Robert Sungenis and Father Thomas
Fr. Thomas: As far as I can tell, your position amounts to this: “If you haven’t proven that Jonah is a fictional account, you should accept that it is literal history.” If this isn’t your position, I will need additional explanation in order to understand it.
R. Sungenis: Pope Leo XIII taught that Scripture is to be “interpreted in its literal and obvious sense, except only where reason makes is untenable or necessity requires,” (Providentissimus Deus, II, C, d.). I don’t know any official and binding teaching that says the Church has changed that rule. The 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church says much the same as Leo XIII (Para. 116). Thus, since there is no necessity to interpret it otherwise (unless you can prove that a man cannot be swallowed by a great fish or whale, or disprove some other historical aspect of the narrative), then it seems the burden is on you to show why it would be fictional.
Fr. Thomas: I don’t have any proofs regarding the genre of the book of Jonah. I haven’t studied the question, so it isn’t surprising that I don’t possess such proofs. Nor does this mean that I should jump to a conclusion on a debated issue. I am aware of the fact that many Scripture scholars believe that the book is a type of fiction. It would not surprise me at all, despite your dismissal of Brown, to find that there are real arguments on both sides of the issue. I am not about to immediately adopt one side of the question, just because I have studied neither side. This would be completely dishonest. In fact, Leo XIII in Providentissimus Deus says that there is no contradiction between theology and science as long as each stays within its proper limits, and quotes St. Augustine saying that one should not assert something unknown as known, as you are trying to get me to do.
R. Sungenis: Fr. Thomas, no one is trying to force you to give an answer. If you don’t know the answer, well, you don’t know the answer. I accept that. But in your email exchanges you seemed to have identified yourself as a Scripture scholar and thus you engaged everyone who rebutted your interpretations of Scripture, starting with Genesis, and you took the position of correcting them on their interpretations. And because of your answers (which always tended toward the fictional side due to your devotion to evolution) it was only natural that someone (e.g., Mr. Ferrara) would pose the Jonah question to you, since that narrative also seems to be the victim of being made fictional by modern exegetes who are devoted to evolution and thus seek to minimize divine intrusion and the miraculous in Scripture.
Fr. Thomas: In addition, the assumption (implicit in all of your arguments) that there is no genre in between literal history and complete fiction is simply incorrect. Even in modern times there is such a thing as historical fiction, which is different from each, and I see good reasons for supposing that in ancient times there were even more varieties.
R. Sungenis: I have no problem with that. But the question for you is: can you demonstrate convincingly that the narrative of Jonah is something “between literal history and complete fiction”? You can make hypotheses about degrees of fiction in extra-biblical literature all day long if you wish. The real question is, what in the narrative of Jonah itself is going to lead us away from a strictly literal account, especially since the Church has continually taught that the literal interpretation has priority unless there is good and sufficient reason to modify or dismiss it? As I view the scholarly landscape of exegetes today, the only reason I find that a significant group of scholars have opted for the fictional genre of Jonah is because they don’t prefer to give legitimacy to the miraculous, including God creating man instantaneously from the dust, or just about anything that smacks of divine intrusion, unless it suits their popular “scientific” tastes. Fr. Brown even questioned the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the resurrection of Jesus because of his aversion to the miraculous and his penchant to interpret everything as natural. You can claim ignorance to precisely what genre Jonah really is, but you need to understand that there is an agenda among certain scholars to divest the Bible of is miraculous narratives and turn them into natural occurrences because the more they can show that such is the case, well, the more they can convince us that evolution is the proper interpretation of Genesis and thus it is not to be taken literally.
Fr. Thomas: You say that the Church has consistently taught that “we only have fiction in the Bible when the Bible specifically points out its own fiction.” I have no idea what teachings you are talking about here, so you might want to quote something.
R. Sungenis: For the same reason I quoted from Prov. Deus and the Catholic Catechism, that is, that literal interpretation has the priority unless it is untenable. When the Bible says a narrative is fictional (such as when it says, “Jesus spoke in parables”), then we know a literal interpretation is untenable and not necessary.
Fr. Thomas: As I said, St. Thomas Aquinas took seriously the position that the book of Job is entirely fiction and Job himself a fictional character, even if he disagreed with it. He also mentioned that some men held this position, and he does not say they are heretics, and anything like that. So there’s no reason to accept your position that such an idea doesn’t exist in the Church’s tradition.
R. Sungenis: Since Thomas disagreed with the interpretation that Job is fictional, then I don’t know why you think him “taking seriously” counter interpretations means anything significant. Thomas was known for taking all counter interpretations seriously, an art he learned from Aristotle’s syllogistic methodology. As I said to you in my last email, I even take your arguments for evolution “seriously,” but the burden is on you to prove your case.
And no one is calling you a “heretic,” since that canonical classification belongs only to the Church. But just as Thomas would say you are wrong if you see Job as fictional, we are telling you the same about your view of Genesis, and most likely your view of Jonah. And just because there were people who opted to say Job was fictional doesn’t mean that there is any legitimacy to the view, since there was no magisterial statement that said we are to give the fictional interpretation the priority instead of the literal, and this was precisely the reason Thomas gave for why we are to interpret literally unless it is untenable.
I’m curious. Have you looked up what Thomas said about Jonah?
Fr. Thomas: Also, not all of your examples are cases “when the Bible specifically points out its own fiction,” since many metaphors are not labeled as metaphors, and it is up to us to recognize that they are not literal. The Bible does not specifically point it out.
R. Sungenis: True. Metaphors are not as clear as parables or paroimias, but the fact remains that metaphors are not literal.
Fr. Thomas: And besides, it could well be the case, as far as I know, that the book of Jonah “points out its own fiction.” Since I don’t know the original language and culture and so on, it may well be that the book begins with a phrase such as “Once upon a time,” or whatever, something that would be quite recognizable to the original audience as fiction. And again, as I stated above, I am not about to say that this is not the case, just because I don’t know that it is.
R. Sungenis: Certainly. I can assure you, however, since I know the Hebrew and the Greek, Jonah says nothing close to “Once upon a time,” and neither does Genesis. So again, the burden of proof is on you, not those who are abiding by the constant teaching of the Church to give literal interpretation the primary position unless it becomes untenable. The only way you could prove the literal interpretation of Jonah untenable is to show that a purported historical fact of the narrative is impossible. And, of course, the only way you could prove that the literal interpretation of Genesis is untenable is to show that any of its purported historical facts are impossible. Arbitrarily excluding divine intrusion does not make either Jonah or Genesis fictional, but that is precisely what a good number of exegetes attempt to do today, based on their unproven claims from popular science.
Fr. Thomas: As I have said, the fact that Jesus uses the comparison is not a strong argument that Jonah is historical. I made the same kind of comparison when I said to you, “As Nathan said to David.” Now I in fact believe in the historicity of King David. But even if I did not, this would not have stopped me from saying the very same thing, in the very same way, and it would definitely not have meant that I was lying, or playing along, or whatever; it would just have been a literary reference.
R. Sungenis: All beside the point, Fr. Thomas, since no one is arguing that a piece of historical fiction could not serve as the basis for a biblical type, if, indeed, that is what the author intended. But posing your scenario and proving it are entirely two different things. As I said, you can entertain exegetical hypotheses all day long, but you are never going to escape the Church’s teaching that the literal has the primary position unless you can prove it untenable.
Fr. Thomas: You repeatedly refer to St. Augustine saying that we should use the literal interpretation except when there is a necessity of using another. In context, however, this refers to the interpretation of the book of Genesis, under the presumption that it is a historical work.
R. Sungenis: But Leo XIII in Prov. Deus expanded that principle to all of Scripture, as does the 1994 Catholic Catechism, para. 116. Even Augustine held to this rule in the rest of his hermeneutic.
Fr. Thomas: Now in the case of Genesis, it is a teaching of the Church that it contains a kind of history, so there could be some reason for the application. In other words, St. Augustine uses the example of the four rivers, and says that even if it has a spiritual interpretation, since the book is known to be historical, we should also assume that there were actually four rivers, unless very strong reasons oppose this. In fact, there could be a problem here as well, since as I stated, there are intermediate, partially historical genres, and it seems that St. Augustine did not take this into consideration.
R. Sungenis: Like what? If you make an assertion you need to give a worthy example to prove your case.
Fr. Thomas: However, even if his statement has some reason as applied to Genesis, it applies in no way to the question, “Is the book of Jonah a historical work?” If we knew already that it was historical, then yes, we would take individual statements literally unless we had some reason not to. But if we don’t know, St. Augustine is not talking about assuming that we know; as I said he explicitly forbids us to take as known something unknown.
R. Sungenis: But Leo XIII in Prov. Deus expanded that principle to all of Scripture, as does the 1994 Catholic Catechism, para. 116.
Fr. Thomas: The Pontifical Biblical Commission’s document, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, has a fair number of passages implying the existence of fiction in Scripture, even without Scripture pointing it out explicitly. (I can point to the exact citations if you are interested but I rather doubt that you are.)
R. Sungenis: Yes, point to the exact citations and give the reasons why they are fictional.
Fr. Thomas: Before you comment that the PBC’s document isn’t magisterial and doesn’t bind anyone, which is all surely true, I should point out that the document is published by the Vatican, with a preface by Cardinal Ratzinger stating, “I believe that this document is very helpful for the important questions about the right way of understanding Holy Scripture and that it also helps us to go further. It takes up the paths of the encyclicals of 1893 and 1943 and advances them in a fruitful way.” It seems pretty clear from this that the Church does not oppose this kind of thinking regarding Scripture, and so it seems unreasonable to say that the Church has a constant teaching that there are no such genres in Scripture. Regarding the document itself, even though it isn’t binding, attacking its teaching as heretical, given that the Church is surely pointing to it as something to learn from, would be analogous to attacking the teaching of St. Thomas as heretical, just because St. Thomas isn’t the magisterium and doesn’t bind anyone.
R. Sungenis: Fr. Thomas, I don’t rule out the PBC’s document, but I do reserve the right to question some of its conclusions, as even Cardinal Ratzinger does from time to time. If you are trying to make the argument that everyone on the PCB board, including Cardinal Ratzinger, agreed on everything that was written in the document, or even agree on every aspect of biblical hermeneutics, it’s not going to fly. The PBC is not a monolithic consensus of belief on biblical hermeneutics, and you can tell that just by reading the document.
The question remains, can either you or the PBC conclusively prove that the Bible contains fiction, and if so, can you then prove that narratives such as Jonah and Job are fictional, and can you then prove that Genesis does not speak of a literal six day creation. If you can’t prove any of these things and would rather make suppositions the basis of your hermeneutic, then I will insist that you haven’t followed the Church’s long-standing hermeneutic that we are required to take the Bible literally unless reason or necessity makes it untenable. After all, Fr. Thomas, if we didn’t have that literal hermeneutic as our definitive guidepost, we would have never interpreted “This is my body” to be the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist but would have gone the way of the rest of the world and concluded that wafers can’t become God.
Fr. Thomas: Dear Mr. Sungenis: You didn’t clearly say whether you accepted my characterization of your position as “if you haven’t proven that Jonah is a fictional account, you should accept that it is literal history.” You did say that someone who doesn’t know the answer is not therefore obliged to say that it is literal, which suggest that you didn’t accept this account of your position. Nonetheless, I don’t see how this fits with your reference to Leo XIII, since your use of the quotation from Leo XIII (your use of it; not what he says) seems to suggest that if I don’t know the answer, I should automatically accept that it is literal, since you say, “the burden is on you to show why it would be fictional.”
As I see it, the burden isn’t on anyone. We should accept the position which is most likely to be true, and if someone doesn’t know what is more likely to be true, then he shouldn’t be obliged to accept anything.
R. Sungenis: When I say “burden” I’m referring to you needing to answer our Catholic tradition which held to taking Scripture literally. If our legacy is to interpret “This is my body” as referring to the substantial presence of Christ’s flesh and the non-existence of the bread except in appearance (against all other groups who see it quite figuratively or much less than we do), then this creates a paradigm of interpretation, and it was followed very closely. For someone to say, as Schillebeeckx did, that we are now going to change our literal interpretation to “transignification,” well, the “burden” is on him to prove that new mode is better and correct.
The only reason Catholic tradition has allowed us to depart from a literal interpretation is when it can be proven that the literal interpretation is impossible. Obviously, science can’t prove that transubstantiation is incorrect, so we persist in our literal interpretation. Likewise, until if and when science can prove that a man cannot be swallowed by a whale, either naturally or miraculously, then we have no good reason to depart from the literal interpretation of Jonah. If our approach either ignores our traditional approach to Scripture; shows a tendentious siding with unproven scientific theories; or has a penchant to make the additional unproven claim that since other cultures had myths of sea monsters then the biblical authors merely copied them (instead of vice-versa); then the threshold has not been met to change from a literal to figurative interpretation.
Fr. Thomas: Paragraph 116 of the Catechism does not say what you think it does. Note that it says, “discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation,” and earlier, in par. 110, it says, “in order to discover the sacred authors’ intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking, and narrating then current.” Note that in order to do this, you have to know the time and culture in which the book was written. Additionally, you have to know this without assuming that the book is literal, since you will only know whether it is literal or not once you know something about “the literary genres in use at that time”. I pointed this out before with respect to the analogy with the phrase, “Once upon a time,” but you misunderstood what I said about that, so I will explain it again below.
