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Living Tradition, Oblates of Wisdom, P.O. Box 13230, St. Louis, MO 63157, USA
|No. 125||Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program||September 2006|
FRANCIS S. COLLINS AND THE LANGUAGE OF GOD
[Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
(New York: Free Press – Simon and Schuster, 2006
– viii plus 294 pages – available also from Amazon.com ]
Part II. Genesis 1-3 and the Origin of Man
30. In proposing Biologos as his synthesis of science and faith, Collins points out that science cannot answer all of the questions that are important to man, and that admitting this inability can be a blow to one’s intellectual pride. But, he adds, such a blow needs to be “recognized, internalized, and learned from” (p. 232). This realization that empirical science does not have a monopoly on all knowledge and that it takes an act of humility for some to recognize this is an important insight, and it indicates why Collins can maintain the conciliatory attitude toward faith and science that he has. It reveals, too, why he has discovered that atheism is the least rational of all the possible worldviews (p. 231). And it explains his perception that believers are correct in holding fast to the truths of the Bible and in resisting the claims of atheistic materialism (p. 178), which he characterizes as blind faith of its own in its employment of a belief system “that cannot be defended on the basis of pure reason” (p. 49). Science, he sees, is not the only way of knowing: there is also a spiritual worldview providing another way to truth (p. 229), and, because of this insight, he feels compelled by the existence of the Moral Law and of the universal longing for God (p. 149). Thus, God has written in the hearts of humans the desire to seek goodness according to the Moral Law, and this Law is “the strongest signpost to God,” to an infinitely holy God and one who cares about human beings (p. 218). In this regard, Collins advocates for faith-based ethics in general, but not for faith-based bioethics (p. 271). In a 38-page appendix on the subject of bioethics, he stands up in general for the Moral Law, but he takes a hesitant position on the question of human personality at the moment of conception and he would exclude the use of birth-control pills only in some cases, such as by women at high risk of blood clots in the legs. Also, the fact that the universe had a beginning, that it is subject to orderly physical laws of precise mathematical expression, and the perception of a remarkable series of ‘coincidences’ that allow the laws of nature to support life point to the existence of an intelligent mind lying behind them (p. 219).
31. Collins, then, is a theist, but whether, the synthesis of faith and science that he proposes completely fulfills its goal is a question that needs to be pondered. He maintains that the hypothesis of the existence of God is highly plausible, with the Anthropic Principle providing an interesting argument in favor of a Creator, but, he adds, it cannot be proved, because acceptance of the existence of God requires a leap of faith (no. 4 above). But the Scriptures tell us that the existence of God can be rationally proved from the works of creation without requiring a leap of faith, even though the will may need assistance to make the recognition. Thus, St. Paul, speaking of men who suppress the truth, says: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Rom 1:19-20). Since one of the prime arguments for the existence of God is the argument from the design of the universe, Collins’ rejection of this argument weakens his synthesis of faith and reason, and also, therefore, of faith and science. He seems to admit this where he says that today it is evolutionists who compose the vanguard of militant atheism (p. 160), inasmuch as the advent of the theory of evolution has been seized upon by atheists like Richard Dawkins “as a powerful counter-weapon against spirituality.” Collins replies that Dawkins’ argument from evolution does not disprove the existence of God, even though it does “rightly” relieve God of the responsibility of having made special acts of creation for each species on Earth, because God could have used the Darwinian process of random change and natural selection to work out his own plan of creation (pp. 162-164). The weakness of Collins’ response to Dawkins lies in this that it makes the believer in God “see” the plan of God behind a biosphere that he knows from science to have come about purely by chance, except plausibly for the Anthropic Principle and the first living form, neither of which, however, figures for him as a certain datum of science (no. 4 above).
32. Collins tells us that Darwin had no way of knowing what the mechanism of evolution by natural selection might be, but “we can now see that the variation he postulated is supported by naturally occurring mutations in DNA” (p. 131). This is an interesting admission, because it tells us that, for nearly a hundred years before the discovery of DNA, evolutionists were letting the public believe that they had a mechanism of evolution, when, in fact, they did not. Collins does not present any statistics of probability for the success of his mechanism, but we have seen in Part I of this essay that the probability of new species, of new organs, or even of new molecular functions arising by a process of random change is so small as to render it prohibitive (nos. 9ff. above). Evolutionary scientists are constantly trying to show that the theory of evolution can be used to predict events in the rise of living species, but some recent discoveries on the level of DNA have gone contrary to what Darwinian theory predicts (nos. 20-25 above).
