A Catholic Approach to the Genealogical Adam


Vincent - “single author” is not the only alternative to “multiple contradictory sources” - so both John Sailhamer and Seth Postell, for example, believe in a Mosaic core with a prophetic redaction later - and as importantly, in the overarching governance of the Holy Spirit in compositional strategy. And there is a bigger trend in modern scholarship away from picking out the differences in sources to a hermeneutic based on the final author’s use of them - in other words, authors are slowly displacing mere editors, with a correspondingly greater reliance on what the text says, rather than where it is apparently inconsistent.

So whatever traditions were carried forward in Gen 1-11, they function within the canonical Torah, which has an overarching, single, theological narrative on which I base my view.

So I’ve also written evaluating the various early interpretations of the Nephilim episode, all of which (of course) postdate the original material by many centuries and many twists of theological discourse. We have to take them into account, but look for what we may have missed in the original authorial intention.

I would just add that I’m not thoroughly convinced that a dependance on Catholic doctrine based, finally, on many centuries of literal and traditional interpretation and a recourse to source criticism belong naturally in the same model. Parts of the Catholic tradition seem strongly supported from the text to me, but (to name an example you have covered) the immortality of the rational soul appears to me one of the weaker arguments of Aquinas, and begs the question of why death came when Adam and Eve lost access to the tree of life.



I hope you are not going to be in the habit of publishing a sentence of critique for every sentence I write. If you do… I’ll start to shorten my posts… and let you suffer from the ambiguities this might unintentionally create. My apologies for not remembering that you are not a YEC. At BioLogos, we really don’t have many Catholics writing.

I’m going to skip over all the prickles you invested in… and focus on your last paragraph:

"Here’s what the Orthodox Church teaches: “Concerning the original—or ‘first’—sin, that committed by Adam and Eve, Orthodoxy believes that, while everyone bears the consequences of the first sin, the foremost of which is death, only Adam and Eve are guilty of that sin.” That’s really pretty much the Catholic position. (The Orthodox seem to think we also believe in something called inherited guilt, but that’s because they’re mistranslating what Trent decreed in Latin.) "

Roman Catholics quite authentically believe in Original Sin. [<<< BIG EDIT!]

The sentence you highlight “everyone bears the consequences of the first sin, the foremost of which is death” is a statement of Biblical fact. All humanity lives outside of Eden, because of the first sin.

This is not what Augustine describes. The Catholic Church construes his and other writings pretty explicitly:

Adam/Eve’s sin has been passed on to all subsequent human generations.


Hi Joshua,

I’d now like to address your revised Catholic Genealogical Adam scenario.

First (Genesis 1), God creates all humankind, male and female, in His Image, as rational beings, with rational souls, as a community. He does this by miraculously giving all our ancestors alive at a point in history (either 400 kya or 2 mya), instantly, the genetic capacity for rationality. This could take place by putting a set key mutations instantly into their genomes, or into all embryos in a generation. Consequently, in a single generation all our ancestors would become rational souls. To be clear, they are all in the Image of God, and they all have the same biological type of as Adam (e.g. Homo sapiens, or Homo genus).

I’m fairly happy with this part, although I’d prefer the number of ancestors to be as small as possible. However, we’ve discussed that already. In any case, I see nothing theologically wrong with this section of your proposal.

Second (Genesis 2), at a later time or maybe the same time (perhaps 15 kya with the rise of agriculture, or 6 kya with the rise of written language), God creates de novo (or chooses) Adam and Eve and places them in a divine Garden. They live for a time here, but then they fall. As their offspring interbreed with others, they become ancestors of us all, transmitting original sin to all their natural (genealogical) descendants. In this way, by the time Paul writes Romans, all rational souls in the world are all just as described by Scripture: infected with original sin…
Adam’s descendants alone are the “true men” to which Pius XII’s statement in Humani Generis refers. For this reason, Adam is the first father of all true men.

I have to say I find this very unsettling, and hard to wrap my mind around. It would seem to imply that, for instance, Tasmanian Aborigines or Amazonian Indians living 6,000 years ago were not “true men.” And yet, at the same time, they’re said to have rational souls, made in the image of God. If a human with a rational soul, made in the image of God, is not a true man, then what is he?

