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Original Sin and Human evolution
Written by Malek


Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Psalm 51:5

Many people today deny the reality of original sin. Modern thinkers claim that evolution disproves it. Some object to the idea of inheriting sin from our parents, while others simply deny sin itself. Some Christians claim that the Bible never teaches it and so on. However G.K. Chesterton while still an Anglican wrote in his book, Othrodoxy, that original sin is the most obvious of all Christian doctrines.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), the doctrine of original sin is in some sense the reverse side of the doctrine of Redemption (CCC 389). In Genesis 2-3, God created man in His Image and established our first parents - Adam and Eve - in His friendship. This friendship included Sanctifying grace - the gift of holiness and eternal life. Adam, however, freely chose to live apart from God by trusting instead in the knowledge of good and evil - wanting to be like gods. Adam rejected God through disobedience and lost this friendship for himself and us. This loss is original sin (Gen 3:22ff; CCC 396-399).

The concept of original sin is not exclusively Catholic. Even though some Evangelical Protestants may shutter at the term, they readily acknowledge the fall of mankind and accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. Now without original sin, there would be no need for a Savior. The story of Adam and Eve found in the Book of Genesis is inherited from our Hebrew heritage (Gen. 3). Even the ancient Greek pagans had an inkling idea of original sin and imperfectly expressed it in the tale of "Pandora's Box."



Now the doctrine of original sin cannot be proven by natural reason, but it is easily witnessed by its symptoms: the need for police, the collapse of great civilizations, suicide, suffering and so on. Another symptom is war. People have always and will always kill each other in mass quantity. The more advanced, civilized cultures merely execute war more efficiently. War is not exclusively reserved for nations. Street gangs, families or a single terrorist can rage war. But war is exclusively a human endeavor. Monkeys, though nimble with their fingers, do not make bombs, guns or even knives. Man on the other hand has fashioned the most primitive weapons out of stone before he could record history. In recent years, man has successfully sent robots to explore distant planets but still lives under the threat of nuclear holocaust. Even though man is intelligent and capable of doing great works, war quickly reminds us of our fallen state - a state sometimes appearing to be beneath animals. Without the doctrine of original sin, this paradox of humanity is an even deeper mystery.

Modern thinkers may claim that evolution disproves original sin, even though evolution is still only a theory. Even if evolution were proven to be fact, fossils can tell us little about our first parents and their spiritual souls. Also recent research in human mitochondrial DNA tends to indicate that the human race descended from a single woman - perhaps scientific evidence for Eve. (Mitochondrial DNA is genetic material inherited only from the mother and not from the father, unlike nuclear DNA.) Now evolution does not disprove original sin, but on the contrary - sin seems to disprove evolution. Evolution does not explain man's sinful setback. If man evolved from animals, then man also shares a common digression missing among animals.

Some may object to the idea of inheriting sin; however, these people forget about human solidarity - the human race as one big family. Even though we are responsible for our actions due to human free will, our deeds still affect other people and vice versa. If I drive while drunk, my action can deprive someone else of their life. If my children see me stealing, then they will more likely choose to steal as a result of my example and so on. Now original sin is not due to our action, so it is not our personal fault (CCC 405). However as a result of human solidarity and Adam as the father of the human race, we still inherit the state of Adam's sin - "a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice" [CCC 404]. This disharmony between human free will and human solidarity is a consequence of original sin.

Others may not only deny original sin, but deny sin altogether. For example socialists try to replace personal responsibility for human behavior with impersonal forces, such as unequal distribution of wealth. Humanists reduce personal sins to social problems and believe that man can eventually solve all problems - seeing no need for a divine Savior. Other thinkers may not want to acknowledge their own personal sins, even though they readily recognize when others trespass against them. These thinkers arrogantly deny man's fundamental weakness and dependence on God, our Creator.

Now the term "Original Sin" may not be found in the Bible; however, the doctrine is present. King David refers to it in Psalm 51:5 (see top). Job declares in poetic fashion:

Man that is born of woman is of few days, and full of trouble...Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one. [Job 14:1 & 4; RSV]

Both of these passages imply that our sinfulness is inherited from our parents, even though there is no mention of Adam's sin.

The clearest revelation on original sin is found in the Epistles of St. Paul, especially Romans 5:12-20. St. Paul writes:

Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous. [Rom 5:18-19]

Adam's original disobedience made us all sinners, while Christ's obedience on the Cross saves us from our sins. St. Paul also writes:

Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned. [Rom 5:12]

Adam's sin also brought death; however, death here should not be merely thought of in terms of bodily death as that which all animals experience but in a spiritual sense, as in the loss of eternal life (CCC 403). This passage also implies that even though Adam brought death into the world, we are also responsible since we all sinned. Elsewhere St. Paul writes:

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. [1 Cor 15:21-22]

According to these passages, we inherited sin and death as a result of Adam's sin. This is why St. Paul reminds us that "we were by nature children of wrath." [Eph 2:3]

This situation should not be considered as totally hopeless. Adam's sin earned us a Redeemer from sin and death. (Gen. 3:15) From the Mass on Holy Saturday: "Oh happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!" As a result of original sin, we need Jesus Christ. This sin gave God the opportunity to share His Only Son with us. Christ's victory over sin won us more blessings than those lost through Adam's sin (CCC 420). In the words of St. Paul, "where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." [Rom 5:20] God worked through Adam's sin for our greater good and His Glory.

