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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Talking to an Atheist on Original Sin & Evolution

FATHER JOE:  A few years ago I made a response to a post at THE GOD COMPLEX (an atheist site) about a faulty reading on the doctrine of Original Sin. Much was made of the fact that I said the Catholic Church “allows” believers to accept the theory of evolution. He was sarcastic instead of politely recognizing that there need be no fight upon this issue.

ANDROO: You allow followers to accept evolution. How nice of you. It’s good to see that the catholic church no longer shackles its faithful with burdensome chains of ignorance, well, at least not in the case of evolution anyway.

FATHER JOE: This illustrates why discussion with non-believers today can oftentimes be very difficult. Everything is in the attack mode. Did their parents force them to go to church? Did sister beat them with a ruler? What gives? Like certain fundamentalist Protestants, they treat matters like the inquisition and Galileo’s house arrest like they happened last Tuesday. The fact that the Church preserved learning and that many great scientists are faithful Catholics is ignored. When I voiced a Catholic view of evolution he seemed supportive until I wrote that “Adam and Eve are more than metaphors for Catholics.” To this he found objection.

ANDROO: This is actually pretty good. We can agree on everything right up until this part right here: ‘More than metaphor’ is truth. There is no gray area of speech where something is ‘kind of’ a metaphor and ‘kind of not a metaphor’. Either it is truth or it is metaphor. As I said in my original post, either Adam and Eve existed or they did not. If you say they are more than a metaphor than you are saying that they are truth. If you say they are truth then by default you are saying that Evolution did not occur because anyone who knows the slightest bit about evolution knows that there was no first man and woman in a magically perfect garden with manipulative talking snakes.


It may be the confusion here is due to the way language is used and how history is understood. A scientist wants words to have one meaning so as to narrow the descriptive parameters. Theologians may also prefer such words when trying to strictly define beliefs and to eradicate misunderstandings. However, often the language of faith is that of parable and poetry. The assembled words are multivalent. My critic probably reads “metaphor” as strictly fictional. He seems to be objecting to the notion that Adam and Eve had any existence whatsoever. But, he would certainly have to grant the existence of the first true humans and/or proto-humans. Nevertheless, the way the ancients understood history is a far cry from our “video replay” mentality today. History and the stories passed down become immediately interpretive. What is read into the stories is judged as real and meaningful. When I said that Adam and Eve were more than metaphor, I expressed a belief in the existence of our first parents—not that they were simply blond haired, blue-eyed white people waiting to be fooled by a snake.

I wrote that “We would not usually talk about the fall or the infusion of a rational soul when discussing such concerns as evolution and prehistory with non-believers.” He then argues that we are holding opposing contradictory beliefs as true.

ANDROO: If I simultaneously held to be true two totally contradictory beliefs I wouldn’t talk about it with anyone either. Let me illustrate:

  • This is belief number one: “allows believers to accept the theory of evolution, but such is also taught in our schools and universities”
  • This is belief number two: “Adam and Eve are more than metaphors for Catholics”

Belief number one, and belief number two are diametrically opposed Father Joe, they cannot co-exist at all and no amount of vague definitions or hand waving can change that.

FATHER JOE: The problem here is that there is no strict syllogism. The propositions need not contradict one another. Admittedly, if Catholics strictly applied the biblical story there would some conflicts. But one need not be a stickler on the details to get the basic information that it is intended to transmit: that God is our Creator, the creation is good and that evil is the result of man’s misuse of his freedom and a violation of his stewardship. Nothing of this stands in violation to the notion that human beings may have evolved from proto-humans or more primitive animal forms, particularly primates.

ANDROO: This type of thing reminds me of the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, specifically this: “…the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them . . . . To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.”

FATHER JOE: I have both read and written upon Orwell’s novel, but the Church seeks not to further “doublethink” but to do justice to all the disciplines of truth while proclaiming the Gospel. Unlike certain Protestant groups which claimed that scientific and philosophical views in conflict with faith did not matter; we seek to give both faith and reason their proper place. The critic here fails to appreciate this because he is blinded by his own bigotry against theism. Making proper distinctions is not Orwellian subterfuge, but is an element of proper and clear logical thinking. He did my explanations a severe injustice and literally bypassed them altogether without any analysis. We might still disagree, but should recognize that for most aspects of science, we could be on the same page. Science and atheism are not necessarily linked; indeed, most scientists in the history of the world have possessed some kind of faith, everything from Christianity and Judaism to variations of Deism.

