Bill Irwin and Evolution for ∞ Years

Sisyphus_by_von_Stuck
Sisyphus by Franz von Stuck

Bill Irwin thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail blind, with the help of his German shepherd Orient. Irwin’s book, Blind Courage, narrates his journey.

An auto-immune disease cost him his sight. At first, his doctors misdiagnosed it as terminal cancer. They removed one eye to try to buy him a few months of life. Then he lived for many more years. The disease cost him his sight in the other eye.

This got me thinking about the origins of the human race.

If “fundamentalism” means: God made the world as we know it in the amount of time it takes for Sunday Mass to come around again, then the Bible itself refutes fundamentalism. As we reckon things, a week involves seven sunrises and seven sunsets. But in Genesis, God made the sun on the fourth day.

Blind-Courage-Bill-IrwinSeems to me that Christian doctrine about our origin starts with the fact that the Blessed Mother and her Son currently live in heaven, body and soul. Then we read Genesis by the light of that truth.

God put Adam and Eve in a garden, with a choice in front of them. Before they chose to disobey the Law of the Lord and Giver of Life, the First Parents of the human race lived a kind of life which we can only begin to imagine. The “state of innocence,” or “prelapsarian” state.

Adam and Eve had perfect integrity of body before the Fall. They enjoyed a super-natural gift which would have preserved them from disease and death. Since we do not believe in magic, we can only propose, then, that this super-natural gift carried with it a natural state of material balance in their bodies. Perpetual health.

Now, we ourselves only experience the passage of time as fallen human beings. We don’t know what the passage of time was like for Adam and Eve before the Fall. Nonetheless, we can say this: Adam and Eve could have obeyed; human nature could have continued in the state of innocence. We would have progressed through a pilgrim life through time, without disease or death, to the fulfillment of heavenly life with God.

In other words, the perfect material balance of the human body would have endured for some period of time on earth, without any corruption of the elements. Perfect health, with no mortality.

(I believe that everything I have asserted so far stands on solid theological ground. But please correct me if something strikes you otherwise.)

Our Christian faith does not, of itself, preclude our accepting the theory of the evolution of species. But IMHO: the theory of evolution does not stand to reason.

No one has ever observed the evolution of one species into another. For peppered moths to evolve darker wings due to a more-sooty environment does not involve the kind of mutations that would result in a different species.

Asserting the evolution of one species from another involves no more empirical observation than the assertion of an original Paradise for the human race. Does the fossil record provide more conclusive evidence of the evolution of one species from another than Sacred Scripture provides proof of the existence of the Garden of Eden? When a scientist interprets the fossil record (as we currently have it) according to the theory of evolution, s/he brings no more certitude to the task than a Christian does to the task of understanding our infallible Scriptures.

The evolutionist brings less certitude, in fact. The idea that God exists, and can create the cosmos, and can reveal Himself to His creatures—this idea explains much more than the idea that God does not exist, or the idea that He cannot (or does not) reveal Himself.

Now, a pure materialist (I think) would deny that “species” as such even exist. A “species” is a concept only. What really exists is: DNA.

But if species as such do not exist, then what is the theory of evolution? The theory presupposes the progress of organisms from an origin, to the current state of affairs, toward some future state. Even if we understand “species” solely as the steps along that arc of progression, they must exist, in order for the arc of progress itself to exist.

Anyway… The ancient gods of Greece condemned Sisyphus to roll a stone up a hill. But every time he got the stone near the top, something happened, and it fell back down to the bottom again.

This strikes me as the most-fitting illustration of the probability of one species evolving into another by way of random genetic mutations and “natural selection.” With every few feet gained in the ascent of the hill, the “gravity” of death and oblivion will keep pulling the rock down. Sisyphus has more chance of clearing the crest of the hill than random mutations have of producing a whole new species, it seems to me.

Ancient as our biosphere may be, can it possibly be old enough to accommodate all the endless changes that would be necessary for evolution by mutation and natural selection to produce all the species that we now observe? Modern physics and Christianity have this in common: We propose that the universe began. We do not think the cosmos has always been. It has an age.

But if the universe has less than an infinite number of years on its odometer, has enough time elapsed for all the random chemical reactions that the theory of evolution requires?

Into the middle of that question, dear reader, I would like to throw this wrench: Bill Irwin lost his sight because his own body destroyed its own eyes. People die of cancer because their own cells grow in a destructive manner.

Yes, people have died because bears have eaten them, or enemies have shot them dead in battle, or because the chemical equilibrium of the fallen human body (without the supernatural gift of integrity) cannot endure indefinitely. But also: an awful lot of people have died, or become incapacitated, because elements of their own bodies have attacked them in some way.

