He Created Each Thing According to Its Kind

Author: Christoph Cardinal Schönborn

He Created Each Thing According to Its Kind

Christoph Cardinal Schönborn

Third catechesis by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn on December 4, 2005 in the cathedral of St. Stephan in Vienna. Translated by Prof. John F. Crosby.

In the second catechesis we dealt in general with our faith in God as creator: "In the beginning God created heaven and earth." According to this faith, all that exists owes its being to the sovereign act of the creator, who does not have to create. We profess this in the Creed when we profess our belief in the one God, the Father and Creator of heaven and earth.

But things get more difficult as soon as we try to approach the matter more closely and ask what all of this means concretely. According to Genesis 1, the first chapter of the Bible, God created everything "according to its kind." Does this mean that God performed for each kind a distinct act of creating? This was the belief for centuries, into the 18th and 19th century: the different kinds are unchangeable and each is created separately by God. The idea of a "transformation of kinds" arose in the 19th century: the kinds have gradually developed from the simplest beginnings to the highly complex mammals and to man; the kinds are not unchangeable and there are good natural explanations for the way in which they have come into being.

Darwin's main work is called The Origin of Species, which I repeat is an epoch-making work, a classic, even if there is much in it that can be criticized. At the end of the Introduction to the work Darwin sums up as follows his main concerns and the core of his theory:

I am fully convinced that species are not immutable; but that those belonging to what are called the same genera are lineal descendants of some other and generally extinct species, in the same manner as the acknowledged varieties of any one species are the descendants of that species. Furthermore, I am convinced that Natural Selection has been the most important, but not the exclusive, means of modification. (Darwin, The Origin of Species, Modern Library edition, p. 14)

After struggling honestly and intensely with his earlier, biblically-based view that, as he put it, "each kind is separately created," Darwin broke with it. In a letter to his friend, Joseph D. Hooker, he wrote in 1844 that "it is like confessing a murder" to give up the idea that the natural kinds are created as fixed and unchangeable by God, and to develop in its place the idea of the kinds emerging in a very natural way without "any particular creative acts of God."

This is the dramatic situation in which Darwin went public with his ideas and had tremendous success with them. Many say today that his theory is no longer just a theory but rather a fact. Some react in an overly sensitive and irritable way if anyone calls Darwin's theory into question or even just asks questions about it. The debate of the last months has shown clearly that there is still plenty of room for questions and that it is necessary to allow questions to surface. It has also shown that critical questions are raised not only by quarrelsome folks or "narrow-minded fundamentalists," but also by serious scholars probing and searching for truth. In doing this they are performing a real service to the objective issues, for nothing is worse for science than to prohibit questioning and searching.

Today I want to make a bold attempt: I want to examine the creation account in the first chapter of Genesis, searching not for its scientific teaching, for it is surely not a scientific text in the sense of modern natural science, but searching for the fundamental message that engages our critical reflection and is thus important for the dialogue with science.

A look at the message of the biblical creation account Genesis 1:11-13 has this to say about the third day of creation:

And God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth." And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.

As we know, there follows the fourth day of creation on which the stars are created as "lights on the dome of heaven." (But on the first day of creation light was created according to Genesis. Let us think here of Haydn's Creation and of the wonderful moment in which the light is created.) Then follow the fifth and sixth day of creation, on which the animals in the water and on land come into being and on which finally man is created.

And God said, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens." So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day. And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds." And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:20-27)

This text clearly does not represent a document of natural science. That is not the intention of sacred scripture. Let me quote for you a beautiful passage from St. Augustine's tract against Felix the Manichean:

In the Gospel we do not read that the Lord said: I send you the Holy Spirit so that He might teach you all about the course of the sun and the moon. The Lord wanted to make Christians, not astronomers. You learn at school all the useful things you need to know about nature. It is true that Christ said that the Holy Spirit will come to lead us into all truth, but He is not speaking there about the course of the sun and the moon. If you think that knowledge about these things belongs to the truth that Christ promised through the Holy Spirit, then I ask you: how many stars are there? I say that such things do not belong to Christian teaching...whereas you affirm that this teaching includes knowledge about how the world was made and what takes place in the world. (St. Augustine, Contra Felicem Manichaeum, 1, 10 (PL 42, 525)

So we see that already St. Augustine shows that we can confidently leave to science the explanation of the "how" of things; for it is not the intention of Christ to teach us about that. Does it not then follow that we should make a clean separation between, on the one hand, faith and its documents, the Bible, the magisterium of the Church, and the reflection on faith that is theology, and on the other hand, the natural sciences with their methods, hypotheses, theories, and results? But we cannot separate these things quite so sharply. After all, both faith and science have to do with life. The great theologian Karl Rahner writing back in 1959 made a point of telling theologians that they "cannot act as if scientific questions and scientific knowledge can have no points of contact with theological questions and theological knowledge." The same holds of course for scientists. This is why I have to reject the admonishment of certain scientists who want me to keep out of these questions. I acknowledge that I have no special training in natural science, but I think that I know a little something about theology, and I think that we do well to put questions to each other, to enter into a dialogue in which we help each other. After all, the questions at issue concern all of us. This is why there should be no prohibition on any kind of inquiring, thinking, criticizing, or conversing. I am, therefore, happy that the discussion concerns these questions.

