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Aquinas v. Intelligent Design

Just came across this interesting piece by Gonzaga University philosophy professor Michael W. Tkacz. Entitled "Aquinas v. Intelligent Design," it was published in the November 2008 issue of This Rock, the magazine of Catholic Answers. Here are Professor's Tkacz's concluding paragraphs:

Both Darwinism, with its secular challenge to the unity of faith and reason, as well as the attempt of ID theorists to disprove evolutionary theory vindicate Pope Leo’s selection of Aquinas as the model for Catholic intellectuals (see "Catholic Faith and Modern Science," below). Thomism has something useful and corrective to say on both sides of the debate. At the same time, Thomism does not replace the natural sciences, or perhaps to put it better, a Thomistic intellectual synthesis includes precisely the sort of research found in the modern natural sciences that have produced so much understanding of nature. In the Thomistic view, the teachings of the faith are fully compatible with what we learn of nature through scientific research, provided we both understand those divine teachings correctly and we do our scientific research consistently and rigorously. The truth or falsity of the claim that the diversity of living species is due to some sort of evolutionary process is a matter to be settled through biological research. Whatever the outcome of this research, it can never replace the need to explain the existence of the natural world in terms of a creation ex nihilo according to God’s divine design.

Clearly, the secular claims associated with modern Darwinism require the sort of corrective provided by Thomism. Does this mean, then, that Catholics should make common cause with ID advocates? Insofar as ID theory represents a "god of the gaps" view, then it is inconsistent with the Catholic intellectual tradition. Thanks to the insights of Aquinas and his many followers throughout the ages, Catholics have available to them a clearer and more consistent understanding of Creation. If Catholics avail themselves of this Thomistic tradition, they will have no need to resort to "god of the gaps" arguments to defend the teachings of the faith. They will also have a more complete and harmonious understanding of the relationship of the Catholic faith to scientific reason.

You should read the whole thing here. I do wish, however, that Professor Tkacz had addressed the question of how the Christian should think of God's interventions in those events we call miraculous.

Comments (109)

I do wish, however, that Professor Tkacz had addressed the question of how the Christian should think of God's interventions in those events we call miraculous.

Fascinating question. My first reaction is to establish what do we mean by interventions? Suspending physical laws? (parting the red sea) or ... perfecting them (curing the blind, healing the sick, etc)

I've started to comment on this post twice now, and I think now that maybe I should wait until I finish reading The Last Superstition. I have a notion that there is a 'synthesis' between the Aristotlean view, on the one hand, and legitimate forensic skepticism of the neo-Darwinian theory (and string/'M' theory too, for that matter, though I don't know its nuts and bolts as well as biology) on more or less its own terms, on the other. But I think I'll reserve further comment for the time being, until I have something more coherent to say.

I think it is very important to remember that we are taking man's wisdom and overlaying it as a grid to judge God's wisdom (whoops!). And shouldn't all the Body of Christ (Catholic or Protestant) strive to have a apologetic that can respond to the worlds claims that only idiots are Christians?(Believe you me, I am not there yet-but I am working on it!)

The truth or falsity of the claim that the diversity of living species is due to some sort of evolutionary process is a matter to be settled through biological research.

There, look there, I found a sentence to agree with. Y'know, if Joe says your car looks like it has a leak in the radiator, it's pretty irrelevant to say, "I don't believe in a God who would allow leaky radiators. I believe in a God who allows faulty transmissions, so I think it's the transmission." It's even more pointless to continue to maintain this without in any way addressing Joe's further points regarding the symptoms of radiator leak. The question is not, in the first instance, a theological one but an empirical one.

I am not clear on exactly how Thomism could show the compatibility between the Christian idea that death enters the world through sin and the Darwinian idea that death is natural from the get-go. What is the exact "correctly understood" teaching that renders these two views compatible? I have yet to find it in Thomism.

The truth or falsity of the claim that the diversity of living species is due to some sort of evolutionary process is a matter to be settled through biological research. Whatever the outcome of this research, it can never replace the need to explain the existence of the natural world in terms of a creation ex nihilo

On a microevolutionary level, the empirical observation of intraspecies diversity as a result of genetic manipulation (deliberate or accidental) is commonplace. As for observation of a new species altogether, the incorporation of genes from into Gossypium species demonstrates that specific phenotypic variation can be both incorporated and transmitted through generations. In that sense, speciation through genetic manipulation is an empirical fact. Whether speciation happened in the manner described by palaeontologists is not empirically verifiable in the same way, of course, but it is enough to demonstrate its technical possibility.

Creation ex nihilo is a statement of faith, not an explanation.

"Creation ex nihilo is a statement of faith, not an explanation."

Actually, creatio ex nihilo is a doctrine; divine agency is the explanation. Nobody says, for example, that an innovative story is an explanation for a good novel; but we do say that an author is an explanation.

I stand corrected. Creatio ex nihilo is immanent in the Creed.

I guess the further point depends on how you define "explanation". "Divine agency" is not what would be regarded as an "explanation" in the strictly scientific sense, it is something not capable of explication in terms that can be transferred, a personal experience as it were. And I don't mean that in a pejorative sense.

"And I don't mean that in a pejorative sense."

Understood.

There are two ways one can think of this. One the one hand, one could say that "agency" cannot count as a scientific explanation. But that would mean that a better explanation for a phenomenon in some cases is a non-scientific one. Thus, so much the worse for science's prestige as the epistemological king of the hill. On the other hand, there seem to be scientific disciplines in which agency is a legitimate explanation, e.g., forensic science, archaeology, psychology, political science (e.g., rational choice theory). So, if we accept the latter, why not think that an agent sufficiently powerful to bring universes into existence did so?

For me, the question of what counts as science is a non-starter. The question is what counts as knowledge. And if it turns out that we can have a warrant to believe we know that an explanation is true, and that explanation is an agent, and science does not include agency among its explanations, then science is not the only (or even best) way we know things in all cases. The problem arises, however, when someone offers a non-agent account and claims that it is de facto superior because such an account is "science." In that case, the question is begged because the person offering this account is ignoring possible better explanations based on a metaphysical litmus test. Who would want that state of affairs?

I am glad to see the Thomistic objections to I.D. coming into a more public view. It's like seeing the Holy Boot of St. Aquinas coming out of the middle ages and giving the scientific materialism of modern Western thought a well-deserved kick in the ass.

Here's a great quote from Cardinal Schoenborn that a friend of mine sent me:

"The never ending debate, as to whether there is something like a "design" in creation, thus goes round in circles, perhaps because nowadays, whenever people talk about "design" and a "designer", they automatically think of a "divine engineer", a kind of omniscient technician, who -- because he must be perfect -- can, equally, only produce perfect machines. Here, in my view, lies the most profound cause of many misunderstandings -- even on the part of the "intelligent design" school in the U.S.A. God is not clockmaker; he is not a constructor of machines, but a Creator of natures. The world is not a mechanical clock, not some vast machine, nor even a mega-computer, but rather, as Jacques Maritain said, "une republique des natures", "a republic of natures."

In order to talk meaningfully about the Creator having a "design", we have to retrieve the concept of "nature", an understanding of which we have largely lost today, and which has been replaced by a technical and mechanistic understanding of living things." (Chance or Purpose, Pg. 98)

The truth or falsity of the claim that the diversity of living species is due to some sort of evolutionary process is a matter to be settled through biological research.

This is a red herring, so far as Catholicism is concerned.

Catholic doctrine mitigates heavily against an "evolutionary process" being responsible for the existence of man. Adam and Eve were real historical people, the first parents of the human race; polygenism is false; Eve was created directly by God, as a grown woman, without the aid of evolution; sacred Scripture is inerrant; and Genesis 1-3 is history, not fable. If you're Catholic, you will interpret your scientific knowledge in light of the Magisterium, not the other way around.

Is ID the solution? I'm not an ID expert by any means, but from what I've seen of the ID movement, it wants to fight Darwinism on its own terms, without reference to relevant knowledge such as the facts I just delineated. There's nothing wrong with that, so long as it is recognized from the outset as an incomplete argument. The Church may not do science, but she does history quite well, and the question of human origins is unavoidably historical.

Jeff C.,

I was surprised to read your comment above. Could you point me in the right direction to confirm your statement that Catholic doctrine suggests "sacred Scripture is inerrant" and "Genesis 1-3 is history, not fable"? Genesis as history seems especially problematic to a proper Catholic intellectual given its conflicting claims on how "Eve was created directly by God" and given that whether or not you accept evolutionary theory we know from scientific facts that the universe is just NOT 10,000 years old and/or just WAS NOT created in seven, 24 hour days?

These Thomists who criticize ID remind me of those fideists who accuse the Thomists and Aristotelians of reducing God to a first-mover. Both accusations are ridiculous. For, just as demonstrating that God is the first mover in no way precludes Him from also being the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, detecting evidence of intelligent design in natural things in no way precludes the intelligent designer from also being a Creator ex nihilo.

Darwinism, on the other hand, rejects the possibility of a creator in its very principles.

Jeff,
The apologetic answer to the seven day creation, as I understand it, is that the word used means unit of time. The problem being that the same word is used so that they are presumably equal units of time which conflicts with the facts of astrophysics and geology.

There is one part of the ID trial that was decisive in showing the plausibility of evolution and I don't know if ID followers have yet managed to come up with a response to it. I'll let Lydia or Frank inform us if they have. You can see a quick video of it here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXdQRvSdLAs

Could you point me in the right direction to confirm your statement that Catholic doctrine suggests "sacred Scripture is inerrant" and "Genesis 1-3 is history, not fable"?

Jeff Singer,

Try this link:

http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/p100.htm

Step2. I just watched the video. I think the professor is confusing ID with creationism. An ID advocate need not reject common descent. A creationist must. Moreover, ID advocates merely claim that they can detect design in nature that cannot be accounted for by natural selection or other material processes. The fact that chimps and human beings share portions of their genome--as the professor argues--seems not to be to the point. After all, Macs and PCs share portions of their software programming, but that does not answer the question of whether in their genesis mind preceded matter or matter preceded mind.

One of the reasons why I spend very little time keeping up with this debate anymore is that it seems like an endless game of "gotcha" without any real indication that either side wants to learn anything from the other. Take, for example, the professor in the video. Do you think it has ever occurred to him that humans and chimps are more than their genomes, that the essence of either cannot be exhaustively quantified by genetics? After all, at the level of physics, humans and chimps share 100% matter. By arbitrarily choosing genetics over metaphysics or physics, the professor gets the conclusion he wants. But it requires philosophical reflection to conclude that genetics is a better level of comparison than metaphysics or physics.

Moreover, ID advocates merely claim that they can detect design in nature that cannot be accounted for by natural selection or other material processes.

Actually, that is one part of ID that I encourage. By bringing up difficult cases they force scientists to come of with more thorough explanations instead of resting on their laurels. I know at least a couple of the irreducibly complex features that were originally brought up to refute evolution have now been scientifically explained.

Do you think it has ever occurred to him that humans and chimps are more than their genomes, that the essence of either cannot be exhaustively quantified by genetics?

