Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Does the Church teach spontaneous Creation?

Everybody agrees that the theory of evolution, in its atheist-materialist form, is a pernicious evil and a grave threat to the Catholic faith. However, I also find very suspect the notion of "theistic" evolution which has become popular in Catholic (and some Protestant) circles in the past few decades. I for one am distressed by the seeming joy with which Catholics embrace evolution. If one compares the Church's statements on evolution throughout the years, we see a basic shift in the way the whole notion is approached. In the pre-Vatican II period, evolution is approached with a great caution, and the circumstances under which a Catholic can entertain it are greatly minimized.

However, since the 1960's, and in part due to the corrupting yet pervasive influence of Teilhard de Chardin, the Church at large has shifted its thinking on this matter to a minimalist approach which emphasizes the execptions and the loopholes. We see a similar trend has happened regarding salvation outside the Church: while it was always admitted that it was possible for persons not formally admitted to the Church to be saved, the pre-V2 Church tended to emphasize the normative means of salvation within the Church while acknowledging that invincible ignorance or baptism of desire is possible, while the post-V2 Church emphasized invincible ignorance and baptism of desire until everyone was practically an anonymous Catholic, and the extraordinary was exalted about the ordinary.

If we apply this to evolution, modern Catholics tend to feel a sense of relief when they find out that they can still entertain evolution under certain conditions. "Whew! I am sure am glad I'm not bound to believe that six-day creation stuff!" But are you? Is theistic evolution a permissible thing to believe in?

For too many, the Church's statements on evolution are confined to Humani Generis and John Paul II's address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the latter of which can in no way be interpreted as an "update" of the Church's teaching. Let's look at two examples of Catholic teaching on evolution from the 19th century.

First, we have this explicit statement from the provincial Council of Cologne in 1860, which was held the year after Darwin's Origin of Species was published. In that Council, it was declared that "Our first parents were formed immediately by God. Therefore we declare that...those from spontaneous continuous change of imperfect nature to the more perfect, is clearly opposed to Sacred Scripture and to the Faith." Granted this is not an infallible statement from a pope or council, but it is a teaching of the ordinary magisterium which reflects the mind of the Church at that time. Clearly, the Church of 1860 thought that the idea of "continuous change" in man was opposed to the Faith.

Ten years later, we come to this famous statement from the First Vatican Council:

If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, as regards their whole substance, have been produced by God from nothing, let him be anathema.”

This statement is much more weighty than the first, as it comes from an ecumenical council and anathematizes anyone who would deny it. It's impact on theistic evolution comes with the clause "as regards to their whole substance." Clearly, theistic evolutionists do not deny creation ex nihilo, nor the special creation of man by God, nor God's creation of the immaterial along with the material. But what they do deny is that creatures, and mankind specifically, was created at once by God "as regards their whole substance."

What is implied by this phrase, "their whole substance?" This is a disputed point, but to me it seems pretty clear. Substance is the essence of what a thing is, everything that makes it itself and not something else. So, the substance of man is human nature. Therefore, Vatican I teaches, everything that pertains to human nature was created directly from God out of nothing. This implies two things: one, the first man had everything pertaining to human nature and was in all ways a whole man, "with regards to [his] whole substance." Second, that this whole substance was created directly by God out of nothing, which precludes the possibility that the body could have evolved from earlier life forms, since that would not be "produced from God out of nothing."

But perhaps one will say that everything proper to human nature (free will, intellect, and immortal soul) was created directly by God in the first man, but that the material element alone evolved (as Pius XII seems to indicate it is permissible to explore in Humani Generis). To this I would reply that we do not take a Cartesian view of man. Vatican I says man, as pertains to his whole substance, was created by God ex nihilo. Free will, intellect, and the soul are some of the most excellent things about man and pertain to his higher calling, but they are not the totality of human nature, for part of human nature is to have a body, since man is a composite being.

The human body itself is part of the substance of man, which Vatican I says was created in its "whole substance" directly by God ex nihilo. Therefore we cannot hold that one part of man's substance evolved while another was created immediately.

