I’m asking the following questions under two premises. The first premise is that the theory of evolution is correct and that mankind physically evolved from lower life forms. Personally, I’m still not sure of the correctness of this theory but I think these questions are still invaluable for discussing since many others (Catholics included and intellectuals outside of the faith) hold to this premise. The second premise is that the Genesis account of creation and early events of mankind refer to true concepts but are not to be understood literally. Working within the framework established by these premises, I have a few interrelated questions that naturally arise and which have been troubling me for years.
First, if mankind did evolve from lower life forms (and which we do have some evidence for from the fossil record), did God gradually raise our level of consciousness such that our soul, i.e. our free will and ability to comprehend God, evolved along with our physical evolution? Or did, in one definable day/moment, God bestow free will and an immortal soul upon an early human couple (whom we would term ‘Adam and Eve’) thereby irrevocably opening up a brand new era on planet earth?
My second question refers to death. From the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church #72 states: ‘in the original plan they [mankind] would not have had to suffer and die’. The idea of mankind never having to have suffered or die raises a number of questions. How are we do understand this in relation to what we know about inherent ecological limits on earth? It’s very clear from science as well as common sense that the earth can only support so many creatures and if mankind never died and kept on breeding this would have quickly exhausted the earth’s carrying capacity as we live on a finite planet that can only support so much life. It’s clear from the fossil record that creatures have come and gone, and just looking at the way the earth works now and the ways animals are physically equipped to kill/avoid being killed, it seems very reasonable to assume that this is how things have always worked here on earth. Also, what about all the pain receptors in human beings? If mankind was never originally supposed to have suffered, then why was he built/evolved in a way that is meant to respond to pain?
I also have a further question/comment relating to all of this in regard to the term ‘death’ as originally used by the Hebrews who wrote the Genesis account. Could death here be primarily referring to a spiritual state and/or a spiritual and physical state with the latter referring to the corruption of the human body as opposed to its freedom from decay and assumption into heaven (all of which may make more sense in the allegorical way Genesis seems to be written)? In Fr. Mario P. Romero’s Unabridged Christianity, he quotes in footnote 10 on page 283 a man named Mark Miravalle, author of An Introduction to Mary, who writes: ‘According to St. Paul (cf. Rom 5-8; Hebrews 2), the consequences of Satan’s seed, evil, are twofold: sin and death (or bodily corruption). Therefore, Mary, who shared in her Son’s victory over Satan and his seed (cf. Gen 3:15), would have to be saved from both sin and death or corruption. Mary did triumph over sin in her Immaculate Conception and triumphed over death (specifically corruption of the body) in her glorious Assumption at the end of her earthly life.” From this passage, Miravalle seems to be indicating that we can look at death as referring to bodily corruption.
My thoughts: perhaps in God’s original intention, humans did ‘die’ but not in the way we do whereby there is pain, fear of what’s next, and the decay of the physical body. Perhaps in the original scheme, humans would have been assumed into heaven like Enoch and Elijah, or put to sleep by God Himself and then assumed into heaven like our Mother the Virgin Mary. In this way, the carrying capacity of the earth would have been respected and each human would have passed the test of not eating of the forbidden tree and taken after this much different death into the full glory of the beatific vision.
My final question relating to all of this is the issue of original sin. I know the CCC speaks of this event and in #75 writes: ‘When tempted by the devil, the first man and woman allowed trust in their Creator to die in their hearts. In their disobedience they wished to become “like God” but without God and not in accordance with God (Genesis 3:5). Thus, Adam and Eve immediately lost for themselves and for all their descendants the original grace of holiness and justice.’ Are we to understand the fall and the entrance of original sin as having happened to the very first fully human beings and in a definable moment/time period (the one’s with complete free-will and a rational soul)? What was the fate of the lower pre-human life forms they evolved from, i.e. did they not have a partial soul that could also be tempted and fall into sin? How did Adam and Even, the first couple that were fully human relate to the relatives they evolved from and who they were now distinguished from having been graced by God with a full human soul? Is it possible that there were other humans before and/or existing simultaneously to Adam and Eve?
I realize that most if not all of these questions are speculative and in turn the answers will be speculative. Still, I wanted to try and get a better grasp on possible solutions to these issues and also see what other Catholics on here have come up with when confronted with some of these and other related questions. I’m in the process of reconciling to the Catholic Church, and having a better grasp on these issues will enable me to feel more comfortable with my current Christian faith and hopefully later on with my entrance into the Church.
P.S. I realized that I had a supplemental question relating to the second question from above. My question is: how does the Church’s teaching on not using contraception reconcile with our finite world that has a clear carrying capacity (and one in which our 7 billion people are rapidly exceeding). Basically, if every human couple on earth were to not use contraceptives, and just NFP, still most couples would likely have more than 2 children to replace themselves and over time you would see an exponential growth of human numbers even with disease, accidents, wars, and other mechanisms of death reducing the numbers some. Again, how do we square the Church’s teaching on this with what we know about the finite limits of our earth?