Kenneth Kemp: Adam and Eve and Evolution

This review of the GAE is one of the most interesting, an important academic contribution of its own. Kemp states,

There are, it seems to me, two important respects in which Swamidass’s account is inconsistent with Catholic theology. The first is with respect to its anthropology, the second is with respect to the nature of sin.

But he also leaves the door open,

The encyclical Humani generis , to be clear, had not been definitive about the incompatibility of polygenism (in the sense of a numerous initial human population, rather than a single couple) and the traditional understanding of original sin. It had said only that it was by no means clear how the two could be reconciled. Archival materials on the drafting of the encyclical were opened to researchers on March 2, 2020, and I was able to review these documents in the week before the imposition of a general curfew made continued work impossible. The archival records make clear that the non-definitive language was deliberately chosen over the stronger language of early drafts of the encyclical.

And concludes,

Catholics interested in the question of the historical reality of Adam and Eve should definitely read this book. It makes some important new contributions to the subject that are entirely consistent with Catholic orthodoxy. There are, to be sure, also parts of the book that address questions that (rightly, I think) have not been of particular concern to Catholics, at least not in the last hundred years, and parts where Swamidass proposes ideas that, it seems to me, contradict relatively authoritative (though perhaps not unrevisable) Catholic teaching

Really curious to see how it goes from here.


@AntoineSuarez I’m curious your thoughts on Kemp’s review.

Thanks Joshua for inviting me to express my thoughts.
I am glad that your book has been reviewed by Kenneth Kemp.

His main objection is very much in line with what I objected in this post:

As far as I am aware, you have not yet answered to this post.
This would be useful yet, after Kemp’s review.
Thanks in advance.


Would difficulties that people have with the GAE model be helped in thinking about it a bit differently:

There exists the spiritual truth that all people sin, and thus need Christ as a savior. As such, the GAE model would not be required to explain the physical transmission of sin, because sin transmission is not necessarily physical. Nor is sin necessarily transmitted, but is rather a spiritual condition. Instead, the GAE model could help, in that by demonstrating the physical reality of Adam being a universal ancestor, it focuses us on the spiritual truth that all humanity has the same sin nature.


Maybe @Michelle, but natural descent has historical done more work for theology merely teaching us we have a sinful nature. It also explained why. If we want to take a different view, it would help to find something else that does that work.

For example, the question descent often answers is not “if we have the same sin nature” but “why we have the same nature.” If you move to saying that it just tells we do, without telling us why, you are left with a critical question: Why did a good God create all of us with a sinful nature?

How would you answer? Keep in mind, moreover, that a free nature need not be a sinful nature. Adam and Eve, traditional, are understood to have been created free, but not sinful. This is the question you have to answer, though, to have a viable theological model.

1 Like

Right now there is some discussion of having a higher profile dialogue between Catholic scholars. That will likely be very interesting to get into this.

I’ve had some extended exchanges with Kemp. You will notice that his objections are theological, not philosophical. That is important. He agrees that the GAE is logically possible, but the questions it raises are theological. I’m not as informed about how this work as I am sure you are, but there is a particular logic and process to thinking through theological questions in Catholicism, and philosophers (such as you and Kemp) cannot do it alone.

Another way to put it is this.

Can there be rational minds outside the garden? There certainly is not a logical contradiction. The real question is if it conflicts with Catholic doctrine. I observe that it does not directly contradict with Humani Generis, and in fact is an open question in Catholic theology.

Can those rational minds outside the garden be, apparently, sinners? I note that Kemp and you are using a surprisingly flattened definition of “sin,” and you need this flattened definition for your objection to stand. In theology and Scripture, sin is a concept has far more theological depth and complexity (see for example Romans 5:10-14, which literally says that sin was in the world before Adam).

In the same way that you and Kemp resolve the polygenesis vs. monogenesis conflict with a distinction, the same approach is possible here. Perhaps a particular type of sin arose with Adam (which we might call Adam’s sin). Perhaps other types of sin or wrongdoing (as I prefer to call it) were outside the Garden, but were not as severe or consequential not Adam’s sin.

You must grant that this is logically possible, so strictly philosophical objections are going to fail. The real question: does this contradict Catholic theology as it is? Can Catholic theology change to accomodate this? These are not philosopher’s questions, but theologians questions. That is important, becuase it clarifeis what the real barriers are. The problem is not the illogic of rational souls outside the garden who are not perfect, but the theological questions that arise.

I believe those theological problems are easily resolved. It is not that I am doing anything unique or surprising here, but appealing to traditional theology. Scripture is not about rational souls on other planets. Historically, it has been understood to be about Adam and Eve and their descendents. That means it does not speak of people before Adam and Eve, but it also does not speak of them, their nature, or their theologicla status.

