Blest if I know

‘Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; the proper study of Mankind is Man,” sang Alexander Pope. And he continues with perhaps the most eloquent description of our fallen natures in the English language. But he didn’t have to contend with scientific studies which come in threes, as I have to do. While I have no difficulty in squaring man’s unique nature with evolution, new information requires new consideration.

The first of my three is our cousin, the common fly. You might think that the central brain region of the fly we swatted on the windowpane this morning would be very different from our own. But in fact the basic ganglia of humans and the central complex of the fly’s brain turn out to have a similar genetic origin and to operate in similar ways. The same neural mechanisms control internal stimuli such as hunger and sleep, and external stimuli such as ambient light or temperature. Even the defects in our brains which can cause disabilities such as schizophrenia or neurodegeneration occur in similar ways.

These characteristics are so alike that scientists tell us that studies of these distant cousins may well help us to understand, and perhaps remedy, human disease. Increasingly, problem conditions are being tackled through the genetic route.

Not everyone will welcome the confirmation of our evolutionary connection to other living species, although the evidence on a larger scale – such as the basic body plan of lower animals – tells us that it must be so. Why did God set about creation in such an indirect way? Blest if I know. And blest if I don’t. I just marvel.

Last year a new set of fossils from Australopithecus Sediba were discovered and Science has just published some studies of this ancestor of ours who lived around the time of the first in the Homo line about two million years ago.

Sediba is of great interest because of its mix of ape and human features – good evidence on an early link to an ancestor. And an important aspect of this evidence is how well a species was adapted to walking: Sediba has a human-like pelvis but a chimpanzee-like foot. The inference is drawn that he (and she) spent more time in the trees, and this is supported by the nature of the arms, but not by the hands which are more human-like. The rib cage was ape-like, and he had a strong and flexible spine. The scientists conclude that “everywhere we look in these skeletons, from the jaws on down to the feet, we see evidence of the transition from australopith to Homo; everywhere we see evidence of evolution”. 

I have taken a personal interest in the work of early Homo because I have a granddaughter studying such things at university. I have been struck, on one hand, by the enormous amount of information discovered and, on the other, at its provisional nature – since fossil remains must be only a tiny sample of our distant ancestry. It is a fast-moving field and I take pleasure in keeping my granddaughter slightly ahead of her tutors.

The “three-parent baby” is back again. Our Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is seeking legal change to enable experiments on human blastocysts (the cellular structure forming about five days after fertilisation). You may remember that the procedure makes use of a third parent’s mitochondrial DNA to replace the faulty version. Existing work shows good progress but there are still a number of difficulties, and so much more experimentation is required.

There are two issues here. The methods envisaged require that the egg and its fertilisation take place outside the reproductive tract – so clearly moral issues concerning the dignity of human reproduction arise. Perhaps of more gravity is the number of fertilised eggs which will inevitably be destroyed. The Catholic position prohibits this. Moreover the prospect of three parents per human is one that sharply raises the ecclesiastical eyebrow. On the other hand, it is clear that faulty mitochondria can cause alarming diseases – from mental impairment to blindness and death. Mitochondrial DNA contributes 37 genes compared with more than 20,000 in the nuclear DNA. Moreover, where nuclear DNA defines personal characteristics, mitochondrial DNA does not. We all inherit our maternal DNA, with no change other than incidental mutations. While technically three parents are involved, the practical reality is that there are only the two unique parents. There might, of course, be legal considerations, although I find it hard to believe that the gift of mitochondrial DNA would form a basis for any parental rights.

Here, with permission, I reproduce a comment made on SecondSight Blog, when this question was first discussed: “This benefit may be a short-term one, and open the way to an acceptance that we are free to do anything we wish with the process of procreation. Imagine the possibility of producing new human beings from, say, skin cells, which have been reprogrammed. Or perhaps producing a hybrid from mating human DNA with animal DNA. Such procedures may look both grotesque and unlikely today. But they are no more grotesque and unlikely than this current procedure would have looked a few years back.”

Wisely said, I think. But it can do no harm to look again, in the light of scientific knowledge and scientific potential, at what we teach – in order to confirm our views and to explain in ways which make our principles clear to both the public and the regulators.


Nervous system of flies.

Australopithecus Sediba

Three-parent families

New Scientist 23 March 2013

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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68 Responses to Blest if I know

  1. St.Joseph says:

    I certainly do not wish to belittle the advance in scientific knowledge, however I cant help but think that all this knowledge will not bring us closer to God.
    As far a learning from the fly new cures for humans whilst we cure old ones new ones will be made known to us, our modern day living can be the cause of lots of diseases, maybe we bring them on our selves with our living standards today.. So much for science!
    God spoke to the prophets in days of old and passed on to us in Scripture-which supposedly ended with Jesus, proclaimed in the New Testament and the Last Gospel of St John.
    If there is a continued message to us as humans- what is it or where do we read it.?
    The first man and women according to Scripture were the apple of Gods eye, in His mind from the beginning His final work of Creation made for Himself.
    What make us believe that we can do better than that and finish Gods work to perfection?
    Just my thoughts for what they are worth!

  2. Nektarios says:

    We all owe a great debt to medical science in particular, but I have noted within the sciences including the Queen of the Sciences, Theology, a very marked departure from from understanding of God’s ways and methods, to man’s ways and methods, and of his/her morality which seems to be absent.

