Living Tradition
Editor: Msgr. John F. McCarthy, J.C.D., S.T.D.Distributed several times a year to interested members.
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No. 120Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study ProgramNovember 2005


by John F. McCarthy

1. Christoph Cardinal Schönborn gave a lot of encouragement to believers in the account of creation in the first chapter of Genesis, when, in a short article published in July 2005 in The New York Times, he supported the design that is evident in the natural world, as opposed to the supposed emergence of the world and of all living biological beings purely at random by an upward evolutionary force. But the article caused an "uproar" in the United States, because the backers of the theory of evolution had already understood Pope John Paul II to have declared, in his Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on October 22, 1996, that "new items of knowledge lead to recognizing in the theory of evolution more than an hypothesis," and that the Darwinian theory of evolution was, therefore, now accepted by the Catholic Church, whereas Cardinal Schönborn now seemed to be saying that the Church no longer accepted Darwinian evolution but supported rather the theory of intelligent design. Cardinal Schönborn, in this article, classified the statement of Pope John Paul II about "more than an hypothesis" as rather unimportant, especially because the Pope did not define therein what kind of "evolution" he meant. Indeed, the Message of John Paul II was a combination of dialogue and teaching, a dialogue "between the Church and science," in which "the exegete and the theologian must keep informed about the results at which the natural sciences are arriving." Pope John Paul had noted that, "following a series of discoveries in various disciplines of knowledge," the theory of evolution "has progressively established itself in the minds of researchers," and that "the convergence, neither sought after nor provoked, of the results of work that was conducted independently constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory."

2. When Pope John Paul II called the theory of evolution "more than an hypothesis," he was speaking, not as a teacher but rather as a churchman in dialogue with men of natural science who had told him what was commonly impressed upon their minds. This form of dialogue frequently takes place in the contemporary Church, utilizing a certain degree of trust in the testimony of the dialoguing partners, but what the partners say is not in itself a guarantee of objective truth. John Paul went on to advise his partners that "caution must be used when there is rather question of hypotheses having some sort of scientific foundation, in which the doctrine contained in Sacred Scripture or in Tradition is involved." He averred that "If such conjectural opinions are directly or indirectly opposed to the doctrine revealed by God, then the demand that they be recognized can in no way be admitted." And Pope John Paul II recalled the teaching of Pope Pius XII in Humani generis that the evolution of the human body "should not be adopted as though it were a certain and proved doctrine and as though one could totally prescind from Revelation with regard to the questions it raises."1 Pope Pius XII had appealed in behalf of "that sound philosophy" which "acknowledged by the Church, safeguards the genuine validity of human knowledge, the unshakable metaphysical principles of sufficient reason, causality, and finality, and, finally, the mind’s ability to attain certain and unchangeable truth." In Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII had declared that the idea of the evolution of the human body may be studied as an hypothesis not based upon clearly proven facts, while in the Message of 1996, Pope John Paul II, in effect, declared that the idea of the evolution of the human body may be studied as a theory not based upon clearly proved facts. And he went on to explain that there are actually many theories of evolution, deriving, not only from the diversity of explanations advanced for the mechanism of evolution, but also from the various philosophies on which it is based, such as materialist, reductionist, and spiritualist. Pius XII had stressed in Humani generis the essential point that "if the human body takes its origin from pre-existing living matter, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God." In like manner, Pope John Paul II added in this Message that theories of evolution which consider the spirit of man as emerging from the forces of living matter "are incompatible with the truth about man."

3. The recent news is that Cardinal Schönborn, in a lecture published by his office on October 4, 2005, and summarized in a news report put out by Reuters Religion Editor Tom Heneghan on October 5, 2005, has tempered and clarified his stand, stating that he could believe both in divine creation and in the evolution of living organisms on earth, as he says: "I see no problem combining belief in the Creator with the theory of evolution, under one condition – that the limits of scientific theory are respected." He explains that science studies only what is observable, and that scientists overstep the boundaries of their discipline when they conclude that evolution proves that there was no Creator. The Cardinal maintains that "It is fully reasonable to assume some sense of design, even if the scientific method demands restrictions that shut out this question." In his lecture, he even gave tribute to the accomplishment of Charles Darwin, as he declared: "Without a doubt, Darwin pulled off quite a feat with his main work, and it remains one of the great works of intellectual history."

