The relation of creation

You never stop learning, do you? I have had to reach my eighth decade to encounter a Catholic who believes that Genesis stands as an historical account of how the world came into being. I had thought, in my innocence, that this was a perverse position held by some eccentric Americans Protestants of a fundamentalist temperament. Now such Catholics leap out at me – not only from the pages of this newspaper, but on Second Sight Blog and in direct correspondence.

We shall of course avoid another Galileo incident, where the refusal of the Church establishment to accept the scientific evidence long after it had been soundly established has caused great scandal and is still used as an effective brickbat today.

We avoid it because the Church has not condemned evolution. Darwin’s work was never put on the Index of Prohibited Books. And Pius XII, John Paul II and our present Pope have accepted the compatibility of scientific evolutionary theory with our beliefs, with a caveat against regarding it as an explanation for the whole of reality, and in particular, the direct creation of the soul. Science and religion, each working in their proper spheres, can do nothing but bring us closer to our understanding of the truth

It may be as well to start by saying that biological evolution is simply a matter of well-evidenced fact. Much stronger evidence than Galileo was in a position to produce for his discoveries at the time. It is not merely a question of Darwin, but confirmed by geology, palaeontology, biology (including cell biology), the fossil record, and nowadays by the great steps we have made in the study of DNA.

Of course there are numerous gaps – which is hardly surprising given that we are often talking about events which occurred hundreds of millions of years ago. And the Darwinian mechanism, important though it was and continues to be, is far from the only mechanism at work. As indeed Darwin himself suspected that it would be.

The experts argue about many important details, and will no doubt do so for generations to come. But the arguments are not about whether or not evolution is true – that is already established – it is about questions of mechanism, the pace of development, or the placing of creatures in the right position and sequence. How the first life began remains an outstanding problem. Moreover, scientists are sometimes given to triumphalism or stretching their evidence to pontificate on matters beyond the necessary limits of their discipline. This is not a fault unknown in other areas.

And so we come to the Genesis account of creation. We know that it is both inspired yet cannot be a historical account. It stands in the same position as the biblical belief that the sun goes round the earth. So its truth must lie deeper. To attempt to claim its historicity is a cause of scandal. St Augustine (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim) warned us against such ”foolish opinions” which would endanger the credibility of our true doctrines in the eyes of the world.

 It has been urged that until recently two millennia of Christian tradition has treated the Genesis account as literally true. Can we really have been wrong all that time? Moreover, Christ himself clearly shared this view, when he must certainly have known that it was erroneous. But this is a false inference from Christ’s possession of two natures. There is insoluble mystery here of course, but Christ’s knowledge through his human nature was human knowledge. Much, as he tells us, was revealed to him by his Father, but what we know of that was, by definition, transmitted in human concepts. We have no more reason to suppose that he understood evolution in his human nature than that he might have given us a quick lecture on quantum mechanics sitting up from his cradle.

I am no exegete, but I see the Genesis account as a poetic story. Pius XII speaks of “metaphorical language”. Its real truths lie behind the narrative account – which was merely the form in which such truths were communicated in the culture of the time. We have to look behind the accidental form to find the substance.

And the substance starts with God creating the world out of emptiness (tohu in Hebrew). So we learn that God is the source of existence but, in himself, standing outside what he has created. Of all created things, one is pre-eminent: humankind – the only creature given his image and likeness. The account continues (apparently derived from a different source) and speaks of God as craftsman (yatsar) rather than creator (bara’). So God is active in the construction of the world. The fuller account of the fashioning of Eve out of Adam tells us symbolically of the essential complementarity of the first couple to be expressed in their becoming one.

I could continue, but I hope I have shown that, understood in its substantial truth, we are told nothing that either confirms or conflicts with evolution. It is however just at this point that we meet the question of whether we are descended from one couple or from more. Pius XII tells us “it is in no way apparent” how polygenism can be reconciled with the doctrine of original sin. But, from a faith perspective, this is not a problem. No doubt we should return to it if science, and this seems highly unlikely, could demonstrate incontrovertibly that polygenism was necessary. Pius XII’s wise phrasing did not rule out the possibility of a reconciliation. The essential history of salvation will remain intact.

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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50 Responses to The relation of creation

  1. Malteser says:


    The perverse position of those eccentric Americans is actually very close to the Catholic position – and certainly far closer to it than neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory. We both believe that the world and all its plants and animals, including mankind, was created by God. In contrast, the neo-Darwinist believes that God – if He exists at all – had absolutely nothing to do with it: in the neo-Darwinian view, He is utterly superfluous.

