Skip to comments.The Problem of Polygenism in Accepting the Theory of Evolution [Catholic Msgr. Charles Pope]
Posted on 10/19/2010 10:01:44 AM PDT by Alex Murphy
In the blog over the past few days we have discussed the Genesis account, evolutionary theory and how these can be reconciled with Catholic thought and teaching.
At one level, the genre for the Genesis accounts must be taken into consideration wherein figurative language is sometimes used to confer the sacred truths that God alone created everything out of nothing. Further, that God oversaw every aspect of creation with intelligence, and purpose, and that he created everything out of nothing, each according to its kind. However the genre, or literary form, of Genesis does not purport to be of nature of a scientific journal article, or of a comprehensive historical genre with exact dates and geographical descriptions. What Genesis tells us is true, but it speaks to us in a summary sort of way, more as a poetic description than an earth science textbook. (More on this HERE). As the Catechism states:
Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine work, concluded by the rest of the seventh day” ….”nothing exists that does not owe its existence to God the Creator. The world began when Gods word drew it out of nothingness; all existent beings, all of nature, and all human history is rooted in this primordial event, the very genesis by which the world was constituted and time begun” (CCC 337-338).
Material Sufficient Causality? Not! We also discussed that Catholics may be open to the scientific teachings of evolution but that they cannot accept it uncritically, without certain distinctions. Catholics are free to believe in some sort of evolutionary or gradual process as a secondary cause of biodiversity. But we simply cannot accept a theory which says that the sufficient cause and complete explanation of all life is the combination of natural selection and random mutations. The words NATURAL and RANDOM are positively meant to exclude intelligent activity by God by most proponents of the Theory of Evolution. Catholics can come to accept a kind of theistic evolution wherein God is the primary cause of all secondary causes. But we are not free to accept the Theory of Evolution as most commonly proposed without the necessary distinction that natural selection and random mutations are not sufficient causes or a complete explanation for the existence of all things as they are. (More on this HERE).
Here too the Catechism provides an important and balanced approach that respects the role of science but also announces its limits:
The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator…..The great interest accorded to these studies is strongly stimulated by a question of another order, which goes beyond the proper domain of the natural sciences. It is not only a question of knowing when and how the universe arose physically, or when man appeared, but rather of discovering the meaning of such an origin: is the universe governed by chance, blind fate, anonymous necessity, or by a transcendent, intelligent and good Being called “God”? (CCC 283-284)
The Problem of Polygenism – There is also another matter which the Theory of Evolution gives rise to that a Catholic must be aware of and realize that he or she cannot give it uncritical acceptance. This is the usual premise in evolutionary theory of polygenism. Polygenism is a theory of human origins positing that the human race descended from a pool of early human couples, indeterminate in number. Hence Adam and Eve are merely symbols of Mankind. Rather than being an historical couple, they represent the human race as it emerges from the hominids that gave rise to them as they become homo sapiens, properly speaking. This is opposite to the idea of monogenism, which posits a single origin of humanity in Adam and Eve. In this understanding, Adam and Eve are historical figures who actually existed and from them alone the whole of the human race is descended.
Polygenism is the proposed vision of almost all evolutionary theorists. It obviously flows from the theory. As life emerged from one-celled organisms, ultimately more complex forms of life arose to include fish, then reptiles, mammals, higher forms of mammals and early humanoid forms, and then the first homo sapiens. But, presumably this process did not occur only in one case. Rather, it is usually supposed that a larger, indeterminate number of this new species of Man arose. So what we had was an emergent group, rather than simply two individuals: Adam and Eve.
But this presents a problem for a Catholic who might wish to uncritically accept evolution, for, simply put, we cannot accept polygenism. Pope Pius XII in 1950 specifically addressed the problem of polygenism in the Encyclical Humani Generis:
[T]he Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter…..When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own (Humani Generis, 36-37).
Hence, it seems clear that a Catholic is not free to accept polygenism. There are some in theological circles who have attempted to assert that the Pope is merely saying it is not apparent how such a theory can be reconciled, but not actually indicating that such a view must be rejected. But this seems fanciful since the Pope says quite clearly that Catholics “by no means enjoy such liberty” and “cannot embrace” the opinion of polygenism. No later Pope or Council has chosen to distinguish or, in any way, limit the conclusion of Pius XII in this matter. Perhaps this does not preclude some eventual theory of polygenism that can be acceptable, but none has been offered.
