Guest Submission: Is Biblical Literalism Catholic?

By Bill Crofut

Some Protestants have been given a label outside my previous experience:

…[T]he Reformers were…“voluntarist” (emphasis mine) as theologians [who] willingly accorded to God the freedom to be unreasonable and inconsistent…God…starts by creating creatures with reason, then He has them use their reason to investigate the nature that He has created, and finally He tells them (by means of a literal reading of the Bible) that what their reason has discovered is wrong. This puts His creatures in a dilemma: do I accept my reason or my God?” [1]

It’s unclear to me what is meant by that definition. [2] However, the Lord, Jesus Christ, teaches: “…with God all things are possible.” (St. Matthew 19:26) On the other side, St. Paul teaches: “…it is impossible for God to lie…” [3] That teaching would seem to confirm the veracity of Scripture; it is impossible for God, the Holy Ghost, to lie (deceive) in Revelation even though He works through fallible human authors. That would seem to be the teaching of Pope Leo XIII

The Books of the Old and New Testament, whole and entire, with all their parts, as enumerated in the decree of the same Council (Trent) and in the ancient Latin Vulgate, are to be received as sacred and canonical. And the Church holds them as sacred and canonical, not because, having been composed by human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority; nor only because they contain revelation without error; but because, having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author.” [4]

Pope Leo was quoting the Fathers of the First Vatican Council who, in turn, had confirmed the teaching of the Fathers of the Councils of Florence and Trent. What’s my point? Some of the criticisms leveled against Protestants also apply to me. If the term “voluntarist” were more clear , it might also apply to me. Protestants have been accused of more than voluntarism:

Modern Protestant fundamentalists…attack the principle of uniformitarianism, the fancy name for the assumptions of science…that the laws of the universe are consistent throughout the universe and throughout time…[S]uch Protestants who are labeled with the ambiguous term “creationists,” subscribe to the principle of “Biblical catastrophism” [and] …a literal reading of the Bible…” [1]

Rejection of uniformitarianism applies to me. The reason is, it’s a bedrock dogma of the false, atheistic religious belief system that is evolutionism. What is uniformitarianism? One definition has been provided by Merriam-Webster online dictionary: “uniformitarianism: a geological doctrine that processes acting in the same manner as at present and over long spans of time are sufficient to account for all current geological features and all past geological changes” [5]

The key phrase in that definition for me is “…long spans of time…” According to Prof. Kevin Padian time would seem to be an evolutionary prerequisite: “Deep Time was absolutely necessary to his (Darwin’s) theory, in a way that it had not been for any biological theory before.” [6]

Why refer to evolutionism as a religious belief system? Prof. George Wald would seem to have done so: “The important point is that since the origin of life belongs in the category of at-least-once phenomena, time is on its side….Time is in fact the hero of the plot. The time with which we have to deal is of the order of two billion years. What we regard as impossible on the basis of human experience is meaningless here. Given so much time, the “impossible” becomes possible, the possible probable, and the probable virtually certain. One has only to wait: time itself performs the miracles.” [7]

It’s unclear to me when miracles became part of scientific discourse. Yet, Wald’s unconventional choice aside, hasn’t “deep time” been scientifically confirmed? According to G. Brent Dalrymple, PhD, yes, but his explanation seems unsatisfying: “So far scientists have not found a way to determine the exact age of the Earth directly from Earth rocks…Nevertheless, scientists have been able to determine the probable age of the Solar System and to calculate an age for the Earth by assuming that the Earth and the rest of the solid bodies in the Solar System formed at the same time and are, therefore, of the same age…. The best age for the Earth (4.54 [billion years])…” [8]

Clair C. Patterson, PhD, and his colleagues upstaged Dalrymple by more than 50 years in a published a paper in which the age of Earth was increased from the then-accepted 3.1 billion to 4.5 billion years. The paper is replete with assumptions, mathematical constructs and a concluding warning which would seem to have gone largely unheeded: “It should be recognized that an approximate age value is sufficient and should be viewed with considerable skepticism until the basic assumptions that are involved in the method of calculation are verified.” [9]

An interesting admission was provided by Prof. Gerald A. Kerkut: “There are two main ways of dating rocks: an objective method of using radioactive data and a subjective method by which one analyses the relative position of the rocks and their included fossils and then comes to conclusions concerning the contemporaneity and priority of the different strata. Neither of these methods is completely free from objection…” [10]

