Difficulties with Adam and Eve

Lucas Cranach the Elder – Adam and Eve

One of the interesting things about conducing a parish mission is how many people stay behind to ask really probing questions. Last evening here in Indianapolis a man named Frank asked me if it was wrong not to believe certain things the church teaches. He’s a scientist and he said he simply can’t accept the story of Adam and Eve. He asked if it was true that the church expects us to believe in a historical Adam and Eve.

So I explained the difference between a doubt and a difficulty. A difficulty is when you are confronted with something seemingly incredible or impossible and you say, “How can that be?” You retain curiosity and open and enquiring mind. That’s OK. A doubt is when you are confronted with the incredible or impossible and you say, “That can’t be.” At that point you’ve closed your mind and cut off enquiry and possible solutions to the problem. Difficulties with the faith are not only permissible, they are to be encouraged because it is through facing the difficulties that we think through our faith and discover solutions. The mindset of “How can that be?” is full of wonder and trust and most of all–open mindedness. Doubt is negative, self righteous and closes down.

So what are we to do with the story of Adam and Eve? I asked Frank what he didn’t believe about Adam and Eve. It turned out that he was a former Baptist and what he didn’t believe was the picture book Bible story fundamentalist version of the second chapter of Genesis. He didn’t believe in a handsome naked man standing behind a waist high bush and a beautiful naked woman with long hair discreetly covering her bosom as she talked with a snake about an apple. He didn’t believe there were only two people in the world who lived in a garden somewhere around Iraq about six thousand years ago.

Good, because you don’t have to believe all that about Adam and Eve to be a good Catholic. All you have to believe is that there was, somewhere at some point in time a man and a woman who were our first parents and that they made a monumental choice to disobey God. I reminded him that the stories in Genesis are ancient Hebrew creation myths. They are symbolic stories that incarnate the truth. They are not necessarily factual reports of exactly what happened. However, it is not true that the stories are intended to be merely myth–that is a fairy tale that didn’t happen at all.

So when and where did they live? The answer is, we don’t know. The stories in the first twelve chapters of Genesis are lost in the mists of what we call “pre-history”. It is only with Father Abraham that we can begin to piece together historical places and people. What can we say about Adam and Eve? First of all, we can conclude that they were not the only people or humanoids on earth at the time because their son Cain went out and found a wife.

My own theory is that there were other human-type creatures on earth, but that Adam and Eve were the first specially created humans with souls, with free will and perhaps the first with language. They were the first to have a relationship with God, and therefore the first parents of all who believe. Did they live in a garden? Were they naked? Did they talk to a snake? Did they eat an apple? Was there a tree of the knowledge of good and evil? I’m not saying there wasn’t, but it is possible to believe that most of these elements of the story are symbolic, but that the essential story is that a specially created man and woman lived on the earth in a state of child-like innocence and bliss–that they had a unique relationship with God which they spoiled by disobedience. The rest of the details can remain open ended. You may believe it all literally, but you needn’t.

Why does it matter? It matters because our faith is historical. From the beginning of the book of Genesis, through the genealogies of the Jews we are reminded that the characters from pre-history are linked with the characters we know are historical. The Jewish writers are intent to show that God’s interaction with humanity is historical and real and not mythological in the fairy tale sense. Consequently, we affirm that Adam and Eve were historical figures–how and when they lived and the details of their fall from grace are open to speculation based on the Biblical account.

 

  • Captain Jack

    ‘Nice’ point. So, since Vatican II and our focus on social justice rather than Catholic tradition, did we present social justice poorly? There’s no doubt that the Church has held its Latin Underground Railroad silently active. But there is no teeth in the Immigration laws, so how difficult was that? How many of us (or how few rather) are aware of the murders of priests and nuns in Latin America, imprisonment in China, extermination in the Near East? Most people, then most catechist, aren’t going to incorporate what they don’t know into their lessons. It’s ‘nice’ and quiet at home.

    Only in the past decade has it become apparent that the New World Order is ordered under neo-Greco-Roman morality. Only now that political-correctness (marketed as ‘niceness’) is the vehicle of change is anyone noticing its difficult to be Catholic. Difficult to stand apart from peers and oppose homosexual marriage; difficult to oppose a President one elected because his health care law requires we pay for abortions, difficult because the word ‘bigot’ is applied to us now, and difficult because we don’t know what it means to BE Catholic.

  • Guest

    There is conclusive scientific evidence that everyone alive on the planet today has a single common female ancestor. Here is an interesting article about it:

    http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/evolution/female-ancestor.htm

  • Richard

    There is scientific evidence that everyone alive on the planet today has a single common female ancestor. Here is an interesting article about it:

    http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/evolution/female-ancestor.htm

    • Tony

      Remember Adam and Eve came into the world as adults. Perhaps God ordained that the first several generations of their children would reach adulthood immediately. It is a matter of faith that Adam and Eve are the parents of all humanity and God in His infinite power made it so.

