Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dialogue With a Calvinist on Whether it is Possible to Fall Away from Grace or Salvation

Ruins of Beersheba, where Abraham made a treaty with Abimelech (Gen 21:22-34)

[ source ]

This exchange started in the combox for my paper, Great Calvinist Post About Assurance of Salvation and the Extreme Fundamentalistic "Faith Alone" Position of Virtual Antinomianism. Calvinist "Michael" commented (three typos corrected):
If it is God who saves sinners, then who might arise and declare unjust what the Lord of Glory has made anew? If it is God who regenerates (1Pet 1:3), if it is God who justifies (Rom 5:1), and if it is the Lord Jesus Christ who keeps His people and decrees that no one (not even one's self) can snatch them out of His hand (John 10:28) then who dares usurp the CLEAR teaching of scripture regarding the perseverance of God's people? This doctrine of Rome that supposes one might loose their salvation by some grievous sin or other action is ad hock and divorced from the text of scripture. In fact, the concept of the loss of one's salvation after regeneration undermines the effectiveness of the Lord Jesus Christ's atonement. Any and all who profess The Name should immediately repent of such nonsense and rest in the assurance of what has been done on Calvary alone.

(23 July 2009)
I then provided passages that suggest "the possibility of falling away from faith and justification and salvation" (from the first RSV draft my book, Bible Proofs for Catholic Truths), in three posts (one / two / three). I also noted (at no extra charge):
And of course, what we know from Scripture about how God judges us in the end is completely in accord with justification and sanctification being intertwined and organically related, and opposed to the strictness and separationism of sola fide:

Final Judgment in Scripture is Always Associated With Works And Never With Faith Alone (50 Passages)

Also, Paul's constant teaching shows how they cannot be separated:

St. Paul's Teaching on the Organic Relationship of Grace / Faith and Works / Action / Obedience (Collection of 50 Pauline Passages)

You reformed folks will be in big trouble if we delve into Scripture too deeply. All kinds of difficulties for your position arise. :-)
Pilgrimsarbour, a Reformed Presbyterian (OPC) who is (quite refreshingly) willing to intelligently interact with Catholics sans the insults and misrepresentations at every turn, then replied. His words will be in blue:

Don't you ever post anything, you know, short? You're killing me here! ;-) I'd love to post responses but I'm a bit overwhelmed by the volume of material presented and under time constraints, of course. I think what I'll do is take one thing at a time, make a few brief comments on it, then move on to the next point. In any case, I doubt I'll be able to respond to everything, and certainly not all at once.

Understood; same here. We have time to develop and pursue the conversation if we want to. No rush.

Quoting Scripture you said...
1 Samuel 11:6; 18:12 And the spirit of God came mightily upon Saul when he heard these words, . . . Saul was afraid of David, because the LORD was with him but had departed from Saul.
I gather from what you are saying the following premise: anytime we see the Spirit of God coming upon someone we should understand this to mean that that person is among the elect, or "saved."

Not necessarily; I agree with you. I do think, however, that it indicates that God is involved with the person to some extent, as opposed to them being totally depraved and capable of no good whatever. If the Spirit is there, there is something good going on, no?

And if the Spirit should remove Himself, this indicates that a saved or elect person can lose his salvation.

I think it is certainly consistent with that proposition, but not an absolute proof in and of itself, unless the question of their being saved or elect is specifically dealt with as well. There are proofs in Scripture and there are possible or likely indications that are harmonious with a particular theology. Likewise, there are passages that appear to be inconsistent with other belief-systems, such as the many Hebrew passages about "falling away" in relation to Calvinism.

I would argue that not every intervention in the lives of individuals (or whole peoples) by the Spirit of God means that they were regenerated by Him, that is, chosen, elect or saved, even those whom He has appointed to positions of authority within the Church (see my previous comments on Judas). [see that paper and exchanges afterwards]

A good example of this in the Old Testament is to be found in Genesis 20. Abraham tells Abimelech that Sarah is his sister instead of his wife, so Abimelech takes Sarah as his wife. When Abimelech finds out about Abraham's treachery, he has a discussion with the Lord Himself:

5 Did he not himself say to me, 'She is my sister'? And she herself said, 'He is my brother.' In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this." 6 Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. 7 Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours" (Genesis 20: 5-7 ESV, emphasis mine).
This is a good OT example of the Holy Spirit of God intervening in a non-elect gentile's heart and life to spare both His people and His non-people from His judgement. The Spirit essentially overrode Abimelech's will in order that God's purposes would be obtained.

But as far as I can tell, Scripture doesn't inform us that Abimelech is not of the elect. You have assumed that without proof. So your example proves little. We're both assuming things that we bring to the text (which is okay; everyone does it): you assume (far as I can tell) that a Gentile in Old Testament times isn't in the elect and I assume it is possible to fall away from grace.

Of course, the Spirit can remove His restraint on the sinner for God's purposes as he did with Pharoah in Exodus 9:12. This verse says that God actively hardened Pharoah's heart. I think that no one would make the case that either Abimelech or Pharoah were among those who would be saved.

Pharaoh was likely unsaved because of how he acted (everything we know is pretty much negative). But the record in Abimelech's case is a lot brighter. How do we know for sure he wasn't saved in the end? The "hardening of Pharaoh's heart" issue is somewhat complex. I've dealt with it in the past:
Reply to a Calvinist Critique Concerning the "Hardening of Pharaoh's Heart" (+ Discussion) (vs. Colin Smith)
For one thing they were outside the covenant, and for another, their fruits or lack thereof do not give us confidence to view them as saved persons.

Romans 2:9-16 refers to those outside the law who could still be justified by doing good works and following their conscience. I think there is enough indication that non-Jews in the Old Covenant could possibly be saved. This is particularly the case in New Testament teaching, which could then be applied back to the Old Testament situation, as a fuller revelation of the place of Gentiles in the plan of salvation. People weren't automatically damned simply because they lived before Christ and weren't Jewish.

Interestingly, this is also a good verse to illustrate to some who would object to the idea of original sin. Adam is seen as the federal head of the human race. God does treat kings as a federal head of his people, and holds those people responsible for their king's behaviour. In this verse not only Abimelech was in danger but all his subjects as well. Thankfully, everyone was spared.

Original sin is not being questioned, so I'll pass on that for now . . . There is a sense of corporate judgment in Scripture (that I've also dealt with).

* * *

I agree with you whole-heartedly that we can't know Abimelech's final disposition regarding salvation. I did not mean to say that no Old Testament gentile could possibly be saved. I do believe that there are Old Testament gentiles that will be found among the elect in eternity. I think you would agree, though, that that is much more rare than what was to happen under the New Covenant. God expands His covenantal blessings in the New Testament to include the gentiles.

Yes, He makes it explicit at that time that Gentiles are included. But God doesn't change (and I'm sure you agree with that!). Whoever is saved at any time, whether it is 3000 BC or yesterday, is saved because of Jesus Christ and His work for us. I don't see that it makes any difference. If they haven't heard the gospel and accepted or rejected it, then they are judged by what they know (Romans 2). That would apply to Abimelech as much as it would to a person today or any time since the crucifixion.

But further, it seems clear to me that there was nothing which inhered in Abimelech which brought him into God's favour. It was, in fact, God Himself who placed integrity in Abimelech's heart:

Of course; that is true for all of us. But we have to cooperate with God's grace. That's the key. You guys make grace irresistible, so there is no sense of cooperation in the fundamental, causal sense. But I think that understanding distorts the biblical "both/and" outlook and makes it an "either/or" thing that is rather unbiblical.

"Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her."

There is always a sense of God's providence, that He ultimately causes every good thing to happen; thus He will say "I did [so-and-so]." It doesn't follow that the person didn't also freely do whatever it was. That was my argument in the case of Pharaoh. We see this clearly in the book of Job, where we know that Satan was doing the evil things to Job, yet 42:11 refers to "all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him". But God had said to Satan in 2:6: "Behold, he is in your power; only spare his life." Satan brought the evil, not God. God allowed it, but He didn't cause it.

Abimelech is pleading his case before God in this dream, based on his own understanding of his heart. He thinks he's a mighty good fellow, or at least he wants to persuade God that he is. But God is saying, "I know you have integrity; it is I who put it there."

That's not the whole picture of what occurred. Abraham had lied, that Sarah was his sister. How was Abimmy to be blamed for that (20:3-5)? He didn't know. God simply caused him not to approach her (sexually). God acknowledges the purity of his motives: "Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart" (20:6a). Then God said (20:6b): "it was I who kept you from sinning against me; therefore I did not let you touch her."

