Dear Friends of the Kolbe Center,
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
One of the most common errors being propagated in Catholic apologetics in regard to the origins of man and the universe is the error of polygenism—the idea that human beings are not descended from St. Adam and St. Eve, but from a large number of human ancestors. By the grace of God, Dr. Kevin Mark has taken the time to write a definitive refutation of this false teaching. In this newsletter I will summarize some of the main points of Dr. Mark’s article, but I encourage you to read the entire essay at this link on the Kolbe website.
The first point that Dr. Mark drives home is that the origin of the human race from Adam and Eve is a theological truth contained in Divine Revelation and that the Holy Catholic Church has understood Scripture to teach that all humans are descended from St. Adam and St. Eve from the time of the Apostles. He demonstrates that the descent of all humans from our first parents St. Adam and St. Eve is not only clearly taught in Sacred Scripture but is also an infallible teaching of the Ordinary Magisterium.
One question that Dr. Mark does not address—because it is not necessary to prove his thesis—is the weight of authority that ought to be attached to statements of recent Popes, like Pope St. John Paul II, who called into question the traditional doctrine regarding the special creation of Adam and Eve. Dr. Mark rightly points out that all such statements have been made at a very low level of authority, but in this newsletter I would like to explain in more detail why Catholics who know their Faith have not only the right but the obligation to defend the traditional teaching on monogenism and the special creation of St. Adam and St. Eve.
Infallible Teaching Concerns the Deposit of Faith
When Vatican I defined the dogma of papal infallibility, Blessed Pope Pius IX and the Council Fathers defined the dogma with great precision. According to the Council, the Pope is not given the gift of infallibility to “define any new doctrine” but only to define a doctrine of faith or morals that is contained in the Deposit of Faith that was handed down from the Apostles. When Pope St. John Paul II’s statements favorable to the evolutionary hypothesis are evaluated in the light of this definition, it becomes apparent that none of his statements or any of the statements of recent Popes favorable to the evolutionary hypothesis was framed as a definition of a doctrine of faith or morals. On the contrary, every one of these statements has been presented as an opinion in regard to an hypothesis in natural science. Such opinions should be considered respectfully, but they do not require our assent. And if a careful examination of the evidence reveals that the hypothesis the Pope favors is not supported by the scientific evidence, then the faithful have the right and the duty to respectfully show the Church leadership the flaws in that hypothesis, especially when the traditional teaching of the Church harmonizes much better with the scientific evidence.
As pointed out in our previous newsletter, when Pope St. Pius X was informed that most scientists considered Piltdown Man “proof” that humans had evolved from ape-like ancestors, we can be sure that he was convinced that the proof would eventually be “disproved”—as indeed it was. This is because St. Pius X believed and taught that the special creation of Adam and Eve was divinely revealed and therefore not susceptible to correction from the natural sciences which can only deal with observations in the natural order of things—an order which only began when the entire supernatural work of creation was finished. The teachings of Pope Benedict XVI illustrate the contradiction that arises when recent Popes try on the one hand to preserve the traditional teaching of the Church on human origins while at the same time treating human origins as a legitimate subject for natural science—as if one could safely entertain the hypothesis that the origin of the human body could be explained in terms of presently-observed material processes.
The Ambiguous Teaching of Pope Benedict XVI
In contemporary theological discourse, the writings of Pope Benedict XVI on Genesis 1-11 and evolution exemplify what seems like a patristic reverence for the sacred history of Genesis when approached from a theological perspective, but which turns to a complete lack of confidence in the historical truth of Genesis 1-11 in the face of the consensus view in natural science. In Jesus of Nazareth, for example, Pope Benedict writes of the original harmony of the first created world in a way that echoes the constant teaching of the Church Fathers:
The Holy Father here refers to the original harmony of the first created world, including the original harmony between man and the wild beasts before the Original Sin. He also affirms the patristic teaching that Jesus came to restore this original harmony through the Incarnation, an idea that clashes violently with the Teilhardian world-view which denies the first perfection of the universe and focuses all of man’s attention on an evolutionary progression to a utopian “omega point” in the future. Elsewhere in Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict continues to write in a patristic vein of the genealogy of Christ and his descent from Adam whose origin lies at the beginning of creation:
In contrast to Matthew, Luke uses his genealogy to journey from Jesus back into past history. Abraham and David make their appearance but without any particular emphasis. The family tree goes back to Adam, and so to creation, for once Luke comes to the name Adam, he adds: “of God.”
Here we see that the Pope identifies Adam with the time of creation, just as the Fathers did—or, at the very least, he recognizes that this is the plain meaning of the genealogy in Luke, Chapter Three. At a Holy Mass with Priests and Religious at the Latin Parish of the Holy Cross in Nicosia, Cyprus, Pope Benedict XVI shared his thoughts about Adam, Seth, Original Sin and the Cross, in words that one would not have been surprised to hear on the lips of St. John Chrysostom or St. Basil the Great:
There is an ancient tradition that the wood of the Cross was taken from a tree planted by Adam's son Seth over the place where Adam was buried. On that very spot, known as Golgotha, the place of the skull, Seth planted a seed from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree in the midst of the Garden of Eden. Through God's providence, the work of the Evil One would be undone by turning his own weapons against him.
