Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Biblical Literalism of English Catholic George Leo Haydock

George Leo Haydock (1774-1849) was an English Catholic priest and Bible scholar who edited and annotated the most popular and widely-used English Catholic Bible of the 19th century. His Haydock Catholic Bible Commentary, originally appearing with that version, is one of the most important and influential Catholic Bible commentaries of the modern era. In 2007, the 1859 edition was made available online.

The Old Testament commentary was the fruit of many years of research and study. I should note, however, that while the New Testament portion is quite useful, it apparently was not written by Haydock himself. 

Haydock's Commentary gives us a window into 19th century Catholic views on the interpretation of Scripture in general and Genesis in particular. While Haydock, following standard historical Catholic practice, often expounded on the figurative and prophetic meanings of the text, he at the same time interpreted the relevant parts of the text precisely literally, also following standard Catholic practice.

Keeping in mind the obvious theological points of disagreement, a typical 21st century Protestant fundamentalist would be quite comfortable with 98% of Haydock's work. Update the language slightly, and any of the below could have been written by the creationist evangelist Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis.

Thus, the view expressed by some contemporary Catholics that Catholic thinkers have always had a much more "sophisticated" theological (but non-literal) approach to interpreting the first book of the Old Testament and that, thus, creationism - the literal interpretation of the creation story of Genesis - is nothing more than a modern Protestant phenomenon is false.

To be blunt, those making that claim are either ignorant (often culpably) or dishonest.

You can decide what that makes Word on Fire's Bishop Robert Barron.

Among other things, mainstream early- to mid-19th Catholic thinkers and authors were creationists. And their 19th century Catholic readers would have found this unremarkable.   

Here are some excerpts from Haydock's Commentary, which I have in most cases prefaced by the verse or verses of Genesis that are referenced. (The translations are from the 1899 Douay-Rheims American Edition). In his pronouncements and speculations on the literal meanings of the text, notice how Haydock often cites other Catholic authorities, from the Fathers and Doctors of the Church to his peers and contemporaries.

The Heavens and the Earth were created in six literal days:
1:1 In the beginning God created heaven, and earth. 
...The first cause of all things must be God, who, in a moment, spoke, and heaven and earth were made, heaven with all the Angels; and the whole mass of the elements, in a state of confusion, and blended together, out of which the beautiful order, which was afterwards so admirable, arose in the space of six days...
The sun and moon were created on the fourth day, but light of some kind was created on the first day:
1:3 And God said: Be light made. And light was made. 
Light. The sun was made on the fourth day, and placed in the firmament to distinguish the seasons, &c.; but the particles of fire were created on the first day, and by their, or the earth's motion, served to discriminate day from the preceding night, or darkness, which was upon the face of the deep. H. --- Perhaps this body of light might resemble the bright cloud which accompanied the Israelites, Ex. xiv. 19, or the three first days might have a kind of imperfect sun, or be like one of our cloudy days. Nothing can be defined with certainty respecting the nature of this primeval light. C.
One may even speculate on the precise date (in terms if modern calendars) of the third day of creation:
1:11 And he said: Let the earth bring forth the green herb, and such as may seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after its kind, which may have seed in itself upon the earth. And it was so done. 
...At the creation, trees were covered with fruit in Armenia, while in the more northern regions they would not even have leaves: Calmet hence justly observes, that the question concerning the season of the year when the world began, must be understood only with reference to that climate in which Adam dwelt. Scaliger asserts, that the first day corresponds with our 26th of October, while others, particularly the Greeks, fix it upon the 25th of March, on which day Christ was conceived; and, as some Greeks say, was born and nailed to the cross. The great part of respectable authors declare for the vernal equinox, when the year is in all its youth and beauty. H. See T. and Salien's Annals, B.C. Christ 4053. 
Scripture is not a treatise on natural history, but neither does it ever assert anything false:
1:16 And God made two great lights: a greater light to rule the day; and a lesser light to rule the night: and the stars. 
But we must remember, that the sacred writings were given to instruct us in the way to heaven, and not to unfold to us the systems of natural history; and hence God generally addresses us in a manner best suited to our conceptions, and speaks of nature as it appears to the generality of mankind. At the same time, we may confidently asset, that the Scriptures never assert what is false. If we judge, with the vulgar, that the sun, moon, and stars are no larger than they appear to our naked eye, we shall still have sufficient reason to admire the works of God; but, if we are enabled to discover that the sun's diameter, for example, is 763 thousand miles, and its distance from our earth about 95 million miles, and the fixed stars (as they are called, though probably all in motion) much more remote, what astonishment must fill our breast!

