MYSTERY OF CREATION by Paul Haffner
(Gracewing, 1995, 224pp, $39.00. Available from Freedom Publishing)
Hardly a day passes without some reference to the environment in the mass media. More often than not, the reader is confronted with some doomsday scenario informing us that unless we become carbon neutral or otherwise reduce our greenhouse gas emissions we are contributing to the end of the world. Anyone daring to question the global warming dogma is dismissed as a crank.
Although written over a decade ago, the material covered by Paul Haffner, an English priest teaching at a number of Roman Universities, remains relevant, given the current environmental hysteria.
Significantly, Haffner talks about creation rather than the environment, and the choice of words is not mere semantics, since unlike the word environment, the word creation implies a Creator. Indeed, one of the clearest proofs from reason for God's existence is the design to be found in creation.
In contrast to some versions of contemporary environmentalism positing that God/great spirit/mother earth is part of creation and of which we are an element, it is clearly taught by the Catholic Church that creation is an entity distinct from God the Creator who created His creation out of nothing. Furthermore, time is lineal and not cyclical, and the world one day will come to an end.
These beliefs about creation are, for Haffner, not merely curios in the history of religious thought since one of his interests in this book is the interplay between science and theology. Here he argues that science emerged within Christendom in the Middle Ages, not from other civilisations, since Christian beliefs about creation were necessary precursors for scientific explanation whereas the beliefs about creation of other civilisations either impeded scientific enquiry or any capitalising upon discoveries. He also argues that using science to justify atheism or chance, as opposed to providence, is a misuse of science.
However, most religious truths cannot be deduced simply by the use of reason. Many significant truths are known by the revelation of God, for example, the Trinity and original sin - one of Haffner's foci in this book.
Original sin is not an optional extra, but crucial in understanding Christ's incarnation, passion and resurrection.
In connection with original sin, Haffner emphasises that the belief that all human beings are descended from two first parents is necessary to safeguard belief in original sin and he explores a number of theories advocated by theologians that are consistent with two first parents.
Thus, whilst noting that the crucial links have yet to be found to validate the theory of evolution, he acknowledges the possibility of the bodies of the first two parents providentially evolving from some other form of life.
In the words of Humani Generis, 'For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre- existent and living matter - for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God' (par 36).
In relation to evolution, Haffner also contends that, far from reinforcing atheistic beliefs in chance, evolution can be interpreted to reinforce belief in a God who providentially guides and sustains His creation.
Haffner concludes by examining the Church's teaching on the second coming of Christ and the end of the world. Other themes include the existence of angels and of evil.
Mystery of Creation is a very interesting and extremely well written re-affirmation of crucial aspects of teachings which have been called into question or denied both within and outside the Church.
Michael Daniel is a secondary school teacher in Melbourne.