Robert Ballard is Going Looking for Noah’s Flood

or at any rate, the historical basis of the story.

We’ve known for some time that there is evidence of human settlements deep under the Black Sea, suggesting that some sort of flood, whether gradual or catastrophic, overtook the region.

I have a high degree of respect for stories that are common across a wide spectrum of cultures, since I navigate by the general assumption that humans are not complete morons and that when a huge number of widely divergent civilizations all preserve an ancient ancestral tradition of a massive flood, the best bet is to assume that something, rather than nothing, happened.

What that something was historically is much harder to pin down precisely.  I see no particular reason for thinking the Genesis account commits us to a worldwide flood and no evidence from the sciences that such a thing did (or could) happen.  But I also see no reason why a limited human population should not regard a local flood as “destroying the world” if it destroyed their world.  Nor do I think such a catastrophe would be forgotten.  Rather, it would be remembered as a childhood trauma of the world and ruminated upon by every human civilization, as indeed it seems to have been.  That civilization that God chose as the vessel of revelation would preserve, in its ruminations, an inspired understanding of the meaning of the Flood story.  And, indeed, what is striking about the various ancient near eastern flood myths is how different they are from Israel’s flood myth.  In Sumerian myth, the flood is undertaken due to noisy humans bugging the gods.  In Israel’s myth it is an act of divine justice.  And, of course, it is incorporated into the overall story of both Genesis and Exodus (and ultimately the gospel) in which a world (and a nation and a human being) is born out of water.

I live in Washington State, which happens to be the site of upwards of a hundred gigantic catastrophic prehistoric floods.  These are what created things like Grand Coulee.  They were caused when glacier dams that created a now-vanished lake in Montana called “Lake Missoula” broke and a volume of water equal to Lake Michigan disgorged itself (in the space of a couple days, mind you) into eastern Washington and down the Columbia to the sea.  Seeing Grand Coulee

and realizing that, at full flood that canyon was completely full of water up to the top of the cliff gives me an appreciation for how devastating such an event would be for the ancient humans who survived it and why it would be only natural, not just for them, but even for moderns, to ask “Why?”

So I have no particular difficulty thinking there is a historical basis for the story of Noah.

  • http://christianthub.blogspot.com Danny

    So often we can find ourselves in an argument about specific stories in the Bible. The story of the flood and Noah is just one example. So many of us get caught up with what did happen, could have happened, or what did not happen, and we get caught up in this whirlwind we someone which usually does not end with any resolution. My answer is what does the story mean. I just recently taught my kids about how the story of Adam and Eve is a mythology and that the Church teaches that we do not have to take the Creation Story literally. All of them freaked out and thought I was teaching heresy, but I explained, everyone can tell us the stories that we found to be so interesting when we were children but can anyone tell me the meaning behind it. What is the creation story telling us? What is the story of Noah telling us? The story of Creation is rich with theology, and in fact I am convinced that Genesis chapters 1-3 contains all the Church teachings. In regards to the story of the flood, one of the main ideas that we should take from the Bible is God wants to preserve humanity. God does not want to eradicate us but wants us to share eternal life with Him.

    • Kim

      There’s a wonderful book by Pope Benedict (In the Beginning) which really unpacks the theology of the creation accounts in the bible. It’s based on a series of homilies he gave, so it’s not too scholarly, but it’s really, really, really great.

      • yan

        Thanks for the tip!

    • Bob_the_other

      I tend to teach children that the Genesis stories show the people of Israel preserving and retelling and reshaping their history to convey a theology and an understanding of themselves, along the lines of the Pope’s In the Beginning, and with a nod towards Biblical scholarship.

      It is a very modern assumption that someone who was writing history 2,600 years ago would be trying to do the same thing as us, “enlightened moderns.” And it is patently untrue. Thucydides, for instance, felt free to invent the detail of Pericles’ speeches. (And this is in 430 BC, after the Pentateuch had come together). Within Israelite history, any careful reader of Samuel-Kings and Chronicles will see that their narration is contradictory in detail, both within themselves and mutually. There are different ideas of who killed Goliath, for instance, or how much of the Temple preparations David performed. The story of Solomon is cleansed in Chronicles. The story of Manasseh’s repentance is very obviously a moral lesson for post-exilic Israel. There are differences between Joshua and Judges as to the cleansing of the land and who was “completely destroyed” and who was left behind so that later generations had something to do. And so on. Likewise, with the Pentateuch, you can see fissures and differences (Gen 1 and 2; the number of animals in the ark and various other points in the two flood stories), repeated stories used as conventions (the convention of the envied wife nearly appropriated by the local potentate, used twice of Sarah and once of Rebecca, the convention of the barren wife which recurs throughout the Bible). None of this makes the Old Testament any the less reliable for what it was meant to do – to convey a theology and situate it within Israelite history. But it does mean that the Biblical writers were not trying to write The New Cambridge History of the Ancient Near East.