    The real difference between us and our Protestant brethren is that, whilst they are not afraid or ashamed to proclaim the fundamental Christian belief in special creation, we are. There are, I think, three reasons for this craven reticence on our part. First, as I mentioned in a previous post, we have been so traumatised by the Galileo affair that we are terrified of voicing any opinion that appears to conflict with current scientific orthodoxy.

    Secondly, we are largely uninterested in ‘origins’ questions, and are therefore unaware of the hopeless inadequacy of the neo-Darwinian model as an explanatory tool when faced with the extraordinary complexity and variety of life on Earth.

    Thirdly, we seem to be acting under the misapprehension that we can somehow reconcile our beliefs with the neo-Darwinian view. We cannot: the latter renders (or purports to render) God utterly superfluous to the development of life. The sooner we recognise this, and start saying so, the better.

    The key to mobilising the Catholic faithful on this issue is persuading them that ‘special creation’ isn’t unscientific or irrational, and that, in fact, the scientific evidence supports it. I’d like to say a bit more on that but I’m getting tired so it will have to wait!


  2. Thanks, Malteser. Good strong stuff, and just what we want.
    My column immediately followed by your comment gives a good picture of the differences. Let charitable battle commence!

  3. AMDG says:

    At the risk of creating a tangent at too early a stage in the debate, might it be relevant at this point to consider “miracles”?

    I say this because unlike our Protestant brethren who seem to see God acting directly in the world all the time (for example by infusing faith into the predestined person so as to allow that person to be justified), and thus have no difficulty with seeing Creation as a direct act of God, we Catholics are rather different. We see God’s “routine” actions in the material world as always taking place through secondary causes (Providence) and in line with the physical laws of the Universe. On those occasions where God seems to suspend the laws of physics we refer to these occasions as miracles. Now as Catholics we do not often talk of Creation as a miracle beyond the first bit (Big Bang “something out of nothing” etc.) Instead we are accustomed to seeing it as a classic example of God’s Providence acting through secondary causes which probably explains why we don’t see Evolution as such a problem.
    Sorry if this is a red herring.

  4. Malteser says:


    I’m no theologian but I’m not sure that that’s true.

    Don’t Catholics place great emphasis on prayer to a large extent because we believe that God answers our prayers and, in so doing, intervenes in the world? And don’t Protestants – at least those of a Calvinist persuasion – tend to take the view that, because your fate has already been determined by God, there is little point in this type of ‘petitionary’ prayer? Also, don’t Catholics believe in God infusing us with divine grace? And forgiving us our sins every time we go to Confession?

    The danger with the evolutionary approach is that, even where it does not render God entirely superfluous, it is almost deist in its emphasis on secondary causes.

    The trouble with the idea of God as a giant, remote clock-maker who simply winds up the universe and then waits to see what happens is that it allows for the possibility that humanity might not have come into existence at all. How can we square that with our view of mankind as the summit of creation; or with our belief that God deliberately willed male and female in order that His creatures should somehow replicate the mutual love of the Trinity; or that He wanted us to be intelligent enough to discern right from wrong, and to know Him and love Him? If we believe this to be true, we cannot simultaneously endorse neo-Darwinian theory – it really is that simple.

  5. AMDG says:


    Interesting points you raise and I think my answer is we ought to distinguish between how God acts directly in the spiritual realm by which His grace acts directly on our souls (for example through the sacraments) and how he acts directly in the physical realm. Indeed even in answer to petitionary prayer God rarely does this by acting directly on the physical matter of the Universe, and if he does we call that a miracle. Otherwise if the world was being constantly changed PHYSICALLY by act of God it would very quickly be a world we did not recognise. Petitionary prayer asks for God’s Providence to guide the world in a particular way or to bring about a particular outcome. My point is that is outcome is invariably brought about by secondary causes (frequently by human co-operation) and when it is not we call it a miracle.

    You are quite correct about the Calvinist approach to petitionary prayer and perhaps on reflection my example of God directly granting faith is a bad one since it is of course spiritual (Luther thought the flesh was absolute filth and worthless). Catholics on the other hand see Creation and the flesh as guided at all times by Divine Providence and this is the key point. God is not a remote watchmaker, rather His Providence keeps the entire Universe in being at every moment and guides it through time (in statu viae) or in a state of journeying as the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it. Perhaps it is better to say that Protestant theologians, because they have never really considered enfleshed man as truly co-operating with God through grace, have not tended to consider this point as much as Catholic ones.