R. Sungenis: I didn’t misunderstand it. I know exactly where you are going with this. I’ve been studying historical criticism for the last 40 years. The problem with your thesis is the same problem that HC has created with the authorship of Genesis. HC claims that the Genesis writer is merely redacting myths and legends from Mesopotamian culture that antedate Genesis. I and many others beg to differ, since the only extant copy of Marduk and his exploits comes from around 1200 BC, much later than the accepted authorship of Genesis. The preponderant evidence then is that Marduk is a fictional adaptation of the historical Genesis account, not vice-versa.
We can study “literary genres” all we want but that doesn’t prove that the literary genre was the source for the biblical writer’s facts and details about history anymore than someone could make the claim that since the Douay-Rheims Bible uses the same Elizabethean English as Shakespeare this means that its narratives must be as fictional as MacBeth or Hamlet.
The real truth is, HC was invented because modern science had been bombarding biblical exegesis with doubts about its own resolve for literal interpretation. Once you side with modern science’s version of cosmogony, you then need to find some palatable rationale for why Scripture was written in a manner that seems either unaware of these “scientific facts” or even opposed to them. When an irresistible force meets an immovable object, who is going to bend? Well, the logical solution was thought to be: let’s make Scripture bend, and we can do so by concocting a theory that the biblical writers just redacted the myths and legends around them; put in their own idiosyncratic views of God; mixed it all together and presto, we have biblical narratives that can accommodate popular science. Very clever. Unfortunately, there is not a shred of proof for this concoction. It is the very reason many are discovering that the Documentary Hypothesis is just that – a hypothesis. Modern Catholics want a Genesis that allows them to accept the tenets of popular science. That is the bottom line. What they didn’t count on, however, at least until the last half of the 20th century is a formidable movement that shows that the popular versions of modern science are bogus, both in cosmogony and cosmology – something that was thought impossible when the Documentary hypothesis was being promoted as the cure-all to biblical exegesis.
Fr. Thomas: Besides this, it is somewhat tendentious to use the authority of the Catechism to support your position when you know quite well that its authors disagree with you about evolution, and therefore about your interpretation of Genesis, and therefore quite possibly about Jonah as well. The Catechism says in par. 283, “The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers.” This is obviously in praise of the theory of evolution, including human evolution, with the phrase, “the appearance of man.”
R. Sungenis: Granted. All one need do is look into the population of the Pontifical Academy of Science and see that out of nearly 100 members all are evolutionists, as well as refusing to accept any creationists into their ranks. That’s what I would call a deep-seated bias that is about as scientific as the devil is holy. Imagine that. Not allowing any opposing scientific evidence into the discussion so that you can maintain your status quo. That should disturb you.
In the end, you’re only proving my point. You admit that the acceptance of evolution is the driving force that causes these authors to be so guarded about their hermeneutical language in the catechism. They chose a long time ago to make evolution their absolute and Scripture their wax play toy. I understand. They have no other choice. The alternative is to accept the highly radical position that God actually made the world in six days, ex nihilo. That’s too embarrassing for them. It makes them look like stupid “fundamentalist” fanatics. It would also cause a lot of them to lose their careers; their prestige; their money; and their life’s work to take a serious look at that alternative. Been there and done that. As you can see, I took the alternative, but the dividends are tremendous.
As for me being “tendentious” with my use of the catechism, you’ll have to excuse me for taking advantage of the fact that when it comes to official documents of the Catholic Church it doesn’t really matter what the author behind it believes personally. It only matters what he actually says, and if what he says cannot be used to prove his personal view, I’ll play the game with him and use it for my view. A good case in point is Dei Verbum 11’s “for the sake of our salvation.” It may certainly be the case that, according to the four schemas that concluded with this phrase, the authors behind it were intending to make it appear that Scripture was only inerrant when it spoke directly about salvation, even though they were quite limited in how they could express that intent since “for the sake of our salvation” is ambiguous at best. But I can take that same phrase and use it for the traditional hermeneutic by saying that God made all of Scripture inerrant for the very sake of our salvation, for who would want to trust a divine document that couldn’t even get its historical facts straight?
Fr. Thomas: Similarly, your interpretation of Pope Leo XIII is incorrect. The phrase in question is borrowed from St. Augustine, who laid down the rule. But Augustine’s favored interpretation of “God said, let there be light, and there was light,” is that this refers to the creation of angels, even though in your sense, this is not required by reason or by necessity, nor is it the literal and obvious meaning. This suggests immediately that your interpretation of the rule is incorrect.
R. Sungenis: I believe you are twisting this to your own advantage. First, Augustine was known to have several interpretations of many passages throughout the Bible. Second, Augustine admits that his alternative interpretations are only suggestions and could be wrong and that if someone comes up with a better interpretation he would be more than willing to accept it. Third, all the Fathers held to the literal interpretation of the light, and only out of respect for Augustine was an alternative even considered. All of this, of course, begs the question as to why Augustine would entertain an alternative. Because Genesis 1:3 was considered by Augustine as an exception; an anomaly; not as an example of the general rule to interpret literally. Its anomalous nature developed in his mind as follows: he made a self-imposed requirement that Genesis 1 had to include the angels. Why other Scriptures, like the Psalms, could not handle this burden Augustine does not delineate, so the need for the mention of angels in Genesis was, perhaps, his “reason and necessity.” Of course, Augustine’s self-imposed hermeneutic was compounded by the fact that he, not knowing Greek very well at the time, misinterpreted Sirach 18:1 by replacing KOINE with the Latin SIMUL, and concluding that God might have made the universe instantaneously instead of in six days. So this turned into Augustine proposing that the six days of Genesis could just refer to the angels contemplating the six days in their respective minds. It was a hodge-podge of ideas that hadn’t the slightest bit of biblical or patristic support, and thus was left on the shelf only because it was Augustine who proposed it.
I think it quite unscholarly and very tendentious for you to use such an anomaly in Augustine’s hermeneutic to make a case that we need not interpret Scripture literally, especially when in almost every other place in Scripture Augustine followed the rule of literal hermeneutic as closely as he could, with only minor exceptions. If you’re trying to make a case that you have freedom to interpret Jonah as fiction based on what Augustine did with Genesis 1:3, I believe you are barking up the wrong tree. It would be like me claiming that David was a rotten scoundrel all his life and is now in hell because he had relations with Bathsheba and killed her husband, and ignoring the other 95% of his life in which he was completely faithful to God. You cannot take the exception and make it the rule, but unfortunately, that is precisely what Historical Criticism tries to do.
Fr. Thomas: And in fact, we should not interpret Pope Leo to be saying that we should follow an unreasonable rule, and it would be quite unreasonable to say that you should hold that it is literal until you prove that it is not, even when it is more probable that it is not. Rather, reason makes it untenable to hold a position which is probably false, and likewise reason makes it untenable to hold as certain something which is uncertain. Thus, if we don’t know whether Jonah is literal or not, we should admit that we do not know, and if we have reasons making it probable that it is not, even if they are not conclusive, then we should admit that it probably isn’t.
R. Sungenis: Sorry, I simply don’t buy that logic. As I said, your best case scenario for Augustine is that Genesis 1:3 is an exception to the rule, not the rule. You also have no proof for evolution. You also have no proof that “literary genres” affect the historical veracity of a biblical narrative. So what do you have that is going to compel me to accept your wish to keep Jonah in hermeneutical limbo and depart from our tradition? You have nothing but unproven theories. The only thing I can do is make my students aware of your views, but it is certainly not going to lead me to teach a 1st grade child that Jonah is, or is most likely, fiction (which is precisely the pedagogy that Raymond Brown was fostering). Your hermeneutic has destroyed the faith of many and decimated the Church. I wish I had a nickel for every time someone complained to me: “well, if Jonah isn’t true, then what else in the Bible isn’t true,” and then before you know it the whole Bible is put on the chopping block and we come to the theological and moral crisis that is upon us today.
Of course, we then find out that the single most important reason Fr. Thomas doesn’t want to accept Jonah as historically true is because he decided long ago to make evolution infallible but make the Bible fallible. That’s your hermeneutic in a nutshell. And if you have the PAS to back you up; and benign comments from JP2 like “evolution is more than a hypothesis,” you feel quite comfortable in your position. I understand. The alternative is that evolution is fallible and the Bible is infallible. The two will meet when we accept the scientific evidence against evolution instead of trying to cover it over to save face.
Fr. Thomas: I never identified myself as a “Scripture scholar.” I have studied the Church’s teaching on the truth of Scripture, I have written on this topic, and I defended my position regarding this topic.
R. Sungenis: That’s precisely what worries me. We have a lot of priests today “defending their position” on what they believe is the correct hermeneutic of Scripture taught by Fr. Raymond Brown and company, without really delving into the dangers of those views. The opposition is caricatured as “fundamentalists,” “unscholarly,” “ignorant” and “uneducated” when in reality the same epithets can be applied more rigorously to the HC adherents.
Fr. Thomas: Regarding the possibility of Jonah being a fictional genre, you say, “I can assure you, however, since I know the Hebrew and the Greek, Jonah says nothing close to ‘Once upon a time,’ and neither does Genesis.” If you mean that they do not use this phrase, they may be the case, but then you did not understand what I was saying. There may be other phrases that indicate the same thing.
R. Sungenis: I wasn’t just referring to the literal rendering, Once Upon a Time, but to the idea of that notion. You say “there MAY BE other phrases that indicate the same thing,” but we are not interested in “may be’s” but in solid evidence to back up your storybook analogy. There isn’t anything in Jonah that even suggests that analogy. Jonah is written like a newspaper account – hardly the stuff of stories.
Fr. Thomas: Nor does your knowledge of Hebrew and Greek tell you anything about this, since it depends not on the meaning of the language, but on local customs, just as even now, someone who knew English but not our customs, could say “once upon a time” in a strictly historical narrative. The only way you could know if those texts contain similar phrases (i.e. similar in their customary usage, not in their wording) would be if you knew when the books were written, without first assuming they are literal, and if you know all the customary ways of writing and speaking that were used at the time.
R. Sungenis: No, Fr. Thomas, the only way you could know for certain if Jonah was a fictional story is by asking the author himself. Anything else is speculation. Again, you cannot judge the Douay-Rheims as fictional just because it uses or comes from a similar Shakespearean literary genre. You are merely admitting the very problem of HC – assuming that it knows what the intent of the author is without really knowing what the intent is. Again, HC is looking for fictional literary genres to impose on Jonah because it simply needs them to give a rationale for its acceptance of evolution, which is your rationale also.
Fr. Thomas: Regardless of knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, I highly doubt that you possess this further knowledge. I doubt you can even provide strong evidence of the dating of Jonah and Genesis (leaving aside your assumption that they are literal), and even if you can, I have even more doubt about your knowledge of the local customs of the time.
R. Sungenis: You can doubt all you want, Fr. Thomas, but doubting what you don’t know about me says more about you than it does me. As I’ve said, I’ve studied your side of the fence for 40 years. I know whereof you speak. Since you don’t claim to be a “Scripture scholar,” I think it is safe to say that I know more literary genres than you do, because all three of my theological degrees (BA, MA, PHD) required me to know them, and it made me a Scripture scholar.
Fr. Thomas: Your positions regarding cosmology and regarding evolution make me distrustful of your authority when you claim, “As I view the scholarly landscape of exegetes today, the only reason I find that a significant group of scholars have opted for the fictional genre of Jonah is because they don’t prefer to give legitimacy to the miraculous, including God creating man instantaneously from the dust, or just about anything that smacks of divine intrusion, unless it suits their popular ‘scientific’ tastes.” In other words, you hold that there are similar reasons why evolution and modern cosmology are accepted, whereas I know for a fact that these latter things are accepted not for this reason or any similar reasons, but based on solid evidence.
R. Sungenis: You “know for a fact” that they are “based on solid evidence”? Hardly. The only thing you know for sure is that evolutionists are telling you they have solid evidence. I would expect nothing less from them. I think I asked you previously, but I’ll ask again: Give us your best evidence or proof that evolution is true, evidence that would, for any fair and reasonable mind, compel one to support the tenets of evolution and drop one’s scientific adherence against evolution. If you can’t or won’t, then you only prove to me that evolution is merely a belief system you have adopted and not something that is based on irrefutable facts of science.
Fr. Thomas: This leads me to suspect that it is perfectly possible that some scholars question the genre of Jonah based on real reasons, not on such a personal bias, just as is the case with evolution and cosmology. On the other hand, this is only a suspicion, since as I said, I have not studied the particular field and do not have time to study it (as you can see from the fact that I only just now had time for this response.)
R. Sungenis: Sure, there may be some who think Jonah is fictional based on their scholarly knowledge of literary genres. So what? The sincerity of the scholar here is not an issue here. He has become as convinced of the connection because that’s the way he has been trained to see it. What I’m trying to get you to see is the historical undergirding of where this search for the literary genre originated and what its intents were from the beginning. If you research this you find that the scholars openly admit that the search for literary genres was guided by the acceptance of evolution and their simultaneous desire to demote the Genesis narratives from being literal history.
