Creation Rediscovered, by Gerard J. Keane

Chapter 13 - The Position within Catholicism - Part Two

Polygenism Proscribed

Polygenism is the idea that human beings arose from many "first parents" via Evolution, [11] and that Adam and Eve are symbolic representations of mankind. On November 30, 1941, in an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope Pius XII identified three elements that must be retained as certainly attested by the Sacred Author of Genesis, without any possibility of allegorical interpretation:

1. The essential superiority of man in relation to other animals, by reason of his spiritual soul.

2. Derivation in some way of the first woman from the first man.

3. The impossibility that the immediate father or progenitor of man could have been other than a human being, that is, the impossibility that the first man could have been the son of an animal, generated by the latter in the proper sense of the term. [12]

As Fr. John Hardon, S.J. pointed out, in context this statement of Pope Pius XII reads, "Only from a man can another man descend, whom he can call father and progenitor." Even if the Pope had primarily intended in this address to stress the great gap in kind which exists between animals and human beings, nevertheless, as Cardinal Ruffini also pointed out, the possibility that human beings could have been born of animal parents is untenable.

Nine years later, in the encyclical Humani Generis, Pius XII not only expressly forbade the teaching of Evolution Theory as though it were already proved, but he also instructed that data pointing both for and against Evolution Theory must be given due consideration. Further, he also declared that

"The first eleven chapters of Genesis, although properly speaking not conforming to the historical method used by the best Greek and Latin writers or by competent authors of our time, do nevertheless pertain to history in the true sense which, however, must be further studied and determined by exegetes; the same chapters in simple and metaphorical languages, adapted to the mentality of a people but little cultured, both state principal truths which are fundamental for our salvation and also give a popular description of the origin of the human race and chosen people." [13]

Catholics are not free to believe in Naturalistic Philosophy, and Pope Pius XII did not specifically define Evolution as an "open question" - so how can it now truly be regarded as an open question, as though it does not matter whether human beings evolved from ape-like ancestors? After all, scientists, theologians and exegetes were permitted by the successor of Peter in 1950 to hypothesize only about the possibility of evolution of the human body:

"The teaching authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions on the part of men experienced in both fields take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution insofar as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter - for the Catholic Church obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God.

"However, this must be done in such a way that reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to which Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scripture and defending dogmas of faith.

"Some, however, highly transgress this liberty of discussion when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by facts which have been discovered up to now, and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of Divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.

"When, however, there is a question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this Earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generations from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents.

"Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and documents of the teaching authority of the Church propose with regard to Original Sin, which proceeds from sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which through generation is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own." [14]

In commenting on the Fall and in addition to referring to the Council of Trent and to Pope Paul VI, the Catechism of the Catholic Church referred to the above section in Humani Generis concerning polygenism:

"The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents." (390).

Although Pope Pius XII expressed grave concern about polygenism, did he nevertheless leave an opening for it with the words, "it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled . . ."? Various theistic evolutionists since 1950 have asserted that they can envisage possible (if highly implausible) ways in which many "first parents" can be reconciled with the doctrine of Original Sin. But J. Franklin Ewing S.J., professor of anthropology and a theistic evolutionist, was personally convinced that Pope Pius XII regarded polygenism as irreconcilable with Original Sin. Writing in 1956, Fr. Ewing candidly acknowledged this:

"Although the exact doctrine that Adam and Eve were the first parents of all men since their time has never been defined, still one is struck by the fact that all the ecclesiastical documents concerning them take this for granted. The Council of Carthage in 418; the Council of Orange in 529; and the Council of Trent in 1546 - to mention outstanding and ecumenical examples, all speak of original sin, and in this connection of one Adam.

"The Biblical Commission, in 1909, mentions "the unity of the human race" as one of the fundamental doctrines reported in Genesis. All the Scriptural references dealing with our first parents plainly take it for granted that there was one man and one woman. Pope Pius XII, however, does not so much lean on the Scriptures in drawing up his condemnation of polygenism. He emphasizes the evident irreconcilability of Catholic doctrine concerning original sin with polygenism." [15]

Conceptual Weakness in Polygenism

As well as the Magisterial prohibition by Pope Pius XII, the idea of polygenism has a conceptual weakness anyway which poses problems for those who suggest that Adam and Eve were not the original parents, the first two human beings from whom all mankind have descended.