Your statement that Adam’s descendants alone are the “true men” to which Pius XII’s statement in Humani Generis refers, would also have the bizarre implication that Adam himself was not a true man. Furthermore, how do you explain Genesis 1:26, where God says, “Let us make mankind in our image"?

Whether we regard Genesis 1 and 2 as having been written by one author or two, to me it seems wrong to drive a wedge between the two narratives. Genesis 2 was written in order to answer basic existential questions such as: how were the first man and woman made, what separates them from the animals, and why do men and women get married? Genesis 1:26-31 tries to answer some of these questions, too: what makes mankind so special, what is our relationship to the animals, and what is the purpose of men and women? To see these accounts as referring to completely different time periods strikes me as an unnatural reading of the first two chapters. From my perspective, it seems as if Genesis 2 is recapitulating Genesis 1, albeit with a somewhat different slant.

I’ll close with a statement from St. Augustine’s City of God, Book XVI, chapter 8:

But whoever is anywhere born a man, that is, a rational, mortal animal, no matter what unusual appearance he presents in color, movement, sound, nor how peculiar he is in some power, part, or quality of his nature, no Christian can doubt that he springs from that one protoplast [Adam]. We can distinguish the common human nature from that which is peculiar, and therefore wonderful… Accordingly, it ought not to seem absurd to us, that as in individual race there are monstrous births, so in the whole race there are monstrous races. Wherefore, to conclude this question cautiously and guardedly, either these things which have been told of some races have no existence at all; or if they do exist, they are not human races; or if they are human, they are descended from Adam.

Note that St. Augustine does not write: “if they are human and born after 1 A.D., they are descended from Adam.” His principle is a universal one. And as far as I can tell, all of the Church Fathers would have agreed with him on this point.

Finally, I’d like to address your main reason for accepting a recent Adam - namely, that “the text places him in what, by all reasonable standards, is a recent period.” By making Adam the father of Cain and Abel (an agriculturist and a pastoralist), Genesis does seem to imply that Adam lived only a few thousand years ago. But this, I would argue, is not a vital part of the story. If, as I suggested above in my reply to @gbrooks9, the author of Genesis 1-11 was weaving various accounts together as best he could, then it’s quite reasonable to suppose that he linked the Adam and Eve narrative to the Cain and Abel story by inventing an etymology tying them to Eve, and making them Adam and Eve’s sons. But did he intend to teach that? I rather doubt it. Alternatively, we may suppose that Genesis 3-4 is simply telescoping history, although I would agree that telescoping 400,000 years into a single generation is quite drastic!

Anyway, I hope that answers your questions.


This aspect of Catholic teaching is often misunderstood, so I’ll quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

397 Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness.
398 In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Created in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully “divinized” by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to “be like God”, but “without God, before God, and not in accordance with God”.
399 Scripture portrays the tragic consequences of this first disobedience. Adam and Eve immediately lose the grace of original holiness. They become afraid of the God of whom they have conceived a distorted image - that of a God jealous of his prerogatives.
400 The harmony in which they had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination. Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man. Because of man, creation is now subject “to its bondage to decay”. Finally, the consequence explicitly foretold for this disobedience will come true: man will “return to the ground”, for out of it he was taken. Death makes its entrance into human history.
The consequences of Adam’s sin for humanity
402 All men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as St. Paul affirms: “By one man’s disobedience many (that is, all men) were made sinners”: “sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.” The Apostle contrasts the universality of sin and death with the universality of salvation in Christ. “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.”
403 Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam’s sin and the fact that he has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the “death of the soul”. Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin.
404 How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? the whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one man”. By this “unity of the human race” all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state. It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. and that is why original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed” - a state and not an act.
405 Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence". Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.

Note that the Catechism insists that original sin, while transmitted to all Adam’s descendants, is not a personal fault in those descendants, and that it consists of a deprivation of original holiness and justice. It even adds that “original sin is called ‘sin’ only in an analogical sense.” I really do not think that there’s anything here in the Catechism which the Orthodox would object to. They may use different terminology, but essentially, their belief is the same.

I hope that answers your questions.