Scientific bias for evolution is your MO, Fr. Thomas. You are like a marked man. Whatever you see must first go through the filter of evolution. You can thank Teilhard for that – the same person who died while having sex with a woman. And it’s the same reason we have so many homosexual priests today, for once you question the historicity of Genesis and Jonah based on the “literary genres” you superimpose on them, you will also question the legal veracity of St. Paul’s reasons for denying homosexual relationships, and perhaps find, due to Paul’s particular “cultural milieu,” he was biased against homos because he came from a society that was against them, but in reality, this was just a cultural idiosyncrasy Paul superimposed on Scripture. THAT’s what they do today with historical criticism, Fr. Thomas, in case you didn’t know. This just isn’t about whether Jonah was a fictional character or not. Don’t kid yourself. The devil has much bigger designs than that. If it was just about Jonah he wouldn’t waste his time. It’s about making you mistrust the Bible whenever you turn one of its pages. Unfortunately, when we look at the scholarly and moral landscape of Catholicism today, he has convinced very many.
Fr. Thomas: Regarding the Pontifical Biblical Commission, there are only vague texts in the document on the Interpretation of Scripture in the Church, but the one on the Jewish People and the Sacred Scripture says this, “Among the Gospels, Matthew shows greatest familiarity with the Jewish techniques in utilising Scripture. After the manner of the Qumran pesharim, he often quotes Scripture; he makes wide use of juridical and symbolic argumentation similar to those which were common in later rabbinic writings. More than the other Gospels, he uses midrashic stories in his narratives (the infancy gospel, the episode of Judas' death, the intervention of Pilate's wife).” It may be that you would give this another interpretation, but I think most people would recognize the suggestion here (whether or not one agrees with it) that these “midrashic” stories may not be accurate representations of reality.
R. Sungenis: I have no problem seeing possible roots or allusions of Matthew’s narratives in midrashic narratives. That’s not the issue. The issue is when someone interprets Matthew’s narratives as either untrue or not totally accurate because this same person has determined that because Matthew contains some allusion to a midrashic story that he knows is either false, exaggerated or mixed with true and false, then Matthew must also be untrue to a certain degree. The HC people do the same with Genesis. Since the topic material is supposedly borrowed from Marduk literature, then to the extent that Marduk is untrue, then Genesis is untrue to a comparable degree. You need to understand, Fr. Thomas, that, for the most part, biblical scholarship today has made an issue of finding the “literary genre” because it has a vested interest in undermining the historical veracity of the biblical narrative in view, not to enhance its veracity. In fact, in my 40 years of studying literary genres, I’ve never seen a scholar use literary genre to support the historical veracity of a biblical narrative. Never. It is always used to question, doubt or reject the historical veracity. That is an agenda, clear and simple.
Fr. Thomas: Once again you say, “The only reason Catholic tradition has allowed us to depart from a literal interpretation is when it can be proven that the literal interpretation is impossible.” I did not see a response to my claim that “we should accept the position which is most likely to be true.” If once can prove that a literal interpretation of some passages is impossible, one can likewise prove that a literal interpretation of some passages is unlikely, or at any rate less likely than a metaphorical interpretation. We should accept the evidence wherever it leads. So you say, “until if and when science can prove that a man cannot be swallowed by a whale, either naturally or miraculously, then we have no good reason to depart from the literal interpretation from Jonah.” But if there was an argument based on the textual forms, phrases used, and so on, that showed it is more probable that Jonah is story, then it would be reasonable to accept that it is probably a story, regardless of whether the things in it are possible or not.
R. Sungenis: Sure, IF the textual forms and phrases showed Jonah is a fictional story, who would I be to argue against such evidence? But this only begs the question. Form criticism is a subjective enterprise with hardly any proof to its assertions. The only thing form criticism proves is that someone can make a claim that certain phrases are used fictionally in some non-biblical narratives. Whether he can prove that the Bible either uses such phrases or means the same thing by such phrases is a completely different matter.
Fr. Thomas: Your response concerning literary genres, where you impute certain motives to scholars (ones which I am quite aware to be untrue in many cases, and as I have said, such personal attacks do not make me more inclined to accept your personal authority, but less), in no way shows that there could not be phrases used in Jonah that in the context in which it was composed, were normally used for fiction.
R. Sungenis: Such as what? Any one can make claims that a certain phrase is used in fiction and that it applies also to a biblical account, but proving it is another matter altogether. As for the motives I impute to scholars if you can disprove them I’d be happy to entertain an objection.
Fr. Thomas: The whole point of this discussion (from my point of view) was not to prove that Jonah is fiction, but to say that if there are reasonable arguments supporting this position, there is nothing preventing them from being accepted. You deny this, saying repeatedly that one must accept that Jonah is historical unless there are conclusive arguments to the contrary, and this is clearly an irrational position, not only regarding Jonah but regarding anything whatsoever – a reasonable man accepts the more likely position rather than the less likely, even without conclusive proof.
R. Sungenis: “Irrational”? Now who is judging motives and making sweeping judgments? Be that as it may, what you call “reasonable arguments” is just a claim. In this entire discussion you’ve given no specific evidence to support your claim. If I remember correctly, you once made reference to the oft used phrase “once upon a time” as an example of a phrase that is commonly used in fiction. Granted, but you showed no such phraseology in Jonah, nor showed where such a phrase is used fictionally in other literature of the time. Other than that, the only thing you’ve done is put form criticism on a pedestal and expect everyone to consider it “reasonable.” You start out with a premise that the Bible’s narratives are on the same level as non-biblical narratives, and then make your judgments (which is precisely what Bultmann and his colleagues taught – that the Bible is really no greater than Shakespere or Homer). But what is unreasonable, is that you don’t have tradition on your side. That tradition taught us that the Bible is a different kind of book. As such, the entire Catholic hermeneutic for almost two millennia started from the foundation that biblical narratives were not fiction unless there was clear indisputable evidence to the contrary. It wasn’t until the liberal Protestants began looking for ways to divest Scripture of its authority on history that this traditional hermeneutic was challenged, and it wasn’t until the unleashing of Catholic theologians with historical criticism after 1943 that we even had a question about the authenticity of biblical narratives in Catholic interpretation. So, your pedigree is not very good. You’re the new man on the block, and the burden of proof is on you, not me.
Fr. Thomas: You say, “…out of nearly 100 members [of the Pontifical Academy of Science] all are evolutionists, as well as refusing to accept any creationists into their ranks. That’s what I would call a deep-seated bias…” A simple comparison of the Discovery Institutes collection of signatures in support skeptical of the Darwinian mechanism for evolution (not even necessarily evolution itself) with the signatures of Project Steve (supporting not only evolution but also the Darwinian mechanism, and rejecting scientific theories of intelligent design) would indicate that only about 0.3% of biologists are skeptical of the Darwinian process, and even among those biologists who believe in the existence of a personal God and accept the possibility of miracles, only a small minority (perhaps up to 6%) would be willing to sign the statement skeptical of evolution.
R. Sungenis: Of course they wouldn’t, since signing such a statement would bring their careers in academia to a screeching halt. If you don’t think so, I suggest you get the DVD of Ben Stein’s movie “Expelled,” and especially note the case of Richard von Sternberg. As for stats on atheists in modern academia, let me give you an excerpt from my book:
Statistics reveal just how bad it has become. Scientific American carried an article a few years ago on the work of James H. Leuba, a statistician who both in 1914 and 1933 surveyed the religious beliefs of American biological and physical scientists of their views on two fundamental beliefs in Christianity: (1) the worship of God and (2) the existence of an afterlife. This study was important to Leuba since, as he said, “scientists enjoy great influence in the modern world, even in matters religious.” At first glance, Leuba’s results seem somewhat reassuring. Among a general cross section of scientists, he found that 40% believed in God. But then he concentrated on the more elite scientists, those whose names are in the newspapers, who write the major books and articles, and who have the most influence on what the public believes. He found that an astonishing “80 percent of top natural scientists rejected both cardinal beliefs of traditional Christianity.” Scientific American then did its own study and found even worse results. Using the 1,800 members of the 1998 National Academy of Sciences as its measure of who comprised the “elite scientists” of the day, the editors found that:
Disbelief among NAS members responding to our survey exceeded 90 percent….NAS biologists are the most skeptical, with 95 percent of our respondents evincing atheism and agnosticism. Mathematicians in the NAS are more accepting: one in every six of them [17%] expressed belief in a personal God.
Commenting further, the article shows that atheism is encouraged in academic circles, and those who have any Christian beliefs are quietly suppressed:
University of Washington sociologist Rodney Stark…points out, “There’s been 200 years of marketing that if you want to be a scientific person you’ve got to keep your mind free of the fetters of religion.”….higher education on the whole winnows out the idea of God or people who hold it. In research universities, “the religious people keep their mouths shut,” Stark says. “And the irreligious people discriminate. There’s a reward system to being irreligious in the upper echelons.”
The reasons for this rampant atheism are then discovered:
Legendary evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr, an NAS member since 1954, made a study of disbelief among his Harvard University colleagues in the academy. “It turned out we were all atheists,” he recalls. “I found that there were two sources.” One Mayr typified as, “Oh, I became an atheist very early. I just couldn’t believe all that supernatural stuff.” But others told him, “I just couldn’t believe that there could be a God with all this evil in the world.” Mayr adds, “Most atheists combine the two. This combination makes it impossible to believe in God.”
As for the PAS, it categorically excludes creationists, not merely disagree with them. They don’t want to hear the contrary evidence, and they know there is a lot of it since the creationists have been working on it for the last 50 years. The mere fact that the major spokesman at the PAS reject ID shows what they are all about. It doesn’t matter whether it’s creation with God or without God. They’ve decided not to listen to anything that is contrary to evolution. And that’s not bias?
In the past, I’ve asked you for one piece of proof for evolution. You haven’t given any. If it is so convincing, surely you have at least one piece of evidence that should turn my head and make me drop any support for creationism.
Fr. Thomas: In any case, the vast majority of scientists, including those accepting the existence of miracles, are convinced that the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution and even the Darwinian mechanism.
R. Sungenis: The number of scientists who believe in miracles is a pittance. It wouldn’t even reach 1%, so your stat is meaningless. It would be like saying that Israel was a nation of God in the Old Testament when in reality Elijah said there was only 7000 who didn’t bow the knee to Baal out of a nation of millions of people. Who were right? The 7000 or the millions who followed Baal? And as I noted above, of those scientists who believe in miracles and teach in academia, it would be suicide for them to start attacking evolution or teaching creationism, so that stat is meaningless as well. The only ones that take that route are those who work for CRI, AIG or DI.
Fr. Thomas: It is not especially surprising at all that out of 100 scientists, all would support evolution, since the proportion of scientists that support it is around 99% anyway. Nor is it especially surprising that they would wish to exclude a fringe movement, just as they would exclude astrologers.
R. Sungenis: Oh, so those who believe in a 24-hour day creation and the literal genealogies of Genesis are like astrologers? Talk about “irrational”?? In the end, you’re of the opinion that our Catholic Fathers in consensus, our medieval theologians, all the saints and doctors, as well as Lateran IV (Denz 428) and Vatican Council I (Denz 1783), as well as all the Christians today who talk about the second law of thermodynamics, the impossibility of genetic mutations to produce evolution, and many other scientific objections to evolution, are all just a bunch of superstitious fringe movements akin to astrology when they speak of the such a world, right Fr. Thomas? All I can say to you is, I’d rather be numbered with the 7000 than the 5 million.
Discussion on Evolution
Fr. Thomas: I would have thought that the meaning of my parable was plain, given that I took your own question about evolution and turned it into a question in the mouth of the atheist. I used the parable not for rhetorical flourish, as Christopher Ferrara imagined, but because I preferred not to put things too bluntly. But seeing that you admit yourself to be a rather literal minded man, perhaps that is necessary after all.
R. Sungenis: Sorry to disappoint you, Fr. Thomas, but I didn’t consider myself a closed-minded man toward science and that is probably the reason I didn’t understand or accept your analogy with Nathan and David. I’ve been studying science all my life. I was a Chemistry and Physics major in college, studying for pre-med. I’m an avid reader of Scientific American, New Scientist, Nature, and about a half-dozen other science magazines on a weekly basis. I own a library of science books. I have written an 1100-page treatise showing the fallacies of modern cosmology titled: Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right, and which was the subject of my Ph.D. dissertation. I will soon be publishing a book refuting evolutionary theory. So you can talk to me all you want about the so-called “proofs” for evolution and I will most assuredly engage you. To start off, I’ll make comments on the preliminary proofs you have presented below.
Fr. Thomas: In my parable, you are the atheist. Thus, “you are the man,” because just as Nathan asked David to pass judgment on the man in his parable who stood for David, so I asked you to pass judgment on the atheist, who stood for you.
The fact is that there is conclusive evidence for the truth of the Catholic faith, but the atheist cannot recognize it, because he has decided in advance that there is no God, and he believes that there cannot be evidence of something false. He is wrong on both counts; in fact God exists, and in any case, there can be evidence for something false, because there is usually evidence on both sides of any question. In any case, he is convinced that there is no God, and no evidence for something false, and his conclusion is that there is no evidence for God. This is an inviolable presupposition for him. So if you present to him any evidence for the existence of God or the truth of the faith, he will inevitably fail to understand it, and thus he will walk away saying that it provides no evidence for God. In essence, his belief that there is no evidence for God is a religious belief, or rather an anti-religious belief, one directly tied to his atheism.