  • Fatima Deacon

    I seem to recall reading that geneticists believe our DNA can be traced back to a single woman. (I am ready to be corrected on this point, however.) If that is so, it would fit nicely with the biblical description of Eve as being the mother of all the living, with Mary as the new Eve, but that’s a different discussion.

  • William Lanigan

    I think Fr. Longnecker is saying basically what I have believed for a long time. I have always thought that “in the fullness of time” God breathed the Holy Spirit into a specific man and woman (let me be more specific, male and female, arsen and thelo) who thus became the first humans to understand who God is and what He wants from us. Everything else stemmed from that.

  • Yan

    Fr., I don’t believe that there could have been other humanoids on earth at the time of Adam and Eve, because that would violate the principal of monogenesis. This principle protects the Catholic doctrine of the unity of all mankind under Adam.

    Thus, it must have been that Adam and Eve had other children, and that Cain married one of his sisters. Since almost all the genetic diversity of the human species was within Adam and Eve, sibling marriage did not pose the threat to genetic defects that it does today.

    • mally el

      This is what many Christians do believe.

    • Alessandro Arsuffi

      The Catholic teaching, however, says that the rational or intellectual soul is the form of the human body. Technically, there might have been individuals with a biologically “Homo sapiens sapiens” body who were not humans because they lacked a rational immortal soul such as ours. They would be considered as animals looking like humans, and it is possible that our human ancestors interbred with them in the same way that dogs can mate with wolves. After all, the Nephilim story in Genesis might even come from this interbreeding between the “sons of God” (real humans) and the “daughter of man” (soul-less or fake human females). I fully subscribe Fr’s theory as the most probable concordist position to be held. Also, considering that genetics proved that we’ve got a single common ancestor living by 5000-2000 years ago (Noah is our nearest ancestor, living in the 3rd millennium BC), then we might be all humans because of Noah’s descendants, as Noah was a pure Adamite.

      • Barry Bozz

        Neither of Cain’s possible wife causes a problem to the central
        requirement of faith that :1) Adam and Eve are the first humans
        specially created. Their bodies could not be caused by animals who
        evolved.

        The time frame seems open, although the geneology is
        quite specific, it need not be complete, and that opens lots of
        scenarios that we may never know. For example: We know there existed
        hominids we call neanderthals. Who and what were they? They don’t seem
        to be children of Eve, although they do seem to have had a rational soul
        because they had tools and practiced rituals for the dead,the latter would seem to indicate they had a longing for immortality.. If they had
        rational souls, does that mean they had immortal souls? Maybe , maybe
        not. They may have been semi-rational with the ability to see cause and effect on a non-moral plane of awareness. They could see Fire burns wood but acted purely on instinct and could not be culpable of moral action.( I don’t rule out some sort of evolution and species change, but I
        do reject Darwinian Evolutionary theory with it’s claim that natural
        selection and random mutation suffices to explain the origin of species).

        It seems there are 3 speculative theories that explain the existence and human interaction with Neanderthals none of which run counter the teachings of the church.

        • mally el

          It is also possible that the Neanderthals were human beings whose minor physical differences resulted from environmental conditions.

      • TheodoreSeeber

        Possible- even likely. Recent genetic testing shows that Homo Neanderthalis DNA still exists in certain isolated European villages and tribes.

    • James Zahler

      The problem is that the best scientific theories about population genetics can’t show how the current level of genetic diversity in the world could arise from two people. Adam and Eve aren’t enough.

      When Pope Pious the XII condemned polygenism, the theory stated that humanity evolved in different locations around the world so that they could explain racial diversity. Each race, in effect, was its own generation of the human species. This is what Pious XII condemned.

      However, this is no longer the current evolutionary theory about human origins. Currently scientists believe the ‘out of Africa model,’ which understands that there was one pre-human population which evolved into a human population.

      Also, there is plenty of evidence that there were other humanoids living in the world at the time of our ancestors like the Neanderthals. There were, also, children born of Human and Neanderthal parents. About 2.5% of European DNA is from Neanderthals. Apparently, the frequency of mating between humans and neanderthals was about once every 30 years. My guess is that either bestiality or rape was going on… There’s no reason to suppose that Neanderthals had souls and were rational.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tyler.millhouse Tyler Millhouse

    As far as I know, the genetic evidence points strongly away from the two-parent picture. In addition, human populations were widely dispersed before anything close to the time frame of Biblical events (Adam 6 kya, humans settle Australia 40-50 kya). To sustain an original community view, you’d have to date the Fall to sometime earlier than 60 kya. The most likely date would be sometime around 70 kya, during the postulated human population bottleneck known as the Toba Catastrophe. Then, of course, you’ll have to explain how subsequent interbreeding with the Neanderthals, and likely the Denisovans, fits into that picture. On top of that, you’ll have to account for God’s rather long delay in spiritually intervening in human affairs. Why wait 68,000 years to send a messiah?

