O.H.T. STUDY PROGRAM 1
LESSON 19: DECEMBER 2006
RETAINING THE CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW 2
130. The Christian worldview. The worldview of Christian faith comes from divine revelation as presented in the Bible and as confirmed in the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church. According to this outlook, the universe was created by God and is governed by his wisdom and providence. The creation and governance of the world by God is frequently mentioned throughout the Old and the New Testaments. According to the Christian worldview, the Earth and the whole material universe were created and shaped by God, in such wise that plant and animal life were also created by divine intervention, and man was created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1). Man and woman were created in a state of supernatural grace and preternatural wellbeing (Gen 2-3). This Old Testament description of the origin of the world and of man is presumed in the teaching of Jesus.
131. The worldview of Darwinian evolutionism. The worldview of the Darwinian theory of evolution has two basic features: that the various plant and animal species arose over a long period of time by upward transformation of one species into another; and that these transformations have occurred completely at random (by chance), with no guidance from God or from any other intelligent agent. Especially since the publication of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin in 1859, a great amount of evidence or alleged evidence for this theory has been accumulated by empirical scientists, and these claims have increased even more rapidly during the past twenty years. The empirical evidence presented for the theory is now so formidable that it is raising serious questions in the minds of those who believe in the worldview of Christian faith. At the present time many organs of the secular press are pushing the idea that evolution is a scientific fact and is the reality of the world in which we are living. Take, for instance, the story in the 17 July 2006 issue of Time magazine, on a new book defending Darwinian evolution by Francis S. Collins, and the November 2006 issue of National Geographic magazine, featuring the discovery in Ethiopia of the bones of a third more than three-million-year-old pre-human individual (this one a three-year-old “child”). Another claim is that human individuals had emerged by at least a hundred thousand years ago. What do these claims do to the story of Adam and Eve as the first human beings and to belief in the Original Sin that they committed and passed on to all other humans on the face of the Earth?
132. Theistic evolutionism. For most exponents of Darwinian evolutionism, the theory supports atheism, but a minority of evolutionary theoreticians to one degree or another combine the theory with the notion of the existence of a Creator. Some propose that God created the original substance of the universe (just before the Big Bang) and then left it to evolve at random on its own. This proposal fits the philosophy of Deism. Others, such as Francis Collins, mentioned above, accept that God created the original substance of the universe and then instituted the laws of physics and chemistry, which have guided the universe in its development, and they also propose that the first life form or forms were created by God and then left to evolve at random into all of the subsequent forms. Charles Darwin himself assumed that the first life forms did not evolve. Finally, another group of thinkers posit that evolution from one species to another took place, but with a creative intervention of God for all or some of the new species, probably in each case through modification of the genes of the mother species. All of these theories of theistic evolution, especially to the extent that they question the narrative of divine creation as it is presented in Sacred Scripture, pose problems for belief in the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture and of the dogmas of the Church.