Addendum to last post: what I mean by my last point is this: you believe in an Adam 100,000 years or so ago, because of fragmentary sources which have loose ends and many authors.

Where did such sources come from? One can believe, perhaps, in a “dictation” kind of inspiration revealing long lost prehistory, but what kind of human sources tell anything meaningful, let alone doctrinally binding, from that long ago?



A sin “contracted” is still Original Sin. Your attempt to remove the doctrine of Original Sin from Catholic Doctrine is noble… but it is without force.


This text does not close the door to the possibility that the teaching of the Church can be reconciled with “polygenism”. What is more, Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) noted as early as 1964: “With this text a door is in principle quite clearly opened”. As a matter of fact, after Humani generis neither a Pope nor the current Catechism of the Catholic Church has advocated that humanity is genetically or genealogically descended from a single individual.

Allow me to quote from the Credo of the People of God by Pope Paul VI (1968):

  1. We believe that in Adam all have sinned, which means that the original offense committed by him 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—established as they were in holiness and justice, and in which man knew neither evil nor death.

Adam and Eve are described as “our first parents,” Adam is described as a single individual (“committed by him,” not “by them”) and Adam is said to have committed “the original offense.” How much plainer can one get?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is similarly clear:

374 The first man was not only created good, but was also established in friendship with his Creator and in harmony with himself and with the creation around him, in a state that would be surpassed only by the glory of the new creation in Christ.
375 The Church, interpreting the symbolism of biblical language in an authentic way, in the light of the New Testament and Tradition, teaches that our first parents, Adam and Eve, were constituted in an original “state of holiness and justice”. This grace of original holiness was “to share in. . .divine life”…
391 Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”…
399 Scripture portrays the tragic consequences of this first disobedience. Adam and Eve immediately lose the grace of original holiness.

The Catechism speaks of there being a “first man,” and ascribes the Fall to “our first parents, Adam and Eve.” The obvious implication of these passages is that these two individuals are the sole human progenitors of us all.

This is at odds with your claim, in your article, that “even if Humanity is descended from a single couple (Adam and Eve), generations may have passed before the appearance of sin” (p. 261). Neither the Credo nor the Catechism allows for this possibility.

In fact, what Humani generis, referring to the Council of Trent, declares to be the Teaching of the Church is this:
*Before the first humans sinned, they did not need Redemption.
*Once the first humans sinned, all humanity needs Redemption.
And this amounts to stating that:
Anyone’s sin S would have been Original sin, if S had been the first sin in human history, i.e.: if he/she had been the first sinner and S his/her first sin.

I’m afraid this doesn’t accord with what the Council of Trent declared in its Decree on Original Sin (1546):

  1. If any one asserts, that the prevarication of Adam injured himself alone, and not his posterity; and that the holiness and justice, received of God, which he lost, he lost for himself alone, and not for us also; or that he, being defiled by the sin of disobedience, has only transfused death, and pains of the body, into the whole human race, but not sin also, which is the death of the soul; let him be anathema:–whereas he contradicts the apostle who says; By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.

It goes on to say that original sin was transfused “transfused into all by propagation, not by imitation.” You, on the other hand, are prepared to at least countenance (though you do not positively endorse it) the suggestion, made by Ratzinger, that “the original sin of one or more persons spread laterally to all human persons who lived at that time” (p. 270), which is neither propagation nor imitation.“Lateral propagation” is an oxymoron. To pretend otherwise is an abuse of language. The word propagation is defined as “the breeding of specimens of a plant or animal by natural processes from the parent stock,” and I’m quite sure the Latin definition is substantially the same.

You put forward two arguments as to why the term “propagation” should be understood more broadly:

An important aspect of this declaration [of Trent] is that it uses the word “propagation”.
This clearly means that they do not limit the transfusion of the original sin to the offspring as resulting from the biological process of reproduction, but are compatible with the assumption that the original sin was also “transfused” into persons who biologically did not descend from Adam. (p. 273)
Finally Humani generis does not define the meaning of “natural generation”. It is obvious that this expression cannot mean generation through coition, since otherwise children generated in vitro would not be affected by original sin. Neither can it mean generation through Adam’s sperm cells, since this would reduce original sin to sort of genetic illness. (p. 278)

