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The Genesis Problem

Genesis

I’m continually amazed how often the “problem” of Genesis comes up in my interactions with people online. What I mean is the way people struggle with the seemingly bad science that is on display in the opening chapters of the first book of the Bible. How can anyone believe that God made the visible universe in six days, that all the species were created at the same time, that light existed before the sun and moon, etc., etc? How can Christians possibly square the naïve cosmology of Genesis with the textured and sophisticated theories of Newton, Darwin, Einstein, and Stephen Hawking?

One of the most important principles of Catholic Biblical interpretation is that the reader of the Scriptural texts must be sensitive to the genre or literary type of the text with which he is dealing. Just as it would be counter-indicated to read Moby Dick as history or “The Waste Land” as social science, so it is silly to interpret, say, “The Song of Songs” as journalism or the Gospel of Matthew as a spy novel.

By the same token, it is deeply problematic to read the opening chapters of Genesis as a scientific treatise. If I can borrow an insight from Fr. George Coyne, a Jesuit priest and astrophysicist, no Biblical text can possibly be “scientific” in nature, since “science,” as we understand it, first emerged some fourteen centuries after the composition of the last Biblical book. The author of Genesis simply wasn’t doing what Newton, Darwin, Einstein, and Hawking were doing; he wasn’t attempting to explain the origins of things in the characteristically modern manner, which is to say, on the basis of empirical observation, testing of hypotheses, marshaling of evidence, and experimentation. Therefore, to maintain that the opening chapters of Genesis are “bad science” is a bit like saying “The Iliad” is bad history or “The Chicago Tribune” is not very compelling poetry.

So what precisely was that ancient author trying to communicate? Once we get past the “bad science” confusion, the opening of the Bible gives itself to us in all of its theological and spiritual power.

Let me explore just a few dimensions of this lyrical and evocative text. We hear that Yahweh brought forth the whole of created reality through great acts of speech: “Let there be light,’ and there was light; ‘Let the dry land appear’ and so it was.” In almost every mythological cosmology in the ancient world, God or the gods establish order through some act of violence. They conquer rival powers or they impose their will on some recalcitrant matter. (How fascinating, by the way, that we still largely subscribe to this manner of explanation, convinced that order can be maintained only through violence or the threat of violence).

But there is none of this in the Biblical account. God doesn’t subdue some rival or express his will through violence. Rather, through a sheerly generous and peaceful act of speech, he gives rise to the whole of the universe. This means that the most fundamental truth of things—the metaphysics that governs reality at the deepest level—is peace and non-violence. Can you see how congruent this is with Jesus’ great teachings on non-violence and enemy love in the Sermon on the Mount? The Lord is instructing his followers how to live in accord with the elemental grain of the universe.

Secondly, we are meant to notice the elements of creation that are explicitly mentioned in this account: the heavens, the stars, the sun, the moon, the earth itself, the sea, the wide variety of animals that roam the earth. Each one of these was proposed by various cultures in the ancient world as objects of worship. Many of the peoples that surrounded Israel held sky, stars, sun, moon, the earth, and various animals to be gods. By insisting that these were, in fact, created by the true God, the author of Genesis was, not so subtly, de-throning false claimants to divinity and disallowing all forms of idolatry. Mind you, the author of Genesis never tires of reminding us that everything that God made is good (thus holding off all forms of dualism, Manichaeism, and Gnosticism), but none of these good things is the ultimate good.

A third feature that we should notice is the position and role of Adam, the primal human, in the context of God’s creation. He is given the responsibility of naming the animals , “all the birds of heaven and all the wild beasts” (Gen. 2:20). The Church fathers read this as follows: naming God’s creatures in accord with the intelligibility placed in them by the Creator, Adam is the first scientist and philosopher, for he is, quite literally, “cataloguing” the world he sees around him. (Kata Logon means “according to the word”).

From the beginning, the author is telling us, God accords to his rational creatures the privilege of participating, through their own acts of intelligence, in God’s intelligent ordering of the world. This is why, too, Adam is told, not to dominate the world, but precisely to “cultivate and care for it” (Gen. 2: 16), perpetuating thereby the non-violence of the creative act.

These are, obviously, just a handful of insights among the dozens that can be culled from this great text. My hope is that those who are tripped up by the beginning of the book of Genesis can make a small but essential interpretive adjustment and see these writings as they were meant to be seen: not as primitive science, but as exquisite theology.
 
 
Originally posted at Word on Fire. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: Bible-Truth)

Bishop Robert Barron

Written by

Bishop Robert Barron is Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He is an acclaimed author, speaker, and theologian. He’s America’s first podcasting priest and one of the world’s most innovative teachers of Catholicism. His global, non-profit media ministry called Word On Fire reaches millions of people by utilizing new media to draw people into or back to the Faith. Bishop Barron is also the creator and host of CATHOLICISM, a groundbreaking, 10-part documentary series and study program about the Catholic Faith. He is the author of several books including Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (Crossroad, 2008); The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path (Orbis, 2002); and Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Image, 2011). Find more of his writing and videos at WordOnFire.org.

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  • vito

    First of all, let us not forget that while humans are capable of the most moral behaviour, they are also known for the most evil behaviours. We go from people who sacrifice their lives for others to people who kill and torture for pleasure, to hitlers and stalins. I am not a scientist, but I think that due to our more developed brains we enjoy the widest range of emotions and the most complicated reasoning patterns, which may lead us to various extremes. Animals are simpler, and thus, they appear to be neither too good, nor too bad. Just like little children. We may like some kittens or children and call them "adorable" or whatever, but we never hear: oh, our 1-year old is so honest and moral...My point is that animals do have a certain morality but just less developed, a morality of a lower level. Take, math for instance. Some animals can count to 2 or 3, but none would be able to solve complex problems. But you cannot say animals can't do math if you take away one of an animal's offsprings and it notices that something is missing. So, it can do math, just at a lower level. One other thing that needs to be taken into account: sometimes we call a human person's behaviour completely altruistic and selfless. And from the practical earthly viewpoint it does indeed seem like that. But we never know all the thoughts in that particular individual's head. For instance, maybe when sactrificing himself he was thinking, among other things perhaps, about scoring some points with the Big Guy up in Heavens. While there is nothing wrong with that per se (whatever leads humans to better behaviour is OK), but that changes the equation a little bit as far as selflessnes goes...

  • David Nickol

    The problem, of course, is that the Catholic Church at one time actually did read Genesis as containing "scientific" information, and many Christians today still do (for example, the young-earth Creationists).

    Also, although the current position of the Church is murky, it seems that the Church, or at least many Catholics, do believe the Creation story contains at least one "fact"—that there were two "first parents" (represented, if only figuratively, by the characters of "Adam" and "Eve") who committed some act (represented figuratively as eating forbidden fruit in an act of disobedience) that severely damaged human nature and was passed on to all human beings who have ever lived, the direct descendents of these "two parents."

    As the Catechism says,

    390 The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.

    Unless "first parents" is to be taken metaphorically, the Catechism is asserting that Genesis contains a scientific fact about human origins in a way that it does not claim any scientific explanation of the origin of the starts, earth, sun, light, animals, and so on. It appears to me that there is a tendency to cling to Biblical accounts as "facts" until there is clear evidence that they are not, and then to say, "Of course, they aren't meant as history or science! Whoever suggested such a thing?"

    • Jeremy Vezina

      We are still free to see even this event as something metaphorical. For example, I see "first parents" as the first generation of mankind in general. I hold to this based on my limited knowledge of genetics, theology, and Church history:

      1. I do not see how we could only have 2 parents unless they were allowed to propogate via incest (Plus, we see this is not the case since there are other tribes of men other than Adam's in later chapters).
      2.If we were formed from two parents only, I think we would need much more than 12,000+ years to spread out, populate, and diversify in the planet.
      3. However, even science has an issue to deal with regarding this, at least in the field in genetics. From what i recall about the human Genome project, those who conducted the study concluded that we probably all came from the same genetic "mother" somewhere in Northwest Africa.

      The Catholic Church's stance is "murky" on this field because we just do not know.

      (one thing about the third point: it does seem to contradict with my stance. I still hold to it based on the "iffiness" about the claim--best reason I can give.)

      • David Nickol

        . . . . we probably all came from the same genetic "mother" somewhere in Northwest Africa.

        I should be clear that I have a difficult time understanding "Mitochondrial Eve" and "Y-chromosomal Adam," but they are the most recent common ancestors from whom all living human beings are directly descended matrilineally and patrilineally (respectively), and they are not the "parents of the human race." They did not live at anywhere near the same time. Also, other women (and men) existed before "Mitochondrial Eve" and other men (and women) lived before "Y-chromosomal Adam." We have, as ancestors, men and women who lived before "Mitochondrial Eve" and "Y-chromosomal Adam."

        Since the Catechism says that our "first parents" were responsible for "a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man" and " the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents," the clear implication is that our "first parents" committed some act in collaboration with each other, and of course the doctrine of original sin claims that was "transmitted" by the "first parents" to the whole human race."

        • Joe Ser

          The latest news claimed they lived at the same time but didn't know each other.

          Genetic Adam and Eve did not live too far apart in time
          Studies re-date 'Y-chromosome Adam' and 'mitochondrial Eve'. August 2013 Nature - http://www.nature.com/news/genetic-adam-and-eve-did-not-live-too-far-apart-in-time-1.13478

          "....The Book of Genesis puts Adam and Eve together in the Garden of Eden, but geneticists’ version of the duo — the ancestors to whom the Y chromosomes and mitochondrial DNA of today’s humans can be traced — were thought to have lived tens of thousands of years apart. Now, two major
          studies of modern humans’ Y chromosomes suggest that ‘Y-chromosome Adam’ and ‘mitochondrial Eve’ may have lived around the same time after all"

          • David Nickol

            Thanks for the link to Nature. Interesting!

      • Joe Ser

        If one assumes pristine genetics then incest was the way to get started and not a problem for the first generations. There was no early need not to marry siblings. Our modern ears rail at this idea, though.

        The Book of Jubilees (non canonical) records Cains wife as being his twin sister Avan.

        Incest in the direct line (grandparent, parent child) is intrinsically evil.

        Incest in the collateral line (siblings/cousins/etc) is not
        intrinsically wrong was allowed for a time in Genesis. It was later proscribed due to sin in the world-- it became necessary. It is not part of the divine law-- and even today is merely regulated by canon law and it can be dispensed.

      • Nicholas Escalona

        You are mistaken about the position of the Catholic Church. It has taught explicitly that we had exactly two first parents, that all of mankind is descended from them. The theory that "first parents" refers metaphorically to many people, polygenism, was explicitly rejected in the 1950 encyclical Humani generis.

        • John Bell

          The catholic church is wrong which is appropriate since they are wrong about everything else so why not this one, too.

        • David Nickol

          It has taught explicitly that we had exactly two first parents, that all of mankind is descended from them.

