Creationism vs. Evolution

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6/11/2008

Few things cause heated discussion more than the question of whether evolution or creationism should be taught in public schools.

What I find amazing is that the debate has hardly progressed since the famous Scopes trial in 1925. William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow argued over whether John Scopes, a Tennessee high school teacher, should be permitted to teach his students ideas borrowed from Charles Darwin’s book The Origin of Species. Today, in many quarters, the public debate is still creationism vs. evolution.

Sections 50-65 of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church are a good guide for understanding why we call God creator and remain open to what science can legitimately teach us about the world around us. These sections are a reflection on these words of the Nicene Creed:

“I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”

Almighty and Eternal God Back to Top

From all eternity, God the Father begets his only Son through whom he created and redeemed the world.

Although creation was an act of the Trinity, the work of creation is particularly ascribed to God the Father (Compendium, 52). This suggests that the mighty work of creation is the result of God’s fatherly, providential love. He created the universe out of love and continues to sustain it.

Infinite in being, God is also infinite in his power. He did not have to create the world but freely chose to do so in his wisdom (54). The Compendium teaches that “his omnipotence is universal, mysterious, and shows itself in the creation of the world out of nothing and humanity out of love.”

The greatest display of God’s fatherly and almighty power is his mercy, which is revealed in the Incarnation of his Son and in the Paschal Mystery (Jesus’ death and resurrection). Power and love do not merely co-exist in God; they coincide. All created things – “visible and invisible,” the world together with the angels – manifest God’s goodness, truth and beauty (53; 59-61).

The Bible: Theology, not Science Back to Top

The Creed speaks of God as “creator of heaven and earth.” Let us consider the ordinary way we use the words “creator” and “creation.” We often speak of innovative composers, designers and writers as “creators” and their works as “creations.”

Of course, their works are not entirely original but always depend on what came before. Only God is Creator in the strict sense. He created the universe “out of nothing” (2 Mc 7:28). Regardless of how old it is, the universe did not always exist. It came into being thanks to God’s creative hand. The biblical accounts of creation (Gn 1:1; 2:4b-25) are not meant to be scientific accounts.

Rather, they have a theological purpose. They show us that creation is the foundation of all God’s plans. This is why creation is especially dear to him. It is how he communicates his merciful love for us, culminating in Christ. The world’s order and goodness, its beauty and wonder, are not ends in themselves. T

They are meant to open us to the goodness and beauty of the inner life and love of the Trinity in which we are called to share. Thus, the world is not “the result of any necessity, nor of blind fate, nor of chance” (54). Rather, the world exists for God’s glory. Creation reflects God’s providential care for us. Through life’s joys and sorrows, God leads us toward our destiny to share his life and love forever with all the redeemed (55-6).

Good and Evil Back to Top

In Scripture we read that when God looked upon what he had made, he saw that it was good. If that is so, how did evil come about?

The reality of evil is often cited to argue against a good and all-powerful God. We all struggle with the evil we experience in ourselves and in the world. In a sound-bite culture, the mystery of evil does not admit easy answers. We might say, along with the Compendium, that the answer to evil is the whole of God’s plan to reveal himself in creation and history and to redeem the world.

 The key to understanding evil is, ironically enough, God’s love. In his love for us, God did not choose to create a perfectly selfcontained and completely predetermined world. Instead he created a world where we are able to go beyond ourselves in freedom and love, and encounter the living God.

God did not create evil or will its existence, but he does permit it. In his omnipotent love, he brings forth good from evil. The ultimate example of this is Jesus’ death on the cross. We are called to alleviate human suffering and conquer evil with God’s love, which has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Creation vs. Evolution Back to Top

As we have seen, both the Bible and Creed treat creation as the foundation of God’s plan of redemption, not simply as a matter of science. This should help us understand the debate between creationists and evolutionists. The Church preserves and protects what we must believe regarding God as Creator and his purpose in creating all things.

The Church does not require us to interpret the creation accounts in Genesis “literally.” We are to draw from them their original intent, especially when viewed in the context of the whole story of creation and redemption as it unfolds in the Bible.

On the other hand, the Church’s teaching authority guards against all-inclusive explanations for creation that go beyond the limits of scientific method and exclude God’s all-important role.

The Church is especially clear in rejecting theories of evolution in which the human person is reduced to simply a product of natural forces.

The Church rightly insists that each human soul requires God’s creative intervention. Otherwise, the teaching authority of the Church wisely refrains from making judgments about various theories of evolution – so long as such theorizing does not overreach to exclude God as author and designer of the universe, and as the creator of each human person.

Discussion Reflection Questions for Council Use Back to Top

1. Why is the dialogue between religion and science necessary and important?

2. The Bible is not a scientific textbook. Scripture’s presentation of the Creation story and the origin of the universe is offered as a way for us to understand our relationship with God. Read the first two chapters of Genesis and discuss what we learn about God’s relationship with man.

3. What are some of the practical ways that Catholics using reason and faith can reply to creationists and atheistic evolutionists?