Your first argument regarding the decree of the Council of Trent (p. 273) is a gratuitous assertion, which is not supported by any argument. As to your second argument: I think it is fair to say that the Church considers original sin to be transmitted through Adam’s genes, without being contained in those genes. And in that respect, it really is something like a genetic illness. Consider the language used in chapter 3 of 2 Esdras, an apocryphal work generally dated to around 100 A.D. and included as an appendix to the Latin Vulgate:

21 For the first Adam, burdened with an evil heart, transgressed and was overcome, as were also all who were descended from him. 22 Thus the disease became permanent; the law was in the hearts of the people along with the evil root; but what was good departed, and the evil remained.

That’s 300 years before St. Augustine wrote on the subject of original sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church uses similar language in paragraph 404: “it is a sin ‘contracted’ and not ‘committed’ - a state and not an act.”

You make much of the writings of Joseph Ratzinger on the subject of original sin in 1964, forgetting that at that time he was a priest, not a bishop, and a theological liberal who counted Kung as a friend. It would be unwise to attach too much weight to what he wrote, 41 years before he became Pope Benedict XVI.

Finally, I have to say that I find the following passages in your article rather disturbing in their implications:

Accordingly, clear signs to ascertain when the first human persons appeared are achievements that reveal rational personhood with awareness of moral and legal responsibility. These achievements can undoubtedly be found at the origin of the civilizations when the Neolithic Revolution reached its culmination around 3500 BC. Therefore we assume that the first human persons were created at the dawn of civilization, and this means when the total Earth Homo sapiens’ population is estimated in several millions of individuals (McEvedy and Jones 1978). (pp. 254-255)
Notice that the estimate of 3500 BC for the time of creation of the first human persons fits rather well to the number of 76 generations from Adam to Jesus given by the Gospel of Luke (3:23–38). (p. 255)
In summary, life evolved gradually by incredibly tiny leaps and amazing disappearance of intermediate varieties into the sharply forms of life we know today. Then a “leap” happened at the spiritual level: God transformed the animals of Homo sapiens into persons. Before this “leap” it does not make sense to speak about “the very first human being”. Ascertaining when the primeval human persons were created does not require any observable “biological discontinuity” (Lorda 2015, 179), but observable cultural achievements (civilisation). (p. 260)

I’ve argued in a previous thread that the absence of biological discontinuities in human evolution would carry the absurd implication that there could be two human individuals who are atom-for-atom duplicates, where one is a rational person and the other is not. (You would, of course, insist that these duplicates could not coexist, but that does not affect my point.) This I consider to be at variance with the teaching of the Council of Vienne (1311) that the rational soul is essentially (and not merely accidentally) the form of the human body. The human body is the kind of body that requires a rational soul, in order to survive. This becomes obvious if we consider the demands of infancy: in prehistoric times, a long-term commitment by fathers (which implies planning for the distant future) as family providers was required, in order to meet the energetic requirements of a growing child’s brain. Anthropologists have shown that mothers foraging by themselves would not have been able to gather enough food to feed a large-brained human infant.

You maintain that “if all the extinct ancestors were still alive, then there would be a complete continuum of ‘bodies’ filling the gaps between humans and other mammals (Dawkins 2012a).” We don’t know that. As @swamidass has argued, God could have engineered mutations in 10 or 20 genes at some point in the past, thereby endowing us with the genetic wherewithal for the exercise of rationality, and scientists would be none the wiser, as some 22.4 million (mostly neutral) genetic mutations have been fixed in the human lineage since the human-chimp split, so the intervention would have been a drop in the ocean, so to speak. You should also talk to @swamidass regrading the scientific plausibility of monogenesis: he has argued convincingly that a human bottleneck of two is still a possibility if Adam and Eve lived at least 400,000 years ago (around the time when Homo sapiens appeared).

I was also shocked to read of your view that we didn’t become rational persons until 3500 B.C. (although you do allow for the possibility of an earlier date on page 255 of your article). This, I have to say, is “nonsense on stilts.” Language certainly requires the use of reason. And it is undeniably true that human language existed long before 3500 B.C. You can search the world’s tribes, and you won’t find a “primitive” language anywhere. What’s more, the very last great migration out of Africa occurred no later than 70,000 years ago, so unless we want to claim that humans around the globe invented language independently at a subsequent date, it follows that the dawn of human rationality must have been no later than 70,000 years ago.

