Evolution at Odds with Belief in God?

From: Joanne Forsythe

Subject: evolution

Does the belief in God, as the Supreme Creator have to be at odds with the scientific notion of evolution? How do I answer this when someone challenges my Catholic beliefs?

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Dear Joanne,

Your short question would take a number of pages to answer adequately. Let me try to be brief.

A simple answer is that there can be no contradiction between belief in God who is the source of every fact (or event) and the observable facts/events studied by science. The adaptation of life forms to their environments and the mechanisms which enable them to pass on favorable adaptations are among the facts science observes. If that is what you mean by the "scientific notion of evolution," no problem. God put that kind of adaptability into living creatures, including us - which is the why some of us have dark or light skin according to where our ancestors settled.

However, evolution has come to mean much more than just scientific observation. It involves a sweeping philosophy of life and the universe called naturalism. This philosophy is totally opposed to Christianity (or any theistic religion) because it begins with the assumption that everything can be explained in natural terms - with no need for a supernature, that is, God. As Carl Sagan put it, "the Cosmos is all there is, all there was, all there ever will be."

To your friends you can point out two things. First, it is great stretch to go from the observable facts to such a far reaching philosophy. Kind of like investing a thousand dollars in cattle futures and coming up with $100,000 in less than a year. It might be legitimate, but it raises eyebrows.*

Second, there is much scientific observation which goes against the simplistic view that life forms have constantly branched out from a single celled ancestor.** Respectable scientists have exposed grave difficulties in that Darwinian approach (see Johnston article below). Even a "neo-Darwinian" like Stephen Jay Gould must drastically recast Darwin's theory to make sense of more recent discoveries. For an introduction to all this, I recommend Phillip Johnson's books. I reviewed two of them: Darwin on Trial and Reason in the Balance.

Pope John Paul did state "evolution is more than a theory." That is, the hypothesis has shown great utilitly in various branches of scientific study. But that does not mean he gave a blanket endorsement to Darwinism. Rather he observed there are different theories of evolution: reductionist (materialist) and spiritualist:

"Rather than the theory of evolution, we should speak of several theories of evolution. On the one hand, this plurality has to do with the different explanations advanced for the mechanism of evolution, and on the other, with the various philosophies on which it is based. Hence the existence of materialist, reductionist and spiritualist interpretations. What is to be decided here is the true role of philosophy and beyond it, of theology. --Pope John Paul II, Message to the Pontifical Academy of Science on Evolution, October 22, 1996. (cf. )

Do you see the problem the Holy Father is pointing out?

Let me know if this reflection is helpful to you. And may God give you great blessings in the New Year.

Fr. Phil Bloom

*Jonathan Wells, Ph. D., has written a book called "Icons of Evolution" which demonstrates that many of the textbook "proofs" for evolution (like the Archaeopteryx or the ape morphing into a human) misrepresented the truth.

**And as biochemist Michael Behe (Darwin's Black Box) shows, how the first cells came about is not so simple as our high school biology books made it seem. Remember the "primordial soup"? Scientists like Behe point out that getting a living cell from it is comparable to a hurricane going thru a junkyard and assembling a 747.

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See The Death of Darwinism by George Sim Johnston

Other Questions

Evolution and Bible

Homily on the Moral Law

Hawking, Galileo and the Pope

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