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Genetic Adam and Eve Lived in the Same Time?

August 7, AD 2013 37 Comments

Some Background: The Book of Genesis says that Adam and Eve lived together, and dogma holds that they are the father and mother of the human race, the first humans from which all humans descended.

Scientific discovery, however, has been hesitant to affirm this. Indeed it would contradict evolutionary biology for science to say that Homo sapiens began with the sudden appearance of the first man and the first woman, the sole members of the species, from which all others descended.

To some people this is a troubling contradiction, but to others, like me, it is one of the most exciting intersections of science and theology. It is a topic that pushes a thinker to go beyond currently held assumptions. It helps to know, first, what must be held as absolutely true. I like to get that firmly in place.

What must be held true for Christians? The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 390) states, “The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.” We must hold true that Adam and Eve existed and committed original sin. Pope Pius XII stated in Humani Generis (37) that polygenism must be rejected. Polygenism is the theory that there was a population of men and women instead of just one man and one woman, which is mongenism.

The International Theological Commission has stated that physical anthropology and molecular biology make a “convincing case” for the origin of the human species in Africa about 150,000-200,000 years ago in a “humanoid population of common genetic lineage.” The key word there is “humanoid” instead of “human”. A human person is body and soul, and dogma also binds us to hold true that the human soul is created immediately out of nothing by God, a special creation that did not evolve. That means the body may have evolved, hence the use of the word “humanoid”. A humanoid population would not be the same thing as a human population, in that humanoid bodies would not have human souls made in the image of God with the power of intellect and will, and thus would not be human. (Edited, see comments below.)

That speculation, for it is only that, leads to the conclusion that the human body evolved and about 150,000 years and God put a human soul in two bodies. Some strongly reject this, others do not. I just say that I don’t know, which is why I am so fascinated with these scientific and theological studies. Whatever happened, happened. We’re just trying to figure it out.

What must be held true for science? You can’t deny that the bodies of living things evolve. Genes mutate, and the organisms with those genetic mutations sometimes respond differently to the environment, which in turn affects how well they reproduce. That, in a sentence, is evolution.

The Science: Geneticists speak of ‘Y-chromosome Adam‘ and ‘Mitochondrial Eve‘. This refers to the ancestors to whom the Y chromosomes (a male) and mitochondrial DNA (a female) of humans alive today can be traced. Certain DNA sequences on Y chromosomes are passed down from father to son, and certain mitochondrial DNA is passed down from mother to daughter. Population studies predicts that we all have that genetic material in common from these two parents. That’s quite a mind-blowing scientific discovery in itself. It means that when geneticists analyze the DNA from people all around the world today, they find that all the men and women living now have DNA that appears to have belonged to one man and one woman, hence the Biblical reference — which, as you can guess, is troubling to a lot of non-Bible-liking people.

Scientists and theologians alike are quick to point out that this genetic discovery in no way scientifically proves that there was only one man and one woman from which all the human race descended; it doesn’t rule out the possibility scientifically that many men and many women could have existed, and that only the lineage of that one man and one woman survived while all the other relatives died and did not continue to reproduce up to the present day.

But still — sounds pretty Biblical, huh?

The New Study: The research showed, however, that this Mitochondrial Eve probably lived in Africa around 200,000 years ago, but this Y chromosome Adam only lived about 100,000 years ago. They did not appear to have lived in the same time, which make it hard to picture them in the Garden of Eden together.

This data is obtained by “molecular clock” calculations that estimate the time to the most recent common ancestor, calibrated with archaeological findings. A team recently at the University of Sassari, Italy, led by geneticist Paolo Francalacci studied the Y chromosomes of 1,200 men from the island of Sardinia, and recalibrated the molecular clock. Get this: Their findings suggest that Adam lived 180,000-200,000 years ago, putting Adam in the same time as Eve. The most recent data is reviewed here: Genetic Adam and Eve did not live too far apart in timeNature, August 6, 2013.

