Creation Rediscovered, by Gerard J. Keane
Preface by By Rev. Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner, S.T.D
Why a theological introduction to a book about Evolution and Creation? Most people would instinctively reply: not because Evolution is a theological question, but because it is assumed to be a scientific question posing a threat to traditional belief in Creation, in a particular way to the doctrine of the unique dignity of Adam and Eve and their descendants, based on creation of the soul and special divine formation of the bodies of Adam and Eve, and therefore to belief in the existence of God and the very possibility of the Incarnation and Salvation as the ultimate goal to which Creation is ordered.
Thus there arises a problem of apologetics: are evolutionary hypotheses about the origin of the world, of the differentiation of the species and of man in particular a threat to the traditional dogmatic theism of Catholic theology?
In modern times two ways of approaching this problem have become usual: one is to deny any valid basis for evolutionary theories of origin. The other is to admit as plausible some theories of evolution, those precisely which are not incompatible with Theism. Whence the term Theistic Evolution.
In recent years this second approach has gained great popularity among Catholics, in particular among Catholic clergymen and religious. One can subscribe to all the articles of the Catholic creed, so the claim for Theistic Evolution runs, and not be pre-occupied with the final outcome of the scientific debate over the evolutionary hypothesis. For if one day "Evolution" should be proved factual, the only evolutionary thesis so to be demonstrated scientifically will be theistic rather than atheistic in thrust. One even hears the (very strange) assertion that God created the world by means of Evolution! Hence, Atheistic Evolution stands condemned by the Church.
But Theistic Evolution is not condemned, so it is further claimed, because the Church makes no judgment on the intrinsic merits of scientific hypotheses not contrary to faith and morals. And further, say its supporters, Evolution understood theistically uniquely underscores the prerequisite purpose and intelligence in the world which demonstrates the existence of God.
Now Mr. Gerard Keane's study: Creation Rediscovered, thoroughly revised and expanded, shows that no evolutionary hypothesis has been conclusively demonstrated as factual. Far from it: scientific theorizing about Origins tends more to favor the creationist version than the evolutionist one.
But there is one other, often overlooked point about such "scientific" theorizing about the origins of the world and of the species, very telling for the future direction the discussion of Origins will take. The point is this: These scientific theories of origins cannot be verified or falsified definitively on scientific grounds.
What is the significance of this point? An hypothesis incapable of scientific demonstration, of being verified as true or false, is not, strictly speaking, a scientific hypothesis. It may be true, but the truth or falsity of the theory must be decided on grounds and with methods of reflection proper to other branches of learning: those dealing with the theological, above all dogmatic theology, if the hypothesis is primarily theological. For the question of Origins - of the world and of man - is not a question of science, but of theology (including sound metaphysics).
Sound science recognizes its limits, even in regard to the sensible. Empirical science does not, because it cannot, tell us all that might be known about the material world. Wherever there is a question of the supernatural, of the miraculous, there it is beyond the limits of empirical science to tell us about material reality and what are the principles of its operation. For example: Creation as a distinctively divine mode of producing; the virginal Motherhood of Mary as a true, but higher mode of begetting; Transubstantiation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ; the glorified state of the risen human body.
In a word, empirical science has as its object the study of the natural operations of creatures, not the creative or miraculous operations of God, which these processes either presuppose for their existence and operation or which transcend these operations.
Dispassionately viewed, the current debate shows that neither the origin of the world in general nor of man in particular is primarily a question of empirical science. It is being decided, one way or the other, on theological-historical premises. Hence the prior truth of such premises is crucial to the entire debate. This is because both origins primarily involve creative and/or miraculous actions possible only to the Creator. It is not right - indeed, it is tragically wrong - to conceive of the origin of the world and of man as a scientific experiment and so something to be known per se primo [in the first place] "scientifically." Rather, the origin of the Universe, the origin of Adam and Eve, and the origin of every human person at conception is a wonderful, "miraculous," historic event, carefully planned and stupendously executed by the Creator (and in the case of Adam's children, with the procreator parents).
Now the term "Evolution" is commonly employed to designate certain explanations of the question of Origins on scientific grounds. Such an approach, because it attempts to explain scientifically the theological and miraculous, inevitably leads to conflict with traditional belief, leaving only the options of rejecting Evolution as false or of reinterpreting fundamental points of dogma so as to introduce a radically new system of belief.
More closely examined, the initial impression that Evolution Theory in some form might be supportive of traditional Christian teleology is revealed as misleading. For Evolution as the explanation of Origins prioritizes change as the basis of existence; whereas genuine teleology prioritizes the unchanging. Before any process can be posited, either as the principle or instrumental cause of existence, there stands the necessary being of the Creator, and those unique acts of production known as Creation and as miracle, which do not fall within the scope of science to explain.
This being so, it will be helpful, while pondering Mr. Keane's study, to keep in mind some basic truths of Catholic doctrine about Origins drawn from dogmatic theology and Christian metaphysics, prior to and transcending empirical science of any kind. Far from being an obstacle to "progress," these truths or dogmas will assist immeasurably to appreciate the real contribution of empirical science to understanding the truth about our origins.