          I do not think Humani Generis settles the question of "monogenism" versus "polygenism" once and for all. For one thing, the origin of the human race is a matter of history, fact, and science and arguably not a matter of faith and morals. Also, I don't think anyone would consider Humani Generis an infallible teaching. If it is true there can be no conflict between faith and science, it may well be the case that maintaining the human race had "two parents" is not a matter which can, taken literally, be considered in the realm of faith.

          • Nicholas Escalona

            No, it does settle the question once and for all. The language is quite plain. The Church has declared that polygenism is false, and therefore that science can never and will never prove polygenism true. There is not a box of knowledge called "faith and morals" and a totally disconnected box called "history and science" (and that latter one would surely not have sole claim to the label "fact"). The doctrines of the Church have real implications about some of the questions that science and history seeks to answer. The boxes are connected.

            To take a more obvious example: a historian may seek to find the bodily remains of Jesus, imagining that the Church's teachings don't matter because it is a question for historians, not theologians. But he's clearly mistaken: the Church's teachings allow the historian to conclude that Jesus left no bodily remains on earth, and that his search is fruitless. Precisely because there can be no conflict between faith and reason.

            Just so with the historian/biologist seeking to prove polygenism true.

    • "The problem, of course, is that the Catholic Church at one time actually did read Genesis as containing "scientific" information, and many Christians today still do (for example, the young-earth Creationists)."

      Thanks for the comment, David. Before I respond to it, did you have any thoughts about what Fr. Barron wrote? I would have thought you, of all people, would have appreciated the many plausible interpretations he offered.

      Regarding your accusation in the excerpt above, I'm not aware of this happening. Do you have evidence that the Catholic Church--meaning the official magisterium--taught that Genesis contained "scientific" information?

      The latter point is irrelevant to what the Catholic Church teaches and is a good example of why this site is designed to put atheists in dialogue specifically with Catholics, not Christians in general.

      "Unless "first parents" is to be taken metaphorically, the Catechism is asserting that Genesis contains a scientific fact about human origins in a way that it does not claim any scientific explanation of the origin of the starts, earth, sun, light, animals, and so on."

      Asserting that we have two first parents in the theological sense--meaning two

      "It appears to me that there is a tendency to cling to Biblical accounts as "facts" until there is clear evidence that they are not, and then to say, "Of course, they aren't meant as history or science! Whoever suggested such a thing?"

      It's true, as Pope John Paul II maintained, that, "Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes."

      But it seems to me your comment offers a caricature of this otherwise healthy relationship. Instead of a general criticism, can you please provide an example of the Church officially teaching that a Biblical account is historical (and/or scientific) and then later reversing its position to say, "Whoever suggested such a thing?"

      • Ben Posin

        Brandon--I think some text might have been dropped from your comment. You wrote "Asserting that we have two first parents in the theological sense--meaning two" and then seem to have meant to continue the statement. I'd be interested in knowing what you had in mind, as I suspect it's pretty relevant to the question you and David are arguing.

        Anyway, I'm game: what is the official Catholic view on Adam and Eve? It sounds like there is one. Lay it out, and it should then be prett yclear one way or the other if the Catholic Church is asserting incorrect science based on Genesis. The catechism David quoted seems to point in that direction, but if that's not the case please share with us.

        • Ben, thanks for the comment! I actually didn't mean to respond to that section of David's comment. I was a typo (which I've fixed.)

          But regarding your question, "What is the official Catholic view on Adam and Eve?" I'd first point you to this comprehensive article, which includes the Church's official teachings on Adam and Eve:

          http://www.catholic.com/tracts/adam-eve-and-evolution

          Then I'd recommend Mike Flynn's noodling of the apparent contradiction between polygenism and Catholic teaching. He offers an interesting and plausible solution (I'm hoping to run a cleaned-up version of that article here at Strange Notions so we can have much deeper discussion about it.)

          http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2011/09/adam-and-eve-and-ted-and-alice.html

          Hope that helps!

      • David Nickol

        Before I respond to it, did you have any thoughts about what Fr. Barron wrote? I would have thought you, of all people, would have appreciated the many plausible interpretations he offered.

        I am in fundamental agreement with what Fr. Barron asserts. For example, I believe he is correct in saying, "One of the most important principles of Catholic Biblical interpretation is that the reader of the Scriptural texts must be sensitive to the genre or literary type of the text with which he is dealing." On the other hand, after reading Fr. Barron's piece, I took another look at Humani Generis and found this passage (in the paragraph directly following the one in which Pius XII says, "For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents"):

        Just as in the biological and anthropological sciences, so also in the historical sciences there are those who boldly transgress the limits and safeguards established by the Church. In a particular way must be deplored a certain too free interpretation of the historical books of the Old Testament. Those who favor this system, in order to defend their cause, wrongly refer to the Letter which was sent not long ago to the Archbishop of Paris by the Pontifical Commission on Biblical Studies.[13] This letter, in fact, clearly points out 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, (the Letter points out), 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. If, however, the ancient sacred writers have taken anything from popular narrations (and this may be conceded), it must never be forgotten that they did so with the help of divine inspiration, through which they were rendered immune from any error in selecting and evaluating those documents.

        This suggests to me that Genesis Chs. 1-11 are history, just not history as it is conventionally written. Consequently, it would seem, the human race really did have two and only two parents, and the entire human race was wiped out by a great flood that only Noah, his family, and an ark full of animals survived.

      • David Nickol

        Regarding your accusation in the excerpt above, I'm not aware of this happening. Do you have evidence that the Catholic Church--meaning the official magisterium--taught that Genesis contained "scientific" information?

        I would say Fr. Barron has half a point when he says,

        If I can borrow an insight from Fr. George Coyne, a Jesuit priest and astrophysicist, no Biblical text can possibly be “scientific” in nature, since “science,” as we understand it, first emerged some fourteen centuries after the composition of the last Biblical book.

        But it is only half a point, in my opinion, since I think "scientific" information can, in this context, be interpreted to include empirical facts which can either be verified currently or could have been verified had there been the appropriate eyewitnesses (say, hypothetical time travelers from our present sent back to biblical times). Whether or not there were two "first parents," whether there was a great flood that killed all of humanity except those riding out forty days of rain in an ark, whether there was a Tower of Babel, and whether or not there were historical personage corresponding to Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, and Moses may be—broadly speaking—regarded as "scientific" questions.

        One of the difficulties posed in answering your question is that there are clearly positions held by the Church—say, the ones that resulted in the condemnation of Galileo and his work—which are considered true at the time and which may not be questioned without serious consequences, but which are not pronounced doctrine by the "magisterium." Thus Galileo could be condemned with a document that begins as follows:

        Whereas you, Galileo, son of the late Vaincenzo Galilei, Florentine, aged seventy years, were in the year 1615 denounced to this Holy Office for holding as true the false doctrine taught by some that the Sun is the center of the world and immovable and that the Earth moves, and also with a diurnal motion . . . .

        And yet, it can be truthfully maintained that the "magisterium" never has taught that the sun revolves around the earth. I acknowledge that the Galileo affair was complex and there are myths surrounding it, nevertheless it is true that Galileo was condemned in part for contradicting an interpretation of scripture that was commonly held to be true but never officially endorsed as doctrine by the magisterium. So while it is technically true in a sense that the Church did not officially teach geocentrism, nevertheless denying geocentrism was enough to get Galileo and others condemned by the Church.

        • "And yet, it can be truthfully maintained that the "magisterium" never has taught that the sun revolves around the earth...it is true that Galileo was condemned in part for contradicting an interpretation of scripture that was commonly held to be true but never officially endorsed as doctrine by the magisterium."

          I think we can both rest in agreement on this fact.

      • josh

        "...can you please provide an example of the Church officially teaching that
        a Biblical account is historical (and/or scientific) and then later
        reversing its position..."

        How many times do we have to go through the Galileo thing?

        • Well, we've discussed it several times but nobody has offered an example of the Church officially teaching, and then denying, that a specific Biblical account is historical.

          See David's excellent comment below:

          https://strangenotions.com/the-genesis-problem/#comment-1104985596

          • josh

            The church officially condemned Galileo, along with Copernicus and anyone else endorsing heliocentrism because heliocentrism was viewed as contrary to scripture. I quote:

            "...the declaration made by His Holiness and published by the Holy Congregation of the Index has been announced to you, wherein it is declared that the doctrine of the motion of the Earth and the stability of the Sun is contrary to the
            Holy Scriptures and therefore cannot be defended or held. "

            and

            "...vehemently suspected of heresy, namely, of
            having believed and held the doctrine—which is false and contrary to the sacred and divine Scriptures—that the Sun is the center of the world and does not move from east to west and that the Earth moves and is not the center of the
            world;"

            The Church taught geocentrism as a cosmological and historical fact, it would be dishonest to deny this. I take it that they have now reversed their position.

      • Joe Ser

        One must not forget that human reasoning of our observations is the weak link. Faith and Science cannot be opposed, properly observed and reasoned science that is. Science by its own definition is provisional.

    • Susan

      The problem, of course, is that the Catholic Church at one time actually did read Genesis as containing "scientific" information,

      That IS a problem and one that Robert Barron does not address.
      The most obvious problem for me is that the myths of Genesis show themselves to be just more creation myths among thousands.
      What is his justification for interpreting them as anything more?
      A couple of stories among thousands of stories.
      .

      • David Nickol

        Seriously? He is naming things. It is a story about a first human naming things. Scientist and philosopher? Ach!

        He attributes this "insight" to the Church Fathers, and I am no expert on what the Church Fathers thought about Adam naming the animals. However, he himself has said the following:

        If I can borrow an insight from Fr. George Coyne, a Jesuit priest and astrophysicist, no Biblical text can possibly be “scientific” in nature, since “science,” as we understand it, first emerged some fourteen centuries after the composition of the last Biblical book.

        Since the last Church Father died well before science as we understand it came into being, it is difficult to understand how the Church Fathers could have deemed Adam the first scientist.

        Harold Bloom finds a little joke in this passage:

        The LORD God said: "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him." So the LORD God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man.

        God says it is not good for man to be alone, sets out to make a suitable partner for him, and creates all the animals, "but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man"!

  • Joe Ser

    God is not capable of imbedding "science" in text? What great glory we give to man in discovering science in the 14th century, but God (the logos, the word) could not? I think there is more to the story.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      The Catholic understanding of Sacred Scripture is that each book has two authors: God and the sacred writer(s). The human author is a true author, not somebody taking dictation. He wrote according to his mentality, expressing religious and moral truths in that mode.

      A question, Joe, is why would God be expected to imbed "science" in this book? Think of what you are demanding. Really, according to your mindset, God is also required to imbed in the Bible some form of knowledge that will not be discovered for 2000 or 20,000 years.

      • David Nickol

        A question, Joe, is why would God be expected to imbed "science" in this book?

        The question, then, is if one doesn't look for science in Genesis, why should we look to Genesis to determine whether the human race originated with two "parents" or evolved as a population? Surely the ancient author's hadn't a clue about the possibility of evolution. And yet Pius XII strongly implies that even if science points to "polygenism," Catholics are not at liberty to accept it.

