Origin of Man?

Q.The Bible presents the creation of man in the Book of Genesis as by the hand of God, instantly created as we know man to be today. Yet, recent archaeology confirms the existence of Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon “man.” How does the Church explain this seemingly conflicted creation process?

Fulton Plauche

A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:  

In 1859, when Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species,” the world was challenged to reconsider a number of commonly held beliefs, among them the creation of human beings. Darwin’s picture was radically different from that presented in the Book of Genesis, yet many contemporary orthodox Christians were not overly disturbed. Blessed John Henry Newman observed: “Mr. Darwin’s theory need not … be atheistical, be it true or not; it may simply be suggesting a larger idea of Divine Prescience and Skill.… I do not [see] that ‘the accidental evolution of organic beings’ is inconsistent with divine design — It [is] accidental to us, not to God.”

Biblical writers did not have access to modern science. They described what they saw, and their hypotheses, like ours, must occasionally be revised. Certain theological truths, however, cannot be denied — nor do they conflict with scientific observation. In 1950, in his encyclical Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII taught that Catholics may believe what they will about their physical origins. What is indisputable, however, is God’s creation of the human soul. Whatever our physical ancestry, at some point God endowed one of these beings with a soul and human beings emerged. All subsequent humans have descended from this unique Adam.