    Theologians are very smart and will likely find some reconciliation here. However, since you can salvage ANY explanatory thesis by modifying your other beliefs, I’m not sure this is very comforting (see: epicycles).

    http://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct05.html
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronology_Aof_the_Bible
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recent_African_origin_of_modern_humans
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_bottleneck#Humans
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neanderthal_admixture_theory#History
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denisovans#Interbreeding_with_modern_humans
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deferent_and_epicycle

  • Maria

    Father, what about Noah? Are we Catholics required to believe the story of Noah and the flood literally?

    • mally el

      The story of a destructive flood appears in the beliefs that existed in different cultures.

    • Christian Stillings

      I’d check out the article on The Deluge which is found in the Catholic Encyclopedia- it’s a very thorough and interesting study of The Deluge (depicted in the Noah story) from (obviously) a magisterially faithful source. You should be able to find it on the New Advent website.

  • http://www.facebook.com/captainorso Ronald Orso

    Father, thank you! As a past Catholic School teacher, I bring up how every human alive today is directly related through their maternal MDNA to one female who lived 200,000 years ago. I’ve taught that there were probably multiple hominid species at the time, but that God took 2 individuals, gave them immortal souls and revealed Himself to them. They disobeyed Him and Original Sin came into the world.

  • JB

    I don’t think it’s that simple. Cain either married one of his sisters or married a woman-looking animal. Both hypotheses are troublesome.

    • Dr. Eric

      The prohibition from marrying close kin wasn’t put in place until Moses. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob married VERY close kin.

  • MichaelP

    So I guess you are saying that Cain went out and married an animal. Are you suggesting that bestiality was indorsed in the beginning? The historical accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 don’t give us a timeline, so there is a lot that could have happened that we don’t know about. Taking your position, you throw a wrench into the doctrine of Original Sin.

    It sounds like Mark S. is getting the best of you on this topic.

    God bless,
    Michael

    • TheodoreSeeber

      Is Homo Neanderthalis an “animal”?

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    Father, is there a good source for how Catholic teaching views evolution? I’ve heard conflicting sides, both from sources I generally consider reliable and well-informed of Catholic teaching, everything from a very fundamentalist, young earth PoV to accepting that the earth is hundreds of billions of years old and evolution is how God chose to create.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kathleen.schilling.31 Kathleen Schilling

    You should read Bryan Sykes book “Seven Daughters of Eve” about his DNA research. We all lead back to one “mitochondrial Eve.” Lots of info online. At Wiki:

    In the field of human genetics, Mitochondrial Eve, who is estimated to have lived approximately 190,000–200,000 years ago, refers to the matrilineal most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of all currently living anatomically modern humans. In other words, she was the most recent woman from whom all living
    humans today descend, on their mother’s side, and through the mothers
    of those mothers, and so on, back until all lines converge on one
    person.

    • Howard

      “Mitochondrial Eve” need not be (and almost certainly is not) the literal Eve.

  • Andrea

    Thank you, Father. I always worried that I doubted, and now I’ve found that I only had difficulties with a couple of teachings, which have since been resolved. This clarifies my thinking..

  • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

    Oh, and that first verse of the entire Bible, you know- the one that ends with “and the Earth”?

    I am sure we needn’t believe that either.

    Myth and symbolism.

    Sure.

    The disaster of the modern Church is the failure to believe what every Catholic believed, right up until the Goliath of scientism showed up and persuaded us that it couldn’t be true.

    You believe what you want to believe, Father.

    I believe science has bamboozled you.

    • Sven2547

      “Scientism”? That’s a new one on me.

  • Cole J. Banning

    I actually find the notion that Cain (and Seth) took a soul-less quasi-human as a mate a lot more disturbing than the idea that he married his sister (especially since we already know that Abraham DID marry his half-sister).

    I also think that if you interpret Adam and Eve as eternal rather than historical truths the fact that we are punished for their sins becomes less problematic: they are us, and their rebellion is our rebellion. (Yes, one must walk a fine line to keep from falling into Pelagianism, but I think that is still preferable to the problems of understanding them as historical figures.)

  • Miles S. Michaelis

    Thank you Father. Do you know if we have to believe that Adam and Eve were husband and wife, or that they even lived at the same time?

    • mally el

      In reply to a question relating to marriage Jesus said that it was for this reason – meaning marriage – that at the beginning of creation God made us Male and Female. So, here we have Jesus making it very clear that man was created having two genders for a specific reason.
      Yan rightly pointed out that Adam and Eve had sons and daughters who married each other. In those days people lived for hundreds of years and had many children. This is how the population increased. The flood, referred to by another writer, occurred because the daughters of man were marrying non-humans which greatly corrupted God’s plan. There was a reaction in nature which resulted in those offspring being eliminated.
      St Paul clearly did not associate Jesus with a fictional figure when he said that Jesus was the new or second Adam.

  • TaylorB

    So Cain’s wife didn’t have a soul?

  • Howard

    The timing of “six thousand years ago” is the most problematic aspect of the fundamentalist interpretation. The other aspects are no more startling than what you probably believe happened at Fatima, and considerably less startling than the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and Transubstantiation.

