Brandon's Notepad

April 11, 2014

Creation

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The first two chapters of the Bible describe the Creation of the world. There are a variety of beliefs concerning how the Creation story should be interpreted. Highlighted here are a few of the major points of disagreement.

Note: I’ve done my best to link various sources inline and I’ve provided a list of additional resources at the end of this post; however, since this post incorporates some of my handwritten notes recorded over time as well as personal discussions and casual Internet research, not all of my observations are supported directly.


Range of Beliefs

Most, if not all, ancient religions have cosmogonies, stories concerning the creation of the world. Christianity inherits its cosmogony from Jewish Tradition. The belief that the world (and the whole universe) was created and is not a product of completely random events is known as Creationism. Generally speaking, Christians agree that all things were created from nothing (ex nihilo) by God. There are widely differing beliefs, however, as to whether or not the process of creation outlined in Scripture should be taken literally. Nonbelievers often cite the difficulties intrinsic to literal interpretation of Scripture in justifying their disbelief, and the Creation story is a favorite target.

Catholic Teaching

The story of Creation, as is true with most of Scripture, is not bound unnecessarily by Church teaching. The Church may make some statements, however, with regard to what Scripture cannot mean. For example, the Church does teach that Adam and Eve were a real people, because their existence can be traced through the genealogies to Jesus, and that they were the original parents (thus a man and a woman) to all living souls. It would, however, be an act of folly (and not of faith) for the Church to assert positively that Creation was accomplished literally within six twenty-four-hour periods, because such a teaching would oppose the testimony to the contrary made by the very world that God created. For centuries, though, prior to advances in science, this is exactly what Christians did believe, and this had no bearing on their salvation; thus, a Catholic is free to adopt a literal interpretation, so long as the truth of creatio ex nihilo is not rejected.

Seven Days

The first chapter of Genesis reveals that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. Many Christians choose to interpret this in a strictly literal way, as a real and discreet seven days; however, this theory is logically problematic. On the first day (vv1:3-5), God created light and separated it from the darkness. This, they claim, defines day and night, a notion bolstered by the words, “evening came and morning followed”. However, it was not until the fourth day (vv1:14-19) that the lights in the sky were created, including the sun to govern the day and the moon to govern the night. All of this is, of course, based on observation relative to the Earth, the product of a geocentric model. Since the introduction and acceptance of the heliocentric model in the 16th and 17th centuries, a literal interpretation of this story is no longer justifiable, for it defies the prima facie truth about the very universe as God created it.

A more science-friendly interpretation is that each day represents a segment of the geologic timeline; however, no set of segments (eons/eras/periods/epochs/ages) fits neatly into a six- or seven-day division. Moreover, the order of creation is extremely problematic. Most glaringly, the sun necessarily predated the Earth, but again, it is not created until the fourth day in the narrative. Also, the geologic record reveals that animals (though not mammals) existed prior to the first plants (the former existing in the late Precambrian supereon and the latter not until the Cambrian period of the Paleozoic era), which contradicts the order provided in Scripture.

In a last-ditch effort to support a literal seven days, I have heard/read that God created in such a way that it would look like the world had already been around for million of years (usually followed by the warning that a rejection of the literal seven days is a denial of divine revelation and a sign that one isn’t really saved). That groundless conjecture notwithstanding, it is evident that this account of Creation cannot be considered scientific and must mean something else.

So, why did the author(s) of Genesis describe creation in the context of seven days if it does not accurately portray what really happened in nature? Jewish oral tradition (and thus literature as well) emphasizes the seven-day week and the importance of the Sabbath day as a memorial to the Creator. The theory is that the redactors (Documentary Hypothesis) cast the creation of world into a seven-day process to help teach and reinforce this lesson. This is similar to the way St. John described the New Creation in the events of seven days (that weren’t even consecutive) in the first two chapters of his Gospel.

Order of Creation

The next difficulty to overcome is more textual than scientific. The two creation stories (Genesis 1 & Genesis 2) appear to contradict one another in that the order of creation of plants, animals, and man differ between them. It seems that the standard answer to this objection is rooted in the understanding that these two stories are not parallel accounts of creation, but that the story in Genesis 2 describes the events of Day 6 in Genesis 1 in more detail. Indeed, a closer examination reveals that God created cultivated plants, trees good for food (Gn 2:9), and this means something different from the creation of plantlife in general. There also exists the possibility that the plants created in Genesis 2 are those found in the garden specifically. In any case, the lesson is that God loves man, the apex of his Creation, and provides for him. Some apply the same logic to the creation of animals; however, a comparison of translations of Genesis 2:19 shows that some specify “every beast of the field” (implies plowing) while others plainly state “wild animals”. Only the former leads one to the same conclusion as the food-bearing trees do in verse 9. The Septuagent uses the phrase θηρία τοῦ ἀγροῦ, which translates as “beasts of the field”. All of the articles I found online from both Protestant and Jewish sources use this phrase, which indicates to me that the Hebrew agrees with the Greek, despite how this phrase is treated in various English translations. So, the argument that animals and birds that help sustain the life of man were created specifically for this purpose after man himself was created has some teeth. Even though this may contradict scientific evidence, the lesson that God provides for man remains intact.