In the same way, there is compelling evidence for the fact of evolution, but you – just as the aforementioned atheist cannot recognize the evidence for God – cannot recognize this evidence. You have decided in advance that evolution is false, and you likewise believe there cannot be any real evidence for this supposed falsity. For you this is an inviolable presupposition. On account of this presupposition, when any evidence for evolution is presented to you, you will fail to understand it, and like the atheist, you will walk away with your conviction intact that there is no evidence for evolution. Your belief that there is no evidence for evolution is essentially a religious belief, one directly tied to your interpretation of Genesis.
R. Sungenis: Not so, Fr. Thomas. If you can prove evolution to me, I’ll believe it, and as St. Augustine said about the proofs of science, I’ll rearrange my whole view of biblical revelation. In the process, however, I’ll ask you not to give me any hypotheses, conjectures, theories, guesses, estimates, analogies, similarities or it-just-has-to-be-so arguments. If you can’t give me irrefutable scientific proof for evolution, then let’s not waste each other’s time. Without scientific proof both you and me are required to accept the tradition and teach it. Fair enough?
Fr. Thomas: In the case of each of you, your religious belief blinds you to the real evidence. It is unlikely to be helpful to you, therefore, if someone begins to point out the evidence for evolution, as you requested. Nonetheless I prefer to be accommodating.
R. Sungenis: It’s rather impolite to start off a debate presuming your opponent takes his view by mere blind prejudice toward your view. But I will be accommodating to you and forgive you for that bit of forwardness.
Fr. Thomas: One first sign of the situation in question: the majority of scientists and theologians – or rather the vast majority – not only say that evolution is a fact, but also that there is overwhelming evidence for this fact. Is it really more likely that a vast majority of scientists and theologians maintain the existence of evidence that isn’t there, or is it more likely that the tiny minority of scientists and theologians who deny the existence of such evidence, have in fact blinded themselves to it?
R. Sungenis: You can’t discount that possibility. As scientist Lewis Thomas (d. 1993) recently confided:
Science is founded on uncertainty…. We are always, as it turns out, fundamentally wrong.…The only solid piece of scientific truth about which I feel totally confident is that we are profoundly ignorant about nature....It is this sudden confrontation with the depth and scope of ignorance that represents the most significant contribution of twentieth-century science to the human intellect. (Lewis Thomas, “On Science and Certainty,” Discover Magazine, 1980, p. 58).
Lewis also quips:
“On any Tuesday morning, if asked, a good working scientist will tell you with some self-satisfaction that the affairs of his field are nicely in order, that things are finally looking clear and making sense, and all is well. But come back again on another Tuesday, and the roof may have just fallen in on his life’s work”; “In real life, every field of science is incomplete, and most of them – whatever the record of accomplishment during the last 200 years – are still in their very earliest stages.”
Karl Popper, one of the more respected secular philosophers, issued major critiques throughout his life on the industry of science. He writes:
For us therefore, science has nothing to do with the quest for certainty or probability or reliability. We are not interested in establishing scientific theories as secure or certain, or probable….It can even be shown that all theories, including the best, have the same probability, namely zero….the realization that our attempts to see and to find the truth are not final, but open to improvement; that our knowledge, our doctrine, is conjectural; that it consists of guesses, of hypotheses rather than of final and certain truths. (Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge, 1963, 1965, pp. 229, 192, 151. Popper opens with: “The title of this lecture is likely, I fear, to offend some critical ears. For although ‘Sources of Knowledge’ is in order, and ‘Sources of Error’ would have been in order too…” (ibid., p. 3).
As for the psychological, sociological, and philosophical reasons most men might be predisposed toward evolution is the following statistics. Scientific American carried an article a few years ago on the work of James H. Leuba, a statistician who both in 1914 and 1933 surveyed the religious beliefs of American biological and physical scientists of their views on two fundamental beliefs in Christianity: (1) the worship of God and (2) the existence of an afterlife. This study was important to Leuba since, as he said, “scientists enjoy great influence in the modern world, even in matters religious.” (“Scientists and Religion in America,” Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham, Scientific American, Sept. 1999, p. 89). At first glance, Leuba’s results seem somewhat reassuring. Among a general cross section of scientists, he found that 40% believed in God. But then he concentrated on the more elite scientists, those whose names are in the newspapers, who write the major books and articles, and who have the most influence on what the public believes. He found that an astonishing “80 percent of top natural scientists rejected both cardinal beliefs of traditional Christianity.” Scientific American then did its own study and found even worse results. Using the 1,800 members of the 1998 National Academy of Sciences as its measure of who comprised the “elite scientists” of the day, the editors found that:
Disbelief among NAS members responding to our survey exceeded 90 percent….NAS biologists are the most skeptical, with 95 percent of our respondents evincing atheism and agnosticism. Mathematicians in the NAS are more accepting: one in every six of them [17%] expressed belief in a personal God. (Ibid., p. 90)
Commenting further, the article shows that atheism is encouraged in academic circles, and those who have any Christian beliefs are quietly suppressed:
University of Washington sociologist Rodney Stark…points out, “There’s been 200 years of marketing that if you want to be a scientific person you’ve got to keep your mind free of the fetters of religion.”….higher education on the whole winnows out the idea of God or people who hold it. In research universities, “the religious people keep their mouths shut,” Stark says. “And the irreligious people discriminate. There’s a reward system to being irreligious in the upper echelons.” (Ibid., p. 91).
The reasons for this rampant atheism are then discovered:
Legendary evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr, an NAS member since 1954, made a study of disbelief among his Harvard University colleagues in the academy. “It turned out we were all atheists,” he recalls. “I found that there were two sources.” One Mayr typified as, “Oh, I became an atheist very early. I just couldn’t believe all that supernatural stuff.” But others told him, “I just couldn’t believe that there could be a God with all this evil in the world.” Mayr adds, “Most atheists combine the two. This combination makes it impossible to believe in God.” (Ibid., p. 91)
While I’m on the subject, is it also possible the scientists are not the impeccably honest people we have been led to know? Oh yes, there is more fraud and fudging in the sciences than most people are aware of.
Derek Hodson reveals the astonishing results from several studies:
It is commonly asserted that particular personal characteristics and attitudes are essential for the successful pursuit of science, and that scientists themselves all possess a particular cluster of attitudes and attributes, including superior intelligence, objectivity, rationality, open-mindedness, willingness to suspend judgment, intellectual integrity and communiality…. More than 30 years ago, Roe (1961) suggested that scientists themselves do not possess these so-called ‘scientific attitudes,’ although they think that they do. They, too, subscribe to the myths about the emotionally-detached, disinterested impartiality of the scientist. Or they continue to promote a false image because they perceive it to be in their interests….Roe concludes: “The creative scientist, whatever his field, is very deeply involved emotionally and personally in his work.” More recent work by Mahoney (1979) examined the extent to which scientists possess each of the characteristics so frequently ascribed to them. His conclusions are as follows.
-Superior intelligence is neither a prerequisite nor a correlate of high scientific achievement.
-Scientists are often illogical in their work, particularly when defending a preferred view or attacking a rival one.
-In experimental research, scientists are often selective, expedient and not immune to distorting the data.
-Scientists are probably the most passionate of professionals. Their theoretical and personal biases often colour their alleged openness to the data.
-Scientists are often dogmatically tenacious in their opinions, even when contradictory evidence is overwhelming.
-Scientists are not paragons of humility or disinterest. Rather, they are often selfish, ambitious and petulant defenders of personal recognition and territoriality.
-Scientists often behave in ways which are diametrically opposite to communal sharing of knowledge. They are frequently secretive and occasionally suppress data for personal reasons.
-Far from being a ‘suspender of judgment,’ the scientist is often an impetuous truth-spinner who rushes to hypotheses and theories long before the data would warrant.
Mitroff and Mason (1974) distinguish two kinds of scientist: the extreme speculative scientists, who “wouldn’t hesitate to build a whole theory of the solar system based on no data at all,” and the databound scientists, who “wouldn’t be able to save their own hide if a fire was burning next to them because they’d never have enough data to prove the fire was really there.” What this and several other studies show is that, contrary to the textbook stereotype, the greater the scientist, the more likely she or he is to belie the myth of the disinterested, uncommitted individual, the “depersonalized and idealized seeker after truth, painstakingly pushing back the curtains which obscure objective reality” (Cawthron and Rowell, 1978). (Derek Hodson, “Science fiction: the continuing misrepresentation of science in the school curriculum,” 1998, in Pedagogy, Culture and Society, 6:2, pp. 205-206, Routledge, 2006. Hodson’s references include: A. Roe, (1961) “The Psychology of the Scientist,” Science, 134, pp. 456-459; P. J. Gaskell, (1992) “Authentic Science and School Science,” International Journal of Science Education, 14, pp. 265-272; M. J. Mahoney, (1979) “Psychology of the Scientist,” Social Studies of Science, 9, pp. 349-375; I. Mitroff and R. Mason, “On evaluating the scientific contribution of the Apollo missions via information theory: a study of the scientist-scientist relationship,” Management Science: Applications, 20, pp. 1501-1513; E. Cawthron and J. Rowell, (1978) Epistemology and science education,” Studies in Science Education, 5, pp. 31-59).
Fr. Thomas: As I have already pointed out, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II fall into that majority as well.
R. Sungenis: And the 263 popes before them did not. The sensus fidei is with the 263, not with the last two, one of which had six prayer meetings with pagans for world peace, and never told them about the Gospel.
Fr. Thomas: Let’s start with some facts that are known to everyone. Living beings make other living beings that are like themselves, but not exactly alike. The result of such imperfect replication will be twofold: (1) living beings will change to whatever extent they can change through preservable differences between parents and offspring; (2) living beings will be organized in groups that are based upon characteristics which pass from one living being to another, and these groups will in turn be organized into larger groups, and so on until one reaches one or more groups—the number depending on the number of groups from which the process began. In other words, the imperfection of likeness between parent and child will over time result in differing types or classes of living beings, which we may term evolution of classes.
R. Sungenis: “Evolution of classes”? Let’s make one thing clear before we go any further. Evolution purports that new and different species evolved from entirely different species, not that one species develops adaptations to the environment. Hence, if you can show proof that one species evolved by natural processes into another, I’m sold. But I’m not going to entertain an adaptation theory passing itself off as evolution.
Fr. Thomas: Examples of this kind of evolution based on imperfect generation can be drawn from other areas; for example, from language. Because language is primarily acquired by being passed on from one generation to another, but is not perfectly passed on, one can expect that (1) languages will become more and more different from their parents and from sibling languages from which they are sufficiently isolated in their growth and development; (2) languages will be organized in groups, which will correspond to parent languages. One in fact finds these expected results when one compares languages—e.g., French with Latin and with Spanish, English with German; again, Germanic languages with Slavic languages.
R. Sungenis: Yes, I would expect that kind of philological change to occur, but you are comparing apples and oranges.
Fr. Thomas: Something similar happens with copies of books or manuscripts. Since copying is imperfect, over time the copies differ more and more from the original and from each other; again, copies can be grouped according to the characteristics they have inherited by originating from a particular copy.
R. Sungenis: Certainly, but this has nothing to do with species-to-species evolution.
Fr. Thomas: Let’s stop for a moment and look at how living things are organized in the real world. There are many varieties of dog, and few would doubt that these varieties have been produced in the above manner, just as languages have been produced. Then, at a more generic level, we see that there a number of doglike species: wolves, coyotes, foxes, and jackals. Once again, this is exactly the sort of thing that one would expect to be produced by the imperfect reproduction of living things. Going to a larger level, one finds that biologists classified all living things into such groups within groups, and they did this before the advent of the theory of evolution, simply because that’s how things seemed to be organized. Once again, this is exactly the organization that one would expect if all living things descended from a common ancestor with imperfect reproduction.
R. Sungenis: Certainly. I can imagine God creating two dogs and expecting many variations of dogs to come forth. God would have built into the genes of the two original dogs the ability to produce variations in that species, hence we have poodles and huskies.
Fr. Thomas: One might suppose that things are arranged in this way because of the natures of the things: for example, perhaps wolves and foxes are similar, not because they descend from a common ancestor, but because they have similar natures. But it turns out that animals fall into these groups in a way which is in fact quite independent of their natures. For example, man has many remarkable similarities with monkeys and apes, and again man and these other species with still larger groups, despite the fact that man’s rational nature is not especially similar to monkey nature, compared to horse nature, or whatever. Thus, Bl. Cardinal Newman noted: “There is as much want of simplicity in the idea of the creation of distinct species as in that of the creation of trees in full growth, or of rocks with fossils in them. I mean that it is as strange that monkeys should be so like men, with no historical connection between them, as that there should be no history of facts by which fossil bones got into rocks. ... I will either go whole hog with Darwin, or, dispensing with time & history altogether, hold, not only the theory of distinct species but that also of the creation of fossil-bearing rocks.”