So the issue of his integrity and whether he engaged in sex with Sarah are separated. God prevented the thing that Abimmy didn't know about because Abraham lied. None of this suggests to me that Abimmy was an unutterably wicked fellow who couldn't possibly be saved. Yet you originally stated, in describing this scene, that it was "God intervening in a non-elect gentile's heart and life."

Now you admit that we can't know for sure if he was elect or not, so your argument falters, then, because it was based on that unknowable premise, that you now concede is unknowable.

If Abimelech's integrity was inherent, that is, his own,

It was not "his own" insofar as none of our integrity is ultimately our own (in origin). It comes from God's grace. The question here is whether God gave him grace or not. I am saying there is no compelling reason to think that He didn't, or that Abimmy is damned. He's not presented as that bad of a guy, in his outward actions. He gave Abraham stuff, even though it was Abraham who had wronged him (20:14-16) and God blessed his house with [implied] many children (20:17-18).

why should God punish him at all for taking Sarah?

I don't know. The text is unclear as to why that is, but it does show God agreeing that Abimmy hadn't wronged Sarah, because he didn't know she was married. It could have been as an outward display for those who didn't know all the details. This was, after all, a pretty primitive time in salvation history.

An argument could be made that A.D. 70 was the end of the Jewish age, and that with the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem God has abandoned His people in favour of the gentiles. The Reformed position is that there is a future work or other kind of inclusion for the nation of Israel based upon certain statements in the book of Revelation, but I have not studied that completely.

That wouldn't have any bearing on the question at hand, one way or the other. And even if God had abandoned the Jews entirely (which is another big question we don't need to pursue now), that is in a corporate sense, as in instances of the judgment of nations, and would still allow exceptions for righteous individuals who chose to follow Him, as is seen in the OT as well.

Now here is where the question of whether God abandons His elect or not comes up; that is, can the elect lose their salvation?

No, of course the elect cannot. Individuals can lose their salvation. If they lose it, they obviously are not of the elect, because that refers to eschatological salvation. Where Calvinists go awry is in going to extremes and denying that anyone (elect or no) could be "saved" (Protestant definition) or in God's graces (more how we Catholics put it) or regenerate or once filled with the Holy Spirit, and then fall away from that salvation and grace. You guys simply say (as you must, by the internal demands of your system) that they never possessed it in the first place. But you can't prove that, and denying the very possibility (because of false premises) seems to go against much biblical indication (hence my collection of passages to the contrary earlier on in this discussion).

I would answer this way.

The Jews were God's elect people in the sense that they as a nation were to be the bearers of the oracles of God. The covenant was made with Abraham, the father-to-be of a whole people, chosen by God for a very specific purpose. It was from this chosen or elect group that the Messiah, first referred to in Genesis 3, was to come. This is different than saying that every single Jew is destined for eternal life merely because he was a part of the covenant.

Yes, I agree. It is in the covenantal sense of "chosen."

We clearly see in our reading of the New Testament where Jesus has interactions with the Pharisees and Saducees, as well as others, that individuals are not guaranteed eternal life merely by being a part of the Abrahamic covenant.

Correct. Rightly understood, even the Jews (some of them, anyway: the more spiritually advanced) had a notion of salvation by faith and grace, not works alone, as Christians have typically portrayed them as "officially" believing.

So it could be said, if I may say it this way, that God has His elect among His elect; that is, among His chosen people are a remnant people He has chosen for eternal life. This is the Reformed position that so it is with His Church today.

No problem. None of this resolves the dilemma with Abimmy that you have gotten yourself into, with incoherent reasoning. I think you're now forced by logic to ditch his alleged "counter-example".

By this understanding, those who fall away were never elected to eternal life from the beginning, although they partook of the covenant:

But that is a truism and not under dispute (i.e., that the elect are those who actually make it to heaven: yes, of course!). We aren't saying that the elect fell away, but that persons can possess good graces and the spirit, etc., and fall away (which Calvinists deny).
21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’" (Matthew 7:21).
Some people seem to be in the fold but never actually were, as this passage affirms. Others, however (based on many other passages) actually were in the fold. God did "know" them, and they fell away. Calvinists and Catholics agree on the first proposition, but greatly disagree on the second. I contend that it is because Calvinists have put their flawed system above the biblical data in this regard. They can't accept the plain teaching of the passages that refute their view on perseverance because that would knock out a plank of TULIP, and then the other ones would be in peril, too, because they all work together. I say, let it come down, because it is unbiblical in most respects.

Perhaps they grew up in the church. Perhaps they attended the worship service and Sunday school religiously. Perhaps they did all kinds of "mighty works" in His Name. But their hearts were never regenerated. They had never become "born again."

This is your Calvinist assumption, that cannot be absolutely proven in every case. Sometimes (part from our human interpretations of sad individual cases) this is true (without question), but not always, and the Bible seems to back up what I am maintaining here.

There was always some other agenda driving them quite aside from a desire to serve Jesus Christ.

We can't see into other people's hearts as God can.

To these people, identified as "tares" in Matthew 13, He says, "I never knew you." What the Reformed acknowledge is that we cannot know with absolute certainty who they are. Likewise, to reiterate what I said in another place, we do not require a standard of absolute certain knowledge when ordaining those to the ministry.

But also, in denying that anyone could fall away, the position goes too far, and stretches the biblical data beyond the breaking point. Something's gotta give: the Bible or Calvinism. I say (big surprise!) that the Bible teaches Catholic soteriology, not Calvinist.

I would add briefly these two things.

Non-Reformed folks tend to use the term "faith alone" to mean something other than the way we Reformed folks use it. They tend to use it to mean namely "belief alone," or "mental assent alone." This is not how we see it.

Faith alone is shorthand for "By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, but a faith which is not alone." And what is meant by that is that simple belief or mental assent is not what the Bible has in view.

I agree, which is why I defended y'all from that charge in my last post along those lines, where this discussion got started. I commended your post that rightly pointed this out.

Now it's true that American Evangelical Protestantism of the 19th through 20th century Arminian variety often promulgates that anything other than a mere mental assent to some truths constitutes a "work" on our part and is to be disallowed doctrinally. This is not the Reformed view. We concur with James when he says:
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
Good. So do we. But we tie together sanctification and justification in a way that you do not, since they were formally separated by Luther, Melanchthon, and Calvin. It is that separation that (I would argue, and have argued) that has led (at least partially) to the state of affairs that Lutherans and Calvinists themselves decry, as you describe above. When one wrong move is made, then the devil has a field day bringing in other errors that either flow or falsely seem to the adherents to flow, from the prior false premise.

Paul uses faith to mean "belief in action," whereas James seems to make a distinction between the two. The result is the same, however, as we see works as integral to belief and indeed, inseparable.

I have also often noted in the past, that Catholic and Calvinist stress on the importance of good works come out the same way in practice, rightly understood. Now if your party would cease falsely accusing us of being Pelagians (let alone non-Christians, from many of your comrades), perhaps we could garner more unity than is usually present between us, and rejoice in practical common ground.

So when a comment is made about "faith alone," we must be sure that we're on the same page before the discussion can move forward. If one means "belief alone" without any actual change of attitude toward God and change in lifestyle, then any Reformed person would disavow that as a biblical doctrine.

I understand and agree with that point, but (on the other hand) by formally separating sanctification from justification and salvation, you leave yourself open to an easy misunderstanding and the internal logic creates further problems as time goes on. These have been fulfilled in the development of Protestantism.

A person who said a prayer, signed a paper or raised his hand but never grew in grace the rest of his life would likely be considered unregenerate in Reformed thinking (as much as could be discerned, and we are called to be discerning).

That's why I have written papers documenting how Luther and Calvin both taught that.

Secondly, the Reformed don't make as sharp a distinction between justification and sanctification as has been suggested. We view them as distinct, but not separable. They are, in fact, organically connected in the process of salvation.

You do connect them in some fashion, even significantly so, but not with regard to salvation itself. I agree that there is a closeness in Reformed thought that is often distorted by non-Reformed and poorly understood even by many within your camp (as is the case in all camps: ignorance and nominalism being unfortunately widespread). But Francois Wendel, in his Calvin: Origins and Development of His Religious Thought (New York: Harper & Row, 1963; translated by Philip Mairet) confirms my observation that a formal separation was made between the two:
Sanctification is not the purpose of justification. It proceeds from the same source but remains independent, or, more correctly, is logically distinct from justification . . .