    • Reactor

      So often we can find ourselves in an argument about specific stories in the Bible. The story of the flood and Noah is just one example. So many of us get caught up with what did happen, could have happened, or what did not happen, and we get caught up in this whirlwind we someone which usually does not end with any resolution. My answer is what does the story mean.

      How do you reply to those who would replace “the flood and Noah” with “the Virgin Birth” or “the Resurrection”?

      • Mark Shea

        I reply, “Listen to the Church”. Does the Church insist on the historicity of a global flood? No. Does it insist that the Virgin Birth and Resurrection are historic events? Yes. For extra credit, you might then ask, “Why does the Church regard these accounts differently?” Also, “What is Fundamentalism and how does it differ from Catholic Faith?” is a good question.

        • Reactor

          I reply, “Listen to the Church”. Does the Church insist on the historicity of a global flood? No. Does it insist that the Virgin Birth and Resurrection are historic events? Yes.

          Fair enough.

    • Tamara

      It depends on what you mean by “the story of Adam and Eve is a mythology.” If you mean that it is an important traditional story rich in symbolism, then yes, it is a myth. If you mean that it is ahistorical, that Adam and Eve were not real people and our First Parents — that is, the first man and woman, the parents of all mankind — then that is an error which has been explicitly condemned by the Church because it impugns upon the dogma of Original Sin:

      “When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own. [Cfr. Rom., V, 12-19; Conc. Trid., sess, V, can. 1-4.]”
      ~ Pope Pius XII, “Humani Generis”

      Given the different understandings of the word “myth” and the tendency by secular historians to equate Biblical stories with pagan myths, I would suggest that the word “myth” with regard to Sacred Scripture be used in a very limited and clearly defined context, if not avoided entirely.

  • E. Robert

    Danny:

    What is your source for saying the Church doesn’t require a literal interpretation? I know a lot of people say this.

    • Mark Shea

      The Church does require a literal interpretation. That is, we must read the text looking for what the author intended to say, they *way* they intended to say it, and distinguish from that what is incidental to what he was saying. That’s the literal interpretation. What the Church also says is we are not at all bound to read it *literalistically* as though it was a newspaper account. So CCC 390 says: The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.264 Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.” Likewise, the Church does not commit us to reading the account of Noah literalistically. And, of course, what Jesus, the apostles, and the Fathers thought most important about the Old Testament were the various spiritual senses of interpretation (while always maintaining that the literal sense was the basis of all the other senses of Scripture). For a quick rundown on on the senses of Scripture, see CCC 115-119:

      115 According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.

      116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.”83

      117 The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

      1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism.84

      2. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction”.85

      3. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.86

      118 A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses:

      The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith;
      The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.87
      119 “It is the task of exegetes to work, according to these rules, towards a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture in order that their research may help the Church to form a firmer judgment. For, of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgement of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God.”88

      But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me.

      For much more detail on the senses of Scripture, see my book Making Senses Out of Scripture: Reading the Bible as the First Christians Did.

      • Subsistent

        I’ve never forgotten what a Dominican priest taught us in an informal “lunchtime talk” at the local Newman Center: that what is nowadays termed a “metaphorical sense” was termed in medieval scholarship (nothing derogatory implied) an “improper literal sense”, and what is modernly termed a “literal sense” was traditionally termed a “proper literal sense”. So in traditional terminology, “literal” neither implies nor excludes metaphorical figures of speech.

        • Mark Shea

          Yep.

  • Subsistent

    My understanding is that the Old Testament, while containing some legends, folklore, and now and then a fictional story, does not contain myth strictly speaking, because the Hebrews were not the kind of people to do myths. But they borrowed (with alterations) the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Genesis from another people, so that, exceptionally, those two chapters are indeed myth, even in the strict sense, altho (by divine guidance) they’re myth that speaks truth.

    • Mark Shea

      It might be closer to reality to say that Israel’s creation stories carefully parodied and subverted pagan creation accounts, as well as pagan semitic cultic practices in order to make points about God being the true Creator and creatures being creatures and not idols. See Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins’ Walking with God.

