Monday, May 21, 2018

Was There a Biblical Flood?

Is this what really happened?

One might be forgiven the impression that the Catholic Church has given up on the story of Noah and the Flood as anything more than that, a story. After all, it's the Protestant evangelicals who are enthusiastically building full-scale ark replicas, mounting search expeditions to Mt. Ararat and all the rest. While on the Catholic side we have to make do with the likes of Bishop Barron and his ironically named "Word on Fire" lectures arguing that a good portion of the Old Testament is mere allegory containing no more literal truth than the novel Moby Dick.

While I suspect it's true that the majority of post-Vatican II Catholic laypeople and prelates do not anymore believe in an historical Noah, to the extent that there is an official current Church position on the matter it is that Noah was a real person and the Flood - a massive cataclysm that wiped out all but eight human beings - was a real event.

Noah and the Flood are mentioned in five sections of the 1993 Catholic Catechism. Following longstanding interpretive tradition, the flood is said to prefigure baptism, with the dove sent by Noah representing the Holy Spirit. Christ is in a sense the new Ark. But there's no indication that the Catechism authors do not mean it also to be taken literally. Among other things, a mere allegorical Covenant would have no meaning.

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) reports that virtually all Catholic theologians up to that time believed that the Flood was a real event.

The New Testament refers to Noah in many places. Among other things, he appears in the standard genealogies as well as the well-known warning spoken by our Lord Himself:
As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
And, of course, the references to Noah and the Flood in Genesis and other places in the Old Testament are written in a manner that appears to describe real events, including relating the exact dimensions of the Ark.

It should also be added that stories of a massive and perhaps worldwide flood are ubiquitous in the myths of perhaps the majority of world cultures.

However, among those 20th and 21st century Catholic theologians who subscribe to the orthodox literalist position, it's also true to say that many if not most believe that the Flood was not a global event but merely local to the Middle-East. The Catholic Encyclopedia itself leans in this direction, while admitting that this (in 1913) was a relatively new interpretation brought about by the scientific evidence or lack of it, for a worldwide flood. 

Thus, from around 1800 to 1900, a time when, say, geology was still in its infancy, many orthodox Catholics stopped believing in a global Flood. Why this happened is an interesting question but I will not answer it in detail here. My own view is that it was as much due to a new critical attitude towards the interpretation of Scripture, as well as sympathy with certain philosophical or pseudo-scientific premises popular at the time - such as uniformitarianism - rather than any explicit clash with the empirical evidence per se.

It is important to note, however, that the view that the Flood was local went along with, and still goes along with the orthodox understanding that it nevertheless wiped out all of humanity except for Noah and his family. Thus, the new more "scientific" view carried with it a premise that could later be theoretically disproved by science - that at the time of the Flood, mankind had not yet spread out past a relatively small area in the lands of the Bible.

Contemporary proponents of the local theory must grapple with the fact that modern science seems to show that the human population was diffused around the world many tens of thousands of years ago. If we are to take the orthodox but local theory seriously, then we would have to believe that out of a pre-civilized population who, when it came to technology, were primarily focused on slowly coming up with a better axe-head, there came one family with the knowledge and means to construct a massive boat, 500 feet long.

This, in my view, is another example where a supposedly more "scientific" and believable theory, meant to make Scripture consistent with the alleged discoveries of modern science, ends up in fact looking ad hoc and preposterous.

Proponents of the local theory believe that their account is more realistic when it comes to the diversity of animals taken on the Ark and rescued. How would Noah have had the time or space to save all those Arctic animals and jungle animals, etc.? But if the question is flipped, it becomes devastating in the opposite direction. Why would God want Noah to go to extravagant lengths to merely carry the Middle-Eastern creatures, virtually all of whom, or at least their close relatives, would have survived anyway, elsewhere?

Most "young-earth" creationists believe that the Flood was global and occurred sometime in the mid- to early third millennium before Christ. This appears to assume a massive telescoping of human history, at least as most now understand it, with the Biblical attempt to erect the Tower of Babel and the historical beginnings of Egyptian civilization - its gigantic monuments soon to follow - being apparently squeezed into just a few hundred years. On the face of it, this seems ridiculous. We should note, however, that the written histories - the records of dynasties and so forth, as opposed to mere archaeological extrapolations - "coincidentally" go back to around that time and no further.

