Kenneth Kemp, Monogenesis, and Polygenesis

Central to some of the conversations we have been having is Kenneth Kemp’s work.

K. W. Kemp, Science, Theology, and Monogenesis. Am. Cathol. Philos. Q. 85 (2011).

And Vincent Torley’s response/rebuttal:

Kemp quotes a proposal put forward in 1964 by Andrew Alexander C.J., (“Human Origins and Genetics,” Clergy Review 49 (1964): 344–53), in which he suggested that “while it is true that all men are descended from Adam, the race nevertheless had a broad origin.” Superficially, this is similar a genealogical Adam, but there are some key differences (with the problems in parenthesis)…

  1. Adam lived about 200 kya. (to be ancestor of us all, however, he could have lived much more recently).

  2. The last step to be in the Image of God is a single genetic mutation. (genetics does not transmit reliably, only some of his offspring would receive it, other would not).

  3. Adam is the first one with the “Image of God,” by which he means rationality and reason. (that means, under his model, everyone outside the garden is a reasonless brute)

  4. It is considered undesirable (promiscuous) for Adam’s descendants to interbreed with others, and against God’s wishes. (which is understandably distasteful)

  5. He says the scientific account teaches polygenesis. (this is false, it teaches monophylogeny, not polygenesis)

Because of #2, this model is not even plausible scientifically. Connecting Adam to the Image of God #3, also, seems to make the same equivocation of identifying Adam with the Image instead of the Fall. Also, I’d say that rather than being undesirable (in the first place,#4), Adam was created for the purpose of mixing with the surrounding population; it is only because of his fall that this becomes a problem (see Genesis 6:1).

That being said, I’m encouraged that Kemp claims the word “monogenesis” for this scenario, similar to how I have claimed “sole-genealogical progenitorship.” This, it appears, is going to be a very helpful piece of scholarship going forward.

However, it is critical that the distinctions between Kemp’s model and a Genealogical Adam are made clear. I hope our work is helpful to him. I wonder also, if its similarities, were enough to create the wrong impression for some (e.g. @vjtorley and @Agauger).

Curious everyone’s thoughts on Kemps work, @vjtorley’s response, and the relationship to Genealogical Adam. Also, can any one find a PDF to “Human Origins and Genetics,” Clergy Review 49 (1964): 344–53 by Andrew Alexander C.J.? That would be very helpful.


“I am claiming “sole-genealogical progenitorship” similar to how Kemp has claimed (following an established tradition) the word “monogenesis” for this scenario. That encourages me.”

Proper and due priority should be acknowledged to your elders who have laid the way for you, don’t you agree, Joshua? Rather not communicated in reverse as if for ‘I made a coin’ purposes. At least you are trying.

“I hope our work is helpful to him.”

Does your hope expressed here combine with action to make him aware of your ‘similarities’ years after he wrote the paper you cite here? Which ‘our’? Your YEC site co-founder seems comparatively inactive here.

“I wonder also, if its similarities, were enough to create the wrong impression some”

In Americanese: huh? Incomplete sentence.

“it is critical that the distinctions between Kemp’s model and a Genealogical Adam are made clear.”

I agree that clear distinctions are critical and depend on your ultimate aim & personal constraints. Surely making your own clear distinctions with Kemp will regularly be on the agenda here on this site, Joshua, to distinguish your ‘model’ from an orthodox Roman Catholic view of Adam and Eve with your own individual ‘geneaological science.’ Perhaps you should add a wiki-style glossary plug-in for this helpful purpose.

It is proper etiquette and an attitude of polite and inquisitive deference as a guest on someone elses’ blog that indicates a person of good character, rather than smarminess, @auntyevology .
And, if you want to read that as smarmy on my part, then all I can say is, it takes one to know one. Seriously, dude, go get an attitude check before parading it again in public.
And @swamidass , if you see this as inappropriate feedback, feel free to delete it. For my part, I’m inclined, on occasion, to fight fire with fire.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming, eh?
I’ll try to get back into constructive conversation mode soon, just as soon as I can dig my way back out of this reaction.


No, I did not read Kemp’s paper before forming my thoughts. He does not even deal with sole-progenitorship, but only with monogenesis. In error, he does not make a distinction between genetic and genealogical ancestry.

He made some good points, but ultimately his proposal fails. It is not scientifically plausible. Its real value is in that it is precedence for using “monogenesis” in the same way I am using “sole-progenitorship.” It is also one of many examples (which are already cited) for using a different meaning for “human” in theology. That value is very depreciated as that is already well established (though under exploited).

He is one of many voices. I’m trying to catalogue them all, or at least as many as I can. However, his proposal is very different than what I propose here, and it is not even biologically plausible.

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There are interesting relationships between Kemp’s proposal and polygenesis.

