seeks << What is YOUR current belief on Adam and Eve…& evolution? Of course, as long as it remains within Church teaching >>
What is hardest to reconcile is the notion of “biological monogenism” (i.e. Adam and Eve were the only two people on earth) with science. Some Catholics maintain that is what Pius XII meant (the polygenism vs. monogenism topic). However, it is easier to reconcile “biological polygenism” (there was a population of people on their way to becoming fully human), with spiritual or theological monogenism (there was one couple God chose to give souls), and science. I.E. God chose one couple among the population of hominids and “ensouled” them. That’s my position today.
There was always a population of whatever hominid (Australopithecines, Homo erectus, homo sapiens, neandertals, etc) you want to talk about; there was never “just two people” on earth (if there were, that species was going extinct).
Other Catholic theologians/scientists would not try to reconcile a literal, historical Adam/Eve but would suggest that the human soul, along with our brain, mind, consciousness, and intelligence, evolved along with the physical human body. This is the view that John Haught takes in Responses to 101 Questions on God and Evolution. I quote Haught:
“Perhaps, then, Darwinian science compels us now to reconsider what we mean by the ‘soul.’ … But even in a scientific age it is not too speculative to attribute an interior aspect to each living being. Maybe all living organisms have an aspect of ‘subjectivity’ hidden from scientific objectification. In each of us this interiority would be associated with a distinctively human soul. But other living beings may possess a hidden ‘subjectivity’ – widely varying in the degree of experiential awareness – where they are intimately touched by and participate in the divine Spirit whom we may refer to as Life-Itself. Once we allow for this broader understanding of soul, we may interpret evolution as the momentous story of soul-emergence. Evolution is the adventure of life gradually becoming more conscious, centered, free and capable of love – but also capable of great evil. This understanding allows us to move beyond the artifice of thinking that God abruptly ‘injects’ prefabricated ‘souls’ into our species or into our bodies at certain artificially defined points in evolution or embryogenesis. Instead we may understand the Spirit of God as present in all of life, animating each species in a manner proportionate to its characteristic mode of organic or informational complexity. The emergence of the human soul, then, would not be a glaring exception to this animating process, but instead a most intense exemplification of a general aspect of creation and evolution.” (Haught, Responses to 101 Questions on God and Evolution [Paulist Press, 2001], question 19, page 27-28)
I equated this with a kind of “pantheistic” belief (that God is all, or is “in everything”) in my “theistic evolution” vs. “six-day creation” article but I’m sure Haught doesn’t mean that. These professional theologians are kind of hard to understand (to me at least). I contrast Haught with the Catechism on Adam/Eve and original sin:
Haught: Original sin is not a specific act committed by a literal historical couple Adam/Eve, but refers to our general state of present human estrangement from God, from each other, and from the world. We have not inherited anything from a literal Adam/Eve, but rather have inherited environments, cultures, habits, and a whole history filled with evil and opposition to life.
Catechism: By his sin Adam, as the first man, lost the original holiness and justice he had received from God, not only for himself but for all human beings. Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendants human nature wounded by their own first sin and hence deprived of original holiness and justice; this deprivation is called “original sin.” As a result of original sin, human nature is weakened in its powers; subject to ignorance, suffering, and the domination of death; and inclined to sin (This inclination is called “concupiscence.”) “We therefore hold, with the Council of Trent, that original sin is transmitted with human nature, ‘by propagation, not by imitation’ and that it is…‘proper to each’” [citing Pope Paul VI, CPG 16].
The Catechism itself is quite clear I think supporting the traditional dogma on Adam/Eve and the Fall (especially paragraphs 355ff or the summary 416-419). It does allow for “figurative” or “symbolical” language in Genesis 1-3, but refers to “our first parents” as “Adam and Eve” several times, and to the Fall as something historically that happened to us by the “original sin” of that couple, doing something in disobedience to God’s command. The details are not spelled out in the Catechism.
Were they named literally “Adam and Eve”? Probably not. Was there literally a “talking snake” or “serpent” ? Probably not. Was the original sin literally eating a fruit from a forbidden tree? Probably not. Was the “Garden of Eden” literally on earth? If so, where? Is there an “angel” (cherubim) and a “flaming sword” still guarding the entrance to the “Tree of Life” ? We don’t know. Probably figurative language. Did Adam literally “name” all the millions of species of animals and plants? Probably not, not enough time. Was Eve taken literally from Adam’s “rib” or “side” ? Probably not. But that’s what Genesis 1-3 taken literally says. Genesis 4 literally places the story of Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel within about 3000-4000 B.C. at the earliest. Why? Because of clear references to animal/plant domestication, farming, iron/metal tools, sophisticated musical instruments, and cities, stuff that didn’t exist before 10,000 B.C. when “cavemen” were still using stone tools/weapons.
Others suggest (Adam, Eve, and the Hominid Fossil Record) Adam/Eve should be placed around 40,000-50,000 BC, and the writer of Genesis was interpreting the events of his own time. Glenn Morton has a book (Adam, Apes, and Anthropology) that places a literal Adam/Eve as Australopithecines (about 1-2 million years ago) because that’s when we started cultural/anthropological evidence of our “soul” (first language, first spiritual awareness, etc). The recent book by Giberson (Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution) takes a more complete “myth” view of Genesis. Kenneth R. Miller (biologist, author of Finding Darwin’s God and recently Only A Theory) takes the same “myth” view. They don’t worry about trying to reconcile a literal Adam/Eve with science. Also Michael Dowd (Thank God for Evolution) also takes the “myth” view I believe (although I’ve only skimmed his book in the store). It is probably the dominant view of professional Catholic philosophers/theologians/scientists. They do seem to ignore the Catechism at this point.
EDIT: forgot to mention philosopher Bonnette’s book Origin of the Human Species. He covers traditional Catholic dogma on Adam/Eve and science, explains the theological difficulties, and defends a literal understanding with an old earth and evolution.
Much of the traditional dogma on Adam/Eve, I’ll admit, is hard to reconcile with science (and science itself would not have anything to say on the miracles or theological propositions). But if you read further from John Paul II or Benedict XVI (Cardinal Ratzinger in the 1980s and 1990s), you’ll see they generally have no problems with modern science or the “myth” interpretation and tend not to interpret the Adam/Eve story literally. See for example, JPII “Theology of the Body” on Genesis.
That about sums up the whole Adam/Eve debate. Sorry to be exhaustive but I think about this topic a lot.