Adam & Eve of Genesis: Historical & the Primal Human Pair?

Adam & Eve of Genesis: Historical & the Primal Human Pair? November 28, 2013
Adam and Eve (c. 1520), by Jan Gossaert (1478-1532) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]




I covered this topic two years ago at length. I thought it was fairly straightforward that Bishop Robert Barron denied a literal Adam, in his video, “Misreading Genesis,” where he asserted the following: 

Adam. Now, don’t read it literally. We’re not talking about a literal figure. We’re talking in theological poetry. Adam: the first human being . . .

It was brought to my attention that in the comments for the video above (now up to 879!), the following exchange took place:

Ariel Gonzalez:

According to Pius XII in Humani Generis: “For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that 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.” How can this be reconciled with Fr. Barron’s assertion that Adam and Eve weren’t literal persons?

Fr. Robert Barron [under this name. not a pseudonym or nick]

@DonusAmbrose [“in reply to Ariel Gonzalez”]

The “Adam” that the Pope is speculating about here is some primordial, first originator of the human race–not the literary character in the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis.

Here’s another key one:

[in reply to AetheriusLamia] Not so! I completely agree with you that Genesis three is of key theological importance and that the doctrine of original sin is indispensible to Catholic orthodoxy. But none of that relies on a crudely literalist construal of the story of Adam and Eve. For the details, consult John Paul II, and most recently, Cardinal Pell of Sydney, both of whom clarify that the first chapters of Genesis are not to be read literalistically.

In other comments (where I’m too lazy to look up what he was responding to, because it’s a lousy comments system), Fr. Barron wrote:

@VibrantNTingling Jesus is indeed a real, historical figure. Like so many others, you want an easy, univocal answer: the Bible is all mythology or it’s all straightforward history. It’s actually both–and lots of other things besides.

@VibrantNTingling It’s not a matter of “discarding” them! Do you “discard” Hamlet and Moby Dick and Henry Higgins just because they’re fictional characters? No, you allow them to speak a particular truth to you, a truth that could be spoken in no other way.

@sensengine “I’m absolutely amazed how common your misunderstanding is! Take a good hard look at the interpretive tradition and you’ll see that allegorical, spiritual, and theological readings of the Bible have been on offer from the earliest days. I think a lot of people are duped by the “Inherit the Wind” version of this question. But that play (and movie) were about the struggle with fundamentalism, not with Catholicism.

@sensengine Oh give me a break! The Fall is happening every day, as we “fall away” from what God intends for us. We “‘fall short” of our true humanity. We wander in the land of unlikeness. Choose your metaphor; it doesn’t effect the deep theological truth being communicated.

[in reply to sfappetrupavelandrei] Friend, I’m afraid that’s patent nonsense. Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI proposed non-literalistic readings of Genesis.

[in reply to AthenaSchroedinger] You know what I always find amusing? The insinuation–evident in your response–that the metaphorical is tantamount to silliness or nonsense. Metaphors–in poetry, mythology, and religion–bear extraordinary amounts of meaning. The binary option is not literal truth or nonsense. And friend, metaphorical and non-literal readings of Genesis have been on offer since the ancient church. Take a look at Origen’s and Augustine’s treatments of these texts, if you doubt me.

[in reply to CarlSagan6] Original sin names the fact that there is something irreducibly wrong with us, something that we cannot fix on our own. Genesis speaks of that reality in the manner of a myth or saga, narrating events “in illo tempore.” The point is that the struggle with sin is an ongoing dynamic of life here and now, and the offer of grace is a present reality. 

I’m not a fundamentalist or literalist when it comes to the Bible. I never was, not even as a Protestant evangelical. I understand different literary genres in the Bible; have written about that many times.

The issue here is not whether all of Genesis is absolutely literal. I agree that some portions of it are presented in a poetic or non-literal genre or style. The issue is whether the Adam and Eve described in Genesis were real persons and the primal human pair. I (and I believe the Church) say yes; Fr. Barron appears to deny it. And to me, this is a very serious issue, which brings into doubt original sin (even though Fr. Barron asserts that doctrine several times in the comments). The doctrine seems to me to go hand-in-hand with original sin. Denying one has consequences with regard to the other.