  • beccolina

    My parents bought a DVD documentary about the floods from Lake Missoula when they visited WA last summer. Really fascinating. I’ve always loved that rugged, unusual geography in Eastern WA. I wonder if, instead of a single historical flood, there were several floods, world-wide, similar in cause and scale to the Lake Missoula flood, which led to the many flood stories in myth and folklore.

  • Lizzie

    While aware that there are people who consider the Pope not Catholic enough, it should be mentioned that he is an adherent of the historical-critical method of analysis of the Bible. In this type of analysis, one’s faith is not determined by the historicity of the stories of the Old Testament. In other words, it is irrelevant whether the story of the Great Flood is true in the sense of did a flood actually cover the entire earth. Only if one is a fundamentalist is it important to believe that every single word in the bible is historically accurate.

  • Moreana

    The story of Adam and Eve is certainly not a “myth.” We don’t know what their real names were, or what exactly happened in the Garden of Eden, but that we have two original parents who fell from grace is doctrine. The story is not the equivalent of greek mythology.

    • Mark Shea

      The story is told to us in mythic or “figurative”, not newspaper, language. The Catechism tells us this:

      390 The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.264 Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.265

      Saying that Scripture uses the language of myth to describe a historical event is not saying the event never occurred.

      • Moreana

        There’s a subtle but important difference between “figurative” and “mythic,” which is no doubt why the catechism does not use mythic. The first poster went so far as to say “mythological.” That’s the wrong word and the wrong concept. Genesis is history written in figurative and compressed language.

        • Mark Shea

          Mythic does not mean “fictional”. You are quibbling about nothing. The story of Christ is mythic in that it sums up what all the best in myth is straining toward. It is not therefore fictional. Heck, Tolkien said, very rightly, that the very grass on the ground is the stuff of myth. To say that the Creation accounts uses figurative language is not to say they do not affirm a primeval event. That’s what you are affirming. That’s what I am affirming. So what’s the problem?

          • Telemachus

            Have some mercy, Mark and Danny. The way the words “myth,” “mythology,” etc. are used today is in such a fashion as to imply “simply made up.” Moreana’s confusion is completely understandable. Stop talking down to her like she should have heard all this before.

            God bless,
            Tele

            • Hezekiah Garrett

              But if one is going to go on about what words mean, and the things they, as symbols, signify, it is their responsibility to familiarize themselves with those meanings. This is the only real reason dictionaries exist.

              Failure to do due diligence betrays a mind-boggling arrogance.

    • http://christianthub.blogspot.com Danny

      You confuse mythology with falsity. A myth is a symbolic story that expresses a spiritual truth or a basic belief about God

  • Rudy

    The population of the world at the time when the Mediterranean sea broke into the valley that is now the Black Sea creating a catastrophic flood, was so small that it was indeed an event that could have wiped out most of the population in Asia Minor. Europe was basically a wilderness and world wide the population could not have been more than a few million if that many. Yet the ancients saw the hand of God in that catastrophic event.

  • Moreana

    I can’t agree.

    Adj. 1. mythic – relating to or having the nature of myth; “a novel of almost mythic consequence”
    2. mythic – based on or told of in traditional stories; lacking factual basis or historical validity; “mythical centaurs”; “the fabulous unicorn”

    • Mark Shea

      You need to learn more about myth.

  • Moreana

    I think you need to read the definition of mythic. “Lacking factual basis or historical validity.”

    • Mark Shea

      It’s a bad definition.

    • Paul

      Moreana, you provide three definitions:
      1. “relating to or having the nature of myth” – what this means depends on the definition of “myth”, which you haven’t provided.
      2a. “based on or told of in traditional stories”
      2b. “lacking factual basis or historical validity”

      Most of the Bible could be 1. and 2a. without any of it being 2b.

  • Marion

    Mark – I have always taken forgranted the mythical nature of the creation account in Genesis, understanding “myth” as something that c0nveys a deep, primal truth about the human experience (neither precluding nor corroborating, necessarily, a historical fact or event). As far as I know, and as you indicate here, my understanding is in line with Church teaching. However: is it enough to say and accept that original sin entered the world/human history through the sin of our “original parents,” (thereby affirming the irreverable introduction of the universal phenomena of original sin, which was not in God’s original plan) or must we also affirm that Adam and Eve were two real people who existed historically prior to all other homosapiens? I find the latter hard to accept, scientifically, although the former seems obvious. Can you clarify?

    • Marion

      - I meant “irreversible” introduction; sorry!

    • Fr. Edgar

      To understand what we are bound to believe in these matters, it is essential to read Pope Pius XII’s Encyclical “Humani Generis”: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_12081950_humani-generis_en.html

      • Fr. Edgar

        I should add that No. 35 and following would be most of what you are seeking, Marion.

