Theistic Evolution vs. Six-Day Creation: Reply to Robert Sungenis
Reply to Sungenis on Theological Issues (Part 1)The Pontifical Academy of Sciences
Pius XII and John Paul II on Evolution
The Church and Catechism on Creation
Evolutionary Creation / Theistic Evolution
Theological Questions on Adam/Eve
This article is a reply to "six-day creationist" Catholic Robert Sungenis and his article "Dialogue on Evolution vs. Creationism" in response to me (P), a "theistic evolutionist" Catholic. The primary purpose is to present once again the scientific data for the age of the earth and evolution, especially where these have been misunderstood or ignored by Bob. I don't claim to know a whole lot about radiometric dating, but I do read the sources (Dalrymple) carefully and enjoy learning what geology and biology I can. Just so you know my background, I am not a geologist or biologist but have a mere B.S. in Computer Science. Please check and verify any information below with the recognized authoritative scientific sources and knowledgeable experts in the pertinent fields.
And note I still appreciate and recommend Bob's apologetics and theology books Not By Faith Alone, Not By Scripture Alone, and Not By Bread Alone (minus the young-earth stuff near the end of the latter book). This is not meant to take anything away from these still excellent books. But when it comes to "not by science alone" we have our strong disagreements. The following is divided into several sections.
The Pontifical Academy of Sciences
Sungenis: There are two things to consider in reading the pope's statements to the Pontifical Academy of Science. First, they hold no binding authority on any Catholic, but are simply statements of pastoral of advice to the PAS, mainly because the PAS is made up of scientists, many of them either agnostic or atheist. Second, the speeches to the PAS are usually not written by the pope himself, but are drafted by the PAS president, and then given to the pope to read. Hence, they often contain scientific assertions that reflect the status quo of modern science as understood by the PAS (which is almost invariably bent toward evolutionary theory). We should not expect the Academy to say anything differently to the pope, since all 80 of them, which elect their own members without reference to 'race or religious creed,' are evolutionists, with not a single Creationist permitted in their ranks. That being the case, we can understand Archbishop Luigi Barbarito when he spoke for John Paul: 'About this body I would say that it has no authority in matters of faith and doctrine and expresses only the views of its own members who belong to different religious beliefs.'
I would agree that the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has no binding authority on Catholics, and indeed is not infallible. Science itself is not infallible, and the Catholic Church only claims infallibility in certain restricted instances on issues of faith and morals only, not science. A Catholic is permitted to believe in a flat earth, a non-moving earth and geocentric universe (as Sungenis does), a young earth 10,000 to 15,000 years old (as Sungenis does), and that life on that earth was created fully-formed from nothing in six literal 24-hour days a short time ago (as Sungenis does). The question is whether any modern Catholic today should believe those things. "Truth Cannot Contradict Truth" and science and faith do not conflict according to the Catechism (paragraphs 159, 283-284) and Pope John Paul II (Statement from October 1996 "Truth Cannot Contradict Truth"). All I am concerned about is how good is the science of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. One might ask the question why there is not a single Creationist in their ranks? Maybe it has something to do with the quality of the "science" of those Creationists? A little background on the academy might help. This is taken from this PDF available from the Vatican.va site.
The Pontifical Academy of Sciences has its origins in the Accademia dei Lincei ("Academy of Lynxes") established in Rome in 1603, under Pope Clement VIII by the learned Roman Prince, Federico Cesi (1585-1630) who was a young botanist and naturalist. Cesi wanted his Academicians to create a method of research based upon observation, experiment, and the inductive method. He thus called this Academy "dei Lincei" because the scientists which adhered to it had to have eyes as sharp as lynxes (the lynx is a large cat) in order to penetrate the secrets of nature, observing it at both microscopic and macroscopic levels. The leader of the first academy was the famous scientist Galileo Galilei. It was dissolved after the death of its founder and re-created by Pope Pius IX in 1847 and given the name Accademia Pontificia dei Nuovi Lincei ("Pontifical Academy of the New Lynxes"), and was re-founded in 1936 by Pope Pius XI and given its current name. Pope Paul VI in 1976 and Pope John Paul II in 1986 subsequently updated its statutes.
Since 1936 the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has been concerned both with investigating specific scientific subjects belonging to individual disciplines and with the promotion of interdisciplinary co-operation. It has progressively increased the number of its Academicians and the international character of its membership. The Academy is an independent body within the Holy See and enjoys freedom of research. From the statutes of 1976:
Since the Academy and its membership is not influenced by factors of a national, political, or religious character it represents a valuable source of objective scientific information which is made available to the Holy See and to the international scientific community. Today the work of the Academy covers six main areas: (a) fundamental science, (b) the science and technology of global questions and issues, (c) science in favor of the problems of the Third World, (d) the ethics and politics of science, (e) bioethics, (f) epistemology. The disciplines involved are sub-divided into nine fields: the disciplines of physics and related disciplines; astronomy; chemistry; the earth and environmental sciences; the life sciences (botany, agronomy, zoology, genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, the neurosciences, surgery); mathematics; the applied sciences; and the philosophy and history of sciences.
The new members of the Academy are elected by the body of Academicians and chosen from men and women of every race and religion based on the high scientific value of their activities and their high moral profile. They are then officially appointed by the Roman Pontiff. The Academy is governed by a President, appointed from its members by the Pope, who is helped by a scientific Council and by the Chancellor. Initially made up of 80 Academicians, 70 who were appointed for life, in 1986 John Paul II raised the number of members for life to 80, side by side with a limited number of Honorary Academicians chosen because they are highly qualified figures, and others who are Academicians because of the posts they hold, including: the Chancellor of the Academy, the Director of the Vatican Observatory, the Prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library, and the Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archive.
