Answering questions for a potential convert


#1

A person who is interested in converting to Christianity/Catholicism sent me some questions, asking for some answers before he converts.

This is what he had to say:

  1. I believe in evolution. No matter what some people say, evolution make the most sense to me. Surely, someone can interpret the six days of genesis as six times in which God created the world through an evolutionary process. But if so, than isn’t the sequence of these times in Genesis incorrect? On one day God creates the stars, and another day he creates the sun. But isn’t the sun also a star? I also have heard that the bible says that the moon shines (but in reality the moon only reflects the light of the sun). How can you explain these scientific errors in the bible?
  1. I am sure that the most contradictions in the bible are very easy to explain and are just the result of an misunderstanding of the reader. But there are still some contradictions in the bible which cant be explained. For examples the two totally different genealogies of Jesus or the story of the death of Jude. And in the old Testament there are numerous of such contradictions. Is it possible that God allowed errors in the bible? Is the bible still the word of God, even if it contains errors? Or can all contradictions be explained?
  1. Jesus said that he didn’t know when the day of judgment will happen. But according to Christian theology he is God, and God is all-knowing. So how can he be God, when he isn’t all-knowing? The only explanations I have heard were that Jesus did not want to tell it (but that would mean that he was a liar), or that he did not know it because his divine attributes were limited as long as he was in a physical body. Is there any better explanation?

How should I respond?

Thanks.


#2

To question #1, I’d respond that God didn’t intend the Bible to be a science textbook, and there’s nothing in the text that demands a literal 168-hour creation. Catholics are free to believe in an old earth.

As for the geneologies, I’d respond that it’s a relic of the way the geneological reckoning of the ancient Jews was affected by the law of Levirite marriage. Eusegius gave a very good explanation in his History of the Church, written in the 4th Century. See Book 1, Chapter 7. If you like I can PM you a copy of the chapter.

I found that by taking one objection at a time, I was able to whittle them down to almost nothing. When I realized that I’d found convincing answers to 99% of the pile, I figured that I was pretty safe in presuming that there were good answers for the rest of them even though I didn’t know what they were. That’s when I started calling myself a Catholic.


#3

We should always seek to understand the true authorial intent of Genesis and every book of Sacred Scripture, in accord with the literary genre it was written in. Figurative writing should be understood in its figurative sense. We can say, for example, that the “sun is setting” and still also believe scientific theory that the earth orbits the sun. Likewise, a scientist can say the “moon shines” and mean precisely that it shines due to its reflective nature.

Keep in mind, some apparent contradictions within SCIENCE are not (yet) explainable. But that doesn’t mean we dismiss science as bunk. Nor should we dismiss any other field of study simply because all apparent contradictions in that field are not yet resolved.

Consequently, as for the overall notion that there are apparent contradictions in Scripture, I give the following explanation to the teenagers and adults I teach at my parish: God gives us his revelation in two ways: 1) Natural revelation – God speaks through the things he has created, and 2) Supernatural revelation – God speaks directly, supernaturally. Whenever & however God speaks, he always speaks the truth, and nothing but the truth. Whenever we think we have come across an apparent contradiction in what God has spoken, the error is in our failure to properly understand the Author’s intent.[FONT=&quot]

[/FONT] With regard to Divine revelation of the “natural” sort, scientists trust that truth can be discovered by discerning the nature of things. For instance, when observing lightning on particular occasions (particular truth), we can reason or infer things about the truth of lightning in general (general truth). Anyone who has spent any significant time studying science has come across what seem to be “apparent contradictions.” For example, light seems to behave as a particle. However, it also seems to behave like a wave. This wave-particle duality can be an “apparent contradiction” to some, but we accept it as true, although complex and not quite fully understood…a “mystery.” A mystery that gifted men and women may come to understand more deeply after further contemplation, while others may never see past the apparent contradiction. Thus, when scientists encounter apparent contradictions in the study of nature (natural science), we do not presume that nature is fraudulent, filled with error. Instead, we accept a priori that God’s revelation is inerrant. When faced with apparent contradictions in nature, we conclude that we haven’t perfectly understood the truthful material very well*, and therefore we have more work ahead of us.* Scientists accept that there are still things they do not understand. In other words, nature contains some “mysteries” which we are still trying to contemplate. While we are aware that there are “apparent contradictions” in God’s natural revelation to us, we also know that they cannot be true contradictions in nature, but instead result from our own lack of ability, our own failure to understand that revelation properly.

Same thing goes for the Divine revelation of the “supernatural” sort. It is complex. It is filled with mystery. We can sometimes come across “apparent contradictions” which we find perplexing, but we trust that such are the result of a lack of understanding on our part, not characterized by “fraud” on the part of the Author.

In other words, God’s natural revelation and God’s supernatural revelation are not erroneous, but true. There can be no true contradictions within or between them. It would be foolish to accuse the Author of Divine Revelation of error. We instead admit humbly that something in our own understanding must be lacking, and we are called to further contemplation. In this way, it is in God we trust above our own limited talents.

