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Wednesday, September 07, 2011


Here is part three of the series. It is much shorter than the other parts, but I felt that it was better to give a short part here than to have a crazy long one. The next part will present the Church's declarations concerning evolution. For now, here's some thoughts on Genesis.

Genesis includes two accounts of man’s creation. The first account is one of the most familiar and beautiful passages in Scripture:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.[i]

Though simple, this passage overflows with spiritual depth, particularly the beautiful phrase “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” In this verse, Scripture refers to the divine origin of man’s soul, the center of Christian anthropology. This soul, the Church teaches, is “immediately created by God.”[ii] The second creation account emphasizes this ensoulment. God creates Adam by forming him out of the earth and then breathing life into him (Gen. 2:7). He places Adam in Eden, a paradise-like garden. Adam is lonely, so God makes animals for him, but none provide the companionship he needs (Gen. 2:20). The creation of Eve follows, where God puts Adam to sleep and forms from one of his ribs the first woman (Gen. 2:21-22). Thus God created the first humans.

The paradise of Eden does not last too long. Through deception Satan convinces Eve to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the one prohibition God had place upon Adam and Eve. Adam ate it too, and thus humanity fell, for all of humanity comes from these two individuals. God banishes Adam and Eve from Eden. These first humans soon start having children. In their sons, Cain and Abel, one sees the inheritance of Original Sin, as Cain murders his brother. Cain goes into exile, taking with him his wife, and he starts his own family line. Adam and Eve have another son, Seth, and “other sons and daughters” (Gen. 5:4), and the human family spreads, taking the curse of Original Sin with them. All of humanity can trace its lineage to the original pair divinely created by God.

Though strongly in favor of a monogenic creation of man (as recorded in Genesis), the Church has little to say about evolution. Catholics are free to agree or disagree with the theory. Some early Church Fathers supported a sort of proto-evolution, what some call “theistic evolution.” St. Augustine, for example, argued that God created “spiritual seeds” at the beginning of time that eventually developed into living things. God triggers the secondary causes:

For neither at that time [the Creation] were those seeds so drawn forth into products of their several kinds, as that the power of production was exhausted in those products; but oftentimes, suitable combinations of circumstances are wanting, whereby they may be enabled to burst forth and complete their species.[iii]

This belief preserves God’s involvement in creation, working primarily through secondary causes, while retaining the theory of evolution and natural selection.[iv] St. Thomas Aquinas subscribes in part to Augustine’s teaching, likewise excluding “divine interference,” that is, “constant unnecessary interventions on the part of the Deity.”[v]

[i]Genesis 1:26-31, RSV. All citations from the Bible are from this translation and will henceforth be cited parenthetically in the text.

[ii]Pius XII, Humani Generis, 36.

[iii]Augustine, On the Trinity, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 3, trans. Arthur West Haddan, ed. Philip Schaff (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887), III.8.13, available at http://newadvent.org/fathers/130103.htm, accessed 7/11/11.

[iv]Baglow, 189; John A. OBrien, The Origin of Man: Light from Modern Science (New York: The Paulist Press, 1947), 30–31. See also J. A. Zahm, Evolution and Dogma (Chicago: D. H. McBride & Co., 1896), 279–284.

[v]Zahm, 284–305 (quote on 304).

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