  6. If you can’t understand what I am saying here, put it down to the fact that I have explained inadequately something that is very difficult to explain. But I think we are all in danger of creating false antitheses.
    When we speak about God’s actions or his attributes we have, by definition, to use human concepts. We are right to do so because there is no alternative and indeed Scripture, even the words of Jesus, has to do so. But the danger is that we are fooled into thinking that we can say something literal about God, whereas we actually know nothing of his nature directly, but only symbolically or metaphorically. Thus to say that God is infinitely powerful sounds quite rational until we consider that we are talking about human power, which is necessarily finite, and then describing it as infinite – a concept which we have no means of grasping.
    It was this consideration which led Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish philosopher, to approach the idea of God not in terms of what he is but rather in what he is not. Everything that we know through experience is finite and therefore cannot tell us directly about God. His, power, his knowledge, even his personal nature do not correspond to our human equivalents. He is not a human being writ large, but altogether other.
    There is a hint of this otherness when Moses asks his name. And he replies “I am who am.”. Later in Exodus we are asked “Who can see God and live?” and then the parallel in St John when Jesus refers directly to his divine nature, “Before Abraham was, I am.”
    So, when we discuss how God created the world and its species, whether by direct fiat, or through an evolutionary methodology, we find ourselves unconsciously thinking of a Person deciding to act in this way or that. What else can we do? But unless we bear in the back of our minds that we actually know nothing about the workings of the divine nature, we get ourselves into the tangles of trying to explain the infinite through the finite. The best we can say, and that is poor enough, is that there is nothing which exists or can exist that is not brought about and sustained by God.
    PS For Malteser. You advert, at least by implication, to difficulties in the scientific explanation of evolution. It would help me if you were to list these for me so that I can address them in a column. I don’t need anything at length (I think I am familiar with most of the ‘problems’, but I want to be sure that I haven’t missed anything.) It would be good to list them in the Blog – so that others can add – but if you would prefer to email me directly, that’s fine.

  7. tim says:


    The paragraph which opens your rebuttal of Quentin is fine, as far as it goes. ‘Darwinists’ see no need for God as an explanation of the mechanism of speciation – and go on (some of them) to say that means there’s no need for God at all – He doesn’t explain anything. But surely Catholics can accept the first step without being compelled to take the second? I can’t understand why I and Quentin must be wrong to see evolution as the mechanism by which God brings species into existence. Can you explain?

    Also I have trouble with how you feel Genesis should be understood. It’s not all to be read literally, surely? St Jerome, I’ve heard it said (not the most authoritative reference) referred to Genesis as a ‘story’. Is it just in the special creation of Man that you see God as acting directly, or is it broader than that? No doubt there are difficulties and gaps in evolutionary theory: but it is such a powerful explanation of so many things that it is asking a great deal to set it aside as erroneous, rather than incomplete.

    Clearly Protestant literalists are far closer to the fundamental truths of religion than Darwinist sceptics, but those sceptics (surely) have a better grasp of biopaleontology?

  8. tim says:

    AMDG – on Miracles, I recommend C.S.Lewis’s book of that title – unless (unlike me) you are a professional philosopher or theologian.

  9. Malteser says:


    Thanks. That’s an interesting point and I’m sure you’re right. But, at the risk of becoming tediously repetitive, isn’t the problem with the neo-Darwinian view that it does not accept that God is ultimately responsible for bringing about and sustaining different species? Do they not apply Occam’s razor and argue that there is no need to invoke God when there is a perfectly satisfactory naturalistic explanation? And isn’t that why the likes of Professor Dawkins believe that Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist?

    I’m no scientist but the main problems (as far as I know) are the age of the earth (4.5 thousand million years is not long enough to get from amoeba to mankind via the Darwinian process); the gaps in the fossil record; the Cambrian explosion; the problem of irreducible complexity (see Dr Michael Behe); specified complex (information) in organic systems (see Dr Bill Dembski); the failure of experiments in selective breeding to create new species; the DNA record (similar species often have very different DNA sequences, whereas very different ones can be quite similar – see Dr Morris Goodman); the statistical improbability (impossibility) of life being created from non-life; the problem alluded to by our friend on the other evolution thread – that, in practice, rate of reproduction has nothing to do with ability to survive.

    Others will no doubt think of some more!


  10. claret says:

    Perhaps if we viewed Genesis as science instead of ‘ a story for children’ or those of ‘simple understanding’ we might begin to recognise that God has given a full account of creation that if we just read it, and heard it, and studied it, and recognise it as the word of God, then we wouldn’t try to endlessly complicate something because we refuse to believe in what God has told us!
    To be branded as some kind of mindless fundamentalist because you believe in the word of God over a multitude of scientists and theorists is little more than arrogant intellectual bullying.
    Time is a human measure and meaningless to God. He decided what a ‘day’ was and not man, and he named it so. (It’s in Genesis.)
    If Genesis is such a ‘simple explanation’ for ‘simple minds’ why did it need to be so complex that it actually follows the way of the created world as we now know it does?
    To jettison Genesis as some kind of beautiful story to explain in metaphorical terms something that we consider ourselves to be far too intelligent to believe in eats away at the truth of all scripture.