I am prepared to countenance the view that “Adam and Eve” may have actually been a small community of persons who all fell together (as you suggest), or that Adam may have been the head of a tribe, deciding on behalf of everyone. However, it is encouraging to know that biology does not rule out a literal Adam and Eve as the sole progenitors of the human race. Cheers.



Maybe too much emphasis is being placed on the phrase “rational person”. I see the difference between the “adams” and The Adam as not being couched in rationality… but couched in morality … or in having a “God-shaped” space in his brain.

Making the distinction “Rationality” implies that Adam would be a better hunter, or better farmer, or whatever, because he is “rational”.

Where did this term have its birth? I think it’s a “stinker”.


See what he writes:

I can’t disagree with him at all !


Again, @vjtorley, I point out that you have not dulled the sharp philosophy of Original Sin an iota with this kind of discussion (buried in the thickness of the text of your latest posting).

The problem of Original Sin does not stem from Evangelicals saying humans have “committed” the Original Sin of Adam? For who has put a foot into Eden since the notorious events of that time? Who among us have laid a hand on the forbidden fruit of that beautiful tree?

No; the problem is that Evangelicals insist that there is Original Sin of any kind… and that without a real Adam triggering it, all of Christianity is lost in the wilderness…


So, @vjtorley, let’s see if I can collect your remaining objections.

Recall, he would be much like a rational martian. One of the rational souls to whom Scripture does not make reference.

“True men” is not the best term for it. I would say another group of man, to whom theology never has reason to refer because they no longer exist. In the same way, theology has no reason to refer to rational aliens or life in other universes.

Remember, that here, “mankind” is “adams.” It is not possible ot make sense of this in English. We should really refer to the Hebrew here.

What said here still applies. Augustine is defining the humans to whom Scripture refers as descendent of Adam, and asserting that this includes all men alive in his moment. His statement here is contextually bound. Asked about “rational souls” that no longer exist from 400 kya, I think he would have said that this has no relevance to our theology today, in the same way rational souls in Narnia or the Space Trilogy (granting they were real) have no relevance to our theology today.

This is not to say that the people before Adam (the “adams” of Genesis 1) were less rational souls or less human, but they are a group of people to whom Scripture and theology (e.g. Augustine and Pious XII) are not referring, and no longer exist.

So yes, St. Augustine does not write: “if they are human and born after 1 A.D., they are descended from Adam,” however know his claims contextually-bound to the current time. We know this because traditional theology (and the Book of Enoch) regularly considered interbreeding between Adam and other lines, including asserting rational souls that existed alongside and before Adam. For example, Angles and Nephilim in all traditional tellings are rational souls, but are not descendent from Adam, and Augustine did not find them in conflict with his theology.

You are reading Augustine and Pious XII’s statements disconnected from context, as timeless claims, but that leads to far too many contradictions with Scripture (e.g. Genesis 6:1, the Serpent, Angels, etc.). Clearly not all rational minds are the “men” of Scripture. There exist some rational minds that are not the “men” of scripture.

Actually does, but I’ll deal with this after we deal with the prior point. To start with one approach, it can all come down to how Paul defines men, which appears to be defined descent from Adam. He is not referring to anyone who does not descend from Adam. His claims here, once again, that all the men he is referring to descend from Adam, and this includes all people in his moment. His theology cannot be read as a timeless statement, but also as contextually bound, because otherwise we would have the same contradictions arise as we would with St. Augustine.

Remember, St. Paul defines the men to whom he is referring as Adam and his descendants. They begin existence in the Garden free of death. When Adam is exiled from the Garden, all of them are condemned to death, just as Paul teaches. Paul, by definition, is not talking about the people outside the garden, and has no need to. They no longer exist.

Once again, this is resolved in a similar way. Either, Jesus is referring to the origin of Adam’s descendent, which does have male and female created from the beginning (Genesis 2). Or he is referring to the origin of the same biological kine, which also has male and female created from the beginning (Genesis 1). The question with this passage, as always, is “which beginning?” In either case, we are going to see male or female, so it is hard to see what the contradiction could possibly be.