. . . it is important not to confuse them together, 'in order that the variety of the graces of God may so much the better appear to us . . . [St Paul] shows clearly enough that it is one thing to be justified and another to be made new creatures.' [Inst., III, 11, 6] . . .

The notion of justification does therefore include (as with Luther and Melanchthon) the idea of a righteousness which is extrinsic and is only imputed to us, without any prejudgment of the real state in which we happen to be. Since 1536 Calvin had affirmed that 'the righteousness of faith is Christ's righteousness, not our own, that it is in him and not in us, but that it becomes ours by imputation' . . . Thus we are not really righteous, except by imputation; and we are unrighteous but held to be righteous by imputation, in so far as we possess the righteousness of Christ by faith.' [Opp, 1, 60; O.S., vol. 1, p. 73] . . .

The logical consequence of that doctrine of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ is that never, not even after the remission of our sins, are we really righteous. . . .

Even after we have received the faith, our works are still contaminated with sin: nevertheless God does not impute them to us as sins but holds them acceptable. Calvin is thus led to formulate the doctrine of double justification; first, the justification of the sinner, and then the justification of the justified, or more correctly of their works.

(pp. 256-260; ellipses and brackets in the middle of the second paragraph and ellipses in the middle of the third paragraph were in the original)
This is where the fundamental error lies: in the extreme emphasis on imputation and formal separation of justification and sanctification (and resultant denial of merit and infused justification and cooperation with God, etc.). That helps (even though Calvin would protest) produce the error of separating good works and charity and sanctity in general from justification and salvation itself, as in the evangelicalism that you decry (and that I also severely criticize).

From our point of view, Calvin is still wrong; just less wrong in degree or along the spectrum, than antinomian-types of evangelicals are. But I agree that aspects of his teaching, and of Reformed thought, are quite close to our own conception of faith and works in the practical sense and in terms of how a Christian ought to live his life day by day: things we can abundantly verify from the Bible itself.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

St. Mary Magdalene: Former Prostitute? The Repentant "Sinner" Woman of Luke 7 Who Washed Jesus' Feet With Her Hair? (Differing Opinions)


As I understand it, the notion that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute comes from conflating the woman who anointed Jesus' feet (Luke 7) with Mary Magdalene. Luke 7:39 seems to imply that the woman described was a harlot ("what sort of woman this is" in RSV). The Bible itself doesn't make this equation (at least not explicitly or directly). The Bible does plainly assert that she was cured of possession by seven demons (Lk 8:2; cf. Mk 16:9).

The Protestant New Bible Dictionary (edited by J.D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, 1962) states ("Mary", p. 792):

    There is really no justification for identifying Mary of Bethany with Mary Magdalene, and certainly none for associating either with the sinful woman of Luke 7. . . .

    If Luke had known that the Mary of chapter 8 was the same person as the sinner of chapter 7 is it not probable that he would have made the connection explicit?

The Catholic Encyclopedia, however ("St. Mary Magdalen"), makes a different argument:

    The Greek Fathers, as a whole, distinguish the three persons:

    * the "sinner" of Luke 7:36-50;
    * the sister of Martha and Lazarus, Luke 10:38-42 and John 11; and
    * Mary Magdalen.

    On the other hand most of the Latins hold that these three were one and the same. Protestant critics, however, believe there were two, if not three, distinct persons. It is impossible to demonstrate the identity of the three; but those commentators undoubtedly go too far who assert, as does Westcott (on John 11:1), "that the identity of Mary with Mary Magdalene is a mere conjecture supported by no direct evidence, and opposed to the general tenour of the gospels." It is the identification of Mary of Bethany with the "sinner" of Luke 7:37, which is most combatted by Protestants. It almost seems as if this reluctance to identify the "sinner" with the sister of Martha were due to a failure to grasp the full significance of the forgiveness of sin.

The article does concede that if we had only Luke's Gospel to go by, this theory would be unsubstantiated:

    . . . here again we note that there is no suggestion of an identification of the three persons (the "sinner", Mary Magdalen, and Mary of Bethany), and if we had only St. Luke to guide us we should certainly have no grounds for so identifying them.

But it goes on to make various deductive arguments from the book of John (none, I think, compelling) and concludes triumphantly:

    If the foregoing argument holds good, Mary of Bethany and the "sinner" are one and the same. But an examination of St. John's Gospel makes it almost impossible to deny the identity of Mary of Bethany with Mary Magdalen.

So there was a tradition in western, Latin Catholicism, of one person (Mary Magdalene = Mary of Bethany = the sinner woman of Lk 7:36-50, who anointed Jesus' feet). This article in The Catholic Encyclopedia was written by Hugh Pope in 1910. Not all traditions, however, carry equal weight, and not all are binding. Personally, I think the Greek fathers were right about this.

Nor do all Catholic sources agree with this older tradition. A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, edited by Dom Bernard Orchard (London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1953) is a completely orthodox work, and it takes a different position. Commenting on Luke 7:36-50, it states:

    The similarities between this story and those recorded in Mt 26:6-13; Mk 14:3-9; Jn 12:1-8, have led to the opinion that the four evangelists narrate the same incident. Latin tradition since the time of St Gregory the Great has been in favour of identity; the general tradition among the Greeks (except for Origen) is that Lk's incident is altogether different and most modern Catholic commentators adopt this view. It must be admitted that the divergences seem irreconcilable . . . There is nothing in Lk which justifies identifying her with Mary of Magdala, 8:2, or Mary of Bethany, 10:38 ff. Greek tradition generally distinguishes them all.

Note also that the Catholic Church in its first thousand years was composed of both Latin and Greek traditions. They were both Catholic. So it is not disallowed to believe that a Greek, or eastern exegetical tradition was more correct than a Latin (western) one. I think this is one such instance.

In the article, posted at Catholic News Service, "Scholars seek to correct Christian tradition on Mary Magdalene,", written by Jerry Filteau, it is stated:

    In A.D. 591 Pope St. Gregory the Great preached a sermon in which he identified as one person the New Testament figures of Mary Magdalene, the sinful woman who anointed Jesus' feet and washed them with her tears, and the Mary who was the sister of Lazarus and Martha of Bethany.

    Although he was only reflecting a tradition that had gained some ground in the West (and was resisted by many of the church's early theologians), the sermon became a reference point for later scholarship, teaching and preaching in the West, Father Raymond F. Collins, a New Testament scholar at The Catholic University of America, said in an interview. . . .

    The identification of Mary Magdalene as a repentant sinful woman was solidified in the Latin Church for centuries by the use of that story, reported in the seventh chapter of Luke, as the Gospel reading for Mary Magdalene's feast, July 22. In fact, in the Roman Calendar before the Second Vatican Council, the day was called the feast of "Mary Magdalene, penitent."

    Father Collins noted that this changed in 1969 with the reform of the Roman Missal and the Roman Calendar. Since then the Gospel reading for Mary Magdalene's feast has been Chapter 20, verses 1-2 and 11-18, of the Gospel of John.

This seems to have been a rather late tradition, in terms of the fathers, with Gregory Great living into the 7th century. Thus, it is not particularly compelling as proof that this exegetical tradition was apostolic, and preserved in the first five centuries (when most of the well-known Church fathers lived). Further research along those lines would yield fascinating results, I'm sure.

Fr. William Saunders, on the other hand, in his article, "Who Really Was Mary Magdalene?," (Catholic Culture website), takes the traditional view expressed in The Catholic Encyclopedia.

The Catholics United for the Faith website put out a lengthy, informative article about Mary Magdalene, "St. Mary Magdalene: A Model Penitent," taking the traditional western view also, but noted (importantly for our purposes):

    Either way, although ancient, this tradition is not to be confused with an essential aspect of the Catholic faith. There are many reasons to accept this tradition, but it is not a doctrine of the Church.

Catholics (as seen in the above conflicting understandings) are at liberty to differ on this question. In any event, whatever her sins were, St. Mary repented of them and became a great saint and early witness of the resurrected Jesus, and that is far more important than these other "identity" disputes.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Adam and Eve: Defense of Their Literal Existence as the Primal Human Couple, by Catholic Philosopher, Dr. Dennis Bonnette

Painting by Hans Holbein the Younger (1517)

Here is a solid orthodox Catholic presentation of our belief in Adam and Eve, in light of present-day science, from exchanges with a dedicated Darwinian. Dr. Bonnette wrote in his letter to me:
As you may recall, my book, Origin of the Human Species (Sapientia Press, 2003), defends the reality of Adam and Eve. . . . Nothing is more central to the Judeo-Christian religious tradition than the reality of Adam and Eve, for reasons you know even better than I. . . .
His words follow (from files he sent along):

* * * * *

From Reconstructed discussion whether belief in literal Adam & Eve is warranted

by Dennis Bonnette, Ph.D. 3 June 2009 A.D.

re posts 276-282:

Well, I expected a very detailed and strong response from you, and you did not disappoint me!

