A Catholic Approach to the Genealogical Adam

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:

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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.


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it is not possible for any human to live or have lived for hundreds of years.

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