Since he says he is a theist in the broadest sense I would say yes. The ID movement has made specific claims about what traits are even possible be evolutionary mechanisms. It is the scientist's job to show that they are correct or incorrect in those specific claims.

Ugh. Terrible spelling day.

Should be "come up with more thorough" and "possible by evolutionary"

So, if we accept the latter, why not think that an agent sufficiently powerful to bring universes into existence did so?

This argumentation might be getting into somewhat ambiguous territory.

Sure, one can argue from cause to effect in many areas of human activity, especially in science. And you can even make a persuasive argument from analogy with those areas. Here are two objections. One - analogy is not necessity. Occam had this to say - it is not necessary to multiply entities. In this case you propose (following Aquinas) a creative terminus to your series. But there are many series which don't necessarily have a terminus in one direction though they may have one in another - the mathematical series that ends in -1 has no first term, for example. Two - an engineer or a creator does not need to necessarily be omniscient, omnipresent etc - so a Creator is not really a definition of divinity. Its just a definition of someone who creates, or a creative process.


The problem arises, however, when someone offers a non-agent account and claims that it is de facto superior because such an account is "science." In that case, the question is begged because the person offering this account is ignoring possible better explanations based on a metaphysical litmus test. Who would want that state of affairs?

I want to second this statement of Frank's very strongly. It's just plain right. It puts succinctly one of the most serious problems with what certain people really do do in this area.

I really don't think advocates of "science" whatever that means at this historical point in time, wish to argue that agency is not a scientific explanation. If this were so, then no human behavior is explicable under any of the sciences, at least not in terms of intelligence. If teleology is never legitimatly inferred, then we have no reason for thinking that the scientists themselves are intelligent or are agents. I made this point to Kenneth Miller when he came to speak at SLU and he seemed utterly dumbfounded by it. I was suprised that he apparently never thought that on his argument that teleology and agency were not legitimate inferences from data that there would be no basis for thinking that he was intelligent.

"Genesis 1-3 is history, not fable"?

Not precisely.

CCC 390 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.264 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.

Genesis is "history" in that it relates something that happened. But it is not history in the sense that it relates what happened in modern historiographic terms.

I would likewise be extremely cautious about pressing the narrative of Genesis 1-3 into the service of anything resembling a modern historical or scientific account of human origins. Certainly the Church does not.

The author of Genesis does not think like we do and is asking very different questions. He therefore gets very different answers. Our job is to listen to him on his terms, not pressgang him into speaking on our terms.

Returning now to the second part of your post

The question is what counts as knowledge. And if it turns out that we can have a warrant to believe we know that an explanation is true, and that explanation is an agent, and science does not include agency among its explanations, then science is not the only (or even best) way we know things in all cases. The problem arises, however, when someone offers a non-agent account and claims that it is de facto superior because such an account is "science." In that case, the question is begged because the person offering this account is ignoring possible better explanations based on a metaphysical litmus test.

Again, two problems here.

One, I'd be surprised to meet any scientist who would claim that science offers final explanations, or non-agent accounts, as you put it. Explanations are part of a continuum of classifying cause and effect. So that, as techniques improve, knowledge accumulates, the depth of understanding of cause on effect grows deeper. Lets take Mendelian genetics as an example. Over the past 120 years, understanding of genetic cause and effect - which started from a macroscopic understanding has progressed steadily to an increasingly microscopic level of comprehension. One can reasonably speculate that this degree of knowledge will grow considerably deeper in the next, say, 50 years. Yet it would be incorrect to say that we do not have an explanation for genetics transmission until we can decipher cause to the boson level. Now, we could take a 'non-agent' view of same subject, postulating a divine transforming agent, for example. It might even be true. But the non-agent account remains inherently "superior" in the sense of being a part of a process that yields its secrets to experimentation and fosters the process of looking ever deeper into the cause of things.

Two, the use of the term "better" implies a standard of comparison, a process of outcome analysis with specified end points. Now non-agent causation mechanism typically have these processes inbuilt. How, then, is it possible to compare the two processes? Naturally, the claimant of the situation that agent-based causation may be a "better" explanation for something, anything, has to first come up with a method of comparing the two processes validly.

But the non-agent account remains inherently "superior" in the sense of being a part of a process that yields its secrets to experimentation and fosters the process of looking ever deeper into the cause of things.

Try that approach to any of the comments in this thread. A "non-agent account" is not inherently superior as an account of how these words got onto your screen. Insofar as describing the purely non-agent elements goes--the electrical transmission and so forth--it is not false. But any account that leaves out the person who wrote the comment and his action in so doing is also radically incomplete, and that incompleteness would become ludicrous if one tried to make some sort of in-principle argument for never mentioning the agent involved, inferring his action, or describing the agent's deliberate action as an explanation of the existence of the comment.

Jeff Singer wrote:

I was surprised to read your comment above. Could you point me in the right direction to confirm your statement that Catholic doctrine suggests "sacred Scripture is inerrant" and "Genesis 1-3 is history, not fable"?

Yes, certainly. Inerrancy has been affirmed by the Church numerous times, most succinctly by Pope Pius X in Lamentabili Sane, which condemns the following error:

“Divine inspiration does not extend to all of Sacred Scriptures so that it renders its parts, each and every one, free from every error.”

As the historicity of Genesis, here's what the Magisterium requires:

Question I: Whether the various exegetical systems which have been proposed to exclude the literal historical sense of the three first chapters of the Book of Genesis, and have been defended by the pretense of science, are sustained by a solid foundation? Reply: In the negative.

Question II: Whether, when the nature and historical form of the Book of Genesis does not oppose, because of the peculiar connections of the three first chapters with each other and with the following chapters, because of the manifold testimony of the Old and New Testaments; because of the almost unanimous opinion of the Holy Fathers, and because of the traditional sense which, transmitted from the Israelite people, the Church always held, it can be taught that the three aforesaid chapters of Genesis do not contain the stories of events which really happened, that is, which correspond with objective reality and historical truth; but are either accounts celebrated in fable drawn from the mythologies and cosmogonies of ancient peoples and adapted by a holy writer to monotheistic doctrine, after expurgating any error of polytheism; or allegories and symbols, devoid of a basis of objective reality, set forth under the guise of history to inculcate religious and philosophical truths; or, finally, legends, historical in part and fictitious in part, composed freely for the instruction and edification of souls?
Reply: In the negative to both parts.

Question III: Whether in particular the literal and historical sense can be called into question, where it is a matter of facts related in the same chapters, which pertain to the foundation of the Christian religion; for example, among others, the creation of all things wrought by God in the beginning of time; the special creation of man; the formation of the first woman from the first man; the oneness of the human race; the original happiness of our first parents in the state of justice, integrity, and immortality; the command given to man by God to prove his obedience; the transgression of the divine command through the devil’s persuasion under the guise of a serpent; the casting of our first parents out of that first state of innocence; and also the promise of a future restorer?
Reply: In the negative.

The above is from the 1909 Pontifical Biblical Commission. If Mark Shea wants to pit this against Cardinal Schoenborn's Catechism, the PBC has the greater authority.

Genesis as history seems especially problematic to a proper Catholic intellectual given its conflicting claims on how "Eve was created directly by God"...

What conflicting claims? With respect to Eve, there is only one claim that is binding on Catholics: "the formation of the first woman from the first man" pertains "to the foundation of the Christian religion" and cannot "be called into question".

...and given that whether or not you accept evolutionary theory we know from scientific facts that the universe is just NOT 10,000 years old and/or just WAS NOT created in seven, 24 hour days?

I deny that we know from scientific facts that the earth (which is the relevant theological object, not the universe) cannot be 10,000 years old or younger, or that the earth could not have been created in six 24 hour days. I don't understand how anyone can claim certainty on such things one way or the other.

I should add that age of the earth really does not touch on the historicity of Genesis. For example, Catholics are free to disagree about the length of time intended by the word "dies", or day, in the creation account. Time itself is a great mystery, and man has obvious limitations in comprehending how time exists or came into existence. We should have some humility about this.

A "non-agent account" is not inherently superior as an account of how these words got onto your screen.

That is a strange counterexample. Once agency emerges in robust form in homo sapiens, as the more recent Church statements would concur, there is cultural and social evolution (which is obviously dependent upon agency) that supersedes biological factors.

I deny that we know from scientific facts that the earth cannot be 10,000 years old or younger, or that the earth could not have been created in six 24 hour days.

Never underestimate the power of denial.

We should have some humility about this.

Some objectivity wouldn't hurt either.

Once agency emerges in robust form in homo sapiens

Whatever "emerges" might mean there as an explanation. Myself, I don't think bird flocking patters have beans to do with, say, consciousness or agency, which cannot be well described as "emergent" properties of some purely physical system.

And actually, it isn't a strange counterexample at all. I could give a lot more: Books, Volkswagons, outboard motors, and paintings. It just ain't the case that we can give a "superior" account of how these things came to exist if we eliminate agency as an explanatory category. And it would be sheer foot-stomping to say that the universe, or some aspect of the universe, _must not_ be explained by agency.

Mark Shea,

I wanted to personally thank you for your comment -- I've been checking out your website for the past year or so and it has been very helpful in introducing me to some key historical apologetic arguments. I picked up the "evidentialist" bug from the McGrews and can't read enough about what we know about the First Century A.D. and the truth claims of the NT. So the fact that you hang out over at W4 and would bother to answer my question is a real honor to me!

It does seem that your answer makes a lot of sense to me and that Jeff C. gets around to your position with his second answer to me. But his first answer, which quotes the 1909 Pontifical Biblical Commission, just confuses me more because either Genesis is historical in a modern historical sense or it's not. Years ago I asked a wise friend who was studying to be a rabbi about this very question and his answer from a Jewish perspective was similar to your answer to me -- which is that of course we can't take the OT at its literal word in every case (e.g. references to the 'hand of God' are obviously incompatible with the notion that God is incorporeal) and that what Genesis means by day and night MUST be understood in a metaphorical sense.

As for Eve, I was thinking of the different accounts of her creation provided in Genesis 1:27-28 and 2:21-23 although I suppose they can be reconciled if we think of 1:27-28 as a summary of what happens later in 2:21-23.

One, I'd be surprised to meet any scientist who would claim that science offers final explanations, or non-agent accounts, as you put it. Explanations are part of a continuum of classifying cause and effect. So that, as techniques improve, knowledge accumulates, the depth of understanding of cause on effect grows deeper. Lets take Mendelian genetics as an example. Over the past 120 years, understanding of genetic cause and effect - which started from a macroscopic understanding has progressed steadily to an increasingly microscopic level of comprehension. One can reasonably speculate that this degree of knowledge will grow considerably deeper in the next, say, 50 years. Yet it would be incorrect to say that we do not have an explanation for genetics transmission until we can decipher cause to the boson level. Now, we could take a 'non-agent' view of same subject, postulating a divine transforming agent, for example. It might even be true. But the non-agent account remains inherently "superior" in the sense of being a part of a process that yields its secrets to experimentation and fosters the process of looking ever deeper into the cause of things.

This account of the history of genetics would be incomprehensible if we left the scientists out of it. Of course, we could improve on it. But it seems unlikely that the improvement would result in the elimination of the agents that made the history of genetics possible.