    No matter how one dresses up this scientific fertilization scientific program/research, which is a sop to the public and a smoke screen to Politicians, the beginnings of these modern day experiments and ideas took place within German concentration camps. During the Nuremburg trials, these experiments were viewed as some of the worst atrocities on humanity by other human beings. Those judging these issues were not morally bankrupt, hood-winked, influenced, conditioned to think that such experiments were for the benefit of mankind. As I say, the public are handed this sop and are being hood-winked and conditioned into believing that such experiments are for their benefit because of the sanitized version pumped out by scientists who for the most part do not care what God thinks about anything, or, hate even more, that He operates in His own universe. The scientists (most of them) see God and his laws and imposed morlity as interference and irrelevant in “their” universe where they like to play their petty, limited god games.
    Of course there are Christians within the scientific community, but they are few and far between, just as they are within the political systems around the world, East and West.
    I do not share Quentin’s enthusiasm on evolution as far as man is concerned, nor seem to have a automatic bias towards the scientific approach and scientists. History demonstrates very clearly the road, in some areas that science and the scientists have taken that has proved, so much of science is not in man’s interests at all.
    I will close with this further point for now: The moral bankruptcy of so much medical science, is built on producing fears. They then give the sop, that this or that particular experiments they want to do will bring the results, allaying the fears, offering possible cures that the scientists heightened in the first place.
    I for one, am not so willing to give the scientists the right to experiment on man for their and other interested parties and businesses interests. Beware of the sops!

  3. Horace says:

    I saw a picture of the skeleton of Australopithecus Sediba and indeed at first sight it appears to be a human skeleton but on second sight it is clearly different !!!

    As I have said before :-
    Read Genesis 1; verses 1 to 31, and you have a perfect example of how modern theories of planetary formation and of evolution can be explained to a primitive people (and even perhaps to children today). This is how I was taught as a child in school.

    I have no worries about the idea of evolution as simply the detailed way in which God chose to make the human race.

    The use of mitochondrial DNA is a different matter.
    I am not impressed by “moral issues concerning the dignity of human reproduction”
    – similar arguments were put forward in the early days of organ transplantation – but the “number of fertilised eggs which will inevitably be destroyed” is obviously crucial.
    It might, however, somehow be circumvented. Would it not be possible to use a careful technique in which a fertilised egg was never intentionally destroyed?

    • Nektarios says:

      What you see concerning the outward man, his/her body and so on is only part of the picture of God’s creation of Mankind. What you don’t see, that which is hidden, his spirit and soul is simply too fine for the microscope to see. How these aspects of man are linked together as they are, we don’t know either.

      Does the scientists in the Ferilization and Embryo field think that they have the right to experiment on mankind with their petty fear presentations, so they can get Government and drug Companies to fund their research with the sop to the public, for a few, of letting them have a child of their own?

      Of course scientist, especially modern man ones, are not in the slightest concerned about moral or ethical isues since they have taken the Creator God out of the equasion. The eggs, seed, embryonic material is theirs to play around with and experiment on as they wish.
      Such arguments without a moral and ethical framework are very dangerous.
      Now, they water down the moral and ethical aspects so they can proceed with their experiments with the blessing of a largely agnostic/athestic parliament and greedy drug companies who a rubbing their hands in anticipation of all the profits such research will bring.
      Lastly, Horace, I take exception because I don’t agree with your evoluntionist views/ mantras, theories, call it what you will, I am, by inference, somehow a primitive and a child.
      The research claims much, but that rearch is itself primitive, stumbling, making mistakes and so on. Your great confidence in the process in your posting, to me, is a bit premature.

      • Horace says:


        I sympathise with your emotional commitment on this subject but I can’t help feeling that you overdo it a little.

        I am no way an expert in this field but still – !

        For example:-
        Your comment ” that which is hidden, his spirit and soul is simply too fine for the microscope to see.” although I think that I know what you are getting at, is perhaps a little ‘off target’ – there is a considerable philosophical literature on this subject by Karl Raimund Popper and Sir John Carew Eccles, [whose lectures I have attended when I had the opportunity].

        Apropos your statement “Of course scientists, especially modern man ones, are not in the slightest concerned about moral or ethical issues since they have taken the Creator God out of the equation.” I note the following comment in Wikipedia :-
        Eccles was a devout theist and a sometime Roman Catholic, and is regarded by many Christians as an exemplar of the successful melding of a life of science with one of faith. A biography] states that, “although not always a practising Catholic, Eccles was a theist and a spiritual person, and he believed ‘that there is a Divine Providence operating over and above the materialistic happenings of biological evolution’…”

        Another extract from your comment :-
        “Now, they water down the moral and ethical aspects so they can proceed with their experiments with the blessing of a largely agnostic/atheistic Parliament and greedy drug companies who are rubbing their hands in anticipation of all the profits such research will bring.”
        As it happens I was slightly acquainted with Anne McLaren (“Dolly the Sheep”) and am sure that she in no way resembled your dramatic description. Also I often see on Sundays at Mass in our Parish Church a young man (well younger than me) who is well known and successful in this field, and again I do not think that your description would be an appropriate characterisation.

