Thursday, February 13, 2014

More on the Creation Debate

Toward the end of our Religious Education year is where I go back to “the beginning”. It’s this time of year that I briefly go over the creation account in Genesis with my confirmation students.

The timing was perfect this year considering the Feb 4th debate between Bill Nye (science guy) and Ken Ham (Answer in Genesis CEO) and my most recent class held on Feb 8th. I did not see the debate, but my understanding was that the Catholic view of creation was not represented. Since there is currently some talk around the blogosphere about a Catholic “third way”, here is a post from the early days of this blog that covers what we review in class and adds to the whole conversation.

I’ve never heard the seven day creation story explained so well as in the Great Adventure bible timeline during the early world sessions in Genesis. Catholics do well to treat Genesis, not as history book or a science book, but as the story of the beginning of a relationship, the relationship between God and man.

• Day 1 and 2
Creation of time & space (see Genesis 1: 3-8):
Separating day from night is a way to describe time, and a dome is a way to describe space. Remember too that a day is not necessarily 24 hours, but some segment of time. “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day.” 2 Peter 3:8. Could day 1 and day 2 be the first nanoseconds of the Big Bang? Just my own musing…

• Day 3
The continuation of space on the earth & the creation of life (see Genesis1:9-13):

• Day 4 - 6:
All about how the presence of God fills voids. In this case voids in the sky, sea & land
It is important to note that the creation of man & beast is on the same day, day 6. We should stop and contemplate why. Isn’t man set apart from animals with a soul; made in the image & likeness of God? Why don’t we get our own special day?!? We’ll get back to this.

One of my confirmation students once asked “What about dinosaurs?” I replied, “What about dinosaurs?” She continued, “How can man & beast be made on the same day if there were no humans around when dinosaurs were around?” I said, “If a day is just some segment of time, then it could be billions of years. Dinosaurs could have come and gone in the earlier part of the “day” and then man appears at the later part. It’s really not important. Dinosaurs are just another beast.”

• Day 7
God blessed the 7th day and made it holy because he rested on that day
(see Genesis 2:2-3):
God does not need physical rest. The Sabbath day is for us. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27

The beasts made with man on day 6 do not know or love God. They were not given the will or the intellect to do so; it’s not what they are made for. How many people do we know who relate to God the same way an animal does? They do not know or love God, even though they were given the capacity.

Man is called to leave the beasts behind in day 6 and find “rest” with God in day 7. A relationship in which two parties can “rest” in one another can conjure up images of a comfortable, self-giving union in which nothing is hidden or held back. This may remind us the Catholic ideal of marriage or the idea of “covenant”, as it should. This should also remind us of heaven which is an eternal rest with God. Will we choose to “rest” with God in day 7 or remain with the beasts in day 6?
What should I do Simba?
One last thing, remember that the number 7 in scripture represents perfection, fullness or completion. The number 6 is 1 less than 7 and corresponds to evil, imperfection or…The Number of the Beast!!!

Visuals are always helpful. Click HERE view all of creation!




  1. I know it isn't directly related to our salvation, but as a Catholic Christian I think the young earth interpretation of Genesis makes the most sense, especially out of why Sabbath observance is such an important commandment, and out of exactly what the six "days" of creation mean--I have never heard any satisfactory specific definition other than that they were six literal 24-hour days, and especially in light of Sabbath observance, no other way makes as much sense to me (I've never heard of any other justification for Sabbath observance). And this is coming from someone who was once determined to believe that the universe and the Earth were billions of years old. We have to remember that there were no people billions of years ago, so how can that fall under the realm of science, which depends on experiment and observation, two things we cannot do when it comes to the past?

    Besides, if you assign one millennium to each day you get a striking parallel that I have to believe was by design, but you only get that if the Byzantine calender (starting on September 1, 5509 BC) is correct--in other words, it doesn't work if the universe is billions of years old, nor even if the universe is some 6000 years old, but only if it is some 7500 years old, give or take.

