Thursday, May 17, 2018

Was Adam an Ape Man?

Many modern orthodox Catholics believe they have made a sort of peace between the Creation account found in Genesis and at least a modified theory of evolution. Note that these orthodox Catholics believe in a real and literal Adam and Eve, as they are told they must by Catholic doctrine as reiterated as recently as Pope Pius XII, and restated in the current Catechism.

But if we accept evolutionary descent with modification, then Adam and Eve must have been cavemen or ape-men or what I will from here on in call "near-ape men." On what we might call the Evolutionary-Catholic synthesis the difference was that these new near-ape men were now "ensouled." Presumably, this initially involved no obvious physical changes - they all (both the ensouled and non-ensouled near-ape men) were hairy or not, beetlebrowed or not, and so on and so forth. One assumes that the details are not important.

Curiously, I have never read an account for what, on this theory, precisely and literally happened. And whether we take the creation account in Genesis as, say, 50% allegory, 80% allegory or 98% allegory, something must have literally happened. What?

Here then is my attempt at what we might call a historical reconstruction, using the text of Genesis 2-3 as an explanatory framework. Remember that for the orthodox Catholic, Genesis must be inerrant (the Church commands us to believe this) whether we interpret it literally, figuratively or, as seems most plausible, using some mix of the two.

The following may perhaps verge on the comic, but I really did try to be as fair as possible. If any reader feels like I'm being unfair to the orthodox Catholic who believes in both modified evolutionary theory and the theological claims made in Genesis and elsewhere, I'd be happy to know where I went wrong.

But (to those who may wish to try), please stay away from ad hominem attacks, irrelevant appeals to the fossil-record, accusations that even talking about such things makes one a stupid Protestant fundie, etc. This is your theory, after all.

Okay, here goes:

GENESIS, Chapters 2 and 3:     

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground—This refers to the time of man's near-ape ancestors who hadn't yet invented agriculture. The rain passage is more problematic. Since we know that there had been rain for billions of years, what the author probably means is that up to now it was a different sort of rain, not as picturesque as you now see on farms. Or maybe it means absolutely nothing.  

Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Then the Lord God designated one of the near-ape men roaming the East African plains and ensouled him. His near-ape comrades were initially unaware of this, as to all outward appearances, he seemed identical with them. 

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. This can be interpreted in at least two ways. Since the near-ape men led tough and dangerous lives, it would make sense that God would want to protect his newly ensouled creature by placing him in a specially designated area. On the other hand, we could interpret the passage allegorically by postulating that the newly ensouled near-ape man was given some sort of unique spiritual gifts that insured that the rest of his life would go much better than the lives of the other near-ape men (almost as if he were living in "paradise"). This is obviously the more scientific view.   

The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is presumably allegorical. Claims of a magical garden or special spiritual protections are one thing, but postulating an actual "tree of knowledge" goes too far.  

A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. Either the garden was in what we would now call Iraq. Or specifying the location using modern geographical terms is allegorical for "there was a garden somewhere" or "it was as if (spiritually) he were now in a garden located somewhere in Iraq."

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” This is probably allegorical for "enjoy yourself, but be careful: with ensoulment goes great responsibility."

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. Again, this is probably a way of saying that the near-ape men already had a rudimentary language, including names for animals and so on, but the newly ensouled near-ape man was a bit smarter (being ensouled) and thus was able to use language with a higher degree of sophistication.

But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. What does this mean? I think it's clear that either: 1) It's a fancy way of saying that the second paragraph above should be revised to really state that God originally selected two near-ape people - one male and one female - from that roving band on the plains. Or 2) God took a piece of the man's soul and out of it created a female soul. That's obviously more scientific than any reference to ribs.  

Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

Since the non-ensouled near-ape men also had bones and flesh, "bones" and "flesh" are obviously figurative here for "soul stuff." 