    The bit about “human-like animals” is hard to get around, but realize that you open up a whole line of argument for those who want to say that the severely disabled, or the unborn, or the old and infirm are not, or not yet, or not any longer “really human”, having an actual soul and entitled to our protection.

  • flankus7

    Dear Fr. Dwight,
    It might have been a good idea to look up what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about it. That short explanation of a “primeval event” is much better than your attempt.

    • frdlongenecker

      My post was simply my own speculation about the ‘primeval event.’

      • omibiga

        Are we at liberty, as Catholics, to have our ‘own Speculation’ about clear Catholic teachings, dear Father?

        • frdlongenecker

          We can speculate about details as long as we don’t contradict the church’s teaching.

  • TomD

    Very informative and helpful summary of Catholic teaching with regards to Adam and Eve. Thank you Father.

    I do have one problem however. It is the use of the word “myth.” I understand that it primarily refers, I think, to a literary genre, but I believe that we cede too much when we use the word myth. In common usage, it is used to refer to something that is factually not true. Modernists have used the word myth in order to undermine, not only the factual events, but also, by implication, the meaning of the Creation story. Story is a better word, but it too has problems, again with implications of being “made-up.” If God is the author of sacred Scripture, there are problems with the use of both myth and story. By using those terms, we place heavy emphasis on the human authorship.

    I don’t necessarily believe in the full factuality (word?) of Adam and Eve, but I believe in the truth conveyed by what is recounted in the text.

  • Catholic Johnny

    You obviously believe that Adam was a dummy and that God speaking directly to him was ineffective in transmitting divine revelation. With all due respect, Father, you are still Anglican in this regard.

  • MAP

    Ah, but if you’ve read Tolkien, you know that myths are more true than fairy tales!

  • Chris

    Love it! A few years back, for some reason, I had the notion that not everyone on the planet have souls. It was a strange, momentary thought…nearly a realization and I haven’t been able to shake it since! When you mentioned the possibility of other humanoids being around…I had that notion jump right back into my brain! Do you think it’s possible? Just something to wonder about…

  • Steve

    As I recall Scientists have in the last 10 years or so, by the typing of mitochondrial DNA have determined that there was 1 human female progenitor (mother of the Species) AND that there was, by the same process, only 1 human male progenitor father of the species.
    Go figure …..

    • Fred

      That’s the current theory. But, if you read it more carefully, the theory also says that the Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam most likely lived thousands of years apart, and there were many others in their ‘community’.
      So, not the same Adam and Eve.

      • joeclark77

        The Y-chromosome bottleneck is not Adam, but Noah. The scientific evidence actually supports the literal reading of Genesis here. Secularists, and those of us who take Genesis to be a symbolic, spiritual history, have a harder time explaining the data.

  • ThirstforTruth

    As a cradle Catholic I really appreciated this as I too, have had difficulty with
    discerning between what is symbolic and what is actually factual when it
    comes to our first parents. This was most helpful in giving me a new and still
    acceptable approach to Adam and Eve. I quess in one way it is sort of like Santa Claus. The mythic Santa, the one who comes down the chimney every Christmas,
    he is not real in the sense of the department store guy dressing up and all. He is merely a symbol of something greater and most real. We find
    in fact St Nicholas, a real historical figure, to rely upon and believe
    in, whogave us the true spirit of giving and loving generosity. The spirit of Christmas with the greatest gift, of course, being the Infant Jesus. So yes, in a way I can say I believe in Santa Claus, I can also believe certain things about Adam and Eve. Most importantly is the that the human race was created in God’s image when God infused a soul into our first parents. At a specific point in unrecorded time, our
    lineage began directly from the hand of God, At some point in pre-recorded history God, the Creator, infused a soul into what perhaps had been evolviing over the centuries, a creature that acquired, directly from God, a divine soul, and thus man was created, as the Bible says, by God. Oversimplification for sure but
    it makes some sort of sense …to me.

  • Jon

    Father,

    For me at any rate, you’ve opened a basked of bees with this topic.

    I’ve been blessed in never really suffering major doubts regarding the Faith. I easily accept everything from transubstantiation to Our Lord strolling across Tiberias. What does set the rat of doubt a-gnawing however is the question of our origin.

    It’s clear to me that Christ, the authors of the New Testament, the Church Fathers, and the Magisterium up until the 20th century universally accepted the story of Genesis as historical reality. Pius XII in Humani Generis, while opening the door a scant, still requires of us that we believe that we’re all descended from two parents literally. So unless Cain was guilty of bestiality as well as fratricide, according to your take, so much for his wife’s soul.

    Now, here, as briefly as I can state them, are my difficulties.

