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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Why Creationism is Wrong

When it comes to creationism, the guiding principle of subsidiarity applies. Subsidiarity is the organizing principle within Catholicism. It states that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. In particular, political decisions should be taken at a local level if possible, rather than by a central authority, but in general all decisions should be taken at the most local level which still resolves the problem.

So, here's the problem.

Experimental science was invented by the Catholic Church. There has been no lack of good Catholic scientists, centuries and centuries of them, who would have been happy to demonstrate that the Bible is a good experimental science textbook - if that were true.

Experimental science is unquestionably good at discovering physical truths. We have clearly undergone tremendous scientific progress over the course of the last two millennia, and absolutely explosive progress in the last two centuries. Most of this progress was due to experimental scientists who were priests, bishops, a few Popes, more than one Doctor of the Church and even a few saints. These gentlemen would have liked nothing better than be able to show that the Bible is a superb science text.

But, they were GOOD CATHOLIC scientists, who followed the evidence of natural revelation and came to the conclusion that, even though the Bible gives us many examples of how to run a scientific experiment, it is not actually any good as a science textbook. They tried to show it for centuries. But, as Galileo and Cardinal Bellarmine (a doctor of the Church) both agreed, the Bible tells us how to go to heaven. It does not tell us how the heavens go.

The Catholic scientists who invented experimental science, who showed the world how to do experimental science, these are the men who tell us the Bible cannot be used that way.

Following the principle of subsidiarity, and the clear evidence of my senses that these gentlemen know what they are talking about - for I have benefited from their knowledge of the natural world in the physical comfort these generations of Catholic scientists have given my family and myself - I am not going to second-guess them. The Church says the Bible is not a science textbook, the Catholic scientists say the Bible is not a science textbook, and I believe both of them.

So, I reject Creationism.

Why Creationism is Dangerous

Indeed, I would argue that the Creationists are the major drivers behind atheism and have been for centuries. As St. Augustine pointed out nearly two millennia ago:
"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. 
The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?  
Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. " 
-- Augustine of Hippo, The Literal Meaning of Genesis. vol. 1, Ancient Christian Writers., vol. 41, Translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor, S.J. New York: Paulist Press, 1982
That is, by insisting the something is Catholic doctrine when it definitely is not, Creationists have brought into doubt points of Catholic doctrine that the Church actually DOES teach. Their refusal to accept subsidiarity, their refusal to submit to the authority of natural revelation ("the heavens are telling the glory of God") is a model of disobedience. Creationists refuse the authority of natural revelation, so those who study natural revelation refuse the authority of supernatural revelation (the prophets, the apostles and Christ Himself).

Catholics embrace "both-and". Truth cannot contradict truth. Both natural AND supernatural revelation are true. But creationists force men into a duality, "Accept our understanding of supernatural revelation OR accept natural revelation, but you can't have both!" Worse, by claiming to judge those who actually do study natural revelation, the creationist claims a level of expertise in regards to natural revelation that they really do not have. When creationists mis-represent or misunderstand the natural world, is it really much of a leap for someone to conclude that they also cannot be trusted to correctly represent supernatural revelation?

As the priest, bishop, Father and Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine, noted above, this is not a recipe for success.


What does the Church Teach?


Catholic teaching is on faith and morals. Experimental science describes the mathematical, quantitative relationship between objects. Catholic theology describes the quality of the relationships between persons, human, angelic and divine. Quantity vs. quality. Objects vs. persons. These are two different areas of expertise.

What, exactly, is "faith and morals"?

"Faith" is about the trust relationship between persons, how one person can have trust in another person. If I have faith in you, then I trust you to do something, because I know you. Faith requires evidence. It is based on the evidence of my past interactions with you. Faith is not blind, it REQUIRES evidence.

So, in Christianity, "faith" is a shorthand way of asking the following questions: "Does God exist? if He does, Who is He?"

Put yet another way, "faith" is the same as asking "What evidence do I have to show that He exists and/or Who He is and what characteristics does He possess?"

"Morals" is likewise just a shorthand way of asking, "If He exists, do I relate to Him at all, and if so, how do I relate to Him?"

So, faith answers the question "Do I trust Him?" and morals answers the question "How do I relate to Him?"

In order for Young Earth creationism to be part of God's self-revelation in faith or morals, that is, in order for creationism to be integral to Catholic teaching, then creationism would have to tell us something about Who God is or how we relate to Him that can be known in no other way. Further, what creationism tells us about God would have to be non-contradictory with the other aspects of God's self-revelation.

But creationism doesn't do any of these things.
Thus, creationism is not a part of either faith or morals.

What creationism DOES tell us - God created everything, and He loved us into existence - can be equally told to us via evolution and the Big Bang theory. Creationism doesn't really say anything special.

Creationism might be true - Catholics are not forbidden from being creationists if they really believe that's where the evidence leads - but, since it isn't part of faith and morals, Catholics are not bound to believe it, and most post-industrial Catholics who have looked at it don't buy it. That said, a lot of pre-1900s Catholics did buy into creationism. But that isn't relevant to the Catholic Faith.

