One of the more inflammatory subjects in the United States in regard to faith and science is evolution. The mere mention of the topic can lead to a combative atmosphere with little hope for anything healthy emerging. What I find a bit surprising is the number of brother priests who think that evolution is somehow against Catholicism. Whether it be the Catechism of the Catholic Church when it says that “methodological research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with faith” (CCC 159), Pius XII stating that the material origins of our body evolving from preexisting matter is not against Scripture (Humani Generis 36), St. John Paul II stating the evolution is more than a hypothesis (Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences: On Evolution 4), or Benedict XVI stating that it is absurd to think that Biblical creation and evolution are at odds with one another (Question and Answer with German clergy, July 24, 2007), there still persists an ardent resistance in some corners to embracing the science of evolution.
This leads to a logical question, With the clarity of our pontiffs of the past (along with Pope Francis), why is there still doubt about evolution – especially in the United States? Part of the answer to this question has to do with the diversity of Biblical interpretation that exists depending on which faith tradition one comes from. Faiths that emphasize a more literalist interpretation of the Bible struggle with the idea of evolution while faith traditions, such at Catholicism, that seek to understand the literal sense of Scripture (applying a number of senses to Scripture that are both historical and spiritual) are much more open to embracing evolution. Just as I have encountered a wide variety of Atheists in my priesthood (those who are very open to faith and others that are very closed to faith) so, too, does one find many types of Christians, especially when it comes to evolution.
Given the foundational disagreements as to how to interpret Scripture, I fear that it will take something miraculous to bring all Christian faiths to a unified understanding of how to approach this important question. The reason I hold out hope that a unified vision may someday occur is that, in both faith and science, the starting points are rooted in objective sources. Whether it be fossil records, genetic markers, the Old Testament, or the New Testament, these primary sources, both biblical and scientific, give natural parameters for a dialogue to begin. As a devout Catholic, I have faith that a dialogue rooted in civility, charity, honesty, a pursuit of truth, and an openness to the Holy Spirit will lead us away from a divisive atmosphere to one of collaboration.
Below are a series of videos that look at the question of evolution and the supposed fight between faith and science. I find in these videos a sober approach to the question that opens one’s heart to truth instead of devolving into sophomoric spitting matches of rhetorical one-upsmanship. The first is from the AAAS’s program Science for Seminaries, taking a closer look at what it means to call evolution a theory from the standpoint of science. The next two videos are from the project Exploring Science in Seminaries, looking at the proper relationship between faith and science by summarizing key Church documents on this matter. Lastly, I also offer two videos that explore the relationship between faith, science, and politics. The first is a wonderful video from the Anglican Biblical Scholar NT Wright, explaining the history of political thought in relation to evolution. The second is another AAAS video, exploring the historical origins of the fight between faith and science in the United States. Enjoy!
AAAS’s Video: What Makes Evolution A Theory?
The myth of the clash between faith and science
Church Documents on Faith and Science
NT Wright on Evolution
Historical origins of “The Conflict Thesis” in the United States.