        The reason would seem to be not anything in Genesis itself, nor anything in the entire Bible, but the doctrine of Original Sin and its transmission. There is extreme reluctance to give up "monogenism" not because there is anything convincingly historical about the story of Adam and Eve. But Christian interpretation of that story makes it difficult to see Adam and Eve as mythical because two parents of the human race seem necessary in order to avoid a radical reinterpretation of Original Sin.

        So it is really not so much the Bible that is at stake here. A Catholic may freely discount the literal truth of the six days of creation and merely affirm that what it means is that God is the Creator. But the doctrine of Original Sin is in jeopardy without "two parents."So it is not really a matter of biblical interpretation. No doctrines rest on believing in six days of creation. But the doctrine of Original Sin seems to rest on "monogenism."

        • Kevin Aldrich

          These seem to me to be good points, David.

          If there really is a problem, the Church ought to be able to solve it like she has solved other theological problems throughout history.

          Let the theologians wrestle with it and then have an ecumenical council or the pope define an answer to whatever level of certainty it/he deems necessary.

      • Joe Ser

        I am thinking that God, in a single word breathed creation. Therefore, this word contains everything discovered and undiscovered by humans. But here we have in the very first verse of Gen - In the beginning - time; God created the heavens - space; and the earth - matter. Science only recently affirmed what was recorded a long time ago.

        Pope Benedict's Easter Homily - Creative Reason

        http://idvolution.blogspot.com/2011/10/pope-benedicts-easter-homily-creative.html

  • Octavo

    In order to better discuss the Genesis author's inent, it might be useful to have an article on the documentary hypothesis.

    ~Jesse Webster

    • Well, that's a different discussion for another day. For now, let's just discuss the many and varied ways that Catholics understand the Genesis narratives which don't conflict with modern science (since they're not scientific texts).

      • Octavo

        I'm not sure how to discuss the meaning of the text without discussing the author and his or her audience. I can certainly agree that Catholics no longer believe in the literal truth of Genesis the way young earth creationists do.

        ~Jesse Webster

        • Kevin Aldrich

          This discussion would have to include the entire Pentateuch since it was probably written and rewritten many times and reached its final form in the post-exilic period (maybe 400 BC), when the events referred to were far in the distant (and maybe mythological) past.

          • Joe Ser

            There are some who believe the Moses compiled the Pentateuch from clay tablets in his possession.

            Clay Tablet with Colophon

            Tablet 1: Genesis 1:1 - 2:4. The origins of the cosmos Author: (God Himself (?)
            Tablet 2: Genesis 2:5 - 5:2. The origins of mankind (Adam)
            Tablet 3: Genesis 5:3 - 6:9a. The histories of Noah(Noah)
            Tablet 4: Genesis 6:9b - 10:1. The histories of the sons of Noah (Shem, Ham & Japheth )
            Tablet 5: Genesis 10:2 - 11:10a. The histories of Shem (Shem)
            Tablet 6: Genesis 11:10b - 11:27a. The histories of Terah (Terah)
            Tablet 7: Genesis 11:27b - 25:12. The histories of Ishmael (Isaac)
            Tablet 8: Genesis 25:13 - 25:19a. The histories of Isaac (Ishmael, through Isaac)
            Tablet 9: Genesis 25:19b - 36:1. The histories of Esau (Jacob)
            Tablet 10: Genesis 36:2 - 36:9. The histories of Esau (Esau, through Jacob)
            Tablet 11: Genesis 36:10 - 37:2. The histories of Jacob(Jacob’s 12 sons)

            The actual Pontifical Biblical Commission statements:

            On the Mosaic Authorship of the Pentateuch (June 27, 1906)

            I: Are the arguments gathered by critics to impugn the Mosaic authorship of the sacred hooks designated by the name of the Pentateuch of such weight in spite of the cumulative evidence of many passages of both Testaments, the unbroken unanimity of the Jewish people, and furthermore of the constant tradition of the Church besides the internal indications furnished by the text itself, as to justify the statement that these books are not of Mosaic authorship but were put together from sources mostly of post-Mosaic date?
            Answer: In the negative.

            II: Does the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch necessarily imply a production of the whole work of such a character as to impose the belief that each and every word was written by Moses' own hand or was by him dictated to secretaries; or is it a legitimate hypothesis that he conceived the work himself under the guidance of divine inspiration and then entrusted the writing of it to one or more persons, with the understanding that they reproduced his thoughts with fidelity and neither wrote nor omitted anything contrary to his will, and that finally the work composed after this fashion was approved by Moses, its principal and inspired author, and was published under his name?
            Answer: In the negative to the first and in the affirmative to the second part.

            III: Without prejudice to the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, may it be granted that in the composition of his work Moses used sources, written documents namely or oral traditions, from which in accordance with the special aim he entertained and under the guidance of divine inspiration he borrowed material and inserted it in his work either word for word or in substance, either abbreviated or amplified?
            Answer: In the affirmative.

            IV: Subject to the Mosaic authorship and the integrity of the Pentateuch being substantially safeguarded, may it be admitted that in the protracted course of centuries certain modifications befell it, such as: additions made after the death of Moses by an inspired writer, or glosses and explanations inserted in the text, certain words and forms changed from archaic into more recent speech, finally incorrect readings due to the fault of scribes which may be the subject of inquiry and judgement according to the laws of textual criticism?
            Answer In the affirmative, saving the judgement of the Church.

            Document listed on the Vatican website: 33. De mosaica authentia Pentateuchi (June 27, 1906)

            Found the actual Pontifical Biblical Commission statements:

            On the Mosaic Authorship of the Pentateuch (June 27, 1906)

            I: Are the arguments gathered by critics to impugn the Mosaic authorship of the sacred hooks designated by the name of the Pentateuch of such weight in spite of the cumulative evidence of many passages of both Testaments, the unbroken unanimity of the Jewish people, and furthermore of the constant tradition of the Church besides the internal indications furnished by the text itself, as to justify the statement that these books are not of Mosaic authorship but were put together from sources mostly of post-Mosaic date?

            Answer: In the negative.

            II: Does the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch necessarily imply a production of the whole work of such a character as to impose the belief that each and every word was written by Moses' own hand or was by him
            dictated to secretaries; or is it a legitimate hypothesis that he conceived the work himself under the guidance of divine inspiration and then entrusted the writing of it to one or more persons, with the understanding that they reproduced his thoughts with fidelity and neither wrote nor omitted anything contrary to his will, and that
            finally the work composed after this fashion was approved by Moses, its principal and inspired author, and was published under his name?

            Answer: In the negative to the first and in the affirmative to the second part.

            III: Without prejudice to the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, may it be granted that in the composition of his work Moses used sources, written documents namely or oral traditions, from which in accordance with the special aim he entertained and under the guidance of divine inspiration he borrowed material and inserted it in his work either word for word or in substance, either abbreviated or amplified?

            Answer: In the affirmative.

            IV: Subject to the Mosaic authorship and the integrity of the Pentateuch being substantially safeguarded, may it be admitted that in the protracted course of centuries certain modifications befell it, such as: additions made after the death of Moses by an inspired writer, or
            glosses and explanations inserted in the text, certain words and forms changed from archaic into more recent speech, finally incorrect readings due to the fault of scribes which may be the subject of inquiry and
            judgement according to the laws of textual criticism?

            Answer In the affirmative, saving the judgement of the Church.

            Document listed on the Vatican website: 33. De mosaica authentia Pentateuchi (June 27, 1906)

      • Joe Ser

        God “breathed” the super language of DNA into the “kinds” in the creative act.

        This accounts for the diversity of life we see. The core makeup shared by all living things have the necessary complex information built in that facilitates rapid and responsive adaptation of features and variation while being able to preserve the “kind” that they began as. Life has been created with the creativity built in ready to respond to triggering events.

        Since it has been demonstrated that all living organisms on Earth have the same core, it is virtually certain that living organisms have been thought of AT ONCE by the One and the same Creator endowed with the super language we know as DNA that switched on the formation of the various kinds, the cattle, the swimming creatures, the flying creatures, etc.. in a pristine harmonious state and superb adaptability and responsiveness to their environment for the purpose of populating the earth that became subject to the ravages of corruption by the sin of one man (deleterious utations).

        IDvolution considers the latest science and is consistent with the continuous teaching of the Church.

  • Linda

    I am still struck by the fact that in broad strokes Genesis actually has the order of the universe close to spot on. Aside from Day 4 (I think), it is exactly what current science proposes: an initial event, matter coming together, suns and moons (and planets), land masses from the oceans, plants, animals and then people. Really rather impressive. I also read a catechism book that explained the first three days are "decorated" by God on the subsequent three days (so Day 4 has the Sun and Moon because it is decoration for Day 1's events, which is why cosmologically it is out of order).

    • But this is not the case. It starts with the water and the firmament, not an "event" in which time and space explode into existence at incredible density and energy. It has plants existing before the sun... It begins with a "void", which is wrong. It has the first plant life beginning on land, wrong again. It has two contrary accounts of creation.

      • Joe Ser

        The first account seems to be written from God's perspective and tell the order of Creation. The second account tells about the importance of man. They are not contrary, but complementary.

        • Of course that is possible, but it doesn't make much sense. We don't find duplicate accounts in any other stories in Genesis or the Old Testament. There is no indication that this is what is happening, the only reason to conclude that is to try to explain what is otherwise evidence of the unreliability of the text.

          And they are contradictory, in one the animals are made before Man, after in the other.

          • Joe Ser

            Scripture should be read as a whole.

            God got it started with Gen 1. Gen 1 and 2 use diptych's extensively. A way to look at it is to look at two photos of the same scene, a closeup and a farther away. Gen 2 is elaborating on some of the focal points of 1. Gen 1 is building up to the importance of dry land and humanity, Gen 2 starts with these realities and develops them further.

      • Linda

        Hey Brian! Thanks for the response. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I understand what you're saying, but we are reading the text differently, I think. You are reading it literally and I am reading it more broadly and metaphorically. To break down what I am seeing in the story:

        Gen v 1-5, Day 1: "the earth was without form and void" so not really earth at all. "And God said 'Let there be light'" - the Big Bang. God separates light from dark (matter from dark matter?).

        Gen v 6-8, Day 2: God separates the "waters" for heaven and firmament - or perhaps we have the cosmic dusts collect and begin to form stars and planets and such.

        Gen v 9 - 13, Day 3: God separates the water on Earth from the land, and brings forth vegetation. I thought that was what science said happened.

        Gen v 14-19, Day 4: God creates the Sun and Moon - here I admit we're out of order, but as I said, Rev. William Anderson in his book "In His Light" explains the balance of Days 1-3 with Days 4-6, the first three being creative and the second three being decoration for the creation. But now I'm mixing theories which of course just sets everyone off, so I will stand by my original statement, which is: "Aside from Day 4 (I think), it is exactly what current science proposes . . ."

        Gen v 20-23, Day 5: God creates sea life and birds (the original dinosaurs, according to natural history museums I've been to).

        Gen v 24-31, Day 6: God creates land mammals and man.