If popes and major Catholic (orthodox) theologians have denied that the Adam and Eve of Genesis were literal human beings and the primal pair of human beings: the parents of the human race, I’d like to see that. Fr. Barron implied several times that they did, but gave no documentation. As far as I know, they don’t. This is a product of theological liberalism or modernism: again, as far as I know (I’m always open to — eagerly welcome — correction and expansion of knowledge of Things Catholic).

It appears very certain now that Fr. Barron has denied the literal Adam and Eve of Genesis. He tries to harmonize the Genesis accounts of them with modern science by denying that they were literal. The problem is that Catholic doctrine and the Bible itself doesn’t allow this, as far as I can tell.

I thought his original comment that I critiqued two years ago was quite clear, but in charity, I was willing to accept that it wasn’t an airtight proof of heterodox views, and sought clarification. None has been forthcoming these two years, but I think his comments under the video have removed pretty much all doubt about it. The following statement, especially, nails it:

The “Adam” that the Pope [Pius XII] is speculating about here is some primordial, first originator of the human race–not the literary character in the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis.

This explicitly separates Adam and Eve from the first human parents, in a way that is impermissible to do in Catholic theology, and also makes them merely “literary character[s]”. That immediately kills two birds with one stone (the question of a literal Adam or not, and of the first human pair) and casts doubt on the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible.

Sorry; that is theological liberalism, to assert such a thing.

I haven’t seen Fr. Barron’s highly acclaimed video series or read much of his writing at all, so have no opinion on it (but take others’ word as to his general orthodoxy). He’s a great, dynamic communicator and teacher: what I have seen of his stuff. I would hope that he can be convinced he is in error on this point, and move forward.

Neither Pope Benedict XVI nor Blessed Pope John Paul II nor Ven. Pope Pius XII denied a literal Adam (i.e., the one described in Genesis), as I have documented in my past papers on this topic. They accept some allegory and non-literal material in Genesis: especially the early chapters (as I do), yet don’t include Adam and Eve in that category.

Given the papal quotes, it’s impossible to argue that a literal Adam is merely the primitive speculation of the “old guys” before modern science, that we can now dismiss with a smile (as liberals habitually do regarding anything before the date of their birth).

No! The recent popes are asserting exactly the same thing. This isn’t a matter of only wooden literalist fundamentalists saying it. They may be right for the wrong reasons about a literal Adam and Eve, but at least they are right about that and don’t deny rather plain teachings of Scripture (not just Genesis but later NT references).

It takes two seconds in a Bible search to see that the NT casually assumes that Adam is 1) literal, 2) a man, and 3) the first man, who fell, and from whom we are all descended. See, e.g., the genealogy of Luke 3:23-38. The text doesn’t descend from literal history to mere myth: it’s all of a piece. See also (RSV):

Romans 5:14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, . . .

1 Corinthians 15:45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

Jude 1:14 It was of these also that Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with his holy myriads,

The Hebrew for “day” [yom] has been understood early on (esp. Augustine) as allowing a wide latitude of meaning, so that’s not a big deal. There is no necessity to adopt a literal six-day creation or a young earth (6,000 years old, etc.)

The NT regards Adam as literal and the first human being. The Church follows suit. But I don’t think the Church was strictly necessary to nail down this point. Scripture is quite sufficient, which is why historic Protestantism agrees with it, without the magisterial assistance.

Theoretically, Fr. Barron could be persuaded that mythical and allegorical elements in parts of Genesis do not necessitate including Adam and Eve. It shouldn’t be difficult, but it’s tough to get anyone to change their mind.

Lo and behold, as I was compiling this paper,  Fr. Barron made his clearest statement yet, on the matter:

Adam is a literary figure gesturing toward the truth of what obtained “in the beginning.” He is not to be read as a straightforward historical figure like Caesar or Abraham Lincoln.

[You Tube, under the video, “Misreading Genesis,” at approx. 6 PM ET, 11-27-13]

Here is the screenshot:

So I’ve been right in my opinion of his statement for two years now.  And I rebuked the person who asked if he was insane, for being disrespectful of a priest, and he later softened his remarks.

Fr. Barron asserts original sin; but he disconnects the fall from the Adam and Eve of Genesis. He puts it back to some “primordial” human beings who were other than the Adam and Eve we know from biblical revelation.