Mark Shea (again),

I just realized I confused you with Mark Roberts in my mind, so while your answer to me is still much appreciated, I must confess that I haven't been to your website/blog on a regular basis and have no idea if you write about historical apologetics.

Thanks again, however, for taking the time to give me a thoughtful answer to my questions.

FWIW, I would say that it's making Genesis a lot more radically unhistorical to deny the existence of Adam and Eve as historical persons than to deny that "day" means 24-hour day. And Adam as a real person (and Eve too, for that matter) are pretty clearly assumed both by Jesus and by Paul in the New Testament.

I had an interesting conversation with the most intelligent, likeable, and honest YEC (young earth creationist) I have ever known, also a heck of a nice guy and someone I really respect, something like ten years ago now. (Frank will probably know whom I mean.) I asked him why he believes the earth is young. He told me, "Because Jesus clearly believed in a real Adam." That was only one of the reasons he gave, but it set the tone. Now, I found that unsatisfactory, because as I pointed out to him, one can take there to have been a real, historical, personal Adam while also holding that the earth is old. It's not an "all or nothing" matter.

Now, I found that unsatisfactory, because as I pointed out to him, one can take there to have been a real, historical, personal Adam while also holding that the earth is old. It's not an "all or nothing" matter.

Indeed. One could also take there to have been a real historical Adam and Eve, while also holding that genetically speaking our species has descended from a small population of humans--not directly from one couple.

Has anyone here read the late Dominican Herbert McCabe's essay 'On Original Sin', which was published in his posthumous book God Still Matters? Inspiring.

Mark Shea wrote:

Genesis is "history" in that it relates something that happened. But it is not history in the sense that it relates what happened in modern historiographic terms.

So, in your view, how does Genesis differ from, say, the Gospels of the New Testament? Do the Gospels relate historic events in "modern historiographic terms"?

You seem to be saying that there are two kinds of histories - sacred history and "modern" history - and that when these accounts conflict, it must be due to our taking sacred history too literally. I take it that you mean modern history is "literal" and pre-modern history is, well, something other than literal.

But the Church says the "literal historical sense" cannot be excluded when interpreting Genesis. It also says that other layers of meaning may also be present - the allegorical, metaphorical, etc.. As you like to say, Mark, it's "both/and" not "either/or".

But I don't see your team rooting for the "both/and" of Genesis. Rather, I see your team excluding the literal historical sense when it seems to conflict with modern scientific conclusions. Call it cherry-picking, call it cafeteria exegesis, it makes Scripture unintelligible to anyone who doesn't know the secret handshake.

Well, if there was a mitochondrial Eve, then unless she slept around there must also have been a "mitochondrial Adam", though he wouldn't necessarily be Y-chromosome Adam. (Note: by "mitochondrial Adam" I mean the father of m-Eve's children, not that his mitochondrial DNA is ancestral to every contemporary human being).

John Farrell wrote:

One could also take there to have been a real historical Adam and Eve, while also holding that genetically speaking our species has descended from a small population of humans--not directly from one couple.

Except that this opinion is false and cannot be legitimately held by Catholics. Pope Pius XII, 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 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 actual- ly committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.

Jeff S.:

Thanks. No sweat getting me confused with other Marks. In high school, I once went on a campout and *everybody* on the campout was named Mark. A very popular name in the late 50s.

As to Jeff C's reply, I have no technical expertise in how to weight various remarks made by various theological commissions, committees, bodies and task forces over the past century. But then again, I highly doubt Jeff does either. I *suspect* Jeff is being *far* too simplistic in his "Mine's bigger!" approach to the 1909 PBC findings (especially since the current Pontiff, like his predecessor, seems to have no trouble at all entertaining scientists and scholars who are, to put it mildly light years away from what Jeff, speaking as a *very* tiny minority, proclaims to be The Way to read Genesis "If you're Catholic".

All this calls for a level of expertise, not only in Scripture, but in science, in the development of biblical theology in the 20th century, and in a number of other disciplines that I, at any rate, lack and that I highly doubt will turn up in a combox. I am also, quite honestly, reflexively distrustful of approaches to interpretation of the Tradition that appear to me to be riddled with the sort of factionalist narrative ("If Mark Shea wants to pit this against Cardinal Schoenborn's Catechism, the PBC has the greater authority.") I remark on (regarding another issue) here. I frankly disbelieve in the pre- vs. post-Vatican II Magisterium narrative because I have seen it invoked far too many times to exaggerate into stark opposition what is, in fact, a recognizable and traceable development of doctrine.

So: Forgive me, but I was under the impression that it was the Catechism of the Catholic Church that teaches what I quoted, not the private hobby of a Cardinal. And I thought that the Pope (admittedly not Pius X, but still the Pope) had instructed us that it was "a 'valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion' and as a 'sure norm for teaching the faith,' as well as a 'sure and authentic reference text'". Now it *could* be that we are to regard the Catechism as simply recording Schoenborn's private theories about Genesis. But I tend to doubt this. My suspicion is that there has been about a century of theological reflection and scientific discovery under the bridge since 1909 and that a too fundamentalistic reliance on that one document as the Last Word in biblical interpretation is probably way out of sync with both JPII and Benedict's ideas on the question.

But that is just my educated guess.

Indeed. One could also take there to have been a real historical Adam and Eve, while also holding that genetically speaking our species has descended from a small population of humans--not directly from one couple.


Welll, at that point one gets into questions about what the definite description is to which one attaches the name "Adam." (And more importantly, the definite description Christ and St. Paul attached to it.) I'm inclined to say that an "Adam" who is not the ancestor of all human beings and an "Eve" who is not the "mother of all living" is sort of like a "Sherlock Holmes" who never lived at 221B Baker St.

Mark Shea wrote:

I frankly disbelieve in the pre- vs. post-Vatican II Magisterium narrative because I have seen it invoked far too many times to exaggerate into stark opposition what is, in fact, a recognizable and traceable development of doctrine.

Mark, you are the one exaggerating the stark opposition between the 1909 PBC, an arm of the Magisterium, and the 1992 CCC, which has no magisterial authority, with remarks like this:

My suspicion is that there has been about a century of theological reflection and scientific discovery under the bridge since 1909 and that a too fundamentalistic reliance on that one document as the Last Word in biblical interpretation is probably way out of sync with both JPII and Benedict's ideas on the question.

That one document is the last word on Genesis 1-3. If you can show me updated magisterial teaching on the subject - as opposed to "JPII and Benedict's ideas on the question", which are typically quite vague in any case - I'd be pleased to eat my hat.

Mark Shea wrote:

As to Jeff C's reply, I have no technical expertise in how to weight various remarks made by various theological commissions, committees, bodies and task forces over the past century. But then again, I highly doubt Jeff does either.

With respect to the PBC, perhaps you'll accept the expertise of Cardinal Ratzinger, who once chaired the commission himself:

http://tinyurl.com/ct7rgh

“We note that on the soul of this gifted man, who led an exemplary priestly life founded on the faith of the Church, weighed not only that decree of the Concistorial Congregation, but also the various decrees of the Biblical Commission - on the Mosaic authenticity of the Pentateuch (1906), on the historical character of the first three chapters of Genesis (1909), on the authors and the composition of the Psalms (1910), on Mark and Luke (1912), on the Synoptic question (1912), and so forth - impeding his work as an exegete with fetters which he deemed to be undue …”

“With the motu proprio Sedula Cura, Paul VI completely restructured the Biblical Commission so that it was no longer an organ of the Magisterium, but a meeting place between the Magisterium and exegetes, a place of dialogue in which representatives of the Magisterium and qualified exegetes could meet to find together, so to speak, the intrinsic criteria which prevent freedom from self-destruction, thus elevating it to the level of true freedom.”

So, in your view, how does Genesis differ from, say, the Gospels of the New Testament?
What part of Genesis? The part with talking snakes and a God who "rests" or the part that says Abraham came to Canaan from Ur of the Chaldees? You are asking huge and simplistic questions.
Do the Gospels relate historic events in "modern historiographic terms"?

Of course not. That does not mean they are fictional. Nor does it mean they are the same kind of literature as Genesis 1-3. No modern historian would tell the story of Christ the way the evangelists do, where one quarter of each book is devoted to a 72 hour period in the life of Jesus and the other three quarters of the book skims over about a 100 days in the life of the subject. Do *you* think that's modern historiography? More important, do you think that because it is manifestly not, that the gospels are therefore "unhistorical" or "unreliable"? I don't. Though it's quite obvious that is the corner you are trying to paint me into. The question is: "Why do you feel the need to take such a prosecutorial approach?"

You seem to be saying that there are two kinds of histories - sacred history and "modern" history - and that when these accounts conflict, it must be due to our taking sacred history too literally.

No. That's not what I'm saying.

I take it that you mean modern history is "literal" and pre-modern history is, well, something other than literal.

Again. No.

But the Church says the "literal historical sense" cannot be excluded when interpreting Genesis.

And the Church says that Genesis uses figurative language. Now it could mean that the Church contradicts herself here. Or it *could* mean that paying attention to the literal historical sense means paying attention to what the sacred author meant to say, the *way* he meant to say it, and what is *incidental* to the assertion. That means, on the one hand, that the sacred author does not intend us to believe in the existence of talking snakes (in Genesis) just as the sacred author in the gospels does not mean for us to embrace a Ptolemaic theory of geocentrism when he tells us the woman came to the tomb at sunrise.

It also says that other layers of meaning may also be present - the allegorical, metaphorical, etc.. As you like to say, Mark, it's "both/and" not "either/or".

Yep.

But I don't see your team

Note the completely unwarranted factionalism. "My team"? What "team?"

rooting for the "both/and" of Genesis. Rather, I see your team excluding the literal historical sense when it seems to conflict with modern scientific conclusions.

I don't exclude the literal sense at all. Reading scripture for the literal sense means reading it in the way it was intended to be read by the author. When Jesus tells me "I am the vine and you are the branches" I read him for the literal sense--not the literalistic sense. That is, he really means something with the image and I read him for what he means: we are utterly dependent on him. It is not reading him for the literal sense to say, "Jesus meant he is a grape plant."

Bottom line: to get at the literal sense of a text you have to do more than simply assume that every word must read literalistically. Sometimes a cigar is just a smoke and sometimes, when a writer says, "Jesus was born in Bethlehem" he obviously means "Jesus was born in Bethlehem." But when a writer record Jesus saying "I am the door" you do poorly to look for a knob on him. Likewise, when a sacred author starts off a story with a God who "rests", a snake that talks, and a description of creation that is absolutely chockablock with imagery from Tabernacle and Temple cultic ritual, it is not crazy to say we need to distinguish between "What the author said, the *way* he said it, and what is incidental to the assertion."

Call it cherry-picking, call it cafeteria exegesis, it makes Scripture unintelligible to anyone who doesn't know the secret handshake.

Rubbish. And I frankly resent the imputation of bad faith, quasi-gnosticism, and heterodoxy that suffuses this entire prosecutorial diatribe.

Jeff, speaking as a *very* tiny minority, proclaims to be The Way to read Genesis "If you're Catholic".