    1) The fossil record presents no evidence of transitional life forms. When I was a boy, (I’m 50, and attend an FSSP parish), I wanted to be a paleontologist. But those tyrannosaurs and their tiny arms puzzled me. If the atrophied forelegs of a T-Rex were the result of an earlier creature not needing them, why don’t we find that creature with arms a little longer, a little longer, and a little longer yet? And why don’t we find them in equal number to the identifiable species of Tyrannosaurus Rex? Whales possess a vestigial foot and hip detached from their spine. Why, pray, do we not find cetacean-like creatures with hind legs a little bit longer, a little bit longer, and a little bit longer until we see a fully developed hind leg, and why do we not find them in equal number to, I dunno, blue whales? Each fossil species exists whole and distinct, with great numbers of identifiable individuals to that species, but no minutely gradated forms and in similar number.

    2) If death and decay entered the world as a punishment for sin (Orthodoxy is very specific on this), how to explain the world where saber-tooth tore at neanderthal, and life was evidently nasty, brutish, and short?

    3) How to explain that Christ and His Mother were born of bodies descended from brutes (sounds blasphemous to me)? And how to explain that their physical bodies, which are said to be perfect, are merely the human form at some mid-point evolutionarily speaking, and should the Parousia be delayed several future millennia, then humanity at the end of time will have a different form than theirs?

    I have more problems with the whole swirling notion of Darwin’s guilt-induced nightmare, but those are my primary conundrums. Care to have a go?

    • ariofrio

      I’m not a priest, but I’ll have a quick go. :-D

      1) This is a scientific question. I don’t know much about this topic. I’d ask an evolutionary scientist. :-)

      2) You can solve this conundrum by stating that death and decay **of humans** entered the world through sin. http://jimmyakin.com/2011/03/dino-deaths-original-sin.html

      3) See (a) and (b) below.

      a) God makes beauty out of ugly. Even in the Genesis story, we are made out of dust. Christ and His Mother were born of bodies descended from dust!

      b) Just like humans from different continents look different, so would humans from different eras (unless we stop evolving by making premature human death less and less common, thus removing natural selection’s grasp on us). Jesus and Mary looked middle eastern, very different from us. They would simply look even more different from future humans. (Maybe I’m missing your actual objection here.)

    • James Zahler

      I think that you have a misunderstanding of orthodoxy on point #2. Read the Aquinas in ST I, q96, a1, ad 2

  • http://www.facebook.com/kiel.gillard Kiel Gillard
  • David

    Father,
    Cole states well what I can hardly say without my head exploding. If Adam and Eve lived to be in their 900s, which is possible if not absolutely true considering that God created them absolutely perfect, then by the time Cain went to take a wife he could have been 4-500 years old. There would have been many peoples inhabiting the area and he would have taken a wife from parents a couple generations past him. I just keep praying that the Church will put an end to all the Darwinian nonsense. God created a mature world, just like he created a mature man and woman, and a mature garden. If God did that in one week then on week 2 day 1 Adam would have existed a few days but would have measured in age around 30 years old, the trees would have existed a few days but woudl have measured around 200, the earth would have measured in age a few million, and the stars perhaps a few billion. There are other possibilities than the theory of evolution (in regard to phylogeny, not diversity) which to me is more unbelievable and quite frankly unGodlike.

  • Howard

    There are three points most people here seem to be overlooking. (1) Certain things will certainly be mysterious to us for the entirety of this life, and quite possibly in the next. For example, although there were witnesses to the death of our Savior, there were no witnesses to His Resurrection — only to the living Christ *after* the Resurrection. Many key events in salvation history are likewise touched on only briefly, certainly not in such detail as satisfies an excessive curiosity. The precise details around our first parents are one of these mysteries. The only things about them of which we can be sure are those that the Church actually teaches, not those things that we decide for ourselves, Protestant-style, from our own interpretations of the Scriptures. (2) When a child asks, “Where did I come from?” there are several true but seemingly contradictory answers that can be given to him. The matter that makes up his body comes from what he eats and drinks, and this mostly comes from the supermarket. His genetic material, of course, comes from his parents, so explaining sexual reproduction is a true answer, but it is also not really what the child means. The child really means, “There was a time before I existed, but now I am a living, rational being. How did that happen?” The best answer an adult can give to this is not much better than, “Only God knows.” (3) Human dignity is important, but we have to get over *false* ideas of dignity. Our own conception and gestation may not have been shameful, but they were not exactly “dignified”, either. Why should we expect the origins of our species to be “dignified”? Likewise Jon is shocked that Jesus and Mary would have animals as distant ancestors. How can this be more shocking than the fact that they ate the meat of animals and transformed it into their own bodies — or even more seriously, the genealogy of sinners leading to Mary?

  • Glenn Juday

    All humans alive on the planet today show evidence of being descendants of a single individual woman. Patterns of descent based on estimated spontaneous mutation rates in mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down exclusively through the female line, were first interpreted as indicating a probable date of most recent common ancestor (MRCA) for this woman of about 125,000 yrs. ago, very likely in Africa (east African highlands). More recent interpretations favor 200,000 yrs. ago. For understandable reasons this individual woman has been labeled by many as “Mitochondrial Eve.” The primary literature on this is:

    Behar et al., D; Villems; Soodyall; Blue-smith; Pereira; Metspalu; Scozzari; Makkan et al. 2008. The dawn of human matrilineal diversity. Journal of Human Genetics 82 (5): 1130–1140.

