In the blog over the past few days we have discussed the Genesis account, evolutionary theory and how these can be reconciled with Catholic thought and teaching.

At one level, the genre for the Genesis accounts must be taken into consideration wherein figurative language is sometimes used to confer the sacred truths that God alone created everything out of nothing. Further, that God oversaw every aspect of creation with intelligence, and purpose, and that he created everything out of nothing, each according to its kind. However the genre, or literary form, of Genesis  does not purport to be of nature of a scientific journal article, or of a comprehensive historical genre with exact dates and geographical descriptions. What Genesis tells us is true, but it speaks to us in a summary sort of way, more as a poetic description than an earth science textbook. (More on this HERE).   As the Catechism states:

Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine ‘work,’ concluded by the ‘rest’ of the seventh day” ….”nothing exists that does not owe its existence to God the Creator. The world began when God’s word drew it out of nothingness; all existent beings, all of nature, and all human history is rooted in this primordial event, the very genesis by which the world was constituted and time begun” (CCC 337-338).

Material Sufficient Causality? Not! We also discussed that Catholics may be open to the scientific teachings of evolution but that they cannot accept it uncritically, without certain distinctions. Catholics are free to believe in some sort of evolutionary or gradual process as a secondary cause of biodiversity.  But we simply cannot accept a theory which says that the sufficient cause and complete explanation of all life is the combination of natural selection and random mutations.  The words NATURAL and RANDOM are positively meant to exclude intelligent activity by God by most proponents of the Theory of Evolution. Catholics can come to accept a kind of theistic evolution wherein God is the primary cause of all secondary causes. But we are not free to accept the Theory of Evolution as most commonly proposed without the necessary distinction that natural selection and random mutations are not sufficient causes or a complete explanation for the existence of all things as they are. (More on this HERE).

Here too the Catechism provides an important and balanced approach that respects the role of science but also announces its limits:

The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator…..The great interest accorded to these studies is strongly stimulated by a question of another order, which goes beyond the proper domain of the natural sciences. It is not only a question of knowing when and how the universe arose physically, or when man appeared, but rather of discovering the meaning of such an origin: is the universe governed by chance, blind fate, anonymous necessity, or by a transcendent, intelligent and good Being called “God”?  (CCC 283-284)

The Problem of Polygenism – There is also another matter which the Theory of Evolution gives rise to that a Catholic must be aware of and realize that he or she cannot give it uncritical acceptance. This is the usual premise in evolutionary theory of polygenism.  Polygenism is a theory of human origins positing that the human race descended from  a pool of early human couples, indeterminate in number.  Hence Adam and Eve are merely symbols of Mankind. Rather than being an historical couple, they represent the human race as it emerges from the hominids that gave rise to them as they become homo sapiens, properly speaking. This is opposite to the idea of monogenism, which posits a single origin of humanity in Adam and Eve. In this understanding, Adam and Eve are historical figures who actually existed and from them alone the whole of the human race is descended.

Polygenism is the proposed vision of almost all evolutionary theorists. It obviously flows from the theory. As life emerged from one-celled organisms, ultimately more complex forms of life arose to include fish, then reptiles, mammals, higher forms of mammals and early humanoid forms, and then the first homo sapiens. But, presumably this process did not occur only in one case. Rather, it is usually supposed that a larger, indeterminate number of this new species of Man arose. So what we had was an emergent group, rather than simply two individuals: Adam and Eve.

But this presents a problem for a Catholic who might wish to uncritically accept evolution, for, simply put, we cannot accept polygenism. Pope Pius XII in 1950 specifically addressed the problem of polygenism in the Encyclical Humani Generis:

[T]he 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, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter…..When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation 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 the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own (Humani Generis, 36-37).

Hence, it seems clear that a Catholic is not free to accept polygenism. There are some in theological circles who have attempted to assert that the Pope is merely saying it is not apparent how such a theory can be reconciled, but not actually indicating that such a view must be rejected. But this seems fanciful since the Pope says quite clearly that Catholics “by no means enjoy such liberty” and “cannot embrace” the opinion of polygenism. No later Pope or Council has chosen to distinguish or, in any way, limit the conclusion of Pius XII in this matter. Perhaps this does not preclude some eventual theory of polygenism that can be acceptable,  but none has been offered.

Some Catholics will point to an oversimplified notion  presented in the media some ten years ago that science has “proved” that all humans trace their origin to one woman. This woman was dubbed “Eve” or “Mitochondrial Eve.” But, most people have over-simplified understandings of this finding. It does not mean that there were not other women who predated this woman, and other genetic lines that died out. She is merely our most recent common matrilineal ancestor and seems to have lived at a time significantly prior to Y-Chromosomal Adam who is also an important fork in the genetic road. The point is that the theory of one woman is more complicated than the popular conception describes it. [1] It is not likely a resolution to the problem of polygenism.

The heart of the problem in terms of polygenism is, as the Pope notes, the doctrine of original sin as expounded in Scripture:

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—….Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Rom 5:11, 19)

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor 15:22)

We are thus all linked not to a group, but to a man, Adam. And when he sinned, we sinned. Sin reaches us all since we all share one common ancestor. Further, it is hard to conceive a group of early humans, all sinning in such as way as all our ancestors went into this state commonly. Scripture says, sin came through one man. Scripture is inerrant in such a matter. We cannot simply set its truth aside.

