Evolution is Not a Belief System

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“Do you believe in evolution?” El, a young mother, a Christian, a newly minted lawyer asked me this question over tea.

My jaw went slack. I know I took a couple of slow breaths overcoming my shock.

“Yes,” I said. “Of course.”

We talked a little about why. We moved on, as conversations do.  Since then, I contemplated the inadequacy of my answer.  I recall a friend from my twenties:

“You can’t believe in Evolution and be a Catholic,” she proclaimed.

“Well, I do, and I am,” I replied.  Concise, but far from clear or informative.

Then this happened:

“Mommy, teacher says scientists are liars and people who believe in evolution are going to hell,” said Miss K, my 8-year-old grandchild.

“G-Mom is not going to hell.”

CeCe had words with the principal of the parochial school Miss K attends.

More contemplation on my part.

First and most important in my argument Evolution is not a belief system. It is Scientific Theory.

Scientific Theory is not the same as the theory I have that horses that crap before a race are more likely to win the race.

Second, the idea that Genesis should be taken literally is relatively new. A fad, considering how long the Book has been around. Besides, I find it a tad difficult to take Genesis literally because of the contradictions creation story.

I do believe that God created me.  I believe it’s a mystery how he did it; and I believe Genesis helps me believe my place in the world that He created.

I’m still struggle to devise a clear and concise answer to El’s question. I never get asked if I believe in electricity.  Yes, I believe in Scientific Theories, they do exist, they are real. And yes, that includes the Theory of Evolution. Yes, I support and believe in the importance of Science. At the same time, I believe in God and my religion encompasses my faith. I can do that because,

Science is based on facts.

Religion is based on Faith.

Bear with me as I review the science that is generally taught by the middle grades:

Scientific Law: This is a statement of fact meant to describe, in concise terms, an action or set of actions. Like E = mc². Everyone believes E = mc² even if she cannot quite wrap her head around light years. Scientific Laws don’t really need any complex external proofs; they are accepted at face value because they have always been observed to be true. Examples:

  • Law of Gravity,
  • Newton’s Laws of Motion,
  • Laws of Thermodynamics,
  • Law of Conservation of Mass and Energy

Scientific Hypothesis: This is an educated guess based upon observation. Most hypotheses can be supported or refuted by experimentation or continued observation.

Scientifc Theory: One or more hypotheses become Theory, once verified and accepted to be true. A Theory is an explanation of a set of related observations or events based upon proven hypotheses and verified multiple times by detached groups of researchers.  Examples:

  • Theory of Relativity,
  • Cell Theory,
  • Big Bang Theory and yes,
  • Theory of Evolution.

Now a little philosophy, theology and history:

Interpreting Genesis 1-2 as literal  is a 20th century construct gaining steam with the Scopes trial because the defendant in the case State vs. John Thomas Scopes,.  Scopes stood accused of violating a new Tennessee statute, called the Butler Act, that made it a crime “to teach any theory that denies the divine creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man had descended from a lower order of animals.”

Scopes’ lawyer, Clarence Darrow, threw down a challenge:

“Tell us the origins of man as shown in the Bible. Is there any human being who can tell us? There are two conflicting accounts in the first two chapters…. If… you must teach that man was made of the dust [or that] “Eve was made of Adam’s rib, then at least the law would be clear.”

The case was dropped.

The literal six-day interpretation of Genesis 1-2 was not the only perspective held by Christians before modern science.  St. Augustine (354-430), John Calvin (1509-1564), John Wesley (1703-1791) taught that Genesis 1-2 is an allegory easy for people of that time to understand. Augustine suggested that the 6 days of Genesis 1 describe a single day of creation.  St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) argued that God did not create things in their final state, but created them to have potential to develop as he intended.  The views of these and other Christian (Catholic and Protestant) leaders are consistent with God creating life by means of evolution. (For a further discussion of Augustine’s perspective on creation, see chapter 6 of Francis Collins’ The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (New York: Free Press, 2006), as well as chapters 8 and 15 of Alister McGrath’s A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009))

More recently, Pope John Paul II stresses that the theory of Intelligent Design diminishes God into

“an engineer who designs systems….

“God in his infinite freedom continuously creates a world which reflects that freedom at all levels of the evolutionary process to greater and greater complexity,.”

“God lets the world be what it will be in its continuous evolution. He does not intervene, but rather allows, participates, loves.”

A God who is still creating.  A God who allows.  I like that.

Pope John Paul II summarized the Catholic view of the relationship between faith and reason in the encyclical Fides et Ratio, saying:

“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”

Perhaps, I understand a little more about why I love Catholicism. There is room for reason and faith. Not just coexisting in Brownian motion, bumping up against each other in what seems random and dissonant.  Not just merely as two legs of a foundation. But,

Reason and faith as wings to support the soar of our human spirits.

I believe in that.  I can get behind that.  What about you?

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