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  • The Impenetrable Mystery of a Literal Adam and Eve
  • Dennis Bonnette

The human mind forever probes the mysteries of God's creation seeking to find ultimate answers which satisfy its enquiry. Normally, this involves a natural progression toward some single truth that essentially defines "the solution." Imagine a case in which there is a true explanation for a major human question and yet, it turns out that more than one answer is possible. An impenetrable mystery emerges when it cannot be discovered which answer is the correct one.

Such a noetic impasse appears in the quest for mankind's origin: the search for a literal Adam and Eve (assuming some sort of evolutionary scenario). I shall show that a literal Adam and Eve can be demonstrated to be rationally credible. Yet, equally demonstrable is the impossibility of being certain which of two alternative possible explanations of their credibility is correct. Perhaps the full truth requires elements of both.1 [End Page 1013]

For much of Christian history, a literal set of first parents of all humanity, Adam and Eve, was accepted as factual. Today, claims made by some natural scientists have led to widespread doubt or even denial of this once universal belief.

Catholic doctrine clearly affirms theological monogenism, the teaching that all human beings are biological descendants of the first genuinely human individual, Adam. Pope Pius XII's 1950 encyclical Humani Generis proclaims that "revealed truth … and the magisterium of the Church" propose that original sin "proceeds from a sin truly committed by one Adam [ab uno Adamo], and which is transmitted to all by generation, and exists in each one as his own."2 Pius XII insists that "the faithful in Christ cannot accept" the "conjectural opinion" of polygenism, which he defines in theological terms as "this view, which holds that either after Adam there existed men on this earth, who did not receive their origin by natural generation from him, the first parent of all; or that Adam signifies some kind of multitude of first parents."3 This papal decision follows logically from the dogmatic teaching of the Council of Trent affirming that all true men must inherit original sin from Adam through generation.4 Having other genuinely human first parents not descended from Adam (polygenism) would contradict that doctrine, since they could not then have inherited original sin from him as the dogma declares.

Decades later, the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms this same teaching when it tells us, "The whole human race is in Adam 'as one body of one man.'"5 Further, it declares, "Adam and Eve committed [End Page 1014] 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."6

Current Objections Answered

From the scientific disciplines of paleoanthropology and genetics, two basic objections to theological monogenism have been posed. The first is that the standard evolutionary narrative speaks of slow changes in anatomy and behavior as early primate populations evolved into modern human beings. Thus, paleoanthropologists argue that intellectual abilities manifested gradual development as tool-making activity became more and more sophisticated over vast time periods, and similarly, early experience with fire led eventually to its controlled use.7 Contemporary paleoanthropologists would scoff at the Catholic doctrine of a literal Adam and Eve instantly appearing with fully human rational abilities.

While paleoanthropologists may fail to see the sudden appearance of true human beings in the paleontological record, classical philosophy offers a different perspective on the same data. Sourced in Aristotle's observation that man is distinguished from lower living things by possession of a rational nature, the definition of man as a rational animal became common in Scholastic philosophy.8 Man distinguishes himself from lower animals through abilities to understand abstract concepts, form judgments, and engage in discursive reasoning. St. Thomas Aquinas uses such specifically intellectual powers to demonstrate the spirituality and immortality of the human soul.9 An individual hominin must either possess a spiritual soul (substantial form) or not. Since, as Aquinas points out, "no substantial form is participated according to more or less," becoming...


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