Creation and Evolution I – Hugh Owen's Response

Hugh Owen took the time to write a lengthy response to my first critique of his account of contradiction between the theory of evolution and the divinely revealed account of genesis. (Original post: Evolution and Creation I – Scripture and Tradition). I'm posting it here.

The affirmations in question that are stated by Hugh Owen are the following:

Theistic evolutionists and defenders of the traditional doctrine of creation both agree that the literal historical interpretation of Genesis was upheld by all of the Fathers, Doctors, and magisterial pronouncements of the Catholic Church for more than 1800 years. According to this common doctrine: (emphasis added)

1. God created all of the different kinds of creatures ex nihilo in six days or less. etc.

I emphasize the term "interpretation" because the real issue is not what the fathers believed to be an actual fact, but what they believed to be divinely revealed through the Scriptures.

To the first point about creating all the different kinds of creatures in six days or less I responded, (1) that "species" or "kinds" are fixed in such a way that new kinds could not develop after creation is not common patristic or magisterial teaching; (2) Irenaeus allows that the sixth day could be a thousand years, in accordance with the text "a day of the Lord is as a thousand years," and Justin Martyr makes the same interpretation. Origen and Augustine do not take the six days as a narrative of the historical order of creation at all, but as a manner of revealing God's creation of the world.


[Hugh Owen's response]

You wrote: God created all of the different kinds of creatures [that is, plants, animals, fish, etc.--that "species" or "kinds" are fixed in such a way that new kinds could not develop after creation is not common patristic or magisterial teaching] ex nihilo in six days or less. [Irenaeus allows that the sixth day could be a thousand years, in accordance with the text "a day of the Lord is as a thousand years," and Justin Martyr makes the same interpretation. Origen and Augustine do not take the six days as a narrative of the historical order of creation at all, but as a manner of revealing God's creation of the world.]

I Reply: The Fathers are unanimous in holding that the prototypes of creatures that reproduce sexually, like humans, whales, and wolves, were specially created by God in the beginning and that all of the different kinds of sexually reproducing creatures are descended from those specially created prototypes. This is entirely consistent with what we observe in nature. Here are two good examples of the patristic teaching:

St. Basil the Great writes:

The nature of existing objects set in motion by one command, passes through creation without change, by generation and destruction, preserving the succession of kinds by resemblance, until it reaches the very end. It begets a horse as the successor of a horse, a lion of a lion, and an eagle of an eagle; and it continues to preserve each of the animals by uninterrupted successions until the consummation of the universe. No length of time causes the specific characteristics of the animals to be corrupted or extinct, but, as if established just recently, ever fresh, moves along with time. (St. Basil the Great, Hexaemeron, 9:2)

St. Ambrose writes:

The Word of God permeates every creature in the constitution of the world. Hence, as God had ordained, all kinds of living creatures were quickly produced from the earth. In compliance with a fixed law they all succeed each other from age to age according to their aspect and kind. The lion generates a lion; the tiger, a tiger; the ox, an ox; the swan, a swan; and the eagle, an eagle. What was once enjoined became in nature a habit for all time. Hence the earth has not ceased to offer the homage of her service. The original species of living creatures is reproduced for future ages by successive generations of its kind. (Hexaemeron, 3:16

These statements are perfectly in harmony with what 21th century natural science observes: adaptation and devolution of the original kinds of creatures, rather than mutation and natural selection of new organs and functions evolving new kinds of creatures, like birds from reptiles or whales from land mammals. The patristic understanding is perfectly compatible with speciation (which is devolutionary) but not with evolutionary transformations like reptiles changing into birds.