  4. Quentin says:

    From time to time people write to me as a direct message and not as a contribution to the blog. And often they express a view which I think deserves a mention. In this case I give a shortened and anonymous version from someone – I assume a Catholic Herald reader – commenting on my introductory letter.

    Are you suggesting that we come from apes??? That goes against the teaching of the Catholic Church and also against the writings/teachings of the Church Fathers, Scripture – in fact, everything I believe in.

    I reply: Thank you for writing to me. You are of course quite correct: that which is uniquely human in us – our immortal soul – is created directly by God. However the origin of our physical selves, that is our bodies, is not defined by the Church since it is a scientific and not a religious matter. But even here we must believe that all creation, down to the lowest atom, comes into being and continues to exist through the will of God.

    What you say is vague, but dangerous. Many vulnerable people read your blog. Please do not spread the lies of the Devil, who is cunningly endeavouring to prove, even to the believers, that God does not exist – and neither does he. The Devil knows that if he can disprove Genesis, the rest of Scripture will be suspect. Thus, killing the faith and permitting ignorance to deny the divinity of Christ – Who is the Redeemer and Saviour of mankind. The Devil wants your soul!!!

    Please feel free to agree or disagree with the writer.

    • Nektarios says:

      Quentin & Horace,
      Eons before the Church was an entity came into being, and eons previous to that
      God created Man. None of us were around at the time. However, something of the nature of Adam remains in our nature. So yes, I agree with you that all the atoms exist by the will of God. But to extroplate from that, that evolution is a random progression leading to Man in human form and not take into account his inner form and the relation of the soul and spirit is a bit tenuous,don’t you think – mere opinion.

      Horace – Far from being emotional about this particular issue, which I am not, bored with the same old arguments I have heard hundreds of times before. And as you say, you are not an expert on it. But you are welcome to your opinion, but don’t pass it off as truth.
      You also bring forth the usual: This expert says that, this theologian says this or that,
      this philospher says something else. They all may have an elements of truth in what they say, but then loose it with their opinions that they would like accepted. This hasbeen going on with fallen mankind since Adam.
      However the Truth, the Way and the Life has come, and now since our Lord has ascended, the Comforter has come, ` He shall not speak of Himself, but shall receive of mine and show it unto you’.

      • St.Joseph says:

        It all depends on how one sees it.
        If we play God we are taking the decisions away from Him in the creation of humans.
        I see it as designer babies. and remember the spiritual words which says- ‘You have not chosen me, I have chosen you, and again I have known you in your mothers womb.
        These embryos are placed in the womb of strangers,or otherwise millions of souls left frozen in boxes who can only be destroyed, these decisions to do this are to me nigh on wicked, along with experimenting and placing 3 or more back into the womb and then destroying the few who are not the healthiest . This has been all said before.
        I wont change my mind along with pro-life supporters.
        I am not surprised that the world is in a state!

      • Horace says:

        I don’t understand your injunction :- ” . . you are welcome to your opinion, but don’t pass it off as truth.”
        I would not hold or assert my opinion [ i.e. “I have no worries about the idea of evolution as simply the detailed way in which God chose to make the human race.”] if I did not believe that it was true – and not in conflict with Catholic teaching,

      • tim says:

        I see no obligation to regard evolution as a random progression. If you deny the existence of a Supreme Being a priori, it can only be a random progression. But if you admit omnipotent God, then you must admit that He may be able to direct a seemingly random process to obtain the results He requires. Don’t listen to dawks who seek to persuade you otherwise.

  5. Iona says:

    I am quite awed at the thought of a fly with Parkinson’s, possibly even more so with schizophrenia (yes, I do know that wasn’t exactly what the article was saying).

    Maybe that is why you sometimes see them spinning helplessly round and round on their backs?

    • Quentin says:

      Iona, it’s easy enough to spot a schizophrenic fly. It will take off in two directions at once. (which is why they are so difficult to swat)

  6. Iona says:

    As regards Quentin’s anonymous correspondent, if the Church insisted that Genesis had to be taken literally and that the theory of evolution had to be completely rejected, I should be in a quandary. I have no real difficulty with holding two things in my mind, each of which seems to be true although they do not seem to be compatible with each other, – I trust that eventually I will see how they can be reconciled. But there’s no way I could accept that each existing animal and plant species was created just as we now see it, disregarding all the evidence for evolution. Nor do I see that believing in evolution – or not – can have much bearing on my ultimate salvation. Or otherwise.

    • Singalong says:

      I have no real difficulty with holding two things in my mind, each of which seems to be true although they do not seem to be compatible with each other, – I trust that eventually I will see how they can be reconciled.

      Iona, what a brilliant way of expressing this attitude which I often share!

  7. Mike Horsnall says:

    ” But there’s no way I could accept that each existing animal and plant species was created just as we now see it, disregarding all the evidence for evolution. Nor do I see that believing in evolution – or not – can have much bearing on my ultimate salvation. Or otherwise.”

