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April 24, 1998     The Message
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April 24, 1998

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The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana How can evolution be? By JOHN HAUGHT Catholic News Service "Evolution" has become the integrat- ing concept in science. Today we are taught that the universe is not change- less but has "evolved" from its "big- bang" origins some 15 billion years ago. Moreover, it is commonly accepted by science that humans share with other primates a common ancestry going back about 5 to 8 million years. Our genetic heritage overlaps that of other species. Recently Pope John Paul II went beyond former papal suspicions and formally agreed that the biological evi- dence for evolution is compelling. How- ever, this remarkable step has not been received with unanimous approval in the Christian world. A large number of people, including some Catholics, continue to think that evolution is irreconcilable with the bib- lical accounts of creation. The pope, however, has given official expression to what Catholic scientists and theologians long have held, namely, that there is no basis in church teaching for a suspicion that evolution is contrary to Christian faith. If one expects the Bible to be a com- pendium of scientific information, then obviously a literalist reading of Genesis will conflict with the evolutionary por- traits. If the Bible's objective was to pro- vide us with a "creation science," then most present-day scientists would reject it. We can be grateful, though, that Catholic teaching and theology do not place such unrealistic expectations on the pre-scientific writings of Scripture. .Even in the late 19th century Pope Leo XIII wrote that the faithful should not scrutinize biblical texts for information of a purely scientific nature. Hethereby implied that Catholics should not place the biblical creation stories in a compet- itive relationship with science, including evolution. Such caution also served to protect our sacred texts from the trivializing that invariably occurs when we situate them in the same mundane territory that scien- tific treatises, such as Charles Darwin's famous treatise "On the Origins of Species," occupy. It does not help, of course, that some prominent scientists and philosophers still present Darwin's science to the public as though it were inherently atheistic. This arbitrary and dogmatic twist, one usually rooted in obsolete mechanistic thinking, does not make it any easier for Christians to embrace evolution. Unfortunately, celebrated evolutionists such as Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin and E.O. Wil- son, along with many other neo-Darwini- ans, write about evolution as though in order to accept it we must first commit ourselves to a materialist-- and therefore atheistic -- philosophy of nature. For them, Darwinian evolution "excludes" any influence of God on the natural world. Catholic thought generally has viewed science and theology as mutually com- patible but logically distinct levels of understanding. The pope's recent state- ment takes for granted what might be called a "hierarchy of explanations," one that leaves ample room for both scientific and theological accounts of natural occur- Fence. This means that Catholics may embrace the scientific evidence for evolution with- out swallowing the one-dimensional mate- rialism which almost from the beginning has dogged the idea of life's descent. While Catholic theology always has held that there can be no real conflict between genuine science and faith, it rec- ognizes that "scientific materialism" is irreconcilable with belief in God. Scientif- ic method is one thing, but the materialist ideology in which scientific ideas often are packaged is something else. Thus, before theology can appropriate evolution, it has to unpack the clear sci- //. . . "A largenumber of people... Con- tinue to think that evolution is irrec- oncilable with the biblical accounts of creation," explains theology pro- fessor John Haught. "The pope, however, has given official expres- sion to what Catholic ! theologians that there is no ing for a sus contrary to --C entific evidence and throw away the outer materialist and mechanistic wrap- pings that so often have enshrouded it. In Pope John Paul II's statement we can detect an underlying concern to avoid any merging of evolutionary sciefice with mechanistic philosophies that interpret life as essentially valueless and mean- ingless. Once delivered ogy, the cumulative dence readily lends Christian eologiaOS only kind of See CAN c wonderful Creator ....... By FATHER PAUL J. SCHMIDT between faith and reason" (No. 159). The catechism encourages research that God had a hand io Catholic News Service The little we know about the evolution of the universe and the human race teach- es us a lot about the wonder of God. Many Catholics still think the church forbids the m to accept any theory of evo- lution. Some have heard only atheistic or agnostic versions of evolution and may not realize there are other possibilities. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly says that scientific studies "have splendidly enriched our knowl- edge of the age and dimensions of the cos- mos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discover- ies invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator" (No. 283). We do not have to be afraid that science will destroy our faith. The First Vatican Council is quoted in the catechism on this point: "Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy " Still, sometimes it is difficult to recon- cile a scientific concept with an article of faith. When Charles Darwin and his fol- lowers wrote in the 19th century, their religious opinions, or lack thereof, made all their utterances suspect to believers. Scriptural scholarship in those days was also in a different stage of development. The intervening century has smoothed out some of the wrinkles. Of course, science has not answered all of our questions about our world: The Hubble telescope continues to reveal new truths and puzzles about the vast universe. w The linear accelerator and the elec- tron microscope continue to teach us about the tiny universes within the world's molecular and atomic structure. Psychology barely has begun to probe the human mind. Life scientists barely have begun to understand the human body. aimed at acquiring further knowledge. "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" (No. 159). One thing the church would have diffi- culty with is any scientific description which ruled out the immortality of the soul created directly by God. As the cate- chism says, "The church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immedi- ately by God... and also that it is immor- tal" (No. 366). But just how this creation occurs is less clear The Bible says God crafted a clay person and blew breath into it to create Adam. We would have a more complicated evolutionary explanation. Nonetheless, however it happened, w e would ins!st The more more wonderful the Father Schmidt is the sonnel for the