        • Kim

          Fr., I have always sort of combined my theological and biological ignorance to come up with the opinion that there might have existed creatures biologically identical to man (homo sapiens) who were not infused with immortal souls; that God chose Adam and Eve and directly infused souls to them and through inheritance their children (and their children’s children, etc.). Which is how I have solved for myself the problem of who did Adam and Eve’s children marry–because having them marry each other seems way too yucky. So in my theory, Cain and Abel’s wives might not have been fully human, but their children were. Ultimately the “soulless” homo sapien line died out and only true humans were left.
          Is this at all consistent with Catholic theology? I just reread that Encyclical, and can’t tell if my theory “works” or not within the framework laid out.

          • Fr. Edgar

            Kim,
            E. Robert’s reply below is correct. All creatures have a soul. Human beings have immortal souls.
            While this article is complex, it is still important: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14153a.htm
            (Especially this part: “the rational soul, which is one with the sensitive and vegetative principle, is the form of the body. This was defined as of faith by the Council of Vienne of 1311″).
            It is very risky business “solving for ourselves” matters of faith. I’m glad you asked for clarification, my counsel to you would be to not hold or teach that position.

            • Bob_the_other

              I was under the impression that the careful wording of Humani Generis (“it is in no way apparent” and all) allows for one to hold to polygenesis, i.e. the idea that Adam and Eve could have stood in for a multiplicity of original human beings, or represented a beginning of Israel and not humanity, now. (Doing an internet search on the topic brought up one of Mark’s previous posts on the topic). This author suggests as much citing Communion and Stewardship.

              • Marion

                Bob–thanks. This is exactly what I was looking for… Fr. Edgar’s link was interesting and gives crucial perspective, but wasn’t specific to the question I had in mind.

  • TeaPot562

    Evidence in our DNA in the cytoplasm in the human Ova shows that all of us, from Arucanian Indians in Patagonia, to Aleuts, Asians, Europeans, South African Zulus and Indonesians are descended from a single female who is estimated as living something more than a million years ago, perhaps in eastern Africa.
    So we humans all have a common ancestor, even if that female was not literally named “Eve”.
    And,
    We all tend to take advantage of other humans when the opportunity arises, even unjustly. Therefore, non-biblical evidence suggests the reality of Original Sin, as well as common human ancestors.
    TeaPot562

  • E. Robert

    I don’t know how anything could exist without a soul whether it be spiritual or immaterial. The soul is the Substantial Form.

    • BlueMit

      A rock doesn’t have a soul and it exists. All souls are substantial forms, but not all substantial forms are souls. A soul is a particular kind of substantial form: one that allows for self-movement in some way (digestion, growth, and respiration in plants; locomotion in animals; volition in created persons).

  • bt

    I would be inclined to believe it was a worldwide event. If not, why would Noah need even build an ark? God could have told Noah to gather up some animals and go on a thousand mile trek to a place where the flood wouldn’t be if it were merely a localized event. Certainly one could trek a thousand miles in less time than it takes to build a huge ark.

  • http://bibleversereflections.blogspot.com.au/search/label/Jonah Free Thinker

    For a number of years I have subscribed to Mark Sheas view of the “world wide flood” as what the locals in Noahs time thought encompassed the world.

    However I am having a little more trouble in spotting any clue in scripture that would help me see in the story of “Jonah getting swallowed by a great fish” how it actually happened. Atheists love pointing to this story to mock the Bible.

    I understand the Jonah story is teaching us something about how we can try but never escape or run away from (the love of ) God.

    • Jon W

      There’s absolutely no natural reason to believe a miracle like what happened to Jonah did not happen. All there is is the claim that no man who was swallowed by a fish would naturally survive for three days, which is just to say that it was a miracle.

      But unless you have
      (a) archaeological/geological evidence that that particular miracle did not occur, or
      (b) textual or traditional evidence that the author was not reporting an actual swallowing by an actual sea-creature, or
      (c) evidence that miracles are per se impossible,
      then you don’t have a reason to deny the Jonah story. That it is physically impossible (assuming it is) is beside the point. All miracles are physically impossible. That’s why they’re miracles.

      This is different from Noah’s flood, in which we have very good geological/physical evidence against a complete worldwide deluge.

      Atheists who ridicule the Jonah story are either assuming (c) or else making fun of Christian attempts to argue that it was a natural event, not a miracle.

  • moreana

    Thanks Fr. Edgar. For all those out there claiming that evolution of man from apes is a “certainty”:

    “Some however, rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.”

