Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
My correspondent continues:
1) My emotional component of belief is gone. I am fully open to considering that all of my previous experiences were not god, but in fact post-occurrence causal inferences based on what I already believed to be true.
Does it have to be either/or? In a sacramental universe, God comes to us through human things.
- what is the Church’s best guess as to the time period in which the fall took place?
As far as I know, the Church attempts no answer to that question. It regard the fall as a fact of revelation, but is agnostic about when it happened and even about the specific historical circumstances. The catechism describes Genesis 3 as using “figurative language” to describe the event. In short, the Church believes that it happened, but has never gotten around to saying what the event would have looked like if you’d been there with a camera. That’s sensible, since the Fall is essentially an interior event.
—- the “first man” (or woman) was of the species homo ________ (fill in the blank with one or more possible answers)
Hard to say. Presumably “sapiens” but then we have so little idea how that species relates to others like Neanderthal (who, by the way, buried his dead sometimes).
- god implanted a soul in a man and/or woman such that there was no perceivable distinction genetically between the offspring and the parents but no one bore a share in god’s divinity and the parents did not: true or false?
I’m afraid I can’t decode your point here.
- natural disasters, harms from animals, and things like flesh eating bacteria did not exist for the first man or he was somehow protected from these things: true or false?
—- if they did not exist, what geographical or archaeological evidence might support this, if any?
—- if they did exist, how might man have been sheltered?
Are you asking me to speculate? Or are you wondering what other theologians have speculated? I think St. Thomas noodles this somewhere. There’s not a lot of dogmatic content to the faith on these points, as far as I know. But then I haven’t pondered it too much. A couple of Dominicans I talked with basically said that Thomas was of the view that the world was more or less like it is now, and that Adam’s divine protection largely consisted of unclouded common sense. “Don’t walk near that crumbly cliff. Don’t bug the lions.” But that’s fairly anecdotal and I wouldn’t put too much weight on it. The point of the story of the Fall is not to claim that lions didn’t eat meat before the fall, nor to insist that death and suffering in the animal and plant world never occurred till the Fall. It is solely focused on us and our relationship with God. Man was to be immune from death but he destroyed this. You may find that hard to believe, but I see no particular reason, granting the reality of the supernatural (which I do on other grounds) that it should not be so. All we know from history and the sciences is what did happen, not what would have happened.