So now there’s that.


This is a conceptual diagram of the lineage to Mitochondrial Eve. Is that Y chromosome Adam standing next to her? Maybe we’ll see.

Hello, and thank you for reading. My name is Stacy Trasancos. I am a wife, mother of seven, and joyful convert to Catholicism. I write from my tiny office in a 100-year-old restored Adirondack mountain lodge that overlooks a small spring-fed lake. Read more about me here. Find me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or contact me by email. God bless you!
  • james

    As logic and reason demand,. the creation myth may well symbolize birth and death. God
    said to this first couple that if you eat the fruit (of thy womb ?) you will die. The tree, in the middle of the garden (the body) is the genitals. The Snake would then seem to be symbolic
    of carnal knowledge. The covering with leaves of the torso and legs is that of shame.
    “ Who told you, you were naked ? God asked. When the Buddha sat under the tree and declared he was not going to move until he understood why misery and death exist, God
    whispered in his ear “Desire” Original sin could very well be called our Original mortality.
    It is ironic that the first person born, Cain, turned out to be a murderer, while Able turned
    out to be the first person to kill – when he took a beautiful lamb and slit its throat so God
    would be pleased. But you’d have to be well versed in eastern deism to understand why.

    • Howard

      None of your statements following the initial phrase are in fact demanded by logic OR reason.

      • james

        I know that, Howard.

        • Howard

          Sorry! But you should understand that satire really only works in a society where everyone can be presumed sane. Those conditions simply do not apply in 2013.

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  • Howard

    Problem: Some men have a Y-Chromosome which appears to have diverged much earlier — as far back as 338,000 years ago. See

    • Stacy Trasancos

      Yes, his work is mentioned briefly in the Nature article (which is itself very brief).

      “In February, for instance, researchers led by Michael Hammer, a population geneticist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, reported the discovery of an African American family whose Y chromosomes do not seem to directly descend from Adam’s4. One possible explanation is that the Y chromosome came from an archaic species of human that interbred with Homo sapiens tens of thousands of years ago.”

      • Christine

        A scientist said there was an “African American” family who lived tens of thousands of years ago? Were there Africans in America then?

  • Rationalist1

    This study appears to show that the difference in setting for Adam and Eve was much closer than previously thought. Does that mean that if future findings refute this claim will you give up the notion of a Adam and Eve because if one accepts data that confirms one’s preconceptions, one should be prepared to accepted data that negates one preconceptions? That’s the nature of science but alas not the nature of theology.

    • Stacy Trasancos

      Theology seeks to clarify and better understand, but it would be absurd to “give up” what God revealed for the sake of temporary explanatory convenience.

      • Rationalist1

        To paraphrase Job 2:10 – If we accept good news from science, should we also not accept bad news?

        • Stacy Trasancos

          Theology and science (and philosophy can be compared too) do not follow parallel courses.

          In Christian theology, revelation reached its culmination in Christ. It concluded with Christ and the Apostles. Theology doesn’t develop by finding new revelation, it develops by the pursuit of clarification and expression to avoid misunderstandings, ever drawing from tradition.

          Science, by contrast, advances by new discovery and has advanced rapidly in the last century due to a greater power to observe what couldn’t be seen with the naked eye. It deals with new “revelations” in the natural world continually and tries to fit them into the already understood framework.

          • Rationalist1

            Science doesn’t try to fit new discoveries into an already existing framework. Theology does. Science, has no pre-established position on when mitochondrial “Eve” and Y-Chromosome “Adam” lived. Theology does and accepts findings it agrees with and rejects those that it doesn’t.

            I wonder if those Sidonologists who vehemently reject the result of the Shroud of Turin’s carbon dating by bringing up all sort of questions about the veracity of the measuring process would have the same objections should the Shroud have been dated to the first century. The same should apply, in my opinion, here.