4. According to a report in The London Times, the Catholic Bishops of England, Scotland, and Wales have published an instruction entitled The Gift of Scripture2 in which they acknowledge their debt to modern Scripture scholars and declare that the first eleven chapters of Genesis cannot be considered historical in the modern sense of history. They have "rediscovered the Bible as a precious treasure, both ancient and ever new." Averring that the words of the Bible must be approached in the realization that it is "God’s word expressed in human language," and declaring that the Catholic Church must present the Gospel in ways that are "appropriate to changing times, intelligible and attractive to our contemporaries," they point out that "We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision." While many Catholic and many non-Catholic Christians support a literal interpretation of the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, the bishops of the United Kingdom go on in the document to condemn this Fundamentalism for its "intransigent intolerance," and warn of "significant dangers" inherent in this Fundamentalist approach. The bishops compare the first eleven chapters of Genesis with early creation legends from other cultures in the ancient Near East, and they claim it to be clear that the primary purpose of these chapters was to provide religious teaching and not genuine history. The conclusion of the bishops is that "Such symbolic language must be respected for what it is, and is not to be interpreted literally."

5. I don’t know whether the London Times’ report on this instruction of the British bishops is completely accurate, but the fact remains that, until a few decades ago, all Catholics believed in the historical truth of the first eleven chapters of Genesis, and this is still the official teaching of the Church. Indications regarding the proper sense of these words were given by the Pontifical Biblical Commission in its response of 30 June 1909 On the Historical Character of the First Three Chapters of Genesis. The Commission declared a) that those pseudoscientific exegetical systems elaborated for the purpose of "excluding the literal historical sense of the first three chapters of Genesis" are not based upon solid arguments (EB 324; DS 3512); b) that these three chapters contain "a narrative which corresponds to objective reality and historical truth" and not "legends partly historical and partly fictitious" (EB 325; DS 3513); c) that we may not call into question the "literal and historical meaning" of facts narrated in these three chapters "which touch the fundamental teachings of the Christian religion, as, for example, the creation of all things which was accomplished by God at the beginning of time, the special creation of man, the formation of the first woman from man, the unity of the human race, ..." (EB 326; DS 3514); d) that not each and every word and phrase in these chapters need necessarily be interpreted "in a proper literal sense, so that it is never lawful to deviate from it, even when expressions are manifestly used figuratively, that is, metaphorically or anthropomorphically, and when reason forbids us to hold, or necessity impels us to depart from, the proper sense" (EB 328; DS 3516); e) that, since it was the intention of the sacred author of the first chapter of Genesis "to furnish his people with a popular account, such as the common parlance of that age allowed, one, namely, adapted to the senses and ability to understand of the people," we are not strictly and always bound, when interpreting these chapters, "to seek for scientific exactitude of expression (scientifici sermonis proprietas)" (EB 330; DS 3518). Similarly, in Pope Pius XII’s 1950 encyclical letter Humani generis, it is declared that "the first eleven chapters of Genesis, although, properly speaking, not conforming to the historical method used by the best Greek and Latin writers or by competent authors of our time, do, nevertheless, pertain to history in a true sense, which, however, must be further studied and determined by exegetes; the same chapters, in simple and metaphorical language adapted to the mentality of a people but little cultured, both state the principal truths which are fundamental for our salvation, and also give a popular description of the origin of the human race and the chosen people (EB 618)."3 Most probably this is what the bishops of England, Scotland, and Wales are saying in The Gift of Scripture.

