Pain in Childbirth

Some interesting observations specifically in reference to childbirth. Let’s continue the conversation here.


You are going to have to make that analysis work.

Firstly, Eve had never had a birth. And we really can’t tell what God had in mind for Eve if she had been able to stay in Eden. Do you think God really planned on having 7 billion humans in Eden? Or, is it more reasonable to think that God had no plan for exponentially increasing numbers within Eden? But let’s say he had in mind Eve giving birth to two replacement children: within the precincts of Eden, he could have put Eve to sleep just like he put Adam to sleep.

Adam and Eve would not need to live by the sweat of the brow, unless they were doing aerobic exercises just before they went to pick up some melons down by the stream.

And as for dying… the Tree of Life was designed to take care of that issue.

So all the elements of God’s “curse” on Adam and Eve came to pass because of their expulsion.

Vincent - three poiints:
(1) The “childbirth” verse refers to “greatly increased” pain, not pain as a novelty.
(2) I’ve read at least two recent commentaries (the first John Walton’s, with an old earth agenda, but the second purely exegetical) suggesting that the pain involved in better generalised to the whole business of motherhood, not just labour. In practice, was Eve’s (unmentioned) labour pain a fulfilment, or was it the effect of sin in her first son becoming a murderer and exile, and here second son a murder victim?
(3) your idea of two falls seems to me to presuppose a category error imported from Young earth Creationism - that the world before Adam contained no pain and no death. That is (a) a physical impossibility in a “natural” world of the first, perishable, creation and (b) denied by Patristic and later exposition, as dealt with in depth in my book, God’s Good Earth.

If adams before Adam were essentially part of that first creation by nature, then neither death nor pain are a penalty, but in accord with nature. Clearly, if (as you have already suggested Catholic doctrine insists) rationality entails immortality, then my argument does not apply - but then, the tree of life in the garden becomes redundant.


Hi Jon,

Re (1): good point. There is suffering that discomforts us and suffering that sends us out of our minds. I don’t have such a problem with the former.

Re (2): it seems to me that apart from the pain of childbirth, any pains associated with motherhood could be experienced by fathers as well - including grief at how one’s children might turn out in the future. So I’m not sure why such pain would apply to Eve any more than Adam.

Re (3): I am not maintaining that that the world before Adam contained no pain and no death. Obviously, animals suffered and died. Aquinas and many of the Fathers of the Church acknowledge as much, as you correctly point out in your book. However, it is part of the Christian tradition that human beings would not have suffered and died, had they not sinned. The general idea is that God would have supernaturally preserved them from death and suffering while they were on earth, and after an allotted period of time, they would have been taken to Heaven. All I’m saying is that this would apply equally to any rational beings, made in the image and likeness of God, before they transgressed the natural law and in so doing, sinned. Aquinas, for example, asks Whether in the state of innocence man would have been immortal? and answers: “It is written (Romans 5:12): ‘By sin death came into the world.’ Therefore man was immortal before sin.” That’s the tradition. Just saying.

Do you think God really planned on having 7 billion humans in Eden? Or, is it more reasonable to think that God had no plan for exponentially increasing numbers within Eden? But let’s say he had in mind Eve giving birth to two replacement children: within the precincts of Eden, he could have put Eve to sleep just like he put Adam to sleep.

As I mentioned in my reply to Jon, some of the Fathers and Doctors proposed that after an allotted period of time, unfallen human beings would have been translated to Heaven. This would avoid overpopulation issues. Another possibility, mentioned above by @swamidass, is that the boundaries of Eden were not fixed, but would have expanded, had Adam and Eve not fallen, thereby allowing other rational human beings to be freed from death and suffering as well. That’s an interesting theory. Cheers.

1 Like

Vincent - thanks for reply again.

By the same token women will have trouble cultivating the ground, as they do in most agricultural societies (remember Ruth gleaning behind Boaz). But there is a specific pain, I think, for mothers who have borne children - just as, close to violent death, young soldiers tend to call for their mothers rather than their fathers.

Your (3) comes back to the same questions of (a) whether rationality implies immortality and (b) whether the Bible is using the same conception of “man” as Aquinas - his Scriptural argument, which is sound in itself, assumes that Paul, too, is using his own conception. I’m aware of the tradition, of course - as you know I respect it greatly, but it has little to say about deep time, for obvious reasons. It is like those Fathers who speak of the animals being created for man’s use - absolutely sound, but scarcely applicable to Velociraptor.