    Just buzzing around here chatting with ourselves you understand…! Over the years we have been very interested in this general subject, having pretty complex brains, multifacet eyes and several personalities we fruit flies are well equipped to grapple with the complexity of believing several random things at once. We dont find it a problem that what is described by you puny humans as ‘evolution’ is in fact just another version of ‘creation’. Only having two eyes and a pretty primitive brain stalk you poor wee things simply cannot resist conceptualising the world as either /or..when we poor fruity spinning things know it to be at least both. Quite obviously everything around you ‘grows’ doesnt it? Everything you know of, oh sad limited little beings that you are, is extruded into time and has form… rather like that nasty sludgy white stuff you insist on polishing your teeth with each day? Then it follows to us that the thoughts of God- coming into matter as it were -will also have some kind of form and shape in that thing you call time…its a bit, my little insects, like that revolting thing you did at school- forcing the poor old hot sulphur to solidify under water into all those funny shapes or( whatever you did when you weren’t sticking pins into our common ancestors wings that is)
    Of course we understand that with your tiny malfunctioning little mitrochondria you can’t generate enough energy to think the thing through so you have to split the whole process into seperate parts. Ho ho ho…some of you even believe that God made you and everything around you instantaneously and completely finished out of absolutely nada..ha ha ha buzz buzz buzz…We find this extremely funny.Some others of you (tee hee, tee hee) seem to think that this God of yours managed to make the whole universe completely seperate from your essential selves and then kind of added himself in a bit here and there in some magical process you call ‘spirit’ which can only be apprehended by a process you call ‘spiritual’ Oh my..Even worse…some of you seem to believe that God is only bothered about that thing called ‘church’ and only allows people who go there to have any idea about who he is and define him in that funny religious language some of you like using….sorry but even to us on- the- wall and completely bananas fruit flies, that is completely demented…right thats enough of this chatter lets buzz off now and find something else to chew on…

  8. St.Joseph says:

    Pity that Fly didn’t read Genesis or the rest of the Bible.he may have been converted. But then they haven’t got a soul (tee hee hee hee).

    • Mike Horsnall says:

      Sadly St Joseph this particular swarm has read the whole bible several times and studied it quite thoroughly over several dozens of generations of hatchings equivalent to some 30 or more of your human years. At one time we were so fond of the book we spent much labour and several years zooming about the place lugging copies of it round the world…so it isnt ignorance that makes us hold our fruity little view at all. Oddly enough for a bunch of souless fruitflies we did get converted en masse, shame on you for your deeply embedded fruit flyism St Joseph which makes you believe we lack souls…get your magnifying glass out girl and look closer!

      • St.Joseph says:

        So you fruitflies will have a conscience and know right from wrong like us humans,therefore we will see you in Heaven where you will be given a place of honour amongst all the Saints who have earned their place from the graces they have received from their good works here on earth. You should be so lucky to be made in the image and likeness of God in ‘your soul’. Don’t hold your breath!!

  9. John Nolan says:

    Knowing what we now know about evolution allows us to speculate on the origins of human nature, which to Alexander Pope would have been something with which we were endowed by the Creator; but since human nature has not changed one whit throughout recorded history, is such knowledge relevant to his or our analysis of it?

    • St.Joseph says:

      The way I see it is as we are supposedly taught ‘We are made in His image and likeness
      in our soul,and Jesus came down and took on our human nature.
      Of course He was God 2nd Person of the Blessed Trinity and even though He had our nature He was also Divine Nature.which we have the opportunity to receive by the power of the Holy Spirit by Baptism of water and of Spirit.(not the one that John the Baptist gave)
      We needed a Saviour. Our fallen nature had been restored by Jesus’ death and Resurrection.
      Has anything changed. I don’t know!

    • Rahner says:

      It is relevant to the interpretation of Genesis….

    • Quentin says:

      I would agree that human nature has not changed, and that Pope’s description has perhaps never been bettered. But we are talking of ensouled bodies here, and the ‘body’ side of human nature – being God’s creation – is important. For example, knowing that human fertility rates are developed through evolutionary imperatives enables us to understand and modify for modern circumstances. Our better understanding of psychology and neurology gives us a better handle on the potentialities and limitations of free will. Our fuller grasp of how societies and communities work can guide us in our consideration of aspects of the Church.

      Above all, our study of his creation as revealed by the human sciences is a matter for increasing wonder at the greatness of God.

      • St.Joseph says:

        What would your thoughts be on the reaction of disease towards sin.
        Do you think that science will be able to find cures for evil-that is caused by disease of some sort. And perhaps our evil intent will be not held against us through (not known now) but always some sort of disorder.
        We know if someone is considered ‘mad’ they may not be responsible for their actions.
        God knows the inner heart of man and he is the last judge we know that..
        Just an example maybe a silly one-however would a raging toothache or headache be responsible for a raging temper and harm someone.?

      • John Nolan says:

        Which is exactly why the Christian Church encouraged what we now call ‘modern’ science. Islam came into contact with enlightened thought on its conquests, but relapsed in the course of a few hundred years into the obscurantism which characterizes it today.

        Benedict XVI’s 2006 Regensburg lecture, taken in its entirety, is one of the most important statements by a pontiff in the last hundred years. Unfortunately his innate humility meant that he passed it off as simply as a matter of (academic) opinion.

      • Quentin says:

        It is certainly theoretically true that a person may perform a bad act and be guiltless because their condition meant that they did not have free will, or they were ignorant of the evil. A typical example might be a young pregnant woman who has an abortion. She may have been under such pressure that she really wasn’t free to take any other course, or she may, in company with many nowadays, believe that abortion was justified. (But the baby dies just the same, so the injustice is done.)

