"Neanderthals were People too" -- what are the implications for faith?

I have not read the entire thing, but this article from New York Times Magazine suggests that science has long gotten Neanderthals wrong, and that they displayed many behavioral characteristics that were similar to their Homo sapien neighbors in Africa. Note that the last common ancestor with neanderthals was over 500,000 years ago. But anyway, they too, apparently, buried their dead and made specialized tools and jewelry. They also painted their faces or bodies, which could represent symbolic thought.

Personally, human evolution has never really threatened my faith. I have always been open to science, and I think evolutionary biology expresses the creative work of God.

However, I wonder how this understanding of Neanderthals can be consistent with the uniqueness of the human person, who is not just body but soul as well. From the time of our “first parents,” we bodily creatures also have a spiritual aspect, made in the image of God, and can relate to God. Features such as self-consciousness and symbolic thought were thought to be particular attributes of humans made in God’s image, with an immortal soul.

So how this square with Catholic teaching?

Well, let’s not close the book on Neanderthal’s yet, but if they had rational mines, they’d be descended from Adam and Eve, too, meaning “all of mankind” is a bit broader than just those alive today. Neanderthals and homo sapiens could, interestingly enough, reproduce with fertile children, so they were very similar.

From a Catholic Answers tract:

"Adam and Eve: Real People

"It is equally impermissible to dismiss the story of Adam and Eve and the fall (Gen. 2–3) as a fiction. A question often raised in this context is whether the human race descended from an original pair of two human beings (a teaching known as monogenism) or a pool of early human couples (a teaching known as polygenism).

"In this regard, Pope Pius XII stated: “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 either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parents 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 that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the teaching authority of the Church proposed with regard to original sin which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam in which through generation is passed onto all and is in everyone as his own” (Humani Generis 37).

"The story of the creation and fall of man is a true one, even if not written entirely according to modern literary techniques. The Catechism states, “The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents” (CCC 390). "


Thanks for providing this. But note it is assumed in my question, for it is precisely this teaching (along with understand what a human is as having an immortal soul) that I am conflicted about, considering the scientific data.

Could you give an example of the scientific data you’re thinking about?


Perhaps Neanderthals really were not a different species, but really a sub-species.

If Neanderthals were truly a different species, then it’s possible that God could have created them with the animals, before He “made man in our image.”

Perhaps that’s why the devil and 1/3 of the Angels rebelled. Because after seeing teh Neanderthals and other proto-humans; they were appalled by the idea.

So instead of God telling His Angels before creation, He told them before He created man in His image. To me this could be very plausible. After all the “6 days” of creation are in what I like to call “God days” are obviously millions of Earth years each

God Bless

There’s nothing in Scripture about proto-humans or hominids. Even to an uneducated people, the writers could have written: “And before you there were others that were more like animals, and after great ages passed, they changed and became true men like yourselves.”

From Catholic Answers:

"The Time Question

“Much less has been defined as to when the universe, life, and man appeared. The Church has infallibly determined that the universe is of finite age—that it has not existed from all eternity—but it has not infallibly defined whether the world was created only a few thousand years ago or whether it was created several billion years ago.”


All understood and accepted as a dogma of the faith.

I always thought of it this way.

Adam and Eve got booted out of the garden. Things quickly went south. Mutations, malnutrition, stunted growth etc. After that, I don’t worry about it.

The Church wants me to take things on faith. I do. There is still plenty of room for real life science. Adam and Eve chose the hard road. Lots of bad things can happen when you are on your own, to you and to the gene pool.

As one who wonders in the same way as the OP, that excerpt doesn’t actually answer the question. The real question is: Are we obligated to believe A&E were homo sapiens or could they have been pre-homo sapiens, but still true humans?

Neandertals are us. They are human and we have the same DNA.

I don’t think it’s necessary to believe that Adam and Eve must be classified as homo sapiens. I’m not saying they were not, I’m just saying it doesn’t seem necessary.

It’s very necessary. They are the cause of Original Sin which required Jesus, The Word, to become flesh, and live among us and die as a sacrifice. He performed actual miracles: raised the dead, restored sight to the blind, cleansed lepers and more. Without science as we have today. They are the parents of all.


See what happens when you take the creation account of Genesis literally?

The senses of Scripture
115 According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two *senses *of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.

116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."83
117 The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

  1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism.84
  2. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction”.85
  3. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.86
    118 A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses:
    The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith;
    The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.87 119 "It is the task of exegetes to work, according to these rules, towards a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture in order that their research may help the Church to form a firmer judgment. For, of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgment of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God."88
    But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me.89

Yes. Of course. They are the parents of all true humans. The TWO individuals from whom we inherit our true human nature and original sin. With a real historical event.

But I don’t know that it’s necessary that they be classified as homo sapiens.

There is no *perhaps *about it.

Modern man is Homo sapiens sapiens; “Neanderthal” is shorthand for Homo sapiens neanderthalensis.


So our classification schemes say.

Yes, that really clarifies the issue, doesn’t it?


Ed :shrug:

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