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What do Catholics believe about Adam and Eve?

For the past few months, many evangelicals and Baptists and other conservative Christians in the Protestant stream have been debating -- and generally pushing back against -- the science showing that the human race could not literally have descended from two progenitors, Adam and Eve.Christianity Today had a cover story and carefully-worded editorial on the matter over the summer, NPR picked up the story here, and Al Mohler, a leading Southern Baptist apologist, strongly defended the necessity of a literal belief in Adam and Eve (chiefly in order to undergird a belief in original sin, it seems) here and here.I watched this with the dispassionate gaze of the journalist eyeing a story but also a bit of the triumphalism of the Catholic thankful that his church, or rather Church (there's only one "the Church," as Lenny Bruce put it) didn't get mired in such embarrassing literalism.Oops.John Farrell at Forbes noted that:

The Catholic Church indeed of all the Christian churches faces a particular quandary. The Council of Trent is quite explicit on the topic. Catholics are required to believe not only that Adam is the single father of the human race, but that Original Sin is passed on by physical generation from him to the entire human race. Its not something symbolic or allegorical (although it is regarded as ultimately mysterious). The First Vatican Council reiterated the doctrine, as did Pope Pius XII in his 1950 encyclical Humani Generis:

"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 in 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."

Catholic apologists who point to Pope John Paul IIs 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences as evidence of the Churchs acceptance of evolution often fail to notice that the late Pope completely passed over the question of monogenism, and indeed never did discuss the problem that genetics poses to the doctrine.

Indeed, evidence against a literal Adam and Eve is pretty conclusive. As Farrell writes:

There are to be sure individual Catholic theologians out there mulling over how to handle the problem. But they are not on the Vaticans radar, and a new encyclical on the issue is not likely to come very soon.This is unfortunate. For while the Vatican maintains its silence on the challenge of genomics, Catholics in general are either encouraged to fall back on the denialism of Evangelical leaders like Albert Mohler, or to keep their mouths shut.

Catholics tend not to keep their mouths shut, and shouldn't, nor should they have to adopt views like Al Mohler's.Catholic News Service had a good story featuring Franciscan Father Michael D. Guinan, professor of Old Testament at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, who said Catholic teaching has developed. [T]he question of biological origins is a scientific one," Father Guinan told CNS, "and, if science shows that there is no evidence of monogenism and there is lots of evidence for polygenism, then a Catholic need have no problem accepting that. Well, Catholic World News had a problem accepting Father Guinan's comments, and titled its report on his "unorthodox" views this way: "Franciscan scholar dismisses teaching of Catechism, Pius XII on Adam and Eve."A Sept. 12, 2011 feature in America magazine also highlighted the divide, as author Brian Pinter noted the prevalence of biblical literalism among Catholics (at least on Genesis) and explained why that should not be.So, as per the title of this lengthy post, what do Catholics believe about Adam and Eve? Is Pius' encyclical just something we pass over in silence? Should it be "corrected"? Need it be?BONUS MATERIAL: Andrew Sullivan had a number of posts on the issues of whether the Fall must be true in the literal sense, or whether a figurative reading would make Christianity fall apart. I'd say not, but atheist Jerry Coyne took that line, and Ross Douthat ably defended.

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.



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David, thanks so much for picking up on this. Indeed, you only have to read the comments on posts at Catholic sites that discuss the issue to see how much disagreement there is among the rank and file. Earlier this year, when I queried a monsignor at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as to whether this issue would be addressed in the near future, his answer was: "No."

Yours was the best piece I've seen, by far, John. Did my work for me! This whole issue raises many questions, I think, beyond just Adam and Eve, and whether it was an apple (not).

Centuries before Christianity came along, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle had figured out that we humans are not born virtuous. For this reason, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle thought that we humans need to cultivate virtue.Now, St. Paul and St. Augustine conspired to construct the Christian doctrine of original sin, which teaches that we humans are not born virtuous.But Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle figured out that we humans are not born virtuous without knowing about the story of Adam and Eve.So we do not need to know the story of Adam and Eve to be able to figure out that we humans are not born virtuous. By human reason alone, without any input from so-called revelation, we can figure out that we humans are not born virtuous.

Paul has no doctrine of original sin. Augustine is responsible for it in his misreading of Romans 5:12.

I think the problem the Latin Rite Church is facing on the question of the historicity of Adam and Eve is this: if Adam is not historical, and did not commit the original sin, then what does Jesus, who is undoubtably historical, have to atone for. This is really a question of atonement doctrines more than whether Adam and Eve existed. Contemporary theology has offered a number of alternatives, but, it seems to me, in the face of the evidence (as we see in the Catechism) the magisterium is closing its eyes and saying, "No! No! No!" I think that Paul was right in his view that people are sinful, but wrong about the reason, i.e. Adam and Eve. Of course, Paul can be excused being that his worldview was what it was. Evolution and natural selection offer us an alternative view as to why we are egocentric and ethnocentric. Someone ought to write a piece about the matter for popular consumption, but I wonder if taking this subject on would bring wrath from above.

390 The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.

The Catechism speaks of "figurative language," but it seems to me it views the biblical account more like one of those case histories in self-help books where the author doesn't use real names and changes enough details so that the individuals he or she is writing about can't be readily identified. Unless you read "first parents" figuratively, what you get from the Catechism is that a man and a woman, the parents of the human race, committed some act of disobedience the consequence of which were disastrous for their children, their children's children, and so on, all of whom collectively comprise the human race. It could have been George and Martha instead of Adam and Eve. And they may have gone swimming in the River of Knowledge of Good and Evil instead of eating the forbidden fruit. But they were a man and a woman, the only two truly of their kind, and they committed an act of disobedience that affected their descendants, the human race.