Men (and probably beasts) were originally vegetarians:

1:29 And God said: Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed upon the earth, and all trees that have in themselves seed of their own kind, to be your meat: 
1:30 And to all beasts of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to all that move upon the earth, and wherein there is life, that they may have to feed upon. And it was so done. 
Every herb, &c. As God does not here express leave to eat flesh-meat, which he did after the deluge, it is supposed that the more religious part of mankind, at least, abstained from it, and from wine, till after that event, when they became more necessary to support decayed nature. H. M. --- In the golden age, spontaneous fruits were the food of happy mortals. C.
The Garden of Eden was a real place, located in actual geographical space:
2:8 And the Lord God had planted a paradise of pleasure from the beginning: wherein he placed man whom he had formed. 
Paradise lay probably to the east of Palestine, or of that country where Moses wrote. The precise situation cannot be ascertained. Calmet places it in Armenia, others near Babylon, &c. Some assert that this beautiful garden is still in being, the residence of Henoch and Elias. But God will not permit the curiosity of man to be gratified by the discovery of it. C. iii. 24. How great might be its extent we do not know. If the sources of the Ganges, Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates, be not now changed, and if these be the rivers which sprung from the fountains of Paradise, (both which are points undecided) the garden must have comprised a great part of the world, H., as the Ganges rises in Judea, and the Nile about the middle of Africa. T.
The tree of life and the tree of knowledge were literal entities:
2:9 And the Lord God brought forth of the ground all manner of trees, fair to behold, and pleasant to eat of: the tree of life also in the midst of paradise: and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. 
The tree of life. So called, because it had that quality, that by eating of the fruit of it, man would have been preserved in a constant state of health, vigour, and strength, and would not have died at all. The tree of knowledge. To which the deceitful serpent falsely attributed the power of imparting a superior kind of knowledge beyond that which God was pleased to give. Ch. --- Of what species these two wonderful trees were, the learned are not agreed. The tree of knowledge, could not communicate any wisdom to man; but, by eating of its forbidden fruit, Adam dearly purchased the knowledge of evil, to which he was before a stranger. Some say it was the fig-tree, others an apple-tree. Cant. viii. 5. But it probably agreed with no species of trees with which we are acquainted, nor was there perhaps any of the same kind in paradise. T.
Adam lived to the age of 930, but from the moment he ate the fruit, his body had started to decay:
2:17 But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat. For in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death. 
The death of the soul, and become obnoxious to that of the body; thou shalt become a mortal and lose all the privileges of innocence. Though Adam lived 930 years after this, he was dying daily; he carried along with him the seeds of death, as we do, from our very conception.
Eve was literally created from Adam's rib:
2:21 Then the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon Adam: and when he was fast asleep, he took one of his ribs, and filled up flesh for it. 
2:22 And the Lord God built the rib which he took from Adam into a woman: and brought her to Adam. 
2:23 And Adam said: This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man. 
Of my flesh. God did not, therefore, take a rib without flesh, nor perhaps did he replace flesh without a rib in Adam's side, though S. Aug. thinks he did. These words of Adam are attributed to God, Matthew xix, because they were inspired by him. --- Woman. As this word is derived from man, so in Hebrew Isha (or Asse) comes from Iish or Aiss; Latin vira woman, and virago comes from vir. H. --- But we do not find this allusion so sensible in any of the Oriental languages, as in the Hebrew, whence another proof arises of this being the original language. C.
The Fall changed the actual properties of nature:

3:17 And to Adam he said: Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, cursed is the earth in thy work; with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. 
3:18 Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herbs of the earth. 
Thorns, &c. These were created at first, but they would have easily been kept under: now they grow with surprising luxuriancy, and the necessaries of life can be procured only with much labour.

