Sunday, July 29, 2007

Benedict on Evolution

Pope Benedict XVI recently gave a talk in which he brought up the pertinent point that belief in a Creator does not exclude belief in some kind of evolution, and evolution does not need to imply a rejection of a Creator. This is an important point to make, especially as the so-called opposition between creationism and evolution so often clouds the debate on human origins and the proper interpretation of Genesis 1. Benedict is here reminding us of what Pius XII taught in Humani Generis: that it is permissible to acknowledge that some sort of evolution of the form of the human body took place, so long as one asserts the unique creation of the human soul directly from God, the historicity of Adam and Eve and the reality of original sin.

However, this grudging admission of evolution as a possibility (Benedict says there are good scientific grounds for evolution, which I think he is dead wrong about) is something novel to the Church. While we may be allowed to believe in a limited evolution, Church Tradition clearly favors an immediate Creation (versus an evolutionary one) with fixity of species (versus an elasticity of species). Church Tradition is solidly behind species being fixed, and we ought not to rashly abandon 2,000 years of tradition just because the Pope tells us it is permissible to believe in evolution under certain circumstances. That is the problem with today's Catholics: we take what is granted permissively as an exception and make it the rule.

Just because the Pope says we may consider evolution a viable hypothesis does not mean we all need to jump to embrace it; indeed, the willingness with which so many Catholic priests, bishops and lay people accept the provisionary indult to believe in a limited evolution demonstrates how eager the current Catholic culture is to embrace modernism. And that certainly is a problem.

Click here to read the Pope's comments.

9 comments:

Call Me Ishmael said...

I know you see all the comments so I'll not be reserved about posting this in such a obscure place, yet I would very much enjoy an answer seeing as I am experiencing much doubt right now and am neck-deep in sin.

I was thinking about your articles on creationism, evolution, et cetera and focused on death. How do we exactly know that death entered through the sin of Adam into the world? After all, the serpent says "thou shalt not die the death," indicating a clear knowledge of what death is and their exception from it. Also, the very existence of the Tree of Life, of which fruit they should never age and not die, directly implies death and aging and even sickness is already present as it saves them from it. Not to mention the very Garden itself. If the entire world was a paradise and there was peace in the hearts of all animals, no death and no danger - what would be the point of the exceptional earthly paradise of the Garden of Eden in the first place?

BONIFACE said...

Ishmael-

We know death entered through the sin of Adam because this is the Church's teaching and the teaching of Paul in the Epistle to the Romans.

Regarding how they know what death is, some postulate that (a) they did no know what death was, only knew that it was bad, or that (b) they knew what death was because they witnessed it in animals - only humans were created exempt from it, and it was human death that entered the world through Adam.

The Garden of Eden (Paradise)I think is not a specific singled out space, but is really how the entire world was before the Fall, though I am not sure on this.

Call Me Ishmael said...

(b) is exactly what I am saying. Exempt from it by the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is key here. You go on to say that the Garden is not a specific singled out space, but this doesn't really go well with this space marked out by the rivers, and the angel who is set to guard the way to the Tree of Life which is in the middle of the Garden, they both being cast out from the Garden. Not to mention that it doesn't exactly concur with tradition.

I am terribly torn on all of this. It seems to be both creationists are overly literal and evolutionists overly ambiguous. I need to figure this out before I can have any basis of my faith. If Genesis is hogwash, it's all hogwash. If Genesis is unreasonable out of a more or less literal view, then why not all of the other books? There's no rest for the wicked, I suppose.

Thanks for answering, though.

BONIFACE said...

Ishmael-

You are right that Eden itself is a literal place; what I mean is that Eden was not the only Paradise - the whole world was Paradise, but Eden was the special place where God established mankind.

I do not believe man had eaten from the Tree of Life prior to the Fall. Man's original immortality was conferred because that is how he was created by God, not because of any tree he ate from. One thing we do not know if to what degree the tree of life and the tree of good and evil are literal trees. I am afraid that there is no way to attain the kind of certainty you are looking for.

I agree that Genesis must be the bedrock, that "if it is hogwash, it all is hogwash," but there is no way to know with precision what level of literalness we read these texts with, and even Church Fathers have disagreed. There is a core of historic truth in them for sure - have you read Humani Generis by Pius XII? There is states clearly that Adam and Eve are to be understood as literal, historic individuals.

Call Me Ishmael said...

Oh, I am glad we sorted out that misconception. Seems odd to me, though. Why'd we need a paradise in paradise?

