Tuesday 21st November 2017

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Did Demons “Help” God Create The World?

September 6, 2017 Featured Today No Comments


My old friend Philip Trower recently contributed a very stimulating defense of theistic evolution (“Creation, The CCC, Evolution and Angels,” The Wanderer, July 13, 2017, p. 8B). To his credit, he makes a serious, and I think quite original, attempt to address a serious problem that the vast majority of Jewish and Christian evolutionists either seem blissfully unaware of, or sweep under the carpet.
The problem is this: How can our belief in a perfectly good and loving Creator be reconciled with a scenario in which, for scores of millions of years prior to the Fall of our first parents, billions of innocent sentient creatures suffered terror and excruciating pain from lethal predatory attacks and agonizing diseases?
The traditional Judeo-Christian response to this challenge has been to point out that, while we will probably never understand fully during this mortal life why the innocent (humans without the use of reason as well as animals) often suffer terribly, the Bible makes it clear that this suffering is not in fact part of the Creator’s original plan. Rather, it is an effect of the mysterious curse that was unleashed all over our planet when its first divinely appointed human administrators were induced by the Evil One to disobey a divine precept, thereby opening the door for him to invade the earth with legions of fallen angels and so become “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).
Now, Sacred Scripture tells us that before the earth came under this enemy occupation, no animals were carnivorous: “God said,…‘To every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food’” (Gen. 1:29-30).
This is reinforced by later prophecies of the “new earth” that is to accompany the “new heaven.” These clearly envisage a restored Edenic harmony between all living creatures: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, . . . and the lion will eat straw like an ox;. . . the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain” (cf. Isaiah 11:6-9; 65:25).
Pre-Adamic suffering is also incompatible with the Book of Wisdom, where we read, “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living; for he fashioned all things [i.e., sub-human animals as well as men] that they might have being, and the creatures are wholesome” (1:13-14, emphasis added).
However, Mr. Trower does not read these Scriptures in their straightforward, natural sense because he takes for granted the evolutionary dogma that the earth is billions of years old, even though, as your correspondent Dr. Kevin Mark rightly pointed out (The Forum, August 3, 2017), “cutting-edge research” in natural science is rapidly undermining that worldview. While some observations seem to suggest a very ancient earth, there are now many more that strongly suggest the opposite: see “101 evidences for a young earth” at http://creation.com/age-of-the-earth and articles on the Catholic creation site www.kolbecenter.org.
Assuming that the vast graveyards of fossilized dinosaurs and other carnivorous beasts must all date from many millions of years before man evolved and fell from grace, Mr. Trower suggests a very audacious solution to the theological problem raised by this scenario. After dismissing briefly (and rightly) the bizarre and unbiblical idea that those creatures were suffering the curse of Adam’s sin for millions of years before he committed it, Mr. Trower suggests that perhaps it was the Devil, and not God, who brought savage pain-inflicting beasts into earth’s history aeons before the Fall of man.
Using as a springboard Abbot Vonier’s Thomistic view (derived from Greek philosophy rather than Scripture) that the heavenly bodies are moved by intelligent powers (cf. ST, I, 70, a.3c), Mr. Trower hypothesizes that God appointed the angels to be in some way engineers of biological evolution. He suggests that they “were to have much more than a supervisory role” in the cosmos and were empowered “to influence the evolutionary or transformative creative process.”
And when some of the angels rebelled and became God’s enemies, He did not then terminate their role as agents of evolution any more than He terminates that of tyrants like Hitler and Stalin as agents of human history. Rather, Mr. Trower suggests, God allowed Satan and his cohorts to stay on the job, injecting their perverse, diabolical malice and cruelty into the evolving animal kingdom, presumably in competition with good angels doing their best to steer it in the direction of health, enjoyment, tranquility, and beauty.
I am afraid I see several serious theological problems with this novel and highly conjectural scenario.
First, Mr. Trower tries to make this supposed pre-Adamic suffering more theologically acceptable by blending it with post-Adamic evil into a single grand evolutionary process: creation itself is depicted as an unfinished project in which good and evil together somehow prod the cosmos onward toward ultimate perfection. “Creation,” Mr. Trower asserts, “is not something that came to an end or its climax with Adam and Eve. It is still going on.” But how can this Teilhardian/Hegelian-sounding thesis be reconciled with the Genesis account, according to which the creative process long ago reached a very definite “end” and “climax”?
We read in Gen. 2:1-2: “Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed. Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested on the seventh day” (emphasis added). And according to Catholic teaching, these early chapters of Genesis, while written in a simple, popular genre, are an ancient form of genuine history (cf. DS 3512-3519 = Dz 2121-2128; DS 3898 = Dz 2329).