During its various decades of activity, the Academy has had a number of Nobel Prize winners amongst its members, many of whom were appointed Academicians before they received this prestigious international award. These include:
The goals and hopes of the Academy were expressed by Pope Pius XI in the Motu Proprio which brought about its re-foundation in 1936:
Forty years later (10 November 1979), John Paul II once again emphasized the role and goals of the Academy, on the 100th anniversary (centenary) of the birth of Albert Einstein:
At the time of the Pope's infamous October 1996 Statement on Evolution to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 26 of the 80 members (nearly one-third) of the Academy were holders of the Nobel Prize. That should tell you something of the quality of the science of the Academy, and maybe why Creationists are not to be found among its ranks.
Sungenis: To show the bias of the Pontifical Academy of Science, in 1982 it made a general statement to the public: '...we are convinced that masses of evidence render the application of the concept of evolution to man and other primates beyond serious doubt.'
The statement is not a "bias" -- it's simply true based on the good scientific evidence for human evolution, in particular the legitimate hominid fossils that have been unearthed the past 100 years, and the more recent molecular genetics evidence discovered the past several decades:
Sungenis: Here is the first indication that someone slipped wording into the PAS address that Pius XII did not say. Pius XII did not say that evolution was a 'serious hypothesis' and neither did he say that a six-day Creation (the only other option) was an 'opposing hypothesis.' The only time Pius XII uses the word 'hypotheses' is in a caution against allowing the assumptions of science to determine truth. He writes in Humani Generis:
Sungenis: Pius XII neither said that evolution is 'worthy of investigation' or 'in-depth study,' since those words are not found in the encyclical Humani Generis. He simply said 'Church does NOT FORBID that...research and discussions...take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution. He did not encourage it, or consider it 'worthy' or require an 'in-depth study,' but simply allowed those who wished to investigate it to do so.
First, six-day Creation is not the only other option opposing (theistic) evolution, since there are several others: progressive or old-earth creationism, and various forms of "intelligent design." Second, I'll repeat what I summarized the last time from Pius XII:
I don't think we disagree on the understanding of Humani Generis. The above summary is from an EWTN article on evolution. Some theologians try to interpret Pius XII as not excluding polygenism explicitly or altogether. The relevant sentence is this:
So Pius XII may be saying he does not see how polygenism and the truths of faith could be reconciled, but perhaps he is leaving this question open for a possible future reconciliation. For example, from The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church (1996 edition), on Humani Generis the authors / editors Fr. Neuner and Dupuis, S.J. state:
See also the EWTN article "The Credo of Paul VI: Theology of Original Sin and the Scientific Theory of Evolution" by Roberto Masi:
Sungenis: In fact, Pius XII said, if one is going to do an investigation, he must reveal the evidence for AND against evolution. Is this what we see today in Catholic circles? Not anything close. Evolution is accepted as fact among most 'investigators,' yet it doesn't have any proof.
Sungenis: Unfortunately for Mr. P.'s appeal, most Catholics who believe in evolution and teach in our seminaries and universities believe in polygenism.
That might be true, however let's try to stick with what the magisterium actually teaches. I agree many theologians do try to incorporate polygenism into their theology, and that seems (I say seems) to be disallowed by Pope Pius XII (along with the Catechism, see below), and this was discussed somewhat later by Pope Paul VI :
There is definitely some tension here between biological evolution (which seems to imply polygenism) and Catholic doctrine (which seems to exclude polygenism), but perhaps this can be worked out in the future (see the end of this article for possible solutions). Before we look at John Paul II again, I want to quote something that this Pope wrote about his predecessor Pius XII to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:
It looks like Pius XII clearly accepted a universe that is billions of years old, not a six-day creation that is a mere thousands of years old.
Pope John Paul II and Evolution
Sungenis: Unfortunately, the pope didn't specify what 'new knowledge' he has been told by his advisors that makes evolution 'more than a hypothesis.'
Sungenis: It makes little difference, since there is no 'new evidence' that makes evolution 'more than a hypothesis.' A 'hypothesis,' according to the dictionary is: 'something assumed because it seems likely to be a true explanation.' So if evolution is MORE than a hypothesis, that means it is a definition even closer to fact than a hypothesis. As such, what other level of supposition is there between a hypothesis and a fact? And what other 'new evidence' has pushed evolution out of the hypothetical realm and either into or closer to the factual realm? Would Mr. P. care to tell us?
I sure would. The new knowledge and new evidence in the fifty years since Pius XII's encyclical has come from genetics (DNA studies), many new discoveries in paleontology (the fossil record), and many fields of science. See Part 3. So we don't get confused, let's define the words "hypothesis" and "theory" as generally used in the sciences. These are from the online encyclopedia Wikipedia and www.dictionary.com an online dictionary.
A hypothesis is a proposed explanation for a phenomenon. In common usage at present, a hypothesis is a provisional idea whose merit is to be evaluated. A hypothesis requires more work by the researcher in order to either confirm or disprove it. In the hypothetico-deductive method, a hypothesis should be falsifiable, meaning that it is possible that it be shown to be false, usually by observation. Note that if confirmed, the hypothesis is not necessarily proven, but remains provisional. What makes a statement a scientific hypothesis, rather than just an interesting speculation? It must meet two requirements:
In the sciences, a theory is a model or framework for understanding. In physics, the term theory generally is taken to mean mathematical framework derived from a small set of basic principles capable of producing experimental predictions for a given category of physical systems. An example would be "electromagnetic theory," which is usually taken to be synonymous with classical electromagnetism, the specific results of which can be derived from Maxwell's equations. For a given body of theory to be considered part of established knowledge, it is usually necessary for the theory to characterize a critical experiment, that is, an experimental result which cannot be predicted by any established theory.
There are two other uses of the word theory; a supposition which is not backed by observation is known as a conjecture, and if backed by observation it is a hypothesis. Most theory evolves from hypotheses, but the reverse is not true: many hypotheses turn out to be false and so do not evolve into theory. Theories can become accepted if they are able to make correct predictions and avoid incorrect ones. Theories which are simpler, and more mathematically elegant, tend to be accepted over theories which are complex. Theories are more likely to be accepted if they connect a wide range of phenomena. The process of accepting theories, or of extending existing theory, is part of the scientific method.
