Since Darwin’s introduction of the theory of Evolution, some Christians; particularly Protestant Christians, have been uncomfortable with the idea that all species share a common ancestry.
To them it would seem that science is out to destroy religion, in particular the accounts of Creation in the book of Genesis. They fight with great zeal against science seeing it as the sword of atheism.
This of course is not so. Science does not belong to atheism nor atheism to science. Science exists to explain nature to us via reason and empirical observation. It cannot dictate faith or morals.
There is no doubt that Evolution is a reality in nature. Anyone who denies this is simply in denial. Our method of scientific study which derived from a Catholic Franciscan Friar named Roger Bacon has aided us enormously in showing the reality of Evolution. The Earth was not created in six literal 24 hour periods. The events describe in Genesis are meant to convey the reality that yes the universe has a Creator and man’s place in that creation. It also informs us of man’s fall from grace. Genesis is not meant to be read as an exact detailed account of how God created the world. The Earth is not 6,000 years old. Man was not literally designed using soil, nor is woman a product of a rib. This is not the intention of the book of Genesis. As Galileo stated. “The Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”
It is disturbing to see some Christians defend the fundamentalist interpretation of the book of Genesis. It is also very embarrassing to keep that interpretation in light of the scientific knowledge we possess. Both St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Thomas Aquinas warned about making Christianity look foolish in light of science. St. Augustine writes:
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men…. Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by these who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. (pp. 42-43, A Commentary on Genesis: Two Books against the Manichees)
… worked out and presented the statements of the book of Genesis in a variety of ways according to my ability; and, in interpreting words that have been written obscurely for the purpose of stimulating our thought, I have not rashly taken my stand on one side against a rival interpretation which might possibly be better. I have thought that each one, in keeping with his powers of understanding, should choose the interpretation that he can grasp. Where he cannot understand Holy Scripture, let him glorify ” and fear for himself. (pp. 43-44, ibid)
St. Augustine as usual is right on target by warning that Christians should not interpret Scripture in such a way that will bring about mockery and present Christianity as superstition or purely ignorant. Christians who profess Creationism do exactly this! Despite the evidence present before their eyes, they will adamantly deny it and insist in the literal interpretation of the book of Genesis. This attitude in turn invalidates Christianity. Christianity becomes another folk religion attempting to describe nature via absurdities. A close study of atheist writings and blogs, even tweets on twitter will show that they focus on this. They mock Creationists who adhere to such nonsense, vis a vis, the literal interpretation of the book of Genesis.
St Thomas Aquinas, one of the most brilliant minds of the Catholic Church who promoted the use of both Faith and Reason had this to say:
“One should not try to defend the Christian faith with arguments that are so patently opposed to reason that the faith is made to look ridiculous… irrisio infidelium, the scorn of the unbelievers.“
To these words I shout AMEN! We Christians should not defend the Christian faith with arguments that will make it look stupid. God is about truth. If we truly believe that God created this universe and this Earth, then we must accept the reality of how it functions and how it exists. We must accept the realities it contains which we learn from in regards to Evolution and carbon dating. Yes, science is fallible and is not perfect; however, it is good enough to be trusted and religion can learn from it and vice versa.
As the book Physics, Philosophy, and Theology states:
Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world. A world in which both can flourish… – Physics, Philosophy, and Theology: A Common Quest for Understanding, 1988
Creationists who insist on preaching absurd fundamentalist ideas are doing great harm to Christianity. This is one of the reasons why atheism is continuing to gain numbers. Who wants to belong to a faith of idiots in a world where more people are more educated than ever before?
Evolution is not a threat to religion. As I wrote in my blog post regarding Bill Nye’s comments on Creationism:
“We cannot read the accounts of Creation in Genesis literally. This will bring about many problems.
The Catholic Church does not have an official position on creation only that God created us. However, Evolution seems to be the side the Church takes. The recent pontificates of Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have publicly voiced approval of the theory of Evolution.
The first mention of evolution was in the encyclical Humanis Generis. Pope Pius XII states:
“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 experiences 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.”
Pope Pius XII basically says that evolution can be accepted as long as the teaching that souls are immediately created by God is held alongside it.
Blessed John Paul II had this to say to the Pontifical Academy for the Sciences in 1996:
“In his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII has already affirmed that there is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of the faith regarding man and his vocation, provided that we do not lose sight of certain fixed points…. Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than a hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies—which was neither planned nor sought—constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory.”
Here the late Pontiff states that evolution and faith are not in disagreement. He even goes as far as giving merit to the theory of evolution as being supported by evidence.
Pope Benedict XVI as Cardinal Ratizinger wrote:
“We cannot say: creation or evolution, inasmuch as these two things respond to two different realities. The story of the dust of the earth and the breath of God, which we just heard, does not in fact explain how human persons come to be but rather what they are. It explains their inmost origin and casts light on the project that they are. And, vice versa, the theory of evolution seeks to understand and describe biological developments. But in so doing it cannot explain where the ‘project’ of human persons comes from, nor their inner origin, nor their particular nature. To that extent we are faced here with two complementary—rather than mutually exclusive—realities.” –In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall
Evolution is an important theory to teach our children. The story of Creation is also important to teach. However, this story must be taught in a way that children can understand it in relation to what we know today via evolution. Who cares if we came from slime, fish, apes or a rock. The important thing is that God created us and we are here now.
In 1987, the United States Supreme Court ruled the teaching of Creationism unconstitutional… Evolution does not disqualify God as Creator. If anything, it shows the genius of God and how He uses natural processes in order to bring about life.”
Pope Emeritus Benedict the XVI also voiced his concern at the mere existence of the Evolution vs Creationism debate. He stated, “They [creationism/evolution] are presented as alternatives that exclude each other, this clash is an absurdity because on one hand there is much scientific proof in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and which enriches our understanding of life and being as such.” Pope Emeritus calls the debate “an absurdity” and rightfully so. It is preposterous to adhere to a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis in light of scientific facts that exist today.
Those who call themselves “Creationists” and profess faith in Christ Jesus do a great disservice to His name. Jesus is all about the truth, not lies. (John 14:6) Satan is the father of lies. (John 8:44)
Science cannot destroy religion. Science is not against the Catholic Church nor the Catholic Church against science. As the Catechism states:
“…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 the of the 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” paragraph 159
Science and Faith must work together in order to solve many of the world’s problems. Religious fundamentalism will only destroy humanity. Religious fundamentalism is what drives fanatics like deceased terrorist Osama Bin Laden who sought to attack the west due to his literal interpretation of the Qu’ran. Because of him, Islam is now being branded as a religion of terrorism and oppression.
Do we want Christianity to be labeled as a religion of the ignorant? Catholicism, the original form of Christianity founded by Christ Himself is responsible for the formation of modern science as we know it. This is why Popes embrace science and do not run from it. Other Christians, though not part of real churches, are still Christian by name and must stay clear of superstitious beliefs and a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis.
Christians who call themselves “creationists” and deny Evolution do great harm to the credibility of the Christian faith. They must be educated and must learn how to accept the reality of Evolution.
It is silly to defend a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis against Evolution when our own genes are over 96% identical to that of a Bonobo. There is no denying this fact.