The problem relates to the test of obedience given to man by God (Gen. 2:16-17). Who was involved in the decision taken by man - was it only one person (i.e., Adam) as Genesis suggests, or were several, perhaps many, human beings involved? If God chose to give the choice to a group of men, He first would have had to address the following possibility: What if there were disagreement in the group?

The effects of the alternative choices are incompatible. By the choice of obedience to God, mankind would have been preserved from bodily death and would have lived in a state of paradise upon Earth before entering Heaven. However, by the choice of disobedience to God, mankind was no longer preserved from bodily death, was subjected to inherent sinful tendencies, and has had to live with disease, violence and a harsh physical environment.

It is hard to see how the effects of the alternative choices could be implemented simultaneously. If there were many men, some might have chosen to resist the devil's temptation, while others might have chosen to eat the forbidden fruit, thereby becoming corrupt. How could perfect human couples co-exist with corrupted ones?

And what of the physical environment itself - how could it be a state of paradise for some, while a state of harsh climactic conditions for others at the same time? It seems more reasonable to hold that only one choice could be implemented. If this is granted, then a dilemma for the idea of polygenism must be faced: If more than one person were involved in the choice and there were disagreement in the group, only one party could have its choice implemented. The choice of the other party would have to be overridden. This would hardly be fair, and the members of the party concerned could feel that God misled them.

But we know that God can neither deceive nor be deceived, and it seems reasonable to conclude that "Adam" must refer to an individual person, as Genesis clearly records, and not to a group of people.

Against this, it can be argued that God selected one person among many human beings to make the choice on behalf of others. Or that a group of early human beings could have delegated authority to one leader. But this idea is totally dependent on every person in the group granting stupendous decision-making powers to this one person. Each could not afford the slightest doubt; total faith in the leader would be required. If only one person baulked at the idea, this concept is flawed. And God would have had to leave open the possibility of disagreement, a position considered above to be untenable.

One problem for such versions of polygenism is that Original Sin would not be transmitted through generation to the descendants of the sinless others in the group, but rather by the direct action of God. And there are other conceptual problems: What about Eve - was she "the mother of all the living" (Gen. 3:20), or only one of the group? Where did the group come from in the first place, since Evolution is effectively ruled out by modern findings in biochemistry and genetics? What Scripture passages can be cited in support of the concept? What clue or hint is there in Genesis or Tradition that the single couple - Adam and Eve - were in fact "many first parents"?

The most satisfactory solution to the above problem facing polygenism is that only Adam could have made the choice on behalf of mankind. Eve was involved, of course, in the shaping of Adam's choice, but the responsibility was his alone. The wording of Genesis points strongly in this direction, and the wording of Humani Generis confirms it (Pope Pius XII wrote about "an individual Adam").

The Catechism of the Catholic Church twice (pars. 28 and 360) quotes Acts 17:26: "From one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole Earth." This quotation strongly suggests a reference to one person, but various Bibles are unclear on this point. That the Catechism refers to a single person is confirmed in footnote 226 of paragraph 360, which cites Tobit 8:8: "Thou madest Adam of the slime of the earth and gave him Eve for a helper. From them the race of mankind has sprung . . . ." The "one ancestor" could only be Adam. This teaching is also confirmed in section 359, which quotes St. John Chrysostom: "St. Paul tells us that the human race takes its origin from two men: Adam and Christ . . . The first man, Adam . . . was made by the last Adam." Therefore, polygenism should be regarded as irreconcilable with Catholic doctrine.

The Views of Pope Pius XII

Catholics believe that each pope, as the successor of St. Peter, is deserving of great respect and enjoys the privilege of infallibility. (See Denzinger Systematic Index IIIf.) However, loyal and informed Catholics also understand that each pope can otherwise be mistaken when expressing private, non ex cathedra opinions, and in matters concerning prudential judgement.

Pope Pius XII taught quite definitely in the encyclical Humani Generis (1950) that Adam and Eve were real human beings, the first parents from whom all of mankind has descended; they are not symbolic representations of mankind as a whole, and there were no other human races existing on the Earth from whom human beings could have descended. To hold otherwise, he declared, is to endanger the doctrine of Original Sin. He reiterated that the rational souls of Adam and Eve were divinely implanted by God in acts of Special Creation, and he reaffirmed the teaching of the Church on Original Sin: "Sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which through generation is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own." [16]

In view of truth known from Tradition and highlighted by Cardinal Ruffini, why did Pope Pius XII even allow any discussion about the possible evolution of Adam's body, as though human Evolution could somehow be true? What need was there for further discussion - surely, enough was known already from Tradition? One can only speculate. Since "Evolution" is still today the subject of confusion and conflicting definitions and mechanisms, and the model of DNA was not even fashioned until three years later (1953), perhaps the Pope in 1950 opted for caution and in-depth clarification from scientists, not anticipating that his encyclical would soon be so blatantly distorted.