In common usage a theory is often viewed as little more than a "guess" or a hypothesis. But in science and generally in academic usage, a theory is much more than that. A theory is an established paradigm that explains all or many of the data we have and offers valid predictions that can be tested. In science, a theory can never be "proven true," because we can never assume we know all there is to know. Instead, theories remain standing until they are disproven, at which point they are abandoned altogether or slightly modified.
Some examples of theories that have been disproved are Lamarckism and the geocentric universe theory (much to Bob Sungenis chagrin). Sufficient evidence has been described to declare these theories false, as they have no evidence supporting them and better explanations have taken their place.
In science, "fact" as defined by Stephen Jay Gould (somewhat facetiously) means "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent." (Evolution as Fact and Theory, Discover magazine 1981). Facts can also be considered "well-confirmed observations."
We now continue with the John Paul II statement on evolution.
Sungenis: If there are 'several theories of evolution,' then evolution cannot be 'more than a hypothesis,' since the latter would require one theory that has ascended above all the rest and to which neither the word 'theory' or 'hypothesis' can be used to describe it.
The biological theory of evolution is the best scientific explanation of natural history that we have today. So it has ascended to the top of the list. It is the only contender in science. It is "more than a hypothesis" according to John Paul II since after succeeding as a hypothesis, evolution becomes a scientific theory, which means a model or framework for understanding, or "an established paradigm that explains all or many of the data we have and offers valid predictions that can be tested." As for "several theories of evolution," what the Pope is clearly referring to are not only the proposed mechanisms, but the various materialist, reductionist, spiritualist, or theistic understandings. The biological or scientific theory of evolution is separate from whether one accepts a purely "materialist" or "theistic" interpretation of the biological theory. Biology itself would be silent on the existence of a Creator (i.e. methodological naturalism which I discuss later).
In summary, let's define again scientific hypothesis and contrast with scientific theory:
Hypothesis (or plural Hypotheses) as defined variously by the online dictionaries and used in science is
Theory as defined variously by the online dictionaries and used in science is
The Catechism and Evolution
The most relevant paragraphs are 159, and 283-284 which I have already quoted:
Sungenis: That's right. True science will never conflict with theology, but that just begs the question, does it not? Whether evolution is true science is the question at issue.
Evolution is true science, and is a true scientific theory, since it explains the data, has been observed (at least small scale), makes predictions, has confirmed those many predictions and hypotheses with tons of evidence, and evolutionary theory and common descent is the best explanation of all the facts of natural history, biology, geology, paleontology, genetics, and the related sciences that we have today. Creationism is not science since it explains none of the data, has not and cannot be observed (today or in the past), makes no predictions that are testable, forms no hypotheses that are falsifiable since they would involve the supernatural, and there is no testable or falsifiable hypothesis or comprehensive scientific "theory of creationism" ever offered. Classic six-day Creationism (including "Flood Geology") explains nothing scientifically, simply attacks evolutionary science, offers no alternative scientific theory, and hasn't been considered science for at least 150 years. Even Henry Morris and Duane Gish, two of the young-earth creationist "pioneers" of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, have plainly admitted that classic six-day "creationism" is not science:
In the classic six-day, young-earth Creationists' own words, "creationism" is not science, and can be neither a scientific hypothesis much less a scientific theory. It might be divine revelation, it is definitely religion, but it is not science. Philip Kitcher, professor of philosophy and zoology, in his demolition of Creationism twenty years ago, writes:
Evangelical geologist Keith Miller has similarly written, from a Christian perspective:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states in so many words that evolution is true science (which has splendidly enriched our knowledge of the origins and age of the earth and cosmos, the development [read: evolution] of life, and the appearance of man) and does not conflict with orthodox faith. The scientists have given us the clear data and evidence for an ancient earth and biological evolution, now it is up to the theologians to do their job reconciling this with Catholic faith.
Sungenis: But now let us look at what the Church has said before the statement 'evolution is more than a hypothesis' was uttered to the PAS in 1996.
Sungenis: Lateran Council IV and Vatican Council I assure us that all things, visible and invisible, were created in the six days of Creation week, and there is nothing being created by God at the present time.
Neither the words "six days" nor the "creation week" appear in these Council documents. On the contrary, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is quite explicit:
And since the Catechism endorses the findings of modern science (paragraphs 159, 283-284) and even quotes the Fourth Lateran Council and the First Vatican Council on creation (see paragraphs 293 and 327) we can be quite sure that a "symbolical" (as opposed to a literal) understanding of the "six days" of "creation week" in Genesis 1 is an acceptable and orthodox Catholic understanding of the text. Let's examine some of these statements:
Sungenis: Lateran IV says: Firmly we believe and we confess simply that the true God is one alone, eternal, immense, and unchangeable, incomprehensible, omnipotent and ineffable, Father and Son and Holy Spirit: indeed three Persons but one essence, substance, or nature entirely simple. The Father from no one, the Son from the Father only, and the Holy Spirit equally from both; without beginning, always, and without end; the Father generating, the Son being born, and the Holy Spirit proceeding; consubstantial and coequal and omnipotent and coeternal; one beginning of all, creator of all visible and invisible things, of the spiritual and of the corporal; who by His own omnipotent power at once from the beginning of time created each creature from nothing, spiritual, and corporal, namely, angelic and mundane, and finally the human, constituted as it were, alike of the spirit and the body. For the devil and other demons were created by God good in nature, but they themselves through themselves have become wicked. But man sinned at the suggestion of the devil.
Sungenis: Vatican Council I says: If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, as regards their whole substance, have been produced by God from nothing, or, shall have said that God created not by a volition free of all necessity, but as necessarily as He necessarily loves Himself, or, shall have denied that the world was created to the glory of God: let him be anathema.
Sungenis: In 1441, the Council of Florence stated in its decrees: "God...is the creator of all things visible and invisible, who, when he wished, out of his goodness created all creatures, spiritual as well as corporal; good, indeed...since they were from nothing..."