I don't have Humani Generis right at hand, but my recollection is that the discussion of both evolution and monogenism is preceded by a section which draws a distinction between areas in which there is disagreement between teachings of the faith and "clearly established scientific fact" (or words to that effect) on the one hand, and areas in the teachings of the faith are opposed by mere "hypotheses".Pius acknowledged that our understanding of the teachings of the Faith must yield to and accomodate scientific "facts", and thus he acknowledged evolution.At the same time, he felt that, at that time, there was not sufficiently established scientific fact to force a re-assessment or change in understanding of monogenism.As such, I don't believe a rejection of monogenism can be considered heterodox or heretical. But obviously without a subsequent magisterial pronouncement which revisits the issue in the light of scientific advancements since HG, neither is such a rejection required.

You might want to refer to Karl Rahner's description of this issue - he makes a distinction between a literal understanding and a context or condition....thus, the human race finds itself in its "original condition" which is good but imperfect (this is different from using personal sin in this definition) Genesis, Christians have usually thought of the human race as being descended from a single pair of individuals. This view is called monogenism. However, evolution theory points to the need for a sizable, interbreeding population at the origin of any organic type as complex as the human.20 This theory is called polygenism. Both Pius XII and Paul VI warn that polygenism, which evolution theory seems to demand, appears incompatible with the Churchs teaching. However, it is not clear that either of these popes proposed monogenism as the position to be held definitively.21 Hence, if a Catholic can show how polygenism is compatible with the essential elements of the Churchs teaching on original sin, then he or she may admit polygenism on the basis of the evidence in favor of it.6.There is nevertheless no evidence requiring us to suppose that the present human race descended from more than one interbreeding population. Like Genesis, biological theory points to a single group at the beginning of humankind. Question F below will explain why the size of this group is not important.7.Thus, there is no incompatibility between the Churchs doctrine concerning original sin and the scientific view that, insofar as they are organisms, human beings had subpersonal antecedents.

The Catholic Church often gets into trouble answering peripheral "belt line" questions no one (or few) are asking, e.g., is masturbation by a 15 year old to be considered a mortal or a venial sin; is the use of condoms always a sin even when used to prevent disease, not necessarily procreation. But here is a fundamental theological question that is at best fudged by the magisterium. If it means that the early Church Fathers were wrong, so be it. I have always hated atonement theology--what a pitiless, humorless God it presumes. Christ died on the cross because "a God that does not suffer is insufferable.

To properly understand the meaning of "the man" and "the woman," one must first understand the purpose behind including the (similar, but different) creation accounts in the opening chapters of Genesis -- what it this intended to tell us? Is it supposed to be mere history or science? Or is it supposed to tell us something about the truth of the human person?To properly understand the meaning of "the man" and "the woman," one must understand the concept of the original unity of man, male and female. God intends for us to be one. A loving communion of many become one.There is a sacramental meaning in "the man" and "the woman." They are a visible manifestation of the invisible, mystical, transcendental unity of mankind."What is the human being? The biblical account of creation means to give some orientation in the mysterious region of human-being-ness. It means to help us appreciate the human person as God's project and to help us formulate the new and creative answer that God expects from each one of us. . . . We are all one humanity, formed from God's one earth. It is precisely this thought that is at the very heart of the creation account and of the whole Bible. In the face of all human division and human arrogance, whereby one person sets himself or herself over and against another, humanity is declared to be one creation of God from his one earth. What is said at the beginning is then repeated after the Flood: in the great genealogy of Genesis 10 the same thought reappears -- namely, that there is only one humanity in the many human beings. . . . In the human being heaven and earth touch one another. In the human being God enters into his creation; the human being is directly related to God. The human being is called by him. God's words in the Old Testament are valid for every individual human being: "I call you by name and you are mine." Each human being is known by God and loved by him. Each is willed by God, and each is God's image. Precisely in this consists the deeper and greater unity of humankind -- that each of us, each individual human being, realizes the one project of God and has his or her origin in the same creative idea of God."-- In the Beginning (see also TOB)

Is anyone being asked not to receive communion for his failure to or insistence on believing in a literal Adam and Eve?

Bender,What about the Catechism? What about original sin? What about monogenism and polygenism (Humani Generis)?

As I was particularly responding to Mohler, I would like to throw this piece into the conversation also, from America's Good Word blog in August:

David -- rather than immediately jump to contentiousness, what have you to say about the concept of the unity of man? That we are intended to be one, not constantly seeking to divide?

On the basis of simple observation and experience, it is quite apparent that folks can be (a) very good to one another, (b) indifferent to goodness and evil, and (c) downright mean to one another. When I look at the gospels, it is quite apparent to me Jesus taught by word and example that when religious duty and human need conflict, one must first address the human need. God, in other words, is quite generous (after all, God has all the time in the world --- and beyond :-) In a very real sense, Jesus taught us how to save us from ourselves and each other. I think much of the Church's *orthotoxy* rests on the view that God is prepared to consign us to the everlasting torments of hell if we die in the state of mortal sin. Never mind if we've been generally decent folks much of our lives: Commit just one grievous sin and to the fire you go! What a sick perception of God if we are to give any credibility to the preaching and teaching of Jesus.For me, the doctrine of Original Sin is a non-starter. The basic gospel message of God's unconditional love doesn't require it.We cannot truly love whom we fear; the two concepts/realities are incompatible.God wants our love and demonstrated God's love for us in the Incarnation, earthly ministry, and passion and death of Jesus.That's good enough for me.