Likewise, Mr. Trower’s scenario underestimates the central importance of the Fall: instead of the unique primal catastrophe that carved a sharp “before-and-after” division into our planetary history, Adam’s sin now becomes just part and parcel of an ongoing dialectic between good and evil. This view conflicts with Gen. 2:17-18, where God declares the earth “cursed” through Adam’s disobedience, since it depicts the earth as already cursed for millions of years previously — and for reasons that had nothing to do with Adam.
Mr. Trower seeks support from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which indeed speaks of a universe created in a “state of journeying” (n. 302) or “process of becoming,” and adds that “physical good…also exists [with] physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection” (n. 310). However these CCC articles don’t tell us whether that “physical evil” began before or after the Fall of Adam.
Indeed, Mr. Trower acknowledges that the Catechism is not entirely supportive of his thesis; for he notes that further on, in treating of the Fall, it implies the traditional belief that earth was originally a paradise in which physical evil began only after Adam’s sin, and because of it. In n. 400 we read that, as a result of the Fall, “Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man. Because of man, creation is now subject ‘to its bondage to decay’….Death makes its entry into human history” (emphasis added).
Indeed, the Catechism manages to assert both seemingly incompatible scenarios — a perfect vs. an imperfect creation — within a single short sentence: “Creation has its own goodness and proper perfection, but it did not spring forth totally complete (prorsus absoluta) from the hands of the Creator” (n. 302). Unfortunately, the standard English version of the Catechism omits any translation of prorsus (“totally,” “utterly”), and this tends to sharpen the apparent incompatibility.
I believe the Catechism’s doctrinal teaching can be read as being consistent both with itself and with Gen. 2:1-2 if we understand it to mean that the earth was created “finished” or “complete” (with its “proper perfection”) in the sense that God brought it into being with its full potential already in place. But creation wasn’t yet “totally” complete because much of that potential still needed to be developed, realized, actualized.
And this was the task God gave to the intelligent human couple He had created, giving them “dominion” over the earth and its sub-rational creatures in order to “replenish” and “subdue” it (cf. Gen. 1:28).
In short, I think Mr. Trower’s overly homogeneous depiction of creation as an unfinished, ongoing process needs to be corrected by this recognition of a clear cut-off point in the remote past between God’s “finished” creation of the world and man’s subsequent historical realization of its potential through art and technology, science and culture.
Another problem with Mr. Trower’s thesis is one we have already touched on. How can his scenario — a world already terribly disfigured by the cruel malice of demons (animal terror, agony and predatory bloodshed) for age after age before the Fall of Adam — be reconciled with the biblical testimony that, prior to the primeval catastrophe of man’s disobedience, God repeatedly pronounced His work of creation to be “good” (Gen. 1:10, 12, 18, 21), and indeed, when completed, “very good” (v. 31)? Very pointedly, these last and strongest words of divine approval come immediately after the Lord’s declaration that all land animals and birds are to be vegetarian (v. 30).
It would be hard to imagine a clearer textual indication that God would not have deemed “very good” an originally carnivorous creation of the sort theistic evolutionists try to reconcile with Genesis. A perplexed young Catholic once told me he was accosted by an atheist fellow-student who contemptuously spat out these words in his face: “A God who would freely create beasts programmed to terrorize, tear apart and devour other creatures would be a cruel sadist! In fact, he’d be the Devil!” The young Catholic was left shocked — lost for an answer. And if Mr. Trower’s evolutionary scenario were correct, I doubt if there would be any answer.
Finally, there is not the least hint in either Scripture or Tradition that God used angels as His agents in the actual process of creation. Quite the contrary: The Genesis account — the basis for all subsequent patristic and magisterial teaching — clearly presents God as creating the components of the universe, both inanimate and living, by His own all-powerful word exclusively — His almighty fiat. Indeed, ascribing to intelligent spirits (fallen or unfallen) the delegated but awesomely god-like power of determining the detailed anatomy of birds, fish and animals (their types of teeth, claws, paws, beaks, digestive systems, etc.), will run up against the Church’s Magisterium. The Catechism of the Catholic Church asserts that “God needs no pre-existent thing or any help in order to create” (n. 296, emphasis added).
Indeed, the central feature of Mr. Trower’s novel hypothesis — namely, that evil spirits produced the world’s savage, pain-inflicting beasts — was in effect condemned back in 561 as a Priscillianist error by the Council of Braga when it declared: “If anyone believes that the Devil made some creatures in the world (aliquantas in mundo creaturas fecerit),…let him be anathema” (DS 458 = Dz 238).
As an undergraduate I was a theistic evolutionist like Mr. Trower and the vast majority of contemporary Catholic bishops and scholars — not to mention recent Popes in their non-binding expressions of opinion. But as I wrestled with the huge difficulty of trying to square the long-ages evolutionary scenario with an honest reading of Scripture, while simultaneously coming to learn about new scientific observations that increasingly call that scenario into question, I gradually became convinced that this was like trying to square the circle, and that St. Paul and the classical Fathers and Catholic theologians — “young-earth creationists” almost to a man — had gotten it right after all. Perhaps Mr. Trower too might come round to having second thoughts.

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