‘We all know that [Adam and Eve] is just plainly not true,’ said a commenter, scathingly, on another blog.
Wrong assumption, said I. Which led to quite a discussion, culminating in the request: ‘where in hominid development did God come down and create Adam and Eve? I’m interested in how you can rationalise this out.’
So here goes. First, I’ll cover off the articles of faith that I accept because they are Catholic doctrine. Then I’ll outline the scientific theories that seem to me to have the weight of evidence behind them. With that foundation laid, I’ll launch into my explanation of the puzzle, with due thanks to those who have provided part of the picture.
God created space and time, and everything that exists. He created two realms, spiritual and physical. Both were perfect, and perfectly beautiful. He created intelligent spiritual beings to fill the spiritual realm.
God created the earth and filled it with plants and animals.
We are given no information about his process or methodologies, but we know he liked what he had done.
God created the first parents of humankind: the two people we know of as Adam and Eve. In doing so, he created a bridge between the spiritual and physical realms – a creature that is physical but that also has a spiritual soul. The union of body and soul produces a single being, a human being. God creates each soul individually – you receive your body from your parents, but your soul straight from God.
This man and woman were created in a state of ‘original justice’ – divine intimacy and harmony between God and humankind, between the man and the woman, between the first couple and all creation. They were given mastery – particularly over themselves: free from what the Catechism calls ‘triple concupiscence’. Triple concupiscense is ‘subjection to the pleasures of the senses, covetousness for earthly goods, and self-assertion, contrary to the dictates of reason’.
Adam and Eve failed in a task God gave them – a metahistorical event we call ‘the Fall’. Humankind were no longer in a state of original justice, and were subject to concupiscence. This condition was inheritable.
This is all in the Catechism.
Theories of the evolution of humankind
It seems likely that humankind has a single origin (since all races can interbreed), and that this origin was Africa no earlier than 70,000 BCE and no later than 50,000 BCE. (There is a counter theory that multiple species capable of interbreeding developed in various parts of the world during a 2.5 million year period – the multi-regional evolution theory. DNA evidence supports the out-of-Africa theory, though.)
There’s also some evidence to suggest that the Lake Toba extinction event reduced the total homo-sapiens population to as few as a thousand breeding pairs. This happened around 70,000 years ago.
Then something changed – some experts speculate it was language – and soon the slow step-by-step process of development seen in stone tools gave way to what some have called ‘the great leap forward’. From 50,000 years ago, people started burying their dead, making clothes out of animal skins, painting on cave walls, and using sophisticated hunting techniques. From that point on, technological progress was rapid (in evolutionary time-terms).
Our ancestors boiled out of Africa and covered the world in a few tens of thousands of years. During that expansion time, the last surviving populations of other hominid types became extinct.
A unified theory of our origins and our destination
I believe God used the mechanisms described by the theory of evolution to create different species in the physical realm and probably other mechanisms that we don’t understand yet. For example, I am interested in the research into genetic switches that are responsive to environmental changes.
This ‘good basic design followed by limited intervention’ theory fits with His known preference for setting up the mechanism and letting it operate as much as possible without interference. I think some interventions must have been necessary, and I speculate that some of the key intervention points are listed in Genesis chapter 1: period 1, creating space and time; period 2, collecting appropriate gases; period 3, forming a workable solar system with the planets at the right distances and a working moon; period 4, getting plant life started; period 5, starting and guiding the development of the first animal life – in the sea, initially; period 6, starting and guiding the development of life on land, culminating in hominids.
Then God gave a single male and a single female a human soul each. This was the intervention we see in Genesis 2; it’s an intervention He repeats with every conception.
It seems clear to me that God raised at least the man Himself, giving him everything necessary for his comfort, including, eventually, a female counterpart to be his partner and companion.
Now the man and the woman were bridge creatures, as I’ve said: both body and soul. But in a sense they were not yet fully human. God had made them with free will precisely so that they could participate in completing the design. A fully complete human is one that chooses partnership with God.
For this reason, He allowed the man and the woman to be challenged; He gave them the opportunity to show their love and trust for Him. Just as we have inherited their tendency to concupiscence, so – if they had passed the test – we would have inherited their state of original justice, and their innocence of concupiscence. This means that there must be a physical basis for this state of innocence, since the body, not the soul, is inherited.
Scott Hahn points out that Adam was present during Eve’s temptation (‘she also gave some to her husband, who was with her’), and suggests that he acted out of fear – the serpent being a fearsome creature that was promising to kill him if he didn’t co-operate. Be that as it may, they failed the challenge, and lost the opportunity to pass their state of innocence onto their offspring.
My theory is that they then went to live with or near the main homo-sapiens population. Their sons and daughters took mates from the main population. God gave each of their offspring a human soul, and the parents and grandparents gave the power of naming, or human language, and the concept of God and the spiritual realm.
These innovations fueled ‘the great leap forward’. Over time, the genetics of those first parents were spread throughout the population, and so were their radical ideas.
In due course, Jesus came as the new Adam, to do what the first true man failed to do. Having obeyed God even to death, He was the first fully complete human being. He couldn’t pass this state of being to the human race by being their parent – that opportunity passed with the first parents. Instead, He instituted the Eucharist, where we take into our physical selves a particle of the Body and Blood of Jesus (disguised as bread and wine). Over time, and given that we co-operate, this changes us to be holy, as Christ is holy.