Soapbox: evolution and the story of Adam and Eve

This is an occasional spot for those who write a well reasoned argument in response to an article previously published in Wel-com. Retired Hamilton lawyer, John Fong, has written a rebuttal to Br Kieran Fenn’s paper on the evolution of creation (Wel-com March and April 2007). Br Kieran’s reply is at the end.

Br Kieran Fenn’s article in Wel-com (April 2007) raises two main points: the Theory of Evolution and the myth of Adam and Eve.

Note that when we talk about the Theory of Evolution, we are referring to macro-evolution which states that species change from one into another, eg, reptiles change into birds, cow-like land mammals change into whales, apes change into humans, etc.

Another type is called micro-evolution in which small changes to creatures occur for them to adapt to a new environment, eg, birds acquiring thicker beaks; however, they remain birds. All scientists agree with micro-evolution but not all with macro-evolution. (We will limit our discussion here to biological evolution).

The origin of this idea is atheistic, coming from the Greeks, and was popularised by Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, 1859.

How the theory works

Darwinists believe that random mutation of the DNA code causes the changes so as to create a new species.

However, there are scientific problems with this method. First, the copying process for the replication of DNA is extremely accurate with minimal mistakes. Secondly the cell is self-repairing. Thirdly, virtually all creatures have an immune system which eliminates mutations in DNA and problems cells. Fourthly, only mutation to the sex cells (gametes) will affect generations. Fifthly, mutations do not add new information, eg, to enable a reptile to discard its scales and to acquire feathers – they only destroy.

And who or what guides the mutations into a useful design (eg, of a bird from a reptile)? Since mutation is caused by radiation, chemical, or environmental, how do the latter know which DNA to mutate? They have no intelligence to work these out.

Other real problems are:

Genetic limits: there’s a limit as to how many changes a creature can undergo before its survivability is affected;

cyclical change: changes are not directional to a new life but only shift back and forth within a limited range;

irreducible complexity: that all the parts need to be in place at one time to be functional; eg, half an eye is useless;

non-viability of transitional forms: eg, a land mammal in the midst of evolving and having disappearing legs and developing flippers and tail flukes cannot survive either on land or sea;

molecular isolation: similar percentages of DNA between creatures indicate that they were created by the same creator. As an analogy, a woodworker’s creation would all be of wood, but none of them evolved from the other.

Further, there are no transitional forms either in the fossils or present living creatures.

Gradualism discounted

Since evolution does not cease, there should be thousands (millions?) of creatures now in the process of changing into another creature and we should be able to observe them.

This lack caused such a concern that an evolutionist discarded the idea of gradualism (ie, changes occurring over millions of years) and suggested that changes perhaps occurred all at once (what he called ‘punctuated equilibria’), ie, a land mammal gave birth to a whale, a bird came out of a reptile’s egg, an ape gave birth to a human being, etc.

This theory is not scriptural. God created with purpose, not randomness (Gen 1:24ff). His creative words brought immediate response (Gen 1:7 ff: ‘And it was so’) reproduction was ‘according to their kind’ (Gen 1:11, 24).

God was active in creation and did not have a hands-off kind of oversight; otherwise what would have been the point in taking millions of years to create one thing?

Bringing God into focus

This theory had been so vigorously taught as true some years ago that theologians had to try and bring God into the picture somehow. Hence theistic evolution was born and has been used to try and fill the gaps where science was lacking.

This theory is speculative and not empirical for even if God had created one species through another, still there are no transitional forms to show that this had actually happened.

Pope Benedict XVI warned that ‘God cannot be used simply to explain away the problems’ (reported in the New Zealand Catholic, 22 April 2007, 9).

First parents real

The other point raised was the story of Adam and Eve as being a parable and not history. This view goes against the evidence in the bible.

Genesis 1 and 2 present Adam and Eve as actual persons and even narrate the important events in their lives. They gave birth to literal children who did the same: Gen 4 to 5.

The phrase ‘This is an account/record/generation of’ is used to record later history in Genesis and Chronicles 1:1. Jesus is recorded as Adam’s descendant in Luke 3:38.

Jesus referred to Adam and Eve as the first literal ‘male and female’, making their physical union the basis of marriage (Mt 19:4).

Paul referred to Adam as a real person (1 Tim 2:13-14). He also compared Adam ‘the first Adam’ with Christ ‘the last Adam’ in 1 Cor. 15:45.

If this were not so, there would have been no point in Christ’s redeeming us because of an act of a mythological figure. And original sin would arise only from a monogenism (and not polygenism) situation.

Genesis: a theology of creation

Kieran Fenn fms

In a library we do not find the bible, or Genesis, under a section marked science. It is in a section marked religious lore. Yet the creation of the world by God as inspired truth is conveyed by the opening chapters of the book.