    • Mark Shea

      As far as I know, nobody claims that, since humans did not evolve from apes.

    • Jmac

      You’re referencing an encyclical from 1950 written by a Pope who probably was not very well-versed in Biology. Why should Pius XII’s words be taken as an accurate picture of the state of the evidence for human evolution today? Nothing in science is ever *completely* certain, but even in Pius XII’s day, the evidence was sufficient. It’s only become overwhelming since the 1960′s.

      As Mark said also, humans did not evolve from apes, but humans and apes do have a relatively recent common ancestor.

      • BlueMit

        “Why should Pius XII’s words be taken as an accurate picture of the state of the evidence for human evolution today?”
        They should be taken as an accurate picture of ANTHROPOLOGY (the study of man) because the truths of the faith don’t change with the changing theories of evolution, and because the rest of our beliefs regarding salvation logically depend on these words. He doesn’t complete negate evolution, but provides the anthropological guidelines which any Christian must hold to when speaking about evolution. So, if you subscribe to any Catholic doctrine, then you should be consistent and subscribe to the Holy Father’s words.
        Oh yeah, and because he’s the pope.

      • Moreana

        Look I realize Pius is bursting your certainty bubble, but he is correct to do that. And when exactly did the evidence become “overwhelming”? Was there some declaration?

        Your comment that he was “probably not well versed in biology” give you away as someone who does not respect the Magisterium. Your loss.

        • Bob_the_other

          To say Pius XII (whom I love) was probably not well-versed in biology is to be accurate, just as it would be to say that Pope Benedict XVI is not well versed in the details of basket-weaving or weather prediction. No disrespect need be intended or presumed. Further, the magisterium does itself forbid holding certain things at a particular time (which Pius XII did, but very cautiously), which it might later allow. In fact Pius only urges moderation and caution.

          As to when the evidence for human evolution became overwhelming, you can take any time in the last 60 or so years. People keep digging up fossils which fill in more and more of the picture of human ancestry. The evidence for evolution became overwhelming even earlier. Newman, intriguingly enough, seems to have thought it unproblematic in 1863:

          “December 9, 1863.1. 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 (whose seed is in themselves), or of rocks with
          fossils in them. I mean that it is as strange that monkeys should be
          so like men, with no between them as that
          there should be the notion that there was no history. . . . of facts
          by which fossil bones got into rocks. . . . I will either go whole
          hog with Darwin or, dispensing with time and history altogether,
          hold, not only the theory of distinct species but that also of the
          creation of the fossil-bearing rocks.”

  • http://bibleversereflections.blogspot.com.au/search/label/Jonah Free Thinker

    I know “Jonah getting swallowed by a fish” story teaches us about how we can’t run away from God, but what is a good way to respond to the Atheist who points to this story to mock the Bible?

    They contend that it never and could never happen.

    • DU

      It takes little faith to believe that a fish swallowed Jonah and he lived, but it takes a great deal of faith to believe that an entire city repented. The Bible says both. “And the Lord spoke to the fish: and it vomited out Jonas upon the dry land.” “And the men of Ninive believed in God: and they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least.” As for me, I’ll sit with the fools and accept literal interpretation of the OT until Mother Church tells me not to. Jesus refers to Jonah and to Adam and Eve. He refers to “The Beginning” and how men and women were created. Simple fundamental of logic and faith is not fundamentalism. If it is, then I am a fundamentalist.

      • Subsistent

        My understanding is that altho Jonah was a real historical Hebrew prophet, and Nineveh a historical city, yet at the time Jonah lived, Niniveh was a scarcely inhabiited ghost town. So I figure the Book of Jonah is in the genre of “edifying fiction”: a poignant story of God’s mercy, mercy irksome to a resentful Hebrew — but a story not without a hilarious back-kick at the Ninevites, where, in the book’s final sentence, the Deity is pictured as defending His mercy to Jonah: “Shall I not spare Nineveh, that city in which there are more than 120 thousand people that can’t tell their right hand from their left, …?”

        • The Deuce

          I don’t have a problem with it being edifying fiction *if* that’s what it was meant to be, but I don’t think the particular point you’re making here is correct. At the time of Jonah (mid 700′s), it was about 50 years away from the height of glory, but it would have been pretty well populated and important city already:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineveh#History

          • Bob_the_other

            Jonah was probably a name that the authors of Jonah appropriated. But it is one of the little gems of the Bible. It pokes gentle fun at some Jewish attitudes towards outsiders current in about 400 BC (as evident for instance in Ezra-Nehemiah, but also in the Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic history). It is not accidental, for instance that the only disagreeable person in the entire book is Jonah. Everybody else behaves entirely appropriately.