Unfortunately, I think we are beginning to go over the same ground.

What I see developing in comments on this thread are three positions:

(1) Divine revelation trumps certain present claims of natural science. Specifically, this occurs when a claim made on behalf of natural science crosses the epistemic boundary between natural science and theology. A prime example would be a natural scientific challenge to the Catholic Church's definitive teaching that Adam and Eve actually existed as the two first true human parents of the entire human race.

(2) Certain evolutionary theories appear to trump the truth of divine revelation.

(3) Some deny that divine revelation requires belief in the literal reality of Adam and Eve.

There is no doubt that Catholic teaching demands the literal reality of Adam and Eve, as has been superbly documented by masterjedi747 (post 287). You appear to place primary emphasis upon natural science in determining whether belief in a literal Adam and Eve is warranted, but you also mention #3. While #3 has been brought up in other posts, the key issue remains the reality of Adam and Eve as first parents.

Clearly, and understandably from your perspective, what you see as compelling scientific evidence against a literal Adam and Eve primarily moves you to dismiss all possibility of Adam and Eve. Despite the extensive philosophical and scientific arguments you present, you do not address the evidence of miracles supporting Catholic belief and teachings. As GrannyMH so aptly points out (post 284), "Divine Revelation trumps." The fact that you cannot accept this sort of evidence is unfortunate, but does not make it go away. The more one studies the details of these extraordinary phenomena, which God alone appears able to produce, the more difficult it becomes to discount and ignore them.

In addition to other sources I have previously mentioned documenting the miracles that fill Christian history (posts 237-238), I suggest The Whole Truth about Fatima: Science and the Facts by Frere Michel de la Sainte Trinite (Immaculate Heart Publications, English edition, 1989), vol. 1, pp. 323-356, which describes in great detail the miracle of the sun at Fatima in 1917, examining relevant scientific, philosophical, and theological aspects.

St. Thomas was well aware that miracles cannot compel belief. The Fatima "miracle of the sun" will always tempt agnostics to appeal to something like "collective hallucination" (meaning, everybody was suffering from mental illness!) or that space aliens arranged the whole episode using natural technology too advanced for our understanding. Still, especially for those who accept God's existence, at some point naturalistic explanations become less intellectually credible than acceptance of a genuine miracle. As I said in posts 237-238, "While no one can force anyone to believe anything, Catholics may rightly "warrant their belief" in the Catholic Church based on this continuous history of miracles, beginning with the Resurrection itself -- miracles largely filled with Catholic specificity." And Catholic teaching affirms Adam and Eve.

Does natural science regulate philosophical and theological science, or does theological and philosophical science regulate natural science? (I am sure we both see nuances here, but the central contest should be evident.) In cases where a claim is made about an issue pertaining to both natural science and theology, which discipline must have the last word? The Catholic scholastic tradition holds that theology is the supreme science, the "queen of the sciences," and that philosophy is "theology's handmaiden." I am sufficiently predeluvian to be happy with that scenario!

As I have said before, you are not merely speaking on behalf of natural science here, but also a philosophical position through which you interpret natural science (pragmatic verificationism?). If one wishes to speak with the authority of natural science alone on any topic, then all philosophies must be set aside. But that is not possible. The method of natural science itself necessarily presupposes, as I have pointed out before, absolute acceptance of such philosophical first principles as identity, excluded middle, non-contradiction, sufficient reason, and causality -- as well as epistemological realism.

That is to say, every scientist presupposes that observations are what they are, that they cannot both be and not be what they are, that phenomena have reasons and explanations, and that we can make accurate observations of the extramental world. If you fudge on these first principles at any level, you undo the very method by which you built up the scientific models which led to your "fudging."

This all means that you cannot do science by itself. It either operates on blind faith, or else, presupposes some philosophical "framework" in which its findings are accepted. Yes, that means that philosophy is regulative of natural science in a certain foundational sense -- and why any "findings" of natural science which challenge its very presuppositions are absurd and impossible.

That also means that we must bring contending philosophies to the table in any discussion of scientific evidence as well as such claims as a literal Adam and Eve. I do not propose to reargue here the points I made in posts 260-261. Your materialist and sensist philosophy does not see the same world which my Christian one does. Still, I would make two observations:

1. The point of Christian philosophy (Thomism, if you insist) is that true human beings possess intellective powers which are essentially superior to mere sensation, which (sensation) they share with beasts. This means that above and beyond the mere animal ability to grasp the physical, sensible qualities of physical objects, the human mind can penetrate to the very essence of things -- understanding their intrinsic natures, including, as Eddington expresses it in his book, The Nature of the Physical Universe.

This is what marks man's entrance into a world undergoing biological evolution: A creature appears which is able to understand his own presence and role in a world whose myriad entities he grasps in their very substance and nature, not merely -- as in the case of brute animals -- as collections of physical appearances or images to which they instinctively or reflexively react. Sensism and materialism allow no such radical distinction between man and brute. Christian philosophy sees a qualitative leap to true humanity in this essentially distinct intellective mode of cognition. For a sensist to grasp and affirm an essential difference between mere sensation and true intellection is an oxymoron.

2. You appear well-versed in the writings of both Aristotle and St. Thomas. That is why the following quote from you (post 280) surprises me:
So we turn to your claims about the existence of a spiritual dimension and about how consideration of philosophical species indicates that a substantial form exists, separate from any material form and sovereign over it, and which determines our intellect and free will, and provides us with personal immortality. This is a very pretty concept, but there is not an iota of evidence in support of any of it. As I have pointed out several times, if we shed all of our preconceptions and our desires for the world to be as we would like it to be, we must conclude that none of these beliefs is warranted.

First, the evidence for human faculties is quite unequivocal: no human faculty exists that does not depend on neural activity. No human faculty exists that cannot be affected by physical effects. No human faculty of self-consciousness or consciousness of the external world or abstract thought or speech or reasoning or prayer or poetry or music or morality or free will exists in the absence of a physical brain.
If you know Aristotelian hylemorphic doctrine, the human spiritual substantial form is not a thing in itself, operating entirely separate from the organism of which it is the form. Form and matter are co-principles of one and the same human organism. Since the (passive) intellect takes as its object the impressed intelligible species, and since the agent intellect forms that species by a process of abstraction from the phantasm which is formed in the imagination as a result of the impressed sensible species coming from the external senses, it is clear to all Aristotelians that no operation of the intellect is possible in this life without extrinsic (NOT intrinsic) dependence upon sense faculties and material organs, such as the brain -- since external sense stimuli and organic operations are presupposed to provide the data on which the sense and intellective faculties act.

Arguments for the spirituality of the intellective soul are based on the intelligible objects formed by the intellect -- its mode of knowing, NOT because it can operate when the brain is not functioning. Materialist arguments against the spiritual soul fail to grasp its proper operation, and why that operation is intrinsically spiritual. No empirical evidence by itself can disprove what pertains to the reality of spiritual faculties.

Without spiritual faculties, modern human sciences would be impossible, for they depend necessarily on concepts and judgments, which cannot be derived from organic powers. Similarly, while I grant that fossil evidence for human activity varies over time, you claim (post 278) that such evidence precludes a first true human being. I already answered this in my above-mentioned posts when I said:
The fact that gradual improvement in tool making or other activities takes place over time does not prove that a radical line of demarcation is not present. At some point in time, true man became present. Before that he was not, and what we find are simply signs of complex sentient behaviors of lower animals, including subhuman primates.
I also pointed out there that the stable nature of man is consistent with the fact that his powers are not always in act, and that their sudden appearance would be mixed with evidence of purely sensory abilities which he shares with brutes. The fact remains that spiritual souls cannot "gradually emerge," since a primate either has one or not.

The need that there be a first true human (Adam) at some point in time, with a spiritual soul directly created by God, remains.

