Adam, Eve, and Monogenism: More Perspectives (and more of the same)
It’s been some time since I’ve written on the Fall. Partly, I got a bit burned out on the topic after the many, many posts I did. Another factor was that I changed my mind on some aspects of the issue. Finally, after fifty-four posts, I concluded that I didn’t have a conclusion yet. I still don’t, quite. However, in the process of surfing about the Internet, I ran across some articles discussing just this issue–to wit, how does one square modern knowledge of human origins with the (apparent) Biblical requirement that all humans descend from a single priaml couple–and I thought it worthwhile to point them out and briefly discuss them.
It’s interestingly appropriate, given the content and image for today’s Rubá’í of the Day. Since I schedule the Rubá’í of the Day posts months ahead of time, I rarely remember what the specific verse for the day is or what image I selected for it until it posts. I was thinking about this post last night, and when I decided to write it today, lo and behold: there were Adam and Eve in today’s rubá’í! I certainly can’t ignore such a synchronicity, so on we go!
The starting point is this Forbes article, which apparently touched off much response in cyberspace. The author points out what I’ve noted here many times: it is not possible, based on what we’ve learned of population genetics, that the human race is descended from a single couple. Moreover, there is increasing evidence that different species or subspecies contributed to our ancestry–that is, there is evidence for polygenesis. Interestingly, the author points to the acknowledgement by the late Pope John Paul II that this issue is indeed a challenge for the faith.
In any case, moving on from there, I read the following articles dealing with the subject: “Adam and Eve and Ted and Alice” at The TOF Spot blog; “What sort of revision does scientific research call for on the Catholic doctrine of the fall?” at Just Thomism; and a two-part article by Edward Feser, “Modern biology and original sin”, here and here.
The first article is very entertaining, and interestingly posits a sort of quasi-existentialist account of Original Sin, with the first truly sapient (or ensouled) human, “Adam”, having self-awareness with the concomitant possibility–even inevitability–of selfishly acting only for himself. Original Sin is thus the first occurrence of something we all go through as we grow from the innocence of childhood into the experience of “fallenness” as adults. I’m not completely sure that O’Floinn address all problematic aspects of the issue, but his article is one I’ll ponder and come back to.
The article at Just Thomism is really not worth bothering with. It argues that even if Adam was not the literal “first” human, all could be descended from him and his wife. This is true–in much the same way, every living person is likely descended from Confucius–but it settles none of the theological issues related to Original Sin.
In this regard, I should briefly restate those problems:
1. Adam is said, by eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, to have committed the first sin. Since then, all other humans, by descent from Adam, are tainted with Original Sin.
2. However, it can be demonstrated with near certainty by population genetics that humans do not–and cannot–descend from one primal individual (or couple).
3. Thus, there must have other lineages of humans not taking their descent from Adam, and thus not afflicted with Original Sin. Since Christian theology as usually understood sees Christ’s Atonement of the human race to God as undoing the effects of Original Sin and making possible the restoration of humanity to God’s friendship–since, that is, the Redemption depends on the Fall–this is highly problematic.
Obviously if there are–or were–humans running around free from Original Sin, only ultimately to be replaced by those of us who are so tainted, not only does this undermine Christian teaching, but it seems horrendously unjust to the innocent humans. On the other hand, if non-Adamic humans were no different from Adamic humans, this, too, calls everything into question.
The way around this most often heard is exemplified by this, from the first Feser link above (my emphasis):
Supposing, then, that the smallest human-like population of animals evolution could have initially produced numbered around 10,000, we have a scenario that is fully compatible with Catholic doctrine if we suppose that only two of these creatures had human souls infused into them by God at their conception, and that He infused further human souls only into those creatures who were descended from this initial pair. And there is no evidence against this supposition.
This scenario raises all sorts of interesting questions, such as whether any of these early humans (in the metaphysical sense of having a human soul) mated with some of the creatures who were (genetically and, in part, phenotypically) only human-like.
In short, no matter how many other hominids (be they Homo sapiens or some earlier species such as H. habilis, H. erectus, or some such) lived before and concurrent with “Adam” and “Eve”, only the favored two were ensouled by God. The others would be, in effect, philosophical zombies. Not the kind of zombie that wants to eat your brain; but creatures which, while appearing and perhaps even behaving human, would have no self-awareness, no qualia, no interior consciousness–in short, beings that would lack that which we usually mean by the term “soul”.
Now, Dr. Feser is a bright man, but he seems to endorse this position, as is clear from the above post. In another post which he placed between the two listed above, he has this to say (quoting Kenneth Kemp in the first paragraph):
These first true human beings also have descendants, which continue, to some extent, to interbreed with the non-intellectual hominids among whom they live. If God endows each individual that has even a single [metaphysically] human ancestor with an intellect of its own, a reasonable rate of reproductive success and a reasonable selective advantage would easily replace a non-intellectual hominid population of 5,000 individuals with a philosophically (and, if the two concepts are extensionally equivalent, theologically) human population within three centuries. Throughout this process, all theologically human beings would be descended from a single original human couple (in the sense of having that human couple among their ancestors) without there ever having been a population bottleneck in the human species.
So there is no problem of reconciling the claims in question. [T]he modern human population has the genes it has because it is descended from a group of several thousand individuals, only two of whom had immaterial souls. But only those later individuals who had this pair among their ancestors (even if they also had as ancestors members of the original group which did not have immaterial souls) have descendents living today.
This would indeed solve the problem; but I think it would do so by producing even worse problems.