133. Some teachings of the Church about the theory of evolution.
The origin of the universe. Has our idea of the origin of the universe “been fundamentally changed” over the past seventy-five years? Many empirical scientists say 'yes' in the sense that they have been converted to the physical theory of the Big Bang and to the gradual development of the universe over a period of some fourteen billion years or more. For many, this conversion has meant the adoption of an evolutionary worldview together with the reduction of the description of creation in the first chapter of Genesis to the realm of mythology. Thus, for them, the biblical worldview of Christian faith has been abandoned in favor of the worldview of evolutionism. What is to be said about this change of view? Certainly, the confirmed data of modern physical science need not be denied, but neither do the facts recorded in the Bible need to be denied. The problem is to fit the data of modern science into the worldview of the Bible. Some Catholic writers agree with non-Catholic Christian creation-scientists in affirming that the universe with the Earth is no more than eight thousand years old. This is a difficult thesis to maintain in the midst of contemporary findings of empirical science. On the contrary, the Pontifical Biblical Commission gave a response on 30 June 1909 to the effect that the word Yom (day), as used in the first chapter of Genesis “may be taken in its strict sense as the natural day, or in a less strict sense as signifying a certain space of time” (Enchiridion Biblicum 331). This means that it is not out of keeping with Catholic doctrine to interpret the days of creation to total up to more than fourteen billion years of time, if this conclusion is sufficiently proved. What is important is to find a way to include within the biblical worldview every valid theory of modern empirical science, as the Pontifical Biblical Commission did regarding the “days” of Genesis 1 in the quote given above in this paragraph. For those who accept the theory of the Big Bang, it is not a matter of a “fundamental change” in our idea of the origin of the universe, but rather of fitting the theory of the Big Bang into the biblical account of the origin of the universe. Unfortunately, most Catholic theologians have not worked as hard as they should have to make this adaptation in their interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis, and so confusion has arisen in the minds of the faithful and even in the minds of some priests and bishops, who have begun to say that the account in Genesis 1 is not truly historical but only symbolic.
The neo-patristic approach. In the neo-patristic approach to the interpretation of Sacred Scripture, efforts are made to include the findings of modern science within the worldview of the Bible and in keeping with the exegetical tradition of the Church. Thus, the six days of creation in Genesis 1 can be shown to be not in conflict with the theory of the Big Bang or with the idea of a development of living species over a long period of time, even over hundreds of millions of years.7 The real problem comes with the assertion that this development took place without the intelligent design of God and without any creative interventions of God, because this assertion cannot be reconciled with the description of creation in Genesis 1 or with the traditional teaching of the Church. Hence, atheistic and Deistic theories of evolution are excluded by Christian faith. Many intermediate fossil forms have been found (though many others are missing), but the instance of intermediate forms does not necessarily make them transitional forms, since they could have been created as intermediate without having emerged from prior species. In fact, every species discovered is in itself an artistic and engineering masterpiece, clearly not a result of random change and blind chance. Catholics may tentatively hold a theistic theory of evolution that considers the emergence of living species from prior living species, but they are also obliged to leave room for divine interventions and to look seriously at the numerous arguments against random emergence of species from species.8 The work of creation-scientists to refute the arguments of evolutionists and of evolutionary physicists is wholesome and valuable to the extent that these scientists reasonably question the claims of evolutionary scientists, but, in doing so, they should not try to interpret the literal sense of the Bible more strictly than it deserves.
Conclusion. The Catholic Christian worldview is being powerfully attacked in the secular press by promoters of an atheistic neo-Darwinian theory of evolution. There is no scientific justification for the idea that life arose and developed by pure chance. Theistic evolution as such, if properly understood, is not in principle contrary to the Catholic Christian worldview, but is not a proven fact and it does raise problems that need to be answered. Catholics should not passively accept even theistic evolution as a proven fact without seeing how it can fit into the biblical description of the origin of the world and without being aware also of the evidence that exists against the theory. Unfortunately, even educated Catholics seldom take the time to study the evidence against the theory of evolution.
1. Oblates of Wisdom Study Center, P.O. Box 13230, St. Louis, Missouri 63157.
2 For a more detailed exposition of the material in this lesson, see the article “Francis Collins and The Language of God,” in Living Tradition, numbers 124 and 125 (July and September 2006).
3 In Claudia Carlen, ed., The Papal Encyclicals, vol. 2, p. 334.
4 In Claudia Carlen, ed., The Papal Encyclicals, vol. 4, p. 181.
5 In Claudia Carlen, ed., The Papal Encyclicals, vol. 4, pp, 181-182.
6 For a fuller treatment of this Message of Pope John Paul II, see Living Tradition 72 (November 1997).
7 See Living Tradition 125 (September 2006), paragraphs 46-48.
8 For impressive arguments against the theory of evolution, see, for instance, Walt Brown, In the Beginning, (7th edition, Phoenix, Arizona: Center for Scientific Creation, 2001).