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Our readers asked:

Must Catholics believe as an article of faith that all human beings have descended from two real human beings, Adam and Eve?
I have learned that all catholics must believe as an article of faith that all human beings have descended from two real human beings, Adam and Eve, who had no antecedents. Science has traced human lineage back several million years. We have, in our DNA, strong evidence of our development over very long time spans. My question is, if science proves beyond a doubt, by DNA or other evidence, that we have no linkage to those two distince parents Adam and Eve, how might the church respond to this, since it is in obvious contradiction to church teaching?

Fr. Joe Answers:

Contemporary Catholic biblical scholars tell us that the stories found in the book of Genesis are not meant to be a source of historical or scientific fact as we understand those terms today. Rather, they are meant to convey religious truth. In the words of one Catholic spiritual leader, “the purpose of the Bible is not to tell us how the heavens go, but how to go to heaven.”

Pope John Paul II,in his message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (October 22, 1996), observed that “we will all be able to profit from the fruitfulness of a trustful dialogue between the Church and
science.” John Paul took as his starting point the principle voiced by his predecessor, Pope Leo XIII, that “truth cannot contradict truth.” John Paul II recalled the encyclical of another predecessor, Pope Pius XII (Humani generis, 1950) that scientific theories of evolution do not contradict Catholic teaching providing they allow for the spiritual dimension of the human person.

John Paul observed that since Pius XII’s encyclical “fresh knowledge that led to the recognition that evolution is more than a hypothesis.” He voiced no difficulty with this. John Paul saw science as providing important truths about the physical and biological origins of the human race, but advised that “science cannot observe the development of the spiritual, the human capacity for self-awareness and self-reflection, moral conscience, freedom and religious experience.” These are the subjects for theology and philosophy.

In short,there is no necessary contradiction between scientific theories of evolution Catholic belief. Moreover, Catholics are not obligated to believe that the story of “first parents” named Adam and
Eve as told in the book of Genesis is historical fact. They are, however, called to believe the religious truths which the Genesis story proclaims, namely:

1. That God played the ultimate role in all creation.
2. That God played the ultimate role in the creation of the human being.
3. That God created the soul which gives the human person an inherent dignity and the capacity for a relationship of love with God.

I hope this helps to answer your question,
God bless,
Fr. Joe

The Author : Fr. Joe
Fr. Joe Scott, CSP, has been a campus minister, pastor and editor as a Paulist priest.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Pickled Charlie

    The Council of Trent and the first Vatican council maintain that we must believe it.

  • EditorCT

    You write that Catholics are not obligated to believe in the story of our first parents as historical fact.
    The Church requires belief in the historicity of Original Sin – that our first parents, that is, the first human beings created by God, committed a sin so grave that it required God made Man to live, suffer and die in His capacity as the Second Adam. This Original Sin – according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, took place, at the very beginning of history. You don’t get more “historical” than that.

  • al

    if there was no garden of eden, no adam and eve, no serpent and no fall, then there is no need for salvation.As an ex Catholic and an ex-fundamentalist protestant, it seems to me that the Catholic Church wants to have its cake and eat it too. Without a fall in the Garden as relayed by Genesis, there is no scriptural need for salvation. You can’t just make something up out of thin air. All Christianity stands on the historicity and infallibility of the Bible. If one believes the Bible is not historical and not infallible and inerrant, then one need not accept the tenets of Chrstianity. Anything beyond that is baseless mysticism.

  • Thuy

    Thank you, Father Joe, for bringing the church perspective into this issue beyond the “Catholics believe in God and therefore must not believe in evolution.” I, too, have found that there’s no reason to separate the two. It is unreasonable to expect bible writers to be the source of all truth, scientifically or otherwise. As a student of science, I find that the more I learn about the world, about the human body, etc, the more I am awed by God’s greatness, to have created such complex and perfect systems, with such elegant harmony in every level of biology, chemistry, physics. Evolution does not disprove our faith that God created the world, it furthers our understanding of God’s wisdom in creating the world that can adapt to change. For if God had created all living creatures as they are today, they’ll all be extinct by now, not having been able to adapt to changing environments.

  • John R.P. Russell

    While it is true that the theory of evolution does not necessarily contradict Catholic teaching (except for the idea of “random” mutations that certain evolutionary systems rely on), it must be pointed out that neither does it support Catholic teaching. A Catholic may believe in a literal Adam and Eve and still be a good Catholic.

    Also, Fr. Joe did not mention a fourth religious truth proclaimed in the Genesis story that Catholics are called to believe in: 4. The Fall of Man and original sin.

    “Evolution is more than a hypothesis,‚Äù as Fr. Joe quoted; it is a theory. But this fails to address a fallacy in the question above, which states, “if science proves beyond a doubt….” Science does not and cannot prove anything beyond a doubt. The scientific method is based upon the principle of uncertainty. Any theory is capable of being disputed and overturned in light of new evidence. There is no “beyond a doubt” except in faith. The antonym of “doubt” is “faith,” and it is foolish to put “faith” in a “theory.”

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