A Conversation about the GAE at Catholic Distance University

Dr. Joshua Swamidass presents his book the Genealogical Adam and Eve and hears responses from CDU faculty Cathy Gara and Marcellino D’Ambrosio. Discussion ensues afterwards.

The response from the Catholic theologian was phenomenal, as was the response from the biologist. It seems that there is a real opportunity for catholics here, in that the philosophers and theologians need to talk together soon. The conversation about Adam and Eve seems to have been primarily focused on philosophers, but some of the fundamental questions are theological.

Here are the two key quotes I gave at the end:

When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is no no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.

Humani Generis (1950)

Palmieri (“De Creatione”, Prato, 1910, p. 281, thes. xxx) does not place any theological censure on the opinion maintaining the past existence of such Preadamites, and Fabre d’Envieu (“Les Origines de la terre et de l’homme”, Paris, 1873, lib. XI, prop. 1) defends the theory as probable.
But the case is quite different with regard to the view upholding the existence of Preadamites taken in the common acceptation of the term. It maintains that the men existing before Adam continued to coexist with Adam, and his progeny, thus destroying the unity of the human race. Palmieri (loc. cit.) brands it as heretical, and Father Pesch (“De Deo creante et elevante”, Freiburg, 1909, n. 154) endorses this censure; Esser (Kirchenlex., s.v. Prüadamiten) considers it as only theologically certain that there were no Coadamites who were not the progeny of Adam and Eve. According to the nature of the arguments advanced in favour of the heretical Preadamite theory, we may divide it into scientific and Scriptural Preadamism.

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1911), 12: 370–371:

I’m very curious to see how it unfolds from here.

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Don’t miss this @John_DeRosa and @vjtorley

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Hi Josh,

Thanks for tagging me. I will definitely listen to this in more detail. Although I think I’m more in line with Kemp’s proposal (it’s the safest, clearly orthodox one for Catholics), there does seem to be more talk about this question being open-ended.

Another example I’ve stumbled across is Dr. Matthew Leverings ‘Engaging the Doctrine of Creation’ (pg. 235-241, published in 2017), where he discusses the work of both Karl Rahner and Kenneth Kemp regarding Humani Generis, Council of Trent, and Catholic theological claims. Levering says Rahner’s proposal to him “seems unlikely” --and he, like I, seems to be more friendly to Kemp’s proposal.

Needless to say, that pdf I typed up of notes last year definitely needs to be updated. I’ll post the link here when I do so.

Here’s something else I don’t really understand, but I think you’ll find interesting. Suppose Catholics go for one of your proposals that allows other real, philosophical humans to exist alongside Adam and Eve (though not covenantally chosen as our first parents–not first theologically). Grant that some Catholics go for that proposal. I can almost predict (with a high degree of accuracy) that those same Catholics will not like your thought that Adam and Eve could have lived as recent as 6000 - 10,000 years old. In fact, even if they love your proposal, they will find that potential aspect repugnant (at least, that’s my prediction).

And this I would not understand. In fact, I have just the opposite inclination. If I were to warm up to a proposal different than Kemp’s that the Church clearly said fell within the realm of orthodoxy, and such a proposal was consistent with a couple created de novo 6000 - 10,000 years ago, then I would happily (not begrudgingly) endorse a more literal reading of several earlier chapters of Genesis (say, Genesis 3 - 11).

Just some food for thought.



Just a bit of context on how Catholicism operates: Humani Generis is a papal encyclical, which comes from the highest authority in the Catholic Church. However, it is not infallible. While the learned teachings of the pope should be considered by Catholics, there is room for dissent. Humani Generis could be subject to errors and revisions to its teachings is not impossible.


Could someone summarize both Kemp’s and Rahner’s scenarios?

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It’s hard to take either of those quotes as allowing for the possibility of GAE. You would have to squeeze them pretty hard to get there.

Do you know Joshua that Pope Francis has recently declared that there was no garden, no Adam and Eve, no Fall. God loves us so much that he forgives us no matter what we do according to Francis. Also the Teilhardian view that evil was an inevitable byproduct of creation through evolution, that we are evolving towards the kingdom of God and paradise is at the end rather than the beginning of time is also the belief of many church theologians. That’s the predominant view in the CTSA (Catholic Theological Society of America). Official doctrine has not yet changed formally, but original sin is not taught in Religious Education anymore. I’m speaking as a former primary school teacher who then got involved in lecturing in theology and philosophy, and training student teachers in R.E.

Do they call it postmillennialism? Or is that not a term Catholics would use?

Reference please.

