humans” as defined by the church (homo sapiens with an immortal soul) are descended from her.

It is possible that in our early fallen state, true humans mated with various proto humans. Indeed, there is still evidence of Neanderthal DNA in many populations.

Genesis actually describes many possible genetic abominations, such as giant beasts known as the “Nephilim”, that might symbolize the results of such mating.

In my opinion, I do not believe we should be to concerned with trying to reconcile scientific theory which can be in error with divine revelation and truth that is without error and which is certain truth on account of the authority of God revealing. Nor do I see that the Church is concerned with it nor should it be. Why should the Church concern itself with what it believes to be divine revelation with a theory that may be erroneous and which is not certain truth. The so-called scientific evidence is scanty, based on many assumptions, and is linked to the theory of evolution. No scientist was around at the time of the origins of the human race. God of course knows and we have his word from the inspired writers of Sacred Scripture concerning the beginning of the world and its creation by God and everything in it including the origin of the first man and woman, namely Adam and Eve, the first parents of the human race from whom all other humans have descended.

The so-called scientific evidence and theory concerning the origins of the human race and its theory of polygenism is propounded more than likely by people without faith, who do not believe in the Bible as the word of God, and who do not believe in divine revelation. Divine revelation is the highest and supreme rule of truth and our faith. Jesus himself said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” God is the author of both divine revelation and philosophical or scientific truth which can be known by us by the natural light of our reason. The two cannot be in contradiction as God is the author of both. The Church for catholics is the final authority on the authentic interpretation of Holy Scripture and of Sacred Tradition so that what the Catholic Church authoritatively teaches what we are to believe as the truth concerning our faith and morals we are bound to hold. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that Adam and Eve were the first parents and couple of the human race from whom we have all descended. This has been the constant teaching of the Church in its entire history and tradition.

I will offer a prayer for you that you will regain peace of soul. As one poster I believe mentioned, believe wholeheartedly what the Church teaches and the word of God which is Holy Scripture and I believe this anxiety and confusion of mind will dissipate. The devil likes to cause confusion in us and anxiety of mind. Monogenism is the teaching of the Church and Holy Scripture. Polygenism is a rather recent invention of modern times from people probably without faith and “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6) and it is by no means a certain truth. Catholics or even non-catholics for that matter are not obliged to hold to the opinion of polygenism. In fact, in the encyclical “Humani Generis” that you mention, Pope Pius XII says that catholics are not at liberty to embrace the opinion of polygenism and there is no mention of it at all in the Catechism of the Catholic Church except a footnote to this very encyclical. Jesus Christ sent the Holy Spirit on the Church to guide it to all truth. Trust in the Holy Spirit who speaks through the Church and set your mind at ease.

Adam and Eve or their offspring mating with non humans would be considered bestiality, a grave sin.

God can do anything. I believe God let there be no mutation rate for the first few centuries.
God can do anything

I don’t exactly understand the mutation argument. Are you wary of interbreeding? Well, Adam and Eve’s children might perfectly interbreed with their cousins… After all, Cain’s wife had to come from somewhere. And don’t forget the Nephilim!

The genetic approximation takes about 6 major assumptions; a constant mutation rate is only one of them. Here is a link to a UK christian apologetics site that list them:

Another thing I read was that is quite new is that there are what geneticists are calling original genes. These are genes that don’t appear in other animals and seemed to have come about on their own. In some cases there are what one researcher called pseudo-genes where RNA is involved in switching these in for existing functional genes testing them out to see if they work. There are a good number more of these in areas of the human genome that might connect with increases in intelligence. The self originating type were said to have a mutation rate three times greater than others.

In general I think the science of genetics like this is very young and it is going to be quite a while before the wild throws of discoveries settle down and a consistent picture of how it all really works is ready to answer the big questions. I wouldn’t prop up or tear down your world view on any latest headline from the geneticists.

Meanwhile, the old fossil based evolutionists are sort of upset about the genetics answers that are sounding so mathematically precise etc., but quite off of their own dating methods. They aren’t about to jump into an unfamiliar arena and yell foul. So they are also sort of quietly waiting for more confirmation before they make any adjustments to their theories.

Conversely, prior to the “Noah flood,” reproduction required what we, today, would call incest. It would seem that in that regard, there has been a change of sin.

I, for one, have no problem with A&E, the Noah flood, or the life-lengths recorded in Gn. If we assume (as many do) that they were given genetically perfected human bodies, it would have taken some time, and/or a catastrophic event, for genetic entropy to set in.


We can only imagine how genetically superior they were.We are but a shadow of our first parents.

Mutation would not be how I would consider the flowering of genetic diversity among the first humans created by God.
The mating of closely related persons under those conditions would not result genetic disorders.
There is no evidence that people then did not live ten times longer than we do now.
Just as the early universe was completely unlike what it is now except in the fundamental properties that continue to shape it, physically early man was different from us.
There’s not enough left to discover in the dirt to piece together what we were like way back then, whenever it was, at least for the time being.
For the truth, I would stick with the teachings of the church although the actual details that some are interested in are rather sketchy.

I don’t think it woulb be considered bestiality since they’d still be mating within their species (homo sapiens). The only difference would an immortal soul (or lack thereof of).

My theory:
Evolution developed the human body, producing the Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) beginning about 200,000 years ago. The AMH did not have the ability to reason abstractly, and did not have free will or an immortal soul.

God intervened to miraculously create Adam and Eve, the first Behaviorally Modern Humans (BMH). After the Fall, they were exiled to this earth. All modern humans (BMH) are descendants of Adam and Eve.

God patterned the bodies of Adam and Eve after the AMH, so the genetics of Adam and Eve, passed on to us, have a continuity from AMH to BMH. The mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosome Adam are AMH, and are not what we call Adam and Eve.