Scripture also affirms our connection to the one man, Adam when it records that God sent one, Jesus Christ, as the New Adam. This sets up a parallelism: One Adam, One New Adam. God did not send a committee, or a squadron to save us which would be the parallel for polygenism and/or group sin.

So the problem of polygenism is a significant matter for Catholics who want to uncritically accept evolution or understand it in a simplistic and easy-going way. And herein is the central point of this and previous articles of mine on this subject: Namely, it is essential that we make proper distinctions and exclusions if we choose to embrace some aspects of the Theory of Evolution. The Catholic approach to this whole matter is carefully balanced. We are not fundamentalist and creationists but neither do we uncritically accept the Theory of Evolution. We must make proper distinctions, exclusions and clarifications in order to accept what I might term a theistic evolution as a tenable theory. Even here, Catholics are free to reject aspects of a theistic evolution on the grounds of science. But this last distinction (scientific objections) is beyond the role of the Church. Perhaps again,  the old advice is helpful here: Seldom affirm, never deny, ALWAYS distinguish. We need to be careful and sober when it comes to Evolutionary Theory.

Perhaps it is good to conclude with the words of Pope Benedict which remind us that we are dealing ultimately with a deep mystery for which we must ultimately have great reverence:

The clay became man at the moment in which a being for the first time was capable of forming, however dimly, the thought of “God.” The first Thou that – however stammeringly – was said by human lips to God marks the moment in which the spirit arose in the world. Here the Rubicon of anthropogenesis was crossed. For it is not the use of weapons or fire, not new methods of cruelty or of useful activity, that constitute man, but rather his ability to be immediately in relation to God. This holds fast to the doctrine of the special creation of man . . . herein . . . lies the reason why the moment of anthropogenesis cannot possibly be determined by paleontology: anthropogenesis is the rise of the spirit, which cannot be excavated with a shovel. The theory of evolution does not invalidate the faith, nor does it corroborate it. But it does challenge the faith to understand itself more profoundly and thus to help man to understand himself and to become increasingly what he is: the being who is supposed to say Thou to God in eternity. (Creation and Evolution: A Conference With Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo, S.D.S. Stephan Horn (ed), pp. 15-16)

172 Responses

  1. John D. Stackpole says:

    Could you, Msgr. Pope, respond to PZ Myers, please.

    Thank you.

    • Looks like you have to be a member to comment on his blog. I find the tone of the discussion, particularly in the comments section of his blog to be condescending and arrogant. It seems to me that a some mutual respect can be had in the discussion by recognizing the limits of both sicence and theology. It would seem however that many in the scientific world have come to regard their explanations and demonstrating sufficient cause. I would argue that science is able to offer theory and facts on material cause but material cause is not per se sufficient cause. I recognize that science cannot posit divine orgins but it seems to me that neither can it reject it absolutely. The best it seems it can do is to indicate that non-material causality is beyond its realm. To reject theological or philosophical notions (rather than remain neutral on them) is to go beyond science and to engage in theology and philosophy. Most of the commenters on his blog ranged from hostile to ridiculing of faith. They fail to appreciate that they are taking a philosophical and theological stance in what they assert.

      • Sandra Chacha says:

        It seems that you are unfamiliar with the scientific method. In order for a hypothesis (such as yours of “divine origins”) to be valid it must be falsifiable. Because you said that science cannot reject your hypothesized divine origins outright, your ideas are not valid in the realm of evolutionary biology/anthropology and cannot be treated as such by responsible scientists.

        You did, however, put forth another hypothesis that is in fact falsifiable: namely that of “monogenism.” Assuming for the moment that the descendants of Adam and Eve would not fail to reproduce because of recessive genetic disorders, we can test this hypothesis by investigating whether there is any molecular evidence at all whatsoever that the human species passed through this smallest of all possible bottlenecks. There is not, in fact, any evidence. We could also investigate whether there is any evidence that humans share a common ancestor with, say, chimpanzees. The amount of evidence is overwhelming. So your monogenism hypothesis must be empirically rejected.

        As for your assertion that we “fail to appreciate that [we] are taking a philosophical and theological stance in what [we] assert,” there are plenty of philosophical and theological stances which “go beyond” their disciplines that can be rejected by the scientific method. We have not failed to appreciate the implications of our arguments, we just don’t feel the need to explain philosophically and theologically what we have already proven by looking at evidence. When philosophy and theology make scientific claims, it is perfectly reasonable to evaluate those claims scientifically. Was Galileo wrong, or were his theories of no consequence, because he could not reconcile his astronomical observations with the Vatican and the Bible?

        Also, it would be best for the sake of this discussion if you could focus on the substance of atheists’ arguments rather than their tone.

        • Dr. Bonnette says:

          You write: “Assuming for the moment that the descendants of Adam and Eve would not fail to reproduce because of recessive genetic disorders, we can test this hypothesis by investigating whether there is any molecular evidence at all whatsoever that the human species passed through this smallest of all possible bottlenecks. There is not, in fact, any evidence.”

          Prescinding from anything else you have said, this statement is a classic case for citing the principle: The absence of evidence is not the same thing as the evidence of absence.”