What precisely was wrong with Jeff Culbreath's comments?

Jeff Culbreath specifically stated:

"But the Church says the "literal historical sense" cannot be excluded when interpreting Genesis. It also says that other layers of meaning may also be present - the allegorical, metaphorical, etc.." from Jeff Culbreath's Comments


Even the Catechism states thus:

The Senses of Scripture 115 According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church. 116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal." 117 The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God's plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs. (1.) The allegorical sense
. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ's victory and also of Christian Baptism. (2.) The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written "for our instruction". (3.) The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, "leading"). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.


Of course, what does it matter what the Catechism itself specifically states in this regard as compared to what Apologetic Giants such as Mark Shea principally dictates?

Yes, Jeff. I know that you know how to cherry pick quotes that you like, even ones which, like this one, do not remotely establish the fundamentalist claims you make for how to read Gen 1-3 "if you are Catholic."

But still, I do have to wonder how it is Benedict and John Paul II are so very remote from your tiny minority opinion on this matter.

I don't claim to have this question figured out. I merely am highly skeptical that you do. And I don't much appreciate your repeated suggestion that people outside the literalistic hothouse you choose to live in are, well, not quite up to snuff as real Catholics.

Of course, what does it matter what the Catechism itself specifically states in this regard as compared to what Apologetic Giants such as Mark Shea principally dictates?
Could you show me were I rejected a word of the Catechism passage you cite? I affirm that the literal sense ("the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation") is the foundation upon which all other senses build. What I disagree with is that a literalistic reading of every text is a rule of sound interpretation.

And, by the way, as I recall, it's Jeff who dismissed it as "Schoenborn's Catechism".

And what's with the nastiness? Do I even know you, Aristocles?

Sheesh!

A "non-agent account" is not inherently superior as an account of how these words got onto your screen. Insofar as describing the purely non-agent elements goes--the electrical transmission and so forth--it is not false. But any account that leaves out the person who wrote the comment and his action in so doing is also radically incomplete, and that incompleteness would become ludicrous

Yes, that is right. And your point about agency is fully legitimate in the context of the world that we live in.

The problem comes in when you extrapolate the agency to a divinity in the context of the world.

To put the matter in another way - one infers the necessity of a watchmaker when we see a watch. But one should not use the same argument, by extrapolation as it were, to

infer
the presence of a Creator, when one sees the world. Or one can if one wants, but then one has to find an answer to the two problems that I mentioned in another post - (1) infinite regress and (2) the diminution of the attributes of divinity. I keep my faith and material explanations in separate compartments.

I deny that we know from scientific facts that the earth (which is the relevant theological object, not the universe) cannot be 10,000 years old or younger, or that the earth could not have been created in six 24 hour days. I don't understand how anyone can claim certainty on such things one way or the other.

That is an interesting viewpoint. Why do you not understand?

Is your problem with the method of demonstration of evidence? Or is it actual, factual errors in academic disciplines such as geology, or practical enterprise such as coal and oil exploration?

When Jesus tells me "I am the vine and you are the branches" I read him for the literal sense--not the literalistic sense. That is, he really means something with the image and I read him for what he means: we are utterly dependent on him. It is not reading him for the literal sense to say, "Jesus meant he is a grape plant."

I find this point somewhat disingenuous, because Jesus was making an easily recognizable allegory, just as a modern person would make one. The author of Genesis was writing a prima facie straightforward historical narrative that requires quite a stretch to be viewed as allegory. The very fact that virtually everyone accepted the literal character of Genesis 1-3 for thousands of years is clear evidence of this; the "allegory" explanation never surfaced until circumstances called for a retrenchment.

Jesus was not using allegory. He was using metaphor. In short, he was not speaking literalistically. And (I contend) it is quite on the cards to say that the author of Gen 1-3 is not speaking literalistically but is instead making a very sophisticated use of tabernacle/temple imagery to comment on our place in the universe and our relationship with God without the slightest interest in offering a quasi-scientific discourse on six literal days of creation, or primitive samples of astronomy, cosmology, biology or geology. What gives the appearance of prima facie obviousness to you is the fact that you are reading the text through your post-Enlightenment assumptions. But I see not particular reason why we have to assume that the literal meaning of the text = a literalistic reading of the text.

Jesus was not using allegory. He was using metaphor. In short, he was not speaking literalistically.

Point taken. :) But if we're going to split semantic hairs, literalism applies to a text -- I think you mean he was not speaking literally.

What gives the appearance of prima facie obviousness to you is the fact that you are reading the text through your post-Enlightenment assumptions.

Then perhaps you can explain why pre-Enlightenment readers of the text were also overwhelmingly inclined to interpret it as literal history.

But if we're going to split semantic hairs, literalism applies to a text -- I think you mean he was not speaking literally.

My purpose here is to hew as close as possible to what the Church means by the "literal sense" of the text. To do that we have distinguish it from what common parlance means by "literal". What the Church means is "What an author means to say in the *way* that he chooses to say it." So when Jesus say, "I am the door" we are *not* getting at the literal sense if we take him to mean he has a doorknob on him. In average parlance, if we say Jesus was "speaking literally" that is *exactly* what we mean.

Then perhaps you can explain why pre-Enlightenment readers of the text were also overwhelmingly inclined to interpret it as literal history.

Because a) they lived before the rise of the sciences and so took the text at face value. However, at the same time, they also were aware that the principal burden of Genesis was to tell us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go. So, in fact, what we find is just the sort of wide divergence of opinion about how to reconcile the facts of revelation with the facts of nature that we still find today.

The confidence of the faith is not that we know everything about creation from Genesis, but that ultimately nothing in revelation can contradict what is knowable via science, since God is the author of all truth. As the sciences progress and we discover that the earth is not *literally* founded on pillars, that the earth is not literally unmoveable, and that God apparently made man from the dust of the earth very slowly, the Church's grasp of revelation deepens. Or we can, if we are going to be *really* consistent, rush to join Robert Sungenis in proclaiming that a stationary, non-rotational earth is a sacred doctrine of Holy Mother Church and that NASA is part of the worldwide conspiracy of scientists to cover this up with all their fancy images plotting orbits of satellites with orbits that are bizarre-looking if you assume a non-rotational earth but just orbits once you factor in the fact that the earth is rotating. If we are going to demand a literalistic reading of Gen 1-3, then we have to be consistent and demand a literalistic reading of the repeated biblical remarks that the earth is founded on pillars and "cannot be moved".

Or, we can just face common sense and admit that Catholics are not bound by this fundamentalis hermeneutic.

By the way, perhaps this will be of interest too.

What I find fascinating is the intense need so many people have, whether on the theistic or atheistic side of the matter, to claim complete knowledge when all we mostly have is profound mystery. "I don't know. We walk in a world of wonders and mysteries" still seems to me to be a perfectly acceptable approach to so much of this.

Mr. Mmghosh wrote:

That is an interesting viewpoint. Why do you not understand?

Because, at the beginning of time and of all things, there was no such thing as nature. The Creation itself had to involve a process outside of time and nature. What does the process of bringing matter into existence from nothing look like? What does the matter itself look like? At what point did "natural processes" take over? To what extent and in what ways did the deluge - a supernatural event - change the face of the earth? I don't believe these questions can be answered with enough certainty to incorporate into one's science or theology.

Is your problem with the method of demonstration of evidence?

Very simply, my problem is with the purely naturalistic assumptions used by science to date things to their origins. These assumptions work most of the time, because the world operates naturally most of the time. But dating matter to its supernatural origins requires openness to supernatural explanations - an openness which modern science, due perhaps to intrinsic limitations, is unwilling to admit.

What does the process of bringing matter into existence from nothing look like? What does the matter itself look like?

This is a superb question that much of the Atheists and even some Christians don't rightly understand.

I, myself, have so often wondered how the notion that everything that now exists (or have existed) just popped into existence out of nothing is not as risible a notion that lightning & thunder just happens out of nowhere with nothing really responsible for causing it.

...which modern science, due perhaps to intrinsic limitations, is unwilling to admit.

This is a limitation that, unlike the state of technology that gradually is overcome by subsequent progress, cannot ever be conquered.

Does anybody really believe that we will somehow, someway in the future (when Science ultimately achieves all) discover the origins of life whereby everything came into existence?

I thereby challenge anybody to provide a compelling scientific theory as to how those original things that came to exist in life (be they whatever manner of proto-particle) had actually come into existence in the first place.

Even the ever-elusive god particle itself would have to have come from somewhere.

And it was just explained to me recently that even quantum fields are _physical entities_ about which a "where did it come from" question can be meaningfully asked, and that this is the case even if such a field is labeled a "quantum vacuum." It is a thing, even though you can't knock on it and even though it contains no particles. I never heard of a quantum vacuum before, so this was all new to me, but very interesting.

Quantum vacuum is pretty fun: it is what constitutes "completely empty" space under current physical theory. It is implied by the Uncertainty Principle, IIRC. "Virtual" particles spontaneously pop in and out of existence in the quantum vacuum all the time. The average energy remains constant at zero, but particle-antiparticle pairs appear from moment to moment in localized spots, and then crash back into each other, canceling each other out, and disappear.

What is really fun is when you combine this with a black hole. A black hole has an "event horizon". Anything that gets inside the event horizon can never get out, because the escape velocity inside the event horizon is faster than the speed of light. Sometimes a virtual particle-antiparticle pair appears such that one is inside the event horizon and the other is outside. Before they can recombine back into nothing, the one inside the event horizon is trapped and sucked into the black hole. That leaves the other one stranded - it becomes a real particle, scooting away from the black hole. The 'emission' of these particles from a black hole is called Hawking radiation, after Stephen Hawking, who first postulated the phenomenon.

That is all apropos of nothing in particular -- it is just cool, in an intensely geeky way. NB: I am not a physicist, and I don't play one on TV.

I second (a very, very distant second) everything Shea says, however, I want to add my own 2 cents, which are not as reliable.

When the ancient writer says "day" in Genesis 1, it seems to me that he means "day", not "untold ages" or "a thousand years" or anything other than "day", as the Hebrews lived their days: sunset to sunset. What it is very important to keep in mind, however, is that what the ancient writer meant by the whole Genesis 1 narrative was not what we mean by our narratives involving the Big Bang and the development of the Solar System with our attempts at precise accountings of cesium atom vibrations since specific material events. The two stories are told for entirely different purposes, and therefore there is a fundamental difference in how we interpret them. They are both, as Shea points out, told literally and refer to true things. But it is obvious - both from good Biblical exegesis that comes to grips with Temple and Tabernacle imagery in Genesis 1 and from material observation of the universe - that when we separate out the material element for greater precision in description so that we can achieve better prediction and control over the bits of the physical world that we've taken apart, then we're obviously not talking about the same thing that Moses was talking about.

There is a huge misunderstanding as to the meaning of "Intelligent Design" as the ID'ers (mostly Dembski) understand it.

Intelligent Design is not about observing order and design in the universe. That's called "common sense."