Those who do not believe in the Biblical account of the Flood cite a lack of geological and other evidence. The "old-earth" local Flood camp must somehow contend with this as well as the technological question: If civilization is really much older, and intercontinental migrations go back much farther than the Biblical literalists suggest (and old-earth creationists generally accept the premises involved in carbon-dating, the fossil record claims for early man and so on), then how can one make sense of such a high-tech project as the Ark in, say, 50,000 B.C.? That the fact that it didn't happen is not provable by modern science seems small consolation. Indeed, to me, it emphasizes the desperate nature of the view.

But the young-earth creationists at least have a consistent story - consistent within its own terms, that is. In response to the alleged lack of evidence for a worldwide flood, they claim that the evidence is in fact everywhere. The fossil stratification and geological phenomena supposedly pointing to great age is reinterpreted by them as evidence for a cataclysmic event. The unprecedented physical force of the Flood killed most land creatures - including probably the dinosaurs - created shale-oil deposits, disgorged the fossils of sea creatures on land while creating the "layering" often found in the fossil record, carved out massive canyons and other formations, destroyed and created continents, and changed the very climate, perhaps ushering in a mini-Ice Age as the waters receded.

The "science" of Flood Geology is relatively new, but in one sense it's merely a new version of catastrophism, perhaps the dominant view of proto-geologists until the early 19th century. Catastrophism would then be rejected by many 19th century scientists on a priori or philosophical grounds more than anything else - isn't it simply more reasonable to believe in slow and gradual change? - and later, the contrary uniformitarian view would be seen to have the added bonus of being a necessary premise for making the new theory of Darwinian evolution - requiring millions of years of gradual biological change - to work.

Ironically, catastrophism would make a comeback in mainstream science in the latter half of the 20th century, though without, of course, any Biblical associations. No longer would it be assumed, for example, that all natural geological formations were created in a slow and gradual manner.

Is the young-earth creationist account believable? As stated a few days ago, it's obviously quite unbelievable for most moderns, as it would necessitate rejecting what much of current science tells us is now beyond rational debate, such as the basic assumptions underlying radiometric and carbon-dating, among other things.

But for a Catholic who believes in a literal Flood, the alternatives are also unbelievable or at least untenable. At the least, I think that faithful Catholics who take both Catholic doctrine and logical and empirical considerations seriously owe young-earth creationism a second look.

A "God of the Gaps" forcing Catholics to continually retreat to ad hoc stories of cavemen building Arks to save camels and Arabian leopards in an unverifiable past is not an attractive option. And, of course, rejecting the historical truth of some kind of Flood is firmly against both Scripture, tradition and current Church teaching.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

FLASHBACK: When a German Bishops Council Attacked the New Theory of Darwin

Pope Leo XIII

Yes, it was a German bishops council.

As Cardinal Tobin might put it, we've come a long way, baby.

Charles Darwin first published the Origin of Species in 1859. While there would soon be some attempts by Catholic authors to harmonize Darwin's theory with Catholic doctrine, it's fair to say that the initial general response by Catholic prelates and theologians, at least among the hierarchy, was quite negative.

Among the first responders were the German Catholic Bishops, who in their Provincial Council of Cologne (1860) condemned the proposition that Adam and Eve evolved from lower creatures:
Our first parents were formed immediately by God. Therefore we declare that the opinion of those who do not fear to assert that this human being, man as regards his body, emerged finally from the spontaneous continuous change of imperfect nature to the more perfect, is clearly opposed to Sacred Scripture and to the Faith.
The now somewhat hidden history of the Church's initial reactions to Darwin and the theory of evolution is chronicled by Father Brian Harrison in two fascinating papers, "Early Vatican Responses to Evolutionist Theology" (2001) and "Did the Human Body Evolve Naturally? A Forgotten Papal Declaration" (1998).