I strongly recommend that you read Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome by the famous Cornell University geneticist Dr. John Sanford http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0981631606 (The first review on the Amazon web page for his book provides an excellent summary of the book.) Dr. Sanford shows that twenty-first century genetics not only contradicts the primary axiom of the Neo-Darwinian Theory that is taught in virtually all mainstream schools and universities (i.e. mutations + natural selection = evolution). He actually shows that most so-called “neutral” mutations are actually slightly deleterious and that these slightly-negative mutations accumulate in the genome of every kind of organism fast enough so that every kind of organism on earth is not evolving but devolving. In fact, Sanford shows that, in light of current research, the human genome likely cannot be more than thousands–not tens of thousands–of years old, because if it had been accumulating mutations at the current rate for more than 10,000 years we would be extinct! In short, 21st century genetics indicates that all genomes are devolving from an original state of integrity and that this process of devolution cannot have been going on for more than thousands of years. (I refer you to the first review of the book on the Amazon web page for details.) Dr. Sanford also shows that the declining ages of the patriarchs recorded in Genesis 1-11 agree perfectly with the findings of 21st century genetics.

St. Irenaeus does not say that the sixth day could be a thousand years. In fact, he makes quite clear that the days of creation are natural days consisting of “an evening and a morning.” Moreover, he calls the sixth day when Adam sinned the day preceding the Sabbath, thus confirming that the sixth day is a normal day. Irenaeus does say that Adam’s lifespan could be interpreted as lasting a thousand years in keeping with the saying, “A thousand years are as one day.” But that has nothing to do with the length of the creation period. Here is the pertinent passage from Against Heresies

Thus, then, in the day that they ate, in the same did they die, and became death's debtors, since it was one day of the creation. For it is said, There was made in the evening, and there was made in the morning, one day. Now in this same day that they ate, in that also did they die. But according to the cycle and progress of the days, after which one is termed first, another second, and another third, if anybody seeks diligently to learn upon what day out of the seven it was that Adam died, he will find it by examining the dispensation of the Lord. For by summing up in Himself the whole human race from the beginning to the end, He has also summed up its death. From this it is clear that the Lord suffered death, in obedience to His Father, upon that day on which Adam died while he disobeyed God. Now he died on the same day in which he ate. For God said, In that day on which you shall eat of it, you shall die by death. The Lord, therefore, recapitulating in Himself this day, underwent His sufferings upon the day preceding the Sabbath, that is, the sixth day of the creation, on which day man was created; thus granting him a second creation by means of His passion, which is that [creation] out of death. And there are some, again, who relegate the death of Adam to the thousandth year; for since a day of the Lord is as a thousand years, 2 Peter 3:8 he did not overstep the thousand years, but died within them, thus bearing out the sentence of his sin. Whether, therefore, with respect to disobedience, which is death; whether [we consider] that, on account of that, they were delivered over to death, and made debtors to it; whether with respect to [the fact that on] one and the same day on which they ate they also died (for it is one day of the creation) ; whether [we regard this point], that, with respect to this cycle of days, they died on the day in which they did also eat, that is, the day of the preparation, which is termed the pure supper, that is, the sixth day of the feast, which the Lord also exhibited when He suffered on that day; or whether [we reflect] that he (Adam) did not overstep the thousand years, but died within their limit—it follows that, in regard to all these significations, God is indeed true. For they died who tasted of the tree; and the serpent is proved a liar and a murderer, as the Lord said of him: For he is a murderer from the beginning, and the truth is not in him. John 8:44 (Book V, Chapter 23, 2; Against Heresies) http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103523.htm

With regard to Justin Martyr, the place where he is alleged to have said that the seventh day had no end does not support your thesis at all. Here is the passage:

And the fact that it was not said of the seventh day equally with the other days, And there was evening, and there was morning, is a distinct indication of the consummation which is to take place in it before it is finished, as the fathers declare, especially St. Clement, and Irenæus, and Justin the martyr and philosopher, who, commenting with exceeding wisdom on the number six of the sixth day, affirms that the intelligent soul of man and his five susceptible senses were the six works of the sixth day. Whence also, having discoursed at length on the number six, he declares that all things which have been framed by God are divided into six classes—viz., into things intelligent and immortal, such as are the angels; into things reasonable and mortal, such as mankind; into things sensitive and irrational, such as cattle, and birds, and fishes; into things that can advance, and move, and are insensible, such as the winds, and the clouds, and the waters, and the stars; into things which increase and are immoveable, such as the trees; and into things which are insensible and immoveable, such as the mountains, the earth, and such like. For all the creatures of God, in heaven and on earth, fall under one or other of these divisions, and are circumscribed by them.— Justin Martyr, From the writings of Anastasius. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0132.htm

