Evolution and the Sin in Eden
A New Christian Synthesis

Chapter 1: Speech and Revelation

If we ask whether our first human ancestors had a mature sense of responsibility, of right and wrong, a knowledge about duties toward God and toward each other, the answer can be no other than yes. God would not have held them responsible for disobedience if they had lacked a fully adult sense of duty. The Bible indicates that the Lord God treated our Adam and Eve as adults when He called them to an accounting for their flagrant disobedience, heard their excuses and confessions, gave them their penance, and then restored the previous relationship of friendly intimacy with them on new terms after they had learned from their experience.

The story of original sin, as related in the Bible and as taught in the Catechism, implies that our Adam and Eve were not half-illumined creatures barely emerged from an animal world, but that they were fully human. They were speaking with God and with each other in an intelligible language about serious problems of life and existence. God revealed Himself to them, and we know that He does not speak into a vacuum. They understood what He said.

This fact in turn provides us with the vital information which is absolutely essential for reasonable discussion about human evolution, namely that our first ancestors spoke an intelligible language. They possessed the capacity to arrange in their minds the ideas which God had revealed. They understood the do's and don'ts of His revelation and what He expected of them, and could discuss these matters with each other and with their children.

That our primeval ancestors were monogamists is another indication of their normal and adult sense of responsibility. Their monogamous status is recorded in Genesis, and is a revelation which Christ confirmed when He responded to an interrogation by the Pharisees about divorce. Christ's response contrasts the more lax behavior of the Israelites with the strict conformity to lifetime fidelity of our first ancestors:

Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one"? (Mt 19:4-5). [The Revised Standard Version is used unless indicated otherwise.]

By so re-constituting mandatory monogamy with this reference to behavior at "the beginning," Christ identified our primeval ancestors as members of our race, as responsible persons, who married, who remained faithful, who educated their children. Our family tree dates back to them. Christ bade us to do as they had done. He thereby manifested His esteem for our first parents.

As an aside, I feel sorry that the Church doesn't celebrate our Adam and Eve with liturgical honors now at the turn of the millennia. In all the careful preparations made by the Vatican for the events of the year 2000, I read not one word of praise and respect for our honorable first ancestors. Such an omission is not in sync with Christ who upheld the first couple as the original model of marital fidelity. It is not in sync with the Bible in which Sirach extols Adam as Number One in the human race: "Adam above every living being in the creation" (Sir 49:16). No family ever celebrates an anniversary without inviting the grandparents. The Church formerly commemorated Adam and Eve on December 24, the day before Christmas. And yet when preparing to celebrate the year 2000 the Vatican is apparently forgetting about our debt of gratitude to our first parents. Why? I don't know why. How sad, I say. The first parents of the human race certainly merit a word of thanks and congratulations from us at this turn of the century and millennium. Now back to our theme.

Speech Organs in the Fossil Record

Modern speech organs - the larynx, pharynx and accompanying structures which we use in daily speaking - are anchored to a specific type of bone structure - specific to Homo Sapiens. That structure does not appear in the fossil record of the human line until several hundred thousand years ago. It delineates a time-framework within which scientists can theorize about the period in which humans became capable of speaking with the very rapid flow of words characteristic of modern languages. For us it very conveniently also provides a date - albeit not very precise - when our first ancestors lived, and therefore when they committed original sin.

The truth that the persons who first committed original sin possessed an adult sense of responsibility implies that they arranged their thoughts in linguistic patterns. For without modern language ability, they would be extremely handicapped from thinking logically enough to be held responsible by God for committing original sin.

Language Indicates an Immaterial Soul

Human speech displays the existence of a mind, of a person whose being transcends atomic and molecular bricks of matter. Our ability to speak marks us off very distinctly as differing from animals. We speak, we think, but they do neither. Between us and them yawns an enormous metaphysical space whose expanses no animal can cross. If our human bodies evolved and graduated from animal life -- there are good reasons to believe so -- our spiritual souls did not sprout from animal seed. Animals feel but they do not think; nor can their lives generate thinking souls. Moreover, even humans do not provide souls for their children:

The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God - it is not "produced" by the parents - and also that it is immortal; it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection (The Catechism of the Catholic Church 366, hereinafter referenced as CCC).

We can teach some animals to reproduce a limited repertoire of sounds which resemble speech. Prized parakeets can greet us with a friendly crackle of a practiced "Good morning!" But try as we might, we can't teach parakeets or any other living creature to discourse logically with us in speech. The very nature of logical thought is spiritual, and animals show no sign of spiritual equipment to think with. They build nests, they greet the dawn with song, they nuzzle and they pair off, but they don't make binding contracts, they don't recognize right from wrong, and they don't ever bring litigation to courts of law.