Pre-1900s Catholics believed a lot of things about the natural world that turned out to be incorrect. Priests, bishops, popes, doctors of the Church, even saints, had wrong theories about human conception (they did not know about the human egg), human nutrition (they did not know about vitamins), germ theory (did not know about cells), etc. Their wrong theories on these subjects are not part of faith and morals any more than creationism is. Pointing to their wrong theories in order to buttress creationist assertions is pointless at best, deliberately misleading and wrong at worst.

St. Augustine had the right of it.
Would that we followed his advice.



4 comments:

Confitebor said...

That God created all things is Catholic dogma and arguably even something that may be established by human reason (though St. Thomas Aquinas would disagree on that latter point). But the question of how God created all things does not pertain to the deposit of Faith, except as certain aspects of the question touch on matters of dogma. Thus, as St. Pius XII observed, the dogma of Original Sin requires one to profess the existence of Adam and that Adam is the common ancestor of the whole human race. But precisely how and when God created Adam isn't a matter of the Faith. Because the Scriptures are inerrant, if the Scriptures reveal a literal six-day creation about 4,000 years before Christ, then we'd be obliged to believe it. The Church, however, does not teach that such things are revealed in Scripture. As the Pontifical Biblical Commission under St. Pius X taught, one may hold that the "days" of creation week were literal days or indeterminate ages in which God worked to bring things into existence and to order them to His ends. Where the Bible presents history, we can in Faith be assured that the Holy Spirit knows His history and will not inspire anyone to write down a historical error. The salient point, though, is to determine when the Bible is presenting strict history and when it isn't.

On these remarks, however:

"So, in Christianity, 'faith' is a shorthand way of asking the following questions: 'Does God exist? if He does, Who is He?' Put yet another way, 'faith' is the same as asking 'What evidence do I have to show that He exists and/or Who He is and what characteristics does He possess?'"

As Aquinas observed and Vatican I dogmatically affirmed, God's existence is something that can be known by human reason unaided by faith. Aquinas points out that the arguments rationally showing the existence of God are not articles of faith, but "preambles" to the articles of faith. "Does God exist" falls under the purview of reason. So too is the knowledge of His most basic attributes (that He has eternally existed, etc.). But to know anything else about Him requires faith. This is not opposed to reason, but reason alone can never bring one a knowledge of Who God truly is, that He is a Trinity, that the Second Person of the Trinity was incarnated through the flesh of the Blessed Virgin, etc., etc.

Andrew said...

Hello Steve,

Looking at the quote you've selected from Augustine in isolation fails to give an accurate picture of his views on the topic.

For example, Augustine was certain that there were waters above the firmament even we could not detect them because the Scriptures said so.

He was also certain the earth had only existed for thousands of years, despite the views of secular experts to the contrary, again because of the authority of Scripture.

It further skews the discussion to look at Augustine in isolation without examining the views of the other Church Fathers and Doctors on creation.

It appears that an unstated assumption in your view is that the creation of the world was a natural act. If it wasn't, that is if it was miraculous, then natural science won't be able to explain how it happened.

As you stated, human knowledge of the biological aspects of conception has increased. Should the conception of Christ without a human father be chalked up to the ignorance of our forefathers in the Faith? What further discoveries would in biology would be able to disprove the Virgin birth? None, because the Virgin birth was miraculous. If the creation of the world was miraculous then discoveries in the natural sciences will not be cause for rejecting revelation. I think that is why Pope St. Pius X condemned the proposition:

64. Scientific progress demands that the concepts of Christian doctrine concerning God, creation, revelation, the Person of the Incarnate Word, and Redemption be re-adjusted.


I highly recommend Bob Sungenis Catholic Apologetics Study Bible volume on Genesis 1-11 for a detailed look at what the Church fathers, Sacred Tradition, and natural science have to say about these issues.

God bless and keep up the good work that you do.

Andrew said...

One other quick point to think about on the Big Bang. Even if you take the days of creation to be longer than natural days, the Big Bang runs into problems, because Genesis doesn't simply say "God made everything in 6 days and rested on the seventh." It tells us that He made particular things on certain days, so there is a sequence of events. Part of that sequence is that the earth was created before the sun or the moon or the stars. I've never seen anyone try to reconcile that sequence with the Big Bang.

God bless.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Alright, so, your position is that there are currently waters above the firmament, and that we experience rain because doors open up in that firmament, those showering us with water here down below?

Because - if you are a creationist - you should really hold that view.

I do not have an unstated assumption that the creation of the world was a natural act. Obviously, the creation of the universe (not just the world, but the entire universe) was a supernatural act. But, once created, the characteristics of the universe are governed by the natural laws God supernaturally put in place.

As for the conception of Christ, that is de fide and part of the Faith. Contra Bob Sungenis' arguments to the contrary, the idea that the universe was created in just 6 24-hour days 6000-odd years ago is NOT de fide OR part of the Faith. The creation of the UNIVERSE was miraculous (thus, even physicists admit they can't go back and discover the cause of the Big Bang), but the accretion of matter into what we now know as the earth was a natural consequence of that supernatural act. The Big Bang and the laws that follow from it are supernaturally established, the creation of the earth, a natural consequence (thus, neither a natural or supernatural act).

No one posits that anything concerning God, creation, revelation, the Person of the Incarnate Word or Redemption be re-adjusted. All still is as it was. It's simply that your understanding of what it was is incorrect.

That is, YOUR view of what is and is not Catholic doctrine is in error and requires adjustment. The Church's view is just fine.