WHAT ABOUT EVOLUTION?
Evolution is the scientific theory that all forms of life on Earth evolved from earlier forms of life and ultimately share a common ancestor. Evolution provides a scientific explanation for why there is such a variety of life on Earth. There is a great deal of evidence for evolution, not only in the fossil record, but also in recent examples in nature and in the laboratory that can be observed today. Evolution provides the basic framework for all of the life sciences. As for human evolution, the theory claims that humans and apes share a common ancestor from millions of years ago. Humans and apes broke off from that common ancestor to form their own lines, each of which further evolved into modern humans and modern apes.
If the theory of evolution explains the variety of life on Earth and the physical development of humans, does that mean that the creation stories in Genesis are wrong? No. The Catholic Church does not require a literal-historical interpretation of the creation stories in Genesis. The fact that there are two creation stories and they each have very different details suggests that they were not included in the Bible as textbook history or science. They are stories that developed over many years and were shared over many generations, chiefly to help us understand Who God is and our relationship with Him. Most biblical scholars understand that the Scriptures were not written to answer scientific questions about how the universe was created or how life evolved. Most scientists understand that science is not for answering questions about the existence of God or the meaning of life. A great deal of confusion results when people read the Bible as a science book, or when people look only to science for answers about God and religious truths. Some Christians insist that accepting the evidence for evolution means denying the authority of the Bible. Some scientists insist that, since evolution is fact, there must be no God and faith is meaningless. The Catholic Church rejects both of these extremes, confident that truth is one, so religious truth and scientific truth cannot contradict each other. Apparent contradictions are the result only of our lack of understanding of God’s truth revealed to us, either by means of divine revelation or the physical world.
The heavens proclaim the glory of God;
the sky proclaims its builder’s craft.
The Catholic Church has always looked to Creation as evidence of God’s existence and glory. As well, the Church has never embraced a merely literal approach to interpreting the Scriptures. St. Augustine of Hippo (353-430), the most revered Church Father, cautioned against a strictly literal interpretation of Genesis 1-2 that ignored or contradicted the observations of scientific inquiry. He was concerned that learned men and women would reject Christ because of the wrong-headed notion that the authors of the Scriptures were opposed to science, and so Christian faith and science were opposed to each other. During a meeting with clergy at Auronzo de Cadore, Italy in July of 2007, Pope Benedict XVI, commenting on the supposed conflict between divine Creation and evolution, said that they are, “presented as though they are mutually exclusive alternatives: those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God. This anti-thesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favor of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other hand, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man?” In his Easter Vigil homily in 2011, Benedict rejected the idea that Creation, and human life in particular, are meaningless products of random processes. “If man were merely a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe,” the pontiff said, “then his life would make no sense or might even be a chance of nature. But no, Reason is there at the beginning: creative, divine Reason.” Human life, and all of Creation, has meaning because they come from God and are directed toward God.
The Catholic Church teaches that there is no conflict between evolution as an explanation for the physical development of life on Earth, including human life, and our Catholic faith that God exists, that God is our Father and Creator of all, and that humans are the greatest of His Creation because we are made in His image. There is no reason God could not use evolution as His method for creating all of the various forms of physical life on Earth, including human beings. The creation of the soul, however, because it is spiritual, would not be impacted by evolution, but each person’s soul is created directly and immediately by God.
“In our system and on earth (formed about 4.5 billion years ago), the conditions have been favorable to the emergence of life. While there is little consensus among scientists about how the origin of this first microscopic life is to be explained there is general agreement among them that the first organism dwelt on our planet about 3.5 – 4 billion years ago. Since it has been demonstrated that all living organisms on earth are genetically related, it is virtually certain that all living organisms have descended from this first organism. Converging evidence from many studies in the physical and biological sciences furnishes mounting support for some theory of evolution to account for the development and diversification of life on earth, while controversy continues over the pace and mechanisms of evolution.” Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God, International Theological Commission, 2004
See also: Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 282-289
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.