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Does Scripture Allow For Pre-adamic Animal Suffering?

June 20, 2018 Frontpage No Comments

Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S.


I missed seeing Philip Trower’s reply (“Creation and Evolution Revisited”, The Wanderer, October 26, 2017, p. 8A) to my critique of his original article on evolution until months after it was published, so I apologize to The Wanderer and to you, dear reader, for the tardiness of this further response. It will help to begin by refreshing our memories.

The debate between Mr. Trower and myself is over whether, in order to explain theologically the millions of years of innocent animal pain, terror, and bloodshed which according to the ‘long-ages’ evolutionary worldview occurred prior to the Fall of man, we may postulate not only that God gave the angels “power to influence the evolutionary or transformative creative process” but also that he did not withhold or withdraw this power from the fallen angels (cf. P. Trower, “Creation, The CCC, Evolution And Angels”, The Wanderer, July 13, 2017, p. 8B). In short, Mr. Trower, impelled by his assumption that the aforesaid worldview is true and that the traditional Judeo-Christian alternative – young-earth, six-day creationism – is false, hypothesizes that we should blame Satan and his cruel minions for the (supposed) existence of carnivorous and predatory beasts prior to Adam’s Fall, and thus, for the untold pain they both inflicted and suffered.

In my response, published in the September 7, 2017 issue of The Wanderer (p. 7B), I criticized this novel theological hypothesis on three main grounds:  First, I argued (supplying links to relevant websites) that we no longer needto resort to an unheard-of hypothesis like Mr. Trower’s, because third-millennium empirical science is discovering scores of indications that radically challenge the premise on which it’s based, namely, that the earth and its lower animals were around for countless eons prior to the appearance of man. As a result of these discoveries, the traditional literal and historical reading of Genesis, rather than the various evolution-driven, but exegetically artificial, non-historical readings (figurative, symbolic, mythical, or whatever) now looks increasingly tenable and is making a come-back.

Secondly, the idea that any angels at all (never mind wicked angels) actively influenced the process of creationcan claim no support whatever from Scripture or Tradition (and obviously none from empirical science either). Thirdly, I argued that the whole idea of long ages of carnivorous animal suffering is in itselfcontrary to the clear theological message of Genesis 1 – acknowledged even by those who deny its historicity – that prior to the Fall of Adam and Eve, the whole earthly creation was “very good” (Gn. 1: 31). Indeed, that idea specifically contradicts the closely related text telling us that all animals at that time were vegetarian (v. 30).

In what follows I will explain why I don’t think Mr. Trower, in his October rejoinder, succeeds in refuting the above criticisms of his position. But first, I should point out that we share more common ground than he thinks we do. He says my position “seems to be that favored by the Kolbe . . . Center [for the Study of Creation]”.Well, I resigned from the Kolbe advisory board years ago because of their claim that Catholics are required by the infallible dogmatic teaching of Lateran Council IV (and even Vatican Council I), to reject the ‘long ages’ version of earth’s history, along with evolution in any shape or form. Like most theologians, I think this reads too much into the teaching of these councils. I favor young-earth, six-24-hour-day creationism, not because I think the Magisterium requires this traditional view, but because the Magisterium’s ‘big tent’ allows it, and I think there is compelling exegetical evidence that it is what the inspired writers intended to teach.

Mr. Trower first objects to the title of my 9/7/17 article (“Did Demons ‘Help’ God Create the World?”), insisting that in his view the demons would not have “helped” but rather, “interfered with”, the process of creation. Well, sure. In the body of my article I recognized that. But I think the word “Help” in my title – placed in quotation marks to show it wasn’t meant literally as a constructive,desirabletype of participation – was nevertheless legitimate. After all, Mr. Trower’s theory does in fact depict demonic activity as a contributing factor, albeit a harmful one, in an overarching creative process that he sees as dialectical – conflictive – in character.

Therefore, the comparison he now draws between this supposed demonic intervention in the creative process and mere mindless, destructive vandalism – lopping the leg off a beautiful table or covering it with scratches – is inappropriate and misleading. Mr. Trower uses this comparison to fend off my charge that his theory (according to which evil spirits are to blame for the savage, pain-inflicting character of many beasts) runs afoul of the Council of Braga’s condemnation of the idea that some creatures were made by demons. But it’s obvious that a carnivorous animal is very far from being just a mutilated or wounded herbivore! Its distinctive features display intelligent design. Mr. Trower has offered no answer to my objection that his theory in effect ascribes to created spirits “the delegated but awesomely godlike power of determining the detailed anatomy of birds, fish and animals (their types of teeth, claws, paws, beaks, digestive systems, etc.)”.

