A Catholic Approach to the Genealogical Adam


@swamidass Joshua, you have probably already seen these documents, but you asked: From Humani Generis:

  1. It remains for Us to say something on the questions which, although they have to do with the disciplines which are customarily called “positive,” yet are more or less connected with the truths of Christian faith. Not a few insistently demand that the Catholic religion give as much consideration as possible to these disciplines. Surely, this is praiseworthy when it is a case of actually proven facts, but caution must be exercised when the question concerns “hypotheses,” although in some manner based on human knowledge, in which hypotheses doctrine is discussed which is contained in the Sacred Scriptures or in “tradition.” When such conjectural opinions are opposed directly or indirectly to the doctrine revealed by God, then their demand can in no way be admitted.

  2. Wherefore, the magisteriumof the Church does not forbid that the teaching of “evolution” be treated in accord with the present status of human disciplines and of theology, by investigations and disputations by learned men in both fields; insofar, of course, as the inquiry is concerned with the origin of the human body arising from already existing and living matter; as to the souls, the Catholic faith demands us to hold that they are immediately created by God. This must be done in such a way that the reasonings of both opinions, namely those in favor and those opposed to evolutionism, are weighed and judged with due seriousness, moderation, and temperance; and provided that all are ready to yield to the judgment of the Church, to which Christ has entrusted the duty of interpreting Sacred Scriptures authentically, and of preserving the dogmas of faith. Yet some with daring boldness transgress this freedom of discussion, acting as if the origin of the human body from previously existing and living matter, were already certain and demonstrated from certain already discovered indications, and deduced by reasoning, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this thinking.

  3. When there is a question of another conjectural opinion, namely, of polygenism so-called, then the sons of the Church in no way enjoy such freedom. For the faithful in Christ cannot accept this view, which holds that either after Adam there existed men on this earth, who did not receive their origin by natural generation from him, the first parent of all; or that Adam signifies some kind of multitude of first parents; for it is by no means apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with what the sources of revealed truth and the acts of the magisteriumof the Church teaches about original sin, which proceeds from a sin truly committed by one Adam, and which is transmitted to all by generation, and exists in each one as his own [cf. Rom 5:12-19; Concilium Tridentinum, Sessio V, canones 1-4 ].

Pius XII, Enc. Humani Generis (1950), English transl. from the original Latin source in H. Denzinger - P. Hünermann, Enchiridion Simbolorum, definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum (Freiburg i.B.: Herder, 1991), DH 3895-3897.

I’ll quote JPII in the next block


To be clear, I am not making that proposal. I am affirming that all men that Scripture refers to descend from Adam by generation.

Also, I am not affirming polygenesis, but disputing it alongside you.


And this is from John Paul II’s address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences

Pope John Paul II
Magisterium Is Concerned with Question of Evolution for It Involves Conception of Man
Message delivered to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences 22 October 1996

  1. Taking into account the scientific research of the era, and also the proper requirements of theology, the encyclical Humani Generis treated the doctrine of “evolutionism” as a serious hypothesis, worthy of investigation and serious study, alongside the opposite hypothesis. Pius XII added two methodological conditions for this study: one could not adopt this opinion as if it were a certain and demonstrable doctrine, and one could not totally set aside the teaching Revelation on the relevant questions. He also set out the conditions on which this opinion would be compatible with the Christian faith—a point to which I shall return.

Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than an hypothesis.* In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies—which was neither planned nor sought—constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory.

What is the significance of a theory such as this one? To open this question is to enter into the field of epistemology. A theory is a meta-scientific elaboration, which is distinct from, but in harmony with, the results of observation. With the help of such a theory a group of data and independent facts can be related to one another and interpreted in one comprehensive explanation. The theory proves its validity by the measure to which it can be verified. It is constantly being tested against the facts; when it can no longer explain these facts, it shows its limits and its lack of usefulness, and it must be revised.

Moreover, the elaboration of a theory such as that of evolution, while obedient to the need for consistency with the observed data, must also involve importing some ideas from the philosophy of nature.

And to tell the truth, rather than speaking about the theory of evolution, it is more accurate to speak of the theories of evolution. The use of the plural is required here—in part because of the diversity of explanations regarding the mechanism of evolution, and in part because of the diversity of philosophies involved. There are materialist and reductionist theories, as well as spiritualist theories. Here the final judgment is within the competence of philosophy and, beyond that, of theology.