  • Gene

    Mark, we are to read the bible literally unless there is a reason not to. I see no reason not to. How do you “know” what the author of Genesis intended to say? Perhaps he intended to say the universe was created in six literal days. How can you say that the flood was “local?”. Peter didn’t think so. He says that the world was deluged with water and perished and compares that with the end of the world which obviously won’t be “local. ” Jesus compares his second coming with the days of Noah where He says the flood “swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Jesus’ second coming won’t be local.
    Yes the Catechism says that figurative language is used in Genesis 3 but it doesn’t say what that figurative language is. Could it be that God “walked” in the garden? Does a spirit actually walk? Is Genesis 3:15 figurative? I hope you don’t think so. I just don’t get why so many what to dismiss the bible as figurative. Science hasn’t proven anything. Evolution cannot be observed therefore evolution is not science but a philosophy. Determining the age of the earth all depends on how one interprets the data. We cannot know if the speed of light has been consistent throughout history. Every scientist believes that at the time of the big bang the speed of light could not have been what it is today. For the universe to exist the speed of light would have been tremendously faster at the instant of the big bang. How much faster and how long did it last? They don’t know. Just because stars are billions of light years away doesn’t mean the universe is billions of years old. It all depends on how one interprets the data.

    • Hezekiah Garrett

      And I don’t get how some confuse identification of the figurative with a dismissal of anything.

      But I do get how moderns universalise their social constructs to the point of figurative blindness.

    • Mark Shea

      we are to read the bible literally unless there is a reason not to.

      We are to read for the literal sense (and the other senses). We are not always to read literalistically. So Jesus is not literally a grape plant when he says he is the vine. Nor are we bound to believe in six 24 hour days of creation 6000 (or 10,000) years ago.

      I see no reason not to.

      Then you are ignorant of what the sciences are discovering about the age and evolution of the universe.

      How do you “know” what the author of Genesis intended to say?

      Because I am familiar with the information revealed both by the teaching of the Church and relevant work from Scripture scholars, as well as the relevant physical sciences documenting, for instance, that the universe is about 13.5 billion years old and the earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Since scripture is inerrant, it therefore cannot be that the author means to be making a scientific claim about the age of the universe. Nor has the Church ever bound us to say he is. That said, I don’t claim to “know” in fullness what the sacred author means to say since it is the work of the Church over the ages to fully comprehend the meaning of revelation.

      Perhaps he intended to say the universe was created in six literal days. How can you say that the flood was “local?”. Peter didn’t think so.

      Note that you leap from saying we can’t know what the author of Genesis thought to saying you are certain what he thought, based on a false certitude about what Peter thought. Meanwhile, the Church commits us to neither proposition.

      He says that the world was deluged with water and perished and compares that with the end of the world which obviously won’t be “local. ”

      Jesus compares the destruction of the Temple to the end of the world too. Both he and Peter understand what “types” are.

      Jesus compares his second coming with the days of Noah where He says the flood “swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Jesus’ second coming won’t be local.

      See above. You are committing yourself to a fundamentalist reading of Scripture re: the Flood that the Church does not require and the sciences do not support. I’ve watch Christians go down this rabbit hole before, trying to figure out ways to magic up a volume of water sufficient to drown Mt. Everest (it ain’t there even if you melt the polar caps). Eventually, one woman was reduced to saying that the Flood was accomplished with “spiritual water”. I think it’s a lot more sensible to not bind myself to things the Church never required in the first place.

      Yes the Catechism says that figurative language is used in Genesis 3 but it doesn’t say what that figurative language is. Could it be that God “walked” in the garden? Does a spirit actually walk? Is Genesis 3:15 figurative? I hope you don’t think so.

      I’m not sure what you are getting at. But absolutely Genesis 3:15 is figurative. The Woman and her seed are figures of Mary and Christ and the serpent is a figure of Satan. Revelation 12 says as much. I get the sense you don’t understand what “figurative” means. A thing can be real (like, say, the ark of the covenant) and a figure (as the ark is a figure of Mary). In the case of Genesis 3, we are not bound to believe that Satan is literally a talking snake. Rather, the serpent is a figure of the spiritual being “who is called the devil and Satan”. We are not bound by the faith to believe that a literal dragon or snake will literally have Mary or Christ literally stomp on its literal physical head. This is fundamentalism, not Catholic faith.

      • ChrisB

        “I’ve watch Christians go down this rabbit hole before, trying to figure out ways to magic up a volume of water sufficient to drown Mt. Everest (it ain’t there even if you melt the polar caps).”