And what of the atheist’s objection that I cited? (“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!”). Mr.Trower sees this as nothing more than a restatement of the well-known ‘problem of evil’: “To this objection, as everyone knows”, he writes, “there are no cut and dried answers. Why does God allow innocent suffering? We are dealing with a profound mystery.” We are indeed – as I too acknowledged in the first column of my initial critique of Mr. Trower’s thesis. But I think he is missing my point there, which is that on the basis of six-24-hour-day creationism one can at least retort to the atheist that in the beginning God did not in fact create any beasts as carnivorous. Rather, in the original earthly paradise all creatures (including, therefore, dinosaurs, lions, tigers, eagles and hawks) were peaceable vegetarians, as Gn. 1:30 clearly states.Some of them became savage carnivores only as part of the deathly curse with which God afflicted the whole earth after Adam, its divinely-appointed governor, opted to follow Satan’s lie rather than God’s command (cf. Gn. 3:17-18).

But if Mr. Trower’s hypothesis is right, there never was any earthly paradise! Rather, creation is an unfinished evolutionary project in which God allowed demons to cause untold innocent animal suffering for millions of years before Adam sinned. (Incidentally, since Mr. Trower clearly does not read Gn. 1:30 as literal history, one wonders how he does interpret that verse, and what linguistic or textual evidence he – or anyone – can adduce to show that the inspired author never intended it to be read as literal history.)

I suppose that by emphasizing to the atheist cited above that it was in fact the Devil, and not God, whom we should blame for animal suffering before Adam, Mr. Trower’s response might be roughly as effective as my own approach in terms of theodicy (defending God’s goodness). But its effectiveness in that limited area will come at an unacceptably heavy price in others. First, the more responsibility he ascribes to evil spirits for the existence of carnivorous beasts, the more difficult it will be for him to escape censure by the Council of Braga (see above). And secondly, this same emphasis on supposed pre-Adamic diabolical influence over the creative process will only accentuate the principal point on which I think Mr. Trower’s theory, and indeed, any form of theistic evolution, runs up against biblical truth, namely, the manifest incompatibility between these supposed millions of years of innocent suffering and the central teaching of Genesis that the original creation, prior to Adam’s sin, was “very good” (Gn. 1:31).

The rest of Mr. Trower’s rejoinder is basically an argument from authority, focusing on what he sees as the tension between my six-day creationist position and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.He even hints that I’m adopting a Protestant-style ‘private interpretation’ of Genesisbased on Sola Scriptura premises. Not at all! My position is shared with the great majority of the Catholic Church’s Fathers and Doctors, andhas not been censured (though it’s certainly not favored) by recent,evolution-influenced, magisterial teaching.

I find unpersuasive Mr. Trower’s arguments from silence, e.g. the CCC’s lack of any reference in no. 400 to animal death, and from its use of quotation marks. Such features no doubt indicate the Catechism’s unwillingness to endorse literal six-day creationism; but they don’t amount to a doctrinal censure of that position. They can be read quite naturally as implying the Church’s reluctance to impose any particular chronology of earth history – either the prevailing ‘old earth’ evolutionary worldview or the contrary ‘young earth’ view – as a requirement of Catholic orthodoxy.

For instance, placing “six days” in quotation marks (no. 339) could simply imply that the Church wants to continue her long-standing permission for Catholics to debate freely whether yom (“day”) in Genesis 1 means a natural day or “a certain period of time” (cf. 1909 Response of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, Dz 2128, DS 3519).   Mr. Trower also appeals to the CCC’s statement that “Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolicallyas a succession of six days of divine ‘work’ concluded by the ‘rest’ of the seventh day” (no. 337, emphasis added). But in this sentence it’s not the term six days that the Catechism places in quotation marks, but the words “work” and “rest”. That seems to imply it’sthese words that we’re to understand “symbolically”, in accordance with the Church’s recognition from patristic times onward that the biblical creation accounts contain certain anthropomorphisms that don’t apply literally to God.

Finally, I see a certain irony in Mr. Trower’s concluding cautionary reference to the Vatican’spre-18th-century insistenceon aquestionable scientific theory – geocentrism – as a requirementof Catholic orthodoxy. Not only do I make noclaim that my ownbelief in a literal six-day creation is required by the Church’s Magisterium; but I would say it’s precisely Mr. Trower who should be heeding his own warning!For he too appears to be insistingon aquestionable scientific theory – in this case, belief that the earth is billions of years old – as a requirement of Catholic orthodoxy. And the fact that the authority he appeals to is the current universal Catechismmakes his warning doubly ironic. For its predecessor, the Church’s catechetical ‘gold standard’ for four centuries prior to Vatican II, taught that same geocentric thesisthat Mr. Trower holds up to me as an obvious error! (In Part I, Ch. II, Q. 18 of the Catechism of the Council of Trent we read that God, “by his word, commanded the earth to stand in the midst of the world, ‘founded upon its own basis’”. And in Ch. IV. Q. 4,wefind thisbiological error: “[T]he body of Christ was formed from the most pure blood of the Virgin Mother.”)

Even papally approved catechisms can be unreliableif they try to wed the Church’s doctrine too uncriticallyto thedominantscientifictheoriesof their own day.

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