  11. Iona says:

    Malteser – and Quentin – Yes, I’ve thought of at least two more.

    Darwinian evolution depends on mutations, but has anyone actually observed any USEFUL mutations taking place? Haemophilia is brought about by a spontaneous mutation which is then inherited, but I can’t imagine any circumstances in which it would be adaptive, and left to itself it would probably disappear in a few generations as those males afflicted would rarely survive to adulthood (yes, I know about the carrier females, but only half their children – the daughters – would survive and of them only half would be carriers themselves so the gene would tend to become scarce). Examples of useful mutations, please, – as opposed to mere genetic variability e.g. of height or skin colour or of the dark-light patterns on peppered moths.

    Different species have different numbers of chromosomes. While I can accept that a gene may mutate, leading to a new characteristic appearing in the animal or plant that has that gene, how can a whole new chromosome appear (or an existing one disappear) – which must happen if species evolve from one another? Extra chromosomes do crop up in human beings, and mostly they’re lethal, a few exceptions (which can survive) being people with Down Syndrome, and people with extra X or Y chromosomes, – but they don’t tend to reproduce, and I’m not sure if they can; and they’re certainly not well-adapted to survive. Some plants can survive with double or triple the normal number of chromosomes, but not reproduce naturally, only through cloning (I think this is the case with tulips).

  12. Malteser says:

    Thanks Tim.

    I agree: even if you devise a scientific theory that can explain something without reference to God, that does not mean that you have to stop believing in God, or that God does not exist. But it makes it an awful lot harder to persuade unbelievers of His existence, and I suspect that it seriously undermines the faith of many believers.

    I also agree that it is possible, as a Catholic, to believe that God used evolution as the mechanism for creating different species. But I do not believe that it is possible to be a Catholic and believe that that process was neo-Darwinian, i.e. natural selection based on random mutations. This is simply because, according to this view, mankind was not willed into existence by God, but is, rather, the accidental product of blind forces.

    Finally, I think that there are huge problems with evolutionary theory – not just gaps in our knowledge. Apart from the fossil record, the main one, I think, is that the almost unimaginably complex, inter-dependent machines that comprise living cells cannot be accounted for through a gradual, evolutionary process.

    Sorry to have gone on so long and for the repetition.


    Re the Genesis account, I may be mistaken but I believe that one of the popes cautioned against dismissing it as a fairy tale. It is divinely-inspired Sacred Scripture, so it must be true, but I accept that this does not necessarily mean that everything must be understood literally. For example, one of the creation accounts implies that God did not realise that Adam would be lonely on his own, and that Eve was His belated response to that oversight!

  13. Malteser and Iona
    Thank you very much for your list of ‘problems’. They will be very helpful to me for examination in future columns. What I am trying to do, during this year, is to alternate between evolution columns and other. more general, ones, since I have to bear all readers in mind in the paper itself. But that shouldn’t stop any discussion taking place here.
    I just want to deal with a couple of Iona’s points here since I cannot see a way to fit answers into a column.
    1) The changing of chromosome numbers. This is not easy to explain simply because this occurs in different ways but I think you will find helpful here.
    2) Evidence of mutations which have led to good adaptations. Where would like me to start, there are so many? But just as examples, you might like to start with Darwin’s finches where the type of beak mutated according to the type of food available in their environment. Then, remembering that homo sapiens emerged in rather small numbers from Africa, which gave us a homogeneous gene pool, we have to account for adaptive mutations which have nevertheless taken place. Just one example. Native Africans tend to have flared nostrils. This has the effect of cooling the air before it is taken into the lungs. Northerners tend to have much narrower nostrils to achieve the opposite effect.
    But I expect you’ll come back and tell that that is not what you were asking…!
    Just on another point, relating to others’ remarks. Those who wrote Genesis were certainly not simple people. The Pentateuch is highly sophisticated in its literary form (which is not easy to see in translation). And many of the basic knowledge concepts on which western civilisation has depended came though that area.
    But their culture was very different. Nor of course did they have access to modern scientific methods of studying the past. We have the task of interpreting through our culture the truths they were expressing in their culture.

  14. claret says:

    You might have finches with different types of beaks but are they mutations? Didn’t Darwin concede that his theory lacked any substantial fossil evidence to support the ‘mutatation’ element?
    Where are the ‘in between species’ that owe there survival to mutations.
    Lions can be mated with a Tiger to produce a Tigon. Tigons cannot re-produce themselves.
    Snakes have been seen with two heads. Might be useful to be able to strike at two heels instead of one but they have yet to re-produce themselves.
    Genesis gives us a perfect order in the way of created things long before the science would be known.
    What an amazing co-incidence.
    Eve an afterthought? At least she was created separate to the animals.

