Father John MacEnery (1796-1841) – an Early Evolutionary Theory

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Kent’s Cavern

John MacEnery was Irish by birth, and despite his surname being recorded in the Scottish manner, evidence suggests that he spelt his family name as ‘McEnery’, which is typical of Irish people. He was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1919, and in 1822 was appointed ‘chaplain’ at Torre Abbey (Torquay) to the highly influential Carey family. During his summer retreats to the 13th century Ilsham Chapel, (situated across the valley from Keats Cavern), he started exploring Kent’s Cavern (between 1825-1829). Kent’s Cavern are a number of ancient caves situated in Torquay, South Devon, which have seen occupation by humans and animals for hundreds of thousands of years.  Early humans have been discovered as being present in the cave complex from around 350,000 years ago, probably up until around 10,000 years ago (although the Romans built a shrine to Mithras within its depths). However, as a flint hand-axe has been discovered that dates to 500,000 years old, it is thought that early humans could have been in Kent’s Cavern at a far earlier date. As matters stand, the remains of Homo Erectus, Homo Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens Sapiens are present. The Homo Erectus remains are thought to be the earliest examples of humans in Europe, having previously left Africa around 1 million years ago, and entering Europe via Asia around 700,000 years ago.  The oldest known animal remains discovered are of an ancestral cave bear which dates to around 500,000 years old. Also discovered has been the remains of an evolved cave bear, a cave lion, a scimitar cat, a mammoth, and a hyaena, etc. What is remarkable is that despite Father John MacEnery being brought up as an unquestioning devout Catholic, nevertheless, when he was confronted with the material evidence as preserved within Kent’s Cavern, he decided that the Church was wrong in assuming that the earth was just ‘created’ in 4004 BCE. Furthermore, when he wrote his findings in 1829 (30 years before Darwin published his ‘On the Origins of Species’), Father John MacEnery was already convinced that some type of ‘evolutionary’ or ‘cyclic’ development had occurred throughout nature, and that species had changed over a long time to better suit their environments. This is a remarkable shift in the use of the human mind from one of only accepting myth as true, to one of assessing material reality to ascertain the probable nature of that reality. Father John MacEnery did not lose his faith, but he did development the ability to objectively gather physical evidence and a construct a logical opinion upon that amassed data.

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