The thing now is to see how he would interact with solid critiques of his position (which I think my papers are). If he has read them over the last two years, there is no evidence I’ve seen, of that. So I don’t know what he would say to NT biblical arguments, statements from recent popes that contradict his understanding, etc. I’ve cited both Pope Benedict XVI and Blessed pope John Paul II as popes referring to Adam in literal terms. I have not seen anything otherwise from magisterial sources. I’m always happy to be shown something I was unaware of. Thus far, that hasn’t happened, so I teach what I know.

Modernism is very pervasive . . . it has its tentacles into so many things, and people otherwise orthodox are affected by it even if they may not be aware that it is heterodoxy.
Once again, this is not a scenario where on one side you have fundamentalists who interpret everything in the Bible literally, believe in a 6,000-year-old earth that doesn’t rotate, along with theologians before 1800 who don’t know a whit about modern biology and evolution vs. Fr. Barron, Benedict XVI, John Paul II, etc. (and theological liberals). Recent popes are on the side of a literal Adam and Eve as the first human pair, who fell — and we with and in them (original sin).

Moreover, not one word I’ve written nor that the Church has expressed in official documents casts into doubt the possibility of theistic evolution. There could easily be a scenario of primitive human beings evolving; however, they didn’t yet have a soul. It was ensoulment that made the first human beings: in God’s image. Adam and Eve were our first human parents, and we’re all descended from them.

Fr. Barron claimed (quote above) that Ven. Pope Pius XII in Humani Generis (1950) separates Adam from the first human being (as if that were permissible in Catholic dogmatic theology). This is untrue. In section 37 he mentions Adam (footnoting Romans 5:12-19, which reads quite historically at face value):

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 either that 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.

[footnote: Cfr. Rom., V, 12-19, Conc. Trid., sess, V, can. 1-4.]

In section 38, he grounds this Adam in the context of the book of Genesis. Clearly he is referring to that Adam. Yet Fr. Barron has denied it (which I think is special pleading). Here it is (blue highlighting and bolding my own):

38. Just as in the biological and anthropological sciences, so also in the historical sciences there are those who boldly transgress the limits and safeguards established by the Church. In a particular way must be deplored a certain too free interpretation of the historical books of the Old Testament. Those who favor this system, in order to defend their cause, wrongly refer to the Letter which was sent not long ago to the Archbishop of Paris by the Pontifical Commission on Biblical Studies. [13] This Letter, in fact, clearly points out that the first eleven chapters of Genesis, although properly speaking not conforming to the historical method used by the best Greek and Latin writers or by competent authors of our time, do nevertheless pertain to history in a true sense, which however must be further studied and determined by exegetes; the same chapters, (the Letter points out), in simple and metaphorical language adapted to the mentality of a people but little cultured, both state the principal truths which are fundamental for our salvation, and also give a popular description of the origin of the human race and the chosen people.

[footnote 13: January 16, 1948: A.A.S., vol. XL, pp. 45-48]

That ain’t myth and mere “literary” non-literal stuff. He’s talking about Adam; he makes clear that he means by that the Adam of Genesis, who is a real person, just like we are, and that this has to do with the origin of the human race.

It’s like the genealogy of Luke from Adam to Jesus: one can’t start out with a mythical figure like Zeus or Hercules in the beginning, and then all of a sudden the list becomes historical as it goes through time. The very fact that descendants are being talked about proves that Adam is literal also. And that list proves that it’s the Adam of Genesis, since it gives his immediate descendants, as there described.

Game, set, match. End of story. Period.

Playing games with these things is sheer liberalism and heterodoxy, and the sooner those who do it can figure that out, the better, because when you go down this road of modernist garbage, you may end up like Charles Curran or Hans Kung or multiple thousands of goddess-worshiping former nuns.

But we are what we eat. We all know there is a great deal of falsehood and heterodoxy taught in many seminaries, so Fr. Barron got some of that somewhere along the line. A generation of rotten seminary teaching and lousy Catholic schools has produced its bad fruit.

The first human beings are what they are because of direct ensoulment from God. That was the first time He did what He now does with all of us at conception: special creation of the soul, which doesn’t descend from biology; has nothing to do with biology at all, being spirit.