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. 
We know that near-ape men and women had been having sex and had been going without clothes for millions of years without embarrassment. Ensoulment didn't change that.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LordGod had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. Again, this is probably allegory. Modern man understands certain things about the world that the author of Genesis did not. One of those things is that there are no talking snakes. So we may understand this passage as meaning that one or both of the newly ensouled near-ape people suddenly found themselves having evil thoughts. Among other things, this now made them embarrassed about sexual matters.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LordGod among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Translate this as: the man blamed his evil thoughts on the woman, who he claimed had them first. The woman blamed her evil thoughts on the talking snake.

The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this, 

cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

Again, we know that snakes had been crawling on their bellies for millions of years. So this is simply an allegory for another allegory that will be found later in Scripture.

To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,

but he shall rule over you.”

This is problematic. On the one hand, we can be sure that non-ensouled near-ape women also experienced pain in childbearing. So it's probably a way of saying that either God foresaw the Fall from the beginning, which is why all near-ape women (ensouled and non-ensouled) experienced pain during childbirth (though the newly ensouled woman hadn't experienced it yet) as a sort of backwards punishment for what the ensouled near-ape people would later do, or perhaps ensouled women would experience more pain. Or perhaps it just means that due to the Fall, pain and suffering came into the world, even though it was sort of there already.

Or perhaps it means nothing.

And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”

Translate this as: your temporary special protections have now been lifted. You can both go back to toiling and eventually dying along with the other near-ape men.

The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

Various interpretations of the above are possible. However, left unstated is an important additional point. God must have then created a special spiritual or quasi-physical field around the newly ensouled near-ape people such that they would not breed with the thousands or millions of other non-ensouled near-ape people already roaming the plains. The non-ensouled near-ape people then died out.


Well, you probably can guess by now what I think of the above.

Aren't we all a bit old for these sorts of stories?


  1. Hi MP,

    I’ll try to outline a view by responding to your points. It’s just an attempted model and not proposed for belief. I’ll have to do this in several comments due to space considerations.

    The ensoulment of Adam would presumably correspond to the distinction between the archaeologically observed difference between anatomically modern humans and behaviorally modern humans.

    Given that the sun danced and Fatima and Moses saw a burning bush, I don’t see why we couldn’t have a literal Tree of Life. The story would go something like this: Anatomically-modern Adam climbed the mountain, the Shekhinah descended on the mountain, Adam was ensouled and awoke to find himself in a mystical garden—just as Moses when he entered the cloud and had the vision of the temple. In fact, it’s useful to remember, the Garden of Eden is a temple. This temple at Eden has two sacraments—the sacrament of the Tree of Knowledge and the Sacrament of the Tree of life. Because Adam is in a heightened pre-original-sin state, the effects of these sacraments will be immediate and visible. A spiritual reality(such as Lucifer in the form of a serpent) could also manifest itself in this vision/apparition for Adams testing.

  2. As to Adam naming the Animals, naming is a sign of authority; it also gives mission and hence completes the act of creation. God names the elements and genera during creation. That Adam names the creatures makes him (in a very attenuated sense, a co-creator with God). Naming also gives Adam authority over the animals. Think of how it is in our world, parents name their children. The church gives saints names to us at baptism. In a more abusive way, the Pharoah Necho II renamed King Eliakim as Jehoiachim—the message being, “I made you who you are; obey me”.

    I suppose there are too many species for Adam to have literally named them all, but he presumably named some subset with rights to name the rest granted to him and his descendants. Or, since he is in the midst of a mystical vision with extra powers, perhaps he did name them all. I seem to remember that St. Ignatius of Loyola had a vision, lasting merely a moment, during which he said he learned more than in the rest of his life put together. So who knows how many animals Adam might have named in a moment.

  3. Regarding Adam’s rib being the source of Eve and the possibility of it representing a division of soul material: Flesh is generally contrasted with soul, and soul is generally considered indivisible. Let me propose some alternative readings. One possible reading is that the rib thing is a euphemism for being Adam’s daughter. God puts Adam into a deep sleep, (i.e. removes his rationality) and has him sire a daughter who being his descendant is also capable of bearing a soul. That gives Adam the taint of incest—but on the traditional understanding, his children would have all been guilty of that anyway. Another possible reading is that God miraculously clones a woman out of Adams flesh, presumably from around the rib. It wouldn’t be that miraculous; we could almost do that today with modern cloning techniques. Anyway, that would make Eve Adam’s genetic sister, so I’m not sure we’ve saved them from incest. But, oh well.