In the first place, the fact that Justin refers to the days of creation as days with “evening and morning” proves that he understands them to be 24 hour days. In contrast, the seventh day, in his interpretation, has no end, because it refers to the period of providence that began after the creation period, when all of the different kinds of creatures will fulfill the purpose for which they were created in the beginning. There is another passage in Justin’s First Apology where he says of the Holy Eucharist:

But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world (First Apology, Chapter 67).

Here again, Justin refers to Sunday as “the first day,” the day on which God created light, thus underscoring his conviction that the days of creation were natural days. This is precisely the same understanding that we find in the other Fathers and in the Sacred Liturgy, as in the writings of St. Gregory the Theologian, fourth century Patriarch of Constantinople:

Just as the creation begins with Sunday (and this is evident from the fact that the seventh day after it is Saturday, because it is the day of repose from works) so also the second creation begins again with the same day [i.e. the day of the Resurrection] (bold added). According to the 1994 Catechism, the Syriac Office of Antioch includes the following prayer:

When we ponder, O Christ, the marvels accomplished on this day, the Sunday of your holy Resurrection, we say: “Blessed is Sunday, for on it began creation” (emphasis added) (Fanquith, The Syriac Office of Antioch, vol. VI, first part of Summer, 193 B. (CCC, 1167).

With regard to Origen and St. Augustine, I did not say that they regarded the six days as a record of the order of creation, I wrote that all of the Fathers held that the creation period was six natural days (the overwhelming majority view) or an instant (the minority view held by Origen and St. Augustine). According to Origen:

the Mosaic account of creation … teaches that the world is not yet ten thousand years old, but very much under that (Against Celsus, 1:19) (emphasis added).

The specific points which are clearly handed down by the apostolic preaching are these: First, that there is one God who created and arranged all things, and who, when nothing existed, called all things into existence (The Fundamental Doctrines, 1, preface, 4)

Origen also emphasizes that the creation was completed at the beginning of the world, and that the sabbath rest of the Lord continues to this day.

For he [Celsus] knows nothing of the day of the Sabbath and rest of God, which follows the completion of the world's creation, and which lasts during the duration of the world, and in which all those will keep festival with God who have done all their works in their six days, and who, because they have omitted none of their duties, will ascend to the contemplation [of celestial things], and to the assembly of righteous and blessed beings (Against Celsus, Book vi. chap. 1xi.) (emphasis added).

From all of this we can deduce the following:

Origen's creation is instantaneous. We can be sure of this because Origen says that the Mosaic account gives much less than ten thousand years since the creation of the world. This is only possible if he considers the Genesis genealogies as beginning at creation. Otherwise, he would have no way of determining the age of the world. But if the Genesis genealogies begin at creation and give us the time that has elapsed since the beginning of the world, then there cannot be any time taken up with the creation itself. This interpretation of Origen's words is strengthened by the fact that he confidently asserts that the entire world is much less than ten thousand years old. This view is also supported by the fact that Origen speaks of "all things" being called into existence at once out of nothing–a statement which does not allow for any lapse of time or evolutionary development. Lest we entertain any doubt on this point, he insists that the sabbath rest of the Lord–which continues to this day–began after creation was completed in the beginning. Finally, there is the following statement from Against Celsus

And since he [the pagan Celsus] makes the statements about the 'days of creation' ground of accusation–as if he understood them clearly and correctly, some of which elapsed before the creation of light and heaven, the sun and moon and stars, and some of them after the creation of these we shall only make this observation, that Moses must have forgotten that he had said a little before 'that in six days the creation of the world had been finished' and that in consequence of this act of forgetfulness he subjoins to these words the following: 'This is the book of the creation of man in the day when God made the heaven and the earth [Gen. 2:4]'" Against Celsus 6:51).

