In my last reflection on the Genesis homilies of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, we focused on the creation of the human person. Now, you might have noticed that I omitted one glaringly obvious topic in that reflection: Evolution and the human person.
I wanted to save the topic of evolution for its own reflection. I cannot speak for other countries, but I find more and more in the United States that Catholics are becoming increasingly skeptical about evolution. Though I have not had time to research why this may be, I often gravitate toward two speculations when this topic emerges.
My first speculation is the impact that “evangelical Catholicism” has had on the Church. From my days in seminary onward, there has been a deep push to unapologetically share our Catholic faith in a way similar to evangelical protestants. In some Catholic circles, there has been a deep embrace of ministry models that emerged from outside of the Catholic tradition. Though I have no problem with learning from other denominations on how we can better share our faith, I also fear there has been a fundamentalist bleed of a more literalist interpretation of the Bible that has crept into Catholic circles because of this situation. It then is a logical move that a more fundamentalist bleed introduces a more fundamentalist reading of Genesis, which leads to an eroding trust in science and the science of evolution.
My second speculation is the impact the American culture wars have had in creating a polemic of deeming science and scientists as enemies to faith. Now, are there examples of scientists who have become rather aggressive when sharing personal opinions of how they loath Christianity? Absolutely! However, I can think of just as many, if not more examples of scientists that either have a deep Christian faith or are somewhere between open to neutral about Christian faith. Sadly, what is being embraced by more and more Christians in the United States is the attitude, “If I’m a Christian, science is wrong, therefore evolution must be wrong.” This, in my opinion, also has the effect of driving scientists further away from an engagement with people of faith as they feel judged and condemned simply for being scientists.
Benedict XVI offers a clear and straightforward rebuttal to the false narrative that faith and science are mutually exclusion, especially when it comes to evolution.
Now, more reflective spirits have long been aware that there is no either-or here. We cannot say: creation or evolution, inasmuch as these two things respond to two different realities. The story of the dust of the earth and the breath of God, which we just heard, does not in fact explain how human persons come to be but rather what they are. It explains their inmost origin and casts light on the project that they are. And, vice versa, the theory of evolution seeks to understand and describe biological developments. But in so doing it cannot explain where the “project” of human persons comes from, nor their inner origin, nor their particular nature. To that extent we are faced here with two complementary – rather than mutually exclusive – realities.
“In the Beginning…” A Catholic Understanding of Creation and the Fall. Joseph Ratzinger p. 50
For those of you that regularly read Sacred Space Astronomy, this isn’t the first time you’ve read this idea of the Catholic Church not opposing evolution. So, why do I continue to present it in the these reflections? My reason is similar to the old story of a priest who preached the same homily every Sunday for a month. His parishioners pressed him as to why he was repeating the same homily. His response, “When you embrace what I am teaching, I will move on to another homily.” I don’t know why people so distrust the Church’s teaching on the complementary relationship between faith and science, but, sadly, until people (both laity and clergy) embrace what the Church teaches, the confusion remains. So, sadly, don’t think this is the last time you’ll hear me offer a reflection on this topic. I will keep repeating the truth until traction is achieved.
The rest of the homily explores more of the philosophical questions of chance, meaning, and purpose. Benedict goes back to the theme of what it means to be a human person, concluding with how we find the truest sense of being human through Christ crucified. It’s a bit heady, but I would encourage you to read it for yourselves!
For the sake of this post, however, I wanted to isolate the specific theme of evolution as a simple reminder that Scripture does not oppose evolution. Scripture was not penned to be a science book. And Scripture does not necessitate an adversarial stance between Christians and Scientists. In light of this, let us embrace that both faith and science strive for truth and do so in different, but complementary ways. And if we struggle to embrace a complementary stance between faith and science, let us challenge our minds with what our faith teaches us. May we put this question to rest so we can face more pressing issues that are presenting themselves to us today.