This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church state about the historical Adam and Eve:

375 The Church, interpreting the symbolism of biblical language in an authentic way, in the light of the New Testament and Tradition, teaches that our first parents, Adam and Eve, were constituted in an original “state of holiness and justice”. This grace of original holiness was “to share in. . .divine life”.

399 Scripture portrays the tragic consequences of this first disobedience. Adam and Eve immediately lose the grace of original holiness. They become afraid of the God of whom they have conceived a distorted image – that of a God jealous of his prerogatives.

404 How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one man”. By this “unity of the human race” all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state. It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed” – a state and not an act.

416 By his sin Adam, as the first man, lost the original holiness and justice he had received from God, not only for himself but for all human beings.

417 Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendants human nature wounded by their own first sin and hence deprived of original holiness and justice; this deprivation is called “original sin”.

Fr. Barron’s position contradicts dogmatic theology and revelation, as interpreted by apostolic tradition, consistently for 2,000 years. No one ever dreamt up these silly notions till theological liberalism blessed the world after 1700. This stuff comes from that: not from authentic Catholic tradition and legitimate hermeneutics and exegesis.

This topic has nothing to do with some supposed conflict between faith and science. We all agree on that (there is no such conflict). I wrote a whole book about it; have had a web page on science and faith online for 16 years. It’s about biblical inspiration and the authority of Catholic tradition, that provides a template and guideline for proper understanding of Scripture. Fr. Barron isn’t guilty of weak science here, but of weak hermeneutics and a deficient familiarity with Catholic doctrine on the matter.

Fr. Barron thinks Adam and Eve are real: they’re just not the ones in Genesis. It’s classic liberal changing of terminology and commonly accepted concepts. “yeah, I believe in Adam and Eve”: but it’s redefined, contrary to tradition and existing dogma. This is what liberalism does: all the time. It is practically of the essence of liberal theology and modernism to engage in this sort of bait-and-switch dishonesty. People hear Adam and Eve being discussed and it sounds great and orthodox till we delve deeper and discover that it means something (in the mind that has accepted some liberal heterodox nonsense) quite different.

Theological liberalism is destructive of logical consistency because it deals in falsehood, and truth is harmonious with itself. So if one accepts a liberal tenet, that will be contrary to orthodox opinions that he may generally hold. It doesn’t fit in.

See also the 1909 Pontifical Biblical Commission on Genesis. Here is an excerpt:

Question III: Whether in particular the literal and historical sense can be called into question, where it is a matter of facts related in the same chapters, which pertain to the foundation of the Christian religion; for example, among others, the creation of all things wrought by God in the beginning of time; the special creation of man; the formation of the first woman from the first man; the oneness of the human race; the original happiness of our first parents in the state of justice, integrity, and immortality; the command given to man by God to prove his obedience; the transgression of the divine command through the devil’s persuasion under the guise of a serpent; the casting of our first parents out of that first state of innocence; and also the promise of a future restorer? — Reply: In the negative.

Man-like creatures who existed before Adam and Eve didn’t have souls. Adam and Eve could have evolved from them. No problem. It doesn’t contradict anything in Catholic theology because the key to being human rather than merely an animal is having a rational soul. God could have created them instantly or they could have come from earlier creatures that God still made, but who were not yet human. The soul by its nature has to be a supernatural creation by God.

People are very confused about this issue and the Church has made it clear. It’s all there for us. If people are confused, then I’m glad someone wrote to me today asking about it (I hadn’t dealt with this for over two years), then sent a quote from Fr. Barron. It was God’s providence that people learn about this Church teaching today, and that’s the job of the apologist. Happy to do it . . .

We’re all learning all the time. It’s not a thing to be ashamed of: to be wrong. We should be ashamed, however, about resisting evidences that prove we are wrong. How people react to those things are what really indicate their approach to the authority of the Church and to truth (in cases where it seems to most people to be a clear-cut case).

I don’t take any pleasure in saying someone is wrong: but this is the task of the apologist. We’re not always gonna win popularity contests and have people ecstatically love us if we tell them they might be wrong about something. It’s not just me saying “I’m right!” I am merely repeating what Scripture and Church assert: passing it along and defending it.