From this passage we can see that Origen regards the six days as one day and appeals to Genesis 2:4 as his proof text. When we set this passage alongside the other passages quoted above, we can see that Origen belongs in the ranks of the minority among the Fathers who held that God created all things instantaneously, a view that St. Augustine championed in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. Therefore, the Kolbe Center is quite justified in saying that all of the Fathers held that God created all things in six days or less.

It is noteworthy that even the allegorically-minded Origen believed that Genesis contained an accurate chronology of the world from creation to the historical period of Abraham and the later patriarchs. His "very much under" ten thousand years is right in the same ballpark as the chronologies of the rest of the Fathers who taught that there had been less than 6000 years from creation to the Incarnation, in contrast to the pagan intellectuals of the patristic era many of whom believed in long ages and who mocked the Fathers for their faith in the Hebrew chronology. For example, St. Augustine, commenting on this topic in the City of God, wrote:

They [pagans] are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents that profess to give the history of [man as] many thousands of years, though reckoning by the sacred writings we find that not 6,000 years have yet passed (bold added) (St. Augustine, City of God, 12:10).

And St. Theophilus of Antioch wrote in a similar vein:

If even a chronological error has been committed by us, for example, of fifty or 100 or even 200 years, yet [there have] not [been] the thousands and tens of thousands, as Plato and Apollonius and other mendacious authors have hitherto written (bold added) (To Autolycus 3:28-29 [A.D. 181]).

In short, the writings of the Fathers that you cite in contradiction to my argument do not support your thesis.

St. Gregory Nazianzen, Homily 44, “On the New Week, Spring, and the Commemoration of the Martyr Mamas,” quoted in Fr. Seraphim Rose, Genesis, Creation, and Early Man (Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2000), p. 402.

[My response] Regarding the Fathers and the permanence of species, I repeat again, the issue is not what the Fathers thought to be the natural facts about the world on the basis of the natural history and science available to them (facts which of course they will make use of also in commentaries on scripture, just as someone will make use of facts about lilies when commenting on a passage on lilies), but what they thought to be the divine teaching of Scripture.

In regards to modern science on the issue of evolution, there are multiple problems with Dr. John Sanford's arguments. E.g., if the accumulation of mutations in men means that after a mere 10,000 years men would be extinct, then the accumulation of mutations in more rapidly reproducing creatures would mean that they would be extinct after some hundreds of years, which is not the case. In any case, my intent is not to address the empirical, modern scientific issues here, but the scriptural and theological issues.

Quoting a text of Irenaeus to which one might be presume I referred (and had read) is not going to be enough to convince me to change my interpretation. I won't here pursue the question of the interpretation of that passage, as it is disputed, and is unlikely to be resolved in an exchange of this sort.

The passage of Justin I was referring to is not where he speaks of the seventh day having no end, but of the day on which Adam lived as being one thousand years. "For as Adam was told that in the day he ate of the tree he would die, we know that he did not complete a thousand years. We have perceived, moreover, that the expression, ‘The day of the Lord is as a thousand years,’ is connected with this subject." (Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 81; http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/01286.htm)

My point in noting that Origen and Augustine do not take the six days as a narrative of the historical order of creation at all, is that it follows from this that they do not take them as teaching any particular historical length of time, whether an instant, six periods of 24 hours, or any other definite length.