Intelligent Design is about attempting to predict the organizational limitations of any particular system. Dembski says that he can predict the organizational limitations of the Universe. He claims that he can prove that the laws of the Universe are too simple to allow anything as complex as life to develop according to those laws. Then Behe comes in and says that, in fact, he can show us structures in Nature that are too complex to have been produced by the simple set of Natural Laws we see operating in the Universe.

The problem with ID, as I see it, is: how on earth does Dembski know all the laws of the Nature and the limits of the complexity entailed within them? He can't. It's a fools errand.

Especially when scientists have shown that specified complexity can arise by a Darwinistic process in parts of a system that did not at first exhibit that complexity. This does not mean that the complexity "came from nowhere" or was not entailed by the complex nature of the system as a whole, just that Dembski can't prove what he says he can prove.

When Dembski, et al, say "Intelligent Design" they do not mean that the Universe looks ordered and designed. They're making a very specific and falsifiable argument about the limitations of a Darwinian process within a very complex system (the Universe), and they're dead wrong. They're doing nothing but imposing on a lot of well-meaning people with an equivocation.

when scientists have shown

Just amazing what you can do when "seeing" computer programs "evolve" rather than dealing with actual biological entities. If that counts as "scientists have shown" I have several bridges to sell them.

What does the process of bringing matter into existence from nothing look like? What does the matter itself look like? In physical terms, matter is just condensed energy. You could take the Genesis description of water as some sort of unstable energy field.

Here is a more interesting way to frame the question:
http://maverickphilosopher.powerblogs.com/posts/1123292283.shtml

I think that is a clever move by the theist, but ultimately it makes the problem of evil even more difficult. It may or may not include elements of heresy as well, but it does preserve divine simplicity and omnipotence.

Lydia,

You missed the point. The point was not to prove that biological systems evolved. The point was to demonstrate that one self-replicating part of a system could develop what Behe called "irreducible complexity" by a Darwinian process. If they could show that, then Behe's structures were not, in principle, impossible given that they developed in a system that was complex enough.

Therefore, if Behe wants to show that his structures are unevolvable then he needs to show that the system within which they evolved was not complex enough. I.e. the burden falls on him, not on the biologists.

ultimately it makes the problem of evil even more difficult

Exactly! Deliciously so, since meditation on the cross and Christ as present in the Universe from the very beginning provides so much more interesting food for theological speculation than trying to cram an ancient Hebrew priestly document into 21st century materialistic categories.

Lydia:

Just amazing what you can do when "seeing" computer programs "evolve" rather than dealing with actual biological entities. If that counts as "scientists have shown" I have several bridges to sell them.
This is an important point. The computer models that computational biologists use bear (or at least bore, a few years back when I was studying this at the graduate level, and still bear every time I do the due diligence) very little resemblance to what is actually going on in physical reality. I've mentioned this before, but here it is again: as far as we know random polypeptide chains of any significant length don't fold into stable native states under physiological conditions at all, let alone fold into nontoxic stable native states, let alone fold into stable native states which perform a useful function which can provide fodder for natural selection, let alone do all that and result in wholly new kinds of proteins, cell types, tissues, organs, or species. And all-atom computer models of hundred-residue chains don't even exist: they are well beyond the compute power available to present day researchers. Computerized protein structure predictions are based on lookup-table statistical analysis of homologues (I know, I had to do some in order to pass a bioinformatics course), not on any kind of at all even remotely workable model of what is actually taking place at the molecular level.

The victory party is still very, very, very premature; but if the neo-Darwinists don't keep holding it, someone might get the idea that they've been doing nothing but blowing smoke for a century or two for reasons that don't have much to do with a dispassionate search for the truth. And we can't have that.

This is an important point. The computer models that computational biologists use bear (or at least bore, a few years back when I was studying this at the graduate level, and still bear every time I do the due diligence) very little resemblance to what is actually going on in physical reality.

Zippy, this isn't the point. Yes, Nature is wicked complicated and we don't have a clue how some things are done. But the problem with Behe is that he's saying he does know, and it's impossible.

All the computer scientists were saying to Behe is that it's not in principle impossible, and if he wants to show that it is impossible in any particular case, he's going to have to do a lot more work than what he's done - as in, deduce the limits of the potential complexity entailed by the physical laws of the universe as they bear on this particular biological subsystem.

In any case, I don't understand how you can argue that our ignorance of the details of protein folding casts serious doubt on all the other manifold evidence we have for evolution, no matter who's having a party or how loud and annoying they're being.

one self-replicating part of a system could develop what Behe called "irreducible complexity" by a Darwinian process

But see, Behe or any other knowledgeable biologist will be talking about what is likely to happen in biology, in the biological world. Whether we are really talking about a "Darwinian process" (on the one hand) or anything remotely like the development of biological irreducible complexity (on the other) is in grave doubt when we are not talking about biological entities at all.

All the computer scientists were saying to Behe is that it's not in principle impossible, ...
Well, nothing at all is in principle physically impossible, because "in principle impossible" and "physically impossible" mean entirely different things. Heck, it is physically possible for a Harry Potter world to exist, where quantum fluctuations happen to make exactly the things Harry wants to happen occur just when he happens to say the spell for it. I don't find that a particularly compelling argument for the notion that neo-Darwinists know what they are talking about. I'm not an "ID guy" myself, but as far as I have been able to ascertain to my own satisfaction neo-Darwinists are, and ever have been, just blowing smoke.

StillnotKing:

I wrote a reply earlier today. The system said it was being held by The Powers that Be. Presumably they either haven't read it yet or they rejected it for reasons unfathomable to me. Anyhow, I tried.

Aristocles wrote:

This is a limitation that, unlike the state of technology that gradually is overcome by subsequent progress, cannot ever be conquered.

Perhaps so, but that is to be lamented. Objectively looking at the question of origins should involve all pertinent knowledge - scientific, historical, mythological, etc. - and for a Catholic, priority ought to be given to knowledge imparted by divine revelation and the tradition of the Church. That means, for instance, that we need not look for more than one Adam, and if "science" tells us there are many Adams, then a Catholic must suspect there is something wrong with the science.

Theistic evolutionists insist on much too radical a separation of disciplines. They say that what the Church teaches about Adam should not influence the work of scientists. But this is just crazy. If you know something is true, why would you not act upon that truth whenever it seems to matter?

Mark Shea/StillnotKing:
Mark's comment has been approved. (The SPAM filter holds up any comment with more than one link in it, which is no end of annoying, but probably less annoying than having comboxes full of SPAM).

That means, for instance, that we need not look for more than one Adam, and if "science" tells us there are many Adams, then a Catholic must suspect there is something wrong with the science.

If the impossible were to happen - The Catholic Church teaching that Adam and Eve did not exist or that Adam really means an anonymous coterie of cavemen - you would hear a high-pitched whirring issuing from the grave of St. Vincent of Lerins. The noise would be generated by him spinning faster than an anemometer atop Mt. Washington because a change in Doctrine was being reframed as a development of Doctrine.

Mark,

I'm not arguing that Catholics are bound by a fundamentalist hermeneutic. However, my point is that it's disingenuous to equate Jesus' teachings to the effect that he is a door or a vine with Genesis 1-3. The most naive person imaginable would not look for a doorknob on Jesus, whereas many -- probably most -- intelligent, capable Bible scholars of the last two millennia have read Genesis as a literal history. One can certainly construct an exegesis that it is not, but it's a second-order argument, not an obvious confusion of intent.

Very simply, my problem is with the purely naturalistic assumptions used by science to date things to their origins. These assumptions work most of the time, because the world operates naturally most of the time. But dating matter to its supernatural origins requires openness to supernatural explanations - an openness which modern science, due perhaps to intrinsic limitations, is unwilling to admit.

I think this is being unfair to science. It's an empirical discipline; scientists have to work with what they observe. In the absence of observed supernatural phenomena, which of the vast number of competing supernatural explanations should they adopt? Scientists assume naturalistic explanations, not because they have some kind of innate "bias" toward naturalism, but because there is no alternative that allows them to draw reliable & replicable conclusions.

Of course anyone is free to disagree with these conclusions, but I see no possibility of changing the way science itself is done.

I'm not arguing that Catholics are bound by a fundamentalist hermeneutic.
If you are arguing that we are *bound* to read Scripture as Jeff C says we should "if we are Catholic" then, yeah, you are.
However, my point is that it's disingenuous to equate Jesus' teachings to the effect that he is a door or a vine with Genesis 1-3.
I'm not equating them. I'm using a really clear example of reading a text for the literal sense that is not intended to be read literalistically to demonstrate that reading for the literal sense does not *have* to mean "read the text literalistically". You are a sophisticated enough user of language to recognize that when I say "'I am the door' has a literal sense" I do not mean "I think Jesus is a board made of wood." You understand *what* Jesus was saying, the *way* he was trying to say it, and what is *incidental* to the assertion. *That's* the literal sense.

I'm arguing that exactly the same problem of parsing what the author was saying, the *way* he was saying it, and what is incidental to the assertion obtains in decoding the densely layered meanings of Gen 1-3 and that a fundie exegesis is a poor tool for getting at that vastly more complex text.

It seems to me that a fundie exegesis of Gen 1-3 cherry-picks what the "prima facie" meaning of the sacred writer is and demands things like six days of creation and a real talking snake while overlooking those literalistic readings which likewise demands no continental drift and a non-rotational earth. Why? The simple answer, it seems to me, is the mere fact that we recognize "the earth cannot be moved" as an assertion ordered toward making a spiritual point ("the trustworthiness of God in creation") and have done so for long enough that we don't press the writer into the service of making cosmological and geological points he has no interest in. We've been burned by Galileo and we just don't go there (wisely). And this despite the fact that Robert Sungenis is perfectly right that zillions of commenters and Fathers simply assumed non-moving earth and a non-relativist physics till things began to change with the priest Copernicus ("if he was a Catholic"). So we do grant that real scientific knowledge can refine our understanding of a text and help us distinguish the "what is incidental to the assertion" part of the equation.

The most naive person imaginable would not look for a doorknob on Jesus, whereas many -- probably most -- intelligent, capable Bible scholars of the last two millennia have read Genesis as a literal history.

...assumed that "the earth cannot be moved" was also a simple statement--till they gained more knowledge. But as the quotes from guys like Augustine and Origen showed in the link I provided from Catholic Answers, the simplistic reading of Genesis as a primitive science text is very far from the only way the tradition has ever approached it.
One can certainly construct an exegesis that it is not, but it's a second-order argument, not an obvious confusion of intent.

