In our recent discussions we were reminded that the story of creation in Genesis is mythical. And we have no difficulty in understanding this when we accept that the great truth of God’s creation had to be conveyed in a form which the intended readers could understand.
But there was also a suggestion that the story of Adam and Eve was a myth, too. This, however, is a greater difficulty because the theology of the Fall of Man and his subsequent Redemption is arguably the fundamental thread of Scripture and Catholic doctrine. What then could it mean to call this story a myth? I hope to write a piece on this in the Catholic Herald eventually, and so I introduce it here — in the hope that you will be able to come up with ideas. Let me just brush in some issues.
The geneticists seem to be agreed that we are all related in that the human line has a common male and a common female ancestor. But these cannot be the original Adam and Eve of the Bible because such ancestors did not live at the same time as each other. However this does reinforce the idea of the human race as one family and one genetic descent.
But the first human beings were, in physical terms at least, outcomes of evolution. Prior to them there were different versions of homo, apparently developing from primitive tree-dwelling creatures, and becoming increasingly more sophisticated. One scale for measuring this is the pattern of growing brain capacities. By half a million years ago, brain size had doubled from about the same as chimpanzees to about the same as man today. The evidence of cognitive abilities dating before homo sapiens is of course sparse. But it appears that the knapping of flint to make weapon heads, the use of manufactured glue, the control and use of fire were already known before we entered the scene. While these may seem primitive, they were great leaps at the time.
Do we have any reason to doubt that these remote ancestors had mental capacities similar to ours? Were any of these made in the image and likeness of God?
The test here, I propose, is the ability for abstract reasoning, a fundamental sense of right and wrong, and a freedom to make a choice between the two. For example, the Neanderthals, from whom we did not descend, had relatively advanced cultures and quite possibly had speech. And we have some Neanderthal genes, from cross breeding. Did they too have immortal souls?
I remember being taught that the Garden of Eden was in the Fertile Crescent, but the anthropologists tell us that homo sapiens came out of Africa – and probably several times before a population from which we are descended was adequately established.
In our theology we speak of ‘fallen’ man. None of us will have difficulty in accepting that we are flawed – and seriously so, but ‘fallen’ suggests that we once had a much better, perhaps perfect, nature – one in which we related to God and, through right reason, conformed to Natural Law in its perfect state. Is the distinction between fallen and flawed merely a way of expressing our sad condition through the contrast, or was there really a momentous change in man as a result of his rebellion? Remember that to dismiss the fall of man, and so Original Sin, would be instantly regarded as heresy. But perhaps no more so than denying the six days of creation would have been condemned not many centuries ago.
Certainly Scripture would have it so. We were not personally guilty of Original Sin, we are told, but we have inevitably inherited this damaged nature. Without it, and without any personal sin, we are doomed to an infinite separation from God. It does feel a trifle unfair, but of course we have the intervention and the redemption of Christ which presents (to some of us) the opportunity of salvation.
Would it be heretical (and certainly unscriptural) to suggest that man sought an origin for his conflicting tendencies to both good and evil by coming to believe in a notional story of fallen nature? And would this negate the effects of redemption through Christ?
I would be interested to hear the views of those who would maintain the orthodox, and views from those who have difficulty in accepting it as it is described. Alternative scenarios would be interesting. And it would be good to learn if we have contributors who just simply don’t know, and maybe don’t care.