There comes a time in our lives when we are stumped for answers from Catholic faith perspective. We have requested Fathers to address those queries in the section Q&A @ ICM. We begin this Friday with Fr. Adrian Mascarenhas answering the Theory of Evolution in Genesis.
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By Fr. Adrian Mascarenhas –
Pope Francis has rightly said that “The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. They suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself” (Laudato Si’ 66).
Many people simplistically assume that Genesis 1 is talking about a literal period of six days in which God created the world, while Genesis 2 is talking about the creation of man out of clay, and woman out of the man’s rib. However, this is clearly a problematic thesis, because Genesis itself mentions the creation of the Sun on the fourth day, not the first! Further, the symbolism is clear: God is the potter, we are the clay. Hence, neither of the two creation stories in Genesis (Genesis 1 and Genesis 2) are likely to be meant literally.
So in that case, what is Genesis 1-2 talking about?
In line with modern biologists as well as biblical scholars, the Church offers us a deeper understanding of the Creation story in Genesis, as reflected in the introductory quote from Pope Francis. The Creation story was meant to show that all beings come from God and are good (Gen 1:31), and the crown of God’s creation is the human person. God loves the whole of the universe that he has created, but in a particular way, he cares for humanity, and has entrusted the rest of creation to them. Genesis 1 also advocates the equal dignity of man and woman, created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26). Genesis 2 goes further and describes the harmony of creation under human dominion, as a Garden of Eden, that is finally disrupted only by human sin and selfishness.
The creation of the world is therefore depicted as unfolding in stages. This is a part of the beauty and harmony of the universe – God did not create anything until the conditions were right for it. The most important point that we should remember, therefore, is that the six “days” of creation represent the stages through which God first made a suitable place for life, then created living beings themselves, and finally created human beings as the pinnacle of his works.
The Genesis story is also marvellously in harmony with the rest of the Biblical narrative – consider, for example, that God said “Let there be light” on a Sunday, and it was on a Sunday that the Light of the World – Jesus Christ – arose from the dead.
When we reflect on the deeper relevance of Genesis 1, it is clear that ecological responsibility goes hand in hand with biblical ethics. The earth is our common home and all creatures participate in its goodness. Hence Genesis 1 is a call to love and protect the earth as its stewards, to exercise our dominion to improve the earth and ensure that its fruits benefit all.
Seen in this light, Genesis 1 is more about spirituality and relationships than it is about what happened historically or scientifically. If we need to reconcile it with what scientists are saying, one suggestion would be to regard the six days – as already mentioned – as stages through which the earth became the home of humanity.
Coming to the creation of human beings themselves: did human beings evolve from the lower animals or not?
The best response would be to say that the Bible is silent on this matter. The Bible depicts the special creation of humanity by God, but not in such a way as to exclude the possibility of intermediate stages between animals and humans, as regards the PHYSICAL being itself. However, when it comes to the spirit which is infused by God, there is no intermediate stage – the spirit is a direct creation by God and its presence is what makes us truly human.
Hence, Catholics are free to believe that the physical form of human beings may have evolved from lower species of animals. This theory is supported in many ways by the structure and genetic composition of the human body itself, as well as the fossil record. But the spirit is a gift from God which raises us far above the natural world. The spirit cannot have evolved from lower lifeforms, and hence it must have been directly created by God. An analogy would be to understand how a sperm and an egg cell – both lacking in spirit – fuse to give rise to a human being who has a spirit and is directly willed and created by God.
Rev. Fr. Adrian Mascarenhas has served as the Assistant Parish Priest of St. Patrick’s Church and Ascension Church, and has completed two years of ministry at St. Peter’s Church, Bangalore, India. He received his licentiate in sacred theology from Dharmaram Vidya Kshethram and is currently pursuing a doctorate in Fundamental Theology at the Pontifical Lateran University, Rome.