Why does Newman see so much significance in the similarity between men and monkeys? In broad terms, the similarity of nature doesn't appear to be a plausible explanation for the similarity between monkeys and men; in their case the structural similarity is as close as one might expect between two closely related species. The gap between rational and irrational is, proportionally speaking, much greater than the structural difference between monkeys and men. There must therefore be some reason other than their nature to account for the similarity, and we have already seen how imperfect reproduction is exactly the sort of thing that would provide this kind of explanation, at the same time as explaining the organization of all living things.
Since we know for a fact that living things do produce imperfect copies of themselves, and we also know that this sort of copying tends to produce this sort of grouping, and we see that in fact things are grouped in this way, the theory of evolution is right away rather plausible – and this without yet examining any scientific evidence at all.
R. Sungenis: Fr. Thomas, the argument from similarity is not going to go anywhere for you. That’s like arguing that the more churches there are in a city the more the crime goes up. On one level, it is certainly true that the more churches there are the more the crime goes up, but the real reason behind that ratio is that more churches are needed for a larger population, and a greater population brings in more crime. Your connection between the similarity of monkeys and humans is like the connection between churches and crime. You are missing the proper link between the two, and no amount of theorizing is going to produce it.
There have been attempts in the past to make such a link (e.g., Peking Man, Piltdown Man, Neanderthal Man) but they have all been found to be frauds, including the Leaky’s examples, who are known for taking a specimen from one area and matching it with a specimen from an area miles apart in an attempt to manufacture a missing link. Your example of the “atheist” fits much better with the Leaky’s, since they start out believing in evolution (and will not give any consideration to creation) and then manufacture their evidence to fit their belief. Our own priest, de Chardin, was involved in one of these “I believe evolution first” charades and got caught with a fake Peking Man. Your history does not inspire confidence, Fr. Thomas.
Stephen Gould and Niles Eldridge, the leading evolutionists of their day, stated to a packed house of paleontologists in Chicago in 1972 that the time had come in which they must admit that there were no transitional fossils to be found (including no ape to man fossils). Eldridge went on numerous expeditions to find such fossils but, by his own admission, found none. So they were forced to change their theory to punctuated equilibrium in 1982, stating that the reason we don’t see transitional fossils is that new species appeared quickly (or punctuated the landscape) and thus left no trace of transitional forms. Ah huh. If you want to swallow that bit of fudgery, I have some swamp land in Florida you might be interested in.
Colin Paterson, senior palaeontologist at the British Museum of Natural History which houses the largest collection of fossils in the entire world, writing to a reader who wondered why there was no mention of intermediary fossils in his book on evolution, stated:
I fully agree with your commentary on the lack of evolutionary transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would have certainly included them….You say that I should at least ‘show a photo of the fossil from which each type organism was derived.’ I will lay it on the line - there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument. (Correspondence to Luther D. Sunderland, 10th April, 1979, letter on file).
During a paleontologist congress in 1998, Paterson asked his scientific colleagues whether someone had yet found a transitional fossil. The whole audience remained ghastly silent. Evolutionist A. G. Fisher, editor of American Scientist (1998) admitted: “The fossil record has always been a problem.” Similarly, Collard and Wood in Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics (1994) state:
...existing phylogenetic hypotheses about human evolution are unlikely to be reliable. Accordingly, new approaches are required to address the problem of hominids....Despite a century of work on metazoan phylum-level phylogeny using anatomical and embryological data, it has not been possible to infer a well-supported [evolution].
In the same publication, S. R. Palumbi states: “The formation of species has long represented one of the most central, yet one of the most elusive subjects in evolutionary biology.” In the book Parasitology by Noble and Noble, the authors state: “Natural selection can act only on those biologic properties that already exist; it cannot create properties in order to meet adaptational needs.” Orr and Coyne in American Naturalist (1992) admit: “We conclude – unexpectedly – that there is little evidence for the neo-Darwinian view: its theoretical foundations and the experimental evidence supporting it are weak.” D. L. Stern in Evolution states: “One of the oldest problems in evolutionary biology remains largely unsolved. Which mutations generate evolutionary relevant phenotypic variations? What kinds of molecular changes do they entail?” Paleontologist Steven Stanley of Johns Hopkins University, writes in his 1981 book The New Evolutionary Time Table: “...the fossil record does not convincingly document a single transition from one species to another.” David Raup of the University of Chicago states in his 1991 book: Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck?: “We now have a quarter of a million fossil species, but the situation hasn’t changed.” Theoretical biologist H. van Waesberghe states:
Finally, coincidence is not an explanation, but rather the lack of a scientific explanation....Based on these and other identical objections, colleagues are no longer interested in the proto-soup model, which is still taught in secondary and high schools....According to Yokey we don’t have the faintest idea how life has originated, and it would only be fair to admit this to the financiers of scientific research and to the public in general. (Intermediair 44, 1988).
What they have found, Fr. Thomas is collagen tissue in a T-Rex, supposedly 70 million years old. Collagen tissue wouldn’t last 7000 years, much less 70 million. They have found human footprints in the same bed as dinosaur prints. I personally know someone who has done the excavations. They have found Carbon 14 in everything diamonds to fossils to dinosaur bones, which is remarkable since it only has a half life of 5700 years.
I could go on and on, Fr. Thomas. I’ve been studying this issue for almost 40 years. My inkling here is that the one playing the role of the “atheist” is you, since one would have to be an idiot savant to dismiss this evidence so cavalierly. At the least, with the kind of evidence I present above against evolution, I think you will have to retract your accusation that I just come to this discussion with “religious bias similar to an atheist,” no?
If you can refute this evidence from science and prove there are fossils or bone specimens demonstrating species-to-species links, be my guest. Until then, all you have is wishful thinking. And without proof, you are required as a Catholic priest to accept tradition, so says Pope Leo XII and St. Augustine.
Fr. Thomas: Dear Robert, You say, “In this entire discussion you’ve given no specific evidence to support your claim.” This is because you suppose (although I have repeatedly denied it) that I am claiming that Jonah is a work of fiction. I have not said this, nor did I imply it.
R. Sungenis: Father, I feel like I’m dealing with a moving target. Months ago, if I remember correctly, you were telling me that Jonah begins as if it were like a children’s story (e.g, “once upon a time”), implying it was fictional. If I remember correctly, you said you didn’t believe Jonah was swallowed by a whale or giant fish. So I’m at a loss to understand what you really believe about Jonah. If, on the contrary, you don’t believe it is fiction, then you cannot dismiss any of the historical parts of the narrative, for if you say that only some of it is fiction, then you’ve made a judgment that is just as tendentious as if you said all of it was fiction. Either Jonah happened as it is written or it didn’t. So what do you believe?
Fr. Thomas: I have rejected the claim that “you must say that Jonah is literal history unless you can prove that it is fiction,” and I have given many good reasons to reject this claim, none of which have you refuted.
R. Sungenis: I have refuted them, but you apparently don’t accept them. That is your prerogative. But I will repeat what I said earlier, which is, the tradition shows that the Fathers and medievals, as well as the 1909 Biblical Commission, understood biblical narratives to be true and accurate accounts of historical realities. They did not regard narratives that depict miracles or divine intervention as “fiction” (e.g, creation, flood, etc.). These Fathers and medieval used the same hermeneutic when they interpreted passages such as Mt 26:26 (This is my body) for, when it was just as easy to interpret these in a figurative sense (as the rest of the world’s religions do) they insisted on taking Scripture at face value, literally, no matter how hard it was to get their minds around Christ becoming substance in the Eucharist. So when it comes to something much less spectacular (e.g., a man being eaten by a whale for three days), the Fathers and medievals didn’t have much of a problem understanding it literally. It wasn’t until after 1943 when Catholic imbibed Protestant historical criticism that they began to question this hermeneutic, and unfortunately, they came to the opinion that Jonah was a myth just like the other cultures surrounding Israel had myths in their religious documents, implying that the Jews copied this methodology from the pagan cultures. But that has never been proven, and there is considerable evidence that it was actually the other way around, that is, that the pagan cultures copied Jewish stories and embellished them with myths from pagan culture.
Fr. Thomas: Nonetheless, you continue to make this same claim: “The entire Catholic hermeneutic for almost two millennia started from the foundation that biblical narratives were not fiction unless there was clear indisputable evidence to the contrary.” This is untrue (as I showed with the case of St. Thomas on the book of Job), and in any case quite ridiculous.
R. Sungenis: Ridiculous? Before I discuss Thomas on Job, take a good look at your own argumentation. You are claiming one instance out of the voluminous commentaries on Scripture that Thomas wrote; and that one instance out of the voluminous commentaries of the Fathers and remaining medievals, and from that one case you purport to have a solid evidence that makes my assertion about the tradition ridiculous? Fr. Thomas, you’ll have to pardon me, but your style of argumentation is what is ridiculous. Anyone who tries to discount the preponderant evidence from tradition on one exception to the rule is, shall we say, desperate.
Now, let’s look at Thomas on Job. Where do you find Thomas saying Job is fiction? Here are two paragraphs from Thomas’ introduction to Job:
But there were some who held that Job was not someone who was in the nature of things, but that this was a parable made up to serve as a kind of theme to dispute providence, as men frequently invent cases to serve as a model for debate. Although it does not matter much for the intention of the book whether or not such is the case, still it makes a difference for the truth itself. This aforementioned opinion seems to contradict the authority of Scripture. In Ezechiel, the Lord is represented as saying, “If there were three just men in our midst, Noah, Daniel, and Job, these would free your souls by their justice.” (Ez. 14:14) Clearly Noah and Daniel really were men in the nature of things and so there should be no doubt about Job who is the third man numbered with them. Also, James says, “Behold, we bless those who persevered. You have heard of the suffering of Job and you have seen the intention of the Lord.” (James 5:11) Therefore one must believe that the man Job was a man in the nature of things.
However, as to the epoch in which he lived, who his parents were or even who the author of the book was, that is whether Job wrote about himself as if speaking about another person, or whether someone else reported these things about him is not the present intention of this discussion. With trust in God’s aid, I intend to explain this book entitled the Book of Job briefly as far as I am able according to the literal sense. The mystical sense has been explained for us both accurately and eloquently by the blessed Pope Gregory so that nothing further need be added to this sort of commentary.
If you have evidence to the contrary, please provide it.
Fr. Thomas: Whether a work is fiction or not is an objective fact: it cannot depend on what evidence I happen to have. So if someone comes up with some indisputable evidence that some work in the Bible is fiction, then it was still a work of fiction even before he came up with that evidence. But this implies that even before coming up with the evidence, he should not be certain (as you are) that it is not a work of fiction, unless he has indisputable evidence of this very fact.
R. Sungenis: We don’t have the privilege of using a-priori arguments in determining whether Jonah or Job is fiction or not. We base our judgment on the tradition before us. That tradition says Jonah was not fiction, and you haven’t proven otherwise. And unless you can show us where Thomas said Jonah was fictional, you’ve lost the one exception you’ve claimed for yourself.
Fr. Thomas: Your claim that Catholic scientists who support evolution are dishonest (that they support it in order to protect their careers, and not because they think it is true and because it seems to them that the evidence supports it) is untrue and slanderous of these scientists.
R. Sungenis: In some cases it may be slanderous, but I know cases where it is true and not slanderous. For you to say that all cases of Catholic scientists believing in evolution is only from the evidence and not to protect their fame, fortune, prestige or whatever, is very naïve.
Fr. Thomas: Your assertion that the “Catholic Fathers in consensus” and “all the saints and doctors” hold your interpretation of Scripture is untrue. St. Augustine asserts that all things were created “in seed” in an instant (not in six 24-hour days), and that things developed naturally from there,
R. Sungenis: There you go again, Fr. Thomas. You take one exception to the rule and try to make a federal case about it. Unfortunately, that is all you have, exceptions, and even the exceptions are not true exceptions. You relish ignoring the other hundred or so Fathers that believed in a six-day creation because somehow you believe this suits your purpose to support the modern evolutionary theory. But in reality, your belief in evolution comes from the Greeks, not the Fathers. Augustine didn’t believe in your evolutionary theory. Far from it. Unlike you, he struggled to be as literal with Genesis 1 as possible. Since he didn’t see the angels mentioned, he tried to fit them in by assuming they were the light. He also didn’t know the Greek of Sirach 18:1 and only used the Latin “simul,” which then led him to the idea of creation in an instant. But the Greek says “koine,” that is, “in common,” not instantaneously. That is why none of the other Fathers who knew Greek (Chrysostom, or any Eastern Father, including Jerome) accepted Augustine’s interpretation of Sirach 18:1. So even in your lone exception (Augustine) he neither supports billions of years of evolution, nor was he followed by the other Fathers in his “instantaneous” interpretation of Genesis 1.
Augustine does not claim that he has found the final answer to the problems of exegeting Genesis 1. Far from it. He writes:
“This is my explanation, unless someone can propose an interpretation that is clearer and more in keeping with the text” (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis, 5, 5, 15).
In the same book he writes:
“...we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. That would be to battle not for the teaching of Holy Scripture but for our own, wishing its teaching to conform to ours, whereas we ought to wish ours to conform to that of Sacred Scripture” (Ibid, 1, 18, 37).
