The Influence of Geology on Theology

As a result of new interpretations of geological data, particularly Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology (1831) which so influenced Charles Darwin in the nineteenth century, the scientific community became convinced that evolution theory should be taught as a scientific theory.  Not surprisingly, theologians started to question Lateran IV’s definition of creation. The net result was that in the remarkably short period of two or three decades from around 1890, a sufficient number of theologians agreed with the current scientific paradigm so that long geological ages began to be taught in Catholic seminaries and schools. Within a little more than fifty years, belief in an ancient earth and paleontologists’ theories of evolution led inevitably to speculations about the origin of species by other means than ex nihilo creation as taught by Lateran IV.[1]

It should be emphasised that an attempt was made by late nineteenth century theologians to reconcile the concept of a very old earth with the six days of creation taught in the first chapter of the Bible (Genesis 1). A “day age” theory was developed which allocated a long time span to the formation of the heavens and the earth (Day 1) and similar periods of time to the subsequent five days. Thus the waters appeared on Day 2, the plants on day 3 and eventually man on Day 6. This concordance was the first step in establishing a departure from traditional doctrine of creation. Indeed, at this stage it was the age of the earth that clashed with the Council teaching on creation; evolution was not the immediate problem.

By 1900 Fr. Lagrange, founder of the Jerusalem Bible School, who had quickly grasped the inadequacy of the “day-age” hypothesis, propagated an “acceptable” version of evolutionary theory amongst the intellectuals of the Church, despite opposition from Pope St. Pius X to his interpretation of Genesis. Even those who failed to distinguish between the order of creation and the order of providence soon realized that the theorised evolutionary progression of life based on interpretation of fossils did not tally with the biblical record. Quite obviously, they argued, the laws of biology precluded creation of plants on the third day before the sun on the fourth day. The photosynthesis apparatus of foliage depended upon sunlight. Similar anomalies between the Genesis account of creation and the evolutionary account of the origin of life soon brought the day age theory to an end, not, however, before evolution theory had become an accepted belief among scientists and theologians.

To justify the apparent radical break with past teaching, belief in long ages had to be reconciled with the magisterial teaching of Lateran IV. To accomplish this, the words of the dogmatic teaching on creation needed some form of reinterpretation. Research into the Church archives seemed to produce a solution.  It rested upon the translation of a single word from Greek into Latin. The Greek word was koinè; the Latin word, simul.

To say that the translation of the Greek word koinè from the Septuagint in the 4th century into the Latin word simul led to a major attack on the foundations of the Catholic Faith is no exaggeration. Yet the revolutionary potential of this translation lay dormant with little effect upon Catholic teaching for many centuries. It was not until the eighteen sixties that the translation of koinè into simul seemed to resolve the irreconcilable opposition between the long ages of evolutionary theory and the magisterial teaching of Lateran IV.

[1] Mention should be made of the latest geological experimental data which disproves the hypotheses that the rocks and the fossils in them are ancient (G. Berthault – Russian Academy of sciences Institute of Geology journal Lithology and Mineral Resources 2002 and 2004). The geological formations to which it has been applied are shown to be a few thousand years old and not millions. In these circumstances the geological column and the interpretation of the fossil record that it supports are completely invalidated (cf. )



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