Why I wrote Creation, Evolution, and Catholicism
Years ago while teaching CCD I became aware of the skepticism among Catholic teens when they asked me “You don’t really believe in Adam and Eve, do you?” I learned from them that their unbelief in the fundamental doctrines of Genesis was because of their belief in evolution. Molecules-to-man evolution—the origin of man and of all living things (with or without divine assistance) through hundreds of millions of years of the same kinds of material processes going on now—is taught to most students as a scientific fact in public and Catholic schools and by the culture at-large.
My CCD students realized there was a conflict between the Bible and what they were taught in school; their school teachers were more effective than their religious educators and had so much more of the students’ time to make their case.
At that point, nothing in my educational background or engineering career had acquainted me with the subject of evolution. When I did research on evolution I discovered that those who believe it do so based on the premise that cosmic and biological evolution are undeniable scientific facts. Many who accept that belief likewise conclude that God is not necessary and that fiat creation by a loving, personal and interventionist God is unthinkable. World-famous atheist Richard Dawkins said it best: “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”
A Catholic reading this who also believes evolution to be a proven fact may be wondering what this writer’s problem is with that. Understandably so, because the majority of American Catholics accept that evolutionary theories of origins are factual. While accepting that “something” turned into “everything” over billions of years, as taught to them in school, they overlay it with the belief that God guided evolution. That combination of naturalism and supernaturalism is known as theistic evolution. Many Catholics who hold that combination have been taught philosophical proofs for the existence of God and for them it bridges the gap. In other words, Catholics holding that combination find that it “works” for them. Since they have reached mature adulthood and feel their Faith is fully intact, it is practically impossible to convince them that belief in evolution is causing others to lose their Faith. Many Catholics simply “tune out” to evidence and arguments against evolution while others accuse evolution skeptics of being an embarrassment to the Church by being so “backward.”
How Some Teens Resolve the Conflict
Who can say if accepting naturalistic evolution and arbitrarily inserting God somewhere into the process is detrimental to any particular student’s Faith? By overlaying God’s continuous suspension of His natural laws on the naturalist consensus of evolution they can arrive at what is, for them, both scientific and religious truth. But is it actually true?
In the first place, to be taught each part of the theistic evolution combination separately (naturalistic science in school, supernatural religion at church and home) can lead to “cognitive dissonance.” Cognitive dissonance is defined as a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors. This produces a feeling of discomfort, leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors to reduce the discomfort and restore balance. At some point, teenagers recognize that the naturalistic evolutionary model of origins and the supernatural, fiat creation model described in the Bible, which they have heard read at Mass even if they never opened a Bible, can’t both be true. That is, they experience cognitive dissonance and to relieve the conflict they must alter their beliefs in one direction or the other.
The evolutionary scientific consensus has been taught to them five days a week, year in and year out, as proven science. They incorrectly associate that evolutionary, pre-historic “science” with the real science (engineering really) that delivers the goods including all of their favorite electronic gadgets. The science they have been taught provides a coherent explanation of the origin of all reality. The alternative to the scientific consensus that they have been taught to believe is that a loving, personal God, created the universe and all that is in it out of nothing by an act of His Will. Further, His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity is physically present in that locked, gilded box in the church. A teenager may have been taught what the Church teaches, namely that the entire Bible is the Word of God, written by human authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Doesn’t the belief that the supernatural transubstantiation of bread into the Body/Person of Jesus when the priest says “This is My Body” depend on the Bible’s account that a supernatural event took place at the Last Supper and that the power to repeat that supernatural event was delegated to men through the Church is literally true?
A teenager may ask: “But if the beginning of the Bible, that is, the account of our supernatural origins, should be interpreted allegorically to accommodate the claims of naturalism, why should other parts of it, such as supernatural transubstantiation, be interpreted literally?”
The Numbing Effect on the Faith of Youth
In his 2007 book, The Doctrines of Genesis 1-11: A Compendium and Defense of Traditional Catholic Theology on Origins, Fr. Victor Warkulwiz made an enormous contribution to the Church. One of his observations seems appropriate to repeat here while considering the effect of conflicting information on the youth.
The theory of evolution has caused confusion in the minds of the young because it differs so much from what is in the Bible. They recognize the contradictions and are not sophisticated enough to rationalize them away. Pope Leo XIII said in Providentissimus Deus: “[F]or the young, if they lose their reverence for the Holy Scripture on one or more points, are easily led to giving up believing in it altogether. It need not be pointed out how the nature of science, just as it is so admirably adapted to show forth the glory of the Great Creator, provided it be taught as it should be, so, if it be perversely imparted to the youthful intelligence, it may prove most fatal in destroying the principles of true philosophy and in the corruption of morality.”