    All humans alive on the planet today show evidence of being descendants of a single individual man also. Patterns of descent based on estimated spontaneous mutation rates in the DNA of the Y chromosome, which is passed down exclusively through the male line, were first interpreted as indicating a probable date of most recent common ancestor (MRCA) for this man of about 60,000yrs. ago, also likely in Africa. The primary literature on this is:

    Weiss, G.; Von Haeseler, A (1996). “Estimating the Age of the Common Ancestor of Men from the ZFY Intron”. Science 272 (5266): 1359.

    However you fit this into your worldview, it must be credited for its remarkable co-incidence with the Judeo-Christian creation account in Genesis. No reputable scientists were proposing this type of explanation before the advent of modern DNA sequencing. Nearly all scientists interpreted their lack of understanding that this even could be true as an insurmountable obstacle to giving credit to the Judeo-Christian creation account (at least in the natural realm).

    But here we are. And this concordance of scientific discovery with biblical account hasn’t budged many in the scientific world. In fact, it seems to make a certain type of polemically oriented atheist quite agitated. Interestingly, it equally seems to agitate a few types of Christian believers as we can see when the subject comes up on the Internet.

    Obviously there is much more to learn, but many people insist on making statements that go beyond our current level of understanding, either in theology, or in science. Still, there is a broad avenue of compatibility between what science has discovered and what the Catholic believes has been generously revealed to us. Science can be wrong and what it affirms by consensus is always subject to being amended. Human understanding of revealed faith, immutable as truth may be, is still subject to progress in depth of understanding – Newman’s development of doctrine, with all the appropriate qualifiers.

    I recommend that we all just appreciate these complementary aspects.

    • James Zahler

      These theories don’t really support the Genesis account of creation. The genetic ‘Adam and Eve’ lived about 100,000-150,000 years apart. They wouldn’t be our first parents.

      • Anonymous

        They do, however, support “Adam and Eve” and “Noah”. :)

      • joeclark77

        That’s something the Bible literalist has an answer for, but the scientist does not. The Y-chromosome bottleneck is Noah, not Adam, so the literalist would not be surprised at all that the common male ancestor came later than the common female ancestor!

    • Mark Hunter

      Plus as peoples of the world now interbreed the most common recent ancestor can change. When populations were isolated, the most recent common ancestor was much older.

    • Ohtobide

      ‘Mitochondrial Eve’ is very often misunderstood. The idea that we are all descended by the female line from one woman is not an empirical, scientific discovery. It is simply a question of mathematics. That there are mitochondria in every cell is an empirical discovery, that they have their own DNA is an empirical discovery, that this DNA is inherited only in the female line is an empirical discovery, that we can, by studying mtDNA, find out when mtEve lived is an empirical discovery, that she lived in Africa 200,000 years ago is an empirical discovery. All these things may turn out
      to be untrue. But that there was one woman from whom we are all descended by the female line is not a discovery, it is simply a truth of mathematics and the human method of reproduction.

      As such, I don’t think you can claim that mtEve supports the Church’s teaching about Adam and Eve. I don’t know who these reputable scientists who disbelieved in mtEve were (and I would be very grateful for a few names here) but either they were confused or they were doubting some other part of the theory.

      The present mitochondrial Eve of course was not the only woman alive in her time and the mtEve is not just one and the same woman for all time. The present mtEve was not the mtEve of her own time, obviously, and she will give way to other women in the future. Any woman alive now who has at least two daughters is in with a chance of being mtEve at some distant future time.

  • Matthew

    I think there is a bit of philosophical confusion towards the end of this article. For starters all living things have souls – which is simply the life principle of a body. The question is just what kind of soul: vegetative, sensitive or rational. The word “human” philosophical refers to an animal with a spiritual soul and thus intellect and free will. There can’t be something therefore that is kinda sorta human like. You are either human or you are not. Having a spiritual soul is an all or nothing thing.

    Secondly, regarding “pre history” we should not forget that Pius XII taught in Humani Generis that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are “history in a true sense” even if they are not written like in the same way as historical monographs were after that time or in modern times.

    • frdlongenecker

      My post does not contradict Humani Generis.

      • MichaelP

        Your post endorses either bestiality or polygenism. The part that gets you in trouble is your idea that Cain went and took a wife (or an animal as you say) that was not of the line of Adam and Eve. I admit your thought on a humanoid being infused with a human soul is licit, though I don’t agree since I don’t see any evidence of it in Scripture or Tradition and I don’t see how one can hold the opinion that God created an animal to be an animal and then decided that He wanted to make it human. This would mean that God swapped an animal soul for a human soul. IMO, this creates even more theological problems.

        37. When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely
        polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. 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.[12]

        The Bible is clear that animals were not suitable for mankind, which is why Eve was created. This is internal evidence that supports the idea that bestiality was not allowed.