ANDROO: So which is the reality Father Joe? Adam and Eve or Evolution? Is the entirety of man sinful because of the acts of the first man, or is the entirety of man sinful because you say so? Or, like Doublethink, are both of them true situationally? Is evolution true when you talk to me and Adam and Eve true when you take the podium on Sundays? you know, even if it was the case that You were a fundamentalist and you believed only in Adam and Eve I would be fine with that. That is a more logical and rational stance than trying to believe both at the same time. I mean, if you’re going to believe something wild and outlandish you might as well really commit to it and ignore all of the evidence all of the time and just be a total fundie. Saying that the story was just total metaphor would be fine too. But you didn’t go with either of those options.

FATHER JOE: The reality is greater and more wondrous than you would credit. Adam and Eve, or whatever you want to call the first parents, represents the beginning of humanity on this planet. I cannot tell you if they were dark or light skinned, hairy or bald, tall or incredibly short. They might have walked with a peculiar stride. They were part of nature and yet represented something special and new on the scene. There was a fall, and I would be at a loss to say what exactly happened. There was a test and our ancestors failed. They were the first and would set the pattern for all who would come after them. The first true human has a sense of himself called to a higher dignity. For the first time there is a creature that can respond to God in kind. He has the power of a self-reflective mind and a freedom of will. He is not a necessary slave to instinct. However, instead of embracing the mystery of his calling and dignity, he reverted to the bestial—the way of least resistance—and forfeited a unique relationship with the Creator. We can only imagine what things might have been like had mankind initially said YES to God. Maybe death would have been as easy as walking through a door from one room into another? In any case, it did not happen and the pattern of sin and death would be replayed over and over again. Nothing is denied from a study of pre-history, archeology, and the current interest in DNA. As I said, God could certainly form the human body from pre-existing forms using such things as natural selection and mutations. We would not usually talk about the fall and the infusion of a soul because these are matters that science cannot place under a microscope or discover in the fossil record. It must not contradict or invalidate good science; but science itself has neither the tools nor the perspective to say much about such religious views. The disciplines study different things.

ANDROO: What really bothers me though, is that when presented with the evidence, and the impossibility of both things being true, you retreat to this: “Obviously there are still mysteries left to be discovered and it is our expectation that revelation and science are not in opposition.”


At this point I must apologize because I assumed the critic would understand the usage of my terms. This statement here proves me wrong. There is no opposition and I am not using the word “mystery” as in regard to something not yet discovered. Theologians use the word MYSTERY in a different way. The seven sacraments were originally called the divine mysteries. When we talk about the mystery of God or of creation, we are not talking about questioning God’s existence or how this relates to the natural world. The sublime revelations of God are called “mysteries.” Theological mysteries can be known to a certain extent but given their source in an infinite God it is not possible for us to exhaust their meaning. The old edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia had this to say:

Relations of natural and supernatural truth

(a) Superiority of the Supernatural

The mysteries contained in supernatural revelation are not simply disconnected truths lying beyond the realm of natural things, but a higher, heavenly world, a mystical cosmos whose parts are united in a living bond. (Scheeben, “Dogmatik”, I, 25.) Even in those parts of this vast system that have been revealed to us there is a wonderful harmony. In his great work “Die Mysterien des Christenthums”, Scheeben has sought to show the logical connection in the supernatural order by considering its supreme mystery, the internal communication of Divine life in the Trinity, as the model and ideal of the external communication to the creature of the Divine life of grace and glory. The knowledge of the supernatural is more excellent than any human wisdom, because, although incomplete, it has a nobler object, and through its dependence on the unfailing word of God possesses a greater degree of certitude. The obscurity which surrounds the mysteries of faith results from the weakness of the human intellect, which, like the eye that gazes on the sun, is blinded by the fulness of light.