        Maybe it sloshed around. Where does it say it didn’t slosh? :-)

  • Fr. Edgar

    For those who have been pursuing the Genesis and Humani Generis discussion above, please remember in the midst of these questions what we are bound to believe concerning Original Sin. There is no expiration date on the decrees of all of the Church’s councils, so please be sure to keep the decrees of Trent on Original Sin in the background during these discussions: http://www.americancatholictruthsociety.com/docs/TRENT/trent5.htm

    • Moreana

      Oh but Father, don’t you realize that they didn’t understand biology as well as Jmac does? So what if they partook of the charism of infallibility bestowed on the Church by Christ himself. We need to get on board with Stephen J. Gould and jettison any hesitation to accept evolution as an absolute fact.

      • Mark Shea

        I don’t know what an “absolute fact” is. But yes, the Church has no problem with evolution. Even Pius XII had no big problem with it. Or are you seriously arguing that the massive amount of evidence for 13.5 billion year old universe and the evolution of life on earth should all be chucked in favor of six day creationism?

        • Moreana

          No big problem with it. That’s not quite the language I’d use. I’ll ignore the 6-day straw man.

          “Some however, rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.”

          • Mark Shea

            You do realize there has been sixty years of work in a multiplicity of sciences since this was penned, right? You do know that JPII and Benedict both have no problem with the biological evolution of the human organism (with the normal caveats about the soul being the creation of God and so forth)? So again, what is your problem? You write like a heckler, not like somebody serious.

            • Moreana

              No, Mark, you continue to state exaggerations and falsehoods on this topic. No pope has declared that the evolution of man from pre-existent matter is true, or that he “has no real problem with it.” If anyone writes like a heckler, you take the cake my friend.

              • Mark Shea

                It is not the task of the Pope or the Church to do the science looking at evolutionary theory. But the reality is that JPII has said that the converging and convincing lines of evidence for evolution are highly persuasive and Benedict has recently hosted a conference looking at evolutionary theory from a Catholic perspective (not condemning it as heretical). You’re not serious. You trade in sound bites and glib dismissals.

              • Mark Shea

                So is your objection to evolution per se, or merely to the prospect that the human body was created by means of it? You make quick snarky denial, but no affirmations. What are you *saying* (as distinct from “what are you taking random potshots at?”)

  • Greg

    I had a fabulous professor in college who suggested that the moment a human being developed “self-reflective thought” was the true Creation of man. It is what set the soul apart from the animal world. Adam and Eve may not have been a ‘myth’ (in the sense that we understand myth) at all, but the first self-reflective progenitors of our race. I still hold this to be plausible, even after so many years.

    • Bob_the_other

      I like that. I can’t find a reference, but Ratzinger/Pope Benedict says somewhere that it was when man became capax Dei, when he looked out and said the caveman equivalent of “You’re awesome!”

  • Moreana

    Mark, you want to clear this up or should I?

    • Mark Shea

      Clear what up?

    • Fr. Edgar

      How’s this:
      (1) The human soul is not a product of evolution, since it is created directly by God. This is revealed by God and is thus part of the Catholic faith, and can also be known through reason, as philosophy demonstrates.
      (2) The problem of the evolution of the body of man [but not the soul!] can be examined and discussed with great moderation and caution.
      (3) The hypothesis of polygenism cannot be admitted. All men descend through generation from a single original couple. Scripture and Tradition tell us that sin entered the world through one man (Adam). Holding to polygenism explicitly places one outside the Catholic Church.

      • Mark Shea

        Holding to polygenism does not place one outside the Church. Pius XII says he can’t see how it’s true and places a sort of embargo on discussion. But it is not off the table forever (and will, I think, be forced on to the table by the findings of the sciences sooner or later). http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/2009/02/interesting-conversation-on-polygenism.html Part of what Flynn is arguing is that biological polygenism and the Church’s teaching about descent from fallen Adam can be reconciled.

        • Moreana

          Mark, Pius made those statements in the context of a papal encyclical. It was not his private opinion. I know you are fond of citing Lumen Gentium on capital punishment, so for the sake of consistency at least you need to accept Humani Generis. You can’t pick and choose your encylicals or your councils. The Council of Trent is not false because we know more about biology now than then. Polygenism is not a permissible hypothesis, sorry.

