Much has been made about a conflict between the perspective of the natural sciences and the Church’s teaching on original sin.
There are no doubt challenges to contend with, but these are by no means overwhelming. The most pronounced challenges are as follows:
- Who are our first parents?
- Monogenism versus polygenism.
- Was there suffering and death before the fall?
We will consider each in turn.
The name “Adam” means “red earth,” and the name “Eve” means “life” in Hebrew. These names are obviously symbolic – “formed from the earth” and “giver of life.”
Who were the first humans? Catholics can believe that the first man and woman evolved from previous species – from Homo erectus/Homo ergaster and then Homo heidelbergensis and then Homo neanderthalensis to the first species of Homo sapiens, and then to the second species of Homo sapiens (Homo sapiens sapiens).
It would be reasonable to assume that our first parents are connected with the initial emergence of homo sapiens sapiens 200,000 years ago, but the only definitive criterion for their emergence is that they are the first to receive a unique transphysical soul from God, making them in His image and likeness, and giving them the twelve human capacities (including free will).
Must our first parents be associated with the second generation of Homo sapiens (Homo sapiens sapiens) or could they have been in the first generation of Homo sapiens – from which a subspecies (Homo sapiens Neanderthalensis — who interbred with Neanderthals) also emerged?
This is certainly possible, because the only defining criterion for the first man and woman is that they are the first to have received a unique transphysical soul from God – and that they had progeny giving rise to the rest of humanity whose defining characteristic is the presence of that transphysical soul from God.
There is also established evidence that the whole of humanity today has one common female ancestor – named “ Mitochondrial Eve” whose mitochondrial DNA is integral to the genome of every human being around the world (without exception). Mitochondrial DNA is transmitted through mothers, but all human beings possess it.
We also have a common male ancestor – named “Y-chromosomal Adam” – who is the origin of the male “Y” chromosome.
Mitochondrial Eve and Y chromosome Adam probably lived around the same time and came from a similar region (southwestern coastal Africa – around the border between Angola and Namibia near the Atlantic Ocean).
Were these our first parents? Though it may be tempting to think so, we should not jump to this conclusion. Mitochondrial Eve may never have known Y chromosome Adam and they may have come from different areas of the southwest African coastal region.
Again, the only criterion we have for the emergence of our first parents is the infusion of a unique transphysical soul by God.
So what might we conclude about our first parents? In addition to the fact that both of them had a unique transphysical soul from God (giving them the above twelve capacities), it seems likely that they lived about 200,000 years ago in the southwest African coastal region near the Atlantic Ocean, and that they are the first ancestors of the entire human race throughout the world.
Their progeny migrated out of Africa about 140,000 years later (60,000 years ago) to India, the Middle East, southeastern Asia, and then to Central and Northern Asia, and then to Central and Northern Europe.
Approximately 20,000 years ago during the last glacial maximum (when there was a land bridge connecting northern Siberia to Alaska due to precipitous drops in ocean levels), our ancestors made it over to the Americas – and within 1,000 years, made it to the southernmost tip of South America.
After that time, the agricultural revolution led to an explosion of population which has continued ever since.