33. Since the theory of evolution is basically an historical theory, and since the Christian religion is based on real historical facts, it is time to put to rest the old saying: “Evolution is science; creation is religion.” The alleged fact of biological evolution impinges on the believed fact of divine interventions in the rise of living species, and to examine properly this question an adequate definition of science is needed. In my opinion, if “science” is taken to be “the knowledge of reality as such,” then any field that studies reality by means of a reasonable method is a science, and this includes the reasonable study of philosophy, of history, and of theology. In our present discussion, we are considering the origin of species, not only from the viewpoint of empirical science, but also from the viewpoints of philosophy, history and theology. As physicist Anthony Rizzi points out in The Science Before Science, in contemporary Western culture, only “scientific conclusions” are taken to be certified knowledge, while all other ideas are considered mere hearsay and opinion, and what are understood by most people, including most empirical scientists, as “scientific conclusions” are the results of empirical science alone.1 But, he continues, the empirical sciences are not the only fields that offer certified knowledge. The main theme of Rizzi’s book is to show that philosophy, the field that studies the first principles of things, is a science on a par with the empirical sciences and is actually a prerequisite for proper thinking even in the empirical sciences (Rizzi, p. 4). He notes the need for any scientist to be able philosophically to distinguish between matter and form, substance and accident, and not, like Immanuel Kant, to give to beings of reason priority over what exists in objective reality (Rizzi, p. 169). What is relevant in the present discussion is that empirical scientists tend to neglect the phenomenon of life as a form of being that surpasses the sum total of the material elements in which it dwells, and which, therefore, lies partly outside of the purview of empirical science as such, where it is an object of study of the sciences of history, of philosophy, and of theology. Collins acknowledges the phenomenon of life, and especially of human life, as rising above the status of matter as such, but for him is this realization a datum of certified knowledge, that is, of scientific knowledge, or is it just an item of hearsay and personal opinion?
34. While Collins admits that there are many “imperfections” and many “puzzles” in the fossil record, he maintains that practically all of the findings fit in with the concept of a tree of life of related organisms (p. 96). Contrary to this, biochemist Roland Hirsch, writing in 2004, finds that, according to new discoveries, “there is no single ‘tree of life,’ but rather a ‘web’ or ‘net’ of interconnections that are both vertical and horizontal” (no. 21 above). Collins claims good evidence for transitional forms from reptiles to birds and from reptiles to mammals (p. 96). But the “transitional forms” are actually complete intermediate species in themselves, not organisms with partially formed organs and parts on the way to becoming organs and parts of another species. For instance, there might have been lizards with wings, or lizards with feathers, but the wings were functional wings and the feathers were complete feathers. As Darrel Falk points out, there is evidence in the fossil record of a time-directed increase in the size of whales, of elephants, and, indeed, of mammals in general, of the appearance of organs such as the fat pad in whales, and of the hearing apparatus in mammals (no. 16 above), but there is no evidence that these graduated forms grew one into another by an immense number of tiny changes over a long period of time. These intermediate forms could just as well have been designed by the Creator to be intermediate without being “transitional” in a Darwinian sense.
