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.

David Gibson is the director of Fordham’s Center on Religion & Culture.

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