        I think it is prudent to assume that we are guilty of our own sins, and charitable to believe that others are not guilty, or only guilty in a small degree. Only God can judge these things, fortunately

      • tim says:

        And we believe – or, at least, Catholics believe – in the resurrection of the body.

  10. St.Joseph says:

    Quentin are you saying that human fertility has to be modified into a better understanding for 2 parent families and the Church ought to change Her thinking to suit our life style in the 21st century.?. And the question I asked Rahner ‘that Christian evolution ought ‘not to be guided by scripture’ but through our free will.?Changing the whole moral dignity of man?

    • Quentin says:

      St.Joseph, you would need to go back to my column “Fair means or foul” (Nov 1 2012) to understand what I am suggesting as an example here. But in simple terms – once upon a time an average woman needed to have seven or eight live births in order to ensure that enough children survived to support the population. That is three times as many as are required nowadays in a developed country. The challenge is for the Church to suggest how this degree of overpopulation can be managed lawfully. It hasn’t even asked the question yet let alone answered it.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Thank you.
        The Church has answered the question by its teaching on Fertility Awareness.
        It is not Gods fault that people don’t listen to common sense.
        I am aware that it is not a suitable suggestion but then Gods reasoning is not always societies.

  11. St.Joseph says:

    The question I asked you and Rahner has not been answered , I wonder if the thinking would be
    that we did not need a Saviour, as man will eventually decide what is right and wrong for we evolve and decide what is best for us and the world-and forget about the churches sexual ethics and catholic social teaching.
    A slippery slope, as the point I made ‘the world is in a mess!

  12. Mike Horsnall says:

    St Joseph,
    Sorry I know I’m not Quentin or Rahner. Yes the issue about the historicity of Genesis does, or may call into question the need for ‘salvation’ as we understand it. This is why the subject is deemed a hot potato.But its not really an issue because in fact much of Genesis discusses mans fall from grace not just the first chapter or two of genesis. Also our interpretation of the fall and the significance for the atonement is a kind of retrospective understanding and there are the many OT prophecise etc which point to the saving work of Christ. Its a technical difficulty obviously but how much of one I don’t really know. The general trend as far as I can undrstand it is towards an argument which changes the functional significance of the death and the ressurection moving it away from an atonement more towards a fulfillment.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Mike Horsnall
      Thank you for your contribution to my question,although an unsatisfactory explanation, but you were brave enough to tackle it.
      However I see where you are coming from but it does not satisfy me that Jesus born of Mary to suffer and die in such a horrific death and rise again for a ‘fulfillment’, it was to offer Sacrifice for our sins and re-unite us to the Divine Life which was planned for us in the beginning which separated us from eternal Life with the Father, by our first parents, we needed a Redeemer.If no Fall no Redemption. God could have just sent His Son with a message. Jesus spoke of Adam, surely He spoke the truth even though it upset those who listened,.
      How ever God chose to make humans and give them a soul-there must have been a Fall sometime unless we are witnessing a fall every time we sin.and turn our back on Scripture and the teachings of the Church and we are reaching perfection with the Grace we received through Jesus’s Body and Blood we receive through belief and reception of the Eucharist a continued unbloody Sacrifice on the Altar, which to me makes it more important to be celebrated with the respect it deserves not a jolly jolly party!
      I could go on and on but maybe too much already.,as it is not every ones belief.

  13. Iona says:

    St. Joseph – “Jesus spoke of Adam” – remind me, where?

  14. Mike Horsnall says:

    St Joseph,
    My own view is fairly orthodox and close to your own. Having said that there are technical issues which are genuinely interesting. For myself faith does not depend on a kind of logic but on the experience of my heart backed up by structured belief. By this I mean it is quite possible that when Jesus spoke of Jonah for example he didnt then know that the book of Jonah was probably not a literal account. The same would be true for Adam, though like Iona I can’t recall Jesus speaking about Adam. I don’t think it is neccesary for Genesis to be a literal truth because there is a sense in which we ‘know’ about the fall anyway. We know through the story of the church as you say. We also know in our own hearts-something answers ‘yes’ when we realise we are somehow not right but that we are nonetheless accepted and loved. So it doesnt dismay me to be faced with the non literality of Genesis. I can see that most of our belief is couched in metaphor, sign or symbol-and must be so because we do not see clearly the kingdom of God nor can we replay the past-we can only present it in terms of stories some of which we believe because we have been told they are true and some because they speak to our hearts…the teaching of the church is of a similar ilk-we believe that which we have not seen. I am of the view that beginning to understand that we cannot ‘prove’ our faith is actually a step forward-children demand certainties but we must proceed by faith and that faith,to be real, must not also be blind. As a point of interest I did for many years believe in the literality of the whole of genesis as a younger christian and my probably quite evngelical and fundamentalist belief prompted me into a very active christian life of which I am not ashamed; but we grow and we change. I tend towards the view that an individuals particular stance conncerning the bible says more about them than anything objective-so its not really worthy getting to riled up about .

    • St.Joseph says:

      I remember but don’t know where , I don’t wish to look all through the NT. I know St Paul mentioned Jesus being the new Adam, Mary being as we know the new Eve.

