“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.” — John Paul II (Fides et Ratio)
We live in a culture saturated with constantly changing, un-Apostolic tenets of confused Christian denominations who deny Sacred Tradition and, instead, are left to rely solely on their own fallible interpretations of scripture. So it’s not surprising that many of the beliefs that come about are in contradiction with scientific discoveries – in contradiction with our reason.
The Catholic Church never has and never will hold any doctrine that contradicts science (good science anyway). This is because our faith and our reason both approach the same, objective Truth. They simply do so from two different, but necessary, perspectives.
So it’s unfortunate when there are Christians that feel they have to deny their reason for the sake of their faith. They are living a contradiction. God didn’t give us our reasonable intelligence just to have to ignore it. It seems He gave it to us to discover more of His creation – more of His Truth – which only enhances our gift of Faith. They work together. God is not unreasonable. He is just beyond our reason. That’s why we need both our reason and our faith to approach the fullness of the Truth.
The issues of biological evolution and Christian faith have seemed contradictory, rightly and wrongly so, for many Christians. There are aspects on both sides of the argument that need to be addressed.
First, the simple scientific idea that we may have biologically evolved into what we call human is not contradictory at all with the Catholic Faith nor with the existence of a Creator. Those that take the interpretation from scripture that the world was created in 7 literal days, and therefore contradictory to biological evolution, are reading their own fallible interpretation into scripture.
While Christians are free to be open to that possibility, The Church has never held this as doctrine. And when one views the Bible in its proper context and uses it as the Church has set forth from the beginning, then there is no problem reconciling such scriptural texts with the scientific advances that support a theory of evolution.
The Bible was not created as historic narrative or as a science report. It is much more like a love letter to the world. And we must interpret it in light of Apostolic Tradition, it’s context, and in communion with the Magisterium of the Church.
On the other side, however, we have “scientists” that have taken evolution beyond that of a scientific theory. The instant evolution tries to deny the Creator or attempts to answer questions like “did a Being create this natural world within which science exists?” it has left the scientific world and entered the realm of metaphysics, philosophy, and perhaps religion.
So not only are these scientists entering areas of which they are no longer experts, they are being unfaithful to their own scientific principles. In other words, it’s bad science – or not science at all. They are coming to conclusions that are not even able to be scientifically supported. They are using natural science and coming to conclusions about the supernatural. This is not logically possible.
This is when evolution becomes what some call “evolutionism.” It is no longer a scientific theory, but an ideology. It’s a materialistic world view that denies a Creator or any other meaning in the universe. They are totally entitled to hold these beliefs, but it’s not science.
And let’s be clear. Biological evolution has to do with how life changes. The mechanisms that drive evolution (natural selection and genetic drift) speak to how life has changed over time and what drove that. It says nothing of how life first began. It says nothing of how biology came about in the first place. So when “evolutionism” implies that since we have a seemingly sound theory to explain how life changes over time that it also means we can explain the origin of life – it does so fallaciously.
So yes, Catholics can believe in a scientific, biological evolution. This does not contradict the teachings of the Church. In fact, it enhances the beauty of creation by revealing the depths of the wonders of God. It draws us closer to the Creator through His Creation.
However, once this great scientific theory crosses its proper boundary and attempts to explain something that it does not and can not explain, not only does it lose credibility, but it can dangerously undermine the basic tenets of our Christian Faith.
Issues like this highlight the need for the authoritative Church. We see perfectly well how confusing issues like this become when Christians who have broken away from The Church go off and come up with their own unreasonable doctrine. It presents a faith to the world that is unreasonable. It’s a false faith. And reasonable people will reject an entire faith if even a part of it is unreasonable.
But this only further emphasizes the great witness of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has never held doctrine contradictory to reason. And therefore it has always (in its doctrine) been a friend to true science – and has often led the world in scientific discovery, education, and invention. Though much is still beyond our reason, it is a reasonable faith.
Update: Just wanted to further clarify something that is hard to fully explain in a short blog post – especially with all of the complex language used on such a subject. Cardinal Schonborn said it best in saying that while Catholics are free to believe in certain interpretations of biological evolution, common ancestry, and the biological methods that bring them about, that does not mean we can reconcile with our faith “all theories of evolution, including those of a neo-Darwinian provenance which explicitly deny to divine providence any truly causal role in the development of life in the universe.” In essence, a “neo-Darwinian” evolutionism ideology that pretends to explain the Cause of the universe and deny the mind behind how everything unfolded is total bunk. You can read his whole New York Times article on the matter here. It’s excellent!