Much of Genesis is comprised of literal eyewitness accounts (beginning with those of Adam), and their authority is guaranteed by God: 
[Comment on 3:24]...Concerning the transactions of these early times, parents would no doubt be careful to instruct their children, by word of mouth, before any of the Scriptures were written; and Moses might derive much information from the same source, as a very few persons formed the chain of tradition, when they lived so many hundred years. Adam would converse with Mathusalem, who knew Sem, as the latter lived in the days of Abram. Isaac, Joseph, and Amram, the father of Moses, were contemporaries: so that seven persons might keep up the memory of things which had happened 2500 years before. But to entitle these accounts to absolute authority, the inspiration of God intervenes; and thus we are convinced, that no word of sacred writers can be questioned. H.
Men before the Flood often lived extremely long lives. Less than 6,000 years elapsed between the creation of Adam and the birth of Jesus (note that these estimates are 1,200 to 1,600 years longer than some of the Protestant estimates of the time):
5:5 And all the time that Adam lived came to nine hundred and thirty years, and he died. 
He died...God prolonged the lives of the patriarchs to a more advanced age, that the world might be sooner filled. Their constitution was then more excellent, the fruits of the earth more nourishing, &c. But the sole satisfactory reason for their living almost a thousand years, while we can hardly arrive at 70, is, because so it pleased God, in whose hands are all our lots. There is a great difference in the number of years assigned by the Hebrew and Vulgate, from that which the Samaritan copy mentions; and the Sept. differs from both. Whether the difference be real, or only apparent, we shall not pretend to determine. The Church has not decided which system of chronology is the most accurate. In the Martyrology, she adopts that of the Sept. and placed the birth of Christ in 5199, after Eusebius and Bede, though Riccioli calculates the Sept. at 5634 years. H...
Men before the Flood were probably larger physically - akin to giants - but there also existed actual giants:
6:4 Now giants were upon the earth in those days. For after the sons of God went in to the daughters of men, and they brought forth children, these are the mighty men of old, men of renown. 
Giants. It is likely the generality of men before the flood were of a gigantic stature, in comparison with what men now are. But these here spoken of, are called giants, as being not only tall in stature, but violent and savage in their dispositions, and mere monsters of cruelty and lust. Ch. --- Yet we need not imagine, that they were such as the poets describe, tearing up mountains, and hurling them against heaven. Being offspring of men, who had lived hitherto with great temperance, but now gave full scope to their passions, and the love of the fair daughters whom they chose, we need not wonder that they should be amazingly strong and violent. Nephilim, rushing on, as Ag. translates. That there have been giants of an unusual size, all historians testify. Og, Goliah, &c. are mentioned in Scripture, and the sons of Enac are represented as much above the common size, as the Hebrews were greater than grasshoppers. Num. xiii. 34. If we should suppose they were four or five times our size, would that be more wonderful that they should live nine or ten times as long as we do? See S. Aug. C. D. xv. 9. 23. Calmet's Dissert. &c. Delrio affirms, that in 1572 he saw at Rouen, a native of Piedmont, above nine feet high. H. --- Of old. The corruption of morals had commenced many ages ago, and some of the sons of Seth had given way to their lusts; so that we are not to suppose, that these giants were all born within a hundred years of the flood, as some might suppose from their being mentioned here, after specifying the age of Noe. C. v. 31. H.
Here are Haydock's speculations on the physical design of the Ark, extrapolated from the instructions given to Noah by God in Genesis 6:14-16:
Timber planks. Heb. "gopher wood," which is no where else mentioned in Scripture. It was probably a sort of wood full of rosin, and being besmeared with something like our pitch, was capable of resisting the fury of the ensuing tremendous storm, for a length of time. C. H. --- Rooms to separate the birds, various animals, provisions, &c. --- Pitch, lit. "besmear it with bitumen," which has a very strong smell, able to counteract the disagreeable odours arising from beasts confined. M. --- It might be mixed with some other ingredients, naphtha, pitch, &c. C. 
Three hundred cubits, &c. The ark, according to the dimensions here set down, contained four hundred and fifty thousand square cubits; which were more than enough to contain all the kinds of living creatures, with all necessary provisions: even supposing the cubits here spoken of to have been only a foot and a half each, which was the least kind of cubits. Ch. --- It is therefore unnecessary for us to have recourse, with Cappel, to the sacred cubit, which was twice as large as the common one, but which seems not to have been in use among the Jews before the Babylonian captivity. Still less need we adopt the geometrical cubit, which contains six ordinary ones, as we might be authorised to do by the great names of Origen and S. Aug. de C. D. xv. 27. q. in Gen. i. 4. These dimensions would make the ark as large as a city. Moses always speaks of the same sort of cubit, used probably in Egypt. Apelles and other heretics, with some modern infidels, have attempted to shew, that this account of Moses is fabulous. But they have been amply refuted by able calculators, John Buteo, Pelletier, &c. This amazing structure, for which God himself gave the plan, was divided with three stories, besides the lower part of the vessel, which might serve to keep fresh water. The different species of animals are not so numerous, as some imagine. Fishes, and such creatures as can live in water, would not need to come into the ark. Animals deprived of exercise, and allowed barely what may support nature, will live upon a very little. Even an ox, according to Columella, will live on 30 pounds of hay, or on a cubic foot, a whole day, so that 400 of these large creatures might be supported on 146,000 cubic feet. The middle story, for provisions, would alone contain 150,000 cubits. Noe's family, and the birds, would probably occupy the room above, in which was a window all around, of the height of a cubit, without glass or crystal, which were not yet invented, but defended with lattice work of wood, like our dairy rooms. H. 
In a cubit. This is understood by some, of the height of the window; by others, of the roof, which would be almost flat, like the top of a coach. Menoch supposes, that the whole ark was to be measured with the cubit in every part, from the bottom to the top; and the words of it, properly refer to the ark. --- Side, or at the end, about the middle way, that the animals might be coveyed easily to their stalls. The door would open into the story allotted to the beasts, and all things might enter it by a sort of bridge, or by sloping planks. C. --- Ordure might be thrown down into the lowest part of the ark, separated from the reservoir of fresh water, or might be brought up with ropes and buckets to the window at the top, which would easily open. T.
I'm going to stop here. But one could go on to cite Haydock's treatment of virtually everything else in Genesis as literal history.