Neither the Fourth Lateran Council, nor the First Vatican Council, nor the Council of Florence says when God did the creating, how long that creating took, nor by what processes God did the creating. Nothing is mentioned about taking the "six days" of "creation week" literally. Reading the short excerpts from these Councils that Sungenis provides above, they do not imply a "young earth," and that is not Catholic dogma. The question of the age of the earth is of course a matter for science to discover and does not fall under the "faith" or "morals" that is the domain of the Catholic magisterium. What we do find above are the following points:
The main point here is that God is ultimately the Creator of all things. Even six-day creationists do not believe God created by direct-special creation ALL the species that exist on earth today. There are estimated to be around 1.5 to 2 million currently known species, another 10 million that haven't been discovered yet. And six-day creationists accept microevolution -- which they define as variation within the Genesis "kinds" -- as set up, overseen, directed, and "willed" by God. In fact, they believe that in less than 6000 years since the worldwide Flood of Noah, the "two" of each "kind" of animal brought aboard Noah's Ark, by normal reproduction and microevolution processes, produced the geographical distribution of the hundreds of thousands or millions of species that exist today, i.e. without God's help of direct-special creation, since all "creation" supposedly ended on "day six" around 10,000-15,000 years ago. That affirms a much more rapid and efficient evolution than even staunch "Darwinists" like Richard Dawkins or Michael Ruse would accept! In short, young-earth creationists believe all this evolution occurred in just a couple thousand years since the Flood.
Theistic evolutionists also believe God set up the natural laws and processes that allowed this earth to be populated by all the species of plants, animals, and man we have today. They accept macroevolution set up, overseen, directed and "willed" by God and that fits better the fossil record, the biogeographical evidence, the immensity and diversity of existing species, along with the "deep time" of our planet (c. 4.5 billion years old) and universe (c. 15 billion years old).
So creation "from nothing" (according to six-day creationists or theistic evolutionists) does not require that everything that exists or has existed in the history of this planet were direct-special creations, only that God ultimately is the Creator of all things from nothing. More examples could be mentioned: the development of babies bodies in the wombs of their mothers, other biological, chemical, or geological processes, the "creation" of music, art, literature, and other human "creations" etc. All of these good things God is ultimately responsible for even though these do not involve direct-special creations by a supernatural Creator, but consist of natural processes set up by God, or human beings made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) participating in God's creation and cooperating in God's creative work (Psalm 139:13-16; 1 Cor 3:9-15; Hebrews 3:3-4; etc). Direct-special creation of all things from nothing is not required for all good things to be ultimately attributed to, derived from, and created by God.
Ludwig Ott in his authoritative (even for traditionalists) Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (TAN Books, 1974, orig 1952) affirms these points (De Fide are infallible dogmas "of Catholic faith").
Ott points out that what is in view here by the First Vatican Council are those heresies of ancient pagan and gnostic-manichean dualism (where God is not responsible for the entire created world, since mere "matter" is evil not good, etc), along with modern materialism or pantheism (Ott, page 79). Biological evolution is not in view here. Further:
These are the specific De Fide statements found in Ott on "The Divine Act of Creation," pages 79-91 and both Catholic six-day creationists and theistic evolutionists would have no problem with these statements. The various Councils (Lateran IV, Vatican I, Florence, and others), the traditional statements of the Saints, Doctors, Fathers, and Scriptures are cited by Ott to document the Catholic dogma that God is ultimately the Creator of all things however He chose to do the creating (Genesis 1; Colossians 1:15ff; Hebrews 3; Psalm 19; etc)
The next section, "The Divine Work of Creation," pages 92-122 which covers the "biblical hexahemeron" (the "six days" of creation), the creation of man, Adam/Eve, original sin and the Fall, etc is where we might have some disagreements, or at least different interpretations. Ott gives the following comments on the "science" of Genesis and the Fathers, and the compatibility of biological evolution and Catholic faith:
At least the following points, among others, are accepted by Ludwig Ott. If anyone is familiar with the dogmatic sources he is, and he sees no necessary conflicts between modern science and Catholic dogma:
Sungenis: In 1860, the Council of Cologne condemned the idea of human evolution in very straightforward words: "Our first parents were formed immediately by God. Therefore we declare that...those who...assert...man...emerged from spontaneous continuous change of imperfect nature to the more perfect, is clearly opposed to Sacred Scripture and to the Faith.'
This appears to be a local response to a "materialist" theory of evolution, but a theistic conception of the theory is not incompatible with the faith. Man did not emerge by "spontaneous" change, but a change set up, overseen, directed and "willed" by God from the beginning of time. That would not be opposed to Sacred Scripture or the Catholic faith. Charles Darwin in his Origin of Species and his earlier years accepted both a Creator and an "intelligent design" brought about by natural processes set up by the Creator. There are at least seven references to a divine "Creator" in Darwin's classic, including this final sentence of the final chapter, and maintained from the second to the sixth and final edition of 1872:
See evangelical Denis Lamoureux's informative article Charles Darwin and Intelligent Design.
Sungenis: Pope Pius X in Pascendi Dominici Gregis, remarks how the theory of biological evolution has infected theological studies: "First of all they lay down the general principle that in a living religion everything is subject to change, and must in fact change, and in this way they pass to what may be said to be the chief of their doctrines, that of Evolution. To the laws of evolution everything is subject - dogma, Church worship, the books that we receive as sacred, even faith itself..."
Again, this has nothing to do with biological evolution, but concerns the heresy known as "Modernism" which arose in the late 19th, early 20th century. There is nothing here about the "six days" of "creation week." The "evolution" condemned here involves an essential change in revelation or dogma, although there is an allowed development of doctrine (as Cardinal Newman explained in his 1845 work on the subject), which means a fuller theological explanation or understanding of revelation or dogma.