I think the key point is that when we make a key distinction between genetic and genealogical ancestry, and recognize that the Image of God can arise before Adam, it becomes clear that much more of polygenesis can be disputed. Though Kemp’s view is not polygenesis, it does seem insufficiently distinguished from it.

I’d love to read that paper but cannot find it anywhere. Did you ever find it @vjtorley?

I’d love to read that paper but cannot find it anywhere. Did you ever find it @vjtorley?

I’m afraid not. Sadly, it doesn’t appear to be on the Internet.

No, haven’t read or found the paper either. Might be interested, but likely not right now.

I think you should read the paper again. Or better yet, write to Kemp & ask him directly to clear it up for you. Kemp is against polygenism and consistent with papal statements and views of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on this topic. It would be good if you don’t twist what he and the Church means about polygenism.

Dennis Venema’s approach on the other hand, seems not only insufficiently distinguished from polygenism, but rather assents to it in everything but name. Have you ever queried your current BioLogos opponent specifically on this issue?

It might also be worth looking at Feser’s views on this topic for those who haven’t seen it:

And this:

Reading carefully and thinking sensitively we can see it is likely just as reality-contorting to speak of ‘Christian materialism’ as it is to suggest ‘Catholic polygenism.’

One major issue for ‘Genealogical Adam’ hypotheses is the same one faced when distinguishing ‘biological polygenism’ from ‘theological polygenism.’ So, are we speaking of ‘theological genealogy of Adam’ or just ‘biological genealogy of Adam’? The same distinction applies naturally when taking a multi-variate or multi-disciplinary approach to Adam.

My contention would be that there is no such thing as non-theological genealogy of Adam because the source of the name Adam is religious-first, not biological. @swamidass seems to disagree and wishes to construct a “science of Adam” going in the direction of scientising new fields. Please be welcome to correct any errant observations of what is going on here on this new site.

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I think your television is broken…

Certainly did email Kemp a while ago. I imagine it will take him longer than a “while” to get back to me.

I’m not twisting his point. Kemp’s position is not polygenesis. However, on several points his position mirrors polygenesis:

  1. Kemp incorrectly says that the finding of modern science is polygenesis. This is just not true. Science rejects polygenesis as a falsified theory of origins, affirming monophylogeny instead.

  2. In his model Adam have better theological and biological status than his contemporaries (with whom his offspring will interbreed).

  3. Connects Adam’s improvement to a genetic improvement and the Image of God.

I’m just saying that these are all similarities with polygenesis. That is it. Certainly, Kemp’s position is still different enough to be acceptable to the Catholic Church. I’m glad that’s true. However, the details of his model do not make much scientific sense. There may be ways to improve upon it.

I certainly do not mean Catholic polygenism, though Catholic/Christian materialism is actually a thing (see Josemaria Escriva):

I suppose I mean to refer to the biological genealogy. The full chain of reproductive relationships that gives rise to us, and connects us to Adam. These genealogies are not fully known, and at most only partially recorded. I am suggesting that there may be theological meaning in our genealogical connection to Adam, even if we do or do not genetically descend from him.

If Adam existed, we can and should ask if we descend from him. From a scientific point of view, if Adam existed, we can be certain that we all genealogically descend from him. That is a statement about the physical world. If Adam was a real person in a real past, independent of theology, there is a real biological genealogy to trace.

Whether this is theologically important or not, however, is a separate question. That question is theological, and cannot be answered with science,.

This is key so for now I’ll just focus on it. Even the combo ‘biological genealogy’ seems unusual to me (this comes up at the top: Is biological/theological the right axis to split or share genealogy? I’m glad you state “These genealogies are not fully known.” In this sense, so-called ‘genealogical science’ appears as a ‘softer’ science on the historical and verifiable sense, certainly in comparison with genetics.

The Mormons are the big genealogists in the North American religious landscape, aren’t they? In any case, you will need to face or qualify that the hardness or rigour of ‘biological genealogy’ is every bit as open to question as ‘theological genealogy’.

“I am suggesting that there may be theological meaning in our genealogical connection to Adam, even if we do or do not genetically descend from him.”

This is a weaker sentence because of the ‘may be’ followed by ‘do or do not’ in the second part. Why not just state that there IS theological meaning, unavoidably, in our genealogical connection to Adam and stop at that? Many people could accept that, even without having to face the genetic connection. I’d accept that unequivocally and inherently in the name “Adam” HAS/IS theological meaning. Would you disagree?

“If Adam existed, we can and should ask if we descend from him.”

I don’t think that ‘if’ is needed. Another way to look at it, from a different perspective: we exist today having descend from multiple common ancestors and since the story of Adam has undeniable global religious significance historically, as educated people willing to look at evidence both genealogical and genetic we can and should ask if Adam might be our (sole progenitor) ancestor (or is potentially a sole progenitor to human beings today).

