The Genesis accounts of creation provide a rich field for controversy and discussion. I have posted before focusing on the question of the genre of the Genesis texts. In this post I would like to ponder another point for discussion: The theory of evolution’s relationship to the Genesis text. I have also discussed elsewhere the question of polygensism (the theory that Adam was not one historical man but, rather, a euphemism for “mankind”).
Disclaimer– I do not intend to answer all the questions about evolution and Genesis here. This is a blog, not a theological or scientific journal. I am not a dogmatic theologian, neither do I have an advanced degree in Scripture. Neither am I a trained biologist. My MA is in moral theology. What I intend to do here is open a discussion. I would like to suggest some parameters to the topic which Catholicism requires of us. But in the end, I am going to depend on the comments section to broaden the discussion, make distinctions, suggest further limits, or clarify and quote other sources. Many of the commenters on this blog are theologically skilled and provide a valuable service to the rest of us. Likewise there are some with a scientific background who read here and can help clarify on the topic of evolution. I would only ask that all of us not rush to use words like heresy etc. and that the science folks not treat me or the rest of us like a bunch of ignoramuses. The Genesis accounts are very prototypical and archetypal. It is a true fact that the Church gives us guidance on how to interpret them but there is also some freedom to differ with each other as well. So let me set the table and then open the comments.
Sobriety about Evolutionary Theory – It is common to experience a rather simplistic notion among Catholics that the Theory of Evolution can be reconciled easily with the Biblical accounts and with our faith. Many will say something like this: “I have no problem with God setting things up so that we started as one-celled organisms and slowly evolved into being human beings. God could do this and perhaps the Genesis account is just simplifying evolution and telling us the same thing as what Evolution does.”
There are elements of the truth in this sort of a statement. Surely God could have set things up to evolve and directed the process so that human beings evolved and then, at some time he gave us souls. God could have done that.
The problem with the statement above is less theological than scientific because there is a word in that sentence that is “obnoxious” to evolutionary theory: “God.” The fact is that most Catholics who speak like this over-simplify evolutionary theory and hold a version of it that most Evolutionary Theorists do not hold. They accept the Theory of Evolution uncritically.
But, at the heart of evolutionary theory are the concepts of natural selection and genetic mutation. Notice the word “natural” and notice the word “mutation.” Generally speaking, evolutionary theory sees these processes as random, (though influenced by the environment). It sees them as chance mutations that happen to survive because they confer some benefit. But the process is natural, random and not directed by any outside intelligence with a design or purpose in mind.
Mutations in DNA are random, and in natural selection, the environment determines the probability of reproductive success. The end products of natural selection are organisms that are adapted to their present environments. Natural selection does not involve progress towards an ultimate goal. Evolution does not necessarily strive for more advanced, more intelligent, or more sophisticated life forms. Organisms are merely the outcome of variations that succeed or fail, dependent upon the environmental conditions at the time.
Now what this means is that God is excluded as a cause by an unqualified evolutionary theory. It would be fine if evolutionists (as natural scientists) were either silent on the question of God. Or, perhaps if they simply stated that things may be acted upon by an outside force or intelligence but that is beyond the scope of their discipline. But that is not what is being said by many proponents of classical evolutionary theory. They are saying that biodiversity results MERELY from natural selection and random (i.e. non intended or non-purposeful) genetic mutations. They are saying that observable effects of biodiversity are wholly caused by something natural, random and without any ultimate goal or plan.
But a Catholic cannot accept all of this. Even if a Catholic wants to accept that things have evolved in some way (whether through macro or microevolution) a Catholic cannot say that this process is simply random, chance, blind, or with no purpose. We believe that God alone created all things, and that he sustains all things. Neither do we confess some sort of “deist” God who merely started things off and then lets them take their own course. Rather, God sustains and carries out every detail….
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