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Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Church and Adam and Eve

The Church and
Adam and Eve

          When it comes to Adam and Eve, the Church seems to get it from both sides.  What do I mean?  Often, Fundamentalists and Evangelicals accuse the Church of taking a modernist approach and denying the inerrancy of Scripture.  The secular world, on the other hand, accuses us of ignoring scientific discovery and stubbornly clinging to outdated mythology.  The only thing both sides seem to agree upon is that the Church is wrong.  How do we respond?
          The ironic thing is that there is no more biblical institution on the planet than the Catholic Church, and over the past 2,000 years, no institution has done more to advance scientific knowledge than the Church.  We have to set the record straight.
          First, we have to look at the accusations of some of our Protestant brethren.  They, to me, are a little more understandable, and more genuine.  The truth is that the Church gives a lot of freedom when it comes to theological study, which is good.  But we have definitely had theologians that have gone off the deep end.  (Then the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responds and we are accused of launching a modern-day Spanish Inquisition.)  What many Protestants don’t understand is the difference between the speculation of individual Catholic theologians and the magisterial teaching of the Church.
          That is understandable.  None of the Protestant communities are structured the way the Church is and it’s natural to view someone else through one’s own reference point.  The important question, however, when it comes to the interpretation of Scripture is, what is the actual teaching of the Church?  You will find plenty of dissenting theologians, many of whom make plenty of money undermining Church teaching, and causing confusion both within and without the Catholic community.
          I chose to focus this article on Adam and Eve.  So what is the Church’s teaching on them?  First it should be noted that the Church acknowledges that there are spiritual and literal meanings to Scripture and that the book of Genesis is certainly ripe with symbolism.
          Being involved in Catholic education, I’ve heard multiple educators say that Adam and Eve were not real people, only symbols.  But is this what the Church teaches?
          One of the great treasures of the Church is the Catechism.  So if we hear something suspicious, we never have to wonder if it is true or not, we can simply find out what the Church really teaches for ourselves.  On Adam and Eve:
          374   The first man was not only created good, but was also established in friendship with his Creator and in harmony with himself and with the creation around him, in a state that would be surpassed only by the glory of the new creation in Christ.
          375   The Church, interpreting the symbolism of biblical language in an authentic way, in the light of the New Testament and Tradition, teaches that our first parents, Adam and Eve, were constituted in an original “state of holiness and justice.”  This grace of original holiness was “to share in…divine life.”
          390   The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.  Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents. (emphasis in the original)
          Finally, Pope Pius XII, in the same encyclical in which he permitted Catholic scientists to study evolutionary theory (albeit to do so responsibly) said:
          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)
          Wow, very strong language; perhaps the secular scientific community is right about us?  Nope.  Not even close.  As I mentioned before, no institution has been more instrumental in the development and even the birth of modern science than the Catholic Church.
          (For all the grief that’s given over the Galileo situation, it should be remembered that heliocentrism was developed by Nicolaus Copernicus, a Catholic priest who received accolades.  Galileo was reprimanded for personal irresponsible actions, not for believing in heliocentrism.  But that’s another article.)
          Even today, I would contend that the best scientists are Christians.  The reasons are at least three: 1) Christian scientists are not afraid of the truth.  Secular scientists have to skew results because they fear where the truth might lead them.  Christians know truth can’t contradict truth, so they are unafraid as they seek greater understanding.  2)  Christian scientists are coming from a set of “givens” that are accurate, as opposed to secular scientists, whose world view is often slanted, which results in their science being slanted.  3)  Integrity and honesty are fundamental Christian values.  Just look at any secular high school science text book and you will find piles of “information” that is outdated, biased, or outright lies.  Take, for example, Haeckel’s Embryos, which are inaccurate and were exposed as falsehoods years ago, and yet which appear consistently in science text books.
          The Church gives incredible lee-way when it comes to scientific hypotheses.  It does ask that science be performed honestly, but after that, it goes back to point #1 above.  The Church sees good science as simply an opportunity to better understand God’s creation.  I think we should recall, however, that science, being performed by fallible human beings, will always be fallible, while Revelation comes from an infallible God.
One of Pope John Paul II’s most important documents is Fides et Ratio, on the relationship of faith and reason. 
          What about the Church’s stubborn teaching that Adam and Eve were real, individual people then?  Secular scientists have mocked us for years and even suggested that such silly beliefs are reason enough to dismiss us out of hand altogether.
          But scientific discovery has betrayed them.  Recent study of mitochondria has shown that all human beings descend from an original female.  The scientific community has unoriginally called this woman “Mitochondrial Eve.”  What they have actually stumbled upon is a cellular connection to the real Eve.
          But there’s even more.  Modern study of the Y-chromosome has demonstrated that all males are descended from a single male ancestor somewhere in the distant past.  Such a determination can not be made about modern females because they lack a Y-chromosome, of course.  Scientists are quick to point out that the original male ancestor of all modern males lived many years after Mitochondrial Eve, and therefore must have started the chain with one of her progeny.  However, the dating of this man so much later is based on assumptions that we have no real cause to believe are legitimate.  And of course I suppose it’s possible (perhaps likely) that Mitochondrial Eve is Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam is actually Noah.
          It’s funny that, though some scientists have tried to discredit the research (presumably because they know where it leads), no one dismisses it as superstitious fantasy.  What Christians can be mocked for, a scientist can offer for peer review, if it is dressed up properly.
          This brings me back to the beginning of this article.  As Catholics we should make no apologies.  We are often come at from multiple angles, but we need not back down.  It may take some time, but the truth will always vindicate the Church.