  15. Iona says:

    Thank you, Claret, you took the words out of my mouth. What I meant was, has anybody observed a mutated gene which has given rise to a useful characteristic, not has anybody observed useful characteristics which may (perhaps) be assumed to be the result of spontaneous mutations.

  16. I would endorse Horace’s link, which is in English. I have read it with great profit. I think it will interest Claret particularly.

    Iona, I think I am simply misunderstanding your question, in view of the abundant evidence. Can you re-phrase it somehow.

  17. jimc says:

    just as an introduction and short opening shot re Adam naming the animals.Obviously as stated in Genesis there were then only a few kinds and so easily and quickly named.Here it is important to ask were Dinosaurs in the queue.It is widely accepted that they existed millions of years before man[Adam].If,however, they were in the queue,then as accepted by creationists and scriptures they coexisted as herbivores. If they were not in the queue then humans existed before Dinosaurs – jimc

  18. jimc says:

    I think it behoves us as Catholics to consult and rely on our Catholic experts and specialists and in this wise I would suggest support and reliance for – It now seems that we no longer have anything to fear re the Galileo incident since the Church and Scriptures were right after all.How could it be otherwise we may ask,so whilst at the website suggested search for “Galileo was wrong”- more later – jimc

  19. jimc says:

    Galileo was wrong and the Church was right after all and the Church has not accepted evolutionary theory as fact and forbids it being accepted or taught as fact even though this admonition is widely glossed over or ignored.Creationists would disagree that “evolution is simply a matter of well-evidenced fact.It is, it seems,by no means confirmed by geology[as the geological column does not exist except in text books],palaeontology,biology or the fossil records or DNA and the world is not hundreds of millions of years old.Evolution is not true and is not already well established[macro vs micro and spontaneous generation etc] – it seems that whilst the sun is the center of the solar system,the earth is the centre of the universe.It is it appears that it is Evolutionism that endangers the credibility of our true doctrines in the eyes of the world – jimc

  20. jimc says:

    most scientists, imho,it seems would regard Adam and Eve,Noah”s Ark,global flood etc as fairy tales told us as children but unacceptable to adults.Over 2000years ago and nearer the events these were accept as factual by Christ and His Apostles.In the case of Christ,did He make a grave mistake and deadly error attempting to undo that which a myth did not do anyway.Here we may well ask should our Catholic scientists and School and Church teachers accept and teach that which most scientists accept and teach etc – jimc

  21. With regards to jimc’s comments, people may like to read the Church’s position at JPII’s address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. It’s brief, and extremely clear.

  22. jimc says:

    Ref JPII”s address it should be noticed it is addressed to atheist evolutionists,in the main.However good it may or may not be,it is not an infallible prouncement or guide.In this wise I have already advised recourse to Catholic experts and specialists at These experts and specialists wereanted a personal audience with our present Pope who was Cardinal Ratzinger who it seems was advised evolution and million of years was a fact and he accepted this since it takes millions of years for coal and oil to form. It seems with due reverence it was pointed out to him that this could be accomplised in a few hours in the laboratory and months in nature given the right conditions,read all about it at – btw they will also produce “Humani Generis” in its entirety and not just chosen snippets etc – jimc

  23. I think that jimc and I have such a different attitude to the assessment of evidence that it is not profitable for the two of us to continue this exchange. But if others have points to make, please do so. Quentin

  24. Iona says:

    Quentin – re your 10th March request –

    When I mentioned observing a mutation, I meant observing a gene, and a mutated version of it, directly – a thing which people could not do until relatively recently and certainly not at the time when different groups of people were developing variations in skin colour and nostril width. At the moment we’re just assuming that adaptive changes are due to natural selection operating on random mutations (at least, that – I think – is what Darwinians and their heirs are assuming). I want to know whether anyone has observed a gene, in an individual animal, which is considered a “standard” one, and then observed that in one or more of the offspring of that animal the gene is no longer standard but has spontaneously changed (presumably mutated), AND that this change has been of adaptive or potentially adaptive benefit to the offspring. (One would need to have observed the gene in both parents, I suppose, to be sure the offspring had a mutated gene rather than inheriting an existing variant). As far as I know, the only spontaneous mutations that have been observed in genes are mutations which give rise to problems for the individuals carrying them, – such as cystic fibrosis or haemophilia; or, where the mutation has occurred during ordinary cell division rather than meiosis, to tumours.

    If the only mutations observed are deleterious ones, it does rather suggest that adaptation via random spontaneous genetic mutation does not account very well for the extraordinary variety of life forms, their adaptation to any but the most hostile of environments, and the ability of living creatures to adapt to environmental changes.