For interested readers:Modern Biology and Original Sin, Part I by Edward Feser, Theology, and Monogenesis by Kenneth W. Kemp and Eve: theologians squirm and sputter by Jerry Coyne in Your Soul? by Edward Feser

If the atonement is a sine qua non for Christianity, then without Adam and Eve Christianity is done for. Yet, I do not see atonement as a sine qua non, and at least one of the gospels, Luke, would support such a conclusion. If salvation is about sanctification, not justification, then it need only be the case that Christianity cultivate sanctification among its members.But the story does not end merely with the atonement. Historically, at least in the Western churches, the divinity of Jesus has been closely connected to the doctrine of the atonement. Without the need for the atonement, on Western terms, the divinity of Jesus becomes a theological appendix. (Even in the Eastern churches, with the emphasis on theosis, the divinity of Jesus seems like a non sequitur.)Without the atonement, Christianity really does become a very, very reformed branch of Judaism.

David rather than immediately jump to contentiousness, what have you to say about the concept of the unity of man? That we are intended to be one, not constantly seeking to divide?Bender,I don't see how it can be reconciled with the story of The Tower of Babel, in which God deliberately shattered humanity into myriad groups that could not understand each other, and scattered them over the earth. I also don't really see how it can be reconciled with a Chosen People set apart from the rest of humanity. It seems to me most of the Old Testament is about the duties of the Hebrews to one another, not about anything resembling the unity of humanity. I think it is probably a case of seeing in scripture something that is not there. I wouldn't underestimate the sophistication and complexity of Genesis, but it is still possible to read too much into it. In any case, I am quite fascinated the actual topic of the thread, which I don't think you addressed. How are we to reconcile the story of Adam and Evewhich was taught to me as literal truth in the early 1950s in Catholic schoolwith scientific findings about human origins, and what impact do the necessary reinterpretations have on the doctrine of Original Sin? It all seems completely up in the air to me, and it is really the very foundation of Catholicism.

Predict that this will go the same way that "LIMBO" did.

Please , don't tell me the RCC is going in for the 6000 year old earth stuff and that God put dinosaur bones in the hills just to fool the heathens.? If my grandchildren hear this they will laugh at me and I sometimes get angry when people laugh at me. like St Thomas.. I say .. Bring me a subtle talking snake...

Alan Mitchell, help us out here. Posters are missing that. Detail for us how Augustine misinterpreted Paul. Basically Augustine did not know Greek. I am sure you have at your fingertips the exact passage where Augustine missed it. Thank you. The other factor is Augustine's fascination with Genesis. Does science have a chance after that?Joe P, isn't rather loose to say that without the atonement Christianity is a reformed branch of Judaism. Jesus is still very unique and he brings reconciliation which wo/mankind needs. Reconciliation per Christum Dominum Nostrum is still the key. It is still a life through Jesus where we become children of God. That is, justified in the beatitudes.

Bill: Christ may still be Lord for Christians, but his Lordship would not reveal anything that is not already revealed within Judaism. The beatitudes, for example, may be understood as conditions of blessedness, not conditions that should necessarily be exemplary for all people at all times (why would mourning be such a condition? Yet, it could still be a condition of blessedness). The trick would be identifying what is unique about Jesus. Jesus was an interpreter of Judaism (as such, he was very much like a Pharisee). Christians are a community of people who understand themselves in terms of these interpretations and in terms of events said to be connected with the life of Jesus. This makes them like Hassidic Jews who understand their Jewishness in terms of the Baal Shem Tov (Hassidic Jews do not need the Baal Shem Tov to be divine).To be clear, my saying that without the atonement Christianity becomes a very, very reformed branch of Judaism was not intended to communicate anything negative. I think it would be a great thing if Christians had such an understanding of themselves.

[...] built on the Fall and Original Sin. DotCommonweal’s David Gibson has taken up the issue in What Do Catholics Believe About Adam and Eve?, citing John Farrell’s piece from Forbes <a href=" [...]

The section from Trent does not say Catholics are required to believe that Adam is the single father of the human race. Rather it simply repeats the plain sense of scripture and then justifies the practice of infant baptism, over against the reformers, by referring to the hereditary character of sin. And, where is "it" repeated in Vatican I? And is that 'it' the doctrine of original sin or the notion of a single progenitor? The doctrine of the original unity of man (male and female) is not a church doctrine. It is, however, a fairly common theological doctrine dating back to patristic and rabbinic exegesis of Gen 1, and may be more or less fruitful theologically. Also, which atonement theology are people assuming here? There are more than one, none of which are church doctrines. And doesn't the redemption remove sins, not 'sin' conceived abstractly?As for Paul, the premise on which the argument in Romans 5 is built is the brutal fact of human sinfulness, especially his own. It is the fact of sin that leads to consideration of its hereditary and "original" character. The terms 'original' and 'sin' are to be understood analogically as indicators of the fact of human sinfulness which stands in need of redemption. If the terms are not understood analogically then we are predicating about a fact that has no being as if it did. Ultimately sin is a surd.The problem appears to be a conflict between two papal statements and a popular reading of scripture, but it may not necessarily be a theological problem on which the whole of salvation history hangs. That seems a bit reductionist.

The problem with the Adam and Eve story is not just that science shows we must have had more than two original parents, it's that the idea of "the fall" is incoherent - we have nothing from which to have fallen. There never was a time when people and animals lived in any kind of innocence. The idea that animals did and still do so - that they, unlike us, have no conception of right and wrong - is being taken apart by recent research. ... ants have been shown to lie, cheat, steal, chimps to murder, and there is also animaal altruism. We (and animals) have more or less always been as we are, there was no fall from some better nature, no original sin, which is not to say that we shouldn't try to be better than we often are.