          • Stacy Trasancos

            No, it’s not like that in science. Any project, any paper submitted for publication, must include background information and relevant studies and work in the field. You cannot contribute new knowledge to the field of any science without first situating it in the framework to which it belongs. Find any scientific paper or review from any publication, and you’ll find an Intro or Background discussion at the beginning, along with citations of previous work.

            As for theology, I don’t know what your background and experience are in studying the discipline or working with theologians, but your description doesn’t match my experience at all. The documents I’ve read and scholars I’ve studied draw exhaustively from Tradition and Scripture and seek to clarify and express in ways that modern cultures can understand. You seem to have the (heretical) idea that doctrine and dogma change with new discoveries, but they don’t. Sometimes they are better understood, but, like I said, there are no new revelations.

          • Rationalist1

            You originally said science “tries to fit them into the already understood framework.” It can try but it doesn’t have to. Major revisions like relativity or Quantum mechanics sisn’t fit the framework, they made new frameworks.

            As to doctrines, I realize that they don’t change, they never change, they always remain the same despite new discoveries about the world and the human condition. That’s their weakness. There are no new revelations, it’s just constantly defending the existing framework.

  • Martin X. Moleski, SJ

    The Church uses Aristotelian-Thomist philosophy to help define the terms it uses. You are unfortunately mistaken that humanoids did not have “souls.” The soul is the form of the body for all living things: plants and animals, among whom we find the human animal distinguished from all others not by the possession of a soul but by the gift of the spiritual powers of intellect and will. Cf. William Wallace, O.P., Modeling of Nature, for an outstanding exposition of Catholic hylomorphism (hylos = matter, morphe = form).

    • Stacy Trasancos

      Thank you Martin. Yes, I should have said “human soul” and that man is made in the image of God with the gift of intellect and will. I will fix that. I’ve read about hylomorphism in Dr. Edward Feser’s book Philosophy of Mind, and I’ll find and read Cf. William Wallace’s book too. Thank you.

      • Jim Russell

        Here is a question I’m trying to pin down eventually–maybe someone will speed up my “eventually” by pointing me in a good direction: Has the Church “magisterially” embraced the Aristotelean-Thomist philosophical understanding of the threefold “souls” (vegetative, animal, rational human)? Or is this framework still in the realm of “common teaching”? Obviously, much has been said by the Magisterium regarding the rational human soul, and the soul as “form of the body,” but I’m wanting to explore the magisterial “boundaries”, so to speak, on this threefold framework…

        • Stacy Trasancos

          That’s a great question. I love Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma for these questions. He lists what is highest certainty dogma, and then gives the development of it and also lists the less certain doctrines and common teachings. It’s helped me tremendously in sorting out the boundaries. See what you think.

          Quoting Chapter 2 § 14. The Essential Constituent Parts of Human Nature:

          The rational soul is per se the essential form of the body. (De fide.)

          Body and soul are connected with each other, not merely externally like a vessel and its contents, a ship and its pilot (Plato, Descartes, Leibniz), but as an intrinsic natural unit, so that the spiritual soul is of itself and essentially the form of the body. The Council of Vienne (1311–1312) condemned as heretical: quod anima rationalis seu intellectiva non sit forma corporis humani per se et essentialiter. D 481, cf. 738, 1655.

          The decision was directed against the Franciscan theologian Johannis Olivi († 1298), who taught that the rational soul was not of itself (immediately) the essential form of the body, but only mediately through the forma sensitiva and vegetiva, which is really distinct from it. This would destroy the essential unity of human nature replacing it by a dynamic unity of operation. This decision of the Council of Vienne does not imply a dogmatic recognition of the Thomistic teaching of the uniqueness of the substantial form, or of the Aristotelian-Scholastic hylomorphism.

          According to Gn. 2:7, the slime, by virtue of the creation of the soul, becomes a living human body, and thus a component part of human nature. According to the vision of Azechiel 37:1 et seq., the dead members of the body are awakened to life through the spiritual soul.