As to your extensive comments from molecular biology (posts 276-279), they say precisely what I have already written (posts 265-266). First, "...careful reading of your posts suggests to me that your conclusion about the scientific consensus is not based on the question of effective population size, but rather on other aspects of specific genes." Your careful efforts (post 277) to show that "... the concept of a human population increasing from two to 10,000 in ten generations is not practically tenable...." suggest to me that the project may actually be possible in principle. You grant the mathematical possibility, but then cite various refereed papers arguing that such rapid population growth would be unheard of according to natural scientific experience and estimates.

May I respectfully suggest that God might be able to arrange the needed conditions -- not necessarily by miracles, but by providence -- in a time so short and so deeply hidden in the recesses of prehistory as to be totally unobservable to modern scholars? You assume that you have demonstrated that a bottleneck of two is impossible. Inductive arguments do not demonstrate impossibility, only improbability. Furthermore, a person can be shown to be mistaken about contingent empirical claims without having to cite a scientific paper. God does not write in refereed journals.

Regarding aspects of specific genes, I had already conceded:
You have built a powerful case to prove that other specific genes in the genome indicate in various ways that a bottleneck smaller than one thousand appears impossible.
In anticipation of your impressive response, I had also written:
... I am confident you will inundate me with much more supporting evidence and 'absolute certitudes,'... the difficulty is that we may find out something 'surprising' about gene behavior in the future -- just as we did in the case of Ayala's 1994 claim.

Moreover, there is an inherent uncertainty 'built into' any attempt to determine absolute certitudes about specific distant past events based solely upon microscopic analysis of present evidence, especially when much of the science is of very recent vintage and entails many assumptions and estimates. Unlike Catholic dogma, this is not the stuff of divine revelation.
What is apodictically clear, though, is that the Catholic religion teaches the reality of Adam, regardless of what secular scientists may speculate about human origins. As I indicated early on in this post, the theological basis is certain, and, in Granny's immortal words, "Divine Revelation trumps."

That is why I said at the beginning of this post that we are beginning to go over the same ground.

That is also why I still maintain that it is reasonable for 21st Century, educated people to believe in a literal Adam and Eve.

* * * * *



Dennis Bonnette, Ph.D.

I. Some philosophical reflections pertinent to Adam and Eve: [Posts 260 and 261]

The purpose of this post is not to open lengthy debate about the details or credibility of certain foundational themes of Christian philosophy, but rather to examine questions that are more specifically relevant to Adam and Eve's existence. Those who reject these basic claims may do so, but for Christian philosophers, these are some of the logical presuppositions which help render reasonable belief in a literal Adam and Eve.

First, God exists, and can therefore play a special role in Adam's creation as well as in human history. Christian philosophy maintains (in accord with Catholic teaching) that God's existence can be known by the light of natural reason. Major Christian thinkers (also some pagans) down through history -- scholars well aware of the distinction between theology and philosophy -- have defended philosophical proofs for God's existence. The fact that atheists and fideists reject these proofs is hardly news. While it is perfectly legitimate to criticize and debate whether God's existence can be proven, that project would be a sure recipe for endless digression, never getting around to dealing with topics more specific to Adam and Eve.

Second, man possesses a spiritual and immortal soul, which God alone can create. Christian philosophers maintain that God has created some sort of special nature in man, a nature distinguished by intellective and volitional activities that separate him essentially from the rest of the animal kingdom. Again, both pagan and Christian thinkers have reached similar conclusions for purely philosophical reasons. These conclusions again could be debated endlessly. But I suspect most readers here would rather know whether this claim makes any sense in terms of what we know of human origins from natural science.

The difficulty raised by natural science appears to be that the paleological record does not seem to fit with the notion of a single first man, somehow instantly essentially superior to all previous lower animals, especially to subhuman primates. The reason for this objection is what appears to be the very gradual changes in tool-making ability and other behaviors of primates over great spans of time, all of which argue against the sudden appearance of a first true human being, or beings, who are essentially superior to prior primates.

Philosophical concepts essential to this claim are that true man possesses a substantial form, which unifies, specifies, and makes actual the presence of the intellective, volitional, spiritual person of an animate nature -- and that this qualitatively superior step in nature and being is such that it represents a line of demarcation which is not amenable to gradual development. Materialistic evolutionists claim otherwise, saying that the record of change is slow, with gradual increases in cranial capacity, tool-making abilities, aquisition of controlled use of fire, and so forth. In a way, it seems odd that the simple claim that man has a special nature should be so controversial -- but that is the sticking point for evolutionary materialists, who insist that there is no special human nature, and that man is simply the end population stages of a gradual development of purely animal organisms over millions of year. To them, man is just a highly developed animal. To Christian philosophers, man is an essentially distinct natural philosophical species, possessing a spiritual soul, with intellect and will not shared by brute animals.

How is it possible to explain the physical record of gradual primate anatomical and artifact development while claiming that there is an Adam, who is the first true man, essentially superior to all of his predecessors? Most evolutionists declare that there could have been no "Adam."

Viewed purely as a material being, man does appear as merely the end product of billions of years of biological rearrangements of chemical constituents. When an atom of sodium and one of chlorine unite to form a molecule of salt, one can look at this union as merely the "hand-shaking" of two distinct atoms, the mere "donation" of one electron from the chlorine to the sodium atom. So, too, as chemical complexity increases over eons, organisms resulting from evolutionary mechanisms can be viewed as merely highly-complex "chemical soups" in a temporary state of equilibrium, but not as things in themselves, possessing some real unifying principle beyond the general laws of physics and chemistry which govern all material entities. In crude terms, it comes down to asking whether we are merely a more or less attractive-looking pile of atoms with a name attached, or are we really one being with a common human nature throughout. To save common sense, which tells us that we are real things, substantially one in nature throughout our entire bodily being, Christian philosophy maintains that an essential unifying principle, the substantial form, actualizes matter, specifying it as being of a stable human nature. This human nature is essentially distinct from and superior to the nature of subhuman primates and other lower animals. In man, the substantial form determines all the powers we possess, including those of intellect and free will, which latter set us apart from, and ontologically above, brute animals. This same substantial form (soul) determines that we are a person, spiritual in form and with personal immortality. Since we then possess a spiritual soul, and since spirit cannot come from matter, God alone can create each and every human spiritual soul.

Hence, the first human being created by God, whatever the circumstances, would be Adam. Since a being must be either spiritual in nature, or not, there is no possibility of gradual attainment of a spiritual soul. The first human being would be completely human, with all prior primates being merely subhuman, material organisms. Prior primates would have sense powers, but man alone would have the spiritual faculties of intellect and free will.

This scenario, as depicted by Christian philosophy, does not violate the data of natural science, because the possession of spiritual faculties does not mean that they must always be in act. We can detect their presence by finding signs of intellective activity in forms of special types of tool making or art or cultural rituals. But the absence of such signs does not assure us of the absence of intellect, since man can also engage in the same activities as mere animals and/or material signs of his intellective activity may be obliterated by the ravages of time. The fact that gradual improvement in tool making or other activities takes place over time does not prove that a radical line of demarcation is not present. At some point in time, true man became present. Before that he was not, and what we find are simply signs of complex sentient behaviors of lower animals, including subhuman primates.

The evidence of this line of demarcation lies in the same evidence Christian philosophers use to prove that man is essentially superior to brute animals today, that his soul is spiritual and theirs is not. If the distinction exists today, it must have begun to exist at some time in the past, since true man was not always in existence. Thus some first presence must have occurred, and the first human being having such faculties was therefore he who we call Adam.

Objections that not all men exhibit full intellective powers at all times -- or in some instances, not at all -- are not valid. The nature is stable in this type of being, whether he acts fully in accord with it or not. When we are sleeping or comatose, we may not be thinking or playing the piano, but we remain fully human. The nature belongs to the human natural species, whether it is fully operative at all times or any time at all. (This is the philosophical distinction between possession of an operative potency, or power, and its actuation. Actuation is not always possible, either because we are performing a contrary act or because of defect in the organs needed for operation, as in the case of brain disease or malformation.)

I realize that a materialist will have none of this, since he denies that man possesses any spiritual powers at all, and claims that all animal activity, including human, is basically dependent upon brain activity and other physically organic functions. I am not arguing that point here, since a materialist would deny all the basic presuppositions of the type of worldview in which the question of Adam and Eve arises anyway. What I am saying is that Christian philosophy provides a structure in which the belief in Adam and Eve makes sense, given the foundational system in which the question reasonably arises. That is, if you grant the existence of God and the spirituality of the human soul, then God must have created a first human being at some point in the evolution of earth's history -- and that first human being would be he who believers call Adam. Moreover, I am saying that the structure of Christian philosophy can reasonably adapt to the evidence of natural science which points to gradual development of behaviors, from the purely sensory to the clearly intellective. Materialists understandably read the same data entirely otherwise, but that reflects a radically distinct philosophical worldview from the one in which the question of Adam and Eve's literal existence would be expected to arise. Thus, for Christians, belief in a literal Adam and Eve is warranted in the sense (1) that it does not violate their general philosophical worldview, (2) that that worldview is not inconsistent with what we know of primate and human development over time, and (3) that the arguments for the human spiritual nature necessarily imply some first true human being, whom we call Adam.

