A Catholic Approach to the Genealogical Adam

Hi Joshua,

Just a very quick response for now. I’ll be back later on today. You write:

This is a key point. Hold on to this. Keep in mind, also, that these rational beings would not descend from Adam. That means we agree God could have made rational creatures on this planet (or another planet, or another universe) that do not descend from Adam. This is a key point I am going to rely on soon.

if you’re going to claim that God could have made rational creatures on another planet, then you’ll get no argument from me. I think St. Augustine could accommodate this possibility too, provided that the Incarnation took place only on this planet. He could easily modify his definition of man as a rational, mortal animal to: a rational, mortal, terrestrial animal.

Re the possibility of another race of rational creatures on this planet: certainly, one cannot exclude it a priori. It does not follow, however, that God could have made a separate race of rational beings indistinguishable from ourselves, with no natural barriers to reproduction between the two races. That strikes me as confusing and unethical, on God’s part, for it leaves rational beings without a visible way of ascertaining whether a rational being they encounter is to be treated as one of their own kind (with all the social obligations that entails) or not. [I might add that there were [barriers to reproduction](https://www.quora.com/During-Human-Neanderthal-interbreeding-was-there-a-disproportionately-higher-numbers-of-mating-between-male-Homo-sapiens-and-Neanderthal-female-or-vice-versa) between Homo sapiens and Neandertals, who may not have even been rational, and the two were readily distinguishable.]

In any case, the real point at issue is not what God could have done, but what He did.

I’ll stop there for now, as I have to head off to work.

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@vjtorley, we are rehashing old and resolved ground right now.

Okay great. That is one part of the objection handled. God can make rational animals outside Adam’s line.

Okay, and the reason why this is a problem is because of an objection, we already handled.

This objection, to be valid, requires several assumptions that with which we have already dealt with. Just to keep things clear, we can talk about two theological (not biological) kinds. The linage of Adam (Line 1), and those outside the garden (Line 2). You are concerned about the incoherence that arises because of having two groups that are indistinguishable by anything other than theology.

First off, we emphasize that both Line 1 and Line 2 are equally rational, God Imaged (in the sense you use it), endowed with rights and dignity. So, we are avoiding all the problems you pointed out with Kemps proposal.

Second, we can ask if God has ever done something somewhat like this before? And He has. There is precedence here in the Gentile-Jewish distinction, very similar to the lineage of Abraham vs others, very similar to the Lineage of Aaron vs. others. We might find these theological distinctions suppressing, or even scandalous, but that just highlights that God does not always do intuitive thing from our point of view.

Third, we can ask why Adam would have been made with capacity to interbreed with others. This question is particularly important if we think Adam was de novo created. The proposal being put forward by @jongarvey, @anon46279830 and others is that God’s original plan was for Adam to bless those outside the garden. Adam and Eve were to spread across the globe as their offspring interbred, and bring everyone into an expanded Garden. Then Adam fell, and that original purpose was twisted to corruption, and became original sin instead. Without developing this further, I’ll assert this makes sense of why Adam was the same biological type.

A Few More Details

So, we suggest Adam’s purpose was to expand the garden to include the rest of his biological kind. He had an original redemptive role, that was twisted in the fall.

Notably, this also clarifies that those before Adam were in need of redemption by Yahweh too, but not from Adam’s sin. There was a reason that the Garden was special and had borders; the text is reminding us that it did not cover the whole earth. The Garden (and Adam) were part of God’s (this theophany of Yawheh’s) plan to bless all of Adam’s biological kind, and they needed God’s blessing too,.

This answer is theologically coherent, and makes a great deal of sense of a very large range of theology and hermeneutical questions. The theological coherence is part of what draws us to this solution. It is a solution that is suggested directly from the text (on its own), directly from theology (on its own), and directly from science (on its own). Thinking about all three together, it is genuinely surprising how coherent of picture it paints. In particular, it does not seem to require revision of traditional doctrine, as much as understanding how the pieces fit together.

As @jongarvey puts, this answer is attractive because it really does seem to arise from the text itself. That is what is so interesting about the parallels we are finding in Beale, Postell and Sailhammer’s work on the Pentateuch, as they are guided entirely by textual concerns, without engaging science. Yet the picture that emerges is essentially a Genealogical Adam scenario (with silence about those outside the garden).

His caution is correct too:

The recency of Adam seems to be very hard to avoid in the text, and certainly that is also something that Augustine believed.

What Really Matters…

And I agree. What we can say is:

Reading Scripture for the last 2,000 years of traditional theology, it has usually been thought that God made Adam and we all descend from Him. That is what the text seems to suggest.