    As for dinosaurs, I don't presume to know anything for certain, but I'll say two things: 1) they thought coelacanths went extinct 65 million years ago, and they're not extinct, so it isn't far-fetched to believe that some species of dinosaur might still be around somewhere, especially since not all species were big; 2) the existence of mummified dinosaurs makes me skeptical as to their having lived only until tens of millions of years ago--having seen what mere thousands of years (slowed down further by human embalming methods) does to mummified Pharaohs, how can it make sense that there are dinosaurs mummified by nature after tens of millions of years?

    I'm very interested to hear what you have to say on this matter.

    1. Hi Pair, long time no comment,
      Other than the Great Adventure Bible study, I’ve not read much about interpreting Genesis, but the way #6 and #7 are used symbolically in scripture I can easily see how those numbers might be only symbolic, but as you sated, no one was there.

      Remember too that science is always looking in the past because all evidence is in the past. Let’s say I gather evidence this morning for an earthquake that happen last night and develop conclusions this evening. I’m dealing with evidence from the past when I make my conclusions. It would be the same for those investigating a murder or robbery or any kind of technical troubleshooting. Unfortunately, some conclusions (or theories) cannot be confirmed via any known experimentation, such as the age of the earth.

    2. Hi Pair O' Dimes,

      Truth is truth and if good science discovers a truth, then we ought not be afraid of it. However, we are obligated to know our stuff and be aware of what science discovers and whether there is an actual conflict or not. From the enlightenment to the early 20th century, due primarily to Newton's laws and a mechanistic view of Physics, it was believed that the universe was eternal. That was a difficult conflict to avoid since we have always held to a created universe. The Big Bang theory (held by just about everyone now) resolved that conflict. The literal seven day created universe is NOT one of those things held de fide. Cardinal Ratzinger's book 'In the Beginning...' does an excellent job of explaining some of the symbolism in creation related to the Fall. Scott Hahn's A Father who keeps his Promises is an OUTSTANDING book related to the covenants and relates the seventh day to the sheva which is to "cut a covenant" (doubly referring to both cutting a sacrificial animal Gen 15:10ff and to the circumcision as the sign of Abraham's covenant Gen 17:11). SO MUCH MORE! See this.

      Lastly, I would refer you to St Augustine's De Genesi Ad Litteram, quoted by St Thomas, which says:

      "Augustine teaches that two points should be kept in mind when resolving such questions. First, the truth of Scripture must be held inviolably. Second, when there are different ways of explaining a Scriptural text, no particular explanation should be held so rigidly that, if convincing arguments show it to be false, anyone dare to insist that it is still the definitive sense of the text."

      and later in Augustine's text:

      Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.
      emphasis mine

      So let's be careful out there!

    3. @Joe:

      I understand that it isn't de fide teaching to believe in a literal six-day creation, but it makes more sense to me than any alternative given other things. And certainly there is symbolism in creation--but the fact of symbolism existing doesn't mean there is no literal, any more than is the case for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

      I accept Saint Augustine's teaching. Part of the reason I adhere to a literal understanding of Genesis is precisely because I don't see convincing arguments proving it false and something else (something specific) true, especially since I don't then understand how you arrive at that based on what is in Genesis. The only thing I could think of would be that what Genesis tells us is the order to things rather than being meant to be a literal account of what happened, but even then, why would God reveal that inerrantly to Moses if a literal understanding of what He revealed was false (rather than true but truncated)? God cannot contradict Himself, and He cannot lie. And as far as I know, this latter idea is not a de fide teaching of the faith either, and so we are not bound to it.

      I know that young earth creationism is not a dogmatic teaching of the faith and so isn't as important, but I fear that an outright rejection of the literal interpretation of Genesis could (at least in some individuals) prove a near occasion of sin, not only in believing that Scripture is not inerrant, but in believing that Sabbath observance is optional only.

      Thanks for your reply!


      What you say is true, but that last part is my whole point. If we cannot confirm experimentally or by observation that, for example, radiometric dating methods are reliable in telling us the approximate age of the Earth, why should we put our faith in them? They can tell us the maximum possible age of the Earth, assuming that natural processes have taken place at the same rate at the beginning, but can they be trusted to tell us the exact age, or the approximate age? And my point was that if it cannot be so confirmed, then it is permanently safe, and so is not properly speaking a scientific theory but a philosophy. A true scientific theory is at least hypothetically falsifiable.