And he states that God purposely inspired Scripture to be difficult in some places, stating that we are left with “interpreting words that have been written obscurely for the purpose of stimulating our thought,” and in that light he adds, “I have not rashly taken my stand on one side against a rival interpretation which might possibly be better” (Ibid, 1, 20, 40).
Nevertheless, having this unyielding focus on the angels leads Augustine to suggest that perhaps the six days of Genesis 1 are not consecutive 24-hour days but “one day” (whereas all the Fathers previous to Augustine held that Genesis 1 was composed of six 24-hour days, the only exception being Origen, who had an extreme penchant for allegorizing that he learned from the Greek philosopher, Philo). Augustine further stipulated that the “one day” of creation was not in reference to time but to causality, that is, an instantaneous creation of everything in heaven and earth.
But because Augustine believes “six” is a special spiritual number (Ibid, 4, 33, 51f; 5, 3, 5f) (and here we see him shifting to his allegorical interpretation), he proposes that the Genesis writer used six days so as to have the angels contemplate the creation in six frames or concepts.
This certainly is a unique interpretation, since not only do the other Fathers not even remotely suggest such an interpretation, but hardly any of the mediaevals adopted it either, although some, like Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas, paid their respects to it, if not for anything else than the utmost admiration they had for Augustine and his interpretive abilities. Personally, however, Thomas believed the light of Genesis 1:3 was plain ordinary household light.
Fr. Thomas: and St. Thomas Aquinas accepts this interpretation as legitimate, and in fact says that it is more theological and a better interpretation than the literal one. While not implying it of necessity, this interpretation is consistent with the theory of evolution.
R. Sungenis: Thomas doesn’t say it is a better interpretation. He says he accepts it as a possibility because he has high respect for Augustine. Even Augustine didn’t hold that view as his only view. He said in The Literal Interpretation of Genesis that it was the best he could come up with at that time, but that he didn’t want to give the impression it was the only view of Genesis 1. In any case, how is it that you jump from Augustine saying that the days of creation occurred instantaneously to the idea of evolution that there are billions of years? That is a leap if I ever saw one. In fact, Augustine tightens up gaps even more, since he doesn’t allow people to say there were billions of years between the DAYS (plural) of Genesis, as some theistic evolutionists try to do with the other Church Fathers who believed in six days.
And your appeal to Augustine’s “seeds” is not going to get you anywhere toward evolution, because if you read Augustine’s paper on the “rationis seminalis” carefully, you will find that he is referring to natural development within kinds, not to mutations that produce a whole different species from an unlike species. If you believe otherwise, then show us where Augustine says otherwise in his essay.
I have copied for you an article I wrote on Augustine’s Rationis Seminalis, if you care to read it.
St. Augustine’s “Rationis Seminalis” (“Seminal Principles”):
Does it Offer Catholics a Precedent for Theistic Evolution?
By Robert A. Sungenis, Ph.D.
As any good Catholic realizes, anyone who puts forth ideas in regards to the interpretation of Scripture, must, at the very least, have consulted the Fathers, and unless there is some overwhelming evidence contrary to their consensual teaching, one is required to find precedent in the Fathers for any specific interpretation, especially regarding chapters of holy writ of the highest importance, such as those found between the pages of Genesis chapters 1-3, which are the backbone to all the rest of Scripture.
Today, since many are influenced by the ideas of the evolutionary hypothesis stemming from the ideas of Charles Darwin and his disciples, Catholics who desire to meld the tenets of evolution with the Genesis record must, in order to be faithful to Church protocol, find some patristic precedent for their beliefs. If they find only one Father of significant weight who even remotely suggests that some type of non-literal interpretation of Genesis is possible (that is, viewing the days as something other than 24-hour periods of day and night), then they will garner at least some plausibility to their contentions.
Their case might even be especially convincing if they can bring someone as revered and influential to their side as the great St. Augustine. All they need is to create what in courtroom parlance amounts to “reasonable doubt” that Genesis 1 need not be interpreted literally, and they have created enough room to establish themselves in the Catholic consciousness. We will even find secular evolutionists quoting St. Augustine in order to lend support to their ideas about time and evolution, but they do so usually out of context, since these scientists have no training in patristics or exegesis.
As we have noted above, St. Augustine’s Platonic philosophy moved him to many an allegorical interpretation of Scripture. It was not a rare occurrence to find four or more interpretations to a given verse in Augustine’s writings, since, by the mere nature of the beast, allegorical interpretations can be multiplied without end. But it is also true that Augustine often changed his mind about his literal interpretations of Scripture, especially over the course of his long writing career, which exceeded forty years.
His attempt at a literal interpretation of Genesis 1, which he said was sometimes very difficult for him, often resulted in the very allegorical interpretations he was trying to avoid, or sometimes even stymied him into giving no interpretation at all. For instance, Augustine was one of the only Fathers to think of the problem posed by the fact that Adam and Eve were given all the plants, save the tree in the center of the Garden, to eat for food, yet prior to their sin, there was no threat of death or corruption in them, and thus no real need for food. So why did they eat food? Augustine provides no answer to this problem (De Genesi, Book 3, Ch 21), but just the fact that he raises the issue makes an exegete become very cautious when he interprets Genesis.
Conversely, Augustine suggests that the animals, prior to the Fall of man, died natural deaths, and that the phrase “according to their kinds” refers to the fact that they reproduced their own offspring prior to their parents perishing (De Genesi, Book 3, Ch 13). Augustine brings many of these kinds of questions to the forefront.
In any case, once Augustine suggested that the days of Genesis 1 did not have to be understood as literal 24-hour days but as contemplative guideposts for the angels, it would just be a matter of time before 19th and 20th century Catholic evolutionists such as George Mivart, George Tyrell, Ernest Messenger and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin would appeal to the great saint as the one Father who anticipated their evolutionary hypothesis. Unfortunately, most of today’s modernist Catholic evolutionists, such as Raymond Brown, John Haught and Stanley Jaki, care very little about what the patristic evidence says, since they have convinced themselves both that the Fathers were scientifically illiterate and that the Bible need not be interpreted to correspond to science. Only the more conservative Catholic theistic evolutionists among us would give any recourse to the patristic testimony, such as George Sim Johnston.
These conservative Catholic evolutionists certainly cannot appeal to the other two dozen or so Fathers who addressed the interpretation of Genesis 1. All the Fathers prior to Augustine, save Origen, interpreted Genesis 1 in strict literal fashion, the most formidable of these being Basil the Great whose work The Hexameron stands as the best patristic work on the subject. Whereas Augustine was tepid about an interpretation, Basil, being from the East and much more inclined to avoid the Platonic philosophy of the West, dove right in and offered interpretations of the most excruciating Aristotelian detail. So stubbornly literal were their interpretations that one Catholic evolutionist, Fr. Stanley Jaki, states his utter dismay in his book Genesis 1 Through the Ages of being able to find any deviation from what he calls “concordist” interpretations, that is, interpretations among the Fathers that made a concord or correspondence between science and Scripture.
But with Augustine’s allegorical leanings, and his admission of having difficulty with a literal interpretation of Genesis 1, these theistic evolutionists obtained from him precisely what they wanted – a patristic precedent to their non-literal views. It didn’t matter to them that Augustine merely spoke of an instantaneous Creation in one timeless day rather than over billions of years, for all that they needed was to find someone of influence in the patristic period that did not interpret the days of Genesis 1 as six literal time periods of 24 hours. Once obtained, the floodgates would now be open to propose alternative non-literal interpretations, such as each day standing for millions of years; or the six days standing for a long and indefinite period of time, or as Stanley Jaki and the rest of the higher biblical critics propose, that there is absolutely no connection at all between Genesis 1 and science.
In fact, Jaki and his fellow biblical critics go so far as to claim that Genesis 1 wasn’t written by Moses or any ancient Jew after him, but was actually a product of an unidentified scribe in the sixth century BC coming back from the Babylonian captivity, who, for the simple reason of invigorating his fellow Jews to a new life in Jerusalem, decided there was no better way to do this than fashion a Creation story that depicted the Jewish God as the mighty creator of the universe. In other words, Genesis 1 was for the most part a piece of fiction whose closest connection with reality was merely the residual fact that God created the world, but its details were mere window dressing that had no counterpart in actual life.
Once a crack had been opened into the patristics by means of appealing to Augustine’s alternative interpretations, these theistic evolutionists tried to find other aspects of Augustine’s writings that would allow them to find patristic precedent for evolutionary theory. One such possibility arose with Augustine’s concept of the “rationis seminalis” or what we know in English as the “seminal principles.” This was Augustine’s concept that living specimens contain the seeds, as it were, which allowed the entity itself to grow either into a fully developed form (and this is where the rub comes) – or give rise to other organisms unlike itself.
There are only three places in his writings where Augustine develops the concept of the “rationis seminalis” in any detail. One appears in De Genesi ad litteram (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis), a second in De civitate Dei (The City of God), and the third in De Trinitate (On the Trinity). Other less detailed references appear in his Homilies on St. John and Homilies on the Psalms.
First we shall look at the reference in De Genesi ad litteram. In speaking about very tiny creatures that seem to appear spontaneously on exposed animal flesh, Augustine writes:
But whether, as I have said, we are to believe that these little animals were also made in the creation of things during the six days of the Scripture narrative, or afterwards at the decomposition of corruptible bodies, that is the question.
Surely it can be said that the smallest of these animals that have their origin in the waters and the earth were made at the first creation. Among these it is not unreasonable to place those that come forth from the creatures born with the budding earth. For these creatures [plants and trees] preceded the creation not only of the animals but also of the luminaries of heaven, and, being rooted in the earth from which they came forth on the day on which the dry land appeared, obviously they are rather to be reckoned as an adjunct of the inhabitable earth than numbered among its inhabitants. (The Literal Meaning of Genesis, 3, 14, 23).
Here Augustine is suggesting that these small organisms may have been created along with the trees and plants, perhaps for the purpose of some symbiotic relationship. He then adds:
As for the other small creatures that come forth from the bodies of animals, particularly from corpses, it is absurd to say that they were created when the animals themselves were created, except in the sense that there was present from the beginning in all living bodies a natural power, and, I might say, there were interwoven with these bodies the seminal principles of animals later to appear, which would spring forth from the decomposing bodies, each according to its kind and with its special properties, by the wonderful power of the immutable Creator who moves all His creatures. (The Literal Meaning of Genesis, 3, 14, 23)
Here we see that Augustine is concerned with explaining how previously unseen organisms could appear on the flesh of animal corpses. Apparently, the presence of maggots or other such minute creatures on dead animal flesh was a common sight in Augustine’s day. The question was: from where do these creatures originate? When we look at the corpse one day we don’t see any creatures. When we come back the next day, we see all kinds of little specimens. Augustine begins his analysis by proposing that these tiny creatures could not have been created at the same time as the animals themselves, since they only appear when the animal is dead.
Augustine’s alternative solution is to suggest that the animal carries within itself “seminal principles” – a mysterious force of nature that spontaneously brings forth creatures associated with the host animal, but which is triggered only when the host dies and its body decomposes. It is from this single proposal that various Catholic theistic evolutionists have asserted Augustine was promoting the concept of evolution, even if in a very primitive form.
But here is precisely where we can posit that the reason Augustine often had difficulty with the literal interpretation of Genesis 1 is that he did not know enough science in order to know the precise way to interpret it literally. In fact, there is a common misconception among scientists that the more science one knows the less he will rely on Scripture, and particularly Genesis 1, to furnish answers regarding the origin and makeup of the universe. But exactly the opposite is true. The more science we discover, the more we discover how accurate the biblical record is and precisely how we can correctly interpret it (and I am speaking here of true science, not unproven, hypothetical or theoretical ideas that are often propped up as science today). Everything from archeology, to paleontology, to geology, to cosmology has affirmed the biblical record, if only we would open our eyes to see it and stop accepting as gospel what the biased and agnostic science establishment has been forcing down our collective throats for many years.
That Augustine himself was a concordist is evident all over his writings. One place in particular is Augustine’s treatment of the firmament of Genesis 1:6-9. He writes:
With this reasoning some of our scholars attack the position of those who refuse to believe that there are waters above the heavens...Thus they would compel the disbeliever to admit that water is there not in a vaporous state but in the form of ice. But whatever the nature of that water and whatever the manner of its being there, we must not doubt that it does exist in that place. The authority of Scripture in this matter is greater than all human ingenuity (The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Bk 2, Ch. 5, No 9).
We see here a firm resolve to give primary place to the literal and plain meaning of the biblical text, regardless of the controversies that were swirling in the scientific community. When Augustine departs from the literal interpretation it is not because he has found a scientific theory that he regards as true and thus compels him to create a different biblical interpretation, for nowhere in his writings does he ever claim such as his motivation. Rather, Augustine employs a semi-literal or even allegorical interpretation in certain places only when he sees an apparent conflict within the biblical text itself, a conflict that his intellect is not able to answer, at least at that particular time.
By the same token, if Augustine had known the science, he would have been in a much better position to be a strict concordist of all of Genesis 1. For example, Augustine didn’t know that radiation does not need a luminous body to exist, as is proven by the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation in the 1940s by astronomer Grote Reber and later confirmed by Penzias and Wilson in 1963, and therefore, scientifically speaking, there need not be a contradiction between Day 1 and Day 4 of Genesis 1.