From the evidence in the world, it really appears that, if he was recent, that Adam was not the first of his biological kind, though he could have been the first of his theological kind. Moreover, there is an ancient history to earth. Theologically and textually, there are several things that seem to accommodate, and even suggest, this notion of Adam not being the first of biological kind, but being the first of his theological kind. From that view point, science is merely filling in the details of those outside the Garden, and the traditional reading remains entirely intact. I am certain there are good starting points to fully resolve all the theological questions this raises.

That is, to say the least, surprising. It is certainly counter-intuitive. Maybe it is wrong. It certainly merits further consideration. Maybe the effort being made here will click even more of this into place.

As for the ancient sole-genetic progenitor models (e.g. from @vjtorley and @Agauger) they are interesting too, and have not been fully considered. There are a whole different set of theological challenges and textual questions that arise there, which we can get into when you like also.

Once again, thanks for your thoughts. Back to you @vjtorley.

Dear Vincent,

First of all I would like to warmly thank you for your interest in my article and your comments.

I answer part of them in the following.

This text can very well be interpreted in the following sense:

‘Adam’ means the ‘first sinner’. After the first sin all Humanity is in need of Redemption. Thus it is fitting to state that in the first sinner (‘Adam’) “all have sinned”.

‘Our first parents’ means the primeval human population of Image Bearers. Some of these may have been associates of “Adam” in the transgression which became the first sin.

Genesis 3 makes clear that in the “first sin” were implied at least two persons, and in this sense the sin was committed both by him (the first sinner) and by them. This becomes even more clear if one takes account of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19:3-6 and Mark 10:2-9, where He makes clear that the sanctity of marriage and prohibition of divorce was a main content of God’s primeval commandment to Humanity. This implies that the first commandment was given to a little population and involved the necessity of registering who is married with whom.

In conclusion, the Original sin (in the sense of “the first transgression” in human history, or “peccatum originale originans”) was both committed by him (the first sinner) and by them (all those who collaborate with Adam in the transgression).

I respect your interpretation, but dare to note that the International Theological Commission, a pontifical Commission of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in the Document"Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God" interprets things differently:

[43.] In its original unity – of which Adam is the symbol – the human race is made in the image of the divine Trinity.
[63.] While the story of human origins is complex and subject to revision, physical anthropology and molecular biology combine to make a convincing case for the origin of the human species in Africa about 150,000 years ago in a humanoid population of common genetic lineage.
[70.] Catholic theology affirms that that the emergence of the first members of the human species (whether as individuals or in populations) represents an event that is not susceptible of a purely natural explanation and which can appropriately be attributed to divine intervention.

On the one hand, my claim follows straightforwardly from Thomas Aquinas teaching in Summa Theologica: I, q. 98, a. 1; I, q. 100, a. 1 and a. 2.

On the other hand it is an obvious conclusion of the very fact that the single couple “Adam and Eve” was created by God FREE to NOT SIN. By claiming that “neither the Credo nor the Catechism allows for this possibility” you are claiming that “according to the Credo and the Catechism Adam and Eve were predestined to sin”, what amounts to claim that God is the author of the sin!

With Cardinal Ratzinger/Benedict XVI and the Homo divinus model I share the assumption that transmission of original sin does NOT ONLY occur concomitantly to biological reproduction.

Nonetheless I do NOT share the view that sin spreads laterally from sinners to innocent persons.

To explain how the stage of original sin is transmitted (as you can see in my article) I invoke Romans 11:32. I wonder how you do not refer at all this key point of my explanation.

I dare to disagree: epidemic spread of infectious disease is a case of “lateral propagation” by contagion. Nonetheless, I dare to insist, I do NOT endorse “lateral propagation” of the stage of original sin.

What I assert is that the declarations of the Council of Trent are compatible with the assumption that the original sin was also “transfused” into persons who biologically did not descend from Adam. This is not “a gratuitous assertion” but it is supported by the pericope of the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:2-4.

I think it is NOT fair at all to say “the Church considers that original sin … really is something like a genetic illness.” If this were so, then any sin would have consequences that become transmitted as a genetic illness!

This is exactly what I claim! But this has nothing to do with “transmission as a genetic illness”.

You overlook that in my paper I refer to the book “Im Anfang schuf Gott”, where Ratzinger published the ideas I discuss.

This book was first published in 1985 with a Preface by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, at this time already Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The second edition of the book appeared in 1996, with a Preliminary Remark by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. The third edition appeared in 2014 with both, the Preface of 1985 and the Preliminary Remark of 1996, and as author of the book appears “Joseph Ratzinger / Benedikt XVI.”

In a coming post I will continue answering your interesting comments at the end of your post on the soul, rationality, the Council of Vienne, and the origin of Humanity.