(b) Harmony of Natural and Supernatural Truth

Since all truth is from God, there can be no real warfare between reason and revelation. Supernatural mysteries as such cannot be demonstrated by reason, but the Christian apologist can always show that the arguments against their possibility are not conclusive (St. Thos., “Suppl. Boeth. de trinitate”, Q. ii, a. 3). The nature of God which is infinite and eternal, must be incomprehensible to an intelligence that is not capable of perfect knowledge (cf. Zigliara, “Propædeutica”, I, ix). The powerlessness of science to solve the mysteries of nature, a fact that Rationalists admit, shows how limited are the resources of the human intellect (cf. Daumer, “Des Reich des Wundersamen und Geheimnissvollen,” Ratisbon, 1872). On the other hand reason is able not only to recognize wherein consists the special mysteriousness of a supernatural truth, but also to dispel to some extent the obscurity by means of natural analogies and to show the fittingness of the mystery by reasons of congruity (Council of Cologne, 1860). This was done with great success by the Fathers and the Scholastic theologians. A famous example is St. Thomas’ argument ex convenientia for the Divine processions in the Trinity (Summa Theol., I, QQ. xxvii-xxxi). (See FAITH, REASON, REVELATION.)

Here my response changes from third person to first…

ANDROO: You’re essentially saying that you just don’t know how both things can be true, but you expect that they are. That is one of the most intellectually dishonest things I have ever heard.

FATHER JOE: No, this is not what I was saying at all. The dishonesty is yours for failing to pick up on so much that I made clear in regard to Catholic respect for science, if not for atheism. Maybe this confusion is a symptom of your atheism? You have no soul, or at least refuse to allow your soul to express itself. When I speak of mystery, I am remarking upon that which causes awe and wonder. The fact that we can even have this discussion is incredible. Our very existence and that of our universe should by my way of thinking be highly unlikely; but, here we are! That is absolutely incredible, no less or more so than the religious beliefs I hold to be true.

ANDROO: It is common for religious people to ridicule scientists, and even you yourself have done it Father Joe, for not actually knowing everything and having mere ‘theories’ (this displays an ingnorance as to what a theory actually is in scientific terms though) as to the creation of the universe or the development of certain traits or species.

FATHER JOE: I am not presumptuous of scientists and their theories. I acknowledge my ignorance just as you are blind to yours. When theories are proven, we have facts. However, facts always lead to more theories, and sometimes even to the revision of our so-called facts. I have never ridiculed scientists. I am critical of you as an atheist. So far I have seen no sign that you are a scientist. We could talk science, but you have chosen to ridicule religion. Indeed, you have dedicated much of your poor blog to this cause.

ANDROO: Isn’t saying ‘It’s a mystery, but I expect that I’m right’ even worse than what you mock scientists for? Scientists work to solve problems, and come up with ideas when they don’t know the answers. then they experiment and study to see if their answers ideas and theories are correct.

FATHER JOE: I have already explained about your faulty and impoverished understanding of the word “mystery.” Scientists have never been mocked by me. They have my highest respect and admiration. All men and women who seek truth of any sort are kindred souls to me. But you are not really interested in that on your site, are you? You are all about mockery and bigotry. You hate the Church. You think Christians are pathetic. And you do the one thing that no true seeker of truth would ever do; you have closed your mind.

ANDROO: You Father Joe, when presented with a problem just give up and say ‘It’s a mystery, I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure I’m right so let’s not talk about it.” I for one, would rather say “I don’t know yet” and try to find the answer myself.

FATHER JOE: Excuse me, to whom are you talking? I have given more of a response than probably anyone else has ever given you. It was my hope that you would see that not all religion was the same. Faith need not invalidate science (or visa versa). I am a parish priest who studies, albeit as an amateur, religion, philosophy, astronomy, physics, history and pre-history, evolutionary science, the classics of literature, etc. I did not expect any great degree of human respect, but I was somewhat surprised at how tenaciously you would grab at any and every straw to promote your personal atheism at the expense of sound argument and a true picture of Catholic Christianity.

The Original Discussion


According to Catholics, man is created sinful and must struggle his entire life against his powerful tendency to sin in order to be good enough to enter heaven. In an effort to help us out, God sent Jesus down here to suffer and die and then go back to heaven. This ‘ultimate’ sacrifice somehow makes forgiveness possible. So lets take a detailed look at this, if that is even is possible. First, why is man sinful? According to Catholic.com our sin descends from Adam and Eve.

The doctrine of original sin is that “in” Adam all have sinned. / This sin of Adam’s was not your ordinary sin. This was a sin that affected all mankind forever. This sin changed the course of human history. It did not just affect Adam personally; it also affected his human nature—which means it affected our nature, since we inherited it from him. / Adam was tested by God not just as Adam but as the representative of the whole human race, since we are all the seed of Adam. Just as David and Goliath met on the battlefield as champions of their respective armies, Adam was our champion. If your champion lost in battle to the other army’s champion.