  1. The magisterium of the Church takes a direct interest in the question of evolution, because it touches on the conception of man, whom Revelation tells us is created in the image and likeness of God. The conciliar constitution Gaudium et Spes has given us a magnificent exposition of this doctrine, which is one of the essential elements of Christian thought. The Council recalled that “man is the only creature on earth that God wanted for its own sake.” In other words, the human person cannot be subordinated as a means to an end, or as an instrument of either the species or the society; he has a value of his own. He is a person. By this intelligence and his will, he is capable of entering into relationship, of communion, of solidarity, of the gift of himself to others like himself. St. Thomas observed that man’s resemblance to God resides especially in his speculative intellect, because his relationship with the object of his knowledge is like God’s relationship with his creation. (Summa Theologica I-II, q 3, a 5, ad 1) But even beyond that, man is called to enter into a loving relationship with God himself, a relationship which will find its full expression at the end of time, in eternity. Within the mystery of the risen Christ the full grandeur of this vocation is revealed to us. (Gaudium et Spes, 22) It is by virtue of his eternal soul that the whole person, including his body, possesses such great dignity. Pius XII underlined the essential point: if the origin of the human body comes through living matter which existed previously, the spiritual soul is created directly by God (“animas enim a Deo immediate creari catholica fides non retimere iubet”). (Humani Generis)

As a result, the theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. They are therefore unable to serve as the basis for the dignity of the human person.

  1. With man, we find ourselves facing a different ontological order—an ontological leap, we could say. But in posing such a great ontological discontinuity, are we not breaking up the physical continuity which seems to be the main line of research about evolution in the fields of physics and chemistry? An appreciation for the different methods used in different fields of scholarship allows us to bring together two points of view which at first might seem irreconcilable. The sciences of observation describe and measure, with ever greater precision, the many manifestations of life, and write them down along the time-line. The moment of passage into the spiritual realm is not something that can be observed in this way—although we can nevertheless discern, through experimental research, a series of very valuable signs of what is specifically human life. But the experience of metaphysical knowledge, of self-consciousness and self-awareness, of moral conscience, of liberty, or of aesthetic and religious experience—these must be analyzed through philosophical reflection, while theology seeks to clarify the ultimate meaning of the Creator’s designs.



The price of admission for this scenario is that using fairly conservative migration assumptions, within about 2000 years of interbreeding between the evolved population of humans and the special creation of the Adam/Eve pair, all the humans alive (say, just a few years before the birth of Jesus) would be able to count Adam & Eve as one of the Universal Ancestral Couples. This scenario specifically allows for multiple Universal Ancestral Couples. It is unavoidable.



You left out the first part of the quote.

For the faithful in Christ cannot accept this view, which holds that either after Adam there existed men on this earth, who did not receive their origin by natural generation from him, the first parent of all; or that Adam signifies some kind of multitude of first parents;

As far as I can tell, your proposal fails on both counts.

This is for @vjtorley I support his concern about the nature of the transition, if there was one, from non-sentient to sentient being, that the body and soul must be suitable for each other. You cannot impose a soul onto a hominid body that is itself incapable of sentience. And if it is capable of sentience but has no soul, what is it? What os needed is an ontological leap, as Pope John Paul II says.



But wait,

For the faithful in Christ cannot accept this view, …that Adam signifies some kind of multitude of first parents;


Do not fault me for trying though =). At least we have the option of putting a single couple bottleneck at 700 kya or 2 mya for you.

I’m not making either of these claims.

I am suggesting that there were sentient beings (with souls) before Adam, but they were not “men” in the sense that Scripture or the statement is referring to here. This does not violate the doctrine.

I am suggesting that all men, as understood as such by theology, do descend by natural generation from Adam. So this is consistent with the doctrine.

At least it seems consistent to me.

No, Adam is not signifying a multitude of first parents in this view. He is a single first parent (with Eve of course).



And just to avoid a mis-understanding, Adam is a “single” first parent in that he is One of them.
The mathematics of genealogy makes it possible for all those humans alive after about 2000 years, from a founding population, to have multiple “Universal Ancestral Pairs”… with Adam & Eve being the key mating pair.


I hope you saw my argument on his behalf…



I read the document to say that the Genesis account of Adam is not to be read with Adam as one among many first parents. Certainly Pius XII had nothing like your proposal in mind when he wrote his encyclical.

BTW, before it comes up, I should also state that not all papal statements carry equal weight. An encyclical is pretty dern high. An address to a Pontifical Academy, whether by JPII or Pope Francis, is not even close to it in significance.



The point of this scenario is to resolve the tension between those who are compelled by the massive amount of material evidence for Evolution … and who are also compelled that theologically speaking, there is a necessary role for a specially created human couple.

This combination of factors resolves other issues: who lives in the City of Cain, and how we can have every human alive (by the time of the birth of Jesus) that all descend from Adam/Eve.


Yes I saw your response. Yes, I agree it could happened by sudden transformation at the instant of conception, because that is supposed to be when the soul is infused. Vincent?
It would take many hundreds of mutations though, and obvious design :slight_smile:



The population of pre-Adam humans could range anywhere from 10,000 to 1,000,000 - - the end result of millions of years of Primate evolution (God-Guided).

Adam & Even would be specially created about 6000 years ago, with God guiding the incremental inter-breeding that would eventually encompass all of humanity.


I would agree that Pius XII did not have me in mind, or my ideas =). He also was making that statement with polygenesis in mind, making a stand against it. Moreover, his statement was conditional, on not being able to see how other views might be made consistent with Scripture.