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Joshua, there is an even more graphic, and yet theologically related example: God has made not only a theological, but an ontological, difference in calling sinners to Christ. It is not merely a metaphor to say that if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. In Catholic theology, as I understand it, baptismal regeneration is every bit as miraculous as transubstantiation. But even apart from that view of baptism (or the Eucharist), the passage from unbelief to faith is that from death to life, darkness to life, the psuchikos to the pneumatikos.

And yet there is no biological difference, nor even a disernible difference - and believers even intermarry with unbelievers, with some degree of scriptural disapproval of its anomaly, in the light of the new birth.

The reason it is a good analogy for Adam, I suggest, is that it close to being the same thing: Adam was called to be a new creation, but partly miscarried. Israel was called to be a new kind of humanity, but stumbled. The new creation in Christ, applied to each person who is “in Christ”, is both overturning their sin, and completing the very purpose God had in the garden.


Hi Antoine,

Thank you for your detailed response. I’d like to address your key points, beginning with Pope Paul VI’s Credo of the People of God (1968). You commented:

Section 16 refers to the Fall of Adam, in whom all have sinned. But what does “all” refer to? According to you, it means all of humanity after the first sin. But what the Credo says is that the Fall “caused human nature, common to all men, to fall to a state in which it bears the consequences of that offense, and which is not the state in which it was at first in our first parents…” The clear implication is that “all” refers to “all men,” and that “our first parents” refers to Adam (and Eve). Your proposed reading is surely one which Pope Paul VI, when writing the Credo, never even considered.

When interpreting Church documents (or any other documents), I tend to favor an “originalist” approach. What they mean is what the original authors intended them to mean.

When I pointed out that The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of there having been a “first man,” and ascribes the Fall to “our first parents, Adam and Eve,” you replied:

First, the International Theological Commission has no teaching authority: it’s a group of theologians (not bishops) whose job it is to advise the CDF on current doctrinal questions. Second, the document you link to was composed over the period 2000-2002, or in other words, about eight to ten years after the Catechism of the Catholic Church came out. Third, the document you quote from seems to contradict what you’re claiming in paragraph 52, where it quotes from the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes:

For Adam, the first man, was a type of him who was to come, Christ the Lord. Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.

Your position, in the passage I quoted above, is that Adam is the first fallen man, who may have lived generations after the first man. Curiously, this contradicts what you write in your article, where you assign the name “Adam” to the first human being: “even if Humanity is descended from a single couple (Adam and Eve), generations may have passed before the appearance of sin” (p. 261). But let that pass. Your key point, I take it, is that the Fall may have occurred generations after the appearance of the first human beings.

You then put forward the following argument in support of your claim:

The passages you cite from Aquinas merely show that even in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve would still have had sexual intercourse and would still have had children. Nobody today disputes that, least of all myself.

Not for a moment would I maintain that Adam and Eve were predestined to fall. On the contrary: they could have rejected Satan’s temptation. When I wrote that “Neither the Credo nor the Catechism allows for this possibility,” I was referring to the possibility, after the fact, of the Fall (an event which we now know to have taken place in our past) having actually occurred several generations subsequent to Adam. I maintain that Church documents rule this possibility out. I was not discussing the possibility, prior to their fateful choice, of Adam and Eve deciding to do the right thing and choose God.

You also argue that Christ’s words in Scripture support your position:

This, I have to say, is a novel interpretation. In these verses, Jesus says nothing about “a little population,” let alone a registry of marriages. He cites Genesis 1:26-27 (“at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’”) and Genesis 2:24 (“‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’”), in order to illustrate his point that “what God has joined together, let no one separate.” I see nothing here to support the view that humanity is descended from a population rather than a couple.

I’d now like to address your remarks on the Council of Trent.

You are referring to the Nephilim, a race of giants who were declared in Genesis 6 to be the offspring of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men.” You should be well aware that Dr. Daniel van Slyke, writing for the Dead Philosophers’ Society, discusses the Nephilim in an excellent article here, which I quoted from above when replying to @swamidass. Dr. Slyke points out that while there is no consensus of the Church Fathers on the subject, St. Augustine took the view that the “sons of God” were the descendants of Seth, while the “daughters of men” were Cain’s descendants. I might add that St. Thomas Aquinas was of the same view (S.T. I, q. 51, art. 3, reply to obj. 6). In fact, he even quotes from St. Augustine on the subject. Thus Augustine and Aquinas are both in agreement that this passage says nothing about “persons who biologically did not descend from Adam.”

Re biological reproduction: like you, I don’t hold that coition is required for the transmission of original sin. People conceived via IVF or (in the future) cloning will acquire it, too. The simplest and least problematic way to interpret the decree of Trent is as follows: any individual who is genetically descended from Adam is for that reason conceived in original sin, barring individuals (Christ and His mother Mary) who are specifically exempted by God’s decree.