In the second paper, Fr. Harrison analyzes the 1880 Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII Arcanum (On Christian Marriage). Here is the Pope on the relation between the literal interpretation of God's creation of Adam and Eve and Christian marriage and sexuality:
What is the true origin of marriage? That, Venerable Brethren, is a matter of common knowledge. For although the detractors of the Christian faith shrink from acknowledging the Church's permanent doctrine on this matter, and persist in their long-standing efforts to erase the history of all nations and all ages, they have nonetheless been unable to extinguish, or even to weaken, the strength and light of the truth. We call to mind facts well-known to all and doubtful to no-one: after He formed man from the slime of the earth on the sixth day of creation, and breathed into his face the breath of life, God willed to give him a female companion, whom He drew forth wondrously from the man's side as he slept. In bringing this about, God, in His supreme Providence, willed that this spousal couple should be the natural origin of all men: in other words, that from this pair the human race should be propagated and preserved in every age by a succession of procreative acts which would never be interrupted. And so that this union of man and woman might correspond more aptly to the most wise counsels of God, it has manifested from that time onward, deeply impressed or engraved, as it were, within itself, two preeminent and most noble properties: unity and perpetuity (Arcanum, para. 5, English translation by Harrison).
"He formed man from from the slime of the earth," and Eve was "(drawn) forth wondrously from the man's side as he slept."

Pope Leo was a creationist.

Harrison argues that the Church's initial reactions to Darwin were actually similar to its earlier responses to the claims of Galileo and Copernicus:
In the first place, we are in a position to correct a widespread popular perception about the history of the Church’s relations with science. It is commonly held that while the Vatican notoriously blundered in the seventeenth century by condemning Galileo and proscribing all works propagating the Copernican worldview, Rome ‘learned her lesson’ from having ‘burnt her fingers’ during that first great outburst of tension between traditional faith and modern scientific theories, and therefore ‘prudently’ abstained from intervening with similar condemnations the next time around, when evolution became the new bone of contention, even though many theologians were shrilly calling for Darwin’s head on a plate. Indeed, it is not uncommon to hear statements to the effect that the Catholic Church "has never had a problem with evolution". 
In fact, the record shows great similarities between the initial Vatican responses in both historic controversies. As Galileo was called in and rebuked by the Holy Office, so were Fr. Caverni and Fr. Léroy [Catholic authors who were sympathetic to Darwin]. As, in the seventeenth century, works defending the Copernican system were placed on the Index of Forbidden Books, so, in the nineteenth, were works defending human evolution — by Caverni, Mivart, Léroy (and possibly others). The main difference seems to have been that, for whatever reason, these anti-Darwinian censures emanating from Rome never received nearly as much publicity as the Galileo case. 
There was in fact a consistent, if relatively quiet, rejection of human evolution on the part of the See of Peter throughout the last three decades of the nineteenth century...
I suppose one could add, the responses were similar for better or worse, as atheists and liberal Catholics would presumably crack their knuckles with glee at this. See how stuffy and ignorant the pre-Vatican II Church was.

We've come a long way, baby.

What would then happen in the 20th century is of course a crucial part of the story.

Next: The (Vatican II) Cardinal was a Creationist.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Slumming with the Creationists

A display at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky

This week I wrote two posts where I bashed what I called the modern synthesis between the theory of evolution - including its accompanying claims about the 4.5 billion year age of the earth - and orthodox Catholicism.

However, nowhere in the posts did I call myself a "creationist," endorse "creationism" or, for that matter, even use the terms.

For the record, I wouldn't currently call myself a creationist. I'd call myself a Catholic who is also a skeptic. And, yes, that means, among other things, that I'm quite skeptical of the creationist view that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, that dinosaurs probably lived alongside men and all the rest. To believe that, you would have to discard or at least radically reinterpret much of what the overwhelming majority of scientists believe about geology, astronomy and chemistry. Specifically, certain core assumptions underlying radiometric and radiocarbon dating as well as the consistency of the speed of light would have to be thrown out.

On the other hand, I think the standard theory of evolution is preposterous - from a scientific standpoint more than anything else - while the modified Catholic version of it - some type of theistic evolution or "intelligent design" ends up being very difficult to square with Catholic doctrine. Specifically, I do not see how animal suffering and ancient mass extinctions can be comfortably accommodated with a pre-Fall creation that was "very good" or how common descent from pre-human ancestors can be made consistent with a literal Adam and Eve. For the latter point, I stand by my claim that no Catholic or theistic proponent of intelligent design has ever even tried to outline precisely what it would mean for Adam to have been what I called a "near ape man." Indeed, Catholic and Christian quasi-evolution or design proponents are very uncomfortable even talking about the subject. That tells you something in and of itself.

So we're back to having a certain sympathy, albeit for mostly negative reasons, for creationism - a theory almost exclusively associated with 20th century American Protestant evangelicals, although its current chief proponent is an Australian transplant.