6. The Dogmatic Constitution of the Second Vatican Council on Divine Revelation (no. 11) states that "the books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully, and without error, teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation ("nostrae salutis causa") wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures" (Dei Verbum 11). The meaning of the words "for the sake of our salvation" was discussed by the Fathers of the Council, and, in order to give fuller assurance that these words in no way limited the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture to statements pertaining to its salvific purpose, they added footnotes referring to St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, the Council of Trent, the encyclical letter Providentissimus Deus of Pope Leo XII, and the encyclical letter Divino afflante Spiritu of Pope Pius XII. The reference to Providentissimus Deus declares that "it is absolutely wrong and forbidden either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture or to admit that the sacred writer has erred. As to the system of those who, in order to rid themselves of these difficulties, do not hesitate to concede that divine inspiration regards the things of faith and morals, and nothing beyond, because, as they wrongly think, in a question of the truth or falsehood of a passage, we should consider, not so much what God has said, as the reason and purpose which he had in mind in saying it – this system cannot be tolerated" (EB 124). Some say that this teaching of Pope Leo XIII was changed by Pope Pius XII, but the reference to Divino afflante Spiritu included in Dei Verbum by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council restates the teaching of Pope Leo XIII in the following words: "The first and greatest care of Leo XIII was to set forth the teaching on the truth of the sacred Books and to defend it from attack. Hence, with grave words did he proclaim that there is no error whatsoever if the sacred writer, speaking of things of the physical order ‘went by what sensibly appeared,’ as the Angelic Doctor says, speaking either ‘in figurative language, or in terms which were commonly used at the time, and which in many instances are in daily use at this day, even among the most eminent men of science.’ For ‘the sacred writers, or to speak more accurately – the words are St. Augustine’s – the Holy Spirit, who spoke by them, did not intend to teach men these things of the universe – things in no way profitable to salvation’; which principle ‘will apply to cognate sciences, and especially to history,’ that is, by refuting, ‘in a somewhat similar way the fallacies of the adversaries and defending the historical truth of Sacred Scripture from their attacks.’ Nor is the sacred writer to be taxed with error, if ‘copyists have made mistakes in the text of the Bible,’ or, ‘if the real meaning of a passage remains ambiguous.’ Finally, it is absolutely wrong and forbidden ‘either to narrow inspiration to certain passages of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred,’ since divine inspiration ‘not only is essentially incompatible with error but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true. This is the ancient and constant faith of the Church" (Divino afflante Spiritu 4 – EB 539).4

7. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the unique place occupied by the first three chapters of Genesis where it says: "Read in the light of Christ, within the unity of Sacred Scripture and in the living Tradition of the Church, these texts remain the principal source for catechesis on the mysteries of the ‘beginning’: creation, fall, and promise of salvation" (CCC 289). The Catechism later on speaks of symbolic language where it says: "Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine ‘work,’ concluded by the rest of the seventh day" (CCC 337). In fact, Catholic biblical tradition, beginning from Sacred Scripture itself and then from the Fathers of the Church, is filled with allusions to the symbolism in these chapters of Genesis, but the Catechism does not go on to say that the account of creation is not also to be interpreted literally. In the traditional Catholic approach, the symbolism of the spiritual sense is seen to be based upon the historical truth of the literal sense.5

8. Those who believe in a Darwinian-type upward transformation of species as brought about by a potency placed originally in matter by the power of God are known as theistic evolutionists. They tend to accept almost everything that atheistic Darwinians say about the evolution of species, but they add the condition that it was planned by God from the beginning. Almost all Catholic evolutionists are of this type, and most Catholics, or at least most educated Catholics, are now theistic evolutionists, including the clergy. Catholic theistic evolutionists almost always base their adherence to the theory of evolution on trust in what they are taught in school or in the media together with the deduction that the theory is not out of keeping with the dogmas of the Faith, as long as God is believed to be the ultimate cause. But rarely do theistic evolutionists ensure their adherence to the theory by taking a serious look at the imposing array of scientific arguments that exist in refutation of the theory.6 To take one example, in the fossil record, after the unearthing and examination of millions of fossil forms, not one transitional form has been identified, apart from a handful of specimens that are all contested as being misreadings or hoaxes. Now, we would not like to think that scholars and researchers would perpetrate a hoax, but many there have been, and to take the case, for instance, of famous missing links in the "evolution of man," I might quote from what W.R. Thompson says in his "Introduction," written in 1956, to a new edition of Darwin’s Origin of Species,: "The success of Darwinism was accompanied by a decline in scientific integrity. ... A striking example, which has only recently come to light, is the alteration of the Piltdown skull so that it could be used as evidence for the descent of man from the apes; but even before then a similar instance of tinkering with evidence was finally revealed by the discoverer of Pithecanthropus [Java man], who admitted, many years after his sensational report, that he had found in the same deposits bones that are definitely human."7 Add Nebraska man and Peking man to this list of fraudulent missing links in the evolution of man. Again, evolutionists hold that evolution is ongoing, yet of the immense number of species living now on earth, not one species or even one organ of a species is known to be in transition to become something else. When Pope Pius XII allowed Catholics to take an interest in the theory of evolution, he made the following proviso: "However, this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation, and measure."8 I have never seen or heard of a book in which a supporter of the theory of evolution seriously tried to answer the list of arguments that disprove the theory. Molecular biologist Michael Denton (not a believer in divine creation) reviewed all of the evidence presented from the various fields of science in favor of the Darwinian theory of evolution and concluded that no solid new evidence has been found since the time of Darwin and that the evidence that Darwin presented has been refuted by subsequent discoveries, especially in microbiology.9 What then of the "argument from convergence" that was presented by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to Pope John Paul II? One could visualize it in another way. If a group of competent and objective natural scientists representing all of the various fields relating to the theory of evolution were seated around a table, it could well happen that each in turn would declare that the evidence in his own field is against the theory, but that he believed the theory because of the convergence of evidence from other fields.