35. Michael Denton2 treats at length the consummate difference between the lung and respiratory system of a bird in contrast with the lung and respiratory systems of reptiles and all other vertebrates. In all other vertebrates, the air is drawn into the lungs by means of branching tubes that terminate in tiny air sacs, so that during respiration the air is moved in and out through the same passage. But in all birds the major bronchi break down into tiny tubes which permeate the lung tissue and later join up again to form a true circulatory system in which the air flows only in one direction through the lungs. This air system necessitates “a highly specialized and unique division of the body cavity of the bird into several compressible compartments,” making the avian lung quite unique. “Just how such an utterly different respiratory system could have evolved gradually from the standard vertebrate design is fantastically difficult to envisage, especially bearing in mind that the maintenance of respiratory function is absolutely vital to the life of an organism to the extent that the slightest malfunction leads to death within minutes.” Furthermore, “the avian lung is fixed rigidly in the body wall and cannot therefore expand in volume” and “the avian lung cannot be inflated out of a collapsed state as happens in all other vertebrates after birth.” Hence, “the suspicion inevitably arises that perhaps no functional intermediate exists between the dead-end and continuous through-put types of lungs” (Denton, pp.210-212). The point made here is that, according to Collins’ view, for a transition from reptile to bird, the non-functioning avian lung would have to grow in the reptile simultaneously with the functioning reptilian lung over a succession of generations lasting up to perhaps millions of years and as a purely random process, which is, as Denton says, “fantastically difficult to envisage.”
36. Collins maintains that the study of genomes “leads inexorably” to the conclusion that men share a common bodily ancestor with other biological species (pp. 133-134). For instance, “When one aligns sections of the human and mouse genomes, anchored by the appearance of gene counterparts that occur in the same order, one can usually also identify AREs in approximately the same location in these two genomes.”3 Many of these “remain in a position that is most consistent with their having arrived in the genome of a common mammalian ancestor, and having been carried along ever since” (p. 136). One can also in some cases identify “decapitated and utterly defunct” AREs in parallel positions in the human and the mouse genome. Unless, he concludes, God has positioned these useless AREs in these precise places to confuse and mislead us, these recent findings about the genome constitute “an overwhelming challenge” to those who adhere to the notion that all biological species were created from nothing (p. 137). However, this argument assumes that the placement of ancient repetitive elements in the genome is purely at random and not according to an as yet unidentified systematic function of the organisms, and, as Collins himself points out, it is a mistake to confuse the unknown with the unknowable or the unsolved with the unsolvable (p. 188). As recent experiments have shown, much of what Collins refers to as “junk DNA” have key roles to play in the development and function of individuals, including even repetitive portions of the DNA (no. 23 above). In the words of philosopher of science Stephen Meyer (ibid., footnote 10): “Neo-Darwinism affirms that new functional sections of the genome arise by trial and error process of mutation and subsequent selection. For this reason, historically many neo-Darwinists expected or predicted that the large non-coding regions of the genome – so-called ‘junk DNA’ – would lack function altogether (Orgel and Crick 1980). On this line of thinking, the nonfunctional sections of the genome represent nature’s failed experiments that remain in the genome as a kind of artifact of the past activity of the mutation and selection process. Advocates of the design hypothesis, on the other hand, would have predicted that non-coding regions of the genome might well reveal hidden functions, not only because design theorists do not think that new genetic information arises by a trial and error process of mutation and selection, but also because designed systems are often functionally polyvalent. Even so, as new studies reveal more about the functions performed by the non-coding regions of the genome (Gibbs 2003), the design hypothesis can no longer be said to make this claim in the form of a specifically future-oriented prediction. Instead, the design hypothesis might be said to gain confirmation or support from its ability to explain this now known evidence, albeit after the fact.” The point to be gathered here is that, while the AREs that Collins mentions above may themselves be “decapitated and utterly defunct,” they may, nevertheless, have been dumped in the relatively same place in the genomes of mice and men by a similar systematic function of the respective organisms.