The ‘if so, then so what’ is largely, no doubt you agree, going to come from voices outside of natural science or from natural scientists who use their voices outside of natural science by engaging theological and philosophical topics and conversations as well.

Aside: Which theologian, likely a protestant evangelical, will be the first Joshua invites here to ‘make peace with science’?

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I agree. This is the key part of it. This is where I’ve been making a proper distinction that has been overlooked in the conversation.

The way I explain it in my Dabar paper:

In science, we understand genealogical ancestry as the complete web of biological parentage stretching back into the history of any individual. Some of this history might be recorded, but certainly not all of it. Even the unrecorded part of this history is part of the genealogy. Genealogical ancestry includes our entire history of reproduction, including the forgotten details left out of written records.

Science studies many things that are not fully known. Genealogy is not a “softer” science. Rather genetics is not as hard a science as has been thought. It really seems as though you have not read the recently published article on genealogical ancestry. It is fairly critical. Perhaps read it?

No that is not at all what I mean. Mormons have a recorded genealogy. I am talking, instead, about the full web of reproductive events that are in each of our histories. Thjis includes both recorded, incorrectly recorded, and unrecorded events.

I am interacting with people across the spectrum. Many of them (both Christians and atheists) do not believe “Adam” is a real person that existed. When I argue the scientific case, I want to leave that debate aside. Rather, to ask about what is true or could be of Adam if he exists.

It seems that you think Adam was a real person in our past. That is great. For you, the “if” is not needed. For others, however, it gives them space to enter into the conversation without having to agree with you on Adam.

There will be debate about the role of genealogical ancestry in theology. However, we can say with complete confidence that genetic ancestry and genealogical ancestry are very different things. Genetic ancestry, as in pertaining to DNA, is never referenced in scripture, and cannot possibly be the subjected of traditional theology. Genealogical ancestry, however, matches our natural conceptions of ancestry.

There is a proper distinction between genetic and genealogical ancestry. The distinction is unquestionably important, even though it is overlooked in almost all discourse on origins. For example, Kemp does not make this distinction. Most likely because he has not yet understood the distinction.

Working with so many right now I cannot even recall who the first one was. =)

As I pointed out before, modern science affirms monophylogeny, and so does Dennis. Like most of us, he is concerned with the danger of racism, and how it uses scientific findings in its service.

The bigger conflict arose when he claimed (and continues to claim) repeatedly (though indirectly) that a genealogical Adam was (and is) polygenesis. Ignoring everything I’d written about it, he was troubled by the notion of Adam’s offspring interbreeding with others, even if it was only in the distant past and they had God’s Image too and were the same biological type. At the same time, he proudly teaches that humans (Homo sapiens in his mind) interbreed with Neandertals, with no sense of irony. At the same time, he never said one thing publicly against John Walton (though privately he did), who holds a position nearly identical to mine. So you can see why I do not find his continued objections to be anything but disingenuous.

The problem is not that Dennis affirms polygenesis precisely (though his Homo sapiens / Neandertal interbreeding claims get uncomfortably close), but that he has insisted on poisoning the well on genealogical science, and still continues in this.

In my view (see this article) no relevant teaching of Jesus Christ and no dogmatic declaration of the Catholic Church are impaired if one removes the condition of genealogical descent from a single couple.

The crucial descent is that from a population sharing the kind of body God chooses for His Son. By this choice God defines the humankind as well.

So I would be thankful to know the motivation for endorsing common genealogical descent from a single individual Adam.

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@AntoineSuarez I responded in detail on the other thread. The key point I’d make is that:

Is that not right?

Also “monogenesis” (from a single couple) is often held as a critical way of denying polygenesis. You, however, a bit ahead of the pack in recognizing that monophylogeny works just as well as monogenesis in denying polygenesis.

Looking forward to hearing your response on the other thread: A Catholic Approach to the Genealogical Adam - #19 by swamidass.

@AntoineSuarez, this is how I characterized your view. Did I get it right?

How do you respond to @vjtorley? If I misunderstood you, please do forgive me, and please do clarify. It would not be the first time I’ve been lost by one of your creative twists. The function of marriage, however, seems to be key distinctive to your approach from Kemp.

By the way, your article is really good, and I encourage everyone to read it:

“Transmission at generation”: Could original sin have happened at the time when Homo sapiens already had a large population size?
Antoine Suarez

Models have been proposed assuming that God created the first human persons at the time when Homo sapiens already had a large population size; this hypothesis agrees with emerging data of evolutionary genetics. The present article argues that in such a historical context the propagation of original sin can be explained through “transmission at generation”, in accord with Romans 11:32, and the “Decree concerning original sin of the Council of Trent”.
View of “Transmission at generation”: Could original sin have happened at the time when Homo sapiens already had a large population size?