Through Christ's Resurrection, Baptism re-establishes God's friendship with us by washing away this sin from our soul (1 Peter 3:21). In Baptism we receive Sanctifying grace and are born again into eternal life (John 3:5). Sanctifying grace makes us pleasing to God (CCC 2024). Baptism does not cancel all the effects of Adam's sin, such as concupiscence -the inclination to evil (CCC 405). But it and the other Sacraments give us the grace needed to "work out (our) own salvation with fear and trembling." [Phil 2:12].

In summary the symptoms of original sin demonstrate our need for God. Original sin is the loss of original holiness and justice due to Adam's sin. As a result man is alienated from God and also other men. Man has a wounded nature inclined towards evil. A denial of this fact can only lead to serious errors in education, politics, social action and morals (CCC 407). The revelation of original sin cannot be compromised without also compromising the revelation of our Salvation.

Printed with permission from A Catholic Response, Inc.



Adam, Eve, and Evolution


The controversy surrounding evolution touches on our most central beliefs about ourselves and the world. Evolutionary theories have been used to answer questions about the origins of the universe, life, and man. These may be referred to as cosmological evolution, biological evolution, and human evolution. One’s opinion concerning one of these areas does not dictate what one believes concerning others. 

People usually take three basic positions on the origins of the cosmos, life, and man: (1) special or instantaneous creation, (2) developmental creation or theistic evolution, (3) and atheistic evolution. The first holds that a given thing did not develop, but was instantaneously and directly created by God. The second position holds that a given thing did develop from a previous state or form, but that this process was under God’s guidance. The third position claims that a thing developed due to random forces alone. 

Related to the question of how the universe, life, and man arose is the question of when they arose. Those who attribute the origin of all three to special creation often hold that they arose at about the same time, perhaps six thousand to ten thousand years ago. Those who attribute all three to atheistic evolution have a much longer time scale. They generally hold the universe to be ten billion to twenty billion years old, life on earth to be about four billion years old, and modern man (the subspecies homo sapiens) to be about thirty thousand years old. Those who believe in varieties of developmental creation hold dates used by either or both of the other two positions. 


The Catholic Position


What is the Catholic position concerning belief or unbelief in evolution? The question may never be finally settled, but there are definite parameters to what is acceptable Catholic belief. 

Concerning cosmological evolution, the Church has infallibly defined that the universe was specially created out of nothing. Vatican I solemnly defined that everyone must "confess the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, as regards their whole substance, have been produced by God from nothing" (Canons on God the Creator of All Things, canon 5). 

The Church does not have an official position on whether the stars, nebulae, and planets we see today were created at that time or whether they developed over time (for example, in the aftermath of the Big Bang that modern cosmologists discuss). However, the Church would maintain that, if the stars and planets did develop over time, this still ultimately must be attributed to God and his plan, for Scripture records: "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host [stars, nebulae, planets] by the breath of his mouth" (Ps. 33:6). 

Concerning biological evolution, the Church does not have an official position on whether various life forms developed over the course of time. However, it says that, if they did develop, then they did so under the impetus and guidance of God, and their ultimate creation must be ascribed to him. 

Concerning human evolution, the Church has a more definite teaching. It allows for the possibility that man’s body developed from previous biological forms, under God’s guidance, but it insists on the special creation of his soul. Pope Pius XII declared that "the teaching authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions . . . take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter—[but] the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God" (Pius XII, Humani Generis 36). So whether the human body was specially created or developed, we are required to hold as a matter of Catholic faith that the human soul is specially created; it did not evolve, and it is not inherited from our parents, as our bodies are. 

While the Church permits belief in either special creation or developmental creation on certain questions, it in no circumstances permits belief in atheistic evolution. 


The Time Question


Much less has been defined as to when the universe, life, and man appeared. The Church has infallibly determined that the universe is of finite age—that it has not existed from all eternity—but it has not infallibly defined whether the world was created only a few thousand years ago or whether it was created several billion years ago. 

Catholics should weigh the evidence for the universe’s age by examining biblical and scientific evidence. "Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 159). 

The contribution made by the physical sciences to examining these questions is stressed by the Catechism, which states, "The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers" (CCC 283). 