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

The question whether we can admit the existence of Preadamites in the strict sense of the
word, i.e. the existence of a human race (or human races) extinct before the time of Adam or
> before the Divine action described in Genesis 1:2 sqq., is as little connected with the truth of
> our revealed dogmas as the question whether one or more of the stars are inhabited by
> rational beings resembling man. 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 [Correction: this should be Bk 2, Prop 50—KWK]) defends the theory as probable

That is a key point. The GAE reduces the problem to be no more challenging than finding out there are rational souls on other planets. Certainly that would raise theological questions, but it does not actually contradict the story of Scripture. So how do Catholic theologians respond?

That seems to be the crux of the question to explore here. I’ve only informally laid it out, but at this point it seems clear that this is right at the boundary of Catholic theology. Scholars should be cautious, as is Kemp, which is why it makes sense to reject it right now. But the reality is that this is an open question, and an exciting one at that. I don’t see that Catholic theology has engaged this question with an eye to exploring what is possible, and perhaps as theologians enter the conversation we might clarify that this is a permissible view.

So I hope that explains more where this is going @AntoineSuarez. If you have ideas on how to have that conversation, and the right venue for an exchange, let me now. I’m looking forward to the conversation.

And, in fact, my book includes a full chapter on just this point. The reason why I did not answer then is because I was writing the GAE. What do you think of the answer I gave?

But the question remains how this spiritual condition is acquired. Is it inherited, does God give it separately to each individual, or what? The concept of original sin implies some form of inheritance from the original sinners.

Note also that GAE demonstrates no physical reality; instead it shows that the existence of a specific ancestral pair (among many ancestors) is possible.

That raises the question of why we have that nature, and that’s the problem.

I agree with the first part, on the need to study the theology of sin in depth and figure its implications for GAE. On the second part, I think many people will not agree that it talks about sin before Adam. Here is the passage:

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13a for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, 13b but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

Romans 5:12-14, ESV

Most commentators interpret the “law” as the Mosaic law, which makes sense considering the context of the passage (see e.g. 5:20-21). Regarding verse 13a, which is difficult to interpret, Schreiner (2018:283) states that it is teaching that sin existed before Moses even in the absence of the law, because death existed from Adam to Moses. However, sin was not “counted” as seriously as it would be after the existence of the law. (But as we see in Romans 2:12, people will still perish for their sin even without the law.)

Moo (2018:357) and Longenecker (2016:432) say that the main point of verse 13b is to present a hypothetical objection by Paul’s Jewish readers: how could sin have an effect on people if there was no Mosaic law? Verse 14 is meant to answer this objection: people from Adam to Moses nevertheless still died, a sign that they still suffered from Adam’s original transgression (v. 12), so their sins must have been counted in some way.

Moo also presents alternative interpretations (which he ultimately doesn’t endorse), such as 1) sin causes death even in the absence of a given law, and 2) even if people didn’t have the law before Moses, they are counted guilty of sin due to Adam’s transgression. Even these interpretations don’t talk about sinning before Adam.

The three commentators I quoted above are among the most highly regarded recent commentators on Romans (especially Schreiner and Moo). Thus, I don’t think this passage is talking about sin before Adam (contra what Peyrere might have thought), even if doesn’t contradict the idea either.


Yes I know about Romans, but the history here also is important. Current commentators are shaped by that history. I’m saying that debate needs to be reopened.

Note also that there is a fairly well established distinction between transgression and wrongdoing. Romans in fact is where that distinction is particularly clear.

1 Like

Do you think it’s possible the original readers of Romans would have read Genesis with the explicit assumption that there were people outside of the Garden? (As opposed to merely being curious about Cain’s wife and so on.)

1 Like

@Jonathan_Burke and @jongarvey might have more informed thoughts.

For me, the Book of Enoch, and Jesus use of the title “Son of Adam” makes clear that there was speculation about a lot of stuff outside the garden. It is very notable to me that Paul does not really care to dispute this speculation. The fact of the serpent and Eve sinning also is clear evidence in the text that there was wrong doing before the fall of Adam.

It makes perfect sense he would not care when you keep in mind that Romans not a systematic theology as we would write it. Rather Paul is writing with very proximate concerns in mind, about his present theological challenges, about how to make sense of Gentiles in light of Jesus. He is trying to figure out how Gentiles figure into the story of Scripture now that they are in the church.

So questions about the distant past are really beside the point. What he personally believed about people before Adam is not specified, but that also means it isn’t implicated. Frankly, I don’t know if he had much reason to care. He had more important questions to address.

So I do think he could have wondered about people before Adam. Others were. But it was not important for him to speak against.



Depends, are they “animals” or bio-machines or Spiritual agents?

Matter, and materialistic constructs do not rise to the jurisdiction of God’s Law. Where God’s ideal ecosystem has the lion lying with the lamb, and where God’s concern about present creation reaches the sparrow falling, these are not subject to God’s Law of Good and Evil, or the consequences of failure; death.

Or on this planet, God’s Law only obtains to Spiritual beings.

