VI. A new understanding

Origin and development of the species

Modern biblical scholarship draws upon various branches of science to understand the stories recorded in Genesis. Astronomy and geology, for example, provide evidence of the true age and manner of creation of the universe. Archeology and biology, including the theory of evolution, provide evidence of the manner in which the human family came into being.

So-called "creation scientists" reject evolution as contrary to their literal fundamentalist interpretation of Genesis. In so doing, they violate Aristotle's dictum: If we reject the knowledge of our senses, we cannot know anything. Scientific evidence is knowledge of the senses, with the senses augmented by various instruments.

Atheistic scientists, on the other hand, believe that homo sapiens came into being by evolution alone. Thus, they attempt to reduce human thought to a neurochemical process (epiphenomenalism). But how can a purely physical process create something that is not physical -- an abstract thought?

The true scientist and believer knows there cannot be a contradiction between science and Genesis because God is author of both the natural world and Scripture. Such scientists' search for reality in the physical world is implicitly a search for God, the ultimate reality.

The Catholic Church long rejected the theory of evolution as contrary to the biblical account of the origin of man. That position became increasingly untenable with discoveries of evidence that advanced the scientific understanding of human origins. Evolution of the physical characteristics of homo sapiens does not contradict the essential theological tenet of the creation myth in Genesis: God created man. The "dust of the earth" into which God breathed a soul, thereby endowing man with rationality and spiritual immortality, could have been an earlier primate. An official reversal of the Catholic position came in 1950 in the encyclical Humani generis. Pope Pius XII asserted that the biological theory of evolution, with the addition of direct creation by God of the individual soul, may not be at odds with Catholic teaching. In 1996, Pope John Paul II recognized the theory of evolution as "more than just a hypothesis." [104]

The creation myth in Scripture, however, is clearly at odds with evolution. According to the Yahwist account, the first human being came into existence before the animals and birds and before there was even vegetation on the earth. [105]

Adam and Eve themselves would represent a discontinuity -- a huge spike -- on the graph of evolutionary development. According to Genesis, the first human couple was elevated to a state which would have been high above their evolutionary ancestors. This state of "original justice" was believed by Augustine and succeeding theologians to have included intuitive knowledge, freedom from sexual desire, freedom from mental and physical illness, and physical immortality. [106] Even the earth was included in this original sublime state. Adam and Eve subsequently fell without leaving a trace of their former sublimity on the human condition.

The lack of any evidence to support such an historical interpretation of Genesis 1-3 is blithely explained away:

In reference to the above state [original justice], the term historical is rightly taken to mean real, factual, but not necessarily verifiable or detectable by positive scientific method. Consequently the prehistorian's inability to discover evidence from such a period in no way stands at odds with Catholic dogma. Catholic theologians can maintain that the condition, state, or period in question was momentary and no more. Thus the lack of any traces left behind would not be unintelligible ... [107]

Schmaus tries to selectively save enough of the myth to validate the traditional doctrine. Faced with scientific evidence of evolution, he concedes that "no special cultural or intellectual elevation was required for the favor bestowed on the first man." [108] But such an elevation is required in terms of intellectual and moral development (see below) for anything "in essence" like the transgression depicted in Genesis to actually have occurred.

Scientific evidence indicates that human behavior has existed for at least half-a-million years. Until recently, skills such as crafting of weapons and using them in group hunting forays were thought to have originated with modern humans around 50,000 years ago. However, new discoveries have pushed that date back ten times farther.

A cache of perfectly preserved wooden weapons 400,000 years old was recently uncovered in Germany. [109] In England, sophisticated stone tools and other evidence of complex behavior that indicate abstract thought have been dated to 500,000 years ago. Elsewhere in Europe, fossil remains believed to be of the genus homo have been dated to 800,000 to 900,000 years ago. [110] And Homo erectus is believed to have evolved in Africa some two million years ago.

Let us posit that God created man by the ensoulment of some prehistoric ancestor. When God created man from a pre-existing primate (in this proposed scenario), he did not create him as superman. The radical change in essence did not give man a radical instantaneous change in appearance, knowledge, ability, or behavior. The probable reality from a scientific evolutionary viewpoint is that "Adam and Eve" were physically indistinguishable from the brutes that God chose to begin the human race.

Genesis and Augustine depict Adam and Eve as para-angelic beings with preternatural characteristics. [111] What is probably a more accurate, though fictional, depiction of the first knowing man is given in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the scavenging primate is suddenly endowed with the spark of intelligence and begins to use a bone as a tool. [112]

In this scenario, the first humans would have looked and acted virtually the same as the "dust of the earth" from which they were made; but like the eucharistic bread and wine, they underwent an essential change -- a change that gave homo sapiens a radical new potential to become something more, to develop intellectually, socially, and morally, not just through biological and environmental (that is, evolutionary) forces, but now -- in the image and likeness of God -- through knowledge and choice, through the exercise of intellect and free will.

Teilhard de Chardin observed [113]:

The more we find of fossil human remains and the better we understand their anatomic features and their succession in geologic time, the more evident it becomes, by an unceasing convergence of all signs and proofs, that the human "species," however unique the position among entities that reflection gave it, did not, at the moment of its advent, make any sweeping change in nature. Whether we consider the species in its environment, in the morphology of its stem, or in the global structure of its group, we see it emerge phyletically exactly like any other species.

The first humans, then, would have had no language. They would have communicated like their ancestors by grunts and gestures. It would take a long time before man gave names to all the animals. Abstract concepts and the words to describe them would develop gradually over tens and hundreds of millennia. It would also take a long time for humans to evolve both physically and intellectually to the point where they would perceive themselves as naked.

