Literality of Scriptures


Hello, I had some questions about discussing scriptures, evolution, etc. with people that take the Bible wholly literally. I recently heard about a speaker coming to a nearby town that will be discussing why evolution is not a reality, etc. I do not want to be disrespectful or argumentative, but I would like to be prepared in case there is any type of question session. While I feel as though I can defend the faith and defend evolution (I am a biologist) separately, I have never met anyone that held such fundamental views, and am unsure how to go about defending my views if the situation were to present itself. What types of arguments do fundamentalists normally present? How do you counter such arguments? I have come to realize that many people have a poor understanding of the meaning of science, so I am afraid I will just upset people or say the wrong thing and it will negate the points that I would like to make. Most of the people present will most likely not be Catholic, but sola scriptura Protestants. How do you make the case for not interpreting parts of the Bible literally, when they only tend to accept other verses from the Bible? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.


Hello, I have a book entitled “Thank God for Evolution” by Michael Dowd. It presents the best discussion of the relationship between evolution and biblical and scriptural references that I’ve ever come in contact with. You can also get a lot of info from Dowd’s website at It may not be totally pertinent to your question, but it certainly addresses many of the passages in the bible that fundamentalists take literally. Also, I always tell people a couple of things. First, each author of the bible, while receiving his inspiration from God, uses his own literary talents and preferences to articulate his own experience of God. Second, many of the books of the bible are allegorical; they use word pictures to beautifully illustrates God’s relationship to mankind. As an example, the story of Adam and Eve illustrates the fall of man in an allegorical manner. Most of us don’t believe that a serpent really, literally, talked to Adam and Eve or that the serpent encouraged eating from the Tree of Knowledge.

Many blessings!


I believe in the bible literally!
Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, and Maria Valtorta had visions of the bible stories and Jesus life. Blessed Emmerich saw in visions -God create the world as described in Genesis, and create Adam and Eve. She saw the devil in the form of a serpent tempt them in Heaven to eat of the Tree of Knowledge and saw them fall from Eden.

It even says in the Catechism that after Jesus died He went to Limbo to preach to the souls there (and Adam and Eve who were there also) to release them into Heaven, which was closed to mankind until His death.

There was an article on the newspaper a few years ago saying mankind were not originally apes, and that Darwin (or whoever it was that had come up with the theory) had forged his ideas falsely by making some of the ‘ancient’ skulls of early humans himself to bridge a gap between apes and man. So the article stated, mankind were not monkeys, and how we suddenly appeared is a mystery!
God put us here


Limbo? Enough said:shrug:


Pope Francis himself has stated, very recently, that the creation of man is not inconsistent with evolution. Unquestionably God created the universe. Something had to create the “big bang”, nearly 14 billion years ago, and that something had to have been God. But an absolutely literal interpretation of scripture goes against scientific fact. See this recent article about Pope Francis’ statements:


As a believer in BBT and evolution, I don’t know off-hand which Scripture passages are used to support creationism or intelligent design. There are a lot of websites though that discuss this. Here’s one:

From the science side of the house, be prepared to discuss chromosome 2 fusion, the work of Jeffrey Tomkins. A lot of the creationists and fans of intelligent design hang their hats on the fusion theory purportedly being debunked by him. Below is a current thread on the Holy Father’s recent remarks. You’ll see a lot of Catholics espousing fundamentalist ideas about evolution. I think if you present a solid scientific argument for evolution, the fundamentalists will fold like a cheap suit. :slight_smile:

I wish you the best of luck!


Yes – but not the “limbo of infants.” Christ went to “preach to the souls” who were just, but were unable to attain to heaven without Christ’s sacrifice. The ‘place’ that they were (after all, souls aren’t physical, so they aren’t anywhere, so to speak) is given various names: “limbus patrum” in Latin (in English, “limbo of the fathers” or “limbo of the patriarchs”), or the “bosom of Abraham” or even ‘paradise’.

All of these simply imply that these souls were temporarily unable to enter heaven, until that time when Christ came to them and opened the gates of heaven to them, as a result of His redemptive suffering and death.

No one is ‘in’ the bosom of Abraham now, of course, or ever will be again – its function has been fulfilled, and those who die in a state of grace can attain to heaven without waiting around for Christ to come for them.

So, yeah… ‘limbo’. :wink:


I believe the Bible and creation literally but I am not troubled by the idea of evolution either. I do have issues with non-Christians who mock Creation. As for the big bang theory I am fine with that because it doesn’t count out Creation. I guess the arguments will continue until science finds another theory to replace the Big Bang theory. And it will happen because agendas political agendas evolve over time.


