The Church and Polygenism

So I am having a hard time wondering whether or not I am permitted to believe in polygenism rather than monogenism. As Catholics we are permitted to read Genesis in a figurative sense while still maintaining the core historical elements. Why then can’t I believe that Adam and Eve were representations of multiple ancestors? I could still maintain the historical events of the rebellion of God and fall from grace.

Anyone have any insight on this issue?

I think there are several reasons why we can’t believe in polygenism. One is because of obedience: if it is true that the pope forbade belief in polygenism, then it seems that we have to obey him. But that does seem true, based on Humani Generis. Therefore, I don’t think we can believe in polygenism.

Unless I’ve missed something, the pope forbade polygenic theories at least partly because he didn’t think there could be a reasonable reconciliation between the doctrine of original sin and polygenism. If I’m correct, that is a second reason why we can’t believe in polygenism: because it contradicts the Catholic doctrine that all humans contracted original sin from Adam and Eve.

There may be other reasons, but those are two that I thought of right away. Do they seem reasonable to you?

Yes, I will obey the Church regardless of my inquiries and desires because it speaks for Christ. I am just wondering why we can’t take the stance that Adam and Eve are not literal historical figures. It just seems strange because we are allowed to take the stance that the creation narrative is not a literal representation of creation.

Well, the teaching isn’t that. :slight_smile: Rather, it’s that the creation is told in metaphorical/mythological/poetical language, which doesn’t at all mean that it didn’t happen or that the people involved weren’t real.

Metaphor and mythology are story devices. Stories told using those devices may be true or they may be fiction–it has nothing to do with the method used in telling them.

We have to remember that the creation stories were passed down orally until finally written down. It is much easier to memorize stories that are cast in metaphorical/mythological/poetical language. It’s like memorizing all the Presidents of the United States by composing a poem that helps you remember each one by something he said/did.

Adam and Eve were real people and the fall of man was real, as well. :slight_smile:

From Humani Generis:

“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]”


Please notice the dramatic shift between Genesis 1: 25 and Genesis 1:26.

Something to think about.

If Adam was not real, then what happens to Original Sin? If Original Sin disappears, would Jesus Christ still be divine?

Furthermore it seems to destroy the integrity of the human race.

Take the angels for example. They are not a race. There is no such thing as an angelic race, although we may speak of it as such, figuratively, for matter of convenience. Each angel is a stand-alone creation, utterly unique from all other angels.

Each human being, although unique, is also inseparably connected to mankind. All of men and women are part of one race, and because they are part of this one race, they fell together, and when God entered into this one race as the Messiah, He raised them all together.

Imagine, that if there were an alien race with no common progenitor, and they also sinned, God would, it seems, choose also to be born into their own race in order to rectify them in like manner!

For this reason, even Eve herself is not an independent creation, but was created out of Adam (probably not literally out of his rib, but hey). If Eve stood apart from Adam, we would be the descendants of two distinct races, one Adam, one Eve. I suppose Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross would atone for both races, as he would be a member of both as are we all, but theologically it looks messy (although I can’t really explain why).

Anyway, we do not see this as the case. Rather, Eve herself is part of the race started in Adam, and not utterly distinct.

I do not know what the Church’s stance is on how things went down, though. I sometimes wonder if it is within the realm of orthodoxy to imagine a large population of humans with sensitive or animal souls, and only two with spiritual or rational human souls, and from the line of these two come all of mankind.

The Catholic Church continues to teach that a population of two founded the entire human race. It is that simple.

When Pius XII referred to polygenism (Humani Generis), it was commonly understood that in order for a species to be the result of polygenism (varied multiple genetic sources), there had to be a large originating population as the genetic source. Today, population is the operative word. And it is commonly understood that the human race arose from a large originating population containing varied multiple genetic sources (polygenism). In either scenario, a large population is not the population of Adam and Eve.

In Catholicism, the use of the word human has to refer to the unique human’s nature, both spiritual *and *material.

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.)

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.

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.

Pius XII didn’t decree that polygenism was contrary to the Catholic faith, he merely decreed that it was not to be taught as it was in no way apparent how it could be reconciled with the story of Genesis. Polygenism is now a proven scientific theory. To now believe in an origin other than polygenism would require you to believe in the patently absurd, something that is never expected of you. The Catholic Church doesn’t expect you to go against reason, faith and reason are compatible.

Here is a better summation of the development of the doctrine up to date with a handy powerpoint.

There is scientific evidence (not I’m not calling it proof, because it isn’t that :slight_smile: ) for the human race having one set of parents. It would mean that the genetics of these two people are the origin of all modern men. This does not mean that there weren’t other created beings in our family tree whose genetics contributed to the final pair from whom we came. It would appear that they existed and that they played that role. After all the Genesis account merely says that God formed man from the earth. It doesn’t go into detail about how long that took or how God intended we should be formed.

