Must Human Evolution Contradict Genesis?

July-August 2007By Dennis Bonnette

Dennis Bonnette retired in 2003 as Professor of Philosophy at Niagara University in Lewiston, New York, where he was Chairman of the Philosophy Department from 1992 to 2002. He is the author of two books, Aquinas' Proofs for God's Existence (Martinus-Nijhoff, 1972) and Origin of the Human Species (Sapientia Press, 2003; 2nd edition, 2007, with a new Foreword by biochemist Michael J. Behe). His website is

While controversy swirls around whether Intelligent Design theory can somehow indicate God's existence, we ought not to forget that Catholic tradition has always held that God's existence can be known by the light of unaided reason, and this by metaphysical not empirical, scientific argument. Still, even knowing that God exists, many people today fear that there is inherent conflict between the scientific claims of evolutionary theory and the Genesis account of Adam and Eve. Seeking to find a scientific foundation for Genesis, many Christians have embraced the young-earth creationist movement that (1) rejects evolution theory, and (2) insists that mankind is perhaps 6,000 years old and the universe some 10,000 years old -- consistent with a literalist reading of the patriarchal genealogies found in the Book of Genesis.

Still, the vast majority of mainstream natural scientists maintain that (1) evolution theory is factual, (2) the cosmos is some 12 to 15 billion years old, (3) life on earth goes back nearly four billion years, and (4) man himself gradually evolved over millions of years. Thus, many Christians today wonder how to reconcile the general acceptance of mainstream science with belief in Adam and Eve's historicity. While many liberal theologians see little need for Adam and Eve to be a single pair of first parents, authentic Catholics and many traditional Protestants understand that theological monogenism -- which holds that all mankind is descended from a single pair of ancestors -- must be maintained in order to confirm the reality of Original Sin, and the consequent need for the Redeemer. My book Origin of the Human Species is a philosophical work on evolution in which I offer a detailed explanation of how the current theory of human evolution might be fully consistent with sound scriptural interpretation.

If we don't know what constitutes genuine human nature, then there is no way to detect when and how true man first appeared. Philosophical psychology is the science that studies human nature and tells us how it distinguishes us from lower brute animals. Animals can experience sensations, such as color, shape, sound, movement, touch, and so forth. Man can do all that, plus he has intellective knowledge and free will. Because man possesses an intellective spiritual soul, he can understand the natures of things, make judgments, and reason. Thus, while animal cognition is forever bound to the singular and concrete sense experiences of its immediate surroundings, human intellective knowledge transcends sensation to grasp the universal truths of the cosmos itself, write poetry, erect civilizations, and investigate science and theology. Man alone consciously reflects on the meaning of his own existence and reads and writes articles about his possible evolutionary origins.

Animals can make tools. Perhaps the most famous example of primate tool-making abilities is the "termite-fishing" chimps reported by Jane Goodall. These clever African primates break off grass reeds and carry them some distance to termite mounds, where incautious termites will crawl onto the reeds inserted into their mounds -- quickly becoming food for the chimps. Such behavior, and others like it, though impressive, can be explained in terms of environmental "programming." The chimps can initially learn the behavior by happy accident followed by habit formation reinforced by the pleasurable outcome. Transmission to the rest of the colony arises from simple imitation. Some anthropologists, including Goodall, appear unaware of widespread animal tool use -- for example, sea otters and a Galapagos finch that routinely use rocks to obtain food, spiders that use throw nets, or even the universal propensity of birds to make nests as egg-holding devices.

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If all things evolved, where did the initial matter come from? Sooner or later, it seems to me, you have to come up with other than evolution as an answer. I see, however, no conflict between true science and true religion. Posted by: wunsch
August 10, 2007 03:32 PM EDT
Posted by: mulligan
January 10, 2008 08:23 AM EST
Good grief. The short answer, after all the apologizing for evolution and an old earth theory (invented despite the empirical evidence against it to support the billions of years evolution requires) is YES, evolution MUST contradict Genesis. But evolution is nonsense. Logic doesn't support it, the fossil record doesn't support it, the geology doesn't support it, we're now learning that astronomy doesn't support it, and the law of entropy (2nd law of thermo-dynamics) says it is impossible. Catholic scientists should stop trying to accomodate to it and rather focus on the ample evidence to the contrary. Yes, there really was a flood and 8 people got off the boat 5,000 years ago. Posted by: mulligan
January 10, 2008 08:31 AM EST
Vatican II teaches that Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition must be equally venerated whenever the Fathers speak with one mind. Of all the fathers who commented on the Creation narrative, all of them held to a literal interpretation of Genesis. From whom did the Fathers obtain their understanding? Ultimately from the Apostles. And who instructed the Apostles? Posted by: Stewart Davies
January 07, 2009 05:58 AM EST
Why all the confusion? True science has done more to prove that evolution doesn't happen than otherwise.

"All things were made by Him; and without Him was made nothing that was made." (Gospel of St. John, Ch.1, v. 3)

The Church need not be afraid of sounding "unscientific" or unsophisticated to the modern world. The Church should only fear of not fulfilling her role of preaching and living the Gospel.
Posted by: mjtridentine
March 30, 2011 02:37 PM EDT
This man's comments bother me, especially as he was a teacher of students. He stated that, "Catholic tradition has always held that God's existence can be known by the light of unaided reason, and this by metaphysical not empirical scientific argument." It is true that "the Heavens declare the glory of God," and thus there is a general knowledge of God available to all men. Yet Jesus said to his disciples that because they loved Him, He would ask the Father and He, the Father, would send another Helper to them. He was (and is)"The Spirit of Truth whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you." (John 14:15-18) He also said, "If you abide in My word then you are truly disciples of Mine, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:32)And,in Matthew 5:17-18 He stated that He did not come to abolish the Prophets or the Law but to fulfill it, and then,"For Truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished." If this is so, then how can Bonnette state that "God's existence can be known by unaided reason"? Unless the Spirit of God speaks to an individual(s) they can not know truth. Even Pilate said, "What is Truth" (John 18:38).
He then goes on to interpret from a secular scientific point of view-Genesis stating, "If we don't know what constitutes genuine human nature, then there is no way to detect when and how true man first appeared." In this he then subjugated the scriptures to his understanding and acceptance of the evolution of man from a group of "lower brute animals". Sadly he did not need to do this. Evolution is a worldview, a paradigm that generally those who do not believe in God accept as a alternative explanation to Creation Account.Evolution as a theory is falsified. As well, it needs to be made clear that the past events of the development of the physical universe, man, the beasts etc. will never be answered directly by science.
Let us be seekers of truth and accept the plain readings of the Holy Scriptures.
God Bless,
John G Leslie PhD, MD, PhD
Posted by: Dr John G Leslie
October 10, 2012 12:54 PM EDT
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