Some Catholics will point to an oversimplified notion presented in the media some ten years ago that science has “proved” that all humans trace their origin to one woman. This woman was dubbed “Eve” or “Mitochondrial Eve.” But, most people have over-simplified understandings of this finding. It does not mean that there were not other women who predated this woman, and other genetic lines that died out. She is merely our most recent common matrilineal ancestor and seems to have lived at a time significantly prior to Y-Chromosomal Adam who is also an important fork in the genetic road. The point is that the theory of one woman is more complicated than the popular conception describes it.  It is not likely a resolution to the problem of polygenism.
The heart of the problem in terms of polygenism is, as the Pope notes, the doctrine of original sin as expounded in Scripture:
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned….Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Rom 5:11, 19)
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor 15:22)
We are thus all linked not to a group, but to a man, Adam. And when he sinned, we sinned. Sin reaches us all since we all share one common ancestor. Further, it is hard to conceive a group of early humans, all sinning in such as way as all our ancestors went into this state commonly. Scripture says, sin came through one man. Scripture is inerrant in such a matter. We cannot simply set its truth aside.
Scripture also affirms our connection to the one man, Adam when it records that God sent one, Jesus Christ, as the New Adam. This sets up a parallelism: One Adam, One New Adam. God did not send a committee, or a squadron to save us which would be the parallel for polygenism and/or group sin.
So the problem of polygenism is a significant matter for Catholics who want to uncritically accept evolution or understand it in a simplistic and easy-going way. And herein is the central point of this and previous articles of mine on this subject: Namely, it is essential that we make proper distinctions and exclusions if we choose to embrace some aspects of the Theory of Evolution. The Catholic approach to this whole matter is carefully balanced. We are not fundamentalist and creationists but neither do we uncritically accept the Theory of Evolution. We must make proper distinctions, exclusions and clarifications in order to accept what I might term a theistic evolution as a tenable theory. Even here, Catholics are free to reject aspects of a theistic evolution on the grounds of science. But this last distinction (scientific objections) is beyond the role of the Church. Perhaps again, the old advice is helpful here: Seldom affirm, never deny, ALWAYS distinguish. We need to be careful and sober when it comes to Evolutionary Theory.
Perhaps it is good to conclude with the words of Pope Benedict which remind us that we are dealing ultimately with a deep mystery for which we must ultimately have great reverence:
The clay became man at the moment in which a being for the first time was capable of forming, however dimly, the thought of “God.” The first Thou that however stammeringly was said by human lips to God marks the moment in which the spirit arose in the world. Here the Rubicon of anthropogenesis was crossed. For it is not the use of weapons or fire, not new methods of cruelty or of useful activity, that constitute man, but rather his ability to be immediately in relation to God. This holds fast to the doctrine of the special creation of man . . . herein . . . lies the reason why the moment of anthropogenesis cannot possibly be determined by paleontology: anthropogenesis is the rise of the spirit, which cannot be excavated with a shovel. The theory of evolution does not invalidate the faith, nor does it corroborate it. But it does challenge the faith to understand itself more profoundly and thus to help man to understand himself and to become increasingly what he is: the being who is supposed to say Thou to God in eternity. (Creation and Evolution: A Conference With Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo, S.D.S. Stephan Horn (ed), pp. 15-16)
The article only demonstrates that many Church bureaucracies have been infiltrated with liberalism. We already knew that.
One is permitted to believe in certain aspects of Evolutionary theory. But if one does it must be framed within two essential Catholic beliefs. That God is the orgin of all creation and that Adam and Eve truly existed and are our first parents. We can not accept godless theories of evolution or polygenism.
Oops. It appears I did not read this article carefully enough before posting. It is apparently warning against the hasty acceptance of evolution.
PS. Msgr Pope is not a Liberal. You should read the other posts of his writings that have appeared here.