    • Jack Owen says:

      I second that. Whenever I’ve asked priests questions similar to Dr. Myers’ I’ve been dismissed as someone who is just trying to cause trouble rather than someone genuinely trying to understand. Its been very off-putting and I’ve never received a satisfying answer.

  2. Mike says:

    I and many others recognize the limits of science and theology. Science observes and explains, it tests and changes as new information becomes available. Theology builds intricate constructs of air from the imagination, it can make any claim since it’s stock in trade is belief without proof.

    I find it amusing that you, a person one assumes to be an educated adult, can fail to see your error.

    • The tone of your comment illustrates well the kind of arrogance that has set up for many in in science. Your simple dismissal of Theology and Philosophy which date back thousands of years as “air” and “imagination” is bold to say the least. But your kind of repsonse has become standard fare for many in the scientific world who dismiss anyone who questions them as uneducated, ill-informed, or just plain stupid. You are poor advocate for your cause.

      Science can and does address material causality, but material causality is not the only causality and it is, by itself, not what philosophy would call “sufficient causality” You may wish to deny anything beyond the material world, you are free to do so but time will prove where wisdom lies.

      • Bender says:

        Science observes and explains, it tests and changes as new information becomes available.

        I would add that if a person were in fact so dedicated to observing and testing and looking at all the evidence, then he would be intimately familiar with all the many writings of people like Pope Benedict and John Paul II and others before them who demonstrate beyond dispute the compatibility between faith and reason, between science and religion. And being so familiar with such evidence, he would not make such an ill-informed statement as “theology builds intricate constructs of air from the imagination.”

  3. Hans-Richard says:

    Dear Msgr. Pope,

    you said:

    “Science can and does address material causality, but material causality is not the only causality and it is, by itself, not what philosophy would call “sufficient causality” You may wish to deny anything beyond the material world, you are free to do so but time will prove where wisdom lies.”

    Could you please tell us what objective criteria a philosopher would use to determine which causes are “sufficient” (and what other kinds of causes there are) ? I’m afraid that objective reality is not bound by what a particular philosophical system thinks it is.

    Personally, I wonder what reason could be sufficient for the existence of an infinitely complex, disembodied mind. No wonder theologians have to postulate that God is uncaused. But that’s a different story.

    Thanks for considering my points!

    • Aristotle distinguished four aspects of causality:

      The material cause is that “raw material” from which a thing is produced as from its parts, constituents, substratum, or materials. This causality limits the explanation of cause to the parts (the factors, elements, constituents, ingredients)

      The formal cause tells us what, a thing is intended and planned to be, using the analogy to the plans of an artisan or designer

      The efficient cause is that external entity from which the change or the ending of the change first starts. It identifies and so suggests all sorts of agents, nonliving or living, acting as the sources of change or movement or rest.

      The final cause is that for the sake of which a thing exists, or is done – It is the purpose, or end, that something is supposed to serve; or it is that from which, and that to which, the change is. Here we also consider things such as intention and motive.

      What I am referring to as sufficient causality would be the consideration of the whole causal chain. I think Science can and does contribute well to aspects of material causality and that is its “world.” But there are worlds beyond what science can consider. Not everything is physical and measurable. Hence science alone is not a sufficient answer to all that is.

      • harebell says:

        how can you know that something exists beyond the material?
        how can something that is not physical interact with the physical to make itself known?
        the old dualism/monism arguments have never been settled, hence the reason they still form a part of most philosophy courses today.
        Asking science to remain open to the possibility of something it cannot test or make predictions about seems silly to me. If science suggests any remedy/solution/prediction it appears that the church would like it to appear like this:

        “Geologists today discovered evidence in Greenland that helped explain how plate tectonics formed the country of Iceland. Or possibly some supernatural explanation, that we cannot possibly investigate, created it out of whole cloth.”

        Notice how we can’t even posit the identity of the supernatural entity, because who knows what it might be if it even exists. The last part of that sentence refutes the certainty of your statement:

        “But there are worlds beyond what science can consider.“

        Once you admit this what more can you add to the conversation? How do you determine what this entity wants? It becomes guess work or fantasy.

      • The evidence for things non-material manifests itself in our very capacity to discuss non-material things such as justice, love, loyalty, the concept of the timeless, or eternal, infinitude, and so forth, the concepts of meaning, purpose, fulfillment, the reality of intention, will and so forth. Further, in our infinite longing and limitless desire is an echo of the eternal and infinite. Now concepts such as these cannot be measured by science. Science can measure only the physical and material. But as I am often repeating here, I do not ask science to measure these. I do not care that sceince chooses to limit its ponderings on Greenland to plate tectononics and volcanism.

        What I do ask of you as a fellow human being is to consider that sceince has limits and is not a complete explanation for all that is. Science is good at saying what but not so good at answering the ultimate question of why all this? I ask you to ponder that there is more to life than physical matter. You are free to deny this of course and go on to insist that matter is all there is. However, I would argue you are making a theological claim when you do this because atheism is a theological point of view. In such a case you have left science and are engaging the philosophical and theological community and you can no more use science to absolutely disprove God’s existence than I can use it to absolutely prove his existence. You are free to deny that there are worlds beyond what science can consider. But science cannot and does not concern itself with such questions.