The heresies of the Modernist crisis at the turn of the 20th century involved: (1) agnosticism, both in natural theology and in the symbolic, nonobjective approach to dogmatic content; (2) vital immanence, an exclusive immanence of the divine and a consequent natural vital evolution of revelation; (3) total emancipation of exegesis from dogma and of political-religious movements from ecclesiastical authority. See the articles in the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) on Modernism (volume 9, page 991ff), Pius X (volume 11, page 408ff), Lamentabili (volume 8, page 350), and Pascendi (volume 10, page 1048) which contain a brief history and description of Modernism and the heretics to whom Pope St. Pius X directed his encyclicals. Lamentabili sane exitu lists 65 condemned propositions of Modernism in summary form, for example:
None of these 65 condemned propositions have to do with biological evolution, nor about taking the "six days" of the "creation week" in a literal sense.
The Catechism and Creation
Sungenis: Pope Leo XIII, in Providentissimus Deus in 1893 stated: "The commentator...must carefully observe the rule...not to depart from the literal and obvious sense, except only where reason makes it untenable or necessity requires, a rule to which it is the more necessary to adhere strictly in these times, when the thirst for novelty and unrestrained freedom of thought make the danger of error most real and proximate."
Sungenis: Accordingly, the 1994 Catholic Catechism, in quoting St. Thomas Aquinas from the Summa Theologica, says in paragraph 116: "The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and... 'all other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.'"
Sungenis: Pope Leo also explained in the same encyclical: "Moreover, the literal sense itself frequently admits other senses, adapted to illustrate dogma or to confirm morality."
I can assume by this that Sungenis believes the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994, 1997) endorses a literal six-day creation. That is totally wrong. I will quote this paragraph again which refers to the six-day "creation week" as symbolical not literal:
The point is that everything that exists owes its existence to God, however He chose to do it, whether by direct-special creation in six days a short time ago as Sungenis believes, or by secondary natural causes set up, overseen, directed, and "willed" by God billions of years ago as theistic evolutionists like myself would accept. There are other paragraphs that imply at least some of the language in Genesis 1-3 is figurative or symbolical, for example:
This brings us to the next point. I think it is fairly clear the Catechism does teach a literal, historical Adam/Eve from which we inherited original sin. At the same time, the Catechism fully supports modern science (paragraphs 159, 283-284), the same Catechism seems to support Adam/Eve as real people. The clear references to Adam/Eve as "our first parents" and existing as a literal, historical couple include paragraphs 359 (two literal, historical men: Adam and Christ), 375-377 ("our first parents, Adam and Eve," "the first couple," "the first man"), 379 ("our first parents"), 388 ("we must know Christ as the source of grace in order to know Adam as the source of sin"), 390-392 ("our first parents"), etc. See paragraphs 355ff on the creation of man and woman, and paragraphs 385ff on the Fall. Here is a summary from this latter section:
Sungenis: There are many more such cases in anthropology, archeology, radiometrics and geology, but this one example will suffice for the present. It wouldn't be so bad, except that the evolutionists have admitted their presuppositions and that they will not change their tactics or their minds when confronted with contrary evidence to their theory of evolution. Here are a few example of their hubris: In 1929, evolutionist D. M. S. Watson, stated: 'The theory of evolution is universally accepted not because it can be proven true, but because the only alternative is special creation by God, which is clearly incredible' (Nature, Vol. 123, 1929).
Sungenis: Similarly, geneticist Richard Lewontin stated: 'We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concept that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.' ('Billions and Billions of Demons,' The New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997, pp. 28, 31).
This quote from Lewontin of a review of Carl Sagan's (the noted atheist astronomer) book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark is a seemingly "shocking" statement to Christians (the evangelical anti-evolutionist lawyer Phillip E. Johnson has referred to it several times in his writings, etc), but there is something to be said for the difference between methodological naturalism vs. metaphysical naturalism or "materialism."
When scientists such as Dawkins or Lewontin insist on or imply metaphysical naturalism / materialism they are indeed treading outside science and into philosophy. However, Lewontin could also be referring simply to methodological naturalism, that is, doing science without invoking supernatural or "divine" causes to explain things. When scientists study the workings of nature, they don't conclude "God did it" since that would be outside the purview of the natural sciences. Only "material" causes can be invoked when scientists do science, whether they be Christian scientists or atheist scientists. Science done correctly and honestly says nothing for or against the existence of God. When understood this way as referring to the methodological naturalism of science, Lewontin is correct and his statement need not be shocking or offensive to Christians.
Evangelical geologist Keith Miller has no problems with methodological naturalism, and agrees with Lewontin on the strong evidence for an old earth and evolution. See Keith Miller's compilation of essays Perspectives on an Evolving Creation (Eerdmans, 2003) and Lewontin's intro statement from Scientists Confront Creationism (W.W. Norton, 1983) that I quote near the end of Part 3.
The following is not so much a response to Sungenis but a survey of several scientists and others who accept theistic evolution or evolutionary creation, have written substantially on the topic, and present how they attempt to reconcile the theory of evolution with their own Christian faith. In its most basic definition, theistic evolution or evolutionary creation is simply "God using evolution as His main method of creation." Technically, theistic evolution is not "intelligent design" (see William Dembski, Intelligent Design , page 109-114), but I would include all Christian folks who accept both God and macroevolution as believing in some form of theistic evolution, even if they might belong to the intelligent design (e.g. Mike Behe) or Darwinist (e.g. Ken Miller) camps. There are many evangelicals and Catholics who represent various shades of this position.
Denis Lamoureux (biologist)
Evangelical Denis Lamoureux of St. Joseph's College at the University of Alberta (Canada), who has Ph.D.'s in both biology and theology, is one such person. He states in an article titled "Evolutionary Creation":
Lamoureux also notes: "Evolutionary creation best describes the official position of the Roman Catholic Church, though it is often referred to in this tradition as 'theistic evolution.'" This essay affirms that evolutionary creation:
Lamoureux comments that Genesis chapters 1-11 features three main characteristics: (1) a Divine Theology (that is God as Creator), (2) an ancient science (a flat earth and geocentric universe), (3) an ancient poetry (especially the "chiasm" in the Flood account of Genesis 6-9). God used the "science of the day" to communicate to His people His message of creation and salvation. I won't go into any interpretations of Genesis here, this is simply laying out the various views. For a full explication of his position, see his debate with Phillip E. Johnson titled Darwinism Defeated? The Johnson-Lamoureux Debate on Biological Origins (Regent College, 1999) which includes essays by several contributors from the "intelligent design" and evolutionary creation perspectives.