9. The historical truth of Genesis 1-3 and, in general, the historical truth of the whole Bible is under attack today as it has never been before by evolutionists and historical critics. Bible Protestants in the U.S.A. and elsewhere are striving mightily to defend the historicity of the Bible, and, in particular, of Genesis 1-11 with its account of the creation of the world and of man. This could be an opportunity for an ecumenical effort of the Catholic Church to dialogue with other Christians who are striving to defend the inerrancy of the Sacred Scriptures, were it not for the fact that there is an ever-weakening conviction on the part of many Catholic bishops, priests, and lay persons as to the universal historicity of the Scriptures, due to their admiration for the results of historical criticism and evolutionism. There is at present in at least nineteen states of the United States a strong social and political movement to allow the idea of intelligent design of the universe and of living forms to be taught in the public schools as a supplement to the mindless random change predicated by Darwinian evolution, but the backers of the Darwinian theory are energetically opposing this movement, on the ground that intelligent design is just a disguised form of creationism, and they know that the teaching of creation by God as described the Book of Genesis has been barred by the U.S. Supreme Court from being taught in the public schools. What the Darwinian evolutionists are arguing is that, if you point out to children any indications of design in the universe and in living organisms, you are questioning random change and thus suggesting to them the existence of an intelligent Creator.

10. The battle against the imposition of Darwinism upon all public school children in the United States is at bottom a battle between belief in God and atheism. Darwinian evolution, in the present culture, serves as an excuse for educated people to disbelieve in God. If the supposed transformation of species were to cease to imply for them a denial of the existence of God, most Darwinians would probably lose interest in it and give it up for some other system And intelligent design is actually one of the proofs from natural reason for the existence of God, which is why most Darwinists are bitterly opposed to any acceptance of intelligent design in the universe. Theistic evolutionists do not seem to realize that they are simply attaching a non-functioning mental proposition of the existence of God to a functioning system that has rejected God. They are positing a creative emptiness in place of the explicit interventions of the Creator as recorded in Genesis 1-11. Of course, God could have programmed elementary matter to grow into the universe that it is, but the random change that is essential to the Darwinian theory excludes any programmatic action by God. If a theistic evolutionist postulates a programming of nature by God, he is therewith fostering the idea of intelligent design, and he is thus implicitly opposing the Darwinian theory of evolution as it is now being taught to children in the schools.

11. The first eleven chapters of Genesis are historically true, even though they are not written in the genre of precision that is required of modern historians. Let us take, for example, the first chapter of Genesis, which is the most controverted in the present discussion. Read correctly, the letter of the first chapter of Genesis is not out of keeping with the certified data of modern empirical science. While many Fundamentalist Christians and some Catholics adhere to the reading of Genesis 1 as meaning exclusively that the one true God created the world and all the generic species of its living inhabitants in six 24-hour days, this is not a good reason for others to denounce a broader literal reading of Genesis 1. On the same June 30, 1909, the original Pontifical Biblical Commission asked: "Whether the word yôm (day), which is used in the first chapter of Genesis to describe and distinguish the six days, may be taken either in its strict sense as the natural day, or in a less strict sense as signifying a certain space of time; and whether free discussion of this question is permitted to interpreters." The Commission answered: "In the affirmative."