Again the point is made that these chapters are to point out the who of creation, not the how of creation. The latter question belongs to the fields of science, and no initial writer of Genesis had the faintest notion of evolution or any other theory of creation.

The one theological point being made is that God was the creator of all the world, and did it, in the first story, through God’s all-creating Word.

Evolution debate separate

I leave the scientific debate to scientists, with the caution that while evolution answers many questions, it is not a complete account. With Pope John Paul II, I believe it is more than a theory, and I regard it as God’s most likely means of creation.

Yet I regard that debate as a separate issue from a discussion on the Book of Genesis according to approach of current Catholic biblical scholarship. This begins with Pius XII’s dictum in Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943), paragraph 35, which urges the determination of the modes of writing which the ancients ‘would likely use, and did use’. 

The use of history and the sciences of archeology, ethnology, and other sciences, are to be drawn on in helping us understand the approach from the viewpoint of the ancients. It is not for the purpose of imposing our own contemporary viewpoints.

Issues of evolution, biology, etc are irrelevant to the text; it is theology, not history, that we are dealing with. The richness of seeing Adam and Eve as representative of every man and woman, makes their story both particular and universal.

Their story unfolds in a land beyond this world and at a time outside of history. It is the story of the beginning of life and the foreboding of death, of belonging and of alienation, of innocence and of sin. As a story about beginnings, it has been traditionally used to explain some of the fundamental questions of human existence.

An imaginative story

Adam is a collective noun (human being); in the first creation account, ‘male and female’ are the terms used; in the second, ‘Adam and Eve’. Several features mark the story as imaginative rather than factual. Dust was ’adama, the reddish clay of the earth. Many other features I have outlined in the articles.

Genesis is a theological and literary attempt to answer some of the most important questions of origins. Scientific issues are not part of the text or the consciousness of the writer.

As to the issue of Jesus’ reference to Adam and Eve, the Church faced this issue several years ago, in the document ‘On the Historical Truth of the Gospels’ (1964).

(Jesus) followed the mode of reasoning and of exposition which were in vogue at the time. He accommodated himself to the mentality of his listeners.


Clearly then, Jesus took on the mind and mentality of his day, the meaning of the great hymn on the self-emptying of Philippians 2:5-11, the kenosis.

The reference to Jesus is not an argument for the historical existence of Adam and Eve. It is an argument for the incarnation as Jesus having the mind and understanding of his own day, including its cosmology.

Ecclesiastical view

In 1993 the highest biblical authority in the Catholic Church (The Pontifical Biblical Commission) published a document entitled The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church. It contains both an address by Pope John Paul II and a preface from the then Cardinal Ratzinger. I would draw your attention to the following statements (III.A):

As regards Catholic exegesis, the risk is that of attributing to biblical texts a meaning which they do not contain but which is the product of a later development…

You may well be right in your scientific understandings, but as the product of later scientific developments they are not relevant to the issue of a text that reflects the understanding of an earlier historical period.

The texts of the bible are the expression of religious traditions which existed before them 

(see the above point). My approach which is consistent with Catholic commentaries such as the New Jerome Bible Commentary or the Collegeville Bible Commentary, is first to explore the meaning a text had in order to draw out its spiritual application. When we know, as well as we can, what a text meant, then we can validly draw out what a text means.

Fundamentalism treated

Nor is the document soft on the problem of fundamentalism (Point F):

Fundamentalism seeks to escape any closeness of the divine and the human. It refuses to admit that the inspired Word of God has been expressed in human language and that this Word has been expressed, under divine inspiration, by human authors possessed of limited capacities and resources.

The point, precisely, is how any of the human authors could have had the faintest notion of the scientific points you raise.  The text goes on to say:

It fails to recognise that the Word of God has been formulated in language and expression conditioned by various periods. It pays no attention to the literary forms and to the human ways of thinking to be found in the biblical texts.  It accepts the literal reality of an ancient, out-of-date cosmology, simply because it is found expressed in the bible.

Three creation accounts

Lest you think I have not paid sufficient attention to the divine influence behind the text of Genesis, I accept completely the truth made in the document on revelation, Dei Verbum, that

the scriptures teach firmly, faithfully, and without error, the truths essential for human salvation.

I believe the point made in the Genesis creation accounts is that God is the creator. The how of creation is the domain of scientists. The who of creation is the point of Genesis.

The excellent Lenten sermons of Cardinal Ratzinger, available on the internet, remind us that there are at least three creation accounts in the bible, all reflecting an adaptation to different historical eras and audiences. Googling ‘Ratzinger’ and ‘Genesis’ will bring up on the web the position that I firmly align myself with in terms of contemporary Catholic Biblical scholarship.