        Again, aside from Day 4 and in very broad strokes, this seems to be spot on with what most scientists propose as reasonable theories for how everything came to be. And none of it involves any bizarre stories of all of it riding on the back of a giant turtle or twin brothers being born of wolves and eaten by their mother, or gods having battles or anything else of that ilk. There is nothing crazy or fantastical about the story at all except that, for the sake of the poetry of the story, it takes place over 6 days. And I can let that go, given that this lovely ancient people who, based on their own history seem to be rather nomadic shepherds and occasional slaves, came up with what appears to me to be the exact history of the universe that scientists are proposing today. Aside from Day 4, of course. :)

  • Erick Ybarra

    Hello everyone,
    I appreciate this discussion. I remember in my protestant days spending hours listening to young-earth apologists, and so I am coming from a educational background that is rooted in the arguments which seek to prove the earth is young and that God did, in fact, create the heavens and the earth and all that is in them in 6 literal days, consisting of morning and evening. I did have some interaction with protestants who did not share this viewpoint, especially some of the reformed presbyterians. I failed to see the basis of their argumentation then. However, I am open now to see what there is to offer in view that God actually did not, or that it is unlikely, create the heavens and the earth in 6 days.
    I, personally, would like a preliminary question taken away before I ask any further questions related to the article. So here's the question. In the books of Moses, we read more than once Moses saying to the children of Israel that the Sabbath day is actually structured off the day-structure of the creation of the heavens and the earth. In other words, the reason that the Israelites are to hallow the 7th day and keep it holy is because it is particularly blessed by God after having spent 6 days at work creating the heavens and the earth. The 7th day had a morning and evening, as does the holy Sabbath day of the Israelites. How can we then proceed immediately to discount this connection?
    I understand that the word "day" can mean other things than a literal 24 hour period. But we must confess that Moses (or for the matter present and the audience involved, whoever wrote Genesis) did detail his word "Day" with the added "morning and evening", which would have no doubt signified to the readers that this was a "morning and evening" as they have been accustomed to. And it would fit well with the words of Moses in explaining the structure of the sabbath day to the Israelites.
    Aside from the broad typology of "day" and "rest" that we see ratched it up in the fulness of time, particularly the way the author to the Hebrews speaks of "rest" as the eschatological hope of Zion, which we can otherwise term the new heavens and earth, heaven, the kingdom of God, etc,etc....it seems as though I would have to get passed the words of Moses before proceeding to the next thought open to an old earth viewpoint, or even a semi-evolutionary viewpoint in the Genesis account.

  • Please correct me if I'm wrong:

    The Catholic Church claims that the universe had a beginning and that it came from nothing. It has, at least historically, based these claims largely on the content of Genesis.

    Currently this is not a scientific question, but it very-well could be someday. Would it be better for the Church to back off of a literal creation ex nihilo, instead moving to a figurative creation ex nihilo, whatever that will mean?

    Otherwise, it seems possible that in the not-too-distant future, new scientific discoveries may falsify the claim of creation ex nihilo. And this would put the Catholic Church in a very embarrassing position.

    Or maybe this is something the Catholic Church cannot give up? Is it possible for some part of the Catholic Faith to be scientifically falsified, at least in principle?

    • ziad

      The catholic church does not claim that the universe had a beginning. An infinite universe is possible. The church only teaches that God has created the universe (whether finite or infinite is irrelevant).

      • That's great, if true. The Catholic Encyclopedia seems to say something different, though:

        After the controversy with Paganism and the Oriental heresies had waned, and with the awakening of a new intellectual life through the introduction of Aristotle into the Western schools, the doctrine of creation was set forth in greater detail. The revival of Manichæism by the Cathari and the Albigenses called for a more explicit expression of the contents of the Church's belief regarding creation. 'This was formulated by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 [Denzinger, "Enchiridion", 428 (355)]. The council teaches the unicity of the creative principle — unus solus Deus; the fact of creation out of nothing (the nature of creation is here for the first time, doubtless through the influence of the schools, designated by the formula, condidit ex nihilo); its object (the visible and invisible, the spiritual and material world, and man); its temporal character (ab initio temporis); the origin of evil from the fact of free will.

        http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04470a.htm

        Maybe I misunderstand?

        • ziad

          All the quote seems to say that the universe was created out of nothing. This is part of the doctrine (I think, and the article seems to suggest so as well), but that does not imply that the universe is finite. All it implies is that God was the source of creation. Nothing else was, and then universe was created.
          I believe it was Dawkins that argued that the universe "start" is not necessarily meaningful in the same way we observe things starting in time.
          In short, the emphasis is on the reason for being, not time as we observe it, since time is only meaningful in the universe not outside it.

          • Sqrat

            In short, the emphasis is on the reason for being, not time as we observe it, since time is only meaningful in the universe not outside it.

            That is, unless time is meaningful outside the universe as well as inside it.

          • ziad

            That is correct. I was just trying to show that infinite universe and created out of nothing are not at odds.

        • Loreen Lee

          I have for some time identified the term beginning with the concept of foundationalism promulgated by many modern philosophers, particularly the followers of Cartesian epistemology/metaphysics. With such a 'definition' it is irrelevant in my 'opinion' as to whether the physical cosmos is infinite or finite. Creation in this context could be regarded as the opposite 'movement' to evolutionism; creationism being the manifestation (choose your word here) of consciousness, (intelligence, the Word) to the physical, whereas, as is consistent with the atheists who believe in an evolution of consciousness, the latter would be seen as most relevant. I shall not consider the context of eternity in this regard here, but please be assured that this is merely a brief and thus inadequate presentation of this thesis. One of the critics of Descartes, I remember, (his name begins with an M. Merserne, or something) put forward the thesis of 'Occasionalism' in this regard. (Or even in the Hindu trilogy, the 'sustaining' g/God) Don't have a decided opinion how this idea would apply to the Christian Trinity.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Aquinas, following Aristotle, thought you could not prove through reason that the universe did not always exist. But, since Genesis taught there was a beginning, he held that the universe did begin.

      • Joe Ser

        Gen 1 - in the beginning God created.....

        • ziad

          Yes. Of course the catholic church holds that the God created the universe (and because it is church teaching, I believe it as well) but that does not necessarily follow that the universe had a beginning per se. God does have the power to create an infinite universe, but that universe cannot exist without God.

          • Joe Ser

            Then the universe would be uncreated. If created it had to have a beginning.

          • Loreen Lee

            Creation: Mind (The Logos) is 'instilled' within matter (Eternal or theological) (Artists do 'create' masterpieces, but this would be the temporal application of the word I don't believe we completely understand how our ideas become an 'empirical' reality).

            Evolution: a development of 'matter' towards greater consciousness!!!! (Temporal or scientific/phenomenological)

            This on the supposition that the universe could be 'infinite' and that the question of time is a 'difficulty' to be overcome..

          • This is very neoplatonic. I like it. Actually, it resonates much more closely with the metaphysics and theology of the Latter Day Saints or with certain philosophical schools in Islam, like that of Averroës. There is eternal pre-existing matter that is infused with form by God, along with some teleological or other growth (fate or whatnot) toward greater consciousness. Teilhard de Chardin provided a way to talk about this sort of thing using both Darwinist and Catholic language.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks Paul for your comment. I would be hesitant in applying the term eternal and pre-existing matter within the same context however. Just a typo possibly, but I think the term infinite is preferable. Although I am constantly struggling to place concepts within a structure, I have a developing analysis which would place theological for instance with the idea of identity/unity of consciousness. The Buddhists do not believe in a 'unity' at least specifically with respect to matter, but constantly talk of 'aggregates'. Talk within the temporal sphere would thus be analogical, and indeed our human languages have been demonstrated to rest on metaphor.
            Understanding comes slowly, but I do believe in comparative religion as a means to grow in the understanding of terminology generally, and indeed issues of 'faith'. We do need a way to 'talk about these things', as you point out from the example of Chardin. I constantly feel that apologetics has a need to embrace the possibility of a more comprehensive approach in which to discuss 'terminology' within the context of the divergent points of view within 'mythos'. understood as 'religious perspective'. Thanks again.

          • Nicholas Escalona

            Not so. In this way, creation is like causation. Someone who put physics into the place in his mind reserved for philosophy will have generally very muddled ideas of both creation and causation, and among other errors will say that both must be singular events in space-time.

            If you can understand how causation is not necessarily an event at a particular time, but sometimes only a relation between beings, then you are in a position to understand creation. In fact, creation is identical with what the philosophers call primary causation.

    • Nicholas Escalona

      The Church has spoken so carefully and so often on this issue that there is no room at all for a relativizing deconstruction to the effect that the universe was not produced from nothing.

      There is no way in principle for physics or any natural science to prove otherwise. It is not a question within the purview of those disciplines or subject to their methods. Physicists in particular are notorious for substituting their own definitions of "nothing" that are irrelevant to the question. Creatio ex nihilo means creation without any kind of substratum at all. The physicist's vacuum, for example, is very much a substratum.

      The Church holds creatio ex nihilo to be proved by Revelation, yes. But it also holds it to be proved by philosophy. The Church teaches definitively that it may be known through reason alone that there must exist some necessary being (God) causing all other beings. The doctrine of creatio ex nihilo is directly deducible from this. Every other being totally derives its existence from God.

      Though many disagreed with him, Aquinas held that creatio ex nihilo is in fact compatible with an eternal universe, and that therefore reason alone could not prove that the world had a beginning. It is difficult for those of us raised with physics for our philosophy to grasp this, but I at least find it convincing. Nevertheless, it is a certain teaching from Scripture, the Fathers, and the Magisterium that the world had a beginning. This also could not be relativized; it is taught with too much careful philosophy to permit that.

      • I think you miss what I mean. I mean that, although Aquinas held that reason alone could not show that the universe had a beginning, science may someday show that it doesn't. And where does that leave the Thomists? It appears that, if ziad is right, Catholics would be fine. But Thomists at least would seem to be up a creek.

        • Nicholas Escalona

          Science will never show that the universe had no beginning. The Church's teaching is certain on this point. Faith and reason will not contradict, and the teaching of the faith proves that the universe had a beginning.

          If the Faith were false, and science did prove that the universe had no beginning, all Christians would be up a creek. I don't understand why you think Thomists in particular would be.

          • Because some Christians don't think that the universe necessarily had a beginning. Some of the Catholics who replied to my comment don't think that the universe necessarily had a beginning.

          • Nicholas Escalona

            You asked about the Catholic Church, not individual fallible Catholics, let alone non-Catholics. Vatican I defines the matter clearly for all Catholics. If someone somehow does not think that the productio ex nihilo spoken of in canon 1.5 of Vat. I implies an act before which nothing existed, then the witness of Genesis 1:1 (with many other passages), the unanimous Fathers, and the constant teaching of the Church is more than enough to leave the answer totally without doubt. This belief has been foundational to Christianity so long it is inherited from the Jews.

          • Then you open yourself up to becoming the newest generation of flat-earthers, geocentrists and special creationists; in other words, pseudoscientific religionists.