"no original sin"? How about your parents having sex to procreate you? Maybe that's the original sin.

Things seem intrinsically disordered to me when Bender gets on here and starts talking about the great big brotherhood of man and unity. But I think he's right in the main. Adam and Eve are all of us. If you go back to the first humans, you'll find sin. (And, if Crystal's researchers are correct, you may be able to go further back in the evolutionary chain.) All the Genesis story does is give the first humans names.Fundies have interesting ideas about Cain's wife, which, if you want to make yourself crazy, you can look up on line. in brief, they believe she must have been a descendant of Adam b/c only the descendants of Adam can be saved, thus excluding animals (though they'll tell you there are animals in heaven, just not any of the ones who lived here, which seems like kind of a duplication of effort, in my view).The RCIA ladies told us we didn't have to believe anything in the Old Testament. I don't think that entirely squares with Catholic teaching. There are those pesky 10 commandments ...

Any issues that are so divisive and confusing as these, Adam and Eve, Original Sin, and the Atonement, cry out for further reflection and clarification. I can only imagine some of what is being put forth out there about these in youth and adult catechesis. Jean, did the RCIA people really say that?

Jesus noted that only God is good. That is the whole meaning of justification. That God makes us good or worthy of Good. Yet when I am with my 14 month old Grandson, and I can see the selfishness emerging. Nevertheless, through him I experience the goodness of God like no where else.

Once I took my CCD group to a religious bookstore and gave them each a book of their choice as a gift. They were about 10 or 11 years old, and it was their 3rd year of CCD. One girl picked a children's bible and started reading it avidly, exclaiming: "So, this is where our religion all comes from! I never knew about all this!" But after going through the first couple of chapters, she raised her eyes from the book with a look of sudden grave doubt, and asked me in concern: "But, what they wrote in there, did it really happen like that?" To which I firmly answered: "No it didn't. This part of the bible is a myth."

Jean - what I found especially strange was Edward Fesser's idea ( that at some point God gave souls to two pre-intellectual hominid creatures - all other creatures, including the other hominids remained soulless. These two special hominids became Adam and Eve, and their offspring mated with the soulless hominids, and we're the result. Apparently this was Pius XII's idea (Humani Generis)?

"Also, which atonement theology are people assuming here? There are more than one, none of which are church doctrines. "J. C. --I was taught that Jesus "atoned" for our sins and that meant that He somehow paid what we owed to God for us. Do you mean that that is really a Protestant doctrine, not a Catholic one?

There are a number of atonement theories - wikipedia has a page that's helpful. Lots of different interpretations too, by guys like James Alison, NT Wright, David Bentley Hart, Keith Ward.

"Do you mean that that is really a Protestant doctrine, not a Catholic one?"Ann - My point was simply that there is no single defined way for understanding how redemption "works," let alone Protestant vs. Catholic versions. Some Protestant theologians have opted for something that goes under the heading substitutionary penal atonement theory. No doubt some Catholics think that explains the redemption, but that is neither the only, nor perhaps the most fruitful way of thinking through the work of the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. So, yes most Christians would say that "Jesus atoned for our sins," or "paid what we owed" to God. But what that actually might mean is a much more complex conversation which connects with many of the issues raised in this thread, especially original sin. The larger systematic questions regard the relationship between original sin and redemption as that is cast in Romans 5 and received in the tradition. How one imagines sin, perhaps particularly the apparent reign of sin we call "original sin," i.e., sin as 'inherited trait', influences how one imagines redemption.

David G. --Thanks for the bonus Andrew Sullivan recommendation. With Stephen Colbert I think he's one of the best presenters of the Faith to young Americans (Englishman though he is). Or should I say one of the presenters of the problems of the Faith these days.

Crystal wrote: "at some point God gave souls to two pre-intellectual hominid creatures all other creatures, including the other hominids remained soulless. These two special hominids became Adam and Eve, and their offspring mated with the soulless hominids, and were the result."Excellent observation and I had the same concerns while reading Fesser. Unfortunately, when I read Fesser I noted that he sourced Brian Harrison, which made me instantly lose charity and intellectual seriousness.The irony is (as every self-proclaimed conservative Catholic is a "Thomist") Fesser claims Aristotelean-Thomistic backing, then argues for a concept of human soul very far removed from Aristotle's-Thomas' substantial form...the idea that certain beings can be physically (biologically) human, but not metaphysically (spiritually). I think he is trying to have it both ways.As an area of theology that I believe posed many problems for me as a younger Catholic, I took great solace in Karl Rahner's article on Mono and Polygenism in his Theological Investigations where he states that monogenism is the official teaching of the Church, but leaves room for polygenism in the future (though at the time claiming that Catholics are bound to affirm monogenism as doctrinal, but not dogmatic teaching). Pretty bold for writing back in the early 60s.

Adam --The word "human" can mean just "like a human". We give the term that meaning when we say things like, "Look at that monkey's smile -- it's so human". We don't mean it's a person, just like a person to some extent.So I think when Feser says there could be "human beings" which aren't persons he just means that there could be some animals with some of the traits of fully human animals (us) but not *all* of our human traits. For instance, they could be very like us physically even including hands with thumbs and opposing forefingers. We might then say that their bodiess were very "human" though not completely so.Thomas might not object. He thought there were probably probably what we call viruses -- creatures which are in between the vegetative things of this world and sentient things.