Once again: the Bible is not a scientific report and it does not offer a theory about the origin of the world and the development of the natural kinds. But the scientific way of looking at the emergence of the kinds is not our one and only access to reality. I think that we have to stress again and again that there are very various ways of approaching reality, and that these ways include philosophy, art, religion, and science. One of them is not more important than the other, for they are just different approaches to the same reality. The Bible is not a scientific textbook, but it nevertheless gives us an access to reality. Thus I will try to "draw out" of this first chapter of Genesis several statements about reality. Corresponding to the seven days of creation — six during which God worked and one on which He rested — I will want to formulate seven points and give some consideration to them with you.

1. Everything that is, is created. That is the first fundamental statement of the Bible about reality. It is the basis for everything else. Nothing that is exists "through itself." Nothing that is has made itself, nothing has created itself. The question whether there exists something like "self-organization" is much discussed in the natural sciences. There may in fact be something like the phenomenon of self-organization. Let me refer to a book by the Austrian Erich Jantsch, who taught in Berkeley; it is entitled The Self-organization of the Universe: From the Big Bang to the Human Spirit (Munich, 1979). But nothing has through itself being or the power of acting. The apostle Paul once said something that was addressed to human beings but might be addressed to all of creation: "What do you have that you have not received?" (1 Cor. 4:7) That is the first truth that the Bible teaches us. And it is a truth that is to a certain degree quite available to human reason. I do not exist through myself, and the realities that surround me do not exist through themselves. I will return to this again and again in the following catecheses.

2. We find in the world a tremendous multiplicity: of human beings, of creatures, of stars, of beings on our planet, of living beings, whether plants or animals. The basic message of the first page of the Bible is this: this multiplicity is good, it is willed by God, it comes from the will of the Creator. This is a familiar teaching for biblically trained ears, but it is not a familiar teaching in the history of human thought. We have only to look a little into this history in order to discover two basic directions of thought that arrive at entirely different results. In the intellectual history of mankind it has always been necessary to deal with the indisputable fact of multiplicity. Why does there exist a multiplicity? If we are not to rest satisfied with the obvious observation that there is in fact a multiplicity, then we have to go deeper and ask where the many things come from. One intellectual tradition says that the many is a sign of some kind of "mishap," some "primordial mishap." Originally there was unity, the One. This unity was broken by the "primordial mishap" and so there came about the multiplicity of beings. The One poured over into the many and was dissolved. We find this intellectual tradition mainly in neo-Platonism and also in what is called Gnosticism, which is widespread even today. For this tradition multiplicity is a sign of falling away, of decline and decay, and the farther we depart from unity, the weaker and the more multitudinous the world becomes, until it reaches the outer limit, which according to neo-Platonism is matter, which is taken to be something entirely negative. Multiplicity is the expression of a decadent and negative state of affairs, which really ought not to exist. This is why in this tradition the task is always to take back the multiplicity and to return to unity; the many have to be gathered together again so as to be reduced to unity.
I think we find — but I say this with caution — a species of this tradition in the Buddhist worldview. I speak cautiously, since I surely do not know this world view well enough. But so far as I can tell this great religious tradition of Asia treats the multiplicity of the world as "maya," deception, illusion.

There is another perspective that has been popularized by evolutionism and to such an extent that we feel it in our bones and take it for granted, as if it were too obvious to be questioned. I refer to the assertion, which for many people is a conviction, that the multiplicity of living beings is not the expression of rational ordering, of a will, of a plan of creation, but is the product of accident. Accident and necessary laws interact in accidental changes and in their chances of surviving in the struggle for existence, and this produces the great multiplicity that extends into all the nooks and crannies of the world — into whatever places life can develop in some way. The multiplicity of life, on this view, is the result of the endless play of accidental changes and of their equally accidental chances for survival. It sometimes happens that an accidental change has a good chance of surviving and of establishing itself. This is the way in which the incomprehensible and almost infinite abundance of life forms has arisen and has populated all imaginable corners of the earth.