37. Collins points to other parallels in the comparison of the human genome with the genomes of other species to argue against special creation by God. He describes the fusion that occurred, “as we evolved from the apes,” and other parallels to indicate the need of common ancestors (pp. 138-139). For instance, the knocked-out gene caspase-12 exists non-functionally in the identical relative location in the human genome as in that of the chimpanzee, where it functions very well. Collins queries: If humans came as a result of a supernatural act of special creation, “why would God have gone to the trouble of inserting such a nonfunctional gene in this precise location?” Since I have not yet seen a specific answer to this new question on the level of genetics, I wonder about the theological implications. If the instance of caspase-12 indicates the evolution of the human body from an earlier species, it does not, nevertheless, demonstrate the unguided and undesigned evolution of the human body. Rather, it could suggest that God created the human species and each new species by altering the genes and instilling a different kind of soul in the new organism being conceived. The Bible doesn’t say that God created each new species ex nihilo, but rather from water or from the ground, and, in the case of man, “from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Gen 2:7). This could mean, along the lines of an expanded theory of St. Augustine, that Adam came ultimately from dry non-living matter and proximately from the egg of the prior species, containing an altered genome (with newly knocked-out caspase-12) and a newly created rational soul. The same would be true for Eve. A mysterious problem for Darwinian evolutionism is how sexuality arose and why it was kept by natural selection. An argument against random mutations in the Darwinian theory is that, for a new species to survive, both a male and a female of the species would have to appear at approximately the same time and place. This problem would be answered if the transformation were effected by creative divine intervention in the genome of the predecessor together with the instilling of a rational soul. And the “rib” of Adam, from which Eve was made, could have been the genome of Adam.
38. Collins considers himself to be a creationist in the sense of one who argues for the existence of a God who was directly involved in the creation of the universe (p. 171), but he opposes Young Earth Creationism in the sense of an interpretation of the early chapters of the Book of Genesis according to which the creation of the world took place in six twenty-four hour days, all biological species were created by separate divine interventions, and Adam and Eve were true historical figures created directly by God in the Garden of Eden and not descended from previous biological ancestors (p. 172). He notes that, if scientists were to accept these claims as true, there would result “a complete and irreversible collapse of the sciences of physics, chemistry, cosmology, geology, and biology” (p. 174). He asks, Is God honored by a demand that his people ignore rigorous scientific conclusions about his creation (p. 176)? Granted the clear danger in unrestrained forms of “liberal” theology that undermine the real truths of faith, he adds, is it reasonable for sincere believers to base their whole position in the evolutionary debate on a literalist interpretation, with which other equally sincere believers disagree, considering also that the God of the Bible is also the God of the genome (pp. 209-211)? As St. Augustine, in his commentary on the literal sense of Genesis, remarked of similar positions so many centuries ago: “Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics” (Collins, p. 157).
39. Collins is a creationist in the sense that he accepts for almost sure that God made from nothing the stuff that exploded in the original Big Bang (p. 67), but not in the sense that after that first instant God actually shaped the universe into what it became. Perhaps Collins accepts more as well, in that he also holds that God made the physical and chemical laws of the universe that guided in some way the whole universe into becoming a habitat on Earth of living biological organisms, including especially man (the Anthropic Principle). Although he doesn’t see right now how the first living cell could have arisen spontaneously from non-living matter, he cautions against assuming that evolutionary science will never cross that gap (p. 93). But what he definitely holds is that, after the first life form arose, God let nature itself provide all the succeeding forms of life by a process of random mutation and natural selection (no. 3 above).
40. Young Earth Creationists have reacted strongly against this classic Darwinian position. Collins is appealing mainly to Young Earth Creationists to accept the data that, he maintains, modern science has made clear, such as that the universe began as an infinitely dense, dimensionless point of pure energy about fourteen billion years ago (pp. 64-65), and that the Earth is about 4.55 billion years old (p. 89). Furthermore, he adds, microbes were in existence on Earth by about 3.85 billion years ago (p. 89), and “suddenly,” about 550 million years ago, a great number of differently structured, aquatic life forms began to appear, and about 400 million years ago plants appeared on dry land (pp. 94-95). Then, from about 230 million years ago, dinosaurs roamed the earth (p. 95). Finally, from about 195,000 years ago, our human species (Homo sapiens) came into being (p. 96). All of this is, of course, in great contrast to the theory that the universe, the Earth, all plants and animals, and man have been in existence for no more than 10,000 years.