Darrel Falk (biologist)
Biologist Darrel Falk, an evangelical Christian who teaches at a Nazarene university, in his wonderful book Coming to Peace with Science (Intervarsity Press, 2004) has stated:
Dr. Falk is quite sure the evidence for an old earth and evolution from various branches of the sciences is overwhelming, and he presents that evidence in a comprehensive yet non-technical way. He also notes that some things are beyond the domain and testability of the natural sciences (such as the core beliefs of Christians and miracles in general). I heartily recommend his book to folks who have questions about this topic.
Keith Miller (geologist)
Evangelical Christian and geologist Keith Miller's view is that "all natural processes are the personal, purposeful act of a creator God." In an essay in the book Darwinism Defeated? (1999), Miller goes on to give his "confessional statement" on God's creative action as follows:
He then concludes: "If one accepts the above theological statements, then it seems to me that a completely seamless evolutionary history of life would be entirely acceptable theologically." (Keith B. Miller, essay "Design and Purpose within an Evolving Creation," from Darwinism Defeated? page 111). See also the book edited by him titled Perspectives on an Evolving Creation (Eerdmans, 2003) with essays by many evangelicals on evolution and Christian faith.
Two of the more popular opponents in the whole "intelligent design" vs. evolution "controversy" (at least in the public mind) today, Kenneth Miller ("orthodox Darwinist" and Catholic) and Michael Behe ("intelligent design" and Catholic), while they have their spirited disagreement and debate, they do agree on some things concerning theistic evolution:
Miller on Behe:
Dr. Behe (at least according to Ken Miller) seems to have no problem at all with human evolution, that we are related by descent with modification to the chimps and great apes. Behe also accepts the great age of the universe and earth, universal common descent (the macroevolution of plants, animals, and mankind), and says that Darwin's mechanism of "natural selection" does explain many things (see Darwin's Black Box, page 5), although not at a molecular level (e.g. the "bacterial flagellum"). Now we turn to Behe's comments on Miller.
Behe on Miller:
Dr. Ken Miller (according to Behe) accepts design built into the universe in the sense of the fine-tuning we find in the cosmos. And as Behe says, a wide range of views can be accepted within the Catholic theological tent when trying to reconcile with biological evolution (or "Darwinism" to use the detractors term). The Church leaves that open as long as we confess our faith in the God of Israel, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Creator who runs the whole show. Indeed, I am still working on my own understanding of the Fall, original sin, and Adam/Eve in an evolutionary context.
John Haught, the philosopher-theologian from Georgetown University, has written a book answering many questions on God and evolution. Some traditionalist minded Catholics might say he takes a more "liberal" or modernist view. Nevertheless, he is an important Catholic theologian today writing much on these important issues. In answer to the specific question on whether evolution rules out the existence of a distinctly human soul, he points out the difference between the "souls" or "animating principle" that animals have, and the human or "rational soul" that we homo sapiens have (a distinction he notes also made by St. Thomas Aquinas). Here is what Haught says:
I'm not sure what all this means, but to me it sounds too much like pantheism (God is all), or the "evolution of the soul" idea that Pius XII condemns. But perhaps I'm too simplistic and not sophisticated enough to understand him. Here is what Professor Haught says on original sin:
All right, if not a skin-deep biblical literalism, how should one interpret the text? Haught next responds to what he sees as the "fundamentalist" Protestant view of the Fall, and why many fundamentalists seek to deny evolution. However, I see this as the orthodox Catholic understanding of the Fall as well, and what I believe to be the position presented in the Catechism (paragraphs 416-419 above):
Okay, good -- Dr. Haught is not going to repudiate evolution (since the scientific evidence is strong), and (I hope) he's not going to repudiate original sin from Adam (since that's orthodox Catholic teaching), and he's going to answer this objection directly. However, in attempting an answer, Haught re-defines original sin, and (strangely) says that original sin is something that hasn't been clearly defined by the Church. Has he not read the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 355ff, and 416-419 above?
I would really like to see his definition of original sin in the Catechism, but I'm sorry I don't see it. My summary of the contrast here:
Haught: Original sin is not a specific act committed by a literal historical couple Adam/Eve, but refers to our general state of present human estrangement from God, from each other, and from the world. We have not inherited anything from a literal Adam/Eve, but rather have inherited environments, cultures, habits, and a whole history filled with evil and opposition to life.
Catechism: By his sin Adam, as the first man, lost the original holiness and justice he had received from God, not only for himself but for all human beings. Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendants human nature wounded by their own first sin and hence deprived of original holiness and justice; this deprivation is called "original sin." 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.") "We therefore hold, with the Council of Trent, that original sin is transmitted with human nature, 'by propagation, not by imitation' and that it is...'proper to each'" [citing Pope Paul VI, CPG 16]. (See Catechism paragraphs 355ff, and the summary I have just quoted verbatim in Catechism 416-419).
Will the real "fundamentalists" please stand up? Aside from these two (in my opinion) questionable interpretations from Haught on the soul and original sin, much of what Dr. Haught says in his book is quite useful and helpful. He does an excellent job reconciling the science of biological evolution with orthodox Catholic faith (for the most part). To be fair, everyone wondering about these questions should buy his fuller books that cover these subjects in more depth, God After Darwin (2000) and Deeper Than Darwin (2003). I don't have these books so I can't comment further on Haught's views.