I am glad to hear that you reject the view that sin spreads laterally from sinners to innocent persons. (I did not accuse you of holding this view, however; as I stated above, it was Ratzinger’s view.) I’d also like to apologize for not discussing Romans 11:32 earlier, so I’ll address it now.

According to Romans 11:32 it is not suitable for the sake of Redemption that people who need Redemption coexist with people who don’t need it; therefore after the first sin only people in need of Redemption can dwell on earth and, to ensure this, God creates any new person in the state of original sin; this happens as well for human persons God creates by replacing the animal soul of an adult Homo sapiens individual with a human spiritual soul, as for those He creates in concomitance with fertilization after coition. (pp. 289-290)

Look, I have no philosophical objection to the notion you propose. I readily concede that it would be rather messy having individuals who were free from Original Sin co-existing with individuals who were suffering from it, on this Earth. (Christ and his mother Mary are of course privileged exceptions.) But the question we are discussing here is whether this unilateral decision of God, after the Fall, can be described as “transmission by propagation,” even when it relates to individuals not descended from Adam. And I would say it can’t: the rules of English and/or Latin usage simply don’t allow for that. Nor does the decree of Trent require such a creative interpretation, as I’ve shown.

I’m not sure what you’re referring to, here. Could you please elaborate?

I’d like to conclude this post by making a general observation. Your original article seems to have been written as a reaction to Dawkins’ argument (which he lifted from Darwin’s Descent of Man) that if we could go backwards from present-day humans to the common ancestor of humans and chimps, we’d find a smooth and seamless transition, with each species grading imperceptibly into the next one. To counteract that argument, you propose that the first appearance of true, rational human beings coincides with a sudden cultural break (the dawn of Neolithic civilization), rather than a biological break. I have two comments to make in response.

First, we don’t know that the evolution of species is as smooth as Dawkins claims. Remember: he’s a self-described gradualist. Nothing in the fossil record excludes the possibility of a handful of beneficial mutations occurring at some specific point in the past, rendering the human brain fit for a rational soul. And if such an event occurred, it’s unlikely that geneticists would be able to pick it up, either.

Second, the cultural markers you point to didn’t happen overnight, either. For instance, it now appears that trial plant cultivation occurred as early as 23,000 years ago - some 11,000 years prior to the supposed “dawn of agriculture” in the Middle East, some 12,000 years ago. If you’re looking for a sharp, discrete cultural event, the ones you need to look for are the dawn of language and the dawn of pair bonding (or marriage). Those are likely to have occurred hundreds of thousands of years ago. And if I’m right, they only occurred because God Himself taught the first rational humans to talk. (But that’s another story.) Cheers.

Hi Joshua and Jon,

Thank you for your posts. I’d like to respond to some of your comments.

Reading Scripture for the last 2,000 years of traditional theology, it has usually been thought that God made Adam and we all descend from Him. That is what the text seems to suggest. (Bolding mine - VJT.)

I’m glad we agree on this point.

Just as a reminder, Genesis does not only teach “There was a first man called Adam” - he has a genealogy traced down to Christ himself, children engaged in agriculture and pastoral activity, one of whom builds a city, near-descendants engaged in metallurgy and music, and within relatively few generations participation in a flood event that is also recorded in literary parallels from Mesopotamia. And just a few generations after that, with nations in the region being linked to named descendants, the run up to the call of Abraham, well into historic times, is in the city of Babylon.

I would certainly agree that Scripture portrays Adam as an individual who lived just before the dawn of agriculture and metallurgy. Whether it actually teaches those facts is doubtful, however. The Lukan genealogy of Jesus has 77 generations - an obviously symbolic number. And the fact that Cain and Abel engaged in agriculture and pastoral activity is only mentioned in Genesis 4 - although there’s a strong suggestion that Adam did as well, in the curse of Genesis 3:17-19. Nevertheless, I will concede that the most straightforward reading of Scripture favors a recent Adam.

From the evidence in the world, it really appears that, if he was recent, that Adam was not the first of his biological kind, though he could have been the first of his theological kind. Moreover, there is an ancient history to earth. Theologically and textually, there are several things that seem to accommodate, and even suggest, this notion of Adam not being the first of biological kind, but being the first of his theological kind. From that view point, science is merely filling in the details of those outside the Garden, and the traditional reading remains entirely intact. I am certain there are good starting points to fully resolve all the theological questions this raises.

That is, to say the least, surprising. It is certainly counter-intuitive. Maybe it is wrong. It certainly merits further consideration. Maybe the effort being made here will click even more of this into place.

Your suggestion certainly merits very serious consideration, Josh. I have to say I find it infinitely preferable to Kemp’s proposal. I’ve been reading and re-reading your responses, and I think, upon reflection, that you’ve answered the philosophical and theological objections to your proposal for a recent genealogical Adam. The only remaining question is whether it accords with (a) a sensible reading of Scripture and (b) Catholic tradition.

