Is Genesis Rational?

Hello, what do we make of this criticism of Ed Feser’s argument for a literal Adam & Eve? I believe that evolution doesn’t conflict with my faith:

“(Gen 2:4-8) Notice that, prior to the creation of Adam, we are told explicitly that there was no one to till the ground. Notice further that this account quite explicitly describes the creation of Adam’s physical body, and not just his mental endowments. Of course, later we are told of Eve’s creation from one of Adam’s ribs. This is further evidence that the story means to account for the origin of Adam and Eve’s physical bodies.

All of these points are in conflict with Feser’s account. Where in the Genesis story does he find a preexisting population of physically human but unensouled creatures? And how does he account for the Genesis language, which explicitly tries to account for physical bodies and not just for mental endowments? A story in which Adam is created as the first man and Eve is then created from one of his ribs is very different from a story in which Adam and Eve are singled out from a preexisting population to receive enhanced mental abilities…

If evolution had finally produced a large population of animals now physically capable of receiving a proper human soul, what purpose of God’s could be served by singling out just two? Why not the entire population?..

(Gen 2: 4-8) Now, I really don’t think you need to be a fundamentalist to believe that when the Bible says, ‘there was no one to till the ground,’ it does not mean, ‘there were lots of human-like creatures tilling the ground, but they lacked souls and therefore were not metaphysically human.’ And when the Bible speaks of forming man from the dust of the ground, it seems clear that it is man’s physical attributes, and not just his mental attributes, that are being described.

Sadly, his further claim that ‘we think of the matter God used to form that body as derived from pre-existing hominids rather than straight from the earth,’ is ridiculous. Recall that under Feser’s scenario there was a population of hominids that were genetically and physiologically indistinguishable from human beings, but which nonetheless lacked souls. ‘Adam’s creation,’ in his scenario, refers to the moment when God infused one of these already-existing bodies with a soul. Under that understanding, it makes no sense to say that God, in creating Adam, ‘formed man from the dust of the ground’…

(Gen 2:7-18) This makes it sound like Adam was created, and then removed from his earlier environs and placed in a different location. He is described as being alone, and as being needed to maintain the land. This all suggests there were no other hominids around. Nor can we reasonably argue that being ‘alone in the Garden of Eden’ is symbolic language for the idea of being the only soul-bearer among a population of animals. The verses above relate the physical location of Eden to familiar landmarks of the time.”

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Why would non-rational animals, even if they had humanoid bodies, till the ground? They would be gatherers, not farmers.

I don’t buy the insistence on literal creation of the physical bodies as absolutely necessary. The story uses figurative language and symbols to relay truths that God made man and man has a special place. Even so, perhaps Adam and Eve were literally made that way in a literal garden. That doesn’t mean there weren’t non-ensouled humans outside. Either way, it doesn’t seem theologically necessary to take either position.

As for why would God single out just Adam and Eve, why would he single out just Abraham, or just the Israelites, or just the Jews, and so on? He can. It’s not a contradiction.

A lot of this criticism just seems half baked.


Thanks, I completely agree. This other quote from the author is quite odd:

“[Under Feser’s view:] Adam and Eve are just two members of a population of human-like but unensouled creatures. God then picks them out, on what basis is unclear, and endows them with an ability for abstract thinking and logical thought… Unless Adam and Eve’s unensouled brethren were exceptionally enlightened we can assume that the first couple immediately became social lepers. As a result of God’s gift, Adam and Eve are now completely unable to relate to their fellow human-like creatures. Their relationships with their former friends and neighbors is now similar the relationship I have with my cat. Then Adam and Eve were removed from the only life they knew and sent off to live by themselves in Eden. Again, are they supposed to be grateful? They are told to be fruitful and multiply, but after their first, really very small, transgression they are immediately expelled from their new home. To go where? Did they then rejoin their earlier population, forced to live out their lives among their intellectual inferiors?”

Also, how do Thomists differentiate intelligence/rationality between animals and humans? I’ve read humans can only conceptualize abstract universals - “Unless gorillas can paint representational art without being shown how, they cannot abstract universals.”

Also also, are you part of the Thomism Discussion Group on Facebook? I highly recommend it!

I find it curious the lengths to which some scientists** will go, in an area in which they are incompetent, in an attempt to overturn long-established religious beliefs. Like corrosion, slowly and steadily eating away at standards of belief.

Almost like science is posturing itself as a competing religion.