41. Collins asserts that our idea of the origin of the universe has been fundamentally changed over the past seventy-five years (p. 60). What he means is that his view and that of most empirical scientists has undergone a conversion to the theory of the Big Bang, and his preoccupation is that about forty-five percent of Americans are still adherents to Young Earth Creationism (p. 172). And why is this? I think because evolutionists have not provided for them a satisfactory view of the origin of the world. Since the first chapters of Genesis have always provided the worldview of Christianity, to destroy the historical truth of these chapters is to destroy this worldview and potentially to destroy Christianity, and that is why, as Collins admits, evolutionists are the greatest promoters of atheism today (p. 160). As long as the worldview given by divine revelation in Genesis 1-3 is being crudely attacked by evolutionary theorists, discerning Christians will resist, even while they otherwise accept all of the valid results of empirical science. The problem is that evolutionary scientists, in their enthusiasm to promote the theory, have neglected much of their obligation to be critical in the interpretation and exposition of their results. Creation scientists have thus done a service to Christianity and to empirical science itself in pointing out the defects of the theory. For instance, Walt Brown, in the seventh edition of his In the Beginning, gives forty-two reasonable arguments against the theory of evolution. These arguments regard problems such as the following: spontaneous generation has never been observed; almost all observable mutations are harmful; all fossil species appear fully developed; no isolated system has ever been observed to increase its information content significantly; similarities may just as well imply a common designer; there are no independent species of 2-20 cells; fossil gaps are largely unfilled; the fossil remains of “apelike men” have tended to be greatly overstated; the emergence of the metamorphosis of insects is unexplainable; the phenomenon of sexual reproduction is also unexplainable; and immune systems were needed by every species from the beginning or they would not have survived.4 Do evolutionary scientists study these objections and seek to refute them? No, they ignore them or shrug them off. Even Francis Collins just passes vaguely over a couple of them in his book with no real refutation (p. 173), and Darrel Falk, while presenting some counter-arguments from the fossil record, practically ignores the rest. Are students of empirical science taught to consider and address these arguments? By no means. Are teachers of science allowed to mention weaknesses of the theory of evolution to their pupils, or to explain, as Collins and Falk do in their books, that belief in God is not antiquated thereby? Absolutely not. So the theory of evolution, as taught in the schools, projects an implicit atheism maintained for sociological reasons by the secularist establishment. And that is the main reason why so many Christians are resisting it.
42. Collins quotes a passage from C.S. Lewis, referring to the story of Adam and Eve, to the effect that man is, indeed, different from other animals in that “God caused to descend upon this organism” the self-awareness of intelligence and free will, and the ability to know God, and to make judgments of truth, beauty, and goodness. He understands Lewis’ interpretation of the story to be “a moral lesson rather than a scientific textbook or a biography” (p. 208). While admitting that God can perform supernatural acts, he sees the story of Adam and Eve as “a poetic and powerful allegory of God’s plan for the entrance of the spiritual nature (the soul) and the Moral Law into humanity” (p. 207). But both Collins and Lewis seem to be missing a third category here, in that the “story” of Adam and Eve in Gen 2-3, while it is neither a scientific textbook nor a biography, is, nevertheless, an historical account. That there is allegory in this account has been recognized for millennia, but, as the Fathers of the Church and many other writers have observed, the allegory is set down as the spiritual sense of an historical presentation, and it is with the historical presentation that we are concerned here. Collins seems to be referring the notion of allegory especially to the creation of the bodies of Adam and Eve rather than to the creation of their souls, because he quotes favorably the words of Pope John Paul II in his address of 1996 to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, in which John Paul said, following the teaching of Pope Pius XII: “If the origin of the human body comes through living matter which existed previously, the spiritual soul is created directly by God” (p. 202).