I simply make my arguments and document what the Church teaches: from Scripture, from magisterial statements and papal general audiences, the Catechism; analysis of the context of Humani Generis, showing that Pius XII could only have been referring to historical Adam and Eve discussed in Genesis . . . I also have links to two papers where a philosopher friend of mine tackles the polygenism thing from a serious scholarly perspective.

The first thing the liberal outlook on life does is start attacking the Bible: especially the historicity of many things in the Old Testament. So people buy into some of that, even though they are not “liberals” themselves and believe most of what the Church teaches.

The problem with picking and choosing like that is that, according to St. Thomas Aquinas and Cardinal Newman: to deny one dogma of the Catholic Church is to lose the supernatural gift of faith. That’s scary. We should desire to wholeheartedly accept all that the Church teaches. What we don’t understand, we accept in faith and seek apologetic answers so our mind can be content with it: on rational ground, not irrational or fideistic ground.

I have Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1986 book, “In the Beginning…”: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall (Our Sunday Visitor, 1990, translated by Boniface Ramsey, OP) in my own library. And what does the future pope say about Adam? He said the same as he said when he was pope (some of which I cited in my papers linked above):

In the Genesis story that we are considering, still a further characteristic of sin is described. Sin is not spoken of in general as an abstract possibility but as a deed, as the sin of a particular person, Adam, who stands at the origin of humankind and with whom the history of sin begins. The account tells us that sin begets sin, and that therefore all the sins of history are interlinked. (p. 89)

From this it is seen:

1) Adam was a person.

2) “Adam” in a Christian context refers to the person spoken of in Genesis.

3) Adam “stands at the origin of humankind.” He was the first human being.

4) Sin and original sin begin with this real person Adam, described in Genesis.

Why would there be any argument about these things at all, from Catholics? Is Pope Benedict XVI a raving fundamentalist who takes everything in the Bible literally? Is he anti-science? Is he anti-philosophy or anti-intellect? Why is this even controversial? Why are so many errors bandied about in this regard? Everything one can find from magisterial documents, catechisms, popes, future popes, pontifical biblical commissions all points in the same direction.

Someone noted on my Facebook page: “Fr. Barron often describes himself as a product of the very liberal ‘”Balloons and banners’ Catholic religious education of the 70’s and 80’s.”

Well, my “school” was Fr. John A. Hardon, S. J., who is being considered for sainthood: a person perhaps regarded as the most orthodox theologian in America in the second half of the 20th century. He was a close advisor to Pope Paul VI and was the catechist to Blessed Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. He was my mentor, received me into the Church, said (in the early 90s) that my writing was “very Catholic,” and wrote the Foreword to my first book.

That is my orthodox Catholic background. I was also largely persuaded to become a Catholic by Cardinal Newman. He will soon be a saint and probably a Doctor of the Church (Pope Benedict alluded to that). His thinking was praised by Pope St. Pius X: considered the most “orthodox” of popes, and the hero of “traditionalists.”That’s rock-solid orthodox sources. I never was trained in theological liberalism even as a Protestant. I always detested it. And so it has had no influence on me. I’ve been blessed in having great teachers.

And what did Fr. Hardon teach about Adam? From his Modern Catholic Dictionary:

The first man. Created in the image of God. His wife was Eve and his sons Cain, Abel, and Seth. They lived in the garden of Eden but were expelled because Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command not to eat the fruit of a certain tree (Genesis 1,2). In early accounts of Adam’s life he is referred to, not by a specific name, but “the man” (Genesis 3). Not until his descendants were given (Genesis 4:25) was the proper noun “Adam” applied to him. Many doctrines in the New Testament are traced back to the life of the first man, notably original sin and the concept of Jesus as the second Adam bringing redemption to the human race.

Someone wrote: “There are good theologians both Catholic and Protestant who don’t know or care if Adam and Eve really existed.” No, there are not! Someone who thinks that is not a good theologian in either tradition, and is alarmingly heterodox on that score. If they can hold an opinion that ridiculous, then their credibility is entirely in question. And if anyone doesn’t understand that, they need to do some serious study and get up to speed in orthodox Catholic theology.

Virtually no one would assert that Genesis is to be taken completely literally from beginning to end. That’s not at issue. About the only ones who do are young earth geocentrists: that sort of goofy outlook that derives mostly from Protestant anti-intellectual fundamentalism.