      @Archon: Of course the command does not need to be so justified, but I have never heard anyone give an alternative explanation. If I understand it correctly, the Sabbath is so that we are free from the pagan belief that we need to work 24/7 in order to prevent the universe from collapsing into nonexistence--so that we can know that we can afford to take a day off, and why that is, hence why the Sabbath is associated with creation. But this being the case, why would God not create that way literally? Would it not be most fitting and proper, even though God can create however He chooses?

      I have heard people say that Genesis was held to be allegorical or literary from the earliest days of the Church, but I have never heard this confirmed, nor specified. Can you please do so? What did the Church fathers you mention say specifically about it, and what did they believe was the actual truth, if anything?

      Saint Basil said that the proper translation is "one day", not "the first day" because it is defining the 24-hour block of time we know of as a day.

      Of course it is the latter that is the important part of the creation story--but apply that to the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Which is more important, that Jesus died in that particular manner, or that He died to save us from our sins? Clearly the latter, but does that mean we are free to believe that Jesus did not die by Crucifixion? I know this isn't an exact comparison, because there are extrabiblical sources confirming the Crucifixion, but are there reliable extrabiblical sources confirming that a literal interpretation of Genesis is false?

    4. Pair O'Dimes
      “If we cannot confirm experimentally or by observation… why should we put our faith in them?”

      It’s funny that you mention this, not because atheist uses this kind of logic, but because this is often what I deal with for a living, analytical problem solving. If we have two (or more) competing theories about the cause of a problem, we are NOT to just test them both, because testing all possibilities wastes company resources. We are to “prove” which theory is the most reasonable, then we have justification to spend the resources needed to try it.

      All the known data is gathered. The relevant data is sorted from irrelevant data. The number of assumptions needed to make the theory true are carefully tracked (literally written down). The accepted theory has the fewest # of assumptions, most reasonable assumptions, and the overall simplest assumptions. This becomes the theory we put our “faith in” without experimentation or observation that it is actually true.

      To your point, the theory can still be wrong, but I would imagine that one could use a similar process when comparing competing earth age theories.

  2. You are attempting to convert the 7 days into a literal and equal time scale. We observe the Sabbath because we were commanded to by God from the very beginning, reaffirmed to Moses, and confirmed again by Christ. This command does not need to be justified by 7 literal days of creation.
    As well, from the earliest day's of the Church large portions of Genesis were held to be allegorical or literary.
    What is the important part of the Creation story, the mechanism of our creation or the fact that we were even created to begin with? Clearly the latter.
    St Paul, Iraneus of Lyons, Origen, St. Basil, St Augustine, and many of the other Church Fathers all held the creation account to be allegorical.

    God himself created the visible world in all its richness, diversity and order. 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. On the subject of creation, the sacred text teaches the truths revealed by God for our salvation, permitting us to "recognize the inner nature, the value and the ordering of the whole of creation to the praise of God" (CCC 337)

    At the end of the day, the Church allows the faithful to believe any explanation of creation which is compatible with the Divine, Ordered, and Good nature of Creation.

    I cannot speak much to dinosaurs, or archaeological evidence etc etc

  3. The Catholic Church has long rejected the literal 6 days of creation and the Earth being less than 10,000 years old.

    What's more of a potential issue is that evolution says is that if one traces back their ancestors long enough you will reach the at various times reach a common ancestor of every other living thing on the planet (see Richard Dawkins' best book, IMHO, "The Ancestors Tale").

    So sometime between now and say the common ancestor with chimpanzees and bonobos (about 5 million years ago) Catholics need to maintain that human souls were created. There are options

    1) Human souls were infused in all primate ancestors living on the Earth at the same time (polygenisis) but the Church disavows this teaching
    2) Human souls were infused in one living couple at some time and their descendants became us and the others died out. (Molecular genetics rules this out because of genetic diversity)
    3) A couple was given a soul, they immediately sinned somehow and then all other then living souless human were infused with the same "stained" soul.

    The only other option is that none of these happened and there is no Original Sin.

    1. Hi R1,

      Kudos to you for knowing correctly the Catholic stance on the literal 6 days of creation and young earth theory.