Regarding (a): for me, the text where your theory appears to founder is Genesis 3, which traces woman’s pain in childbirth back to the sin of Eve, and death back to the sin of Adam. On your proposal, men were dying and women were suffering pain in childbirth long before Adam and Eve. To be sure, you could argue that Adam and Eve’s sin ensured that their descendants would suffer these penalties, but that Scripture says nothing whatsoever about the plight of other human beings living outside the Garden at the time. But that seems to require positing two Falls: first, a Fall which occurred hundreds of thousands of years ago, leading to death and suffering for the human race, about which Scripture is silent; and second, a Fall (mentioned in Scripture) which occurred a few thousand years ago, involving two special, priestly individuals named Adam and Eve, which led to death and pain in childbirth for them and their descendants. Personally, I think that’s rather messy, but that’s my own view.

Re (b): if your proposal is correct, then there’s a lot of stuff written by the Doctors of the Church which needs to corrected - not just scientifically, but also theologically. In particular, your claim that Adam and Eve were not the first rational beings, or the first beings made in the image and likeness of God, would require a drastic rewrite of Trent and other conciliar documents, not to mention papal ones. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church doesn’t do “rewrites,” so I can’t really see it happening. But I’m willing to grant that you’ve finally managed to remove the theological obstacles to your theory, Joshua. And I certainly agree that it merits very serious consideration. Cheers.

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The Catholic Church has history of “doing rewrites” once the evidence from science necessitates it. They now realize that the Galileo affair was totally unnecessary, and put the church in a very bad light.
Now that a way of understanding that the events in Genesis 1:26-27 and ff. as compared to the Adam and Eve story in 2:5 and ff. may, in fact, be distinct from one another, and perhaps even separated in time by tens of thousands of years or more, a new and orthodox position is emerging. That death existed before the fall is simply a fact of life --without it, the planet would have been quickly overrun. That natural death was not regarded as an “enemy,” however, is a reflection of the trusting and, by comparison, morally simple nature of pre-fallen humanity, created in God’s image. This life is meaningful, and death doesn’t end our existence --never has --but our trust in God’s good provision was badly shaken (through no fault of God’s) by our betrayal of His very image within us. We deliberately defied the very first “Thou shalt not” command, preferring instead to doubt God’s motives and defy Him. This is the first in a pattern of what EVERY human being now struggles with, the curse of which Jesus Christ died to break, reconciling us to God. Orthodoxy is very much still intact with this view. Cheers!

10 posts were merged into an existing topic: Pain in Childbirth

But the Catholic Church already accepts Evolution… so it’s really just a problem for you and AGauger as far as I can see.

That is high praise from you. Thanks. I’m glad you’ve pressed into this with me.

I hope that is not the case, though I am admittedly not an expert. I’d hope that recognizing the contextual boundaries of theology would mean none of it would have to change. It is not that traditional theology was wrong, I hope, but just that it is silent on those outside the garden.

Not how I would read it. Once again, remember this is not a curse spoken over all women alive at the time, but just over Eve. Taking this view that Scripture is speaking from the perspective of Adam/Eve and their descendants, Eve was free of childbirth pains, but then in the Fall had to face them. In the same way that the Garden protected them from death, we can imagine the Garden protected her from birth pains. If they had not fallen, we would all be in the garden too, free of birth pains, but because of the fall, we are subject to birth pains.

As for the people outside the garden, we would emphasize that Scripture is silent on them. We can speculate (and infer based on evidence) that they were in their natural state, with death and birth pains. Not because of a fall, because none of them had ever had access to the Garden. Never having had access from the Garden, they could not Fall from it. Instead, they were subject to death and birth pains because that is the natural order of the world that the Garden was meant to redeem them from.

So, we do not have two falls, rather we see more clearly the redemptive plan that God instituted in the Garden, and the cost it levied on those outside the garden. It is not that they attained the Garden’s safety and then lost it (as is the case for Adam and Even in the Fall), but they never were given access. That is why Adam and Eve’s actions were so horrible; their Fall had victims.

The two Fall view is messy, which is why it is not my view either. This diagram is helpful:


The black line is the story of Adam and Eve with the Fall, and is largely silent on those outside the Garden (the grey line). As their offspring interbreed, everyone becomes fallen, but only Adam’s linage Fell from the heights of a relationship with God in the Garden. Those outside the garden (grey line), were subject to death and pains in childbirth, without access to the Garden, and Yawheh there. But they had never been offered the opportunity, as had Adam.

This, to be clear, is very well connected to the text of Genesis. We see that the Garden was a special place where something different than the natural order reigned. It is an image of the Kingdom of God. Outside the garden, the natural order reigned. Adam’s punishment was to be subject to the natural order, rather than to be blessed with the new order of the Garden.