  25. jimc says:

    Re Science in our Schools see – also move to R/H Margin and click on 1/A scientific critique of evolution.2/On the word of no one – jimc

  26. jimc says:

    Re Science in our Schools -see -jimc

  27. Iona, you are of course right in saying that most mutations are harmful or neutral. But beneficial mutations there are undoubtedly are. However the term is misleading because a mutation is only relative to the environment. Thus the variation in Darwin’s finches are only beneficial in the environments in which they live.
    Another example is the gene for sickle celled anaemia. This is an error in the DNA code in a gene which forms haemoglobin. It is particularly prevalent in parts of Africa where malaria is common because its ability to give protection against malaria outweighs the damage of anaemia. In England the opposite would be true.
    The results of beneficial mutations are to be seen everywhere, but their actual occurrence is difficult to observe, partly because of their infrequency but also because you would have to observe the life cycle and probably successive generations to confirm that there was a true hereditary advantage. But of course observation has been carried out with bacteria and viruses as they mutate rapidly to survive hostile environments, like our immune systems. It’s a good mutation for them if not for us.
    But be grateful. If you had stuck at the level of the first hominid ancestor you would have very small brain, and long arms for climbing trees. You might have been bipedal but probably rather awkwardly so. So be grateful for mutation, and the other mechanisms of evolution, about which I hope to write more in due course.

  28. jimc says:

    Quentin,excuse my curosity and interest but is sickle cell anemia evolution or extinction.This would,surely,also be the case if the original design experts and specialists with long arms came down from the safety of our presumed family trees – just a thought -imho – btw if monkeys were not amongst the animals named by Adam then,surely,monkeys evolved -God forbid – from man – jimc

  29. Iona says:

    Quentin – mutations in the sense I am using the word are NOT relative to the environment; they are changes in genes which are then passed on to the offspring of the animal/plant carrying that gene. What is relative to the environment is observable physical/behavioral changes, which are assumed (and only assumed) to have been brought about by mutations. It is this assumption that I am questioning. I am not questioning the occurrence of mutations; I am not questioning evolution in the sense that species change over time and either adapt to their environment or perish; all I am questioning is whether random mutation can account for the observed variety and adaptability of living things.

    Yes, I had heard that sickle-cell anaemia was protective against malaria hence adaptive in environments where malaria is rife. But I’ve just looked it up (sickle-cell anaemia, that is) in a medical encyclopaedia and apparently until the 1970s it was almost invariably fatal in early childhood (the gene survived only because it is recessive and was “carried” by people with only a single dose of it). The condition is non-fatal now only because of active medical intervention at frequent intervals throughout the life of the affected person; which suggests it really is not adaptive, even in malaria-ridden environments.

    jimc – evolution in some cases may well lead to extinction, as when a species becomes adapted to a specific environment and then that environment changes faster than the species can evolve. In fact, this is happening constantly, and has speeded-up dramatically in the last few decades because of changes brought about by industrial development.

  30. jimc says:

    Since there is really no real evolution would or could or should disease,dotage,dementia,death and dust really signify evolution – jimc

  31. Iona. now we have your question rather clearer, I think that you will find an implicit answer in the Relation of Creation itself. I write “Of course there are numerous gaps – which is hardly surprising given that we are often talking about events which occurred hundreds of millions of years ago. And the Darwinian mechanism, important though it was and continues to be, is far from the only mechanism at work. As indeed Darwin himself suspected that it would be.”

    One recent estimate I have encountered is that “Darwinian evolution” makes the largest single contribution to the development of species, but is still responsible for less than half since the other mechanisms taken together have the lion’s share. I said in “Evilution?” that I would write more about these mechanisms in due course

    Darwin of course knew nothing of genes or mutations; that understanding only started with Mendel. Darwin’s thesis was based on the observation that species appeared to have adapted in their physical structure to specific environments. He inferred that those specimens which happened through the normal variety of characteristics to be better able to survive and breed, would carry those characteristics on to the next generation, etc.The idea is now obvious, as great ideas frequently turn out to be.

    I don’t understand how you define “favourable mutation” without taking into account the environment in which allows them to be favourable.

    You are right about sickle celled anaemia. Being recessive it has less severe consequences when only one parent has it. It is estimated that upwards of 40% of the population in malaria -ridden Africa has the gene. But I think it reasonable to assume that it is on balance adaptive in that environment, otherwise there would be no population.

  32. jimc says:

    No millions of years = no evolution = thousands of years as age of young earth = see what the Church,the Bible,the Church Fathers and Tradition say = and scroll down L/H margin and click on Science – jimc

  33. jimc says:

    correction website should read – jimc

  34. tim says:

    jimc – you say that Our Lord and the apostles accepted the stories of Adam and Eve and Noah as factual (literally true in all particulars?). What is your basis for that?