A more detailed admission was offered by Prof. Gunther Faure: “I have attempted to present the principles of isotope geology by emphasizing the derivation of mathematical equations that are used in the interpretation of isotopic data. In many instances, the geological significance of the conclusions derived from isotopic studies depends on the assumptions that were made in the calculations. I believe that students will better appreciate the limitations of the results of such calculations when they can follow the derivation of the relevant equations step by step and observe how various assumptions enter into the process. Isotope [11] geology has no place for handy formulas into which one substitutes data to obtain the magic answer.” [12]

Prof. Faure evaluated several of the best known isotopic “dating” methods (i.e., K/Ar or, Potassium/Argon) by exposing the shortfall of each. However, perhaps the most revealing fact of “scientific” dating, the selection process, was revealed by Prof. Akio Hayatsu: “In conventional interpretation of K-Ar age data, it is common to discard ages which are substantially too high or too low compared with the rest of the group or with other available data such as the geological time scale. The discrepancies between the rejected and the accepted are arbitrarily attributed to excess or loss of argon.” [13] What is “uniformitarianism” without vast ages of time? It would seem to be unsubstantiated wishful thinking.

The acceptance of “Biblical catastrophism…a literal reading of the Bible…” [1] is also applicable to me. Specifically, it means acceptance of the Genesis Flood narrative as an accurate account of an historical event. Does that qualify me as a fundamentalist Protestant? Admittedly, the position does put me in the company of some fundamentalist Protestants. However, it’s my intention to demonstrate that it qualifies me as a fundamentalist Traditional Roman Catholic in excellent company within the structure of the Church founded by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Reference has been made to John C. Whitcomb, ThD and Henry M. Morris, PhD [1] two of the better known fundamentalist Protestant Biblical catastrophists and the book they co-authored. [14] They reviewed an example of the apparently discarded notion of “thrust fault” attributed to a feature known as the “Lewis Overthrust,” which has been described as more than 1.4 billion years older than the underlying formation; “…several miles thick…several hundred miles long [with a lateral displacement of] more than 50 miles…” [15] They challenged the notion that a rock formation of that size could be moved that distance given the constraint of friction. The current theory, plate tectonics, is the alleged process that seems to have become the “saviour” of geological mythology (i.e., a be-all-end-all explanation). [16] However, Prof. Sir Karl Popper noted: “A theory that explains everything, explains nothing.” [17] The quote is often used against creationists by evolutionists who seem unaware that the charge also applies to them.

A geological formation, allegedly explained by plate tectonics, that makes the Lewis “Overthrust” pale by comparison, is the Himalaya Mountain range. According to scientists at United States Geological Survey (USGS), the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates collided 40-50 million years ago causing the uplift of the Himalaya range, 2900 km (1800 miles) in length, from the floor of the Sea of Tethys in which it formed, producing, among others, one of the best known mountains on Earth, Mt. Everest, at more than 9 km (5.6 miles; 29,500 feet) in height. [18]

The frictional constraint arguing against the Lewis formation being thrust 50 miles, laterally, over the underlying formation would seem to be miniscule in comparison with an entire mountain chain being thrust into place from the bottom of a sea. What is the reason for the claim that the Himalayas were formed at the bottom of a sea? On a NASA Earth Observatory web page is noted: “The presence of limestone and ocean marine fossils at the top of…the Himalayan Mountains…” [19] That means those mountains were once under the sea.

Skepticism regarding the formation of the Himalaya range by the alleged process of plate tectonics raises the issue of providing an alternative explanation. As a young-Earth creationist and “Biblical catastrophist,” my preferred explanation is the Genesis Flood which would seem to me an event adequate to the task.

As an aside, it seems unreasonable to posit a local flood for the formation of such an extensive geological formation. Why? God commanded Noe, “Make thee an ark of timber planks: thou shalt make little rooms in the ark, and thou shalt pitch it within and without. And thus shalt thou make it. The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits: the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits.” [20] It seems only reasonable that, if the Flood was “local,” God would simply have commanded Noe and his family to move to high ground. Building an Ark, of the dimensions commanded by God would seem a ludicrous waste of time and energy; an activity which would seem contrary to the divine economy.