In his famous work Darwin constantly polemicizes against the idea that we have to have recourse to some plan of creation in order to explain the multiplicity of natural kinds. He is looking for the clearest and most natural explanation possible. He wants to find a sufficient explanation that does not require any recourse to creative acts. We have to say that this procedure is entirely legitimate. Even if Darwin thinks he is committing a "murder" by feeling obliged to overcome his inherited religious convictions, it is entirely legitimate. Scientific method seeks natural causes; it tries to give the most complete explanation of the facts by means of natural causes. This methodological restricting of attention to natural causes is the reason for the progressive success of precisely this method, which has after all accomplished tremendous things. A danger arises only when one forgets the limits of this method and thinks that through it we see everything. In reality one sees with great precision only a narrow segment of reality by means of it, and one should not take this segment for the whole of reality.

The biblical view shows a multiplicity which is neither a mishap nor an accident, but rather the expression of the nature and will of God. St. Thomas Aquinas, the great doctor of creation, asks himself in one place whether the multiplicity and variety of things in the world derives from God. He discusses the doctrine of accident that was held by the atomists and materialists in the ancient world, and he says in opposition to it that multiplicity corresponds to the inmost intention of the creator, that God wanted a world full of variety. Whereas the atomist Democritus said that multiplicity is the result of the accidental play of matter, St. Thomas says that God intended just such a creation.

For He brought things into being in order that His goodness might be communicated to creatures, and be represented by them; and because His goodness could not be adequately represented by one creature alone, He produced many and diverse creatures, that what was wanting to one in the representation of the divine goodness might be supplied by another. For goodness, which in God is simple and uniform, in creatures is manifold and divided. (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, 47, 1)

In other words, no one creature suffices to reflect God. It takes the whole fullness to make manifest God's abundance. The multitude of creatures is the many-sided expression of God's goodness. But this has an implication of fundamental importance: according to our faith in creation, creatures are altogether something positive. In the Book of Wisdom we read in one place: "You do not hate any of your creatures." There is no such thing as a negative creature. All creatures have their own proper value, their own proper goodness. Each creature, whether star or stone, whether plant or tree, whether animal or man, reflects in its own way the perfection and goodness of God. Each has a dignity of its own, a power of acting of its own, a fact to which we will return. Our faith in creation thus implies a positive view of creation and of all its manifestations at all its levels. We will have still to make a point of asking: if that is so, why is there in this good creation so much brutality and so much that is negative?

Evolutionism as a world-view (and not as a scientific theory) has a harder time with the multiplicity of creation. It says that everything is in flux, that there are not really any kinds, any species, and that things do not really haves any being of their own. What we consider as kinds and as individuals within the kinds are said to be momentary phases in the great river of evolution. Nothing has being in its own right, nothing is there for its own sake, everything is just an event of transition occurring in the great tide of evolution. Each thing is just a lucky hit that, being fitter than other things, had the good fortune to survive. In my view this is a very inadequate view of the multiplicity of creation. We get an intimation of something more whenever we marvel at the multiplicity of nature and admire the many different kinds of things in it. Above all I think that evolutionism as a world-view cannot really explain why, if everything is temporary and transitional in the flow of evolution, anything has value in its own right.

3. A third point emerges from the biblical creation-account: the multiplicity is ordered. The question as to what exactly a "kind" of living being is, as when we speak of "each thing according to its kind," has always been a difficult question. What does this mean? While there may be certain gray areas where the boundaries between the kinds are difficult to discern, it is nevertheless easy to see the difference between the two kingdoms of living beings, the plants and the animals; these are clearly distinct. The Bible distinguishes quite clearly between plants and trees, on the one hand, and the swarming of living beings in the water and of birds in the air and of all kinds of animals, on the other hand. Each according to its own kind, all the way up to man. It is surely a certainty of experience that there are kinds: a cat is not an elephant and a dog is not a mouse. Even less is a tree a bird or a human being an ape (or an ape a human being, for that matter!). What explains these different kinds? Did God create each one of them separately, the daisy and the gingko tree, the hippo and the squirrel? We come here upon an ancient question of human thought, a question that evolutionism can also not avoid. We can always only look at individual beings, at this dog or that fir tree, but we cannot in the same way see "mankind" or "cat" or "fir tree." We touch here on the ancient debate about universals, a debate that has resounded here in the cathedral of St. Stephen: do "mankind" and "cat" exist or are they just bare names, as Umberto Eco says in the final sentence of his famous book, The Name of the Rose, that is, just linguistic designations? According to nominalism, which was once very strong here in Vienna (the famous carved stone pulpit in Stephansdom gives striking visual evidence of this doctrine in the 15th century with its portrayal of fundamental skepticism) we cannot really know anything, we just feel our way in the dark by naming things. Is there such a thing as "man" taken as a kind, a species? I have the impression that scientists do not like this question, that they avoid it as being too philosophical. It leads inescapably into metaphysics, which is something rather difficult. It is also difficult for the discussion about evolution and the origin of the different kinds. Is there any such thing as a "kind," or in other words, are there any such things as "essences"? This is not a purely academic question. We will meet it again and again, as when we ask whether man is really the "crown of creation." This is the question whether man is essentially different from the animals or whether he is simply a variant of the animals that has come about by accident. The same kind of question can be asked about the transition from lifeless matter to life and also about the transition from plant to animal.