You might call my current position slumming with the creationists.

So what do I believe? If you could take a video camera back in time 7,500 years (the approximate point many creationists believe God created the world) or 4.5 billion years (if there was such a time) what would it record? I don't know. I'd very much like to know, but I don't. Quite honestly, I think all the alternatives are problematic for a believing Catholic.

That's not a magisterial opinion, obviously. It's my opinion.

And in this - the problematic nature of all the alternatives - I think intelligent and honest atheists such as Richard Dawkins have a sort of advantage.

How do you combat that? From a sociological point of view, you can't, or at least you can't very easily or quickly. Atheism or secularism are now the dominant intellectual and cultural paradigms, and there's no reason to believe this will change in the near future, whatever brilliant empirical or logical considerations any particular Christian can come up with in any particular intellectual battleground.

But here's what you don't do: You don't sweep the problems under the rug or ignore them because they might be difficult or embarrassing or whatever in favor of "I (as a Catholic) believe what I believe and that makes me feel very spiritual inside, etc., etc." Cue violins.

Or at least that's never been how I viewed my own Catholic faith.

Personally, I think much of the hostility to creationism among contemporary Catholics, even conservative or traditionalist Catholics, is because of its current association with evangelical Protestants. They're Protestants, after all. Plus, they're sort of lower class, have bad taste in clothes and often speak with a twang.

That the identification of creationism with Protestanism is almost entirely a 20th and 21st century phenomenon, that some version of "creationism," though it didn't go by that name, was the view of virtually all Catholics, including the Church Fathers and Doctors, and all the saints and popes up until the late 19th or early 20th centuries is something that many contemporary Catholics seem to be unaware of.

That doesn't make it true, of course. But at the least it should give faithful contemporary Catholic pause. The intellectual and theological wreck of Modernism with its first culmination in Vatican II created a sort of vacuum that evangelical Protestants in some part filled. That they filled it with their energy at evangelization is a certainty. They also filled it with their intellectual drive, which is ironic since so many would sneer at their "anti-intellectualism."

In some ways I feel more comfortable in a Moody Bible bookstore than in the basement annex of St. Peters in the Loop with its America magazine displays and row upon row of hippy-priest Paulist Press paperbacks.

If you have a problem with the fact that in recent times Christian evangelicals have done much of the work that Catholics should have been doing, don't blame them.

Protestant evangelical or Vatican II Catholic? Of course it's best to be neither.

But I'm not above slumming.         

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Was Adam an Ape Man?

Many modern orthodox Catholics believe they have made a sort of peace between the Creation account found in Genesis and at least a modified theory of evolution. Note that these orthodox Catholics believe in a real and literal Adam and Eve, as they are told they must by Catholic doctrine as reiterated as recently as Pope Pius XII, and restated in the current Catechism.

But if we accept evolutionary descent with modification, then Adam and Eve must have been cavemen or ape-men or what I will from here on in call "near-ape men." On what we might call the Evolutionary-Catholic synthesis the difference was that these new near-ape men were now "ensouled." Presumably, this initially involved no obvious physical changes - they all (both the ensouled and non-ensouled near-ape men) were hairy or not, beetlebrowed or not, and so on and so forth. One assumes that the details are not important.

Curiously, I have never read an account for what, on this theory, precisely and literally happened. And whether we take the creation account in Genesis as, say, 50% allegory, 80% allegory or 98% allegory, something must have literally happened. What?

Here then is my attempt at what we might call a historical reconstruction, using the text of Genesis 2-3 as an explanatory framework. Remember that for the orthodox Catholic, Genesis must be inerrant (the Church commands us to believe this) whether we interpret it literally, figuratively or, as seems most plausible, using some mix of the two.

The following may perhaps verge on the comic, but I really did try to be as fair as possible. If any reader feels like I'm being unfair to the orthodox Catholic who believes in both modified evolutionary theory and the theological claims made in Genesis and elsewhere, I'd be happy to know where I went wrong.

But (to those who may wish to try), please stay away from ad hominem attacks, irrelevant appeals to the fossil-record, accusations that even talking about such things makes one a stupid Protestant fundie, etc. This is your theory, after all.