I am greatly saddened and disturbed that people are so confused on this issue [many people who wrote in my combox on Facebook], but I have tried to make my arguments, from the Bible and Church. If someone wants to ponder them, they will; if not, I’ve done all I can do.It’s clear that we apologists and catechists and DREs and seminary professors and priests and the Church as a whole have our work cut out for us to explain these sorts of teachings, so that folks aren’t so confused about them. The Church has made it clear enough, in my opinion.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:

According to the Catholic Faith we are bound to hold that the first sin of the first man is transmitted to his descendants, by way of origin. For this reason children are taken to be baptized soon after their birth, to show that they have to be washed from some uncleanness. The contrary is part of the Pelagian heresy . . . all men born of Adam may be considered as one man, inasmuch as they have one common nature, which they receive from their first parents . . . (ST 1-2, q. 81, a. 1c)

According to the Catholic Faith we must firmly believe that, Christ alone excepted, all men descended from Adam contract original sin from him; else all would not need redemption which is through Christ; and this is erroneous. (ST 1-2, q. 81, a. 3c)

Adam and Eve are the first human beings because they were the first to be infused with a rational soul. They could quite possibly have derived from earlier man-like creatures, through evolution. If so, the ancestors did not have a soul, so they weren’t human beings made in God’s image.

And there could have been (and I believe were), earlier creatures that weren’t human in the full sense, whether Adam and Eve descended from them or not. But that’s all irrelevant to the whole question because it’s not a biological one; it’s a spiritual / theological matter, having to do with spirit, not matter. The soul is immaterial, and so are rebellion and original sin.

All human beings, who have a soul (special creation by God at each conception) are derived form Adam and Eve (the ones in Genesis: not some imaginative junk from liberal / modernist theological minds, snatched out of thin air). That is Church dogma. All Catholics are bound to believe that. St. Thomas and Cardinal Newman both stress that to deny even one dogma of the Catholic faith is to lose the supernatural virtue of faith.

In other words, if we rebel like that, God won’t give us the grace required to believe all that the Church teaches. That is a terrible bind to be in, because it means we will likely reject more and more orthodox doctrines as time goes on (as we have observed many millions of fallen-away Catholics do).


For a solid philosophical / scientific defense of monogenism (all human descent from one primal pair), see, “Science, Theology, and Monogenesis,” by Kenneth W. Kemp (American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly,  Vol. 85, No. 2, pp. 217-236, 2011). I agree with his analysis (i.e., insofar as I grasp all the technical science entailed).

Abstract: “Francisco Ayala and others have argued that recent genetic evidence shows that the origins of the human race cannot be monogenetic, as the Church has traditionally taught. This paper replies to that objection, developing a distinction between biological and theological species first proposed by Andrew Alexander in 1964.”

Kemp is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. He obtained an M.A. in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Notre Dame in 1983, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the same university in 1984. He is fluent in seven languages besides English, and also knows four more languages to some extent. Links: Curriculum Vitae and web page; also faculty page for his university; some online papers.


Another serious, extensive philosophical / scientific explanation that is consistent with traditional Catholic theology and dogma is from Edward Feser:  “Modern Biology and Original Sin” [part one  / part two]. Feser is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of California at Santa Barbara, an M.A. in religion from the Claremont Graduate School, and a B.A. in philosophy and religious studies from the California State University at Fullerton. [see his web page and blog]

And a third: Mike Flynn, “Adam and Eve and Ted and Alice” (9-1-11)


See also a great article by my mentor, Fr. John A. Hardon, S. J.: “Adam was an Individual Man, From Whom the Whole Human Race Derives Its Origin.”


Also related:

Theistic Evolution and the Roman Catholic Church (helpful compilation of materials and articles by Phil Porvaznik)

[also, further discussion on my Facebook page and another Facebook discussion from 2-10-14: latter including much corroborating teaching from Pope St. John Paul II, in his general audiences about the theology of the body and Genesis, from 1979-1980.]

Fr. Dwight Longenecker has written two excellent articles on the general topic: Is the Adam and Eve Story a Myth? (2-5-14) and Difficulties with Adam and Eve (5-21-13).