Sound metaphysics, viz., Christian metaphysics, to employ the term of St. Bonaventure, tells us that something cannot come from nothing except by a creative act; and that the more perfect can only come from the less if the Creator acts miraculously to form the "higher" species as He formed the body of Adam from the slime of the earth. No natural process - read Evolution - can explain this because it cannot do what it necessarily presupposes to exist and act: Creation. That is why the origin of man is an historical event, not a term appearing at the end of an evolutionary process.
Traditional Catholic theology tells us that the Universe, visible and invisible, was created out of nothing by the triune God and subsequently structured and adorned in the work of six days, culminating in the formation of Adam's body directly from inorganic matter and the body of Eve directly from the unique body of Adam. All this: the creation of the world, the differentiation of the species and the ordering of the Universe within limits and for ends set by the Creator (not determined and progressively broadened by the operation of the creature) was principally the work of the Creator alone. Only after the Creator "rested" from this specific kind of action can the world be said to have begun to function "on its own," under the direction of men and angels, and so, in respect to its visible operations, to be the object of empirical science.
The great Fathers, East and West, the scholastics like St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas, are unanimous in their literal, not mythical, interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis on the origin of the world and of our first parents, in the sense just stated. For only thus can the uniqueness and dignity of human nature, in the body as well as in the soul, be securely demonstrated.
Some say the teaching of these Doctors in this regard has no more value than their teaching on questions scientific: that of an antiquated opinion. Such persons are mistaken. The question of Origins is not a scientific, but a theological question, uniquely so, for it involves a question of what God did freely and what only He could do when there were no witnesses. Hence, the importance of divine testimony in Revelation, attested by the Fathers, on this point.
There is only one reason for dissenting: the possibility that "science" might one day demonstrate an evolutionary theory of human origins to be factual in reference to the bodies (not souls) of Adam and Eve. But of this there is no reasonable expectation. Mr. Keane's study illustrates scientifically that reasonableness.
The same thing, however, can easily be done theologically, in a manner accessible to any well-instructed believer to whom it might seem the Creator could plausibly have formed Adam's body in any number of ways.
What should convince him that the narrative describing the actual formation of Adam's body should be taken "literally?" That not only were the souls of Adam and of Eve created, but that the body of Adam from the slime of the earth and the body of Eve from the side of Adam were formed miraculously by the Creator? That they were not the term of a natural, evolutionary process? Why is it that human nature is beyond the effective limits of merely material agents? It is this: The transcendent character of the human body in respect to any other living body, even the most sophisticated! That body, informed as no other by a soul capable of knowing and loving the Creator, is animated spiritually.
To be so animated requires a prior formation, something quite beyond the limits of any natural process - read Evolution - to produce. The transcendent character of the human body, the "image" of God as no other material being, is directly proportionate to its miraculous origin. It is not the term of a natural or evolutionary process, but of a miraculous action from on high, in which the Creator is the principal agent.
This is why God formed (not created out of nothing) the body of the first man from the virgin earth (as the Fathers unanimously understand "slime of the earth"), or inorganic matter, and why the Creator formed the body of the first woman miraculously from the body of the first man, so that there might be no misunderstanding of the different causalities entailed in forming a species, above all the human species, and its subsequent operation within its natural limits.
No human body can exist except by way of descent (generation, procreation) from the first man through the first woman. Man alone procreates; animals only breed. Human intercourse is not merely "biological." It is primarily a moral action. That is why fidelity is the essential component of the marriage bond, and why every aspect of marriage is affected by the presence or absence of this virtue.
To this consideration a second of the Fathers of the Church must be added. The miraculous formation of the body of the first Adam from the "virgin earth" is a type of the even more miraculous formation of the body of the second Adam, Christ, from the Virgin Mother, viz., through a virginal conception and virginal birth. In a word: type and anti-type, figure and reality, prophecy and fulfillment are of the same order - historical and miraculous.
Denial by many scholars of the historicity of Genesis has ushered in a widespread form of "closed" Origins mindset, which is now largely self-perpetuating among Christians: question the truth of the Genesis account as the accurate description of a miracle, and one will be disposed (despite himself) to question the historicity of the miracle of the Virgin-birth, and with that the truth of the Incarnation as an historical rather than merely symbolic statement. Similarly, deny the historicity of the Virgin-birth and one will be predisposed (despite himself) to relegate the narrative of Genesis to the status of "myth" about Origins in justification.
The tendency of all scientific formulations of evolutionary theory for human origins to affirm some form of polygenism for the sake of "scientific" plausibility confirms this. So, too, in regard to the end of human life, evolutionary theory tends to affirm the mere "naturalness" of human death, thus fudging and indeed erasing the essential, unbridgeable difference between vestige and image of God, between mere animal and human person, between a duration that is mere succession of moments and a duration entailing eternity, between nature and grace and between human nature before and after the Fall.
These confusions and errors, in particular the denial of the numerical individuality of Adam and Eve, entails the denial of the universal need of redemption by a single Redeemer in a single Church, the new Eve, taken from the side of the New Adam in the sleep of death on the Cross. According to Pope Paul VI, a theory of Evolution is only plausible for a believer to the degree it does not contradict what his faith tells him is simply true, without qualification. Since the uniqueness and individuality of the first Adam are among such truths, and since the inner logic of evolutionary theorizing tends to contradict these, it is difficult to see how such speculation can be reconciled with faith.