Other prominent Catholics could be mentioned including physicist Fr. Stanley Jaki, author of Genesis 1 Through the Ages and many other books, and astronomer Fr. George Coyne of the Vatican Observatory, as well as all the priests, Catholic scientists (i.e. the ones who would consider themselves Catholic, not the atheists or agnostics of course), and theologians involved with the Pontifical Academy of Sciences who are all theistic evolutionists. Also, I'll mention two prominent conservative apologists:
Father Mateo, the pen-name of a priest-apologist who frequently answered questions on various issues of doctrine and theology for the Catholic Information Network, had this to say:
While not answering the specific question on how we are to understand Adam/Eve and the Fall, Father Mateo makes the obvious point that Catholics are not classic six-day creationist "fundamentalists."
Jimmy Akin, the senior apologist for Catholic Answers, and very knowledgeable in all aspects of Catholic doctrine, dogma, and liturgy, wrote this on evolution and the Magisterium:
Akin makes a couple points that bear repeating: (1) the Catechism (283-284) when talking about "scientific studies" is referring to mainstream science, not ICR, Answers In Genesis, the Kolbe Center for Creation, or other fringe pseudo-science organizations; (2) the Catechism (283-284) is making a positive comment on the theory of evolution; (3) human evolution is free with respect to orthodox Catholic sources; it is a matter that stands or falls based on the scientific evidence, and is not a matter of Catholic teaching.
Living Tradition, the traditionalist Catholic magazine, has written a series of articles on theistic evolution. While they favor direct-special creation, these traditionalists admit that theistic evolution is not necessarily opposed to orthodox Catholic doctrine, although there is much tension involved in trying to reconcile the apparent contradictions. I quote some excerpts from Fr. John F. McCarthy's article dealing with theistic evolution (November 1997 issue).
So even this traditionalist Catholic magazine recognizes at least the possible compatibility of theistic evolution with Catholic dogma. Below are some of the better articles from the issues of Living Tradition. While I think the theological content and objections contained here are quite good and challenging, in my opinion much of the "science" in these and other "traditionalist" articles is based on the same poor scholarship and pseudo-science of typical fundamentalist Protestant young-earth creationists (ICR, Answers In Genesis, "DrDino" Kent Hovind, etc). For example, McCarthy seems to endorse a young earth including the discredited (even by creationists) "moon dust" argument -- see his March 1996 article "Anti-Darwinism Today" which is a positive review of Walt Brown's young-earth creationist and error-riddled book In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood -- and suggests all ape-men hominids are frauds: "Pius XII was referring especially to speculation on the origin of the human body, and, in this regard it is noteworthy that all of the major 'missing links' that have been claimed since 1895 have in the meanwhile been discarded as errors, misconceptions, or shameful hoaxes." (from Evolution and the Truth About Man below). I'm sorry that's simply not the case and here are some prominent hominid species.
Evolution and the Truth
About Man by John F. McCarthy
Finally, the famous Harvard evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould has proposed the NOMA (the non-overlapping magisteria) idea, and does not see why there has to be a conflict between modern science and religion.
This simply echoes what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (representing the Catholic magisterium) teaches:
A more detailed explication of a "theistic evolutionary" position within Catholic faith was made by the International Theological Commission:
Pope John Paul II wrote to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on cosmology and Genesis over two decades ago:
The important parts to notice here, according to John Paul II: (1) the Bible is not a scientific treatise; (2) the main point of Genesis 1 is that God is our Creator; (3) the Scripture uses the cosmology in use at the time of the writer (not a modern cosmology); (4) the Bible wishes to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how the heavens were made; (5) any other teaching about the origin and nature of the universe is alien to the intentions of the original biblical authors.
The main theological objection to the concept of biological evolution is how to reconcile with the story of Adam/Eve, the Fall, and original sin, as we read in Genesis chapters 1-3 (and the Catechism paragraphs 355ff, see above). I won't pretend to have any comprehensive answers to these objections, although I have thought about this quite a bit. However, here are some possible answers I took from an old discussion list (I think evangelical Protestant) on creation-evolution. Someone on the list asked how to reconcile evolution with original sin, and (11) possible answers are given. First here is the question and classic theological objection:
Possible Theological Answers
This is a very important question. Even though a number of people have thought and written about this question, it's difficult to find material. The Christian books, magazines, and e-mail groups which might discuss this question are pretty obscure.
For now, I'll quickly summarize 11 ideas which I've encountered in various books and articles. All of them are suggestions for dealing with the biological and paleontological evidence while maintaining the doctrine of Original Sin and the need for a Savior. For this post, I'll just list the ideas and won't comment on which ones I believe probable or improbable, acceptable or unacceptable, or the scientific and/or theological problems faced by each idea. Maybe others in this group will want to start that discussion.
That seems a fairly exhaustive list, though I've probably missed a few.
-- from a post by Loren Haarsma on an old creation-evolution discussion board I found
Perhaps any of these can be acceptable from an "orthodox" Catholic perspective (positions 8 to 11 are a little shaky since they imply polygenism, etc) that affirms a theistic evolutionary (or "evolutionary creationist") view of natural history, and thus accepts modern science without resorting to the pseudo-science of young-earth creationism. More needs to be said in reply to the specific theological objections to the evolution of man, and maybe I will answer these in more depth in the future once I work out my own "hypothesis" solving the apparent problems. Again, these are very difficult questions I will admit.
A recent book that looks promising (I don't have it yet) written from an orthodox Catholic perspective is Origin of the Human Species by Dennis Bonnette (Sapientia Press, 2003, 2nd edition), forward by Intelligent Design advocate Michael Behe.
Another important document is from the International Theological Commission (plenary sessions held in Rome 2000-2002, document published July 2004) and signed off by Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), the President of the Commission and head of doctrine in the Catholic Church. The document is titled
COMMUNION AND STEWARDSHIP: Human Persons Created in the Image of God
Here are some relevant excerpts from paragraphs 62, 63, 64 and 69 which covers "intelligent design" and "theistic evolution."