12. What does the text of Genesis 1 literally say? If one looks carefully at the words, he will see that the word "day," (Hebrew: yôm) as used in this chapter, is defined as "evening and morning" ("and there was evening and morning one day," Gen 1:5, etc.). Thus, God "called the light day and the darkness night" (Gen 1:5). From these words one can gather that, for the six "days" of creation, a "day" is taken to mean a period of darkness, followed by a period of light, while only in a separate context on the fourth day alone is the 24-hour day mentioned four times. Otherwise, the length of time in any respective "day" of creation is not given. In fact, while the word "day" in human parlance is most often taken to mean a period of 24-hours, it can also have other meanings which are gathered from the context in which it is used. For instance, one can correctly say that the ancient Romans "had their day," meaning their period of glory extending over hundreds of years. And that the word "day" in the six "days" of creation is not to be taken to mean the standard 24-hour day is confirmed in Gen 1:14, where God says: "Let there be lights made in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day and the night, and let them be for signs and seasons and for days and years." From this verse it seems to be clear that the 24-hour day was established only on the fourth "day," and, therefore, is not the meaning of "day" in the "six days" of creation.

13. And God said:Let there be light’ (Gen 1:3). Most but not all contemporary physicists and astronomers hold the Big-Bang theory of the origin and development of the universe. In looking at the work of God the Creator during the six days of Genesis, it is clear that the text of Genesis is not teaching the Big-Bang theory or guarantying its validity, but neither does it seem to be in conflict with this theory. In offering the following thoughts on the reading of Genesis 1 from the viewpoint of the Big-Bang theory, I do not claim any technical expertise on the genuine results of astronomy or physics, but only offer suggestions that those more familiar with these sciences can correct and improve. At any rate, in accordance with the Big-Bang theory, there was a burst of light when the initial explosion occurred, and that is in accordance with the act of God on the first day: "Let light be made" (Gen 1:3). It is true that verse 2 had just related that "the earth was void and empty," and the Earth could not have existed at the time of the Big-Bang, but here the word "earth" can be taken to mean "receptive matter," even the absolutely simplest and most elementary form of receptive matter, possibly even more simple than atomic particles, and in a state of flux. We are facing the question of a second and more subtle meaning of the words. As noted in paragraph 5 above, the original Pontifical Biblical Commission made clear in its teaching that the narrative in Gen 1-3 is a popular account, adapted to the understanding of a primitive people, and, therefore, which uses approximate terms, even terms with a graduated meaning according to the understanding of the listener or reader. Assuredly, the word "earth" in Gen 1:2 would have been taken by the people of the time to mean the planet Earth (but not as a planet), yet the word has other literal meanings in Sacred Scripture, such as "ground" and "land," as well as analogous and metaphorical meanings, such as the human soul or the human heart. All things considered, there is no good reason why the Holy Spirit, inspirer of the text, could not have hidden a more precise literal meaning in this use of the word "earth" in Gen 1:2 and in the use of words in many other places for those who in a later time would be reading the text from a more informed viewpoint. The presence of such hidden meanings presupposes the possibility of a double or multiple literal sense of the sacred text. St. Thomas Aquinas favors the possibility of multiple literal meanings of the text of Sacred Scripture where he says: "Now, because the literal sense is that which the author intends, and the author of holy Scripture is God, who comprehends everything all at once in his understanding, it comes not amiss, as St. Augustine observes, if many meanings are present even in the literal sense of one passage of Scripture."10 In this case we would be dealing with a more precise technical meaning hidden within a popular word which would itself be sufficient to express the historical event, but, being technically imprecise, therefore, not allowing the uninformed reader to form a correct image of what is being described.11

14. "And God made a firmament and divided the waters that were under the firmament from those that were above the firmament, and it was so" (Gen 1:7). If we read the word "waters" (Hebrew: mayim) to mean, in a cryptic sense, "fluids," then technically the "waters" of Gen 1:2 could mean "fluids," and the verse would read cryptically: "and the spirit of God moved over the fluids." If this is a true reading, we need not expect that Moses would have had to add a footnote stating that the technical data would not be discovered for another few millennia. Similarly, the "waters" of Gen 1:6 could mean other fluids, such as gases or magma or H2O. Gen 1:6 says that God commanded a "firmament" (Hebrew: rāqīa) to be made amidst the waters. Now, the Hebrew word rāqīa means "something that hardened as it spread out," and, if we apply this meaning technically to the contemporary idea of an expanding universe, we can imagine a mass of swirling incandescent gases thrown outward to form the ribbons of galaxies that constitute the universe as it is known today. Probably involved in this second stage of divine intervention were, first, the creation of molecules and then larger solid substances up to the point of stars and planets, together with the bringing into play of the laws of gravity, momentum, and inertia, thus "hardening out" the original swirl of gases and forming the structure of the universe. The division of some gases from others can be visualized in various ways, but what seems most important is the separation of the gaseous ball of the earth from the gases in outer space and its condensation into other things, such as molten magma, solid rock, and H2O.12