I encourage those who are interested to mark Haydock as a possible reference for their other Bible readings.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Was There a Biblical Flood?

Is this what really happened?

One might be forgiven the impression that the Catholic Church has given up on the story of Noah and the Flood as anything more than that, a story. After all, it's the Protestant evangelicals who are enthusiastically building full-scale ark replicas, mounting search expeditions to Mt. Ararat and all the rest. While on the Catholic side we have to make do with the likes of Bishop Barron and his ironically named "Word on Fire" lectures arguing that a good portion of the Old Testament is mere allegory containing no more literal truth than the novel Moby Dick.

While I suspect it's true that the majority of post-Vatican II Catholic laypeople and prelates do not anymore believe in an historical Noah, to the extent that there is an official current Church position on the matter it is that Noah was a real person and the Flood - a massive cataclysm that wiped out all but eight human beings - was a real event.

Noah and the Flood are mentioned in five sections of the 1993 Catholic Catechism. Following longstanding interpretive tradition, the flood is said to prefigure baptism, with the dove sent by Noah representing the Holy Spirit. Christ is in a sense the new Ark. But there's no indication that the Catechism authors do not mean it also to be taken literally. Among other things, a mere allegorical Covenant would have no meaning.

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) reports that virtually all Catholic theologians up to that time believed that the Flood was a real event.

The New Testament refers to Noah in many places. Among other things, he appears in the standard genealogies as well as the well-known warning spoken by our Lord Himself:
As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
And, of course, the references to Noah and the Flood in Genesis and other places in the Old Testament are written in a manner that appears to describe real events, including relating the exact dimensions of the Ark.

It should also be added that stories of a massive and perhaps worldwide flood are ubiquitous in the myths of perhaps the majority of world cultures.

However, among those 20th and 21st century Catholic theologians who subscribe to the orthodox literalist position, it's also true to say that many if not most believe that the Flood was not a global event but merely local to the Middle-East. The Catholic Encyclopedia itself leans in this direction, while admitting that this (in 1913) was a relatively new interpretation brought about by the scientific evidence or lack of it, for a worldwide flood. 

Thus, from around 1800 to 1900, a time when geology was still in its infancy, many orthodox Catholics stopped believing in a global Flood. Why this happened is an interesting question but I will not answer it in detail here. My own view is that it was as much due to a new critical attitude towards the interpretation of Scripture, as well as sympathy with certain philosophical or pseudo-scientific premises popular at the time - such as uniformitarianism - rather than any explicit clash with the empirical evidence per se.

It is important to note, however, that the view that the Flood was local went along with, and still goes along with the orthodox understanding that it nevertheless wiped out all of humanity except for Noah and his family. Thus, the new more "scientific" view carried with it a premise that could later be theoretically disproved by science - that at the time of the Flood, mankind had not yet spread out past a relatively small area in the lands of the Bible.

Contemporary proponents of the local theory must grapple with the fact that modern science seems to show that the human population was diffused around the world many tens of thousands of years ago. If we are to take the orthodox but local theory seriously, then we would have to believe that out of a pre-civilized population who, when it came to technology, were primarily focused on slowly coming up with a better axe-head, there came one family with the knowledge and means to construct a massive boat, 500 feet long.

This, in my view, is another example where a supposedly more "scientific" and believable theory, meant to make Scripture consistent with the alleged discoveries of modern science, ends up in fact looking ad hoc and preposterous.

Proponents of the local theory believe that their account is more realistic when it comes to the diversity of animals taken on the Ark and rescued. How would Noah have had the time or space to save all those Arctic animals and jungle animals, etc.? But if the question is flipped, it becomes devastating in the opposite direction. Why would God want Noah to go to extravagant lengths to merely carry the Middle-Eastern creatures, virtually all of whom, or at least their close relatives, would have survived anyway, elsewhere?

Most "young-earth" creationists believe that the Flood was global and occurred sometime in the mid- to early third millennium before Christ. This appears to assume a massive telescoping of human history, at least as most now understand it, with the Biblical attempt to erect the Tower of Babel and the historical beginnings of Egyptian civilization - its gigantic monuments soon to follow - being apparently squeezed into just a few hundred years. On the face of it, this seems ridiculous. We should note, however, that the written histories - the records of dynasties and so forth, as opposed to mere archaeological extrapolations - "coincidentally" go back to around that time and no further.

Those who do not believe in the Biblical account of the Flood cite a lack of geological and other evidence. The "old-earth" local Flood camp must somehow contend with this as well as the technological question: If civilization is really much older, and intercontinental migrations go back much farther than the Biblical literalists suggest (and old-earth creationists generally accept the premises involved in carbon-dating, the fossil record claims for early man and so on), then how can one make sense of such a high-tech project as the Ark in, say, 50,000 B.C.? That the fact that it didn't happen is not provable by modern science seems small consolation. Indeed, to me, it emphasizes the desperate nature of the view.