In everyday life we take it for granted that these are essential differences, our common sense tells us that a plant is not an animal. The meat that I ate today for lunch comes from an animal. You may think that eating meat is not pleasant or not healthy or is reprehensible, but the butcher can nevertheless sell meat and kill animals for this purpose. But he may not kill human beings. A vegetarian refuses to eat or kill animals, but is not opposed to eating plants. A head of lettuce cannot stay alive once it is cut off from the stem. But this is rightly regarded as a less serious way of acting upon nature than the killing of an animal. Plant, animal, man — these three kingdoms differ essentially one from another, even if there are cases in which one cannot easily discern which kingdom a living being belongs to. We need to give this attention to the essential differences if we are going to be able really to know things. I see you sitting here in the cathedral and you see me standing here. Although I do not personally know many of you, I am absolutely certain that you are human beings. That is not a laborious construction of my mind but a certainty; I grasp with certainty that you are humans and not animals or plants.

When we agree with the Bible in saying that God created man in His image and likeness, then we are also saying that He created something new, something different from the world of plants and animals, even if all three are deeply related one with another. But how can we give an account of the belief that this something new is the work of the creator, that His creative will is expressed in the place that man has in nature? Does St. Francis's "Song of the Sun" express just pious sentiment or does it express reality? Is it only a language-game played by devout souls, or does an "intelligent design of God in the world," as Pope Benedict XVI put it (in his General Audience of November 13, 2005), underlie creation in its kingdoms, orders, and kinds?

Darwin wanted to show that no creative plan underlies "the origin of the species," but that there is simply a genealogical tree of descent that reaches from the smallest beginnings up to man. Everything developed from the first seed. Though this view is extraordinarily fascinating and has become very popular, it remains questionable in many ways. (Cf. Darwin, The Origin of Species, ch. 14)

Karl Popper, the famous philosopher of science, said: "Neither Darwin nor any Darwinist has yet provided an adequate causal explanation, that is, a scientific explanation of the adaptive evolution of a single organism or organ. They have only shown that evolution is theoretically possible." (Popper, Objective Knowledge: an Evolutionary Approach.)

Darwin says in one place in his great work: "Why is not every geological formation and every layer charged with such links? ...geological research...does not yield the infinitely many fine gradations between past and present species required on the theory; and this is the most obvious of the many objections which may be urged against it." (Darwin, The Origin of Species, 356.) He refers here to the famous "missing links." If it is true that everything has developed from the first seed, then there should be innumerable transitional forms, and one has to say that they have just not yet been found.

4. In the creation account we not only read of the creation of the kinds ("each according to its kind"), but also of a "movement upwards": first the plants, then the animals, and finally man. There is an "ascent" from plants to trees, from "things swarming in the water" to the birds and the land animals, and finally to man. The theory of evolution also speaks of a "movement upwards": from the first single-cell creatures to the fish, the reptiles, the land animals, from the apes to human beings. Why does biological complexity increase over time? A biologist friend of mine used to tell me that it is far more likely according to Darwin's theory that only viruses and bacteria should survive, being better equipped than higher creatures for the "struggle for existence."

Why does man stand at the end of this ascending line? Only he can look back. We can look back at this line at the head of which we stand and we can see that the development leading to us is meaningful. Only we have the gift of distinguishing, of rationally understanding this development. It has a teleological direction; and yet the theory of evolution has a hard time dealing with this teleological direction of evolution. I want to speak about this in one of the next catecheses.