          The Fathers conceive the attachment of body and soul as such an intrinsic one that they compare it to the Hypostatic Union. Cf. the Symbol Quicumque (D 40). St. Augustine teaches: “From the soul the body has feeling and life” (De civ. Dei XXI 3, 2. Cf. St. John Damascene, De fide orth. II, 12.)

          So “the soul is the essential form of the body” is dogmatic, but the threefold explanation of the soul is common teaching (by which I take to mean no other acceptable explanations exist).

          • Jim Russell

            Verrry helpful indeed! Thanks, Tracy–what makes it interesting to me is that there may be room for additional speculation on the “non-rational” soul(s) if the reliance upon Aristotelean/Thomistic “soul-speak” is common teaching. Check out Ott’s definition of degrees of certitude (somewhere in the intro, p. 20s, I think) for his assessment of common teaching being among the “field of the free opinions.” Not that I have a clue as to what to “speculate” at this point– :-) –but I’m exploring the parameters!
            Thanks much.

          • Stacy Trasancos

            Exactly! A friend (Jeff McLeod) referred this book to me because three years ago when I started to study dogma and doctrine I was so confused about what was certain and what was not, and what “development” even meant. I totally understand the need to know the boundaries before you can even begin to speculate. Without that, you have no guidance.

            I do think (me just speculating) that these questions about the soul will need to be better communicated as science starts to go down the artificial intelligence, artificial reproduction, robotics, transhumanism, etc. paths, if for no other reason than to continually address the devastating error that to be human is nothing more than to be matter.

  • Marie

    In all these discussions where the Y chromosome ancestor appears younger than the mitochondrial ancestor, why does no one talk about the possibility of Y chromosome Noah and mitochondrial Eve?

    • Stacy Trasancos

      Good point!

    • Paul Rimmer

      I know virtually nothing about genetics. Is it possible to detect multiple bottlenecks in our history?

      • Marie

        I’m not an expert, but that wouldn’t be doable from one type of DNA. The calculation of a common ancestor is based on the number of genetic differences in a population, plus the rate of mutation. That yields an estimated amount of time since the common ancestor of that set of DNA. The more intermediate data points available (either modern populations known to have diverged at a particular time, e.g. Australian aborigines) or ancient DNA, the more accurate the estimation. Once you get to the calculated common ancestor, there’s no data to say what is before that.

        Mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosome are used for this because they are passed from parent to child without any modification except by mutation. That gives us two calculated ancestors – the female line and the male line.

        I suppose there could be some other common genes that could be used, but since they wouldn’t be guaranteed to be passed from parent to child, there would be much less data, and therefore less accuracy. As it is, I don’t know how there is enough data to say with any confidence the average mutation rate over hundreds of thousands of years.

        • Paul Rimmer

          Thanks for that helpful response!

  • Paul Rimmer

    This seems like a good way to argue for NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria). Whether it turns out Adam and Eve lived at the same time or not, the Christian faith goes on. Maybe certain theological attitudes will need to be adjusted, but the core message appears invariant to new data.

  • Sebastian

    I always thought the evil of death was a consequence of Original Sin. Since death clearly existed before humans appeared on earth, how do these findings reconcile with that teaching (unless I’m wrong and it is not actually the teaching of the Church)?

    • MikeAtCf

      I, too, had a problem with that, Sebastian. A priest helped me resolve it by reminding me that God is outside of time, that all of what we call history and the future is one eternal now to Him. Thus in our terminology God knew that Adam and Eve would sin and that physical death would be a consequence of that sin, so he allowed death to enter the world before that sin was committed.

      This is similar, he said, to God ‘foreseeing’ the redemptive merits of Jesus Christ and applying them to Mary in the Immaculate Conception.

