Polygenism and Monogenism correct


**From Zenit.org:

Q**: What are Catholics bound in faith to believe about human origins? Was Adam really our first parent, or could there have been an entire race of original human beings endowed with immortal souls – an accurate rendering of the Hebrew word “adam”?

Father Oakes: In my opinion, the debate about “monogenism” – the doctrine that says that all humans share the same primal parents – and “polygenism” – that the races come from independent lines of evolution – has been misconceived, for both are true depending on where you stop along mankind’s family tree.

All of us, after all, have one set of parents, but four grandparents, eight great-grandparents and so on, all the way back. But eventually, the number of these putative ancestors will grow absurdly large: in each generation, the number of my direct ancestors must grow exponentially: two, four, eight, 16, 32 and so on.

Even more strangely, the number of actual human beings inhabiting the planet will begin to shrink the further back into history we go. This means that, eventually, the further back you go in history, this vast number of ideal “slots” of ancestors will have to be filled by just one person or two; for example, if two of my grandparents were first cousins, I would have only six great-grandparents, not eight.

Fascinating studies have been done, using the genealogical records of the Mormons in Utah, to show how most Caucasians now dwelling in the United States can trace their ancestry back to just one couple living in eighth-century Europe; and no doubt Americans of other racial background could do the same with their native lands.

For a riveting account of this field of “population genetics” for the general reader, see “The Mountain of Names: A History of the Human Family,” by Alex Shoumatoff.

So does this process ever reach one couple? According to genetics, yes. In fact, according to the theory of evolution, it could hardly be otherwise, the whole point of the theory being to stress common ancestry.

Of course, if genetics establishes that there is a primal couple, that couple could then trace its ancestry back to a common set of ancestral parents. So according to genetics, both monogenism and polygenism are true, but at several times and at various points along the evolutionary tree. See “The History and Geography of Human Genes,” by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza.

The theological question then becomes: Do we ever reach the Adam and Eve described in the Bible? Here I think we get to the core of the issue.


The Church document on this is Humani Generis - and the key article is 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 no 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.

It is interesting to note the exact wording “Now it is no way apparent how…” so this certainly isn’t an unqualified statement… but the key point of article 37 is that whatever theory we go for re the Dawn of Man has to be reconciled with the doctrine of original sin.

The intriguing thing about this is that The Dawn of Man is ripe for a Science v Theology debate because it is a quesiton on which both disciplines will rightly feel that they have something to say.


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