Science and the Stewardship of Knowledge
62. The endeavor to understand the universe has marked human culture in every period and in nearly every society. In the perspective of the Christian faith, this endeavor is precisely an instance of the stewardship which human beings exercise in accordance with God's plan. Without embracing a discredited [scientific] concordism, Christians have the responsibility to locate the modern scientific understanding of the universe within the context of the theology of creation. The place of human beings in the history of this evolving universe, as it has been charted by modern sciences, can only be seen in its complete reality in the light of faith, as a personal history of the engagement of the triune God with creaturely persons.
63. According to the widely accepted scientific account, the universe erupted 15 billion years ago in an explosion called the "Big Bang" and has been expanding and cooling ever since. Later there gradually emerged the conditions necessary for the formation of atoms, still later the condensation of galaxies and stars, and about 10 billion years later the formation of planets. In our own solar system and on earth (formed about 4.5 billion years ago), the conditions have been favorable to the emergence of life. While there is little consensus among scientists about how the origin of this first microscopic life is to be explained, there is general agreement among them that the first organism dwelt on this planet about 3.5 - 4 billion years ago. Since it has been demonstrated that all living organisms on earth are genetically related, it is virtually certain that all living organisms have descended from this first organism. Converging evidence from many studies in the physical and biological sciences furnishes mounting support for some theory of evolution to account for the development and diversification of life on earth, while controversy continues over the pace and mechanisms of evolution. While the story of human origins is complex and subject to revision, physical anthropology and molecular biology combine to make a convincing case for the origin of the human species in Africa about 150,000 years ago in a humanoid population of common genetic lineage. However it is to be explained, the decisive factor in human origins was a continually increasing brain size, culminating in that of homo sapiens. With the development of the human brain, the nature and rate of evolution were permanently altered: with the introduction of the uniquely human factors of consciousness, intentionality, freedom and creativity, biological evolution was recast as social and cultural evolution.
64. Pope John Paul II stated some years ago that "new knowledge leads to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge" ("Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Evolution" 1996). In continuity with previous twentieth century papal teaching on evolution (especially Pope Pius XII's encyclical Humani Generis), the Holy Father's message acknowledges that there are "several theories of evolution" that are "materialist, reductionist and spiritualist" and thus incompatible with the Catholic faith. It follows that the message of Pope John Paul II cannot be read as a blanket approbation of all theories of evolution, including those of a neo-Darwinian provenance which explicitly deny to divine providence any truly causal role in the development of life in the universe. Mainly concerned with evolution as it "involves the question of man," however, Pope John Paul's message is specifically critical of materialistic theories of human origins and insists on the relevance of philosophy and theology for an adequate understanding of the "ontological leap" to the human which cannot be explained in purely scientific terms. The Church's interest in evolution thus focuses particularly on "the conception of man" who, as created in the image of God, "cannot be subordinated as a pure means or instrument either to the species or to society." As a person created in the image of God, he is capable of forming relationships of communion with other persons and with the triune God, as well as of exercising sovereignty and stewardship in the created universe. The implication of these remarks is that theories of evolution and of the origin of the universe possess particular theological interest when they touch on the doctrines of the creation ex nihilo and the creation of man in the image of God.
69. The current scientific debate about the mechanisms at work in evolution requires theological comment insofar as it sometimes implies a misunderstanding of the nature of divine causality. Many neo-Darwinian scientists, as well as some of their critics, have concluded that, if evolution is a radically contingent materialistic process driven by natural selection and random genetic variation, then there can be no place in it for divine providential causality. A growing body of scientific critics of neo-Darwinism point to evidence of design (e.g., biological structures that exhibit specified complexity) that, in their view, cannot be explained in terms of a purely contingent process and that neo-Darwinians have ignored or misinterpreted. The nub of this currently lively disagreement involves scientific observation and generalization concerning whether the available data support inferences of design or chance, and cannot be settled by theology. But it is important to note that, according to the Catholic understanding of divine causality, true contingency in the created order is not incompatible with a purposeful divine providence. Divine causality and created causality radically differ in kind and not only in degree. Thus, even the outcome of a truly contingent natural process can nonetheless fall within God's providential plan for creation. According to St. Thomas Aquinas: 'The effect of divine providence is not only that things should happen somehow, but that they should happen either by necessity or by contingency. Therefore, whatsoever divine providence ordains to happen infallibly and of necessity happens infallibly and of necessity; and that happens from contingency, which the divine providence conceives to happen from contingency' (Summa theologiae, I, 22,4 ad 1). In the Catholic perspective, neo-Darwinians who adduce random genetic variation and natural selection as evidence that the process of evolution is absolutely unguided are straying beyond what can be demonstrated by science. Divine causality can be active in a process that is both contingent and guided. Any evolutionary mechanism that is contingent can only be contingent because God made it so. An unguided evolutionary process -- one that falls outside the bounds of divine providence -- simply cannot exist because 'the causality of God, Who is the first agent, extends to all being, not only as to constituent principles of species, but also as to the individualizing principles....It necessarily follows that all things, inasmuch as they participate in existence, must likewise be subject to divine providence' (Summa theologiae I, 22, 2).
The theme of "man created in the image of God" was submitted for study to the International Theological Commission. The preparation of this study was entrusted to a subcommission whose members included: Very Rev. J. Augustine Di Noia, O.P., Most Reverend Jean-Louis Brugues, Msgr. Anton Strukelj, Rev. Tanios Bou Mansour, O.L.M., Rev. Adolpe Gesche, Most Reverend Willem Jacobus Eijk, Rev. Fadel Sidarouss, S.J., and Rev. Shun ichi Takayanagi, S.J. As the text developed, it was discussed at numerous meetings of the subcommission and several plenary sessions of the Commission held at Rome during the period 2000-2002. The present text was approved in forma specifica, by the written ballots of the Commission. It was then submitted to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the President of the Commission, who has given his permission for its publication.
See also the TalkOrigins God and Evolution FAQ
Now we move to the actual evidence for an old earth, the radiometric dating methods, why they are reliable, and the pathetic creationist responses to these.
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