** the term is used advisedly, but rather loosely.

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In my grandparents’ house, there is “no one to till the ground.” That doesn’t mean that there aren’t living beings there. In the maternity ward of the local hospital, there is “no one to till the ground.” That doesn’t mean that there aren’t living beings there, either.

Where in the Genesis story does he find apple pie? (He doesn’t: the point is, it’s not valid to expect every aspect in each and every Scriptural narrative !)

It’s kind of a trick question, anyway. The two creation accounts differ in the order in which they assert that things were created: in the first account, man is the ultimate creation, and all other living things are created before him. In the second account, man is created first, and all living animals are created for him (and after him).

So, by the first account, we answer the criticism with “they’re there – they were created prior to Adam!” With respect to the second account, we reply “it’s not a literal historical narrative; in figurative accounts, it’s irrational to attempt to treat them as if they were science books or newscasts.”

Again: figurative narrative. It’d be a pretty boring story if Adam and Eve stood there, mute.

He’s missing the point of the story. It’s trying to tell us that animals were created for us – that is, for us to steward and care for and utilize appropriately – and that other humans are not only like us, but are literally our own “flesh and blood.” Trying to take that story and eke out a scientific narrative from it is simply a mistaken approach.

Because the point is that we all share in a fallen human nature.

“What purpose of God’s could be served”? I dunno… ask Him when you see Him. Part of the journey of faith is grappling with unanswerable questions and trusting that God has good answers, whether or not we’re privy to them!


He’s missing the part about God “blowing the breath of life” into Adam. Now we’re getting into spiritual realities! Man isn’t just “of the dust” – he’s also made in the imago Dei ! He’s a body + soul composite, and not just body (as animals are).

Umm… sanity check: who created the ground and the dust on it? :wink:

Again, he’s trying to stretch the story to make it fit into a scientific narrative. Invalid approach.


One theory could be that the first pair of Homo with the ability to have reason sufficient for moral choice, was the Adam and Eve given immortal souls. In an evolutionary theory the H. sapiens, H. denisova (extinct), and H. neanderthalensis (extinct) are thought to be derived from H. heidelbergensis (extinct). Homo heidelbergensis brains were smaller than modern human brains. In Genesis, the Hebrew word translated as rib is also translated side, and it is a common element, which of course humans share in DNA.

The author states it doesn’t make sense to say God made man from the dust of the ground if He infused one of the already existing hominids (“genetically and physiologically indistinguishable from human beings”) with a soul.

I think the author is being too literalistic thinking a human being needed to be made strictly from the dust of the ground. I see it more figuratively (but in a way we do return to dust or ash if cremated) just like God breathed life into Adam. He probably didn’t blow him up like a balloon! :laughing:

I guess I’d have to ask him why he’s willing to accept a figurative turn of phrase (“of the dust of the ground”), without being willing to allow it to mean of creatures made of the dust of the ground? Or does he literally think it was literal dust --> organs, blood, skin? If the latter, then he’s laboring under the problem of a literalistic interpretation of a figurative narrative. (After all, God walks in the garden in Genesis 2 – does He have feet? A body? It’s a figurative narrative!)

I’m with you on this.

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This is an interesting angle. The background of, especially Abel and Cain, is stone age agricultural society, not hunter-gatherers. Non-ensouled humans would be an alternative to explain this ‘apparent’ contradiction to the fossil record.

What do you make of this assertion about what Judaism (and Islam) taught about the story of Adam and Eve?:

"In Judaism, as in Islam, Adam and Eve’s transgression creates a sin against their own souls, but does not condemn humanity as a whole. Adam and Eve were as children in the Garden of Eden. Having eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, they had to take responsibility for themselves, their decisions and their behaviour. In Judaism, this is seen not as a ‘fall’ but as a ‘gift’ – the gift of free will.

The story of Adam and Eve was initially, then, a fable about the attainment of free will and the embrace of moral responsibility. It became a tale about the corruption of free will and the constraints on moral responsibility. It was in this transformation in the meaning of Adam and Eve’s transgression that Christianity perhaps secured its greatest influence, a bleak description of human nature that came to dominate Western ethical thinking as Christianity became the crucible in which that thinking took place. Not until the Enlightenment was the bleakness of that vision of human nature truly challenged."

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Judaism still doesn’t have original sin. As far as I can tell, it is strictly a Christian interpretation.

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Don’t waste your time…
Genesis is a terrific Metaphor - even of the Present…
Get to know Jesus - to the best of your ability.
Read the NT

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