Humans, on the contrary, luxuriate in the joys of reasoning and thinking, of matching cause and effect, of living in a constant awareness of what is right and what is wrong, of neighborly gossip and discourse about national scandals, of declaiming with pretentious political rhetoric and sonorous decibels about justice, peace and order, of making intelligible choice in favor of what is good and beautiful and splendid, of looking beyond this temporal life on earth to an even better life in the mysterious realm of heaven. Animals know nothing about life in the hereafter. Nothing. Speech is one immovable boundary marker set between humans and animals.

We assume appropriately that our Adam and Eve knew right from wrong, for otherwise God would not have held them responsible. Pushing the logic one step further, we assume that they were a people capable of speaking a human language. Humans don't understand responsibilities unless they can resonate them on linguistic sounding boards. Those to whom God spoke His primeval revelation must have been able to understand His spoken word, to interiorize in their minds the concepts He communicated, to then fix the concepts on coded sounds wherewith they were able to discourse about the message with spouse and children. To do this the couple whom the Bible locates in the Garden in Eden must have had advanced linguistic ability, comparable to speech competence of adults today. They were not mere children whose thoughts and language were rudimentary, nor were they dizzied adolescents recently emerged from an ape population but not yet able to cope with adult human problems.

Thought Anchors Itself on Speech

It is an observable fact that whenever we think we instinctively, and of necessity, speak these thoughts, whether inwardly or outwardly. Intellectual activity is, of course, a spiritual reality, and we may be convinced that we think without speech. Often we are hardly aware that we project our thoughts on a perceptible screen of phonetic symbols and syntactic arrangements as a habit, practically by necessity. But if we watch ourselves closely, we can observe that whenever we think, we anchor the thoughts into speech patterns.

On the other hand it must be said that we somehow also do our thinking without complete dependence on words, phrases, and sentences. For we appear to think first, then fish for words to express and anchor the thought. Also, when we translate from one language to another, we extract the thought from the original language and hold it in suspense while we fish with this thought for an appropriate word. To think, then, is a process which our immaterial soul initiates, but this spirit immediately calls upon linguistic crutches for support.

Thought is a fleeting reality which differs from speech, but it does not fly high nor long unless it supports itself on wings of language. Deliberation somehow exists immaterially but unfolds itself upon material images. Opinion and judgment appear to be independent even of the brain. We use the brain as an artist uses his violin to resonate the music he has in mind. With the brain as an instrument we pattern into sentences our prefabricated or emerging thought. We stimulate the brain to produce linguistic resonance to shape and clarify and solidify the thought we have in mind. Then finally we use the brain to orchestrate the ensemble of speech organs to display our thoughts externally. We encode our thoughts upon audio or visual symbols which others can decode to obtain insight into the thoughts we are belaboring.

We need words and language to think with speed, clarity, and logic. Even while you are reading this, your thoughts latch onto the written words to anchor themselves. They may race ahead of what you read, and you may check back to get back on track. The point is, we are always seeking to rest our thoughts upon linguistic patterns. At any rate, to anchor, to shape, and to sharpen our spiritual thoughts, we constantly project them upon sensually perceptible images -- on sounds, sights, touches, tastes, scents, and movements -- but always and primarily, on linguistic patterns.

When we think without audible speaking, we nevertheless pour out a constant stream of sensory images, mostly linguistic and in our mother tongue, upon which we sustain, shape, untangle, sharpen, and finally understand our thoughts clearly. Day or night, while awake, we do a running commentary in our own mind about our selves, about the world around us, about our actions. We use words, words, and more words while doing so, sometimes arranged in syntactical order, sometimes in snatches of incomplete phrases. We speak, and we listen to our own speech.

The mind attends, it observes, it compares, it remembers, it ponders, it meditates, it day-dreams, and it sifts evidence, it draws conclusions, it develops a theme, and it solves a problem. In other words, it thinks, in the narrow sense of the term. Can this go on without words? ... One thing is certain: thought is not happy working in the void - even if it can work there at all. It has a fondness for sense material. It seems to need something with which to steady itself and maintain its grip on real experience. So it seeks an anchorage in percepts and images...If thought can proceed without language it cannot proceed very far. For long sustained trains of thought language is absolutely necessary (P.H. Ballard, Thought and Language, p. 30;40).