  • Taylor Slow

    You actually said that we don’t know the historical truth value to the pre-history narratives in Genesis. Then you used a text from that section to claim that there were people or humanoids not of Adam’s line. But that doesn’t follow from the text since we don’t, as you say, know the historical truth value to the pre-history narratives.

    Not only does polygenism create tons of theological problems and depend on an inconceivably faulty evolutionary theory that is contrary to Catholic thought, but you actually suggest that some human beings alive today are the products of bestial sexual activity. That is false, disgusting, and shameful.

  • mortimer zilch

    Pope Pius XII answered this guy’s question. Why didn’t you give him Pope Pius XII’s explanation?

  • mortimer zilch

    Fr. Longenecker – you are disobeying Pope Pius XII who not only stated firmly in his encyclical on the subject that humanity descended from a single pair of parents, but that the subject was not open to popular discussion. Only professionals were supposed to discuss it scientifically, (as I recall reading that was the Pope’s command.) So what you are doing is just like those who do not or did not accept Paul VI’s Humanae Vita contraception encyclical. Please, you gotta do a retraction and submission to obedience on this subject

    • frdlongenecker

      I’m sorry, but have you read the post? Nowhere do I suggest that humanity did not descend from a single pair of parents. I stated clearly that Adam and Eve are historical figures.

  • eric

    Let me say a few words about Fr.s response. I have some of the same reservations about his speculation that Cain married a “human-like” creature, but I think the view is acceptable (even if not necessarily the most feasible Scripturally). Here’s why:

    1) first of all, we need to remember the Church’s stance that matters of faith (which pertains to those things only knowable through special revelation) cannot contradict reason. Now, granted, this position might be a little trickier to mete out given contemporary approaches to sciences (e.g. one could argue that nothing is ever absolute and is subject to falsification), but it still seems to me that it is highly problematic for one to interpret the faith in a way that goes against the preponderance of scientific evidence if other interpretations that can be squared with Church teaching are possible. On these grounds, I would rule out things like literal 6 day creation, 6,000 years for the age of the Earth, and any general rejection of evolution (though particular aspects of some takes on evolution could certainly be challenged).

    2) now, with the above qualification in mind, keep in mind that the Church permits the notion of soul-infusion. Thus, we can conjecture that once the evolutionary process reached a certain stage, a rational immortal soul was fused into a man and a woman, making them the first humans. (It seems to me some kind of fusion notion is necessary, even if beyond science, because we must hold that the soul is immaterial, even if it serves as the form of the body—philosophically, it is highly problematic to take that this immaterial principle could emerge from purely physical processes. My own take is that it is impossible on purely scientific grounds to hold for an emergent property thesis of mind, though that would take another topic). In any case, the proscription against “bestiality” was not formally in place under the law, and we are permitted to infer I think that it was applied at a later time when the species were much more clearly demarcated, etc. Thus, it is conceivable that there was sufficient biological similarity to permit breeding between Cain and a human like creature (also remember the Nephilim in Genesis who breed with daughters of men, which some have taken to perhaps refer to extremely powerful human-like creatures). In turn, the offspring of Cain and such a female could itself have a fused human soul. Of course, it is also possible that God fused other creatures with human souls, thereby making them human, after the first emergence of the first man and woman.

    Such a view, if perhaps a stretch in certain ways, seems permissible. It is also no more ad hoc to me Scripturally than the suggestion that subsequent humans were created, etc. The possibility of him marrying a sister is also fine, but still ad hoc speculation.

  • JackRyan

    Oh this is just more de facto polygenism already condemned by the Pius XII. The notion that Cain mated with an animal has no foundation in Catholic theology anywhere, unless of course you count Mark Shea as a theologian.

  • Deacon Henry

    The first 12 chapters of Genesis we Catholics consider allegory and not history. That’s why we don’t seek out Noah’s Ark in the mountains of Turkey. We do believe we are all children of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve. Whatever sin they committed lost Sanctifying Grace for all their children which God restores through our baptism. Jesus is the new Adam which comes to save us from the sin of the old Adam, and His mother Mary is the new Eve who obeys God through her “fiat.” From Abraham onward, we then have a historical context.

    • MichaelP

      The PBC (early 1900s when part of the Magisterium), HG, and the current CCC say differently. They both teach them to be history while using SOME allegory. I think you should stick with this language since the Church has never said anything other than this in any of Her magisterial documents. Your language confuses and plants seeds that should not be sown.

  • Dante Aligheri

    I hope I’m not late to this conversation. As far as I see it, this is entirely consonant with Catholic theology and modern science. Catholic science fiction author Michael F. Flynn (wonderful author, by the way) wrote an essay from a Thomistic standpoint that made precisely this position. While the so-called “Mitochondrial Eve” seems like the biblical Eve, that really does not literally imply two people at the beginning but merely that we all share a common ancestress among a small population in Africa. Besides, I’m personally convinced Neanderthals had rational souls due to their linguistic capabilities.