Okay, here goes:

GENESIS, Chapters 2 and 3:     

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground—This refers to the time of man's near-ape ancestors who hadn't yet invented agriculture. The rain passage is more problematic. Since we know that there had been rain for billions of years, what the author probably means is that up to now it was a different sort of rain, not as picturesque as you now see on farms. Or maybe it means absolutely nothing.  

Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Then the Lord God designated one of the near-ape men roaming the East African plains and ensouled him. His near-ape comrades were initially unaware of this, as to all outward appearances, he seemed identical with them. 

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. This can be interpreted in at least two ways. Since the near-ape men led tough and dangerous lives, it would make sense that God would want to protect his newly ensouled creature by placing him in a specially designated area. On the other hand, we could interpret the passage allegorically by postulating that the newly ensouled near-ape man was given some sort of unique spiritual gifts that insured that the rest of his life would go much better than the lives of the other near-ape men (almost as if he were living in "paradise"). This is obviously the more scientific view.   

The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is presumably allegorical. Claims of a magical garden or special spiritual protections are one thing, but postulating an actual "tree of knowledge" goes too far.  

A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. Either the garden was in what we would now call Iraq. Or specifying the location using modern geographical terms is allegorical for "there was a garden somewhere" or "it was as if (spiritually) he were now in a garden located somewhere in Iraq."

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” This is probably allegorical for "enjoy yourself, but be careful: with ensoulment goes great responsibility."

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. Again, this is probably a way of saying that the near-ape men already had a rudimentary language, including names for animals and so on, but the newly ensouled near-ape man was a bit smarter (being ensouled) and thus was able to use language with a higher degree of sophistication.

But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. What does this mean? I think it's clear that either: 1) It's a fancy way of saying that the second paragraph above should be revised to really state that God originally selected two near-ape people - one male and one female - from that roving band on the plains. Or 2) God took a piece of the man's soul and out of it created a female soul. That's obviously more scientific than any reference to ribs.  

Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

Since the non-ensouled near-ape men also had bones and flesh, "bones" and "flesh" are obviously figurative here for "soul stuff." 

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. 
We know that near-ape men and women had been having sex and had been going without clothes for millions of years without embarrassment. Ensoulment didn't change that.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LordGod had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. Again, this is probably allegory. Modern man understands certain things about the world that the author of Genesis did not. One of those things is that there are no talking snakes. So we may understand this passage as meaning that one or both of the newly ensouled near-ape people suddenly found themselves having evil thoughts. Among other things, this now made them embarrassed about sexual matters.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LordGod among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Translate this as: the man blamed his evil thoughts on the woman, who he claimed had them first. The woman blamed her evil thoughts on the talking snake.

The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this, 

cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

Again, we know that snakes had been crawling on their bellies for millions of years. So this is simply an allegory for another allegory that will be found later in Scripture.

To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,

but he shall rule over you.”

This is problematic. On the one hand, we can be sure that non-ensouled near-ape women also experienced pain in childbearing. So it's probably a way of saying that either God foresaw the Fall from the beginning, which is why all near-ape women (ensouled and non-ensouled) experienced pain during childbirth (though the newly ensouled woman hadn't experienced it yet) as a sort of backwards punishment for what the ensouled near-ape people would later do, or perhaps ensouled women would experience more pain. Or perhaps it just means that due to the Fall, pain and suffering came into the world, even though it was sort of there already.

Or perhaps it means nothing.

And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”

Translate this as: your temporary special protections have now been lifted. You can both go back to toiling and eventually dying along with the other near-ape men.

The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

Various interpretations of the above are possible. However, left unstated is an important additional point. God must have then created a special spiritual or quasi-physical field around the newly ensouled near-ape people such that they would not breed with the thousands or millions of other non-ensouled near-ape people already roaming the plains. The non-ensouled near-ape people then died out.


Well, you probably can guess by now what I think of the above.

Aren't we all a bit old for these sorts of stories?

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Evolution, Creation and Catholic Faith

The Garden of Eden by Jacob Bouttats

The theory of evolution, that all species including man arose gradually through a process of natural selection based on random mutation, has for many years been largely accepted by most Catholics. Along with that, the modern view that the earth is many billions of years old has also been accepted.