We lose our ability to think when our physical brain is hindered from resonating our thoughts on words and other images, as when we are knocked unconscious or otherwise inhibited. The thinking we perhaps do without sensory images is beyond the boundary of our conscious awareness. We become aware only when we grasp hold of the thought with sense images; with images of sound, sight, movement, touch, smell, or a combination of sense images, almost always arranged into a language pattern.

God Revealed Himself to an Adam and Eve Who Spoke a Language

In the year 1546 the Council of Trent articulated in precise theological canons the nature of certain gifts which God gave to our first ancestors. In addition to their natural endowments, God enriched them by modifying their spirits with an addition of supernatural capacities. Trent termed the enrichment "holiness and justice," (Denzinger-Schoenmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum, ed. 34, No.1511, hereinafter indicated by DS). The gift they received was a supernatural endowment, a modification into a higher dimension of being, an infusion of superior and heavenly light and strength into their natural powers of knowledge and volition, such as we also receive at the time of Baptism. The bestowal of this supernatural gift implies that God also revealed Himself to our first parents. God would not enrich them with the gift, and hold them responsible for subsequent action to act in accordance with the gift, without also providing them by way of revelation with all the instructions they needed to conduct themselves properly as newly adopted children of God.

The belief that God "manifested Himself to our first parents from the very beginning" (CCC 54) leads to wide-ranging conclusions concerning their linguistic ability. We reason that they comprehended God's revelation in linguistic patterns, whose meaning they understood, whose contents they could articulate, whose connotation they would teach to their children. Vatican II affirmed that God "wishing to open up the way of heavenly salvation, manifested himself to our first parents from the very beginning. After the fall, he buoyed them up with the hope of salvation, by promising redemption" (Dei Verbum 3; see also CCC 375;376). The significant conclusion follows that our Adam and Eve were not primitives with still undeveloped minds, but were adults who could think no less ably than we do. The vehicle for receiving the revelation and for communicating it to others was the language of human speech.

The contents of the primeval revelation must have included basic matters which the human mind could already know in some manner but not yet with the gemlike clarity and cut precision of the same truths newly understood after God had emblazoned them upon their minds through divine revelation. The primeval communication illumined with light as of the noonday sun the truths that God exists, that He alone made heaven and earth and controls all things, that He had also created them and united them in monogamous marriage.

What was special in God's encounter with our first ancestors was an additional revelation that no human mind could ever guess or know without a revelation; namely that God "destined us in love to be his sons...according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us" (Eph 1:5-6). It is the mystery that God is pleased to adopt humans into the divine family by means of grace, with the intention of admitting them into God's eternal presence with the beatific vision in life after death. After revealing this to our first parents, we reason that He also taught them a code of behavior suitable for God's royal family. It would be essentially the same Ten Commandments which He also revealed to Moses.

We correctly reason that Adam and Eve must have taught their children that the Lord is their God and they must adore Him alone. They must reverence Him and keep holy His name. They shall pray to Him at regular times (but probably there was no Sabbath in the first revelation). Children are to honor and obey father and mother. Adults must not murder, must not be unfaithful to their monogamous marriage partner, must not steal, lie, nor be envious. In brief, they were enjoined to live as royalty does, to conduct themselves with noble behavior as befits membership in the divine family. Their brief life on earth was to be a time of testing, of combat under challenge, of growth in authentic obedience to the Creator God.

Revelation Transmitted by Language

As we shall develop more fully in subsequent chapters, modern speech facility was lacking to all manner of people who lived before or even contemporaneously with Homo Sapiens. Scientists such as Philip Lieberman who research the fossil record, incomplete though it be, believe that the Neanderthals, Homo Erectus, and Homo Habilis were unable to master a language with rapid-firing speech as we do. Our modern speech organs would not have fit into their skeletal framework. Lieberman believes that it was Homo Sapiens who could first speak a modern language, at most perhaps 400,000 to 250,000 years ago (see The Biology and Evolution of Language (1984) pp. 306-316).

We take it from there to argue that if the speech ability of people living before Homo Sapiens appeared was rudimentary, their thinking powers were not yet developed sufficiently to function as adults who could commit original sin. God would not hold immature humans responsible for original sin, which was a mortal sin. Homo Sapiens of quite recent times is the only type of human who could qualify linguistically for life in the Garden of Eden -- that is, for the kind of adult thinking and speaking which our faith necessarily associates with our first parents whom God held responsible for original sin. They must have been able to speak so rapidly that logical discourse of some complexity could be compacted into meaningful words and syntax before the logical ensemble would fall out of the short term memory. Such is the thrust of the argumentation in this chapter.

Next Page: Chapter 2: Marvels of Human Speech
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