43. Collins holds that the Moral Law and the universal search for salvation “defy evolutionary explanation and point to our spiritual nature” (p. 200). This judgment appears to be authentic, as is his own conversion experience, but whether it can stand up in the face of the theory of evolution that he accepts is something to be pondered. In Collins’ view, the existence of God cannot be proved (p. 201); it pertains only to the “spiritual logic of the heart, the mind, and the soul” (p. 204). It is, then, taken to be a matter of interior non-scientific experience, and here appear problems with his synthesis of faith and reason. The first problem is the danger of the radical separation of faith and reason, which arose during the Protestant Reformation and is adhered to even today by many, whereby the objects of faith are gathered together into a separate universe of discourse from the objects of reason, and, therefore, also from the objects of empirical science. According to this view, one can be moved interiorly by the sight of a waterfall, by the beauty of a symphony, by a call to conversion, but this is seen to be a subjectively oriented “truth” different in essence from the “reality” known to empirical science. And so, this religious belief cannot defend itself against the charge of illusion. The answer to this problem lies in the awareness that the existence of God can be proved from reason (Rom 1:19-20), and the reality of the supernatural objects of Christian faith, while they cannot be demonstrated by reason, neither can they be disproved by reason. The answer lies also in the awareness that the existence of God and the objects of Christian faith lie within one and the same continuum of reality, as reality is known to the human mind. Collins basically accepts this in the sense that he holds that there is no ultimate conflict between faith and science, but he also seems to be making the subjective religious worldview and the objective scientific worldview into two somewhat overlapping parallel worlds of knowledge, where the religious world is gradually surrendering more and more of its objective reality to the world of empirical science, in keeping with the subjectivistic idealism of Immanuel Kant, who was himself also struck with awe by “the starry heavens without and the Moral Law within” (p. 57).
44. The second problem is the error of Modernism, which holds that faith arises as a preconceptual, sub-rational instinct in man which needs to be overcome by science and modern education. Those who hold that there is a universal awareness of the Moral Law and a universal desire to know God must be ready to refute the idea that these religious elements of consciousness are not just pre-scientific instincts. If the idea that God is the source of life has no proof but only plausibility to stand on, how can it answer these objections? It is not this kind of coexistence that we would find satisfying. Then, there is the Modernist idea of “authentic human existence,” honed to perfection by Rudolf Bultmann, which conceives of faith as a purely subjective activity of the Christian believer whereby the believer, having rejected all of the supernatural objects of faith, uses the human Jesus as his prime model as he constantly strives to achieve his own “authentic” existence, while knowing that he is doomed in his fallen state never actually to reach it.
45. But Christian faith starts out on an entirely different basis. The objects of faith are presented by the inspired words of Sacred Scripture and the authentic tradition of the Church. The true Christian affirms the historical truth of the Scriptures as well as the objects of Christian faith, which are guaranteed by divine revelation and inspiration, and he is obliged to defend his belief against temptations to disbelieve. The historical truth of the first chapters of Genesis has often been too easily surrendered in recent times. As already stated, the existence of God can be known from natural reason, but for Christians it is principally known from divine revelation together with the whole array of other facts presented in the Bible. The defense of these facts is an obligation of Christians, and certain of these facts are in discussion here. An objection appears in the case of Galileo Galilei, who was tried and condemned by the Church for affirming that the Earth is revolving on its axis. This was overkill in the defense of the Scriptures, because the passages in question can be read in another way, but this historical incident does not clear the way for a general surrender of the historical events reported in the Bible, such as the creation of the universe. On the question of the six days of creation in Gen 1, the Pontifical Biblical Commission, in a teaching issued on 30 June 1909, declared that the word Yom (day) may be taken either in its strict sense as the natural day, or in a less strict sense as signifying a certain space of time” and “free discussion of this question is permitted to interpreters” (DS 3519). I think that this was a brilliant answer to the question, because it set up the possibility of a double literal sense of the chapter, namely, a plain and popular narrative, not exact according to technical standards, and a subtle underlying narrative that would always be ambiguous as to its existence but which would show that the literal reading of the narrative is not out of keeping with what technical science has established. The plain narrative allows primitive people to understand the creation in keeping with a merely popular understanding of the nature of the universe, while the subtle narrative has the same message on a more exact level.