I’ll take that. Thanks for your participation in this. Peace.

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Hi Joshua,

I’m a little puzzled. Presumably these people outside the garden sinned against the natural law, at least: they killed, committed adultery, stole, lied, and so on. And there would have been a first occasion on which they did so, several hundred thousand years ago - i.e. a Fall of sorts. Are you saying that these people outside the garden would have experienced death and pain in childbirth even if they had never committed any of these evil acts, but had remained upright for hundreds of thousands of years instead?

In that case, what you seem to be saying is that we don’t need an explanation for human death and suffering: they’re just natural, and that’s all there is to say. It’s very hard to square that with a straightforward, bald reading of Genesis 3, which is that human death and suffering are not part of God’s plan, but are a consequence of sin. I realize of course that you would interpret Genesis 3 as saying that death and suffering for descendants of Adam are a consequence of sin, but from an anthropological perspective, the chapter seems to have been written in order to explain key features of the human condition: why do we have to die? why does childbirth have to be so painful? why are humans at war with nature? why do we have to work? and so on. Thoughts?

I don’t have a dog in the larger issue of what the Catholic church might think of GA, but I want to comment on the substance of that link and associated claim.

A look at that link shows that there is less there than meets the eye. There is very little evidence for plant “cultivation”. Just harvesting and processing fields full of various kinds of edible seeds from plants which were in the wild.

IOW the data could be explained by an area with a high proportion of naturally growing weeds with edible seeds and they got the idea of gathering them in and grinding them up with many types of edible wild seeds mixed in together.

That is pretty tenuous compared to what happened 10,000 or so years later, where the ancestors of the grains we still grow today were first domesticated.

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“natural” is probably not the right way to explain it. I think they key point we are doing is creating a new theological category: “those outside the garden.” We can make some inferences about what is going on with them, but very little is directly said.

What have put forward is that Adam and Eve’s original mission was to bring them into the Garden, which implies they were worse off outside the garden. You can see a graph of this below, noting that the grey reminds us that Scripture is largely silent about them, because they do not exist any more.


However, Adam fell, and then caused those outside the garden to fall too. Once again, Adam’s fall is the fall of all mankind. Scripture does not mention much about those outside the Garden, because they no longer exist.


So the key questions you are asking are all resolved, I’m certain, by this new third category, while remembering that traditional theology sometimes speculated about the, but certainly never made any strong statements about them. Because of this silence, we have a free variable now that enables us to resolve all the puzzles you’ve raised.

So, what is the Garden like? We could say, (1) in the presence of Yahweh’s theophany in a special way, (2) free of physical and spiritual death, (3) initially free of wrongdoing and transgression, (4) free of working by the sweat of our brow, in a land free of thistles, and (5) free of pains of childbirth. The Garden, essentially, might be exactly and literally as described by traditional theology, as long as we remember that it had borders. This was Adam and Eve’s natural state, into which they are created.

So what was the Fall like? In the narrative, the Fall is a process of exile, where (1) access to the Garden is cutoff, (2) Adam will now have to eat by working the land, full of thistles, (3) Eve, and all her daughters, would now face pain in childbirth, (4) both would now face physical and spiritual death, and (5) they and all their descendants would be subjection to transgression and corruption. By transgression here, I mean both original sin, and also the consequences of knowledgeably violating a divine decree with wrongdoing.

So, what about outside the Garden, before the Fall? So, to resolve the questions you are raising, we could can imagine that outside the garden (1) there was wrongdoing, but this was not knowledgeably violating a divine command, (2) there was physical death, (3) there was pain in childbirth, and (4) there was effort required to eat (hunting or farming). This was the beginning state of those outside the Garden.

So, clearly the Garden is better than outside the Garden, but the Fallen world is worse.

We can adjust the qualities of those outside the garden as needed, because both Scripture and theology is largely silent about them. Though there are hints. For example, Romans does make a strong distinction between knowledgeable and ignorant wrongdoing (both of which are “missing the mark” and referred to by hamartia). Like wise, the Genesis narrative makes clear that Adam was created conditionally immortal, reliant on the Tree of Life for mortality, which did not exist outside the Garden. As long as those outside the garden are worse of than those in the Garden, but better of than the Fallen, we have a coherent story.

Once again it comes down to what we mean by “human”. Scripture refers exclusively to the descendants of Adam, and for them the explanation of human death and suffering is Adam’s transgression. For those outside the Garden, Scripture is silent about them, but God intended to bring them into a death free Garden, before Adam fell. So Adam’s fall, his transgression, caused a great deal of death and suffering, but they are not the “humans” to which Scripture refers.