15. "And the earth brought forth the green herb . . ." (Gen 1:12). Note that the text does not say that God created the vegetation out of nothing, but rather from the ground. Hence a certain emergence of species is implied. St. Augustine thought that the power to generate plants and animals was instilled by God in the earth, and that they sprang into being at the proper time by spontaneous generation. His idea is better than that of Darwin in the sense that it does not have to account for the embarrassing absence of transitional forms in the fossil record and in the living species of today. But the Darwinian theory of the transformation of species would also fit the text, supposing that this theory were backed up by scientific evidence.

16. "And God said: Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years . . . (Gen 1:14). It is a standing objection to the historical truth of Gen 1 that, according to the letter of Gen 1:14-19, God made the sun, the moon, and the stars on the fourth day, whereas, according to modern physical science, the sun and the stars had to have existed before the earth, and the sun, again, would have to have existed before the vegetation. But the text of Genesis does not say in this verse that on the fourth day God "created" (bara) the sun, the moon, and the stars on the fourth day. God said "let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens" in order "to separate the day from the night" and in order to be "for signs and for seasons and for days and years." This is a statement of purpose which is continued in the following verses: Let them be lights to give light (v. 15); and God made two great lights to give light (v. 16-18). "And God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth . . . . " (vv. 17-18), that is, God positioned them in the sky for the purposes given in the passage. Now, how could this reading be in accord with the findings of modern science? It is easy to see technically how this could have been done. The speed of rotation of the earth on its axis was fixed in order to establish the 24-hour day. The length of the year was stabilized by the fixing of the path and speed of rotation of the earth around the sun. And the seasons of the year were determined by the fixing of the speed and degree of the tilting of the earth on its axis. What Genesis is saying historically is that there was a series of interventions by God in six periods of time of unspecified length. In this historical development, according to Genesis, plants appeared and began to grow on the earth before the movements of the planet earth were finally stabilized. Animal species came later.13

17. "And God said: ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens. So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. [ . . . ] And there was evening and morning, the fifth day" (Gen 1:20-23). Note that the text says that God created (bara) the fishes and the birds, but it does not say that He created them out of nothing; rather He had the waters bring them forth. The process or mechanism of this generation is not indicated, but the species were made each "according to its kind." There may be implied in this account of the creation a certain development from the lower and less complex to the higher and more complex. The phrase "according to their kinds" seems to imply that the form of at least each greater genus of organisms was individually created by God.

18. "And God said: Let the earth bring forth the living creature in its kind . . . . And it was so done" (Gen 1:24). "And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds" (Gen 1:25). "And God created man to his own image" (Gen 1:27). "And the evening and the morning were the sixth day" (Gen 1:31). God creates the land animals, not from nothing, but from the earth. The popular image given is from the ground, but the technical meaning of any matter in its receptivity could possibly be hidden herein. The special creation of man in the image of God is declared, that is, with intelligence and free will. As in the previous five "days," the length of time taken for this work of creation is not given.

19. Double and multiple spiritual and allegorical meanings of the text of the Bible have been brought out by many writers in the history of the Church, beginning from the writers of the Sacred Scriptures. The idea of hidden spiritual meanings in the text is proclaimed even by Jesus Himself. I think that it would not be unfitting of the Holy Spirit to have sown a double literal meaning as well into passages of the Bible such as the text of Genesis 1. The technical reading of the text that I have suggested, especially as far as its historical truth is concerned, accepts the message that, in creating the world and its inhabitants, God intervened in a series of acts that took place on six successive "days." The length of these "days of creation" is unspecified, but a "day" has to be, in some way, a period of darkness followed by a period of light. How these six sets of darkness/light actually occurred needs to be pondered, but it may have worked out with the creation of light somewhat as follows: the first day: creation of light; the second day: expansion of light into the universe; the third day: sensitivity to light of the plants; the fourth day: the lights in the sky over the earth; the fifth day: the light of animal sight; and the sixth day: the light of human intelligence.

