Adam & Eve & Original Sin: Have They Been Disproven by Science?

Adam & Eve & Original Sin: Have They Been Disproven by Science? September 7, 2015


Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve [engraving], 1504 [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

This is an exchange (currently abridged to tighten up the content) that I had with an atheist, Brad Feaker, under my post, Defending God (The Atheist Blame Game). His words will be in blue.

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In order to buy into the ‘original sin’ argument, you need an ‘original couple’ or Adam and Eve. Please correct me if I misstate your position because I am assuming you believe in a literal Adam and Eve. And if so, I really understand why people who take that position fear and loathe evolution so much.

The study of population genetics informs us that no such ‘original couple’ ever existed. No Adam and Eve? No original sin. No original sin? No ‘fallen’ world. And that one fact alone invalidates your entire theological argument. No original sin means there is no need for a ‘saviour’.

1. I don’t “fear and loathe evolution” as you mistakenly think. [his remark along these lines that I am here replying to, seems to have been deleted] I am agnostic about it; rather ho-hum. My position is that God created all that exists. He either did it through evolutionary processes or more directly and “instantly” at times. It matters not one whit to me which method He used. What I oppose is materialism, not evolution. That is where the real philosophical battle lies. I don’t think materialistic evolution is able to be adequately explained solely by the laws of science as we presently know them. That’s why I am agnostic about it. 2. Of course I believe in a literal Adam and Eve, because that is what anyone who takes the Bible and Christianity seriously, believes. I disagree that science disproves a “primal pair.” I have posted some serious analysis about this, which shows that Adam and Eve are quite compatible with evolutionary process. Thus, original sin is salvaged and Christianity survives a close call with death. Whew! That was close!


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.

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.

First, I should have specified human evolution. And of course you fear and loathe it – you would not spend so much energy trying to deny it if you did not.

You don’t read very well. I just said I was “agnostic” about it and that I couldn’t care less if God decided to create by this method (including human evolution). I don’t spend much time fighting a thing that I have no final opinion about. I oppose materialism. Learn the difference.

If you are actually interested in learning some facts I recommend the following papers: Li, H., and R. Durbin. 2011. Inference of human population history from individual whole-genome sequences. Nature 475:493-497. Sheehan, S., K. Harris, and Y. S. Song. 2013. Estimating variable effective population sizes from multiple genomes: a sequentially Markov conditional sampling distribution approach. Genetics 194:647-62. And they thoroughly discredit the notion of a literal Adam and Eve. Frankly, I know that it will not make one bit of difference to you what the science says, because I am betting you will simply dismiss any evidence that contradicts your world view. And I am not really interested in learning about genetics and biology from professors of theology and philosophy. I will stick to biologists and geneticists – you know…the people who actually study and understand these subjects in depth.

I gave you two serious academic treatments defending a primal human pair, that you had assumed were non-existent. Scientists and philosophers disagree on this point, as we would expect. What else is new? Citing two articles against me doesn’t prove that no contrary opinion exists.

You need to stop making dumb arguments that science has disproven Adam and Eve altogether, and with that, original sin and Christianity itself. It’s laughable.

My patience is very thin with these idiotic remarks from atheists and agnostics about how Christians, almost to a person, are completely hostile to evidence, reason, science, etc. You’re not interested in back-and-forth discussion.

You still have not presented one factual contradiction of the studies I posted.  Did you read either of those studies by chance? Just curious because I did read quite a bit of the pages you directed me to. I do not agree with it – but I read it anyway to give it a chance. I have no interest in the opinions of philosophers on matters of genetics and biology, just as I am not interested in their opinions on any other subject matter outside of their area of specialty – if the subject is science. Do you go to your mechanic if you are suffering from an undiagnosed illness? Not that I dismiss philosophy – it can give us valid insights into ourselves. But philosophical arguments do not refute hard facts. Repeated studies have demonstrated that [neither] an Adam and Eve, nor a Noah and his family members, were the forebears of the human species. This is the uncomfortable elephant in the room of Christianity. I will ask again. Were I to see empirical evidence for the existence of God – I would be obligated to change my mind. What would you require to change yours?

I change my mind for a variety of reasons: not limited to empirical reasons, because that is not all there is. Recently, I replied to another atheist who asked about ways Christianity could be disproved. I gave about five off the top of my head.

You have completely evaded my main point.  Science has eliminated the idea of a literal Adam and Eve – regardless of your opinion.

Not at all. I provided two perfectly acceptable defenses of Adam and Eve, in line with current science. Just because you have a hostility to philosophy, it doesn’t follow that I have provided no reply at all. Your limitation and silly adoption of “empiricism only” as your epistemology is your own blind spot and limitation, not mine. The first article from Kemp cites lots of scientific studies. But remember, here was your original challenge (my present bolding and italics):

The study of population genetics informs us that no such ‘original couple’ ever existed. No Adam and Eve? No original sin. No original sin? No ‘fallen’ world. And that one fact alone invalidates your entire theological argument.