      However, contrary to what you suggest, Catholics do not hold that souls are passed from parent to child. God performs a special act of creation for each human being. It's a "brand-new" soul! (CCC 366)

      Original sin is a loss of sanctifying grace with an accompanying loss of preternatural gifts. Man (humanity) divorces himself (itself) from the harmony with creation and with God (they go together) and prefers his/its own sovereignty over God's. (CCC 398-401)

      The mechanics of Original sin's transmission to all mankind is a mystery, yet like a disease, it is contracted. Unlike personal sin, it is not committed. (CCC 404-406) World War Z seems to do (by accident or design) a good job giving the right sense of how sin is contracted and even how it is redeemed and cured. Fr Barron gives a spoiler-filled commentary here.

    2. I knew souls were not passed from parent to child but that with evolution at some point in the past Catholic theology maintains that a first couple would have been infused (not sure the technical term for this) with a soul. After that all decendents of that original couple have souls.

      I think you have to go with 2 (Humani Generis, section 37, Pope Pius XII)

      My comment was not about how what original sin is or how original sin is past on, only how do Catholic believe that human souls came into be in humans and which one of those three scenarios (or one I haven;'t suggested ) is correct.

    3. R1,

      All of those documents deal directly with Adam and Eve being the ones who sinned and the ones from whom their children received Original Sin. Nothing has been said directly about souls. The soul is not passed on nor is it stained.

      We honestly don't know, however, the manner of soul-granting (per #2 or #3) is not necessarily one way or another as a matter of faith. It may be true that Molecular Genetics is incorrect here. Also, there may be a third way.

      Can you please cite any sources for your comment on Molecular Genetics?

    4. I never said the soul was passed on as to the stain of original sin see section 411

      As to the molecular genetics here's an article on ot from Jerry Coyne's blog Why Evolution is true?

      Again Catholics (and indeed most Christian) are left with the problem of when human souls came into being and how that can be reconciled with all himans being descendant upon one couple.

      Here's an out. Humani Generis says all humans are descendant from Adam, It doesn't mention Eve. So you could have Adam having many wives and therefore there's much greater genetic diversity (at least on the maternal side) but would open up other issues concerning marriage. Although it worked for Solomon.

    5. Since we are essentially quoting from the same source, let's call the soul/original sin thing settled.

      As to the article you've cited. It isn't a scholarly one and is fairly biased in tone. (Jebus? really?) The problem you state remains, but I am sure the two can be reconciled. At this point, it isn't clear to me whether the genetic diversity problem is the IMPOSSIBILITY of a single couple being the ultimate parents or just a huge IMPROBABILITY. If it is truly impossible, I get it. However, if it is merely improbable, I do not see a problem. Any real event in history could have possibly been committed in a virtually infinite number of ways. However things actually occur in only one way. Looking backwards at an event, if one is dealing in probabilities, then an eye-witness, for example, can reduce the multiplicity of possibilities down to a small number. ("Anyone could have been on that bus!" "But I saw you there!" "Uhhh...") We have here in the Bible a report of two particular people. It may be that account may eventually be vindicated. We need to take ALL the evidence at hand into account. Time will tell.

      As to the quip about Abraham, polygamy in the bible rarely ends well. Ironically, your example of Solomon in particular shows a flagrant abuse of his position and due to his many wives (who were not worshippers of the one God) he messed up big time and caused the kingdom to decline and eventually split. (1 Kings 11:3-13) Polygamy really doesn't seem to work out well. Empirically speaking, of course. Also see Jacob, Abraham (Sarah as sister, Hagar as concubine) and there are others. That's a discussion for another time.

    6. It's not a scholarly article but it was a written by a biologist stating the molecular genetics fact that all evidence rules out one couple as the origin of the humans race.

      And here is where science and religion differs in their approach. Science would have promoted the one couple origin if the evidence had been there, religion will not accept a larger ancestry of humans if the evidence is there.

    7. I do not see the difference in approach. Science discards the Biblical narrative as evidence. There is the real difference. Religion listens to science. It uses science to better understand itself.