Thank you for the interest and comments. I will check out some of those resources. The sponsor that is bringing the speaker to the town is actually a Protestant church… So again, I imagine there will be very few Catholics, but of course, there are many Catholics with fundamentalist ideas. I want those who read this or speak to me to understand something: I am not saying that God could not create the universe in seven days. I am not saying that Jonah could not spend three days in a literal belly of a whale as long as God willed it. He is God and can do whatever He wants. I understand and accept this. But I think carysosm hit it on the head by saying that each human author, while inspired by the Holy Spirit, still had a different style of writing. This means that not everything is meant to be taken literally, and in fact, Jesus himself spoke in parables. I think I will have no issues explaining evolution in a coherent manner. I am worried though that people will shut down or put up a wall.
To OurLadysServant–I have seen evidence to support evolution, regardless of whether or not Darwin had any ulterior motives; therefore, I accept this theory. Hypotheses, theories, and laws are all subject to scientific inquiry and can always be disproven. This is the heart of science. Therefore, in the future, we might have evidence against evolution, or against gravity for that matter. As for right now, we have evidence to retain such concepts and they don’t, in fact, conflict with the faith. I sincerely hope this does not sound disrespectful. I truly do respect that we have have our own ideas and understanding of the world. I am just wanting to justify myself if it is not inappropriate to do so.
To finish off my long-winded post, I will copy a quote from the Catechism. If anyone else has some good resources or advice, I would be glad to hear them. Also, if there are any more people that take the Bible completely literally, I would love to hear from you as well. Thank you all for your time and God bless!

Faith and science: “Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.”
“Consequently,** methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God**. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.” CCC 159


Thank you for this post. I do want to say that evolution does not count out creation either. God created everything and continues to create to this day (at least in our perspective, as God is actually outside of time). But this does not mean evolution does not occur, especially under God’s direct and infinitely wise guidance. God created man and woman, and is still creating man and woman, but there is a process by which that occurs… He *could *create them out of the earth right now, but chooses not to.


I suggest you look at what the Church has to say about evolution. The common message here is that the Church accepts it, but that is not the whole answer. The Biology textbook gives no other explanation other than purely natural - meaning non-God - forces simply stumbled on solutions to go from fish to amphibians to land-dwelling creatures. It simply happened without any target or goal. According to Thomas Aquinas:

"The Fifth Way: Argument from Design

  1. We see that natural bodies work toward some goal, and do not do so by chance.

  2. Most natural things lack knowledge.

  3. But as an arrow reaches its target because it is directed by an archer, what lacks intelligence achieves goals by being directed by something intelligence.

  4. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God."

From Communion and Stewardship:

“64. Pope John Paul II stated some years ago that “new knowledge leads to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge”(“Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Evolution”1996). In continuity with previous twentieth century papal teaching on evolution (especially Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Humani Generis ), the Holy Father’s message acknowledges that there are “several theories of evolution” that are “materialist, reductionist and spiritualist” and thus incompatible with the Catholic faith. It follows that the message of Pope John Paul II cannot be read as a blanket approbation of all theories of evolution, including those of a neo-Darwinian provenance which explicitly deny to divine providence any truly causal role in the development of life in the universe. Mainly concerned with evolution as it “involves the question of man,” however, Pope John Paul’s message is specifically critical of materialistic theories of human origins and insists on the relevance of philosophy and theology for an adequate understanding of the “ontological leap” to the human which cannot be explained in purely scientific terms. The Church’s interest in evolution thus focuses particularly on “the conception of man” who, as created in the image of God, “cannot be subordinated as a pure means or instrument either to the species or to society.” As a person created in the image of God, he is capable of forming relationships of communion with other persons and with the triune God, as well as of exercising sovereignty and stewardship in the created universe. The implication of these remarks is that theories of evolution and of the origin of the universe possess particular theological interest when they touch on the doctrines of the creation ex nihilo and the creation of man in the image of God.”

My point is that if some changes occurred, they were directed infallibly by God, not chance. Divine providence has a truly causal role. The Biology textbook contains information but not the critical rest of the story. That will be the number one sticking point. Talking to sola scriptura Protestants simply by presenting the science, which is always presented as the final word, will not move them to think it is. For some people, the Biology textbook is the proof they need that chemicals to man evolution means nothing created them. Science cannot study God or the soul. People get that.

Hope this helps,


Just because people have different writing styles, doesn’t mean that some are inherently figurative. I think it is dangerous to take the Bible figuratively UNLESS it is clear that It is talking figuratively. Christ’s parables are clearly figurative and are identified as such. But if we use human thought to determine what is figurative and what isn’t. People could twist the Bible to say whatever they wanted.


From the Catechism:

"The senses of Scripture

115 According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.

116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."83

117 The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

  1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism.84

  2. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction”.85

  3. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.86

118 A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses:

The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith;
The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.87

119 "It is the task of exegetes to work, according to these rules, towards a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture in order that their research may help the Church to form a firmer judgement. For, of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgement of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God."88

But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me.89"



Me too.