Augustine did not know that, as discovered by physicist Paul Dirac in 1928 and confirmed by Carl Anderson in 1932, that outer space is saturated with a dense concentration of electron-positron pairs. Or, as no less a scientific luminary as Stephen Hawking has admitted, space is filled with infinitesimal particles in the Planck dimensions. According to Scripture’s description of the firmament as a hard and dense yet very penetrable material, we thus have viable candidates for its scientific basis.
And though in many other instances Augustine was a superior exegete of Scripture, he didn’t know Greek well enough to figure out that the sole verse in the Greek Septuagint upon which he based his fundamental conclusion that God made all things instantaneously instead of over six days, was based on an erroneous translation in his Latin Vulgate of Sirach 18:1, and which actually means just the opposite of what he proposed in his concept of an instantaneous creation. Jerome’s Vulgate was certainly a good translation, but it was not infallible, and Jerome never claimed it to be.
And likewise, Augustine didn’t know, and wouldn’t be able to know for at least the next twelve hundred years, that small organisms are not spontaneously generated from inorganic matter, and thus there are no “seminal principles” inherent in dead animal carcasses that automatically produce new life forms. As God told Daniel in Daniel 12:4, “knowledge will increase,” and thus God anticipated that we would plumb the secrets of nature. But the warning given to scientists and exegetes from Pope Leo XIII in 1893 is that we are nevertheless obliged to interpret Scripture literally, in its plain and ordinary meaning, unless since can provide us with irrefutable evidence to the contrary. Anyone who knows science will admit that there is very little it knows irrefutably. As biologist and physician Lewis Thomas, who died in 1993, admitted:
Science is founded on uncertainty. …We are always, as it turns out, fundamentally wrong…The only solid piece of scientific truth about which I feel totally confident is that we are profoundly ignorant about nature. ...It is this sudden confrontation with the depth and scope of ignorance that represents the most significant contribution of twentieth-century science to the human intellect. (Lewis Thomas, “On Science and Certainty,” Discover Magazine, 1980, p. 58. )
Regarding the “rationis seminalis” we can’t really fault St. Augustine, since at least from the time of Aristotle in the 4th century BC science believed that small organisms could indeed come into being by spontaneous generation, that is, that non-living things can produce living things. In fact, it was “common knowledge” among Christians and non-Christians alike that creatures such as worms, beetles, frogs and salamanders could come from dust, mud, or uncovered food, since within hours they would see the aforementioned mediums teeming with life.
For example, every year in the spring, the Nile River flooded areas of Egypt, leaving behind nutrient-rich mud that enabled the people to grow that year’s crop of food. However, along with the muddy soil, large numbers of frogs appeared that were not seen in drier times. Their conclusion? Well, it was perfectly obvious for sane people to realize that muddy soil produced frogs.
Likewise, in many parts of Europe, medieval farmers stored grain in barns with thatched roofs. As a roof aged it usually began leaking. This would lead to spoiled or moldy grain. Since there were lots of mice appearing at around the same time, it was obvious to the farmer that the mice came from moldy grain.
Since there were no refrigerators prior to the late 1800s, people made daily trips to the butcher shop. Carcasses were usually hung by their heels and customers selected which chunk the butcher would carve off for them. But there were always flies around the dead animal carcasses, so the people obviously concluded that rotting meat hanging in the sun all day was the source of the flies.
It wasn’t until the days of the Italian physician Fransicso Redi in the late 1600s, and more firmly rediscovered by Louis Pasteur in the 1800s, that science discovered that organisms do not spontaneously generate from dead animal carcasses.
In fact, so firm was the idea of spontaneous generation in the minds of the populace and scientists that even as late as 1748, John Needham, a Scottish clergyman and naturalist claimed that there was a “life force” present in the molecules of all inorganic matter, including air and the oxygen in it, that causes spontaneous generation to occur, thus accounting for the presence of bacterial growth in his soups. In fact, he tried to prove the case by briefly boiling some of his soup and then pouring it into “clean” flasks which he then sealed with cork lids, but the microorganisms still grew. Little did he know, however, that briefly boiling soup does not kill all the microorganisms; that his flasks were not completely sterile, and that cork lids do not keep out all the air and its attending bacteria from a container.
In any case, Needham’s insistence that the microorganisms were a product of the “life force” present in inorganic matter allows us to see why Augustine’s concept of “seminal principles,” which he in turn had borrowed from the Greeks, existed well into the mid-eighteenth century. It wasn’t until the experiments of Louis Pasteur that the final nail was put into the coffin of spontaneous generation.
Before I leave this subject, I must alert you to another form of “spontaneous generation” that has arisen rather spontaneously, if you will. It occurred when modern evolutionists could not find the fossil evidence they needed to support evolution. Today’s resurrection of spontaneous generation goes by the modern name of “Punctuated equilibrium.” As the Lamarkian theory of evolution posited that the gaps in evolutionary progression were filled spontaneously by the sudden appearance of the appropriate animals, so today, after not finding any fossils which prove the existence of intermediary forms of life (e.g., between fish and reptile; between an amphibian and bird) evolutionists, following the late Harvard professor, Stephen Jay Gould, propose that the intermediate forms appeared suddenly, out of the blue, without cause or explanation. So suddenly did they appear, and so suddenly did they disappear, that we have no fossil evidence of them today. How convenient for them. Perhaps in the belief of spontaneous generation, today’s evolutionists DO indeed have something in common with Augustine...
Be that as it may, can we be sure Augustine’s “seminal principles” do not have any leanings toward the modern evolutionary hypothesis? Well, as they say when buying real estate, the three most important things are: location, location, location. So in interpreting a text of Scripture or patristic prose, the three most important things are: context, context, and context. Suffice it to say, Augustine’s context has nothing to do with the concept we know as Darwinian evolution or any of its offshoots.
We can surmise this first by the fact that in none of his writings does Augustine ever develop anything resembling an evolutionary concept for the origin of living beings. We must remember that Augustine, irrespective of his “seminal principles,” suggested as his best interpretation that God created everything instantaneously. If the concept of evolution had been a major plank of his interpretive framework, we would expect to see it in many and varied places in his writings, especially since Augustine was not at all shy about advancing alternative interpretations. But in all of Augustine’s writings, and he was the most voluminous writer of all the Fathers, he mentions nothing about creatures evolving into higher and different species of life.
If anything, Augustine’s “seminal principles” put the evolutionary hypothesis in reverse, since by spontaneously producing parasites from well-developed and complex animal flesh it results in creatures that would be placed on the lowest rung of the evolutionary scale, not those more complex than its host. This is, of course, beside the fact that modern evolutionary theory makes no claims that fully-formed organisms appeared from “seminal deposits,” rather, they assert that they were the result of the mutated change from slightly less fully-formed organisms, and none of which Augustine gives even a glimmer of hope.
Second, as noted, Augustine is concerned only with corpses of animals, not those living. Because small organisms appear on dead animal flesh, Augustine feels obligated to offer at least some explanation to the scientific inquisitor why and how they appeared. By the same token, however, he never speaks of small creatures progressing to more complicated creatures.
The simple fact is that Augustine had no concept of microorganisms and multi-functioning cells of bacteria. He had no idea that each animal, each human being, carries within its body a dizzying array of multi-cellular bacterial organisms. We know now by looking through a microscope that human and animal skin, for example, harbors thousands of frightening-looking parasites crawling on us this very minute, and this is precisely the same surface area at which Augustine saw the minute creatures multiplying on animal flesh. Augustine had no idea that the flesh of animals, dead or alive, carries bacteria within its very muscular tissue, and given the right environment, that this bacteria will multiply exponentially. The closest Augustine could come to understanding this hidden process was the “rationis seminalis” that he adopted from Aristotle and the Greeks.
That the “rationis seminalis” had nothing at all to do with the concept of modern evolution, and could not even be considered a precursor to it, is noted in Augustine’s treatment of the same in his book The City of God. In discussing whether infants that died will have the same infant body in heaven or a full grown adult body, he writes:
What, then, are we to say of infants, if not that they will not rise in that diminutive body in which they died, but shall receive by the marvelous and rapid operation of God that body which time by a slower process would have given them? For in the Lord's words, where He says, "Not a hair of your head shall perish," it is asserted that nothing which was possessed shall be wanting; but it is not said that nothing which was not possessed shall be given. To the dead infant there was wanting the perfect stature of its body; for even the perfect infant lacks the perfection of bodily size, being capable of further growth. This perfect stature is, in a sense, so possessed by all that they are conceived and born with it, that is, they have it potentially, though not yet in actual bulk; just as all the members of the body are potentially in the seed, though, even after the child is born, some of them, the teeth for example, may be wanting.
In this seminal principle [“rationis seminalis”] of every substance, there seems to be, as it were, the beginning of everything which does not yet exist, or rather does not appear, but which in process of time will come into being, or rather into sight. In this, therefore, the child who is to be tall or short is already tall or short. And in the resurrection of the body, we need, for the same reason, fear no bodily loss; for though all should be of equal size, and reach gigantic proportions, lest the men who were largest here should lose anything of their bulk and it should perish, in contradiction to the words of Christ, who said that not a hair of their head should perish, yet why should there lack the means by which that wonderful Worker should make such additions, seeing that He is the Creator, who Himself created all things out of nothing? (City of God, Book 22, Chapter 14).
So here we see that Augustine’s reference to the “seminal principle” concerns nothing more than the principle of growth inherent to all living organisms, that is, of continuing the process started at their conception. In other words, not knowing about the double-helix of Dexyribonucleic acid that makes up our genes and chromosomes, Augustine can only attribute biological growth to the concepts he has at his disposal, which at this point in history are severely lacking. As an acorn houses an oak tree, and as an egg brings forth a chicken, so in Augustine’s understanding God has placed the same seminal principles in all living organisms, and for him and his colleagues, that is all they need to know for the time being.
As Augustine writes in his Letters:
For myself, and for all who along with me labor to understand the invisible things of God by means of the things which are made, I may say that we are filled not less, perhaps even more, with wonder by the fact, that in one grain of seed, so insignificant, there lies bound up as it were all that we praise in the stately tree, than by the fact that the bosom of this earth, so vast, shall restore entire and perfect to the future resurrection all those elements of human bodies which it is now receiving when they are dissolved. (Letters, CII)
Nowhere, of course, does Augustine entertain the idea that the “seminal principle” of a fish could develop into a reptile, or that of an ape into a man. In his work, The Soul and Its Origin, he writes:
In the instance, too, which the apostle adduces, “God gives it a body as it has pleased Him,” let him deny, if he dares, that corn springs from corn, and grass from grass, from the seed, each after its kind. And if he dares not deny this, how does he know in what sense it is said, “He gives breath to the people”? whether by derivation from parents, or by fresh breathing into each individual? (The Soul and Its Origin, Book 1, Chapter 17)
Augustine’s father in the faith, St. Ambrose, the one who encouraged him to read theology and science, shows us the course of the patristic consensus on this matter as he wrote:
But if the wise men of old believed that a crop of armed men sprang up in the district of Thebes from the sowing of the hydra’s teeth, whereas it is certainly established that seeds of one kind cannot be changed into another kind of plant, nor bring forth produce differing from its own seeds, so that men should spring from serpents and flesh from teeth; how much more, indeed, is it to be believed that whatever has been sown rises again in its own nature, and that crops do not differ from their seed, that soft things do not spring from hard, nor hard from soft, nor is poison changed into blood; but that flesh is restored from flesh, bone from bone, blood from blood, the humors of the body from humors. Can ye then, ye heathen, who are able to assert a change, deny a restoration of the nature? Can you refuse to believe the oracles of God, the Gospel, and the prophets, who believe empty fables? (On the Decease of Satyrus, On Belief in the Resurrection, Book II, 70)
Basil the Great, writing a few decades before Augustine and the greatest of the Greek Fathers on the Creation narratives, finds himself having to silence the speculations of the Greeks who were claiming that various forms of life developed from one seed, a precursor to the modern evolutionary theory. Basil writes:
But why torment ourselves to refute the errors of philosophers, when it is sufficient to produce their mutually contradictory books, and, as quiet spectators, to watch the war? For those thinkers are not less numerous, nor less celebrated, nor more sober in speech in fighting their adversaries, who say that the universe is being consumed by fire, and that from the seeds which remain in the ashes of the burnt world all is being brought to life again. Hence in the world there is destruction and palingenesis to infinity. All, equally far from the truth, find each on their side by -ways which lead them to error. (Hexameron, Homily III, On the Firmament, 8)
In the third and final place where Augustine mentions the “seminalis” he again speaks of “hidden seeds” that God placed in each living thing, seeds that were the cause of their distinction and growth. In De Trinitate he writes:
But, in truth, some hidden seeds of all things that are born corporeally and visibly, are concealed in the corporeal elements of this world. For those seeds that are visible now to our eyes from fruits and living things, are quite distinct from the hidden seeds of those former seeds; from which, at the bidding of the Creator, the water produced the first swimming creatures and fowl, and the earth the first buds after their kind, and the first living creatures after their kind. For neither at that time were those seeds so drawn forth into products of their several kinds, as that the power of production was exhausted in those products; but oftentimes, suitable combinations of circumstances are wanting, whereby they may be enabled to burst forth and complete their species. For, consider, the very least shoot is a seed; for, if fitly consigned to the earth, it produces a tree. But of this shoot there is a yet more subtle seed in some grain of the same species, and this is visible even to us. But of this grain also there is further still a seed, which, although we are unable to see it with our eyes, yet we can conjecture its existence from our reason; because, except there were some such power in those elements, there would not so frequently be produced from the earth things which had not been sown there; nor yet so many animals, without any previous commixture of male and female; whether on the land, or in the water, which yet grow, and by commingling bring forth others, while themselves sprang up without any union of parents. And certainly bees do not conceive the seeds of their young by commixture, but gather them as they lie scattered over the earth with their mouth. For the Creator of these invisible seeds is the Creator of all things Himself; since whatever comes forth to our sight by being born, receives the first beginnings of its course from hidden seeds, and takes the successive increments of its proper size and its distinctive forms from these as it were original rules. As therefore we do not call parents the creators of men, nor farmers the creators of corn, although it is by the outward application of their actions that the power of God operates within for the creating these things... (On the Trinity, Book III, Chapter 8, 13).