It's not an obvious confusion of intent for the Fathers to assume from Scripture that the earth cannot be moved is a statement about a physical fact. It *becomes* wilful stupidity for somebody like Robert Sungenis to go on using the Fathers to maintain insistence on a non-rotating earth in a non-relativistic geocentric space once we know as much as we now know. Similarly, insisting on six literal days of creation 10,000 years ago as the thing you *should* be believing "if you are a Catholic" on precisely the same fundamentalist reading of scripture and various commenters writing before the rise of modern scientific disciplines is extremely dubious biblical scholarship, especially when real biblical scholarship is affording us all sorts of other ways of approaching the text of Gen 1-3 which respect the literal sense without in the slightest committing us to a flat-footed literalistic reading. Swatting the fruits of that away by dismissing a teaching instrument of the Church as "Schoenborn's Catechism" is not, to my mind, a productive way to proceed.

a real talking snake

Truth to tell, I don't know what the big deal is about the "real talking snake." We Christians believe in a personal devil. We believe in the possibility of demon possession. Jesus sent demons into pigs. Obviously the event with the snake would have been a (bad) supernatural one. Current empirical evidence can give us some reason to date rocks in such a way that 6-24-hour-day YEC is rendered improbable. But current empirical evidence really can't tell us much of anything about a one-time event involving Satan's making a snake talk. I'd be somewhat more sympathetic to the anti-YEC position here if it didn't have something of an air of "we don't want to look bad by agreeing with fundies" snobbery, which it seems to me is to some degree manifested in the repeated references to "a talking snake" as though this could be disconfirmed by present data in the same way that the age of the earth can be. You keep going that way, and you ought to have similar trouble with a lot of other supernatural events recounted in the Gospels themselves. The idea that "that sort of thing doesn't happen" is not supposed to be in and of itself some sort of knock-down argument against a particular non-natural event recounted in Scripture--at least not for Christians, who are not supposed to have an anti-supernatural bias of that sort.

*So we do grant that real scientific knowledge can refine our understanding of a text and help us distinguish the "what is incidental to the assertion" part of the equation.*

Many moons ago, when I was an Evangelical teaching in a fundamentalist Christian high school, I used to put it like this: Real science will never contradict the teaching of the Bible; but it may contradict some of our interpretations of the Bible, which isn't the same thing. When such a thing occurs, it doesn't mean that the Scriptures are in any way faulty, but that our interpretation of a given text may need to be adjusted.

Now, twenty years later, I'm an Orthodox, so my hermeneutic method is a lot different, but I still basically believe the same thing as far as that particular issue goes.

Lydia:

I agree that there is nothing absolutely impossible about talking snakes. And, in fact, I would agree with Jeff that while it may be a fine thing the science is constrained by an atheistic methodology that cannot invoke a deus ex machina ("then a miracle occurs!") to get over problems, it is also true that God is not bound. Sometimes, he *does* do miracles and science can just lump it when he does. But that does not mean that we can automatically assume any text with a strange assertion in it is automatically to be read as the record of a miracle or otherwise supernatural event. It may be there was a real talking snake. But then again, it may be that, as the Catechism says, Gen 1-3 is using figurative language in pursuit of other ends.

Just for the record - because Shea keeps trotting this out - I am not saying that a Catholic reading of Genesis requires belief in a 6x24 creation week. I happen to believe it myself, but I have never claimed that this is binding Catholic doctrine. I have said my piece. The Church requires obedience and fidelity to the Magisterium, which includes the 1909 PBC decrees, Lamentabili Sane, Humani Generis, and much else that mitigates against theistic evolution. Shea dismisses these teachings rather contemptuously, and that's really all I need to know.

I don't have time to interject myself into Shea's debate with Robert Sungenis and the Flat Earth Society. When he gets around to arguing with me again, perhaps I'll respond to him.

Shea dismisses these teachings rather contemptuously...
He does nothing of the kind. I for one deeply appreciated the very lengthy and thoughtful response Mark posted from his theologian friend, which added a lot of nuance to Humani Generis.

I hope he continues exploring the issue rather than riffing off attempted conversation stoppers.

John Farrell wrote:

He does nothing of the kind.

Mark Shea wrote:

My suspicion is that there has been about a century of theological reflection and scientific discovery under the bridge since 1909 and that a too fundamentalistic reliance on that one document as the Last Word in biblical interpretation is probably way out of sync with both JPII and Benedict's ideas on the question.

And he devoted an entire blog post to finding an "escape clause" for polygenists in Humani Generis. Incredible.

Shea dismisses these teachings rather contemptuously...

Shea dismisses the contemptuous remark that "if you are Catholic" you will agree that Jeff Culbreath has a lock on how to read Gen 1-3.

As to the rest, I do profess myself interested in understanding the degrees of assent required by different ecclesial documents, much as Jimmy Akin does. I don't have any hard and fast views here on the question of the merits of polygenism. I simply reject your hard and fast fundamentalist hermeneutic as the sine qua non of how to read Gen 1-3 "if you are Catholic". And I take your refusal to engage my arguments as a concession that you have no reply to what I have said about the inconsistent literalism you are employing and demand all True Catholics employ if they are to pass muster.

Tell me you *prefer* to read the text this way: fine. De gustibus. But don't tell me I *have* to read it the way you do "if I am a Catholic". I am under no such obligation and all the cherry-picked passages from Scripture and ecclesial documents in the world don't alter that.

Mark Shea Wrote:

I am under no such obligation and all the cherry-picked passages from Scripture and ecclesial documents in the world don't alter that.

Isn't that exactly what our separated brethren also say? What Luther himself said (though not in so many or precisely the same words)?

Not to engage into a discussion that would most likely deteriorate into another re-enactment of the Reformation, but I just find it highly ironic (humorous, even) that a well-known Catholic apologist to be saying precisely the same thing as would his own opponents under perhaps different circumstances, thereby justifying all the more reason why folks need not heed what the Church herself teaches in all other matters besides that concerning Faith & Morals.

In any case, I continue to stand by the subject comments originally conveyed by Culbreath himself in a previous exchange -- mind you, not his own literal gloss concerning Genesis but, more specifically, the one I myself cited previously in my own entry which seems not only more in keeping with what the Catechism teaches but also remains a more sensible method of interpreting Scripture.

Moreover, I don't believe Culbreath is demanding his interpretation as being exactly the kind all True Catholics (whoever these folks may be) must, therefore, abide less they ipso facto be damned; instead, I read him to simply mean that, as had been communicated by Culbreath himself before, the Church says the "literal historical sense" cannot be excluded when interpreting Genesis and that It also says that other layers of meaning may also be present - the allegorical, metaphorical, etc..".

Isn't that exactly what our separated brethren also say?

No. Our separated brethren would more tend to say, "I don't care if it's a dogma of Holy Church. It's not what Scripture means to me." Since we are not talking about dogma here, but about how to deal with highly nuanced interpretations of the Tradition *as faithful Catholics* who are trying to abide by Magisterial teaching while also trying to understand the degrees of assent that teaching requires, your remark makes no sense, except as an exercise in poisoning the well still further.

I don't know who you are, dude, nor why you have such hostility to me ("Of course, what does it matter what the Catechism itself specifically states in this regard as compared to what Apologetic Giants such as Mark Shea principally dictates?") But if you can't contribute to the conversation with being a jerk then could you find somebody else to sneer at?

I read him to simply mean that, as had been communicated by Culbreath himself before, the Church says the "literal historical sense" cannot be excluded when interpreting Genesis and that It also says that other layers of meaning may also be present - the allegorical, metaphorical, etc..".

And, as has been communicated before (multiple times) I do not dispute the need to read the text for the literal sense. However, you keep ignoring that so that you can get your licks in and call me a Protestant. Again, why the hostility and wilful misreading? Do I even know you?

The author of Genesis was writing a prima facie straightforward historical narrative that requires quite a stretch to be viewed as allegory.

The straightforward historical narrative was invented by the Greeks and was a genre unknown in the Syriac Civilization. There, all "history" was tendentious. Even Thucydides or Tacitus do not quite match the modern genre of "history."

St. Augustine very clearly regarded the text as being more than the historico-narrative literal sense. Read De genesi ad literam, where he points out some of the problems. (What does "evening and morning" mean when the Earth is a sphere? It's always morning and evening somewhere.) He laments the way in which some people hold the Church up to ridicule by claiming that Scripture teaches things clearly untrue to fact or reason. The Lord did not send the Holy Spirit to teach us about the courses of the sun and moon, he writes. The Lord wanted to make Christians, not astronomers. When more than one interpretation seems reasonable, do not hold one so strongly that you look like a fool when later learning shows it to be false. That is why such people lose their faith so easily.

It is also instructive to read his De doctrina christiana.
+ + +
Door... vine...

The complaint that these are "obviously" metaphors while Gen1 is not means only that certain images are recognizable as metaphorical to 21st century Westerners. It does not mean that we recognize "intuitively" through uninformed casual reading all metaphors used by Bronze Age Khapiru or by -V cent. Jewish Exiles. (Modern example: Consider the German expression: Die Kuh ist vom Eis. "The cow is off the ice." What would this mean if you read it in a text?) Among Aramaic-Syriac-speakers a "snake" is an enemy, an adversary. How fitting it should be used as a memorable image in the story of the Fall!

Folks need to distinguish between facts and truths. (My old history teacher used to say that Americans are always degrading truths into facts.) The Church, in reading Scripture, has always been more interested in the truths.

It is quite obvious that human evolution and divine creation are compatible. Not only does does Scripture say "And the seas brought forth..." or "And the earth brought forth...", but evolution deals only with the physical body. When Scripture says "Let us make man in our image," it quite clearly cannot mean the body, since God has no physical body. It can only mean the soul; and evolution does not deal in souls. (This may seem limited, but is an auto mechanic limited because he deals only with the physical car and not with the Fahrvergnuegen?)

It is also clear that the seven-day narrative in the introductory poem is an allegory of the Sabbath. God is portrayed poetically as a workman - dare we say, a carpenter? What task is worthy of such a workman? Clearly the whole kit and kaboodle (the heaven and the earth). First, the workman lights the lamp in the workshop (Day 1). Then he does the rough carpentry on the heaven (2) and the earth (3). Then he does the fine carpentry on the heaven (4) and the earth (5). Notice the classic Semitic parallelism. Then he adds the finishing touches (6). And then observes the Sabbath (7). Lesson: if even God observes the Sabbath, how can you keep your employees working?

There are a number of other truths in the passage, but at no point is it necessary to assume that they are facts.

As for Adam and Eve, the Scripture clearly indicates the existence of other people. ("Cain had relations with his wife..." Where'd this wife come from?) A single original couple seems more likely than a passel of ape-men acquiring the same mutation at the same time and place.
+ + +
I...wondered how the notion that everything that now exists (or have existed) just popped into existence out of nothing is not as risible a notion that lightning & thunder just happens out of nowhere with nothing really responsible for causing it.

We cannot help but think of "popping into existence" as an event that happens in time. But General Relativity tells us that neither time nor space have objective existence. They are a consequence of the existence of matter, not an empty stage in which matter then appears. Einstein regarded the notion of "empty space" as a contradiction in terms. For that matter, so did Aquinas and Augustine. Augustine wrote that "before creation" was absurd: "as if there could be time before there was time." The physics can only deal with the transformation of matter from one form to another; it cannot deal with the existence as such of things.

Mark Shea,

You seem to be misinterpreting my statements to an unintended and completely negative degree.

"Of course, what does it matter what the Catechism itself specifically states in this regard as compared to what Apologetic Giants such as Mark Shea principally dictates?"

That was merely something I said in jest which simply alluded to your notoriety as a Catholic apologist (hence, "Apologetic Giant").

It would be no different than my having said to a nobel prize winner in the biological sciences: "What does it matter what Darwin says in comparison to what a nobel giant like Dr. So-and-So has thus declared in his latest journal entry?"