You argue that the entire world was created in six days, because the Bible says so, but we don't know if the two trees are actual, literal trees? Shouldn't it be the other way around? I've never doubted the tempting serpent (though I've had sleepless nights about how or what it is) or the very real-ness of the juicy, red apple. Now you're telling me we're not sure about that?

What I know is that it's called the Tree of Life, and Christ refers to us gaining eternal life as "eating from the Tree of Life," and that the Douay-Rheims commentary reads: "So called because it had that quality, that by eating of the fruit of it, man would have been preserved in a constant state of health, vigour, and strength, and would not have died at all."

I know it's a diverse and confusing question, but I am a convert. Or, converting. What lead me this far into belief is reason and knowledge and love of truth, and these same things are now drowning me in despair and doubt. I won't get out until I've figured all of this out. It disturbs me greatly, because I feel as if I have to decide between 1) chosing blindness and accepting it literally and therefore throwing away the principles that got me this far to begin with, ie pulling away the carpet from under me, 2) going fully with evolution which doesn't seem compatible fully with it, and which I no longer truly can follow, or 3) accepting some silly ambiguous stuff which is the ground to all the confusion in the Church to begin with.

It's a living hell. It seems to me that the only thing I can chose is number 3, which physically hurts, but at the same time it does seem like Genesis has always been mind-boggling even for the Fathers and saints throughout the ages. I just can't accept a religion where it's very Creation story doesn't make any sense. It's most disturbing because I've already come really far, only to be yanked out like this. At least, yes, I do find some comfort that it is declared that at least Adam and Eve are literal, historic figures. That gives one somewhere to stand.

BONIFACE said...

Ishmael-

Did I argue in favor of a literal six days somewhere? I don't recall.

Regarding the Douay statement, ""So called because it had that quality, that by eating of the fruit of it, man would have been preserved in a constant state of health, vigour, and strength, and would not have died at all.", that can all be good and true, but Genesis does not state that man actually ate from that Tree in the beginning, nor do any saints or theologians I know of, modern or ancient, take that the passage from Revelation about eating from the Tree of Life is literal; that we will actually eat from a tree, although I grant there is no reason why we can't.

I do not think this should be a "living hell" for you. I cannot make a lot of sense of Revelation, the book that describes the end. It does not cause me to lose faith, and perhaps, likewise, the fact that Genesis is somewhat obscure should not cause us to lose faith either. Very great men, like St Augustine, struggled with how to understand this book. Your desire to firmly commit to one single interpretation, and basing your conversion and peace of heart upon it, might be misguided.

BONIFACE said...

Ishmael-

Did I argue in favor of a literal six days somewhere? I don't recall.

Regarding the Douay statement, ""So called because it had that quality, that by eating of the fruit of it, man would have been preserved in a constant state of health, vigour, and strength, and would not have died at all.", that can all be good and true, but Genesis does not state that man actually ate from that Tree in the beginning, nor do any saints or theologians I know of, modern or ancient, take that the passage from Revelation about eating from the Tree of Life is literal; that we will actually eat from a tree, although I grant there is no reason why we can't.

I do not think this should be a "living hell" for you. I cannot make a lot of sense of Revelation, the book that describes the end. It does not cause me to lose faith, and perhaps, likewise, the fact that Genesis is somewhat obscure should not cause us to lose faith either. Very great men, like St Augustine, struggled with how to understand this book. Your desire to firmly commit to one single interpretation, and basing your conversion and peace of heart upon it, might be misguided.

Call Me Ishmael said...

God says that they should eat from all the trees of the Garden (except the Tree of Knowledge). Does it really need to say that "they then ate the fruits"? I do not believe that Revelation means that we'll eat of the Tree of Life in heaven, not at all. It's used figuratively later because it has the same effects, eternal life, it's paradise etc.

I remember some articles about dino's and man and stuff. We could take Flood as another example (something I don't have any problems with). I am just trying to imply the absurdity of being so firm about certain things that can seem odd today and at the same time being so light on others. It seems unnecessarily confusing. Is there any problem with the Tree of Knowledge and the apple being real? If not, there is no reason to be ambiguous about it and a literal interpretation should be encouraged.

Revelation is mystic to its nature and no one has never insisted it is meant literally because it cannot be read literally, unlike Genesis. I know about St. Augustine, and I wish I had his faith. The problem for me is, as I described, I have come this far in faith by principles that are not putting me at odds with it (again), and, unlike as there have been before, I cannot find a way through it. That is the hell I am describing.

Call Me Ishmael said...

I apologize for the spelling errors and poor formulations. I had to write the last post in a hurry.

Y'know, we could just let the fists solve this.