I recall another discussion involving you and Dr Harshman complaining about obscure definitions of a guest, here I would question your definition of a “rational soul”. If we construct AI, and I think we will, will it too be a “rational soul”?

1 Like

It becomes FAR easier to interpret when one views Rom 5:12 as a simile: “Just as” [hosper] is the preface to a comparison of two distinct elements, just as X even so Y, just as lightening strikes from east to west, even so the coming of the son of man [Mat 24:27], it is not describing a causation; Lightening causes Jesus to come or Adam’s sin caused all to die, but a comparison, just as [in like manner] Adam sinned and died, even so all that sin die [and all sin].

But Adam had a command, an Ordinance “thou shalt not eat…”, those after him had no such ordinance to violate, Paul makes note of a distinction of violation of a Law: Parabasis, or “transgression” and a violation of the non-verbal law written upon the heart; hamartanó [Rom 2:14-15], where both are different, they both are sufficient for condemnation re God’s law; death for sin.

Could you be more specific? Both of these topics have been studied deeply in the last 50 years in particular. Could you explain what it is about the Book of Enoch and the title “son of man” which makes clear to you that there was speculation about a lot of stuff outside the garden? Then I’ll have something to follow up.

1 Like

The Book of Enoch includes speculation of angles outside the garden interbreeding with AE’s lineage. If interbreeding was possible, that makes them essentially biological humans from a scientific point of view. Yes, they did not mean the same thing by that term, but it demonstrates the idea of input into AE’s lineage was not a theological problem.

There is a lot of evidence that the Book of Enoch was widely read at the time. I know that a lot of scholars identify “Son of Man” with Daniel, but it also makes sense as a reference to the Book of Enoch, where that title appears all over the place as a clear reference to the Messiah. The fact this was a title that Jesus used indicates, not that Enoch was necessarily inspired, but it does reinforce the idea that it was part of the cultural stream.

Paul, it seems, almost certainly would have known of Enoch. If mixing with AE’s lineage was a problem, it seems that Paul almost certainly had enough context to have had cognitive capacity to speak against it, but he did not.

Add to that the historical speculation about Cain. See some information here: Daniel Deen and Joel Oesch: The Lutheran Voice and Crosswise Institute.

I am not sure how this helps anything. Previously you’ve been defining humans theologically and not scientifically, and now you want to define fallen angels as “essentially biologically humans from a scientific point of view”. I’m not sure how many scientists would agree with that assessment, but from an ancient perspective fallen angels were distinctly non-human.

We need to remember that the author(s) of the Book of the Watchers was not trying to solve the same problem you are addressing. They weren’t providing an explanation for an alternative source of genetic material for Adam’s lineage, or trying to solve the problem of where Cain’s wife came from, they were providing an explanation for the identity of the “Watchers” of Daniel 4, and the “sons of God” of Genesis 6, which they identified as non-human fallen angels. Not only that, but there’s clear evidence in the Book of the Watchers that this mixing was regarded as a transgression by virtue of being unnatural.

I think that’s like saying that since Paul would have known of the Books of Enoch, but didn’t speak against angels having sex with human women, then he had no problem with angels having sex with human women. Paul was raised and taught first in Cilicia and then in Jerusalem. It’s extremely uncertain that he would have known of the Books of Enoch, given that the only certain first century witness to them is in the Aramaic texts of the Qumran collection; these were not mainstream texts, they were fringe. Making positive statements on the basis of what Paul didn’t say about works he may or may not have known, isn’t exactly a sure footing. What we do know is that there’s no evidence Paul held to the Enochian harmartiology, angeology, and satanology, which makes it unlikely that he read the Books of Enoch, and even less likely that he approved of them.

In the entire New Testament there’s only one positively suggested reference to the Books of Enoch, and that’s in Jude (1 and 2 Peter are a “maybe”). If Jude is referring to the Watchers when he speaks of the “angels who left their first estate”, then he is most certainly condemning their actions, because he uses them as an example of the sin of “going after strange flesh”, which is about as clear a condemnation of inter-breeding as you could get.

Hi everyone,

Could I make a quick observation here? To me, the controversies about whether humans evolved, or even about Adam and Eve, are minor when compared to the issue that really counts: whether human beings, made in the image and likeness of God and endowed with certain God-given rights, originated at a fixed point in time. Christianity (as I see it) stands or falls on the claim that there was indeed a “magic moment” at which our ancestors crossed a mental and/or spiritual Rubicon; however, there are weighty (if not compelling) scientific reasons for holding that there was no such “magic moment.” I’ll be putting up a post on this topic in the next couple of weeks, over at The Skeptical Zone, so stay tuned. Cheers.


@vjtorley if you are right it is hard to imagine any conflict with science. There is no way of detecting God-given rights, nor can we really speak to a poorly specified mental and/or spiritual rubicon. There are no weighty scientific reasons against such a “magic” moment.

1 Like