Scholars open portal to lost world of Genesis
BY C.S. MORRISSEY
Pope Benedict XVI, writing in 1973 when he was Father Joseph Ratzinger, produced an important essay called “Creation: Belief in Creation and the Theory of Evolution,” available in English in Credo for Today: What Christians Believe (Ignatius Press, 2009).
In that essay, he observes “today, perhaps, we can understand better what the Christian dogma of creation was always saying but could hardly bring to bear because of the influence of the model from antiquity.”
The ancient model inadequately thinks of God as a “craftsman” making objects. God’s creative activity, however, is creative “in the manner in which thought is creative,” he says.
He proposes an answer to “the question of how in fact the theological statement about the special creation of man can coexist with an evolutionary world view or what form it must assume within an evolutionary world view.”
Not only Adam, but also “every human being is directly in relation to God,” he writes. We must realize that today there is also a special creation, directly by God, of every human soul.
Yet how can we deepen our knowledge of this declaration of faith? On the one hand, “spirit does not enter the picture as something foreign, as a second substance in addition to matter,” he writes.
But on the other hand, “the creation of spirit is least of all to be imagined as an artisan activity of God, who suddenly began tinkering with the world.”
His point is that everything in the created universe is dependent upon God. In our case, we are especially dependent, but not in the sense that God had to “tinker” with the universe to make us.
“If creation means dependence of being, then special creation is nothing other than special dependence of being,” he observes.
But this means there is a metaphorical dimension to the account in Genesis, which literally says man is created from the dust in an act of special creation. Hence, he writes:
“The statement that man is created in a more specific, more direct way by God than other things in nature, when expressed somewhat less metaphorically, means simply this: that man is willed by God in a specific way, not merely as a being that ‘is there’, but as a being that knows him; not only as a construct that he thought up, but as an existence that can think about him in return.”
In other words, as he writes in summation, “We call the fact that man is specifically willed and known by God his special creation.”
The evolution of the human species can be understood in this light, proposes the future Pope. Namely, what historically defined the species was “that moment in which a being for the first time was capable of forming, however dimly, the thought ‘God’.”
This would have been “the moment at which spirit arose in the world,” he writes. It would not have been the moment at which “weapons or fire” were discovered, nor any other moment marked by any other invention, whether inventions of “new methods of cruelty or of useful activity.”
Instead, what the Christian dogma of special creation affirms is the ability of the first humans “to be immediately in relation to God,” he writes. “This holds fast to the doctrine of the special creation of man; herein lies the center of belief in creation in the first place.”
“The theory of evolution does not invalidate faith, nor does it corroborate it,” he insists. “But it does challenge faith to understand itself more profoundly and thus to help man to understand himself and to become increasingly what he is”; namely, a special creation who is placed directly in a personal relationship with God.
This essay provides a helpful affirmation about what the dogma of special creation is essentially saying. It also shows that scholarly exploration of the non-literal meaning of Genesis is a valid inquiry, in order to explore Scripture’s deeper meanings in light of what modern biology has discovered.
Those interested in the work of leading contemporary scholars helping “faith to understand itself more profoundly” on this issue, may want to take note of upcoming local events in British Columbia. On Friday, October 16, at 7pm at Trinity Western University, John Walton, Old Testament Professor at Wheaton College, will discuss his interesting new book, The Lost World of Adam and Eve.
Many Catholic scholars have voiced appreciation for Walton’s work. His book also includes an “Excursus on Paul’s Use of Adam,” written by N.T. Wright, the former Anglican Bishop of Durham and a leading New Testament scholar. Walton will also lecture at Regent College in Vancouver on October 17.
Walton is also speaking together with the Trinity Western University professor of Biology, Dennis Venema, at Hillside Church in North Vancouver on Sunday, October 18, at 7pm. Their topic is: “Ancient texts; modern science: two leading scholars share their views on Adam, Eve, and evolution.”