          • Mark Shea

            I do accept Humani Generis. I also note that theological and scientific work have gone on since then. You need to learn how these processes work. You are aware, are you not, that the Church has made provisional judgments and then revised then as more light has emerged. The odds are very good that Pius embargo on discussions of polygenism will give way to some very interesting discussions soon since the natural sciences are pointing pretty strongly to the emergence of homo sapiens from a small breeding population. That can, in fact, be reconciled with traditional doctrine, as Mike Flynn is attempting to demonstrate if you were not bent on being his Inquisitor.

            And I notice you still refuse to make any affirmations. You simply heckle.

            • Moreana

              “Simply heckle”? You need to take a vacation Mark, really.

              When it comes between weighing your opinion and that of your friends against the councils and papal encyclicals, and Jesus for that matter, it’s really no contest. Fr. Edgar accurately sets forth the position of the Church and you point blank state that he is wrong. Are you ordained by the way? I don’t know of anyone who speaks with such quasi-authority on all these topics without having been a theologian and/or priest for many years and with substantial academic credentials to do so.

              • Mark Shea

                He is wrong about concluding that biological polygenism is true places one outside the Church, and I documented why I think so. No offense intended. I simply think the good father is mistaken about a matter of fact. Pius does not condemn polygenism. He simply says he can’t see how it could be true, yet *refrains* from condemning it. It’s a perfectly sound provisional call given the state of the science in his time. It’s not an eternal edict. And yes, you do simply heckle. And condemn. And condemn. And condemn. And condemn.

                • The Deuce

                  Hi Mark, just to reiterate what I pointed out below, *neither* of the two things Pius says that the faithful cannot embrace (that there were true men who didn’t descend from Adam, or that “Adam” refers to multiple true men who all somehow fell at once) are implied by multiple biological ancestors, or by the scenario that Mike Flynn put out.

                  *FWIW, I think that Christians should have an answer ready regarding the very real possibility of biological polygenism, but I think it’s also way too early to state confidently that it’s a foregone conclusion. As another recent Mike Flynn posting (http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2012/12/post-modern-evolution.html) gives an example of, there appears to be quite a bit more to genetics than is captured by the mechanistic, ateleological models upon which such estimates are based, and I wager that we’re barely at the tip of the iceberg on that front.

                  • Mark Shea

                    Yep. That’s why I’m trying to get Moreana to listen instead of just condemn and regurgitate Humani Generis. Flynn is actually offering a very faithful reading of the Tradition and showing how (as we know) the sciences can never contradict that Tradition. I agree that polygenism is not a foregone conclusion. But the evidence for it is mighty strong.

                • moreana

                  I’m old school. Wasn’t some guy called the Hammer of Heretics once. I spend all day looking for errors undermining faith in Christ and the Church to condemn. Yes. Proud of it.

                  • Mark Shea

                    Goodbye.

        • The Deuce

          See also here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/09/modern-biology-and-original-sin-part-i.html

          Note that Pius said that the faithful cannot embrace the notion that there were *true* men (ie, humans with rational, immortal souls) that existed after Adam but were not descended from him. He doesn’t say that true men could not have had genetic lineage from non-true men in addition to their lineage from Adam.

        • Fr. Edgar

          Mark,
          Leaving aside the apparent ‘controversial’ interpretation of HG 37, there is no logical way around the decrees of Trent when it comes to Original Sin, let alone Romans 5:12. You always seem to be one who thinks things through and expresses them cum sentire ecclesia, and certainly Flynn’s work seems to want to do the same, but in this instance I have to disagree with both of you with concerns to causing scandal and to what an average Catholic reader could easily construe as the sin against the Holy Spirit of impugning the known Truth. The transmission of Original Sin by generation seems to necessitate one set of parents. The anthemas of Trent on this matter cannot be contradicted or repealed, doing so would separate one from the Church. I have a lot of work to do, and I don’t see this thread of comments doing anyone any spiritual benefit, particularly in the area of charity on both sides, so I’m making this my last comment. God’s Blessings and Our Lady’s protection to you Mark and all your good work. I ‘m sure you understand why I am concerned.

          • Mark Shea

            I’m not looking for any way around the decrees of Trent, Father. Nor is Mike Flynn. He and I both accept Trent’s teaching. What Flynn is doing is showing ways in which the data of the sciences can be reconciled with the Church’s teaching (including Trent’s). I don’t see where he’s done anything wrong.

  • Moreana

    “37. When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.[12]”

    –P. Pius XII

    • Mark Shea

      Yes. I know.

  • T. Claude Weaver

    The inroads being made by Fundamentalists into the Catholic church is indeed disturbing.

  • T. Claude Weaver

    The inroads being made by Fundamentalists into the Catholic church is indeed disturbing.
    http://www.familylifecenterstore.net/creation-flood-noah-plus-handout-cd/


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