I have to admit, things got much deeper than I expected. This is not a bad thing. I will have to ruminate over this [of course I don’t mean the literal biological definition :slight_smile: ].

The common message here is that the Church accepts it, but that is not the whole answer. The Biology textbook gives no other explanation other than purely natural.

I would agree with this. But it does not have further explanation because it cannot, nor is that the goal of science. Which you understand, because you mention that later in your post.

My point is that if some changes occurred, they were directed infallibly by God, not chance.

I think we’re on the same page here.

But this does not mean evolution does not occur, especially under God’s direct and infinitely wise guidance.

Talking to sola scriptura Protestants simply by presenting the science, which is always presented as the final word, will not move them to think it is.

How would you recommend to present such concepts to sola scriptura Protestants?

For some people, the Biology textbook is the proof they need that chemicals to man evolution means nothing created them.

Unfortunately this means they have a poor understanding of what science and specifically biology really is.

Thank you very much for your insightful posts. I greatly appreciate them.


I think it is dangerous to take the Bible figuratively UNLESS it is clear that It is talking figuratively.

How does one discern the clarity of whether the subject matter is figurative?
I agree that people could twist the Bible, but as a Catholic, I have a source to turn to in case I have a question about whether my interpretation is invalid.
I have been helping out with an RCIA class and the teacher started out in one of the first couple of weeks discussing creation. And he completely taught it as though it were figurative. The second three days mirrored the first three days, and then there was a day of rest. The fall was not necessarily Eve picking a certain fruit from a specific tree. It was her (and consequently Adam) severing communion with God. These things can be taken symbolically and not conflict with what we observe in our world today. I have heard this not just in this class, but also on radio shows, etc.
So how does one decide whether or not to take something literally?
Something to think about: By studying the complexity of creation and the amazing path God has taken it, I think my appreciation of God and his creation is much higher than it would be if I did not study such things… Life is truly a miracle and the theory of evolution does not aim to counter that.


For some, life is not a miracle and the theory of evolution relates only a portion of the information we all need.

"Real History

"The argument is that all of this is real history, it is simply ordered topically rather than chronologically, and the ancient audience of Genesis, it is argued, would have understood it as such.

"Even if Genesis 1 records God’s work in a topical fashion, it still records God’s work—things God really did.

"The Catechism explains that “Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine ‘work,’ concluded by the ‘rest’ of the seventh day” (CCC 337), but “nothing exists that does not owe its existence to God the Creator. The world began when God’s word drew it out of nothingness; all existent beings, all of nature, and all human history is rooted in this primordial event, the very genesis by which the world was constituted and time begun” (CCC 338).

"It is impossible to dismiss the events of Genesis 1 as a mere legend. They are accounts of real history, even if they are told in a style of historical writing that Westerners do not typically use.

"Adam and Eve: Real People

"It is equally impermissible to dismiss the story of Adam and Eve and the fall (Gen. 2–3) as a fiction. A question often raised in this context is whether the human race descended from an original pair of two human beings (a teaching known as monogenism) or a pool of early human couples (a teaching known as polygenism).

"In this regard, Pope Pius XII stated: “When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parents of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now, it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the teaching authority of the Church proposed with regard to original sin which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam in which through generation is passed onto all and is in everyone as his own” (Humani Generis 37).

“The story of the creation and fall of man is a true one, even if not written entirely according to modern literary techniques. The Catechism states, “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. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents” (CCC 390).”

Source: Catholic Answers tract



As far as I can tell, none of this conflicts with my views. Despite this, I imagine evolution will always have opposition, from both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. To be honest, I greatly admire the complete faith that some people have in the literal meaning of all of Scripture. I sincerely respect this, and in no way look down upon it. I do hope though, that everyone can dialogue respectfully with a Christ-like attitude. I understand that if you sincerely have faith in something, you want everyone to have the same views, but this sometimes actually pushes people away. (I’m not referring to this forum, but I was listening to some debates and dialogues on YouTube and they unfortunately were bad for all sides I think.) Thank you all for the comments and God bless!


If you are discoursing with Protestants, I would also go through these from Dr. David Anders, who is a convert from Protestantism and was a professor at a Protestant seminary before God brought him to The Catholic Church. He will present things with great insight into Protestant viewpoints:

Remember that the best way to convince is to present a charitable, patient and calm demeanor. No matter how air tight your argument, you will not convince anyone if you are arrogant or prideful. There’s an old saying - they won’t car how much you know until they know how much you care about them. Also, an

The best resource I know of from a Catholic perspective is the John Martignoni’s Bible Christian Society here:

Please post or PM after you’ve listened to them and let me know what you think.

God Bless you, give you His Godly Wisdom and prosper you in all of your undertakings.


Which they do now, on both sides of the “theological fence,” whether they believe the Bible literally or figuratively.

Just saying…

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