Both of these obviously fly in the face of a literal interpretation of Genesis. But it has long been a claim of modern religious faith that they are perfectly consistent with a metaphorical or allegorical interpretation of Scripture. God may not have actually created the world in six twenty-four hour days, but the creation "myth" of Genesis is still true on a deeper theological level. While Genesis is obviously not a science textbook, it is still inerrant (as the Church teaches that it must be) if interpreted correctly on its own terms.

Thus, we can have evolution, at least in some form - perhaps including a divine nudge or two here or there to make sure the "random" mutations go in the right direction or whatever - and a 4.5 billion year-old earth with ages upon ages of survival of the fittest - from unicellular organisms to trilobites to dinosaurs to rats to apes to humans - without giving up anything essential in Catholic theology or doctrine.

It seems like almost a happy ending, doesn't it? We can have both our modern scientific cake and our Catholic cake and also eat them.

So, I'm sorry to break it to you, but: 

The above is utter hogwash.

If the theory of evolution is true and the earth really is billions of years old, then Genesis is not only literally false, it's false in virtually any other way that it could be true or false. Nor does it have any other meaning that is even remotely helpful. At best, it's a "myth" with no connection to anything. At worst, it's directly misleading - a lie.

And thus the claim that the Bible is inerrant is a lie.

And thus the Catholic faith is a lie.

Of course, I'm a believing Catholic, so I don't think the faith is a lie. (Note the "if" three paragraphs up.) But in terms of the truth of the if/then statement, I'm with the atheist Richard Dawkins on this one.

I'll be writing more about this topic in the coming weeks, including references to the Catholic Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation.

For now, though, I want to leave you with this to think about. In Genesis 1:29-31, we read: 
And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.
But if the general outlines of the theory of evolution are true, then the above is not only not good science, it's not even good theology. What God should have added (or what Moses or whoever supposedly wrote the Pentateuch should have said God added) is this:
But I (God) am only going to provide a finite amount of food such that every beast of the earth will be locked in an unending struggle for survival that will result in the unnatural death by starvation or predation of the vast majority. Many creatures will eat each other, even though I earlier didn't tell you that. And you will eat some of them, though I didn't tell you that either. And once in a while you'll get eaten yourselves. Such a state of affairs will continue for billions of years punctuated by the occasional meteor that will periodically wipe out almost everything. Did I say before that it was very good? What I meant was, it might be very good for modern people to think about in armchairs, but for the trillions upon trillions of creatures, including some of your ape grandparents, who led brief lives of meaningless suffering, not so much.  
Intelligent atheists completely get the contradiction here. Modern faithful Christians don't want to get it, for obvious reasons. But I think most of them actually do get it, at least, subconsciously. Or if they don't get it, their kids will.

I think this is is the primary reason for the decline of Western religious faith in the 20th century.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

NOT A PARODY: Cardinal Dolan Smuggles Hot Dogs into Met Gala, Then Goes Home to a Triple Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich Nightcap

Fashion and the Catholic Imagination: Cardinal Dolan and some actor

Future historians with a sense for the bizarre and absurd will have a field day with the early 21st century Catholic Church. Among other things, one cannot say that the Court of Francis and its satellite courts are not made up of interesting and diverse characters to rival any Renaissance satire.

First, there are the perverts, obviously in great abundance, such as Cardinal "cocoa-puffs" Cocopalmieri or Archbishop Paglia, with their Vatican orgies and commissioned pornographic murals.

Then the soulless power hungry strivers such as Cardinal Cupich or Bergoglio himself.

There are the banal and petty bureaucrats such as the Himmler knock-off, Anthony "sock-puppet" Spadaro.

And finally, there are the buffoons, such as New York City's Cardinal Dolan, who, even while posing in a human-and-animal kickline, three years ago, was probably thinking of his next salami roll.

2015: Cardinal Dolan with Rockettes and sheep

On Twitter, yesterday, in response to a Tweet containing a photograph of Jesuit James Martin greeting Dolan at the Met's horrific "Fashion and the Catholic Imagination" gala, I theorized that while Martin was probably luxuriating in all the sacrilegious "sensuality," the Cardinal was merely hopeful for the lunch bell.

It was a joke.

But Cardinal Dolan is of course himself a joke, or more accurately, a buffoon. Fiction cannot invent what this ridiculously gluttonous red-faced bishop cannot top in reality.

It turns out that Dolan would later brag about his impolite behavior at this impolite event. Annoyed at the small-sized canapés he was being served, he tipped a waiter to smuggle in hot dogs from a street-vendor outside. But even that wasn't enough, as he happily admitted to afterwards engulfing a trio of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at his residence.