        I know what this “entity” wants because he (God) has revealed it to me by faith. I have come to accept and trust that he has spoken to our ancestors, the Jewish people and revealed himself and fulfilled his promises through Jesus Christ. This is faith, it is not as you say, guesswork or fantasy. The Judeo/Christian tradition has existed for thousands of years and is based on a revealed body of truth that creates definite parameters. I do not ask science to prove matters of faith. I have found that there are many motives for credibility in what God has revealed in the natural order. I find what God teaches to be both rational and reasonable. But in the end I know what I know by faith. And faith opens a whole world to me. You seem to deny that it exists because you cannot weigh it on a scale but I walk in it every day. I have tested its teachings and found them true. There are billions of people like me. You discredit our world because it does not fit into your testube. But we have been here a long time and we will still be here well into the future. But in this conversation you are engaging in theology every bit as much as I for in saying there is no God you cannot verify this with science. Welcome to the wonderful world of theology harebell. There are billions of us here harebell!

      • Hans-Richard says:

        I’ve read Aristoteles myself. The question is why we should accept his philosophy – since it is correlated with his physics, which is definitely wrong. He projects human agency onto the universe – by assuming that things outside immediate human influence are “intended and planned to be”. This shows that both his “formal cause” and his “final cause” are pure anthropomorphism. In effect, what remains today of his ideas is the efficient cause.

        What is your evidence that there are worlds beyond what science can consider – and if such worlds exists, that any other discipline can give *testable and reliable* answers about them ? Giving answers is easy – my cat can do it (it purrs for “yes”).

      • harebell says:

        There was no reply option to your last post so hopefully this will suffice.
        Justice, love and loyalty are concepts that allow us to survive and as such are material in nature. Altruism is observed in many creatures including those who are biologically closest to us. Justice, love and loyalty are an offshoot of the requirements for survival.

        As to the insistence that matter is all that there is, well I know matter exists and science has done a pretty reasonable job of harnessing the power of material things. The onus however is on you to now show that something exists beyond matter.

        We both agree material things exist but now you insist that supernatural things exist too. Mine is not a theological claim as you agree material things and the means to investigate their existence are sound. Once you insist that something else exists that is a theological claim and you need to tell me how you will verify this statement.

        The ancestors I trust are those who have provided us with replicable means to verify what they claim and the ability to predict with accuracy what they claim. This seems to require no leap of faith, just an inquiring mind and a regard for accurately arrived at results.

      • Hans-Richard and harebell. You both live in a tiny world closed in by arrogance and i suspect a lot of fear. You insist on living there so stay there. But I will say to you one last time: there is more to life than science or the scientific method. But as for you, fine. stay small.

        And for the record, you are making a theological statement when you say there is no God. You cannot use science to prove your point. It is not the purpose of science. You have been duped into making a thological point and I have duped you into it. welcome to the world of theology, you are well beyond the realm of science, like it or not. Perhaps I have drawn you both out of your little cave for a moment. Does the world of uncertainty scare you just a bit. I sense you fear any claims from outside your machine, your matrix. You cannot prove your denial of God scientifically, you are doomed to uncertainty. I on the other hand am content to live by faith and enjoy the fruits of science as well. My world is bigger.

  4. Tarentola Mauritanica says:

    Dear Msgr. Pope,
    after reading your post i would like to ask a question with no intention to sound neither arrogant nor condescending.

    Your post is a summary ( i would say) of religious doctrine and what a christian can or can’t accept because of it. A summary of the postulates or claims given through the bible and other religious sources.
    What it lacks if evidence. You refer to your religious teachings but doesn’t it strike you as odd that after millenia it is science that tells us about the world in a verifiable or testable way while theology rests on mere claims?
    You kind of reject part of evolution not because you had actual evidence that would falsify the theory but rather because a held belief requires that of you. I personally do not think that this kind of “trust” that you seem to think God requires is a very good indicator for truth.

    Anyway, what i wanted to ask was:

    “What exactly is your doctrines unique contribution to mankinds knowledge or wisdom about the natural world?”

    Thanks in advance for any answer.

    • What a remarkable question. My “doctrine’s” small and unique little contribution is called western civilization. The Catholic Church is also the founder of most of the great Universities of the Western world wherein the scientific method was developed. Just a small little contribution though, Wester Civilization. I am not surprised you knew nothing about it. :-)

      You really need to study a little history. Oops, wait a minute the study of history is also outside of science too isn’t it? Darn. Well I guess the scientologists won’t consider that it has anything to say?

  5. grannymh says:

    Msgr. Pope
    Re: PZ Myers Blog answering your excellent presentation.

    I replied in the comments section of this Blog. Basically, I was looking for comments on the science aspect of the issue. LOL

    My brief experience is another affirmation that Catholic Apologetics needs the aid of biologists who are willing to reevaluate current research in terms of the Inductive Method, i.e. examining specific evidence to see if it warrants extrapolation to universal concepts or conclusions. It has been years since my logic class and my memory on exact terminology is faulty. I am an example of why philosophers and scientists need to work together from an analytical position.

    I would like to share my thoughts on the conflict over Adam and Eve with you, but I am computer-challenged and can’t find your e-mail address on this website.