Science cannot really prove anything about our origins at this point. It may never be able to do that. And that’s all right because we can see with our own eyes the results of our fallen condition, how it answers, better than anything else, why we are as we are in our fallen state. And Christ’s remedy has been proven in the lives of her saints and the Church’s unchageable nature and her still being here despite all attempts to destroy her. Whatever the facts of our origins, we know that we can trust what the Church teaches us about it, and in the God who created us.

The science of human evolution now uses the cladistics system. Cladograms diagram
evolution according to genetic related populations.

Populations obviously include genetic diversity within the species. Populations designated as common ancestors are not a particular species; rather they are a population which diverges into separate species, for example, the Homo/Pan Split leading to the hominin lineage of which we are the only extant species.

I mention the above because the word polygenism is actually an old word for the more correct scientific word population as in populations evolve from populations. When one carefully studies Humani Generis from a scientific position, one recognizes implied populations.

I respectfully suggest that interested persons read paragraphs 35,36, 37 and footnotes in *Humani Generis, *

For General Information

The following links are sources of current information regarding the credibility of two real sole fully-human parents of humankind

The new expanded third edition of the book *Origin of the Human Species *by Catholic author Dr. Dennis Bonnette includes the article “The Myth of the “Myth” of Adam and Eve” as Appendix One. Appendix Two is “The Philosophical Impossibility of Darwinian Naturalistic Evolution”

[/FONT] 70&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=Origin+of+the+human+spe cies++Bonnette

Link to article published in Crisis Magazine online:…e-really-exist

Additional article…genesis-story/

Informative Catholic website

My apology, I am having a slight problem with the powerpoint.

While the many technical issues involved with the first three chapters of Genesis are indeed interesting and valuable, it all comes down to the question – What is in the Catholic Deposit of Faith? For example. Catholic doctrines surrounding Original Sin do not teach that Adam and Eve are mythical characters representing humanity as a whole and men and women in particular.

While faith and reason can be compatible, when it comes to the reality of the Science of Human Evolution, the Catholic Church opposes the theory that humans evolved from an effective breeding population in the thousands. The Out of Africa theory is an example. Genesis 1: 26-27 is literal truth. And when the literal truth intersects with theories about nature, Divine Revelation trumps.

For General Information

The new expanded third edition of the book *Origin of the Human Species *by Catholic author Dr. Dennis Bonnette includes the article “The Myth of the “Myth” of Adam and Eve” as Appendix One. Appendix Two is “The Philosophical Impossibility of Darwinian Naturalistic Evolution”

[/FONT] 70&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=Origin+of+the+human+spe cies++Bonnette

Link to article published in Crisis Magazine online:…e-really-exist

Additional article…genesis-story/

Informative Catholic website

I can accept everything you’ve written and still reconcile it with the origins of the human body from a breeding population in the thousands. The first humans in the theological sense were a pair and sin entered the world through their actions. No contradiction between faith and reason.

Benedict XVI offers an explanation on how this might work in, “In the Beginning…’: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall.”

Polygenism is now a proven scientific theory.

False. Science never proves anything. It merely provides us with a possible explanation and understanding of our environment (at obviously various levels). A theory means that a particular explanation has been tested numerous times and the same result occurs over and over again. Scientists should never claim that a theory is in fact proven, as science is limited and we can never measure nor even probably observe all of the variables that influence a process or phenomenon. You can either accept or reject a hypothesis or theory. A theory is just less likely to be rejected. Thus, most people accept the theory of gravity. (Laws are just theories that seem to be universal… Thus we can’t really say there are any biological laws because, to our knowledge, life doesn’t occur universally.)

Science cannot really prove anything about our origins at this point. It may never be able to do that.

This is true. Although science can provide insight and possible explanations for origins.

Also, because we are discussing science and biology, cladograms are just hypotheses used to explain relationships and potential origins of species (which are human constructs–there is not absolute agreement about how to even define a species). Again, they are hypotheses, not proof. Even if they seem to explain everything perfectly, nobody is (or should be anyway) claiming that they are the absolute truth. Grannymh seems to have a very thorough understanding of all of this, and I appreciate her insights.
It does seem difficult to reconcile some of these things, and it is a struggle that I deal with at times as well. Namely though, I am just trying to not lose sight of what really matters, and hope that others do the same. I hope none of this was offensive, I just wanted to point out a few misconceptions that people have about science.

Thank you for posting these resources. I had not seen most of these before.

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