46. To illustrate the difference, my newspaper gives the time of sunrise and the time of sunset. Technically, the sun does not rise or set; it is the Earth that sets and rises. But the newspaper is not publishing technical nonsense; it is speaking according to visual perception, as all of us do when we watch the sun rise or set. Similarly, the Author of Genesis has artistically presented the events involved in the creation of the world as a series of six natural days followed by a seventh day of rest, for one reason to establish the seven-day week, which has been a part of our culture ever since. But the same words of Genesis can be seen to have a technical conformity with proven data of empirical science in an ambiguous way such that it is not teaching or approving current theories. Thus, a day is defined as a period of light followed by a period of darkness, while the solar day is not said to have been established until the fourth day of creation. This reading was begun by Augustine but has not been developed by exegetes, and so I can only give my personal opinion as to how this works out. The first day consisted of the total darkness before the Big Bang followed by the burst of light that came with the Big Bang. The second day consisted of the darkness surrounding the tiny area where the Big Bang occurred followed by the expansion of light into the same area and/or it consisted of the darkness of outer space contrasted with the localized glowing ball of gases that was becoming the Earth.. The third day consisted of the darkness of totally unperceived light followed by the photosynthesis of vegetative life. The fourth day consisted of the darkness of the sky surrounding the Earth (perhaps due also to an atmosphere thick with gases) followed by the visually organized light of the Sun, the Moon, and the stars. The fifth day consisted of the darkness of non-vision followed by the light of sentient perception on the part of animals. The sixth day consisted of the spiritual darkness of non-intellectual vision followed by the light of intellectual vision in the creation of man.
47. Do these six days represent historical divine interventions? St. Augustine reluctantly concluded that they do not represent a chronological succession, after he was not able to see how plants could have been created on the third day, when the Sun was created only on the fourth day? But he wished that someone would solve this problem for him.5 Perhaps we can say that this problem has been solved, inasmuch as the text of Genesis seems to be saying that God placed (that is, positioned) the Sun, the Moon, and the stars in the heavens on the fourth day, while they had already been fashioned on the second day. And this would be according to appearances, since the positioning probably occurred in the movements of the Earth in the following way. By fixing the speed of rotation of the Earth on its axis, He determined the length of the solar day. By fixing the speed of tilting of the Earth, He determined the length of the seasons. And by fixing the speed of rotation of the Earth around the Sun, He determined the length of the year. The explanation of St. Augustine that the days do not represent a succession of historical events, but rather a succession of illuminations in the minds of the angels, and that the sequence of the six days is logical rather than chronological is a valid hypothesis of Christian tradition.
48. The more common tradition is that the six days of creation are six periods of time covering six divine interventions. According to this interpretation, vegetative life was created in the third period, and, therefore, before the final fixing of the movements of the Earth in the fourth period, while aquatic and avian life were created on the fifth day, and the land animals and man were created on the sixth day. This succession seems to be in accord with modern taxonomic data, except for those who hold that some land animals came before the birds. St. Augustine conjectured that the potentiality to become the various living species was packaged in matter, “potentially and causally,” at the beginning of time,6 and gradually unfolded over the course of time, in the sense that various living species would spontaneously spring forth from water or earth when the circumstances were right. Thus, he says, the earth was given an invisible inner potency to be unfolded over the ages,7 but not without creative divine interventions and not without the guidance of God’s providence.8 He did not consider species springing from species, as Darwin has postulated, but this, too, could perhaps become a modification of his theory, if the facts should bear this out. Augustine definitely held that the idea of each new species was formulated by God as a potentiality into which prior matter could grow, while Aristotle and Aquinas explain that every living organism has a soul which is the ultimate source of its life and which is ultimately responsible for the bodily form into which the fertilized egg grows. Most biologists tend to regard life itself and all biological functions of animals on a purely material and mechanistic level, with no regard for their living souls, but recent findings confirm the existence of functions that go beyond the simple chemistry of the cells (no. 19 above).
49. On the basis of evolutionary findings, Collins maintains that humans (Homo sapiens) appeared on the face of the earth about 195,000 years ago (p. 96) [or 100,000 years ago, probably in East Africa (p. 207)], but some branches seem to have died out: Neanderthal men existed until about 30,000 [now 28,000] years ago, and a group of tiny people in Indonesia until about 13,000 years ago (p. 96). According to the opposing description of the creation of man in the Bible, God directly created Adam from the dust (or slime) of the earth, and from a “rib” or “side” of Adam, He created Eve, and then He placed them both in a “paradise of pleasure” (Gen 2:7-8). Collins is of the opinion that this biblical description is not literal history, but is rather “a symbolic allegory of the entrance of the human soul into a previously soulless animal kingdom” (pp. 206-207). There is some penetrating thought in this idea, but why allegory and not literal history? There is a certain convenience in viewing Genesis as a book depicting certain eternal truths of morality in an historical garb that can be discarded, and this approach enables one to adjust Genesis widely according to what one wishes to see, in this case the entrance of the human soul. But what is meant by the human soul? Collins quotes favorably C.S. Lewis to the effect that “God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness,” and that “sooner or later” they fell from the Paradisal state” (pp. 208-209). If this is read as history, then at some point of time God instilled a human soul into a merely animal organism, which became the principle of life, not only of the higher awareness of that organism, but also of its body, and this is what I have suggested in number 37 above as a possible answer to the problem of caspase-12. So recourse to allegory is not needed here.