    • Dr. Bonnette says:

      I suggest you take a look at the just published 2012-13 Supplement to the New Catholic Encyclopedia for the entry entitled “Monogenism and Polygenism” by me. There you will find some of the answers you are looking for regarding the claims by molecular biologists that a bottleneck (reduced population) of a single pair of mating hominins has not existed in since the Homo/Pan split some seven million years ago. The science is anything but definitive.

  6. Robert Flammang says:

    I take issue with your statement that “The words NATURAL and RANDOM are positively meant to exclude intelligent activity by God by most proponents of the Theory of Evolution”. Please keep in mind that “most proponents” of the theory of Evolution are not loud-mouthed anti-Christian pundits.

    Most scientists who use words like NATURAL and RANDOM in their publications use them in a very specific technical sense that in no way excludes intelligent activity by anyone, and certainly not by God. Please note that when an English speaking Physicist, for example, uses the word RANDOM, he means thereby something quite distinct from what translator of, say, Aristotle might mean by the same word.

    The mathematical definition of RANDOM is even more restrictive than the physical definition, and it is used to describe an infinite uncompressable series. Obviously no infinite series can be created by any finite intellegence, but even this would not exclude God’s intelligent activity. Moreover, the mathematically definition of RANDOM is not needed to describe evolution; the physical definition is quite sufficient.

  7. John D. Stackpole says:

    One of the points that Dr. Myers emphasized, and seemed to worry him, is that the “version” of evolutionary theory that grows out of your considerations is simply not that which is understood and taught by (near as I can tell) the vast majority of biologists.

    In particular he notes your statements about natural selection as not being sufficient to explain how we got here in material terms is way off the mark. Quoting him: “The words NATURAL [selection] and RANDOM are not meant to exclude an intelligent agent: they are meant to accurately [and sufficiently] describe the process.”

    Others in this thread have responded to the monogenism vs. polygenism discussion and the biologist’s contention that the former is unsupportable by any biological evidence.

    I guess another of Dr. Myers’ concerns (although he doesn’t express it) is that an education system that teaches erroneous versions of well established scientific facts ill prepares people to understand the nature of the world around them. And as a consequence they may well make poor decisions leading to detrimental results.

  8. Lukas says:

    “The Judeo/Christian tradition has existed for thousands of years…”
    Argument from tradition. Invalid.

    “I have found that there are many motives for credibility in what God has revealed in the natural order”
    I find that there are many motives for killing people. So what?

    “I find what God teaches to be both rational and reasonable”
    And yet, you’ll be hard pressed to find two believers who will actually agree on what that is.

    “I have tested its teachings and found them true”
    But how can we test them? Can you present us with a test that doesn’t require us to first believe it? I suspect not. How can you call it a test if you have to believe it’s true for the test to work?

    “You seem to deny that it exists because you cannot weigh it on a scale but I walk in it every day”
    But you already believe it. Anybody who doesn’t believe it can’t sense it. Doesn’t that make you wonder? Just a little bit?

    Name one, single area of objective reality that requires your belief for it to affect you.

    “There are billions of people like me”
    Argument from popularity. Invalid.

    “But we have been here a long time and we will still be here well into the future”
    The same is true of schizophrenics. So what?

    My problem is this: What is the epistemology of theology? How do you know anything regarding this subject? How do you tell the difference between a correct belief and a wrong one?

    You claim faith is different from fantasy. How? What exactly is the difference?

    • Come to Jesus Lukas. There is evidence (not the same as proof) for me in creation that God exists. I see order, purposefulness in creation. I see predictablity which suggests laws (eg. thermodynamics) and law suggests a rational law giver and one who ordained the nature of things. II see that there was a beginning to things and that something started it for effect presupposes cause. I see design, intelligence. I see movement which suggests a mover. I see all sorts of evidence

      But, as I have said that many of you are trying to insist that faith be science. You don’t put faith in a test tube. I have also said that you are engaging in theology when you insist there is no God. So let me take your approach and apply it to your theology: Prove to me that God does not exist. I want exact physical evidence. I want mathematical certainty. Since you are insisting he does not exist give me more than your theological opinion and your hostility. I want the numbers. I want to have God’s non-existience quantified and I want to see physical evidence of it in a test tube. Why don’t you answer a few questions and prove your theological opinion? You are making an assertion that God does not exist. I want the physical proof of his non-existence. Ultimately you are just as much a theologian as I. And I want from you the same proof you demand of me.

      Personally I have expereinced that Faith is a supernaturally infused gift from God and is its own proof. The Scriptures say that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen.” This is not something you may currently understand but those who believe know the truth of it. I do not look to science alone for proof. Science is one way of knowing. It is good and has a purpose but it is not the only way knowing and not all things can be known or described through its tools, vocabulary and parameters. There is more to life than material things.

      As for the epistemology of theology it is in revealed truths, primarily the Scriptures and the teaching authority of the Church. These truths are different from fantasy in that they have been tested in the laboratory of Human experience for thousands of years now and have proved valuable as truthful guides to both moral living and ultimate meaning. The Christian faith is not a make it up as go thing. It has sources of revelation and time tested and clear parameters. Though I walk by faith I see clear evidence all the time that what I beleive is both rational and practical. For you to test this in the laboratory of your own life requires of you that you be able to duplicate the conditions of a believer. Now it is certainly possible for you to experience these conditions since Billions have been also able to experience them. But your will seems hostile and you want faith to be science (which is unreasonable).