5. If we meditate with the Church on the Bible we are led again and again to the question whether the only alternative is either to assume the creator and ascribe all becoming to Him alone, or else to reduce everything to purely natural material causes. Darwin seems to deal with this alternative: either the creator or accident. Thus he says at the end of his work: "Very important authors seem to be entirely satisfied with the idea of an independent creation of the individual kinds. But in my view the idea that the coming to be and passing away of the kinds results from secondary causes, agrees better, given our present level of knowledge, with the laws stamped on matter by the creator." (Darwin, The Origin of Species.) So no creator of particular species or kinds, just natural causes. Do we have to accept this either-or? Let us notice something about the biblical creation-account: we read that God commanded the earth saying, "let the earth put forth vegetation" (Genesis 1:11) and so "the earth brought forth vegetation"; that God commanded the water saying, "let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures" (Genesis 1:20); and finally that God commanded the earth saying, "let the earth bring forth living creatures" (Genesis 1:24). Does this not mean that God can also work through the earth? The classical Christian teaching says that God creates not only being but also the power of acting efficaciously. We can be co-creators. We have not only received being but also the gift of acting efficaciously at our level. All of this points to something that is essential to the Christian understanding of creation: the creator gives His creatures not only being but also the power of acting. He gives being unconditionally by creating from nothing, but He makes His creatures co-creators by giving them the laws, the powers, and the capacity for acting on their own. This is without any doubt the greatness of the biblical and Christian idea of creation.

So it is entirely compatible with our faith in creation that the "secondary causes" of Darwin, that is the natural causes, are an expression of the activity of the creator. There is a very well known case of this compatibility, a case to which we all owe our existence. I refer to the collaboration of our parents, who generated us, with the creator, who created us. Each human being is created immediately by God. And yet the indispensable condition for our coming into existence is the fact that our parents generated us. Here we see how the "secondary causes" of Darwin work together with the activity of the creator. Is it not meaningful to assume that this happens at all levels of creation, even at the lowest, so that there is a working together of God and creature even in the most elementary particles of matter? We believe and profess that every human being is immediately created by God, that his "I" and his "self," his being a person comes from the creator, who calls him into being for his own sake. This definitely happens, however, through the "secondary causality" of the parents generating a child. I realize that we are here probing deep and mysterious relations, which cost us no small intellectual effort.

6. The creation-account says something else: through the one Creator, by whose creative hand all creatures have come forth, all of them are united among themselves. The bond of creaturehood binds together all creatures. For He created everything, the stars and the mountains, the seas and the rivers, life in all its forms. Since everything is created, everything is also united. An indissoluble solidarity of creatures prevails in creation. Even man is "only" a creature and has creaturehood in common with a fly and with water. The pathos of the Darwinian model is strongly animated by this fundamental feeling of solidarity with the whole of creation. We are a part of creation. Darwin speaks of the "shared descent that forms the invisible bond that all students of nature have unconsciously sought" (The Origin of Species, ch. 14.) He thought that he could find this bond without a creator and that he could show this solidarity better without acknowledging any activity of a creator. He saw in the fact that all living beings belong to the same genealogical line an idea that fired his imagination, and in this we can only agree with him. It is indeed wonderful and uplifting to realize what all creatures have in common.

I have the suspicion that modern philosophy since Descartes has radically separated man from the rest of nature, opposing him as a spiritual being to nature. Darwin takes man back into nature, saying that man is a child of the same nature that has brought forth everything else. But Darwin took a step in the wrong direction insofar as he went too far and lost sight of what distinguishes man.

7. The creation account points us in the right direction when it speaks of the seventh day, the day of rest. Creation has a goal. In man creation gains knowledge of its creator. It can recognize Him and praise Him. The sabbath rest brings out the goal of creation. This is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church says simply and clearly: "The world was created for the glory of God" (293-294).

There is much that we might say on this great subject. Let us make just one point, which will also serve to conclude this catechesis and to introduce the next one. The great Swiss zoologist Adolf Portmann, whom I regard as one of the most intellectually stimulating opponents of ideological Darwinism, agreed with Darwin about many of his observations, but he also pointed out clearly Darwin's deficiencies, especially "Darwinism's obsession with means-end relations," as Joachim Illies put it in his biography of Portmann. Illies also wrote that the world of organic life is "full of non-purposeful beauty, patterns without practical value, essence that presents itself without any survival value — inexplicable and hence meaningless and offensive for the well-ordered mechanistic interpretation of reality." This beauty free of all practical purpose, these splendid patterns that are never visible and have no usefulness but are simply a manifestation of beauty, "selflessly" pouring themselves out: we understand their meaning only when we see creation in terms of its goal of praising the creator.

Perhaps it will help in the debate about "intelligent design" to remember that there is in creation something like "artistic design." Perhaps by considering this purpose-free profusion of beauty we will better realize what is at issue in the critique of evolutionism as a materialistic metaphysics. Perhaps music, which is like science in being strictly mathematical, will help us to transcend the horizon of materialism and so to become open for the melody of the creator.

(© Kardinal Christoph Schönborn)