Genesis, Original Sin, and Polygenism


This is one of those questions that I can’t seem to find an answer to.

As far as I know the Church has rejected polygenism, the notion that human beings today did not come from two original parents but from a larger (albeit still small) group of common ancestors.

Such a belief is basically considered scientific fact by those who study evolution as far as I know but it seems to present a unique problem to our faith.

If we all didn’t have just two common ancestors it raises serious questions about the doctrine of original sin and how this related to subsequent generations of human beings.

So, my question is mainly, if the Church affirms that we all come from two root ancestors, Adam and Eve, then how does the Church account for prohibitions against incest and genetic diversity?

If Adam and Eve were our two ancestors, then does it not stand to reason that their children would have to have had children together in order to procreate? If this was the case how do we reconcile this with prohibitions against incest? Furthermore, how would such an arrangement account for the genetic diversity we see today? If Adam and Eves’ children were having children together, so on and so forth, would this not cause genetic damage and simply be recycling genes from the same small gene pool?


Wrong. Every species has a last common ancestor. We have at least a “mitochondrial Eve” and an “Y-chromosome Adam”. And these are just one example, there were ancestors before them, and maybe even after.

The Church teaches that we descend from two people who were the first true humans, i.e., immortal soul, freedom of will and capable of committing the Original sin.

The Church does not reject that Adam&Eve’s subsequent progeny might breed with fellow hominids. However, it is from Adam&Eve that we inherited reason and Original sin.


The Church does not reject polygenism.
37. When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion 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.** Now it is in no way apparent** how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.[12]

  1. Just as in the biological and anthropological sciences, so also in the historical sciences there are those who boldly transgress the limits and safeguards established by the Church. In a particular way must be deplored a certain too free interpretation of the historical books of the Old Testament. Those who favor this system, in order to defend their cause, wrongly refer to the Letter which was sent not long ago to the Archbishop of Paris by the Pontifical Commission on Biblical Studies.[13] This letter, in fact, clearly points out that the first eleven chapters of Genesis, although properly speaking not conforming to the historical method used by the best Greek and Latin writers or by competent authors of our time, do nevertheless pertain to history in a true sense, which however must be further studied and determined by exegetes; the same chapters, (the Letter points out), in simple and metaphorical language adapted to the mentality of a people but little cultured, both state the principal truths which are fundamental for our salvation, and also give a popular description of the origin of the human race and the chosen people. If, however, the ancient sacred writers have taken anything from popular narrations (and this may be conceded), it must never be forgotten that they did so with the help of divine inspiration, through which they were rendered immune from any error in selecting and evaluating those documents.*( Humani Generis, 1950.)

The wording of this document does not reject polygenism. It leaves room for understanding that is not yet apparent.



Read online Monkey in Your Soul, by Edward Feser. He addresses this very thing.


How do you think Adam and Eve came to be?


Two examples of Catholic scholars addressing this were cited in a couple of my recent posts in another thread worth reading:

Kenneth Kemp

Nicanor Austriaco


They were special creations. And they had preternatural gifts:

" impassibility (freedom from pain)
immortality (freedom from death)
integrity (freedom from concupiscence, or disordered
infused knowledge (freedom from ignorance in matters
essential for happiness) "



Then were there people-like beings around that didn’t have these preternatural gifts?

A priest pointed this out to me. Look at the International Theological Commission
Communion and Stewardship:
Human Persons Created in th Image of God

Paragraph 70.


And this is from the Vatican.


36. For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter - for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. However, this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faith.[11] Some however, rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.(Humani Generis 1950)

This paragraph says that when there is a discrepancy between science and the Church, the Church is to be taken by the faithful as the authority on the matter. Thats why paragraph 37 says the faithful cannot embrace it. Not because it cannot be true, but because it is not yet proven; although likely true.

The theory was not rejected, it just cannot be embraced now. The Church is not going to shut the door on the possible reality of God’s creations.
It doesn’t change the truths of A&E. which are:

  1. God is omnipotence and goodness
  2. Man has free will
  3. Suffering is brought on by us


See Paragraph 64.

There is no Biblical writing that speaks of others with these gifts or people-like beings.



“likely true” does not appear in Humani Generis.

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned–” Romans 5:12 NIV



Of course not. The Church doesn’t walk those lines. Anthropologists have that concensence . And I agree, " likely true" are my words. There is no point in the document being so verbose if it wants to shut the door on a theory. It is carefully worded and does not step on the toes of future discovery.