And the narrative does explain these key features of the human condition. This is not what God intends for us, and he initially created Adam in an environment free from it. Because of his transgression, we lost access to this gift. We still long for the Garden, even though it is gone. As descendants of Adam, in our history we once tasted it, but then our ancestors chose something different, and we are all not suffering.

Really nothing of our story changes by acknowledging that there were, a very long time ago, people outside the garden. Perhaps they were created in a different way, but Adam, our first parent, was created exactly as God intended it. Adam’s story ends up dominating our story, because we are Adam’s children.

Does that not leave traditional theology entirely intact?

2 posts were merged into an existing topic: Does De Novo Adam in an Evolved Population Make Sense?

So we agree in the key principle of my explanation about transmission of original sin.

With this common ground we can surely proceed to a good and constructive debate.


Nonetheless nothing speaks against assuming that there have been other persons in history who come into existence without sharing the stage of original sin: “Adam and Eve” are obvious examples; and in my view this is also the case of Melchizedek. But to avoid excessive broadening now I prefer to postpone this question to future posts.

This is a very good remark, which allows me to elaborate my explanation.

First of all, note that it is by no means a “unilateral decision of God”. The main decision was a human one: that leading to the first sin. On God’s part the decision consisted in assenting to redeem the sinners. His Love led him to “bound all in disobedience in order to have mercy on all” (Romans 11:32). Accordingly the “state of original sin” (“not an act”) consists mainly in the lack of the “state of original grace”, that is, the state which the first Image Bearers were made in. It is this “lack of original grace” what is transfused at the generation of each new human person coming into existence after the first transgression no matter how this generation takes place. The only cause and author of the “lack of original grace” is obviously the first sinner. After the first sin God had the choice between a) sending again and again sinners to hell so that on earth remained only people in state of original grace, and b) redeeming the sinners and to this aim let on earth only people sharing in “the stage of lack of original grace”. Fortunately for us God decided on the latter!

Secondly, the capacity to sin in each human person emerges at the very moment of her generation by God, that is, the instant when God creates a spiritual principle (“soul”) to animate a piece of “flesh” (biological stuff originating through evolution) and a human personal body appears.

In absence of “original grace” at the instant the “soul” starts animating the biological stuff, the evolutionary “frailty of the flesh” and “selfish tendencies” become spiritual vulnerability to sin (“concupiscence”, in the sense of 1 John 2:16). The “neuro-psychological weakness of the human body” results from the weakness of the “soul” (intellect and will) to master the “evolutionary background” and handle according to the principle of love. But we do NOT sin because of this weakness (otherwise God would be the author of sin, what is absurd), but because we freely decide to sin, tempted by “selfish evolutionary tendencies” (1 John 2:16).

Accordingly, what is passed on genetically is the “selfish evolutionary background”. By contrast the “spiritual vulnerability to sin” emerges at the very moment of the generation of each person.

In this sense “vulnerability to sin” is nothing other than “the stage of need of Redemption” (the so called “stage of original sin”). Hence, the “original sin’s transmission” does NOT happen genetically, it happens at generation. For this reason I think it is NOT fair proposing as teaching of the Church that “original sin really is something like a genetic illness.” If this were the case then any personal sin would also pass on genetically to the descendants of the sinner.

In conclusion: Before the first sin was committed, God empowered the human “souls” (i.e.: personal bodies) with so called “original Grace” so that temptation could only be of spiritual origin, and sin could only be sin of pride. After the first sin, by God’s mercy, all humanity on earth is “in need of Redemption” (in “state of original sin” or “lack of original grace”). This “need of Redemption” propagates by transmission at the generation of each human person coming into existence after the first sin, and therefore is transfused to all mankind and is in each person as her own.

The Decree of Trent is formulated in such a way that “such a creative interpretation” fits quite well with the Dogmatic Declarations of the Council, the only dogmatic definitions of the Church in this respect. In this I see (in agreement with Acts 15:28) a clear confirmation that in Ecumenical Councils the main player is the Holy Spirit!

Hi @AntoineSuarez,

Thank you for your response. Just to get a few issues out of the way: I quite agree with you that there may have been other individuals, in addition to Christ and His mother Mary, who were conceived free from original sin (e.g. St. Joseph, St. John the Baptist or Melchizidek).

As I stated in my last post, I agree with you that it would have been messy to have a world in which individuals who were free from Original Sin co-existed with individuals who were suffering from it. And in an earlier post, I stated that while Original Sin is passed down with our DNA, I don’t think it’s passed down in our DNA. A team of scientists in the future could perhaps turn off the human genes associated with the “frailty of the flesh” and “selfish tendencies” which you refer to in your last post, but human souls generated by God would still be created suffering from weakness of the will and darkness of the intellect.