But the young-earth creationists at least have a consistent story - consistent within its own terms, that is. In response to the alleged lack of evidence for a worldwide flood, they claim that the evidence is in fact everywhere. The fossil stratification and geological phenomena supposedly pointing to great age is reinterpreted by them as evidence for a cataclysmic event. The unprecedented physical force of the Flood killed most land creatures - including probably the dinosaurs - created shale-oil deposits, disgorged the fossils of sea creatures on land while creating the "layering" often found in the fossil record, carved out massive canyons and other formations, destroyed and created continents, and changed the very climate, perhaps ushering in a mini-Ice Age as the waters receded.

The "science" of Flood Geology is relatively new, but in one sense it's merely a new version of catastrophism, perhaps the dominant view of proto-geologists until the early 19th century. Catastrophism would then be rejected by many 19th century scientists on a priori or philosophical grounds more than anything else - isn't it simply more reasonable to believe in slow and gradual change? - and later, the contrary uniformitarian view would be seen to have the added bonus of being a necessary premise for making the new theory of Darwinian evolution - requiring millions of years of gradual biological change - to work.

Ironically, catastrophism would make a comeback in mainstream science in the latter half of the 20th century, though without, of course, any Biblical associations. No longer would it be assumed, for example, that all natural geological formations were created in a slow and gradual manner.

Is the young-earth creationist account believable? As stated a few days ago, it's obviously quite unbelievable for most moderns, as it would necessitate rejecting what much of current science tells us is now beyond rational debate, such as the basic assumptions underlying radiometric and carbon-dating, among other things.

But for a Catholic who believes in a literal Flood, the alternatives are also unbelievable or at least untenable. At the least, I think that faithful Catholics who take both Catholic doctrine and logical and empirical considerations seriously owe young-earth creationism a second look.

A "God of the Gaps" forcing Catholics to continually retreat to ad hoc stories of cavemen building Arks to save camels and Arabian leopards in an unverifiable past is not an attractive option. And, of course, rejecting the historical truth of some kind of Flood is firmly against both Scripture, tradition and current Church teaching.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

FLASHBACK: When a German Bishops Council Attacked the New Theory of Darwin

Pope Leo XIII

Yes, it was a German bishops council.

As Cardinal Tobin might put it, we've come a long way, baby.

Charles Darwin first published the Origin of Species in 1859. While there would soon be some attempts by Catholic authors to harmonize Darwin's theory with Catholic doctrine, it's fair to say that the initial general response by Catholic prelates and theologians, at least among the hierarchy, was quite negative.

Among the first responders were the German Catholic Bishops, who in their Provincial Council of Cologne (1860) condemned the proposition that Adam and Eve evolved from lower creatures:
Our first parents were formed immediately by God. Therefore we declare that the opinion of those who do not fear to assert that this human being, man as regards his body, emerged finally from the spontaneous continuous change of imperfect nature to the more perfect, is clearly opposed to Sacred Scripture and to the Faith.
The now somewhat hidden history of the Church's initial reactions to Darwin and the theory of evolution is chronicled by Father Brian Harrison in two fascinating papers, "Early Vatican Responses to Evolutionist Theology" (2001) and "Did the Human Body Evolve Naturally? A Forgotten Papal Declaration" (1998).

In the second paper, Fr. Harrison analyzes the 1880 Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII Arcanum (On Christian Marriage). Here is the Pope on the relation between the literal interpretation of God's creation of Adam and Eve and Christian marriage and sexuality:
What is the true origin of marriage? That, Venerable Brethren, is a matter of common knowledge. For although the detractors of the Christian faith shrink from acknowledging the Church's permanent doctrine on this matter, and persist in their long-standing efforts to erase the history of all nations and all ages, they have nonetheless been unable to extinguish, or even to weaken, the strength and light of the truth. We call to mind facts well-known to all and doubtful to no-one: after He formed man from the slime of the earth on the sixth day of creation, and breathed into his face the breath of life, God willed to give him a female companion, whom He drew forth wondrously from the man's side as he slept. In bringing this about, God, in His supreme Providence, willed that this spousal couple should be the natural origin of all men: in other words, that from this pair the human race should be propagated and preserved in every age by a succession of procreative acts which would never be interrupted. And so that this union of man and woman might correspond more aptly to the most wise counsels of God, it has manifested from that time onward, deeply impressed or engraved, as it were, within itself, two preeminent and most noble properties: unity and perpetuity (Arcanum, para. 5, English translation by Harrison).
"He formed man from from the slime of the earth," and Eve was "(drawn) forth wondrously from the man's side as he slept."

Pope Leo was a creationist.