    I’ve always pictured it like the first chapter in 2001: Space Odyssey where an australopithecus suddenly gains revelatory insight, gaining a rational soul. I have no way to prove this, but my inner science fiction author imagines God leading these enlightened, language-using australopithecines into a garden and settling them there while they name everything and worship in the garden. There’s an excellent paper on temple motifs in the creation narrative by Jeffrey Morrow at Seton Hall University. I believe he corresponded with Scott Hahn and borrowed the term “homo liturgicus” to describe Genesis’ vision.

    Then I’d imagine that somehow – two literal trees, I don’t know – they lost their chance for theosis and left. It’s strange though how Space Odyssey included a distorted, secularized version of divinization, too, with the Monoliths triggering Dave Bowman’s uploading.

    It’s like Christianity was haunting the background of that novel. I actually enjoyed 2001, 2010, and 2061. I would not advise 3001 as it really seems more like a polemic against everything Clarke didn’t like politically and culturally.

    I apologize for the rambling nature of this post.

  • aga

    As far as I am aware Genesis only mentions fruit, but if you check garments worn by high priest in Moses time as instructed by God, there is mention of pomegranates lining the bottom part of clothing indispersed by little bells. Might be the legitimate origin of apple as being the fruit concerned

  • Aldo Lombardi

    There is no indication anywhere in the
    Bible that God created any humans other than Adam and Eve. In Genesis 2
    we read, “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they
    were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven. Now no
    shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had
    yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth, and
    there was no man to cultivate the ground. But a mist used to rise from
    the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. Then the LORD God
    formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the
    breath of life; and man became a living being. The LORD God planted a
    garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had
    formed… Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be
    alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.’ …So the LORD God
    caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one
    of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The LORD God
    fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and
    brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:4-8, 18, 21-22).

    Notice that the passage says, “There He placed the man whom He had
    formed.” Not the “men,” just the one “man.” And this man was alone (v.
    18) so God made a woman out of his rib to be his companion. All other
    human beings have descended from these two original people.

  • Aldo Lombardi

    The Bible does not specifically say who
    Cain’s wife was. The only possible answer is that Cain’s wife was his
    sister or niece or great-niece, etc. The Bible does not say how old Cain
    was when he killed Abel (Genesis 4:8).
    Since they were both farmers, they were likely both full-grown adults,
    possibly with families of their own. Adam and Eve surely had given birth
    to more children than just Cain and Abel at the time Abel was killed.
    They definitely had many more children later (Genesis 5:4). The fact that Cain was scared for his own life after he killed Abel (Genesis 4:14)
    indicates that there were likely many other children and perhaps even
    grandchildren of Adam and Eve already living at that time. Cain’s wife (Genesis 4:17) was a daughter or granddaughter of Adam and Eve.

    Since Adam and Eve were the first (and only) human beings, their
    children would have no other choice than to intermarry. God did not
    forbid inter-family marriage until much later when there were enough
    people to make intermarriage unnecessary (Leviticus 18:6-18).
    The reason that incest today often results in genetic abnormalities is
    that when two people of similar genetics (i.e., a brother and sister)
    have children together, there is a high risk of their recessive
    characteristics becoming dominant. When people from different families
    have children, it is highly unlikely that both parents will carry the
    same recessive traits. The human genetic code has become increasingly
    “polluted” over the centuries as genetic defects are multiplied,
    amplified, and passed down from generation to generation. Adam and Eve
    did not have any genetic defects, and that enabled them and the first
    few generations of their descendants to have a far greater quality of
    health than we do now. Adam and Eve’s children had few, if any, genetic
    defects. As a result, it was safe for them to intermarry.

  • MTGradwell

    “My own theory is that there were other human-type creatures on earth, but that Adam and Eve were the first specially created humans with souls, with free will and perhaps the first with language”

    Yes. This does however raise the question of who or what did Cain marry.

    Humans have 23 Chromosome pairs, chimpanzees and other great apes 24. I think it makes sense to regard the transition from 24 to 23 as the origin of the human species. Any pairing between creatures with different chromosome numbers would have been extremely unlikely to have been fertile, even if they were otherwise closely related, so the continuation of the human line almost certainly depended on incestuous relationships for the first few generations, until they had grown numerous enough to couple with other humans who were not close family.

    Nevertheless, it is possible that Cain’s wife was technically non-human. “Extremely unlikely” is not the same as “impossible” and either the transition from 24 to 23 had to happen independently twice, between individuals who subsequently became a couple (with the same chromosome pair becoming fused in both cases), or there did have to be at least one successful coupling between a 24-chromosome-pair individual and a 23-chromosome-pair individual. Any speciation depends on the occurrence of unlikely events, which may be why it has never been observed, and is only inferred to have taken place. (Or maybe the biblical account is exactly literal and not symbolic at all, but I doubt that.)

  • newenglandsun

    What rite do you adhere to? You say you have a wife and kids. I have heard the Roman rite rarely ordains that. So I was just wondering.


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