50. But the addition of one or two hundred thousand years to the history of man on Earth is a great challenge to the message of the Bible. If there were other humans on Earth when Adam and Eve came into being, or if there never were a real Adam and Eve, then the historical reality of Original Sin is eliminated and with it the reason given in the Bible for the coming of Christ. Do the marriages of Cain and Seth imply that there were other humans on Earth (p. 207)? I think not, because the marriage of siblings would not have been incest in the beginning, when there were no other people and when the human gene pool was so fresh. If all modern men are seen to have descended from one couple upon whom God caused a human soul to descend, and if that couple did commit Original Sin, then there is no need for allegory here, even if the time of the creation of man is put back many myriads of years, or if all other branches of hominids had died out previously to the creation of Adam and Eve, but otherwise there is great reason to be critical of what Collins presents here as scientific fact (p. 207).
51. Conclusion. Francis Collins has presented a learned and eloquent appeal to Christians that they accept the Darwinian theory of evolution as a proven fact and synthesize it with their faith in the way that he proposes. To strengthen his appeal, he presents some of the most recent data of empirical science regarding the very old age of the universe and the evidence for common ancestries of biological species, including man. As Collins points out, the warning of St. Augustine against opposing one’s questionable interpretation of Sacred Scripture to the valid findings of empirical science is important, but the old age of the universe seems more established scientifically than does the Darwinian theory of evolution. Read in a general and non-technical way, the days of Genesis 1 present the essential Christian worldview of the origin of the world. Read in a technical way, the days retain the same worldview without contradicting the modern theory of the Big Bang (no. 46 above). The evidence presented by Collins in defense of the evolution of species, especially some new discoveries in the field of genetics, seems to add substance to the theory, but other recent discoveries in the same field call these arguments into question (nos. 20-25 above), so the evolution of biological species remains just a theory, and not a proven fact. An especially strong argument for the evolution of the human body comes from the location of caspase-12 in the human genome (no 37 above), but this new argument has yet to stand the test of time, particularly with regard to the overall functions of the body. Nevertheless, the idea that God created all of the major species, not through random mutations but by intelligently altering the genomes of their immediate predecessors and instilling a soul in each newly designed species, seems now more worthy of consideration than it did before.
1. Anthony Rizzi, The Science Before Science, (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: IAP Press, 2004), p. xv.
2. Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Bethesda, Maryland: Adler and Adler, 1986).
3. Collins explains (on p. 135) that, in the chromosomes, in the spaces between genes, one can identify remnants of many “jumping genes.” These are ”transposable elements that can insert themselves at random into the genome, and even continue to do so at a low level today.” Some of these elements have acquired many mutations and thus appear to be very old; they are called “ancient repetitive elements” (AREs). There are, he says, instances where “the ARE was truncated at a precise base pair at the time of insertion, losing part of its DNA sequence and all possibility of future function. . . . Finding a precisely truncated ARE in the same place in both human and mouse genomes is compelling evidence that this insertion event must have occurred in an ancestor that was common to both the human and the mouse.”
4. Walt Brown, In the Beginning (seventh edition, Phoenix, Arizona: Center for Scientific Creation, 2001), pp. 5-19.
5. Augustine, De Gen. ad litt., IV, 28.
6. Augustine, De Gen. ad litt., VI, 6.
7. Augustine, De Gen. ad litt., VIII, 5.
8. Augustine, De Gen. ad litt., IV, 12; VI, 14.