Harrison argues that the Church's initial reactions to Darwin were actually similar to its earlier responses to the claims of Galileo and Copernicus:
In the first place, we are in a position to correct a widespread popular perception about the history of the Church’s relations with science. It is commonly held that while the Vatican notoriously blundered in the seventeenth century by condemning Galileo and proscribing all works propagating the Copernican worldview, Rome ‘learned her lesson’ from having ‘burnt her fingers’ during that first great outburst of tension between traditional faith and modern scientific theories, and therefore ‘prudently’ abstained from intervening with similar condemnations the next time around, when evolution became the new bone of contention, even though many theologians were shrilly calling for Darwin’s head on a plate. Indeed, it is not uncommon to hear statements to the effect that the Catholic Church "has never had a problem with evolution". 
In fact, the record shows great similarities between the initial Vatican responses in both historic controversies. As Galileo was called in and rebuked by the Holy Office, so were Fr. Caverni and Fr. Léroy [Catholic authors who were sympathetic to Darwin]. As, in the seventeenth century, works defending the Copernican system were placed on the Index of Forbidden Books, so, in the nineteenth, were works defending human evolution — by Caverni, Mivart, Léroy (and possibly others). The main difference seems to have been that, for whatever reason, these anti-Darwinian censures emanating from Rome never received nearly as much publicity as the Galileo case. 
There was in fact a consistent, if relatively quiet, rejection of human evolution on the part of the See of Peter throughout the last three decades of the nineteenth century...
I suppose one could add, the responses were similar for better or worse, as atheists and liberal Catholics would presumably crack their knuckles with glee at this. See how stuffy and ignorant the pre-Vatican II Church was.

We've come a long way, baby.

What would then happen in the 20th century is of course a crucial part of the story.

Next: The (Vatican II) Cardinal was a Creationist.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Slumming with the Creationists

A display at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky

This week I wrote two posts where I bashed what I called the modern synthesis between the theory of evolution - including its accompanying claims about the 4.5 billion year age of the earth - and orthodox Catholicism.

However, nowhere in the posts did I call myself a "creationist," endorse "creationism" or, for that matter, even use the terms.

For the record, I wouldn't currently call myself a creationist. I'd call myself a Catholic who is also a skeptic. And, yes, that means, among other things, that I'm quite skeptical of the creationist view that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, that dinosaurs probably lived alongside men and all the rest. To believe that, you would have to discard or at least radically reinterpret much of what the overwhelming majority of scientists believe about geology, astronomy and chemistry. Specifically, certain core assumptions underlying radiometric and radiocarbon dating as well as the consistency of the speed of light would have to be thrown out.

On the other hand, I think the standard theory of evolution is preposterous - from a scientific standpoint more than anything else - while the modified Catholic version of it - some type of theistic evolution or "intelligent design" ends up being very difficult to square with Catholic doctrine. Specifically, I do not see how animal suffering and ancient mass extinctions can be comfortably accommodated with a pre-Fall creation that was "very good" or how common descent from pre-human ancestors can be made consistent with a literal Adam and Eve. For the latter point, I stand by my claim that no Catholic or theistic proponent of intelligent design has ever even tried to outline precisely what it would mean for Adam to have been what I called a "near ape man." Indeed, Catholic and Christian quasi-evolution or design proponents are very uncomfortable even talking about the subject. That tells you something in and of itself.

So we're back to having a certain sympathy, albeit for mostly negative reasons, for creationism - a theory almost exclusively associated with 20th century American Protestant evangelicals, although its current chief proponent is an Australian transplant.

You might call my current position slumming with the creationists.

So what do I believe? If you could take a video camera back in time 6,000 years (the approximate point many creationists believe God created the world) or 4.5 billion years (if there was such a time) what would it record? I don't know. I'd very much like to know, but I don't. Quite honestly, I think all the alternatives are problematic for a believing Catholic.

That's not a magisterial opinion, obviously. It's my opinion.

And in this - the problematic nature of all the alternatives - I think intelligent and honest atheists such as Richard Dawkins have a sort of advantage.

How do you combat that? From a sociological point of view, you can't, or at least you can't very easily or quickly. Atheism or secularism are now the dominant intellectual and cultural paradigms, and there's no reason to believe this will change in the near future, whatever brilliant empirical or logical considerations any particular Christian can come up with in any particular intellectual battleground.

But here's what you don't do: You don't sweep the problems under the rug or ignore them because they might be difficult or embarrassing or whatever in favor of "I (as a Catholic) believe what I believe and that makes me feel very spiritual inside, etc., etc." Cue violins.

Or at least that's never been how I viewed my own Catholic faith.

Personally, I think much of the hostility to creationism among contemporary Catholics, even conservative or traditionalist Catholics, is because of its current association with evangelical Protestants. They're Protestants, after all. Plus, they're sort of lower class, have bad taste in clothes and often speak with a twang.