But 70 does say that “the emergence of the FIRST members of the human species ( whether as individuals or in populations)” etc.
That suggests that we possibly came from a group of people or people-like beings. :wink:

And I’m getting this from a highly educated priest.


Pope Benedict:

"In the book, Benedict reflected on a 1996 comment of his predecessor, John Paul II, who said that Charles Darwin’s theories on evolution were sound, as long as they took into account that creation was the work of God, and that Darwin’s theory of evolution was “more than a hypothesis.”

“The pope (John Paul) had his reasons for saying this,” Benedict said. “But it is also true that the theory of evolution is not a complete, scientifically proven theory.”

"Benedict added that the immense time span that evolution covers made it impossible to conduct experiments in a controlled environment to finally verify or disprove the theory.

“We cannot haul 10,000 generations into the laboratory,” he said."



The documents of the International Theological Commission are not considered expressions of authoritative Church teaching. The ITC acts as an advisory board to the Vatican; its documents do not carry the authority of an ecumenical council or a document such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church. See International Theological Commission under the wikipedia article, the Eighth Term.


Simply put, polygenism, even if not formally heretical, is plainly at variance with Sacred Scritpure:

“Wisdom protected the first-formed father of the world” (Wis. 10:1),

“And he made frome one every nation of men to live on the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26).

Tradition is also unanimous on this point.

Thus, it seems one cannot safely hold polygenism. The ITC is not a magiesterial organ of the Church, and even if it was, it is plainly wrong. The unity of the human race was declared a fundamental truth of the Christian religion in 1909 by the PBC (then a magisterial organ).

Benedictus Deus,


The Catechism twice [28, 360] quotes Acts 17:26-28: “From one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth…” That the Catechism refers to a single person is confirmed in footnote number 226 [360] which cites Tobit 8:6, “Thou madest Adam and gave him Eve his wife as a helper and support. From them the race of mankind has sprung…” Thus, the “one ancestor” could only be Adam. This is confirmed in [359] which quotes St Peter Chrysologus, “St Paul tells us that the human race takes its origin from two men: Adam and Christ…The first man, Adam,…was made by the last Adam.” The Catechism clearly teaches that polygenism is irreconcilable with Catholic Tradition.

So what is the Catholic doctrine, compared with “out there”?

The first teaching comes from Leo XIII – Adam & Eve were our first parents, by direct divine intervention and Eve was created from a portion of Adam’s body (Arcanum Divinæ Sapientiæ of Pope Leo XIII, 1880). Polygenism is thus impossible – that mankind arose from many first parents – the fairy-tale which is perpetrated today by most evolutionists.

Then from the Pontifical Biblical Commission in its response of 30 June, 1909, On the Historical Character of the First Three Chapters of Genesis, the declaration:
a) that those pseudoscientific exegetical systems elaborated for the purpose of “excluding the literal historical sense of the first three chapters of Genesis” are not based upon solid arguments (EB 324; DS 3512).

So as Fr Harrison rightly points out in Did The Human Body Evolve Naturally? A Forgotten Papal Declaration:
“We are not dealing here with a mere Allocution, a Motu Proprio, a Brief, an Apostolic Exhortation, or a* Nuntius*, but a fully-fledged piece of pontificating endowed with no less inherent or formal authority than Humani Generis or Providentissimus Deus: the Encyclical Letter *Arcanum Divinæ Sapientiæ *of Pope Leo XIII on Christian Marriage, dated 10 February 1880.”

POLYGENISM. The theory that, since evolution is an established fact, all human beings now on earth do not descend from one human pair (Adam and Eve), but from different original human ancestors. This theory is contrary to the official teaching of the Church, e.g., Pope Pius XII, who declared: “It is unintelligible how such an opinion can be squared with what the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Magisterium of the Church teach on original sin, which proceeds from sin actually committed by an individual Adam, and which, passed on to all by way of generation, is in everyone as his own” (Humani Generis, 1950, para. 38). (Etym. Latin poly, many + gen, race + ism.)
Modern Catholic Dictionary by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Infallible doctrine is: Adam & Eve were our first parents, by direct divine intervention and Eve was created from a portion of Adam’s body (Arcanum Divinæ Sapientiæ of Pope Leo XIII, 1880). Polygenism is impossible.


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