Evolution and Death: Reply from Father Donald J. Keefe, S.J.

Father Van Hove to Father Keefe:

April 10, 2012

A very fine young lady I met at campus ministry in Mt. Pleasant, MI, is a faithful Catholic, and I asked her to pose in her own words a question which I seemed to have failed to answer to her satisfaction.

If you would have a moment, would you be able to contribute a paragraph or two for her?

Here is the question:

Dear Father ………

Following up on last night’s discussion, here’s my question regarding the relationship between the Church’s doctrine of creation and the theory of evolution vis-a-vis death:

The Church permits members to accept any scientific theory as long as it does not contradict the dogmatic teachings of the Church. It is my understanding that the basic theory of evolution (that is, that evolution is the vehicle through which living things, including man, came to be) is compatible with a Catholic worldview. The Catechism tells us that “death entered the world on account of man’s sin” (CCC 1008; cf. Gen 2:17, 3:3, 3:19;Wisdom 1:13; Rom 5:12; Rom 6:23; DS 1511) and that “the account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man (CCC390, emphasis mine; cf. GS 13.1 and Council of Trent DS 1513), which would seem to indicate that death was not present in creation before man’s sin. However, the theory of evolution seems to necessitate the existence of death from the beginning of creation (rather than when man first sinned),in order that species might evolve via the process of natural selection/survival of the fittest. How then is the acceptance of the theory of evolution compatible with Church teaching?


Reply from Father Donald J. Keefe, S.J.

“The evolving world is the fallen world: its evolution is governed  by the laws of thermodynamics: summarily, by entropy.  It asymptotically approaches a head death, which it will never reach.  The fall was the refusal by the first Adam of an offered headship; since it is the office of headship to be the source of the free unity of the good creation, the refusal of headship is the refusal of free unity for the whole universe which, as absolute, has no mass, hence no intrinsic gravitational unity, of its own.  In brief, the fall is the detonation of the universe at an increasing velocity, a detonation which is consequent upon its lack of mass.  Mass is a relational value between bodies, but the universe, by definition, has no relation to anything at all.

The victory of Christ is his acceptance of headship: thus he is the second Adam, who offered nuptially-ordered headship to the first Adam.  He has restored, in sacrament, the free unity of the universe: the Kingdom of God is an accomplished fact, and the fact is the free reordering of the fallen universe: it is all fallen, and is all redeemed, become the habitable universe, the Kingdom.  We enter into its freedom by entering into the worship of the Church: this requires an intellectual conversion from the pagan flight from an unbearable history into that history of which Jesus Christ is Lord, its Beginning and its End.

This will support a sufficient conversation until I get around to more of the same.  The rudiments are here.”

April 11, 2012

again from Father Keefe, April 13

By way of further clarity and, no doubt, more confusion:

1.  Mass is a relative reality, proper to bodies in a gravitational field. 2. The physical universe by definitionis not in a gravitational field, and consequently has no mass. 3. According to Paul, the fall is dueto the first Adam’s refusal of the free, i.e., nuptial, unity proper tothe headship offered him in the first moment of creation. 4.  There is no other unity thanthis nuptial order; its rejection by the head issues in the detonationof the universe, governed by the laws of thermodynamics: roughly, entropy. 5.   The fallen universe, lackingunity from its first moment, the big bang, has been expanding at an increasingvelocity, now about 2.2 the velocity of light.  This entails a currentradius of the universe estimated at 46 billion light years, about 30 timesthe volume provided by the generally received estimate of 15 billion lightyears. 6.  The unimpeded, i.e., explosive expansion of the universe is an asymptotic drive toward its heat death; as asymptotic, that drive it will never end.  Current attempts to perceive the instant of the detonation are equally asymptotic; access tothe beginning moment is as impossible as access to its conclusion. 7.  The current quest for ‘darkmatter’ and ‘dark energy’ to explain this expansion supposes that the universehas mass, and that in principle it is static. 8.  This supposition is a relic of the era forty or fifty years ago when it was thought that the perceived expansion of the universe would be decelerated to the extent of the mass of the universe, and could be cyclic, given sufficient mass.  It has no foundation.  10.   Attempts to refer to the spiral galaxies as somehow constrained from continual expansion by “darkmatter’ and ‘dark force’ ignore the enormous gravitational effect of the black hole at the center of every spiral galaxy.  It is entirely likely, probably inevitable, that the black holes will absorb the massive bodies which the universe comprises, and then will proceed to coalesce, possibly to comprise the totality of gravitational bodies in the universe.  The universe will remain without mass, again by definition. 11. The victory of Christ is the restoration of the free, i.e., nuptial unity of the good creation, the transformation of the empirical universe into the Kingdom of God.  12.  Entry into the Kingdom is by free entry into salvation history, the only history there is, i.e., significant temporality whose significance is anagogic, a quest for theKingdom of God. 13.  This entry into the anagogic quest for the Kingdom is liturgical: personal participation in the Eucharistic worship of the Church.  14.  Jesus the Lord is the Alpha and the Omega: by his Eucharistic immanence in our fallen universe, he frees it from its immanent necessities (the laws of thermodynamics) bybestowing upon it the freedom whose full expression is the One Sacrifice, by whose Eucharistic immanence in salvation history He is its Lord, transcending all of time as its Alpha and Omega, its Beginning and its End.

To this it may be added that evolution, insofar as bearing on life forms, is anti-entropic (dystropic); inevitably submitted to the fall, it is subject to that dissolution which Paul describes as the dust of death, but the death of living things is never the last word; it is only seasonal, every generation is replaced by the next. . .  Insofar as evolution bears upon the universe itself, it bears upon the fallen universe and, insofar as a process, can only identify with the entropic quest for its heat death, its absolute disintegration.  Inasmuch as evolution looks to integration, not to disintegration, it has no relation to the universe as such: the laws of thermodynamics prevent it absolutely.

If Father…….. suggests the possibility of exceptions to the universality of the Fall.  He will find no ground for them in the Catholic tradition.


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