This gets to the core argument I am making here Vincent. We, in our moment, are preoccupied by the antiquity of “human beings.” However, this is not the questions of traditional theology and Scripture, which exclusively focuses on the descendants of Adam and Eve, who are “all of us,” but not everyone in distant paleohistory. Scripture and theology are as silent about them as they are about rational souls in other universes and planets.

I’m asserting that if we were to ask Paul, St Augustine, etc, about rational souls that do not descend from Adam and lived in a realm outside our ability access, and does not apply to anyone in recorded history, they would shrug and say that Scripture does not speak of them. Don’t you agree? Curious @jongarvey additions too.



Only to say that using the Fathers, and indeed other traditional sources, in the context of “evolution and scieintific origins” always needs to be done in that contextual sense. I remember when doing my book commenting that none of the Fathers had much to say about natural evil before the Fall, at least in part because under their assumption of a Young Earth Chronology, the entire period before the Fall was often less than a week, so it would have been an entirely uninteresting question (and even so the majority who discussed it at all taught that predators were predators etc from the start).

The context of “death coming into the world” clearly has to have some defining context once we deny the YEC “there was no death before the Fall.” In any evolutionary or creative transformation context, mortal animals transitioned to humans, so immortality would have to be a saltational gift, as you can’t be half-mortal. It is of course easy, conceptually, in the special creation scenario. But…

It’s the one major point at which I don’t find Aquinas convincing, even though “rationality = immaterial = immortality” has become Catholic dogma. It’s not clear to me why “immaterial” should necessarily mean “immortal” - if I have an idea, although it is immaterial and rational, it perishes with me unless I have shared it, or unless God should “resurrect” it. The same is true of all information.

To me, the fact that there needed to be a tree of life in the garden more naturally suggests that immortality is conferred on Adam in the context of his covenant relationship with Yahweh, just as in the New Covenant “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and the one you have sent–Jesus Christ.” Adam is, in some subtle sense, a new creation through his knowledge of God, licit and illicit, and the access to, and hope of, eternal life. When death comes into his world through expulsion from the garden, it comes to our world too, because we are all children of Adam who have lost the righteousness and life that he once had.


Hi Joshua,

I’ve got to go out shortly, but I’d just like to briefly address your remarks on St. Augustine:

My original quote from St. Augustine’s City of God, Book XVI, chapter 8 was as follows:

But whoever is anywhere born a man, that is, a rational, mortal animal, no matter what unusual appearance he presents in color, movement, sound, nor how peculiar he is in some power, part, or quality of his nature, no Christian can doubt that he springs from that one protoplast [Adam]. We can distinguish the common human nature from that which is peculiar, and therefore wonderful… Accordingly, it ought not to seem absurd to us, that as in individual race there are monstrous births, so in the whole race there are monstrous races. Wherefore, to conclude this question cautiously and guardedly, either these things which have been told of some races have no existence at all; or if they do exist, they are not human races; or if they are human, they are descended from Adam.

First of all, I am not saying that “all rational minds are the men of Scripture,” as you suggest. Angels are obviously rational, yet I would never call them men. Why not? Because they are not animals. How does St. Augustine define “a man” in the passage quoted above? As “a rational, mortal animal.” Angels therefore don’t count.

Second, St. Augustine disagrees with your claim that the Nephilim are not descended from Adam, and he doesn’t place any credence in the Book of Enoch. Allow me to quote from an excellent blog article on the subject, titled, Nephilim, Incubi, and Succubi by Dr. Daniel van Slyke, of the Dead Philosophers’ Society (April 14, 2014):

Some Fathers of the Church, including St Clement of Alexandria, interpret the “sons of God” as “the angels who forsook the beauty of God for perishable beauty and fell as far as heaven is from the earth.” By this interpretation, some fallen or falling angels had sexual intercourse with women, resulting in a race of giants known as “Nephilim.” Other Fathers, including St Augustine, read “sons of God” as human beings who descended from the line of Seth, rather than from the line of wicked Cain.

