PART II: Scientific evaluation
Inspired by the evangelist John, we can summarize the preceding part with a metaphysical bird’s-eye view through the event of time: The Word of God created time-bound reality out of nothing. From this God created biological life that became more and more complex and from which finally the God-conscious man arose. In man creation recognized “the One who is”, whose mighty Word was the origin of the continuously evolving world of temporary and imperfect beings. The human word communicated with the divine Word, and the latter called man to become worthy of eternal unity with Him, through obedience and fidelity to God’s teaching. But man failed. In Christ God’s word manifested itself as the Son of Man. By His sacrifice and faithfulness, He restored to fallen man the possibility to be taken up into his perfect kingdom of love, in a purified and spiritualized bodily form.
This general view contains little data on which science can comment. It will be different if we start to concentrate within this broad perspective on the concrete events, as they took place on a smaller time scale. Then our story must be realistic enough if we want to avoid jeopardizing the credibility of the whole. Within the framework of an interpretation as realistic as possible, we will discuss some key facts associated with our faith, which are under attack by materialistic evolutionary thinking, as well as the creationist response.
The historical existence of Adam and Eve
For us Christians, knowledge of the ancestors of humanity is important for a correct understanding, not only of our human identity, but also of our condition as human beings. After all, faith teaches us that we have with them not only a genetic relationship, but also a soul relationship, to the extent that we are born with inherited guilt or “original sin”. Materialistic Darwinism breaks down this point of faith by sending Adam and Eve and their paradise back to the world of fables – a position that, in my opinion, is not scientifically justified.
Throughout the world, cultures have been found and are found in which genealogic lists are transmitted from ancestors (especially those of the ruling castes or classes), often culminating in a founder descending directly from a deity. The biblical genealogical lists that go back to Adam and Eve are certainly no exception in this regard. It is therefore logical that their authenticity should be assessed in the same way as that of other genealogical lists.
Most of these have been transmitted largely orally to successive generations, as information essential to the cultural identification of a particular tribe or people. They also played a major role in granting higher social status to some members of the tribe. It can therefore be assumed that the possibility of including completely fictitious ancestors was generally very small to non-existent. The lists of names, along with the associated history, were written down as soon as that possibility was invented. In other cases, the most illustrious ancestors were depicted on totem poles, or in sculptures (which often gave rise to idolatry over time).
Therefore, acceptance of the historical existence of Adam and Eve should in no way be limited to an act of faith. After all, it simply follows from the application of a commonly used and acceptable model of anthropological interpretation, based on ethnological comparisons. The authenticity of the protagonists of the earliest biblical story is also confirmed by citing facts of their lives that are largely concrete (such as the location of their field of action, the drama with their first children, the mention of Adam’s age when his other half gave birth to Set and his total lifespan).
Despite all the objections, one can therefore accept with peace of mind that Adam and Eve really existed. But who were they? Were they the unique ancestors of all mankind? Where and when did they live? How did they live? To begin with, let’s see if we can possibly deduce anything related to this last question, from what the Bible offers us.
The physical state of the inhabitants of paradise
– Their pains
Adam and Eve were humans, beings of flesh and blood, like you and me. They were certainly not unreal figures who lived on a kind of paradisiacal dream cloud, unencumbered by the needs that characterize our human nature, as some creationist literature suggests. In that case, contrary to the Bible, they would not have been humans, but surrogate angels, temporarily stationed on earth.
These men, like us, felt hunger and thirst and satisfied them by their labor (as the Bible explicitly says). As progenitors of mankind, who ruled their habitat unthreatened, they embodied the long-awaited and ultimate masterpiece of creation. They were therefore apparently endowed with a perfect physique, optimal hormonal function and a perfectly functioning nervous system, the extremities of which were, among other things, connected to touch and pain receptors of healthy sensitivity. This brings us to a deeply ingrained misconception that stems from our attitudes toward pain and sets our perception of life in the “Garden of Eden” on the wrong imaginary track.
Pain is generally understood as something negative, bad, and even “something that is not willed by God”. But this human reaction is both ontologically and biblically false. Pain is, first, the collective name of the signals that are inseparably linked to the origin, development, and struggle for survival of everything that lives as a “temporary being”. A pain signal informs that a form or condition of life is affected or threatened. Without these warning signals, we would not be able to sustain our earthly life for long. God has willed this “alarm system” this way; indeed: “No sparrow falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will” (Matt. 10:29).
Men also have a spiritual maturation process for which a pain price must be paid. The more perfect a man is, the more he has learned to dominate his fear of pain. Great saints, like St. Francis, learned to accept pain and even “sister death”, so that they can no longer affect their inner peace. “Happiness” (which is the essence of the experience of paradise) is an internal state that is not inevitably affected by external pain. On the other hand, it can be assumed that even in a completely painless earthly paradise, many of our current human companions would feel unhappy. This is due to their inner disharmony with the Creator.
Westerners can learn a lot about a correct attitude towards pain and death of Eastern teachers and even so-called primitive peoples. Armed with such an attitude, we can remove a very troubling obstacle to a more realistic view of Adam and Eve’s living conditions. The ordinary pains that were part of their daily activities did not in any way prevent their original perfect happiness. One can even imagine that they have stimulated this happiness. They felt pain but did not “suffer” it. If their actions were in accordance with God’s will, they lived without fear of great pains that could seriously disturb their inner tranquility. It was only after the Fall that God allowed their pains and burdens to be “aggravated” (Gen. 3:16-19). It’s not that then suddenly a different world with different laws arose. (Nor was the vast universe created a little before in some extremely compressed time spans, with in a tiny corner of it a small ready-made paradise, with an already adult human couple in it. We will come back to this later, when we discuss the age of the earth and the theory of evolution in general). The nature of sin itself, as not conforming to the will of the Father, automatically brought disharmony into the functioning of the dynamically evolving creation. With a little goodwill, one can even assume that the consequences have spread in one way or another throughout the universe.
Sin disturbed God’s purposeful nature, first and foremost the nature of man himself. But for the rest, Adam and Eve, both before and after their fall, had to earn their heaven under the same earthly laws and limitations to which we are still subject today. The consequences of the disturbance affected the good as well as the wicked, just as the sun continued to shine for both. The first death, in the form of the decline of our body, which every human being must undergo, is in accordance with a law of nature that has always existed, but whose abolition had been planned by God for the benefit of the immaculate (and as we have already seen, there have been very few).
The “one man” of whom Saint Paul speaks, surrendered himself and his descendants to the (otherwise completely natural) rule of death, by causing his body to perform an act that made it unfit for a spiritualized entrance into God’s Kingdom. The pains that have tormented humanity since then have turned into terrifying suffering. Symbolically, they culminated in the terrible agony envisioned by the Son of Man, which He accepted and endured as conforming to his Father’s will. This agony began in the Garden of Olives, so to speak, the antipode of the Garden of Eden.