Reconciling Humani Generis with the human genetic data showing that there never were just two first parents

Hello,
Thank you for reading and engaging with me on this topic. This a topic that has troubled me for some time. I see no way to reconcile what the Church requires us to believe about being descended from just one man and one woman with what we now know from the study of human genomes.

Humani Generis - Paragraph 37 clearly states that the Catholic Church teaching is that all true men take their generation from Adam as the first parent of all. Any position positing multiple parents is erroneous. The reason it is erroneous is that original sin, as drawn from “the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church,” only works if it is an actual sin performed by one person, who passed it on to everyone else as if it was their own. Pope Pius XII is very clear on the factual propositions that under lie the doctrine of original sin. There can only have been two parents of all of the human race now existing. No person alive could have a first human ancestor that is not Adam or Eve. This is the one testable fact taken literally from the first chapter of Genesis. The other fact drawn from Genesis is that human souls are specially created by God, which is not a testable proposition.

As time has passed, the evidence showing the intricacies of human evolution (and all evolution) have increased exponentially. We have found even more species of human that coexisted with Homo Sapiens on this planet, and we have genomes now for two ancient human species that we interbred with (Neanderthal and Denosovians). All of the evidence shows (as common sense would suggest), that at no point have we ever been descended from just two fully human bodies. Even, when just looking at the portions of genomes that are passed exclusively from either a female or male (mitochondrial DNA and the Y-Chromosome) the last common male and female ancestors for just those small bits lived at least 180,000 thousand years apart. Originally, they were thought to live closer in time to each other (but still not contemporaries), but then a new more ancient Y-Chromosome family group was discovered. Apologists like to point to Mitochondrial Eve and an example of how science points the the truths of revelation. This is not just a stretch, it is an outright misunderstanding of the science.
For information regarding the study of ancient human geneomes, I recommend any lecture of youtube by Svante Paabo of the Max Plank Institute or by David Reich author of the book “Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past,” Published in 2018.
Paabo: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=hJEDqWbx-og
Reich: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=fHdCuhYRHqo&t=140s

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A paper that may interest you is Science, Theology, and Monogenesis by Kenneth W. Kemp. A web search should easily find it for you. It proposes that the issue can be addressed by posing a distinction between true man (with a rational soul) and “men” without rational souls, and it results in a sort of theological monogenesis but evolutionary polygenesis. A nuanced reading of Humani Generis states that all true men and women are descended from Adam and Eve, but it doesn’t strictly require that there weren’t other genetic contributors. [You and all of your full first cousins by blood on your mothers side are necessarily descended from the same set of grandparents – this is what makes you first cousins. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t have another set of grandparents. Likewise, all true men and women are descended from Adam and Eve… but it doesn’t mean they don’t have other many-great-great-great-great-…-great grandparents as far as genetic contributors go.]

On another night I might explain it in more detail myself, but I will defer to the paper which I recommend you read. Note that the paper is not “this did happen” but more of a “here’s a proposal of one way it could be reconciled.” As far as scientific proof, you wouldn’t be able to definitively prove at this point what exact moment and generation a rational soul was given to the first true man and woman, but you would expect that more abstract things such as language, music, religion, artisans (in a way) would be evidence of it being present.

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Thank you! This article looks quite useful.

Regarding abstract things, evidence of symbolic culture is not limited to Sapiens. We know that Heidelbergensis and Neaderthal engaged in ritual burial. The famous examples are the hand axe that was deposited in a cave burial where bodies were dropped into a cave post mortem by Heidelbergensis. Cave burials were also done by Homo Naledi. Ocher and flower pollen were found in the soil of a burial of a Neanderthal who was found buried in a fetal position. This suggest that the body was coated in ocher before burial and flowers were deposited with the body. If I remember correctly, the pollen showed it was a flower that blooms in spring time. More recent excavation of the cave on Gibralter suggest that Neanderthals decorated themselves with black feathers (based on cut made to bird bones that would only make sense for getting fathers from the wings - not a meat rich part of the bird), and there was a symbolic carving of lines on the walls of one cave. We have found shells that they decorated themselves with, and it also appears that Denisovans also engages in symbolic behavior.

We also know that Neanderthals had the physical ability for speech. A hyoid bone was found in Iraq with a skeleton there. This bone is small and, like the evidence for art and culture from so long ago, is often lost to time. There is a difference in the FoxP2 gene, that is just one gene that plays a roll in speech, but it is very important. We do not know what difference it made at this time, but there are some interesting experiments being done to find out.

Slightly more debated at the moment, but there have been some tests of some cave paintings in Europe that date them to before modern humans arrive, meaning Neanderthals were the only humans there and were the artists.

The issue of art and symbolic communication has been a center of dispute in the academic community because for a long time it was assumed that anyone who was not a Homo Sapien must have been stupid. It is really a form of ethnocentrism and hubris, but the evidence of symbolic behavior of ancient human species is piling up.

There is emergent human culture across human species, but I do not think you are going to find a moment where the switch was flipped. There is progressive advancement and multiple technological revolutions continuing into the present.

I am going to take a look at the article, and I may check back in with my thoughts. My reading of Humani Generis is that there is no room for genetic contribution from others. Emphasis mine:
“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.”

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Those other genetic contributors with no descent from Adam would not have been true men as they would not have had rational souls. Only children with Adam as an ancestor would have had rational souls and be true men and women.

As for other homo species with language and religion, perhaps Adam predated them. He wouldn’t necessarily have to have been homo sapiens, just a true man.

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Two notes.

First, from some cursory research, it appears that monogenism is still the preferred scientific model for human origins. Some scientists disagree, but at any rate the idea that polygenism, which Humani Generis criticized, is hardly settled science.