      Perhaps your first step in setting up the laboratory would be to set aside your hostility and ridicule. Set those indicators to zero. The next step would be to set forth an array of other laboratory items such as small quantites of respect for ancient tradition, equal proportions of wonder and awe, reverence for mystery, and at least small quantities of humility. Also I would recommend liberal quantities of acceptance for the fact that not everything can be measured or predicted with certainty (you can consult your quantum physics manual for those materials). And finally, make sure the lab is scrubbed free from fear. This seems a huge factor in the atheist being able to recreate conditions for the faith experiment. For some reason atheists get very anxious when people say they believe something may exist beyond what is physical and measureable and in their fear they become hostile and use ridiculing languge and words like fantasy, schizophrenics, and so forth. It really messes up the results.

      I wish you well in replicating the conditions for a valid faith experiment.

      • Lukas says:

        “I see predictablity which suggests laws (eg. thermodynamics) and law suggests a rational law giver and one who ordained the nature of things”

        Only because you’ve already accepted that conclusion. What I see is that things are what they are and are not what they’re not. That produces predictability and order.

        “I have also said that you are engaging in theology when you insist there is no God”

        I don’t insist there is no God. I simply point out the simple fact that there’s no good reason to believe there is one (or more).

        “Prove to me that God does not exist. I want exact physical evidence”

        By asking for physical evidence, you’re entering the domain of science. Science has found no evidence of god. By Occam’s Razor, we should reject the hypothesis.

        See, I can play your games, too. It’s just not very productive.
        Much of what you write seems designed to shelter your faith from any kind of critical inquiry.

        “Personally I have expereinced that Faith is a supernaturally infused gift from God and is its own proof.”

        See here we come to my problem again. Faith is its own proof, apparently, but people have faith in different things. How do you know that your faith is correct?
        Faith sucks. It’s just a bad way of getting at the truth.

        “As for the epistemology of theology it is in revealed truths, primarily the Scriptures and the teaching authority of the Church”

        And do you think this is a good epistemology? Basically, you’ve picked a set of old books, decided they’re true and then stopped asking questions. How do you know you’ve picked the right books? What about the books left out of the bible?

        How do you know that you’re right? Is it that personal feeling again? Because the people who picked different books also have that feeling. So how do I know which set of books are correct? How do I know if any of them are correct?

        “For you to test this in the laboratory of your own life requires of you that you be able to duplicate the conditions of a believer”

        That’s what I said earlier. I have to believe before I get any good reasons to believe. Does any part of reality fit this description? Do I have to believe in the power of microscopes for me to see the algae in the water sample? No, I just have to know where to look.
        Give me the same for your faith. Don’t tell me that I’ll believe it as soon as I decide to believe it. I already know that.

        “set aside your hostility and ridicule”

        I’m not hostile, I’m honest. I’m not ridiculing you, I’m pointing out what I see as glaring mistakes, such as multiple uses of logical fallacies and a generally evasive form of argumentation.

        Shall we play fallacy poker? I’ve got a straight
        Shifting burden of proof
        Begging the question
        Bald assertion
        Argument from tradition
        Argument from popularity

        “small quantites of respect for ancient tradition, equal proportions of wonder and awe, reverence for mystery, and at least small quantities of humility”

        Also known as shut up and stop asking questions. Yeah, that’s not gonna happen. The truth doesn’t need to be coddled. The truth can take a bit of prodding and poking. Quite frankly, the truth can take a kick in the crotch and it’ll remain true. Only falsehoods need to be protected to remain whole.

        “Also I would recommend liberal quantities of acceptance for the fact that not everything can be measured or predicted with certainty”

        I’m aware of that. That’s science.

        “For some reason atheists get very anxious”

        It may have something to do with caring about the truth and knowing how easily human beings can be fooled. We’re not anxious, we’re careful. We don’t want to trow our lives away for a lie.

        “I wish you well in replicating the conditions for a valid faith experiment.”

        And of course, If I end up believing what you do, it’s a success. If I don’t, I failed. That’s not an experiment. It doesn’t test anything other than the gullibility of the tester.

        You’re too smart for this. I do not for a moment believe that you’re so stupid that you can’t see the problem with that.

      • Lukas, you really do protest too much. I wonder what that is all about? Why do the existence of faith and conclusions outside your matrix trouble you this much? Time will prove where wisdom lies. Why don’t you just let things unfold rather than try to prove scientifically what science is not equipped to address? The fact is you ARE making theological statements when you declare that God does not exist. As such you have strayed outside your matrix. You are free to do so but do not pretend you are doing science any longer, you are merely stating your faith.

  9. John D. Stackpole says:

    We seem to have wandered rather far afield from the original topic of the incompatibility of standard evolutionary theory, “sufficient causes” and “monogenism”.

    Could we return to the scientific discussion of where the faith requires belief in historical/biological events that fail to comport with observed reality, please?

    • i don’t know John, While I agree that topic has strayed from Polygenism I do not agree that this is a scientific discussion. This is a theological one. THis is a blog about faith and the terrain is theological. Further all the atheist and materialist commetors like to think they are doing science when in fact they are making theological claims when they insist that there is nothing outside the system. To say that the system (science) cannot account for God is acceptable to me. Science has its limits. But these folks are straying well beyond science when assertions are made that nothing exists outside the system. Science cannot address that one way OR the other.