Adam, I've been reading about hylomorphism and how Aquinas and Bonaventure disagreed about whether angels were all spirit/soul or also had matter :) ... The Individuation of Angels from Bonaventure to Duns ScotusWhat bothers me about Fesser's idea is that his God chose only two creatures to gift with souls out of a world of zillions of living things. Why would he give souls only to those two and why give them souls sometime after they're born? Why should we assume that those creatures or all creatures weren't born with both bodies and souls? I don't know much about Rahner, but I'm reading Karl Rahner and Ignatian Spirituality by Philip Endean SJ - very interesting.

Bill M.There are two texts in De Gratia Christi, et De Peccato Originali, 1.55 and 2.34 where Augustine interprets Romans 5:12 to mean that sin is hereditary. He also expresses the same idea in Against Two Letters of Pelagius. The idea of original sin pre-dates Augustine and is found in Irenaeus, Origen, and Tertullian. Augustine, however, was the first to give it a scriptural basis and in an effort to do that he misinterpreted Romans 5:12. The question of whether he knew Greek is not settled. Some recent work on it suggests that he may have had a rudimentary knowledge of Greek. But even if he were using only a Latin text of Paul's letters, what he wrote shows that he did not understand Romans 5:12.

Gee, when I went to Catholic school in the 1950s and early 1960s, all these questions had answers!

The suggestion that there existed a large group of merely genetic humans, that Adam and Eve were the first two "theological" humans, and that Adam and Eve and their descendants interbred with the merely genetic humans to produce theologically human offspring is an abomination. Aside from the fact that breeding between these two types of "humans" would be something like necrophilia or bestiality, and children in early generations would have had either an animal for either a mother or father, "scientifically" speaking, this proposed solution to human origins is on an intellectual par with the idea that evolution can be explained away by assuming earth was created 6000 years ago, fossils and all.

What David said.To clarify what I meant about the atonement and Adam and Eve, it seems to me that some literal fall by some literal couple/individual is necessary to provide any theological coherence to theological (as opposed to historical) affirmation of the divinity of Jesus. Divinity is necessary because only divinity could "fix" whatever it is that had been broken in the human relationship with God. I do not doubt that Christianity can and has proposed understandings of the atonment that do not require a literal fall, but neither then do they require a divine Jesus.Some theologians have suggested that the incarnation would have happened even without original sin. My sense is that these theologies suggest a limitation on God that is incoherent (e.g. somehow God could not fully understand creation/humanity without becoming incarnate).

Yes, Brian, Pinter, they really did say that ... and then they spent a lot of time backpedalling. It has been pointed out, very sharply by some, that I am painting RCIA with too broad a brush based on my own experience. If Cradle Catholics feel they have a stake in the preservation of the faith, I urge them to go sit in on some RCIA classes in their parishes and find out what gets said. Or, better, to participate and offer to be sponsors for new people. No one in my parish wanted to bother with that, so one of the leaders ended up being my (very reluctant) sponsor.

I appreciate these comments. Perhaps I'm not as worried about this development as I should be, but - I'm not very worried. Istm that once the creation stories in Genesis have been (correctly) identified as essentially mythical rather than strictly historical, they are open to a wide variety of interpretations.From a poetic point of view, I'd think that these scientific developments may cast new light on the meaning and reality of sin. For example, the myths underline the *social* aspect of sin - it was not just Adam, or just Eve, but Adam and Eve in collaboration who engineered the fall. There may be an analogy there to a group of hominids in collaboration (or competition), maybe even 10,000+. And it was not just the humans; it was the humans in interaction with the larger horizon of God's creation (symbolized by the serpent). There is room there for evolution The lesson of the Genesis myths - that sin is real, pervasive and ineradicable by human agency, that human life doesn't have to be this way, but it is - are still applicable, istm. The table is still set for salvation history.Certainly, it is problematic for the church that it has made some very strong statements about science based on what it in the Bible. It turns out that the Bible is not a reliable guide to science. We knew that already; I guess this reinforces that lesson.

I think Jim is right about Bible and science and myth stories in the Bible.It strikes me there is still a far too prevalent approach to treat the Bible as a history book coupled with the apologetic desire to defend CCC as a final word.Then there are subsequent theological problems noted here, vis. at-onement,But that's a whole other thread as well.If we could only develop more biblical appreciation that is therologically centered, it might help.I wonder what the priests of tommorow are learning in their OT and NT studies today?????

Certainly, it is problematic for the church that it has made some very strong statements about science based on what it in the Bible. It turns out that the Bible is not a reliable guide to science. Jim,What about Original Sin? Does Baptism remove it? Are or are not unbaptized infants (including the unborn) in a state of grace?

403 Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam's sin and the fact that he has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the "death of the soul". Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin.

The "certainty of faith" is rapidly becoming less certain in this thread! Is mankind in a "fallen" state because of something our first ancestors did? Or is what we describe as a "fallen" state the inevitable consequence not of willful actions on the part of our "first parents," but because of the way human beings evolved. Were humans ever in an "un-fallen" state from which they "fell"?It seems to me that Original Sin is bedrock in the Catholic understanding of humanity. It also seems to me that now no one can explain what it is or how it came to be or if the concept even makes sense at all.

Orginal Sin is an ad hoc theological doctrine designed to necessitate belief in Jesus Christ and the need for sacramental actions taken by an institutional church. It now masquerades as some kind of discovery of the perduring character of human sinfulness, something almost no non-Christian theist would ever deny in the first place.There...I said it.

Whew! For a while there, I thought this might turn controversial!

Jim - excellent summation. You have just encapsulated Rahner's analysis of Original Sin - it is best understood scripturally, analogically, and poetically as attempts to describe human experience and our "Original Condition".It is sin that is communal, part of the natural law, foundational - not personal; deliberate choice, etc.The problem with some of these papal documents - pre-biblical studies; written and espoused long before the emergence of science, biology, genetics. They still treat genesis liiterally even though they may state otherwise.Actually, any of these "doctrines" lose effectiveness with Divino Afflente, Pius XII, in 1948; the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls and the emergence of the scientific fields of study. In some way, it is analogous to the "fight" over evolution. No credible church expert questions evolution and can explain it in the light of scripture. The same will happen here - as I said, it is "Limbo" all over again.