Another valid argument, though less edifying in my opinion, is that the sentence is not stating that certain animals were created after man at all, but that the author wanted to emphasize that man was created from the dust of the ground just as God “had formed” the animals (the verb is translated in the pluperfect form and not the perfect form). Usually, this is presented as a linguistic consideration, but I found (at least one) claim online that the unique way in which Eve was created, that is to say from Adam’s side and not from the dust of the ground, may be seen as a prefigurement of Mary.

Evolution

Adoption of “the” theory of evolution is varied amongst Christians. I placed “the” in quotes, because though there are many different theories of evolution, the one most commonly associated with the phrase is Darwinism. On one hand, those who stick to a strict seven-day interpretation of the Creation story — and especially Fundamentalist Christians — denounce all evolution theories. At the other end of the spectrum are those who are convinced by the scientific data that some form of evolution does indeed exist, who must either deal with the cognitive dissonance in some way or lose their faith altogether.

For Catholics, the issue of evolution was discussed briefly by Pope Pius XII in 1950 in his encyclical, Humani Generis, which I have summarized here. In a nutshell, the Church does not discount the possibility that evolution is a reality for she leaves science to the scientists. The caveat is that for any theory of evolution to be compatible with the faith, it cannot contradict the fact that God is the creator of human souls. How the human body has come to be was chosen by God in the beginning and is left to science to discover.

For many years, Darwinism has been considered incompatible with Church teaching (though she has never ruled as such definitively). The most common explanation I’ve heard is that Darwinism holds as truth the idea that biological progress is predicated on death, and since death was not part of God’s original Creation (it was introduced by the disobedience of man) Darwinism could not by definition have been part of God’s plan. I’ve seen several references since 2009 that indicate that the Church may desire to reassess this opinion in light of modern scientific data, indicating that Darwinian evolution may not necessarily contradict Creationism after all.

First Parents

Any serious discussion about evolution will eventually lead to the question of common descent, whether all humans share a single set of parents (monogenism) or different lineages began at different times and in different locations on earth (polygenism). The Abrahamic religions embrace monogenism as a central tenet to the faith. Referring again to Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII explained that polygenism is irreconcilable with the doctrine of original sin. [HG ¶37] In contrast, the cosmongenies of other cultures, especially tribal and eastern religions, often contain myths in which the different races of humans spring up for different reasons.

Modern theorists in the field of human genetics have hypothesized that the human race might indeed share what they call the most recent common ancestor (MRCA), who probably lived between two-thousand and five-thousand years ago. If, however, this lineage is traced using restrictive genes either patrilineally or matrilineally, then the MRCA could be said to exist a few hundred-thousand years ago. These hypothetical individuals are known as Y-chromosomal Adam and Mitochondrial Eve respectively. The names Adam and Eve are borrowed from the biblical accounts of creation, of course, but are not intended to refer to the specific persons. At the time of this writing, evidence leans in the direction that Y-chromosomal Adam lived prior to Mitochondrial Eve by thousands of years. The very existence of the lineages of Y-chromosomal Adam & Mitochondrial Eve would indicate that descendants of each tended to dominate, at least genetically if not socially (i.e. they mated easily and possibly killed off the competition), and that the trend continued after the two lineages merged with the MRCA. One last hypothetical consideration to make is the Identical Ancestors Point (IAP), the last point in time that a previous generation shares all of the same ancestors as the current generation. The IAP is currently estimated to have existed between five- and fifteen-thousand years ago.

It is tempting to use these hypothetical humans to draw conclusions about biblical figures or historical milestones. For example, since Noah and his sons were the only survivors of the Great Flood, one might conclude that Noah is a good candidate to be the MRCA. According to biblical scholars, the date of the Great Flood does fall within the appropriate timeframe. But this conclusion is problematic, if for no other reason than that the MRCA and IAP are relative to the current generation. Also, the shift is not linear. The estimated distance in time to the MRCA has compressed about five fold over the last 500 years due to globalization, and that as time progresses, that distance will compress even further.

Soul Mates

Nature itself is the most powerful testimony of God’s creative power. It reveals to us that God’s creative process is not simple. And why should we expect it to be? Just because the creation stories in the Bible are simplistic? Perhaps the absence of solid science in the first chapters of Genesis adds to the elegance of God’s message in scripture, telling us not to seek there what we will not find. Perhaps it is enough to know that which is revealed: that at some point in the genetic history of Homo sapiens, God chose to infuse a soul, to breathe true, spiritual life, not just into a human but into a person. The first man may have indeed been created from streaming waters and the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:6-7; the primordial slime of prior belief), and when God had finished forming him (over however many years and generations that might have taken), he gave man a spirit in his image so that he could willfully share in God’s creative act (Genesis 1:26). Genetic patterns found in nature may indeed be nothing more than a prefigurement of the true nature of man. At this point we move from the physical realm to the metaphysical, from science to theology, from knowledge to faith. It is the point at which God stops speaking to us through our senses and begins speaking to us in our hearts.

Additional Resources

Adam, Eve, and Evolution, tract published by Catholic Answers.
Do Genesis Chapters 1 and 2 Contradict?, by Daniel Egan, Bible Tidbits
Is there a contradiction in creation events of Genesis 1 and 2?, by Matt Paulson, CARM
Don’t Genesis 1 and 2 present contradictory creation accounts?, CARM
Creation Ex Nihilo, by Kenneth R. Samples, Reasons to Believe
Critical Theory Attacks Genesis 1 and 2, by Wayne Jackson, Christian Courier
Evolution and the Catholic Church: Are They in Conflict?, by Sr. Paula Gonzalez, AmericanCatholic.org


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