I’m suggesting that all the “men” of theology are descents of Adam. Those that do not descend from him (1) no longer exist, and (2) are not the “men” of theology, and (3) might have been the same biological kind (monophylogeny, which is not polygenesis). I am also arguing this is consistent with Scripture. The fact that genealogical descent from Adam is required to be one of the “men” of Scripture means he is our first parent, perhaps even without parents of his own.

Maybe I am wrong, but I do not see the conflict with the papal statement. Though, as I freely admit, I am not a Catholic and have no idea how you guys engage things like this. @AntoineSuarez seems to be affirming evolutionary science (including large population size) in a different way, and has written a lot about this.

How could you possibly know it would be many thousands of mutations though? How is this obvious design if we cannot even identify this mutations and prove that they are from God? Rather, I’d say its an example of how limited science is in resolving questions of our origins.



I understand how the scenario allows both common descent and a first couple, even de novo, to be possible.

But it does not comport with our high calling that God would use such a means of creating us. Why would he do such a thing? For what purpose? I place a very high value on our de novo creation, precisely because Christ.

To put this in context:



And you have your de novo creation. Why is it that you doubt the Vatican’s leadership on the reality of evolution - - in addition to the de novo creation?

Truth is one. Evolution and God’s creative forces are not mutually exclusive, since God is perfectly able to use Evolution as part of the process.

You refer to a council … and yet you reject the modern Catholic doctrine that assures us all that Evolution is not fraudulent.

Do you accept at all the idea that natural selection is a normal part of human and primate speciation ?


I suppose it is very close to what I read in Scripture. It says we are “from the dust,” which is a statement that is literally saying we are made out of dirt. We have a high calling, but not because of the way God made us. We have a high calling because of His grace.

Reading Genesis 1, we see Elohim calling to the land and sea to make plans and animals of many kinds. He is portrayed as a disembodied spirit, and “they” create “male and female” in “their” Image. The story ends with rest, which appears to be when God enters creation. Then in Genesis 2, Yawheh (not Elohim) appears as a theophany (with breath, hands, and can be hidden from) who then molds Adam from dust, and then places him in a Garden.

The text just seems to read like this is how God did it. We are made from very humble beginnings, continuous and discontinuous with other creatures. God is mindful of us, and gives us a high calling, but we are still of the dust. Keep in mind also that there are no scientific objections to God inspiring mutations along the way either. It just seems as if we share common descent with the great apes.

Regarding the other quote, I affirm all that too. Not sure what is being contradicted by this account and those words. I agree that we all have intrinsic worth.

@agauger is potentially open to common descent, but believes that God had to have inspired some mutations along the way. that is not necessarily in conflict with mainstream science, as long as faulty arguments are not marshaled in support of this position. There is no reason to pressure her on this. Let’s treat her with kindness.

By the way, @agauger thanks for engaging here. I appreciate your contributions.


@swamidass and @Agauger:

I’m perfectly find with the concept that God inspired - - or even executed - - mutations along the way. This has been my position for more than a few years now.

However, I find the phrase "AGauger is potentially open to common descent… " to be a little evasive. Isn’t common descent and natural selection an obvious part of I.D.? If you don’t have natural selection contributing to speciation … it really doesn’t matter how old you think the Earth is.

A combination of Natural selection and God-Guided-Evolution make a very good combination for how primates evolved into the pre-Adam human population… plus a de novo creation of Adam/Eve.


@swamidass and @gbrooks9

Thanks for the kind words, Josh. Just remember not to treat me like someone slow of mind. I know you don’t mean to be patronizing, but sometimes you are.

George, Josh is right. I don’t respond well to pressure. And we have been round the mulberry bush of old earth and ID before. ID does not mean automatic acceptance of common descent. There could have been punctuated bursts of creation–in fact the sudden appearance and diversification of major taxonomic groups argues in favor of that. But I also must say not everything is sudden, and the boundaries of what unguided mutation and selection can accomplish are not clear.
Got to go.



This is certainly the best and clearest explanation of the balance of your views where the I.D. thoughts intersect with the Evolutionary thoughts. And I think this will give some peace of mind regarding how you are examining @swamidass’ presentations.

The pressure I may have exerted here and there in earlier postings was triggered by what I feared was a completely “secret slate” of views.

I think BioLogos is the natural home for the view that God engages both I.D. elements and evolutionary elements in his separation of Humans from the greater Primate branch of the animal kingdom. For me, there is really no other way to frame a Christian’s engagement with evolutionary science.

I do not oppose I.D. in principle - - it is clear to me that any Christian holds to some kind of I.D. position, even if he doesn’t realize it. I oppose YECs who disguise a thoroughly anti-Evolutionary stance behind an I.D. persona; if evolution isn’t in there, bridging episodes of I.D., then such I.D. personas are frauds: they are simply Creationists building sand castles in the wilderness. Why? Because it eliminates any openness to a non-divine “intelligence” - - only the Biblical God creates so quickly (6 days).

Any other credible “intelligence” would require more time and more lawful evolution to make the kind of Earth and the kinds of life forms that the evidence tells us we have.