Some Jewish texts adumbrating the concept of original sin (see the Original Sin entry, pp. 323-4):

Crystal --We could also ask, why didn't God create even more human beings even earlier so they too could be saved and go to Heaven? Why didn't He also turn *all* the animals into humans so *they too* could be saved and go to Heaven? Why hasn't God created an infinite number of worlds with an infinite number of human creatures that could be saved? Or has He?Do you really expect that we finite humans can understand the gratuitousness of God? Why *shouldn't* God give to some and not to others? Could it be that it has something to do with the limits of us creatures and not with His unlimited grace?

Ann,I'm not saying God "couldn't" give souls to just two hominids and leave all the reast of the living beings he created soulless, but I don't see why I should believe that when that's not what Genesis says. As far as I can tell, the idea is a complete construct with no basis other than Pius XII's need to do an end run around evolution.

Crystal --If you think Adam and Eve are a mystery, give a thought to the "tree of knowledge". What in the world were the early Hebrews supposed to think that was about?More general question: could it be that such myths were meant to have different meanings, different values for people at different times? Why shouldn't God's revelation be a sort of poetry whose meanings at different times for different peoples nevertheless all be blessings? Is it really so important that we all have exact knowledge of certain sentences, or that we all know exactly the same things? Could it even be that by telling Adam and Eve not to eat of "the tree of knowledge"f God was trying to prevent them from thinking it was even possible for them to know everything they wanted to know about the world AND HIM? Was He trying to keep them humble about what man can and cannot know? Was He trying to tell them to be satisfied with the limited knowledge they had of HIm on this Earth?I dont' know either.

Ann,It is all mysterious :) I don't know how things really were/are, but that idea of God only choosing two creatures to have souls just seems to me, as David N wrote above, an abomination. It shows a God who seems more like a mad scientist than a loving father, but that's just my personal feeling.I don't think the lack of Adam and Eve and original sin means, as Joe wrote above, that Jesus wasn't divine. I don't think atonement is necessary to explain why Jesus came here. I always think of that article by Ken Overberg SJ - The Incarnation: Why God Wanted to Become Human

Crystal --My favorite answer to the question: why did Christ become man? is the simple but oh so full answer of Blessed Duns Scotus, who said that Jesus became man "because He wanted to be with us".

I like that answer :)

Crystal --Yes, it's a winner. For me it most especially answers this question: why is Jesus there in the Eucharist? Answer: He wants to be with us. All of us. Each of us. Sinners. Saints. etc., etc., etc. . .What I don't understand is why the young people aren't attracted to that dogma -- the one called by the old fuddie-duddies "transubstantiation". But it boils down to: He wants to be with us.

The central difficulty I find myself having with the Scotus position is that I think there is good reason to believe that God is already maximally with us, so I cannot see how the that could be increased either by the Incarnation or by transubstantiation. I would describe my position as panentheism and one can visualize it by drawing a large circle with a smaller circle completely inside it. The large circle is God, the smaller circle is "world," at minimum our universe.

"Is mankind in a fallen state because of something our first ancestors did? Or is what we describe as a fallen state the inevitable consequence not of willful actions on the part of our first parents, but because of the way human beings evolved. Were humans ever in an un-fallen state from which they fell?"Hi, David, certainly those are intriguing questions. I don't believe science has answered them. The perennial power of the Genesis myths on our imaginations and beliefs, I'd suggest, lies in their intuition of our state of being, and the mythic explanation of a fall to explain our state of being. The intuition is that our state of being is sinful, that we somehow fall short of our potential, and that all of our striving isn't sufficient to overcome it. (There is a good Tolkien passage about this, in a conversation between Legolas and Gimli. If Jean Raber is reading this, no doubt she will beg me to produce it).I don't know how interspecies evolution leads to that intuition of fallenness. Interspecies evolution, in the popular mind anyway, presents a picture, not of a fall or stumbling, but of progression, of ever-better adaptation. Note that I'm not saying that it *can't* lead us to that intuition; I just don't see the connection.

I don't know whence Original Sin, but I have no trouble believing in it. If you have ever had a boss, a mother-in-law, tried to find a parking spot in a mall, visited the grocery store the night before Thanksgiving, or spent a couple of hours with a roomful of preschoolers, believing comes quite naturally.It's Salvation that strikes me as far fetched.

I would never beg for any passages from LOTR.

species ((biology) taxonomic group whose members can interbreed)I tried to address this yesterday, and a fire (bolt of lightning?) struck some cable lines and prevented me from sending. In hopes that that was not aimed at me, I try again."Interspecies evolution" is an impossibiility. By definition, if members of a group can interbreed, they are a single species. That makes the "species" a difficult term to use when discussing evolution. Dogs and cats have common ancestor whose breeding diverged so that cats and dogs cannot now interbreed. But the opposite, two species breeding together to form a new species, is not known afaik.Monogenism implies either a>a sinlge couple's children generate a species; or b> all the members of a species can trace their origin back to a single couple. If static ideas of species are used, option a is done by several generations of incest, and option b only with bestiality. In either instance, monogenism is an abomination.Evolution describes another process, where the common ancestors of cats and dogs interbreed within their species and differentiate until new species emerge, new groups who cannot interbreed. Monogenism in this context would be one couple wihtin a species interbreeding until their childten, and only their children form a subgroup that becomes a new species. Using Austr as earlier species, an Austr man and and Austr woman have a family that interbeeds with other Austr until their descendants cannot interbreed with other Austr. This creates a new species Humans. I do not see why this process would be considered an abomination, though it challenges premodern ideas about species.Other issues have come up that are similar. Every living thing has a soul. Plants have vegetative souls, animals have animal souls and humans have rational souls. Only rational souls are capable of the knowledge and intent needed to sin, so no matter how much an animal action looks like murder or stealing, it is not sinning because it does not have the type of knowledge needs to sin.Adam and Eve is about gaining the knowledge needed to sin, about the transition from an animal soul to a rational one. That is what creates some of the difficulties discussed here.