1 Like


They are intriguing and good theories… but not if they are deliberately cultivated, in an imaginary world, to block @swamidass’ approach to fitting the Bible’s real texts together to fit theology and science. Whichever side has the science is the stronger scenario. Inventing “illusionary theology” to defeat science is a losing approach.


I have a different “spin” on this. It suggests to me that Adam and Eve were either not intended to have a family, or were intended only to replace themselves with 2 children. If Adam can be anesthetized for one surgery, Eve could have been for a birth or two (or more). Evicted from Eden, this was not going to be her fate. She would feel birth pains like all the other humans outside of Eden.

1 Like

Without commenting on your speculation one way or the other, let me just point out, like John Walton before me, that the idea of Adam’s sleep being anaesthesia is an entirely modern reading into the text of our culture.

Elsewhere in the Bible - and even within Genesis - such a deep sleep invariably indicates a visionary experience. That leads Walton to suggest that Adam was being given a new concept of what the mutuality of the sexes means in “Adamic” life, rather than the physical creation of a new woman. That itself is open to question, but the idea of sleep as “deep experience of God” rather than “just count down from ten and you’ll wake up cured…” is not!

1 Like

Hi everyone,

Here’s some news about childbirth that I’d forgotten about, although I think I came across it a couple of years ago. It seems that pain in childbirth goes back only 10,000 years, to the dawn of agriculture. Find out why here:

The real reasons why childbirth is so painful and dangerous by Colin Barras (BBC Earth, 22 December 2016)

Labor Pains and Helpless Infants: Eve or Evolution? (Part 1) by Holly Dunsworth, Associate Professor of anthropology at the University of Rhode Island (10 May 2016)
Labor Pains and Helpless Infants: Eve or Evolution? (Part 2) by Holly Dunsworth (3 June 2016)

Also of theological interest:

Was childbirth was much easier, quicker, and less painful before the agricultural revolution? by Ann Hart (December 2, 2014)

What do people think? @swamidass? @Agauger? @jongarvey? @gbrooks9? @anon46279830? Thoughts?

Hi Vincent

The articles were interesting, but raised a number of questions for me. My first observation, in fact, is how yet another “just so” evolutionary explanation, the “big brain, upright gait” hypothesis, was shown wrong as soon as somebody actually started looking at the detail rather than the plausibility.

But the new hypothesis suggested that fossil evidence shows an increase in neonatal deaths around the time of the neolithic revolution. Passing over the question of how reliable that observation is in a fragmentary record, the question of causation is again speculative extrapolation. The argument overall (and as applied to Eve) seems to be along these lines:

Labour more difficult since Neolithic → maybe due to such and such hypothetical causes from change in diet ergo maybe that explains the Eve narrative naturally.

But an equally justified explanation might be:

Eve was cursed in childbirth → labour more difficult since Neolithic ergo maybe Eve lived in the Neolithic.

Bur also, I was intrigued how little was mentioned about any studies involving current hunter gatherers (other than anecdotes about eskimos), who ought to show the same pattern as pre-neolithic folk if the hypothesis were correct. I quickly turned up an article on the Khoisan, which suggests a low perinatal mortality (0.4% - maybe confirms the hypothesis?) but also says:

Unlike our attitude in the western world where women are offered pain relief at the slightest twinge that labour may have begun, a young !Kung woman is actively taught that she must face the pains of natural childbirth with courage and fearlessness.

So it would seem they do get Eve’s pain, even though hunter-gathering does them good obstetrically. But that’s to be expected, I suppose - for if they, and the eskimos, were exempt from pain in childbirth, we’d be back in a racist “non-Adamic man” scenario.

There was also a rather odd quote in oone of the articles:

If you think about it, it’s almost as if humankind got kicked out of the hunter-gather Garden of Eden where childbirth was less painful and quicker, with less complications. Was the reason that the animals in the pre-agricultural world had been eaten almost to extinction?

I didn’t notice that the garden was a place for hunter-gathering in Genesis - they were tilling the ground last time I looked! And once more, though we tend to have romantic notions about ditching agriculture and living close to nature, the gospel imperative is for “people”, not “agriculturalists.” Hunter gatherers are in exile from Eden too.

