Catholicism and Evolution

There’s an extremely common misconception that the Catholic Church accepts evolution.

Of course, in a sense, it does. Nothing in official Catholic teaching forbids Catholics from accepting that cats and dogs and turtles all evolved from fish. Indeed, nothing in Church teaching forbids Catholics from believing that humans evolved from ape-like ancestors.

What is forbidden is Catholics accepting polygenism, but the Catholic officials writing on the topic do not mean polygenism, the hypothesis that there were multiple ancestoral groups through which the different races evolved. (That hypothesis, to the best of my knowledge, has been debunked.) Instead, they mean this:

Polygenism is a theory of human origins positing that the human race descended from a pool of early human couples, indeterminate in number. Hence, [in] this theory, Adam and Eve are merely symbols of Mankind. Rather than being an historical couple, they represent the human race as it emerges from the hominids that gave rise to them as they become homo sapiens, properly speaking. [Source]

The relevant sources include the following two quotes. First:

For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. [From 1952 papal encyclical Humani Generis by Pope Pius XII]


If any one denies, that infants, newly born from their mothers’ wombs, even though they be sprung from baptized parents, are to be baptized; or says that they are baptized indeed for the remission of sins, but that they derive nothing of original sin from Adam, which has need of being expiated by the laver of regeneration for the obtaining life everlasting,–whence it follows as a consequence, that in them the form of baptism, for the remission of sins, is understood to be not true, but false, –let him be anathema. For that which the apostle has said, By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men in whom all have sinned, is not to be understood otherwise than as the Catholic Church spread everywhere hath always understood it. For, by reason of this rule of faith, from a tradition of the apostles, even infants, who could not as yet commit any sin of themselves, are for this cause truly baptized for the remission of sins, that in them that may be cleansed away by regeneration, which they have contracted by generation. For, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. [Source: The Council of Trent, The Fifth Session]

According to Humani Generis and the documents of the Council of Trent, which portray long tradition in Catholicism, Catholics must believe in a literal Adam. This is not official dogma, but phrases like “faithful cannot embrace” and “let him be anathema” mean that the Catholic Church takes, or at least used to take, this position quite seriously, and is unwilling that any of its members embrace a differing conclusion. This is because a literal Adam is required for the doctrine of Original Sin as it stands.

Here’s a start on the genetics-based science that shows there was never a literal Adam and Eve. (That link points to an article on a Christian site, fyi.) It’s somewhat difficult to find evidence for polygenism (as Pope Pius XII used the term) specifically because evolution always works on a population and not individual level. Indeed, it’s confusing to even use the term “polygenism” in this sense as nobody in science uses it this way, so I can’t google “evidence for polygenism”, and the sources that show the evidence for human evolution rarely discuss the population size. There’s also a pretty good video explaining the concept that there was no first human.

This issue is the catalyst that caused me to become an atheist, so it is near and dear to my heart, one might say. I was actually unaware, when I first accepted evolution, that it works on a population level. I was taught that the Original Sin is the cause of all suffering and death, including any brokenness in the animal world (dolphins raping and murdering for fun comes first to mind). Obviously, there was suffering and death long before humans ever existed. Why, if suffering and death is the cause of Original Sin, did it exist long before the event?

Polygenism (again the Catholic and not the scientific term), however, is a much bigger problem for Catholicism. Learning that evolution works on the population level tore apart the last shred of hope I had that the Catholic Church might be true after all, that I could eventually make sense of theistic evolution. Paul is quite explicit in Romans 5 that Original Sin was a literal act committed by one literal man, and it was therefore necessary that one literal Jesus atone for that and bring back the graces.

I’m sure I’ll write more on this later, exploring more deeply why I see evolution as a reason to disbelieve Christianity, but this is the reasoning behind why I refuse to agree that the Catholic Church accepts evolution.

Catholic schools do teach evolution, so very, very few people know about all of this! I cannot help but see the Catholic Church as lying on this matter, sweeping something where they know they are wrong under the rug until they can figure out a way to make their doctrines make sense with science.

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