The evolutionary biologist would respond (I believe) like this: The immune defense system exists because of its evolutionary benefit. Its imperfection now indicates the need for further evolution, and it indicates the fact that evolution proceeds in fits and starts, rather than in a straight, orderly way.

Granted: our immune defenses, and our cellular growth, do us a lot more good than harm.

But: doesn’t it make more sense; doesn’t it seem more likely that the human organism sometimes harms—and even destroys—itself because: a perfect balance that existed originally has been lost?

The alternative explanation would require us to concede the passage of time not only for the “forward” evolution of species through random mutation and natural selection, but also the overcoming of all the setbacks which auto-immune diseases and cancers would introduce into the process.

That looks like ∞ years plus ∞ years to me. The Christian doctrine about the Garden of Eden and the Fall seem more reasonable. But I would love to hear rebuttals from more-qualified interlocutors!

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Our Lady, Vatican II, Mercy Old and New

Closing Mass of Vatican II
Closing Mass of Vatican II

Today, the Lord re-established the Garden of Eden, as it had been before the Fall.

The place where the human being, child of God, could receive the Creator’s love, and return it, without selfishness getting in the way. The place where human intelligence and freedom could exercise itself fully, without vice and dishonesty destroying things. The place of quiet, pure friendship between God and man.

That lovely garden returned to the earth on this day. Because the soul of the Virgin Mary is that garden. In her conversation with the Archangel Gabriel (which we read at Holy Mass today), we see into Our Lady’s soul: perfectly honest, humbly intelligent, living by faith, and ready to serve. An un-fallen Eve.

Now, that was well over 2,000 years ago, when our Lady was conceived immaculate in the womb of St. Anne. Who remembers what happened exactly 50 years ago today? Pope Paul VI solemnly concluded the Second Vatican Council.

The Pope made all the Council Fathers’ teachings his own. Four years of fervent prayer, study, and debate came to an end. Something much bigger began. In the teachings of the Council, the Lord gave us modern Christians a unique and profound insight into our identity and mission.

Fifty years ago. Hate to break it to you: If you can remember the Second Vatican Council, you old.

Or perhaps we should say, ‘mature.’ Because in fifty years, I think it’s fair to say, we have matured in two ways.

1) Fifty years on, we can understand that the Church of today, the Church of the new millennium, has not fundamentally changed from the Church of the two previous millennia.

Neither Pope St. John XXIII, nor any of the Council Fathers, saw themselves as founding a ‘new’ Church. At Vatican II, the same Church of our holy ancestors greeted the 20th century—greeted the ‘modern’ world. Holy Mother recognized the urgent need for us to share the Gospel of Christ faithfully in this age. So, at Vatican II, the Church strove to understand Herself in that light.

2) We have also matured in this way: We thoroughly recognize the teachings of the Council as the pure, rich, and beautiful gift that they are. We needed new guidance in order to stay true to the faith of the saints of old.

Even old-fashioned Catholics like myself take all the important teachings of Vatican II for granted: full participation in the liturgy by everyone; the apostolate of the laity; the importance of Scripture study; our shared baptism; our common humanity; the good that modern means of communication can do; the good that the modern dream of a unified world can do. Vatican II reminded us that we believe in a fruitful future just as much as we revere the holy Tradition.

Today we begin a Jubilee Year of Mercy. The Jubilee Year offers a path to the Garden of Eden, to the soul of our Lady. Holy Father has sketched out the path for us. (I think it’s a testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit that the following could also serve as a basic summary of the teachings of Vatican II.)

Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Clothe the naked. Shelter the homeless. Heal the sick. Visit the imprisoned. Bury the dead.

Counsel the doubtful. Instruct the ignorant. Comfort the sorrowful. Admonish sinners. Forgive those who have wronged you. Bear patiently with those who do you ill. Pray for the living and the dead.

Pope Francis enters St Peters through Holy Door

Good Work

St. Joseph gets two feast days. We do not wonder, Why does he get two? We wonder, Is two really enough?

On March 19, we focused on the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster-father of the Nazarene they called “the carpenter’s son.” Today we focus on St. Joseph the steady working man.

st-josephWork gets us out of the house, engages us with others, challenges us, and brings out our powers and our talents. Work gives us a worthy venue for spending our strength and our time.

We can make our work into a sacrifice for God: We offer our own personal labors—a small contribution to the great human undertaking of making the earth hospitable and fruitful—we do our little part as our act of submission to the great plan of the provident God Who gave us our time, our energy, and our talents in the first place.

In one of Jane Austen’s novels, the heroine lives with her kindly old invalid father. A minor character asks her, “Don’t you long for a husband or a change of some kind?” Emma replies: “Why should I be unhappy as I am? I do not lack employment.”