I’d just point out a few distinctions I am making from your helpful work here.

  1. we can hold that Adam is a universal genealogical ancestor.
  2. must rational souls comes exclusively by connection to Adam? I think that move not necessary.

Polygenesis isn’t something you’ll find much support for (although polytheists among Christians is a different topic altogether); suggesting a position of something called ‘Christian polygenesis’ likely wouldn’t meet with such a welcome appeal. It would likely be helpful if a thread could focus on what polygenesis is and isn’t. Dennis isn’t getting around that rock anytime soon; no woolly ideation or concept adjusting will change that.

As for ‘genealogical science,’ whatever might count as that field or discipline, I am curious as to your view of what is the well-poisoning act that Dennis Venema is/has/continues to insist on doing to it? Can it be said in a name or short sentence what his MO actually does against ‘genealogical science’, particularly within the context of Adam, Eve & human origins discussion?

To me it just looks like when he fiddles his narrative about Adam and Eve, he sometimes oversteps scientific genomic domains of explanation and observation to make religious claims upon his own pastoral/priestly authority. But then again, this is already obvious to all discussants here, as everyone knows the implicit religious message in Dennis’ work simply by private home Institution. With Joshua, otoh, he has to write-in any religious message (unless or when he refers to strictly scientific Adam, which is meant to be distinct from strictly theological Adam) for it/them to be there. Joshua’s Adam thus has more difficulty/complexities being ‘openly religious’ than Dennis’ does simply by character of their bases.

That signifies a significant difference in the way our textual interpretation of their compositions takes place, and the vastly different bases involved also make a difference when it comes to reading & interpreting Kemp. It’s not just a protesting & historically divisive ‘branches’ question, but also involves the unifying roots, that those hanging on at the tips sometimes don’t easily speak about, know about or have forgotten.

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No one today is really promoting Christian polygenesis, thank goodness. However, there are a few theistic evolutionists that put polygenesis forward because (1) they think that is what science teaches, not knowing about monophylogeny (see Kemp), or (2) to make a bombastic statement (see Lamoureux). Given that the evidence shows monophylogeny, it might be good to remember that there is more one way exorcise polygenesis.

Here is a publicly available example:

If only those who descend from Adam and Eve have the Imago Dei, as Swamidass seems to be suggesting here, then there are a few hundred thousand years of human history where everyone else is not made in God’s image—and they only become made in God’s image once they interbreed with Adam’s descendants. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I find this idea horrific. Humans are widely dispersed on the planet at 6,000 years ago—in the Americas, in Australia and Tasmania, and so on. Do we really want a theology that names them all as subhuman animals until their lineage happens to encounter and interbreed with Adam’s (Eurasian) offspring? God forbid. Likely this was not Swamidass’s intent, of course, but it seems to me that models like these lead to this decidedly unsavory conclusion.

Keep in mind, this is NOT what I said, nor have I ever. @vjtorley much more kindly said something similar, but then quickly retracted it when I clarified he misheard my position. There are other things, but that is a clear enough example to see it for yourself.

Several of the objection’s I’ve recieved from no-Adam Christians are echoed pretty well right here: Davis A. Young, The Antiquity and the Unity of the Human Race Revisited -- Christian Scholar's Review XXIV:4, 380-396 (May, 1995). The basic claim here is that just about any notion of an Adam and Eve, especially a recent one, is equivalent to polygenesis.

Yes, that is true, but he also has not been complete in his account of the science. He claims to have known about recent universal genealogical ancestry since graduate school, but felt no reason to explain it because he personally does not think Adam and Eve are real. I cannot tell if he is just being dismissive, or if he really was withholding relevant information. That is for him to explain, I suppose.

It is absolutely true that I have a much more complex situation to manage. I’m a professor at a secular institution, and when I talk about religious things, it always carries the risk of causing me problems in my career. Though, for now, my colleagues have been very good to me.

As for our “bases”, I had originally thought we had the same base. I’ve come to realize that I have a much lager number of communities I’m speaking to: e.g. scientists of all stripes, atheists, historical-Adam Christians, and no-Adam Christians. I think Dennis is really focused on no-Adam Christians, and does engage with the rest. I’m hoping to build bridges between all groups.

In the end, the separation from BioLogos is probably for the best. They still trust Venema’s work a great deal, and do not seem to miss me much. At the moment, I’m not sure our values are compatible. Most of the theologians I’ve been working with do not trust BioLogos, and its opened up more doors now that it’s clear I’m not with them. It is possible that things could change in the future, and I’m curious how things will develop. This still, very much, appears to be a developing story. We shall see.

Maybe we will do that soon. That is a good idea. Thanks for sticking around too.