            Now, maybe you won't. Best scientific evidence currently is that the universe had a definite beginning, but there's no evidence currently one way or the other about whether it came from nothing. It is conceivable, however unlikely, that future work in science will discover that the cosmos never had a beginning, or started but not from nothing.

            My money is that you can hold to your (in my opinion entirely unfounded and speculative) dogmatic belief about creation ex nihilo in space and time, and will safely avoid becoming a pseudoscientific religionist. But it's a risk. That's all I was saying. You risk either your faith or your rationality.

          • Nicholas Escalona

            You have not grasped the Church's position on this.

            The official and infallible Church teaching easiest for me to give you is Genesis 1:1; in principio creavit Deus cælum et terram.

            From canon 1.5 of Vatican I: " If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, were produced, according to their whole substance, out of nothing by God... let him be anathema." A beginning to the world in time is clearly indicated.

            It's deducible from this, by anyone who recognizes the Church's authority, that science will never and logically can never prove that the universe had no beginning. This is precisely because there is one truth and reason and faith cannot conflict. There is no risk at all, not to faith and not to rationality, because logical contradictions are impossible.

            Even if we did not have that canon from Vatican I or Genesis 1:1 or any other formal declaration - that the world began has always been a constant assumption behind the words of the Fathers and the Magisterium and the Scriptures (for which reason the Church in its ordinary magisterium has continued to teach that the world began), and that alone would be enough.

          • Is there any place where it's declared dogmatically that the beginning must have been a finite time ago? In other words, must Catholics believe that "beginning" is referring to a moment in space and time?

            I find your references helpful but inconclusive on this point.

            Many thanks for the education!

  • James Hartic

    Blind Faith.

    For those of us who are old enough to remember, those who attended parochial schools of 60 years ago....we were taught by priests and nuns who should have known better....that the story of Genesis was to be taken literally....and that there was no biological evolutionary process involved. The same attitude would have prevailed in most Christian schools and churches of all stripes in those days. We know better now of course, but no thanks to the churches. They had to fall in line, reluctantly I might add, with the modern understanding of scientific fact and theory, if they wanted to retain any credibility at all. All persons with even a modicum of education now understand the Genesis account only as being in the literary genre of allegory and metaphor....and no longer represents any credible connection with the history of man or the universe.

    Sad to say there are still those Christians who continue to participate in "spiritual gymnastics" in their efforts to cling to a literal interpretation of Genesis.....including some Catholics. Granted....there were many priests and theologians, at that time, who understood the facts of science perfectly well, but they deemed that students and the average person in the pew were too dumb to understand, so best they be left in the dark so as not to disturb their "faith".

    • David Nickol

      I went to Catholic elementary school in the 1950s, and I was never given any reason to doubt that the story of Adam and Eve happened exactly as recounted in Genesis. I remember my older sister and I agreed that it was unfair that we had to go to school because Adam and Eve had messed things up for us. Even while saying the story of Adam and Eve is told in figurative language, Church documents still discuss Adam and Eve as if they were real people—the first two humans—whose actual names were Adam and Eve.

      • Sqrat

        I understand the Catholic teaching to be basically that Adam and Eve were the first hominids to receive soul transplants.

        • Joe Ser

          I understand it to mean what it has meant for the life of the Church - male and female He created them. ( if they evolved from Apes even simple language could have transmitted that - ie, they came from apes/animals of a lower order........)

      • Kevin Aldrich

        I think it is perfectly natural to do this. They were teaching you inside the stories, not stepping outside them to reconcile them with ideas outside that world.

        • David Nickol

          I rather suspect that the people who taught me in Catholic grade school themselves believed that the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Paradise was basically historical, although they may have been aware the human race was more than a few thousand years old. As I recall, we had not been taught that creation was accomplished in six literal days, but as best I can recall, we were taught that there were two individuals whose names were Adam and Eve who were tempted by a serpent, ate forbidden fruit, and were banished from the garden, with angels posted as guards so that they could not reenter.

          I don't believe evolution came up in elementary school. It is difficult to believe it didn't come up in high school, although I certainly don't remember it. I do remember taking a college biology class in the 1960s at Xavier University in Cincinnati, a Jesuit school, and our teacher kept emphasizing that we didn't have to believe what he taught about evolution. He was a lay teacher, not a Jesuit, and from what I know about Jesuits, I think had we had a Jesuit biology teacher, he would not have been so timid about teaching evolution.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Sure. They were taking those stories at face value and they can be taken that way, provided they are not interpreted in a way inconsistent with Catholic faith or morals.

          • Joe Ser

            As time goes on evolution is now understood to be religion/philosophy. It is not empirical, ( observable, reproducible and predictable.)

          • David Nickol

            As time goes on evolution is now understood to be religion/philosophy. It is not empirical, ( observable, reproducible and predictable.)

            I don't agree at all. By the same reasoning, you could claim astronomy or geology was "religion/philosophy." We don't do experiments with supernovas or tectonic plates. We can't experimentally set off a big bang or bury dead organic matter and spend hundreds of thousands of years turning it into crude oil. Evolutionary biology is just as empirical as physics.

          • Joe Ser

            The distinction that is often blurred is empirical science vs non-empirical consensus science.

          • robtish

            The problem with writing in the passive voice is that it allows you to omit the agent of responsibility. For instance: "As time goes on evolution is now understood to be religion/philosophy."

            Really? WHO understands to be a religion/philosophy? Your statement makes it sound like this a general understanding, but it's not. It's held by a very limited number of people, mainly those who oppose evolution on religious grounds.

          • Joe Ser

            I asked in another post absent empirical (observable, repeatable, predictable) evidence when do we cross over into philosophy?

          • robtish

            What does the absence of observable, repeatable, predictable empirical evidence have to do with evolution?

            Also, I still want to know who understand evolution to be a religion/philosophy, and whether you think this is a general understanding or confined to a limited number of people, mainly those who oppose evolution on religious grounds.

          • Joe Ser

            It has to do with science. Is evolution observable, repeatable and predictable?

            We can start with Michael Ruse and Richard Lewontin.

          • robtish

            Joe Ser, feel free to start with whomever you prefer.

          • robtish

            Yes, evolution is observable though not yet repeatable in a predictable way. However, the tests we use to study the validity of evolution and observable, repeatable, and predictable.

          • Joe Ser

            Observable as we speak? Source?

      • Joe Ser

        and in the 50's Humani Generis was written. (no polygenism). One must remember the church has fought against the idea of evolution since the very beginning.

      • James Hartic

        Pretty much the same experience I had....in both the elementary and high school system....and most of my teachers were nuns and priests, in both systems.

    • Susan

      There is a very interesting exchange between Father Coyne the Jesuit astronomer.and Richard Dawkins on YouTube.....if one cares to look it up

      Great reference. You should have just linked it. :-)

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=po0ZMfkSNxc&list=PL3213D14974D1B82D

      • James Hartic

        I don't usually link anything anymore....as I find that some Catholic sites will take offense.....to anything linking anything other than the most conservative material.....I tend not to last too long on those particular sites.....Even mention of the name Dawkins can get one banned for life.;-)

        • Susan

          Thanks James. I meant to put up Part 1 of a 9 part series so people could link from there. I must not have done that.

          Thank you for putting up the whole thing. It's a great discussion.

    • Joe Ser

      My Catholic teaching was consistent with the Catechism:

      The senses of Scripture

      115 According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.

      116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."83

      117 The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God's plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

      1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound
      understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ;
      thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ's victory
      and also of Christian Baptism.84

      2. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written "for our instruction".85

      3. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, "leading"). We
      can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance,
      leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign
      of the heavenly Jerusalem.86

      • Mikegalanx

        Taking the example given here, let's look at what Scripture says:

        Exodus 14:
        "19 Then the angel of God, who preceded the army of Israel, changed station and followed behind them. The pillar of cloud moved from their front and took position behind them.

        20 It came between the army of the Egyptians and the army of Israel. The cloud was dark, and the night passed without the one drawing any closer to the other the whole night long.

        21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and Yahweh drove the sea back with a strong easterly wind all night and made the sea into dry land. The waters were divided

        22 and the Israelites went on dry ground right through the sea, with walls of water to right and left of them.

        23 The Egyptians gave chase, and all Pharaoh's horses, chariots and horsemen went into the sea after them.

        24 In the morning watch, Yahweh looked down on the army of the Egyptians from the pillar of fire and cloud and threw the Egyptian army into confusion.

        25 He so clogged their chariot wheels that they drove on only with difficulty, which made the Egyptians say, 'Let us flee from Israel, for Yahweh is fighting on their side against the Egyptians!'

        26 Then Yahweh said to Moses, 'Stretch out your hand over the sea and let the waters flow back on the Egyptians and on their chariots and their horsemen.'

        27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and, as day broke, the sea returned to its bed. The fleeing Egyptians ran straight into it, and Yahweh overthrew the Egyptians in the middle of the sea.

        28 The returning waters washed right over the chariots and horsemen of Pharaoh's entire army, which had followed the Israelites into the sea; not a single one of them was left."

        So my question is, did this literally happen? If observers had been there, would they have seen the cloud descend on front of the Egyptian army; would they have seen the waters parted when Moses raised his hand; would they have seen the Israelites walking unharmed between the two walls of water; would they have seen the cloud lift in the morning,and would they have seen the walls of water collapse when the Egyptians tried to cross?

        So let's leave the allegorical, moral, and anagogical senses alone for the moment and stick with the literal: did this actually happen as plainly stated in Scripture?

        Michael Newsham

        • David Nickol

          . . . did this actually happen as plainly stated in Scripture?

          I would say no. It may be difficult to demonstrate what the consensus is among archeologists and historians, but from what I have read, it seems to be that Moses probably never existed, and the Exodus never happened. There is apparently no archeological or historical evidence for it whatsoever.

          I don't remember how the article titled Reconciling Modern Biblical Scholarship With Traditional [Jewish] Orthodox Belief came to my attention, but it begins as follows:

          “Virtually all of the stories in the Torah are ahistorical,” declares a manifesto posted in July on TheTorah.com. “Given the data to which modern historians have access,” the essay explains, “it is impossible to regard the accounts of mass Exodus from Egypt, the wilderness experience or the coordinated, swift, and complete conquest of the entire land of Canaan under Joshua as historical.” Not only did the events in the Garden of Eden and the Flood of Noah never transpire, readers are informed, but “Abraham and Sarah are folkloristic characters; factually speaking, they are not my ancestors or anyone else’s.”

          • Mikegalanx

            Well, no, it didn't.

            The problem is when you have the Catechism (according to JoeSer anyway) claiming that

            "The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."

            and, on the other hand, Fr. Barron saying :
            "see these writings as they were meant to be seen: not as primitive science, but as exquisite theology."

            IOTW the literal sense is wrong, but let's keep the allegorical, moral, and anagogical senses anyway- even though they are no longer based on the literal.

            (Unless they mean the literal in the sense that Pandora's box loosed evil on the world is literal because that's the way the story is written, even though it didn't actually happen.)