II. Some theological thoughts about Adam and Eve: [Posts 237 and 238]

If I accept your claims about molecular biology, case closed. Adam and Eve do not exist. Worse yet, you have proven that they cannot exist!

Is that the end of the story? Not quite. Let us look at the overall picture we have developed on this thread.

Your worldview is now rather complete: You affirm that you are a sensist and a materialist. You affirm that you do not believe in a personal God, and reject any formal proofs for God's existence, in part, because there is no empirical way to verify His actual existence. You deny the existence of a spiritual, intellective soul in man. You deny the universal, transcendental validity of the principle of non-contradiction and all other metaphysical first principles. You describe yourself as a "pragmatic verificationist." You reject the validity of miracles and the theological claims of the Catholic Church. You insist that real contradictions exist at the subatomic level. And, of course, you maintain that the findings of molecular biology exclude any possibility that a single set of first parents for all mankind could have existed within the last six million years. Relevant to this thread, you conclude that scientific findings exclude the possibility of a literal Adam and Eve.

Your inference about Adam and Eve is understandable, given your firm commitment to natural science as your primary source of formalized information about the world, and your absence of any contravening theological or philosophical reasons not to enthrone that source above all others.

Not surprisingly, my view of reality differs radically from yours. On almost every point. Indeed, full exploration of the substance of these differences would require extensive study of major topics in natural science, epistemology, philosophy of nature, and metaphysics -- something that cannot be adequately done in a single 1000 posting thread (to put it mildly!). To return to our main theme, therefore, I am going to speak more in terms of outlines of positions, leaving it to the reader to investigate whether a particular line of argument may be fruitful to show that "belief" in Adam and Eve is "warranted." Given the diversity of our worldviews, it is to be expected that what one of us finds "warranted," the other may find totally "unwarranted." If I maintain that God's existence can be demonstrated, that the spirituality and immortality of the human soul can be demonstrated, that the principle of non-contradiction must be transcendentally valid, that some genuine miracles demonstrably occurred, and so forth, clearly I will assent to some truths -- even pertinent to the literal existence of Adam and Eve, which you will claim to be absurd and unwarranted.

You think theology is irrelevant to the question of whether Adam and Eve existed. But religious revelation is very relevant both in terms of providing sound reasons to believe what is taught, and in terms of the content of that teaching. I shall not reargue the nature or evidence for miracles which point clearly to Catholic belief. For those who wish to examine the number and quality of these miracles, consult the following: Raised from the Dead: True Stories of 400 Resurrection Miracles by Fr. Albert J. Hebert (Tan Books, 1986), Eucharistic Miracles by Joan Carroll Cruz (Tan Books, 1987), Mysteries Marvels Miracles: In the Lives of the Saints by Joan Carroll Cruz (Tan Books, 1997), and The Miracle of Lourdes by Ruth Cranston (Galilee Trade, 1988). The last includes fourteen recently documented cures updated by the Lourdes Medical Commission. (Original Popular Library edition, 1955)

Not surprisingly, these phenomena range from the historically obscure, doubtful, or poorly documented to the recent, scientifically well-documented, and theologically approved. Skeptics often use less certain cases to generalize to the rejection of all miracles, or offer philosophical arguments against their very possibility. That is why the detailed "before and after" records of the Lourdes Medical Commission offer critical scientific evidence. The Medical Commission is composed of distinguished physicians and scientists, operating independently of the Church. To suggest that its findings are not highly scientific is to apply the concept of "scientific" selectively. It is true that only some 67 cures have been approved by the Church, out of multiple times that number certified as beyond any natural explanation by the Medical Commission. But, to my knowledge, no one, including Bernadette and the "Lady," ever claimed that any miracles whatever would occur at Lourdes. Nor is God required to keep on performing them for our incredulity. The central and ongoing "miracle of Lourdes" is in the spiritual order of conversion and acceptance of God's will. The miracle of Fatima stands as history's most widely witnessed. Explanations of mass hallucinations or differing experiences ignore the fact that some 70,000 people witnessed an extraordinary event predicted by the children, "so that all may believe." Even O Seculo (a pro-government, anti-clerical, Lisbon paper) published an article the next day by its atheistic director, Avelino de Almeida, entitled, "Terrifying Event! How The Sun Danced In The Sky Of Fatima." No astronomers confirmed this event. Rather, it was a massive, varying, religious-content apparition, whose physically "objective" component was the sudden drying of 70,000 witnesses whose woolen clothing had been soaked in drenching rain which suddenly ended just before the apparition commenced.

While no one can force anyone to believe anything, Catholics may rightly "warrant their belief" in the Catholic Church based on this continuous history of miracles, beginning with the Resurrection itself -- miracles largely filled with Catholic specificity. Moreover, this massive evidence serves only to complement the often ignored theological science of apologetics, which is the rational defense of the Catholic Church.

And what does the Catholic Church teach about a literal Adam and Eve? The dogma of Original Sin teaches that Adam lost sanctity and justice by transgressing the divine commandment, that this single sin is transmitted to all his posterity by descent -- not by imitation, and that it dwells in every human being -- transmitted by the natural act of generation. (Denzinger 789-791) Pius XII makes clear in Humani generis that this is "a sin actually committed by an individual Adam." (H.G. #37) Catholic teaching is thus clear about the actual existence of Adam as an individual human being. And since Adam transmitted original sin by the natural act of generation, it necessarily follows that he did so with the co-operation of a female spouse, Eve. Hence, belief in a literal Adam and Eve is warranted.

Further, the miracles of Lourdes arise in a context which points specifically to Adam's existence, since St. Bernadette Soubirous told authorities that the Lady who appeared to her in 1858 said that she was the "Immaculate Conception." The dogma of the Immaculate Conception had been defined just four years earlier in 1854, and declares that the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived free from original sin, the sin committed by Adam. Hence, Lourdes specifically, though indirectly, confirms the literal existence of Adam and Eve.

As to the question of theological polygenism, Pius XII teaches that Catholics are not free to uphold polygenism, because "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." (H.G. #37) Clearly, the Holy Father was aware of the complexity of the relationship between polygenism and the implications of original sin -- and thus spoke about it in a manner somewhat more carefully nuanced than he did in reference to his prior comments about the freedom of theological speculation regarding evolutionary theory and human origins. Theological monogenism may well eventually become firm teaching, but that simply is not presently the case. What this means is that it would presently constitute theological dissent for a Catholic to advocate polygenism. Somewhat paradoxically, at this same time, it appears that one cannot absolutely declare that a proof of the reality of polygenism is equivalent to a disproof of the Catholic religion, and of its teachings about Adam and Eve. All this is not an attempt to avoid direct confrontation over the scientific evidence for or against a relatively recent single pair of first parents for all mankind. Rather, this is simply an accurate statement of the present theological situation.

Since belief in the Catholic Church is warranted by objective evidence, and since the Catholic Church teaches that Adam and Eve existed, belief in a literal Adam and Eve is warranted. One must never forget here that we are talking about warrant for "belief," not a direct and absolute demonstration of two human beings hidden deeply in the recesses of time, as Teilhard de Chardin says, "...positively ungraspable, unrevealable to our eyes at no matter what magnification." [The Phenomenon of Man (Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1959), p 185, note.] The burden of proof remains upon those who would declare Adam and Eve could never have existed.

III. Some thoughts about natural science and Adam and Eve: [Posts 265 and 266]

Regarding posts 220, 221, 222, and 223:

In these posts, you have powerfully defended your thesis that there have been no bottlenecks of just two people in millions of years. A good example of the kind of argument you offer is the following: "... the assertion that the molecular data is consistent with a bottleneck of two is just that - an assertion completely unsupported by the evidence - in fact denied by it because the DRB1 data on its own logically precludes such an extreme bottleneck and that is before we consider the size of a real population capable of sustaining the heterozygosity, microsatellite and LD data that we see. A bottleneck of two would result in far more homozygosity than we see as neutral alleles drift to extinction or fixation rapidly in a tiny population. ... To prove me wrong, all you have to do is to cite a reference to a paper which sets out the reasoning for considering a bottleneck of two as a possibility."