20. The technical interpretation of the six "days" of creation that I have given in this article is not intended as an accurate expression of contemporary physical science, but only as an indication of a way in which neo-Patristic exegesis might be able successfully to approach the question of the historical truth of the Genesis account, namely, by considering the possibility of a hidden technical meaning of the chapter. I am not claiming that the Big-Bang theory is a correct expression of the origin of the universe or that Genesis 1 is in any way teaching that it is, but I do maintain that, viewed in a possible technical meaning of some of the words, the series of historical interventions of God recounted in this chapter is not in conflict with what is believed today by many to have been established by modern physical science regarding the origin of the universe. Nor does this reading imply that God has deceived all those people who have read the chapter from more primitive viewpoints, such as the image of a solid dome in the sky covering a stationary earth, which historical critics like to attribute to the writer of Genesis 1. The anthropomorphic portrait of the creation in the simple reading of Genesis 1 correctly presents the historical truth of six periods of divine creative intervention, and it condenses a flat materialistic overview of the growth of the universe into a picture in which the presence of God is visualized in the process. That this image be retained is not only useful, it is essential, because it is the world-view of Judaism and of Christianity. Theistic evolutionists insist that they do retain God as the ultimate cause of the evolutionary process, but the presence of the creative power of God in the process tends to be lost, inasmuch as they have not worked out a convincing alternative to the materialism and mechanistic blindness of what mainline evolutionists call "the modern scientific point of view."


1.  Humani generis, no. 36 (Enchiridion Biblicum 616).

2.  The Gift of Scripture, published by the Catholic Truth Society, England.

3. See “Evolution and the Truth about Man,” in Living Tradition 72, (Nov. 1997), par. 12-13.

4.  For a fuller treatment of the meaning of “that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation (“nostrae salutis causa”) wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures” in Dei Verbum 11, see B. Harrison, “The Truth and Salvific Purpose of Sacred Scripture Accord­ing to Dei Verbum, Article 11,” in Living Tradition 59.

5.  Regarding the question of origins, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says as follows:  “The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man.  These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers” (CCC 283).  This declaration in the Catechism is not a teaching of the bishops; rather it is a statement of what contemporary Big-Bang and evolutionist scholars and researchers have taught them, and its credibility depends entirely upon the real evidence that these scholars and researchers can bring forward for their conclusions.

6.  For one of several recently published summaries of the evidence against the theory of evolution, see Walt Brown, In the Beginning (7th rev. ed.: Center for Scientific Creation, 5612 N. 20th Place, Phoenix, Arizona 85016, U.S.A.; 2005; 230 pp.; hard cover: $28.95 incl. mailing charges in the U.S.A.).

7.   Quoted in Walt Brown, In the Beginning, p. 51. 

8.  Humani generis, no. 36 (Enchiridion Biblicum 616).

9.  “Neither of the two fundamental axioms of Darwin’s macroevolutionary theory – the concept of the continuity of  nature, that is, the idea of a functional continuum of all life forms linking all species together and ultimately leading back to a primeval cell, and the belief that all the adaptive design of life has resulted from a blind random process – have been validated by one single empirical discovery or scientific advance since 1859,”   M. Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (3d ed., Bethesda: Adler and Adler, 1986), p. 345.  (Darwin first published his Origin of Species in 1859.)

10.  Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 1, art. 10, corp.(Eng. trans. by Thomas Gilby [Cambridge: Blackfriars, 1964]).

11.  For a fuller explanation, see J.F. McCarthy, “A Neo-Patristic Return to the First Four Days of Creation,” six parts, in Living Tradition, nos. 45-51, March 1993 to January 1994.  See especially Parts I and II.

12.  For a fuller explanation, see J.F. McCarthy, “A Neo-Patristic Return,” loc. cit., Part IV.

13.  For a fuller explanation, see J.F. McCarthy, “A Neo-Patristic Return,” loc. cit., Part VI, especially the last two pages.

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