Catholic hermeneutics continue to insist that “if in these Books I meet anything which seems contrary to truth, I shall not hesitate to conclude either that the text is faulty, or that the translator has not expressed the meaning of the passage, or that I myself do not understand.”(St. Augustine, Ep. lxxxii., i. et crebrius alibi., as cited by Pius XI, *Providentissimus Deus, *21).


#4

#1. The sun, moon and stars were all created at the same time.
Genesis 1:16 - And God made two great lights: a greater light to rule the day; and a lesser light to rule the night: and the stars.

As the other poster said, the book of Genesis is not meant to be a science textbook. The moon appears to shine and that’s the way the ancients thought it worked.

#2. Notes from the NAB that might be helpful:
On Matthew’s genealogy: The Son of David, the son of Abraham: two links of the genealogical chain are singled out. Although the later, David is placed first in order to emphasize that Jesus is the royal Messiah. The mention of Abraham may be due not only to his being the father of the nation Israel but to Matthew’s interest in the universal scope of Jesus’ mission; cf Genesis 22:18 “. . . . in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing.”

On Luke’s genealogy: Whereas Matthew 1:2 begins the genealogy of Jesus with Abraham to emphasize Jesus’ bonds with the people of Israel, Luke’s universalism leads him to trace the descent of Jesus beyond Israel to Adam and beyond that to God to stress again Jesus’ divine sonship.

#3. That’s a good question. One that has been plaguing Biblical scholars for thousands of years! Matthew Henry’s commentary suggests, “As to the end of the world, do not inquire when it will come, for of that day and that hour knoweth no man. Christ, as God, could not be ignorant of anything; but the Divine wisdom which dwelt in our Saviour, communicated itself to his human soul according to the Divine pleasure.”


#5

As for the knowledge of Christ, this is a rather advanced topic of theology. It’s kinda like asking a question regarding quantum physics without first having had the prerequisites for understanding the answer.

This actually happened to me as an engineer. A new student asked how come electrons flow faster in some materials when compared to other materials. He was a 1st-year college student. I told him that the answer to that question involves quantum physics and calculus, and he was not yet prepared to understand the answer. He wasn’t very satisfied, but the fact of the matter is, the answer would have taken a long time to explain and he would certainly not have understood the answer. Any “quick” answer would have been rather unsatisfactory to him as well. The only thing that would have satisfied him was the right answer, which took several semesters of math and physics.

Nonetheless, the Catholic Church has grappled with the question about Jesus Christ and how he is both all-knowing in his Divinity and yet limited in knowledge by virtue of his human nature. Much like the “wave-particle duality” of light in natural science, there are theological explanations which are still not fully explicable, as it still involves much mystery, that which is still unknown (as in much of science).

Without getting into a dissertation-length reply (as is my nature :o ), here’s the “quick” commentary on Mark 13:32 from the Haydock Bible commentary:"But how can the Son be ignorant of that last day? Were this the case, we must thence conclude that his nature was imperfect: since he was under the necessity of a second coming, and yet was ignorant when that time should be. But we must remember, that the meaning of this sentence is not, that Christ was really ignorant of this circumstance, but only that it was not then a convenient time to disclose the* secret.* (St. Augustine) — Not as if Christ were ignorant himself, as certain Eutychian heretics, called Agnoitœ, held; but because he knew it not as our teacher, to teach it others, as being not expedient. (St. Ambrose, de fide, lib. v. chap. viii.) — The Son of God is ignorant of this day, not according to his divinity, which sees and knows all things; but according to his humanity, which does not know it of itself, of its own light, but by revelation which is made to it by the divinity, which is intimately united to it. In natura quidem divinitatis novit, says St. Gregory,non ex natura humanitatis. See St. Matthew xxiv. 36."
You can read more here:

Was Jesus ever ignorant of his identity and mission?
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If he’s still unsatisfied (which is quite likely) he will simply have to take several semesters of theology at the post-graduate level to get a fuller explanation. Like science, most explanations are not “sound bite” in length, but take considerable time to learn. In the end, he may still not like[/size][/size][/size] the explanation, but he will learn that–like science–there are theological explanations which adequately resolve the apparent contradiction, while at the same time require more contemplation.

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#6

I don’t believe I saw evolution, so if you believe in evolution that is ok with the Church. If you believe he formed man from clay that’s ok too. The Church leaves it up to science to explain how man got here. If science says it was evolution then that was how God decided to do it. Remember that he created everything, even the laws of physics. Our scientist do not invent the laws of physics, they discover them as God created them.


#7

There are plenty of websites that deal with Bible “contradictions.” You only need to google to find them.


#8

Perhaps another reason why Christ wouldn’t tell His apostles when the end of the world was coming, was “how?” What dating system?


closed #9

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