Emma didn’t have a “job,” as we would define it. But she had interests and dedication to the common good; she had energy; she had enterprise and style. She got up every day with things to do; she spent her days doing them; and she could while away the evenings comforting her father and then sleep the sleep of the just. She was living the rule of life which St. Benedict made the keystone of holiness for the Western world: “Pray and work.”

Ora et LaboraNow, many workers suffer unjust abuse of their energies and skills, working under inhuman conditions for inadequate compensation. Others languish in a miserable state of idleness because someone somewhere acted selfishly or meanly—and broke the great chain of relationships that is supposed to keep all able-bodied people working. Other workers have no joy whatsoever in their daily labor, either because they neglected their own education, or because they never had the chance to obtain one.

Emma Jane AustenThe good Lord gave us two things in the Garden of Eden, both of which were designed to lead simply to our fulfillment and happiness. As a race, we human beings have managed to make a big mess out of both of them. We have subjected both of them to our self-centeredness and the worst excesses of our capacity to be ignorant and cruel. Sex and work.

May God forgive us for our own personal contributions to this mess.

When the Lord consecrated St. Joseph to participate in the great work of welcoming the Christ into the world, He gave the human race a fresh start in the area of honest daily labor. With our eyes fixed on St. Joseph, then, we have the hope of living our days in the service of God. We have the hope of doing our part to redeem the world from the twin agonies of slavery and unemployment.

May St. Joseph always be our guiding light and keep us employed in the work which does us, and our neighbors, the most genuine good.

Dominion

First of all: CAAAAAPPSSSS!!!

Secondly: I have the privilege of initiating two lovely young lasses (who have attained the age of reason) into the Holy Church tonight. Here is a homily for them and for the gathered faithful…

In the beginning, God gave us—human beings—dominion over “the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all wild animals.” He gave us dominion. Dominion.

In other words, the Lord anointed mankind as lords and ladies. He took a diadem bejeweled with mysterious heavenly pearls, and He crowned our heads, making us royalty of the earth. We reign over everything made of atoms. We alone—of all the creatures God formed from the primordial clay—we alone commune with the angels and God Himself, through our intellectual and moral life.

God put us in an enclosed garden: us, God, happiness, and everything we need. The enclosure protected us from disorder and confusion; it gave us a home with a beautiful roof: God. God was the horizon of the garden, and we never had to leave; we never had to fight traffic or labor at unpleasant business. God made us royalty in a palace.

This is not a fantasy. The earth hardened in the meantime; we got born in strife, besmirched with confusion, irreligion, and a great deal of selfish nonsense. We can’t manage to master ourselves, much less reign supreme.

But the dominion for which we were made is no fantasy. The royal throne endures.

Let us look at the amazing picture: Christ walked the earth a penniless man. He ate what was set in front of Him; He slept wherever the door of hospitality opened. He feared no one. He lived in the truth. He prayed. He smiled with the joy of God. Unarmed, with bare feet and a gentle voice, He reigned over the world.

He lived the spiritual life. The crown of holiness from above sat on His brow from birth to death. He made His pilgrim way on the same hard earth as we do, but He lived in the enclosed garden of a pure soul, a clear conscience, and an unswerving dedication to His destiny, a destiny of undying glory.

Jesus the Christ. Jesus the anointed. Anointed with the Holy Spirit. Consecrated in life, unbreakable life; consecrated in true dominion.

He wore His crown to the Cross. He reigned while they mocked Him and excoriated Him; He reigned while His lifeblood flowed out. Satan had no power over Him. What the Lord had said about the suffering of His dear friend Lazarus applied to His own apparent defeat: “This sickness is not to end in death. It is for the glory of God.”

Jasmine. Lillian. Wake up. The time has come to bathe and anoint your brows. The time has come to set the Christian crown on your foreheads. God is giving you the spiritual life. God is giving you dominion over everything that is made out of atoms. God is anointing you as princesses of His own royal house. Believe, girls. Believe.

And so I ask you, do you reject Satan…etc.

Two Temptations

Today the Church commemorates two occasions when the devil came to tempt somebody.

In the first, Satan came to tempt two people, Adam and Eve.

Adam and Eve lived in the garden of Eden. They had everything they could ever have wanted without having to work for it. They never got sick. They were destined to live forever and go to heaven without dying. Perhaps most unimaginable for us, Adam and Eve were married to each other, and yet there was nothing that would cause them to have any difficulties in getting along: no bad habits, neither of them were messy, or crabby, or lazy.

In the second instance, the devil came to tempt the Lord Jesus. The situation was completely different. The Lord was not in a garden; He was in the desert. He did not have everything He wanted to eat and drink; He had nothing to eat and drink. The Lord Jesus was not in a state of leisure and ease. Rather, He was desperately hungry, struggling physically in every way, because He had been fasting for forty days. And our Lord did not have a human companion. He was completely alone.

The devil came into both of these two very different situations in order to lure his victims into disobedience.