" Every living thing has a soul. Plants have vegetative souls, animals have animal souls and humans have rational souls. Only rational souls are capable of the knowledge and intent needed to sin, so no matter how much an animal action looks like murder or stealing, it is not sinning because it does not have the type of knowledge needs to sin."S. says Aristotle (and Aquinas) but there is no proof for this - it's an assumption that has no basis either in scripture or in science. The distinction between rational and nonrational souls is convenient but that idea is being slowly deconstructed by animal research.

Interspecies evolution, in the popular mind anyway, presents a picture, not of a fall or stumbling, but of progression, of ever-better adaptation. Note that Im not saying that it *cant* lead us to that intuition; I just dont see the connection.Jim,Actually, the idea of progress in evolution is generally rejected, but I would be out of my depth trying to explain why in any detail. Natural selection doesn't necessarily lead to "better" organisms over time. I think evolution explains "original sin" by revealing that human beings are cobbled together, or laid down in layers. For example, the oldest part of the brain, the "brain stem," is often referred to as the "reptilian brain." It is to a certain degree autonomous. When it functions in harmony with the rest of the brain, all is generally well. When your brain stem (and amygdala) perceive something as a threat that your higher brain does not, you may have a phobia or traumatic stress disorder. It is adaptive for your brain to react to a threat almost instantly, without you stopping to think whether it is really a threat or not. A lot of our "bad qualities" are adaptive. A book I highly recommend is On Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz. She tells us, for example, that much of the time we are operating under very good, highly efficient general rules that are right most of the time, but lead to error some of the time. This is true of many optical illusions, some of which we see "wrong" even when we know for a fact what the truth is. For example, on the checkerboard of chess board illusion, even after we know that squares A and B are the same shade of gray, we still see B as lighter than A, because our brain "corrects" objects in shadows to make us perceive them as lighter. I have quoted this Scientific Americanreview of Cordelia Fine's book A Mind of Its Ownmany times, but it illustrates the point so well, it is worth quoting again:

Many psychological studies show that on average, each of us believes we are above average compared with othersmore ethical and capable, better drivers, better judges of character, and more attractive. Our weaknesses are, of course, irrelevant. Such self distortion protects our egos from harm, even when nothing could be further from the truth. Our brains are the trusted advisers we should never trust. This "distorting prism" of selfknowledge is what Cordelia Fine, a psychologist at the Australian National University, calls our "vain brain." Fine documents the lengths to which a human brain will go to bias perceptions in the perceivers favor. When explaining to ourselves and others why something has gone well or badly, we attribute success to our own qualities, while shedding responsibility for failure. Our brains bias memory and reason, selectively editing truth to inflictless pain on our fragile selves. They also shield the ego from truth with "retroactive pessimism," insisting the odds were stacked inevitably toward doom. Alternatively, the brain of "selfhandicappers" concocts nonthreatening excuses for failure. Furthermore, our brains warp perceptions to match emotions. In the extreme, patients with Cotard delusion actually believe they are dead. So "pigheaded" is the brain about protecting its perspective that it defends cherished positions regardless of data. The "secretive" brain unconsciously directs our lives via silent neural equipment that creates the illusion of willfulness. "Never forget," Fine says, "that your unconscious is smarter than you, faster than you, and more powerful than you. It may even control you. You will never know all of its secrets." So what to do? Begin with self-awareness, Fine says, then manage the distortions as best one can. We owe it to ourselves "to lessen the harmful effects of the brains various shams," she adds, while admitting that applying this lesson to others is easier than to oneself. Ironically, one category of persons shows that it is possible to view life through a clearer lens. "Their self-perceptions are more balanced, they assign responsibility for success and failure more even-handedly, and their predictions for the future are more realistic. These people are living testimony to the dangers of self-knowledge," Fine asserts. "They are the clinically depressed." Case in point.

I would say that all of this is the result of evolution, not the result of the actions of Adam and Eve. Evolution did not result in some ideal, rational, objective creature. It resulted in a creature that is made up of many "modules," not all of which work in harmony, and perhaps even many selves.When I read something by Oliver Sacks, I am frequently amazed by how what we may think of as one "faculty" is actually a collection of many individual "subfaculties" working harmoniously together. But when one of those subfaculties is absent or malfunctioning, then you wind up as a bizarre case history in an Oliver Sacks book. Sacks himself has difficulty recognizing faces.

