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Can we give up the origin of humanity from a primal couple without giving up the teaching of original sin and atonement?

S & CB 27 (1)
April 2015


Recent genetic studies have strengthened the hypothesis that humans did not originate from a single couple of the species Homo sapiens. Different models have been proposed to harmonise this with Christian belief on original sin and atonement. In this article I discuss these models and propose a new explanation derived from Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica I, 98-100 and Romans 5:19;11:32. I argue that generations may have passed before the appearance of sin, and hence belief in ‘original sin’ does not require that it was committed by a pair of persons who are biologically the common ancestors of all human persons. In the light of this analysis I consider moral responsibility as the distinctive sign of human personhood, and assume that the creation of the first human persons happened during the Neolithic period. The article concludes that views of the biological origin of humanity from a primeval Homo sapiens population (polygenism) or a single couple (monogenism) are both compatible with Christian belief, and therefore deciding between these two hypotheses should be better left to science.

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