Since you claim that my theological argument is invalidated, it is completely proper to reply with theological arguments, because if you don’t understand how it is that Catholics accept both theological and scientific truths and harmonize them, you can’t fully understand our position. Therefore, a piece of philosophical theology is perfectly acceptable and exactly on-point. It shows that the Catholic doctrine of Adam and Eve and a primal pair need not be contradictory to science at all. The second paper by Edward Feser is of the same nature. Philosopher Dennis Bonnette (see many of his papers below) wrote:

It is widely claimed that Adam and Eve were “impossible” in light of recent findings in molecular biology, especially regarding the Human Genome Project. Many succumb to the modernistic tendency to “adjust” Church teaching to fit the latest findings of science — thus scandalizing Catholics into thinking that fundamental revealed truths are not well founded.

The fact remains that a literal Adam and Eve are part of unchanging Catholic doctrine. Central to St. Paul’s teaching is the fact that through one man, Adam, sin entered the world, and through the God-man, Jesus Christ, redemption came (Rom 5:12-21). The Catechism cites St. Paul, and speaks of Adam and Eve as of a single mating pair who “committed a personal sin” (CCC, 399-404).

We must be careful not to confuse the technical concept of average effective population size estimates, which vary from as high as 14,000 (Blum 2011) to as low as 2,000 (Tenesa 2007) depending on the methods used, with an actual “bottleneck” ( a temporarily reduced population) which may be much smaller. We must also realize that these calculations depend on many assumptions about mutation rate, recombination rate, and other factors, that are now known to vary widely, and that all depend on retrospective calculations about events in the far distant past, for which we have almost no information.

A famed study by Ayala (1995) led many to believe that a bottleneck of two was impossible at any time in the human lineage after the Homo/Pan (human/chimp) split some five million years ago. However, Ayala’s claim of thirty-two ancient HLA-DRB1 lineages (prior to the Homo/Pan split) was wrong because of methodological errors. The number of lineages was subsequently adjusted by Bergström (1998) to just seven at the time of the split, with most of the genetic diversity appearing in the last 250,000 years. 

Since the Class II region where HLA-DRB1 resides recombines only rarely, the region behaves as a unit during reproduction. It is inherited as a block, referred to as a haplotype. It is now known that there are only five basic haplotypes (Andersson 1998), and their particular identity is specified by which HLA-DRB1 allele they carry. Depending on the accuracy of the dating and tree drawing, there may have been between three and five haplotypes at the time of the Homo/Pan split. We share four of them with chimps. Since a single mating pair could pass on a maximum of four haplotypes, the most recent studies appear potentially compatible with a literal Adam and Eve. [I am indebted to molecular biologist Dr. Ann Gauger for the above line of reasoning pertinent to the genetic arguments.]

The point of all this is to show that the science which is so dogmatically employed to undermine Catholic doctrine regarding Adam and Eve is itself not definitive. Catholic doctrine trumps in any event, but even more so when the science itself is far from settled. 

What is most important for purposes of this thread is the realization that, since the same God is Author of both human reason and authentic revelation, legitimate science will never contradict Catholic doctrine — and Catholic doctrine firmly teaches a literal Adam and Eve. 

In my book, Origin of the Human Species (Sapientia Press, second edition, 2003), I offer extensive analysis of the interface between evolutionary theory, philosophy, and theology — including a most detailed explanation of how the existence of a literal Adam and Eve remains rationally credible, even to well educated Christians at the beginning of the twenty-first century.


For further philosophical / scientific defenses of the Adam and Eve of historic Christianity, see:

Knowing an Ape from Adam (Dr. Edward Feser, 12-20-14) Monkey in your soul? (Dr. Edward Feser, 9-12-11)

No, Virginia, Science Hasn’t Debunked Adam (Dr. Lydia McGrew, 7-3-14)

Adam and Eve: Defense of Their Literal Existence as the Primal Human Couple (Dr. Dennis Bonnette)

A Philosophical Critical Analysis of Recent Ape-Language Studies (Dr. Dennis Bonnette, Faith and Reason, vol. 19.2-3, 1993)

Must Human Evolution Contradict Genesis?  (Dr. Dennis Bonnette, New Oxford Review, July / August 2007)

Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? (Dr. Dennis Bonnette, Crisis Magazine, 11-24-14)

Does Science Allow for a Literal Adam and Eve? (Dr. Dennis Bonnette)

Time to Abandon the Genesis Story? (Dr. Dennis Bonnette, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, 7-10-14)

Did Darwin Prove Genesis a Fairy Tale? (Dr. Dennis Bonnette, Social Justice Review, September-October, 2007, 98:7-8)

The Philosophical Impossibility of Darwinian Naturalistic Evolution (Dr. Dennis Bonnette, Faith and Reason, vol. 33:1-4, 2008)

Catholic Dogma and Teaching on Creation (Phil Porvaznik)

Theistic Evolution and the Roman Catholic Church  (Phil Porvaznik)

Adam, Eve, and the Hominid Fossil Record  (Phil Porvaznik)

Cosmology and Fundamental Physics (Pope St. John Paul II, 1986)


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