No - but this might:
Radio Replies Second Volume - Creation and Evolution
A meeting of religion and science: Sister Frances Zajac sees no conflict in her callings
Atheist says that Church accepts darwinism [Catholic Caucus]
Let Science Be Science and Faith Be Faith
Creationists, Intelligent Design Advocates Blast Vatican for Not Inviting Them to Evo Conference
Catholics on Evolution (Ecumenical)
Vatican evolution congress to exclude creationism, intelligent design
Catholic universities plan scientific examination of evolutionary theory
God made pre-humans into people, Vatican newspaper says [Open]
How a Catholic priest gave us the Big Bang Theory
Evangelicals should follow Catholic example on evolution
Austrian cardinal says Darwinism should be studied as science
The Sense that it is True that Six-Day Creationism is Paganism
Creationist Defends Bible-Based Science Against Vatican Astronomer's Criticism
Vatican Paper Hits 'Intelligent Design'
Since God IS the Creator and Originator of all creation; Adam was created in the image of God [Gen 1:26-27]; and Eve was made from Adam [Gen 2:22]; therefore, it is false theology to accept a godless theory of theistic evolution, long age scientific evolution, and any form of polygenism.
Exodus 20:6-11: Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it shou shalt not do any work... For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed thesabbath day,and hallowed it.
Notice that days mentioned in Exodus 20 are clarly in reference to 24-hour periods, since Isreal was to utilize SIX days [6 literal 24-hour days] so shalt thou labour, and do all they work. God did not say to them men of Isreal to labour six thousand years and millions of years to do all they work. That kind of intrepreation would be ridiculous! When God provided these examples of a day, in which Isreal shalt labor and do all thy work, God is demonstrating beyond a shadow of doubt that a labor of thy work for Isreal was clearly in the timeframe to man's understanding of a 24-hour day; not some sort of evolutionist thousands of years explaination.
Read these scriptures carefully. It is not talking here about theistic evolution, long age scientific evolution, and any form of polygenism - these are man-made theories to expound away God's existance and His Creative power to create the heavens and earth in six (6) literal 24-hour days.
If you do not accept this, then remember Isaiah 55:8-11 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the rain comeht down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, thatit may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth foruth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please,and it shall propser in the thing whereto I send it.
If a Christian persists with the false theology of a godless theory of theistic evolution or long age scientific evolution, then that one is making one's own thoughts adrift from not being in line with God's thoughts; which is against Isaiah 55:8. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD
I am a fundamentalist and a creationists; Priase God; and this is the only proper and Biblical approach to God's creation account of six literal days + seventh day of "rest".
It is a waste of time to theologically argue and debate and blog and rant a rave on whether there is are "proper distinctions, exclusions and clarifications" simply to consider the accept together with scientist that theistic evolution is a tenable theory. Scientist are, for the most part, Christ rejecting/God rejecting evolutionist, with some exception, as some are professing Christian scientist.
It is improper to be a Christian and agree in accord with Christ rejecting/God rejecting evolutionary scientist. The Bible fully rejects theistic evolution and long earth evolution.
For over eleven years I have screamed at Catholics and Orthodox who hypocritically believe in dead people coming back to life, in the "real presence," in a man walking on water, in the multiplication of loaves and fishes, in the conception of a human child without male agency, etc., who nevertheless insist that the creation could not have happened as described in Genesis because this would be "contrary to the laws of nature."
However, I have also been surprised by the level of hostility to Catholic supernaturalism. I can understand rejecting miracles of a religion one regards as false, but some Protestant posters take it further than that, evincing a hostility to the supernatural very similar to that of Catholics and Orthodox who reject Genesis. (True, the latter is more frustrating because Catholics and Orthodox claim to accept Genesis and the threat it presents to distinctive Catholic/Orthodox teachings is not at all apparent.)
After much thinking on this subject I have come to the conclusion that this inconsistency with regard to the supernatural is not fundamentally based on doctrine or theology but on sociology. In other words, supernatural phenomena or accepted or rejected primarily because they are "ours" or belong to "those awful people."
I believe that Creationism is so associated with American-style Fundamentalist Protestantism that that it has become associated with "the enemy"--the "bigots" and "KKK members" who live in the trailer parks and backwoods and inhabit a world far different from the urban immigrant environment of Catholics/Orthodox in America.
"We" don't believe in creationism. "They" believe in creationism.