I am going to concur with your claim that "...there is remarkable consistency across multiple methods of estimating palaeo-demography, and there is unanimity that the population ancestral to humans never passed through a bottleneck of two individuals...."

Nonetheless, careful reading of your posts suggests to me that your conclusion about the scientific concensus is not based on the question of effective population size, but rather on other aspects of specific genes. Regarding effective population size, you affirm that in the last million years the concensus has been that it has been about 10,000, while Tenesa puts it at 7,500 in 2007. The important point of this is that when the genome in general is considered, the long-term effective population size of either 7,500 or 10,000 is consistent with the possibility of a bottleneck of just two individuals within the past 10,000 generations or so. For example, in Wen-Hsiung Li's widely-used textbook, Molecular Evolution, he states (pp. 46-47):

"The effective population size can also be much reduced due to long-term variations in the population size, which in turn are caused by such factors as environmental catastrophes, cyclical modes of reproduction, and local extinction and recolonization events. For example, the long-term effective population size in a species for a period of n generations is given by:

Ne = n/(1/N1 + 1/N2 + ... + !/Nn)

where Ni is the population size of the ith generation. In other words, Ne equals the harmonic mean of the Ni values, and consequently it is close to the smallest value of Ni than to the largest one. Similarly if a population goes through a bottleneck, the effective population size is greatly reduced

My biology contacts tell me that if one uses the formula above for the effective population size, then a population which starts with 2 individuals and expands within ten generations to 10,000 individuals and then remained constant would have an effective population size of about 6,000. If it expanded quickly from 2 to 100,000, the effective population size would be about 12,000. Thus, with the uncertainties involved, a bottleneck of two is easily compatible with the effective population size of about 10,000 today.

You write: "Furthermore, there isn't the slightest shred of evidence to support the notion that the human population could or did expand at more than 100% per generation over ten generations in palaeolithic times." We must always recall that absence of evidence is not the same thing as evidence of absence. I can tell you easily how the human population could have expanded more than 100% per generation over ten generations. It is simple. Start with Adam and Eve and let them have just six children, three boys and three girls. (Incest was not an initial problem.) These three pairs mate producing each six more children, equally divided by sex. That give us 18 in the next generation. These then mate to so that 9 pairs x 6 children equals 54 more people. Each generation is producing 300% more than itself! The math runs then for sequential generations: 6, 18, 54, 162, 486, 1458, 4374, 13122! Oops! That is only EIGHT generations to exceed 10,000 persons! But how could this be so perfectly "arranged" in nature? I am not saying this exact scenario occurred, but merely showing that such rapid population growth is not beyond the range of possibilities that may exist in this amazing world.

From this perspective, the effective population size of 10,000 in the last million years easily could allow a bottleneck of just two individuals, Adam and Eve, quickly propagating 10,000 individuals in just ten generations or so.

So, why do your experts insist the population never could have been smaller than, say, one thousand?

Now here is where I am going to partly agree with you. You have built a powerful case to prove that other specific genes in the genome indicate in various ways that a bottleneck smaller than one thousand appears impossible. The problem with that is that specific genes might behave in unusual ways, and so are less reliable. Or, we may discover something about them we did not previously know. Consider the case of Ayala's 1994 claims about a specific behavior in the genes. In 2006, Shiina et al., contradict his thesis about massive flow of alleles from one species to the next:

"This result finally puts the MHC in line with the bulk of population and evolutionary genetics data which firmly conclude that a narrow bottleneck has occurred at the origin of our species (Cann et al. 1987; Hammer 1995), a fact inconsistent with massive flow of alleles from one species to the next as required by the transspecies postulate (Ayala et al. 1994)." Takashi Shiina, et al. (2006) Rapid Evolution of Major Histocompatibility Complex Class I Genes in Primates Generates New Disease Alleles in Humans via Hitchhiking Diversity. Genetics, 173, 1555-1570.

The only inference I am here drawing from this more recent article is that it appears Ayala was wrong in 1994 about his "transspecies postulate." Scientists can make mistakes, even in molecular biology. If you are making the argument that a bottleneck of two is impossible based on particular genes, that may be very impressive in terms of what we presently know about the human genome. Still, that is a very different argument than the one based on effective population size, whose conventional estimate for the last million years is quite consistent with the possibility of a bottleneck of just two. Even if we grant the force of your present arguments (and I am confident you will inundate me with much more supporting evidence and "absolute certitudes"), the difficulty is that we may find out something "surprising" about gene behavior in the future -- just as we did in the case of Ayala's 1994 claim. Moreover, there is an inherent uncertainty "built into" any attempt to determine absolute certitudes about specific distant past events based solely upon microscopic analysis of present evidence, especially when much of the science is of very recent vintage and entails many assumptions and estimates. Unlike Catholic dogma, this is not the stuff of divine revelation.

That is why in my book, Origin of the Human Species (Sapientia Press, 2003), first published in 2001, I conceded that a bottleneck of two would be considered by scientists to be improbable. Nonetheless, consider the improbability of the Big Bang's expansion rate being so incredibly balanced that it avoided the outcome that life that would never have occurred had it been either the slightest bit greater or smaller. If I were viewing the situation as you do, without factoring in the ability of God to create the actual beginning, then I might consider that a bottleneck of two could not take place. But, I believe in (and can demonstrate philosophically) the existence of a personal God who is quite capable of exercising providence over the whole of His creation -- vanquishing improbabilities, and allowing for rapid population growth from two first parents

It has been the history of natural science to think it has had "everything figured out." Despite the supreme confidence you exhibit in the most recent findings of molecular biology, one must balance this with some awareness of the radical tentativeness of specific theories and paradigms, even if you believe that science makes general progress. On an even larger scale, consider the overconfident mentality of scientists at the end of the 19th Century who thought that Newtonian science had triumphed over all -- just before relativity theory and quantum mechanics radically undercut those expectations.

Over time, the prospects for Adam and Eve have improved on the large scale. The consensus has moved away from the idea that true humans evolved in separate parts of the globe simultaneously, which would have grossly violated the thesis of a single pair of first parents: Wolpoff's multiregional hypothesis has given ground to more general acceptance of the single-source "out of Africa" hypothesis. And, rather than having constant expansion of an ever-growing primate population dating too far into the past for Adam and Eve, the effective population size estimates have actually dropped in size, from the 100,000 estimate for the last 30 million years to just 10,000, or even less, for the last million years -- allowing at least the mathematical possibility of a bottleneck of two since the middle Pleistocene period. Potential future uncertainties cannot be ruled out at this time unless one possesses a crystal ball.

As I have indicated in other posts, although there remain some somewhat unsettled areas in the theological, philosophical, and natural scientific analyses regarding this matter, I maintain that it is reasonable for 21st Century, educated people to believe in a literal Adam and Eve.

Further related materials from Dr. Dennis Bonnette:

Origin of the Human Species (book from amazon)

Origin of the Human Species (website)

"Must Human Evolution Contradict Genesis?"

"Did Darwin Prove Genesis a Fairy Tale?"

"Books on Evolution"

"A Philosophical Critical Analysis of Recent Ape-Language Studies" (+ Part II)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Judas as One of the "Elect" and "Elect Angels": Biblical Conundrum for Calvinists?


To some extent this is a problem for everyone. Catholics agree with Calvinists that those who are elect are the ones who are eschatologically saved: who will go to heaven in the afterlife (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church: #1045: "The beatific vision, in which God opens himself in an inexhaustible way to the elect, will be the ever-flowing well-spring of happiness, peace, and mutual communion."). We, too, believe in the election of the righteous, or those saved in the end (both Thomists and Molinists accept this), or predestination (though we hold it in a paradoxical "both/and" tension with free will). So in that sense, the Catholic, too, has to explain these references that include Judas, as somehow an exception to the rule. It's "weird" any way we look at it.

The relevant difference between the two systems in this regard is that Calvinists (unlike Catholics) believe in double predestination, or the predestination of the damned / reprobate as well as the saved. So the particular Calvinist difficulty is to explain how Judas could be described in a class of those who are "elect" if in fact he was predestined from eternity to be damned. It seems that (granting these presuppositions) he would never have been described that way at all.