    Iona – I’m not understanding your difficulty about sickle-cell anaemia. Genes come in pairs, one from each parent. If both parents carry a single gene for malaria resistance, then of every four children they have, one (on average) will lack any resistance to malaria (and may die in consequence), two will carry one copy of the resistance gene, and one will have sickle-cell anaemia, caused by a double dose (and die without special treatment). Two of the four children survive to reproduce. This is sufficient to make the gene adaptive, where there is a strong risk of malaria.

    Many more mutations are neutral or harmful than beneficial, because mutation is a random process. If you repeatedly throw letter cards on the floor at random, not too many of them make words. But some words form. It seems indeed remarkable that the process works, but it is the result of combining very low probabilities of success with an enormous number of trials.

    Is your problem with the word ‘mutation’, simply because it implies a random change? I would argue that there is no test for true randomness – only a variety of tests for non-randomness. Genes do change, and such changes are associated with changes in the organism carrying the genes – that surely is not in dispute? ‘Scientism’ claims that the changes are purely random, but that (I think) is not susceptible of proof.

  35. jimc says:

    Tim,I do believe both our Lord and His apostles understood and accepted the fact re Adam and Eve “in the beginning created He them – male and female created He them”.Christ is again and again depicted as the second Adam come to undo the harm or damage done by the first Adam.If this Adam was a myth Christ gave his life trying to undo what a myth did not do etc. “as it was in the days of Noah so shall it be at the second coming” etc. “the waters covered even the high mountains and all life that then was perished save Noah and those in the ark” etc as for proof re global flood millions of dead things buried in sedimentary rock layers all over the earth etc – jimc

  36. Iona says:

    Tim – are you telling me that having even just one copy of the gene for sickle-cell anaemia conveys some protection against malaria? – I had thought the gene was a recessive one, but from what you say it looks as though it is not fully recessive. Do people with the mixed inheritance (one sickle-cell gene, one normal) have a mixture of normal red blood cells and sickle cells? Or do they have all normal red cells and merely carry a gene for sickle cells?

    No, I am not disputing that genes change/mutate, and that if a gene in an ovum or sperm has mutated this will result in observable changes in the next generation (e.g. haemophilia, sickle-cell anaemia). It just seems incredible that random changes in genes can account for the evolution of all the different species that there are and have been, particularly as the mutations we can recognise in the genes themselves so often seem anti-adaptive.

    jimc – Couldn’t “the first Adam” just be a convenient way of referring to “the earliest human beings”?

  37. jimc says:

    Iona – the short answer is no.Scripture says by one man sin and death entered the world so also the remedy for sin and death came by one man etc – btw polygenism is absolutely taboo to the Church – jimc

  38. RMBlaber says:

    I think we do have a bit of an unacknowledged problem in that Christian soteriology (theology of salvation) does depend, logically, on there having been a Fall, and that does tend to point towards the literal, as opposed to metaphorical or symbolic, truth of the Genesis 2:4-3 story (the Yahwist Creation Story, which is considerably older than the Genesis 1-2:3 story, the Priestly Creation Story, derived from the Babylonian Enuma Elish, and dating from the Post-Exilic period.)
    The Darwinian theory – that speciation is the result of the natural or environmental selection of random mutations – is simply unacceptable to a Christian. There is nothing ‘random’ about our Universe, or about our world. It is the product of Design, and the Designer is still hard at work. The truth of this is embodied in the very mathematics of the Universe, and is certainly made plain enough in Scripture.

  39. Iona says:

    jimc – This may be nit-picking, but the Genesis account does NOT describe sin and death entering the world “by one man”, but by one man and one woman. NT writers, and later Christian writers, talk about the original sin of Adam, but obviously they knew that Eve was implicated too; so presumably they ARE using the term “Adam” to refer to the original humans, not just to one named person.

  40. jimc says:

    Oh no Iona – God gave the orders and instructions to Adam,so he was in charge and responsible and it was from him that God demanded an explanation “Adam where art thou”- Man was always regarded as head of the woman as St. Paul clearly states-Adam was the son of God[Lk.3:28]whilst Eve was not the daughter of God.This is why women cannot be Priests,and moreover man carries male and female genes and hence represents not just mankind but humankind – jimc

  41. Iona, you don’t seem to have received an answer to your query about the recessive gene for sickle-celled anaemia. Trust you to bowl a googly. “Sickle-cell anaemia is also considered a recessive condition, but heterozygous carriers have increased immunity to malaria in early childhood, which could be described as a related dominant condition.” Make of that last sentence what you wish – I have just copied it from Wiki. “heterozygous” means, roughly, two types of gene occupying the same position.