With this we see that the question of Evolution is not merely, or primarily, of apologetic interest to believers. Evolution, as it is ordinarily taken to indicate a certain kind of scientific hypothesizing about Origins, is a doctrinal error parading in scientific guise. That is why, as Mr. Keane so ably shows, genuine science either tends to falsify theories of macroevolution, or simply declare that such theorizing is not properly the object of science.
Does the term "Theistic Evolution" have a legitimate place in Christian discourse, or might it designate some insight of Christian reflection, other than being a generic synonym for change or progress? Perhaps it might, but in that case it will be necessary to define the term carefully and explain why it does not entail the radical revisions of doctrine and revealed history which nigh universal convention about this word entails. It is difficult to see, however, how in practice the devilish Hegelian substitution of becoming for being thereby deifying change and directly contradicting the immutability of God and eternity of truths as taught by James 1:17 - can be exorcised without abandoning the use of this phrase.
This means, therefore, that the phrase is misleading, possesses a built-in ambiguity and is "two-faced." Theistic suggests faith in God, the Creator; Evolution suggests just the opposite. Thus, the phrase is a parte rei, apart from the good intentions of its users, misleading. It points to an understanding of the world in terms of progress, an ever upward, spiral-like unfolding of the inner potentiality of matter until it reaches man, and in the version of Teilhard de Chardin, Christ Himself. What primarily and proximately energizes this process is from within the process itself, the existential - only incidentally supported and perfected by divine "intervention," an "intervention" defined and conditioned by the process, instead of the process being defined and limited by the prior act of creation and differentiation of essences. The classic, modern formulation of this view is the Hegelian.
How different this strange view is from the traditional vision of a created Universe hierarchically structured by the Creator from without, in terms of His own eternal counsels. Each order (grade of being) of that Universe is the direct work of the Creator and by His foreordination subordinated to and recapitulated by the higher orders, each of which is a grace in respect to the lower, the highest being the Incarnate Saviour and His Mother, the immaculately conceived Virgin. Another word for this "teleological" action is mediation, and it is the only basis for a true, and so humane vision of Origins and existence.
It is no accident that so many prominent promoters of the evolutionary perspective as the basis for a total reconstruction of Christian thought and life are Marian minimalists, indisposed to a hierarchical, mediational vision of the Universe, tending always to collapse the higher orders of grace into a single, naturalistic level of existence. Nor is it a coincidence that many promoting Theistic Evolution in the Church are radically opposed to a dogmatic definition of the universal mediation of the Virgin Mother centering on her role as co-redemptrix with her Redeemer Son on Calvary and during the celebration of the Eucharist.
That role, traditionally defined, excludes in any form an evolutionary vision of the world and confirms the ancient approach of Christian metaphysics in terms of hierarchical, graded levels of being, understood primarily as essence, rather than as existence. This recalls the doctrine of St. Anselm, where First Essence, greater than which none can be conceived, necessarily includes existence, and gives existence to finite or contingent essence by creating and ordering grades of being, the lower to the higher, as much or as little as He wills. Parallelwise, that Saint and Doctor speaks of the purity of the Virgin Mother as greater than which none can be conceived. Only the pure of heart can see God, and the only purity in fact adequate for this is the Marian. That is why, not Evolution, but the Virgin's mediation brings us to the Saviour and salvation.
In fact, historically, according to Bl. John Duns Scotus, He wills that His Son become Incarnate Saviour, and so the King and Master of all orders of being and their Redeemer by being born virginally of the Virgin, spouse of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the Christ is the end of history, not via evolution, but via the grace of being predestined Incarnate Savior, born of the Virgin.
Deny this ancient Christian approach to finite being: its origin and structure, and the entire Universe tends more and more to be seen as the product of Evolution. Admit that metaphysics - supported by the first article of the Creed - and the illusion of Evolution disappears.
It is most important that Catholics have available to them studies of Origins such as Gerard Keane's Creation Rediscovered, which is free of errors in faith and morals and advances sound Origins arguments on the premises of Catholic theology.
Rev. Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner, S.T.D.
Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate
Our Lady's Chapel
600 Pleasant St.
New Bedford, MA 02741-3003
Note: Fr. Fehlner holds a doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Seraphicum in Rome (the Pontifical Theological Faculty of St. Bonaventure). He has taught dogmatic theology since 1959 and contributed to many journals in Europe and North America (Miscellanea Francescana, Wissenschaft und Weisheit, Città di Vita, Miles Immaculatae, Christ To The World, Theological Studies, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, The Cord, Franciscan Educational Conference) and was chief editor of Miles Immaculatae (1985-1989). His scholarly work on Origins, "In The Beginning," was published in Christ To The World, Rome (1988).
Copyright © 1999 by Gerard J. Keane, Tan Books and Publishers
Theotokos Catholic Books - Creation/Evolution Section - www.theotokos.org.uk