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Monday, January 17, 2005


Jeff Grace

Amen... and amen!


What I wonder, regarding evolution and the faith, is how death could have entered the world through Adam's sin if Adam was the product of a process (natural selection, even if guided by God) that involved generation upon generation who reproduced and died . . . .

Jeff Grace

I guess if we understood "death" as being the end of perfect communion between God and creation, it wouldn't be a real issue...


Thanks for the response. I suppose I can see how the mortality that entered with sin is akin to mortal sin here and now -- a cutting off from eternal life, not the beginning of physical death per se.

Another stumper for me is the following. A theological account of evolution would have to posit that the body evolved first, then a rational soul was infused by God, right? I find it difficult to square this with the following (which I cite from the CCC 365):

"The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the "form" of the body:234 i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature."

If the soul forms the body, how can a body have evolved without the soul? I would appreciate any thoughts on this.


Well, there is the question of teleology... that the soul formed the natural end of the evolutionary process toward which the biological body strove and was shaped... even if the soul, per se, was not yet 'infused' in the body... I don't think that Catholic 'evolutionists' deny that the spiritual preceeds and informs the physical. The soul's forming of the body could be a gradual proces as well, no?

Jeff Grace

ConcernedCatholic: I agree with you that the spiritual preceeds the physical, but it sounds like you're arguing for the pre-existence of the soul. If I'm not mistaken each soul comes into existence (God creates it) when our body comes into existence and doesn't exist before then. So while I agree with your basic principle (the soul is what actually "causes" the body to be) I think the timing of this actualization is simultaneous with the creation, by God, of the human soul. In other words, the primacy of the soul in this case is ontological (in being), not temporal (in time).

Paleface (love that name!): I think Aquinas helps answer it. According to Aquinas, every created thing that comes to be requires the necessary preconditions for it's existence. When we fianlly see the first human, we had a prehistory of life that evolved until it reached the point of potentiality capable of being informed by a human soul. When that point is reached, God creates a particualr human soul which then informs the new human into existence. In other words, there was no human body until a human soul brings it into being... and all the life forms preceeding this event are non-human.

I think that's how it might go... but of course this is just one person's opinion on the matter!



Thanks again for the response. If I'm right about this, on your hypothesis God would have infused the soul into an ape zygote (when the body forms) so that she gave birth to a little human being. Sounds funny! Perhaps Adam's failed attempt to find animal friends involved his brothers and sisters. Or do you envision a soul being infused into an adult whose body would thereby change? (Here I would note that with the Incarnation God made use of the natural process of the womb, but then again he had a human womb to work with!) And then what would it mean for Eve to come from Adam's rib? Anyhow, maybe none of this is philosophically impossible, but it does sound like an odd way for God to operate, no? Is this what is meant by mysterious ways? ;)


Jeff Grace

Paleface: Yes, that would be funny indeed! You will be hard pressed to find any evolutionist, be he (or she!) a theist or atheist, who would hold such an opinion. Evolution doesn't mean we "evolved from an ape" let alone were given birth by an ape... it means we and the apes have a common ancestor. Very different.

All evolutionists also know that how it all actually works is still very far from being undertstood... that's why there are several theories out there that attempt to explain it. Given this, there is still no doubt, even in the Holy Father's opinion, that evolution itself is factual.



I was not aware that the Holy Father thought there was anything certain about evolution! In fact, I was not aware that there's any hard evidence for it (macroevolution) at all. I'm sure you can point me to something. In any case, on your hypothesis a mother without a human soul (whom I affectionately call an ape) gives birth to a baby with a human soul, right? ;)


Jeff Grace


A translation of the Holy Father's address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences is located here...

Notwithstanding your affection for apes, I have to insist that humans are not descended from apes. It might serve you well to review some basic theory and this site:

might help. Apes are "distant cousins" of a sort...

You're asking me to provide you with a theory of how evolution did occur in order to bring humans onto the scene. I sure wish I could do that! Once someone does come up with a plausible theory that withstands the test of time, they will be very famous! The point is: However it did occur, it happened the way God wanted it to happen. That's what the Holy Father is teaching us and I believe him.



The Holy Father said evolution is "more than a hypothesis", and "has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge". It's supported by a "remarkable" "convergence convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently".

These are kind words (given the hoaxes that have been perpetrated, the closed-mindedness and bigotry of many evolution proponents, etc.) but don't in my judgment amount to an endorsement of evolution as 'factual'.

I wouldn't expect anyone to give me a complete theory of how evolution happened. I'd be satisfied with some idea of why we should think it happened at all, before we go on trying to explain how.



Mark Brumley

It is clear that John Paul II thinks that since Humani Generis the evidence has supported the theory of evolution. Whether the Holy Father thinks the evidence sufficient to say that evolution is a "fact" is another question.

Statements about the facticity of what are alleged to have been unwitnessed events of the past should generally be more qualified than statements about the facticity of things that can be observed today under controlled circumstances.

Furthermore, when those statements about what happened in the unobserved past are based on overarching scientific theories, there are serious problems with using the word "fact" in an unqualified way. Scientific theories are inherently open-ended things, generally subject to further scrutiny, testing, and modification when evidence conflicts with them or when similarly substantiated theories conflict with them.

For example, there is good evidence to support the theory of General Relativity and good evidence to support the theory of Quantum Mechanics. The fact that these two theories--one concerning how physical things act on the large scale, the other concerning how physical things act on the small scale--are difficult to reconcile, suggests that one (or both) of them is incomplete, notwithstanding the experimental evidence to date in support of both theories.

That said, it seems that John Paul II thinks there is a good case to be made that human evolution happened and is, in that sense, a fact. Catholics aren't for *that* reason obliged to agree with his judgment about the validity of the majority opinion among scientists. However, unless we want to charge him with seriously corrupting the faith, we must accept that in the qualified manner in which he speaks of evolution the theory is compatible with Christianity. That doesn't make it true, of course; it only means we can't say it must be false simply because we accept Christianity as true.

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