However, we are assured the Genesis Flood was an actual worldwide historical event from no less than four sources. Firstly, it’s revealed by the Holy Ghost: “And the waters prevailed beyond measure upon the earth: and all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered.” [21]

Secondly, our Lord taught it: “For, as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, even till that day in which Noe entered into the ark: And they knew not till the flood came and took them all away…” [22]

Thirdly, St. Peter confirmed it: “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but delivered them, drawn down by infernal ropes to the lower

hell, unto torments, to be reserved unto judgment: And spared not the original world, but preserved Noe, the eighth person, the preacher of justice, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly.” [23]

Fourthly, Pope Pius XII reaffirmed it:

It may be true that these old writers of sacred history (the first eleven chapters of Genesis) drew some of their material from the stories current among the people of their day. So much may be granted; but it must be remembered on the other side that they did so under the impulse of divine inspiration, which preserved them from all error in selecting and assessing the material they used.

These excerpts from current stories, which are found in the sacred books, must not be put on a level with mere myths, or with legend in general. Myths arise from the untrammelled exercise of the imagination; whereas in our sacred books, even in the Old Testament, a love of truth and a cult of simplicity shine out, in such a way as to put these writers on a demonstrably different level from their profane contemporaries.” [24]

The Genesis Flood proposal raises the issue of Scripture literalism. Why should anyone accept Scripture literally? Pope Benedict XV taught such:

…[W]hen Christ preached to the people, whether on the Mount by the lakeside, or in the synagogue at Nazareth, or in His own city of Capharnaum, He took His points and His arguments from the Bible. From the same source came His weapons when disputing with the Scribes and Pharisees. Whether teaching or disputing He quotes from all parts of Scripture and takes His example from it; He quotes it as an argument which must be accepted. He refers without any discrimination of sources to the stories of Jonas and the Ninivites, of the Queen of Sheba and Solomon, of Elias and Eliseus, of David and of Noe, of Lot and the Sodomites, and even of Lot’s wife…. How solemn His witness to the truth of the sacred books…” [25]

Is Biblical literalism, then, Catholic? Let the reader decide.

NOTES

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture has been taken from: Catholic Bible. (c) 2000 CD. Douay Rheims Translation. Murray, KY: A production of Catholic Software (a company seemingly out of business).

1. Fr. Paul Robinson, SSPX. 2018. Miracles and the Laws of Nature. The Angelus, pp. 63-66.

2. It brings to mind the paradoxical question (in paraphrase), “Can God create a structure so heavy He is unable to lift it?” One response might be a qualified yes: “And going out, they found a man of Cyrene, named Simon: him they forced to take up his cross.” (St. Matthew 27:32).

3. Hebrews 6:18

4. Pope Leo XIII. 1893. PROVIDENTISSIMUS DEUS, Section 20, http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Leo13/l13provi.htm

5. Online dictionary, © 2019 Merriam-Webster, Incorporated

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/uniformitarianism

6. 2008. Darwin’s enduring legacy. NATURE, Vol. 451, p. 633.

7. 1954. THE ORIGIN OF LIFE. SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, August, p. 48.

8. 2007. AGE OF THE EARTH, https://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/geotime/age.html

9. C. Patterson, G. Tilton and M. Inghram. 1955. Age of the Earth. Science, 21 January, p. 75.

10. 1960. Implications of evolution, p. 137,

https://archive.org/stream/implicationsofev00kerk/implicationsofev00kerk_djvu.txt

11. “Atoms of the same element can have different numbers of neutrons; the different possible versions of each element are called isotopes.” http://www.colorado.edu/physics/2000/isotopes/

12. 1986. Principles of Isotope Geology, Second Edition. New York: John Wiley & Sons, p. viii.

13. 1979. K-Ar Isochron Age of the North Mountain Basalt, Nova Scotia. CANADIAN JOURNAL OF EARTH SCIENCES, April, p. 974.

14. 1961. The Genesis Flood. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing.

15. https://ipfs.io/ipfs/QmXoypizjW3WknFiJnKLwHCnL72vedxjQkDDP1mXWo6uco/wiki/Lewis_Overthrust.html

16. https://www.britannica.com/science/plate-tectonics

17. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/888934-a-theory-that-explains-everything-explains-nothing

18. https://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/dynamic/himalaya.html

19. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/3499/mt-everest

20. Genesis 6:14-15.

21. Genesis 7:19.

22. St. Matthew 24:38-39

23. 2 Peter 2:4-5.

24. Pope Pius XII. 1950. HUMANI GENERIS: Encyclical Letter on FALSE TRENDS IN MODERN TEACHING promulgated 12th August. In: FALSE TRENDS IN MODERN TEACHING. 1961. London: Catholic Truth Society, section 8; also, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_12081950_humani-generis_en.html

25. Pope Benedict XV. 1920. Encyclical SPIRITUS PARACLITUS, Section 29, http://www.papalencyclicals.net/ben15/b15spiri.htm

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