As the Cardinal would later gush, "what a great evening it was!"

From the New York Post:
Cardinal Dolan brought street meat into ritzy Met Gala 
Just because Timothy Cardinal Dolan is a man of God, doesn’t mean he can’t have a down-to-earth appetite. 
His eminence sent out for hot dogs during his appearance at Monday night’s $30,000-a-head Met Gala, because the finger foods weren’t filling enough. 
“I had to tip the waiter to go out and get me a couple of hot dogs from the cart outside the museum,” he said on his Sirius XM radio show Tuesday, later adding he chowed down on three peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches when he got home in the evening. 
“It’s one of those like where you needed magnifying glasses and tweezers,” he said of the gala’s hors d’oeuvres. “I kept trying to eat with my fork and it would fall through the prongs. 
“But what a great evening it was.” 
Organizers invited Dolan because this year’s gala heralded the Met’s new exhibit on Catholic influences in popular fashion. 
The holy man rubbed elbows with Hollywood royalty, including Rihanna and Anna Wintour — though he admitted he didn’t always know who they were. 
“Apparently it is the social event of the year. And it’s sponsored by Anna Wintour — you got me,” he said, indicating he was not familiar. “She edits the Vogue fashion magazine.” 
Dolan was struck by Rihanna’s get-up — a glittering Maison Margiela Artisanal mini-dress, voluminous coat and bejeweled miter hat all reminiscent of papal garb — and joked that he lent her the hat and was conscripting her into the service. 
“She gave it back to me this morning,” he said of the hat. “I was teasing my auxiliaries who were teasing me. I said ‘Hey, you guys should not complain, because she has volunteered to do some confirmations.’” 
Dolan cracked to fellow guests that he was the only one who didn’t have to go out and buy his duds for the evening — though organizers were disappointed he didn’t accessorize more. 
“They were ticked off at me at the Met Gala that I only wore the house cassock with the red buttons and the red sash,” he said. “They wanted me to wear the cape.” 
He did, however, get a special dispensation not to walk the red carpet because he wanted to avoid the fanfare. 
“They said the only one excused is the Cardinal,” he said, explaining that Mitt Romney was forced to walk the red carpet even though the Mormon asked to slip in a side door. 
Dolan went for the displays of actual Catholic relics on loan from the Vatican, but said he wasn’t offended by any of the contemporary couture, which included a leather bondage mask with dangling rosary beads and a fuschia gown with a sinfully low neckline. 
“I didn’t really see anything sacrilegious — I may have seen some things in poor taste — but I didn’t detect anybody out to offend the church,” he said. 
“They were sure good to me, they were sure kind to me,” he added. “A number of people came up to speak about their Catholic upbringing. It was a powerful evening.”

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

BREAKING: In "Final Chapter" of Case, Judge Bars Alfie Evans From Leaving UK

According to Josh Halliday, a reporter for the The Guardian who is attending today's court hearing on fate of Alfie Evans, the judge has definitively barred Alfie from being flown to Italy for treatment. One other option being considered was that the parents of Alfie would be allowed to take him home. However medical personnel at Alder Hey have appeared to be fighting this, claiming, among other things, that it would take "3-5 days" to move him.

Judge Anthony Paul Hayden called his ruling the “final chapter in the case of this extraordinary little boy.”

Alfie Evans had been breathing steadily since being removed from his ventilator yesterday afternoon.

Also significant in today's hearing's was the attendance of the Chief of Staff to the Italian Ambassador to the UK, on the same day that Italy officially confirmed it had granted Alfie Evans citizenship. According to the Evans lawyer, the case had reached "the highest levels of the Italian government," and multiple news sources reported that an Italian military air ambulance was standing by near Alder Hey to fly Alfie Evans to Rome.

Halliday has been tweeting updates on the case for much of the morning. And these have been appearing on the sites of LifeSiteNews and the Liverpool Echo.

In a bizarre twist, the Echo is also covering a soccer match tonight between Liverpool and Rome. Supporters of Alfie Evans and his family at #ChantforAlfie have been urging fans to chant his name at the 23 minute mark.

UPDATE (2:40 CST): Tom Evans appears to have written this at roughly the time that the appeal to the court was denied: