Skip to comments.Catholicism and evolution: Are they contradictory?
Posted on 05/09/2011 9:16:50 AM PDT by Alex Murphy
On Easter, Pope Benedict XVI spoke out against both creationism and evolution, or so it looked anyway.
About the biblical account of Genesis, he said, "It is not information about the external processes by which the cosmos and man himself came into being." So much for literal creationism.
But then he seemed to take a swipe at science, proposing that mankind cannot be just another product of evolution.
"It is not the case that in the expanding universe, at a late stage, in some tiny corner of the cosmos, there evolved randomly some species of living being capable of reasoning and of trying to find rationality within creation, or to bring rationality into it."
Many biologists beg to differ: Evolution isn't completely random, they say, and neither is it geared to produce humans.
The pope's words raise the question: Are Catholicism and evolution in conflict?
Several prominent Catholic scientists said their religion was perfectly compatible with science, and the only apparent problem in the homily came from the way the pope mischaracterized evolution as random. Far from being haphazard, natural selection imposes order on the natural world, as do the laws of physics and chemistry.
If the pope knew biology as well as he does theology, he'd be well within scientific consensus, said Brown University biologist Ken Miller, who is Catholic. "The pope needs a science adviser."
Others say statements in the homily reflect a long-standing schism between science and the Catholic faith.
Catholicism let go of the idea that the Earth is the center of the universe and accepts that evolution happened, but it still views mankind as having a special place in the cosmos, shaped partly by evolution and partly by the divine endowment of a soul. The Catholic scientists also see mankind - or some rational being - as part of the purpose of evolution.
Catholics "cannot accept evolution as we scientists accept it - as an unguided, materialistic process with no goal or direction," said University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne, who writes about science and religion in his blog, "Why Evolution Is True."
All agree there is order and majesty in nature. But they disagree over how it got here.
Many religious people see life as a symphony, all the notes carefully written by a divine composer. Nonreligious scientists see it more as an improvisational riff - or a comedy improv - with creativity emerging organically from within, free of any outside scriptwriter.
And like any improv act, chance comes into play. The late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote that if the clock were wound back to the age of the dinosaurs and evolution was again allowed to take its course, the process would lead to a completely different mix of living things - a mix unlikely to include us.
Some Catholic scientists, such as University of Pennsylvania paleontologist Peter Dodson, say Gould may be right. "Perhaps we'd get intelligent penguins" the second time around, he said.
Dodson points out that the previous pope, John Paul II, was clear that when talking about the human body, we should listen to science. Catholicism, he said, deals more with the spiritual part of man's existence.
Or, as Brown's Miller puts it, "What makes us truly special is our ability to reason."
Miller acted as an expert witness for those opposing the teaching of creationism in the famous 2005 Dover, Pa. trial. There, the form of creationism at stake wasn't a literal interpretation of the Adam and Eve story, but so-called Intelligent Design (ID).
ID proponents concede that evolution happened but argue that certain biological structures are too complex to have arisen without the intervention of an "intelligent designer." One often-cited such example is the flagellum - a taillike projection that certain bacteria use to propel themselves.
Miller says he rejects the ID position because it makes erroneous claims about biology. Evolution, he said, explains many of the structures that ID theory cites as proof of a "designer's" intervention," including the flagellum.
And in Catholicism, he said, God wouldn't micromanage that way. "Surely he can set things up without having to violate his own laws."
In Miller's view, God created the whole process of evolution. "We're here because a creator God created a universe in which it was possible for beings like us to arise."
Miller and other Catholic scientists say that even though they believe we were created by a creator, they are not creationists - a term they reserve for the official Intelligent Design movement and biblical literalism.
Others aren't so sure.
"I think that [Pope] Benedict was trying to find, like so many other religious people, a middle ground between creationism and evolution," said Scott Gilbert, a biologist at Swarthmore College.
Catholics "cannot accept evolution as we scientists accept it - as an unguided, materialistic process with no goal or direction," said University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne, who writes about science and religion in his blog, "Why Evolution Is True." All agree there is order and majesty in nature. But they disagree over how it got here....
....The late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote that if the clock were wound back to the age of the dinosaurs and evolution was again allowed to take its course, the process would lead to a completely different mix of living things - a mix unlikely to include us. Some Catholic scientists, such as University of Pennsylvania paleontologist Peter Dodson, say Gould may be right.
"Perhaps we'd get intelligent penguins" the second time around, he said.
Evolution occurred at the hand of God. Starting billions of years ago.
It’s God. He can do whatever He wants however He wants. That’s what’s important. Recognizing the hand of the Creator. How He created everything? Well that’s just a fun study for humanity.
glad I got drawn away from the genetics world into physics, et al. Too many of these folks come off sounding like fruitcakes.
This is a truly silly statement.
True science deals only with the results obtained. We exit the realm of science when we proclaim there was or was not a goal or direction.
Science just doesn't have anything to say about this. All science can say is that we don't SEE evidence of goal or direction. But any true scientist will agree that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."
Actually, this is not a scientific fact.
Physically, scientists contend the universe has no center. So saying the earth is the physical center is no more or less accurate than assigning the center to any other location.
Science has nothing at all to say about whether the earth is "the center of the universe" in a moral, spiritual or importance sense. If the Son of God came here and died for mankind, and potentially for all intelligent beings, then it would be the center of the universe in all these senses.
The Inquirer plays “Fun With Deliberate Misquotes!”
In the scientific world, beliefs belong in church.
Words mean things.
So where does that leave in the Incarnation? Think about it before you flame.
Augustine dealt with abiogenesis in one of his works (on the Literal Interpretation of Genesis maybe?), on the question of when flies & maggots were created.
Since they were, by the science of the day, considered to be spontaneously generated by rotting meat, he argued that they may well not have been created actually during the first six days but only created potentially. So during Creation, God created the properties in meat such that when it would rot, maggots would spontaneously form in it.
Granted the faulty scientific premise, his argument is still important theologically.
God chooses to use the natural processes HE CREATED to run and regulate His world mostly (Once in a while He bypasses this in what we call a miracle ). He gave us intelligence to understand these processes.
Evolution is an attempt to understand these processes. We have a crude understanding of it at this time. There is much we don’t understand.
That’s how I interpret Genesis.
The definition of a miracle is God bypassing His natural processes for His own purposes. The Incarnation was indisputably a miracle. Other examples we view in a mirror darkly.
I’m not even sure that Catholics ever meant “Earth was the center of the Universe” in the way some people think they meant it.
Heck, Dante put the Earth at the physical center, yes, but then Hell and Satan at the center of Earth. So technically, Satan was the physical center of the Universe.
Dante also says in Paradiso that it is only to our physical eyes that earth is the center. If we look with spiritual eyes, and of course the medieval believed the spiritual more real than the physical, it was *God* who was the center, and earth at the periphery—the cosmology literally turned inside out.
Atomic decays cannot be predicted and appear to obey a random disintegration frequency.
Mutations cannot be predicted and appear to obey a random distribution pattern (with some mutations being more frequent than others due to mechanistic factors).
A dice roll cannot be predicted and appears to obey a random distribution pattern.
Knowing this it seems strange to me that evolution is always attributed to be random and thus Godless - yet nobody seems to claim the same for Physics or games of chance at the Casino. I.O.W. I have yet to hear someone opine that God's power stops at the Casino door.
So why the big bugaboo about randomness only in regard to biological evolution but not anywhere else?
We could do with a lot of Mother Angelicas, in or out of penguin suit.;-)
What the above does not take into account the party line of the Evolutionists since the beginning, which is 1) human beings are simply intelligent animals and 2) that our lives are meaningless excerpt as they contribute to our survival, and no even our individual lives but the species, and that evenb the species does not deserve the high respect that tradition gives to it. Beasts do not covenant with the Lord; if there is a “higher power,” then we are but slaves to it.
Nothing silly about it all if you expect priests to accept creation as an unguided materialistic process you can forget it. The two fields coexist. Scientists have their head down in the weeds methodically looking at things they can deal with and religious folks look at the bigger picture that includes the spiritual realm.
I illustrate it this way....
Right now stars are forming off in the universe via gravity and nuclear fusion. To me these stars are just as much “Created by God” as any others.
I was created by God “from dust” - yet I was also created via cellular processes involving DNA. The fact that we understand the physical processes doesn't make me any less “created by God”.
