“Worthy are you, Lord our God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things;
because of your will they came to be and were created.”
(Revelation 4:11, from today’s First Reading)
God is no magician with a magic wand, as Pope Francis correctly pointed out recently. However, Scripture and Church teaching affirm that, at will and out of nothing, God created the world and all that it contains, visible and invisible, in their entire substance, at the very beginning of time. (See, for example, the following: Rev 4:11 above; Gen 1; Isaiah 45:12 and 48:12-13; 2 Maccabees 7:28; the Fourth Lateran Council, Chapter 1, with proper translation, including that of simul; and Vatican 1, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Chapter 1, Canon 5.) Two of the more common approaches among faithful Catholic theologians concerning creation in respect to revelation and science are theistic macroevolution and special creation. (By special creation, I do not intend to discuss special transformism of monogenistic theistic macroevolution, the inherent problems of which I cannot address in this space.) According to theistic macroevolution, the first divine fiat was the creation of matter from which the Big Bang came. The expanse of the universe and macroevolutionary development of life—from molecules to man—were all guided by God’s providential design. Because this model predominates at this time, I will briefly present, in the following paragraphs, a rationale to embrace special creation according to a representation of its advocates.
Evolution often is presented in two different ways; this distinction is very important but often is blurred, engendering confusion. “Microevolution” is adaptation, or a change in gene frequency (genetic drift). It shows how a species genetically reduces into various subtypes through genetic isolation, inbreeding, natural selection, etc. It is a scientific fact—therefore the Church, at least theoretically, embraces it, for truth is one.
“Macroevolution,” however—especially from research and discoveries in the past two decades—seems unscientific. The macroevolutionary belief contends that one species can genetically change into another species. There are several reasons that macroevolution seems (or is) contradicted by science itself. Just three examples are the following.
First, macroevolution requires the emergence of positive or “information-adding” mutations. However, this has never been observed and would require something beyond nature to create it. Mutations are negative (harmful) or neutral—neutral can include protective mutations, but never an instance of acquiring new genetic material that previously did not exist. Genetic changes in context involve loss of material, never additional genetic stuff. Even cross-breeding adds nothing new. Gene duplications do not, either; they usually degenerate, and regulating them to elicit a new function requires a naturally impossible simultaneous genetic contextual development. Two examples of internationally renowned geneticists who advance this position against macroevolutionary belief are Dr. John Sanford, inventor of the gene gun, and Dr. Maciej Giertych, a Catholic.
Second, the fossil record still shows massive gaps that should not exist if macroevolution occurs. Attempts to show (strikingly few) transitional forms in the fossil record—
e .g., Ambulocetus Natans, Archaeopteryx, and Tiktaalik—have failed in several ways. Concerning macroevolutionary hominid to human transition, the supposed pre-Adamic hominids were arguably completely human: “Neanderthal Man” had a brain capacity that at least equals that of modern man, and he buried the dead and played the flute—hardly pre-human. “Homo Erectus,” possibly a more slender variation of the Neanderthal, possessed a brain size within human range. Hence, no evidence really exists that humans evolved from “apes.”
Third, in the past two or so decades, chemical paleontological technology often has been able to detect soft tissue—e.g., blood vessels (on a T-Rex in 2005), collagen, skin, and muscle—on dinosaur remains. According to the two scientific studies on soft tissue longevity, these dinosaurs cannot be more than thousands of years old. This detection and analysis seems to completely eliminate macroevolution from consideration, because the youngest dinosaurs would have to have become extinct about 65 million years ago for mammals to survive and further macroevolve into us.
Theologically macroevolution is problematic, too. Polygenism is the only apparent way it could work (if it were scientific), but this contradicts Scripture’s numerous references to Adam as the first man—and Adam and Eve as the first couple—from whom the human race came (see, for example, Romans 5:12; Tobit 8:6; 2 Maccabees 7:28). It also contradicts Church teaching articulated by Humani Generis and the doctrine of original sin and redemption. In addition, the literal/historical sense of Scripture cannot accommodate a macroevolutionary time scale without inventing and imposing special symbols, and without changing aspects of infallible teachings, e.g., concerning death as a consequence of original sin.
In addition to Church teaching on the divinely decreed creation of all things in their entire substance at the very beginning of time, the unanimity of the Church Fathers (about thirty) teaches explicitly that the universe was created in six days or less (i.e., St. Augustine, concerning the latter view). We can add other great Doctors of the Church and saints, such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Maximilian Kolbe, in support of this teaching, which is exegetically tenable. The Hebraic use of yom in Gen. 1, the relationship of Gen. 1 to Gen. 2, new insights into genre and dating Genesis, a careful look at Exodus 20:11, and other exegetical considerations present a six day creation.
Obviously, a major objection is the age and constants of the universe according to the dominant scientific view of our time. However, many scientists are now seriously challenging tenets of this paradigm, e.g., speed of light as a constant, as articulated by physicist/cosmologist Joao Magueijo, among others. Though new theories may be helpful to better understand the natural order, we should remember that God’s supernatural creative activity “in the beginning” transcends science. We were not there at creation to observe as scientists; even if we were, we could not verify by scientific experiment the hypotheses formed by our questions from this observation. All we can know about the beginning is what God has revealed…
Concerning special creation, then, and theistic macroevolution, and other positions related to this issue, I shall be open-minded, seeking the truth with my colleagues and students within authentic Church teaching.
Mark Koehne teaches moral theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.