Friday, March 30, 2007

The Heart of Creation

With all the strife over the meaning of Genesis with respect to the neo-Darwinian model of creaturely origins, it is easy to lose track of the central Truth that Scripture seeks to pass on to us. In 1981, before he ascendended to the papacy, Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger) gave a series of four Lenten homilies (sermons) on creation. These homilies recollect our attention to the core purpose of the creation accounts:

And so it came to be understood that this God of Israel was not a God like the other gods, but that he was the God who held sway over every land and people. He could do this, however, because he himself had created everything in heaven and on earth. It was in exile and in the seeming defeat of Israel that there occurred an opening to the awareness of the God who holds every people and all history in his hands, who holds everything because he is the source of all power.


I just said how, gradually, in confronting its pagan environment and its own heart, the people of Israel experienced what "creation" was. Implicit here is the fact that the classic creation account is not the only creation text of sacred Scripture. Immediately after it there follows another one, composed earlier and containing other imagery. In the Psalms there are still others, and there the movement to clarify the faith concerning creation is carried still further: In its confrontation with Hellenistic civilization. Wisdom literature reworks the theme without sticking to the old images such as the seven days. Thus we can see how the Bible itself constantly readapts its images to a continually developing way of thinking, how it changes time and again in order to bear witness, time and again, to the one thing that has come to it, in truth, from God's Word, which is the message of his creating act. In the Bible itself the images are free and they correct themselves ongoingly. In this way they show, by means of a gradual and interactive process, that they are only images, which reveal something deeper and greater.

That something deeper and greater is the touchstone of Christianity and the standard by which we judge any interpretation of Scripture. At the beginning of his second homily, Ratzinger summarizes the unified Message that God has been trying to communicate from the beginning:

In our first encounter with the Bible's and the church's faith in creation, two realizations became particularly clear. We can sum up the first in this way: As Christians we read Holy Scripture with Christ. He is our guide all the way through it. He indicates to us in reliable fashion what am image is and where the real, enduring content of biblical experssion may be found. At the same time he is freedom from a false slavery to literalism and a guarantee of the solid, realistic truth of the Bible, which does not dissipate into a cloud of pious pleasantries but remains the sure ground upon which we stand. Our second realization was this: Faith in creation is reasonable. Even if reason itself cannot perhaps give an account of it, it searches in faith and finds there the answer that it had been looking for.

Above the fray of the evolution wars, the Truth stands serene.

Joseph Ratzinger, trans. Boniface Ramsey, In the Beginning...: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman's Publishing Company), 11-12, 14-15, 21.

See also: Pius XII, Humani Generis (12 August 1950).


Doctor Logic said...

Are you saying that, no matter what we find through science, scripture will be compatible? Or does scripture say something falsifiable?

It sounds like this "Truth" thing refers to "whatever true stuff we happen to find."

Lawrence Gage said...

Dear Logic-meister,

No, the point of the post is not that Scripture will "always" be compatible with scientific results, but that Scripture's concern is something much larger than science. If you are asking my point of view, beyond the post, both Scripture and science (rightly understood) witness to the same Truth and so must be ultimately compatible. As Galileo wrote, "Holy Scripture and nature proceed equally from the divine Word" (Letter to Castelli, 1613).

Scripture says some things that are (hypothetically) falsifiable, and some things that are not falsifiable.

Some things fail to be falsifiable, not because they are unprovable, but because they are not disprovable. For example, the statement, "There is truth" (by which I mean a correspondence between the mind and extra-mental reality--I seem to recall you have a different definition) cannot be untrue. Anyone who denies such a self-evident principal does so at the expense of declaring his own statements false and thus unintelligible.

One thing that Scripture teaches through the creation stories is that the world is intelligible. This truth seems self-evident, but human history amply witnesses to man's failure to grasp its intelligibility otherwise.


Doctor Logic said...


I basically agree with what you are saying about unprovable assumptions. However, I think that your claim stands in opposition to your own argument.

You can't find a rational argument for rationality. Nor for intelligibility. Every proof or rational argument assumes these things at step zero. It costs nothing to assume them later.

For example, suppose I propose a physicalist model. It costs me nothing to assume that physicalism results in rationality and intelligibility. These things were assumed at step zero, so, again it's free. (FYI, this is hypothetical - I am not a physicalist.)

Likewise, if you propose a non-physical explanation, it costs you nothing to assert at a later stage that the non-physical powers that be imbued us with rationality and imbued the universe with intelligibility. Those things were assumed when you embarked upon your line of argumentation, and their re-assumption is free.

Also, you talk about the claim that "there is truth." I'll agree that some people are confused about this, but the root of their confusion is in their poor attention to definitions. The boundaries of mind are defined conventionally and perceived rather directly. I can generally tell the difference between my imagination, my dreams, my feelings and my perception of things outside myself. Intuitively, mind is defined as the stuff that is myself, but which is not directly observable with the 5 senses. So the claim that there is an extra-mental reality is a rather trivial one. If we can make the distinction between mind and not-mind, we can plainly see extra-mental reality.

Indeed, this is the only extra-mental reality we will ever experience. There's no available distinction beyond this as far as I can tell. We are often surprised by reality when it's not what we expect (i.e., our expectations can be false), but this is always the case. If today you discover we are brains in a vat, maybe tomorrow you will discover that we're not. For this reason, this notion of "ultimate truth" appears meaningless to me. How will you ever know the difference between ultimate and contingent truth, and, if you cannot say how, why should anyone care?

So, I don't understand what Scripture is adding in any dimension of this conversation.

Lawrence Gage said...

Dr. Logic, I'm having trouble following you: I'm not sure what conversation you are talking about. The conversation this post is contributing to is over the correct understanding of the Bible's creation accounts, especially with regard to modern science. Anyway, that's the conversation I am participating in. Whether you choose to participate in this conversation, or continue talking to yourself is up to you.