In the garden of Eden, God had expressed His will very clearly. He told Adam and Eve: Do not eat from this particular tree. There were countless other trees, heavy with delicious fruit. Just don’t eat from this one. The devil came to trick them into eating it from it anyway.

When Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation, it was not a matter of human weakness. Before the Fall, human nature was not weak. When they sinned, it was not because their weak flesh faltered. They just willfully disobeyed.

What happened? How did Satan pull it off? The devil suggested to Adam and Eve that God is not to be trusted. God had demanded obedience to one simple law. The Devil put the idea into our First Parents’ minds that this was an infringement on their proper rights. God was making them His slaves. Previously they thought that they had everything. The Devil then tricked them into thinking that they would not have everything until they had total independence and got out from under the law of God.

Christ also lived under a law. The Father had not openly spoken a law to His incarnate Son. But in the depths of His human mind, Christ knew the will of the Father. We know this because Christ had said early on: “The Son of man must be rejected, and suffer, and die, and on the third day rise again.”

In the desert, the Lord Jesus was hungry and He was lonely, but the devil did not temp Him to gluttony or vanity. If Jesus had eaten some bread, it would not have been gluttony. If He had gone to Jerusalem and let Himself be admired and served by everyone there, that would not have been vanity: He is the King of kings and Lord of lords Whom everyone is bound to admire and serve.

Perhaps the difference between the two episodes of temptation—the garden and the desert; our First Parents and Christ—the difference lies in understanding what obedience to God is. Adam and Eve had everything, but they let themselves be deceived into thinking that they didn’t have everything since they had to obey God. On the other hand, the Lord Jesus had nothing—nothing except what He called “the food that sustains me:” namely, doing the will of the Father. The Lord Jesus knew that if He had this food of obedience, He in fact had everything. He didn’t need anything else at all—not food, not glory, not even His bodily life.

Satan is very intelligent and very wily, but Christ turned the tables on him. Long ago the devil had reduced the human race to slavery, so he naturally thought that he had come to tempt one of his slaves. But in fact, the devil came to tempt the new, incorruptible Adam, who was filled with the infinite strength of the Holy Spirit. Satan did not find a slave in the desert. He found the omnipotent One Who is absolutely free.

This is the special grace of Lent: Christ gives us a share in His immeasurable strength and His perfect freedom. He beckons us out for forty days in the desert with Him. In the desert, He teaches us the joy of His obedience.

Scripture sings of the sequel to these days of training:

Who is coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?
Under the apple tree I awakened you.
There your mother was in travail with you.
There she who bore you was in travail.
(Song of Solomon 8:5)

Christ’s Holy Cross takes us back to the Garden of Eden. Beneath the Tree of Life, where our human nature fell into weakness and suffering because of disobedience, we find our obedient Beloved. We can lean on Him forever.

Greedy and Envious? Try Poverty and Love

He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords
and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables…At this the Jews answered and said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”
(John 2:14-19)

The Lord Jesus drove the greedy merchants and money-changers from the Temple. The Jewish leaders envied Christ’s authority and power. So in the gospel reading, we have seen both greed and envy. These are two of the seven deadly sins.

cleansing
Continue reading “Greedy and Envious? Try Poverty and Love”

Keep the Sabbath

This apse mosaic depicts the Cross as the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden
This apse mosaic depicts the Cross as the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden
I should like you to be free of anxieties. (I Corinthians 7:32)

For our second readings at Sunday Mass, we are in the middle of reading selections from St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. St. Paul wrote to his beloved Corinthian Christians to help them resolve the numerous problems they had.

In the church in Corinth, there were factions with conflicting teachings. Some of the Corinthian Christians considered themselves too good for the rules. Some liked to show off their wealth. One of them sued a brother Christian in a court of law. And everyone was scandalized by the outrageous behavior of one of the members.

Continue reading “Keep the Sabbath”

Immaculate Conception Homily

Pope Benedict at the Spanish Steps in Rome for a prayer to the Immaculate Virgin on December 8
Pope Benedict at the Spanish Steps in Rome for a prayer to the Immaculate Virgin on December 8

Here is your humble preacher’s homily for today’s Solemnity…

The Solemnity of our Lady’s Immaculate Conception takes us back to the Garden of Eden. It takes us back to the life our First Parents had before they sinned.

sistine-appleThat life is deep in the misty past now; it is like a dream. It is hard for us now even to imagine how fresh and lovely everything was in the garden. Nothing had grown old; nothing had withered. Everything was vigorous and full of life. Everything was full of promise and possibility.

God originally made the world to be like that. He created us in innocence. We could have lived that way forever—without any deceit or betrayal, without any hurt or meanness, without selfishness or hardness of heart.

Continue reading “Immaculate Conception Homily”