Catholic Church has evolving answer on reality of Adam and Eve

This is a detail of a painting of Adam and Eve by Peter Wenzel that is displayed in the Pinacoteca at the Vatican Museums. A national debate among evangelicals on the reality of Adam and Eve has prompted a look at what the Catholic Church says about the “first couple.”

Adam and Eve recently made an appearance on National Public Radio – not as guests, but as the topic of a discussion about their existence.

“Morning Edition,” a regular NPR series, examined the current debate among evangelical Christians over whether the first couple actually lived or are characters in a Bible story that makes a point about God and his creatures.

In simplified form, the fundamentalist view is that Adam was a real person and the first human created by God, while science argues that human beings evolved as a group. Some Christians hold that they must follow scientific findings and adapt their faith’s teachings to that information.

Similar debates between science and religion have gone on for a long time, and the Catholic Church has worked through those disputes for centuries, according to Franciscan Father Michael D. Guinan, professor of Old Testament, Semitic languages and biblical spirituality at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif.

“Since the 1600s,” he said, “the traditional views of Genesis have suffered three challenges: Galileo on the movement of the earth around the sun and not vice versa; the growth of geology in the 18-19th centuries and discoveries about the age of the earth”; and Darwin’s theory of evolution.

“The church has negotiated these challenges, but not without struggles. Today, no reasonable person in or out of the church doubts any of these three,” Father Guinan said in an interview with Catholic News Service.

The controversy – the one over Adam and Eve – involves the competing theories of polygenism and monogenism, that is, the question of whether humans descended from many progenitors, as science argues, or from one couple, as Genesis seems to posit.

“In the past, the church’s statements regarding original sin have presumed that Adam and Eve were historical people,” the priest explained. “The question of monogenism and polygenism never occurred to” those writing the documents. [more]


Catholic News Service