Although he may have inadvertently left an opening through which Modernist concepts could penetrate into Catholic consciousness, Pope Pius XII did not give the impression that he believed Evolution to be compatible with the Faith. His encyclical Humani Generis (dated August 12, 1950, and appropriately subtitled, On Certain False Opinions Which Threaten to Undermine the Foundations of Catholic Doctrine) was issued in response to the danger posed by evolutionists (such as Teilhard de Chardin) who were pushing pantheism. Perhaps the Pope did not anticipate the lengths to which Modernists would go in trying to overturn official Catholic doctrine, but he certainly had no illusions about the danger of Evolutionism:

"If anyone examines the state of affairs outside the Christian fold, he will easily discover the principal trends that not a few learned men are following. Some imprudently and indiscreetly hold that evolution - which has not been fully proved even in the domain of natural sciences - explains the origin of all things, and audaciously support the monistic and pantheistic opinion that the world is in continual evolution. Communists gladly subscribe to this opinion so that, when the souls of men have been deprived of every idea of God, they may the more efficaciously defend and propagate their dialectical
Materialism." [17]

Notwithstanding the fact that he allowed discussion about the possible evolution of Adam's body, how can it now be said that Pope Pius XII truly regarded Evolution as a serious hypothesis? After all, it was well known in 1950 that the "crucial mechanism of Evolution" was still truly missing. In a speech given only three years after Humani Generis was issued, long before exact details of discoveries in bio-chemistry and molecular biology would be available, Pope Pius XII in fact expressed very serious reservations about the scientific credibility of Evolution:

"In recent works on genetics one reads that the connection between living things cannot be explained better than by supposing a common genealogical tree. It is, however, necessary to remark that what we have here is an image, a hypothesis, not a demonstrated fact. . . . If most research workers speak of genealogical descent as a fact, they are premature in doing so. Other hypotheses are possible [in addition to that of evolution] . . .

"[Besides,] scientists of repute have pointed out that in their opinion one cannot as yet say what is the real and exact meaning of terms such as "evolution," "descent" and "transmission"; that we know of no natural process by which one being can beget another of a different kind; that the process by which one species begets another is altogether unintelligible, no matter how many intermediate stages be supposed; that no experimental method for producing one species from another has been found; and finally that we have no idea at what stage in the evolutionary process the hominoid suddenly crossed the threshold of humanity . . . [In conclusion] one is forced to say that the study of human origins is only at its beginnings: there is nothing definitive about present-day theory." [18]

A great deal of scientific research has taken place since the early 1950s, and the case against Evolution is overwhelming. Regarding the origin of Adam's body, the most probable explanation is this: "Yes" to very rapid transformation/creation from "dust" (i.e., inorganic non-living matter) [19] and "No2 to Evolution from living matter. However, there has been no fully comprehensive discussion of Origins between specialists within the Catholic Church. Rather, it seems that views favorable to Evolution have tended to predominate, and commensurate attention has not been given to information unfavorable to Evolution.

Unfortunately, the papal permission of 1950 - for specialists to hypothesize only about man's origin from living matter - was blatantly exploited after the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958 by those who sought to accommodate evolutionary concepts to Catholic doctrine.

Humani Generis was misrepresented to convey the widespread impression that belief in Evolution is now accepted officially by the Magisterium. This distortion of truth about Origins has had a catastrophic effect among Catholics on their understanding of crucial Origins doctrines. The misrepresentation amounted to a debilitating assault on foundational doctrines such as Original Sin - an assault from which the Catholic Church is still reeling.

In spite of which Pope is reigning, Catholics loyal to the office of the papacy (many of whom have experienced the extremely distressing effects of loved ones leaving the Church in the unprecedented collapse of faith since the mid-1960s) are entitled to expect rigorous, fully informed comments from the successor of St. Peter on vital doctrinal matters which could affect the salvation of souls.