A champion whose enemy was none other than god apparently, the odds seem to have been against Adam from the start. But I digress, here’s one more.

These passages are all about the Church’s doctrine of original sin. Because of Adam’s sin, all men were made subject to sin and death. That is Scripture’s teaching on the doctrine of original sin.

Now, because I generally don’t like to pull from just one source, here are some quotes from my old friend Father Joe These are comments from an entirely unrelated article, but they illustrate that the belief in Adam, the Garden of Eden and original sin is more than metaphorical amongst catholics and their religious figureheads.

If Adam had not sinned, the course of world events would have been quite different. However, we cannot be sure what would have happened. It might have meant the immediate consummation of all things. Natural laws might have been suspended. Death might have become an easy transition from this world to the next… indeed, not a true death (as we know it) at all. / Mankind fell in Adam. He was called to respond to God as one made in his image and likeness. Instead, he preferred the path of least resistance, the way of the brute.

Moderate religious people of any faith always say that science and religion are entirely compatible. The above quotes clearly illustrate that that is not true. How exactly can one accept evolution and the age of the earth as fact while simultaneously accepting as fact the story of Adam and Eve? Those two things are diametrically opposed, if one happened the other simply could not have happened. This is a fact, only one of those events could have transpired, and the overwhelming mountain of evidence is in favor of evolution. Sorry Adam, you just didn’t exist. Since we know, as fact, that there was no Adam and Eve, no Garden of Eden, and no lively games of Fetch between Adam and a Tyrannosaur, where then, does that leave the doctrine of Original Sin? Well, if Adam did not exist, then he could not have betrayed God and he could not have passed that sin onto us all. Is it possible then, that mankind isn’t sinful by Nature, and that the Catholic Church just wants you to think that in order to perpetuate a cycle of guilt and forgiveness that constantly leads people back to the Church?

Well, MAYBE the whole Adam and Eve thing is just some sort of confusing metaphor. Maybe God was a little busy when he wrote that part of the bible and didn’t make it clear that he wasn’t being literal. Well, that just leaves us with another problem, the problem of sin and justice. Let’s say I had a son, and I decided to have both of his arms amputated at the shoulder because I wanted him that way. Now lets say that I take him out into the back yard and constantly throw footballs at him. Would it be fair of me to get angry with him because he can’t catch any of them? Would it be justice lock him in a smoldering basement for rest of his life because he cant catch any of these footballs? If Adam and Eve are only a metaphor, than that leaves God as the one responsible for our sinful nature. After all, God created us exactly the way he wanted us to be, a omnipotent and omniscient being could do no less. So, if god made us sinful by nature, is it fair that he punishes us for giving in to sin? Is it fair that he sentences us to hell for giving in a desire he gave us in the first place? I don’t think so.

One final thought though, if we truly are sinful by nature, and it is ‘natural’ for us to sin, and God is forcing us to act righteously, than isn’t that coercion?

Coercion is the practice of compelling a person to behave in an involuntary way (whether through action or inaction) by use of threats, intimidation or some other form of pressure or force.

Seems like god is the bad guy no matter how you look at it.


The Catholic Church not only allows believers to accept the theory of evolution, but such is also taught in our schools and universities. Unlike Protestant fundamentalists and certain Catholic traditionalists, we have long been open to the notion that the human body may have developed from pre-existing forms. Further, while men probably ran with mammoths and faced the extinct sabertooth, I do not think human beings were around when the dinosaurs or their precursors roamed the earth.

Adam and Eve are more than metaphors for Catholics, but there are certainly metaphorical elements in the story. We would not usually talk about the fall or the infusion of a rational soul when discussing such concerns as evolution and prehistory with non-believers. Rather, we would stress those things in which we find agreement from fossil and/or genetic evidence. Catholics would not hold opposing propositions as true; however, different matters are studied and each discipline is respected in its own right. Obviously there are still mysteries left to be discovered and it is our expectation that revelation and science are not in opposition. Instead they look at the basic questions from different perspectives. I would not use the Bible as a science textbook; neither would I use Darwin or Einstein as prophets of faith.

I am not trying to prove God to you, anymore than you could make me question my faith. I just hope we can live in a world where believers and non-believers can work together and live in peace and respectful civility.