The past century has seen an important shift in worldview and (subconscious) doctrine in Christianity. Many are under the mistaken impression that the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church support theistic evolutionism. After all, wasn’t it a Jesuit priest who invented the theory of the Big Bang, this intricate ‘creationism for nerds’ that supposedly reconciles secular science and Biblical doctrine?
Today I share a translation of an article that I wrote a few years ago for the Catholic Weekly, to commemorate the fact that a century ago the Papal Bible Commission summarized the early Church’s teachings on creation:
“Creationism is pagan.” The Catholic Church would reject creationism and espouse theistic evolutionism. This was said by Chaplain Christ Rodeyn’s in the Catholic Newspaper of 6 March 2009. This view, despite much post-Vatican II propaganda to the contrary, is incorrect. Historically and doctrinally, the Catholic Church has always been creationistic in its teachings. The traditional view of the Church is that diverse approaches within a creationistic framework are permissible, provided they meet specific doctrinal criteria.
Science is purely based on empirical data, says Rodeyns. I wish it were true. If Neo-Darwinism really operated this way, all of us should be evolutionists. However, as a worldview, the theory makes metaphysical claims for life-creating qualities of natural selection and chance mutations. It also presupposes continuity in the operation of the cosmos. In other words, at least to some extent belief in the theory is required without perceptible data. Evolution within species is observable, but evolution from one main species into the next remains a debatable hypothesis. No one has ever actually seen it happen. At least this should leave room for polite disagreement, but sometimes also science presents its temporary interpretations as infallible papal bulls. Hence at the recent Darwin Promotion in Rome (see KN 11) the microphone of the Turkish professor who dared to question the consensus, was switched off. Just have faith in the consensus of Neo-Darwinist scholarship.
To some it may come as a surprise that, despite desperate demonstrations to the contrary, this faith is entirely different from that of the historic Catholic Church. This year marks the centenary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission spoke about the first chapters of Genesis. Along with relevant sections of the encyclical Humani Generis, these are the latest authoritative doctrinal statements of the Church about the theory of evolution and Genesis. The Papal Commission gave an overview of the teachings of the early Church and concluded that Catholics should read the first three chapters of Genesis literally and essentially as historical. Interpretations that deny this, the commission singled out mythological and religious historical explanations, must be rejected. Specifically, one is required to accept as history: the immediate creation of man, the formation of Eve from Adam and the literal event of the fall, included the role of the serpent. Exegetes, however, are free in their interpretation of the word “day” in Genesis. Both the actual (sensu proprio) and improper sense (sensu improprio) are permitted, subject to compliance with the above conditions.
Importantly, the Biblical Commission stated correctly that the Church Fathers are practically unanimous in their literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3 as a historical event. Where they differ, like Augustine, their difference can hardly be argued in support of Darwinism. For example, Augustine thought of immediate creation, less than six times in 24 hours. All church fathers were creationists and believed in a young earth. This line was continued by the Fourth Lateran Council. Thomas Aquinas specifically taught sensu proprio. Creationism was the official teaching of the Catholic Church right into the twentieth century. Whether this was rightly or wrongly, it would be helpful if at least the historical facts were recognized. It was only in the second half of the twentieth century that, especially in the Jesuit order, prominent scientists introduced mythology in Biblical Studies and promoted Darwinism elsewhere. Is it more than a coincidence that Cardinal Schönborn, one of the few who openly oppose this, is a Dominican?
Can theistic evolutionism in the neo-Darwinian sense be considered Catholic? Does it really reconcile the teachings of the Church with modern science? Hardly so, as it does not meet the provisos set by the Biblical Commission. But that is not even the main thing, as there are far weightier considerations. For instance, the doctrine of God is at stake, as is the doctrine of man. The image of God in neo-Darwinism is no longer Catholic. The god of theistic evolutionism creates through an endless hell of suffering, death and destruction, which eventually, after billions of years, leads to the rise of man, who is sinful, sick and mortal from the start. This is not the loving Father of Holy Writ who looked back on his work of creation and evaluated that it was very good. This god of theistic evolution is the demiurge himself and the greatest sadist of all time.
Unlike Marcion and the Gnostics, who had similar ideas and came up with a separate creator-god as a result, the early Church taught a good creation. Sickness, suffering and death in the cosmos resulted from what the Bible describes as the Fall and subsequent curse on creation. In other words, there is discontinuity between the word of thousands of years ago and the world around us now. Different mechanisms operate. In traditional Catholic teaching, what we see now is not good, but cursed, fallen by human guilt and groaning in travail.
If one takes the present state of nature as normative and eternal, an adjustment of one’s doctrine of God is required. The Gnostics and Marcion realized this. A separation between the material and spiritual word ensued.
In our time a similar development in thinking may be observed, also within the Catholic Church. The material is allocated as the domain for neo-Darwinism and the soul, if there still is any, to the domain of religion and the Church.
It is doubtful whether any continuity can be claimed between this approach and the traditional teachings of the Church from apostolic times. There is far more in common with the old Demiurge than the God of Scripture. The fruits of the theory in history show that it affects the image of man too. The colonialist god of Neo-Darwinism put corpses of Aborigines on display because they were considered little more than apes. One hardly needs to elaborate on Stalin’s dialectical materialism, Hitler’s Übermensch and our present world where everyone does what is right in his own eyes (free sex to abortion), as long as he is not a creationist.
Looking back on 150 years of Darwinism, its worldview has proved vulnerable to racial discrimination, utilitarianism and a sometimes ruthless response to those who are not understood to promote the common good on the ladder of evolution. The unsavory intolerance against treats religious scientists, who are in the spirit of the Catholic Church of all times maintain the sensu proprio, is entirely in line with some of the fruits of the theory in the political sphere.
Is this the Spirit of Christ? The tree is known by its fruit.
Details and fallible attempts to models are subject to debate, but creationism is Catholic.