First, one suggestion not broached in the quoted sections is that perhaps the first ensouled pair and their offspring did not interbreed with their non-esouled peers. This is a non-starter; it would make Adam and Eve once more the sole genetic ancestors of all of us, and we’ve seen that’s not possible. Even if you want to bump the primal couple back to a precursor species, as commenter A. Watkins seems to want to do in his comments to the first post, you still can’t get around the genetics of it. Thus the interbreeding of true humans (or metaphysical humans, which I’ll henceforth refer to as M-humans) with soulless philosophical zombies (P-zombies) seems necessary in this scenario.
This is a problem in itself, though, since it obviously smacks of bestiality. One can argue that God in effect gave the early M-human population a pass on this; but it seems odd that God would set things up this way. One could also argue along the lines of another commenter on the first post, Crude, that
[C]alling this “bestiality”, while reasonable on one level, is a stretch here: We’re talking about humans from the same population, breeding with each other after an external intervention of a grand sort. This is ‘bestiality’ only in a very technical sense.
He seems to be saying that P-zombies wouldn’t be that much different from M-humans. This, though, is even worse. If the implication (and I may be wrong about what he’s suggesting) is that in actual practice P-zombies wouldn’t behave that much differently from M-humans, then this seems to undermine the very idea of a soul at all. If P-zombies existed and spoke, laughed, cried, and in all their exterior behavior were indistinguishable from M-humans–while of course lacking consciousness–this would be strong evidence that all forms of human behavior are adequately explained by truly material causes. Thus, by Occam’s Razor, there’d be no reason to assume a soul to begin with.
Finally, the idea that the offspring of a couple at least one of whom has a soul “inherits” souledness from that parent is just totally ridiculous. Sure, God could do that; but if we’re going that way, why doesn’t he ensoul the P-zombie mate so that his/her spouse can be married to a real human? Why didn’t He ensoul everyone in the first place? And why does He set it up so that an immaterial essence seems to behave like DNA?
Thus in the Adam-and-Eve-as-first-M-humans scenario you’ve either got the impossibility of all humans descended from one couple; or a creepy interbreeding with subhumans; or an argument against souls; and in all versions a really weird view of the soul.
The problems with this theory are major, and can be summed up as follows:
1. It is totally ad hoc, a rather elegant Latin way of saying, in effect, making s*** up to make your theory work. Were it not for the desire to uphold some aspect of the Genesis account that is felt necessary to interpret literally (i.e. Adam and Eve), no one would ever have suggested such a strange and convoluted theory in the first place.
2. It takes a much too materialistic view of the soul, treating it as almost like hair color in its heritability.
3. It seems increasingly likely that some form of polygensis pertains to humans. At least with the idea of souls spreading from an initial couple throughout a single population within a short time doesn’t leave too many P-zombies (or unfallen humans) shambling about. If populations existed that might have been separate for millennia before interbreeding, though, this implies that large populations of either P-zombies (or unfallen humans) may have existed for a long, long time before interbreeding with Adamites. This is conceivable, but it seems like a really odd way for God to create a rational species.
Thus we return to the problem. In the second part of his “Modern Biology and Original Sin” essay above, Dr. Feser says the following, my emphasis:
Similarly, we inherit the penalty of original sin, not in the sense that we’ve got some “original sin gene” alongside genes for eye color and tooth enamel, but rather in the sense that the offer of the supernatural gifts was made to the human race as a whole through their first parent acting as their representative.
It seems difficult, without making absurd, repulsive, or ad hoc assumptions, to argue that there was a specific “Fall” caused at a specific time by a specific act committed by two specific humans “acting as representatives” of all future humans.
I don’t claim to have a solution to this yet, or that I ever will. I would, however like to point to this excellent book: The Evolution of Adam, by Evangelical scholar Dr. Peter Enns. I want to come back to it in a future post, after I finish reading it. Here, I want to quote something I consider highly important from one of the later chapters (my emphasis):
I support the effort to take seriously both the theological heart of the Adam story and natural science, and to be willing to rethink the biblical Adam in the process. But as well intentioned as this approach is–and many thoughtful people envision such a scenario–I see several problems.
First and foremost, it is ironic that in trying to hold on to biblical teaching a scenario is proposed that the Bible does not recognize: gradual evolution over millions of years rather than the sudden and recent creation of humanity as the Bible has it. Now I will say it is possible that, tens of thousands of years ago, God took two hominid representatives (or a group of hominids) and with them began the human story where creatures could have a consciousness of God, learn to be moral, and so forth. But that is an alternate and wholly ad hoc account of the first humans, not the biblical one. One cannot pose such a scenario and say, “Here is your Adam and Eve; the Bible and science are thus reconciled.” Whatever those creatures were, they were not what the Biblical authors presumed to be true. They may have been the first beings somehow conscious of God, but we overstep our bounds if we claim that these creatures satisfy the requirements of being “Adam and Eve.”
There’s no space to elaborate, but Dr. Enns basically argues that we have to look at the Genesis account as an allegorical re-telling of the history of Israel, and that we have to understand Paul’s writing about Adam and Christ in this context. He doesn’t give a specific answer to the problem as such; but if I interpret him correctly, he argues in his book that there is no need for a literal, historical Fall at all, at least not of the kind traditionally posed by theology. As is evident from the quote above, he is very much opposed to the M-human interpretation of Adam and Eve which we have been discussing here.
Thus, however we want to look at the Fall, I’m convinced that jiggling it around to get Adam and Eve in by backdoor tactics is going down a blind alley. As to possibly more fruitful approaches, I’ll discuss some in future posts.
Part of the series Legends of the Fall.
Also part of the series Polygenism Revisited.
Posted on 04/02/2013, in Bible, Catholicism, Christianity, humans, nature, primatology, religion, science, theology and tagged anthropology, biology, Catholicism, Christianity, genetics, Legends of the Fall, polygenism, primatology, science, the Fall of Man, theology. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.