    You are brave in taking on the Adam and Eve position. Adam means “coming from the earth”, and could arguably be styled a general type name rather than an individual.

    Ironically, if we are to follow jimc’s genes argument we would have to deal with the fact that the y chromosome is a denatured form of the X chromosome. This would suggest that Eve came first, and that Adam was a result of mutations (good or bad?) of the female gene. Some scientist predict that the y chromosome, which is susceptible to mutation because it has no pair to support it, will eventually disappear altogether. Take consolation, if it happens within human history we shall have women priests, because there won’t be any men.

    I think it would be possible to square polygenism with salvation history, despite the scriptural use of “by one man”. But it would be highly speculative.

  42. jimc says:

    Here we clearly have just one of the reasons why Christianity and evolution are not compatible and in fact absolutely incompatible – jimc

  43. tim says:

    Quentin, by theoretical genetic engineering you might make a woman from a man, given that a man has an X and a Y chromosome and a woman has two Xs. But this seems only slightly less speculative than the reverse. As to men dying out, that is highly speculative, if not beyond all conjecture. Let’s not worry about it before it happens (has it happened in other species? Greenfly?). Let us never never doubt What nobody is sure about. I am more sanguine than you about polygenism, because I take it as a principle that the Bible is not an alternative source of scientific knowledge.

    jimc, I disagree with you. I concede that your idea of Christianity may not be compatible with your understanding of evolution, but I am not convinced that the essential teachings of the Catholic Church necessarily conflict with the priniciples of evolution that are reasonably well established. In my mind, this is just as well – if they did, it would make it very much more difficult to evangelise scientists.

  44. tim says:

    I see BBC2 has a programme on at 7 pm tomorrow evening (31 March) “Did Darwin kill God?”. Apparently their answer will be No: with quotations from the Church Fathers.

  45. Tim, of course you’re right. In the BBC Radio 4 programme in which this was discussed the point made by the experts was that the existence of 2 Xs in the female helps them to eradicate the effects of mutations. But the Y chromosome has no pair and so is more susceptible. It was then suggested that at some far distant point this vulnerability might lead to the Y chromosome failing to function. But I think it will see us out!

    It was Pius XII who raised the difficulty of reconciling polygenism with salvation history. But seems so unlikely that polygenism could be demonstrated as necessary by science that it’s unlikely to be an issue.

    I agree that Genesis is not an alternative source of scientific knowledge, any more than science is a source of metaphysical knowledge.

  46. Vincent says:

    “”It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation.”

    Who wrote that and when? The answer is St Augustine in 408AD. (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1:19–20, Chapt. 19 [AD 408])

    Who wrote that God created the world on the evening of 22 October BC 4004? Bishop Ussher, a Protestant archbishop in 1650. He calculated it from following genealogies in the Bible.

    The idea that Genesis is a literal historical account grew out out the Reformation not out of Catholicism (although there have been times when Catholicism forgot this – and it proved ruinous as Augustine foretold.)

    Thanks to Tim for leading me to “Did Darwin Kill God” BBC2″ I had to listen to it on BBC Playback, where I think it still (just) is.

  47. tim says:

    Vincent, what a splendid quotation! Many thanks! St Augustine also suggests that God created time as well as matter, and for this he often gets credit from popularising cosmologists. But do not expect to see Professor Dawkins quoting St Augustine any time soon.

  48. pnyikos says:

    Note to Iona: I have read that the reason one copy of the gene is beneficial against malaria and two copies are disastrous is explained like this.

    When you have one copy, the red blood cells ordinarily only go into the sickle cell mode if they are invaded by the malaria organism. Then the organism dies because its supply of oxygen is curtailed.

    But when there are two copies, other stimuli are enough to cause the corpuscles to go into sickle cell mode, and anemia is the outcome.

  49. Iona says:

    I came back to this series of comments because I wanted to quote something I have just read, which seems relevant to the earlier discussion of mutations; and discovered that the series of comments has gone on developing while my back was turned.

    Pnyikos: thank you very much; that makes perfect sense to me.

    Tim: – I was particularly interested to read what you say about St. Augustine and the creation of time, as I’ve just put a comment elsewhere in this blog about the Genesis account of creation as it relates to the origin of Time.

    Back to mutations: “How could a mutation, biologists asked, not have some consequences either for good or for ill? Yet we now know that most amino acid substitutions caused by mutations appear to have no consequences for the vitality or viability of the organism”. (Jerome Kagan, in “Three Seductive Ideas”). This seems to me to be the exact converse of what I was trying to express further up the page, i.e. that random changes in genetic material (mutations) are not adequate to account for evolution. If Kagan is right, most mutations have no observable effect at all!

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