Here we see that the operative force of the “hidden seeds” has no connection to the evolution of one organism to a totally different organism, but to what Augustine calls “the successive increments of its proper size and its distinctive forms from these as it were original rules.” His objective is merely to show that a husband and wife, for example, are not the “creators of men” but the real creators are the “hidden seeds” that God has placed in all life forms. We know these seeds today as male spermatoza and a female ovum. We can actually see fertilization occur by means of an endoscope. We assign names to the developing stages such as zygote and blastula, we call the process of growth gestation. And let us never forget that, for all our so-called “scientific advancement,” what we have really developed today is nothing more than the means of sinning much faster than our forefathers, since, unlike Aristotle’s and Augustine’s society, we now put an abrupt end to the gestation process by a process called surgical abortion.
Not knowing, of course, the precise scientific mechanism for his theoretical idea of the “rationis seminalis,” Augustine also had another application. In the same work, De Trinitate, Augustine attempts to explain why the magicians of Egypt could mimic some of the miracles of Moses. Thus he writes:
But lest the somewhat different condition of animals should trouble any one, in that they have the breath of life with the sense of desiring those things that are according to nature, and of avoiding those things that are contrary to it; we must consider also, how many men there are who know from what herbs or flesh, or from what juices or liquids you please, of whatever sort, whether so placed or so buried, or so bruised or so mixed, this or that animal is commonly born; yet who can be so foolish as to dare to call himself the creator of these animals? Is it, therefore, to be wondered at, if just as any, the most worthless of men, can know whence such or such worms and flies are produced; so the evil angels in proportion to the subtlety of their perceptions discern in the more hidden seeds of the elements whence frogs and serpents are produced, and so through certain and known opportune combinations applying these seeds by secret movements, cause them to be created, but do not create them? Only men do not marvel at those things that are usually done by men. But if any one chance to wonder at the quickness of those growths, in that those living beings were so quickly made, let him consider how even this may be brought about by men in proportion to the measure of human capability. For whence is it that the same bodies generate worms more quickly in summer than in winter, or in hotter than in colder places? Only these things are applied by men with so much the more difficulty, in proportion as their earthly and sluggish members are wanting in subtlety of perception, and in rapidity of bodily motion. And hence it arises that in the case of any kind of angels, in proportion as it is easier for them to draw out the proximate causes from the elements, so much the more marvelous is their rapidity in works of this kind. (On the Trinity, Book III, Chapter 9, God the Original Cause of All Things)
In other words, as Augustine clings to the idea obtained from the Greeks that deceased flesh possesses the ability to produce living organisms, he reasons that evil angels are also aware of this inherent ability of created flesh, and using their superior intelligence, will exploit this principle to their own advantage, and thereby produce frogs and serpents from ordinary flesh in order to deceive humans. This shows just how much the concept of spontaneous generation was an integral part of the thinking of Augustine’s day. We in the 20th century chuckle at such notions, but to the men of the first millennium AD, and almost 80% of the second millennium, there were no exceptions to this common belief.
In conclusion, we see that Augustine’s “rationis seminalis” offers no foundation or precedent for theistic evolutionists. The only reasons for Augustine’s advancement of the concept of “seminal principles” was to offer: (a) some explanation for the then widely held but erroneous belief of spontaneous generation; (b) a reason why a living being could develop from infancy to adulthood; and (c) a possible reason why demons, who we know do not possess creative power, can appear to create various things. Today, both theology and science have taught us that only option (b) has any credence.
In any case, the idea of evolution of species is as foreign to Augustine’s thought as it is from the remaining Fathers of the Catholic Church. This resolution, as we saw, was not in a vacuum, but in the face of Greek philosophers and scientists who were positing ideas akin to the modern evolutionary hypothesis, and which were soundly rejected by the Fathers. As it s
Fr. Thomas: Dear Robert, First, a comment on this statement: “Father, I feel like I’m dealing with a moving target.” Even if this were true, there would be nothing objectionable about it, since it is reasonable to revise one’s position in light of new information. The fact that you take for granted that my position shouldn’t change over the course of the conversation shows the truth of my claim that you yourself are unwilling to change your position in the light of any argument whatsoever, since you apparently believe such unwillingness to change one’s position is a reasonable mode of procedure, criticizing me for not following this procedure. It is reasonable to conclude, therefore, that you yourself will not change your position no matter how strong the evidence presented against it, since you believe that this is a reasonable way to behave.
R. Sungenis: If you are changing your position on an issue, then all you need do is tell me: “Robert, I’m changing my position on this issue, so don’t be alarmed if I appear to be a moving target.” By the same token, if you want to know if I would change my position if I was presented with evidence that contradicted my position, all you need is ask me “Robert, would you change your mind if you were proved wrong,” and my answer would be a resounding yes. In other words, don’t presume you either know me or know what I would do in a given situation.
Fr. Thomas: Second, as a matter of fact, your arguments have not been very persuasive, and therefore I have changed my position very little, much less than you suggest. The fact that you suggest I have made such changes shows a lack of attention to my side of the discussion, a lack of attention easily explained by the fact that you are not interested in revising your position in light of new information. I will give a few examples to show the truth of this.
R. Sungenis: It is wrong for you to assume that I won’t change my mind by saying it is due to the fact that I haven’t been paying attention to your side of the discussion. I have been paying attention. I’ve been doing this sort of thing for the last 40 years on this very topic. What you present below, well, you’ll have to forgive me for saying is nothing but nit-picking.
Fr. Thomas: “Months ago, if I remember correctly, you were telling me that Jonah begins as if it were like a children’s story (e.g. “once upon a time”), implying it was fictional.” You do not remember correctly. On the 4th of December 2010, I wrote,
“And besides, it could well be the case, as far as I know, that the book of Jonah ‘points out its own fiction.’ Since I don’t know the original language and culture and so on, it may well be that the book begins with a phrase such as ‘Once upon a time,’ or whatever, something that would be quite recognizable to the original audience as fiction. And again, as I stated above, I am not about to say that this is not the case, just because I don’t know that it is.”
Naturally, this paragraph in no way asserts that Jonah is fiction, nor does it say that Jonah begins like a children’s story. All it says is that I don’t know that it doesn’t.
R. Sungenis: Fr. Thomas, I would suggest we don’t bog this conversation down with “he said; she said” periphery. Our versions (considering the fact I was recounting by memory) are rather close, and even if there is a little discrepancy, it doesn’t really matter. The bottom line is: do you believe Jonah is fiction or not? If so, then prove it. You can’t do so by just guessing that it might start like a children’s story. You need to know this kind of evidence for a fact. In rebuttal, I can tell you for a fact that Jonah does not start that way. I know the Hebrew of Jonah, as well as the Greek LXX translation, and there is nothing there that even remotely suggests it is fictional.
Fr. Thomas: You continue, “If I remember correctly, you said you didn’t believe Jonah was swallowed by a whale or giant fish.” Again, you do not remember correctly. You may perhaps be thinking of this email to Chris Ferrara, 28 November 2010:
““Was Jonah in the belly of a whale for three days, as Our Lord attests? Yes or no.”
Our Lord said, “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”.
Jonah was in the belly of a whale for three days in the sense that Our Lord intended to say that he was, and not in any other sense.
If you think this is a “dodge and not an answer”, then I would ask you:
Was the Son of Man three nights in the heart of the earth, as Our Lord attests? Yes or no.”
Evidently, this passage does not say that Jonah was not really swallowed by a whale. At most, it says that is quite possible that Our Lord affirmed this in a literary sense, and therefore it is possible that he was not, in accord with what I have been saying all along, i.e. I neither affirmed nor denied the historicity of Jonah. In fact, despite your mistaken recollection, this has been my position all along, and the texts themselves (like the ones I have cited here) make that quite clear. The fact that you “remember” me denying the historicity of Jonah shows a lack of attention to my position, a lack of attention very well explained by your lack of interest in taking into account new information of any kind.
R. Sungenis: Guessing as to what I’m thinking isn’t going to prove anything for you. Now let’s get to your hypothesis. You claim it is “quite possible that Our Lord affirmed this in a literary sense.” Fine. I’ll retort that it is “quite possible that Our Lord HAD NOT affirmed this in a literary sense.” You can argue with “possibilities” all day long, but that doesn’t prove anything. If you believe it was affirmed in the literary sense only, then GIVE THE EVIDENCE for such, don’t just presume it to be the case because, for example, you can show that other cultures had fictitious stories about extraordinary events. Again, the burden of proof is on you, since the tradition has not taken your view. The tradition has stated that Christ was in the grave for three days. It has also stated that “three days and three nights” and “three days” were equivalent idiomatic time expressions and refer to the two partial days and one full day Christ was in the grave. The tradition has also stated that if Christ was in the grave for three literal days then it would be inappropriate for him to compare that literal period to a fictitious three day period for Jonah, since it would suggest that Christ wasn’t actually in the grave at all, much less for three days. Unless you have something alternative that can answer all these pressing questions, then you don’t have a case, all you have are unproven “possibilities.”
Fr. Thomas: You fall into the same kind of lack of attention when you say, “Where do you find Thomas saying Job is fiction?” I did not say that St. Thomas says that Job is fiction. I said that what he says about the book shows it to be untrue that “The entire Catholic hermeneutic for almost two millennia started from the foundation that biblical narratives were not fiction unless there was clear indisputable evidence to the contrary.” It does not show that this is untrue because St. Thomas thinks that Job is fiction (he does not), but because he in no way argues that Job couldn’t be fiction because it is Scripture, or because of the nature of the book. Instead, he says that “it does not matter much for the intention of the book whether or not such is the case,” implying that Job could easily have been written as fiction with the purpose that it has. However, as a question of fact (as he says, “for the truth itself”) he believes that it is not fiction because there are mentions of the man Job in other parts of Scripture. Therefore, had there been no mention of Job in any other part of Scripture, St. Thomas would not have asserted the opinion that Job is fiction to be absurd or impossible, but would have admitted it to be a possibility, implying that he does not hold your principle of interpretation (i.e. that there is no fiction in Scripture until you prove that there is.) In any case, you didn’t respond to the argument I made that whether a work is fiction or not is an objective fact, and doesn’t depend on our arguments, addressing something quite different instead.
R. Sungenis: I agree with Thomas. Yes, it could be fiction, and if it was I would treat it as such. Then again, there could also be green cheese on the moon. But there is no EVIDENCE that either the moon has green cheese or that Job is fiction, either internally (within the story itself) or externally (since Job is mentioned elsewhere in Scripture as being a real person). And, of course, the same logic would apply to Jonah, that is, since he is mentioned elsewhere in Scripture as being a real person, the burden of proof is on someone to show he and his story are fictional (e.g., For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. Luke 11:30).
Fr. Thomas: St. Thomas does say that St. Augustine’s interpretation of Genesis is “more theological” and the natural interpretation of that is that he thinks it is better.
R. Sungenis: The operative word is “thinks,” since Thomas made no hard and fast approval of Augustine’s alternative, and neither did Augustine himself. The simple fact is, Augustine was of a divided mind on Genesis 1, by his own admission, and he admits that his alternative interpretation was against all the other Fathers who had the consensus long before he came on the scene.
Fr. Thomas: I did not say that St. Augustine accepted the theory of evolution (which would be quite out of order historically.) I said that his theory is consistent with the theory of evolution, and it is. God bless, Fr. Thomas
R. Sungenis: I would suggest that you don’t merely make assertions. If you think it is consistent with evolution, then show the EVIDENCE it is. If you are basing it on the rationes seminales, then let’s see the evidence. I gave you the reasons the rationes doesn’t support evolution, so it’s your turn to show where it does. And you will also have to explain why Augustine’s One Day or instantaneous creation could ever agree with the billions of years required for evolution.
tands, those who attempt to exploit Augustine’s penchant for allegorical or alternate interpretations in order to support their concocted theories of evolution, are doing a grave disservice to the Catholic community. In brief, there is no patristic support for the theory of evolution.