In interpreting Origen, a false dichotomy is set up between an indefinitely long period of creation, and instantaneous creation. "Origen's creation is instantaneous. We can be sure of this because Origen says that the Mosaic account gives much less than ten thousand years since the creation of the world. This is only possible if he considers the Genesis genealogies as beginning at creation." In fact, Origen does not believe that everything in the world was created instantaneously (an illustrative text is below), and yet he is convinced that there are less than ten thousand years since the creation of the world. How is this possible? There are several things Origen may be thinking. First, the "ten thousand years" may refer to the end of the period of creation. Secondly, and more likely, Origen thinks that the period of creation was a relatively short one–e.g., in any case no more than the lifespan of a human being.

The claim that Origen sees creation as all happening instantaneously because of the affirmation of creation ex nihilo, he says God "when nothing existed, called all things into existence", rests on a misunderstanding of the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. The point is that God did not use pre-existing matter for creation, not that there is no process of change through which the various elements of creation were formed.

What is the order of creation as Origen sees it? First, spiritual beings were created. Some of these sinned, and consequently were attached to matter and bodies, and in this process the concrete material universe was formed. But there is an order among these, e.g., the devil is the first. It was not all simultaneous.

90 …"The term 'beginning'… has multiple meanings even in divine discourse.'

91 One of these meanings refers to a commencement…

95. There is also a 'beginning' in the sense of coming into existence attested in 'In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth' (Gen. 1:1). I believe this sense is indicated even more clearly in Job where it says: 'This is the beginning of the Lord's fashioning, made as a sport for his angels' (Job 17:19 LXX).

96. Someone might assume that 'heaven and earth' were made 'in the beginning' of those things that existed when the world came to be, but it is better to say, as in our second citation, that of the many things that came to be in bodies, the first of those in the body was the so-called 'dragon,' also named somewhere 'great whale,' which the Lord subdued (see Job 3:8; 2 Pet. 2:4).

103…Third is the sense of 'beginning from which,' as in beginning from underlying matter. This is proposed by those who believe that matter is ingenerate, but not by us who believe that God made the things that are from things that are not, as the mother of the seven martyrs in Maccabees (2 Mac. 7:28) and as the angel of repentance in Shephard taught (Hermas, Mand. 1,1; Vis. 1.1.6).

Commentary on John, Book I. Translation from Origen (The Early Church Fathers) by Joseph W. Trigg.

Augustine, too, did not believe in an instantaneous creation, in the sense in which this would be incompatible with theistic evolution (though there are other senses in which he believed in an instantaneous creation–e.g., within the spiritual creation]). Augustine believed in continuous creation: God is the creator of everything that comes into being, both because he gave to creation the power from which they come into being, and because he actualizes this power.

Causaliter ergo tunc dictum est produxisse terram herbam et lignum, id est producendi accepisse uirtutem. In ea quippe iam tamquam in radicibus, ut ita dixerim, temporum facta erant, quae per tempora futura erant; nam utique postea plantauit deus paradisum iuxta orientem et eiecit ibi de terra omne lignum speciosum ad aspectum et bonum ad escam. … non solum tunc plantauit paradisum, sed etiam nunc omnia, quae nascuntur. Quis enim alius etiam nunc ista creat, nisi qui usque nunc operatur? Sed creat haec modo ex his, quae iam sunt; tunc autem ab illo, cum omnino nulla essent, creata sunt, cum factus et dies ille, qui etiam ipse omnino non erat, spiritalis uidelicet atque intellectualis creatura.

The earth is said to have produced plants and trees causally, i.e., it received the power to produce them. In it those temporal things that were to come to be in the future were made as in their roots, so to speak; for indeed God afterwards planted Paradise and drove up from the earth every tree beautiful to look at and good for food…. he planted not only the Paradise at that time, but also now all the things that are born. For who else creates those now, except he who works even now? But now he creates from things that already are, while then things were created when they had not been at all, when that day was made that had not been at all, namely the spiritual and intellectual creature. (On Genesis According to the Letter V, 4).

Note that if one is interpreting evolution in another way than as God bringing things actually into existence from the power he previously bestowed on creation, one is not speaking of theistic evolution, but of materialistic, hegelian, or some other interpretation of evolution.

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