      I began this blog by asserting that theology also has its limits. It cannot accept uncritically all the tenents of evolutionary theory. There are just some limits here. But for some reason there are a number of folks in the science field that cannot brook the notion that science is not the total answer to all there is. They seem to demand a closed air-tight system that denies anything outside. Anyone who suggests there may be more to the story and that other fields might have something to add to the discussion are excoriated as a bunch of yahoos, who subscribe to “fantasy” and are praying to the air. It is wholly undignified of true scientists to simply dismiss others in this way. A true scientist, IMHO, understands the focus of science and does not engage in theology and call it merely science. And to insist that there is is no God and physical matter is all that exists is a theological stance, it is NOT a scientific one for it cannot be scientifically demonstrated.

      And then to top it off they demand that I turn theology into the scientific method and demand I prove God in a test tube which I have said all along is not the essence of faith. God is not material and thus is not the focus of science.

      The method of these commentors is also abundantly clear: ask endless questions, insist on materialist answers and simply ignore that they are engaging in the very theology they ridicule by denying the possibility of God or anything outside their materialist system.

      • grannymh says:

        Msgr. Pope,

        Please excuse my post, now under moderation, which speaks to the scientific issues. I was correcting it as you posted; thus, I did not see your comments. Being in the trenches, I have different battle scars.

        You are doing a wonderful job defending the faith. Your guidance is appreciated.


      • Ah, blessings to you as well. Scars are surely the trophy of a noble battle to seek what is good true and beautiful.

  10. John D. Stackpole says:

    Well, I agree that much of this “evolution vs. sufficient cause and monogenism” discussion has been theological/philosophical, but not all of it has.

    When you write, e.g., (in the original post) “Hence, it seems clear that a Catholic is not free to accept polygenism” this is a mixed theological and, by implication, scientific assertion.

    “Catholic is not free to accept” is certainly theological and the correctness of that mandate can be judged on theological grounds – fine and dandy, that is your department.

    But the implication that polygenism is an incorrect view of the natural world (and that monogenism is) places you squarely in a scientific context. It is in this context that the correctness of the assertions of polygenism and monogenism as correct descriptions of the natural world can (and must) be judged. And, from what I understand of the biological sciences, there is no evidence at all for monogenism, and plenty for polygenism.

    This leaves one in something of a quandary. The magesteria are no longer non-overlapping, to use Gould’s terms, and come to different conclusions.

    The questions of proving (or not proving) the existence (or non-existence) of God are not particularly relevant to the resolving of the quandary.

    • I do not state that polygenism is incorrect, only that a Catholic is not free to accept it at this point. In so stating this I am speaking to a question of authority within the Church. Now this position of Church does not rise to the level of de fide definita, hence a future statement of a pope might open the door further to a Catholic being able to accept polygenism at least in some form. But that has not happened. But this is a theological claim based on the authority of the Church and Catholics obligation to accept that authority.

      From the standpoint of temperment, the Church is cautious to embrace all the latest theories and version of those theories, whether they be political, sceintific sociological or otherwise. Even in Science theories comes and go. I am only fifty but that is old enough to have seen some basic scientific theories (e.g. Steady State universe etc, emergence of quantum) undergo some pretty major overhauls. I respect science and enjoy many fruits of its study. But I do not regard it as unchanging dogma and have seen some pretty big changes. Quantum theory may usher in yet still bigger changes.

      I don’t personally care that much that science currently stresses polygenism. It may or may not change as a scientific conclusion. But in the end, I am not free to accept it uncritically since it runs afoul of basic and important understandings of original sin. I choose to balance my pondering of it. I hear what science says and I know that it runs contrary to some aspects of my faith. But things change and feel able to hold the tension that currently exists. I don’t feel a need to solve every mystery or conundrum.

    • grannymh says:

      While I support whatever decision Msgr. Pope makes regarding the direction of this thread, Polygenism is in the title.

      You will find an outline of my approach to this issue in the “older comments” section of this thread. I posted October 21, 2010 @ 7.44 PM. J_Pat_H wrote an excellent reply October 22, 2010 @ 3:23 AM. I responded October 22, 2010 @ 8:27 AM.

      As a defender of monogenism in regard to the scientific aspects of the human species and in regard to the Catholic Deposit of Faith regarding God creating human nature, I can assure you that when one examines the nitty-gritty of biological evidence, one will realize that the possibility of two sole founders Adam and Eve does exist. When one examines human nature itself, not only does one find that monogenism is possible, but also that it is mandatory in explaining the difference between human populations and animal populations.

      From my experience on Catholic Answers Forums, there is a need to present *often* the complete Catholic teaching regarding Adam and Eve and Original Sin. Personally, I often paraphrase the “Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition”, because of its in depth treatment of who we are and why we are. This is accomplished by understanding Adam and Eve.


      • Thanks for adding this. I am less aware of the scientific debate but knew there was some scientific debate. Too often it seems that some proponents of evolution like to dismiss fellow scientists as “marignal” who present alternate or nuanced theories.

  11. John D. Stackpole says:

    We appear to be left with the position of the church taking a theological position (for good theo. reasons, to be sure) that implies facts about the natural world that are (potentially) contradicted by the understanding of the scientists whose job is the study of that natural world.

