How did God create the human body and soul?

The Church does not have an official teaching on the origin of the human body. There are several faithful Catholic positions which are not contrary to Catholic theology.

  1. Special creation: God directly created human beings.
  2. Theistic evolution: God designs the laws of the universe, so that they will produce the human body through natural processes (like a sculptor uses a chisel as a tool to create a statue - Indirect design).
  3. Intelligent design: God designs the laws of the universe and intervenes directly in history. To create life in general and specifically human body.

A Catholic is free to believe that God formed the human body out of the dust of the earth in an instantaneous action or by a series of steps. Any of these theories may be accepted by a Catholic until God reveals to us otherwise. The important thing is the human soul. Cardinal Ratzinger who is now Pope Benedict XVI says:

"We cannot say: creation or evolution, inasmuch as these two things respond to two different realities. The story of the dust of the earth and the breath of God, which we just heard, does not in fact explain how human persons come to be but rather what they are. It explains their inmost origin and casts light on the project that they are. And, vice versa, the theory of evolution seeks to understand and describe biological developments. But in so doing it cannot explain where the 'project' of human persons comes from, nor their inner origin, nor their particular nature. To that extent we are faced here with two complementary -- rather than mutually exclusive -- realities."

The Creation of the Human Soul

On the creation of the soul, the Church has a very strong teaching. The human soul was deliberately created in the likeness and image of God.

  • The human soul is not simply a byproduct of the human body.
  • The human soul has the power to know abstract concepts, to know God (intellect)
  • The human soul has the power to choose and to love (will)
  • The human soul has unique dignity above the rest of visible creation.

The human being is a combination of human body and human soul. Regardless of any speculative ideas of evolutionary processes that God may or may not have used in the design of the human body, Adam and Eve became human beings when God infused their bodies with human souls. The creation of the human soul was created immediately. The "image and likeness of God" that we read about in Scripture may be referring to our soul.

Did we literally come from one set of parents, Adam & Eve?

There are many scientific theories that attempt to prove that there was no such thing as one man and one woman at the beginning of humanity. They theorize that there were a group of people who were our first parents (polygenism). They claim that Adam and Eve are archetypes for humanity. When this evolutionary theory began to gain momentum in the 50's, Pope Pious XII made a statement about it in Humani Generis:

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 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.

"Polygenism cannot be taught safely."

Mark Shea - a well-known Catholic apologist - explores this:

So he has established the conditions for future doctrinal development. (1) If someone can provide a convincing explanation of how original sin and polygenism can be reconciled, then the Church will have no further objection to it. (2) If, on the contrary, a conclusive argument is made that they cannot be reconciled, then the Church will have to oppose this theory. (3) As neither of these has occurred yet in 1950, the Pope issues this public warning against the theory of polygenism.

Polygenism runs into serious theological difficulties when we consider the implications of original sin and its transference through all of humanity. If there were a group of people in the beginning of time and only two of them made the mistake of eating apple. Then God's judgment against humanity would be unjust, because not all human beings would have spawned off of the two who made the errors. And therefore Jesus' role in redeeming the sin of Adam would be called into question. Some have tried to reconcile polygenism with original sin by invoking the Catholic concept of "solidarity," that they were so close that one person's sin would be that of the entire community. We can't buy that, and the Vatican has ignored that proposition. It runs into problems because it would override the free choice of others in the community. As it stands, polygenism cannot be taught safely.

We teach monogenism, that Adam and Eve were indeed our first parents. Catholic scientists and theologians are free to grapple with these difficult questions in their individual research. However, it would be considered wrong to teach it, because it has a moral impact on the faith and the nature of sin.

It is not contrary to the faith to believe that God created a species of creatures resembling humans through a series of evolutionary actions and then chose Adam and Eve into which to impart human souls, making them the only humans. What makes a human is the combination of a human body and a human soul. Animals do not sin. So even if there were a bunch of other creatures resembling humans running around, they would not be human unless God gave them souls, which would have only been given to two humans, Adam and Eve. It is worth noting that the scientific community embraced the idea of one set of parents (Mitochondrial Eve, Y-chromosomal Adam) in the 1990's although they argue with each other about all kinds of details. Maybe science and religion will unravel this mystery at some point.

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Thanks to Fr. Terry Donahue, CC for many of the insights in this article.