That the identification of creationism with Protestanism is almost entirely a 20th and 21st century phenomenon, that some version of "creationism," though it didn't go by that name, was the view of virtually all Catholics, including the Church Fathers and Doctors, and all the saints and popes up until the late 19th or early 20th centuries is something that many contemporary Catholics seem to be unaware of.

That doesn't make it true, of course. But at the least it should give faithful contemporary Catholic pause. The intellectual and theological wreck of Modernism with its first culmination in Vatican II created a sort of vacuum that evangelical Protestants in some part filled. That they filled it with their energy at evangelization is a certainty. They also filled it with their intellectual drive, which is ironic since so many would sneer at their "anti-intellectualism."

In some ways I feel more comfortable in a Moody Bible bookstore than in the basement annex of St. Peters in the Loop with its America magazine displays and row upon row of hippy-priest Paulist Press paperbacks.

If you have a problem with the fact that in recent times Christian evangelicals have done much of the work that Catholics should have been doing, don't blame them.

Protestant evangelical or Vatican II Catholic? Of course it's best to be neither.

But I'm not above slumming.         

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Was Adam an Ape Man?

Many modern orthodox Catholics believe they have made a sort of peace between the Creation account found in Genesis and at least a modified theory of evolution. Note that these orthodox Catholics believe in a real and literal Adam and Eve, as they are told they must by Catholic doctrine as reiterated as recently as Pope Pius XII, and restated in the current Catechism.

But if we accept evolutionary descent with modification, then Adam and Eve must have been cavemen or ape-men or what I will from here on in call "near-ape men." On what we might call the Evolutionary-Catholic synthesis the difference was that these new near-ape men were now "ensouled." Presumably, this initially involved no obvious physical changes - they all (both the ensouled and non-ensouled near-ape men) were hairy or not, beetlebrowed or not, and so on and so forth. One assumes that the details are not important.

Curiously, I have never read an account for what, on this theory, precisely and literally happened. And whether we take the creation account in Genesis as, say, 50% allegory, 80% allegory or 98% allegory, something must have literally happened. What?

Here then is my attempt at what we might call a historical reconstruction, using the text of Genesis 2-3 as an explanatory framework. Remember that for the orthodox Catholic, Genesis must be inerrant (the Church commands us to believe this) whether we interpret it literally, figuratively or, as seems most plausible, using some mix of the two.

The following may perhaps verge on the comic, but I really did try to be as fair as possible. If any reader feels like I'm being unfair to the orthodox Catholic who believes in both modified evolutionary theory and the theological claims made in Genesis and elsewhere, I'd be happy to know where I went wrong.

But (to those who may wish to try), please stay away from ad hominem attacks, irrelevant appeals to the fossil-record, accusations that even talking about such things makes one a stupid Protestant fundie, etc. This is your theory, after all.

Okay, here goes:

GENESIS, Chapters 2 and 3:     

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground—This refers to the time of man's near-ape ancestors who hadn't yet invented agriculture. The rain passage is more problematic. Since we know that there had been rain for billions of years, what the author probably means is that up to now it was a different sort of rain, not as picturesque as you now see on farms. Or maybe it means absolutely nothing.  

Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Then the Lord God designated one of the near-ape men roaming the East African plains and ensouled him. His near-ape comrades were initially unaware of this, as to all outward appearances, he seemed identical with them. 

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. This can be interpreted in at least two ways. Since the near-ape men led tough and dangerous lives, it would make sense that God would want to protect his newly ensouled creature by placing him in a specially designated area. On the other hand, we could interpret the passage allegorically by postulating that the newly ensouled near-ape man was given some sort of unique spiritual gifts that insured that the rest of his life would go much better than the lives of the other near-ape men (almost as if he were living in "paradise"). This is obviously the more scientific view.   

The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is presumably allegorical. Claims of a magical garden or special spiritual protections are one thing, but postulating an actual "tree of knowledge" goes too far.  

A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. Either the garden was in what we would now call Iraq. Or specifying the location using modern geographical terms is allegorical for "there was a garden somewhere" or "it was as if (spiritually) he were now in a garden located somewhere in Iraq."

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” This is probably allegorical for "enjoy yourself, but be careful: with ensoulment goes great responsibility."

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. Again, this is probably a way of saying that the near-ape men already had a rudimentary language, including names for animals and so on, but the newly ensouled near-ape man was a bit smarter (being ensouled) and thus was able to use language with a higher degree of sophistication.

But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. What does this mean? I think it's clear that either: 1) It's a fancy way of saying that the second paragraph above should be revised to really state that God originally selected two near-ape people - one male and one female - from that roving band on the plains. Or 2) God took a piece of the man's soul and out of it created a female soul. That's obviously more scientific than any reference to ribs.  

Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

Since the non-ensouled near-ape men also had bones and flesh, "bones" and "flesh" are obviously figurative here for "soul stuff." 

