Friday, June 24, 2011

Catholics, Evolution, and the Adam and Eve Problem

Some Catholics, that proudly say they have Catholic educations and their teacher taught them X,, say some most astounding things about the Bible. Such as I was taught that it's all stories and myth.

When it get to topics about Creation and theories of evolution things going really off the rails.

To be clear one can be a Catholic in good standing and believe in aspects of evolution.

In fact what shocks many people is you can be a Catholic in good standing and think the Earth was created in a literal 7 days and it's less than a 100,000 years old!! Now perhaps that is not where the "mind" of the Church is as to that timeline but you are free to believe it. If any Catholics tell you that you cannot be a Catholic if you believe in the literal 24 hour Creation timeline you are free to tell them to jump in a lake.

However there are a few things a Catholic must believe. This was summed up nicely by Pius the XII and further his thoughts are summed up nicely in this wikipedia article:

Pope Pius XII's encyclical of 1950, Humani Generis, was the first encyclical to specifically refer to evolution, and took up a neutral position, again concentrating on human evolution:

"The Church does not forbid that ... research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter."[30]
Pope Pius XII's teaching can be summarized as follows:

The question of the origin of man's body from pre-existing and living matter is a legitimate matter of inquiry for natural science. Catholics are free to form their own opinions, but they should do so cautiously; they should not confuse fact with conjecture, and they should respect the Church's right to define matters touching on Revelation.

Catholics must believe, however, that the human soul was created immediately by God. Since the soul is a spiritual substance it is not brought into being through transformation of matter, but directly by God, whence the special uniqueness of each person.

All men have descended from an individual, Adam, who has transmitted original sin to all mankind. Catholics may not, therefore, believe in "polygenism", the scientific hypothesis that mankind descended from a group of original humans (that there were many Adams and Eves).

Some theologians believe Pius XII explicitly excludes belief in polygenism as licit. The relevant sentence is this:

"Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion (polygenism) 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." (Pius XII, Humani Generis, 37 and footnote refers to Romans 5:12–19; Council of Trent, Session V, Canons 1–4)

And there you go. So these Adam and Eve characters existed no matter what a Catholic tells you he was taught otherwise.

The huge ELEPHANT in the room has to deal with that polyenism problem and the related matter of Original sin.

Well an Anglican that does a very good job in tackling this in a series of post. Here is his last post (that has the links to the others in the series).

From Anglican Curmudgeon see Did Adam and Eve Exist? (Part IV: Conclusion) . Also see his important Evolution Versus The Fall - A Postscript .

I have read that post and it seems plausible. I cannot see anything there that would contrary to the Catholic Faith at first glance and indeed second and third glances . As to his discussion that this is compatible with the Eastern Orthodox view of Original sin let me say I think it also fits with the Catholic concept of original sin. Partly because after arguing with Eastern Orthodox for years I am convinced we are pretty much saying the same thing.

So if anyone is interested I would love your comments either here or at his post. On a related matter one should check out the blog of an Eastern Orthodox woman on this topic. ONE CAN SPEND HOURS AND HOURS on her blog and I think it's helpful. See Just Genesis. I am anxious to see her comments.


SJ Reidhead said...

Kudos for tackling such a difficult issue. I don't see much difference between the Anglican version and the Catholic version of things.

What gets me is people are so ignorant they don't comprehend that the Catholic Church as been at the forefront of scientific exploration, discovery, and study for centuries.

The Pink Flamingo

P. S. If I were Pope, I'd want an entire branch for astronomy and one of the finest observatories in the world available - so I could go play with it!

James H said...


I like his whole view of the Fall being a regression which sort of makes sense

Andy said...

DarwinCatholic had a blog article on polygenism that seemed to make a decent argument (at least to my untrained mind) that there could be a literal Adam and Eve who committed original sin even in a polygenism scenario. Pretty interesting read if you can find it.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Roman Catholic scholars, scientists and philosophers have indeed been instrumental in many significant discoveries through the centuries. I have great respect for Roman Catholic scholarship. I don't always agree with the way the Catholic Church has interpreted some of the findings of those scientists, but I fully agree that when God created the first humans He made them fully human with eternal souls for which they/we had/have responsibility.

When we speak of Adam and Eve as the first parents, we should ask "Whose first parents?" In biblical parlance they are the first parents of all humanity and so what is said about them applies to all humans.

As the first parents, they would have lived about 4 million years ago, since the oldest human skeletons date to at least 3.6 million years. This is where we encounter some challenges with Genesis 1-5 which beautifully weaves mythological truth with historical truth. Cain and his brother Seth can be placed in history in the mid-late Holocene in Africa. They lived long after the first parents were created, so while Adam and Eve speak about all humanity, from Cain and Seth onward, we are speaking about Abraham's African ancestors from whom Jesus the Son of God descended, according to the Edenic Promise (Gen. 3:15).

Thanks for mentioning Just Genesis. I appreciate it very much!