      I respect Genesis. I see the ancestry of Jesus going back to Genesis to Abram and the Covenant. in the genealogy according to St Matthew.
      Jesus said before Abraham I Am, to me that means He respected Genesis too!
      We obviously can read into it what we like.It is a case of how we think, and I like to think the Bible is a Holy Book not to be judged by human thinking, even though it may sound obscure in places-nevertheless to be respected. Also read at Holy Mass.
      As I have always proclaimed it is the present taking us into the future that is more important.

      • Rahner says:

        There is no explicit reference to Adam by Jesus in the NT.

      • St.Joseph says:

        The first male and female with a soul to whom God chose may not have been called ‘Adam and Eve’ so perhaps Jesus would not have called them that.
        They were probably the first with a soul to fall out of Grace in the line if the chosen people where Scripture would begin, it had to be somewhere in the mind of God to carry on the ancestry of Jesus and the rest of humanity. down to us.
        The OT was important to Jesus as He went often into the Temple to read and study even at the age of 12 years. Everything is not written in the Books of Scripture all that Jesus said.
        So I don’t place much emphasis on that. We don’t know everything!!

  15. Mike Horsnall says:

    St Joseph,

    of course Genesis is to be respected, the whole bible is to be respected-thats why it is kissed at Mass! The way to respect something is to honour it as it truly is. I don’t respect Genesis any the less for taking the orthodox catholic view that its first 11 chapters are mythological literature. Without Genesis we would not have a story of origins to picture and our understanding of God would be impaired. The fact that the book of Genesis is part of the canon of scripture means that it is automatically due the respect of holy scripture-the same as Jonah is and ecclesiastes or the Song of songs. All of scripture is holy but that has nothing to do with its content falling into one kind of literature or another. Some of the bible is historical fact and some is story, myth or poetry-thats just what it is…The bible is by far and away the most powerful and significant book in the history of the world and is the life of God-thats why I spent four or five years of my life smuggling it around the world!!.But it is what it is and is written as it was written, when it was written. It does seem odd to me that we take our understanding of science and religion as if they were eternally unchanging revelation-yet we know that the understanding of both disciplines broadens and alters over the centuries.The church herself is described in Lumen Gentium 10 as having a pilgrim nature journeying through time and space and culture- we have to face the simple reality that the church gradually shifts in its understanding of how scripture is interpreted and what it is, as I say the orthodox Catholic view of the first 11 chapters of genesis is that they are to be understood as mythological literature containing salvic truth..

    • St.Joseph says:

      This takes us back to the question I asked which is more important that out discussion on the mythological literature of the OT.
      Why the Sacrificice of the Cross, a fulfilment of what?As you think.

    • John Nolan says:

      Actually, it is only the Gospel which is venerated at Mass. The bible per se is not one of the liturgical books.

      • St.Joseph says:

        I sometimes think that the Book is shown reverence to and not so much to the Blessed Sacrament. Not that the Book shouldn’t be. show reverence too!

      • tim says:

        That encourages me to start a hare. John, when the Creed says ‘resurrexit secundum scripturas’. is this a reference to the Old Testament only (and if so, where, specifically?). I ask partly because when I set out to become a Catholic, I was quoted a verse from an Epistle of St Paul to Timothy about the authority of Scripture. From the chronology, that could only have referred to the Old Testament.

  16. Mike Horsnall says:

    St Joseph

    There are two points here.
    Firstly, as I have tried to explain the church sees the bible as containing both historic truth and salvic truth. Salvic truth pertains to the purposes of God for humanity, historical truth is the same but it is also descriptive of events on the ground in time. Salvic truth pertains both to time and eternity. …(this is only a sketchy outline and Rahner might be able to help here). So the fact that Genesis is mythological (ie what is understood as a story carrying salvic truth) need not affect your understanding of the sacrificial nature of the Cross. This is where you and many others struggle I think and it is a needless sticking point, the mythological nature of Genesis ch1-11 is not a stumbling block to atonement thinking.
    Secondly the death of christ on the cross is only significant in the light of his ressurection and ascension-had he just died and been buried there would be nothing addded to our understanding of God. The fact that a man who was God rose from the dead and ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of God opens up an entirely new chapter of life for us. God purposes right from the start that we, as men and women, should occupy that priveleged seat in heaven beside him in his glory.This is a stupendous addition to our understanding of ourselves St Joseph-not only are we forgiven but we are to transcend death and take up the reins of authority in Heaven in Christ. Looked at from this entirely legitimate perspective the cross is seen also as fullfillment of Gods plan.

    I’ve gone over this in a bit of detail because I think that the two concepts of fulfillment and atonement are like two sides of the same coin, they are not in opposition to one another. So the discussion about the nature of Genesis both is and is not especially significant-it ends up with the same victory, sorry if this account gives us less to argy bargy over by the way!!!!! (joke)

    • St.Joseph says:

      First of all I was never under the impression that we were are bargiing .I don’t see it like that.
      You are repeating just what I said only using different words..
      My question to you was simple. No Fall then why was it necessary for Jesus to suffer.
      Sacrifice. Did it just happen like the Martyrs for His belief and Truth and not for our salvation. in opening up the Gates of Heaven which were apparantly closed because of the Fall.This is not just Genesis speaking it runs through the Psalms and NT- we needed a Saviour.Otherwise we we just carry on evolving until science worked out our sinfulness and could then be cured by treatment, then our bodies would live for ever in this life for eternity and perhaps on to other planets.
      Now this thinking may seem far fetched to you but no more than us evolving from a fly,we have the beginning so why not alter the end too as scientists are so clever, however Christian evoutionists are on the safe side by believing in God ‘saving their soul in other words..,being on the safe side.
      I like to explore everything maybe the same way that a fly can look behind at the same time sideways and front!!!! Maybe thats my ancestor !!!!!!

