Catholic Statements on Faith and Science and on the Authorship of the Biblical Account of Noah and the Flood

I wish to respond in a thoughtful way to the comments that address the very approach being taken in our adult study of the scripture. The comment seem to make a number of assumptions.  I think one is that a faithful Catholic must choose between religion and science, although in the comment there is a reference to scientists who are brothers and sisters of the faith.  However, there isn’t an American science, or a Russian science, or a Chinese science; nor is there a Christian science, a Muslim science, or a Jewish science, etc.  There is just science.  That is not to say that all of the above persons can be and are scientists.

To read the relevant statement by the authority of the Catholic Church I would direct the reader to the Vatican website on The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church Where we read in Q. 29,

“Why is there no contradiction between faith and science?  Though faith is above reason, there can never be a contradiction between faith and science because both originate in God. It is God himself who gives to us the light both of reason and of faith.”

There are, nonetheless, conflicts in our society between scientists and believers.  The conflicts are quite complex though.  These conflicts reside not in science and in faith but in scientists and believers. They have a long and tortuous history.  Their origins are in that history to which, unfortunately, both the religious and the scientific communities share the blame.  We will move beyond these conflicts only when both communities engage in authentic conversation at both the level of science and the level of theology.  Before we move to a second assumption, you may wish to offer you own thoughts, etc. on the previous couple of paragraphs.

There is, as I understand it, another assumption in the comments.  If we take the time to read carefully the comment, I think it is easy to recognize the passion of the author’s beliefs; a passion that is both honorable and enviable.  It seems to me that such passion is stirred because not to take the bible literally is to “start undermining the word of God;” it is to “give the faithful more reasons to doubt the word and you.” I understand “you” to mean me but I’m not sure.  He adds, “Once you shift Genesis from Moses to other authors you discredit the word and undermine all of scripture.” Ultimately what is at stake as I hear him is the bible itself.

Again let me draw on authoritative Catholic statements.  The most significant encyclical informing Catholic biblical scholarship is Divino Afflante Spiritu [Inspired by the Divine Spirit] issued by Pope Pius XII on Sept. 30, 1943, quite a while ago.  This encyclical inaugurated the modern period of Roman Catholic Biblical studies.  The Catholic biblical scholar Father Raymond E. Brown described it as a ‘Magna Carta for biblical progress.’ There is a whole library of books from Catholic Biblical scholars based on contemporary methodologies.

More to the point of the authorship of the biblical account of Noah and the Flood is the website of United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  There the notes offers the following concerning it authorship,

“[6:58:22] The story of the great flood is commonly regarded as a composite narrative based on separate sources woven together. To the Yahwist source, with some later editorial additions, are usually  assigned  6:58;  7:15,  710,  12,  16b,  17b,  2223;8:2b3a61213b2022. The other sections are usually attributed to the Priestly writer. There are differences between the two sources …” [Bolded added]

It’s just a mistake to think that the only acceptable Roman Catholic interpretation of the scriptures is a literal interpretation.  The vast 2000 year intellectual tradition of Catholic thought underpins a commitment to truth both revealed and grasped naturally.  What has persuaded modern Catholic biblical scholarship is the shear weight of the evidence.

There is another important observation that needs to be made.  If the Catholic Church since at least 1943 approved of the very approach I am taking in our adult scripture study, why does it seem so foreign to so many Catholics and really Christians of many other traditions? The answer to that is a book but in essence it is a cultural and an educational issue.  It is the very reason that I have argued most of my life that what is needed is adult education.

As always your responses are welcomed.

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2 Responses to Catholic Statements on Faith and Science and on the Authorship of the Biblical Account of Noah and the Flood

  1. Dick says:

    I’m not asking you to agree with anything nor am I interested in sighting sources to back up one’s opinion. What I am saying that “It’s just a mistake to think that the only acceptable Roman Catholic interpretation of the scriptures is a literal interpretation.” The single word in my response that matters to me is ONLY. The reason for my providing authoritative Catholic websites was simply to provide evidence that a literal interpretation is not the ONLY acceptable one. If you disagree about that well we will just have to acknowledge that we disagree. Perhaps you just think I am wrong and that is your judgment of me.

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