            But the Church insists that Adam and Eve did happen, because in their interpretation without that there goes Christ the Redeemer.
            I actually don't think its that much of a problem; you could easily discard the literal (or literalistic) sense without much disturbing the idea of the Fall in the Spiritual sense.

          • Joe Ser

            One has to be looking in the right place. The traditional site identified by Constantine's mother may be wrong. This is fascinating. You can do a google earth and see for yourself.

            https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&t=h&oe=UTF8&msa=0&msid=100534173371681539906.00043504ffeeea04bbc9d

            Jebel el Lawz - Mount Sinai +28° 35' 8.37", +35° 21' 17.72"

            Public · 17,722 views
            Golden Calf Altar - Jebel el Lawz

            Fenced boulder pile, boulders are inscribed with drawings of calves.
            Security Guard Shack
            Security Fence - Jebel el Lawz
            Boundary Marker Stones

            Exodus 19:12 - Boundary Stones - Jebel el Lawz (Mount Sinai). More boundary markers are seen equally spaced below this point.
            Moses' Altar

            Exodus 24:4 - Altar at the foot of Jebel el Lawz.
            Jebel el Lawz Summit
            Streambed
            Small Shrine? - Jebel el Lawz
            12 Pillars - Jebel el Lawz

            Exodus 24:4 - The 12 pillars representing the 12 tribes of Israel were apparently erected here.
            Split Rock? - Horeb - Jebel el Lawz

            Exodus 17:6
            Split Rock of Horeb?

            Exodus 17:6

        • Joe Ser

          Why not? Is your claim it could not happen? I believe it to be historical.

          • John Bell

            Of course it couldn't have happened. None of this stuff happened.

          • Joe Ser

            Why do you believe that?

          • MichaelNewsham

            If you mean Moses and the Red Sea,there may be a kernel of history in it,just as there may be in the Illiad. People of that group called Canaanites did inhabit parts of Sinai and Gaza, and sometimes they did take refuge in Egypt during droughts. I doubt the Egyptians put them on welfare, so they may well have used them for labour. There could have been a group who decided the burden wasn't worth it, and revolted.

            While you may believe it to be historical, most modern scholars, including the OP, don't. They try to deny the literal meaning of similar miraculous events- six days, talking snakes-but keep all the spiritual ones. My point is that they are indeed throwing out the baby with the bathwater, but refusing to face up to it.

  • scottbomb

    Great article. Another explanation I offer people is that Genesis was written thousands of years ago, when man had nowhere near the level of scientific knowledge we enjoy today. Therefore, they could only describe things (such as creation) in a manner that made sense to them.

    • James Hartic

      You are right of course....but even before it was written down in any sort of script.....the stories were passed on through oral tradition from generation to generation.

      • David Nickol

        You would not imagine—or would you?—that the story of Adam and Eve was passed down by word of mouth from Adam and Eve?

        • James Hartic

          You jest of course.....my reply was written in response to Scott, since he seemed to be giving some sort of credence to the "written word". Being an unbeliever myself I certainly don't give any credence to the biblical account of Genesis as anything other than allegory, myth and legend as you can plainly see from my previous comments. Adam and Eve themselves fall into that category....since they are only metaphors for mankind itself....and not two actual individuals.

          • Joe Ser

            Catholic teaching is they are historical.

          • David Nickol

            Catholic teaching is they are historical.

            I wouldn't go quite that far. I think I have quoted this before, but here is what the Catechism says:

            390 The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.

            While there is a strong implication that the human race descended from one man and one woman ("first parents"), we are told that the story of Adam and Eve is in "figurative language." So the story of Adam and Eve is not "historical," and Adam and Eve as two human individuals are not historical personages.

          • Joe Ser

            The Doctrine of Revelation Regarding Man or "Christian Anthropology"
            The first man was created by God. (De fide.)
            The whole human race stems from one single human pair. (Sent. certa.)
            Man consists of two essential parts--a material body and a spiritual soul. (De fide.)
            The rational soul is per se the essential form of the body. (De fide.)
            Every human being possesses an individual soul. (De fide.)
            Every individual soul was immediately created out of nothing by God. (Sent. Certa.)
            A creature has the capacity to receive supernatural gifts. (Sent. communis.)
            The Supernatural presupposes Nature. (Sent communis.)
            God has conferred on man a supernatural Destiny. (De fide.)
            Our first parents, before the Fall, were endowed with sanctifying grace. (De fide.)
            The donum rectitudinis or integritatis in the narrower sense, i.e., the freedom from irregular desire. (Sent. fidei proxima.)
            The donum immortalitatis, i.e.,bodily immortality. (De fide.)
            The donum impassibilitatis, i.e., the freedom from suffering. (Sent. communis.)
            The donum scientiae, i.e., a knowledge of natural and supernatural truths infused by God. (Sent. communis.)
            Adam received sanctifying grace not merely for himself, but for all his posterity. (Sent. certa.)
            Our first parents in paradise sinned grievously through transgression of the Divine probationary commandment. (De fide.)
            Through the sin our first parents lost sanctifying grace and provoked the anger and the indignation of God. (De fide.)
            Our first parents became subject to death and to the dominion of the Devil. (De fide.) D788.

          • David Nickol

            You appear to be relying on Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Ludwig Ott, possibly as "quoted" here. No doubt the book itself is a valuable reference, but "quoting" it in this way is, I think, misleading. Extracting all of these statements from their original context reduces a 560-page book to a list of alleged dogmas, without explanation or qualification. It doesn't tell us what the Church says, but rather what Ludwig Ott says, if that.

          • Joe Ser

            Each of these points is stated and then backed up. page 96

            Unity of the Human Race
            The whole human race stems from one single human pair. (Sent. certa.)
            Against the Pre-Adamite Theory (first expounded by the Calvinist Isaac de la Peyrere, 1655), and the view of certain modem scientists, according to which the various races are derived from several separated stems (polygenism), the Church teaches that the first human beings, Adam and Eve, are the progenitors of the whole human race (monogenism). The teaching of the tmity of the human race is not, indeed, a dogma, but it is a necessary pre-supposition of the dogma of Original Sin and Redemption. According to a decision of the Bible Commission, the unity of the human race is to be reckoned among those facts )Vhich affect the foundations of the Christian religion, and which, on this aCcoWlt, are to be understood in their literal, historical sense (D 2123). The Encyclical U Humani Generis " of Pius XII (1950) rej~cts polygenism on account of its incompatibility with the revealed doctrine of original sin. (D 3028). The biblical proof derives from the narration of the creation, which purports
            to relate the origin of all things, and therefore also the first emergence ofman. Explicit testimonies are Gn. 2, S : " And there vas not a luan to till the earth." Gn. 3t 20: "Adam called the name of his wife, Eve; because she was the mother of all the living." Acts 17, 26: "And hath made of one all mankind to dwell upon the whole face of the earth." Cf. Wis. JO, 1; Rom. 5, 12, et seq.; I Cor. IS, 21 et seq.; Hebr. 2, II; St. Augustine, In loan. tr. 9, 10. We nlay note that racial differences affect external characteristics only. The
            essential agreement of all races in physical structure and in mental endowment iPdicates a common origin.

          • David Nickol

            The essential agreement of all races in physical structure and in mental endowment iPdicates a common origin.

            As I read this, the words polygenism and monogenism are not being used according to their currently accepted meanings. Monogenism is basically the universally accepted scientific position, but it is not the belief that the human race descended from a single couple, but the belief that the human race descended from a single source—that is, that all human beings are related to one another, which they can be if modern humans evolved in a specific area and from a specific population in Africa. It is calculated that the absolute smallest any group of human ancestors could have been at a given time is about 1200. For us to be descended from Adam and Eve, it would (obviously) have to be 2.

            Polygenism, pertaining to the scientific view of human origins, is discredited, and it was the belief that different races descended from different origins, and that, for example, if you traced the ancestors of a black person, a white person, and a Chinese person, you would not find any common human ancestors for the three. If you believed in polygenism, you did not believe that all living human beings were related to each other.

            Don't forget, also, that if one takes the story of Adam and Eve literally, it is difficult to imagine why they would not take the story of Noah and the Ark literally as well, which would mean that human beings descended from two individuals only, and then there was a "bottleneck" requiring that every human being alive today be descended from a group of eight people (Noah, his wife, and Noah's three sons and their wives) and every animal today be descended from a single male-and-female pair.

            Piux XII was not infallible in writing Humani Generis.

          • Joe Ser

            Need I cite the numerous other writings supporting Adam and Eve? They have been the constant teaching and understanding of the church.

            Do you have any problem with any of the others I cited? Bodily immortality? Freedom from suffering? Infused knowledge?

            Are there any among us free from original sin?

          • Nicholas Escalona

            David: It is quite certain that Adam and Eve were two real individuals. Other aspects of the Genesis account may be more or less figurative. Read Humani generis 37, from the 1950 encyclical epistle of Ven. Pius X:

            "When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own."

            One could also deduce this from the way in which Adam and Eve are spoken of by the Scriptures, the Fathers, and the Ecumenical Councils: always as real people, the ancestors of all, and committers of a real sin. The teaching that Jesus Christ is the New Adam, with all its parallels, particularly demands a literal individual.

          • David Nickol

            It is quite certain that Adam and Eve were two real individuals.

            Accepting the most "conservative" possibly Catholic position, it seems to me it cannot be said that Adam and Eve were two real individuals. What we know about the characters Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-3 is that God formed Adam out of clay, made all the animals and had Adam name them, and made Eve out of Adam's rib. They lived in a paradisiacal garden. Eve had an encounter with a serpent resulting in her eating forbidden fruit, which she influenced Adam to eat as well. And so on. Yet if the story is in figurative language, not of the events described actually happened. So, I contend, the most "conservative" interpretation is that there were two individuals (a man and a woman, "first parents" of the human race) who committed some unknown act that ever after negatively affected their progeny, the human race.

            To say that Adam and Eve were two "real individuals" seems to me to say that there were two "first parents" named Adam and Eve about whom we may know something by reading Genesis. But Genesis is in "figurative language" and doesn't relate historical facts. To say that Adam and Eve were real individuals seems to me to be analogous to saying that the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son is a real person (God).

            In the continuing story, we have Cain and Abel, with Cain clearly being a farmer and Abel being a shepherd. That would put them very late in the development of humankind—about 12,000 years ago. Wikipedia says, "Homo sapiens originated in Africa, where it reached anatomical modernity about 200,000 years ago and began to exhibit full behavioral modernity around 50,000 years ago. If we are to take Cain and Abel as real individuals anything like they are depicted in Genesis, they come along about 38,000 years after the arrival of modern humans on the scene.

            In short, it is one thing to say that the human race originated with two individuals, a man and a woman, and another to say that Adam and Eve were "real individuals."

          • Nicholas Escalona

            Thank you for clarifying. I would add that I don't see anything controversial about recognizing that the first parents were named Adam and Eve. Those are their names. I suppose they might have also had others. "Jesus" just is the name of the Son; it is too narrow to say that his name is "ישוע." Genesis is not a parable. It is no stranger to say that Adam and Eve were real people than to say that the Lamb of God is a real person, even though the acts of the Lamb are described in highly figurative language in the book of Apocalypse.