      • St.Joseph says:

        PS Mike. I don’t struggle with evolution, only when it destroys our young peoples faith.its the evolutionists that struggle with God!

    • RAHNER says:

      I think a useful discussion of salvation etc in an evolutionary world view was provided by Jack Mahoney – as previously discussed in Secondsight.

      • Horace says:

        Could you give us the name and date of the post please.

      • Quentin says:

        The easiest way to find a post is to use the search box at the top. In this case, use ‘remodelling’. I have in draft a column for Thursday week which deals with more questions related to the ‘Adam’ issue.

      • Horace says:

        Found it – but I would never have guessed ‘remodelling’ !
        I have kept a copy of a letter from the correspondence page of the Catholic Herald by Fr John Daley which I think is very relevant :-
        ” There was an original sin . . . Mankind chose to know/do evil . . . The fall, the sin, is attributed to mankind – to man and woman. ”
        Unfortunately I cannot find an online copy of this letter.

      • Quentin says:

        Horace, the Daley letter, showing what students in the 1960s were taught about Adam and Eve and Original Sin, is very interesting. A copy is available in the CH archive. We can find it on

  17. St.Joseph says:

    One question, ‘Why is it that so many people including evolutionists are so much into discussing it? What does it prove.?.
    What is to be gained from it.? I know your issue or I think is in the name of science,but even then my mind boggles. So I will be interested to read your further questions when you post them.

    • Quentin says:

      St.joseph, evolution was a major method through which God exercised his creative power. Thus it is perfectly in order, indeed virtuous, to explore it. Assuming it to be true (and I accept that you do not assume this) then our knowledge helps us to understand how we should interpret Scripture. In addition we attempt to understand much of the moral law through studying God’s creation (as the Church assures us). We certainly need therefore to know as much as we can about how our natures were created in order to explore God’s will.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Quentin thank you.
        I can only see how evolution from Genesis to the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus and the new Creation in Christ and the continued teaching of Holy \Mother Church in the CCC.
        The spirituaul sense of it all from Genesis 3 -15 the Protoevangelium to me is prophetic- to Our Blessed Mothers Yes at the Incarnation. I fail to understand the necessity of how our bodies evolved in all this is relevant, only perhaps in the goodness of science for our good. We know Gods Will for us already. in the Magisterium.
        I have looked back on the post Rahner has given and fail to see how Jack Mahoney is relevant to the discussion of evolution . Perhaps you will enlighten me!

      • Quentin says:

        St.Joseph, of course you are right. The important bit is always the deep truth which Scripture is trying to tell us. The prophecy of Our Lady is a key example. But Scripture was written within a framework of the writer’s understanding. You can’t expect the writer (writers actually) of Genesis to take evolution into account.

        Interesting that you should mention the Magisterium. If you ask the Magisterium why artificial contraception is forbidden you will be told that the structure of the sexual act is built around procreation. Since this is how God created it, we must accept its structure as it is, and not contradict it by our action. But if we come to think that God created human sexuality through evolution we must ask ourselves whether we necessarily arrive at the same moral answer. Whether we conclude yes or no we must certainly ask the question. Mahoney applies evolution to Salvation History — and that’s a good bit more complicated!

        Don’t worry about small mistakes in typing — we all make them. I usually draft a contribution in a word processor and copy & paste. It’s not infallible but it helps.

  18. St.Joseph says:

    PS Quentin.
    I would just like to add, As the CCC puts it ‘ the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents (don’t ask me where that is, something I learned) it can be looked hope I am sure..
    Also on the road to Emmaus when Jesus appeared to the two Disciples and answered their sadness saying ‘Oh foolish and slow of heart to understand the scriptures. Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and so enter into His glory? at beginning at Moses and the prophets He explained to them the the scriptures that were about Himself.
    To me we have moved on and there is enough to know without looking back, however I am willing to listen but feel the need to discuss it for more depth. I am ready to listen
    ‘Blest if I know’ it all!

  19. St.Joseph says:

    Sorry about he typographical errors

  20. Mike Horsnall says:

    Thanks Quentin for unearthing the Mahoney lecture. I discovered you can download the script and it makes interesting reading though seeming to skip a few crucial issues here and there. I do profoundly agree with Mahoney that there should be some connection between our religious belief and our experiences -collective or individual.

    Thanks again

  21. Mike Horsnall says:

    There is a central flaw to Mahoney’s drift though:

    “With the development, however, of a theory of evolution, the death of all things, not just humans, is recognised as part of the process of ongoing creation through survival of the fittest. Consequently, there is no further need to conjecture another explaination for human death….”

    This is a bit of a leap I think. It could be said that since the wages of sin is death then it is sin that is responsible for evolution! Also we could argue that the process of evolution operates as a result of death but not that death is integrally planned as a part of the process. I would need to see this point teased out a bit to want to give the theory any credence.