Don't assume animosity on the part of your detractors where there is none.

Mark Shea wrote:

Shea dismisses the contemptuous remark that "if you are Catholic" you will agree that Jeff Culbreath has a lock on how to read Gen 1-3.

Jeff Culbreath says that if you are Catholic, you will read Genesis 1-3 this way:

Question I: Whether the various exegetical systems which have been proposed to exclude the literal historical sense of the three first chapters of the Book of Genesis, and have been defended by the pretense of science, are sustained by a solid foundation? Reply: In the negative.

Question II: Whether, when the nature and historical form of the Book of Genesis does not oppose, because of the peculiar connections of the three first chapters with each other and with the following chapters, because of the manifold testimony of the Old and New Testaments; because of the almost unanimous opinion of the Holy Fathers, and because of the traditional sense which, transmitted from the Israelite people, the Church always held, it can be taught that the three aforesaid chapters of Genesis do not contain the stories of events which really happened, that is, which correspond with objective reality and historical truth; but are either accounts celebrated in fable drawn from the mythologies and cosmogonies of ancient peoples and adapted by a holy writer to monotheistic doctrine, after expurgating any error of polytheism; or allegories and symbols, devoid of a basis of objective reality, set forth under the guise of history to inculcate religious and philosophical truths; or, finally, legends, historical in part and fictitious in part, composed freely for the instruction and edification of souls?
Reply: In the negative to both parts.

Question III: Whether in particular the literal and historical sense can be called into question, where it is a matter of facts related in the same chapters, which pertain to the foundation of the Christian religion; for example, among others, the creation of all things wrought by God in the beginning of time; the special creation of man; the formation of the first woman from the first man; the oneness of the human race; the original happiness of our first parents in the state of justice, integrity, and immortality; the command given to man by God to prove his obedience; the transgression of the divine command through the devil’s persuasion under the guise of a serpent; the casting of our first parents out of that first state of innocence; and also the promise of a future restorer?
Reply: In the negative

That is all. If you think you can read Genesis 1-3 the way your Church requires without turning yourself into a pretzel, more power to you.

As to the rest, I do profess myself interested in understanding the degrees of assent required by different ecclesial documents, much as Jimmy Akin does.

OK, but until you figure all of that out, why not give the Magisterium the benefit of the doubt?

I don't have any hard and fast views here on the question of the merits of polygenism.

Yes you do. You have a hard and fast belief that Humani Generis is non-binding and that polygenism is up for grabs.

Jeff Culbreath wrote:

If you think you can read Genesis 1-3 the way your Church requires without turning yourself into a pretzel, more power to you.

... but he meant to write:

If you think you can read Genesis 1-3 the way your Church requires and maintain a belief in human evolution, without turning yourself into a pretzel, more power to you.
It's not an obvious confusion of intent for the Fathers to assume from Scripture that the earth cannot be moved is a statement about a physical fact. It *becomes* wilful stupidity for somebody like Robert Sungenis to go on using the Fathers to maintain insistence on a non-rotating earth in a non-relativistic geocentric space once we know as much as we now know. Similarly, insisting on six literal days of creation 10,000 years ago as the thing you *should* be believing "if you are a Catholic" on precisely the same fundamentalist reading of scripture and various commenters writing before the rise of modern scientific disciplines is extremely dubious biblical scholarship, especially when real biblical scholarship is affording us all sorts of other ways of approaching the text of Gen 1-3 which respect the literal sense without in the slightest committing us to a flat-footed literalistic reading.

Correct, and I think we understand one another. What I am saying is that there is a difference between, on the one hand, the creation accounts, the immovable Earth, etc.; and on the other hand, the many Bible verses (Old Testament and New) in which a speaker is clearly and deliberately employing metaphor -- statements that admit of no literal reading, such as "I am the door". To someone with no scientific knowledge, it would not be at all obvious that passages in the former category are intended in any sense other than the literal, i.e. a literalistic interpretation only becomes "flat-footed" with the addition of an external source of knowledge.

You can, I hope, understand why it would disturb some people to realize that an ostensibly inerrant text, written by the Creator of the Universe, becomes either opaque or simply wrong unless correctly "interpreted" in the light of later discoveries (or, in some cases, earlier discoveries -- Aquinas was familiar with the work of the Greeks, and therefore manifestly uneasy about having Christians look stupid by arguing for Genesis literalism).

Your invocation of Jesus' metaphors reads like a backhanded attempt to say that those who read Genesis literalistically are committing a silly and childish error, that they might as well look for a doorknob on Jesus, etc. I think that is very far from the case, and indeed it strikes me as more plausible that the author of Genesis intended to set down the accurate history of the Earth as he understood it. (Of course we should really say "writer" rather than "author" -- under the religious view the author would be God; under the secular view the book is a transcription of collected folk history.) I also think it unlikely that the writer was "asking different questions" than we are. I see no reason to assume that ancient people had different motives than we do for wondering about their origins.

stillnotking wrote:

...under the secular view the book is a transcription of collected folk history...

Is this alluding to the Death of the Author or Jesus Seminar interpretation of Scripture?

Is this alluding to the Death of the Author or Jesus Seminar interpretation of Scripture?

Neither. I was referring to the way an anthropologist would read the text.

Get real people. We're decended from aliens. They were shipwrecked here on the great space cruiser Con Tiki and wiped out the Neanderthals. Thor Heyerdahl proved it back in the 70's. You guys should watch more TV.

stillnotking,

Thanks for the response.

Your statement there immediately reminded me of a certain Berkeley lecture concerning the former.

One more point: I think that when one begins arguing for an allegorical interpretation of Genesis 1-3, the slope has become fairly slippery. What (apparently) literal passage in the Bible would not then be open to reinterpretation as myth? Should one's reading of the Bible be literal [i]except[/i] in cases where modern science happens to disagree? That seems a little backward, even to an inveterate atheist such as myself, and surely represents a tying of Church doctrine to the empirical train tracks.

Aristocles offers this disingenuous rubbish:

That was merely something I said in jest which simply alluded to your notoriety as a Catholic apologist (hence, "Apologetic Giant").

Mmhmm.

Proverbs 26:19. You say I "dictate" what the Tradition means in contradiction to the Catechism. But you mean that in the nicest way possible. As I say, I'm not interested in a conversation with jerk. Still less with a dishonest jerk.

Your invocation of Jesus' metaphors reads like a backhanded attempt to say that those who read Genesis literalistically are committing a silly and childish error, that they might as well look for a doorknob on Jesus, etc.

No. As I have repeatedly said, my invocation of Jesus' figurative language is to make clear that the literal sense of a text is not the same as the literalistic reading of text. To get at the literal sense you don't just "take the words at face value". Instead, you have to figure out *What* the author was saying, the *way* he was trying to say it, and what is incidental to the assertion".

How many times do I have to repeat that before you stop telling me what I am saying and start listening to what I am saying?

Jeff Culbreath says that if you are Catholic, you will read Genesis 1-3 this way:

Precisely. Jeff grabs one proof text from an ecclessial document, declares it ironclad proof that his fundamentalist reading is the sine qua non of what makes or breaks you as a Catholic and then shouts down any discussion of how the Church's theology might have developed in the extremely eventful century since it was penned.

That is all. If you think you can read Genesis 1-3 the way your Church requires without turning yourself into a pretzel, more power to you.

I'm not sure what the italicized word is meant to suggest. I hope it doesn't suggest that the post-conciliar Church is "my" Church while the pre-conciliar Church is the real Church. I don't hold to a theory that Vatican II broke the Church in two and I should hope Jeff doesn't either.

As to the rest, I do profess myself interested in understanding the degrees of assent required by different ecclesial documents, much as Jimmy Akin does.
OK, but until you figure all of that out, why not give the Magisterium the benefit of the doubt?

Yet another example of the tendency to presume bad faith if a Catholic disagrees with Jeff's fundamentalist hermeneutic. I have never said I don't give the Magisterium the benefit of the doubt. In fact, I've been very clear that I do. All I've questioned is whether the scriptural and ecclesial texts Jeff has cherry-picked as ironclad proof that Real Catholics will agree with him really do the job he claims they do. For this sin, I have been accused of "disrespecting the Church" when, in fact, I merely am skeptical of Jeff's fundamentalist approach to scriptural and ecclesial documents (and of his tendency to sit in judgment of fellow Catholics who don't buy his private opinion as binding dogma).

Yes you do. You have a hard and fast belief that Humani Generis is non-binding and that polygenism is up for grabs.

False. As anybody who bothered to actually read me instead of reflexively polemicize would know.

Proverbs 26:19. You say I "dictate" what the Tradition means in contradiction to the Catechism. But you mean that in the nicest way possible. As I say, I'm not interested in a conversation with jerk. Still less with a dishonest jerk.

With regards to the former, where exactly have I stated thus in such explicit terms? Kindly cease with inserting words into my mouth in the manner you would so have them.

Concerning the latter, there must be a mirror from which you are forming such accurate assessment of your own behaviour in the matter which is so ostensibly foul in your having viciously (as well as quite uncharitably, I might add) painted the authentically traditional views of Jeff Culbreath as nothing more than sheer draconian tyranny marked with a kind of utterly unacceptable & simplistic devotion to hsitorical magisterial teaching that surely must be mistaken or done away with completely under the rubric of an entirely new, modern & more convenient interpretation.

Aristocles: Thanks for your input.

Zippy's already pointed out the m-Eve idea. I'll add this:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080130170343.htm

Blue eyes come from a common ancestor. Ok, so there's some evidence that it's possible there was only one couple represented by Adam and Eve.

Jeff's pointed out that the historical sense of Scripture can't be overlooked. Fair enough, but you then have to look at how history was written at the time the OT was first put to paper. Modern history is done differently.

It seems to me that Adam and Eve were historical figures. But I've never been so keen on the detailed "how" of creation as the "why" of it. Specifically, I think what happened to Adam and Eve after the Fall is far more interesting.

Could it be, just for the sake of a little thought experiment, that God didn't just knock A&E out of Eden and drop them into the Mesopotamian wilderness? Perhaps He instead dropped them into a different existence 400,000 years ago, closely resembling existing animals, and they themselves reduced to a savage existence. Or maybe they were dropped into a near-savage existence at the dawn of Homo Sapiens.

God's a pretty powerful guy. He could have done any number of things. And he probably has a pretty good sense of humor too, watching you guys trying to figure out exactly how he pulled off the big switcheroo.

A little mystery is a healthy thing. (The attitude toward your fellow man as expressed by some comments here is rather less healthy.)

It seems to me that Adam and Eve were historical figures. But I've never been so keen on the detailed "how" of creation as the "why" of it.

At a figurative level the story of Original Sin provides some practical wisdom about childhood development. Born in nakedness and innocence the outside world intervenes with subtle knowledge and temptation and we fall short and disobey authority. As punishment, innocence once lost can never be fully recovered and we clothe ourselves in shame and acute awareness of mortality.

Or (switching to TV myths) the island on Lost could be Eden and its strange properties required Adam and Eve to leave before they could reproduce.