The Incarnation is/was a supernatural event and did not spring forth from inorganic or non-living matter.
I quite agree.
The silliness comes into play when some of them think their acquisition of a great deal of knowledge about the weeds entitles them to make grand philosophic statements about meaning and purpose. The scientific method is just not suited to making such determinations.
Exactly. And the Scripture is still literally true. We are literally made from dust...the carbon and other elements that are part of the earth.
For discussion, here’s another Augustine quote that I think is very relevant, from his “On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis”
Book II “Question of the phase in which the moon was made” 15, 30
“God, after all is the author and founder of things in their actual natures. Now whatever any single thing may in some way or other produce and unfold by its natural development through periods of time that are suited to it, it contained it beforehand as something hidden, if not in specific forms and bodily mass, at least by the force and reckoning of nature, unless of course a tree, void of fruit and stripped of its leaves throughout the winter, is then to be called imperfect, or unless again at its origins, when it had still not yet borne any fruit, its nature was also imperfect. It is not only about the tree, but about its seed also that this could not rightly be said; there everything that with the passage of time is somehow or other going to appear is already latent in invisible ways. Although, if God were to make anything imperfect, which he then would himself bring to perfection, what would be reprehensible about such an idea? But you would be quite within your rights to disapprove if what had been begun by him were said to be completed and perfected by another.”
Exactly - my literal creation “from dust” by God is not at all abridged amended or rendered moot by the understanding that it was also through a cellular process involving DNA.
In the Incarnation, the Son became born of a virgin. True God and True Man.
If evolution is correct, then what man was then, will change to something different and was an animal in the past. If/when man evolves to the “next stage” will the Incarnation and economy of Salvation still be valid? Was it for the monkeys? Or for that matter, was the Incarnation valid only for certain subspecies of humans?
Think about it. The one big danger is that the Catholic theologians of today have been playing fast and loose with the Incarnation, something that the Early Church guarded very closely.
I don’t have much problem believing in evolution and seeing the Incarnation as a unique and appropriately singular event.
This world was designed with humanity at the head of it—as its gardeners and tenders and keepers and lords. All the other species were placed under us as our charges. If we had to go through millions of years to get to man...what is that to me? Didn’t we go through thousands of years before God revealed Himself to Moses? And another thousand at least before the Christ? And another two thousands before the Church encompassed all the earth? God works in His time, not ours.
However we got here, we fell in a way that no other species could fall. So we needed to be fixed in a special way: the Incarnation.
Because we are the head species, and presumably the species through which God was going to bring the earth to perfection, God became man. Not monkey. Not slug. Once man is set aright, the whole earth will then fall into place, because that’s what our job was from the beginning. To tend, to keep, and to subdue.
As for some hypothetical “next stage” evolved human—that will never happen. We’ll need geologic time to get there, and we can’t even make it one century without cataclysmic wars and bigger and better superweapons making those wars ever more destructive. Simply put, given our titanic hubris, we’ll never make it that far. We’ll see the book of Revelations play out instead.
Got created the universe, he created this world, he created all life on this world. Evolutionary origins mythology is a very clever weaving of science, speculation, and wishful thinking by people who, like the builders of the Tower of Babel, wish to prove that God is unnecessary.
People who understand how hard forensic science is even when dealing with the just-completed past have a better grasp of the house of cards that is evolutionary history.
The Catholic Church’s attempts to remain relevant by cozying up to evolution will look bad when we realize that the evolutionary mythology of our being is no more scientifically accurate than global warming or the normality of homosexuality.
Some major assumptions there, big enough to drive a truck through.
For starters, the assumption “We will never get to the next stage”. We can’t define what that stage is, or for that matter what the last ‘stage’ was.
When I was a kid, Neanderthals were pictured as upright apes. Today, with modern forensic science, they are pictured like a guy I work with. There have even been hybrids found in various places. Were the Neanderthals saved? Or just the Shemites? Or where they just modern humans with brows like my friend? Heck, I had one professor at college maintain that they were descendants of modern humans, not the ancestors.
Catholics "cannot accept evolution as we scientists accept it - as an unguided, materialistic process with no goal or direction," said University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne, who writes about science and religion in his blog, "Why Evolution Is True."No kidding.
It all sort of depends on when the "design" phase ended.