Original Sin and Darwinian Evolution: Luis Gonzalez-Carvajal Santabarbara vs the Catechism of the Catholic Church

I was reading a book by Luis Gonzalez-Carvajal Santabarbara entitled This is Our Faith: Theology for College Students, translated from the 16th Spanish Edition by Jesus Vazquez (Claretian Publications, Quezon City, 2005).  The first chapter on Original Sin made me squirm on my seat.


Gonzalez denies the historicity of Adam and Eve and the transmission of Original Sin to their descendants:

In the first place, considering the modern sense of justice, it seems unacceptable that a sin committed at the dawn of humanind could be inherited by those born a million years later.  Divine justice would come off badly if, in effect, we had to share the responsibility for an action that we neither committed nor could have avoided…

Paleontology also poses very serious objections.  At which stage of evolution should we place the first couple…. As for their intelligence, why speak at all?  After Darwin, it seems impossible to assert that the first humans were more perfect than the present ones.

And the worst of it is that it is also difficult to speak of a “unique” first couple, because predictably the biological unity that evolved was not an individual, but a “community”.  Today the monogenetic hypothesishas lost ground to the polygenetic hypothesis.  And this poses new problems to the dogma of original sin.  If there were more than one original couple, which one had sinned?  If mind had, just my bad luck.  Otherwise, it’s another person’s….

In the light of new data offered by science, what we should then do is to try to reformulate the dogma of original sin, which has its place in a border zone between theology and human sciences. (pp 2-3)

Being born with “original sin” does not mean that the sin committed y Adam is imputed to us but that the consequences of his sin affect us.  We recall the personal guilt cannot be transmitted. (p. 11)

However if redemption could be spread to all without any single person descending physically from Christ the Redeemer, there is no reason to think that the propensity to evil could only be transmitted through physical generation. (p. 11)

As for physical death, we should assume that it would have existed just the same even if original sin had not taken place. Animals also die and they have not sinned. (p. 12)

The message of original sin can be summed up thus: in the world and in our heart a greater amount of evil resides than what we expect, taking into account the ill will of humankind. (p. 13)


Against the theological speculations of Gonzalez, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear that Adam and Eve are really our first parents and they committed the first sin:

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. (Art. 390)

What are the consequences of Adam’s Sin for humanity?  The Catechism continues:

Following St. Paul, the Church as always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination toward evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam’s sin and the fact that he has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the “death of the soul.”  Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin. (Art. 403)

How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants?  The whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one man.”  By this “unity of the human race” all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice.  Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature.  By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve commited a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state.  It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice.  And that is why original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed”–a state and not an act. (Art. 404)

Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal faulty in any of Adam’s descendants.  It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted; it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it; subject to ignorance, suffering, and the dominion of death; and inclined to sin–an inclination to evil that is called “concupiscence.”  Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back toward God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persists in man and summon him to spiritual battle. (Art. 405)

Thus, Gonzalez’s theological treatment of Original Sin is not Catholic.

About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

10 Responses to Original Sin and Darwinian Evolution: Luis Gonzalez-Carvajal Santabarbara vs the Catechism of the Catholic Church

  1. Danny says:

    “Against the theological speculations of Gonzalez, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear that Adam and Eve are really our first parents and they committed the first sin”

    But what is the Catechism but the theological speculations of yesterday’s church leaders who did not have the benefit of the latest discoveries of science?

  2. Quirino M. Sugon Jr says:

    The Catechism is not founded on the shifting sands of human sciences, but on the unchanging truths revealed by God through the Sacred Scripture and Tradition as interpreted by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. God can neither deceive nor be deceived. I wouldn’t bet my life on Darwin’s theory of evolution. But I will bet my life on the Dogma of Original Sin.

  3. huanghou says:

    “Thus, Gonzalez’s theological treatment of Original Sin is not Catholic.”

    That sentence seems to me a bit out of context. I’ve just finished the book and I find it extremely well written and with a brilliant way of explaining things. The Catechism is not founded on science, but it is compatible with it. Also recall that theology studies the posible interpretations of the Catechism. An interpretation of the catechism opposite to actual scientific findings results at least doubtful. Btw, Adan in greek (where most of the translations of the bible come from) means humankind, so then as the author of the book says, the original sin of Adam refers more to the original sin of humankind, which we cannot totally control, but we participated in, for example, by wearing clothes that probably has been made in China with litlle kids.