Therefore, it seems to me that the Church, in its official declaration of Vatican I and in the statement that came out of the Council of Cologne, condemns any evolution whatsoever, especially atheistic but also theistic. Opposition to this view from theistic evolutionists revolve around a different interpretation of that clause, "with regards to their whole substance," in sayng that it is not meant to refer to the body, but some other part of man. But it seems to me that substance encompasses the term "body" within it, since to be man is to be embodied.

I do not think the Church has ever mandated that one believe any certain time for when this Creation happened, but it seems rather likely that immediate, spontaneous Creation is a de fide dogma. Any comments?


Anselm said...

One of my profs in a Physics class argued on philosophical / theological grounds that macro-evolution is indeed a fact.

Anselm said...

We argued (respectfully)...

Anonymous said...

Well, after taking a bio 101 class, I found the majority of the facts to be simply propaganda, for example, by using postulates for evolution to indeed prove it. However, a few cases were hard to argue against: when two different flower species were introduced into an ecosystem, a new hybrid species was found two decades later, supposedly proving that a "new" species developed. Personally, I am skeptical even of this.

To me, St. Augustine's works on Creation would be very interesting to look into, especially his theory of "seeds" becoming life forms, in his "Literal Commentary on Genesis" (hard to find, though some St. Thomas quotes some of this in the Summa, I.45 when he discusses creation).

One other fact: whenever any scientist just doubts some aspect of darwinian evolution, he is immediately ostracized, which can only confirm that the powers that be want this theory to be propagated, perhaps even knowing that it is false.

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

God created EVERYTHING (that is, the totality of existence) ex nihilo, but the Bible doesn't say He created every single thing individually ex nihilo, does it?

From Genesis 1 we learn: He commanded the EARTH to bring forth vegetation. He commanded the WATERS to bring forth swarms of living creatures. He commanded the EARTH to bring for living creatures.

From Genesis 2 we learn: He formed he beasts of the field and the birds of the air from the ground. He formed the first Man from the ground! He formed the first Woman from the Man. This is not ex nihilo... it's special creation, certainly, but not ex nihilo.

So where does that leave us? Not every THING was created at the same instant, since we are told of the stages of creation. But before Adam was formed from the clay of the earth (or "primeval ooze" as it is called nowadays), can Man be said to have existed in substance? Did Man exist between the time God formed the body and the time He blew into its nostrils the breath of Life?

I think we will find that, as specific as the Church's language is regarding creation, it is not explicit and complete enough so as to rule out a theistic "evolution", a development of life from life. However, such a theory does not ever rule out special creation.

That's just my thoughts on the matter... I hope I'm not straying into heresy!

Anonymous said...

"This statement is much more weighty than the first, as it comes from an ecumenical council and anathematizes anyone who would deny it. It's impact on theistic evolution comes with the clause "as regards to their whole substance." Clearly, theistic evolutionists do not deny creation ex nihilo, nor the special creation of man by God, nor God's creation of the immaterial along with the material. But what they do deny is that creatures, and mankind specifically, was created at once by God "as regards their whole substance." "

Could one not say, that for God, it was all created at once with the seed he planted at the beginning of time? In the same manner, are not all of our lives (everything in our lives) happening constantly and always to God, the very millisecond after the egg is "sprayed" (I don't know the english word). and our life is formed?

Mitch Turbablanca said...

Old Post but w/e

When Vatican I says the whole substance of everything was created ex nihilo why not intepret it more sensibly God did not create using some kind of formless Prime Matter, but ex nihilo created the forms and matter of all creation.

Occasionally a new substance arises that was never there before. Take the mule. The mule's matter was not created ex nihilo when the first mule was made, but God either directly or indirectly (by positing it virtually in the horse and donkey) created the form of the mule. The matter of the first mule was at some point created ex nihilo, but that was historically before the first mule.

Likewise, God made Adam out of dust in Genesis. Ott doesn't believe this excludes the possibility of man's body being made from pre-existing organic matter; after all a dead body can be called "dust". Regardless, the material cause of Adam was there before the form of Adam was. When God ex nihilo created the form of Adam, He imparted it to previously ex nihilo created matter. Ultimately Adam was entirely created ex nihilo, but just like the mule this does not entail his material cause and formal cause were instantaneously created. Though unlike the mule we know de fide that God directly created the formal cause of man.