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. 
We know that near-ape men and women had been having sex and had been going without clothes for millions of years without embarrassment. Ensoulment didn't change that.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LordGod had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. Again, this is probably allegory. Modern man understands certain things about the world that the author of Genesis did not. One of those things is that there are no talking snakes. So we may understand this passage as meaning that one or both of the newly ensouled near-ape people suddenly found themselves having evil thoughts. Among other things, this now made them embarrassed about sexual matters.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LordGod among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Translate this as: the man blamed his evil thoughts on the woman, who he claimed had them first. The woman blamed her evil thoughts on the talking snake.

The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this, 

cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

Again, we know that snakes had been crawling on their bellies for millions of years. So this is simply an allegory for another allegory that will be found later in Scripture.

To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,

but he shall rule over you.”

This is problematic. On the one hand, we can be sure that non-ensouled near-ape women also experienced pain in childbearing. So it's probably a way of saying that either God foresaw the Fall from the beginning, which is why all near-ape women (ensouled and non-ensouled) experienced pain during childbirth (though the newly ensouled woman hadn't experienced it yet) as a sort of backwards punishment for what the ensouled near-ape people would later do, or perhaps ensouled women would experience more pain. Or perhaps it just means that due to the Fall, pain and suffering came into the world, even though it was sort of there already.

Or perhaps it means nothing.

And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”

Translate this as: your temporary special protections have now been lifted. You can both go back to toiling and eventually dying along with the other near-ape men.

The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

Various interpretations of the above are possible. However, left unstated is an important additional point. God must have then created a special spiritual or quasi-physical field around the newly ensouled near-ape people such that they would not breed with the thousands or millions of other non-ensouled near-ape people already roaming the plains. The non-ensouled near-ape people then died out.


Well, you probably can guess by now what I think of the above.

Aren't we all a bit old for these sorts of stories?

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Evolution, Creation and Catholic Faith

The Garden of Eden by Jacob Bouttats

The theory of evolution, that all species including man arose gradually through a process of natural selection based on random mutation, has for many years been largely accepted by most Catholics. Along with that, the modern view that the earth is many billions of years old has also been accepted.

Both of these obviously fly in the face of a literal interpretation of Genesis. But it has long been a claim of modern religious faith that they are perfectly consistent with a metaphorical or allegorical interpretation of Scripture. God may not have actually created the world in six twenty-four hour days, but the creation "myth" of Genesis is still true on a deeper theological level. While Genesis is obviously not a science textbook, it is still inerrant (as the Church teaches that it must be) if interpreted correctly on its own terms.

Thus, we can have evolution, at least in some form - perhaps including a divine nudge or two here or there to make sure the "random" mutations go in the right direction or whatever - and a 4.5 billion year-old earth with ages upon ages of survival of the fittest - from unicellular organisms to trilobites to dinosaurs to rats to apes to humans - without giving up anything essential in Catholic theology or doctrine.

It seems like almost a happy ending, doesn't it? We can have both our modern scientific cake and our Catholic cake and also eat them.

So, I'm sorry to break it to you, but: 

The above is utter hogwash.

If the theory of evolution is true and the earth really is billions of years old, then Genesis is not only literally false, it's false in virtually any other way that it could be true or false. Nor does it have any other meaning that is even remotely helpful. At best, it's a "myth" with no connection to anything. At worst, it's directly misleading - a lie.

And thus the claim that the Bible is inerrant is a lie.

And thus the Catholic faith is a lie.

Of course, I'm a believing Catholic, so I don't think the faith is a lie. (Note the "if" three paragraphs up.) But in terms of the truth of the if/then statement, I'm with the atheist Richard Dawkins on this one.

I'll be writing more about this topic in the coming weeks, including references to the Catholic Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation.

For now, though, I want to leave you with this to think about. In Genesis 1:29-31, we read: 
And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.
But if the general outlines of the theory of evolution are true, then the above is not only not good science, it's not even good theology. What God should have added (or what Moses or whoever supposedly wrote the Pentateuch should have said God added) is this:
But I (God) am only going to provide a finite amount of food such that every beast of the earth will be locked in an unending struggle for survival that will result in the unnatural death by starvation or predation of the vast majority. Many creatures will eat each other, even though I earlier didn't tell you that. And you will eat some of them, though I didn't tell you that either. And once in a while you'll get eaten yourselves. Such a state of affairs will continue for billions of years punctuated by the occasional meteor that will periodically wipe out almost everything. Did I say before that it was very good? What I meant was, it might be very good for modern people to think about in armchairs, but for the trillions upon trillions of creatures, including some of your ape grandparents, who led brief lives of meaningless suffering, not so much.  
Intelligent atheists completely get the contradiction here. Modern faithful Christians don't want to get it, for obvious reasons. But I think most of them actually do get it, at least, subconsciously. Or if they don't get it, their kids will.

I think this is is the primary reason for the decline of Western religious faith in the 20th century.