The mutation rate need not be accelerated or slowed, since modern humans’ dna comes from the AMH, prior to Adam and Eve.

Ages and lengths of time in the early chapters of Genesis are figurative. So you can’t figure out how long ago Adam and Eve lived by adding those ages or lengths of time.

The early chapters of Genesis are figurative. The first historical human in Genesis is Abram, who becomes Abraham.

Many of our Protestant brothers and sisters interpret the Bible literally - every word means exactly what it says…the world - indeed, the universe - was created in six days! We, as Catholic Christians, understand that the Bible is made up of many books, and contains many literary forms. The first 10+ chapters of Genesis are allegorical in nature, sometimes called faith stories - they are told to teach religious truth rather than scientific truth. We learn from the Creation stories that there is one God, that all things created by God are good, that humankind is created in the image of God, that man and woman are equal, etc. The concept of Original Sin didn’t exist until 1,300 years after Gen 2 was written, and it existed in oral tradition for centuries before that!

‘Adam’ literally means ‘person of the earth’…‘Eve’ was taken from Sumerian mythology, which speaks of a woman being created from the rib of a god…Lady of the Rib…same words mean Lady of Life…Eve - Mother of the Living!

The immortal spiritual soul with the spiritual powers of intellect and will through which we are principally made in the image and likeness of God is precisely the difference which distinguishes human beings from the rest of the animals on the face of the earth that God created. Regardless how science may define a human being or the human species which in regard to the beginnings of human beings they for the most part consider matter and the body only (fossilized parts of a human or human like body discovered), and which science has no concept of soul much less an immortal spiritual soul which God immediately creates and which animates the body; the Catholic Church which possesses the truth from God and divine revelation, defines a human being as a composite of spirit (or soul) and body (matter). And it is the spiritual intellectual soul that is the form of the body and which animates the body. We also believe that God immediately creates the immortal spiritual soul for every human being. The spiritual soul of human beings is not a product of matter or those properties and forces that follow matter.

In reading the first few chapters of Genesis, the wisdom and intelligence of the inspired author fills me with wonder and astonishment and I think to myself this surely points to the divine inspiration and divine revelation of the author of Genesis. In comparing the first few chapters of Genesis with other known literature from ancient peoples and nations of those times, the writings and theology of Genesis is remarkably and clearly a work set apart from the mythologies of other cultures. This is not to say that their are some similarities or resemblances in Genesis to ancient stories and mythologies found in other cultures of the times, for the Israelites were surely aware of this knowledge for they were people of the times, but the inspired author of Genesis puts his own theological stamp on it.

It is interesting to note that the inspired author of Genesis presents the creation of man differently than all the other livings things of plants and animals, human beings are clearly a different species than all the other animals on earth. In regard to the plants, it is written "And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth vegetation, plants yielding seed…’ (Gen. 1:11). In regard to marine animals, it is said "And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth…’ (Gen. 1:20). In regard to the land animals, it is written "And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds’ (Gen. 1: 24). The elements of earth and water bring forth the plants and animals.

In regard to the creation of man, it is written " then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" (Gen. 2: 7). The Church which is the authentic interpreter of Holy Scripture, interprets “and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” the immediate creation of the spiritual immortal soul by God and its infusion into the body by which man/woman becomes a living human being (CCC#362).

In regards to a human being mating with a non-human being animal or beast, I agree with the poster who says that this would entail bestiality. It is unnatural and human beings can clearly distinguish between their own kind and the other animals on earth ( Adam named all the various animals that God brought to him, Gen. 2: 19). In my observation of nature, the various animals mate with their own kinds and species and they do this by instinct and nature. Human beings are suppose to be more intelligent than the other animals. Granted that the actions of some human beings can seem to sink below even what brute animals do and to unnatural vices, the idea of a wide scale bestiality in the beginnings and propagation of human beings is reaching for the moon in my opinion and very problematic from many points of view. The very idea that bestiality is against nature and from observation that animals mate with their own kind, should I think raise some eyebrows to scientists who are suppose to study the nature of things. Even if we were to suppose that some early humans mated with a beast, there is no reason to suppose that the offspring would be a human being with an immortal spiritual soul. God could withhold from creating such a soul. Even if we supposed that God did infuse a spiritual soul, we then have the consequence of a non-human beast raising a human being , does this make any reasonable sense? Nor is the matter or body of a non-human animal properly disposed to receive a spiritual immortal soul. God has so disposed the matter of a human body for it to be the proper matter and body for its union with the spiritual soul.


It is written " God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:27).
“This one, at last, is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
This one shall be called ‘woman,’
for out of man this one has been taken.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body. (Gen. 2: 23-24).

Marriage or matrimony is an extremely important theological teaching of the inspired author of Genesis in his account of the creation of the first man and woman. Jesus himself refers to this text of Genesis in his teaching concerning marriage and divorce. Man and woman were created for each other in a union of spirits (cf. CCC#371). And the love between husband and wife is a sign of the love of Christ for his bride the Church as St Paul says in quoting the above text from Genesis “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.” (Eph. 5:32). The first few chapters of Genesis are filled with extremely important theological truths, mysteries, as well as history especially concerning the origin of the human race. God created man and woman to love and help each other in this earthly life as well as for the propagation of the human species obviously and for the raising of the offspring. We can reasonably assume that Adam and Eve taught their children the importance of marriage which is in accord with human nature. How you fit all this in with a theory of polygenism, human beings mating unnaturally with sub-human like brute creatures scattered here and there over the face of the earth running to and fro and supposingly producing human beings whose soul depends on God for its creation and then raised by brute animals without marriage, is incomprehensible in my view as well as to the inspired author of Genesis it appears.

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