St. Thomas has a marvelous account of the transmission of original sin, which makes clear that even though the sin traces back to a single man as to its origin, the mode of transmission is not as clear as one might think. Physical generation only transmits sin in the order of instrumental causality: that is, the sorts of things that genetics studies are the tools which one soul (Adam's) used to transmit corruption to another soul (like, say, mine)

http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2081.htm

When genetic things are relegated to the mere status of tools of another power, (see the later question 83 for this) it might be helpful not to look to genetic transmission to find the origin of the thing one is looking for.

And before anyone jumps on the things that Aquinas says about transmission that do point to the genetic propagation of sin, you don't need to quote them at me. I agree that St. Thomas thinks that monogenism is necessary. But his explanation of original sin, especially so far as he brings out the role that the will has to play in its propagation (and it is meaningless to speak of sin of any kind outside the will) brings in an element that is usually lacking from the conversation.

One line of Genesis exegesis I'm looking into takes for granted that man, simply left to his human nature, is unable in concrete terms to avoid sin for very long. Adam was a savior man, a proto-Christ priest, specially formed and endowed with the power to preserve man from the sins which, in concrete terms, they could not avoid for very long. He failed.

One thing that this reading has going for it is that Genesis seems to speak of other people being around the garden. One hypothesis to explain this was to say that everyone inter-bred. Another hypothesis is to make them those whom Adam was supposed to lead to a merely natural happiness (which, again, I think is impossible in concrete terms without some special divine help). After Adam's fall, there was no more help in the natural order for man, and the nature that we were left to transmit to others was unfailingly a source only of corruption and death. God's response to our blowing our first chance at merely natural happiness was -incredibly- to give us a chance to attain the beatific vision, which exceeds unimaginably any merely natural happiness.

But if all this is a heresy, don't go putting my name on it. I think its one way of making sense of Genesis, Christ and Paul. Death really does come through one man- one actual historical man. Death really is transmitted by nature from one man to his progeny. And, as a luck coincidence (wink wink) I get to confirm some of my thoughts about the possibility and structure of human nature, natural happiness, and the concrete unavoidablity of sin for man in a merely natural state. As for the monogenism/polygenism debate, I want to give science a few hundred years to make up its mind first. Plenty of theories have lasted longer than the present one.

And before anyone jumps on the things that Aquinas says about transmission that do point to the genetic propagation of sin, you don't need to quote them at me. I agree that St. Thomas thinks that monogenism is necessary. But his explanation of original sin, especially so far as he brings out the role that the will has to play in its propagation (and it is meaningless to speak of sin of any kind outside the will) brings in an element that is usually lacking from the conversation.

One line of Genesis exegesis I'm looking into takes for granted that man, simply left to his human nature, is unable in concrete terms to avoid sin for very long. Adam was a savior man, a proto-Christ priest, specially formed and endowed with the power to preserve man from the sins which, in concrete terms, they could not avoid for very long. He failed.

This is an excellent point, James. I can't help thinking McCabe, a lifelong teacher of St. Thomas' philosophy, had something similar in mind when he wrote "On Original Sin" in his collection God Still Matters.

Well, I'm not sure about it. I'm not terribly comfortable with the position since it's new. There is a tremendous amount of difficulty in this question. When Aquinas speaks about the transmission of original sin, you get a sense that he was aware of how easy it was to get the question wrong, and just how difficult it is.

Given that everyone agrees that there is some transmitted sin in the nature of man, and that it back to some aboriginal choice, we might set out 2 propositions, which, even if they are obviously wrong, might help to clarify the issue:

1.) If one man at the origin of the race can be the source of a sin of nature, why not more than one?

We have no scriptural evidence for more than one, however, except that there seem to be others around in the narrative, usually explained as unmentioned children.

2.) How about this: Adam was commanded to heal a given wound of nature, and failed. All the results are therefore his fault.

The difficulty is that he wasn't commanded, and he's not portrayed as a savior or priest.

How about asking the question from another angle: since it is given that the Adam/Eve story uses mythical elements, what parts of the story are not historic? Is there a clear standard to distinguish mythical and historic elements? Doesn't science, text criticism, rock dating, etc. become indispensable here? Or is this to make too sharp a line between mythical elements and historical ones?

It's a very difficult question.

Mark Windsor,

The attitude toward your fellow man as expressed by some comments here is rather less healthy.

And your Model for Soundness is a Catholic who maliciously (and, furthermore, condescendingly) puts down a fellow Catholic for simply abiding by the traditional magisterial teachings of the Church?

When did Catholicism become so radically revised so as to allow or even promote such flagrant violation of one of its principle constituents which make up the very heart of its Tradition which has lasted for over 2000 years, part and parcel of that very patrimony inherited from generations past which find their authority and origin in the Apostles themselves, to whom Christ Himself had so ordained thus?

If strict adherence to the Magisterial, or perhaps even the traditional teachings of the Magisterium themselves, are found to be so intolerably obsolete and repugnantly distasteful for you and yours, might I suggest that one need not even remain a Romanist in the first place but that there are other, more accommodating options out there that may very well fulfill one's own particular cravings, especially if all those obnoxious passages from Scripture and ecclesial documents in the world are deemed to be so needlessly restricting where only the likes of those God-awful True Catholics would abide by them?

And your Model for Soundness is a Catholic who maliciously (and, furthermore, condescendingly) puts down a fellow Catholic for simply abiding by the traditional magisterial teachings of the Church?

Aristocles -

At what point did I say that Mark Shea (or anyone on this thread) is my "Model for Soundness"?

Quite frankly, Aristocles, if you were to actually read that comment, I didn't direct it at you. It was directed both to you and Mr. Shea. I think you're both engaging in rather boorish behavior. At no point did I single you out for anything. I simply expressed an opinion and closed with a comment directed at - pretty much - everyone in attendance.

If strict adherence to the Magisterial, or perhaps even the traditional teachings of the Magisterium themselves, are found to be so intolerably obsolete and repugnantly distasteful for you and yours, might I suggest that one need not even remain a Romanist in the first place but that there are other, more accommodating options out there that may very well fulfill one's own particular cravings, especially if all those obnoxious passages from Scripture and ecclesial documents in the world are deemed to be so needlessly restricting where only the likes of those God-awful True Catholics would abide by them?

You go entirely too far. "You and yours"? I made no comment whatsoever about any Magisterial document. How dare you imply that I woudl think any passage of scripture obnoxious when you don't even know me from Adam. You assume much and offend deeply.

You want to know the biggest difference between you and Mark Shea? I've told Shea a time or two that he's gone too far with his verbal attacks. He's always acknowledged it and regretted it. You, on the other hand, damn the messanger.

Ari:

I'm going to suggest again that if you intend to keep commenting here, when you attribute things to someone, quote what you are responding to specifically and respond to it specifically. Because I'm just not seeing any connection between your rants and what people have actually written. And you perhaps may remember that that - attributing your own ravings to other people - is something for which I myself have a very low tolerance.

Mark Windsor,

Although you may have my sincerest apology, yet I see none here extended by the man himself toward the Culbreath fellow, whose only offence in the matter was having simply remained faithful to a traditional teaching of the Magisterium which he was wont to do given his fervent devotion to his Catholic Faith.

I hope you are able to understand why I find Mark Shea's demonstrably abhorrent treatment of Jeff Culbreath in this matter particularly disturbing and enormously distasteful (if not, even impinging upon the lines of being itself heretical insofar as his seemingly perverse and, not to mention, condescending treatment of such fidelity to the fundamental crux of Catholicism, the Magisterium, as herein displayed) -- not only because he professes himself to be a Catholic but, even more significantly, also claims to be one the Church's own apologists; in which case, better that we now begin henceforth to hail as Great Saint Martin Luther himself in place of the ever trite and tedious likes of a John Cardinal Fisher or even a Sir Thomas More, whose own respectively profound fidelity to such Tradition seems but one of those silly things only those True Catholics would do – much like their acts of martyrdom which were, in all actuality, nothing more but an unnecessary degree of assent to traditional church teaching.

However, enough of that needless dribble which too often serve as merely deplorable tangents to satisfy the primitive senses after having suffered so blatant an offence, which we need not now continue wallow herein or once more waste neither words nor wits.

The purpose of this very thread is perhaps better served if left to the more esteemed and erudite, such as Dr. James Chastek & John Farrell, whose blessed company we find ourselves now so duly graced.

I'm unaware of any demand for an apology from Jeff, nor am I aware of any need for one. I retract nothing of what I said to you, Aristocles. I don't know what prompts your snottiness, but I feel no obligation to try to engage it.

Also, just to be clear, I have, in the past, made rather clear that I don't claim to be "one of the Church's own apologists".

People call me an apologist. I generally don't call myself one, because I primarily think of myself as an amateur teacher.

The emphasis is on *amateur*.

Anyhow, the conversation seems to have run its course and is now very far afield from the original point. Combox entropy is funny stuff.

John Farrell: One line of Genesis exegesis I'm looking into takes for granted that man, simply left to his human nature, is unable in concrete terms to avoid sin for very long.

Chesterton makes an interesting comment near the end of Heretics in which he points out that "a permanent possibility of selfishness arises from the mere fact of having a self." It seems to me that there's a theory about the transmission of Original Sin lurking in here. Perhaps with some help from personalist philosophy? While Adam was enjoying his preternatural gifts that included fellowship with God, his gaze was held, so to speak, and he was prevented from sinking into a state of sin. Once that vision was broken, and man out of fellowship, then all children who are born out of that fellowship, share in the same problem.

It might conflate Original Sin and concupiscence, however, so ... take the idea as you will. It'll need a good bit of fleshing out.

James Chastek: [Adam's] not portrayed as a savior or priest

Au contraire. The beginning Genesis accounts are full of priestly tabernacle-temple imagery (as Shea points out). Adam is quite definitely a priest.

I personally love the idea that the Garden was planted as a place for Adam to exercise his priesthood until his time of probation was at an end and he was fully mature enough to undertake the Edenification of all the rest of the cosmos.

We are the linchpin of creation and we failed, so "creation groans."

Jeff Culbreath

You didn't answer the question. Your statement

I deny that we know from scientific facts that the earth (which is the relevant theological object, not the universe) cannot be 10,000 years old or younger, or that the earth could not have been created in six 24 hour days.

To reformulate your assertion:

1.

We do not know from scientific facts that the earth cannot be 10,000 years.

My question:

1. Do you question the facts themselves - from the relevant disciplines?
As an example, let us look at the impression of a fern in a seam of coal - (image taken from encylopedia britannica)
http://media-2.web.britannica.com/eb-media/40/59240-003-47F11657.gif
Do you contend that such images are not factual?

2. Do you question the interpretations of the facts?
There is a theory in paleontology that avers that the coal seam in question arose as a result of a process that took considerably longer than 10,000 years. Do you dispute this aspect of the theory? If so, what are the (1) your technical objections and (2) do you have an alternative theory?

2.

the earth could have been created in six 24 hour days

I assume you believe this to be fact. Many people, however, now and in the past, believe that the earth was derived from a golden egg billions of years in the past. My question is this. What are the criteria that give greater credibility to your belief?

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