That sound’s like a distortion of the Pope’s statement “‘fake news’ dates to Adam and Eve” However he also adds “truth will set you free

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A book called An Astonishing Secret by Daniel J. O’Leary, that’s inspired by Francis’ writings on the subject and quotes him in depth, says all that. Sin is just a collective failure to appreciate the joy and beauty of the universe. It says the deeply ‘flawed’ doctrine of original sin will have to be ditched. That there is no hereditary sin, there was no beautiful ‘garden’ from which we were exiled, we’re in it. No Adam and Eve. And I also heard it reported recently in the media. I know Francis is sometimes misreported, but this book is based on his writings and beliefs. The late O’Leary was a priest, lecturer and author. Actually lectured in a college in which I have lectured.

I have not seen that this is indeed the predominant view of the CTSA, do you have sources for this?

Context for non-Catholics: the CTSA is one of multiple professional organizations of Catholic theologians that is not directly related to the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church can and sometimes do disagree with the CTSA. On the progressive-orthodox spectrum, the CTSA represents the progressive Catholic theologians.


Maybe not an update, but another documentation where you stand at the later date. I’m particularly curious what you think about this exchange.

I am a member and have been to lectures on the topic at conferences. And argued, as I believe something did go wrong at the outset of our emergence as modern Homo sapiens. And many of its US members are professors in leading US Catholic universities such as Boston College, Notre Dame, Georgetown University, Fordham. Lots of priests and nuns too, and generally opened by a local bishop. It runs the spectrum from orthodox to liberal, but liberal overall. And very high standard of conference lectures and seminars.

What makes you think Homo sapiens are the “humans” or “mankind” of Scripture?

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Would take me several pages to answer that. It’s a paleoanthropological question (my fav evolutionary discipline). Big contemporary question, did Neanderthals have the same level of intelligence as us? I agree with those who say no. They were very smart, but not the way we are. Our defining feature is our cognitional/spiritual faculties. Also biologically the only hominid species with a globular skull shape. All the evidence thus far indicates a qualitative difference between us and other hominid species. The ‘mankind’ of the Bible would have to have had sufficient intelligence to accept or reject God, and make moral decisions at a very high level of intelligence. Also Jesus became incarnate in Homo sapiens. Interestingly we seem to have interbred in various eras with the other hominid species, so we are probably representative of all of them. The defining feature all hominid species had in common was their craft ability, excellent craftsmen. I don’t think it’s any coincidence Jesus was a carpenter, I often think of him as Homo habilis! Clearly the biblical writers had to think of us as mankind. And your de novo Adam and Eve were Homo sapiens? Interestingly, seems like real evil only appeared in the world when we attained our cognitional abilities. The other species seem to have been relatively peaceful. And I’ve studied Neanderthals in detail, even been on field trips, lots of palaeoanthropological and archaeological evidence of them in Europe, they were here for around 400000 years before us. If you define humanity by its lovingness, they may have been more human than us! Seem to have been a very affectionate and relatively peaceful species in comparison to us. One of the reasons I think there was a fall, the way evil appeared with us. Anyway, lots of open questions here, theological as well as scientific. One important theological one I have, your de novo hypothesis could resolve, as well as some paleoanthropological ones, if they were created at the headwaters of humanity. Do you think we are qualitatively different to the other hominid species?

Enough said!

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This is a very interesting question. There are so many alternative answers, but I can only provide alternative answers from sources that exist in the Koran as a basis.

Al-Baqarah (2): 31
And He imparted unto Adam the names of all things; 23 then He brought them within the ken of the angels and said: “Declare unto Me the names of these [things], if what you say is true.” 24

  1. Lit., “all the names”. The term ism (“name”) implies, according to all philologists, an expression “conveying the knowledge [of a thing] … applied to denote a substance or an accident or an attribute, for the purpose of distinction” (Lane IV , 1435): in philosophical terminology, a “concept”. From this it may legitimately be inferred that the “knowledge of all the names” denotes here man’s faculty of logical definition and, thus, of conceptual thinking. That by “Adam” the whole human race is meant here becomes obvious from the preceding reference, by the angels, to “such as will spread corruption on earth and will shed blood”, as well as from 7:11.

  2. Namely, that it was they who, by virtue of their purity, were better qualified to “inherit the earth”.

Adam here is described as the last of many human-like creatures who previously did not have a conceptual way of thinking or a logical definition. This is where we can interpret that Adam is the last type of human being who is different from before and who will inherit the earth one day (at this time). Homo sapiens is currently the only one left.

It is also shown here that Adam could name and explain many things (figuratively knowing the names of all things). If it is also related to language skills, from the many studies that have been conducted at this time, it is not clear whether Neanderthals could communicate in different languages ​​like us today.

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But the book I mentioned is the real source

So it is in a book. How does that make a difference?

Please help us out and produce the exact text and quotes by Francis.

I just pointed that out cos there have been claims the Pope has been misrepresented in the media on certain issues, but the book I cited is grounded in his writings.