Additional comments that I made on the topic, on 25 May 2016:

No one would welcome a clarification from [now] Bishop Barron more than myself. It’s not that difficult to do. It would take no more than an hour of his time. If all he meant was that some aspects of the Genesis account are figurative, I don’t know anyone who disagrees with that. The question under consideration is the historical Adam and his relation to original sin.

I concluded after thorough analysis that Bishop Barron was trying to separate the Adam of Genesis from whatever he thinks was Adam: sort of like the neo-Orthodox / Barthian separation of biblical history into a semi-mythical category.

It’s tough to think that he is not denying the reality of the Genesis Adam, when he wrote in one of the threads:

The “Adam” that the Pope is speculating about here [i.e., Pius XII in Humani Generis] is some primordial, first originator of the human race–not the literary character in the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis.

He tried to appeal to Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict, but neither denied the historicity of the Genesis Adam, as I have documented.

He thinks Adam existed; he just doesn’t think the real Adam is the one we have described in Genesis. That is the problem. He seems to think that asserting the reality of the Genesis Adam is a simultaneous assertion of six-day young earth creationism and/or a crassly literalistic and wooden fundamentalism. It is neither of those things (necessarily). It’s historic Catholic teaching. I’ve never been either a fundamentalist or young earth creationist: either as an evangelical or Catholic. I’m simply defending historic Catholic orthodoxy.

We all agree that there are allegorical or figurative elements in Genesis. Popes JPII and Benedict agree. That’s not in dispute. What’s at question is the historical existence of the Adam described there, and his relation to 1) the human race, and 2) original sin.

In the citation above, Bishop Barron appears to separate the Genesis Adam from the first human being in a way that Catholic magisterial teaching does not do at all. It’s as if Bishop Barron thinks that in order to be harmonious with evolution, we have to get rid of the Genesis Adam as the “primordial, first originator of the human race.”

But that’s not necessary at all. There are explanations such as that of philosopher Edward Feser [linked above], that synthesize the traditional understanding of Adam with theistic evolution. In a nutshell, it would mean that there are pre-human primates from which human beings descended, but who lacked the image of God and a soul. The first human being in God’s image would then be the Adam of Genesis.

I think the incidental details in Genesis like the trees and fruit and all that are metaphorical for submission and rebellion. The problem with an analogy of that to Shakespeare’s depiction of Henry V is that either depiction (historical or mythical/legendary) has reference to the same single person at the same time.

But in his words above that I cited, Bishop Barron seems to create, in effect, two Adams: the literary one in Genesis, and the “primordial, first originator of the human race.” These are (prima facie, anyway) very different time frames. If he has theistic evolution in mind, we’re talking a million or more years earlier, between the “primordial, first originator” and the Genesis Adam.

But that problem is solved simply by acknowledging possible descent from non-human primates who don’t have a rational soul and who are not made in the image of God. In other words, theistic evolution, however construed, does not overthrow traditional orthodoxy regarding [Genesis] Adam.

It seems very clear to me (I don’t see how it could be otherwise interpreted) that he is referring to two different individuals: all the more so given his use of quotation marks (“Adam”) for the Genesis Adam. He specifically stated that Pope Pius XII was not talking about Genesis Adam when he was referring to Adam in Humani Generis. I believe I’ve already shown from the internal context of Humani Generis that this interpretation is rather impossible to take.

If we simply got a bit more clarification from Bishop Barron, maybe the “heat” could be off of him from folks in certain circles. That’s all I wanted, all along, but here we are five years after my original paper, still seeking answers. I was all in favor of hearing his further explanations, and invited him to do so in my papers, but it never happened. Meanwhile, I get tarred as supposedly “anti-Barron”: which I never have been. I simply have this disagreement with him and think he is in error.

But others are “anti” and they sometimes try to enlist me as an ally because of these papers, when I am not an ally to such people who go after the good bishop regarding other matters such as “hoping all are saved” etc. Therefore, it’s in my interest as well to get this matter cleared up once and for all, if at all possible. I hope satisfactory clarifying comments will occur at some point, and the best-case scenario is that it was all a huge misunderstanding from the beginning, and that Bishop Barron meant nothing more than what Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict have written about [Genesis] Adam. At this juncture, with all the powers of intellect (and charity) that I can bring to bear (whatever they may be) I am not convinced that this is the case.

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