      • Sharon

        Actually, I have been giving this some thought, too. I think it’s more along the lines of the fact that the word “death” or “die” is used in a certain way in the Bible, a way in which we don’t normally think of it. For instance, we can look at the words of Jesus, when he said the Jews’ forefathers ate manna in the desert but died, yet if we eat the living bread that came down from heaven (Jesus), we will live forever. Obviously, we receive Our Lord in Communion and still die, so he is talking about something else. Sin brought a certain kind of death into the world, apparently that death which is a separation from God. I hope that makes sense.

        • Sebastian

          Thanks guys, I just lost my reply to yoy (using a tablet…) plus trouble signing in. Appreciated them!

        • MikeAtCf

          Interesting, Sharon. But I wonder how you would reconcile that interpretation with Paul’s in Romans 5:12-14:

          Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned — sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

          • Sharon

            Boy… considering how hard I find it to follow St. Paul… I will read what he says a few times and then have to start over reading it again. I think this verse could still be interpreted to mean “death” in the sense of a spiritual death. I have to admit that I am not sure what he means by “sin is not counted where there is no law”, but that is beside the point. I am definitely still trying to understand this, but to me this passage still works with what seems to refer to a spiritual death. Otherwise, what could Jesus have meant in the verse from Mark?

          • Sharon

            Sorry! I mean the verse from John!

  • Gil+

    On our recent trip to D. C. we went to the Museum of Natural History where, in a short video proclaiming the unity of all humanity, humanoids (even those of a genus other than homo) were referred to as humans. As a former biology teacher I was startled that such a statement would be made in such a prestigious institution. By that reasoning there is no room for a soul to have been created later, for whatever is distinctive about humans was already present 3 or 4 million years before the evolution of homo sapiens.

    • Stacy Trasancos

      You have hit on something very important, and in my opinion, very intentional — the death of the soul (at least in their minds). Take a look at these words from Dr. Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule.

      It is chilling, and tied to the Human Genome Project and the Brain-Mapping Project, funded by our government. I’m not calling it a conspiracy theory or anything, but rather pointing out that there is a focused, articulated, and underway effort to remove any meaning from the word “soul”.

  • Sharon

    Stacy, thanks so much for this latest installment sharing your thoughts on evolution. I am also one of those people who is trying “to go beyond currently held assumptions” in this regard. I’ve learned a great deal lately, very fascinating information, but this humanoid-to-human idea…. I just can’t see it. One reason is a Bible verse that always comes up in the discussion of divorce. In Mark 10:6 Jesus says, “But from the beginning of creation ‘God made them male and female.’” My mind says, ok then, which is it? From the beginning did God make rocks, then somehow living things came along, then enucleated living things, then male and female living things? Somehow that doesn’t sound like “in the beginning.” Then again… I realize that the idea is, it was all there “in the beginning,” it just took a while to unfold. I used to think that evolution couldn’t be true. It seemed like such a sloppy, haphazard way for a great God to make something so important. I am seeing now that many scientists can see the awesomeness in a creation that came about through evolution. They can recognize that it is not sloppy at all. But there are explanations that still don’t make sense to me – for instance, going from non-living to living matter – and this crazy way for humans to come into existence…. I don’t know. I just can’t see it. So ensouled creatures mated with (not married – you can’t marry something that doesn’t have a human soul because how could the other creature be capable of such a relationship?) mere animals? And God allowed, not the soul to be inherited because it isn’t, but God granted a soul to the offspring of these half-human mating pairs? And eventually all genetic humanoids became human beings? And eventually all of the non-human humanoids died out? I just don’t like that explanation. Not a very scientific verdict, but that’s where I am with it right now.

    Also, I’ve read that polygenism was not completely shut out as a possibility in Catholic thinking. According to Stephen Barr, Pope Pius XII “said that Catholic scholars had to adhere to monogenism. However he did not absolutely close the door to polygenism. He said ‘it is in no way apparent’ how polygenism can be reconciled with certain Catholic teachings, in particular on Original Sin. But his precise wording is significant. He did not assert that these ideas could not be reconciled, only that it is not apparent how they could.” Thought you might be interested in that idea.