I am a little puzzled by your remark that after the first sin, God had the choice of “sending again and again sinners to hell so that on earth remained only people in state of original grace.” Surely the mere act of sinning does not merit hell.

You also write:

Hence, the “original sin’s transmission” does NOT happen genetically, it happens at generation. For this reason I think it is NOT fair proposing as teaching of the Church that “original sin really is something like a genetic illness.” If this were the case then any personal sin would also pass on genetically to the descendants of the sinner.

I should point out here that modern biologists are in agreement that acquired characteristics are not inherited. Personal sin is an acquired characteristic.

As I see it, the real point at issue between us comes down to why every human being conceived today is conceived in a state of Original Sin. First, you appear to believe that it’s because there would be something profoundly unfitting about a world where unfallen and fallen humans, the former free from suffering and death and the latter subject to it, coexisted. Second, you additionally argue that it would be more appropriate if God had mercy on the entire human race, in line with what St. Paul says in Romans 11:32: “For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” But if I were to ask why God has bound everyone, I think you would fall back on your first argument. Now, I would agree that your first argument carries weight. And I would even agree that on the explanation you propose, one could say that every human being conceived in Original Sin is conceived that way because of the sin originally committed by the first human sinner. But that doesn’t make these conceptions instances of transmission by propagation. Propagation, whichever way you slice it and dice it, refers to something which is passed on, or transmitted, where the original progenitor is not only the reason (or final cause) but also the efficient cause (to borrow an Aristotelian term) of the transmission to his descendants: he’s the one who makes it happen. It seems to me that your model would make of Adam (or the first sinner) merely a bad exemplar (or negative role model), rather than an efficient cause. So I think that’s the big point between us, regarding Original Sin.

I shall let you respond. Cheers.

In case of the angels after the act of sinning they are no longer capable of freely loving God by any means, that is, God could not redeem them (move them to atone) without annihilating their free will. Thus, by sinning the angels damned themselves to hell.

In case of humans the act of sinning does not make Redemption impossible. However God was not obliged to redeem human sinners: He had could very well fill Heaven (i.e.: achieve the aim of Creation) by “sending again and again sinners to hell and letting on earth only righteous people who had come to heaven after a time”. Fortunately for us God in his mercy “invented” the state of original sin: “He bounded all to disobedience in order to have mercy on all”.


For St. Joseph I think like you.

For St. John the Baptist I rather think he became sanctified in his mother Elisabeth’s womb when she heard Mary’s greeting.

The case of Melchizedek seems to me particularly interesting to better understand the origins of humanity. Anyway it deserves more detailed discussion we can have in a separate post.

Magnificent! Here we have common ground. In fact the very thrust of the Catholic Teaching about Original Sin (including Humani generis) is that one has to discuss the origin of humanity outgoing from Jesus Christ’s Redemption and not discuss Jesus Christ’s Redemption outgoing from “Adam and Eve”: The axiom is always Redemption, not a “primeval single couple”.

Well, if we acknowledge Adam’s sin as “happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!” then one could distinguish two “efficient causes”, one responsible for the “fault” (Adam) and the other for the “happy” (the Redeemer). In any case the “final cause” is not “the original progenitor” but God’s aim for Creation (filling heaven). Accordingly Adam (the first sinner) is not “merely a bad exemplar” but the very author or causa prima responsible and accountable for the first sin and therefore for the state of need of Redemption produced by the first sin; whereas God’s will of Redemption is so to speak causa secunda of this state: without God’s will there would be no Redemption and thereby no state of need of Redemption (original sin). In summary, what propagates is the “state of need of Redemption” or “deprivation of original holiness and justice” (as the Catechism of Catholic Church, Nr. 405, referring to the Council of Trent, states).

By the way, in metaphysical discussions I prefer to use the concepts of “author” and “authorship” instead of “cause” and “causality”: the latter trigger “materialistic” reflexes involving processes like “stones breaking glass-windows” that hinder arguing properly, in particular when proving God’s existence.

In another post you have claimed:

You seem to overlook that evolution could very well have produced human beings in other planets. If Martians appear, who look anatomically like we, we can be sure that they are in “state of original sin” and therefore entitled to Redemption to the same extent as we Terrestrials are. So Pope Francis’ view seems to support my explanation of “transmission at generation”, and him one can hardly deny “teaching authority”:smile:

A post was split to a new topic: Nephilim and the Sons of God

2 posts were split to a new topic: Catholics, Evolution, and the Soul

The Scripture says “Cain built a city”. Did Cain come across a multitude of homeless people and build a city for them? How can one man build an entire city?

The obvious meaning of “Cain built a city” is “Cain founded a city” or “Cain built a settlement that eventually became a city”, which is entirely possible as he could have lived for hundreds of years after founding said settlement.