            Ruling out the existence of Cain and Abel by appealing to speculative dates for the beginning of "homo sapiens" and the development of agriculture is not reasonable. Those dates change constantly with each generation of scholars and even if they didn't, they cannot be used to rule out farming and shepherding by individuals or smaller groups before that time leaving no easy evidence for today's scholars. I suppose it has not been formally defined that Cain and Abel exist but it seems foolish to doubt it on the weight of such speculative evidence, given e.g. the important parallel between Christ and Abel.

            Given the Scriptural, Patristic, and Magisterial support for it, calling it the "most 'conservative'" interpretation doesn't do it justice. That the whole human race is descended from one pair, who were given sanctifying grace and lost it for all through a great sin is simply the authoritative Catholic teaching. There is no room for a deconstruction of the persons of Adam and Eve.

      • Joe Ser

        Except if they were written down on clay tablets.

  • Lee Wayne Wimberly

    Fr. Barron's question" "How can Christians possibly square the naïve cosmology of Genesis with the textured and sophisticated theories of Newton, Darwin, Einstein, and Stephen Hawking?" seems to be THE question of this era

    But there is a second question and related question that reasoning people face. That question is" "How does one reconcile the contradictory creation stories of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2?"

    The key to this question is "reasoning?" I submit that there is a gap between science and religion, and that understanding the nature of that gap, the details of it, are key to reconciling these two worldviews. See http://www.explorethegap.net

    • Daniel Maldonado

      Could you stop using the comments sections as a way to promote your website?

    • Joe Ser

      Gen 1 - seems to be written from God's perspective and tells the order of creation. The 2nd tells the importance of man. The are complementary.

      Bingo - reasoning - that is the weakness - human reasoning is the suspect and provisional.

  • Lee Wayne Wimberly

    Of course, when a discussion of the Catholic church and science, one has to touch upon the suppression of early science by Pope Urban the VIII. So the church's position as stated by Fr. Barron is a major step forward in at least engaging in dialog.

    But that example in history lies at the heart of one's exploration of the gap.

    "Pope Urban VIII (spokesman for the Catholic Church in Galileo's day) honestly believed that representing the world in terms of mathematics, gaining knowledge through your senses (observation), and proclaiming that the earth rotates around the sun was a threat. Catholics just "knew" that such ideas were contrary to scripture, and thus could not be true." p. 6, "Exploring the Gap between Science and Religion." http://www.explorethegap.net

    I submit that we are faced with the exact same issue here. The sciences of evolution, archaeology, cosmology, and linguistics are threatening test of truth that is held by religion. Reason and observation are in opposition to the rest of truth of religion, which has always been revelation. And when reason is applied to the scripture, it raises questions of the nature of the first author (God) and the second authors (human writers). How can God forget such things as 1) the number of disciples that were the room when Jesus returned. 2) where Jesus was born (reported differently in different gospels) and 3) the sequence in which God created (Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 contain mutually-exclusive accounts of the sequence and purpose.)

  • Lee Wayne Wimberly

    One more comment. Fr. Barron seems to be inviting us to view scripture as metaphor or parable. We all know that Jesus' method of teaching was through the telling of metaphor.

    Here is a modern metaphor related to last Spring's selection of the Pope. It gives the reader a chance to apply reason to this contemporary event which was shared the world over. It shows how how reason proves to be a more powerful tool for human conduct and understanding than revelation.

    Here is a "Parable of our times." http://explorethegap.wordpress.com/2013/03/

    • Joe Ser

      Jesus let His hearers know it was parable.

  • SaludoVencedores

    There's no need to back away from the truth of Genesis. I encourage all to read Gerald Schroeder's "The Science of God". In it, Schroeder, an MIT-trained physicist who is also knowledgeable in molecular biology and ancient Jewish literature, offers piercing insights into the 6 days of creation, the creation of life as documented in the Cambrian fossil record, and the Adam as the first man to receive the 'neshama', thus enabling his perception of and interaction with his Creator. Schroeder's eclectic mix of knowledge and insights provides a fascinating perspective on Genesis. Without it, we must resort to more commonly available approaches, focusing on the book as literature or its tenets as distinctive compared to commonly held beliefs at the time.

  • James Hartic

    Cognitive dissonance will lead even the most sincere and ardent believer, especially those with some understanding of modern science...in astronomy, physics, cosmology, biology and evolution.....to go through the most rigorous and mind bending "spiritual gymnastics and spiritual juggling" in efforts to relive the discomfort experienced when simultaneously holding to two or more conflicting mindsets.

    • Fr.Sean

      Hi James,
      I have heard of the "clergy project" before, people who have "discovered" the benefits of science and "reason" and have abandoned their positions and faith. I'm a Priest for the diocese of Pittsburgh. a few years ago we had someone give a talk to the clergy from St.Luke's institute, which is an institute for clergy who are struggling with various issues in their lives. The priest told us that he asks every person who walks through the door the same question, and without fail has always received the same answer. The question is; "when did you stop praying". he says the answer is always in the affirmative, that problems began when they stopped praying. In my own life i can attest to the effects of prayer. i feel more alive, more connected with the Lord, better able to minister to people and more enthusiastic about doing so. if i'm not as committed to prayer as i need to be than the "cognitive dissonance" has a familiar ring. Jesus said, "i am the vine and you are the branches". a branch detached from the vine is always going to wither.

      • James Hartic

        ....sometime hard to tell which came first....the chicken or the egg...

        Mother Theresa for example can only be described as agnostic for all intents and purposes during the last decades of her life....and even considered atheism...though some would beg to differ. I am sure that she prayed hard and long.....it does not seem that her problems began because she stopped praying.

        "Although her letters show she considered atheism on more than one occasion, Teresa never publicly admitted the truth about how she felt. (She asked the church to destroy her letters, but that request was not granted.) It seems that, like many believers, she became so locked into her religion that she never even considered leaving it to be a live option. Sadly, she is not the first and will not be the last person to put themselves through this unnecessary suffering by vainly clinging to false dogma. This is yet another of the ways in which unfounded faith ends up causing real pain and suffering to real people.

        MOTHER THERESA'S LOSS OF FAITH

        http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/2007/08/mother-teresas-loss-of-faith/

        • Fr.Sean

          Hi James,
          Thanks for your reply, that was an interesting take on Mother Theresa's life.  When i was in the seminary one of my professors was an old scripture scolar, named Demetrius Dumm.  He was almost like an old sage, his class was so interesting i felt like i didn't even need to take notes, i just abosorbed it.  he wrote a book called, "flowers in the desert" which i highly recommend if you are even interested in a summary of the bible, particularly the Old Testament.  within the book demetrius talked about one of the most pivotal moments in the life of Israel.  Israel had become enslaved to the egyptians, via, "a phaoro who knew not joseph". (some historians believe egypt had been conquered by a neighboring nation and they were the ones who enslaved the hebrews).  anyway, the hebrews were enslaved and forced to cruel labor, however they did have all of their needs met, but still they were slaves.  Moses comes along, tells phaoro to let the people go, phaoro remains obstinate and eventually as you know the signs come and eventually he lets them go.  they go through the desert and eventually enter into the promise land.  In a sense everyone's spiritual journey is a little like that.  we start out in our spiritual life often times enslaved to things.  we may be enslaved to drugs, alcohol, porn, materialism (a constant need for fulfillment in material things) or even a low self esteem.  in such a state we often cry out to God and seek for something beyond us, low and behold he answers, we discover not only is he real, but he cares about us. he does things to brake us free of our enslavement.  often times after conversion some people encounter desert experiences.  in the desert, you have no guarentee that tomorrow you'll be okay.  you could die of exposer, heat exhaustian, thirst, hunger, or a wild animal.  it was within the desert that the hebrews began to grumble.  in Egypt they had food shelter, clothing, aka. security, but they were slaves.  when one brakes free of a life led around by searching for fulfillemnt simply though apeasing bodily needs they start to gaze towards the "promise land".  moreover though desert experiences one learns to trust, not in themselves, but in a God they cannot see but who has proved his fidelity in the past.  one needs to not always rely on feelings.  they need to remember God signs, feeling God's presence, answered prayers, personal encounters.  being detached you might say, particularly from "self" enables them to enter into the promise land.  years ago i had my own "desert experience" where i had felt abandoned and wondered where God was.  in fact, someone once heard me say, "why did you abandon me" under my breath.  when i look back on that time it's easy for me to see where God was and what he was doing in my life, but at the time it was hidden from me.  yet if given the option to not have my desert experiencce i would not have chosen another path.  desert experiences make one more humble, trusting, compassionate, and non-judgemental.  
          with respect to that article, i don't know what else to say besides the author cherry picked to support their position.  one often in desert experiences struggles with their faith in wondering where God is, but from my experience i haven't met too many going through a desert experience who questioned whether or not God existed, just that God seems to have abandoned them.  i don't know why Theresa had such a long desert experience, but if you put those passages into context you would know that Theresa' had some profound mystical experiences at the beginning of her conversion, Jesus was real and personal to Theresa.  Then as she began her work she felt abandoned.  in the 50's she began to wonder if she was really doing what Jesus wanted her to do, at the point of leaving she recieved back some of those mystical experiences, which confirmed she was doing God's will.  later on in life she realized the "darkness" or feeling of abandonment" had a puropose.  as the article hinted at, which i'm sure you might not have much interest in, but when we go throuogh difficulity or struggle, and we accept it, and unite it to the cross it becomes redemptive, almost like a gift we offer back to the Lord.  One might say it's slightly unfair to take a few exerpts during the most difficult period of Theresa's life and paint it as if's the whole thing.  a friend of mine comented that Theresa conveyed a brilliant light, by her wisdom, her joy, and her love, but that light was apparent for many to see except for one person, herself.  If you really do want to understand her, or perhaps try to use her life as proof that atheism is true, i would read the whole book, i would also read "flowers in the desert" by demetrius dumm as well as "the dark night of the soul by John of the cross.  i think if you read those you may better understand Mother Theresa and perhaps even be able to use her life to support your perspective.  but i would ask that you do read them with a certain amount of objectivity.    

          • James Hartic

            Fr. Sean.....I appreciate all that you have said in your
            comment...long though it was....more like an essay:-) However the purpose of the comment about Mother Theresa was to counter the statement you made in your prior comment.

            ."when did you stop praying". he says the answer is always in the affirmative, that problems began when they stopped praying."

            By this quote, you seemed to indicate that one's troubles regards faith only come when one stops praying. A bit of a judgment wouldn't you say, on those of the faith who are approaching agnosticism and atheism? Yet Mother Theresa's faith problems and self admitted "agnosticism" came to her anyway. It was not because she stopped praying. All indications are that she prayed unceasingly. I think you understand my reason for quoting her now. It certainly had nothing to do with an attempt by me to negate her life or her good work, or her standing with God. I have read "The Dark Night of The Soul".....and many other catholic writings. I used to be a very devout Catholic, attended mass almost daily and availed myself of all the sacraments, even was a member of the Charismatic prayer group and made a Cursillo in the early 80's....made many retreats....but I have.... over a period of the past decade, now moved to the camp of agnosticism and no longer practice my former faith. This did not happen over night....there was a lot of struggle, anguish and prayer big time.....but I digress....now the heavens are "as brass" as they say. I quote Mother Theresa here.