    Also Mahoney gives us no idea as to how: Jesus “providing an inspiring instance and symbol of divine-human altruism, conducting the evolving human species through death to the prospect of an ever closer communion with the divine life…” is supposed to work in our hearts to effect change or how we ourselves are meant to transcend death at all.

    If anyone is interested you can download the transcript to the lecture by visiting the discussion in the manner Quentin suggests.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I wonder if Jack Mahoney’s theory on Calvary not being a Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ ,would he believe in the Real Presence through transubstantiation.,more like the Anglican Church belief’s.

      • St.Joseph says:

        I read Jack Mahoney’s Lecture again and I take it that he doesn’t believe in the Real Presence. I may have read him wrong, can someone give their theological opinion.
        Scripture makes so many comments of His death and suffering for our sins and our salvation and the Priesthood.Therefore I would like some positive answers.
        We have it in the teachings of Holy Mother Church, however I would be interested to know other practicing catholic’s opinion of Jack Mahoney’s thinking on the subject it was Rahners suggestion above . So perhaps we can begin with him.

      • Quentin says:

        St. Joseph, my original post on the Mahoney paper was followed by 328 contributions. That should give you a good idea of the Catholic response.

      • Quentin says:

        If you have 45 minutes to spare there is a most interesting and expert discussion on The Fall at

  22. St.Joseph says:

    Thank you I need a lie down after reading all that..
    I would still like to hear a positive answer from Rahner regarding his comment above ‘It is relevant to the interpretation of Genisis’ and to his comment on 29th April 7.54..
    He gave me the impression when he said that Jack Mahoney gave a satisfactory explanation ,was Rahner speaking about Jack Mahoney theory on the Priesthood and Holy Mass..
    I may be wrong but would like to hear his thoughts.
    Contemplation on Jesus’s Priestly prayer at the Last Supper to His Apostles is very enlightening, especially the footnotes.
    Jesus was fulfilling all the images and prophesies of the Old Testament the Book of Leviticus, Abraham we see prefigured the sacrifice of Jesus. This was the Lamb that St John the Baptist
    referred to when he said to Andrew and John ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world.
    Just as the the promises were kept in the Ark of the Covenant and treated with awe and reverance,so in the New Testament the womb of the Blessed Virgin would be the ark of the new Covenant and the first tabernacle of the Most High, as Blessed Pope John Paul said at the Eucharist Congress in 1993, Jesus Christ is truly Emmanuel, God with us from His Incarnation to the end of time in the mystery of His abiding Presence in the Eucharist.,
    That to me is the Sacrifice of Holy Mass..
    Sorry to go on but it is important to me. the Real Presence.


    • Mike Horsnall says:

      ST Joseph,
      I went through the transcript of Mahoneys letter in some detail and from what I could see there was no spoken issue with the real presence. I don’t really see that the Mahoney thesis, were it true, would neccesarily cut into a theology of the real presence. Its also worth bearing in mind that Mahoneys view is just that-Mahoneys view. I would guess few would have strong views on it so you may be waiting awhile for your answers!

      • St.Joseph says:

        Mike Horsnall.
        I really think that you ‘study’ the transcript again
        You see it is like all other documents-people read but don’t study, I thought the flaws would smack you in the face,opening the door for same sex marriage, contraception and other liberal thoughts of his own.
        Obviously he is not for the Real Presence as we understand it is a communion meal,(obviously we believe it is a Sacrament as well as a Sacrifice) opening the way for feminist priests .
        A point you ought to consider is Moses in the desert- the Serpent , and the food that he gave them to eat according to Jesus , they ate and died, His food is manna from Heaven, the Sacrificial food of Himself at the first Mass the Last Supper and fulfilled at the Crucifixion..The Resurrection of His Body- which is prophesied all through Scripture.
        Pope Leo X111’s encyclical letter ‘On the Study of Holy Scripture’ contains a bit of advice which future scholars inclined to rush into print with these that cast doubt on the integrity of Sacred Scripture might do well to ponder ‘ We admonish with paternal love all students and ministers of the Church always to approach the Sacred Writings with reverence and piety; for it is impossible to attain to the profitable understanding thereof unless the arrogance of ‘earthly’ science be laid aside and there be excited in the heart the holy desire for that wisdom ‘which is from above..
        That reminds me of a certain Raymonds Brown’s approach to Scripture 1996.

  23. John L says:

    As usual, I approach the discussion with an over-simplistic view, not being as erudite as some contributors. As has been stated by others, the earth is planted thick with evidence for evolution. To call that evidence false is to make the Creator a liar. Given an arising from an animal origin, it isn’t hard to see that many of our faults arise from a simple instinct to self-preservation. This instinct is inevitably expressed as selfishness in all its forms – me first and you get what’s left. Christ’s salvific message (and that of OT writers) is an upward urge to evolve to something better if you like, a kinship with God. This is what God himself wants, which is why he puts into us something which raises us above the base animal world, namely an intelligent immortal soul. I can’t see a specific event as a “fall” but I do see Original Sin in our nature. Genesis addresses this in a way that is readily understandable by a non-scientific nomadic people, namely God’s chosen people. Just one scientific interjection… Genesis tells us that there was nothing until God said “let there be light!”. If there is a better description of the “Big Bang”, I don’t know it.

  24. Ann says:

    Imagine if there had never been original sin? I wonder what we as human beings would be like? just a thought 🙂

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