    The best explanation I’ve seen of the embarrassment about nudity is that, before the fall, Adam’s rationality was strong enough to perfectly rule over his sex drive, so nudity was not a problem. After the fall, nudity is a temptation for Adam to lust after Eve and for Eve to exploit Adam’s sex drive. So the pudenda become a matter for temptation and embarrassment. Before the ensoulment, of course, it wouldn’t be an issue because no moral choices can be made by anatomically modern humans.

  4. Moses saw God pass by on Mt. Sinai as he hid amid the rocks. So I see no reason that Adam couldn’t see God pass by in the same way in Eden. I’ve heard it claimed that both anthropomorphic apparitions were a pre-appearance of the incarnate Christ (resembling the terrifying risen Christ of Revelation), but I don’t think there’s any official teaching to that effect. In any case we needn’t suppose Adam’s encounter with God was fiction.

    Regarding pain in childbearing: One possibility might be that the initial ensoulment overcame these problems in anatomically modern humans due to the greater obedience to the body to the soul prior to the fall. Since, the fall occurred almost immediately so this ensouled-but-not-yet-weakened-by-sin state left no trace on the archaeological record.

  5. The Manner in which Adam is the Father of the entire human race: There are several ways that Adam and Eve can be the ancestors of all men. One is that they are the exclusive ancestors of currently existing people. This doesn’t really match up with the genetic evidence, which doesn’t seem to indicate that narrow of a genetic bottleneck.

    Another possibility is that capacity for ensoulment passes to the child if even the child has only one ensouled parent. It will be enough if a child has some of Adam and Eves’ DNA. On this account, Adam’s descendants could take anatomically human wives and husbands and still produce ensouled offspring. This would save them from incest, although I suppose semi-bestiality could be an issue.

    Such a view would allow Adam’s paternity to diffuse itself through the population gradually, and is more compatible with the observed genetic evidence. So how far back do you have to go to find a single contributing ancestor for the entire human race? I saw a popular science article that placed the most recent one around the time of Aristotle—and presumably there were many more before him. On this account, you could even grant miraculous extraordinary life spans to the antediluvian patriarchs, since such lifespans of a tiny percentage of the population would be effectively invisible to the archaeological record.

    For another interesting take, see The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate by John H. Walton and The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate by the same author.

    So those are my thoughts, best of luck on formulating your view.

    1. Thank you for your comments!

      There's a lot to unpack, but I think your attempt is as good as any I've heard. Unfortunately, to me it seems subject to some of the same problems as the others. Here are three:

      1. It seems very ad hoc. COULD all of this have happened? I suppose so, but there's no real evidence for it of any kind - textual, theological or empirical/scientific. It (and I say this with respect) seems almost to have a Rube Goldberg-like character. And thus,

      2. Why would God/Moses/some other author of Genesis have written the creation account the way that He/they did such that it would be misinterpreted for 3000 years until empirical discoveries would first seem to disprove it when what really happened has some quite complex explanation that goes way beyond either the text or the empirical evidence? I mean, why didn't the author of Genesis just tell us this in the first place?

      3. Not to sound like a broken record but, unless I missed it, what happened to the other non-ensouled beings? Are you suggesting that they might have been mates to some of the ensouled beings with the "soul" gene, as it were, being dominant? Again, that just sounds so bizarre and ad hoc.

      But again, I don't mean to sound too critical. I asked for an explanation and you gave a good one.

      Sorry, one more point. I'm not personally against a literal Tree of Life or, say, Eve being literally formed out of Adam's rib per se. If I sounded sarcastic about those sorts of things, it's because it seems sort of arbitrary to me to take THOSE claims literally while saying that other claims - Adam being created from the dust of the earth, etc. - figuratively. Certainly the text itself gives us no warrant to do this.

      Again, thank you, and apologies if I misunderstood any of your points.