  4. Quirino M. Sugon Jr says:


    In his encyclical Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII teaches that:

    “37. When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.”


  5. Wants to be Anonymous says:

    I remember pondering Original SIn for several months a few years ago when I had to walk some distance every day to save on commuting fare… I remember reading the relevant sections and cross references in the Catechism and I remember trying to understand it as follows:

    a) When Adam and Eve chose to be human (above the other creations), they acquired a human nature that is imperfect “As a result of original sin, human nature is weakened in its powers, subject to ignorance, suffering and the domination of death, and inclined to sin (this inclination is called “concupiscence”)”

    b) Death has more impact to us human beings after Adam and Eve “claimed” the state of original sin “Death makes its entrance into human history.”

    c) God gave men and women conditions in order to make living a human life more interesting and challenging e.g.

    1) to remember that childbearing is a gift, just think about all the childless couples dealing with infertility

    2) to remember that work/toil-ing is a gift, just think of all the masterpieces the human race has accomplished over the centuries

    3) I would like to think that death and love (“Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master.”) are interrelated, as has been dramatized in recent years, life and love is beautiful for us humans because we are mortal.

  6. Quirino M. Sugon Jr says:

    Wants To,

    Adam and Eve were humans before their Fall. They could have lived happily ever and after in the presence of God. Working in the garden would be a leisure since they do not have to work in order to eat. Women don’t have to labor to give birth. But all these were removed when they failed the test and committed the first sin of the human race. But even if these were removed, God has supplied us with something greater: the sanctifying graces through the sacraments.

    Life and love is beautiful not because we are mortal, but because they point to immortality, as when we say “love is forever” or “i shall always be with you.” These experiences of life and love gives us a glimpse of everlasting life and everlasting love in heaven.

  7. Wants to be anonymous says:

    I’m not entirely convinced, let us first remember that their Original Sin was losing trust in God because of temptation “Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command.”.

    Also, remember, the story of the fall is not like a news report, but it does point to an important event that happened during the birth of the human civilization, as The Catechism 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.”

    Regarding not having to work in order to eat, the other creatures were doing that already, but man had to be above other creatures — human, in order to be moral, religious, and spiritual “See! The man has become like one of us, knowing what is good and what is bad!” — I am not entirely sure what the scripture was referring to with “us”when the LORD God said this.

    Also, “woman” became “Eve” after they “chose” to disobey God and became aware of their humanity. I think it may well be true that “man”/”adam” and “woman” could have had offspring like the other creatures, but only after God gave them the challenge of childbearing AND “child bringing” could they engage in child rearing/(bringing them up “in pain shall you bring forth children”) until they become persons and humans as well. In other words, there are no moral decisions related to the creatures having offspring but when man and woman became human there are a lot of moral decisions related to bringing up children and there is a different level and dimension of pain involved in it beyond the physical pain I am sure most female creatures felt when delivering offspring.

    We should also consider that after the fall “[God] will put enmity between [the snake] and the woman, and between [the snake’s] offspring and hers; *He* will strike at [the snake’s] head, while [the snake] strike at his heel.” and modern theology has interpreted this “as the first promise of a Redeemer for fallen mankind”.

    I would like to correct myself, a sense of mortality (not mortality), makes us separate from other creatures and makes us human, and together with work, sexual intimacy, parenthood, and the knowledge of good and evil, makes our lives more meaningful.

    I understand that you are no theologian, but surely someone who can state that another person’s treatment of Original Sin isn’t Catholic has thoughts of his own, so what are your thoughts?

  8. Quirino M. Sugon Jr says:

    Wants To,

    God said to Eve, “I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children.” (Gen 3:16) Therefore, you can be sure that the pangs of delivering children from the womb are much less than what women now experience.

    God said to Adam, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat, “Cursed be the ground because of you! In toil shall you eat its yield all the days of your life.” (Gen 3:17) Therefore, before he committed sin, Adam do not have to work as hard as we do today in order to grow his food.

    Then the LORD God said: “See! The man has become like one of us, knowing what is good and what is bad! Therefore, he must not be allowed to put out his hand to take fruit from the tree of life also, and thus eat of it and live forever.” (Gen 3:22) According to the Catechism art. 396:

    “The “tree of knowledge of good and evil” symbolically evokes the insurmountable limits that ma, being a creature, must freely recognize and respect with trust. Man is dependent on his Creater and subject to the laws of creation and to the moral norms that govern the use of freedom.”