Incidentally another interesting, and separate, line of enquiry concerns the Atrahasis myth of the Flood, in which before the Flood is sent, Enlil tries first to sort the “human problem” out by sending famine (reminiscent of the curse on the ground), and also says, "“Let the womb be too tight to let the baby out,” (reminiscent of the curse on childbirth).

If this reflects a historical memory of the same events as in the Genesis curses, it would correlate with my own view that both curses were specific, and temporary, punishments for that immediate line, and were rescinded by the Flood (though only the curse on the ground is actually mentioned w.r.t. Noah).

After all, people grow vegetables for fun so it’s not that cursed. And there are, I know from experience, including my own daughter, women for whom childbirth is a dawdle. Like the whole question of natural evil (and Torley’s window test) it’s difficult to gauge whether those curses apply now unless your theology forbids work or pain altogether. How much hoeing or labour pain constitutes a curse anyway?

This is how I would respond.


So this would be an alternate resolution, that would say:

  1. Garden → No pain in childbirth.
  2. Outside → No pain in childbirth.
  3. Fall → pain in childbirth, with the rise of agriculture.

This contrasts with what I originally proposed:

  1. Garden → No pain in childbirth.
  2. Outside → pain in childbirth.
  3. Fall → pain in childbirth


You are going to require that I don’t use the word anesthesia? I’m not sure it really matters. But okay, I’ll bite. Let’s strike the use of the word anesthesia.

If Adam can be put to sleep to have a bone removed from his body, certainly Eve can be put to sleep to have a new born removed from hers… for the children she would bear within Eden.


Your original proposal makes the most sense.

1 Like

A good summary, Joshua. I’d expand this sentence thus: the garden is better in the sense of being a new creative act. Life for an oak or an elephant created for the “natural” world is good. Life for an “adam” created for the “natural” world is also good. Life for an angel before the throne of God is good for an angel, but would not be good for for an oak, an elephant or a natural adam.

But life for Adam, intended for higher things, is not only better for him, but potentially for the whole world, in that (in some way even now, in Christ, hard to envisage) the oak, the elephant and the adams become able to dwell in the glory of God.

Life for such a supernatural Adam forced back into the natural world sucks - not least because even his earthly nature is corrupted. And, at least metaphorically, life for th rest of the creation loses some of its shine and becomes “frustration” in the knowledge that something better has been, for the present, lost (Romans 8).

In this way the first creation is “very good,” even for those natural adams, yet the new creation is better, given God’s wonderful creativity, and the only evil is the corruption Adam’s line bring to both “phases” of creation, through Satan’s deception.

Hi Joshua,

The BBC article I cited earlier on the real reason for pain in childbirth pointed out that the Neandertals suffered from such pain, but we don’t know if the Homo sapiens lineage experienced it. Of course, events occurring around the dawn of agriculture may have exacerbated it. I note for the record that the prevalence of obstetric fistula in sub-Saharan Africa is very high, so on that basis, I’d expect that women in hunter-gatherer societies suffer from the same kinds of pain as women in agricultural societies.

You might like to suggest the following scenario:

  1. Garden -> No pain in childbirth.
  2. Outside -> Some pain in childbirth.
  3. Fall -> A lot of pain in childbirth.


I don’t see a theological need to have the human females outside of Eden magically afflicted with more pain in childbirth.

I suppose we could provide it as an option for those who think there was a Fall and that the Fall affects the whole Universe at the same time.

Changing diets and habits of settlement around simple agriculture, combined with the controlled use of fire definitely contributed to increases in brain mass to body mass ratios in homo sapiens. But, the fall was specifically about the sudden, illicit gaining of the “knowledge of good and evil,” which implies neocortical reorganization. It’s also about IRRIGATION agriculture in a post ice-age setting, possibly as early as the late Paleoloithic. That would make Adam at the headwaters of what led to settled cities, animal domestication, even written records, and the “Adapu” and other legends of early polytheistic paganism. I’m looking at 15-13 kya as a timeframe for a Persian Gulf area, or Turkish Anatolian, setting for the garden.


Clearly an Optional consideration… not a lot of science oriented people think touching the forbidden fruit triggered any neocortical re-organization of the Adam… and will certainly object to the idea that someone that didn’t even touch the fruit would suddenly experience neocortical re-organization.

1 Like