Beguiled by the serpent, Adam had forsaken his filial trust in God and sinned by biting into the fruit of the one tree in the garden that was forbidden to him. In consequence of that sin, suffering and death came into the world. The tragic effects of sin, suffering and death were all too evident in the history of Adam's descendants. ...
Reading these statements, while recognizing that the he is not placing “ancient traditions” on the same level as the inerrant Word of God, one would be tempted to think that Pope Benedict would be willing to shed his last drop of blood for the literal historical truth of every word in the sacred history of Genesis—like St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and all of the Fathers of the Church before him. But that illusion would quickly be shattered on reading the Holy Father’s response to a question at a press conference as to whether there is a conflict between creation and evolution. Without clarifying how the Catholic doctrine of “creation” and evolution could be harmonized, the Pope simply stated that it would be “absurd” to assert any conflict between the two.
Since “evolution” is generally understood to mean the descent of all of the different kinds of organisms up to and including the human body from one or a few common one-celled ancestors, through a process of mutation and natural selection over hundreds of millions of years, the Pope’s dismissal of any contradiction between “creation” and “evolution” as “absurd” without any qualification, risked robbing the faithful in his audience of any solid conviction that the sacred history of Genesis is true, in the sense in which all of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church understood it to be true. And yet the same faithful, reading the Pope’s reflections on Genesis in Jesus of Nazareth, might easily conclude that the Pope had the same respect for the literal historical truth of Genesis 1-11 as the Fathers and Doctors of the Church!
The irony of this contradiction between the Pope’s attitude to the sacred history of Genesis from a theological perspective and his attitude to the same “sacred history” when approached from a natural science perspective becomes all the more bitter when one realizes that he was well aware of the lack of evidence for microbe-to-man evolution. In the work printed in English as Truth and Tolerance, published shortly before his elevation to the papacy, the Holy Father recognized the dispute over the claims of evolutionary theory. He wrote:
There is . . . no getting around the dispute about the extent of the claims of the doctrine of evolution as a fundamental philosophy . . . This dispute has therefore to be approached objectively and with a willingness to listen, by both sides—something that has hitherto been undertaken only to a limited extent.
In the same work, then-Cardinal Ratzinger also acknowledged that leading evolutionists frankly admit the lack of any convincing evidence for microbe-to-man evolution:
R. Junker and S. Scherer, in their “critical reader” on evolution, have this to say: “Many examples of such developmental steps [microevolutionary processes] are known to us from natural processes of variation and development. The research done on them by evolutionary biologists produced significant knowledge of the adaptive capacity of living systems, which seems marvelous.” They tell us, accordingly, that one would therefore be quite justified in describing the research of early development as the reigning monarch among biological disciplines. It is not toward that point, therefore, that a believer will direct the questions he puts toward modern rationality but rather toward the development of evolutionary theory into a generalized philosophia universalis, which claims to constitute a universal explanation of reality and is unwilling to allow the continuing existence of any other level of thinking. Within the teaching about evolution itself, the problem emerges at the point of transition from micro- to macro-evolution, on which points Szathmary and Maynard Smith, both convinced supporters of the all-embracing theory of evolution, nonetheless declare that: “There is no theoretical basis for believing that evolutionary lines become more complex with time; and there is also no empirical evidence that this happens.” (emphasis added)
With these words then-Cardinal Ratzinger recognized that it is not possible to extrapolate from so-called microevolution—i.e., variation within species—to macroevolution—i.e., land-mammal-to-whale evolution. But, without micro to macro extrapolation, “evolution” as an explanation for the origin of the different kinds of living things, is untenable. These statements demonstrate that the Pope knew for a long time that there is no conclusive scientific evidence for the evolution of all of the different kinds of living organisms from a common one-celled ancestor. And yet, in the tradition of Cardinal Newman, he wanted to remain “open” to the possibility that this evidence might be discovered in the future—and thus, as Pope, he dismissed the idea of a contradiction between “creation” and “evolution” as “absurd.”
The problem with this suspension of belief in the sacred history of Genesis out of “openness” to the possibility that natural science might one day come up with evidence beyond any reasonable doubt for its claims is that this “openness” is incompatible with supernatural faith in God’s Word as it was handed down to us from the Apostles. At the Thomistic Evolution conference we attended two years ago, we were told that "embryonic recapitulation" is no longer the most striking proof for the truth of the evolutionary hypothesis; that proof, we were told, is now provided by genomics and molecular biology. But anyone who has studied evolutionary claims in those areas knows that the evidence from molecular biology is far more consistent with the sacred history of Genesis than with microbe-to-man evolution. As a scientist friend of mine--with a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology--likes to say, "With Darwin, the check is always 'in the mail'"!
Yours in Christ through the Immaculata in union with St. Joseph,