    By eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam wants to take away God\s prerogative of defining what is good and evil. Adam the Man wants to become God.

    The “us” most likely refers to the Holy Trinity, for Creation, according to the Catechism, is “the common work of the Holy Trinity” (art.. 292)..

  9. Wants to be anonymous says:

    Monk’s hobbit:

    Childbearing: true, there may have been physical pain before, as with other creatures, but what is your point about mentioning that that pain may have been less before The Fall? Your message is lost.

    Once again, let us remember, as the Catechism reminds us:

    “Among all the Scriptural texts about creation, the first three chapters of Genesis occupy a unique place. From a literary standpoint these texts may have had diverse sources. The inspired authors have placed them at the beginning of Scripture to express in their solemn LANGUAGE the truths of creation—its origin and its end in God, its order and goodness, the vocation of man, and finally the drama of sin and the hope of salvation. Read in the light of Christ, within the unity of Sacred Scripture and in the living Tradition of the Church, these texts remain the principal source for catechesis on the mysteries of the “beginning”: creation, fall, and promise of salvation.”

    If one looks beyond The Catechism and looks to some of the teachings it is based upon, like Gaudium et Spes, one would realize that:

    “Therefore man is split within himself. As a result, all of human life, whether individual or collective, shows itself to be a dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness. Indeed, man finds that by himself he is incapable of battling the assaults of evil successfully, so that everyone feels as though he is bound by chains. But the Lord Himself came to free and strengthen man, renewing him inwardly and casting out that “prince of this world” (John 12:31) who held him in the bondage of sin.(4) For sin has diminished man, blocking his path to fulfillment.”

    Thus, man’s vocation is no longer just about obedience, but also about being able to discern and choose between doing good or doing evil. So, I think your message is once more lost if you just stop at “before he committed sin, Adam do not have to work as hard as we do today in order to grow his food”.

    I disagree with your statements about having good and evil something that is just defined… “…knowing what is good and what is bad…” does not give one the ability to define them but the ability to discern from them, as is discussed in Gaudium et Spes:

    “In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged.(9) Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.(10) In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor.(11) In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships. Hence the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality. Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.”

    However, let us consider your statement regarding Adam (and perhaps Eve as well), wanting to become God… is that any different from a child playing with his/her rosary beads trying to emulate his/her mother/father until he/she has been taught how to pray the rosary? Or a child pretending to read newspapers/books like his/her parents do? Yes, he/she wants to be like mom/dad. And sometimes, the child is taught. So that leads us to ask a question that could open up a can of worms — why didn’t just God teach His first children? I think the simplistic “because they will die” is just an answer for children, although as I have mentioned previously, there is some truth to it if one considers that death/dying is more complicated for humans with morals.

    Once again, I extend my challenge to you, since you can claim that another person’s theological treatment of Original SIn is not Catholic, what is your message, your Catholic theological treatment of Original Sin?

  10. Quirino M. Sugon Jr says:

    Wants To,

    Please read my Jan 16, 2010 comment on this blog post in reply to Huanghou. There I quoted the words of Pope Piux XII in his encyclical Humani Generis:

    “Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.””

    So do not think that Adam is a mere myth, a mere representation of our broken humanity which needs the redemption of Christ. Adam truly existed, for Christ came to undo the sin of Adam. As St. Paul said:

    “Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned –for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world, though sin is not accounted when there is no law. But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam, who is the type of the one who was to come….(Rom 5:12)

    “For just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous.” (Rom 5:19)

    In an ancient homily for Holy Saturday, as quoted in the Catechism Art. 635, Christ came to search for Adam:

    “Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. . . He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him – He who is both their God and the son of Eve. . . “I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. . . I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.”

    So the point is, if you believe in Christ, you must also believe that Adam truly existed. Original sin is the sin of Adam passed on to us. Christ came to free us from the bondage of sin through the sacraments in order to undo the sin of Adam. Death entered into the world when Adam ate the fruit from the forbidden tree. Life came into the world when Christ came to become an offering for sin and conquered Death by allowing himself to be crucified on the tree of death, the cross. The cross of Christ cannot be understood apart from the sin of Adam.

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