Second, what should be noted from Humani Generis, in its criticism of polygenism, is this:

“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 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.”

However, I believed some theologians have since provided ways for such reconciliation to be achieved. If one accepts those as persuasive, then the complaint that was the basis for the rejection of polygenism is obviated.

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Where did this ridiculous notion that Neanderthals were a different species come from? Genetic tests show that many of us have Neanderthal ancestors, which means that they are capable of interbreeding with us and therefore the same species. In short, the way to reconcile the doctrine and the evidence is that Neanderthals are sons of Adam.

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Newest resarch

This simply reinforces to me that God works through nature!

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Neanderthals have also been reclassified as homo sapiens neanderthalensis, whereas our species as it is now is homo sapiens sapiens. So there is that.

As far as cladistic methods of species classification, things aren’t always neatly or clearly cut.

It come from how the fossils were classified in the 19th century, but I think it is a fair point to make. We only figured out that we did not totally replace them in the last 10 years when we were able to get DNA from their bones. When I studied Anthropology 20 years ago, I had a prof who insisted that our ancestors did not inter-breed with them and that we would not be able to get useable DNA from their bones.

I think it would be more correct to call them a human subspecies. Homo sapiens today are the last living human subspecies. Others live on in our genes if we hybridized with them.

The headline is off a little. All modern humans who are not 100 % African. The admixture happened in the middle east going outward. Neanderthals never lived in Africa.

What do you mean by monogenism? It gets two different definitions in my experience. Monogenism and polygenism are not words you will find in current Anthropology text books. There is no science to suggest that there were just one male and female from which all of humanity today was decended. At best, it was a small population in African 200,000 years ago, and we also picked up genes from other populations, the last of which went extinct around 30,000 years ago.

However, I believed some theologians have since provided ways for such reconciliation to be achieved. If one accepts those as persuasive, then the complaint that was the basis for the rejection of polygenism is obviated.

Can you be more specific here? Pope Pius XII appears to concerned with the suggestion that the doctrine of original sin would be obviated by the acceptance that there was never a first single pair of human parents. What is this reconciliation? I am looking for details because reconciliation is my question.

Without Original Sin, the rest of salvation history has no reason to be.

Those other genetic contributors with no descent from Adam would not have been true men as they would not have had rational souls. Only children with Adam as an ancestor would have had rational souls and be true men and women.

As for other homo species with language and religion, perhaps Adam predated them. He wouldn’t necessarily have to have been homo sapiens, just a true man.

At a certain point, the origin of “true men” seems to get pushed so far back, it strains credulity to suggest that Original Sin is a real thing.

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If DNA was all that determined the essence of person then you would certainly have a serious problem, but in that case the implication would be that metaphysical naturalism is true, and no Catholic believes that. No Catholic is duty bound to conform the definition of a person to the biological definitions of science. Like @Wesrock has already pointed out, the problem only exists within a purely naturalistic framework which no Catholic is rationally bound to accept.

The first person is by definition the first biological organism with a rational-soul. We have an immaterial aspect and thus a supernatural element to our nature that cannot be measured or understood with the scientific method alone. And so science really cannot tell a catholic about who the first person is and neither can one extrapolate from the evidence that there never was just two “persons” since being a person involves a lot more than just biology or evolution; that’s if you accept Catholic teaching on the matter.

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As a Catholic, I am constrained to be obedient to the authority of my Apostolic Superiors, who declare the revelation to me that there are a single man and woman from whom all peoples spring, including you.
Further, this cannot be otherwise if Jesus is to be the Savior to all to whom he is akin; he is not the incarnation of anyone who might be (impossible) from another species or family tree, because he is only like those whose flesh he assumed.

Now, secular culture thinks that religion and knowledge of gods and cults developed over time as man tried to give reason to his being. And science thinks it is the ultimate test of reality if theories can have examples in investigation, however it has never entertained the thought that current religious and philosophical thought could be a drawn-out corruption of a knowing of God in the beginning, as people began to imagine other avenues of finding meaning and profit in life, inventing new gods and religions alongside the original known God of Adam and then of Noah. A lot was invented since men scattered from Babel.

However, being obliged to hold to the position of revelation delivered on authority, making it true simply by the authority which delivers it, I am therefore obliged to conclude that science has failed to go far enough in its pursuit of the description of material temporal reality. How so? Truth will never be contrary to truth - it is impossible. Thomas Aquinas, with this understanding, was able to reconcile Aristotle to Authoritatively Proclaimed Revelation. Knowing that there is Adam and Eve, with a historical list of generations, science has not done its job, not gone far enough in investigation, to find a verifiable theory that does not contradict Revealed Truth, a verifiable theory that is fully reasonable and fully evidenced and fully surprised at not contradicting Revelation.

Catholicism never stifles science, but it says, “You have not gone far enough yet, not yet found the real answer.”

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Humani Generis speaks of “true men”. What does that mean?

If I hold this ^ position, can I then legitimately hold the position that there could be homo sapiens sapiens alive today that do not have a soul?

Is that a leading question?

If you take is as fact that everyone alive today shares a common female ancestor - the most recent being Mitochondrial Eve, then she obviously had a male partner (which wasn’t, as you said, y-chromosonal Adam).

Just take it from there.

There’s no reason Adam or Eve are required to be the most recent common ancestor on either side.

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Indeed not. The MRCA changes over time as different populations disappear. The new MRCA will always be a descendant on the previous MRCA, but the title is not fixed.

For example, Adam was the real Y-Adam for the whole human population until the Flood. That killed all the male descendants of Cain, so Adam was no longer the most recent Y-Adam. At that point Noah became the new most recent Y-Adam.

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