In his book Angels (and Demons) (q. 58, pp. 91-92), Peter Kreeft follows the tradition represented by Clement – whether wittingly or unwittingly – by interpreting the Nephilim as the children of giants who copulated with fallen angels. Although his book is exemplary in many ways, Kreeft omits the fact that there is no consensus among the Fathers of the Church on this point.

Consider, for example, the following passage from St Ephrem the Syrian. Moses (that is, the author of Genesis), according to Ephrem, “called the sons of Seth ‘sons of God,’ the righteous people of God. The beautiful daughters of men whom they saw were the daughters of Cain who adorned themselves and became a snare to eyes of the sons of Seth. Then Moses said, ‘they took to wife such of them as they chose,’ because when ‘they took’ them, they acted very haughtily over those whom they chose. A poor one would exalt himself over the wife of a rich man, and an old man would sin with one who was young. The ugliest of all would act arrogantly over the most beautiful.”

St Augustine follows a similar line of interpretation, by reading the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:1 as good men who became corrupt in Genesis 6:2. His interpretation is, in my mind, the best ever given of the passage. It appears in the City of God (XV.23).

Augustine notes first of all that people of large stature are still around; just visit a circus and you are likely to find one, or think of wrestler Andre the Giant. Some simply translate “Nephilim” as “giants.” That there were many giants around in the ancient days discussed in Genesis 6:1-4 is entirely possible, and does not demand any supernatural explanation.

Augustine next notes that the accepted text of Genesis 6:2 does not speak of “angels,” but rather of the “sons of God.” According to Kreeft, “sons of God” is a generic term for heavenly beings. It is also, however, a generic term for human beings who live in God’s grace. We are sons and daughters of God by grace or adoption.

So Augustine interprets the passage as follows. The “sons of God” – those who loved God and sought him above all things – became enamored with the beauty of women, and the seductions of other worldly things. This led them to fall from the love and grace of God into the mire of the constant pursuit of worldly pleasures and accomplishments. Once all God-fearing, just men have disappeared from the earth (except Noah), the flood comes (the topic of Genesis 6:6 and following).

Augustine is aware that the book of Enoch teaches that the Nephilim were the offspring of mating between angels and men. It is likely, in fact, that Clement of Alexandria followed Enoch on this point. Augustine, however, appropriately notes that the book of Enoch is apocryphal, coming from uncertain and untrustworthy origins, and is left out of the canon of Scripture for good reasons. Beware what you read on the internet: anyone who takes the Book of Enoch as an authority on Nephilim, angels, or anything else is not thinking with the mind of the Church.

In summary, Augustine’s interpretation of the passage regarding the Nephilim in Genesis 6:1-4 is sound and convincing, and any who are further interested in the topic should read it. Quite simply, the passage is not about fallen angels mating with men, which is an ontological impossibility. A horse cannot be the biological father of a cricket; it is even less possible for a demon (a pure spirit) to be the biological father of a man (a creature both physical and spiritual).

Well said. You may read what St. Augustine has to say in his City of God, Book XV, chapter 23, here.

You also mention extraterrestrials. The short answer is that St. Augustine didn’t believe they existed, because if they did, he thought it would entail multiple Incarnations. In his City of God, Book XII, chapter 11, St. Augustine mentions scoffers who “are of opinion either that this is not the only world, but that there are numberless worlds or that indeed it is the only one, but that it dies, and is born again at fixed intervals, and this times without number,” but he goes on to reject all these beliefs. The first Christian writer to explicitly endorse belief in aliens was Nicholas of Cusa, writing in the 15th century, who was later made a Cardinal. Wisely, he refrained from asking whether these aliens needed their own Savior, which is why his writings were not condemned, whereas those of Giordano Bruno (who was far less tactful) were. You might like to read Frank Tipler’s article on the subject here.

I hope that answers your questions, Joshua.


As a one-time sci-fi buff, I remember stories written from, it seemed, a Catholic perspective in which the conundrum of aliens and their salvation was prominent. The authors seemed to get into a bind on these very issues:
(a) the aliens are rational animals
(b) but Augustine says rational animals are all children of Adam
(c ) Adam is a sinner in need of salvation through the death of Christ
(d) But how can Christ die more than once?
(Cue original plotline, usually based on the aliens seeming more righteous than the missionaries).

