Hey, Darwins…

…or any of you other smart people…

Would you mind taking a look at this? There’s some unpleasant smarm, but there’s also some clarity about the problem. And Lord help me, I’m not that bright.


  1. Southern Expat says

    Lord help me, I read the comments section.

    Have we already talked about Mike Flynn’s blog post on the subject?
    Adam and Eve and Ted and Alice

    Possibly related media here on this very site:
    The highs and lows of the John Farrell experience


    I don’t have anything new or insightful to say on the matter, but I will say that I think about this often in the context of catechesis; how to leave enough room for “we are not required to assent to this being a literal account of what happened” without coming across as “it’s all a made-up myth.” Oh, and you can say “simple, Expat, one merely needs to explain the senses of Scripture and address the nuanced view that such-and-such” but the reality is that when you are talking about religion you are frequently talking to people with hands over their ears.

    • Matthew Lickona says

      Forty is recurring anxieties. Alternatively, forty is being too lazy and/or busy to search your own damn blog and/or memory for material. Thanks, Expat.

      • Southern Expat says

        Well, I must be facing down the barrel of Forty myself, as all I am most days is recurring anxieties. I wasn’t trying to say “uh, we already talked about that.” I just don’t have anything new to add.

      • I did send you my conversation with Farrell and Stephen Barr, right? I don’t really have the time to read through the whole article, but I’m pretty aware of the issues (that polygenism is true, that it appears to conflict at first glance with Humani Generis, etc.).

        It’s an area where theological speculation would be profitable before getting any magisterial declarations on the matter. I have my own speculation that makes a lot of sense to me, and which I think sheds a lot of light on the communal effects of sin, but which, while I do not think it is in violation of magisterial teaching, is also not at the moment a magisterially-advanced position. To sum it up super *very* briefly, even if “Adam & Eve” is a group of original full-humans, body & soul (as opposed to near-human animals), then just as we think of salvation coming through a communal incorporation into the body of Christ, so the sin of Adam (one of the members of this community) damaged the communal relationship with God. If we are, by nature, social animals (or, as I like to say, ecclesial animals), meaning creatures that cannot fulfill their nature without the community (and when it comes to the supernatural fulfillment of that nature, the community that is the people of God), then it follows logically that damage to the fabric of the community through sin is damage to our nature. That seems to me to be in line with the magisterial teaching that original sin spread through “propagation” rather than “imitation.” Anyway, as I said, those are my own speculations. If the CDF says otherwise at some point, I’m happy to recant.

  2. I couldn’t get through the sky high, chokable level of pride and snark, sorry. Wow.

    But what I read seemed to think that theologians exist first, foremost, and only to respond to Science, that Great Lord Truth Teller of the Universe. ‘Fraid not.

    I honestly don’t see the problem he poses. Adam and Eve stand for first parents. Their very names are symbolic of that. The whole narrative makes the point that very early, humanity fell from God’s grace. The end. I mean, there is more than that, but these narratives were always meant to say more about who God is, and who human beings are, than anything else. Esp not science.

    We could make a nice little fire of that strawman. I’m feeling toasty already.

    I grade the essay a D, out of the kindness of my heart. If he rewrites it without the snarkfest, I’ll consider grading it again.

    (See what I’ve been doing the past three weeks? Tad grumpy. Apologies.)

  3. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    In our previous discussion of the subject, I tried to amplify a point that Mike Flynn makes in the ‘Adam and Eve and Ted and Alice’ blog post to which Expat links above: The point that (as Flynn says) ‘Traditional [Christian] doctrine requires only […] [t]hat all humans share a common ancestor, not that they have no other ancestors.’ Christian doctrine allows the possibility that Adam and Eve were part of a larger population of hominids with whom they and their descendents could have reproduced — so long as, some generations later, all the bloodlines of Adam and Eve’s contemporaries had either merged with Adam’s bloodline through interbreeding, or had gone extinct. I think this scenario neatly reconciles polygenism and Christian doctrine on human origins and Original Sin.

    But can we establish how likely or unlikely it is that 100% of present-day humans can trace their ancestry back to some individual ‘Adam’? If so, what method(s) could we use?

    In the New Republic article that occasioned the present post, Coyne touches on this question. He says: ‘[I]f Adam and Eve were real (i.e., not “literary”), then the chance that they would be genetic ancestors of us all is virtually nil.’ But he doesn’t say why this chance is ‘virtually nil.’ I’m really curious about this!

    • There are a lot of confounding factors, but in principle this could work. Given a few basic assumptions — (1) a non-zero probability that every ‘unsouled’ creature can mate with a ‘souled’ creature, (2) the children of ‘souled’ and ‘unsouled’ matings are ‘souled’, and (3) the ‘souled’ population reproduces at least as rapidly (proportionately) at the ‘unsouled’ population — then the introduction of even a single ‘souled’ creature will eventually result in all creatures being ‘souled’.

      More precisely: assume equal reproduction rates in the two populations, an initial population of N ‘unsouled’ creatures and 1 ‘souled’, and a uniform probability p that each souled creature mates with an unsouled creature, then all creatures will be souled after n generations, where n satisfies

      2 N = p n (1 + (1+p)^(n-1))

      n is necessarily finite as long as p>0.

      Of course, lots of things could cause these assumptions to fail, especially the possibility of geographically isolated ‘unsouled’ creatures who cannot find ‘soul mates’ (as it were).

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