Now at this point Catholics reading this post are doubtless chomping at the bit to post all sorts of explanations as to how the events of Genesis "could not have possibly happened" and that it is for this reason that Catholics reject creationism. But this is not an honest argument for the simple reason that all the miracles and supernatural phenomena which Catholics believe in without question are also, by definition, "contrary to the laws of nature." Thus the inconsistent acceptance of the primacy of natural laws in one case but not in another is simply fallacious. Either the supernatural exists or it doesn't. Either things have happened that "violate" the "laws of nature" or they do not. Period.
"Creation" is a mark of identification. It identifies "others." Thus it is not proper for "us" to believe in it and any who do are automatically suspect of disloyalty. "Whose side are you on--ours or theirs?"
While you will not be able to agree with me, I believe that sociology also plays a role in the universal acceptance of literal, young earth, six day creationism among American-style (white) Fundamentalist Protestants. True, that's "what it says," but many things which the Bible says are interpreted in a multitude of different ways by different Protestants. It is simply highly unusual for a single section of the Bible to be interpreted with such unanimity throughout Protestantism. Again, I believe because it is much more than a theological position--it is an ethno-cultural identifier.
I have mentioned many times through the years the theory of Donal Anthony Foley (I think it's his theory; at least it's on his web site) that a subtle distrust of the Bible entered Catholicism as a reaction to the Protestant Reformation. But one thing I have noticed over the years is how the views of the church fathers are used by these anti-Genesis Catholics/Orthodox: whenever a church father endorses "young earth six day creationism" the reaction is always that people didn't know any better back then. On any other topic the church fathers are considered absolutely authoritative. Protestants are told to submit their beliefs to the judgment of the church fathers. But on the one issue of Genesis 1-11 they don't know what they're talking about because "we didn't know then what we know now." Evidently we haven't learned yet that a male is necessary to conceive a human child or that dead people don't come back to life.
All this simply illustrates that creationism isn't so much a theological position as a sociological ethno-cultural identifier.
I have decided that pointing out the hypocrisy of inconsistently choosing to believe certain portions of the Bible and not others, to accept the historicity of some miracles but not others, will never do any good. It won't do any good because, for all the invocations of "science," science and logic have nothing to do with it. It "isn't Catholic" or "Orthodox" to believe in creationism. And that's what matters. Even though literal creationism was probably the position of at least the great mass of simple Catholics/Orthodox for centuries before it became a badge of identity of anti-Catholic "sects," that was then and this is now. There weren't any anti-Catholic creationist churches then. There are now. Therefore what was once permitted can be permitted no longer and it is useless to appeal to the pre-Protestant centuries of chr*stianity. Just as chilialism was at one time permitted but declared heretical long ago, creationism is now effectively heretical in Catholicism/Orthodoxy. It's strictly "us" vs. "them."
I will close by illustrating this last phenomena with an example from Jewish liturgical history (though one of practice rather than belief, since practice is the important thing in Judaism).
In the days of the Second Temple the kohanim would recite `Aseret HaDibberot (the "Ten Commandments") every morning along with the Shema`. However, eventually a heresy arose that insisted that only the "Ten Commandments" and the Shema` were permanent and the rest of the Torah only temporary and who invoked this daily recitation as evidence. To combat this the Sages removed the Ten Commandments from the daily recitation and forbade their ever being reintroduced (though they are still read every day after prayers by many Jews; we are talking about public ritual recitation here). They could not remove the Shema` because it is a Divine Commandment to recite it twice a day, but (at least this is my understanding, and I ask forgiveness if I am creating any misunderstandings here) they ruled that one should not rise to recite the Shema`. One may remain standing if one is standing already, but one should not rise from a sitting position to recite it. In this way the Sages actually changed the ritual in response to heretics so that something that was once not only permitted but accepted without a thought became forbidden.
It is my belief that the same factor is working in the all-but-universal Catholic/Orthodox rejection of young earth literal six day creationism and the early chapters of Genesis.
I have decided to try to restrain myself from arguing with Catholics/Orthodox about this further. Regardless of how logical, of how harmonious it is with their other beliefs, or how accepted it once may have been among them, this is no longer the case. It is now the mark of "the enemy."
So much for "universal" religions.