The Views of Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II appears to defer trustingly to his scientific advisers, especially to advice from the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (established in 1936 by Pope Pius XI), notwithstanding the possibility that some present members may be ambivalent toward Christian doctrine and despite the actual standing of the Academy within the Catholic Church:

"About this body I would say that it has no authority in matters of faith and doctrine and expresses only the views of its own members who belong to different religious beliefs." [20]

As of late 1996, the Academy had 86 members, over 20 of whom are Nobel prize winners, all apparently favorable to Evolution. It seems that there is not one creationist opponent of Evolution (Catholic or otherwise) in the Academy to give other views of modern science. Ironically, one member, the famous United Kingdom cosmologist Stephen Hawking, even promotes non-Christian views:

". . . in 1981 my interest in questions about the origin and fate of the universe was reawakened when I attended a conference on cosmology organized by the Jesuits in the Vatican. . . . At the end of the conference the participants were granted an audience with the Pope. He told us that it was all right to study the evolution of the universe after the Big Bang, but we should not inquire into the Big Bang itself because that was the moment of Creation and therefore the work of God. I was glad then that he did not know the subject of the talk I had just given at the conference - the possibility that space-time was finite but had no boundary, which means that it had no beginning, no moment of Creation." [21]

The reason for John Paul II's deference to the Academy, virtually as the exclusive scientific consultant, seems answered by himself:

"I had long been interested in man as person. Perhaps my interest was due to the fact that I had never had a particular predilection for the natural sciences. I was always more fascinated by man . . . when I discovered my priestly vocation, man became the central theme of my pastoral work." [22]

In a spirit of seeking the truth of Origins, the following comments are made with great respect and loyalty to the Pope as successor of St. Peter (who, despite his human frailty, was chosen personally by our Creator and Redeemer to lead the Church on Earth; see Matt. 16:18).

At the April 26, 1985 Vatican symposium on "Christian Faith and the Theory of Evolution," Pope John Paul II made the following comments, which no doubt reflect the collective view of the Academy, but which nevertheless appear inconsistent with the actual findings of modern science:

"Rightly comprehended, faith in creation or a correctly understood teaching of evolution does not create obstacles: Evolution in fact presupposes creation; creation situates itself in the light of evolution as an event which extends itself through time - as a continual creation - in which God becomes visible to the eyes of the believer as 'creator of heaven and earth.' " [23]

In view of the powerful case which can be made for Special Creation, has the Pope's trust in his present advisers been misplaced? Let us hope and pray that the Holy Father may see fit, in due course, also to consider the views of those highly credentialed Catholic scientists who firmly hold Evolution to be false science. After all, how can the truth of Origins emerge if all sides do not receive a fair hearing?

Unfortunately, the various private, non ex cathedra comments of Pope John Paul II on Origins have tended to be imprecise. What exactly did he mean by "a correctly understood teaching of Evolution"? The word "Evolution" means all sorts of things to all sorts of people, and a precise definition of terms is therefore desirable. Clearly, Darwin's general theory of Evolution has failed under searching scrutiny, and Natural Evolution is in the midst of a deep crisis of credibility.

The objective truth is that rigorous scientific disciplines - such as molecular biology, biochemistry and genetics - have revealed mindboggling complexity within very tiny cells, and the reality of irreducible complexity within even such tiny cells clearly speaks only of Design. Numerous scientists have also shown that life forms are only capable of passing on the existing genetic information already possessed by them, and thus Natural Evolution cannot occur.

Modern research, therefore, suggests strongly that Natural Evolution cannot be historically true and that God chose to institute only variety within kind. This is not Evolution; since truly new "higher" genetic information is not being transmitted, life forms can only change within definite limits or boundaries. Nor can Theistic Evolution truly be defined as Evolution (as argued in Chapter 12); when fully considered, it reduces down only to innumerable instances of divine intervention - in contradiction to the observable facts of all reality, namely, that God works on all created things through secondary causes.

Instead of generalized private statements, one looks for precise terminology from the Pope, affecting vital related foundational Origins and Original Sin doctrine, which is not yet fully clarified. Addressing the Academy at the Rome conference on "Origins and Evolution of Life" (October 22, 1996), Pope John Paul II rightly pointed out that "truth cannot contradict truth." He also stated that, "the exegete and the theologian must keep informed about the results achieved by the natural sciences."

But he did not specifically define what he means by "Evolution," nor did he fully elaborate how objective truth known from Tradition and theological reality can differ from the relative truth known from ever-changing scientific theories, especially since theology and empirical scientific investigation can sometimes overlap (e.g., on issues such as abortion, in vitro fertilization, contraception, euthanasia and the global Flood of Noah; all of these are proper subject matter for both theologians and scientists).