It is outside the scope of this tract to look at the scientific evidence, but a few words need to be said about the interpretation of Genesis and its six days of creation. While there are many interpretations of these six days, they can be grouped into two basic methods of reading the account—a chronological reading and a topical reading


Chronological Reading


According to the chronological reading, the six days of creation should be understood to have followed each other in strict chronological order. This view is often coupled with the claim that the six days were standard 24-hour days. 

Some have denied that they were standard days on the basis that the Hebrew word used in this passage for day (yom) can sometimes mean a longer-than-24-hour period (as it does in Genesis 2:4). However, it seems clear that Genesis 1 presents the days to us as standard days. At the end of each one is a formula like, "And there was evening and there was morning, one day" (Gen. 1:5). Evening and morning are, of course, the transition points between day and night (this is the meaning of the Hebrew terms here), but periods of time longer than 24 hours are not composed of a day and a night. Genesis is presenting these days to us as 24-hour, solar days. If we are not meant to understand them as 24-hour days, it would most likely be because Genesis 1 is not meant to be understood as a literal chronological account. 

That is a possibility. Pope Pius XII warned us, "What is the literal sense of a passage is not always as obvious in the speeches and writings of the ancient authors of the East, as it is in the works of our own time. For what they wished to express is not to be determined by the rules of grammar and philology alone, nor solely by the context; the interpreter must, as it were, go back wholly in spirit to those remote centuries of the East and with the aid of history, archaeology, ethnology, and other sciences, accurately determine what modes of writing, so to speak, the authors of that ancient period would be likely to use, and in fact did use. For the ancient peoples of the East, in order to express their ideas, did not always employ those forms or kinds of speech which we use today; but rather those used by the men of their times and countries. What those exactly were the commentator cannot determine as it were in advance, but only after a careful examination of the ancient literature of the East" (Divino Afflante Spiritu 35–36). 


The Topical Reading


This leads us to the possiblity that Genesis 1 is to be given a non-chronological, topical reading. Advocates of this view point out that, in ancient literature, it was common to sequence historical material by topic, rather than in strict chronological order. 

The argument for a topical ordering notes that at the time the world was created, it had two problems—it was "formless and empty" (1:2). In the first three days of creation, God solves the formlessness problem by structuring different.aspects of the environment. 

On day one he separates day from night; on day two he separates the waters below (oceans) from the waters above (clouds), with the sky in between; and on day three he separates the waters below from each other, creating dry land. Thus the world has been given form. 

But it is still empty, so on the second three days God solves the world’s emptiness problem by giving occupants to each of the three realms he ordered on the previous three days. Thus, having solved the problems of formlessness and emptiness, the task he set for himself, God’s work is complete and he rests on the seventh day. 


Real History


The argument is that all of this is real history, it is simply ordered topically rather than chronologically, and the ancient audience of Genesis, it is argued, would have understood it as such. 

Even if Genesis 1 records God’s work in a topical fashion, it still records God’s work—things God really did. 

The Catechism explains that "Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine ‘work,’ concluded by the ‘rest’ of the seventh day" (CCC 337), but "nothing exists that does not owe its existence to God the Creator. The world began when God’s word drew it out of nothingness; all existent beings, all of nature, and all human history is rooted in this primordial event, the very genesis by which the world was constituted and time begun" (CCC 338). 

It is impossible to dismiss the events of Genesis 1 as a mere legend. They are accounts of real history, even if they are told in a style of historical writing that Westerners do not typically use. 


Adam and Eve: Real People


It is equally impermissible to dismiss the story of Adam and Eve and the fall (Gen. 2–3) as a fiction. A question often raised in this context is whether the human race descended from an original pair of two human beings (a teaching known as monogenism) or a pool of early human couples (a teaching known as polygenism). 

In this regard, Pope Pius XII stated: "When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parents of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now, it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the teaching authority of the Church proposed with regard to original sin which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam in which through generation is passed onto all and is in everyone as his own" (Humani Generis 37). 

The story of the creation and fall of man is a true one, even if not written entirely according to modern literary techniques. The Catechism states, "The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents" (CCC 390). 


Science and Religion


The Catholic Church has always taught that "no real disagreement can exist between the theologian and the scientist provided each keeps within his own limits. . . . If nevertheless there is a disagreement . . . it should be remembered that the sacred writers, or more truly ‘the Spirit of God who spoke through them, did not wish to teach men such truths (as the inner structure of visible objects) which do not help anyone to salvation’; and that, for this reason, rather than trying to provide a scientific exposition of nature, they sometimes describe and treat these matters either in a somewhat figurative language or as the common manner of speech those times required, and indeed still requires nowadays in everyday life, even amongst most learned people" (Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus 18). 

As the Catechism puts it, "Methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things the of the faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are" (CCC 159). The Catholic Church has no fear of science or scientific discovery.

NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004

IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004