"The distinction between rational and nonrational souls is convenient but that idea is being slowly deconstructed by animal research.'Crystal --The contemporary biologists do not speak the same language as contemporary philosophers, so I don't think you can expect them to understand what the classic meanings of "soul" are. (And, yes, those classic meanings are usually the meanings of Catholic theology.) So when the biologists say there is no difference between a human and a purely animal soul, they may know what *they* mean by "soul" but they don't know what the classic philosophers meant. The usual biologists these days are the heirs of the materialism that flooded our culture in the 20th century, and they know little if anything of anything other than the materialist philosophy philosophy called "logical positivism" which dominated philosophy of science in the 20th century. Logical positivism was invented by some very great scientist-philosophers (e.g. Mach and Carnap). However, for various reasons logical positivism is now dead philosophically. It has been abandoned by philosophers. So don't trust what biologists tell you about philosophical questions. They knew only the positivists, and the positivists are dead. Because positivism is dead (among the philosophers, at least) there is a lot of thinking going on now in philosophy of science as to what the founding principles of philosophy and philosophy of science should be -- if, indeed, founding philosophical principles are even possible. In other words, philosophy of science is in something of a mess right now, but at least some philosophers/thinkers are starting to look at basic questions, and that can only be to the good.Unfortunately, their thinking is still materialist. So far as I know, they all identify the brain and conscious, and, in their primitive philosophical fashion, they identify consciousness with "soul", whatever they mean by that. However, a very few are starting asking some basic philosophical questions. I refer you especially to the article on Michael Gazzaniga,l which appeared one day this week in the New York Times. (He is one of the great neurobiologists, having been a pioneer explorer of the right brain-left brain dualism, and he's made other major discoveries about brain functioning. But he's something of a maverick and gets out of the neuroscience box when it suits him. l can't give you the site because the NYT has my account all messed up. But if you get the NYT, do read it. Gazzaniga IS asking more basic questions than his colleagues, questions which at least verge on the philosophical. So there is progress being made. Now all we need is a common language for the scientists and philosophers so they can speak with each other, and the scientists won't have to totally re-invent the philosophical wheels, which would be a waste of time.

David N,I like Oliver Sacks too. Did you ever see those movies made from his work - Awakenings and At First Sight?

Ann,I don't know very much about the philosophy of science - just a little about Karl Popper and falsifiability. I see what you mean about science and the soul, but I was thinking that Aristotle and Aquinas believed humans had a "rational soul" because they believed that only humans have the capacity to use reason, and I think it's that perception that is changing, due to animal research. The soul and science is a whole other can of worms :)Thanks for telling me about Michael Gazzaniga - I looked him up and was able to find this NYT video of him ....

Crystal --I agree that some of the new discoveries about the primates especially raise some serious philosophical issues. But they're not really that new. I remember an smart old priest answering when asked "What should we do if apes can reason?", "Baptize them".Think of the ethical ramifications of that. Peter Singer, I should add, has had the courage to ask and give some answers to just such questions. We might not like his answers, but he is an honest man with a huge amount of intellectual courage.

Crystal,I agree with you that there is evidence to back up the definitions of rational and soul. That is why it is so hard to use evidence based science to question them!The traditional interpretation of Adam and Eve is not just that they sinned, but that they gained a knowledge of good and evil by their sin. If that knowledge was gained by another species, by some other action, that would be polygenism. But the definitions of soul, good and evil make it very difficult to establish that this has happened. (It also is not obvious that this knowledge is a good thing that God should have given to everyone)I am just trying to clarify where you, David and others disagree with the traditional formulations. There are many other ways of approaching these stories and I am not trying to say one interpretation is right or wrong. I am motr interested in clearing up misunderstandings and confusion about the traditional formulation so we don't get distracted from the main issues.

David,"Better" is a form of "good", abd as such is dependent on a knowledge of what good is. Observational science generally does not have that, so evolution as observed is not likely to "progress" according to non-observable criteria. Biology might say "better adapted to the environment" or "more likely to survive and reproduce", but it cannot an unqualified "better". That belongs to the realm of morality, and that is where the biologist is going if they promote something as progress toward some ideal good.I think the Adam and Eve story is about gaining a knowledge of good and evil. This is a consequence of the original sin. It is a part of us that was not given by God, but acquired by our actions, so God never said it was good. I do not see why this is incompatible with a layered view of our persons such as you describe. It is one more layer, and it makes us who we are morally, ie our parts are at war within us, and our knowledge of good and evil judges what is good or bad.

Jim,If the traditional view is that .....1) there were just two parents 2) that they lived in Eden where there was peace and innocence.... then I'd say these two beliefs are contradicted by genetics and evolution.If the traditional view is that ...1) only these two humans had souls2) that they did something bad that cut them off from God.... then I'd say these beliefs are beyond proving by science, but that they just seem like conjecture to me. That only people have souls is nowhere menioned in the bible (at least I don't think so). That people gained the knowledge of good and evil at some point also seems unsupported - I don't mean to say that we don't do bad things and that most of us don't know better, but just that I think this has probably always been a part of who we are (and that it may also be a part of who animals are too) and so we haven't then "fallen" from some better nature, though we continually fail to be the best we can be.Does that make any sense?

Crystal, I pretty much agree with you that these formulations are flawed. I do not agree that they reflect "the traditional view".1. To say all of us our descended from Adam and Eve is not the same as saying we had just two parents. You are descended from two grandmothers, but you did not have just two grandparents. Genetics disproves that you had just two grandparents; it would affirm that you and your cousins are descended from your grandmothers.2. Since innocent = has not known evil, this is roughly equivalent to "they had no knowledge of good and evil." It is the point of the story, that we became human when we started to distinguish good from evil.1. As pointed out before, this is not the traditional view. Animals do not have rational souls because they do not have a knowledge of good and evil.2. I'd rather say "cut themselves off from God."These things are mostly just defintions, which are unprovable. So I do not see how evidence could disprove them. Or prove them.This story is about moral behavior, including our knowledge of good and evil. If you think a> we can judge what is good or evil or b> all our ancestors had a comparable awareness, then the story is not for you. It is an explanation of why we have moral awareness. (and since moral awareness is a component of sin, sin's presence)

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