Has Pope John Paul II been inaccurately informed by his advisers, to the detriment of truth? Some of his other scientific comments made on October 22, 1996, seem most inconsistent with the actual findings of modern science: "Evolution is more than a hypothesis. . . . It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory."

What discoveries? In light of modern scientific information, how can Natural Evolution now be regarded as anything other than failed attempted hypotheses? The highly complex information encoded on DNA suggests that only "like begets like." The missing mechanism of Evolution is doomed to remain ever-elusive because there is no mechanism to find, and evolutionary "convergence" never occurred because it cannot occur!

Further, has the Holy Father also been misinformed, in an effort to convince him that the biological aspects of Origins are somehow explicable by tying Naturalistic Evolution to divine intervention, as the following extracts from his October 22, 1996 speech imply: "ontological discontinuity," "Consideration of the method used in the various branches of knowledge makes it possible to reconcile two points of view which would seem irreconcilable," "correlate them with the time line," "the moment of transition to the spiritual"?

In light of the pro-evolutionist scientific advice, is it accurate to say that, "In his encyclical Humani Generis [On Certain False Opinions, 1950], Pope Pius XII had already stated that there was no opposition between Evolution and the doctrine of the faith about man and his vocation, on condition that one did not lose sight of several indisputable points"?

Two years later (September, 1998), writing in the encyclical letter Fides et Ratio ("Faith and Reason"), Pope John Paul II lamented the crisis of meaning in the modern world and condemned the threat of scientism, which had accompanied the spectacular growth in modern scientific achievements. He described scientism as "the philosophical notion which refuses to admit the validity of forms of knowledge other than those of the positive sciences; and it relegates religious, theological, ethical and aesthetic knowledge to the realm of mere fantasy . . . science would thus be poised to dominate all aspects of human life through technological progress." (Section 88).

John Paul II also wrote in praise of Pius XII, "In his encyclical letter Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII warned against mistaken interpretations linked to Evolutionism, existentialism and historicism. He made it clear that these theories had not been proposed and developed by theologians, but had their origins "outside the sheepfold of Christ." He added, however, that errors of this kind should not simply be rejected but should be examined critically." (Section 54).

One would hope for further Papal examination of many other crucial Origins aspects - such as polygenism, the origin of Eve's body, the impact of Romans 5:12 and conceptual problems in Theistic Evolution - and rigorous addressing of the historicity of Genesis.

Following the publication of the strongly pro-creationist Catechism of the Catholic Church, a comprehensive and rigorous encyclical on Origins - given high Magisterial status, if not fully ex cathedra - would be welcome news, as it would further help to clarify right from wrong and truth from error. It would also take its place forever in Catholic Tradition, for all future generations to consult.


11. The idea of multiple pairs of first parents in one locality is known as monophyletism; in various places and times is known as polyphyletism.
12. See Fr. John A. Hardon S.J., The Catholic Catechism (London: A Geoffrey Chaptman book published by Cassell Ltd., 1977), p. 92.
13. Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis, Denzinger p. 2329 (Wanderer Press translation). Emphasis added.
14. Humani Generis, Denzinger, pp. 2327-2328. Emphasis added.
15. Fr. J. Franklin Ewing S.J., Human Evolution-1956 (with Appendix "The Present Catholic Attitude Towards Evolution"), Anthropological Quarterly, p. 138, Volume 29, No. 4, October, 1956, The Catholic University of America Press, Washington DC. Emphasis added.
16. Humani Generis, Denzinger, p. 2328.
17. Ibid., p. 2305.
18. Pope Pius XII, Address to the First International Congress of Medical Genetics, Sept. 7, 1953, quoted by Dr. Michael Sheehan, Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, Part 11, 1962, p. 55. Emphasis added. Originally published in French in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis.
19. Special creation of Adam from pre-existent inorganic matter, in the form of elementary particles taken from the ground and instantly transformed into the body of an adult male human being.
20. Archbishop Luigi Barbarito (then Apostolic Pro-Nuncio, Australia), in correspondence to G. J. Keane (August 1, 1983).
21. Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (London: Bantam Press, 1988). Emphasis added.
22. Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (London: Random House, 1994), p. 199.
23. Quoted by theistic evolutionist writer Fr. William Kramer, C.PP.S. in Evolution & Creation: A Catholic Understanding (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 1986), p. 114.

Copyright © 1999 by Gerard J. Keane, Tan Books and Publishers

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