    Fair enough. I guess we will have to leave it at that. Thank you for taking the time to clarify matters.


    • grannymh says:

      May I respectfully point out that you have generalized where it is not necessary so it is difficult to address your concerns.

      The Catholic Church’s position is that Divine Revelation trumps. It teaches Divine Revelation as contained in its Deposit of Faith individually in particular dogmas in the realm of faith and morals. Because the visible Catholic Church has a human operating structure, everyone can study and offer opinions about the natural world which gives glory to our Creator. Normally, the Catholic Church does not dogmatically address information and speculations about the natural world because this would not be considered in the realm of faith and morals.

      The one exception is when a specific scientific theory rejects or denies a specific Catholic doctrine. When this happens, the Church presents its doctrine as a positive truth. It will point out the errors in a specific scientific theory theologically, philosophically, and scientifically while continually holding fast to the Divinely revealed dogma.

      Without going into the current milieu of our society, I will only say that any kind of science holds the place of honor. Thus, we often presume that specific science research is correct without us bothering to understand what is actually being reported.


  12. carm says:

    In debating with atheists who stood firm against faith in Our Lord, a man once said that if he lived his life following the truths of the Catholic Church only to die and find there wasn’t a God, heaven, or hell that he really hadn’t lost much because he would have lived a great life. However, if the atheist lived his life rejecting all that God asked, and died only to find he was mistaken….he would have bitter consequences for eternity.
    May the following sites lead your inquiring minds and hearts closer to the amazing grace and truth of Our Jesus!!
    *1. (Hugh Owen, founder) former atheist, son of first secretary general of International Planned Parenthood. Excellent site with Catholic articles supporting Church teaching, current scientific findings, articles and complete books.
    *2. Creation Rediscovered: Evolution and the Importance of the Origins Debate (Gerard J.Keane) A review of this book can be found at:
    *3. Creation vs. Evolution: What Every Catholic Should know (Eric Bermingham) Imprimatur & Nihil Obstat (this entire book can be read and downloaded from at the above link
    *4. (review of) The Doctrines of Genesis 1-11: A Compendium and Defense of Traditional Catholic Theology on Origins (Father Victor P. Warkulwiz, M.S.S.)
    *5. Biology versus Evolution web site by Joseph Mastropaolo Ph.D., and Karl Priest, M.A.
    *6 (Walt Brown, PhD.) Dr. Brown’s scientific book, In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood: can be read on the internet as well as purchased in hard copy. This one is non-Catholic, but excellent.

  13. Lawrence V says:

    Dear Msgr. Charles Pope,

    Your posts are thought provoking and often encouraging for Catholics to renew/strengthen their faith.

    I have recently read an old article from the Catholic Update ( about Adam, Eve, and Original Sin, and it seems to circumvent the issue of polygenism, by this I mean it got published with an imprimatur so it is deemed that there is nothing there that is contrary to doctrine. However, this seems opposed to the ideas you discuss here.

    Any thoughts on the matter?

  14. BenYachov says:

    The following contain a list of links from a Thomist perspective on how Evolution is compatible with Theism especially from a Thomistic perspective. Simply copy/paste the urls into your browser

    Did Adam and Eve Really Exist in Human History?

    Dennis Bonnette, “Must Human Evolution Contradict Genesis?”, New Oxford Review (July–August 2007).

    Kenneth W. Kemp, “Science, Theology, and Monogenesis”, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 85.2 (2011): 217–236

    The above article IMHO solves the problem of polygenism vs a single Adam who is the Father of the human race.

    As for all the obviously philosophically ignorant Atheists who have come here asking for scientific proof. I just have to say 1949 called they want their Positivism back!

    New Atheism is intellectually inferior since it rejects or ignores philosophy in favor of Science alone as the sole means of meaningful knowledge.

    See these articles by philospher Dr. Edward Feser.

    Blinded by Scientism


    It’s at best a trivial view at worst a self refuting one.

    Don’t get me wrong I respect Atheist Philosophers but I have zero respect for anti-philosophy New Atheists like PZ Myers or Jerry Coyle. Give me a JLL Smart or Quintin Smith any day but not a Dawkins or Myers.

    Just as I would rather read Herbert McCabe then Jimmy Swaggart.

  15. Dr. Bonnette says:

    May I again refer readers to my article in the just-published, peer reviewed 2012-13 Supplement to the New Catholic Encyclopedia entitled “Monogenism and Polygenism,” which refutes some who claim to speak in the name of science and allege that a literal Adam and Eve are scientifically impossible. Also, the third edition of my book “Origin of the Human Race” (Sapientia Press) will be forthcoming in a couple months. It will contain an article in its appendix entitled “The Myth of the ‘Myth’ of Adam and Eve,” which will refute the same overstated claims. It is time that the defenders of Church teaching on our first parents get some new rational and scientific ammunition.

    • Dr. Dennis Bonnette says:

      If anyone wants to see an article that I wrote that addresses the scientific possibility of a literal Adam and Eve, and which is easily accessible on the internet, see this one that was recently published by the Homiletic and Pastoral Review online edition:

      It offers a defense of our first parents which is not necessarily dependent upon an interbreeding solution, but which leaves open that possibility should it prove necessary.

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