      From the time of the enlightenment, up until the early twentieth century, determinism ruled. There was no longer any place for free will. If materialism were true, then morality would have no meaning. If the universe were eternal, what need for a creator? The Scientism of today grew from these roots. Unfortunately the discoveries of Einstein, Lemaître and Planck showed Determinism to be false and the universe to be finite in time. All the philosophy and ideology built upon Newtonian physics (as if it were the only physics) collapsed. During that time, the faith of many were tested because it seemed that the physical sciences disagreed with their faith. All science pointed to its demise as a "settled question." Yet eventually faith was vindicated. The "settled question" was WRONG. It is important to realize that science does not follow an unalloyed path from truth to truth. Discarding the necessary failures gives a dangerous picture that science is somehow infallible. It is not. Faith is sustainable in knowing that the seeming contradictions are temporary. We don't have all the facts yet. Also, truth does not contradict truth. So science may eventually find sufficient data to formulate a theory that accommodates all the data.

      Your reference to "the molecular genetics fact" is incorrect insofar as it's not a datum. It is a conclusion. There is a large difference.

      "For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries." - Robert Jastrow

      This is actually a good dream! They are both right, and both are on the same peak!

      Please understand that there is no triumphant sneer here. Religion cheated. It was TOLD the answer. By the guy who designed and built it all. No wonder it's the same peak.

    8. @Rationalist1:

      "The Catholic Church has long rejected the literal 6 days of creation and the Earth being less than 10,000 years old."

      I don't really want to post that much on this topic anymore, but I felt I had to comment on this.

      I'm going to assume that you didn't clarify exactly what you meant, because on the face of it, I don't see how this is possible. Aside from the fact that you didn't give evidence backing it up (and the fact that Joe concurs concerns me), this is a temporal matter, so how can the Church take any position on it either way? Surely you don't mean that the Church is going to tell me I'm wrong because I believe what the Bible says?

      If what you mean is that the Church has said that She cannot rule infallibly on the matter because it is temporal, meaning that Catholics are free to believe otherwise as long as we believe everything the Church teaches de fide, that I can understand and accept. My parish has a theological anthropology class, and while I haven't taken it, it mentions creationism in addition to evolution in terms of what is being taught. I mean, if the Church actually did reject this, She must have an alternative to promote, but does She, or does She simply stay out of it?

      My point in my original post is twofold: 1) the literal need not be rejected outright, and in fact shouldn't be; 2) the literal makes the most sense given both the faith and the evidence, and logic, so that for now at least I choose to believe that.

    9. I want to make this the last thing I say on the matter, but I believe that Darwinism is not just false but impossible by definition, for this reason: the only way it is possible for a species to evolve from another species by nature is if all life on Earth has an identical nature (otherwise, speciation transcends nature, necessitating the supernatural), in which case all of the differences between, for example, myself and the bacteria making me sick are accidental only, not essential--if the only thing essential to any life form is life itself and the fundamental matter that makes up all life. That surely goes against the faith, which holds that the human soul alone is immortal, rational, and spiritual (and capable of going to Heaven or hell), making it essentially different from the souls of all other life forms. (Even if true, isn't that as much as saying that only microevolution happens, only you're redefining microevolution to mean all evolution from bacteria to all life on Earth today?)

      If someone can show me where I'm wrong, I hope I'm open to changing my mind, but I don't see how the above claim is anything but absurd (why then can't a male of any species mate successfully with a female of any species, unless that's a disorder rather than being in our nature--but then why is that our usual experience?) and against the faith (because it would imply that the human soul, if it exists, is essentially identical to that of animals, plants, and bacteria, necessitating either that all life can go to Heaven or hell, or human beings cannot)--and if it is, then Darwinism itself is absurd, and against the faith.

      This being the case, (other than redefining terms, which sounds like grasping at straws), macroevolution (speciation) is only possible by supernature (which is outside the realm of science), and so either that's how it happens, or else it doesn't happen at all. And the former would surely undermine the integrity of the individual and/or the family unit, and surely that isn't God's usual modus operandi? Possible, yes; fitting, I don't think so, at least not as an ordinary process. But the only alternative is that speciation does not happen, never has, and never will--in which case the only real evolution happens within a species only, and all of my ancestors and yours were human, not apes or anything else.

      Can anyone show me where I've erred?