The issue of monogenism or polygenism -- whether the human race descended from a single pair or many -- is itself interesting. Science has discovered genetic evidence in fossil remains which some interpret -- and others dispute -- as showing that the entire human family may have descended from one woman in Africa some 200,000 years ago. [114]

Pius XII, in his encyclical Humani generis, cited biblical literalism and Church teaching based on it to uphold monogenism. Monogenism, he asserted, follows as a theological conclusion from the dogma of original sin. [115] This is a circular argument. Pius XII used a concept derived from one part of the creation myth to defend another part of the myth.

An intrinsic moral problem with monogenism is that it puts God in the position of commanding the offspring of Adam and Eve to engage in a practice he later forbade as sinful. With monogenism, the command to "increase and multiply" could only be carried out through incest.

Psychological and moral development

A branch of science that is not commonly drawn upon to understand Scripture is human psychology. But it is psychology that holds a key to understanding both the Genesis myth and the development of the doctrine of original sin.

While the biological evolution of species is still theoretical, the behavioral and moral evolution of the human species is clearly evident in the historical record. We need only read the tales of Charles Dickens or look at the history of slavery in the United States to appreciate the positive change in human civilization that occurred in the span of a single century.

Following the creation of the species (in the present scenario), the psyche and moral sense of man would develop gradually. Alszeghy and Flick postulate that mankind as a genus went through a development similar to that of an individual human as he grows from child to adult. Homo sapiens would have existed a long time before actually attaining the use of reason. [116]

Cannibalism is an example of a practice that gives evidence of the early evolution of human behavior. A practice that may well be rooted in animal behavior, cannibalism appears to have long been a part of the human heritage according to fossil evidence in sites ranging from South Africa to Croatia to the southwest United States. [117] It was still part of our heritage in biblical times. [118]

By the time humankind had advanced to the point of possessing written languages to record its history, as in the early books of the Old Testament, man was still primitive, barbaric, and superstitious. Blood sacrifices and idolatry were the norm. Human sacrifice, even of children, was so much a part of contemporary culture [119] that Abraham didn't consider it bizarre for God to ask him to slaughter his own son.

We can see that the levels of psychological and moral development at the time of Genesis were primitive also. The positive attributes an average person could identify with seem limited. With a large segment of the population in slavery, with free men living in servitude to a ruler, and with women only chattel, the psalmist's lament that "I am a worm, and not human" (Psalm 22:6) may have been a representative self-image.

The very characteristic which separated men from the other animals -- intelligence -- was not highly prized. That is evidenced by the predominantly one-dimensional picture of God as "almighty." A keen intellect was not valued as highly as the warrior's brute strength in the chosen people's never-ending bloody wars with their neighbors.

Moreover, this inventory lists things that were accepted parts of life at the time. It excludes the unacceptable -- the catalog of personal sins and the burden of guilt felt because of them.

In terms of moral development, the chosen people frequently operated at the lowest level of Kohlberg's scheme. [120] When they obeyed God's laws, they did so out of a real fear of punishment. And God, recognizing their level of development, prescribed punishments that were swift, severe, and uncompromising in order to instill the necessary fear. Even in the Christian era, St. Augustine condoned the use of military force against heretics as necessary because "many Christians as well as pagans ... respond only to fear." [121]

But humans -- then as well as now -- have a psychological need for a positive self-image. We need to feel good about ourselves, no matter what our level of psychological and moral development. When our behavior is not good, our psyche has marvelous defense mechanisms that automatically protect our self-image from the harsh realities that are more than we can face. Those defense mechanisms often involve denial of the reality of our wrongdoing; and denial can extend to blaming -- projecting our guilt onto another person or thing, a scapegoat.

Out of these human psychological realities come two major roles that Adam and Eve play in the creation myth -- those of ideal and of scapegoat. Adam and Eve, before the fall, represent an ideal of what man would like to be in contrast to how he saw himself in actuality; and, with the fall, Adam and Eve represent a scapegoat to blame for the fact that we are something less than the ideal.

The scapegoat

In the Genesis myth, the first sin through which evil came into the world was Eve and Adam's sin of disobedience against God. The first sin against neighbor was Cain's killing of Abel. These scriptural firsts tell of man's search for salvation and the struggle of the divine in man to subdue all the inherited instincts and appetites of his ancestral beast.

Prior to redemption by Christ, the chosen people were delivered of their sins by the high priest on the annual Day of Atonement. The atonement ritual involved two goats, one sacrificed as a sin offering for the people and the other "presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel." (Leviticus 16: 9-10) Then the high priest shall:

lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a barren region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness. (Leviticus 16: 21-22)

This rite prescribed by God in the Mosaic law was not unique to the Israelites, but was an adaptation of prevailing pagan custom. [122]

The first goat served the customary role of a sin offering. Such animals were always killed. A sacrificed animal symbolically paid for the sins of the guilty with its life: [123]

For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement. (Leviticus 17: 11)

If the goat that was sacrificed made amends to God for the sins of the Israelite nation, what was the purpose of the scapegoat and the ritual surrounding it?

Jung says the true adult assumes the burden of his own guilt while the blameful adult is regressed to a more infantile behavior. [124] The people of Moses' time clearly lacked the psychological maturity of Jung's true adult. So for them, the scapegoat served a cathartic and therapeutic function. The ritualized scapegoating resolved their psychological inability to integrate the reality of personal sin by accepting responsibility for it.

Similarly, the myth explaining the origin of the human race projects blame for the sinful nature of all persons back onto the first couple. In the Genesis myth, Adam and Eve are not only a scapegoat for all humankind, but they themselves, in their fallen imperfection, practice scapegoating. Adam does not accept responsibility for his disobedience to God but blames it on the woman. Eve, in turn, blames the serpent. As various authors point out, Adam even blames God for putting the woman with him! (Genesis 2:12-13)