It’s certainly odd to think of the Incarnation being repeated on endless planets where intelligent beings, presumably also made in God’s image, sin like Adam - altogether too blithe to say, “Christ goes and dies for them too!” And that may be some small evidence that “rational eikonic animals” are restricted to earth.

But C S Lewis (fictionally, of course) solved the problem through stressing the unthinkable aberration that sin is. Amongst all the worlds of Maleldil, Earth was “Thulcandra”, the silent planet where, alone, the bent one had got a hold. Implicitly, such a scenario does what Joshua suggests - it falsifies Augustine’s (and hence Thomas’s) doctrine that “rational animal is definitionally a child of Adam” by broadening the spatial context.

And that seems legitimate: how could one doubt that there is no logical reason why God could not create intelligent races on worlds with no genalogical link to earth - that is, where “Adam” has no relevance. If so, then if one similarly increases the chronological context (on the basis of the discovery of deep time and a complex early human history in which the socio-historical setting of Adam** comes late in the day) - then Augustine’s formulation once more becomes falsified in the new context.

** 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.

All that, and God’s lack of salvific activity, has to be ignored if Adam actually existed hundreds of millennia before. I might just Augustine to reconsider his reasoning in the light of that.


@auntyevology, @AntoineSuarez @vjtorley, and @Agauger, thank you so much for engaging at length on Catholic theology. I think we are really getting to the crux of it right now. I think I’m seeing clearly why genetic sole progenitorship is so critical for @vjtorley and @Agauger , even though Scripture and theology do not speak of DNA.

Sole Genetic Progenitorship

Of course, to be clear, if we go back far enough in time, maybe there is a single couple genetic origin (perhaps to 700 kya, and almost certainly by 2 mya). If we are okay with some interbreeding, perhaps rarely (visa vis @T.j_Runyon and @vjtorley ), perhaps we could push that forward to 500 kya or 400 kya. Maybe.

So in that sense, @Agauger and @vjtorley have a suitable solution. None of this is meant to undermine this, and soon we should start a thread to think about the theology of these positions more. The focus in this thread on a recent Genealogical Adam, I hope it is clear, is not meant to detract from this way forward too.

The Conflict: The Image Before the Fall

It seems that you are not objecting to my hermeneutical claims, nor are you raising established Church Dogma as falsifiers at this point. It is clear that my solution above is logically valid, and likely theologically sound, drawing on CS Lewis, @jongarvey explains:

Which to say that they are correct in their temporal and spatial context, but not correct in all contexts. We cannot unhinge their claims from their context any more than we can slice out Jesus’ claim that the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds from his context (which which had no knowledge of orchid seeds, which are smaller than mustard seeds).

I anticipated these final objections being raised very early on. As has @jongarvey. I think it comes down to the claim:

So, here I am relying up on it. They key claims of Augustine that turns out to be false, if we have we broaden our view (beyond the current day on earth).

Or alternatively:

All rational souls are “Humans” as defined and understood in theology today.

It seems like it preserves all the key doctrine to say that (1) the doctrine is entirely correct in reference to Adam and his descendants, but (2) is entirely silent (and therefore no contradicted by) those before him (and on other planets, and in other universes).

Aliens or Ancients Equally DIfficult

I would once again assert that all the problems you’ve raised are no different than the challenges of life on other planets.

The solution here is the same. Scripture is given to Adam’s descendants and is about Adam’s descendants, not all people everywhere in the universe.

@vjtorley I cannot identify any of your objections that do not ALSO apply to intelligent alien life on other planets. All the resources used to makes sense of that in Catholic thought are the same here. Can you identify anything I’m missing? If you cannot, it seems we have come to a viable model in Catholic thought, and I would also agree that “true man” is not the right way to denote Adam’s lineage.

It seems I can legitimately claim:

Am I missing something?

Of course, you do not have to like this model. But it seems to be entirely plausible, just requiring awareness of the scope of doctrine (as contextually bound) rather than challenging it as incorrect. It seems to adequately handle all your objections, with no more challenge than finding intelligent life on another planet (or universe).

What do you think? @vjtorley to you.


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.


@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, @Revealed_Cosmology 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.


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.

Pain in Childbirth