But the Catholic can more easily say that there might perhaps be some conditionality to the term "elect" -- at least in some cases, since we (along with Protestant Arminians, Wesleyans, etc.) believe that a person can lose justification and salvation, should they decide to consciously turn away from and reject the God they once served. Perhaps then (I'm not asserting this but simply thinking aloud), "elect" in Judas' case is analogous to a person who is justified and then loses his justification and right standing with God (and ultimately, salvation) due to sin and rebellion. Before we examine this matter further, let's take a look at the relevant biblical passages (RSV):


(Strong's word #1588)

Matthew 22:14 For many are called, but few are chosen.

Matthew 24:22,24,31 And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. . . . [24] For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. . . . [31] and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (cf. Mark 13:20,22,27)

Luke 18:7 And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?

Romans 8:33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies;

Romans 16:13 Greet Rufus, eminent in the Lord, also his mother and mine.

Colossians 3:12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience,

2 Timothy 2:10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory.

Titus 1:1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness,

1 Peter 1:1-2 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, . . . [2] chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit . . .

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

2 John 1:1 The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth,

2 John 1:13 The children of your elect sister greet you.

Revelation 17:14 they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.

(Strong's word #1589)

Acts 9:15 But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel;

Romans 9:11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad, in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call,

Romans 11:5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. . . . [7] What then? Israel failed to obtain what it sought. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened,

Romans 11:28-29 As regards the gospel they are enemies of God, for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. [29] For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.

1 Thessalonians 1:4 For we know, brethren beloved by God, that he has chosen you;

2 Peter 1:10 Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall;

(Strong's word #4899)

1 Peter 5:13 She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark.

(Strong's word #1586)

Mark 13:20 And if the Lord had not shortened the days, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.

Luke 6:13 And when it was day, he called his disciples, and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles;

John 6:70-71 Jesus answered them, "Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?" [71] He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was to betray him. (cf. 6:64: ". . . Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him.")

John 13:18 I am not speaking of you all; I know whom I have chosen; it is that the scripture may be fulfilled, `He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.'

John 15:16,19 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you . . . [19] . . . I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

Acts 1:2 . . . the apostles whom he had chosen.

Acts 1:24 And they prayed and said, "Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen

Ephesians 1:4
even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
It's fairly obvious that all these words are synonymous. Scripture usually brings out its own intended meanings via cross-referencing of this sort. Eklektos and eklegomai both appear in a single passage:

Mark 13:20 And if the Lord had not shortened the days, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect [eklektos], whom he chose [eklegomai], he shortened the days.
The "elect" are, simply, the ones whom Jesus has "chosen." Other Scriptures show that this election is from eternity (1 Peter 1:2; Eph 1:4; cf. Rom 8:29-30: "foreknew"; "predestined"; "called"). The immediate difficulty stems from those passages under eklegomai above that include Judas as one of the twelve elected / chosen disciples (Lk 6:13; Jn 6:70 -- it mentions Judas in particular --; Jn 15:16,19). John 13:18 implies (?) that Judas was not chosen, using the same Greek word, which means that there are either multiple applications of the word (as is usually the case in Scripture) or that Jesus contradicted Himself (which most observant Christians would reject), or that there was a later interpolation not attributable to Jesus Himself (rejected also by most biblical exegetes who accept, as I do, the text of the Bible at face value). John Calvin recognizes that it is at least potentially a problem for his own system of double predestination and provides his own answer for this:
In elsewhere numbering Judas among the elect, though he was a devil (John 6:70), he refers only to the apostolical office, which though a bright manifestation of divine favor (as Paul so often acknowledges it to be in his own person), does not, however, contain within itself the hope of eternal salvation. Judas, therefore, when he discharged the office of Apostle perfidiously, might have been worse than a devil; but not one of those whom Christ has once ingrafted into his body will he ever permit to perish, for in securing their salvation, he will perform what he has promised; that is, exert a divine power greater than all (John 10:28). For when he says, “Those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition,” (John 17:12), the expression, though there is a catachresis in it, is not at all ambiguous. The sum is, that God by gratuitous adoption forms those whom he wishes to have for sons; but that the intrinsic cause is in himself, because he is contented with his secret pleasure.

(Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter 22, Chapter 7)
This is interesting, since Calvin states that even an apostle may eventually be lost. That means that (in his system) he was predestined to be lost (it can't be otherwise for Calvin and Calvinists), in which case he was never elected at all (yet Scripture says he was), and therefore could not possibly do any good thing of his own volition (according to total depravity). I respond to this: "if an apostle -- chosen by God Himself -- is not necessarily elect, then how can we know that anyone who is (ostensibly) justified or regenerated will persevere to the end?" And that has implications for the entire Calvinist theological edifice of TULIP, imputed justification, etc. (though in fairness, I note that Calvin taught that we cannot know for sure who is and is not of the elect).

The fact remains that one whom God "elected" fell away. Scripture doesn't say that Judas was predestined for reprobation from eternity. It simply says that Jesus "chose" (eklegomai) him. He was chosen in the same sense as the other disciples, so this couldn't have been in the sense of predestined reprobation (since the others appear to have been of the elect in the standard sense of "saved"). As I said above, these difficulties are not just Calvinist ones. Catholics also have to consistently incorporate this data. But I think Calvinists have relatively more difficulty because of how they construe double predestination and reject the notion that anyone could be truly chosen and in the fold, and then fall away (perseverance of the saints). Calvin raises another interesting question as well, by mentioning John 17:12:

John 17:11-12 And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. [12] While I was with them, I kept them in thy name, which thou hast given me; I have guarded them, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled.
So now we have God the Father in on the election process (which would follow anyway, as His will and the Son's are unified at all times). If one of the very disciples can be "elected" and "given" by God the Father and called, yet fall away and be lost, then is this not troublesome for the Calvinist system, which holds that God predestines from eternity wholly apart from men's free will decisions, and that no man can overcome that; he cannot fall away, once having been so called and predestined? We don't have that difficulty because we accept both free will and the possibility of apostasy (while we reject Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism: the notions that men can save themselves, as opposed to salvation being totally from God's grace: sola gratia).

Perhaps Calvin or Calvinists (following Jesus Himself in Jn 13:18 and 17:12) would point out that this was so that Scripture and prophecy would be fulfilled (Jesus was to be betrayed), but that (while true) doesn't alleviate the difficulty because we can then retort that if this is the case here, why could it not be in any number of situations, in God's providence, where He incorporates men's free will decisions of good or ill into His plan? What is to stop anyone from concluding that if this includes Judas' defection, "that the scripture might be fulfilled", why could not many other conceivable situations of apostasy, "that the scripture might be fulfilled"? It's true that exceptions don't usually disprove the rules they contradict, but too many exceptions can cast doubt at least upon the universality or sole application of a supposed rule in one fashion. Again, I am mostly speculating; not taking any ironclad position. Mostly I find this interesting to ponder.

Another fascinating line of inquiry has to do with the angels. St. Paul states:

1 Timothy 5:21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect [eklektos] angels I charge you to keep these rules without favor, doing nothing from partiality.
If God elected angels, then He must have not elected the fallen angels. But if even the fall of Satan and his demons was predestined by God, so that it couldn't have been otherwise (just as Calvinists say God does with the reprobate), then they had no free will either. And this has momentous implications. The Westminster Confession, adhered to by many Calvinists (especially Presbyterians) seems to assert this (to Catholic ears, rather extreme, bizarre, and troubling) state of affairs:
I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; . . .

III. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.

IV. These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.

(Chapter III: Of God's Eternal Decree)
If God predestined the very existence of evil, entailing that Satan didn't freely rebel, but did so because God predestined it, and it couldn't have been otherwise, then it seems that God would be the author of evil. Using the Calvinist understanding of election, all of this, I think, would follow. But under the different Catholic / Arminian / Wesleyan / post-Luther Lutheran systems of (non-Pelagian) free will, this might be construed as another "exceptional" usage of "elect" and not the norm. If it is an exception to the rule, as with the Judas example, then we now have two, leading one to suspect that additional such applications might be possible, and that the rule is much weakened, by virtue of two obvious and major exceptions.

A possible solution, I submit, is the position that I myself hold. In the Molinist understanding of predestination, God takes into account future free will actions of creatures, in His Middle Knowledge (scientia media) and this is a factor in His election or predestination. This doesn't account for the Judas anomaly, but it could account for the phrase elect angels" in a way that doesn't require God predestining the fall of Satan and his demons from eternity, rather than their free choice being the cause.

I welcome discussion on this, as always. As in all issues related to the deep mystery of predestination, I don't claim to have all the answers (not even close), but I think this is a fascinating biblical motif to ponder.