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Pope Benedict XVI on Creation-Evolution Controversy

My sister e-mail me a link to this article on to me via e-mail.

Pope Benedict XVI said the debate raging in some countries — particularly the United States and his native Germany — between creationism and evolution was an “absurdity,” saying that evolution can coexist with faith.

The pontiff, speaking as he was concluding his holiday in northern Italy, also said that while there is much scientific proof to support evolution, the theory could not exclude a role by God.

Now while I agree that there is much evidence for evolution (I think “scientific proof” is a poor use of terms), I have to say that I don’t think the debate is an absurdity. For folks like Dr. Kurt Wise (author of Faith, Form, and Time, who believes as an article of his faith that he must take Genesis 1-11 as accurate scientifically and historically, it does make a difference. I might call him bullheaded, but I shouldn’t call him stupid. Given that one assumption, the debate isn’t absurd, because from his point of view, the Bible must be false if evolutionary theory is true.

I don’t have that same problem, because I don’t understand the Bible as a whole, or Genesis 1-11 in particular in the same way that he does. Yet while I continue to have a very low regard for scientific arguments in favor of young earth creationism, as I’ve indicated in several recent articles, and I object to young earth creationists identifying their one interpretation of Genesis as “the Christian faith,” it is obviously quite possible for people with substantial IQs to disagree.

From the point of view of Catholic Biblical interpretation, it may, in fact, be absurd to come to a problem. I know that my wife, who was raised Catholic, never even saw this as an issue. I lack the knowledge of Catholic doctrine to comment intelligently on that fit. One assumes that Pope Benedict does not suffer from that deficiency, and that one can take his statement that the argument is absurd from that perspective as fairly definitive.

The primary debate, however, is not between Catholic theologians. It is rather between Christian fundamentalists and some conservative evangelicals and other protestants for the most part. And there we have a simple divide.

Tim LaHaye, in his book How to Study the Bible for Yourself states as his first rule of hermeneutics (p. 159), “Take the Bible literally.” In my copy of his book I have circled that statement and simply written “WRONG!” And there’s the key point of the debate. I don’t like the literal-figurative continuum as a single way of discussing how to take Biblical meaning. I prefer to discuss the types of literature involved, and what one might expect to get from those particular forms. As commonly understood, however, “literal” generally means “in the most concrete sense possible,” thus suggesting 7 literal 24 hour days, and accurate recording of all generations in the genealogies, for example. “Taking the Bible literally” in that sense of the word will result in support for young earth creationism.

The controversy is real, and not absurd, however shocking certain positions in it may seem to any one of us.

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  1. Good post. If you haven’t already, you may want to read a couple of books by physicist Gerald Schroeder: “Genesis and the Big Bang,” and “The Science of God.” Excellent examination of this issue from the perspective of science.

  2. Thank you Henry! That is indeed “the key point of the debate”. And, acceptance of the solution you suggest – understanding the types of literature involved – is growing fast amongst people who previously believed that only a literal understanding could be an inspired understanding. I hope it will help many others in their understanding of Genesis 1-12, just as it has greatly helped me.

  3. In a book that was published around 1985, and that contains the text of lectures given by the future Benedict XVI about belief in creation, it is made clear that creation and evolution are complementary beliefs. Creation gives insight into the project of the human person, and why we exist, whereas evolution gives insight into how we might have developed. In this book (titled “In the beginning- a catholic understanding of the story of creation and the fall), the future Pope also makes it clear that the creation account in Genesis 1 was never meant to be taken literally, but was written to make clear certain universal truths such as “GOD created the WORLD” (to dispell beliefs that evil spirits participated in the creation of and the continued existence of the world, and to dispell beliefs that God was limited to only the promised land of the Jewish people and not the whole world, etc etc etc.) We see more creation stories in Genesis 2 and in the Psalms.

  4. One point you did not consider is the possbility that there is more than one way to interpret something literally. For example, to “let” something happen is to remove any hindrance from it happening. Therefore, God’s “let” statements could literally mean nothing more than “letting” them happen. The resulting light therefore might not occur for a long time, but it is no longer hindered. “Teeming” with life doesn’t prohibit life from existing in the seas already. “Letting” birds rule the air doesn’t mean they do not already exist. “Evening and morning” are no more than sunset and sunrise. If the Holy Spirit is in orbit, literally “hovering” over the deep as recorded, we cannot know how frequently He saw a sunset of sunrise. An old earth may well be more literal interpretation of Genesis 1, than a young one, and in my opinion more accurate. I think Tim LaHaye would be dismayed to know that I agree with him about interpreting scripture literally.

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