            " I call, I cling, I want — and there is no One to answer — no One on Whom I can cling — no, No One. — Alone … Where is my Faith — even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness"

            And now I would like to quote Leonard Cohen as to my present philosophy in a nutshell.

            “i would like to remind
            the management
            that the drinks are watered
            and the hat-check girl
            has syphilis
            and the band is composed
            of former ss monsters
            However since it is
            new year's eve
            and i have lip cancer
            i will place my
            paper hat on my
            concussion and dance”

            Take care Fr. Sean.....and thanks for the reply...I know you mean well.

          • Fr.Sean

            hi James,
            I'm really glad you clairfied that. sorry for the long essay but i know sometimes some atheists don't understand what we mean when we say "faith", i suppose you do but i just wanted to make sure. i won't go into a lot of detail about why mother Thersa suffered since you most likely know what i would say. I just have two questions if you don't mind. 1. were you familiar with the whole slavery-desert-promise land discription? 2. why and when did you develop problems with your faith?

          • James Hartic

            In answer to question

            Question #1. I am not sure what you are referring to...something to do with Mother Theresa? such as going through the arid desert of doubt and then arriving in the "promised land". a metaphor for heaven? clarification please.

            Question #2. Why & when I developed "problems" with my faith? I don't consider my lack of faith a problem. It simply is what it is. It could only be considered a problem if I considered myself a Christian and was attempting to practice the "faith" which I no longer do.

            As to when I began to doubt....I don't suppose there was a particular moment.....but was more of an evolving process over the years. Only depending on one's "theological" position...such as your own....would it be considered a problem. I don't see it that way....I look at it more as an awakening or enlightenment...an extension of my life's education one might say. A casting off of superstition. It is not about Catholicism per se....or any other religion. it is about realizing that there is probably no god at all. I am open to the concept in general, in a philosophical sort of way, but only in the broadest sense of the term. As far as any particular ism is concerned I can no longer take any of them seriously. I have no axe to grind with any religion, if people find comfort in any particular religion who am I to try to deprive them of that. I am not one of the "new" atheist militants.If there is a god, and I don't think there is, but if the all knowing and all loving god that Christians describe actually esists...then this god will know that I genuinely spent my time seeking the "truth" whatever it may be, and that being so, I suppose I would be at his mercy if he exists. If I may quote a famous man....though in a slightly different context.....I think you get my drift.
            "Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me."

          • Fr.Sean

            HI James,
            This first part is subjective, thus no need to clarify, but i really am fascinated by your story an witness of your faith journey (aka. i know there's a possibility God does not exist, but i'm speaking from my perspective, thus assuming that i believe he exists i find your faith journey interesting, perhaps making me question my understanding of atheists and agnostics)

            My own perspective on one's faith journey is that there is usually an "awe ha" moment where one begins to discover (or being deceived into discovering, again subjective) that God is real and cares about the disciple. people brought up in families that were committed to the faith did things that people of faith do, pray went to church etc. but at some point, like everything our parents taught us we question them, on everything. at which point some people own the faith for themselves, some reject it. often times when dialoguing with atheists/agnostics it appears that they never owned it for themselves, but only had the newer faith of believing largely because mom and dad wanted them to, and/or it was the right thing to do etc. thus when they say that there were a person of faith believed the way i did they normally covey ideas that reveal the contrary. almost as if to say that they think faith is really just a way of deceiving oneself- in other words, i don't want to deal with difficult questions such as death or problems in my life, but if i believe in this mythical idea it helps me to not have to deal with those difficult issues. It can be frustrating to try to show them this is not how i think of my faith. they seem to me like the seeds in Luke chapter 8 is a good example, at least the seeds that were sown on the path.

            Secondly, the example of Mother Theresa was not an accurate description of what she went through, or her faith's journey. it was (i think unintentionally) deceptive. i would guess that the patheos blogger simply read the time magazine article and based his article on it, but i suppose it's possible he did read "come be my light". in other words, it took some of the frustrations that she would utter, and conveyed that that was really her life. again, most people of faith never doubt, or have almost no doubt that God exists, but they do doubt at times whether God cares about them or is involved in their life etc. Mother Theresa uttered those words, but you do have to put them into context.

            Thus, why i find your example interesting is that you understood how a person of faith thinks, you understand notions of a trial, what faith is (not a feeling etc.), notions like the "messianic secret", the cost of discipleship, the fruits of desert experiences, etc. yet you still are more on the side of rejecting all of it. In other words, you did own the faith for yourself, and then went on to reject it?

            I'm trying to avoid being tedious with things you most likely already know, but i do suppose you are familiar with (again subjective) the idea that you don't always notice a difference when you're praying, or sometimes prayer is dry, but you do always notice a difference as you go about your day, how you treat others, how you feel about life etc. when you do have a consistent prayer life?

            When you began to reject the faith, or began to become more enlightened (naturally depending upon whether or not God exists) were you aware of the trial- desert experience notions? Secondly, were you aware that faith is like a muscle, it needs to be nurtured, exercised, in order to be strong (like the letter of James, "faith without works is lifeless") thirdly were you aware of the whole "transfiguration moment" theology that the disciples had a mountaintop experience, but then had to face Jerusalem and go through their own questioning etc.? And finally, in your opinion do you think all believers have experiences or think of their faith like Mother Theresa did but simply don't utter them?

            if you would rather e-mail me that would be okay, but i would like to discuss it a little more. your the first atheist/agnostic that i've dialogued with who actually seems to understand what we mean when we say faith, and yet you still rejected it? (again subjective)

            Just go to my website at 2fish.co then click on the "contact" button, then click on "ask a priest" button. or if you simply want to continue the discussion in the combox, that would be okay too. Thanks for your patience in reading my former essay and your patience with my questions.

          • James Hartic

            Whew.....another load of food for thought Fr. Sean.....but I do intend to get back to you on this...perhaps on 2fish instead of here. But later in the week if I may....is that ok? I really do appreciate the time you spent composing your replies to my comments, and for that reason alone....I feel that you are owed further explanation of my position. Take care.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi James,
            No prob, get back to me whenever you have time. Pax,

        • Joe Ser

          Science now says the chicken came first.

        • Joe Ser

          As usual the secular press missed the mark.
          The Dark Night of Mother Teresahttp://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/08/the-dark-night-of-mother-teresa-42

          and

          The ‘Atheism’ of Mother Teresa http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/print/ap0223.htm

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Joe,
            Excellent article Joe, thanks for sending.

  • James Hartic

    To SaludoVencedores.....you said...."There's no need to back away from the truth of Genesis. I encourage all to read Gerald Schroeder's "The Science of God".

    In reply to your recommendation of Gerald Schoeder's book I post the following for everyone's perusal. Excerpts from an article on the Judaism & Science web site. Science and Judaism: The Strange Claim of Dr. Schroeder.

    "Schroeder attempts to reconcile a six day creation as described in Genesis with the scientific evidence that the world is billions of years old using the idea that the perceived flow of time for a given event in an expanding universe varies with the observer’s perspective of that event. He attempts to reconcile the two perspectives numerically, calculating the effect of the stretching of space-time, based on Einstein's theory of general relativity."

    "Of course, for some people, Jewish and non-Jewish, the notion that the biblical creation story is not the error free Truth is unacceptable."

    "Dr. Gerald L. Schroeder, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology trained physicist who for the last forty years or so has resided in Israel, takes another approach. Seemingly rejecting allegory, Schroeder understands Torah as literally true. He also takes science to be true. His view is that modern science and biblical creation stories fit comfortably together."

    "More specifically, Schroeder states that physics and contemporary cosmology confirm the account of creation in the first two chapters of B’reishit. One of his more audacious arguments is that the universe was created both in six days as stated in B’reishit and billions of years ago, as shown by modern science. In other words, according to Schroeder, both versions of creation are entirely correct."

    "While he sometimes speaks about objectivity and sometimes even speaks objectively, Schroeder has a clear goal. He seeks “to fit fifteen billion years into six twenty-four hour days.” (TSOG, at 47.) The arguments he musters are designed to help him do just that."

    "One final question remains, though. Despite all of his methodological flaws, his over-statements and misleading references, his curious selectivity of data and his omissions, do Schroeder’s results nevertheless demonstrate a convergence of science and the Bible"

    "The atheist physicist Victor Stenger would doubt it. After an exceedingly brief and stilted review of the origin of the universe, Stenger “see(s) little resemblance in Genesis to the picture drawn by contemporary science. All these facts can lead to only one conclusion: the biblical version of creation is dead wrong.” (Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis, at 175 (Prometheus 2008)."

    In my opinion his writing on this matter can only be at best, in the category of pseudo science. He goes to great lengths to fit his theory to the data of his choosing. And his "theory" can only be considered theory in the broadest sense of the word....and not at all in any credible scientific sense. I don't doubt that he is sincere, but as I previously mentioned in another comment some will go through the most rigorous and mind bending "spiritual gymnastics and spiritual juggling" in efforts to relive the discomfort experienced when simultaneously holding to two or more conflicting mindsets. He is desperately attempting to reconcile the actual age of the universe...with the six day creation account with pseudo scientific mathematical jargon.

    http://www.judaismandscience.com/science-and-judaism-the-strange-claim-of-dr-schroeder-part-i/

    http://www.judaismandscience.com/science-and-judaism-the-strange-claim-of-dr-schroeder-part-ii/

    http://www.judaismandscience.com/science-and-judaism-the-strange-claim-of-dr-schroeder-part-iii/

    • Joe Ser

      Since Gen 1 appears to be written from God's perspective consider: a rolled up tape measure 7 times. God sees all the layers, we live on the tape and must look back through the graduations.

  • james

    As logic and reason demand, the creation myth may well symbolize
    birth and death. God said to this first couple that if you eat the fruit
    (of thy womb ?) you will die. The tree, in the middle of the garden
    (the body) is the genitals. The Snake would then seem to be symbolic
    of carnal knowledge. The covering with leaves of the torso and legs is
    that of shame. “ Who told you, you were naked ?
    When the Buddha sat under the tree and declared he was not
    going to move until he understood why misery and death exist, God
    whispered in his ear “Desire” Original sin could very well be called our
    Original mortality. It is ironic that the first person born, Cain, turned out to
    be a murderer, while Able, turned out to be the first person to kill – when
    he took a beautiful lamb and slit its throat so God would be pleased. But
    you would have to be well versed in eastern deism to understand why.

  • daniel gordon sparrow

    basic faith and belief.Daniel Gordon Sparrow.

  • alanutti

    All the points here are viable..but the one missing link to all this when it comes to genetics and population and the human race is that certain bi-pedal species where genetically manipulated by a higher intelligence or intelligence's to create what we look like today. So god or the God's did some great science here...and it is all good.